A Curation of Essays Surrounding Family Relations

Selected by Alex Kropaneva, Whitney Hintz, Sara Fischer, and Abby Kuhns

This curation of excerpts on “Family Relations” was gathered, selected, and arranged by students Alex Kropaneva, Whitney Hintz, Sara Fischer, and Abby Kuhns in Literature 235: Curating Prison Witness, Professor Doran Larson, Fall 2022, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. The curation was edited for clarity and length by Steph Saxton, political science doctoral student, Johns Hopkins University.

U.S. prisons are some of the most mentally debilitating, physically taxing, and emotionally traumatizing places in the world (Hopwood 2021). The carceral setting traps incarcerated people (IP) in cycles of pain and torment, forcing many to leave with symptoms of extreme psychological trauma, if they leave at all (Garcia 2021). But the impacts of incarceration don’t only affect those behind bars—they can destroy families. On the inside, incarceration can invoke feelings of isolation and despair in IP, while on the outside, families experience loss and grief. The following curation of first-person testimonies from incarcerated authors provides a nuanced understanding of how family relations can be tested and destroyed during incarceration, but also how families offer hope for IP as well. 

As our curation team compiled a selection of essays from various sources of firsthand IP testimonies, we discovered themes that each excerpt spoke directly to, namely: how the incarceration of a family member impacts children, the pipeline from strained family relationships to prison time, the deterioration of family relationships during incarceration, how maintaining family bonds can be a vessel for hope, and how prison visitations can impact family members. By reading through each of these themes, readers can come away with a deeper awareness of the trials of incarcerated life—how one gets there, what they go through, and how it changes them.

1. Deterioration of Family Relations Before Prison
2. Family Abuse Prior to Prison
3. Family Relation Deterioration While in Prison
4. How Having a Family Member in Prison Impacts Children
5. Visiting Room Relations
6. Family Relations Inspiring Hope

Deterioration of Family Relations Before Prison

The essays in this section demonstrate how children can be negatively impacted by the adults in their lives. Parents play an outsized role in children’s lives and influence the way children behave and interpret the world.

The lack of a parental figure also heavily impacts children at a very young age, pushing them to create a support system of their own.

Celldweller Journal: Featured Mirror of Society pt. 7- Entry 16
Levert Brookshire

Brookshire writes about the process of family structures weakening due to the laws in the world having little respect for individual rights. He discusses that disobedience has been passed down for generations in his family. His distaste for the world was created at a very young age because of the perspectives his parents would share with him. As family structures weaken, individuals tend to do whatever it takes to survive and surround themselves with groups of people that pressure them into a different lifestyle. 

This degeneration, that I describe to you, Eventually leads us to their social garbage disposal system, They Have created for disposing of their ‘expendable’, ‘non-contributing’, ‘non-voting’, ‘non-tax-paying’ citizen’s. Converting us into ‘Livestock’, ‘cattle’ herds, charging the taxpayers, 40k a head, for our upkeep and maintnance, then shuffle us around, from one corral to the next, (prison to prison), Of course, when the real family structures weaken, the power of the surrounding peer group becomes stronger, eventually it replaces our real family. We begin to make, our own attempts to be seen, and heard. By ‘Hustling’ and making money in the ‘Criminal’ World, getting ourselves ‘fasionable’ clothes, ‘flashy’ cars, and violent ‘street’ reputations. Some of us like myself, begin to father several illigitimate children by several different women, unconsciously trying to display our own masculinity. In the end, we realize that our efforts have no real sustainable effect. Society responds to us, like a creature, a monster, someone to be afraid of, captured and locked up. We are told by society, that we must obey laws that have no respect for us, and at one time, were used to enslave us, but, told to forget that it ever happened, move on. This impacts our view of society, starting at an early age, then continuing into adulthood. My parents, passed it on to me, their parents passed it on, to them. ‘Society’ strengthens it. Then we are finally left with two outcomes ‘die’ in the wicked violent streets, or landing inside one of these prisons as another ‘CellDweller’. Where, some CellDwellers like myself, come to understand, just because our actions had led us to these places, living behind fences. The mind and spirit still belong to us, no prison built can hold them back. 

My Life

Tony Beasley

Beasley writes about how his family used him as a pawn in crime and theft since he was a child, and how he was constantly shuffled between homes. He was raised in crime and was taught it as a way of life with no other support. 

I remember Mom standing in the kitchen washing dishis crying. She had no running water, no inside tolit. But that was not what she was crying about. She was crying over my sister running off. I was only about 10 then myself so my sister could have only been about 12. I huged my mother and told her I would never do her like my older sisters and brother had done, or was doing.

Not long after that, I mean only days after my older brother, cousin and there friends desided I was of the age to get started in there life of crime. Thay showed me what to do, what to look fore, were to find it. In those days very fue people locked thire doors. People in the country went out in the filds to work. If thay locked up it was a semple lock. So I was sent into peoples homes. Away of life from the age of 10. Over the years I was used like this by Aunt’s, Uncles, and yes even my father befor I was even the age of 15.

My father came to the house were I lived with my mother. He ask that I go stay with him for a wile in Indianna. Bargersville or something like that. He looked like he was doing good. Nice car, nice home, red brick home. But he drank like he was on fire and the beer would put him out.

So that did not last long. His new wife, a very nice lady. She did not put up with that long. She worked at Krogars in Greenwood and I guess the house was hers. She sure ended up with it. All Dad got was his truck and his close.

We came back from that life to Tennessee. Dad left me at his Mom’s house. No running water and no inside tolit again. About two weeks had gone by Dad shows up and tells me, lets go. I jump in the truck glad to see him and also glad to be getting away from my grandmothes house. I was the only kid around.

We ended up in Mursfreesbaro on Cherry Lane in a house with no running water, no tolit and the women had 3 kids. I think I was 13 at this time.

The women did not want me around her girl. Well one of them. I guess becouse she was around my same age. I dont no why dad done what he did but for some reason he told the women that if she was not going to let me sleep with her girl then she must sleep with me heself. Well the women done as he said. She came to my bed and she done things that I had never even thought of much less done. Her girl would have been much safer around me then I was around this women.

Then it was like every women Dad went out with, he sent to me. Dad never put a hand on me himself. But he sure had his women do it. After he left this first women I remember he told me he was going to go by her house after her kids were inbed so no one would no I was with him. Wile he was inside with her I was to get into her car and get out her C.B. radio. It was made like a phone you see in your home.

Anyways Dad run into this one women. One from his past. They moved in togather and Dad sent her to me at night.

He married this one and after she became my step mother he kept sending her to me. Her told her she would like that after he got to old to do for her himself. At 13 this all got to me. I told one of my sisters about it but if she ever told anyone I dont no. She’s gone now to just like Dad. Sis that is. Yes my stop mother is gone now also. Anyways at (13) I ran off and went back to my mothers house. Back to the stealing life. Mom worked most of the time. She new of everyones getting into trouble. What she did not no for years to is my part in everyones crimes. I was little and I knew if I told mom when she went to work I had people that would be mad. Was told more then once what thay would do.

Dad would come by every now and then and get Mom to let him take me for the night or weekend. My step mom would come at night every time. At (15) I got into trouble with the law. My step mother talked about me. How sorry I was. But not to sorry to stop her from coming to my bed at nights. And I would only lay there wile she done her thing. I look back on the things she done and I no now she was injoying herself with a kid. All this stoped about the age of 16. I stoped going with my Dad for years and after I did go back around them in my 20s I let it be non that those times were at an end. After that thay seemed to never want to talk of it like it never happened. But of coure I was a sorry peace of shit by this time. You see all those years of being sent into people’s homes, barns, cars, bulding, stores, you name it. Well this was my way of life by then. Sent off (3) times by the time I came of age. Months not years! Now Im an old man, well getting up in my years. Been in prison a fue times now also. Got alot of years on an inhanced sentence. Non-violent non-persons crimes but after being in prison over and over they seem to put you away for longer and longer. The thing is as we get older we start thinking about the past. We start thinking about what got us to were we are. You have the time that a killer would get! More then some! Sorry for the things you have done! Wishing alot of thing had not gone the way thay did to you or what you done to others.

