Eric, 52

Eric, 52

Meet Eric…

And you know, I like to get A’s. I’m an A student. I work hard and I started having this pride about submitting my work, I’m eager to know how I did. I say, “I know I perfected, I got this, I aced this.” So now I understand why the recidivism rate is lower. You develop character, you change your thinking.  And you’re escaping, like I said earlier, the ills of prison and you’re removing yourself from that environment. And you become mature.

Incarcerated: 10 yrs

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

Diane: Tell us about your family.

Eric: All my family members pretty much dwindled during the course of my incarceration. My mother has passed. She’s a 9/11 survivor. She worked at Meryl Lynch across the street from the towers. She inhaled the polarized glass fumes that subsequently caused fungus in her lungs. She passed from COPD due to complications of 9/11. I do have a brother. He’s out of state in the Navy. He’s touch and go, though. I’ve pretty much been all on my own during most of this bid. Despite all that, I’ve had to kick off the dust and move forward. College was definitely a way to escape the ills associated with prison. I don’t hang out too much in the yard. I only socialize with people that are like minded and want to go in the direction of making the best of this experience. We try not to go out the same way we came in.

Diane: Is there anything you want to share about your mom? 

Eric: Before she passed I remember being at her deathbed. I was able to get that visit. She said, “I’m very proud of you.” She knew that I was pursuing my education. She said, “You know, I’m sorry that I failed you.” 

I said, “No, you did not. It was all on me.” She did nothing for me to move in that direction. I said, “Mom, I’m gonna be okay.” And she passed like that. 

Diane: What made you enroll in school?

Eric: The parole board looks at education as a way to lower the recidivism rate. I wanted to assure them that I’m not coming back. I went to school solely for that purpose. It wasn’t that I had a passion to learn about things, right? But as I started, my thinking started to change and I started to have to critically think. I had to be responsible. I had to do my papers. And you know, I like to get A’s. I’m an A student. I work hard and I started having this pride about submitting my work, I’m eager to know how I did. I say, “I know I perfected, I got this, I aced this.” So now I understand why the recidivism rate is lower. You develop character, you change your thinking.  And you’re escaping, like I said earlier, the ills of prison and you’re removing yourself from that environment. And you become mature.

Joseph, 68

Joseph, 68

Meet Joseph…

I have always been a proponent of pro-choice; and if anyone ever asks me what my feelings are on the abortion issue, I’ll firmly tell them that; but I’ll also have to tell them about the love I have for the girl who never was and how very much I miss the times we never shared together.

Incarcerated: 16 years

Housed: California Men’s Facility, Stockton 

I firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose, but difficult choices sometimes come with adverse emotional effects. I also know from experience that difficult decisions can come with consequences. Sometimes those results are fleeting, at other times they affect who and what you are. Following is my experience with an abortion, and how it affected me. Some years ago I met Joy, a woman who shared my love of the written word, as well as my joie de vivre. We shared our dreams with each other and began discussing a possible future together – even making plans to retire at some point to somewhere remote and beautiful where she could write her stories, while I put mine down on canvas. We talked excitedly about taking trips afar and sailing my yacht to distant ports to seek inspiration for our endeavors. 

Unfortunately, circumstances caused us to split up. Even though we were far apart, emotionally and geographically, I knew that I was in love with Joy, and was certain that she felt the same way about me. I kept in touch with her via email, often attaching stories and poems I’d written expressly for her. Some of the writing I did during this period was the best I’d ever done, because it was sincere and from the heart.

Two months after our split I was surprised by a call from Joy, who informed me that she was pregnant, and already being a single mother, wanted an abortion. Since she seemed rather flustered and apprehensive, I offered to make all the arrangements for her and pay for any costs involved with the procedure if that’s what she really wanted to do. She assured me that she wanted to get it done.

Over the years, I’d heard horror stories about abortions, so after hanging up with Joy, I felt compelled to research the procedure and investigate facilities in her area. After conducting this due diligence, I set up an appointment for her at a clinic near the university she attended. I then called Joy to let her know about setting up the appointment, and to alleviate any trepidation she may have had, told her what I found out about modern abortions: it involved the ingestion of a medication that aborted the fetus. If this wasn’t successful within a few days, she would have to return to the clinic to do it again. I offered my moral support and told her that I’d drive her to the appointment. Joy seemed relieved to not have to go through the experience alone, saying that she appreciated my support.

