Shohn, 49

Shohn, 49

Meet Shohn…

Love is sacrifice, putting others’ needs before your own without expectation. Love is patience, enduring the storms that darken our horizons to see the dawning of a brand new day. Love is warmth, that glowing ember of light that radiates within the deepest reaches of the heart at the very thought of the other person. And love is everlasting, seeing the entirety of your future in the eyes of another and not being able to envision that future without them.

Incarcerated: 14 years

Housed: Jefferson City Correctional Center, Missouri

Sometimes I dream that I am with someone who loves me, a woman who, in all reality, I have never even laid eyes on before, yet somehow we are familiar to one another just the same. Though when I wake, I can never recall what was said between us, and very rarely is there ever any physical intimacy, I always awaken with the unmistakable contentment of heart that I have just been in the presence of love. I don’t have these dreams often, but whenever I do, the bitter truth that I face is almost too much to bear. They’re so impossibly real that once I awaken to the pain and disappointment that they are not, my heart fills with grief and longing for the love I have just lost. But knowing what I know now, I suppose it is wrong of me to consider TIME an annoying apparition that will not let me be, because in all these years, TIME has revealed to me one undeniable thing- the essence of love’s true meaning. Love is sacrifice, putting others’ needs before your own without expectation. Love is patience, enduring the storms that darken our horizons to see the dawning of a brand new day. Love is warmth, that glowing ember of light that radiates within the deepest reaches of the heart at the very thought of the other person. And love is everlasting, seeing the entirety of your future in the eyes of another and not being able to envision that future without them. Before my newfound awareness of love, I assumed that the only conditions in which good intention would rise up and take a stand in a fight to take back what rightfully belonged to it were the eagerness for redemption and the desperation to right its wrongs. But now I know that the complete absence of love itself has that very same power to summon the will to fight, and fight I will when love once again comes calling my name. I’ve been incarcerated for over 14 years now, convicted of crimes that I did not commit, and with all that I have lost because of that, I have known no greater pain than the pain of being forced to live within the confines of this loveless existence. “If only I could go back in time knowing what I know now,” I often think to myself. But then the utter impossibility of such a thing becomes its very own kind of torment. A man has quite a bit of time to think in here, way too much if you ask me, and though Time has never exactly been a friend to me, it has proved itself lately to be more of a haunting nuisance than anything else, a “Ghost of Christmas Past” taking me places that I need not go, showing me things that I need not see. Regret, shame, sadness and heartache- these are the poisonous fruits that my willful ignorance of love’s inherent value bears, and I eat of this fruit every single day of my loveless existence.

Kelly, 39

Kelly, 39

Meet Kelly…

I learned that I can’t be the hands on, disciplinarian father, so I adopted more of a big brother- dynamic. This creates a more comfortable atmosphere for him to come to me for advice, with his issues and growing pains.

Incarcerated: 12

Housed: Patuxent Institute, Jessup, Missouri

The best thing I did in life was have a son. He was two when I fell and I was a very active and loving father. Fast forward to his middle school days, his mom said I need to talk to him because he was fighting a lot. I ain’t really thinking too much of it, I figured boys will be boys, but when I asked him why he was fighting, he said people in his class googled him. We have the same name, his classmate’s internet search yielded my history. History of a terrible crime. Learning he was fighting for my ‘honor’ broke my heart. I remember crying a river from the embarrassment and hurt he experienced because of me. I changed the way I communicated with him. More honesty and transparency because I don’t want my son to learn from foreign and tainted sources of information. I learned that I can’t be the hands on, disciplinarian father, so I adopted more of a big brother- dynamic. This creates a more comfortable atmosphere for him to come to me for advice, with his issues and growing pains. By the grace of God, we have a strong relationship. The ironic thing is his mom hates that my son loves me…? Everytime he messes up she blames me/my influence and wont allow me to contact him. I guess it is easier to look through glasses than a mirror. I tell my son I love him often and I’m proud of him. I always stress the importance of teaching him how to think instead of what to think, the importance of evaluating situations before he acts and making good decisions. I remind my son to never allow his love for me to keep him from being better than me, or his loyalty to me keep him from surpassing me in life.

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!”