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.