I began pondering something over the next few days and called her a few days before the appointment to share those thoughts with Joy. I told her that if she wanted to do so, I would love to have the child with her. She gave me an emphatic “No.” So I picked her up at her house the next day to take her to the facility that was about forty minutes away. As we drove, I reiterated my desire to have and raise the child with her ; but she wouldn’t be swayed, so we continued on to our appointment.

When we got there, I was glad to have done the research I’d done on the clinic – it was very professional. In light of the emotions involved with the procedure, it was important to me that Joy was comfortable, and more importantly, safe. There vere about a dozen other women in the waiting room. Only one was accompanied by a man , and he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. Like many other medical facilities I’ve been to, the room temperature seemed rather cold. I imagine that if you are experiencing any fears about what was about to happen, it would seem even colder. Joy did seem apprehensive, and sidled up close to me; so I put my arms around her as I assured her that everything would be fine. As we waited, I started to feel uneasy about the situation. Up to that point abortion was just a concept to me, now it was a reality. I thought about the fact that there was a tiny person inside of the woman I was holding- a woman I was in love with. I felt revulsion that there might be as many as two attempts to terminate this potential person. I turned to Joy again and asked, “Are you sure about doing this?” 

She hesitated for a moment, but said, “I have to do it.”

Just then a door opened, and a nurse called for Joy. She got up and followed the nurse through the doorway into the operating area. As she did so, she looked back at me and I saw uncertainty in her face. My heart felt like it was in a vice.

As I had feared, the procedure didn’t take, so we had to go through the process again. There was no question about going through with it this time since there was a high probability that the first attempt had caused irreparable damage to the fetus.

Because an appointment I had ran late, I missed my flight and had to meet Joy at the clinic. I felt awful during the first appointment, but the second one was so much worse for me. Joy later told me that she had felt the same way. That’s a thought that haunts me to this very day: a sense that we’d made a little girl, and she seemed to have fought to live.

After the appointment, Joy told me that she had a sitter for the night, and asked if we could go out for a bit. We drove separately to have dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by a movie. After the movie, Joy called home and after hanging up she told me that the sitter was willing to stay the night, so we could stay out as long as we wanted to. I drove to a nearby casino, where we caught a lucky streak and had a great time through the early morning hours. 

When we got back to where Joy parked her car, I walked her to her vehicle, opened the door for her and shut it after she got in. I motioned for her to roll her window down, and when she did, I kissed her goodnight and she willingly kissed me back.

As we drove away from each other, she went to her home and me to the airport, we talked on the phone like we used to do- full of laughter and animation. On my flight home, I was glad that Joy and I seemed headed for a reconciliation; but that elation was countered by the overwhelming feeling that the abortion had been a terrible tragedy. I agonized over the fact that I hadn’t been able to talk Joy out of going through with the abortion.

Joy and I eventually married, and a year and a half later we had a beautiful little girl. I just couldn’t imagine this incredible child not being part of this world.

Because of the incredible relationship that blossomed between my daughter and me, I often think about what might have been with the little girl who had not been given the chance to live, love, be loved, and become the person she had the potential to be. Although she was never born into the light, I often imagine what her birth would have been like, and the journey she would take into adulthood. I think often about all the questions I would have answered for her, the things I would have shown and taught her, and the places we would have gone to together.

I envision being with her at birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, playgrounds, parks, and on vacations. I picture myself laughing with her, teasing her, comforting her when she is hurting physically or emotionally, and staring in awe at her as she makes new discoveries and learns all that she is capable of. As we are the sum of our experiences, she is a part of who I am. I feel a love for her as any father would love his daughter, and feel the paternal instinct to love, teach and protect her even though she’s not there. I have always been a proponent of pro-choice; and if anyone ever asks me what my feelings are on the abortion issue, I’ll firmly tell them that; but I’ll also have to tell them about the love I have for the girl who never was and how very much I miss the times we never shared together. “The most painful state of being is remembering the future; particularly the one you no longer have. ” Kierkegaard

Leonard, 35

Leonard, 35

Meet Leonard…

This situation can take your lust for life away, what I use to like or intrigue me, I find myself despising. The person I used to be thought of love as something real, almost tangible. To view human nature in this form from within prison I now believe people as a majority don’t care about people. Because the prison I am at is such an attack on human nature- love of any type, form or meaning almost doesn’t seem real. Grim reality.

