Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is Publishing From Prison Foolish—or a Way to Experience Freedom?

Lawyers and advisers told a Washington State inmate serving a life sentence that publishing an article in a scholarly journal might imperil his efforts to win parole. But he rejected their advice. Here’s why.

Although I have been confined since the age of 14, I found a way to meaningfully contribute to society.

I did this—and still do it—through my writing.

Often, as author Robert A. Ferguson writes in “Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment,”  when prisoners write about the nature of imprisonment, “the oversight of officialdom produces a tortured language of evasion […] [and the] fear over what authorities might do in response, distort what can be written.”

However, the columns and critiques that I have published over the years illustrate that, as yet, potential repercussions have not been a deterrent.

The most recent example of my resistance (or perhaps foolishness) is A Janus-Faced Approach: Correctional Resistance to Washington State’s Miller-Fix.

In this paper, I argue that the Washington Department of Corrections is unlawfully detaining prisoners who have spent 20-plus years confined for violent offenses that they committed prior to age 18; and, due to changes in the state’s sentencing laws, are entitled to be released—at least, according to my statutory analysis.

I also begin the piece with a personal narrative that provides insight into why the practice and policy in question infuriates me.

Prior to completing the final revisions of this paper, several of my lawyers advised me to abandon publication because they believed it is too risky due to my forthcoming parole hearing.

Their arguments in support of this can be distilled to the following.

First, I come across too angry in the piece, which is a terrible impression to make because correctional administrators view such prisoners negatively—and therefore, in some way, may act capriciously towards me.

Second, I give the impression that I feel entitled to be released, and parole boards take offense when prisoners act as if they are owed something.

Allowing this paper to be published before my next parole hearing, as one lawyer explained to my fiancé in an effort to convince her to dissuade me, “significantly increases the chances that he is not let out and is a very, very, VERY bad idea.”

One of the editors of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law even felt compelled to tell me after, unbeknownst to me, some members of my legal team had contacted the journal conveying their worries:

Dear Mr. Bourgeois:

 As you probably know, your attorneys also contacted us with their concerns about publishing your commentary. The position of us here at the Journal is that the decision about whether to publish rests entirely with you as the author. However, we wanted to make sure you knew all of your options regarding the commentary.

The decision rests with you and you alone. We at the Journal are happy to publish now, delay publication for as long as you would like, or not publish at all. I just wanted to make sure you understood all of the possibilities.

 Regarding your request for a referral to a free speech advocate, I am afraid I don’t have any specific connections or recommendations in that area.

 Let us know how you want us to proceed.

My response was this:

Hello:

 In my commentary I wrote that part of surviving a life sentence involved my decision to “study the law continuously, for with such knowledge I can help not only myself, but others confined with me, by seeking to hold our keepers accountable when they acted arbitrarily or capriciously.” There are countless prisoners currently being affected by the practices and policies that I am highlighting. Therefore, I am going to act in conformity with the decision I made over a decade ago. Please proceed with publication as scheduled.

 Best regards and my thanks to all of you. I apologize if any of you were made to feel as though you were caught in an ethical dilemma.

I now wish to address what I believe lies behind the concerns that my writing could put my potential freedom in jeopardy. Namely, the pernicious notion in the minds of many, that prisoners have no right to be frustrated, bitter, or resentful about their imprisonment; and that retribution and incapacitation have both exceeded the bounds of what is legitimate for purposes of punishment.

Rage Against the Machine

If you were ever confined for crimes that you committed in your youth, and decades later your reformation proved to be a success, it is unimaginable to me that you would not then be upset at having to continue to spend your life in darkness.

For those who have been blessed to have never experienced this earthly perdition, here is a thought experiment to provide insight into such an existence.

Imagine that your reckless actions resulted in you being involuntarily commited to a mental hospital, perhaps because an undiagnosed injury to your prefrontal cortex negatively affected regions of your brain that are “implicated in processes of long-term planning, regulation of emotion, impulse control, and the evaluation of risk and reward….”

For years thereafter, you shuffle down the hospital hallways dressed inappropriately, at times throw feces like a monkey, and abide by patient rules and norms that—to those in authority—are prima facie evidence that you are crazy.

One patient stabs another.

The victim falls at your feet.

You are not bothered in the least.

An orderly gets assaulted trying to restrain the assailant, and you find it amusing.

You too engage in such conduct in the grips of your insanity.

Then, one day after years of therapy and neural regeneration, you finally snap back to reality. You realize how foolish you look with your hospital pants hanging below your waistline, so you start to wear them properly. You perceive that violence is almost always unnecessary and vow to live your life peacefully. From this day forward, you begin to conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with society’s rules and expectations.

Yet, in spite of this, you remain stuck in that mental hospital surrounded by patients who, for the most part, pose a threat to themselves and others.

Regularly, you bear witness to how they abuse one another.

You see orderlies mistreat prisoners and act unprofessionally.

