Albert “Joe”, 48

Albert “Joe”, 48

Meet Joe…

This is proof that serenity can exist, you just need to look in a place you have never searched before to find it.

Albert “Joe”, 48
Incarcerated: 14 yrs
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility

It didn’t take me long to realize that music and my cello would be the best psychologist in the world. I gave up the desire to give up and focused on the performance side of music. I joined Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program and was soon performing in concerts for the Sing Sing Community. With my love for grunge/alternative rock, I decided to begin writing original scores for string quartets. Included in those are Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite.” I felt a need to expand my abilities so I decided to try my hand at writing a song. I’ve never done this so didn’t put much stock into it. I’ve never fancied myself a singer, but was willing to try. Enclosed is my first song, “Dying Moon.” Practicing the song, it was decided it should be performed live at a family concert, scheduled for March 17, 2023. But writing the song was not enough. I needed to push myself beyond my comfort zone, so I decided I was going to pick-up a guitar and sing the song as well. Not an easy undertaking, especially since the concert was but four weeks out at the time of the decision. I believe the concert will be recorded and will be released online for viewing. Once we are notified, I will gladly send you all the information for your viewing pleasure.  “Dying Moon” is my desire to find peace and serenity in a place it just doesn’t or shouldn’t exist, but it was found in a series of musical notes. This is proof that serenity can exist, you just need to look in a place you have never searched before to find it.

Verse 1

Seeking what don’t belong
Where violence is strong
It is true
Blood red hue
Over you the sound of the dying moon


I’m chasing the sound of the dying moon
Sometimes red and sometimes blue

Verse 2:

It’s the sound of serenity
Highest tranquility
Rising moon brilliant blue
Longing to hear the sound of the dying moon



I can’t take in anymore
I strain to hear a whisper
Need to find peace
Where serenity hides
Behind these walls these walls these walls


Verse 3

Found a way to escape
The monotony of this place
Found a note gave me hope
Strength in the sound of the dying moon


Sammy, 54

Sammy, 54

Meet Sammy…

I received a letter from my 19 year old daughter, Jazzy, asking me the most insightful question a father would ever have to answer, “Who are You?” And for the life of me, I could not write her a response.

Sammy, 54
Incarcerated: 22 yrs
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

As a byproduct of the foster care system, I know what it is like to be frightened, saddened, and unbeknownst of what is to come. I know about the exhilarating feeling of being adopted and properly raised by a devout and loving Christian family. Unfortunately, since 18, I have been a career criminal gripped and enslaved to the disease of heroin addiction. And as a result, I mentally and physically wounded too many good-hearted people, especially those I made out to be victims when I needlessly took the life of another human being. I am currently serving 25-years-to-life. Even after that horrific and needless part of my past, I still continued with drugs and criminal thinking. In 2009, I received a letter from my 19 year old daughter, Jazzy, asking me the most insightful question a father would ever have to answer, ‘Who are You?’ And for the life of me, I could not write her a response. Instead, I was miraculously drawn, in tractor-beam force, to look in the mirror in my 8’x8’ cell. As I took an honest look – the image that gawked back, was just a shell of me. I then began to walk the journey of honest self-introspection, which allowed me to stop blaming others for my negative thoughts and behaviors. Instead, I took responsibility for the harm I caused by first abstaining from drugs. Since, I have become a facilitator for the Alcohol Substance Abuse Program, obtained college degrees and am working on my master’s. Do those accomplishments make up for all the harm I caused others – of course not. It is the only concrete way in which I can add substance to the words ‘I’m Sorry’ to all I have harmed. Today, the answer to my daughter’s profound question: I am an individual who is not defined by my bad decisions, yet my past experiences have molded me into a proud, loving, and remorseful Latino father of six wonderful kids and five amazing grandkids. I am also intelligent enough to know what my limitations are – and that recovery from the disease of drug addiction cannot be done alone. God has gifted me with the humane blessing of using my past to help others better themselves.


Sammy, 54

Incarcerated: 22 yrs

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

Who am I?

I wasn’t born to be a heroin junkie, career criminal, or a murderer, yet the consequences of my deviant thought process and bad decision making allowed for my loved ones and society members to appropriately label me as such. The question that needs to be answered: Who Am I? Why would a young innocent child labeled as a “Mama’s boy, jokester, and decent kid,” turn out to cause so much harm to civilized members of society, his loved ones, and to himself?

