Aharon, 44

Aharon, 44

Meet Aharon…

I’ve had two strokes in the past year and I’m confined to a wheelchair. – in addition to having PTSD and Cardio Pulmonary Disease. Despite the odds, I struggle every day to make tomorrow better than today.

Incarcerated: 27 years
Housed: Mark Stiles Unit, Beaumont, Texas

Life is a dream which disappears each day I awake in my 6’x9’ steel and concrete cell. In a perfect world, prisoners are incarcerated for the ultimate purpose of receiving adequate and meaningful education and rehabilitation. If these laws were effectively used, the goal of incarceration would succeed. Yet, the Prison Industrial Complex disregards all policy programming and services, as discretionary. The sole discretion placed on the prison admin officials. We are forced to fend for ourselves. To sink or swim with the sharks. The system in place given to the public servants. We are dependent upon them for guidance and rehabilitation. The neglectful focus on sentencing oversight towards education and rehabilitation, mold us into more anti-social and self-reliant people who must trust the system. A system built upon free labor of Texas prisoners – blood, sweat, and tears for the most basic essentials for existence. While enduring brutal treatment, in a volatile and hostile environment. It is extremely hard to buck the system while using the laws and statutes established. We’re told to abide by the law or suffer its consequences. Yet, when we do use the courts to redress our issues we suffer even greater recriminations and oppression. Then they turn their backs and forget the purpose of our incarceration. If we are not given the rights we so desperately need, then, into the mouth of the lion we dive. The lion suffers. It’s hard to chew when I use the system against the system with procedures of wrongs committed upon state citizens. Save the Constitution. Still, I hold true to myself: a stalwart soldier of the Civil Rights Movement. An American patriot of Israeli-Jewish ancestry. An advocate and activist for positive and productive global advancement. Learning to see everyone succeed in life, rather than mere existence. A light sent by society into a place of darkness. Bringing light back into the world by correcting the wrongs.

Fabian’s Gallery

Fabian’s Gallery

I have enclosed a picture of me / my artwork in the making. It’s a portrait of a husband / wife done in my signature style called “stippling” (dots). It takes some time to do but is so-o-o detailed.

 

Artist Fabian, 43

At 16, I was released from a hospital for depression, suicide attempt and substance abuse. My sister introduced me to art and I quickly fell in love with the POP art movement. I submitted to depression and drugs a year or so later, and wouldn’t rediscover my passion for art until I was sentenced to a 99 year sentence for murder. For several years I nurtured the dream of being a filmmaker. Art is mainly a hustle now. I do portraits for guys in exchange for books, magazines, and commissary. The books and magazines are always about the movie-making and screenwriting craft, and sometimes business. Whatever can give me a better edge toward accomplishing my goals. I plan to have an art company upon my release, which will include: portraits, kids’ rooms, and murals in order to fund my filmmaking goals. Fortunately for me, my sister is an assistant curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston.

 

Courtney, 37

Courtney, 37

Meet Courtney…

 

…Prison is where the leaders of American policies, society and the educational system send all the disasters. Our mistakes become everyone’s mistakes.

 

 

Incarcerated: 6 years
Housed: Mark W. Stiles Unit, Texas

Life behind bars is a test of survival. It’s a segment of our society behind the times. We’re segregated, with little outside access. Beyond a few TV channels, there’s guys around me who’ve never seen a computer, a cell phone or a modern transportation center. What happens is a crippling effect that hurts all of society. Like someone who has their growth stunted as an adolescent so they end up losing out as an adult.

Prison is filled with men who never got to grow up, never traveled, never got to explore the world outside their neighborhoods. Add in most didn’t graduate high school, broken home, dysfunctional upbringing, all this makes for a disaster waiting to happen. Prison is where the leader of American policies, society and the educational system send all the disasters. Our mistakes become everyone’s mistakes. Institutional slavery is free labor, while the wealthy with shares in correctional corporations make a profit off misery.

If the prison complex worked, nobody would come back. Especially not repeatedly. But the pattern of criminal behavior is not broken because the officials who make the laws, policies and politics don’t want to fix it. Because they profit too much. Anybody who doesn’t feel as if any of this makes a difference. Has never been in a situation where someone with a small sentence like four years gets put in a cell with someone with 60 years.

What do you think happens? Now, say one’s black and one’s white. Someone fresh in the system – gets thrown in with the wolves. Beasts, predators who hate the world, who have never known true love, who have been abused and tortured daily by law enforcement. The new guy has no clue of how messed up this world on the inside is. Eat or be eaten, prey or become a predator. There’s no love, no compassion.

They get out and what? Do they really expect anyone to become upstanding members of society? Really? After coming from this cruel, cold world of concrete walls, foul tasting food, racism. Well maybe it works for a few, but the many? Not so much. How is it that we have so many smart people in this country but no one has come up with a new way to correct criminal behavior in our less fortunate citizens. There’s many innovative approaches, but who among us have the will, dedication, and compassion to try. As long as we leave them forgotten, left out, and tortured, we lose as a people, a society and as a nation.

 

 

Isaac, 56

Isaac, 56

Meet Isaac…

My life was a horrible mess, I had serious problems and I was the last one to know it. I made a stupid decision one warm night in June that cost me my freedom, family and destroyed my character.

