From a prisoner in Chowchilla, CA
When I was 14 years old I met a girl that ended up becoming my best friend. I was raised in a Christian home (my mother and sister raised me) and did not get into trouble. This “friend” at 12 years old was already smoking cigarettes and getting into a lot of trouble. She also hurt innocent animals. At the beginning of our friendship my other friends told me about the crazy things that she did, but I ignored them all. I became even more fascinated and impressed by her unusual behavior. She taught me how to smoke cigarettes first, and then I got into more trouble with her all while I was still 14 years old.
At first I didn’t like how she would do those things and I broke friendship with her for a while. We became best friends again after she gave me a puppy one day. We got even closer than before and I refused to hear anyone who would speak about the crazy things she did and I didn’t want to hear them telling me how she was bad news.
The following year (2000) her family moved to another city because she got caught breaking into someone’s car. So 3 months went by without me seeing her. One day (July 2000) she called my house, asking me to attend her sister’s sweet 16th birthday party. I told her that my mother had just gone to the store down the street and had told me I couldn’t go anywhere until she got back. I also told her that my mom would probably say “no” because she didn’t allow me to hang out with her. I told her also that my mother told my 19 year old brother to babysit me and make sure I didn’t leave the house. I told her to call back in an hour because my mom should be back by then. She hung up and called again, telling how I would be missing out on a lot of fun and that I should just come to the party and leave my mom the number. So finally I agreed. I went to my room after I hung up, packed my backpack, told my big brother that I was leaving. He said, “But Mom said…” and just shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands like, “Well, go then…” Ten minutes later, R. (my ex-best friend), and an adult driver (R. was 13 years old and, like me, couldn’t drive) pulled right in front of my house and honked the horn for me to come out. I went out my front door, got in the Jeep and never returned home again.
The day after I went to her house in another we got into even more trouble.
I called the police because I couldn’t deal with it. I realized I’d made a big mistake after it was too late and I couldn’t fix it. R. was a very bad friend for me and everyone was right about her, including my mother. I wish I would have listened. I was tried and convicted and sentenced to life in prison by the time I was 16 years old. It’s been 10 years and I’m 25 now and am still fighting for my life. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
From a prisoner in Gatesville, TX My story is not really all that exciting, but it is mine nonetheless, and I’d be very happy to share a little slice of my life that somehow led me to this place and help others make right choices.
I lived a very normal childhood in a middle class family and going to private schools. My family has no history of drug or alcohol abuse of any kind that I’m aware of. In fact, I never even did drugs until my senior year of high school. I decided I was big enough to be on my own in my senior year and I moved into a little economy size apartment with my cousin.
I had to get a job at nights so I could pay my rent and gas and was hanging out with people I shouldn’t have been. They introduced me to marijuana. By that time I had graduated from high school and was going to college, I started hanging out with people that liked to get high like I did, which only led to more drugs and different drugs! Eventually I was doing $100.00 a day and having to sell it in order to live my addict lifestyle. Ruined my relationship with my loving family and ended up in a prison drug program after I was on the run for several months, not reporting in.
The drugs had convinced me that I ran my own life. That was a lie! But that’s what drugs do. They deceive you and steal from you, right in front of your own eyes! I lost everything.
I got out of the prison drug program one year later and got my life back on track. Finished college (Associate’s degree took me 6 years and should have only taken 2), and met my wife. We bought a house, 2 new cars and had a little girl. Life was awesome once again. Then I introduced my lovely wife to drugs. And after 2 years our lives fell completely apart. We ended up selling our new cars because we couldn’t afford them. I went through drug rehab again. I was arrested for aggravated assault and taken to prison for 35 years! All for what? Just to get high? Yeah, it was funny and great at first to get high, but now it’s not very funny and I have lots of time to think about it.
From a prisoner in Tennessee Colony, TX Listen up Guys & Girls… A lot of you reading this may or may not have come from broken homes. You may have been in State custody, foster care…you may have been in the care of family, other than mom and dad.
Then there’s abuse… I can only speak of my own experiences in life… but hopefully this may give you hope. Whatever the abuse…, all can be devastating to a young mind… but please don’t forget what I’m about to tell you. As much as I feel your pain, don’t make the mistakes I made and look up and you have wasted half of your life. As kids we can allow our pain to rule us and we go into a shell as victims. We fall into a victim mentality and use our pain as an excuse not to take responsibility for our actions!
Nothing in the world is easy… I learned the hard way, doing hard time. If only someone who had been through what I had been through could have told me what to expect. The hard road or prisons, drugs, violence is unnecessary. There’s a better way…
God bless all of you…keep your chins up and smile. There are better days ahead of all of us!
