Ivié, 55

Meet Ivié…

Ivié, 55
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, NY

Ivié: I was up until four in the morning. It’s normal for me. It’s quiet then, so I’m in my room and I’ll write, paint and play with my keyboard.

Diane: Tell me a little bit about how you’ve changed here. It seems like you’ve gone through a process. 

Ivié: It’s funny, after 28 years, with child abuse there’s still stuff I relive. That’s what recently has been woken up: abuse in upbringing, PTSD. I can share that PTSD is not attached to my sexual childhood abuse. It was attached to an instability of a domestic violence relationship with my parents marriage, death, abandonment and suffering. At first I didn’t want to deal with it, but I had to, so I didn’t shy away from it. It was a painful process. In order to heal, you have to feel it. I had to feel the emotions and realize I’m either going to live with these emotions to just survive and make it by or to truly live . Recently, there’s been stuff that opened up with my sister, who’s just a year older than me. I think we covered everything from my childhood, 10 years old and younger. I think just being able to not hide anyone and not be ashamed of my past that makes me who I am today, it gets me to know my authentic true self. I want to be somebody who can speak freely and openly and meet people where they are. That’s a big thing.

I still have a consecutive sentence of 30 years in New Jersey. I was like wow if they put me there, I’m going to feel abandoned. I’m not going to have the doctors and therapists that I have here. How can I fix myself? Give me some rights, you know. I wrote some self-therapy books. I gotta say that book did a lot. Doctor Jay Earley, PhD for self-therapy. The director picked up another book off the bookcase and I was like, let me see this, it said, Life’s Operating Manual. I was like, Oh my God, this is gonna fix my life! It’s by the director Tom Shadyac. One of the first things he says is, “This is not a 12 step manual to help you fix your life.” But I kept reading, and I think with the self-therapy book, for me, it also takes you deep if you go in. You not only learn about yourself and why some of the things you do, your actions and your behaviors, but you also learn about other people, and it all stems back to your childhood. So it’s a process.  I got a book a couple of days ago called Healing Together, that’s about how to approach survivors and other people who were sexually abused as a child or in domestic violence relationships and how better I can approach them. For two years, we’ve been doing a suicide prevention program. We learned to pick up on symptoms and their behaviors and reach out to people. So that’s a lot, but I like it. I have a passion for that.

Diane: Is there any of your art that you would like to share?

Ivié: So one of the ones I just did. I mean, I’d go up against King Kong in a heartbeat, but I have a really sensitive nature. I can cry at commercials and stuff. I was watching Ukraine and it was just moving. I had a thing though with high heels stilettos. So, I did a globe, and then I did 24 stilettos and I did them in rainbow colors. Then I inquired how to say the word “love” in 24 different languages and so that’s the heel part of each stiletto and then they’re circling the globe. And the first top two are Ukraine and Russia. And they’re very similar. There’s just one last character, and that’s very different. I had trouble getting those because they’re symbols, and when they tried to send them to me through an email it would come out all pixelated. I would have to go sit at the kiosk the next time I was able to sync and copy them down off the kiosk. So that’s that one.

I did- I’m not sure if they refer to her as the Lady Madonna or The Virgin Mary. I’m not sure, but there is one where she has long long strands of brown hair and she has her hand on her heart. So, I did one with her. She’s like one and a half by two and a half feet. I put my right hand on her heart, and I traced it with my left hand. That took me 3-4 days, but it’s pretty cool at the end. Then I gave her prayer hands, and then I took her face and gave her hand like this and I titled her “Pardon.” Pardon me, forgive me, I still feel it. Pardon me for trying to get your attention.

Diane: I noticed you mentioned something about your sister. Would you like to share anything about your relationship with her?

