Aggravated, Outraged, Bitter, Empty and Angry. Why? That was the 21-year-old me just sentenced to 25 to 50 years.
Heartbroken for what I allowed myself to do. I could only be mad at myself and no one else. I was my own worst enemy. I disappointed my family, devastated another, and now I find myself empty inside. Alone, yet surrounded by thousands of inmates with at least one thing in common. Staring at the rows of towering cells, I know this was the path I chose, and now I have to live it.
In 2001, I pleaded ‘No Contest’ for my involvement in a melee I started that ultimately took the life of a man undeservedly. I was at my lowest, and I cannot believe I allowed myself to do this. Alcohol played a role, but that is no excuse. I am responsible for my own actions. I am guilty for what I have done, but that is not who I am or want to be. I needed to change.
Like many others serving long sentences and lifers, I was unable to participate in any of the programs offered. I had to make that change for myself. My family became my biggest influence, and my purpose. If I ever wanted to get out I had to prove I was worthy of it. I had to first forgive myself as well as seek forgiveness. I began to read self help books and strive for self-betterment. I realized I had to surround myself with like-minded people both in prison and out.
I began to utilize what I was learning and within months, I was able to earn my GED. I have been able to take some self-help programs, mostly via correspondence. I’m a self-taught artist and use my talent to bring joy to others. I have taken my personal growth very seriously. I have been fortunate to take part in the Second Chance Pell Grant offered to a select group of inmates. In May 2021, I graduated with high honors, earning an Associate’s Degree in applied science/business management from Mott Community College. I have been a proud member of Blue Star Service dogs, where we take rescue dogs and train them to be service dogs for retired military veterans. Training these cadets and handing the leash over to our military veterans has filled me with more compassion than anything else. I hope to continue this work upon release. I have volunteered my time to facilitate programs, mentored youth offenders and spoken with facility tours about the dog program, college and how prison has changed my life.
I’m also one of nine prisoners here at the Thumb Facility to receive specialized training for the POA (Prisoner Observation Aide) program, a program that uses only hand-picked, role model inmates to observe prisoners who possess thoughts of self-harm. It is an honor to have this responsibility.
No matter how much I have changed, I will forever carry the burden and pain of what I have done. I cannot stress enough how sorry I truly am. “I’m sorry” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re trying to find the words to tell someone you’re truly sorry for taking their loved one away from them. Then having to look your mother in the eyes and tell her you love her and are sorry to have let her down. Those words do not feel like enough, and now at 40, I still do not have the words to encompass just how sorry I am.
I would like to say my transition to being a good person was easy, but that would be a lie. Prison is a very dark place and a dog-eat-dog world. With nothing to do and no programming for those with long sentences, it is easy to stay in the lifestyle that brought you here. The anxiety of what’s to come never goes away. There is a sense of uneasiness you can feel everyday, and a longing for family that goes on without you. I regret not being there for my nephew, now 19, whom I have never met. And I feel the agony of never being able to get away. Through dealing with it all, it has made me stronger. It has made me who I am today. But, it is not easy.
Once I made these changes and started seeing myself as worthy of freedom, I began writing to elected officials, asking them to bring a Good Time system back to Michigan prisons. Recently, I have started writing to Michigan Justice Advocacy, as well as numerous people, colleges and organizations, asking them to help support MJA’s efforts in getting a Good Time system implemented in Michigan.
When I am released, I will continue to use my art and leadership skills to help others and uplift the community I once destroyed. I will mentor men and women whenever possible, making sure they do not walk the same path I did. If I could say one thing to the people of the free world, it would be “Let me show you.” You’ll be proud to call me your neighbor. I am just one of many people incarcerated that have accepted responsibility for their actions, taken the proper steps to prove to themselves, God, and all of society that, if given the chance, you will be proud to also call them neighbors.