Staff also speak to you as if you were still crazy.

This is a metaphor of my life. I (“JJ”) use the metaphor of a mental hospital purposefully, by reason of an incident that occurred quite recently:

For example, six months ago JJ was trapped in [his] cell for five hours with [a] man who was actively psychotic.  JJ sat across from this man—alone—in a cell and listened to him talk about the murders he had just committed.  This man was pacing back and forth, agitated one minute and laughing the next: “a switch would get flipped and this guy would get agitated and ask me ‘who the fuck do I think I am talking like this to him’ when I hadn’t said anything offensive.  This went on for five straight hours.” 

 JJ was unable to get the attention of the night guard so he was forced to sit there and navigate this situation alone.  JJ was terrified and as such felt his body wanting to go into fight or flight mode during those five hours.  Now, what 13- or even 20-year old JJ would have done would be to puff up his chest to appear larger than he was which would then send the unstable inmate into a rage which then in turn, would prompt JJ to feel the need to defend himself leading the other man to attack JJ. 

 Then, JJ would have needed to respond by meeting violence with violence.  “As an adult, I know now I had to deal with this threatening situation by keeping my body relaxed . . . I talked to myself constantly during those five hours, I’d say ‘keep your body calm, take a deep breath, keep your voice calm’ and I said things like ‘look man, I didn’t mean it like that.’” 

JJ remained calm as this man went from laughing hysterically to pacing back and forth and sobbing to becoming irrationally angry and then leaning in on JJ and getting in his personal space: “my gut wanted to get the jump on him so bad but I know this is not the way to handle adversity.”

Such is life for a prisoner serving an indeterminate sentence who, is fit to rejoin society, but must remain confined because the powers that be believe it is more likely than not that he will commit a criminal offense if released.

I can assure you, it is a miserable existence.

Were you to remain imprisoned long after you believed your reform was complete, you too would be angry if—like me—you are utterly convinced that if set free you would be a productive member of the community.

Why would you not be moved to anger living in a place where the weak are extorted and preyed upon sexually?

Why would you not be incensed when prisoners balkanize into racial cliques and ferment unrest.

No one with a sense of morality and the capacity to feel empathy could, in my view, remain unmoved when he cannot escape “a cold and cruel place, populated by selfish, sinister people.”

It makes me angry and anxious. I refuse to cloak the former when I reveal the latter in writing about my life spent in confinement. The righteousness of such anger seems to be self‑evident.

As for the sense of entitlement that I supposedly evince—to be clear—I have never expressed that I am entitled to be freed.  I am serving an indeterminate sentence which, by its nature, means the duration of my confinement is subject to discretionary decision making.

I have recognized that accurately determining “if a prisoner would be likely to reoffend if set free…is a difficult task, undoubtedly.”

I have even conceded that my history provides “the means for crafting a narrative to support keeping me confined permanently, or setting me free.”

Still, while I am not entitled to be freed, I have a right to feel that “there is no reasonable basis for believing that I would ever, if released, commit a monstrous act—or any crime for that matter” and to insist that “[i]ncapacitation, in my case, has now exhausted its purpose.”

I speak of rights deliberately: it is the language citizens use in order to “defend the interests they have by virtue of their humanity against efforts by others to suppress those interests or to live indifferent to the suffering caused by failing to recognize the interests of others.”

So, I will continue to believe that remorse, reform, and a quarter century of imprisonment warrants setting me free.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

I will continue to wish that “every prisoner in America would become as angry as me. That they would allow its combustible nature to propel their rehabilitation and forge a new destiny.”

My next parole hearing will be in July 2019. We will then see whether decision makers, as my lawyers believe, “base their moral judgments, including those concerning punishment, on their feelings, and those feelings are not always morally justified.”

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Dear Juvenile Hall: ‘Teach Me to Make Better Choices’

In a recent exercise by The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based prison writing workshop, individuals were asked to write essays describing their stay in Juvenile Hall, including what they appreciated, what they didn’t like–and the future they saw for themselves.

In a recent exercise by The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based prison writing workshop, individuals were asked to write essays describing their stay in Juvenile Hall, including what they appreciated, and what they didn’t like. Some of the responses were written as poetry or as rap. A few were letters to family members outside. All are compelling.

Stay Outta Trouble, Kids

Dear Juvenile Hall,

I’m about to be real honest with you, the reason I’m breaking the fourth wall is to tell you that the hall is not a great place. It’s always cold, you’ll wear the same clothes every day, the staff are not supportive. But don’t get me wrong, there are great staff; but being in here is like you’re in hell. So I say stay out of trouble and go to school and get good grades. Don’t be a follower, be a leader, and stay out of the hall. Take it from me. I’m 17 and a model in the making!

-Randy, Alameda

Where’s the Rehabilitation?

