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.



Cassandra, 61

There are many things about my past that I wish I could change but, I probably wouldn’t be the strong, black woman I am today.

Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: Lockhart Correctional Facility, Texas

I have been on drugs for over 30 years and in and out of jails and prisons. Every time I am before a judge, I was never offered rehab. When I asked for it, it was denied. What? Was I not good enough for rehabilitation?

My addiction has caused me to do things that were against my nature. I’ve done things that were against my parents values that were instilled in me. But nevertheless, I know that my life does have meaning. There are many things about my past that I wish I could change, but then I wouldn’t be the strong, black woman I am today. Today, I have been able to forgive myself for some of my choices, disappointments and hurts. More importantly, I understand the larger forces that have affected me and my entire family and this has led me to want a better life.

I now fight for my right to be the best I can be. I know that I can not do this all by myself. With God as my leader, I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. I know that I must go through this valley to get to the mountain top. God has my life in his hands and very soon He will release me to freedom. I will soar like an eagle. Thank you for listening and most of all thank you for this organization. You will be hearing from me and my family again.

Tandy, 37

Tandy, 37

Meet Tandy…

I was supposed to be a lawyer, but my family and I were prey to the crack epidemic. I was on the honor roll and student council. At 13, when the drugs finally broke up my family, I found myself homeless not knowing if I had passed the 8th grade. At 17 I was arrested. At 18 sentenced to my first prison stint in Wisconsin.

I remember feeling scared and relieved. Education while incarcerated has been my saving grace. When I got out I thought “I’ll be grown up and can put myself in school and rent my own house.” I did exactly what I said: got a job, rented an apartment and enrolled in college. Any time college costs 30k for an associate’s degree, something is wrong. But I didn’t know that then. In my second year,  an older man knocked me up. Told me he would drop the rent in the drop box after our daughter was born, never to be seen again.

Fearful that we’d be homeless I went back to the things that hurt me and saved me: selling drugs. Of course, it led me right back to prison. This time in the hard state of Texas. Here I’ve rediscovered my love of learning. I’ve gotten an associate’s degree and taken numerous classes but my love of learning goes beyond academia. This institution only offers low-level books. It is a struggle to attain books in the fields I like.

I believe everything that happens on earth happens within the human being. In agriculture the soil needs nourishment, it needs water, the weeds have to be pulled. So too do human beings. In prison, I’ve learned that I need self-care. I needed to pull out the weeds that hindered my growth from past hurts and neglect to abandonment and fear. I needed to nourish myself with love, positivity, belief, drive and compassion. I needed to build on my self-worth. A foundation not built upon.

No matter what, the seasons change. In some seasons the darkness comes quicker, lasts longer. Things wither away and die and the world seems cold. In other seasons the sun shines bright and darkness is fleeting. Those things that die will be resurrected and restored. That’s how I feel about life and humanity. 📸 Tandy’s

Joseph “King Chuck”, 37

Housed: Fort Stockton, TX 

I must serve 30 years flat before being eligible for parole. My story is not too different from many but yet still my own.

I grew up raised by a single mother with four older sisters and a little brother and two more brothers on my Dad’s side. I was introduced to the street life at an early age and started using drugs at the age of nine -nothing hardcore-weed, pills, alcohol. At 13, I was initiated into a gang and started causing all kinds of trouble. I saw how it was taking a toll on my mother, but I didn’t care because I felt she didn’t want me or love me and my father wasn’t around.

My father’s oldest son hurt me one day and I told my mother. She called my father who said it would be taken care of. Nothing ever happened, so I blocked everyone out and went on a rampage.

Years later, I was heavy in the local music scene. I was supplying drugs and doing them. One night, I was pulled over with crack cocaine in my possession and swallowed it to avoid going to jail. To this day, I wish I was arrested that morning. That crack cocaine I swallowed caused me to make the biggest mistake of my life and now I’m here.

When I was arrested I had two children on the way by two different women. Today, my son and daughter are about to turn fourteen. I’ve never been home with them. The struggle of being a father behind bars runs deep when you aren’t present. How do you father from prison, how can you provide for them, how do you love them, why do they love you? If something happens to them you blame yourself, if they’re misbehaving you feel it’s your fault, anything they struggle with, you shoulder the blame. I don’t understand how or why they still love me. In here, I’ve been mentoring kids, dads, moms and young people about the dangers of drugs, prison life and the value of life. I would like to just continue to spread my voice to help.

Cheryl, 53

Cheryl, 53

Meet Cheryl…

Now I’m going to sit back in this dark damp mildewed cell and watch her soar, she will never tire – only fly.

A menace. A failure. A convict. A felon. A loser. That’s what society calls me, but I am determined to be better. I am more than a number.

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and a daughter. I don’t want to languish. I want to flourish. Even in a prison cell I am determined to be part of my daughter’s life. She is an exception of what society says she will be because of me. I am grateful for her forbearance and forgiveness and she will be great in spite of me. I have been incarcerated for four years, which means I missed all of her high school years. I have missed milestones that can never be relieved.

I don’t write this for pity, just sharing my pain. I was just denied parole again. Sometimes I sit in agony because I can never speak to the parole board. They only know me from a file, a folder – I wish they knew me. Texas should really consider allowing offenders to speak with them in person. I feel misrepresented because it’s only what they write.

Parole reform is worth visiting. In the meantime, I will take joy in knowing that my daughter is starting the blueprint of her life. I have watched her grow. Now I’m going to sit back in this dark damp mildewed cell and watch her soar, she will never tire – only fly. While she flies, I am attempting to get rid of regret and work on forgiving myself,  just not sure how to really do it. It sounds simple, but what does forgiving yourself mean? How does it feel? How will I know I have accomplished it? It’s hard in here, and in saying that doesn’t mean I don’t accept responsibility, it’s just a fact – it’s hard! Its lonely, racism is rising, the food is questionable, the shower is hairy, the conversations are shallow, so most days I’m running on spiritual, mental and physical reserves.

However, I will make it through this season of my life and I will rise above the negativity. I often think that all the good I’ve done in my life, I will most be remembered for this – it’s simply life. Fair or not, it’s life.

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