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Carlisle, Indiana

I was raised in a household where we’d move every year. I switched many schools. My mother would pick me and my sister up every other weekend. I had no father but my uncles on my mother’s side taught me how to be a man. During my teenage years, I was rapping like and being very unfaithful to my son’s mother and justifying it by thinking in terms of money. I loved money, cars, clothes and my family. But, the most important of the four I neglected to love them properly. I thought I had it all together. I was able to hold jobs in the free world for long periods of time, although I was hustling and soliciting women to fulfill my addiction to drinking and gambling.  I am here for someone being disrespectful to me and the female, while at a restaurant, and I regret it all. I had no idea what prison was like. Nobody really does until they are in one or someone truly tells you what it’s like to be inside a prison. Now, looking back on my younger years I wish I had someone who would have put more conscious reading material in my hands. Where I am at is an oppressive farm. Since my incarceration I’ve seen the pain I’ve caused my victim’s family and my own and I’ve rebuilt mentally since then. I immersed myself in true history, business, and economics. I’ve came up with many inventions with the hopes of helping and not hurting people. This is how I spent my time, as if I am about to go before a venture capitalist for an investment at any day. But now, I feel like I am in the twilight zone because now that I have all I need to be successful, I can’t get to it.

This type of oppression has made me an angry person, and I’m always angry. This prison is like a daycare, they treat and talk to you like little boys. They take you as a danger if you carry yourself as a man or a man with dignity. Many lawsuits against medical, our pictures get copied in black and white (even obituaries), no fruits served, all controlled movement, no non-white employees (male or female), and not allowed to see rated R-movies.

This situation can take your lust for life away, what I use to like or intrigue me, I find myself despising. The person I used to be thought of love as something real, almost tangible. To view human nature in this form from within prison I now believe people as a majority don’t care about people. Because the prison I am at is such an attack on human nature- love of any type, form or meaning almost doesn’t seem real. Grim reality.

LaShae, 35

Meet LaShae…

No one cared about me and the hollowness I felt. No one cared to stop and listen to my story. No one cared because I am an African American woman who was treated unjustly.

LaShae, 35

Incarcerated: 4 years

Housed: Jean Conservation Camp, Jean, Nevada

I am a veteran who proudly diligently served this country for over five  years. I am an African American woman who is unjustly imprisoned for a heinous crime I did not commit. I want you to hear my plea, listen to the tragedy that unfolded in my life and to implore you to hear my story.

When I was medically separated from the Army I went through my own personal trauma but I refused to allow my own pain to conflict with my desire to provide assistance to others. I worked long hours so others could spend time with their families. I helped friends and neighbors financially so they could provide for their children and when I separated from my ex I still try to help provide for my ex and her kids. Despite my own health concerns I gave from my heart to those in need and helped others as much as I could.

My plea of not guilty fell on deaf ears. No one cared about me and the hollowness I felt. No one cared to stop and listen to my story. No one cared because I am an African American woman who was treated unjustly. I was committed to a sentence of 8-20 years although I am appealing my case. My life and the police records are an open book for anyone to read. I want to share my story because this is unfair. There are people in prison who have committed murder and are serving less time. People who sell drugs to children, run from and attack the police, who are serving less time. Yes I have a victim. I have no contact and I pray everyday. I would never put anyone or child through what I have been through. I want to expose a small sliver of the corruption within the Nevada judicial system. 

My sincere desire is to share my story with you.

James, 74

James, 74

Meet James…

One of my greatest regrets is missing my grandchildren growing up. I was thrilled to be a grandfather, I would have been a great one. I missed it all.

Incarcerated: 15 years

I married my highschool sweetheart in September of 1967. Eight months later I was drafted into the U.S. Army. Two years later I got out and James Jr and Jason were soon born. I worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad for 25 years. When I was arrested in 2007, I had three grandchildren all under the age of five. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been in here for 100 years. With the pay phone I’m able to talk to my sons and grandchildren weekly. I know my grandchildren love me even though they know I’m in prison and why I’m here. I think of my family daily, I miss them terribly. My grandchildren were babies when I came to prison. I really don’t know what it’s like to be a grandfather on the street. I can’t get that time back, it’s gone forever. One of my greatest regrets is missing my grandchildren growing up. I was thrilled to be a grandfather, I would have been a great one. I missed it all. I have lived in a cage like an animal for 15 years. I’ve been treated like an animal for 15 years. It’s been a challenge not to become an animal. I have taken many self-help groups including non-violent communication and Restorative Justice. I’m currently in Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP). The COVID quarantines have made life in here more difficult. I just want to go home and if they allow me to get out, I can get to know my grandchildren. I’m not a threat to anyone. 📸James would like you to meet his family, especially his grandchildren – Brianna 19, Keeley 18, Jacob 16 and Delaney 12.