Dear Alameda County Juvenile Hall

I just want to say forget this racist system. This system is meant for us to fail. Where’s the rehabilitation? I’ve been to jail about eight or nine times since the age of 13, and I’ve yet to see any effort of rehabilitation. They put games and stuff in the units, flat screens, and all that type of stuff for kids to keep coming back. Shout out to the staff I mess with, but forget Juvenile Hall. The kids are the future and if the system keeps messing us over, there will be no future.

– Zay, Alameda

The Juvenile Wait

The wait is sitting in a room with four walls with a metal sink connected to a metal toilet. A few steps from it is a metal table with no legs, but connected to a wall. They put a shelf twelve inches away from the table that’s covered (tagged) in gang affiliations or a free me note. Same thing for under the table.

One inch from that is a bed that I’m supposed to sleep in that has two sheets, three orange thick covers with one blue thin cover. There’s no TV. Only your thoughts. They only let you have six books. I have a Bible, The Tears of a Hustler, The Move I Make For You, The Burden of a Thug, Egg of the Black Goat, and my favorite is Tomorrow is Not Promised. Those are the kinds of books I like to read.

When you look up from the bed you can see the metal door with a window that’s sketched up with gang affiliations, just like the shelf. But in the window you can see a courtyard. Only one basketball court with about 13 Black, Brown, White, and Hispanics all from different gangs waiting for things to pop off.

There are 14 people in this max unit, including me. Everyone in here has different beliefs. Some worship the devil, most worship God. Some just don’t believe.My name is Mario, but most people know me as Koda. I am 17 and I’m 5’8” and still growing. Right now I’m in juvenile hall for a crime I didn’t mean to do. I’m actually a good kid. Both my parents are in and out my life, but I don’t let that bother me anymore.

I was born in 2000. When I turned three I was put up for adoption. I got adopted by a woman named Juanita. A proud Black woman that I am proud to call my mother. She passed four days before my 15th birthday. After that I lost it. I started robbing and fighting people in school. Now the only thing I can do right now is pray and wait until I go back home.

-Koda, Alameda

Dealing with Little Kids, Bad Teachers, and Egos

Juvenile hall hasn’t done anything but delay my life.

It has built another section of hate in my heart.

Having to deal with staff who come to work mad

and try to mess up everyone’s time in here.

Having to deal with the little kids, bad teachers, and egos.

When you ask me what I won’t forget about juvenile hall,

that has to be a rhetorical question.

I am throwing this in the trash and forgetting everything.

I think it’s dumb that we can’t receive more food

or have the opportunity to buy things like hygiene items and food.

It’s dumb that staff could just get irritated and have us in a cell all day.

They think this is rehabilitating us,

but it just shows us what it feels like to be away

from your family and feel left behind.

Don’t ask me about life incarcerated, have you been locked away?

In all honesty this showed me how to think,

how to calm down, and how to use my words.

It showed me to appreciate my life on the outs

and how to man up and take things to the chin.

Pain is only temporary.

-Dennis, Los Angeles

The Many Lonely Hours

I hate juvenile hall but in some ways I appreciate it because I know it’s making me a better person. I hate coming here. I’d rather be out and living my life doing the things I want to do, instead of having to do what people I don’t know tell me to do.

I’ve been here twice; first time was for a gun this time it is for a violation. I was 15 my first time here and now I am 16.

The programs, the food, and education aren’t as bad as I thought it would be, but there isn’t anything better than doing what you want to do, eating what you want to eat, and studying stuff you actually want to learn about. The many lonely hours I have spent in my cell have made me realize that my family needs me and that life is too short to be always getting in trouble.

One thing I will never forget about juvenile hall is some of the people I have met and the stories that come with them. In here I have learned to make smarter decisions and to start thinking about my future before I do stupid things. Being in here the thing I miss the most is my family.

The only good thing about juvenile hall is that it could really change you for the better. But the bad thing is you miss out on a lot on the outs and miss out on a lot of time with your family.

-Brandon, Los Angeles

Teach Me to Make Better Choices

Dear Juvenile Hall

I appreciate how even though I commit a crime you still put clothes on my back, shoes on my feet, and a pillow for me to lay. Even when I steal from people’s families you still feed me.

The things that bother me the most is the same four walls I have to look at when I go to my room. I have been to the halls four-five times and each time since the age of 13, I have matured. The only thing I want to get out of the halls is to teach me to make better choices and to mature me more. I would never forget the four walls that stared at me while I was asleep.

-Wendell, Los Angeles

Daydreaming in the Hall

Dreaming, hoping I wake up at home

But I wake up in a ten by six cell all alone

It’s cold as ice and I see bricks all around

Bed hard as hell, I might as well sleep on the ground

Clean my room just to get it messed up by a GS

Getting a year for battery on some real shhh that’s some BS

Callin’ up my momma makin’ sure that she good

Worst fear is getting that phone call that somethin’ wrong

Lookin’ for love in the streets but my mom had it all along

-Jahpone, San Mateo

‘I’ll Never Make the Mistake of Coming Back’

Dear Juvenile Hall,

Thank you for teaching me how

To appreciate the little things

Being locked up really got me thinking

‘Bout how I take my freedom for granted.

