Roger, 45

Roger, 45

Meet Roger..

“My goal once home is to rebuild community trust and dependability by being a voice and advocate for struggling and troubled youth.”

Roger, 45

Incarcerated: 30 years

Housed: California Medical Facility, Stockton 

On the brink of a new year, I was introduced to the two latest members of my family, my nieces. They have further fueled my drive for freedom and continue to be a shining example of progress through and despite duress. I’ve been incarcerated since I was a teenager, and at that time, my youngest brother and sister were the same ages as their children; my nieces are now. I walked into prison with an immature and biased belief system fueled by what I was taught by the males in my life and neighborhood. This ultimately led to my association and inevitable incarceration. Resulting in an innocent woman losing her life. To this day, I regret the choices of my youth and am genuinely sorry for the hurt I caused. My two nieces and the unwavering love of my mother and other women have opened my eyes to the importance of supporting our better halves with our strength, drive, power, and ability. Because without them, there would be no us! My goal once home is to rebuild community trust and dependability by being a voice and advocate for struggling and troubled youth. Having been one of these youths myself and recognizing the lack of positive male role models and activity groups for the youth still within the community, I believe that it is time for someone who personally knows the importance of teaching and raising our youth, the futures of our communities and the world in a way that promotes peace and progress. I write this hoping to find new friends from all walks of life who might share my aspirations. I go before the Parole Board in July and expect to be found suitable. Hopefully, these goals and endeavors can and will manifest sooner than expected. I hope to hear from anyone striving for change.

 

Gunner, 32

Meet Gunner..

“To anyone I have hurt carelessly or under addiction, I pray you heal and learn to forgive. I never forgave those who hurt me, and it turned into poison. An apology is made through my life actions. NO ONE is truly free who cannot control themselves.”

Gunner ‘GT’, 32

Incarcerated: 7 years

Housed: Valley State Prison Chowchilla, California

Imagine if everything you have ever experienced was abnormal and nothing was normal by society’s standards. You just stepped into my shoes. From the age of one to the age of four, I lived with my poor drug-addict mother who loved men and needles more than me, leaving me alone to starve and get molested. Cops showed up and stripped my little fingers from the only thing that made me feel safe. I was taken from her like a state of emergency. I was taken to a place where I was held down, given shots, and told it was okay. Then, I was given to a stranger called father, and people I didn’t know who said “I love you” but yelled when I did anything. My father was a broken man. He had a wife and two sons, but she ran away to protect herself and the boys. I was this fix, but I had my trauma already. I was young, angry, and exposed to too much. My father inconsistently lost jobs by dropping liquor down his throat and meth through each nostril. How would anyone expect shit to go down?

One day in the winter of 96, I was in New Mexico, staying with my dad’s buddy and his two kids. One day while my dad was at work, we broke a window playing ball. His buddy duct-taped our hands and feet behind our backs and put us in the corners of separate rooms. Eight hours later, my dad came in from work: I’d pissed my pants, and my hands were numb. My dad beat the dude up and asked if I wanted to live with people I’d never met; I said yes. It was the only time my dad did right by me. Aunt Brenda and Uncle Ronny were bikers. I had my room, bed, and a home for two years. I went to school, and I had friends. It was my best life, regardless of whether it was still wrong. While I was living with them. I was almost killed four times by a dog attack; involved in a drive-by shooting, I was kidnapped and raped and nearly thrown off a building.

In the summer of 1998, my dad took me back, he wanted me, but he had nothing to offer but some bullshit. I fought at school every day. He would beat me; I would lie to authority about my black eyes. My family covered for him. One day, my dad came home, blacked out from drinking too much, and beat me to the point where I ran to 7-11 and called the cops.

From 12 to 18, I was forced to pretend to be perfect when I was broken. Years passed in that brokenness, and I lost the feeling of happiness and comfort. If things weren’t wrong, I felt something was wrong. I got kicked out and moved around to 17 foster homes. I needed help, not abandonment. At 18, I was indeed full of hate, looking for expressions to participate. I got arrested selling drugs and got lucky. It was the only time my skin got me out of an adverse fate. I used sex, alcohol, and drugs to silence the insecurities I called demons. I literally avoided my past, which caused a destructive present. I had no men who would teach me how to be a man, so I watched TV and made my own James Bond plans.