One good thing came out of my life I never done anything to my kids. And for what little time I spent with my kids I did not let anyone els do anything to them.

I also tryed to tell them stealing was wrong. I’m sure thay offten wonder why I was so strong on them about doing wrong after the life I’v had and were I am at now. Now all I think of is being there and spending time with my grandkids. I’v never hurt any kid. Dont belieave in it! My girls can tell you that. Thay are my life. All I am or ever will be.

I’ve taken schooling, training, classes. I want to do better. I’m older and see life in a new way. Sorry for the past and may never have any more then what I have in this prison. I say I wish. I wish to be home, that no one had came to me in the night. That I had not been sent into a life of crime from the age (9) or (10) on and on I wish

There was a time when I ran when I seen the Law coming. If I was in a car I just put my foot to the floor and went. Got away a fue times to. But at what coust? Lucky I never killed anyone. When I was younger I never thought about it. Only that I got away or must get away. As I got older I would pull over. I still got in trouble, but older I seen that thay were going to end up getting you anyways so you might as well stop and not make things any harder then has to be. Older you get the more you change the more you think. Time changes everyone and how thay think and feel.

I dont no how violent offenders think, feel, or change. To kill, rape, do violent things to others is out of my line of being, thoughts, inside structure of a person or I would be one of these violent people myself I guess. I see those people every day here in Prison. Thay talk about what thay have done. Some talk of other things thay done and got away with it. May be true or may not be true. But I do no that in the telling of the storys of violence most do not show sorrow in the telling. Sex offenders make up lies. If thay admit it at all, thay always seem to say me and the girls I was charge with were in love. She was (11) years old dud, were do you get to “love”, when you are (30) or more. Make up storys about what happened, ages of victims. They pick up a bible and read like that bible is the most best thing in the world and then run around later with others charged with that crime and talk about the ways the courts done them wrong! What about the way the kids were done wrong. So as I say I do not no the ways violent minds work not being one. And to give violent minds other chences is a hard thought. Another Chance could mean another charge, another Crime, another kid, women, killing, violence. These are the things I see in here! Young people that show no sorrow just like I was. Gang members that are inhere still doing wrong things. People with short sentences, violent offenses and non-violent offenses.

If there is any sorrow in here, most are the older inmates. People that are changing. enhanced sentence structures for non-violent offenses. People that have done 5-8-or 10 years and more in prison on non-violent-non-person charges. I got (36) years on enhanced sentence non-violent and I no a man in here that has done (18) years on (90) at 60% on non-violent enhanced offenses. If he gets out or if he got out I dont think he will do what he done again. He keeps getting put off by the Tennessee Parole Board. He’s done the % the Judge gave him on his enhanced sentence but the parole Board thinks thay no more then the Judge did I guess. And he’s not getting into trouble.

If the State or States deside to let people go from prisons thay think, “let the ones go that are close to a release date”. Thay let the inmate go that has done the lest amount of time on the smallest sentence. Some will have only done months or even days on the crimes. And thay will keep the inmate in Prisons with the same crimes bassed on enhanced sentence structures. The inmates that have done some time on there sentence. In fact (5)-(8)-10 years or more. On the same charges as the ones getting released. And we are talking about inmates that are getting up in there years. Changing, Thinking, Wishing. I hope all those young people thay let out within days and months have been locked up the time to Think about there life, to feel sorry for the past. What thay done and what people done to them.

You ask a non-violent inmate in on enhanced sentence (60%) (80%) (100%) what he thinks about letting inmates out at or past red dates. Ones with small sentences with the same crime as he, he will say I’v done years on mine. Let him do some time on his. Same crime mind you.

Your Courts will give probation on the same charges these days to people on the same crimes that you have 100s of inmates in prison fore for years and see no light. Yes give the breaks to the people that have not done any time and keep punishment on the ones that have done years on there cases for the same crimes. Where is the logick or the justice in that?

Meagans Story of Living As A M to F Transsexual In society And In A California Max Security Mens Prison & Conditions Within
Meagan Breanne Lupe Mendoza Calvillo III

Calvillo writes about the troubled relationship between herself and her mother from early childhood and how that relationship impacted her incarceration and future hope for familial reconciliation.

My life originated in Orange County City of Santa Ana, California. My father was a career criminal and user of the drug heroin. He also was in and out of correctional prisons in Calif. My mother is a mirror image of my fathers drug use, criminal activity and many incarcerations. They both were in Southern California Southern United Raza Sur criminal gang/mafia. When I was little more than a toddler I stayed/lived with my grandparents at their home, they were my fathers parents. I remember our back garage turned into living quarters where my dad would stay when he was not out on the streets doing what he did criminally.

I have fond memories of him when I’d be in his living quarters dancing on his feet as he sang & danced me around. I have memories of visiting him in CDCR prisons and a guard picking me up without permission and me crying hysterically. And him taking me into his arms soothing me at same time furious at the guard. My last memories are of finding him dead, me and my grandma found him overdosed on heroin in the back of his living quarters. Remembering my grandma try unsuccessfully to revive him by pouring rubbing alcohol over his face & head. But he was cold, gone. Then memories at cemetary where he was buried with his brothers. After this I remember many visits with attorneys in order to give custody of me to my grandparents because my mother was deemed unfit to care for me. My mother had 2 other daughters from different fathers and they too were dispursed to different adoptive families. Living life with my grandparents was great. I was shown lots of love, I was well fed, given nice clothes and pretty much spoiled and given no restrictions or curfews which may have not been good for me in long run.


My mom was out of my life pretty much all my life and she contacted me in prison to show her anger and to forbid me to marry interracially. A transgender son connected to a mom in Mexican mafia is bad enough but to also marry a Black woman is a serious violation no no. That and the fact she refused to mend relationship with me & my two sisters whom they reconnected to my mom after they were over 18 yrs of age. This hurt me very much because I wanted to be accepted by my sisters and develop a family bond relationship. She told me my sisters abhorred anyone who identified anything but straight. And they abhorred anyone incarcerated or deemed a criminal. This broke my heart. She told me she and my sisters would never ever mention my existence to their family.


I’m in process now in contacting my sisters family so I can somehow develop a relationship family bond I won’t directly contact my sisters because I know they are not going to accept me but it gives me hope that I may one day be able to be accepted by my nieces & nephew and some unknown lost family ties. I believe everyone deserves a chance. I merely seek peace, love and a chance to better the world and show that we are all living human beings.

Family Abuse Prior to Prison

In many instances, prison inmates may have experienced abuse or childhood trauma prior to incarceration. Individuals who experienced abuse in the past are more likely to commit crimes in the future. According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, 56% of state male inmates reported experiencing physical trauma during their childhood. Childhood trauma increases the risk of criminality, as well as the risk of emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorder (Wolff and Shi 2012). This section contains a curation of essays from the APWA where incarcerated writers express how prior abuse affected them before and during prison. These individuals share their stories of the hardships they experienced as young children, and the series of events that led to them being sent to prison. 

