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A Life Sentence

February 17, 2016

A life sentence will destroy you or rehabilitate you, but usually it will destroy you before it rehabilitates you. When I received a 25 to life sentence at the age of 21, my mind was not on getting out of prison, in fact, all I could think about was being in prison forever. Obviously right? I never thought, “Hey, while I’m here, I should try and better myself, so that I can become a productive member of society one day.” I thought only, “What’s the point? My life is over.”

I looked around me, and I saw misery, violence, and politics. I hated everything. I hated what I’d done, and where I was, but most of all I hated myself. These feelings of self loathing, while not new to me were only intensified. I was dead inside, so I set about ensuring my survival on the inside. I followed the gang. I stabbed and fought. I resisted the presence and control of authority. I felt violated when they stopped me on the track to do random pat downs or went into my cell and threw all my property, which was neatly organized, from one side of the room to the other.

To survive in prison, I had to become something even further from the truth—a hateful and heartless person. Because to love and have a heart inside these walls is to be weakened. I discovered that the more violence I committed, the more I was accepted by my gang for “putting in work” or “doing the dirt.” It felt good to “belong,” but I still hated them. Joining the gang was like going from one dysfunctional family to another.Scan 20

As I lay in my bed many a night, I thought and tossed and turned. I went over everything I’d ever done, and I sat in regret of most of it. I’d hurt people, an entire community, and I’d passed many opportunities for myself. It seemed like everything I’d ever done was a bad idea. As I was there, my body and mind locked in a cell, I was filled with bad ideas. I still think about suicide a lot, but more so at the beginning of my time. I think about atoning for it all, everything I’ve ever done with that one and final act. I think about ending my own suffering—the suffering, I brought down on myself.

It’s all very confusing, but there have been moments of clarity. I hate this place is the surest thought I’ve ever had, and If I ever get out, I don’t ever want to return. Not to this prison, not to this hell. Receiving a life sentence was the biggest and hardest lesson I have ever had to learn.

I lost everything and for the longest time possible, and still, I tend to wallow in that. Will I ever have a wife? A child? Anything that resembles a normal life? But I do not only think about my losses, I think about my victims losses and the losses of people I do not even know. I read the newspaper and heard about children being raped, stabbed, and shot, and I cried. I cried alone in my cell. I heard about burglaries and thought abut my cell being thrashed during a search, and I knew how they felt to be violated.

All I have is time to think and, believe it or not, I’ve being doing even more of it lately. I try and think now before I act, whereas before I just acted. I’m out of the gangs. I’ve done many things in these first eight years of my prison term that I’m sure the parole board is going to bring up and smear my nose in. I can not erase those things. I can only try to do better now. And that’s more hope than I’ve had most of my life. Will they ever let me out? I have not the slightest idea what they will do.

And you know what troubles me? People I know in here who are only serving a couple more years and are getting ready to go off on a stabbing mission and talking and acting like their lives don’t even matter. Like freedom is worthless. I cherish my freedom more now, than I ever did before. I guess it’s true what they say: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

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