Ivié: We’re still processing our mother’s passing. It’s difficult for her, but I don’t think she has had the opportunities I’ve had with therapists, so she’s still hiding and still ashamed. Both of us were sexually abused as little girls between six and seven years old. She was also in a domestic violence marriage. I know she has not reached out for therapy. I don’t think she’s there yet. Even in here you learn that you can’t beat hatred with hate, or abandonment, or other people’s actions and behaviors. I can’t judge her. It’s best for me to meet people where they are and let them in where they fit in, and even if it’s an unloving situation, bring it to heart. It just makes this whole situation a little different. I try to send her as much positive energy as possible and pray she can find somebody she can speak to. I’ve been blessed. It’s really a blessing, and you have to be able to talk about it. You really, really do. It’s so true, you have to feel to heal. You have to address these emotions and know why you have them. I came across this magazine called  The Entrepreneur, and there was this guy on the front cover named Norman Reedus, the lead actor for The Walking Dead, and I was like “What? I’ve never seen it.” However, he begins his article with saying, “What you are hiding and what you are ashamed of may become or may be your greatest assets.” I read it and was really moved. He said the same thing that I got from a psychiatric evaluation: listen. Sometimes somebody just needs someone to listen. You have to find that person. Look to be that person because you can save someone’s life. 

Diane: All your hard work has really paid off. Just listening to you talk is very soothing.

Ivié: Thank you.

Diane: It’s nice to know that you’ve done the hard work and looked at it. 

Ivié: I wrote something that I do want to center, a piece I wrote called, “What are your dreams? What are your passions?” For me, I believe our world is broken, and my dream is that we can fix it. What if it’s not that we’re fallen but that we’ve forgotten our most greatest tokens, love, kindness and compassion put out unashamedly spoken forgiveness and second chances. Celebrating our doses, treating others as you would want to be treated. Our birthing of roses. Tell your story, own your journey. You have to reach out.

Diane: People outside do not know the impact we have on people inside. Tell us what you think of Humans of San Quentin.

Ivié: For you just giving us a voice and being able to share. We made bad choices, but for you to highlight and share with the world that we’re still human and that we can’t define a human being by making a bad choice. Things happen, and I don’t believe that there are accidents. But for you to just highlight our voices, our words, our feelings, our emotions and share them with the world. You give the world another side of who we are, a lot of people don’t know what happened or why.


Pamela, 55

Meet Pamela…

Pamela, 55
Incarcerated: 32 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Diane: What is it that makes you happy?

Pamela: What makes me happy is to play softball. I love to play softball- it’s one of the things I get to do here in the summer months, and that makes me really happy. Besides being with my family and friends, that’s one thing inside here that makes me happy.

Diane: How do you play here?

Pamela: We play in the yard. It’s kind of like a bootleg setup. It’s half grass, half field type of thing. When I play, I feel free. I feel like I’m in a game somewhere at some playground or park, and I feel extremely free. I totally concentrate on the game and forget I’m in prison. That’s my favorite thing to do. And I’m still hanging in there! I’m getting kind of old, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to play, but I’m doing alright. 

Diane: Do you have leagues or opponents that you play?

Pamela: No, we don’t. It seems when Covid happened, there were a lot of lockdowns here. People got lazy during the lockdowns, so there’s not as much interest anymore for sports.

Diane: Is there something in particular that you worry about?

Pamela: My mother. I worry about my mom all the time. Unfortunately, she broke her hip last week. She was at the hairdresser, and the guy forgot to lock the chair. When she got in the chair, she fell and hit the sink. She had to go into emergency surgery the following day, was in a nursing home, and just came home yesterday. That was very hard for me because I can’t be there to take care of her. My dad is taking care of her, but he’s 83. That was really tough. It still is really tough.

Diane: How old is she? Does she live nearby?

Pamela: She’s 81 and lives in Florida. She’s been unable to come due to her compromised health around Covid and not wanting to travel because of Covid. I haven’t seen either of my parents in three years and now that they’re in Florida, it’s a lot harder.

Diane: You sent us a poem that you wrote, which was so touching to me, about being a mother.

Pamela: Not being a mother.

Diane: It was touching to me that you were able to articulate what you felt about having a baby.

Pamela: I got sent to prison when I was 22. I did not have any children at that time. Because I had a life sentence without any possible leave for parole, one of the side-effects is that I could never have children, being incarcerated all of my life. I believe you are talking about a poem that is called, “Emptiness Inside.” I was speaking about wanting to be a mother and wanting to have a child and feeling like not a whole woman because I couldn’t experience that.