At the age of four I was displaced from the care of my mother by the Bureau of Child Welfare, after it was revealed that my single mother was endangering the lives of her sons by physically and sexually abusing them. The blemish of that part of my story is that I had become a product of New York City’s foster care system. The unforeseen benefit to that sadden event was that I was chosen to be fostered by a loving, supporting, and devout christian family. I had adjusted well to being raised by a  Roman Catholic family of six (foster mother/father, and two older foster sisters and brothers); in fact, life for me was going extraordinarily well. I was nurtured, my immediate needs were met, my academic studies in elementary catholic school was good, and I was as happy as a kid of my age should have been. Unfortunately, that positive lifestyle drastically changed when a family court judge made the notice. I had developed the tendency of not voicing myself when addressed by my family, teachers, community members, and psychological medical staff whenever I committed a wrongful act. Soon thereafter, said caregivers had started to witness the beginning stages of my juvenile delinquency. For example, stealing snacks from the local neighborhood bodega, money from family members, and more frustratingly to them, I had developed the harmful tendencies of emulating the criminal behaviors that were associated with the hoodlums in my East Harlem housing projects. As a result of my poor school grades in elementary school, my parents had to enroll me in a public high school. They got me into the best one that had an R.O.T.C. program; and the plan was for me to go straight into the military after obtaining my high school diploma. Remarkably, that plan went extremely well throughout my freshman year. I had excelled in my academic studies, and I was enthralled with the dynamics associated with the R.O.T.C. program. That was until in my sophomore year when I had impulsively given into those negative childhood tendencies of emulating those neighborhood law breakers that my parents did their best to shield me from.

Consequently, upon getting a pass to go to the bathroom from class one afternoon, I had walked right into those same types of individuals my parents had warned me to stay away from. What was more troubling, they offered me to smoke marijuana with their crew, and my immediate response was, “Yeah!” Having never actually smoked weed before, as soon as I lit that joint and inhaled it too hard, everyone in attendance knew because it looked like I was trying to cough up a lung. And rather than run out that bathroom red-faced with embarrassment, I instead laughed right along with them. Instead of feeling like a loser from them ridiculing me, I ridiculed them back, and in that moment, I had finally lived out my mental fantasy of being accepted by a group of respected and feared bad-asses from my neighborhood. That same warped process of mine had led me to drop out of high school on the second day of my senior year; it had also been the beginning stages of the many negative thoughts and bad decisions of my youth, and ultimately my adulthood.

On my 18th birthday I tossed my clothing out of my parents’ 14th floor apartment so that I could run amok in the streets of East Harlem. And as a result, I caused my mother to painfully cry in a way that still haunts me to this present day. I had also defied the words of my father, when my mother had been pleading with him not to let me go, as he said “Let him go, he won’t last a day in those streets.” I had proven him incorrect, but it came with the cost of me causing too much hardships and harm to my family, friends, community and society members, and me. One of the proud moments from those years was the birth of my children, but they too ultimately were subjected to needles, heartaches and let downs from their dad. Aside from that, there were many times where I attempted to live according to the 9-to-5 working class norms, but it was short-lived, regardless of how good the job or life was. I had consciously decided to commit myself to a life of criminality.  I became chemically dependent on the nasal usage of heroin. I got arrested for possession of narcotics, with an intent to sell. I pleaded out and received five years probation. Again, I was arrested for the same charges two days before my youngest son’s 1st birthday – I pleaded out and was sentenced to serve two to five years in the state prison. I completed the Shock program and was back in the streets doing the same thing with the same people, places, and things, ten months later. While on parole, I was once again convicted of the same charges and sentenced again to state prison, in which I served two years with the same outcome. While on parole, my chemical dependency went to the extremes. I had a $100 a day heroin habit and nothing else mattered in my life except finding a way and means to support said habit. In fear of violating the terms of my parole, I successfully completed a detox program and went directly into a residential drug treatment program. Unfortunately, that program was located a block away from the same neighborhood where I harmed too many people. And as a result, I was confronted by a drug dealer that I had once robbed and it ended in a violent altercation that was not favorable to the aggressor who tried to attack me. Fearing the worst, I left the program because I did not want any of the residents getting hurt in case he came back to retaliate while I was in the program. Against the advice of the staff members, I went back to living in that neighborhood and I dealt with the matter at large. Consequently, I relapsed with my heroin addiction in the worst way possible. 