My Mother was definitely meaner after my father remarried
Emily Madison 

Inside This Place, Not Of It (103-105)

In this selection, Madison recalls the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse her mother inflicted during her early childhood. Toward the end of this excerpt, we see Madison step into a maternal role for her sister when she accompanies her to deliver a child, all while the sister’s real mother is absent. This undertaking, which occurred as a result of maternal negligence, leads to Madison’s incarceration as she commits a crime with the intent to supply food for her nephew. 

I grew up in Detroit. I remember always being in charge of taking care of my little sister, who’s twenty-two months younger than me. I remember holding her hand and walking her to school, with the house key tied around my neck on a shoestring.

My sister and I were supposed to go over to our father’s house every weekend because he paid child support. I wanted to go and see my father, and my mother took that as a slight. At first she was just verbally abusive. She would say things like, “You ungrateful bitch. I take care of you every day, I feed you and you want to run over there to him.” Then in 1972, when I was six, he married a woman named Danielle. I don’t have any bad stepmother stories, only positive ones, because Danielle took me in when my mother threw me out, and even to this day, I go over there. She gave me a huge barbeque when I came home from prison. She hired a DJ, and she even had a porta-potty in the backyard.

My mother was definitely meaner after my father remarried. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want her to be mad at me and I didn’t want her to think that I liked my stepmother more than her. I always tried to make everybody happy, and I’d try to make my mother happy, but it didn’t matter. Sometimes she would tell me she hated me and that I was the reason for all of her problems. She was fourteen when she had me, and she resented having to get married so young.

My mother began using drugs when I was twelve. She was on heroin and cocaine. When I was fourteen she beat me really bad because I’d hidden her drugs. My little sister said she’d seen me with the drug kit, and then my mother got really mad. She slapped me, she punched me, and she hit me with an extension cord, a coat hanger, and a metal curtain rod. I was bruised and bloody, and I was lying in a fetal position covering up my face. And she kept saying, “Uncover your face, uncover your face.” After that happened I went to the Children’s Center, which is where we got counseling. My case manager’s name was Miss Quinn, and I remember when I first walked into her office she gasped at the sight of me and put her hand over her mouth. She called Protective Services and they took me away to a school for girls. It was nice there; they were really kind to me, and they let me go to my father on weekends. He and Danielle would pick me up and then I got to spend time with him. But I still thought it was my fault, because I was thinking that, had I never hid her drugs, she wouldn’t have done it. When my mother and I went to court, she said how sorry she was and that she really didn’t mean it.

My father was trying to get custody of me, but then my sister got pregnant when she was thirteen and I just flipped the script. I really felt responsible for her. I told my father, “No Daddy, I have to go home, I have to go home.” He said, “Emily, that’s not the place for you. Me and Danielle’ll take you in and we’ll help you and we’ll raise you and do what we can for you.” But all I could see was my sister, poor thing. She’s pitiful, you know; my mother spoiled her to death. I couldn’t imagine her having a baby. Still today, my sister’s totally irresponsible, in and out of rehab.

My mother was out on a binge when my sister went into labor, so I took my sister to the hospital to have the baby. Mind you, I was just fifteen at the time, and my sister was thirteen going on fourteen, and I was down there with her having this baby. Afterward I knew that I had to take care of this baby and I had to make sure that my sister was okay. I was the only one who could do it.

“I Felt Like I Wasn’t Worth Anything” and “Everybody Knew About It, But Nobody Said Anything”
Teri Hancock

Inside This Place, Not Of It (pg 90-91)

Hancock expresses how her stepfather abused her throughout her childhood and her mom sat and watched. Eventually her mother and stepfather gave her to her stepfather’s brother to be raped and however hard she begged, the rest of her family ignored her, even though they were aware of what was going on. Eventually Hancock left home with her boyfriend penniless, and that eventually led her to being sent to prison. 

From the very beginning, Steve beat on me. One time he hit me in the back of the head with a cast-iron frying pan, knocked me out, and dragged me across the floor by my hair. Another time he put my head through the wall. He held the whole back of my head in the palm of his hand, and all I could see was wood going through my eyes. I tried to cover my face with my hands, but before I could get my hands up there I could feel the wood smashing. I had a big old gash in my forehead, and my mom just butterfly-stitched it up. I begged her to do something. I asked her, “Why are you allowing him to do this to me?” She never would answer me. She would just stare off into space, and that made me feel like I wasn’t worth anything

The only thing she’d do was tell me not to press charges. My godmother, she’s state police, and she used to come and get me all the time and beg me not to drop the charges. But I couldn’t do that to my mom. She was happy, you know what I’m saying? Every time Steve beat me she would promise me that she wouldn’t let him do that any more. Then the next time would come around and he’d do it again. It just got worse as time went by.

My mom would take me and hide me from him in hotel rooms for a day or two, or drop me off at this cabin she had up in the woods in Gladwin County, about five miles from our house. It got to the point where Steve shot the windows out in my bedroom with a 9-millimeter and made me lay in the glass. It was February, freezing cold. I had glass all over me, all in

me, all over the place. While I was laying there, he threw his boots at me, he threw pots and pans. I knew better than to get up, because the consequences were going to be worse. My mom just sat there and said nothing.

When I was fourteen, my mom and Steve bought me a brand new bed set, but then afterward they gave me to Steve’s brother for sex. [couldn’t understand why my mom would sit there in the next room and just allow that to happen. You know what I’m saying? I’m your baby. I’m your youngest, I’m your daughter, why would you do that to me? That went on for a long time. Everybody knew about it, but nobody would say anything. I begged and pleaded with my grandparents and my mom’s baby brother, and they would turn their back on me, refuse to help me. I had never had sex until then, but to them I was a slut, I was a tramp, I was a no-good bitch. I think that’s what made me so bitter about things. I mean, I’m really angry with my mother still after all these years.

Finally I ran away, but the cops found me two days later. My mom and Steve had to come get me from the jail. They were all excited to see me until I got in the car. I begged the cops to drive me home, because I knew what would happen as soon as I got in the car. As soon as we got out of that parking lot, oh Jeeze oh Petes, Steve swung back with his hand and hit me in the side of the head. I thought for sure my head was going to go through the window. My mom just sat there and did nothing.

Prison Or Kids: It’s Not a Joke
Running Water

Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America (pg. 116)

Water describes how she was abused as a young child by her father, as was the rest of her family. She describes how this led to her drug abuse and lack of a support network, and how she didn’t care about her life until she had kids. Going to prison while having her own children, her own family that she created, was a whole different experience. 

My name is Running Water. I want to tell the young women in here (Central California Women’s Facility) about my life to help them with their own. I want you to know what drugs will do to you. I started sniffing when I was very young. My dad used to rape me since I was four years old. He would come loaded and drunk and beat up my mother and rape me. I think he used to hurt my brother, too. The first time I went to prison was in 1980. I did 4 years. I didn’t care. I had no kids, just myself.

George Whitham

Whitham writes about how he and a fellow incarcerated bonded and formed a friendship. First, he starts by explaining how they come from similar backgrounds, as they were both relentlessly abused as children.

This is true story about two men myself and my friend Billy who I affectionately called Mr. Bill. Actually I really enjoyed calling him Mister because I truely respected him that much. I was a person who never respected anyone. Both Billy and myself have much the same childhoods, we both were abused in the home. I was born into a family of alcoholics. There’s no pretty words to describe my parents, they were drunks. My dad would come home from work, see me and decide it was time for his workout. His workout consisted of beating on me. From the age of 5 to 16 I was beaten almost on a daily basis. Twice I was beaten so badly that I almost died. As a child I always tried to figure out what I had done wrong so that I could change it so the beatings would stop. When I talk about being beaten I’m talking about a 2OOLb man hitting a 40-50 pound boy with a closed fist. It got to the point where most times I no longer felt the punches. My mother was no saint, she would often get in a few kicks When my dad was finished. The most vivid memory that I have is of my father telling me “Stop your crying real men don’t cry “it was a lesson I learned well, I carried it inside me till late in my life.

