Jarel, 45

Jarel, 45

Meet Jarel…

Social condemned people are humans too, who made some very poor decisions. Maybe befriend one of us. You may never meet a more loyal friend.

Jarel, 45
Incarcerated: 16
Housed: Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington

One of the biggest trials was becoming introduced to a wheelchair. I have not let this disability let me down. It has strengthened me mentally more than anything. I was young – 19 when I was incarcerated for the first time. I learned to grow up quickly. Drugs and prison gangs became second nature. Three years later I was released with a drug addiction and a big chip on my shoulder. After four more prison sentences, I ended up committing a heinous act of violence to where someone lost their life. I ended up in the place I hated the most, the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. I was sentenced to 30 years and lost everything I ever held close. My family, the woman I loved and my freedom. It took me several years of going back and forth from solitary confinement to intensive treatment units to finally pull my head together and search for a positive meaning in my life. Then, I started the very long process of mending all the broken fences. The first – myself and my addiction. For a long time I hated myself and was bitter. I pushed everyone away, especially the ones that tried to help. As a “socially condemned” person and incarcerated I started to build healthy relationships and take self-improvement classes. The teacher for a redemption class changed my life. I jumped in fully and after graduation I was invited to start the process of taking the classes needed to start facilitating the same class I took. It was an eye opener and showed me how to connect back to becoming a good person. 

Besides self-improvement I have found a new love in my life as well and that was accepting God fully and placing my life in his hands. I have found the strength to walk away from prison politics and to start mentoring younger people.  I have had blessing after blessing fall into my lap, as well as trials and tribulations. I now know how to deal properly with these trials. I have been clean and sober for over 13 years and have built a beautiful reconnection with my family, my beautiful fiance that I lost years ago and we are due to become married very soon.

Jayme, 31

Jayme, 31

Meet Jayme…

My mind tended to use my internal turmoil to fuel thoughts of violent aggression.

Incarcerated: 10 yrs
Housed: Airway Heights Correctional Center, Washington

Waking up day in and day out filled with anger and rage, compounded with the hopelessness of a 45 year sentence, I found myself doing a lengthy stretch in the “hole.” Isolated and left alone with my thoughts I became frustrated. Discovering my train of thought seemed to always roll down the tracks of hurt, pain, and anger, I grew tired of spending my days dwelling on the negative. I recall asking myself if I were crazy. My mind tended to use my internal turmoil to fuel thoughts of violent aggression. I was convinced this was just who I was, subject to the whims of my thoughts and powerless over my mind. It wasn’t until I picked up a book on Buddhism and learned to meditate, that I began to comprehend that my brain is a tool and not the other way around. This epiphany is the cornerstone of the transformation that developed me into the man I am today. I began to understand that the chain of events making up my life experiences were heavily influencing my current thought patterns and how I was choosing to perceive and engage them, was causing me to perpetuate my own suffering. The deeper I dove into my own past, viewing my experiences from a stance of compassion, I noticed a shift in my mentality. One morning looking out the window in my cell door, I spotted a rival gang member pacing the dayroom. Typically my thoughts would gravitate towards how I could cause him harm, but this time was different. As I watched, I started questioning the life experiences that made him who he was. I began wondering who he was, and if we struggled with similar things. My heart was open to compassion and I started seeing my enemy for the human being he was. I asked myself if in some other dimension, would we be friends? That moment it clicked what I had just done. I rehumanized my supposed enemy. I knew with this new lens, I couldn’t continue down my old path, so I chose to walk away. This was the revaluation leading to the renewal of my own mind. The first step in reclaiming my own life, starting anew, and taking another direction. This was the moment I learned that I could change. I wasn’t hopeless.

Victor, 29

Victor, 29

Meet Victor…

I had to let go of everything I was taught as a child and believed to be true in order to revise myself.

