This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop.
Life in prison is very lonely, stressful and dark. Like the black holes in space, [it’s] capable of swallowing all of your dreams and goals.
I am able to say that because at the age of 16, and through my selfish actions, I was sentenced to life in prison. I traded away all of my teenage years of going to high school, a chance at driving a car (and) achieving my goals and career, for being in prison, serving a sentence of 25-to-life for first-degree murder.
I had to become a man in my youth, and that lead me to make many poor choices. I always thought that I knew it all and that I had everything under control. I thought that I was the one making the decisions in my life. Only to find out it was only half-true. Yes, it was my decision to make, but most of my decisions were based on a distorted belief of what I thought I had to do, or who I had to be.
Every day I wake up in prison, and as I step out of my cell I had to put on this mask of a tough guy. I hung out with guys who I thought had my best interest at heart; yet every day I went out to the yard and hung around negativity. Instead of doing something positive and making amends for all the pain I have caused to my victims, their family, and their community.
The first 28 years of my life, I was a follower. I made decisions based on my insecurities because I wanted to be accepted by my peers. I wanted to be respected, and I wanted to be thought of as a cool guy who could be trusted, relied upon. That belief got me into a lot of trouble and made my life miserable.
Just think about a time when you were doing something with some friends and you weren’t sure if it was the right thing. Was it something you wanted to do?
I’m paying dearly for my actions. I didn’t care about any consequences, or what I was doing to my community.I want you to really think about that question, and for you to be honest with yourself. What was the real reason or the gains for going along? Only you know the answer to that question. For me, I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t care about whom I hurt, or anyone’s feelings. All that I cared about was myself, and this false self-image that I had of myself.
I would like to ask you a question: What does a true friend mean to you? Here is what a true friend means to me now: someone who has my back and I don’t mean have my back when I get into a fight. By having my back I mean: being there when a situation like a fight is about to happen; but before it happens, pull me to the side, and tell me it’s not worth it, and take me away from the situation. That is a true friend to me.
I wish I had listened to those friends in my life. Instead, I chose the friends who thought fighting was the right thing to do. Look at me now! Not knowing if I would ever see home again. I was sacrificing today for tomorrow.
Choose your friends wisely. True friends don’t always have to be your classmates. It can be your teachers, brothers and sisters, coaches, parents, someone who you can go to and get good and positive advice from. I thought that the people who were telling me to do well in school, and who were always on my case were the ones who didn’t care about me. Now as I look back, they were the only ones looking out for my best interest. I didn’t understand that then, but I understand it now.
This is my 19 years in prison, and all those friends I thought had my back are nowhere to be found, not one. They do not ever write, let alone visit me. Guess who writes and visits me? My family, and my elementary school teachers; the ones whom I never listened to before.
Yeah, you heard me right, my 3rd and 6th grade teachers still write. They are my true friends!
Before I go I want to say, your future is bright, so take advantage of life, because you don’t want to be like me serving 25 years to life. Take the high road, and be better-than-average Joe.
Strive to be better. You can do anything you want in life if you put your heart and mind to it. Learn to apply yourself and to dedicate your time wisely. The choice is yours and only yours to make.