On April 1st 2001, I was out scheming for a way to get my first heroin fix of the day and I got involved in a situation where I needlessly killed a person who was once a friend of mine. The end result was as follows:

  • On April 11th 2001, I was violated by my parole officer, then picked up by the 32nd precinct homicide division and interrogated for over 17 hours.
  • On April 12th 2001, I was arrested for murder in the second degree.
  • On April 3rd 2003, after a jury trial, I was convicted of that crime.
  • In May of 2003, I was sentenced to serve 25 years -to-life in state prison.

Throughout the two years I ran rampant in Rikers Island, and the first six years running wildly in several state penitentiaries, I always found a way and means to continue with my chemical dependency with heroin, even though it came at the expense of risking the freedom and livelihood of others. After being found guilty for my fourth positive urinalysis offense, I was once again sent to solitary confinement to serve a 60-day sentence. At mail time in my cell one afternoon, I was delivered a note from my 19 year old daughter Jasmine. In that letter she challenged me to answer for myself the most profound question a father should ever be asked by his daughter – “Who Am I?” And for the life of me, I could not write her back an honest response. Jazzy challenged me with that profound question. It stunned me in such a way that I instinctively walked up to the mirror in my cell so as to take an honest look at myself. And because of me not accepting the image that gawked back at me, right then and there, I vowed to do an honest introspection of self, so as to get the answer.

Upon release from Rikers solitary confinement, I was transferred to Clinton Correctional facility where I began a self-introspection journey for  Narcotics Anonymous. One year later I was transferred to Sing Sing Correctional Facility where I utilized the rehabilitative self-help programs that solidified my efforts towards understanding who I am. In fact, the central part of my cognitive therapy treatment came from the Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) counselors in Sing Sing, and practicing the nine competencies of drug treatment. I came to the revelation that my flawed thought process and bad decision making need not define me but instead prove who I am today. Therefore, I formulated a plan of action that could transform those negative experiences of my past and transform them into a positive educational learning experience. I adopted the habit to always ask myself, “What can I do next towards the goal for positive growth and development?” This has led me down a productive path to a Master Degree in Professional Studies.

On completion of documenting my journey towards an honest introspection of self, I can now answer with confidence and certainty that profound question that my then 19-years old daughter Jazzy had once challenged me to answer for myself,  “Who Am I?” To begin with, I must accept the fact of who I am not. Today I am not a heroin junkie, I am not a career criminal, and most of all, I am a man who has learned to understand there will never be any justification for why and how I needlessly took the life of another human being, regardless of traumas that were associated with my past. The trials and tribulations of my life experiences have molded me to become a remorseful, loving, moralistic, and fun-loving person. I am also a goal-oriented individual who strives for personal success, while supporting the journey of others who are striving to better their lives. Moreover, today I understand that the words “I’m Sorry” have no sentimental value unless there is some concrete evidence to support such remorseful language; evidence such as converting the negative labels of my past and transforming them into credentials for my future endeavors. Credentials that can open the doors of opportunity for me to work with those that are presently fighting against risk factors that prevent them become better people in society. I know that I have what it takes to be a father to my children, a laudable son and family member, and a potential credible messenger who will always do my best to not repeat the bad decisions of my past, but use them as a harm-reduction educational experience for others.

Anthony “David”, 41

Anthony “David”, 41

Meet David…

Life is the biggest test, the only way some people learn is from making honest mistakes, and learning from them.

Anthony “David”, 41
Incarcerated: 4 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

I started rapping as an outlet to express my feelings. I am the type of person that holds most stuff in. Not much bothers me. I learned when I get emotional or feel sad, I have the power to decide “the decision moment” by acknowledging it then moving forward. The key is “recognizing it” then making my decision. I love positive energy. It is easy to be negative so I pride myself in making others happy more than making myself happy, if that makes any sense. When I was home, I didn’t give myself a chance to grow professionally because I put others’ needs before my own. I don’t want to be a waste of talent, I am very educated, and my passion for music has not died. I still write and have hopes of taking care of others. To dance. I attract people and money without trying. I always wanted my whole family to have the best life possible. We have been through so much together, it’s only right. I could be a billionaire, if I had recorded my family on a daily basis. They are all musically inclined, and multi-talented. Life is the biggest test. The only way some people learn is from making mistakes, and learning from them. My advice: Life inside here is not what anyone who has never been incarcerated thinks. You can promise yourself that five negative seconds can get you 50 years of misery. One hour, one minute, one second can put you somewhere you don’t want to be, with someone you don’t know, and won’t ever see again. Trust me. Being humble will pay off. Get that 9 to 5 and establish yourself as an honest citizen. The streets don’t love nobody. The friends come to an end. You will be in a cell starving, afraid to eat what the people responsible for your life are giving you. The people that love you won’t reach out because they have their own life, you will be lucky if you are their last priority. Some people have no one! I pray that all of us make it home in one piece. God will show you light in a dark situation. We can change the world we live in by changing how we think, and not being selfish. Don’t blow your blessing.