Billy’s abuse was far different and more painful as well as destructive. Billy was sexually abused and raped by his stepfather who made Billy feel like it was all his fault. Billy was 10-12 when this took place. By the age of 13-14 Billy was shooting up herion and was a full blown junkie by the age of 16. I would often tell Billy I wish we could have changed places. Not that I would have liked being raped. But because I wanted to spare him the pain. Being raped especially when your a child brings with it a kind of pain that most people don’t know and they should be thankful for that.

I’m a forty-four year old prisoner
Danny Brandon

Brandon begins his story by providing a background of his childhood. His abusive father was sent to prison and he entered the foster care system with no emotional support. No one cared that he was acting out as a cry for help.

I’m a forty-four year old prisoner who has been incarcerated for approximately twenty-eight years in two different states, and fifty different institutions. I’ve literally grown up, as well as educated in prison. It wasn’t some prison ran or organized educational program by which I obtained my education. On the contrary it was the isolation and frustration of solitary confinement and the generosity of Books to Prisoners organizations coupled with my personal desire to try to understand why I was born into circumstances so bad and evil it was profound that I even lived through it. A child born of rape, alcoholic violent sadistic father, teenage victim mother. Father sent to prison when I was six for crimes of beatings and rapes of his own family. My mother put me into foster homes after he went to prison. However she refused to allow adoption which ensured me no permanent resident loving family. Instead short stays at temporary homes. Youth homes, reform schools, prison at the age of sixteen. My crimes were running away from abusive places and people. Because they kept just catching me and taking me back I began stealing cars to run further and further.

I’ve taken the time to go into all this first to provide perspective. I’m reminded of what Roy Masters wrote in his book “How your mind can keep you well,” he wrote, “the way the judicial system, and corrections systems punish crime does far more to create the modern criminal than temptation ever could.” I am a prime example. Emotionally immature abused child with no steady loving adults in my life acting out in non-violent ways begging for help. Instead of receiving love, understanding, counseling and therapy my poor status financially ensured my incarceration, punishment, abuse, and degradation created a violent and even more unstable adult male guaranteed to return to prison, because the isolation of a single-man cell is the only place I’ve ever been where I’ve ever felt safe.

Children raised in dysfunctional families aren’t given the emotional discipline needed in which one knows how to properly deal with certain situations. While their are exceptions to every rule its a documented statistical fact that over eighty percent of men in prison were raised in single female households. So the source of the constantly worsening of morality and the recividism in prisons is the emotional dysfunction of our youth. By punishing the crime we are punishing the symptom and ignoring the route cause. Then we send these emotionally unstable youths to houses of torture and abuse and wonder why they come out worse, and are almost guaranteed to return. To obey the law or rules one must have both self-discipline and respect for the institution which creates them. When those in positions of authority abuse that authority it reinforces feelings of anger, resentment, distrust, and contempt for all authority, at this point it becomes a revolving cycle of hate and abuse. Prisons don’t hire the best and the brightest as employees, and they don’t promote those who speak out against corruption and abuse. Most of those hired to work in prisons have as many problems as those their given absolute power over, and when you give someone who is uneducated and suffers from low-self esteem and have never really been in positions of power and a bureaucracy designed to cover up and oppress problems. Its an entire system built on pain, destruction, and abuse. Its not in the self interests of politicians to lower recidivism rates when the more they incarcerate the more money and power it gives them. By removing the fathers from the families it creates a void that government steps in and fills will all their handouts in the name of compassion when what their really forcing is servitude and enslavement. In order to change the systematic incarceration of our society you have to do one of two things. Either quit funding it, or design a system by which the emotional problems of the inmates can be healed.

From My Life, To Prison Life
Robert Eric Morgan

Morgan writes about how he had been sexually abused by his family a handful of times and lived in an unstable home. He believes that the reason he acted out as a child and is now in jail is because of the way he was raised. No matter what program or place that he was brought, there was no changing the abuse he had faced throughout his childhood to create the person he is today. 

I’ve been locked up since 1998 for Burglary’s and other drug related crimes. All my crimes was committed to support a drug habit. I had a very hard childhood growing up. I was sexually abused by 3 family members. I was raised in a physically abusive home. My step dad was an alcoholic and abusive to me and my mother. My grandmother and grandfather got custody of my sister at a young age. My brother died around 18 months old from brain damage at birth. I believe my up bringing is what lead to my childhood outbursts and all the mental hospitals I was put into as well as the group homes, juvenile boot camps, detention centers, me dropping out of high school in the 9th grade to do construction work and everyone that I worked around was drug addicts. This is when my addiction first started. It started with my drinking beer, then went to smoking pot, and on to smoking crack. I lost my job, then that’s when I started stealing to support my addiction. I went to jail so many times the judge got tired of dealing with me so he sent me to prison to scare me but prison was fun to me and I didn’t think it was scary. I made shock probation and I stayed out for 2 years and 8 months and some days. So then I got my 10 year probation revoked in 2001 with more charges added so I took a plea deal that turned my 10 year sentence into 17 years. So I was back in prison with 17 years and that was in 2001. I stayed locked up from 2001 until 2008, that’s when I made parole. I stayed out for 6 months and 18 days with even more charges. So I then turned a 17 year sentence into 25 years. I took another plea deal. I’ve never had any evidence based drug treatment but I’ve served almost 17 years of my life in prison. I’ve not got any better, just worse. Since I’ve been in prison I’ve been sexually abused, stabbed, and almost killed, jumped for taking up for a friend. Since I’ve went through all these things I’ve been in prison and I’ve become violent, resentful toward staff and inmates. I’m full of hatred and rage.

White Noise
Dean A. Faiello

Faiello writes a colorful story of his memories of his parents divorce. Late into the story he reveals the abuse he was experiencing at the hands of his father. He describes it in the context of a school psychologist’s assessment, and it is revealed to be a true problem.

After years of psychological abuse at the hands of my father, my mother had realized the only way to heal our family and establish a safe, nurturing environment, was divorce. The dysfunction in our home had progressed into abuse. My father redirected his self-hatred at us. But it took many years for the ugly source of his hatred to emerge.

Despite being a bright student, I had begun to exhibit behavior problems in grade school._ I rebelled against authority and frequently disrupted the class. I was mad. Teachers noticed

the change in me and called in the school psychologist. I began weekly sessions. A dark portrait of my home life came to light.

My father was an alcoholic, but the problem was far deeper. His behavior had become increasingly erratic. He would fly off into a rage over minor incidents. I was often the target.

If I didn’t react quickly enough to his demands, he would cuff me in the back of the.head. If Beth and I were being too noisy, he would come in and kick us, usually in the buttocks as we ran away.

He anger stemmed from many things. One of them was his sexual identity. I didn’t know it at the time, but my father would get drunk at bars and bring men.home under the pretense of

camaraderie. My mother was not admitted to these stag parties, which took place late at night in my father’s study.

I was reading a volume from The Hardy Boys series in my bedroom one night. My father came in with a stack of thick blue pamphlets. ‘They were a Charles Atlas course in isometrics. He

told me it was anzexercise regimen he followed in college. Each pamphlet contained glossy black and white photos of Charles Atlas, wearing only a loin cloth.

My father wanted to show me how to perform the exercises, which used muscle against muscle. He said the course suggested doing the routine in front of a mirror, in the nude. We got undressed. I stood in front of my full-length mirror while my father stood behind me. He reached around me, showing me how to position my hands. My small taut muscles stood in contrast to

his powerful biceps. He held me closely, pressing up against my buttocks. He told me I was to do the exercises every night, after dinner, in the nude. He sometimes visited me to give me what

he called workout tips.

