No matter what you see in the movies or on TV, there is nothing glamorous or cool about prison. California’s prisons are so overcrowded, there’s no privacy and it’s almost impossible to be alone. And yet, it feels like the loneliest place I’ve ever been. None of us want to be here. We were just unwilling or unable to make the choices that would have prevented it. Everyday it’s a struggle to be brave in the face of so much adversity, to swim against the stream of negativity, and continue searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re not incorrigibles…I am a work in progress. I strive to be defined as more than the crime that brought me here. I’m willing to go to any lengths to earn my future freedom and be the man I was destined to be.
I believe that everyone should know that they can possibly end up here. In my fifteen years of incarceration, I have met people from every walk of life. I have met lawyers, teachers, bankers, coaches, and even highway patrolmen. Prison is full of what society would have deemed ordinary law abiding citizens. These citizens just made a bad choice or two that cost them their freedom. Some of these decisions were horrendous, some were not, but they all broke the law. I would bet you that if you were to ask them if they would ever see themselves in prison before they committed the acts that landed them here, they would have all said no.
My point is that prison is not just full of misfits and desperadoes, although there are plenty of them here, too. But prison is full of people, people from every walk of life. Some are good people, some I wouldn’t invite to my house. Many of these people didn’t set out to commit a crime; circumstances just happened, and they made a bad choice. So think about that the next time you decide to text or drink while driving. A prison sentence can happen in the blink of an eye.
People should know this: prisons aren’t full of only “monsters” as law enforcement, politicians and the media would like you to believe. Ask the volunteers that come into San Quentin about us. They’ll tell you that many of us are just like you, but we made some bad decisions. There are people here with master’s degrees, a U.S. Marine officer who fought in Desert Storm, a TV sports newscaster, one of the founders of Death Row Records who was here until last year, a church pastor and an attorney. There are doctors, ex-cops, investment bankers, professional musicians as well as Hollywood actors – just as much as there are gang bangers. Despite this, prison isn’t cool. In prison, you wake up every morning stressing because you never know what danger you could be in that day. There could be a race riot, a major search, an angry correctional officer, or even getting into it with your celly (people have from time to time been killed by their cellies). Imagine enduring that stress with a life sentence. There are people in prison called “booty bandits” and will rape any new cellie they consider to be weak.
To all the youngsters out there, prison isn’t cool. With all the issues that go on here, the worst part about being trapped in this hell is being separated from your family, friends and society, stuck thinking about how you wished you could change the past but can’t, and wondering if you’ll ever get out to create a new, productive future.
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