Troy, 57

Troy, 57

Meet Troy..

I have been clean and sober since October 26, 1999, and serving others is a massive part of my recovery.”

Troy, 57

Incarcerated: 26 years

Housed:Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

My favorite memories here are of the young men I have mentored and tutored and helped them earn their G.E.D. Many have been released and are out of gangs. They have landed their first real jobs, most enrolled in community colleges, and some have earned university scholarships. They proudly sent me copies of their first paychecks, library cards, college enrollment papers, and parole early parole discharge papers. Several parents have tearfully thanked me over the telephone. As rewarding as it is to help young men in prison, transform their lives, and break the cycle, I would much rather go into schools, juvenile detention facilities, etc., to prevent as many men as possible from ever coming to prison. I have learned that the young men I have helped are good people who wanted to do better; they just needed someone to show them how that looked or make them aware of their worth and potential. My life has been filled with many blessings and miracles, and I must pay them forward. As an addict, I committed lots of property crimes, which harmed so many people, left communities in fear, funded neighborhood terrorists, and took so much from cities, counties, the state of California, and the taxpayers. I now give back and make amends in every way I can. I have been clean and sober since October 26, 1999, and serving others is a massive part of my recovery. I will never harm another person. And to everyone I have harmed in any way, I am so genuinely sorry and remorseful!

 

Roger, 45

Roger, 45

Meet Roger..

“My goal once home is to rebuild community trust and dependability by being a voice and advocate for struggling and troubled youth.”

Roger, 45

Incarcerated: 30 years

Housed: California Medical Facility, Stockton 

On the brink of a new year, I was introduced to the two latest members of my family, my nieces. They have further fueled my drive for freedom and continue to be a shining example of progress through and despite duress. I’ve been incarcerated since I was a teenager, and at that time, my youngest brother and sister were the same ages as their children; my nieces are now. I walked into prison with an immature and biased belief system fueled by what I was taught by the males in my life and neighborhood. This ultimately led to my association and inevitable incarceration. Resulting in an innocent woman losing her life. To this day, I regret the choices of my youth and am genuinely sorry for the hurt I caused. My two nieces and the unwavering love of my mother and other women have opened my eyes to the importance of supporting our better halves with our strength, drive, power, and ability. Because without them, there would be no us! My goal once home is to rebuild community trust and dependability by being a voice and advocate for struggling and troubled youth. Having been one of these youths myself and recognizing the lack of positive male role models and activity groups for the youth still within the community, I believe that it is time for someone who personally knows the importance of teaching and raising our youth, the futures of our communities and the world in a way that promotes peace and progress. I write this hoping to find new friends from all walks of life who might share my aspirations. I go before the Parole Board in July and expect to be found suitable. Hopefully, these goals and endeavors can and will manifest sooner than expected. I hope to hear from anyone striving for change.

 

Marques, 43

Marques, 43

Meet Marques..

“I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage.”

Marques, 43

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: California State Prison, Solano

What have I learned about myself in prison?

Since my conviction, my life has changed in so many significant ways. I am no longer the same person that I once was before coming to prison,

When I committed this crime, I was impulsive and acted first and thought later. Now, I know better than to do that. I’ve learned to think first before reacting. I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage. At the time, addressing violence with superiors seemed like the right way to handle the situation, but it wasn’t. I have identified my internal and external triggers such as feeling insecure, powerless, ashamed, unheard, vulnerable, and sometimes fearful. I was being ridiculed or threatened by people around me, being called a liar, being insulted, being yelled at, and called weak. I’ve also developed healthy coping mechanisms that prevent me from returning to criminal behavior whenever I’m tempted to do so. Some coping mechanisms include but are not limited to: 

1) Positive self-talk. When feeling insecure, I remind myself I am not a negative thought or feeling. I am more than my past, and I am learning while growing. 

2) No matter what is said, I stop personally taking people’s words or actions. 

3) I pause to observe and process my situation, feelings, and my body’s reaction (heart rate increases, breathing quickens) to remain calm and avoid reacting impulsively. 

4) Breathing: when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I pause to take deep breaths and meditate. 

5) Listening with understanding and empathy when others express their thoughts or feelings. 

6) Taking the necessary time to assess different opinions or conflicts in a given situation. 

7) Things I’ve learned in self-help groups also work for me: Thought stopping, thought replacement, walking away, speaking calmly, and exercising.

I’ve matured in areas of the utmost importance when it comes to my conduct and behavior. By completing several self-help classes, I’ve acquired the necessary tools to modify my behavior and rebuild my life from the ground up. I took the time to dig deep within and was able to identify my many weaknesses, turning them into strengths; rather than being problem-focused, I’ve become solution-minded.

Today, I’ve learned to identify the root causes of my choices to be violent and to trace back the origin of my criminal thinking, which was that violence and committing crimes were the best ways to address whatever external problems I was facing. I have learned to recognize my feelings and thought patterns, and by doing that, I’ve learned to control the impulses that triggered my violent behavior.

I’ve been incarcerated now for almost ten years; the last five years have been disciplinary-free. I’m housed here at CSP Solano in the programming facility yard, where I can participate in various programs and receive certificates of completion. They teach me life skills and how to cope with life on life’s terms. I do my very best and let God do the rest. I was baptized here at the prison chapel, where I confessed my sins, asking God for forgiveness. I attend service regularly, where I help mentor the youth by using my own life story and my trials and tribulations to serve as a living testimony to those younger men who look up to me. It helps keep them out of trouble and brings them closer to God, our creator. I take a correspondence course called PREP Turning Point that teaches me anger management, parenting, conflict resolution, listening, critical thinking skills, and more.I completed a yoga class where I learned breathing techniques and how to remain calm while always in control. I was also taught how to meditate and relax my body and mind. By thinking clearly before reacting, I can make better decisions.

