Michael, 41

Michael, 41

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Meet Michael…

My name is Michael, I breathe air and I am not a monster. Thank you for giving me a face, a voice, and for seeing me as a person.

Michael, 41
Incarcerated: 23 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

Growing up in a poor household I can remember being different, sounding different, and feeling like I didn’t fit in. I came to learn I had a learning disability and stuttered. I felt less than, devalued and worthless. I was made fun of in my household, and with my classmates which reinforced my bad feelings about myself. I could not read, nor learn as the teachers wanted me to, so I acted out and became the bully, so I would not be bullied.

I began to use drugs to cover up my feelings of worthlessness, insecurities, and inadequance. My addiction progressed from pot, alcohol, to mushrooms then acid. By 15, I had been in juvenile hall and a boys ranch numerous times until I committed my life crime at 18. I was an out of control, extremely calloused and violent young man. While incarcerated from a young age with an extreme sentence, I continued my dysfunction in a maximum security prison. I had deflections and an aggressive attitude.

Ten years into my sentence I was stabbed eight times and removed from the yard for surrendering my life to my faith of Jesus Christ. I was shipped to another prison with more programs, self-help groups, and education. My mother passed away from her addiction, my life was in shambles, but I had my faith. I leaned on my support and coped in a healthy way. It was my first test in recovery and I passed. My job wanted me to get a high school diploma, and I barely knew how to read.

I was transferred to a new prison and met Ms. Drake, who saw potential in me. “I’ll hire you as a clerk, if you give me your word you’ll get your diploma.” This was the first time in years someone believed in me. I agreed. She helped me, gave me reading materials, taught me math, and assigned me a tutor. I poured all my time and energy into studying. I passed my test. Ms. Drake was proud of me and so was I. She said, “off to college now”.

One day a student rushed into the education department wanting to stab Ms. Drake. I intervened and placed myself in between them and deescalated the situation by using calm words and listening to his frustration, while protecting her. The officers came and took him away. I had protected another human being. I got a life saving certificate which could take time off my sentence or help in my parole board hearing.

My life began to get some normality. I continued my education, and my ministry and I started facilitating self-help groups. I will graduate in 2024 from Fresno State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies. Today I live my life as a memorial to my victims. My life is for service and giving back to my gated community. I hope and teach that one less crime equals one less victim. I honor God by living a sober life that praises Him with my words, actions, and service. I am a human that is kind, respectable, calm, loving, caring, and compassionate.

My name is Michael, I breathe air and I am not a monster. Thank you for giving me a face, a voice, and for seeing me as a person. God bless you.

Michael, 43

Michael, 43

Meet Michael…

After turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out.

Michael, 43
Incarcerated: 14 yrs
Housed: Alfred D. Hughes Unit, Gatesville, Texas

Months after turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out. By some miracle, I was barely breathing when they found me. After getting 16 stitches on both sides of my neck, I was sent for a mental evaluation. Back at my unit, I wanted to cry. I’ve never been suicidal! Looking at myself in a mirror, I realized I needed help. I’ve been raised up in the church, and that never got my attention. I’ve had homeboys and money, but still got into trouble. There were girlfriends in my life, but still something wasn’t right. I’ve gangbanged, been to parties and clubs, yet still I’ve had no peace. I’ve talked to doctors and counselors, still nothing good connected. Coming to prison, I’ve tried Islam, and my heart still felt troubled. It’s like I’ve done it all, and yet, nothing helps. In my desperate time of need, I felt hopeless.

Suddenly I felt an urge to pray. I didn’t know why, praying never done anything for me before. However, this urge seemed different. I fell to my knees in the middle of that cell and said, “If there’s really a God of all things, then I ask you Almighty God to help me understand the good and evil I’m going through, and I will give my life to you.” After saying amen, I got up not expecting anything to happen. Looking around my cell for some entertainment, my eyes landed on the Holy Bible and something led me to pick it up. I don’t know why, because I could barely read it. I’ve never understood it before. After picking it up, it fell open and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – there was a small image of a lightning display. It was just hovering between the pages. I assumed I was just hallucinating. So I closed my eyes and reopened them, and sure enough, it was still there. That’s when a notion came over me to attempt to touch it. So I led my left finger towards it in the hopes of feeling it, but to my surprise, it began to fade away. The urge came over me to go to the beginning of the Bible where I was led to read Genesis chapter one, two, and stopped at three. I hadn’t noticed how easy it was for me to read it as I’ve never done before until that moment. It truly scared me wondrously. My body didn’t feel the same. Something was happening.

