Tony, 50

Tony, 50

Meet Tony…

 “I don’t want to grow bitter and dark, yet I can feel my mind slipping further and further down the rabbit’s hole turning my warm heart into ice.”

Tony, 50

Incarcerated: 23 years

I have made peace with the thought of the possibility that I might never go home. But, where do I call home? I have built a kingdom within my heart because I am not this body, I am a spirit, avoiding the bars of my bones, to imprison me. I cover myself with the clothes, where the seeds dress themselves from the inside out. I have fallen down this rabbit’s hole and have become a stranger to my two daughters and son. I do not wish to lie to you, but even my family has faded away. I am responsible for turning myself into a ghost. For four years, I wrote a book, poured my heart and soul into it, and my teacher wanted to publish it. He took it and I’ve never seen him or it again. I hear he still teaches in prison. I am a typical short story of a gang member, who grew up being taught and schooled by some of the greatest hard core rappers – glorifying this cemetery I now live in. Of course, lots of positive changes do happen in our prisons now, with lots of self help groups. But, what good is a treasure chest full of gold, if you keep running from grave to grave? I’ve seen many people receive lots of certificates of accomplishments, yet they have not changed but, only for the worst. You ask me what I love? I love to paint the elements of destruction and I love my little radio. I don’t want to grow bitter and dark, yet I can feel my mind slipping further and further down the rabbit’s hole turning my warm heart into ice. 

Jamie, 31

Jamie, 31

Meet Jamie…

“One day I’ll make it home, and when I do, I’ll be the best version of myself possible. I love my family, and I want to make them proud.”

Jamie, 31

Incarcerated: 6 years

Housed: Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla, California

When I first held my son, I looked into his eyes and swore to myself and him that I’d protect him, that I’d be the best mom, that I’d give him a better life than I had. I tried and I tried, but life is about choices, and I made some bad ones, I lost sight of what was important, and I allowed my broken heart to lead me down a path of darkness and destruction.

I was trying to fill the emptiness I felt inside with drugs and toxic relationships. I was doing anything I could, to not be alone because I was so filled with pain and fear. Misplaced loyalty and naivety caused me to make the wrong decisions and I’m paying for it now. I miss my son and my daughters every minute of every day. I miss laughing with my mom, I miss driving. I miss taking my son to the movies and going out to eat. These days I can’t do much besides stay positive and keep my faith that God is with me even when I feel alone. I work out daily and I try to help the other women here. I try to serve the community I am now a part of. I can’t take away the pain I’ve caused my family, and I can’t unbreak those hearts, but I’ve made another promise that I intend to keep: one day I’ll make it home, and when I do, I’ll be the best version of myself possible. I love my family, and I want to make them proud. 

Ray, 42

Ray, 42

Meet Ray…

“I’m grateful for this God given gift of being able to draw and create what’s on my mind, more so what’s in my heart”

Ray, 42

Incarcerated: 23 years

Housed: California State Prison, Vacaville

Art is Life. Art is wonderful, soothing, the great escape, but I must mention the golden aspect: art is open for interpretation and all interpretation is valued! As an artist I get asked a well known question, “How long have you been drawing?” My response, since I was five. But as I reflect back on some of the artwork that captivated my attention, it came from prison. My cousin’s boyfriend sent her a hand-made Mickey Mouse card. Mickey had a tank top on, Jacky’s and some Nike Cortez’s on his feet, looking and standing banged out… and that card was drawn in ink pen. Another piece of artwork came from my uncle, he sent my aunt a hand-made card with a car drawn on a piece of filing folder, and the car was a “Monte Carlos” with a tent on the windows and Dayton wire wheels also drawn in ink pen. These pieces of artwork motivated me to keep drawing over and over until I reached some resemblances. Throughout my childhood I’ve had my fair share of getting in trouble and the majority of the time being on punishment, I spent drawing. Now as аn adult being on punishment (incarcerated), my time is devoted to working in the Delancey Street Restaurant, in groups, painting, drawing creatures and practicing with other mediums. But overall I’m grateful for this God given gift of being able to draw and create what’s on my mind, more so what’s in my heart.

Anthony, 61

Anthony, 61

Meet Anthony…

“I stole for her, robbed for her, lied for her, deceived and manipulated family and friends for her, and I even committed murder just for her.”