Diane: Do you want to read it?

Pamela: Sure.

Women are supposed to give birth
Therein lies their worth
Ultimate femininity
Expanding the human race
Leaving a piece of me
Forever multiplied in someone else
Infinity in the soft soil of a womb

22 years old
Sentenced to life
Sentenced to be barren
My body a dry desert

Oh, child of my womb
I sometimes swear I feel your heartbeat
Your restless soul move
I see you in my dreams
A little girl
Ribbons the colors of cotton candy.

My baby girl
Trapped within me forever
Serving life in the prison of my womb.
I even named you
My awakening to womanhood

But I am just a girl
Never a woman
If I can’t let you out.

Diane: Thinking and talking about your life sentence without parole… What motivates you?

Pamela: Well, God. I have a deep sense of spirituality and I live a life of service here and I decided long ago I will try to make my life as rich as possible despite my circumstances. I do a lot of work with the other women here, in school, at the grievance office where I work, and advocacy work. I work all the time. I thank God I have the energy of a 12 year old, so I’m okay. I run around all day and it keeps me going because I’m busy. I feel like I’m doing things that are good and I see that I help and the changes and the results of my efforts. I feel like I want to keep my mind sharp and stay enjoying the life that I do have. I don’t want to be miserable, I don’t want to be angry. I want to be as positive as I can, so I keep myself involved in positive things. 

Diane: Negativity can really tear you apart.

Pamela: Well, I see what it can do everyday. There’s a lot of people that are angry, bitter, miserable and they’re still here. Only you have to live with yourself, and I don’t want to live with a person everyday that is that way. So, I do my best, focusing and hoping that one day, this will end.

Diane: And that’s probably why you feel so young, right?

Pamela: Well, I never take a nap, I’m always running, I try to stay in shape with sports. I keep my mind in shape going to school, writing, doing things…

Diane: That’s great to hear because I’ve been in prisons, and they can be so oppressive. 

Pamela: Yeah, it’s totally an oppressive environment, but I think that life is a choice. Everyday, you choose what you’re going to do with the day in front of you, and I choose to live and live in a peaceful state in the midst of the chaos that’s going around me. Honestly, it may sound corny, but I have the joy of the Lord in my heart, and my circumstances can’t take that away. They just can’t. I might lose it for a minute or whatever, but they can’t take it from me.

Diane: Would you want to share a typical day with us?

Pamela: A typical day. Well, this morning was really a typical day. Before 8 o’clock, I was called all over the place before the day even started because there are problems in the housing units. A sergeant was calling me, the officers were calling me because there was a lot of confusion about policy and procedure that was recently changed about the housing unit operations. I was called to get what the rules are, pull the rules, go back, talk to people, explain what’s happening, get some clarification from supervisors about how things are supposed to be operating. Pretty much my day starts: I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, I pray, I take a shower at about 6, then I handle what already happens or is coming my way even before I get to work at 8 o’clock.

Diane: What’s your job?

Pamela: I work in the grievance office. I’m the elected grievance representative for the prison. Every six months I have to run and be elected again in order to keep the job. I’m in my ninth term right now. So, I handle all complaints, and there are no shortage of complaints. So, I handle them, I try to resolve what I can in my head informally… It’s a lot of diplomacy. Speaking to people, trying to come up with solutions, working with on-site supervisors, sargeants, lieutenants. If it can’t be resolved it has to get filed and we go to hearings. I work every day from eight to four, but my job really never ends. Even if the office is closed, the job never ends. People just see me, and I’m the “problem lady.” So, every problem they have, whether it’s nighttime, morning, weekend, whatever, they come asking me, “What are the rules about this?” There’s rules about everything here. The rules are sometimes fluid, and that’s when there’s problems. Certain people interpret it a different way, and I try to get clarification.

