Psychologically, a life sentence is deteriorating to anybody. This mental decaying process takes many different forms that ranges from changes in behavior to going literally insane or even committing suicide. All this depends on the mental strength of each individual. However, it usually begins with individual institutionalization.
In my case, when I was sentenced to serve life in prison plus 13 years of enhancements, my entire world crumbled. All the plans and dreams I had for my future went out the window; I felt as if I was being buried alive. Unlike being actually lifeless, embalmed, and stuffed into a coffin, I was screaming for help while being wrapped in concrete walls and steel bars. A walking grave called prison. Emotionally, I was crushed and nothing made sense to me. Everything seemed and felt surreal. But all my desperate attempts to seek help and snap out of the worst nightmare ever were of no avail. My fate had been sealed, and slowly but surely the little hope left in me of seeing the streets again vanished. As a first timer in prison, I did not know or understand what a life sentence entailed. All I knew was that it meant I was going to spend a long, long time in prison with the possibility of dying there. At nearly 23-years-old, I thought I was done.
As my time accumulated in prison, my belief continued to solidify with the negative retribution and isolation of the prison environment. In every prison I had been in prior to San Quentin, I experienced a mixed environment of nonsense and an insane culture of prison politics played by the majority of both sides; inmates and prison guards alike. There were no leading traits of anything positive coming from anybody. Everyone is in their own world so to speak. You want any changes? Good luck, you are on your own!
To top it off, all I was hearing repeatedly on the news channel(s) was, “Lock them up and throw away the key.” The lack of rehabilitation programs and education in those isolated prisons, and the disowning sentiment from some segments of society combined with the hardships of staying connected to my loved ones accelerated my institutionalization. For quite some time I believed that once labeled as a convict one was repudiated by society in general. The only thing left for me to resort to was desensitizing myself as a coping mechanism. Thereafter, I began conditioning my mind, above all, or as well said recently by a friend of mine from the outside, my “Emotions are there and VERY real but [I] have to put a time delay between [my] head and [my] heart.” This has enabled me to maintain my overall health, mental stability, and spirituality as well as physicality through my journey in prison.
For many years I went to sleep hoping to wake up out of prison just to continue opening my eyes the following morning watching the same crumbling and dilapidated concrete ceiling of my four and one half by eleven feet long cell. I’m still here. But, ever since my arrival at San Quentin my opinion has been changed by the warm and humane treatment that every single volunteer has shown me. Today, I can see that I was wrong all along and that there have always been people within society who care and never stopped believing that change is possible for the incarcerated individuals if given the proper tools and opportunity. This is what has rekindled the hope in me and in humanity.
All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the Internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM