E, 42

Meet E…

I’ve learned in prison that I was both emotionally and mentally off-balanced. Worse were the similarities between prison and my childhood.

E, 42
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

The common aphorism, “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone,” rings no truer than with my kids. I am cuckoo about them and my nieces and nephews. They are all the motivation that gets me through each day. They are also the sources of my trepidations that sometimes keeps me up at night. Beholding the faces of my children, hearing their voices, their laughters and giggles, and those of my nieces and nephews is like the thirst-quenching glass of water on a hot summer day.

I’ve learned in prison that I was both emotionally and mentally off-balanced. Worse were the similarities between prison and my childhood. Prison can be a place of liberation for some, while for others it’s the total opposite, a place of frequent mental, physical, and emotional beatings. Similar to my childhood, here neither my feelings nor anything I say matters. The truths are considered to be lies, and the lies told about me are considered to be gospel; the caretaker is the abuser and the bully. I didn’t have a place of refuge while growing up, no one that I could trust and rely on for help; therefore, when needs or hunger came, which was regular, or when physical, emotional abuse came, I just accepted it, again, similar to prison.

Other ways that prison reminds me of my childhood is lack of help, and hunger. For reasons I will never know, other than two couples when growing up, people were unwilling to help me. In prison, all of my pleas and requests for help throughout the years were either completely ignored, or I was told they couldn’t help me. Child or adult in prison, it does not matter. Finding help has been an issue since childhood. For example, when I was younger, I lived with two family members. My late half-brother, who was my caretaker, was not around and my cousins, who never offered me any assistance, not even to bathe me or wash my clothes, which I didn’t know how to do then. Like everything else, being hungry in prison is no different from being hungry when I was growing up. It was and is a regular thing. My first prison-hunger incident, I was so hungry that I ate my nails to the flesh. I ate my own flesh! I didn’t realize it until I saw blood on my shirt and dripping down from my fingers. Even stranger still, I can’t recall tasting or drinking any blood, which I know surely had happened. Another time, I was so famished that I became delusional. For several minutes I kept opening and closing an empty food storage bin because each time I was convinced that I saw a piece of white bread in it. There never was. 

The things I went through as a child, while growing up, are still happening now. Thus, my trust in people is extremely limited. From 1-10, ten being a lot of trust, I am between 1.6-1.4. I am trying to trust because I need to survive; and all relationships require a level of trust. For a very long time I thought something was wrong with me. For people to have treated me the way they did. I reasoned then that I must have done things to people for them to treat me so badly and I was just swimming in denial; I didn’t want to take responsibility for my wrong doings. Now, I know I was not treated poorly because something was wrong with me, it was the hand I was given. I hope and strive for a better ending for my kids and myself.

Kareem, 44

Kareem, 44

Meet Kareem…

Not only did he die, but for several years I blamed him, embracing the false narrative that I was the victim, victimized by society, the system, the mothers of my children, and especially Mr. Sullivan (R.I.P.) who I perceived to be a threat.

Kareem, 44
Incarcerated: 14 years
Housed: Sing Sing, Ossining, New York

At 17, I began a seven year sentence for a robbery I committed with another. I had all intention to stay out of trouble. However, the concepts of introspection and unprocessed trauma escaped me. I eventually succumbed to my shortcomings, especially the unfamiliar pressure of an adult childbearing relationship, in addition to being laid off. I lost my way and got back in ‘the game.’ This rebirth led to a new relationship where I created a new stream of income, and a new child. My hustle attracted problems which made me believe I needed a gun. This fear enabled me to shoot a brother without considering the possibility of taking his life. Not only did he die, but for several years I blamed him, embracing the false narrative that I was the victim, victimized by society, the system, the mothers of my children, and especially Mr. Sullivan (R.I.P.) who I perceived to be a threat. As I sought ways to legally justify my narrative, the law library became a refuge. And, having been employed, and having the experience of fatherhood, did provide me with a level of intellectual resistance to embracing prison culture in its totality. Unbeknownst to me, my legal research, although misguided, made me an avid reader. I became inquisitive about my own issues. I read self-help books on healing, therapy, forgiveness and mindfulness in pursuit of letting go of the anger for my daughter’s mother, who had someone else’s child, while we were married.

I discovered my own insecurities, excuses, and ideologies that impeded my accountability and emotional maturity. This sparked an awakening that I am solely responsible for all of this mess. As painful as that level of acceptance was, it enabled me to transcend the counter-productive perspectives that clouded my rationale. And since then, there’s been an accumulation of what Superintendent M. Capra calls ‘God moments’ that led to the man I am proud to be today. My academic ambition and positivity has paved the way to achieving an associate degree in Science and I am currently working on my bachelors degree and a financial literacy correspondence course and a host of other certificates. In all of my classes, we acknowledge our shared humanity, we engage in discussions about restorative justice, community, and accountability. The impact of these discussions cannot be quantified. Words have power and the sincerity in our dialogue always dismantles the levees, ushering in a deluge of tears that nourishes the collective spirit of the room. No matter how dark prison can be, I stand as a beacon serving my fellow incarcerated individuals along this journey where my family is the North Star. I have been remarried since 2017, with a blended family of six children between my wife and I. We participate in the Family Reunion Program (FRP) which enables us to spend two days together in an apartment unit once every few months. I am scheduled to see the parole board in 2033, however I have submitted a petition to the Governor of NY for executive clemency, in which I am thankful for the support I received from friends, family, and organizations.

Eric, 53

Eric, 53

I have learned how to manage my addiction, along with my depression. In the process, my self-esteem has slowly built up.