At night, I try to play racquetball for at least an hour or an hour and a half every night. I make phone calls, do what I have to do for myself.  That’s pretty much a typical day. On the weekends I go to church, I visit sometimes throughout the day. I also just finished a PhD program. I was going to school for a while, and I’m hoping to start another master’s program in the Fall. I’ve been in school forever, and I’m still in school. I love to learn.

Diane: Are your programs in person, or are they in correspondence?

Pamela: Both. I did one master’s program through correspondence, another master’s program through in-person learning. I did a PhD through correspondence because of course that was during Covid. And this master’s that I just applied for, if I get in, will be in-person learning through New York Theological Seminary. That’s a pretty prestigious school. I’m hoping they won’t say that I’m over-qualified and that I’ll be able to do it. 

Diane: Tell me about the person you were before you came here, and the person that you are today.

Pamela: It’s funny because I’ve really always been the person I am today. However, I’m much wiser, much less naive. I feel like before, being that I was so young -I was 22- I was not as focused on other people as I am now. I did do some service work before I came into prison, but at the level that I do things now, very little has to do with myself. My days and my nights have to do with everyone else, so I have become a lot less selfish, although I wouldn’t have described myself as a selfish person. I’m just more aware of the needs of other people and focusing on that and how important that is. I think that’s probably the biggest change. And of course, I’m a lot more world weary- I’ve seen things I wish I never saw and experienced things I wish I never had.

Diane: Well that’s a gift that you’re giving back so much.

Pamela: I feel like the more I’m blessed with -the more I learn- I always end up giving it back to everyone. I never just learn and keep it all to myself.

Diane: Is there any relationship you want to talk about?

Pamela: I have great friends inside prison. I know people say you can’t find friends in prison, but you can. I have great friends outside of prison- people who have stayed by my side throughout the whole incarceration. Then, I have other families that I’ve created from friends and people inside here. A problem for me is that everyone leaves but me. So, my life is always about having friendships and then losing the physical person with me because everyone goes home. That’s rough for me, but a lot of the friends that go home stay in touch, and that to me is beautiful and speaks to the fact that you really can get friends in prison.

Diane: We only have three minutes, but I would love to open the floor to you and let you ask anything that is on your mind.

Pamela: I feel like a lot of times people in prison are seen as one-dimensional and we’re described or are forever frozen in our worst state. That defines everything about us, and we’re people. We’re humans. There’s more to us. Especially people that have been in prison for a long time. If you didn’t learn whatever you were supposed to learn in being sent to prison, you’re just never going to learn it. I think that there should be some way to reevaluate people who have served 20 or 30 years. All this time to determine if there’s a continued need for their incarceration, or if they could be doing something better outside of prison.

Diane: One last thing, because a lot of people have not heard about Humans of San Quentin. Is there anything you want to say about it?

Pamela: I think it’s a great program because it encourages people to write and find a voice. Not only to write, but then putting the writings out there. A lot of programs come into prison and they want you to write. You write in groups and then the writings never go out into the world. I think that it’s so important for people to read things by people in prison and to see themselves in those same struggles.

Kayla, 58

Meet Kayla…

Kayla, 58
Incarcerated: 42 years
Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, NY

Kayla: Totally, I’ve been incarcerated for forty-two and a half years. I’ve been in prison since I was 19 years old. In December, I’ll be 59. I’ve been incarcerated for 39 straight years, 38 years in maximum security prisons for men throughout the state of New York – Attica, Clinton, Auburn, Comstock, Greenhaven, Sing Sing – you name it, I’ve been there 1, 2, 3, 4 times. Unfortunately, I grew up in the state prisons. From institutions, jail, DFY – Division for Youth – to the state prison. I don’t have no family, unfortunately. I’m doing this bid alone. I lost my mom. Throughout the incarceration, I’ve suffered a lot of tragedy. Me being a trans woman, growing up in this environment and being out, it was not easy. I suffered a lot. Attempted rapes. A lot of brutality. A lot of violence. I’m thankful and I thank God every day because I survived through the storm. Today, I am grateful that I have been transitioned from the men’s prison to the female prison approximately 18 months ago. It’s so much better, and I’m doing great here.

Diane: How was it transitioning in prison?