You taught me how lonely I would be

Without my friends or family. You showed

Me how lucky I was to be able to wear

My own clothes and eat home-cooked

Meals. Thank you for showing me how

Lovely my life is. After I’m out of here,

I’ll never make the mistake of coming

Back again. BELIEVE THAT!

-O, San Mateo

My Weekend Day in The Hall

I wake up to the bright light in the top corner of my cell. I wait under my blankets until I hear my door open up, and the staff yell out “Sweep out!” After sweeping my room, I take a shower with four other dudes, each of us to our own stall. Sometime after showers have finished, it’s breakfast, where depending on the meal, usually only a handful of us go. More often that not, it’s Cheerios or bland oatmeal.

After breakfast, I return to bed for about two hours before coming out for morning rec for an hour and twenty-five minutes, then back to my room for 15 minutes until lunch. After lunch, I return to my room for little over an hour. During this time, I can be found reading a novel or asleep. Then from 1:30 to 4, I enjoy afternoon rec — watching TV or talking on the phone to my brother. Like before, I go back to my room for twenty-five minutes before dinner, which hopefully is fish fillet or lemon herb chicken.

With dinner finished, it’s back to my room for another hour. And finally the last two hours of my weekend is passed by during evening rec. Guided back to my room, I lay in bed and stare up at the ceiling until no longer conscious.

-Kelizha, Santa Cruz

Still Up in the Box

Still up in the box, waiting to be shipped out. Damn, this shhh is deep but I keep on striving. I go to keep moving even when it gets heavy. Don’t want to look back because the past was dirty. At night, it’s hard to rest. I wake up to a lot of misery.

Sorry Grandma, for all this time away from me. I give my promise that I’m going to get us through the struggle that we are both going through. Please take back those tears, eight months till I am back home. I will never go out like the way they took me. Life on the line, I was just trying to stay fitted. I said I’m going to risk it or stay in the same position.

-Bam Bam, Santa Clara

Mistakes

I’m locked up again so I guess I made a mistake

I trusted you so I guess I made a mistake

I believed something that wasn’t believable

So, I guess I made a mistake

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I mean a lot

But those are just mistakes

And I refuse to turn these mistakes into a routine.

-Tiny, Santa Clara

My Case

Got off probation in December 2017. I been in the system since I was 15. In two weeks, I will be 18. But, damn, now I’m back where I started all because of a person that I trusted. The screwed-up thing is I really thought he was different. Never going to get over that.

Eight times in Juvenile Hall, I’m just another youngster that the Judge says, “keep leading the life that you’re now living your next stop is going to be prison.”

You see from the eyes of a Juvenile of the system, I’m just another Hispanic who’s a felon, another statistic. But it’s up to me to change that. I can never doubt myself ‘cause at the end of the day I’m the only one that’s going to help myself. Keep striving for a better life. You’ll see.

I’m locked down and in the next couple months I’m going to see everyone get released and to come back a couple weeks later. All these cats trying hard to be gangsters and that’s the difference between them and I.

I’m trying hard not to be a gangster.

Moral of this story: take it from my experiences, don’t trust a single soul. Everyone switches up and they throw you under the bus. But, it’s life. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

-V, Santa Clara

Being Locked Up Isn’t For Me

Dear Juvenile Hall

I am 18 years old and I will be 19 in a couple weeks, which is crazy because I would have totally thought I was going to end up in County. Thank God being my first time getting locked up. I got sent to Juvenile Hall.

I have to say I am not much of a complainer. The food is alright and the staff says, remember where you are. I am very open to things so I enjoy the programs very much.

Being locked up isn’t for me, but something I will never forget, is the wise words I get from these amazing staff. I truly feel like they care about us and some of them really see more in me than I ever did. I will never forget my experience in here, but the good and the bad. The staff nearly wishes I can stay because I literally always have a smile on my face to the point where people try to push my buttons to see me mad or sad. But it never works. Fake it until you make it. I’m grateful for everything Juvenile Hall has taught me, especially not to come back.

-S, Santa Clara

We Are Meant to be Someone

I’ve been having a hard time being here and away from my two-month old son. I often find myself crying when I think about him, the staff is very supportive and guiding and I appreciate that the most.

Something that bothers me is how girls often like to push buttons. It really bothers me. Well, they try and I don’t like how some staff, not all, are sometimes rude and show little interest in the main part of their jobs. Which is to counsel us and show us better ways to better ourselves and how much good we can do.

I have been here twice. The first time I entered I was 17. The hall has relatively good food and clothes are not what I’d prefer but we are not here for clothing or physical appearance. We are here for our mental image. The showers could be longer than seven minutes and is a lot of time for a growing female to shower. Going to class is great learning and being able to expand our minds is a great way to spend time in here. The teachers are nice and helpful and showing us education is important without forcing anything.

