Michael, 61

Michael, 61

Meet Mike…

“I opened my eyes and relieved myself of the burdens, drugs and alcohol that was literally killing me. Now I have a natural high from love and forgiveness from above.”

Incarcerated: 33 years
Housed: Jefferson City Correctional Center, Missouri.

They give poor people of all colors a public defender, who barely graduated law school. Rarely does anyone convicted or who has plead guilty get a case overturned. Many innocents have fallen victim to the state of Missouri. Some life sentences get out in 20 years. Others, like mine at 33 years are still waiting on a date to go home. I’m an Army vet. I have been incarcerated for 33 years for second degree murder, a life sentence. Yet more hypocrites work for the state of Missouri, the “Buckle of the Bible Belt,” where a detective, judge or prosecutor will pound the Bible on Sunday and then lie or exaggerate evidence at work. Life has no cap here at the mercy of the board. Fortunately, I found Residents Encounter Christ who showed me I was still human and able to see the light. I help others turn their lives around. To be of service inside prison, wow, what a way to shine in a real dark space. Joe, a REC volunteer, told me I inspire those around me by being of service – even in prison. Betty, another volunteer said, “I wish I could have gotten to know you better, your great smile and enthusiasm is a gift the Lord will use over and over.” Sister Debbie said, “You have the peace of God within you. May you continue to use it to bless others as you live like Jesus commanded.” Prison has reformed me with Christ’s love. I opened my eyes and relieved myself of the burdens, drugs and alcohol that was literally killing me. Now I have a natural high from love and forgiveness from above. I want to share the feelings through my words. So I can be paroled next year and make amends.
Mike, 61

Antwann, 46

Antwann, 46

Meet Antwann…

I know staring down at a lifeless body did something to us all emotionally. There was one pivotal moment where I found myself questioning life itself.

Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Jefferson City Correctional Center; Jefferson City, Missouri

My day started as any other. I was checking in on a patient when the manager asked if I would live in the medical unit. Nurses and medical personnel who cared for ill and dying inmates with COVID needed assistance. At first, I felt reluctant, this virus was still a mystery. Moments later, I was informed that my cousin and two of my close friends had tested positive. I made the decision to work in the medical unit was to face and confront my greatest fear, dying alone. I’ve seen firsthand how many of the inmate patients don’t have any family or people who care. Two inmate patients battling COVID had a bittersweet ending that would ultimately give me the strength to continue fighting for this worthy cause. Stanley, 64 had COVID and pneumonia. He was in such bad shape the outside hospital sent him back and said he would not make it. As he lay in his bed, I stared at him and imagined that it was me lying in that bed fighting for my life. We became close and I did all that I could to assist the nurses. He thanked us, he knew his condition was bad that we were doing our best to keep him alive. He expressed to me how he didn’t have any family or friends, I took it upon myself to care for him as if he were my own family. George arrived and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was a death sentence for him. Stanley knew that I had a passion to help others, so he did not feel neglected or alone while I was holding George. I have to admit, George was a fighter. Just as with Stanley. George and I became close. George would not allow the custody staff to touch him unless I was present. You would have to be here to truly experience the joy these patients bring to our medical team and vice-versa. We’re a big family that relies on each other for strength and support, and we have the biggest prison medical facility in Missouri. Each plays a pivotal role in making this unit function, but it’s the hospice workers who have compassion for human lives. Its true meaning. Sometimes things were so chaotic nurses wanted to walk off the job, and we four hospice porters were losing hope. I know staring down at a lifeless body did something to us all emotionally. There was one pivotal moment where I found myself questioning life itself. One of the COVID inmate patients words still lives in my thoughts, “Against The Odds Goldie, it’s funny how cruel life can be, huh?” I responded, “What do you mean?” He replied, “never smoked, but I’m dying from lung cancer, and I have COVID. It’s ok, because I know I don’t have long. But I want to know, Goldie, why do you do this kind of work?” “I hope that if I’m ever in your situation that someone would be by my side in my time of need.” Two weeks later, he would be dead. During the rougher times, I found myself stepping into an empty cell for a few moments because I had to pull myself together mentally, emotionally, and also spiritually. If I told you I wasn’t affected by the death of another human, especially one I’d grown close to under these circumstances, I’d be lying. I have a newfound respect for healthcare workers. Working alongside them, I feel like a real human being and not some worthless criminal. This is the first time in my 24 years of incarceration that I have felt like this. It’s hard to hold back the tears looking at the work we have done. How we’ve received no recognition from the prison officials. I’ve witnessed firsthand how this virus attacks the body with no regard for human life. Nothing prepared me for that moment one of the hospice porters woke me to share George was no longer with us. I rushed to my feet to begin the process of notifying his family. It has been a rough journey being a hospice porter, and it has humbled me. There were times when I felt lost, confused, and couldn’t process the loss of another. For us four porters, it brought us closer together. The fact that we put other lives before our own convinces me of our shared compassion. Two of the porters gave me strength, they caught the virus, yet came back to work knowing they could contract this deadly virus again and die. I say, “Against the odds, for a worthy cause.” I’m an innocent man fighting a murder conviction only to witness COVID  kill eight people before my eyes. I am now questioning life, wondering where justice is, and if death is the actual answer to true freedom. I’ve truly become a broken shell among damaged petals. If there is anyone beyond these gates who is willing to listen, please become that “SEED OF HOPE” and share my story, because I’m only a Voice of Conviction. Antwann CEO

