Michael, 41

Michael, 41


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.

Arsenio, 60

Meet Arsenio…

I looked for God in several religious groups but never found Him. So, I cowardly evaded justice by running to Mexico after committing my last crime in 1993.

Arsenio, 61
Incarcerated: 9 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California

My life’s greatest tragedy

I received my spiritual awakening by accident. I was soul searching because I felt the need to understand why I committed my life crime back in 1990, so I tried something I never tried before and that was to look for God. Every day I was feeling guilt and shame because I could not understand where my destructive behavior was coming from. I looked for God in several religious groups but never found Him. So, I cowardly evaded justice by running to Mexico after committing my last crime in 1993. After a couple months there, I got into a physical altercation because of my Spanglish accent. I was about to move on to another state due to the violent experience I had.

A young friend of mine visiting his family in Mexico  invited me to have dinner with his aunt and grandmother just before I was to depart on my trip. After dinner while helping his aunt pick up the dinner table, she asked what my plans were in life. I responded to move on to another state. She then said there is no need to move away, the person I had the altercation with was her brother, and that he would not look for revenge. She then stated that maybe I needed God in my life. That was a special sign for me. She then invited me to a Christian congregation meeting that weekend.

I attended the Christian meeting and I was so, so happy I did! I was completely devastated emotionally due to all the hurt I had left behind in the states. I was moved by all the Christian love I felt from the brothers. I thought I was in another world. I found out after the meeting that all these loving people were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am very grateful with our Creator Jehovah God and His son Jesus Christ. Due to His loving organization, support from the brothers, the biblical truth I learned and the Holy Spirit, I never committed a crime ever again. I also was able to let go of all the anger, resentment and low self- esteem I had lived with for so many years. I was baptized as a Jehovah Witness on February 1st, 1996. My young friend’s aunt became my wife three years after I met her. We raised three beautiful children together.

After being on the run for more than twenty years, I was arrested for my crimes pending in the U.S. I am happily paying my debt to society. I am making daily living amends and being of service to my community here at San Quentin Prison. This is the only way to give honor to all my victims, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life…

Verne, 70

Verne, 70

Meet Verne…

I have stabbed five or six people and immediately after each one, I felt no guilt or remorse, almost as if I were a psychopath or a person not conscious of wrong or right.

Verne, 70
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: California Health Care Facility, Stockton, California

I have stabbed five or six people and immediately after each one, I felt no guilt or remorse, almost as if I were a psychopath or a person not conscious of wrong or right. I did many things I am not proud of, but back then I gave very little thought. This is how I existed for thirty or forty years in and out of prison.  This was my life when I vaguely understood the way thought was processed. I came to prison in 1994, and for 26 years I maintained that same unaware demeanor. Then, in 2019, someone sent my name and number to the Syda Foundation, and in four years, they have vastly expanded my perspective and guided my understanding of my own mind.

Now please allow me to share with you some of my new perspective. I now understand that no one’s perception creates my reality except mine, and my reality is what I believe to be true. The way that reality is manifested into one’s experience is through his or her emotional excitement of that perceived belief. I now understand that you will receive no more out of your mind than you put into it, and to change one’s outlook, the thought perception has to change. Now I know what emanates or vibrates through one’s system and then reverberates back out through the aura is what is instilled.

This is what I have been instilling and its emanation is my total transformation: appreciation, kindness, compassion, thankfulness, harmony, humble humility, gratitude, gratefulness, loving understanding, friendship, respectfulness, spreading joy, inner laughter, consideration, humane kindness and last but not least – loving all with no exception. I have learned through the foundation that the meaning of a word provokes an emotional feeling. Then it reverberates back out in the form of energy where it is felt by all other forms of energy which is what connects humanity. Now that I have this new understanding, the energy flowing through me is totally positive. Now a flood of emotion has begun to surface, and remorse and regret have entered my conscious awareness. I feel sorrow for my past, and I ask for forgiveness everyday. Now I am a much better human being. The real reward is the positivity I am receiving from other people. That is the real blessing. Now I know I can return into society with a positive outlook and I know that positivity creates positivity. 

Anthony, 56

Anthony, 56


Meet Anthony…

I was heavily abused and neglected both physically and mentally as a child. I was also forced to use drugs and alcohol by my siblings and their friends.

Anthony, 56
Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

I was born to a drug and alcohol addicted mother and suffered fetal drug and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. I was heavily abused and neglected both physically and mentally as a child. I was also forced to use drugs and alcohol by my siblings and their friends. My babysitter used to tie me up in ropes just so he didn’t have to watch me. I would scream and cry growing up but no one believed me or cared. I’ve been on suicide watch more than once. One day at the age of four, I was kidnapped in front of my school and thrown into a van. My dad and detectives found me five hundred miles from home in a stranger’s room. I also was bullied as a child. I suffered from a severe learning disorder, but by the grace of God and much PTSD trauma treatment, I didn’t give up, and now I try to help others. I got my GED, and now I’m in college working hard on a sociology degree. I’m also a certified youth facilitator mentor. All my family and my ex-wife have died since I have been in prison, but I am resilient, and thanks to Jesus and hard work I’m happy to be alive.

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