It’s Moments like these…

I sat the table in our outdoor Rec. Yard area for our Mental Health Crisis Bed unit.

It’s one of those plastic white tables people usually have set up at parties. In front of me there was the mid sized caged off area with a few picnic tables for the inmates to complete their yard time.

I was out there with an O.G. (an inmate who has been incarcerated for a long time). He was on old African American who walked with an interesting limp which gave his walk some old man style.

He had an innocent face and gave off on an endearing demeanor. I had met with him before so we weren’t strangers. He had me read him a devotion out of “The Daily Bread” devotion booklet the Prison hands out to them.

After some conversation he went to the back of the cage area to get some sun light so I turned up the radio and returned to my seat.

I checked email and when I looked up I noticed he had walked back up towards the front of the cage without me noticing and was full on in his own little world… dancing.

Now this wasn’t anything new, but for some reason it was that occasion I realized it will be moments like this I’m really going to miss. Watching an old man convict dancing the best he could in a cage. Not giving a care in the world.

The next guy that came in gave me another moment of similar feeling, but very different. He told me he was in Prison for murder, but said he didn’t do it.

Apparently he was at a party and he was holding a gun to someone’s head who was on their knees in execution position, but then he teleported and was gone. Then whoever was in his body shot and murdered the guy. That’s when he came back and was in the same position he was when he left, only the guy was dead.

“Where did you go when you teleported?” I asked

“I have no idea, my therapist and I are trying to figure that out right now” he said

Walking With an Ex-Bank Robber

It was a beautiful morning with the sun hung high in the sky, hinting to the prison world it was going to be a hot one.

For the morning group I decided to join a fellow RT in having our Inmate Patients walk the track in order to promote some physical activity in their day before it got too hot.

As we made our way out to the gravel track from the housing unit, a few inmates fell away in conversation with others or wandering back to their rooms. By the time we got to the track there were a total of 4 of us.

We began to walk and naturally everyone fell into their own rhythm causing the group to become spread out. I chose to walk with the last guy and engage him constructive conversation since he was to be released in just 90 days.

He is a nice man who, at age 58, is about to wrap up his 15 year sentence after being in and out of prison prior to. We began casually talking about his family and what his kids are doing in the world.

 I felt like one of those stay at home Mom’s you see in movies who walk the neighborhood in the morning with fellow neighbor Mom’s and talk about their kids.

“Oh my daughter is doing good, she actually just graduated and is now a Doctor of Sports Medicine out in New York, and my first son is about to finish his Communications degree up out in Nevada” he told me.

I enjoyed learning about his kids and how he spoke about them. I could tell he was very proud they didn’t go down the same path he did and were doing good for themselves. He shared with me that was his biggest fear was for his sons following his footsteps, his daughter he didn’t worry about too much.

I followed up with questions about his plans upon his release. He owns a house he will be going back to and has plans to go back to school to become a Drug Addiction Counselor.

“This is the last time I’ll be here. It’s time I start giving back.”

He shared a lot about his heart to mentor and work with people who are struggling with drug addiction like he once did. It’s not clear what that will look like but he knows its something he really wants to do.

He had the essence of a Grandpa. Not because of his grey hairs but by the way he carried himself.

He had this peaceful gaze that expressed his sullen past and hopeful future. 

It would take him a few years to get the certifications he needed to be a drug addiction counselor so I asked him what he would do to make money in the mean time.

“Well not robbing banks or drug dealers like used to.”

He also stated he was a “Smart bank robber” so he’ll have some money when he gets out. Apparently enough to move to one of the more expensive areas of California…I laughed at that statement.

He seemed like one of those “Good intentioned” criminals. He didn’t like to rob people or go into houses. He wanted to steal money in a way to cause the least burden on normal people.

 He figured robbing banks wouldn’t hurt too many people since it didn’t affect the customers directly and robbing the people who made money selling drugs didn’t quite strike his conscience as a bad thing.

A modern day Robin Hood I guess… sort of.

“I also have some other streams of money” he said

“Legal ones I hope…” I responded.

He chuckled and said

“Oh it’s legal, just not might be moral in your eyes”

I immediately had a guess, and low and behold I was right.

“I own a Porno Business…”

Apparently he lived in the Porno Capitol of the state. He used to work for a big movie production company and with that knowledge and experience he said the Porn Industry was an easy trade to get into and make a lot of money.

I mean I guess that’s better than robbing banks right?

It was one of those moments where I thought..

“Wow, I am in a prison walking around a track with an old man who used rob banks and now owns a Porno Company”

I never thought that’s where I would be as a 24 year old.