Anthony, 61

Incarcerated: 37 years

Housed: Valley State Prison – Chowchilla,  California

My ex-girlfriend CC was a white girl. She was the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world and I sincerely loved her with every single breath, my heart and my soul. She was like a God to me, I worshiped her. It was like she brainwashed me and had me under her magical spell. I put her first before my family and everybody else. I did whatever I needed to do because I was a loyal, dedicated, and committed slave to her. I stole for her, robbed for her, lied for her, deceived and manipulated family and friends for her, and I even committed murder just for her. My ex-girlfriends name was Crack Cocaine and she destroyed my life too. I am an African American male and I am serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for a murder, burglary, and robbery conviction. I was 24 years old when I was arrested for murder, burglary, and robbery on April 23, 1986. Thanks to the nonprofit, Legacy Alliance and its founder Mr. Michael Baldwin, I found my purpose and calling in life. I am a mentor to men and women and a peer support specialist. From Legacy Alliance and Tarzana Treatment Center College, I discovered shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment. I am now able to help others enter and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse. People battling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma, I have learned by listening, being compassionate and having empathy, affects them emotionally. “He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it,” a Turkish proverb. I enjoy just being a friend to a person who needs a friend to talk to about their PTSD and/or trauma.

Tyrone, 53

Tyrone, 53

Meet Tyrone…

I’m proud of myself. I thought this dream was impossible”

Tyrone, 53

Incarcerated: 30

Housed: San Quentin State Prison

I really didn’t want to do this speech, but I’m learning to get comfortable with my un-comfortability.

But this is something I have dreamt of my whole life; walking across the stage with my cap and gown on with a smile on my face, like the graduates you see on TV. My dream of graduation came to halt at the early age of 14, when I derailed from the path my grandparents wanted for me; to get my education and to stay out of trouble. 

They didn’t ask for much, but I chose to follow in the footsteps of my father and uncles. That led me to become a gang member, and caught up in that criminal life style which lead me in and out of juvenile hall, county camp and youth authority.

I never stayed out of trouble long enough to get my education on the streets but before I came to prison, my grandparents asked me to make them a promise: that I would finish school.

I told them I would get my diploma if I was giving the opportunity. I came to prison July 1993, my grandfather rest in peace, died the following year

That day, I made a promise to myself that I would change my life and become a better person and that my grandparents would be proud of me. When I came to SQ state prison in November 2010, they had so many programs here including education programs. I told myself, this was the time to start working on changing my life.

I enrolled myself in as many programs as I could; like CGA, NVC, RSJ, Anger Management, Victims Impact, 12 step ministry, boot camp 1,2,3 Christian programs and many more. By taking these programs, I was now able to accept full accountability for my actions and behavior and to become the person I should have been, and the person who is standing before you.

I was given the opportunity to complete my dream of graduation and fulfilling the promise I made to my grandparents. I was accepted in to the High school diploma program and was told that I needed 33 credits to graduate.

Not knowing how challenging it was going to be, but I had made that promise to my grandparents, I would finish school no matter how difficult it may be and it was difficult, especially Algebra, which I still have nightmares about.

I am just grateful I have so many amazing people believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

My grandmother Teddies was the biggest supporter and loved me unconditionally. She was very excited and proud of me for getting my diploma, I sent her invitations and she was excited to come to watch me walk across the stage.

Unfortunately, She passed, June 10, 2023. She was a remarkable woman, loving and caring, she put everyone else’s needs before her own. She was a woman of God and I know she is in a better place. Her last words to me were she was proud of me and she could not wait to see me walk across that stage. This diploma is for you grandma, thank you for your love

Graduates, we have done it through struggles, ups and downs, even through the pandemic- – and we never gave up.

We should be proud of ourselves. Because we have succeeded by completing high school.

I know I’m proud of myself.

I thought this dream was impossible

I want to acknowledge some teachers for motivating me and encouraging me and being instrumental in helping me succeed as a student and reach my dream.

My teacher Lucas who has push me to reach my full potential and gave me the space I needed.

she pushed me to be better than I was content with being, thank you for being patient with me.

Sufi who motivated me to be myself and not to be afraid to ask for help.

My pride kept me from asking for help, but I knew I had to let go of that pride, if I wanted to complete this program, so, Sufi, I thank you for pushing me to be better and to hold my head up. My free to succeed mentor Karen, THANK you for your encouragement and always willing to help me with my assignments and being here when I needed someone to talk to. I thank you for your guidance.

I thank these amazing teachers for believing in us and pushing us to see our true potential

Getting comfortable with being un-*comfortable is a real form of growth and I thank everyone here in this chapel for showing up and witnessing our growth and determination to do better and be better.


Thank you and God bless you all


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