I did what I wanted, right or wrong. I was a raw street boy trying to be a man on my own two feet. Failures showed me how much I hated myself, so I gave up caring. When things went wrong, I shrugged, not giving a fuck, because I self-sabotaged, not trying pathetically in every way. Sad, angry, and fueled through aggression.

From 18 to 25, I was having fun doing what I wanted because of my youth’s lack of exposure and trying to make up for lost time. I was stunted in maturity. If I’d had direction, I would have been working in a union job, but I never knew what people called obvious. I never saw a way out to be successful. I tried two times to be a good guy. The first time she dumped me was when I was in the US Army. The second time, I blacked out and hurt a girl; it was 100% my fault. I take 100% responsibility for the harm I caused. I blame no one, factor traumas. I should have stopped out of fear and faced the pain. I spiraled in 2016 after my girlfriend moved out; I wrecked my truck, lost my job, lost the apartment, and was homeless, fueling my addictions. I was arrested for blacking out and hurting an innocent soul who didn’t deserve my stupidity of actions.

In county jail, I was given a razor blade and a bible, and for 28 days in isolation, I faced a crossroads: end myself or change. I prayed to God to change all of me and give me strength. On the wall was Romans 8:28. I have been sober since. I went to college and graduated with a 3.0 GPA, not bad for a high school dropout. I took every class to parent myself for everything I lacked or never knew. I seek to be loved and accepted; I desire to be the gap for the lost, outcast, rejected, and those who have made choices from factors related to unhealed trauma. To anyone I have hurt carelessly or under addiction, I pray you heal and learn to forgive. I never forgave those who hurt me, and it turned into poison. An apology is made through my life actions. NO ONE is truly free who cannot control themselves.

 

Marques, 43

Marques, 43

Meet Marques..

“I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage.”

Marques, 43

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: California State Prison, Solano

What have I learned about myself in prison?

Since my conviction, my life has changed in so many significant ways. I am no longer the same person that I once was before coming to prison,

When I committed this crime, I was impulsive and acted first and thought later. Now, I know better than to do that. I’ve learned to think first before reacting. I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage. At the time, addressing violence with superiors seemed like the right way to handle the situation, but it wasn’t. I have identified my internal and external triggers such as feeling insecure, powerless, ashamed, unheard, vulnerable, and sometimes fearful. I was being ridiculed or threatened by people around me, being called a liar, being insulted, being yelled at, and called weak. I’ve also developed healthy coping mechanisms that prevent me from returning to criminal behavior whenever I’m tempted to do so. Some coping mechanisms include but are not limited to: 

1) Positive self-talk. When feeling insecure, I remind myself I am not a negative thought or feeling. I am more than my past, and I am learning while growing. 

2) No matter what is said, I stop personally taking people’s words or actions. 

3) I pause to observe and process my situation, feelings, and my body’s reaction (heart rate increases, breathing quickens) to remain calm and avoid reacting impulsively. 

4) Breathing: when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I pause to take deep breaths and meditate. 

5) Listening with understanding and empathy when others express their thoughts or feelings. 

6) Taking the necessary time to assess different opinions or conflicts in a given situation. 

7) Things I’ve learned in self-help groups also work for me: Thought stopping, thought replacement, walking away, speaking calmly, and exercising.

I’ve matured in areas of the utmost importance when it comes to my conduct and behavior. By completing several self-help classes, I’ve acquired the necessary tools to modify my behavior and rebuild my life from the ground up. I took the time to dig deep within and was able to identify my many weaknesses, turning them into strengths; rather than being problem-focused, I’ve become solution-minded.

Today, I’ve learned to identify the root causes of my choices to be violent and to trace back the origin of my criminal thinking, which was that violence and committing crimes were the best ways to address whatever external problems I was facing. I have learned to recognize my feelings and thought patterns, and by doing that, I’ve learned to control the impulses that triggered my violent behavior.

I’ve been incarcerated now for almost ten years; the last five years have been disciplinary-free. I’m housed here at CSP Solano in the programming facility yard, where I can participate in various programs and receive certificates of completion. They teach me life skills and how to cope with life on life’s terms. I do my very best and let God do the rest. I was baptized here at the prison chapel, where I confessed my sins, asking God for forgiveness. I attend service regularly, where I help mentor the youth by using my own life story and my trials and tribulations to serve as a living testimony to those younger men who look up to me. It helps keep them out of trouble and brings them closer to God, our creator. I take a correspondence course called PREP Turning Point that teaches me anger management, parenting, conflict resolution, listening, critical thinking skills, and more.I completed a yoga class where I learned breathing techniques and how to remain calm while always in control. I was also taught how to meditate and relax my body and mind. By thinking clearly before reacting, I can make better decisions.