The school psychologist suspected abuse. He gave me a battery of tests. I was introduced to the Rorschach. He tested my IQ. Sometimes we just talked. He was the first man I had met

who took an interest in understanding me. At first, his concern and empathy confused me, even scared me. I wasn’t used to it.

After months of weekly sessions, he called my parents in for individual sessions. I recall my father calling him a “nosy pain-in-the—ass.” He refused to meet with “that quack” again.

Ultimately, the psychologist met with my mother to give her his conclusions. He didn’t mince words. He told her that unless she left my father, and took my sister and me with her, his behavior would leave my sister and me emotionally scarred for many years.

The marriage was imploding. My mother’s choice was divorce or a family holocaust. She decided to leave her husband to save her children. At the time of the separation, I only knew we all feared my father.

“You realize your mother is destroying this family, don’t you?”

I kept quiet. My father did not tolerate disagreement.

“Your mother is hell bent on divorcing me. She doesn’t care about you or Beth.” He spit the insults at the windshield. “She’s selfish, and she’s spoiled.” I outside the car windows, neatly tended Cape Cods and colonials slowly passed my peripheral vision. Manicured lawns alter-

nated with macadamed driveways. I wondered what those homes were like inside.

“I’m trying to save this family, but your mother and grandmother are fighting me every step of the way. Your grandmother sheltered and spoiled your mother her whole life. And now she’s

letting your mother escape her responsibilities to this family.”

By the time we returned to my grandmother’s house, I was shaking. The noise in my head had reached a feverish pitch. My father dropped me at the sidewalk. As I kissed him goodbye, I

got a nauseating whiff of his unctuous hair pomade., He drove off, heading for the home I had once occupied. I looked up at my grandmother’s sturdy brick house. Ada stood at the third floor window. Even at that distance, I could see the worry in her face.

My mother, sister and I continued our commute to school for sixteen months. School vacations provided the few breaks in the routine. The three~room apartment managed to accomodate us.

My grandmother bought a chair that ingeniously converted to a bed.

My mother slept on that while Ada continued to sleep on the sofa.

There weren’t any kids my age living in that neighborhood, which was fine. I didn’t feel like hanging out in those streets. At the end of those sixteen months, a family court judge

granted my parents a divorce. The judge ordered my father to move out of our home in Madison. We could live there until my sister’s eighteenth birthday. I felt-vindicated. At last, some-

one recognized that we were being punished by a heartless bastard.

When we returned to the Madison house with our suitcases in hand, we found my father had taken the furniture with him. As we walked around in the empty home, stunned, my mother said,

“That’s so typical of your father, only worried about his money.”

Stop hurting our women 
Richard Atkins Jr. 

Atkins Jr. writes about the familial abuse they witnessed in their childhood and how it caused their own violent fantasies. 

Men hurt women due to the lack of love in their childhood. But that’s not always the case, ’cause I had an abusive father as a kid. And he would fight my lovely mother for the slightest disagreement at home. Especially when he was off alcohol. I watched Richard Atkins, Sr. slap my mother, throw alcohol in my mother’s face and punch her…

As a child, I didn’t understand and wasn’t able to comprehend the violence I was witnessing but I felt something wrong. As I aged it all became more clear, because I suffered that exact abuse.

My father wanted complete control, and felt that as long as he pumped fear in my mother she would obey and not stand up for herself.

My mother was only 17 years old with a son and daughter being abused by her husband; the love of her life.

Me and my sister Niresha witnessed this abuse and was terrified every time the domestic violence occurred.

We was born in 1981/1982. Then my mother escaped my father around 1989, and that’s when my sister Brittany was born.

Brittany’s father Samuel, was exactly like my father. He was abusive from the jump and beat me with iron cords/clothes hangers; the wire hangers back then!

The sad part is my mother felt she had to turn a blind eye to the abuse. I believe she accepted the abuse for fear of being alone with three kids. So the abuse continued until Sam beat my mother’s knuckles with a large metal spoon! That was the final straw for Samuel, after my mother’s brothers got a hold of him and almost beat the coward to death!

In 1993, my baby sister Donisha was born and my traumatic experience was to be continued when her father became the same as the first two men in our life…

Donald Kennard, Sr. R.I.P was another abusive alcoholic! Boy could my mother select ’em. And Donald was the worse to come if you ask me, due to my mind state at this time. I was jumped into the East Side Crips Gang the summer of ’91 at our neighborhood’s Boys & Girls club. And as a gang member, out selling crack-cocaine and packing a semiautomatic pistol, I was a lost soul, out in the streets until midnight at times!

I smoked a lot of marijuana, drank plenty of alcohol and shot my guns at rival gangs. I had so much anger inside, that I wanted to kill someone. Because I was hurting inside from the abuse at the hands of my mother’s choice of men.

I fantasized about killing my father, Samuel and my stepfather Donald many times. I even lied in wait for my stepfather to come home from work a few times, but I was always distracted by the thought of leaving my father to hurt my mom and me not being there to protect my queen…

Once, my stepfather attacked my mother at home, I was in my bedroom and heard her call out for me. I rounded the corner into the kitchen, and saw him standing over my mother; asking her why it was she was calling me for? But his coward ass looked back over his shoulder and saw me with my hand inside my raider jacket.

If he woulda hit my mother at that moment. He woulda died in front of my mother that afternoon…

My mother separated from him; her 2nd husband of eight years a few years after that assault. In 1996, I left the house; sentenced to the California Youth Authority and my life would never be the same again cause the Youth Authority is known as ‘Gladiator School’ due to the violence!

Gang assaults, fights, riots and rapes existed like water/oxygen! And I was only 15 years old entering that school….until I was 20 years old! I returned back to society as a heartless gang member, with love only for my mother and three sisters. These women taught me how to love a woman. And how to communicate with women. I’ve never physically harmed any women in my life, ever. Women keep me loving life, and myself to the fullest.

Only week, insecure and never loved men hurt out women and children. Me, after experiencing what I did as a kid; I refused to hurt our women and children.

The woman giver birth to the world! I cannot harm a hair on their heads, ever. A women is precious in our world, and deserves love on a level just under God…

The abusers experienced pain in their youth, so that’s why they’re into inflicting pain on who’s physically weaker than them. Me, I chose to prey on other Lions that I disliked. I don’t believe that any women, can ever physically challenge me and succeed. So I will never physically challenge any women, unless we’re talking about sports of love making…

P.S S.H.O.W means, stop hurting our women and please get yourself some help. I know your pain man… Peace.

Street Lights 
Geoffrey “Leon” Carpenter 

Carpenter writes about how the abusive state of his childhood home led to his eventual incarceration. 

When I was a small child, my mom was my hero. I can remember the feeling of love as she would spin fantastic stories to me and my brother, Daniel, about great feats and accomplishments distant relatives of ours had done. As she would tell us these stories, the passion in her eyes left no room for doubt. She would become animated, the character of her stories would play out right in front of our dirt-stained faces. Whatever the story she was telling was as real as the hunger pains that washed over our malnourished bodies.

My mom was one amazingly strong and proud woman. Of course as an adult, I realize that my long lost second cousin once removed wasn’t a famous bear fighter in the cold Russian tundra, or that our family isn’t actually related to the English crown. However, as a small child I would fist fight, yell at, or bite anyone who dared to tell me that she was lying.