It was like living a nightmare. I was a husband and a father to three small kids whom I loved dearly. I graduated high school, spent four years in the military and was a licensed funeral director. I was enslaved to alcohol, drugs and pornography and I had no idea who I was as a man. I lived a double life as a person who served the community on one side of town and who was a liar, thief, fornicator and manipulator on the other.

I was booked and charged with murder in the Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas. That was ten years ago.

In reflection, I was a nice guy raised by loving parents, a brother and three sisters. The only mistake I think my parents made in raising me, was that they didn’t tell me enough about Jesus. I believed in Him, but I did not know Him, in turn my life was riddled with bad decisions.

Prison today for me is a blessing. Now, don’t take that wrong. The Texas Prison System is a very racist slave plantation with the majority being black, then Hispanic and minimally white. They give out time like government cheese and do not honor the parole system.

I take full ownership of my life while making every day highly productive. I’m involved in an array of ministerial duties, a teacher’s assistant and will be attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for a degree in Biblical Studies.

I owe much of my rehabilitation to my supportive family. I miss my freedom, jazz music, the wonderful food, riding my motorcycle and most of all my children. My faith in Lord Jesus Christ, knowing he loves me and has a plan and purpose for my life, is what gets me through each day. I spend my time sharing the love of Christ and being a living testimony.

Most of all, I thank my three loyal wise men, brothers Mark, Louis and Oscar, who stand with me daily. As we like to say in prison ‘we are keeping it 100’ we are being real. I love you guys

Fabian, 43

Fabian, 43

My incarceration has been a very long road, sometimes easy and often uncertain, but one thing it hasn’t been is a waste of time. At the beginning, as a screwed-up teenager, I looked at prison and the thirty flat years before I saw parole as a great behemoth that would surely crush me. Now I can’t imagine what I would have become without it.

Born and raised in Houston by loving grandparents, I fell into depression and drugs as a teen. With no genuine friendships or romantic relationships, I was a wayward, thwarted youth—my own worst enemy. My downward spiral resulted in a murder when I was nineteen. I received a ninety-nine-year sentence, of which I have now served twenty-four years now. I’m forty-three.

With the undying love and support of family and friends during the early years of my incarceration, I managed to overcome many dark, burdensome years of guilt, shame, and self-hatred. For a long time I couldn’t imagine the light at the end of the tunnel, but gradually I rekindled my love of art, which helped me gain control of at least a minor part of my life. In turn, I recreated myself from the inside out. In the mid-aughts, I exhibited drawings, collages, and watercolors at countless grassroots venues and prisoner-support events around the country. 

Emboldened by a greater sense of self and purpose, I began volunteering in the chaplaincy department to run sound for religious services, family day events, and GED and college graduation ceremonies. More recently, I have used my airbrush skills to paint sets and costumes for the unit’s drama club, which opened the door to the position of assistant director. I paint signs or murals for the wardens and other staff. Along the way I discovered a new passion as well: scriptwriting, with the future goal of directing. I’ve nurtured this dream for about fifteen years now, writing countless crappy scripts, studying movies on dayroom TVs, reading every film-related book in the unit library, and asking my family for subscriptions to movie/filmmaking magazines (they spend more on this than they do for commissary, which irks them).

All of these learning experiences have led to new opportunities. By running sound for events through the chaplaincy, not only did I learn sound fundamentals that would help me in my own films, but I also became a member of the prison leadership community, which earned me an invitation to a mentorship conference sponsored and hosted by outside groups. A former boss recommended me to a sign shop on the strength of my trustworthiness, work ethic, and passion for art—so I learned airbrushing on the state’s dime, and now I’m a proficient portrait artist who does work for fellow inmates and staff alike. And in 2009, I entered my first script excerpt to the PEN American Center’s annual prison writing contest, and was enlisted in their mentorship program.

As I write this, collaborators on the outside are shopping some of my scripts around to producers—fingers crossed. I’ve just finished a new script that I’m super hyped about; on my “break” before I begin the next one, I’m on the second revision of a self-help book that shows prisoners how to live their prison time better by seeing it differently, as well as catching up on portraits for guys in here (I never get ahead) and creating art for a friend and collaborator (and former employee of the Met in New York) who has exhibited and sold my work since 2004.

Social awkwardness was always my handicap: I was a naturally introverted kid, and it only worsened in prison as I tried my hardest to stay away from gangs and negativity. But I was determined to be a film director someday, so I joined Toastmasters to learn public speaking. I was scared as hell, but I did it anyway. I struggled and sweated for a year and a half until I received my Competent Communicator certificate—and two years after enrolling, I was voted club president. In addition to becoming an effective public speaker—something that has since helped me in meetings with producers, investors, and actors—I also became something I never thought possible: an effective mentor. An effective human being. Naturally, a new passion sprouted: motivational speaking.

In dramatic writing, you’re taught that the protagonist blindly struggles toward something they think they want, but by the story’s end their eyes are opened and they discover what they had truly needed from the start. Sometimes life can be a gift like that.

As the great director Stanley Kubrick said: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

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