Michael, 50

Meet Michael…

As an openly queer person, I wondered if it would matter to the audience. Performing in prison can be like performing in front of the audience at Showtime at the Apollo. They will let you know in an instant if you are off- key. Would their toxic masculinity afford me the moment of performing as Nero and tell the story of love between two different-sexed loving people?

Michael, 50
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York

Singing in prison is tricky. Sing out loud and proud and you are guaranteed at least twenty people within earshot yelling “Shut the f*!@ up!” from the confines of their cages. But that wasn’t the case when I had the opportunity to sing with multi Grammy-Award winning mezzo soprano, Joyce DiDonato, and acclaimed American pianist, Howard Watkins. Singing taps into a voice that is uniquely yours, and on December 2, 2022, I got to use my voice as one of three tenors, singing opera. Two weeks prior, Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute notified me that I would be in the concert along with two other incarcerated persons. The nerves immediately set in. We would be singing Pur Ti Miro from Monteverdi’s final opera, L’Incoronazione di Poppea written in 1642. For the first time, this opera would be performed in the notorious maximum security prison of Sing Sing. We would be performing for people, like me, who did not have exposure to opera. I tried to dampen my voice by singing under the covers or when the noise from the company would overwhelm any sounds I could make. I don’t have a great ear and hoped I was singing the correct notes. I imagined myself as Nero, the character who sings to his love Poppaea. As an openly queer person, I wondered if it would matter to the audience. Performing in prison can be like performing in front of the audience at Showtime at the Apollo. They will let you know in an instant if you are off- key. Would their toxic masculinity afford me the moment of performing as Nero and tell the story of love between two different-sexed loving people? The day of the concert came quickly. I only wanted more time to practice. That afternoon we met with Joyce and Howard. They were kind and generous. We also found out that we would be singing in a chorus for the folk song “Shenandoah.” Joyce described the writer of the song as using music to remember their home, the Shenandoah Valley, from the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. That struck a chord with me. We were nearing the holidays- a tall Christmas tree with garland, multi-colored lights and ornaments was in the corner of the Catholic Chapel where we were performing. We were performing for some people who have not been home in decades. In fact, some people have lost all of their family members and what they thought of as home does not exist anymore. Literally, buildings have been torn down with new buildings in their place with gentrification and other forces reshaping what used to be “home.” The only home they have, that I have, is the home in our hearts and memories. The opera piece came and went. I was not even thinking about it. I was focused on singing my heart out on Shenandoah. I wanted the audience to know we were their home for that moment and that home was filled with warmth and love. Something they could take back with them to their cold cages.

Paul, 42

Paul, 42

Meet Paul…

The power of gentleness, especially amid the tough exteriors of prisoners, is not to be underestimated.

Paul, 42
Incarcerated: 17
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York
Selection from Paul’s book, God’s Hand Reaches Down

David came to the Chaplain’s office because he had just found out his mother had died. He was a taller Latin man, a little over six feet, with the rough exterior of years of street life. I could see the pain in his eyes, and the sorrow in his heart. I barely knew him, but the Holy Spirit told me to embrace him. So I did. I told him, “David, I am so sorry for your loss,” and then I just hugged him. I felt his large frame collapse into the crook of my neck like a child, and he began to weep. All the emotion he was holding in convulsed out into broken sobs, and as I held him strongly while rubbing his back and giving him words of consolation. In that moment, he needed the gentleness of an embrace to open his Spirit. Other than being accosted by a correctional officer during a pat frisk on the wall, many of us have never been held for five, ten, twenty plus years, let alone hugged during a vulnerable time. We prayed and I could visibly see the relief on his face and the resolve to get through this difficult time. The power of gentleness, especially amid the tough exteriors of prisoners, is not to be underestimated. Over the years because of my care for my fellow prisoners and the goodness that lies within them, through the gentle example of Jesus, I have been able to reach people during the most challenging times of familial loss, lockdowns, gang wars, riots, and unrest.

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