My roommate makes time pass. She helps me as well. I think it’s best if everyone gets a roommate. Something I will never forget about Juvenile Hall is the lessons taught not only from staff but fellow inmates and surprisingly myself. I learned that no matter what spot you’re in, or difficult situation, we could always change it and we are meant to be someone, as you can accomplish what you set your mind to.

-Young Bee, Santa Clara

A Blessing and a Curse

Being in the Juvenile Hall is a blessing and a curse for me. The reason whey being in here is a blessing for me is because they gave me the option to turn to God. It all started on a sunny morning with a choice of either being in my room for another hour or coming out and explore something new for me and go to church.

I chose to learn a new religion. I needed someone good on my side. I’ve learned that everything you own you don’t really own. Your car can get stolen in a heartbeat, your phone as well. The only thing you truly own is your faith. The negative part about being in here is my freedom. Whatever I do I have to ask permission. The hardest part is not being able to see my family and friends especially because I am so close to them.

-Young B, Santa Clara

Facing Life

What you know about facin’ life?

The DA talkin’ life

The whole jury white

Mama cryin’ up in court

I just told her I’m alright

But if they ever hit me with these charges

I ain’t gonna ever see a light.

-Turngeezy, San Francisco

Locked Away From the Loves of My Life

Damn, I never saw myself sitting in a cell,

Locked away from the loves of my life.

I thought I was untouchable.

Come home when I want

Skip school when I want,

You know, do what I want..

Now come to find out, as I sit in this desk,

I have a lot of anxiety and fear,

Especially when the doors close and it’s me alone,

With my thoughts.

I cry myself to sleep,

I hope no one hears me.

I ask myself am I strong enough to change?

Do I want to change?

In truth, I am afraid to change,

I want to go back to living the only life I know,

But the life I know is also the lifestyle

That can send me back to this place or worse.

Soon I will go back to my locked room.

I will pace, back and forth

I will talk to myself with worried thoughts

and again, I will cry myself to sleep.

Something has to give…

I certainly hope I find the support and love to help me change

My heart wants it now, but that may change tomorrow,

I’m a kid.

-Lonely heart, San Francisco

The authors of these essays are participants in The Beat Within’s San Francisco County Jail writing workshops. Some essays were edited or condensed for space. Full names are not used to protect the confidentiality of authors, most of whom are minors. Other essays are available here. Readers’ comments are welcome. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

How a Bullet Ended My Victim’s Life—and My Own

An inmate serving a life sentence for murder reflects on the tragedy that landed him behind bars, and his search for forgiveness for a criminal past that made him a “monster,” in an essay written for the Beat Within, a prison writers’ workshop based in San Francisco.

I remember every moment like it was yesterday. The clock in my car read 12:27 AM as I pulled up to the Doggy Diners, an all-night fast food joint in the heart of East Oakland.

As I ordered my food and waited for a friend to show up so we could head out to a club, I noticed a guy who kept looking my way as if he was trying to determine whether or not he knew me. Since my neighborhood had ongoing beefs with just about every neighborhood in East Oakland at that time, I had to always be aware of everyone whenever I stepped out of my front door.

The Doggie Diners was a place where people either hung out or drove past, possibly catching someone who they had a beef with. Just being there automatically put you at risk of being shot or killed on any given night, especially on the weekends, when everyone was out partying and getting high or drunk, or simply driving up and down the strip just trying to be seen.

I couldn’t afford to misread anyone’s intentions. I had to always be on guard against the possibility of gun violence, because there were serious drug and turf wars going on in Oakland during that time. Everyone was at war with everyone, or so it seemed.

There were also people looking to kill me as well, because regrettably, I had done a lot of bad things to a lot of people by the time I was 22 years old. I had made a lot of enemies, some I knew, some I didn’t, and it was the ones that I didn’t know that worried me the most.

So I put my hand in my coat pocket, gripping the handle of my gun, just in case. I was always anticipating the possibility of trouble, rather than trying to avoid it. I was so caught up in the street life that I chose to ignore all the warning signs of where my life was headed, totally disregarding the fact that the only two real guarantees that come with the kind of life I was living are prison or death,.

Sadly, I don’t think I really cared about anything or anyone at that time, including myself, because otherwise, I would’ve just got back in my car and drove off and avoided the whole situation. But my pride and ego wouldn’t let me do it. I was young and stupid and cared more about my reputation then I did about my life or anyone else’s life for that matter.

I was actually willing to die or kill to preserve that reputation; and in the end, that’s exactly what happened.

As I stood waiting for my food and friend to show up, I heard a noise and looked up just in time to see the guy walking toward me really fast with his right hand in his coat pocket, and a look on his face that made me think he had a gun. So I quickly pulled my gun out of my coat pocket and fired one time hitting him in the stomach (I would later find out during my trial that he didn’t have a gun.)