Kayla: The transition form there to here was kind of hard because it’s two different worlds. The female prison versus the men’s’ prison is a lot different. The men’s prison is more physical, more violent. The female prison is more psychological, more catty. The transition was very hard, because I’m used to the violent atmospheres. I’m used to being in what we call “go time,” ready to go at any time. I was grateful from the moment I walked into Bedford Hills because the peace, you could feel it. I was welcomed with open arms, and I had never been welcomed with open arms until that moment. I had to fight every step of the way. As soon as I got to Bedford Hills – the women’s – they didn’t know at first that I was a trans woman, and still they accepted me with open arms. And it was a beautiful experience.

Diane: How has the administration been with you changing?

Kayla: For the most part it’s been good, but we’re always going to have the stereotypical individuals who want to pass judgment, and those ones can try to make it hard for me.

Diane: Is there anybody in particular since you’ve been inside who’s been a good support for you?

Kayla: Yes. My best friend. She’s a trans woman I met in 1992, and we’re still best friends to this moment. We are the first two trans women to transition from the men’s prison to the female’s prison.

Diane: What kind of support is she for you?

Kayla: She gives me moral support. She gives me psychological support. Physical support as well, because we’ve been in 3 or 4 different prisons together. We stuck by each other like the family that we became.

Diane: Is she here now?

Kayla: No, she’s in Bedford Hills.

Diane: Is there one incidence in particular you want to tell me about inside?

Kayla: The life that I live now and the life that I lived are two different worlds. I grew up Muslim. Because of such, in the men’s prison they don’t tolerate people like me. When I left, they tried to kill me. They had a statewide hit on me, and they was coming at my life, and it wasn’t easy. I had to survive the storm. And I’m thankful, again I thank God, that I had the strength and the courage to do so. But it was a lot of violence and bloodshed along the way.

Diane: What was one of the times when your life was at stake? What did one of those times look like when you felt threatened?

Kayla: Very grim and I thought I wasn’t gonna make it. I had stabbed up a Muslim, cause they was trying to get me, and I thought that day I would die. Because that’s not tolerated in a men’s prison. I was grateful to make it out.

Diane: You have the resilience inside you that a lot of people never touch. You have a reserve in there somehow that is keeping you going, so I admire that in you.

Kayla: My faith in God. Knowing that God controls all, men is pretty much just puppets. They are just following whichever way you think, but God is the sole controller of everything, and my faith in God has kept me strong. I’ve done many years in isolation, solitary confinement, from my violent attacks. Even though I was the victim, I still had to be reprimanded, because when you get caught with a shank, when you shed somebody’s blood, you have to pay for that. But I was grateful, because they looked at it from both perspectives. They understood that I am the victim.

Diane: Which is rare.

Kayla: Yes, very rare.

Diane: Tell me about your mom. You said she passed recently?

Kayla: My mom passed in 2005 from open heart surgery. That was a hard blow for me, and I’m still going through it today. I managed to make it through. My dad was killed in 1974, and I found his corpse.

Diane: How old were you?

Kayla: 10.

Diane: Oh my gosh. Do you want to talk about that?

Kayla: Him and I was close. One day, he left, and I told my mother, “he’s dead.” I don’t know how I knew, but he never came back home. Two weeks later I found his corpse in a vacant apartment. He was in the refrigerator. But it was kind of rough for me, growing up, because as I said I grew up pretty much in institutions and state prison, not having the support. My mom was there for me until she died. I have six siblings and none of them are supportive of me. They don’t even know me. I was always identifying myself as the female gender, but I didn’t have the courage because of the time I grew up. I didn’t have the courage to come out and be who I am. But some of my teachers always told me to be real, to be true to yourself. And as I got older, when I was 22, I said, “I have to be true to myself.” That’s when I accepted myself, and that’s when all hell broke loose for me.

Diane: That’s a hard transition on the outside, anywhere in the world, but to do that in a men’s prison…

Kayla: It’s harder.

Diane: And you were in a maximum security?

Kayla: Yes, this is my very first medium [security prison].