I began to pray a new prayer. I said, “In Jesus’ name I pray, if you are real, then I’m asking you to help me beat my charges I’m indicted with. If you let me go home, I ask that you give me a son whom I will give to you. If you allow me to have a wife, please allow her to be someone you would come for, don’t let her be someone to impress the world with, and please let her believe in you. Then, give me a sign to know it’s her because I don’t want to be confused! Let our love join us together and take her away from the undeserving pain she’s receiving from perhaps her family, friends, or loved ones. In your mighty name I pray, Amen. I made it home. My brother Eric hooked me up with this Black girl days later. She became pregnant with my child, and we set a day to get married. But she went against the agreement once that day arrived, so I broke off from her, and told her I’d be there for my son when he arrived, but I couldn’t stand her lies. Days later, I met this Mexican chick who just out of nowhere came up to me and said, “I think you’d like my homegirl Scooter.” But she didn’t tell me what she looked like, or give me her number. Then she walked away. I didn’t dwell too much on it at the time. But three days later, I met a girl at my aunt’s place, and that whisper said, “She’s the one.” Me and the girl fell in love, then later I realized her a.k.a. was Scooter. The name was God’s sign to me. Then I found out that she’s not being loved by her family on her mom’s side, because her mom was full Mexican and her dad was a White guy. Scooter was only five years old when somebody in her family pushed her mom in front of a car and killed her because they were mad at her being with a White guy. It was hard for me to believe this at first until I met her family. Before, Scooter had told me how her Mexican grandmother had taken her into custody along with her two sisters and brother. She was not completely loved due to her being mixed. She said her grandmother allowed her mom’s brother to molest her. Then she told me that we had to elope if we wanted to get married. So we did! After getting married and God showed me he was behind our union, and finding out that she believed in Christ, I told her I was gonna take care of her problems, but she didn’t want me to go back to prison.

Now I’m doing 60 years. Sadly, Scooter is no longer with me, she has passed away due to being brokenhearted. My family thinks someone killed her, or perhaps she killed herself. And I’m wondering if I’ll ever know the truth.

John, 64

John, 64

Meet John…

My fear is that I will not get a second chance to use all I know after prison.

John, 64
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison

I thought I was going to be a great father. Turns out I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I was a great provider for my wife and two kids. I kept a roof over their heads. They got everything they needed, except for me. I had a great job, but it required me to work overtime, not just a few hours a week but sixteen hour shifts four to five days a week. I enrolled in a carpenters apprenticeship school and learned the trade at 18. I worked as a pipefitter during the winter months. I learned a great deal about pipefitting and plumbing. With some instructions from other welders, I became a state certified welder. That was a big day for me!

I believe if I had grown up with a fathers guidance, it would have turned out totally different. Life was hard growing up. I was abused by different men and women that my mom would bring home from time to time. I was lost. All I wanted to do was get away as soon as possible. I’m sorry to say it was no different for my older sisters. I left home at the age of 16. I worked odd jobs here and there with my uncle. I got married at 18. How did I get through all these hours? I got turned on to meth. It was at that moment my life changed forever. I became a different person. It led to all my troubles. When I fell, I fell hard.

I’ve been incarcerated for 28 years now. I’ve often thought about paroling and what I would do. My greatest fear and why I’m writing is to share my fears about life after prison. With all my skills and knowledge about pipefitting, carpentry, plumbing, welding and general supervision. I fear there won’t be anyone out there to hire me. I have a lot to contribute to someone that would give me a second chance. Who out there would want to hire a 67 year old parolee?

Robin, 39

Meet Robin…

I have many flaws, insecurities, thinking errors, and so much guilt and shame, yet everyday I try to do better, to be better.

Robin, 39
Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: Federal Correctional Unit, Waseca, Maine

“No amount of darkness can hide a spark of light.”

I am not sure where this quote came from or when I first heard it but this is what gets me through the day. This is not my first time in prison and I’m not going to lie, there is quite a bit of darkness in me. I am an addict in every sense of the word whether it is drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, exercise, money or any other form of instant gratification, I struggle on a good day. I have many flaws, insecurities, thinking errors, and so much guilt and shame, yet everyday I try to do better, to be better. I have been to a state prison in Michigan and this Texas federal prison is a different world. This place is ruled by a cash app and exclusivity. Probably the hardest things to get here is treatment, programming or an education, yet everyday I stay positive and focus on that spark of light. I am a mother of three beautiful children and my dream is to show them I can overcome anything, that they are worth fighting for and that my mistakes don’t have to define me. I work in education in the morning and I am a math tutor for GED students in the afternoon. I facilitate adult continuing education. I love to learn and I am trying to find a way to get a degree. I want to want to be good. It is hard with a long sentence to see light at the end of the tunnel or to find a reason to care. There are times when I embrace my darkness and like it, but I always find my way back to the light.

Doraine, 66

Doraine, 66

Meet Doraine…

Prison is not designed to change a person; only you have the power to change yourself; you have to want to succeed.

Doraine, 66
Incarcerated: 5 years
York Correctional Institution, Niantic, Connecticut

I am a gospel singer behind the walls with locked doors and razor wires. Here I became the executive-producer of a gospel CD titled, “Raise the Praise, Live In Concert.” Our gospel group have been nominated seven times by Holla Back Gospel Music Awards with CEO Mr. Jerry Green. I have won several music awards including the McDonald Gospelfest Music Guinness Award by the legendary, Cece Houston, the late music icon, Whitney Houston’s mother.

I am not defined by my accused crime, I am not a number. I have learned I can prosper in the worst conditions; I am a survivor! Mary K. Blige’s producer, Edwin Ramos, assisted in building a recording studio behind these prison walls. Prison is not designed to change a person; only you have the power to change yourself; you have to want to succeed. You can be liberated and succeed and never forget where there is hope, there is purpose. To every reader, never give up!

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