He grabbed his stomach with both hands and took off running up the street. That’s where things went from really bad to really horrible. If I had just stopped there, things probably would’ve turned out much differently for both of us. He more than likely would have survived, and I probably wouldn’t have had to spend the next 23 ½ years in prison.

Instead, I chased after him, shooting as he ran between oncoming cars, hitting him again, this time in the shoulder, while another bullet went through the windshield of an oncoming car, barely missing the head of a baby who was sitting in her car seat at the time. I continued to chase him even after he jumped over a fence and ran into the back yard of a house. The backyard was real dark and I couldn’t see anything, so I fired till the last two sounds I heard were-click click.

I continued pulling the trigger even after I had run out of bullets and then all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing as I stood there in the dark still pointing the gun in the air, until the silence was broken by the sound of police sirens . I ran across the street, jumped in my car and sped away, just missing the police.

Six days later, I was arrested coming out of my girlfriend’s house, and charged with murder in the first degree. During my trial, the most damaging and painful witness was the mother of the baby who I had nearly shot in the head as a bullet from my gun smashed through the windshield of her car. She screamed at me from the witness stand, calling me an evil monster, saying there was a look of pure evil on my face that she would never forget.

By the time she left the stand she was visibly shaking, as she took a seat behind the DA and stared at me. I could feel her eyes burning holes right through me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at he. Her words had hit me in places I never knew could hurt. I honestly felt like the horrible person everyone kept describing.

The jury took just 37 minutes to return a verdict of guilty on all counts. The judge, finding no reason to show me any mercy, sentenced me to 17 years to life. During the 23 years, six months and 18 days I spent in prison, I’ve played this horrible moment over and over again in my head.

I tried desperately to find something, anything, that I could use to justify my actions that night; but in the end, there wasn’t any. The truth is, he didn’t deserve to be chased down, cornered and killed like some animal, and his son he didn’t deserve to have to grow up without a father.

What’s just as painful is the fact that my kids were victims too. My actions forced them to have to grow up without a father as well. My daughter didn’t get to meet me till she was 24 years old.

She wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, and even worse, she didn’t want my daughter to have anything to do with me either—going as far as telling her I was dead, that I had been shot and killed during a prison riot.

My actions hurt so many people and destroyed far more than just one person’s life, causing ripple effects that are still being felt even now. The horrible choices I made when I was young will probably follow me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t see any of this back then, even when people kept trying to tell me where I was headed.

I was blinded by my own stupidity, trying to be some super-thugged-out gangster, like so many of the young people today, and in the end, I have absolutely nothing to show for the choices I’ve made, except a lifetime of incarceration and pain.

There were no winners in any of this. No one high-fiving each other or celebrating on either side. I would give anything to able to go back and undo those choices. But unfortunately, some choices can’t be undone, some choices are forever, just like the hurt and pain they cause.

Sadly, I’ve chased just about everything a person could possibly chase in life, and now, after all that I’ve done, to others, and to myself, I may have to spend the rest of my life chasing forgiveness.

The Crime Report is grateful to the San Francisco-based prison writers’ and artists’ workshop operated by The Beat Within for permission to publish this essay. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

 ‘There’s No One Left to Hurt But Me’

In an essay written for the San Francisco Beat Within prison-writing workshop, a California inmate looks back on the mistakes that landed him behind bars for most of his life, a process he says has taken him from “blame to shame.”

As I look back at all the things I’ve done to get me to this point, I must admit I’ve worked really hard to mess up my life. All the illegal things I did on the streets earned me a (lifetime) in prison.

And if that wasn’t enough, once in prison I continued down that same path. The things I did while in prison earned me a sentence in Pelican Bay’s infamous SHU program—“the Hole”—a prison within a prison. It’s a place designed for those deemed by the prison administration to be the worst of the worst.

Staring at the 5,286 holes that make up the front of my cold concrete (SHU) cell, I remember thinking, “Is this it?”

Is this where I’ve been working so hard to get to, in a cell by myself for 22 ½ hours a day, going to a yard the size of a walk-in closet with nothing in it: no handball, no basketball, no dip bars, no pull-up bars , not even a sink or toilet?

Nothing but concrete walls, a camera and me!

I had to be strip-searched, handcuffed, waist-chained, leg-shackled and escorted by two correctional officers with billy clubs in hand every time I left my cell…”Escort coming through!”…they would always yell, as if the sounds of my many chains couldn’t be heard echoing throughout the empty corridors with every step I took.

Having no direct sunlight or human contact whatsoever (means) complete isolation, humiliation and sensory deprivation.  It means having all my food and cosmetics taken out of their original containers and placed in paper bags and paper cups; having to drink my coffee and eat my food out of milk cartons because bowls and cups aren’t allowed; having absolutely no access to a telephone,  not even when there was a death in my family.

