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My Journey to San Quentin and The Last Mile

By Chris Schuhmacher

My journey to San Quentin and The Last Mile began a little over twelve years ago when I was incarcerated for the crime of second degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. That was the moment when life became all too real and I was finally forced to come face to face with the pain and destruction my actions and behaviors had caused. It was at that time that I realized that my life had strayed tragically off course and that any hope of future freedom would depend entirely on what direction I took from this point on. I made the decision right then and there to do everything in my power to try and understand what had led me to coming to prison and committing myself to identifying and addressing my issues of addiction, spiritual bankruptcy, and emotional health while incarcerated.

From the time I was 15, alcohol in all of its stimulating and inebriating forms seemed to take on a prominent role in my life. In high school, I thought it was a normal mode of behavior to party and get wasted with your friends. It became a lifestyle for me and one that I refused to let go of despite all the trouble that went along with it. Things began to get even crazier when I began using drugs and the wild ride that had become my life was filled with one crash-and-burn after another. It seemed that I was on a path of destruction that almost everyone could see but me. It wasn’t until I was locked up in the L.A. County Jail for taking a man’s life that I finally hit bottom. That was my sobering moment and from that time on I’ve completely given up the use of drugs and alcohol. I feel incredibly stupid and remorseful for ever letting things get that far out of control. It’s extremely difficult living with an action that I can never take back. With a heavy heart, I knew I needed to continue to move forward.

It was in those moments of anguish and desperation that God finally saw a way back into my life. In the county jail, a female pastor came into our unit and taught a Sunday school type of message that sounded like it was for children, but in terms of spirituality that’s exactly where I was and what I needed to hear. You see, I was raised a Christmas/Easter Christian, so other than for those two days out of the year, I had virtually no sense of God or spirituality in my life. Her words that day lit a spiritual fire within me and as tears filled my eyes, I committed my life to the care of God and the path that He would lay out for me. I began reading the Bible and learning about the life and love of Christ. God’s message of forgiveness and redemption has given me hope for the future and the strength I would need to overcome the trials and tribulations of prison life. I can honestly say that He has never left me, nor forsaken me.

After spending nearly seven years in the violent and chaotic worlds of High Desert and Soledad prisons, I was transferred to San Quentin where a transformation would begin taking place in my life that was nothing short of a miracle. At San Quentin, I was able to enroll in Patten University and begin working towards an Associate of Arts degree. I was also able to take part in groups like the Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG) and Addiction Recovery Counseling (ARC) where I was able to begin learning about myself, take accountability for my crime, and express my emotions in way that is rarely offered in prison. With the help of outside sponsors and the support and confidentiality of the men in the circle, I was able to open up and share my story in an authentic and healing way. I’ll never forget the words of my VOEG facilitator/friend Jamie Karoll when she said that, ”The only way out is through.” Those words gave me the courage to look within at the dark, ugly, and painful parts of my past in order to get me to place where I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin and could start living up to my potential.

This past summer of 2012 I’ve been swept up in a tidal wave of positive energy that has been the culmination of me trying to make the best out of a bad situation. In June, I earned my Associate of Arts degree and graduated as the valedictorian of my class. My family was in the audience when I made my speech and it was such a highlight for me, because all I’ve ever wanted is for them to be proud of me and to make up for the pain and suffering I’ve caused them. That day the entire room was touched by the raw emotion of a man striving to make a decisive comeback in life. By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I think the warden may have even shed a tear. In July, I was elected the Chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Group of San Quentin (VVGSQ). It’s an honor for me to be a part of this group because of all the ways they give back to the community like the Holiday Toy Program, Operation Moms, and the Veterans Scholarship Award. With so much love and support given to me, I now felt I had the responsibility to begin looking for ways to give back to the members of the San Quentin community. I recently signed on to be a mentor for the Alliance for Change ‘Social Justice’ program and I’m also training to become a certified tutor for the Project Reach GED/Literacy class. I’ve never felt more invested or more passionate about where my life is going and what still lies ahead.

As if all this wasn’t enough, in August I interviewed and was accepted into the sophomore class of The Last Mile. I had attended their first Demo Day and was blown away by my friends Kenyatta, James, Phil, JC, and Romeo as they presented their business ideas and articulated their passions using technology, and social media. I knew this was something I had to be a part of because of the experience and opportunity it would give for the future. This past week we had our first class and listening to Chris and Beverly talk about their vision of hope for incarcerated men has inspired me to trust and believe in the dreams that we are going to create together. I’ve never felt more connected to promises of collaborative energy than when I sit in a room with these men and women. My journey to The Last Mile has been long and arduous, but God never said that overcoming the challenges of life would be easy…only, that it would be worth it.

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

  • RMDauben

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and path forward to a “Life on Purpose”. I do hope you will be free someday so that you can help teach all the young kids that are so lost and forgotten.  I am very impressed with your courage and convictions, that you realize your true nature and connection with God. Bless you son, bless you.

    Much Love,

    Rich

  • Janelle

    Keep your focus and hope. Your journey will have a new chapter soon.

  • Michael

    The Last Mile sounds like an extraordinary program. Best of luck, and I look forward to reading more about your journey.

  • http://www.positivelyjewls.com/ Shamika Positively Jewls

    God Bless, God Bless, God Bless… This story hit home for me with so many loved ones that have gone through or are going through the prison system but to see that you have turned this negative into a positive is amazing.  Keep fighting, keep God, keep your faith and keep your positive outlook.  You are on the right path and as another poster said, another chapter for you will be upon you very soon.

  • http://www.twitter.com/emabaksa Ema

    So proud of you. Sending much blessings your way.

  • -T.

    Amazingly inspirational words Chris. You are not alone in the inspiration from what has happened in your life. These words carry the energy of your experience and you should always be sure to hold on to them. You’ve touched more than just your family and those around you. That wave of positive energy is paving the way in what is yet to come for your future. The journey has only begun. Thank you for doing your part.

  • http://www.dragonflyeffect.com/blog/authors/andy-smith/ Andy Smith

    It’s so powerful to see your words and your clear, decisive commitment and action to turn your life 180 degrees. This is why I participate in The Last Mile, and am honored to have The Dragonfly Effect be part of the core curriculum. Unlikely transformations like yours are nothing short of miraculous. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082433110 Zenaida Soria

    Chris… You are the embodiment of love. Wishing you all the best.

    Z.

  • simplelady61

    Thank you for your post.  I am going to print it and share it with an incarcerated friend.  He has lived 26 years in the CA prison system and has accomplished so much.  Getting to know God and leading others to Him has been a big part of his journey.  He has published a novel – A Thundering Wind (available on Amazon.com).  His second one – A Year in a Life Sentence will be available soon on Amazon.com.  His third one – a collaboration with his victims family (who have forgiven him and are working to help him gain his freedom) will be published next year.  He will then start on the sequel to “A Thundering Wind”.  I am truly in awe of what inmates can accomplish when their heart and mind are in the correct place.  
    You are another example of how God’s love can lead a person down a productive path, no matter the setting or circumstances.  I applaud you for your choices, especially in a place where it is so much easier to take the low road.
    Keep up the great work and never lose hope.  God said that He would finish the works He started in our lives.  He NEVER goes back on His word.

    Hugs & Prayers,

    Linda

  • Theresa Witt

    Thank you for sharing your experience. you have become a beacon for those who are in the same situation as you………only you choose where to go and not to surrender  to desperation.