I’ve been a married man for the last four years, and I get to attend overnight family visits with my wife and children, bond and socialize with them, maintain my family ties, and spend quality time with those I love most. I have a lovely home to return to and plenty of love and family support. It’s very important to have housing, reliable transportation, and financial support upon release. I have that. I also have a post-release plan of action that will help solidify my successful reentry into the community. I recently graduated from the DJ program at CSP Solano called Uncuffed and I created an hour-long radio set from start to finish. My completed set aired on KALW 91.7 FM in September 2023. The Radio station provided a platform for us to be heard beyond these prison walls, and I used it to become a voice for the voiceless. This was a huge accomplishment for me and has given me the confidence to pursue a career in audio engineering. When my family and friends heard my creation on the Radio, they were so proud of me. I’m currently enrolled in the Solano Community College program, where I’m pursuing an associate’s degree in sociology and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now that I’ve acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to be a positive, productive, and proactive member of our society, all that’s left is for me to be afforded the opportunity to do so!

Reginald, 35

Reginald, 35

Meet Reginald..

“What I have learned about myself in prison is I should have stayed true to myself because under the mask I was gentle, smart and caring.”

Reginald, 35

Incarcerated: 15 years

Housed: California Health Care Facility, Stockton

In 2009, I committed a home invasion robbery expecting to find large sums of money, but instead, I almost lost my life. I was sentenced to over 30 years. Prior to coming to prison at 21, I was in and out of juvenile hall. My teen years were riddled with bad decisions and hopelessness. I was born in Oakland, California, to a single mother hooked on drugs and living in one of the most dangerous cities in the USA. Unfortunately, I went from juvenile detention to prison and never really understood or realized the harm I was causing myself, my community, and my family. I left for the streets very early in my life, searching for what I didn’t get in my household: acceptance and love. I found acceptance and love but from distorted and manipulative people. People say you are what you eat and who you hang around, which is very true. Let me be clear, prison can be dangerous, especially on high levels, but once I got down to lower levels, I started to benefit from many of the programs that were offered. What I have learned about myself in prison, I should have stayed true to myself because, under the mask, I was gentle, smart, and caring. I have learned that I don’t need to do stuff to impress other people. One of the most influential groups I attended in prison was empathy and manhood. I had never heard of the word empathy and had no idea of what productive manhood looked like; this group was life-changing, to say the least. While being in prison has been challenging. I will admit there are good things we can do to prepare ourselves to be successful once we’re released. Once, I got serious about my life, it was like my world lit up, and I started to discover new things. For example, who would’ve thought I would have found my passion here in prison? Masonry class was foreign to me, but I really got into it and ended up becoming certified, and now I love it. Peace can be the hardest thing to attain, especially in prison, but it’s mind over matter, right? Or is it mind vs. matter?

Nathan, 57

Nathan, 57

Meet Nathan…

“I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges.”