It means having to be told that the only way I would get out of the SHU was if I died, was paroled, or debriefed (to snitch).  It means I have to fight every single day just to keep my sanity!

To be honest, I find it impossible to even pretend anymore.  As I take a real hard look at my life and all the harm I’ve done to myself, I realize that I have absolutely nothing to show for my life. That hurts more than words can describe.  I don’t have anything, because I’ve never done what it takes to get something and keep it! I’ve lived the life of an irresponsible fool!

Even when people tried to tell me where my life was going to end up if I kept down the road I was going, I refused to listen, thinking I knew what I was doing. Now here I sit in a jail cell, wishing I had listened to somebody other than myself, because thanks to me my life has literally been one disaster after another. I’ve messed up my life on so many levels that I may never be able to fully recover!

Those self-inflicted wounds hurt like hell!

Being honest with myself has taken me from blame to shame. Now I find myself at that fork in the road everyone keeps talking about, where my life literally depends on my making the right choices. Because when I do get another chance, it will surely be my last. I’ve done 16 months in juvenile hall, three years in CYA (youth prison), three years in the county jail, and 23 years, 6 months and 18 days in prison. I now have five “strikes,” which means I’m faced with the possibility of a life sentence any time I come back to jail, no matter the charge.

Not only am I all out of chances, but I can’t even afford the luxury of a negative thought. I’m done subjecting myself to this.  When I walk out these jailhouse doors I will never be back!

I’ve done all the time I can do. I’ve given the game, the streets, the hood, the block and the homies all that I can give. The rest of my life goes to me and my family.

It really saddens me to say this, but not only have I been in jail most of my life but I’ve also been alone for most of my life as well. Sadly, I’m used to it. I wish that I wasn’t, but I am.

That definitely isn’t normal—nothing about being in these places is normal—and the longer you stay inside these places, the further away from normal you get.

This place eats away at you a few bites at a time till there’s nothing left but a shell of your former self, wasting away in some cell with nothing but a few war stories to tell.  I’m done lying and playing games with myself. I’m tired of saying, “It is what it is!” When the truth is–it is what it is because this is what I’ve made it! I created this mess!

My choices put me here. And in all honesty, after looking at my life for what it is and finally facing some ugly truths about myself and what I’ve done to my life , I can see why I am where I am. I’ve been my own worst enemy most of my life.  I’ve always found something or someone else to blame, when the truth is–I’m to blame.

I’ve had so many opportunities to have a wonderful life, but each time I was on the brink of success, I sabotaged myself again and again by making all the wrong choices. Choosing the wrong people, places and things is why I am where I am today—alone—in a jail cell.

I’ve hurt everyone in my life over and over again, till finally, there’s no one left to hurt but me!

Jesse Jackson is a participant in the Beat Within’s San Francisco County Jail writing workshops. Other prisoner essays are available here.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Life After Prison: The Invisible Barrier Can’t Be Wished Away

An inmate contemplating release comes to terms with the fact that the realities of life on the “outside” mean that for most returning prisoners, the American Dream has already been foreclosed.

In the prison where I am confined, there is a table in the dayroom at which the same four men spend the entire day playing Dungeons & Dragons. At their feet are stacks of costly books they occasionally refer to (presumably) on how to cast spells or make witches brew.

At another table sits a trio who spend the afternoon and evening drafting frivolous court pleadings and sharing legal strategies. Books on criminal procedure and copies of case law are close at hand—all to be misapplied and misinterpreted by the men.

There are innumerable variations on this theme throughout the dayroom in a penitentiary: from wanna-be entrepreneurs sharing copies of Fortune magazine, to fake pimps sharing stories about the imaginary ho’s on their “team.”

To the untrained eye these groups appear to be distinct. But there is actually a common theme.

Each endeavors to escape the reality of what the future will likely bring.

Try as they might to ignore the truth, the flyer from the Post-Prison Education Program that is readily available explains quite clearly how “[f]or many prisoners, returning to our communities means a lack of opportunity and a life of hopelessness and despair.”

This is the reality that prisoners refuse to contemplate seriously: A life of hopelessness and despair.

Let us examine the prospects of a prototypical prisoner who is set to be freed. In fact, to better his odds of success, let us make him atypical, in that he has no cognitive impairments or avowed intent to engage in further criminal activity.

What he does share in common with similarly situated prisoners is a spotty work history; a lack of financial resources available upon release; few (if any) family or friends able (or willing) to help him, once freed; and no marketable skills that would enable him to make a decent living.

This is the boulder that he must somehow push aside in order not to be among the two out of three who return to the penitentiary. Moreover, he is wedged against a host of barriers that prevent felons from successfully reintegrating into society.

For instance, federal student aid is foreclosed to those who have committed drug offenses in certain circumstances.

There are restrictions on where ex-offenders can live—even if they have the means.