From a prisoner in Canon City, Colorado
I want people, especially young people to know this is no world of life. I grew up in a bad part of town in Denver. At a young age my mom and dad moved us to the suburbs. It took all they had to do it. All my brothers and sister grew up well, and were successful. I kept venturing into the city. I dropped out of school and found myself heavy into drugs. I’d get locked up in jail, get out; go back to the streets and drugs. Then the courts got fed up and I began what would turn into a constant in and out of prison life. I would get out, get back into drugs and the street life and those who I thought were my friends and cared for me, then return to prison. This is my 6th time in prison. I’ve done stretches of 2 years, 3 years, 6 years, 8 years, 12 years and now another 6 years. The pattern is clear; I kept doing the same thing, getting the same results. All those I felt were my friends have never written me, come to see me or anything like that. If you keep doing the same thing you will get the same results.
In prison I’ve witnessed terrifying scenes. Prison can bring the toughest person to his knees!
I hope someone, even just one person, will read this and that my words will help to change a life. I’m in the process of changing my own life. This will be my last trip. I owe it to my family and… me!
From a prisoner in Canton, Illinois
I hope everything is going pretty smooth for you out there. I’m praying you don’t get into any trouble. I’m also praying for your safety. I promise not to sound too preachy, but I must tell you how I feel. I want the best for you, so does your family.
Trust me, I understand none of this may seem like it makes any sense because unfortunately, today’s culture has everything backwards – upside down. The things we should do seem uncool, but the things we shouldn’t do seem cool. For example: Smoking, drinking, shooting guns, breaking laws, stealing, etc. All those things will only destroy us and put us in bad situations; situations that will hurt us and hurt the people who love us. But the flip side of the coin is righteousness. For example: Attending church, high school and college, marriage and being faithful, establishing a long lasting career or job, helping people, most importantly, helping yourself, saving money, helping our parents, staying away from drugs and gangs. Sadly, these things seem uncool; but that’s life. That’s how everything in life is.
Just think about food – what would people rather eat? Vegetables or cake? Fruits or potato chips? Water or pop? Juice or beer? Baked food or greasy food? Health smoothie or ice cream? Isn’t it true most folks would choose what is underlined? But all the underlined stuff is bad for you and for some reason we lean toward the bad instead of the good. However it takes a very strong, wise person to go against the grain, to do differently. Even in the hood, it is so easy to do what everyone else is doing. Dead fish go with the flow of the water. They do what everyone else does. Are you going to be different, or do what everyone else does? Don’t be like everyone else. You’re an individual. You must act like it. Individual means you stand alone. Yeah, yeah, I know, this type of talk doesn’t seem cool, but today’s cool is not cool. People think killing and fighting and drugs and getting high and drunk is cool. NOT! Those are the things that are not cool.
Life is not easy; I know this, so why make it worse on yourself? A lot of people don’t get second chances, many have lost their lives, many are serving life in prison, many have 20+ years to do in prison. I, for one, received a 50 year sentence. If I could only change the hands of time I would, but that’s wishful thinking. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Be smart and live life to the fullest by enjoying yourself with loved ones. I’ve been away 14 years – I lost out on a lot. No one wants to be told what to do 24/7, when it’s okay to eat, shower and go to work. Is nothing more beautiful than to have your freedom, enjoying life? Once up in here, behind the walls, trust me… friends you thought were friends will forget you, a lot of people will turn their backs on you; out of sight, out of mind.
Don’t be a fool and learn the hard way. Take heat, listen and change your ways. Prison life will tear anyone’s spirits down – take it from me. I hope I’m able to touch some minds. Take care and be safe. Remember, do the right thing.
From a prisoner in Coleman, Florida
REFLECTIONS OF A CONDEMNED MAN
As I remain condemned within the walls of a federal penitentiary, I have taken a moment to reflect on my days as a youth. Through the trials and tribulations I’ve encountered within the last 16 years of my life, I have begun to grasp a complete understanding of what was meant when my elders stated, “You are taking life for granted.” Experience is known to be the best teacher, but the choice is truly up to the learner. As for me, I regret that I didn’t listen to those who were trying to inform me on the possible outcomes based on the decisions I was making back then. I can honestly say, I was warned years ago of the possibility of being where I am now. I remember vividly my response to those warnings: “They don’t know what they are talking about.”