 

Touched By An Angel…

I have a sense of gratitude to God for blessing me to have been able to share precious moments with a woman who meant the world to me. Just the thought of her stirs up uncontrollable emotions as I attempt to hold back tears. I’m speaking of Anna Mae Johnson, my late grandmother of whom we all affectionately called “Granny.” Many of us have experienced and suffered through, the loss of a loved one, who has made a significant impact on our lives.

Sunday mornings growing up will forever be ingrained in my mind and within my heart. On Sundays we attended church and I enjoyed being in the company of my grandmother. I would sit in a chair at the kitchen table as she cooked, lectured me, and always made sure to keep God at the center of our conversation. She possessed a presence that absorbed and gave a feeling of warmth. It was her mild temper and soft-spoken voice that held my attention, but ultimately it was her smile and tender hugs that assured me that I was worthy of being loved.

I can remember occasions when we all would be having a good time, dancing, laughing and enjoying each other’s presence. Those moments of peace would be short-lived because we always had that one member of the family who would indulge in having one too many drinks and end up causing a scene. There would also be times when I could sense something was troubling my grandmother. She would be lost in thought as she rocked back and forth while humming to herself. She would call out to me “lil-man” and just like that I would come running. As I became enveloped in her warm embrace, it always seemed as if all of my problems and cares would instantly vanish. I often told her how much I loved her and how she was the greatest Granny in the world.

She taught me important life lessons through her actions. I watched how she would tend to her garden, I saw how she would plant just the right amount of seeds, perfectly spread them apart and add fresh soil. But most importantly, I saw the amount of care and patience that was required to make the garden bloom. I truly got my strength from watching her. She was the rock and foundation of the family. I never saw her cry until one day when she seemed to be in extreme pain and distress, crying out to God. This trapped me in a mix of emotions. I learned she was experiencing emotional anguish because my aunt (her daughter) had succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver, and she had to be the one to make the decision to pull the plug on her child. That would be the first time that I really experienced the effects a person’s death would have on a loved one.

God has a way of putting people in our lives, whether it is for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Whatever His purpose is for unifying people is beyond our comprehension, but one thing is for certain: there is no dollar amount that can be placed on memories made with a loved one. Even if it was not spent doing anything but spending life together. Not having my grandmother here to lean on for strength is painful.

I often find myself lost in thought, replaying scenes from my past and becoming emotionally joyful. Being in my grandmother’s room where she spent her final moments overwhelms me. I know she is listening and watching over me, as my guardian angel. I just have one request, granny…. smile for me!

I’ve learned to come to terms that death is always going to be a part of life, and to be grateful for those special moments we have with loved ones. I’ll meditate and talk to my grandmother, telling her how everyone is doing and how we all miss her dearly. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to just see her again.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that in order to gain peace of mind we must forgive, let go and let God deal with those we feel have wronged us. There have been times when I thought that God had forgotten me due to my situation, but by staying faithful to Him during my journey in prison, several people have appeared in my life and filled the void of emptiness.

