Tiona, 26

Meet Tiona…

It is helping others understand life from a different perspective in hopes that we stop fighting each other and come together. Unity is the answer to everything, the ultimate key to love and peace in hopes of mending our differences.

Incarcerated: 7

Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York

During my 26 years, I have come to realize what it is to love and to lose, what it is to grow and be stagnant. Every step of the way has shaped me into the woman I am today. I have learned from a young age what it feels like to have someone love me and then have them ripped from my life; leaving me to fend for myself as everyone around me abandons me.

I learned  just because you have parents. does not mean they have to love you, and their version of love might be quite different. 

I learned life is never what you expect and it will constantly surprise you. We may not understand our pain, struggles and suffering until later in life when things begin to fall into place or sometimes when it is too late. It is all the aches and heartbreaks that make you grow, which leads your heart to guide you in a different direction. 

I learned that what you hear or see as a child makes you believe certain values, and growing up and becoming one with yourself  makes you change those same beliefs. 

I learned  you might never see life the same as the person next to you, but you have to try to walk in their shoes in order to understand life differently. 

I learned to listen to my heart as it cries out in agony, because it is with love that we heal and heal others. 

I learned  even if you did nothing wrong, you will be viewed as if you are guilty because they lack the capability to analyze what is beneath the surface. 

I learned what it felt like to be my son’s first heartbreak when I received my 16-year prison sentence. 

I learned to survive in a jungle meant to destroy you and to find love in this strange place. 

I learned how all the evils of this world can consume you. 

I learned how to find myself while I watch others closely to divide the real from the fake, and to take heed of what they hide behind their masks and in their hearts.

I learned how to stop hating life, and how to start living it. We need to see we are not defined by our mistakes, because while they cannot be undone they show our willingness to get back and try again. 

I learned my passion is to free others from their mental imprisonments, and to live up to my life purpose. I want to spread love endlessly. 

I am learning to remind myself someone out there has it worse than me. While learning that even though we are all human beings, we are not looked at as such. Society creates these “norms” and labels and once someone does not fit in, they ‘X’ them out, alienating them. 

I am learning it is extremely difficult to be a woman and even harder to be a woman of color, that society expected me to fail because of the color of my skin. This may be ’The Land of The Free’ but every life born or migrated here has paid the price. 

I have learned to fear for my child every time I watch the news and see another black body lying on the ground at the hands of law enforcement. I know now it is those who are meant to help you that are often the ones who hurt you. 

I am learning our constitution continues to fail us, resulting in our growth being stunted. 

I am learning that while I am just an ordinary person, I want to make the best of my time here for both those around me as well as myself. It is helping others understand life from a different perspective in hopes that we stop fighting each other and come together. Unity is the answer to everything, the ultimate key to love and peace in hopes of mending our differences. Our world would be such a peaceful place if we thought of others, if everyone’s soul was inclined to help the next individual; I am learning to be thankful for today because tomorrow may never come. 

Eric, 52

Eric, 52

Meet Eric…

And you know, I like to get A’s. I’m an A student. I work hard and I started having this pride about submitting my work, I’m eager to know how I did. I say, “I know I perfected, I got this, I aced this.” So now I understand why the recidivism rate is lower. You develop character, you change your thinking.  And you’re escaping, like I said earlier, the ills of prison and you’re removing yourself from that environment. And you become mature.

Incarcerated: 10 yrs

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

Diane: Tell us about your family.

Eric: All my family members pretty much dwindled during the course of my incarceration. My mother has passed. She’s a 9/11 survivor. She worked at Meryl Lynch across the street from the towers. She inhaled the polarized glass fumes that subsequently caused fungus in her lungs. She passed from COPD due to complications of 9/11. I do have a brother. He’s out of state in the Navy. He’s touch and go, though. I’ve pretty much been all on my own during most of this bid. Despite all that, I’ve had to kick off the dust and move forward. College was definitely a way to escape the ills associated with prison. I don’t hang out too much in the yard. I only socialize with people that are like minded and want to go in the direction of making the best of this experience. We try not to go out the same way we came in.

Diane: Is there anything you want to share about your mom? 

Eric: Before she passed I remember being at her deathbed. I was able to get that visit. She said, “I’m very proud of you.” She knew that I was pursuing my education. She said, “You know, I’m sorry that I failed you.” 

I said, “No, you did not. It was all on me.” She did nothing for me to move in that direction. I said, “Mom, I’m gonna be okay.” And she passed like that. 

Diane: What made you enroll in school?

Eric: The parole board looks at education as a way to lower the recidivism rate. I wanted to assure them that I’m not coming back. I went to school solely for that purpose. It wasn’t that I had a passion to learn about things, right? But as I started, my thinking started to change and I started to have to critically think. I had to be responsible. I had to do my papers. And you know, I like to get A’s. I’m an A student. I work hard and I started having this pride about submitting my work, I’m eager to know how I did. I say, “I know I perfected, I got this, I aced this.” So now I understand why the recidivism rate is lower. You develop character, you change your thinking.  And you’re escaping, like I said earlier, the ills of prison and you’re removing yourself from that environment. And you become mature.

Bruce, 52

Bruce, 52

Meet Bruce…

It was during this time that I made a conscious decision to embark upon a journey of growth and self development. I enrolled in every therapeutic program that Green Haven Correctional Facility offered. There I pursued higher education, earning college credits and giving presentations on the importance of personal development.

Incarcerated: 26 years

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

When I entered the  prison system in 1996, I met a group of older brothers who introduced me to ‘The Resurrection Study Group’  which focused on Afrocentric values, history and culture. When I began attending classes I was encouraged to engage in deep reflection and introspection. It was during this time that I made a conscious decision to embark upon a journey of growth and self development. I enrolled in every therapeutic program that Green Haven Correctional Facility offered. There I pursued higher education, earning college credits and giving presentations on the importance of personal development. I made a conscious decision to not be bitter but to be better, I told myself I would not serve time, but rather I would have time serve me. While earning my AA from Sullivan Community College and my B.S. from Mercy college I  had the rare opportunity to present a Tedx Talk. I also continue to work with the nonprofit, Children of Promise (cpnyc.org) which caters to children of incarcerated parents. I am grateful for the elders who reached out to me early in my incarceration. 

Ivié’s Gallery

Ivié’s Gallery

Artist Ivié, 55

Self-Forgiveness is a work in progress
It takes a strong person to stand and live
With the burden of a sin, a regret, a remorse and not hide
Learning to live with your faults before forgiving yourself
Will light your torch for the long haul
It’s in the very learning of our faults that we find freedom

Kristal, 29

Kristal, 29

Meet Kristal…

“I really want to be a couples and marriage counselor,
and let people know when you really love someone,
you don’t hurt them, ever for any reason.”

Incarcerated: 6 years

He convinced me to come to New York to meet his mom, she abandoned him when he was four. We went through a lot together. He said everything would change and I believed him. Everything started again.

I was far from my family, he was still in control, I couldn’t go to a safe place. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have another choice but to stay and hold everything down. I was still married to another guy. I was so ignorant that after I got married I left him because I wanted freedom to party and do what I wanted. One night we were in a big fight and my husband called. He really wanted me to come back and start over with him, it sounded crazy to me.

He knew this guy had put his hands on me over and over again. Why did he want me back, I questioned everything. I couldn’t go back to him. When I’m released I really want to be a couples and marriage counselor, and let people know when you really love someone, you don’t hurt them, ever for any reason.

Today I’m fighting to get re-sentenced. I have finished everything possible in this place so I can go home. I live to be with my family. 📸: Kristal’s personal collection