Dustin, 33

Dustin, 33

Meet Dustin

If I can go back in time and change one thing in my life, it would be the day that I tried drugs.

Incarcerated: 5yrs

Housed: Mark Stiles Unit, Beaumont, Texas

I woke up in a jail cell without the slightest idea of why I was even in there. My head was pounding, my throat was sore, and my hands were swollen. I had just gotten out of prison seven months earlier. I knew I’d be back here.

When I went to make a phone call, I couldn’t remember any numbers. I came to find out I’d been in the hospital on life support and in a coma after swallowing methamphetamine. Bits and pieces of that night started coming back. I remember being pulled over, the red and blue lights, but that’s it. Cops said I was foaming at the mouth and having seizures, they knew I swallowed dope. My dad told me my family visited the hospital, thinking it was for the last time.

If you were to ask me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say veterinarian. I loved animals. Who would have thought I would choose to go down this destructive path?

I’m from a small one-horse town in Texas, called Ganado, one red light, a Dairy Queen and a movie theater. I hung with my older cousins, smoked weed at 10, snorted cocaine at 13, and then pills.

I was 17 when I had my first run-in with the law. I flipped my SUV, got my first DUI and drug arrest. I remember sitting at my mom’s house listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers on a crack binge.

I was getting ready to check myself into rehab since probation was going to drug test me. My step dad walked in the room. When I turned and looked at him, we both just started bawling! “Why?” he asked. “Why do you keep doing this?”

Not until my mom stopped financially supporting me did I open my eyes and see who I was.

When I first get out, I do good, then I start hanging around the wrong people and using again. In order for me to stay out of here, I must cut ties. I’d really like to move somewhere, start over, maybe even out of Texas.

I’m learning two trades, auto mechanics and plumbing & pipefitting and to overcome my fear of failing. We have been on lockdown for over a year. I’m reading books, writing poems and working out Monday – Friday.

Cedrick, 38

Cedrick, 38

Meet Cedrick

I know life is precious, and with every fiber of my being let my actions try to make amends for taking a life.

Incarcerated: 18 years 

Housing: Mark Stiles Unit, Beaumont, TX

I started my life sentence at 20 for murder and robbery, and thought my life was over – mentally. I fell back into the same negative mindset that landed me behind these walls: drugs and negative company.

Growing up I wasn’t a people person. I only went to school and took care of my little brother. I became an obese child with no self-confidence, and stayed away from people outside my mom’s house. With an affinity for drawing, I channeled all my frustration and depression into it, and became an awesome child artist.

As a teen in high school, I fell into false friendships to be accepted. I lived a double life: a school boy to mom and family, but beyond the house a gangbanger led astray by older teens. Yet I had art to fall back on. I graduated high school and got a scholarship.

Unfortunately, without guidance, I lost the scholarship, and ended up in prison two years after I graduated high school.

Thanks to my mom, I always had knowledge of God in my life, but my love and quest for knowledge caused me to search within myself to know what caused me to take the actions I took to do wrong. God has allowed me to grow in so many ways, and I understand that my purpose in life is to help others, especially the youth, through art and a God-centered life.

I am currently waiting to be accepted in seminary theology college to become an ordained minister, in order to minister other men in here. Through love for God, art, and self-introspection, I have found myself. I don’t want others to succumb to negative social norms that cause them to become something they are not.

Having a lot of time ahead of me in my sentence, I strive to positively evolve any way I can, hoping to spread love and energy through my creations and interactions with others. I cannot change my past, so let my past be my past, and I refuse to be defined by it. I am a changed human being, a fully formed man.

I know life is precious, and with every fiber of my being let my actions try to make amends for taking a life. Not to be forgiven by man, but to let God shine through in my actions.

Gerald, 35

Gerald, 35

Meet Gerald

My childhood is hard to talk about after they split up. I wish the world was different and families never fell apart. My heart goes out to kids like me.

I was an emotional wreck and nearly drove my momma crazy. By high school, I was struggling with an addiction to cocaine. My momma is the example of love. The faster I spiraled out of control the harder she tried to save me.

When I was a kid, I would argue with her, throw fits and tell her I was running away, then walk out the door like I was really leaving. She would let me go, not because she didn’t care, but because she knew I wouldn’t make it past the end of our driveway.