Not long ago, we all suffered the loss of a true here at this facility, Nurse Pauline. If you knew her, you knew that she had a mother’s touch. She possessed the heart of a lioness, and the compassion to care. She touched so many lives. Sometimes it’s not easy trying to make sense of why we sometimes lose the ones who are the closest to us. However, I want you to take a brief moment and reflect on a time when you may have experienced a sudden gust of wind hit you, a soft touch on the shoulder, or something lightly brush against you…or perhaps you just sensed the energy of something in your presence when you were alone that gave you comfort. Whatever the case may have been, one thing is for sure…

You were touched by an angel….

Gene, 53

Gene, 53

Meet Gene…

“I met Steve, who had volunteered for a prison program that paired up victims and assailants as part of a rehabilitation process. Within the short three months that Steve and I conversed, he gave me a new lens to view the world with too, and I will always be grateful for his generosity in helping me understand the difference between independence and interdependent living.”

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: Jefferson City Correctional Center, Missouri

Bob Dylan once described the difference between independence and interdependence to his friend Hunter S. Thompson, with the aid of his guitar. He played a G note and said, “with that note, you can set a tone,” then he strummed a G chord, and said, “with those three notes played together, you create harmony.” 

When I met Steve, he had PTSD. Being the victim of a violent crime was the reason got his suffering. Steve’s front teeth were knocked out by the butt of an AK-47, a weapon being used to rob a bank. Steve and his youngest son were there to deposit money the boy had earned delivering papers into a savings account for the boy. 

“I met Steve, who had volunteered for a prison program that paired up victims and assailants as part of a rehabilitation process. Within the short three months that Steve and I conversed, he gave me a new lens to view the world with too, and I will always be grateful for his generosity in helping me understand the difference between independence and interdependent living.”

For the next six years, Steve was a man who felt as if he were standing in quicksand. His life was fueled by the need to maximize the safety net around his family and impose a discipline upon them that he did not understand or find it possible to adhere to. Every day was a struggle to breathe.

One day he came upon a book called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey that he said altered his dysfunctional life. It gave him a new lens to view the world. He said he had found a foothold that eventually freed him from the psychological trap that he so long been mired in.

That’s about the time I met Steve, who had volunteered for a prison program that paired up victims and assailants as part of a rehabilitation process. Within the short three months that Steve and I conversed, he gave me a new lens to view the world. I will always be grateful for his generosity in helping me understand the difference between independence and interdependent living. As Redd Greene used to say: “We’re all in this together, I’m rooting for ya!”

Brandon, 39

Brandon, 39

Meet Brandon…

If I am a resilient person, I will bounce back after a failure or defeat, and quickly rejuvenate my spirits.

I must admit I have at times selfishly taken love, as well as those bestowing their love upon me, for granted.  Although I have always valued love-irrespective of its relational origins through which it was received. Love for me is not merely a word, not a fluid concept which evolves as time alters perspective, but rather a constant.

As explained throughout the Bible, the word love is cited as a foundation from which anyone and anything “good” derives and guides each of us – regardless of religious belief – toward an understanding of love’s utter importance in all realms of life.  My appreciation for love, as well as for those able and willing to afford myself any degree of their love, has grown through the passing of my surrogate brother, Joshua, last year. My greatest memories all incorporated instances of love, leaving no exception for the relationship by which our son was physically conceived through. Love demands responsibility and sincere patience. My future will consist of loving kindness and it brings me happiness simply envisioning such. 

Speaking of loving kindness, I’d like to pay tribute to my step-father. One of my interests as an adult is mathematics. As memory serves me, math became interesting at the very moment my step-father taught me multiplication. My step-father was a nuclear engineer by profession, and remains to be one of the most intelligent individuals I have interacted with to date. Whether I am utilizing mathematics within basic measurements associated with various construction projects, or the less favorable math necessary in determining what is owed in state and federal taxes each year, I am gratefully and often reminded of the precise moment that such a wonderful man imparted that affinity of mathematics within me. Although it may be the trips to Disneyland, or the countless holiday events shared with our immediate family as children that my siblings favored, my fondest childhood memory remains with this mathematical moment. To Brian Young of Youngstown, Ohio: Thank you for my most valued childhood memory