Incarcerated: 16 years
Housed: Washington Corrections Center, Shelton
The Department of Corrections refers to me as Offender #327076. Locked up since 2006, I was sentenced to 51 years to life for terrible crimes I committed as a youth. I stood for nothing – a stain on my community. With little hope of redemptive quality, I was condemned to a life behind bars. I’ve done horrible things and had them done to me. Sadly at 35, I am still reaping the consequences of my actions as a teenage drug addict. I grew up in poverty, overcoming fatherlessness, mental illness, addiction and hopelessness. I survived amputation and severe burns in a traumatic explosion. I’ve been shot, stabbed, pepper sprayed, robbed, mauled by dogs, jumped, kicked and stomped. I endured brain damage, riots, attempts on my life, long stretches in solitary confinement, and hundreds of dehumanizing strip searches. I’ve been afflicted by suicide, betrayal, plagued by depression, banished from society, and branded a sex offender for the rest of my life. Hey, who hasn’t been through a few things? I was called a monster during my criminal trial. At the time, I believe the title was a fair assessment of my character, or at least an accurate description of the acts I was responsible for. My sentence was not imposed for the purpose of rehabilitation or recovery; It was meant to remove hope, incapacitate dreams, and cripple my ability to have a family, rejoin society or have any possibility of a second chance or meaningful life.I grew up in a prison. I became a man in prison. I developed purpose in a prison. However, it is not prison I credit for who I’ve become today. I represent a small fraction of incarcerated individuals who have chosen to excel while living in squalid conditions. We have rehabilitated in spite of a failed blueprint of “corrections”. Oppressed, abused, and forgotten, we are housed in the belly of the beast, longing for the opportunity of freedom, and the ability to live a life of meaning, beauty and positive impact. We wait for the chance to give back to the communities we once caused trauma to; A chance to right the harms we inflicted. For me, that day is April 23, 2053. I will be 67 at my earliest possible release date, barring a resentencing.
Shortly after my arrest, I was determined to become a Difference Maker. I confronted my demons, focused on accountability, and forged a new legacy. A legacy that changed my life and path, and assisted others struggling to face the harm they’ve caused. Weeks into my jail stay, I read my first book – yeah, the first book I had ever read from cover to cover. Today, I am a mere few credits from receiving my first degree. As a special needs mentor, mental health coach and prison preacher, my message is simple, “while there is breath in your body, there is hope for your life.” I now stand for a cause I have dedicated my life to – making a difference in the lives of others, and I am unashamed of the God who reached into the pit of hell and salvaged my life. I no longer act out of insecurity of what others may think. Living to impress others isn’t my goal, and my identity is not found in substances, crime or what delinquent peers may say. My life is driven by what I give and add the world in a positive way, not what I extract from it. My path is not a popular one. It is beyond rare in prison, but any decent person can see that our society is in dire need of such Difference Makers – transformers, individuals willing to change themselves and help those around them lost to the same battles. While I wait for this freedom, it is a small token of satisfaction, being able to help others. Many will soon be released, and it is my expectation that they will pay it forward – allowing their ripples to spread in the very community I so desperately want to be a part of. I’ve intentionally structured my life in a way that every activity I engage in is either investing into the lives of others, or equipping myself to better do so, and be of greater service. This is a service I owe to society, in the form of daily installments for the rest of my life. Some investments take time to bear fruit, while others are immediately rewarding. I especially enjoy the ones that take time to grow and develop. My favorite by far is the service dog training program I volunteer for.
I work with dogs that will eventually go to disabled vets, people with PTSD, children with autism, and those in need of emergency alert assistance. It is an understatement to say that this program has impacted me. Reduced stress, anxiety and depression, with increased peace, joy and purpose has been my experience in a nutshell. I also garden, exercise, give regular messages in Church, and create content on several platforms, all while working a fulltime job as a workforce development assistant, helping prisoners prepare for release. So, behind this razor wire, King Kong size walls, guard towers, and an ERD of 2053, why should I care? Why not say FU%K IT!? Many do. In this school of criminality, filled with loathsome activity, violence and bitterness, why do I try so hard at being the best man I can be? Because, I now love myself, and who I’ve become. I understand God’s plan and purpose for my life. Knowing that makes me want to teach others to do the same. That’s where true change takes place. If you learn to love yourself it is impossible to do anything that could harm yourself and others. Even though I was 18 – an adult according to the law – I was lost, troubled, and an addict to drugs since age 12. I was not a real man, nor did I have the ability to love myself. I’m not speaking of the world’s image of a man, full of bravado, but the type of man and human being representative of a permanent spot in society. A person who seeks to make his community a better place to live, and pours his time, resources and life into those around him. A real Man does what is right, no matter the opposition of others. A real Man doesn’t give up, even in the face of certain defeat. When we’ve erred, and done wrong, we make every effort for as long as it takes to make recompense for such wrongs. I do not know when my opportunity for freedom will come, but when it does, I will make the most of it, continuing as a Difference Maker. In the meantime, there is much to do, and many to help.