My Momma was a perfect example, she didn’t smoke, drink and never partied. I was never abandoned or abused. She worked night and day to support me and my sister and give us the life she never had. She taught us right from wrong.

As I got older and truly started falling away, she chased after me in my addiction. She was not gonna lose me and refused to give up.

Just thinking about my mom and how she managed to remain faithful and stay strong through my struggle brings tears to my eyes.

Now, I’ve overcome addiction, the biggest obstacle in my life. I’m getting somewhere, glory to God.

Since I’ve been in the system I’ve taken classes. I’m taking one on horticulture where we are learning about how plants grow, basic plant pathology and pest management. We grow our own garden and operate and maintain small lawn mowers, tillers, weed eaters, blowers and trimmers.

Besides going to school, attending my garden, and belonging to the prison ministry, I love exercising. Since last year about this time when my sobriety really took off I’ve been working out twice a day. Believe it or not amidst all the chaos in here there’s still lots of love and positivity.

One day, I’ll get to go home and live the life I’ve always dreamed of. I’ll be free from the bondage of addiction and no longer a slave to sin, prove to myself and others that there has been a complete transformation in my life that only God could accomplish, and, hopefully, one day marry the woman of my dreams.

Although I have lost my way countless times in here, I continue to choose just that, and maybe these words here will help some to see that. I caused more pain than I’ll ever be proud to admit, and plenty of havoc too, but I’ve also spread love on end. I have done good deeds, and leave laughter in my wake.

My intentions are always to put a warm smile on another person’s face. Everyday, I’m trying to be a better person. Despite my past and the malicious wrong doings upon me, that is what I choose. I am worthy of love, capable of so much, just like you.

Yes, my demons haunt me every single day and night! But I overcome them and try to be a good person, which is the only way to be free. I’m just like you. That’s my truth and I thank you very much for listening.

Isaiah, 21

Isaiah, 21

Meet Isaiah

From observation and the experience on this journey I have learned a very important fact; the Texas prison system does not rehabilitate prisoners, it’s all up to you to make that choice for yourself.

I give my grandmother credit for the majority of my rehabilitation. Since my mother died, my 70 year old grandmother has given me her full support. Growing up in Houston, Texas, being exposed to constant pressure in an urban community, my mind was flooded with traumas, while thinking that this is what life was all about.

I’ve grown in maturity since then. I no longer think, act, or talk like I used to. While living in here, diversity and incarceration has forced a mental, physical and spiritual test on me that not only strengthened my mind, but also has helped me form new positive habits.

Kevin, 28

Kevin, 28

Meet Kevin

Some of you may and some may not relate to my story. I was born in El Salvador, son of a strong, beautiful immigrant woman. When I was four, she migrated to the US after my father was killed from criminal violence. After a year of my mother migrating she gathered enough money to bring me to the US.

She is a faithful Christian and gave me everything so I can stay out of trouble, yet in the end, I was a lost innocent child tangled in the ways of ‘The Street Life.’

When I enrolled in elementary school, I felt out of place not knowing the lingo of the land. A couple of months later I learned to speak English and was making A’s and B’s. I was told by teachers that I was bright and smart. In middle school, I was easily influenced by drugs and gangs, that’s what the ‘cool kids’ were doing. This led me straight to juvenile detention centers.

One night, I almost lost my life to gun violence over a cheap $40 phone to a robbery at gunpoint. I thank the universe and my guardian angels that I survived. Not too long after, I was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Since the victim’s personal belongings were in my car, I was guilty by association. I didn’t correct it or say anything because he was my ‘friend’. When we got pulled over, my so-called friend told me not to say anything, that ‘he got me’ and everything was going to be ‘okay’.

I knew what my so-called friend had done was wrong, because I had been a victim of a prior robbery. He never showed up, never helped out and the loyalty I had towards him and the ‘bro-code’ got me five years. That may not seem like much compared to 20 years or life in prison. but to me it is more than enough. In here, I’ve received my GED, a level-centered head on my shoulders and a friend that has helped me elevate and I can call a brother.

The last five years I have lost and I have won. I have accepted my wrong deeds by correcting them. I might have lost my opportunity for a brighter future in the US as I am waiting to be extradited back to my home country. I have found myself and I no longer walk in darkness, I’m finally free and illuminated. My journey is coming to an end behind these walls and I am looking at better possibilities. In this process of losing myself, I’ve found who and what makes Kevin and that friends are worth more than money.

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