Diane: They’re open to you being everything you want to be here?

Kayla: Yes. They’re very supportive of me.

Diane: Have you gotten any kickback from people that are incarcerated?

Kayla: Incarcerated in a female prison?

Diane: Yeah.

Kayla: Eh, not really. There’s, you know, you’re going to have the catty stuff, hate stuff, but not really. I’ve been accepted. Even though one of them makes me wash her dishes all the time, but that’s okay. 

Peter: [Laughs] That’s what friends are for.

Kayla: [Laughs]

Diane: Do you have any advice for people?

Kayla: My advice is that you have to first and foremost be yourself. Be strong and firm in your beliefs of who you are. You’re gonna have all kinds of obstacles in the way, but adversity only makes us stronger. It really doesn’t make you weaker.

Diane: Is there something you want to share that I haven’t talked about?

Kayla: I just want to say that the road is still rough for me. It’s not easy. But day by day, I get through it. Because what I’ve been through and where I’m at, that’s praiseworthy.

Diane: What brings you joy?

Kayla: I’m an artist, a very advanced artist. I’ve been an artist all my life. My major is portraits. I like realism. I paint, draw, do cards. My cards are phenomenal. I do cards that people look at them and they go, “wow.”

I don’t know my siblings, but I got to meet one of my nephews are my mother’s funeral. He’s still out there somewhere. But my siblings don’t know me. I would like for them to view me and accept me, but I don’t think they would.

Diane: Is there a way that you’d like them to see you?

Kayla: As the woman I am.

Diane: And how would you describe yourself?

Kayla: A person that is loving, humble, passionate. I like to joke a lot. But there’s a reason why I joke a lot. The reason why I joke a lot is because I have a lot of scars, and they haunt me. I have a lot of nightmares. I been to Attica three times. Attica is one of the most brutal prisons in New York State. Clinton Dannemora, I’ve been there. That’s another real bad prison. Me as a trans woman, going through these places and not getting involved in relationships, it was very hard for me. So I had to do what they do. I had to act like a animal. I didn’t go nowhere without my shanks. You have to be on go time all the time, so it makes you into something that you really don’t wanna be. But I’m grateful that it didn’t take my humanity away. It didn’t steal me, it didn’t break me. In reality it only built me. It built me to be a stronger woman.

Diane: What brings you comfort now? You’ve been through such oppression and violence and your heart sounds like it’s been torn to pieces.

Kayla: Knowing that I survived a storm where many people have died. Though I grew old in prison, I’m pushing 60 years old, and I feel great about that. Because as I said, a lot of people has died. I watched a lot of my associates die, watched a lot of them get killed. But what brings me comfort is because I believe strongly in God, and I keep my faith alive knowing that I survived, but by His grace and His grace only. If it wasn’t for God, I’d be dead.

Diane: You want to add anything?

Kayla: Well, I’m grateful and I appreciate y’all coming here to visit with us. It means a lot to me to get our voices heard.

Jamel, 43

Meet Jamel…

Jamel, 43
Incarcerated: 13 years
Housed: Sing Sing, New York

Diane: Tell us about you. 

Jamel: I finished school and I did a year of college. My grandmother was always on me about school. Go to school, go to school, go to school. 

Diane: Tell us about your grandma.

Jamel: She raised me. She took me away from my mother and said to me, “You’re our baby.” My mother tried to get me to live with her, but she was in the Marines and always traveling. I said, “I’m going back to Grandma. I love Grandma, and I love New York.” Because of her insistence on school, I find joy in reading and writing. After school, I had different vocationals.

Diane: Is your grandmother still with us? 

Jamel: Yes. I speak to her every week. Sometimes, I double dip, call her twice a day and bug her. 

Diane: Have you learned anything about yourself while you’ve been in here that surprised you? 

Jamel: Yes. At first, I was stuck viewing the world in one way. After attending college, I learned to be positive, to adapt and to change. I no longer fly off the hinges when I get upset. I went to college for behavior science, and was able to pick up on different behavior patterns and why we do certain things. I was able to see light through a different angle. Why do I do that? Why do people get upset for that? I started analyzing myself and others. They say when you’re driving on a road you don’t just think for yourself, but you gotta think for the next person. That goes to show with the individual traveling the mental road of life.