Nathan, 57

Incarcerated: 15 yrs

Housed: California Correctional Training Facility, Soledad

My mom Jamie was 16 and my father Abe was 31, neither were honest about their age. They both claimed to be in their 20’s when they met. Abe was a heroin addict and my mom’s parents were both alcoholics. They loved Abe. My grandma Vivian was beautiful with a great intellect, she was kind and thoughtful when sober. When drunk she could get really mean. She told me Abe was a good man, overly intelligent, he loved me and took care of me. My mom said he was the one to get up with me at night. Abe was from a wealthy Jewish family, I’ve never met because they disowned him over his heroin addiction. Abe fled the country to avoid prosecution when I was two. I have no memory of this, but have to imagine this must have been traumatic, as I never heard from him again. My mom has never been a drug user or drinker. She had to take care of her own parents and mothered them at an early age. She never had any judgment about others drinking or using drugs. My mom met Bob and he promised her he would never have any trouble with the law and he kept that promise. I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges. Bob had a jewelry store, pet shop, pawn shop, antique shops, he ran a hotel and bar when he met my mom. He dabbled in stocks, cars, and real estate. He was successful at everything he did. Bob was not affectionate, but he always helped out and gave good advice. Bob was a good man, a better man than I have been. He tried hard to instill his good character traits in me. Though he did tease me when I was young, calling me Suzy because I was wimpy. I was a very scrawny and sensitive child. He was never unkind, he just grew up during a less sensitive time. To him calling me Suzy was innocent, maybe a little humorous, but with no ill intent. I can look back now and see where that might have been a contributing factor to my own distorted self body image, where my fall began. I believe I can trace back my fall to its very inception. One single thought that I believed to be true but wasn’t. All it took was for one doubt to sink in: “That I wasn’t good enough as God created me, that I was too skinny.” My mom met Tony when I was eight. Both Bob and Tony have been good fathers to me, Tony and my mom are still happily married. Tony is also a man of good character, honest and always ethical, but very proud and stubborn. I have a great love and respect for him. My mom went to catechism and her first communion until she was 10. At that age, she saw a car accident where a little girl’s head went through a windshield. She couldn’t understand how the God she was being taught about could let such a thing happen. She told her mom church was a waste of time. She never gave God or the Church another thought. My own belief in God was innate, it was as if I was born with it. My parents never tried to influence me in any way, however, I have been inquisitive. As a small child, I would contemplate the universe and infinity. I couldn’t comprehend infinity, so I would have to imagine what was at the end of the universe, there had to be something. I would imagine a wall. But then if there was a wall, there had to be something on the other side of the wall. So, I not only couldn’t comprehend infinity, I couldn’t comprehend not infinity. I thought, if this is the case then I had to believe I was foreign, and limited in my ability to comprehend. I would try to imagine what the world would be like if I no longer existed in it, I tried to imagine my non-existence. My conclusion was it didn’t matter. I knew my mom didn’t believe in God, so every chance I got to talk to a priest, a Christian, or a Catholic; I would always ask the same question: what happens to someone who doesn’t believe in God? The same answer always comes back; they go to eternal hell. I would always answer back; “but what if they are a good person?” I would get the same response; I’m sorry, I wish everyone could go to heaven, but non-believers can’t. None of this changed my belief in God, and I am grateful that God is not how man would make him out to be; because if that was the case, we would all be in real trouble. What it did do, is give me an unhealthy disdain for religion, especially the way Catholicism and Christianity were taught. At 8, I had a friend Bobby, who invited me on a one-week camping trip. Late the night before we were to leave, his mom dropped off a list of things like games and cards that couldn’t bring. My Mom thought it was odd and told me that she didn’t think I should go. I was packing my magic tricks and things that I would not be able to bring. She said she had a bad feeling about this and I really shouldn’t go. I whined and cried telling her Bobby and I have all these great plans. She gave in, thinking how bad it could be. She said if I had any concerns to call her and she’d come pick me up immediately. When I arrived, I found out it was a Christian camp. Which was deliberately withheld from me, my mom, and possibly Bobby by his family. I was deceived intentionally. I refused to cooperate in their games and demanded to be able to call my mom to pick me up. For a whole week, they never let me use the phone. I was basically kidnapped under false pretenses, and held against my will. When I was brought back home, my mom said I must have had a good time because I never called her.  I said, no I didn’t, everyone including Bobby had to give their lives over to God and I refused, because I thought it was stupid, and I’m never speaking to Bobby again. Can you imagine if this was done to a child today? Don’t get me wrong, I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus. I love Him as an elder brother.  My mom and Tony always do right by others, not because of any religion,  it is the right way to be, they are just really good human beings. Much better than I have been. Neither believe in or give thought to God or an afterlife or think there is any kind of reward for being selfless. It is just the way they are. My mom believes when we die that is it, we no longer exist. I cannot even comprehend that thought. My mom’s Christian friends tell her that she is a better Christian than most Christians they know. She has always had a great wisdom about her, much greater than could be acquired in this lifetime alone. She is always so busy, she barely has time to do the things she would like to do. She belongs to a women’s club and they do charity work for the homeless, cancer and heart patients, and work with other charities that bring aid to foreign countries. She is always donating her time. They give scholarships away for kids to go to college. Something she never had the opportunity to do herself. She is just such a beautiful human being.

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