In retrospect things are usually much clearer. As an adult now, I’m able to put our situation in proper context. If I were to see the three of us walking down some dusty street in Bakersfield, California back in the late 70’s from the vantage of an adult, I would see an extremely different picture. I’d be able to see my dear mom for what she really was: a child. A sad, lost teenager with two children in tow. I would see a little girl in dirty, patched jeans that were products of her tortured little fingers that washed and repaired all of our rags that we called clothing at night after tucking me and my brother away on some random floor she found for us to call home for the night.

I can now easily see what my mom was doing for me and Dan with her stories. She was creating new realities for us. She used these stories to protect us. She was hiding us inside these dreamscapes, shielding us from our actuality and the fact that we were without. Without a home. Without a car. Without the next meal. We were destitute. When I was a small boy my mom was our hero and, as I sit here writing this, I realize that, even as she rests in peace, she still remains my hero today.

My biological father, Geoffrey Leon Lessenden Sr., was not around for most of my life. He was lost in drug addiction and the monster called CDC or the California Department of Corrections. Up until just a few years ago, I would be telling you how much I hated the guy, and I would go over all the ways that he was this really bad person. I would be retelling all the nasty stories that were forced on me as a child. As I write this it makes me angry. How or why adults think it’s okay is beyond me. Telling babies how awful their Dad is (regardless whether its true or not) is just wrong.

I was brainwashed into believing that the man who helped bring me into this world was just the worst kind of human. That the man whose name I carry was just some sort of hardcore piece of shit.

Well thats would some people would have me believe, but I’m not going to be doing any of that. I’m going to keep it real, what I know about Geoff is that he had his own issues that kept him removed from my life. He has a story that I hope to one day know in its entirety.

There are however a few things I know for sure about my biological Dad. Like for example I know for sure that he grew up in the ‘hood. Bakersfield, California is well known for hating the cops, high crime rate, murder, drugs, prostitution, gang violence, but mostly its known for extreme poverty.

It took Geoff a long time to get out of the trap that most of us poor people fall into, namely drug addiction and prison. But he did it; he’s out! And I’m proud of him for that. Sadly he is an old man slowly dying from to many years of i.v. drug use and smoking.

Fast forward some to when mom met a really great man by the name of Larry Rubin Carpenter. From what I was told by mom, Dan and I were walking on the side of the road on Highway 99 in Vancouver, Washington. How the hell we made it there is still slightly confusing although I’m pretty sure that some guy mom was hanging out with dumped us there.

The story goes that Larry was driving up the highway when he spotted a cute chick with a couple of rug rats struggling to carry the bags of food we had just scored at the food bank so he pulled over and picked us up. For better or for worse they remained together until Larry died an awful death while under hospice care at the house where I grew up.

In between this first encounter and Larry’s (Dad’s) death there were many crazy adventures. If I were to even write half of them I’m sure you would dismiss me as a liar like so many dismissed mom when she would tell her stories.

The man I called Dad suffered from schizophrenia. If you don’t know about that mental health issue, let’s just accept that shit was wild. Dad… well Dad was genuinely crazy at times. There are parts that I’m able to laugh about now… but that’s only because I’m still alive!

Dad and mom had two more children, both girls. The older of the two is my beautiful sister, Donna. The younger is the other beautiful sister, Tracy. I love both of my sisters dearly. For Dan and me, however, the arrival of our new siblings was not so good.

Before the girls were born, life was wild because of Dad’s mental issues, but Dad treated us as well as he could. But the new addition of Dad’s “real” kids caused life to get rather hard for us boys. Dad began to treat us bad and at times things got violent and even dangerous. Together, Dan and I found safety in one another and in the streets.

My first exposure to the juvenile justice system is something to write about. Christmas ’91 or ’92 (the year’s not really important), Daniel had done something to work our mom into a fit. What ever it was, though, Mom had beat his ass down bad. More than likely it was something small. By this time in our lives, Dad was no longer physically abusive. I think maybe his age had something to do with calming him down. Mom however still beat the shit out of us when she got angry. It was as if she just picked up where Dad had left off. I’m sure I could pose all sort of possibilities as to why, but who really cares. It sucked regardless of why. With mom it was bad at times because, as we got bigger, she started using shit to beat us with. I’m getting of the point though. The point was only that Dan had got beat down really bad this time. We decided that our best course of action would be to escape into the freezing winter night while the rest of the family slept quietly in the one room shack we called home.

Without disturbing anyone, we silently crept out the front door carrying all the belongings we could manage into the ice covered streets. The burning sensation in my lungs from that night’s cold air is seared into my memory as if it were last night that Daniel and I had planned this final get away. This escape from our endless worry about the next mindless punishment or mental health break down.

The feeling was one of the most powerful feelings my young body had ever experienced. I was free. No more bullshit! No more. From now on, it would just be me and my brother. The world was at our fingertips. Sadly this feeling disappeared quickly as did the feeling in my outstretched little fingers that were reaching out to this brave new world. The cold reality of our decision set in fast. We knew we had to find some place to hide from the cruelties of this new found freedom.

I could easily replay each step we took move for move, but why, right? The end result was that me and my brother had eventually found refuge in an unlocked truck nearby. As our small, cold bodies unthawed, we were able to move our limbs some. I’m not sure which one of us started digging around the cab of the truck first, but both of us were searching for spare change or other such treasures. What I am sure of, however, is that it was I who had found that skinny key ring with that single ignition key attached. Just like I can recall the feeling of my lungs burning, I can also recall the excitement I felt when I realized that this key meant warmth. It meant that I wouldn’t have to feel like a traitor anymore for my secret desire for the warmth of our shack where the rest of our family slept comfortably.

We stole the truck! The roads were thickly covered in ice and the truck was a stick shift. Of course, two people who have never drove before this night were quickly spotted by the police. A pursuit happened but it ended as quickly as it started. Daniel smashed through some big ass fence and wrecked the shit out of the truck. I jumped out the passenger side and he jumped out the drivers side and we were out! The Centralia Police had to bring in a K9 unit to track us down. After a manhunt that only lasted several hours, our great escape came to an end.

Tarnished Tales
Darrell Jarvis 

Jarvis writes about the physical neglect and sexual abuse that he experienced at the hands of his mother in his adolescence, and how that mistreatment led to the development of his violent tendencies. 

“Crime,” replied Breslin, “starts in the family…”

I want to introduce you to my family — to a quagmire of hate and violence and dysfunction. I want to describe how a kind hearted farm boy transformed into a ruthless animal who once made a man dig a grave in a gravel pit with his bare hands before killing him.

Now, after forty six years in prison, these old memories never leave my thoughts, and a quivering conscience gnaws at my soul with a vengeance.


So here we lived in filth and bed-bugs. No one cleaned the rooms or prepared a good meal. Beaming stale vitality for the joys of life, in the worst times there were twelve people living in that deplorable mad-house, including my two aunts and their children. Walking a blurred line between moral fiber and bad energy, no one got married, so none of the “illegitimates” got fathers. There was no maturity, no responsibility, no communication, and none of this corroding tribe being held accountable. The proof was in the party, for their lack of ambitions eclipsed any level of logic or parental obligations. With stained impunity, not one of these jaded sisters worked a job, and they all contrived “clever excuses” for this warped and acrid chemistry which they created and tried to disguise. Then, with a whistle of posture and fragrance, every weekend these rowdy alley-cats scurried to the local bar to chase some fluff and fancy.

In a twist of life’s lottery these kids, feeling inferior to the world, were cast to the wounding winds of stigma, and no adult in their circle seemed to notice. Adrift with ‘barnyard manners, it was determined these youngsters didn’t need a father, or income, or clean house, or good food. Oh no, they didn’t need a “real mother,” or family structure, or security, or the intrusive inconvenience of genuine concern. Trying to stay afloat in an ocean full of fiends with not a pittance of pity to be muttered, the cruelties of abandonment ran wild in the air as some throw-away children felt the stinging bayonet of their murky and disgraceful surroundings.