We neared the end of our third lap and time was up. I wished I could of carried on the conversation because I know he probably has a lot of good stories and nuggets of wisdom. Next time, I guess. I wrapped my thoughts and wished him a good day.

Needless to say, it was a nice morning walk and an interesting way to start the day.

Mothers With a Message

I don’t even know how to begin processing the event I attended this past Wednesday…

It was an experience that was so beautiful and moving yet tragic and devastating all at once…

The event was called Mothers With a Message where mothers who have lost loved ones to murders come share their story with inmates, most of whom are convicted murders.

One Mother shared her story so vividly, I imagined I was there.

I imagined I was there as she watched her husband bleeding out on her kitchen floor after a teenager under the influence of gang-life had shot him and ran off.

This same woman then lost her twin brother to gang violence not too long after that. Her brother was just walking home from college when he was shot and killed.

“I may be free but my mind and my heart are in Prison…”

The woman said as she stood in front of a crowd of people who are currently serving their sentence in prison…

So there I was in a room where Mother’s had lost their children to the hands of a convicted murderer, talking to a group of men of who are serving time in prison because they are convicted murderers… yet the Mothers are saying they are in prison too… oh what sad irony this was.

During the stories and pauses between speakers you could practically feel the heavy atmosphere. It was a concept almost to heavy to process, and I can imagine for both Mothers and Inmates almost too unbearable to face.

For the Mothers to love on, share their stories, even be in the same room with convicted murders after losing loved ones to killers is an act of love so moving, a lot of the inmates were at a loss for words and moved to tears.

For the Inmates to face the consequence of their actions beyond serving their sentence might of been the biggest reality check they have had yet. To see how murdering someone doesn’t just kill one person, it can kill everyone that person is connected to.

As the Lady who started this movement wrapped up the event she said

Though you physically are in prison, your heart is not locked up, and your mind is not in chains.

Her goal for this event was to encourage these guys to make a difference for any future Mothers that might lose their kids. To give an opportunity for inmates to write letters to the youth, to hopefully encourage them to make better choices than they did.

How amazing is that.

Then she said the most heart breaking part of her speech… When her son’s killer got out of prison for serving his sentence (he was convicted as a juvenile so his sentence was not too long) she went to her son’s grave site and knocked on his tombstone…

Okay you can come out now! You’re killer has served his sentence so you should be done with yours. Come on out now.

I. Was. Hit. Hard. These women were truly some of the strongest I had ever seen.

I had to leave to go run group, but at the end of the day one of the inmates who helped organize this event came to the RT office. This inmate in particular is a convicted killer himself.

He came because he wanted to share how moved he was at the end of the event. Apparently he was talking to a pastor that helped run the event and who was also among the group that had lost a child due to murder.

I forgive you. I can’t speak for the family you effected by I can speak for myself. You are forgiven.

After telling him that he began to pray for him. He was moved to tears, and could not believe that someone who had lost a loved one by the hands of a murderer was forgiving and praying for him, someone who had once upon a time taken peoples lives.

This event definitely was a special one, and I hope they continue. I think this event allows such a huge and important doorway to healing for both the mothers and the inmates (at least the ones that are truly remorseful), and I am so glad I got to witness it.

Pulling Teeth

Sometimes facilitating a group with these guys is like pulling teeth.

I will flex my creative muscle and come up with a thoughtful activity, only to be shut down after introducing it with blank stares and -100% interest…

I never let that dim my energy though. I just keep on talking about it and encouraging them to participate. Sometimes that’s all it takes, and before you know it the inmates are laughing and having a good time. Or if it’s a more serious activity, they might all end up sharing deeper parts of themselves and helping each other out.

Last week I had a group that didn’t have anymore teeth to pull. They all just sat there and all their answers to my questions were either, “I don’t know,” or “I’ll pass.”

It’s during those types of groups you are so thankful for the one or two guys that actually say something or express even a little bit of interest.

“Write a Spoken Word piece as if you were talking to your 13 year old self.” ….I said as I handed out papers and pens. Only two out of about 8 of them accepted it.

At least in prison I get a lot of practice with rejection, which is a life skill that’s always useful to have…

The two that did participate misunderstood the prompt a little bit, but that’s alright. It was still a good thought provoking activity for them. They wrote a piece as if they were 13 again, instead of to their 13 year old self.

I would like to share one of the pieces they wrote, he called it “Just Keep on Dreaming!”

I am who the world says I am
but no one knows what lies deep inside of the person I want to be!
I trudge through the struggles of poverty
Not knowing the why’s and how’s of my life position.
Living from one day to the next, looking to momma to help me
withstanding those things called vex.