Diane: How has prison been for you? 

Jamel: When I first got arrested at 25 years, I had a mission  to go to school, I knew how to read and write well. Which forced me into studying law. I had to gain time back. Twenty-five years is serious. So I studied the law, and was able to get a time reduction of three years. I wasn’t content with that. So I studied harder and gained five more years. That’s all through what they call erudition. Experience gained through books. I was able to  master my environment. I’m near the end. Next month I’m eligible for work release. Next year, around the holidays, I’ll be home. 

Diane: Holy cow, that’s liberating to hear. What’s next for you? 

Jamel: When my time was reduced, I was a little at ease, but I wasn’t at peace, so I started writing books. I wrote House of Brittle Bones, a book of short stories. Once I saw it in print, I started writing again. Got my next one, Kites that Flew published. I was off to the races. Right now I’m trying to get my books into Netflix movies and a couple other places. 

Diane: Tell us about home for you? 

Jamel: It’s Harlem, New York and I have my brother Giovanni, he owns a recording studio. I taught him how to utilize it. It’s something I can fall back on, the fruits of my labor. I wanna say I have a business partner. You know we can’t own businesses in here, the person I would like to start a business with owns a business called Legacy 06:47. It would help me create bookmarks and different things for my books. 

Diane: Is there anything that you want to share?

Jamel: Yes. Humans of San Quentin gives me something to look forward to, it’s not in the box. I’m able to see. It has opened corridors to my mind. I’ve learned we can introduce this to people as a teaching experience. An education should be fashioned for us to be self-sufficient.  I think that the Humans of San Quentin gives us a lot of hope and help that we can share with one another. It helps people learn from their experiences. That’s what it’s all about, learning from experiences. 

Diane: Is there any advice you have to share? 

Jamel: Somebody once told me, to attain success in your writing and your thinking patterns, never think outside the box. I say, “Destroy the box. There is no box!”

Sarah, 37

Meet Sarah…

“She was a more sophisticated, stoic type of woman. She wouldn’t have to be loud or speak anything really; her presence alone demanded attention and respect. You wouldn’t second guess it. She installed in me a type of quality of how to carry myself as a woman. Even though I could be animated or rambunctious, even obnoxiously loud at moments, she used to chastise me. She could be so stern, ‘You know we’re not about that. I love you unconditionally; that’s natural. However, do I like you acting like that? Absolutely not!’ It turned her off, but in some moments she’d crack up and laugh because her sense of humor is a bit much. 

Her love was unconditional, so I didn’t know how much of an impact I’ve caused during my teenage years or that rebellion stage. On one of the visits that I had with my mom, once again, my sister was with her and I spoke to my sister after the visit, and she explained to me that mommy broke down crying, putting your mail in the mailbox. Publicly she’s not a scene maker so everyone knows that she’s suffering or going through pain. She was very well at masking that, and that broke me. That broke my heart so much. And still, in all, knowing that it broke my heart to hear it, to know that I’ve caused pain in my family. I still wasn’t too connected with how much of an impact I’ve caused for not just my family members but with my community and my friends. Up to this day, I talk to my friends and they reach out to me, and they’re like, ‘What you did changed my life, my journey. You know, I’m married, I’ve got kids.’

Another thing about my mom: she came to one of my visits, and I started getting misty-eyed and emotional a little bit. She was like, please don’t do that. I complained about what my son was wearing. He was about three or four at the time, and he had a pair of corduroys on and I was like, I would never have my child wearing anything like that. And then my son was three or four years old so he didn’t really care. That’s when I started crying. She was like, ‘You’re still vain thinking that we’re not suffering or going through whatever we’re going through, and you’re worried about how your child is dressed. We came- we took 2 ½ hours to get here. It cost gas money.’ It’s a struggle for me to accept a situation where someone else is telling my kid what to do. She held it together just to keep afloat and help to keep my sanity.”