With a smirking scourge of gratification, their forked- tongues produced a cannibal’s feast of hedonism, profanity and sloth. “Everybody knows we’re doing all we can for our kids…“ Or so the big lie went..! While some alienated youngsters were made to struggle in this contaminated cauldron of torment, defect and delirium.

With peace-N-harmony” never allowed in a demonic dance of euphoria, my imposing smother, now hog—tied to her own fascination, would storm through the house spitting at people and starting fist-fights, slamming doors so hard that it knocked plaster (nu: of the walls, throwing food across the table and slinging chairs across the room. Parading her macho standards, this voracious reptile, enjoying a bliss in her reign of terror, would then claim in) be badly injured in that last rumble, and therefore cannot clean the house, cook a meal, or go get a paying job. So it went year after year as this virus festered in ripe deterioration.


When I asked to go to Boy Scouts the request was denied. Growling a chilled affection, the reason given by both Grandma and my mother was that they could not afford to drive me to town once a week. Yet this was the same town where my mother, the soulless pariah, faithfully went to the bar to pursue lack-luster jollies of forfeiture and disrepute.

No, I could not join the Boy Scouts, but I was often guided to a bedroom where my toothless and erotic mother ordered a child to caress her bare buttocks as she lay on the bed moaning in pleasure of approval, with the door locked and the light out to mask these clandestine violations in secrecy. Then to make things fair, at least in her crude mind, this rabid ghoul rewarded me with a piece of chewing gum each time. I, being so young, was not able to stave off the obsessions of this cloak-N~dagger carnivore. Conjuring the stealth of an apex lizard, she called these episodes “back rubs,” and as I grew older she stopped doing it, probably for fear of me telling the wrong person and her facing public exposure and reproach.

Cell Block Society Post-Release Master Plan: Reincarnation First 30 Months Post-Release
Levert Brookshire

Brookshire writes that “cell therapy” and reading have invoked memories of childhood traumas — a process that he has reclaimed as a method of “deconstructing [his] thinking habits.” 

Books helped to walk me through it, during what [termed?] to be, my “cell therapy” sessions. It helped me to identify stuff I didn’t know before, compelling me to look closer and closer at myself to find answers. I was able to uncover decades-old, hardened, aged, almost fossilized remains. Decomposed, decayed, past childhood traumas, dysfunctional family history, deep mental scarring. Broken trust and lost innocence buried deeply inside the soft, fragile and delicate tissue of my brain, artifacts to me now, at my age.

It was amazing what I was able to recover during my self-archaeology and cell therapy sessions. Unleashing years of buried repressed memories which were too overwhelming for me at first. Especially recently losing my mama while I sat inside a cell. For awhile I had to step away from it all, put down the self-archaeological stuff, for a few days, just to recompose myself before I went any deeper or any further into my digging. It all had become just too much to take in all at once. Revisiting my long buried, past childhood. Remembering my father’s violent, angry, thrashing’s, his large, heavy fist, violently and swiftly coming downward in a “swoosh” to pound against my mothers beautiful, delicately soft face. As he would regularly hammer her small, fragile, petite frame of a body. Recalling how me and my two siblings Tina and Tisha only toddlers then, we’d hunker down together, hiding somewhere, scared, confused, and feeling helpless for our mother’s suffering, sympathetic as we saw her crawling on the floor pleading, begging for my father’s mercy, and whimpered into a corner covering up her head. Being only toddler’s three, four, and five years old at the time. There was nothing we could do, but watch. Sometimes not often, but few occasions it became us who were targeted for the beating’s. We suffered a hard beating, pounded with electrical extension cords or thick leather belts for making the slightest misstep at the wrong time. I went back so far into my memories, digging up old repressed pain and forgotten scar’s that became difficult for me to look at them again. But, necessary for me too. In order to reach answer’s and to reconcile with some personal strains, I’ve ignored and had buried away for a long, long time. But eventually I managed to uncover answers and reconcile with some issues that have caused my life to have great distress, for years.


My hurtful history, and painful past traumas, so that I can get over it, for good. I could see what drove all of us into our very own different private, personal and secretive “coping” world’s.

Placing where we all went to, in private, with our suffering. Where we process our trauma in our own ways. Nobody deals with their trauma exactly the same. What I did with my pain and lost innocence, how I eventually came to cope with my trauma wasn’t how my mama came to cope with hers, Tina and Tisha didn’t choose the same coping mechanisms either. They both developed their own way’s of coping. We watched our mama slowly start to sink into deep depression and turn to alcohol, for her self-medications, coping mechanism, and started self-medicating often. As I uncovered more and more buried memories, small ripples on the surface grew into waves of memories I had long forgotten. Becoming a driving force inside me, triggering a strong desire and more determination for me to stay on course and keep my focus. Using this same process, to keep my torch lit. I became unafraid to open myself up to an ever-widening spectrum of self-archaeology. Losing shame and ditching embarrassment, I reconnected with myself again. Who, for awhile, I lost touch with. Putting up so many other faces and alter-ego’s as a way for me to hide behind, as a “coping” mechanisms. Finally the “master of disguise” I became, was over with. Remembering how we use to sit together, as a family at our dinner table, once dad came home from work. Always angry, grouchy, and complaining to mama about something she did or either didn’t do, we’d be flinching if he as much as reached for a piece of cornbread. Those giant black, calloused hands of his swiftly moving in any manner at all, had conditioned us all to jump and tremble, nervously with tension and fear keeping us anxious for something to happen next. Like 3 little puppies, trained. Constantly making our house as if it were a simmering pressure cooker. Mama’s self-medicating brought her to get up the nerves and courage to grab a few items, with me and my sisters in tow she waited ’til my father left for work and she left our house behind for good.

Coming to land at her mother’s house, Granny’s. Where she felt right at home as Granny too was an alcoholic, Mama’s self-medicating picked up even more so, her physical abuse led her to suffer a nervous breakdown and even mental illness, issues later on. Her parental abilities declined shortly afterward. Neglecting her motherly duties and abandoning all responsibilities to us. Having to fend for ourselves as six, seven, and eight year olds, with the recent arrival of Bird our infant baby cousin who Aunt Michelle just brought into the world, her first born we all doted on him, and being an only boy myself, he and I instantly bonded a big brother, little brother. With Mama’s declining capacity to parent us, my most memorable period of childhood, were the instances grown up after getting out of school, coming home to find no gas for the stove, no electrical power, empty food pantries just days after our month [AFDI?] government welfare checks had been issued out. Yet, I’d clearly notice empty alcohol containers strewn all over the house, as it was always dirty, unkempt anyways, Mama and Granny both would be passed out, hungover from the night of drinking before. Even after seeing all of this for what seemed like years but had only been several months of deplorable, filthy living conditions. It still wasn’t enough for me or my siblings’ to want to leave our mama. Besides it gave us the chance to finally feel like kids without fear or nervousness. We never wanted to go live anywhere else, definitely not with our father again. To us, the neglect was “no big deal,” and so we learned to adapt and put up with is, just to be with our mama. Plus, it also gave us a chance to have unsupervised childhood’s, with all the adults partying and drinking nobody was watching us kids. With no rules at home or curfews like our father enforced in his household, we’d be outside at all hours of the night, running around with other neighborhood delinquent, under-supervised kids. Coming and going as we pleased, at eight, nine, and ten years old, without any structure in our still-early stages of life. Fortunately our father loved us enough to keep in touch with us, he really wanted to live up to his role and fatherly duties, as a good parent. He made regular visits every so often to take us to eat out at fast food joints, etc., etc,

How else does a “kid” develop their own unique ideal’s and belief’s? How does a young, youthful, naive adolescent kid know how to process destructive attitudes? How did I know how to cope with painful early childhood experiences? My own “critical” inner-voice was formed in my early childhood, without my realizing it. I internalized negative thoughts of thing’s seen done and said all around me. Later on this became self-sabotaging thoughts for me. The kind that would tell me “not to bother trying, it’s only a waste of time,” or “don’t think about doing that, you’re not meant for that.” I cast “self-doubt,” on my own self. Making myself choose self-sabotaging behaviors.