Eric, 53

Incarcerated: 11 years

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional, Ossining, New York

Eager to change my life, I have acknowledged that my drug addiction was one of the contributing factors that led to my incarceration thrice. With this in mind, I decided to attend the weekly Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings the facility offers. I have been to NA meetings before, but only attended because it was mandated by parole after testing positive for drugs. It was not something I really wanted to do. A refusal, however, would have resulted in a parole violation- and a return to prison for up to a year. Since I was forced to attend, I listened half-heartedly to stories of other addicts, never internalizing the message. My heart was not in it, I was not ready to stop using. I did not believe my addiction was going to escalate, nor was I going to commit crimes to support my habit and ultimately end up back in prison. I thought this time was different, and I was in control. That reasoning was my addiction speaking. HELLO!!! THERE ARE NO SUCCESSFUL DRUG ADDICTS!!!

Volunteering for NA meant I was doing it on my own accord…for ME! It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made! During one meeting, I heard the saying, “You have to change your people, places and things.” While I had heard this saying before, it did not hit home like it did that meeting. I felt a real sense of clarity about my sobriety. For the first time, I recognized the patterns I had engaged in before. They included the same negative people, the same negative places and the same negative things. It made perfect sense to remove myself from all of the things that could potentially be triggers or pathways to doing drugs. To this day, I can not allow any distractions or outside influences hinder me from accomplishing my goal. I must PUT IN THE WORK! 

I began applying this outlook immediately. I graduated from friends and associates who were either using drugs, glorifying drugs, and soliciting drugs. This was not an easy thing to do. Some, quickly noticed, and questioned why I was purposely isolating myself from them. The only thing I could say, “It’s not you,  I’m just going through some personal shit.” Over time, my conversations with them were in passing, minimal, and superficial. I no longer had anything in common with them. Soon, many stopped talking to me completely. Good riddance’s! I then stopped going to the yard as often as I had, except to call my mom once a week. Distancing myself from people, places, and things that were associated with drugs, negativity, criminality, and even gossip, felt foreign at first, but it was working! I began to find myself either alone or with people who were doing positive and constructive things like going to school. After awhile, I felt like my sobriety was not a fantasy, but finally real. I was, and still am, fully committed to staying sober while being mindful and constantly aware of things that could potentially trigger me to use drugs.

I have learned how to manage my addiction, along with my depression. In the process, my self-esteem has slowly built up. Although my mother sounded joyful to hear I was attending regular NA meetings, and I was serious about my sobriety, I think she was skeptical at first; a feeling she was justified to have. She had heard many empty promises, several times before. I couldn’t disappoint her again. She was the only one who was there for me during all of my bids and bull$#!+. I put this poor woman through hell. She did not deserve any of this! Nonetheless, she continued to support me on my journey.

In 2015, my 24 year old son, Joshua, graduated from the University of Houston. Words alone cannot express how proud his accomplishment made me. I was, however, stricken with guilt for not being there during his graduation and the biggest moments of his life. I had spent most of his life in prison. Although he never expressed it, I know he was deeply affected by my absence for most of his upbringing. Although he does not know it, he has played a major part in my transformation. I owe a lot to him. He told my mom he could not understand why I was not in college, especially since I was in a prison that offered college. How he knew this, was beyond me. I wondered if he intentionally planted this seed for me? That statement surprised me. I earned a GED in my younger years, but I never thought of myself as college material. I just couldn’t fathom how a person who was nearly 50 could finish college or benefit from it.

Some of the new people around me were college students and told me I was wrong and that I could do it. They said if I could stick with it and get my degree,  it was almost certain I would not come back to prison. Statistically, the recidivism rate is less than 3% for people who leave prison with a college degree versus the state average of 45% of those who leave prison without one. The recidivism rate is even lower for individuals over the age of 50.

The following two years were challenging. I had not been to school in nearly 30 years. I could not enroll in college and excel in the work required without brushing up on some academics. I needed training in writing, english, math, history, critical thinking, research, to name a few. I needed to get in the habit of studying before I enrolled. First, I enrolled in the intensive year-long “Certificate in Ministries and Human Services Program” (CMP). The courses were college level work; strenuous and very difficult, with an absurd amount of dense reading. Then, there was of course writing, writing, and more writing, critical thinking, and contemplation of subjects I had never really spent time on. For me, there was no social life, no playing or sleeping in. It was a damn hard year, but I learned, and earned A’s in all my courses, and graduated with Honors.

Jonathan, 30

Meet Jonathan…

Maybe I was a hateful person, but never more to others than I was to myself. I hated myself so much that I felt maybe prison was the only place I should be.

Jonathan, 30
Incarcerated: 9 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

I remember cutting myself to see if my adopted parents would show some sort of compassion. I was in for a rude awakening. If I didn’t grow to understand the meaning of my suffering. I would easily have been a hateful person. Maybe I was a hateful person, but never more to others than I was to myself. I hated myself so much that I felt maybe prison was the only place I should be. My vision from as far back as I can remember was nothing but destruction and self-hate. I’ve had guns pointed at my head at 10 and not an ounce of fear did I feel, not one ounce. I was on a suicide mission; I mean life was so fucked up that death could not have been any worse. I am an incarcerated individual for committing a serious crime against humanity. I spilled blood and even though that life can never be given back to that person, I will never allow that person’s death to be in vain. The day I was sentenced, his mother told me to use my time to change my life. I’ve done that, now it’s time to help the new generation gain an understanding of their life. The ones who have parents and the ones who don’t. We need to be examples to the youth, help them find that vision. That is my purpose. I love humanity. There are so many people who are going through worse things than I am. Some people have it so bad that my struggles are like a dot to the universe. That thought process is what has gotten me through life. Now I just want to live the great words of Muhammed Ali, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

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


Receive more inspiring stories and news from incarcerated people around the world.