At the age of 17, I was sent to a youth facility with a five-year sentence. I only had to serve 4 months before being released. That was not enough time to provoke change, because I continued my same destructive behavior, continuously receiving the same negative results. As I continued to run rampantly in the streets, by defying the laws of society the inevitable occurred. From “my decision” to repeatedly commit acts of crime, I returned to prison a year and some months after my first release. I was 18 years old, being shipped away from my family and loved ones and missing out on the precious years of my youthful life. I was still viewing life through a narrow scope, making immature decisions. This time I was away for 2 years before having my freedom restored. Little was during my second prison term also. So I returned to society with the same dysfunctional thinking. I was greeted by the same peers and those peers most definitely encouraged me to participate in the same wrongful behavior. That’s one thing about the deceptive life of the streets. The streets will always greet you with open arms, just to devour and strip you of any innocence your youthful heart ever possessed.
At the age of 21, I found myself sitting in front of a judge inside a federal courtroom. I was awaiting my punishment for various felony charges. On the day of my sentencing none of my so-called friends were by my side. My mother accompanied me, along with my girlfriend at that time. Also, I can’t forget the voices of each warning that I allowed to go in one ear and out the other. I had no knowledge of the federal system. Every charge I ever committed was tallied and brought forth to determine my punishment, along with the charges I was in court for that day. I was sentenced to a 327-month term of imprisonment, which calculates to 27 years and 3 months - a sentence that calls for a mandatory commitment of 85% to complete. I was 21 then, I’m 37 now and my debt to society is still going on.
My son was born during my first year of incarceration. He is 15 now, and the only time we communicate or spend time together is through telephone conversations and visits inside various federal institutions. The visitations depend on which state I’m located in. A prisoner has few choices, and certain rights are forfeited when you come to prison. My first time seeing my newborn son, I was four stories in the sky, staring through bars and a Plexiglas window. My first time holding my son he was 8 months old. I was inside a federal penitentiary several states from where I was born and raised. Then he was three on the next visit, and the sporadic intervals including visitation continues.
It’s sort of ironic, some of the lose-lose situations we place ourselves in; not only have I damaged the relationship with my child, I can never get back the years of my life wasted inside these prison walls where I remain confined to this day.
As youths we seldom understand how detrimental a bad decision can impact not only our lives, but also the lives of those who care about us the most. Did I really have to suffer such huge losses? Not only me, but I’ve met thousands of people who have made drastic mistakes. The cost for some, like me, is multiple years confined to a prison cell. Unfortunately for some the mistakes were to an irreparable degree and the cost was their lives. So if you haven’t made mistakes and owe such extreme debts, please consider change! Change starts with self, mainly your thought processes. In life we often act on impulse. Most of these impulses are influenced by peers, environments, family members and television and music that have an effect on our minds – especially the mind of a youth because most youths have yet to create their own identity.
Throughout the years of my incarceration, I’ve interacted with a number of individuals from different ethnic groups. I was curious as to how so many people were in prison in the world. Poor decision-making was first and foremost. Starting with school, taking the time we are supposed to be gaining an education for granted. Foolishly dropping and becoming temporarily hypnotized by the allure the streets have on the young and restless. Some started with drug usage, others violent and reckless behavior, constantly taking life and freedom for granted.
I’m starting to notice that there is a pattern to this. I’m pained to know that this cycle of destruction continues. The last 16 years of my incarceration I’ve encountered a number of individuals between the ages of 18-25, mostly entering a system that has no remorse or mercy for them. I’ve seen them come and go. Some, like myself, in the past leave and come right back. In other cases they arrive with sentences that will only allow them to leave when they are old men. Remember, I was 21 when I came. I’m scheduled to leave at the age of 45; that’s if I survive the everyday dangers. Then you have the individuals who are sentenced to life. Yes, a word - no number! In the federal system, when you receive a life sentence, it means you get to go home when you die. There is nothing playful or adventurous about indulging in criminal activities. Whether it be a misdemeanor or felony, it’s a gamble that can cost you valuable years of your life and can very well cost you your entire life. Something to remember: Once you start making adult decisions, understand “you” are responsible for the conditions you create; either negative or positive; success or failure.
Frequently we tend to blame others, or certain circumstances, for predicaments we place ourselves in. It is said that you are fully responsible when you can distinguish right from wrong. That’s how judges view matters, because once that is determined you will be held accountable and punished accordingly for the wrongful acts you choose to commit. Hopefully that will never come to be. Maybe after reading this, you’ll decide it’s time to change while you still have the opportunity. Learn from my mistakes instead of having to experience a painful imprisonment or loss of life.
I’ve spent over half my life inside prisons. My last 16 years in prison have had a profound effect on me. I was forced to grow up or become a lost soul. I simply took control of my own thoughts and actions. If you don’t think for yourself, someone else will think for you. Learn to love yourself, because loving yourself should make you make better decisions based on receiving positive results. Allow these words to be a positive, motivating force. Don’t follow my footsteps; I’ve been down that path, my mistakes are now regrets.
A condemned man (K. M.)