Most significantly, once freed, a former prisoner will be black-balled from countless employment opportunities due to the stigma of his criminal history.

Devah Pager paints the picture of what life on the outside will bring in Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration.

Formal exclusion from the economy occurs “through the web of federal and state laws that restrict ex-offenders from a range of labor market activities” and many restrictions have little “connection to apparent safety concerns,” according to Pager.

Even when ex-offenders are not barred by law from an occupation, her research shows how they are culled from the pool of applicants by criminal background checks and, as a consequence, are only “one-half to one-third as likely as equally qualified non-offenders to be considered by employers.”

None of this is surprising to those involved in reentry. Whether one endorses psychological, biological, or social theories to explain criminal behavior, it is abundantly clear that felony disenfranchisement makes it difficult for individuals to desist from engaging in criminality.

That is, unless one is willing to accept their dismal circumstances and go on with the business of maintaining their liberty.

Long ago, I came to terms with knowing that if ever I was set free, in all probability I would end up living on the margins of society.

That life on the outside would not be about thriving—it would be about surviving.

I refused to ignore researchers such as Pager who have proclaimed that the “combination of blackness and a criminal record creates barriers to employment that in many contexts appear virtually impossible to overcome.”

This is my reality.

Acceptance that one’s future is bleak—and that there is little that prisoners can do to change their destiny—can go a long way towards mitigating the risk of reoffending, I believe.

It inoculates against feelings of relative deprivation and you forgo chasing pipe dreams.

Often, I wonder why correctional systems do not offer cognitive-behavior-therapy programs aimed at getting prisoners to accept that the measure of success upon release will be if they can maintain their liberty while living in poverty.

Lest you think I’m being facetious, I am actually half-serious about this.

If designed properly, such a program could try to convince prisoners that social or economic inequities do not prevent them from enjoying life, even if most of it is spent scrambling to make ends meet.

Since no such program as yet exists, my suggestion to the hypothetical prisoner on the verge of being released is this: Embrace your status as a second-class citizen.

To the extent that the American Dream was ever availing, it has now been foreclosed—just accept it.

Fighting against this concept will simply cause cognitive dissonance and lead you back to drugs and other crookedness.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Hopefully he would share this advice with everyone that he sits with in the dayroom so that they too will get the message.

Then again, why trouble prisoners’ sense of wellbeing? Doing time is hard enough without having to confront the ugly truth about what the future holds when one is set free.

Better to leave them in the dayroom where they can continue pretending to be sorcerers, and entrepreneurs, and attorneys. Better to leave them to their fantasies.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he is currently serving 25 years to life for a crime committed when he was 14. He will be eligible to go before the parole board in 2017. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘The Little Boy Who Lost His Dream’

As a child he dreamed of becoming a fireman. At 45, he is dedicated to rescuing others from the fires that nearly consumed him.

ToyFireTruck frankieleon

Photo by frankieleon via Flickr

 

This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop.

Back in the early 1970s, I watched my favorite TV show: “Emergency.” As a child I dreamed of becoming a fireman just like the firemen on “Emergency.”

Every time the bell would ring and the big, red shiny engine fifty-one would leave the station on a run, I would imitate it with my fire truck. Also, I pictured myself going to rescue a stranded person or putting out a fire.

As I grew older, the innocence I once had as a child was lost. That was when my neighborhood became heavily infested with drug dealers and violent gang members. Living in the neighborhood became an
everyday struggle just to survive.

The drug dealers began to fight one  another over who’s going to control the drugs. Then the rival gang
members started to do drive-by shootings and innocent people got shot or murdered.

Living in the inner city, I felt like I was in the middle of two nations who were at war with one another. Sadly, I watched the helicopters flying over the crime scene while the ambulances and the police arrived late as always.

Then I saw a mother who just lost a child to gang violence scream a scream that no other mother should have to scream. The gang violence and drug dealing got so bad that I would see dead bodies lying in the middle of the streets, in vacant apartments, and in the alleys, as well as seeing women being physically, sexually and emotionally abused by the one they love.

I started to wonder if I was really safe in my own  neighborhood--and do the police even care?

Dealing with the traumatic death of my grandpa in my own life, I felt like nobody gave a damn about me and what I was going through, so why should I care about them?

So I became numb, heartless, desensitized to violence; and I dehumanized other people, which made it easy for me to hurt them and not feel anything. I exchanged pain for pain.

Today, as a 45-year-old young man, I no longer believe and feel that way. Because I’m incarcerated for taking another human being’s life and being in restorative justice, I realize the pain, grief, and suffering that a mother, father, sister and brother go through after losing someone they love through violence.

Even though my grandpa is resting in peace I made a vow to my grandpa not to ever harm another human being again, and I mean it from the heart.

Despite my not being able to become a fireman, I’m still able to rescue others and put out fires. This time I do it by sharing my story of "The Little Boy Who Lost His Dream."

from http://thecrimereport.org