I’ve been a married man for the last four years, and I get to attend overnight family visits with my wife and children, bond and socialize with them, maintain my family ties, and spend quality time with those I love most. I have a lovely home to return to and plenty of love and family support. It’s very important to have housing, reliable transportation, and financial support upon release. I have that. I also have a post-release plan of action that will help solidify my successful reentry into the community. I recently graduated from the DJ program at CSP Solano called Uncuffed and I created an hour-long radio set from start to finish. My completed set aired on KALW 91.7 FM in September 2023. The Radio station provided a platform for us to be heard beyond these prison walls, and I used it to become a voice for the voiceless. This was a huge accomplishment for me and has given me the confidence to pursue a career in audio engineering. When my family and friends heard my creation on the Radio, they were so proud of me. I’m currently enrolled in the Solano Community College program, where I’m pursuing an associate’s degree in sociology and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now that I’ve acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to be a positive, productive, and proactive member of our society, all that’s left is for me to be afforded the opportunity to do so!

Verne, 70

Verne, 70

Meet Verne…

I have stabbed five or six people and immediately after each one, I felt no guilt or remorse, almost as if I were a psychopath or a person not conscious of wrong or right.

Verne, 70
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: California Health Care Facility, Stockton, California

I have stabbed five or six people and immediately after each one, I felt no guilt or remorse, almost as if I were a psychopath or a person not conscious of wrong or right. I did many things I am not proud of, but back then I gave very little thought. This is how I existed for thirty or forty years in and out of prison.  This was my life when I vaguely understood the way thought was processed. I came to prison in 1994, and for 26 years I maintained that same unaware demeanor. Then, in 2019, someone sent my name and number to the Syda Foundation, and in four years, they have vastly expanded my perspective and guided my understanding of my own mind.

Now please allow me to share with you some of my new perspective. I now understand that no one’s perception creates my reality except mine, and my reality is what I believe to be true. The way that reality is manifested into one’s experience is through his or her emotional excitement of that perceived belief. I now understand that you will receive no more out of your mind than you put into it, and to change one’s outlook, the thought perception has to change. Now I know what emanates or vibrates through one’s system and then reverberates back out through the aura is what is instilled.

This is what I have been instilling and its emanation is my total transformation: appreciation, kindness, compassion, thankfulness, harmony, humble humility, gratitude, gratefulness, loving understanding, friendship, respectfulness, spreading joy, inner laughter, consideration, humane kindness and last but not least – loving all with no exception. I have learned through the foundation that the meaning of a word provokes an emotional feeling. Then it reverberates back out in the form of energy where it is felt by all other forms of energy which is what connects humanity. Now that I have this new understanding, the energy flowing through me is totally positive. Now a flood of emotion has begun to surface, and remorse and regret have entered my conscious awareness. I feel sorrow for my past, and I ask for forgiveness everyday. Now I am a much better human being. The real reward is the positivity I am receiving from other people. That is the real blessing. Now I know I can return into society with a positive outlook and I know that positivity creates positivity. 

E, 42

Meet E…

I’ve learned in prison that I was both emotionally and mentally off-balanced. Worse were the similarities between prison and my childhood.

E, 42
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

The common aphorism, “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone,” rings no truer than with my kids. I am cuckoo about them and my nieces and nephews. They are all the motivation that gets me through each day. They are also the sources of my trepidations that sometimes keeps me up at night. Beholding the faces of my children, hearing their voices, their laughters and giggles, and those of my nieces and nephews is like the thirst-quenching glass of water on a hot summer day.

I’ve learned in prison that I was both emotionally and mentally off-balanced. Worse were the similarities between prison and my childhood. Prison can be a place of liberation for some, while for others it’s the total opposite, a place of frequent mental, physical, and emotional beatings. Similar to my childhood, here neither my feelings nor anything I say matters. The truths are considered to be lies, and the lies told about me are considered to be gospel; the caretaker is the abuser and the bully. I didn’t have a place of refuge while growing up, no one that I could trust and rely on for help; therefore, when needs or hunger came, which was regular, or when physical, emotional abuse came, I just accepted it, again, similar to prison.

Other ways that prison reminds me of my childhood is lack of help, and hunger. For reasons I will never know, other than two couples when growing up, people were unwilling to help me. In prison, all of my pleas and requests for help throughout the years were either completely ignored, or I was told they couldn’t help me. Child or adult in prison, it does not matter. Finding help has been an issue since childhood. For example, when I was younger, I lived with two family members. My late half-brother, who was my caretaker, was not around and my cousins, who never offered me any assistance, not even to bathe me or wash my clothes, which I didn’t know how to do then. Like everything else, being hungry in prison is no different from being hungry when I was growing up. It was and is a regular thing. My first prison-hunger incident, I was so hungry that I ate my nails to the flesh. I ate my own flesh! I didn’t realize it until I saw blood on my shirt and dripping down from my fingers. Even stranger still, I can’t recall tasting or drinking any blood, which I know surely had happened. Another time, I was so famished that I became delusional. For several minutes I kept opening and closing an empty food storage bin because each time I was convinced that I saw a piece of white bread in it. There never was. 

The things I went through as a child, while growing up, are still happening now. Thus, my trust in people is extremely limited. From 1-10, ten being a lot of trust, I am between 1.6-1.4. I am trying to trust because I need to survive; and all relationships require a level of trust. For a very long time I thought something was wrong with me. For people to have treated me the way they did. I reasoned then that I must have done things to people for them to treat me so badly and I was just swimming in denial; I didn’t want to take responsibility for my wrong doings. Now, I know I was not treated poorly because something was wrong with me, it was the hand I was given. I hope and strive for a better ending for my kids and myself.

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