As I continue to fight off those dreams, I just keep on dreaming.
I can see a brighter day with joy’s and elation for I have traveled those roads of hard-knots and survived to tell my story to those that need
A helping hand to pull them up and outside of their struggles and despairs
Let them know they too can rid themselves of their demons and
Life gets better when you look to God, and just keep on dreaming!

He wrote that in less than 15 minutes. I could tell it was a poem that was already inside of him, and I’m glad he got it out.

A lot of these guys I’m sure can relate to his poem. How unfortunate circumstances like poverty cannot always be understood when they didn’t choose that life. How it’s easy to be looked at by the world and be seen a certain way, when deep down they actually want to be better people. How it’s easy to forget the hopes and dreams they once had, but it’s better to look to God and just keep on dreaming.

He’s a nice guy, and signed his poem as “The Fallen Soldier,”

Just his one poem made the teeth pulling group worth it.

I am Back From Parole…

Or rather… I’m back from vacation.

I can relate now to inmates who parole for an amount of time and then come back to prison.

You leave for a bit and get a taste of a different life style until reality snaps you back into the life you were once used to. And now after tasting something so sweet, you have to get used to the bitter taste once again.

Now I really should not complain. Even though this is prison and a normal 40 hour per week job, it pays well and is never overwhelmingly stressful. I am definitely blessed to be here, and to have a chance to impact the lives I can. It’s just a matter of readjusting back to the reality of adulthood, which may take a day or two.

And just like parolees, it has sparked a hope of a life I may have to look forward to. I hope to save money and move on from this job to go travel and serve overseas for months at a time, but I suppose only time will tell.

Just like for a lot of the guys here… only time will tell.

Paroling seems like such a tease, but I can see how it would be motivating for the guys who parole and then still have time to serve within prison walls. I say that because I am now motivated more than ever to start preparing for when I get out of prison. That may be a year or two from now, but years here seem to fly by.

I can hardly believe I have already been here almost a year and a half… in some ways it feels like I just got here, and in some ways it feels like I am ready to leave… but like I said only time will tell… and God.

Only God will tell when it’s time. There, that’s what I’m trying to say.

Now that I am back I hope to start posting regularly again (:

If you put inmates in a book club, what do you get?

In the most recent case, you get the soft side of convicts, and a beautiful thank you card with personalized art…

Book clubs don’t exactly hold a reputation for being a cool thing to do, but here in prison on a level 2 yard, a lot of the guys appreciate it.

We just finished a whole 5 week session with the book “All the Light We Cannot See.” It’s a historical fiction book that takes place during WWII…

Most of the inmates hated it.

The book was long, and the ending was disappointing.

HOWEVER…. they loved what the book did for our conversations when we met up. A lot of them related to the characters of that book, whether it be because of their relationship with certain family members, or because of the hardships the characters went through.

It was a special time, and a lot of them expressed how grateful they were to be able to meet up and have a space to have meaningful conversations.

One was so thankful, he even made a card with his own drawings…

One of our guys is a stellar artist! The left picture was the front of the card, and the picture on the right was the inside (it’s an inside joke in case you were wondering what it says haha)

What has prison turned you into?

Some might answer predator, some might answer survivor, some might answer a better man.

I’ve heard testimonies of each.

Today I met a guy who is a survivor. In prison terms he is what the inmates call an “OG.”

He earned that title because he survived 11 years in Pelican Bay around the early 2000’s. If you are not familiar, Pelican Bay during that time was a war zone. According to him there was, stabbings everyday with inmates having to be helicoptered out because their injuries were on the teeter-totter of life and death. He was there for both the big riots that are down in history for being some of the worst.

During those times it wasn’t “Fighting to see who would win” it was “Fighting to see who would live.”

Needless to say, he earned the label as an “OG.”

He spoke about another prison awhile back he used to be at where the Lieutenant and the Sargent and other Custody Officers (COs) would take home made knives from the inmates, place the knife/knives on the ground in a cell block that was about 10ft by 10ft, bring 2-4 inmates into the cell block, and tell them to fight. Then the COs would bet on who lives…

Like the real life version of Hunger Games.

Apparently after that had been going on for awhile, a Lieutenant finally ratted them out, and stopped that process. But if that was able to go on for awhile with no one knowing about it, what else could be going on right now that no one really knows about?

He’s also spent over 5 years in the “Shoe.” Which is basically the prison within the prison system. In there, you barely get anytime out of your cell, and a whole a lot of time to sit with yourself. He said the first year or two sucks, but then you just get used to sitting in your cell all day. It forces you to occupy your mind with reading, puzzles, and to think and reflect about your choices.

He has a good head on his shoulders, and I can see why he is a survivor. Anyone else who has been through what he has been through or seen what he has seen, would probably be completely insane by now… at least I think I would be.