Incarcerated: 10 yrs
Housed: Airway Heights Correctional Complex, Washington

I’m going to be frank even though my name is Victor. I don’t walk around thinking I’m Mr. Tough guy, like I’m 6’ tall because I’m only 5′ 7”. I do walk around with a big smile on my face and take pleasure in helping others transition their enslaved mindset into a free one. Our bodies may be encaged, but our minds can be free. I was born into an environment where drugs, gangs, and violence was the norm. Where my father ruled with an iron fist, what he said went, and you better not challenge him. Even though I was brought up in this environment, I still wanted better, but the cards weren’t in my favor. Luckily for me, I received a full scholarship to the school of life, where I would be able to discover who I’m capable of becoming or perish in the process… As you can see, I’m still here. I came in at the age of 19 with 15 years to learn. I once heard a famous saying, “there is a great amount of untapped potential in prison and the graveyard.” To me this is both literal and figurative. Literal because of how true it is, but figurative because the graveyard is where our dreams go when we don’t act on them, and in prison because we always imprison our mind, unaware of our true potential. I was a product of my upbringing and I didn’t fully understand the consequences my actions caused. I’m asking as an advocate, please try and understand us, but if you can’t, don’t be so quick to judge us. We are only a product of our environment. During the course of my incarceration I took the liberty of educating myself, ranging from cognitive behavior, anger management, emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I had to let go of everything I was taught as a child and believed to be true, in order to revise myself. I am now a facilitator for some of these classes. In the process of creating a reentry program, and I’m wrapping up my AA in business and engineering. People can change, if they really want to. I used to be a product of my environment, now I make my environment. Please don’t judge a book by its cover, or in our case a person by their department of corrections number.

Christopher, 42

Christopher, 42

Meet Christopher…

I want to change the culture in prisons, but it’s going to take an effort from the rest of the world as well. I want society to someday paint a different picture of prisons and prisoners.

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington

It’s refreshing to know that many people who come to prison, for whatever reasons, often uncover the lies we’ve told ourselves in order to live with the truth of our pasts. For me, this is what caused my life to become a path of justice. as a lifestyle. I’ve heard people say over the years, “I’ve served my time and now my debt is paid,” but the truth is that no amount of time can constitute payment for some of the things I’ve done. In fact, from my study of mathematics, I see this as being similar to an infinite limit, where although we continue paying towards the justice of our past.. although our debt to the world may become smaller and smaller, there is no point in our lives where we can say, “The debt is finally paid, it’s time to kick up my feet!” I think we should live in a way that contributes positive value into the world, a byproduct of a better way to live! My way of life is wrapped around the world of mathematics where I live my justice in the pursuit of beauty. I’m more free doing this, than I ever was while lost in addiction. I want to change the culture in prisons, but it’s going to take an effort from the rest of the world as well. I want society to someday paint a different picture of prisons and prisoners. I  want prisoners to realize that it’s our job to serve the Justice for our crimes.. not our department of corrections number. We need to be responsible and accountable to allow for enough forgiveness – for ourselves – so that we can heal in a way where we can fix those flaws that led us here. That’s our responsibility, it’s a necessary part of actual Justice. I know that this is an uncommon story of “me” in prison, but this is more “me”than any life story I can sum up in a few paragraphs. I see organizations like HUMANS, the Prison Mathematics Project and the Prison Journalism Project as doing their part to change the culture of prisons through altering the lense for which the outside world sees prisoners for what they actually are… humans.

 

Brian, 43

Brian, 43

Meet Brian…

After years of soul searching, it became important to give back for all that I’ve taken. My universal balance was off kilter. The biggest way to give back to everybody I’ve adversely impacted is to remove myself as far as I can, from the little kid who came into the system. After decades of being despondent and without support or camaraderie, my personal mission statement was created: ‘To add value to the lives of all prisoners.’

Incarcerated: 24 yrs

Housed: Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Aberdeen, Washington

I discovered that the world isn’t going to change based upon my expectations for it: rather, I had to change in order to adapt to it. Unfortunately, my world consists of a Washington State Correctional Facility, and the people in my immediate vicinity are angry men, killers, robbers, rapists and drug dealers. I learned early on in my prison sentence that the various social groups in the joint are the fastest way to implement yourself with prison administration. So I distance myself from group influence to avoid the pitfalls of the proverbial group norm mentality. After years of soul searching, it became important to give back for all that I’ve taken. My universal balance was off kilter. The biggest way to give back to everybody I’ve adversely impacted is to remove myself as far as I can, from the little kid who came into the system. After decades of being despondent and without support or camaraderie, my personal mission statement was created: ‘To add value to the lives of all prisoners.’After 20 years of studying the law and changing Washington laws for people inside, I started a nonprofit called, Inmate Artwork. We have a website dedicated to giving incarcerated artists a free-use platform where their artistic voices can be heard. We sell their art in order to help pay off their court ordered legal financial obligations. Next, after I paid an arm-and-a-leg for prison pen pal services, we started an affordable prison pen pal website with an easy-to-navigate platform. Successfully we had over 600-prisoners across America listed after the first three months. I lean forward in my efforts to become the best version of myself, current milieu notwithstanding. Not every person in prison should be written off as a lost cause. We are often associated with being negative and bad. Yet, there are some who accept that they’ve made mistakes and diligently work on themselves to change during their imprisonment. I fancy myself as one of these prisoners.

 📸Amber’s; Brian’s websites www.inmateartwork.com www.prisoners4penpals.com