Another self-sabotaging behaivor from my childhood year’s, carried over into my adult life, is “worrying” and “anxiety.” My view of the world developed from my childhood years, and managing stressful situations happening in my life, that were complicated for a kid my age, to be dealing with, demands placed onto my shoulder’s which adults have difficulty dealing with. It’s unfortunate that, it has taken me this long, before I could “dig up” all these answer’s. Rather than continue repeating the same mistakes, for the rest of my life. I’ve invested the time, developed the self-discipline and focused on literature to recover useful information that’s provided much help, and insight to turn my thinking all the way around, showing me way’s to deprogram my old way’s of thinking, and finally develop a new healthy “view of the world.” Facing my past dysfunctional history of experiences or my early childhood memories became an important part of my deprogramming process. Helping me to re-familiarize myself with the way’s I chose to cope with my pain back then, choosing “criminal rebellion” to act out and express my inner frustrations even back then, how I came to use disobedience and defiance as a kid to be my defense mechanism against everything in authority. Looking back on this was the start of my own deprogramming process, deconstructing my old thinking patterns, reconstructing newer, healthier ones.

As I Layed Inside this hot, musty south 

Andre Hester 

Hester reveals that it is difficult for incarcerated individuals to trust other people because of the abuse and neglect they experienced in their childhoods. 

It won’t be easy because many of these men in prison are filled with minds that have been

“programmed” from adolescence to survive by the means and tools of violence, manipulation, and criminal methods of providing for themselves. These men was taught to cope from all the anxieties, wombs, and loneliness through isolating themselves and substance abuses. Defense mechanisms, coping mechanisms, and also arrested development have altered their abilities to see past the pains of abandonment, child abuse, molestation, and so many other childhood inflictions which contributed to such mental instability.

Addendum to previous essay which was a relapse prevention plan
David J. Terway

Terway, rather than explaining his own suffering in an abusive household as a child, was the abuser himself, wrongly treating his own daughter. He feels that in prison he has changed, and hopes to right his wrongs upon his release. He plans never to hurt anybody again. 

I was found not to meet the criteria for either designation, which means that I will be released to the community on my parole date. In short, psychiatric professionals have determined that it is very unlikely that I will reoffend. They are correct. My victim is my own daughter, who, in my distorted thinking, I viewed as my possession rather than as an individual who I was to guide, whose boundaries were not mine to cross. I do not want to hurt anyone ever again, and I will not do so. I have learned so much about myself over the past fourteen-plus years, including the fact that I do not exist to experience as much pleasure as I possibly can; rather, I exist to serve God and to use the gifts He has given me to help my fellow man in any way that I can. And, although sex is very enjoyable, its ultimate end is to bring children into the world according to God’s plan (not ours) as part of a loving family, which is the building block, so to speak, of society, and Jesus Christ is the King of that society.

Incarcerated Father
Sumahit Jr.

Sumahit Jr. recalls the abuse he suffered from his own family, particularly his mother. She lost custody over him eventually, but her abuse left a long-lasting impact on him. Around the time when he was arrested, his daughter was born, and he vowed to never treat her the way he was treated as a child after he was released from his nine-year term. 

In the past two years, I have only seen my daughter three times, but I have seen at least five people stabbed or cut. I am sharing the story of my life, one man’s struggle to break the cycle, the story of the incarcerated father.

I never met my own father, and I’ve only seen a picture of him once. Just last year, I finally began to learn some details about him. So, needless to say, I was raised in a single parent home. My mother abused me throughout my childhood to the point I would pray every night that I wouldn’t wake up the next day. But every day I woke up, and every day I had to suffer again. In 1996, when I was ten, someone finally came to help me. Social services came to our apartment building to take me away. My mother took me and ran out the back door. Later that week, we moved to Richmond, Virginia and she started using a different name. On August 11, 2002, she finally lost her custody and I returned to New York to live with my grandmother.

When I turned eighteen, my grandmother kicked me out because child support stopped coming. At eighteen years old, I was homeless. I slept in abandoned buildings until I got a job as an auto-mechanic and began to support myself. On July 1, 2007, my life changed again. One minute, I was at a friend’s barbeque playing cards. The next minute, I woke up on the ground and couldn’t even remember my own name. I spent the next week in the hospital having multiple seizures. After a series of tests and observation, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy.

Doctors found a tumor in my brain, which causes my seizures. The tumor is the product of blunt head trauma from my childhood. In other words, my mother’s abuse stopped in 2002, but I will suffer for the rest of my life. Due to my Epilepsy, I lost my job as an auto-mechanic and became homeless again.

A few months later, my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. I now had to support a family, so I began to lie about my medical condition on job applications. I ended up getting a job through a temp agency as a forklift operator. I worked in three different warehouses and was nominated for Associate of the month in all three. At the Gap Warehouse, I broke the productivity record by over 1300 boxes.

On May 3, 2008, my accomplishments went out the window. I saw a man attack my sixteen-year-old neighbor. Because of my history of abuse, I couldn’t watch this. So, me and a friend assaulted this man. Me, my friend, and my neighbor were all arrested, and I’m now serving a nine year prison term. Ten days after my arrest, May 13, 2008, my daughter was born. I always promised myself that I’d be the perfect father one day. Now, I feel as if I’m no father at all.

Cell Block Society Post-Release Master Plan: Reincarnation First 30 Months Post-Release
Levert Brookshire

Brookshire writes about how he learned that “cell therapy” and reading have invoked memories of childhood traumas — a process that he has reclaimed as a method of “deconstructing [his] thinking habits.” 

Books helped to walk me through it, during what [termed?] to be, my “cell therapy” sessions. It helped me to identify stuff I didn’t know before, compelling me to look closer and closer at myself to find answers. I was able to uncover decades-old, hardened, aged, almost fossilized remains. Decomposed, decayed, past childhood traumas, dysfunctional family history, deep mental scarring. Broken trust and lost innocence buried deeply inside the soft, fragile and delicate tissue of my brain, artifacts to me now, at my age.

It was amazing what I was able to recover during my self-archaeology and cell therapy sessions. Unleashing years of buried repressed memories which were too overwhelming for me at first. Especially recently losing my mama while I sat inside a cell. For awhile I had to step away from it all, put down the self-archaeological stuff, for a few days, just to recompose myself before I went any deeper or any further into my digging. It all had become just too much to take in all at once. Revisiting my long buried, past childhood. Remembering my father’s violent, angry, thrashing’s, his large, heavy fist, violently and swiftly coming downward in a “swoosh” to pound against my mothers beautiful, delicately soft face. As he would regularly hammer her small, fragile, petite frame of a body. Recalling how me and my two siblings Tina and Tisha only toddlers then, we’d hunker down together, hiding somewhere, scared, confused, and feeling helpless for our mother’s suffering, sympathetic as we saw her crawling on the floor pleading, begging for my father’s mercy, and whimpered into a corner covering up her head. Being only toddler’s three, four, and five years old at the time. There was nothing we could do, but watch. Sometimes not often, but few occasions it became us who were targeted for the beating’s. We suffered a hard beating, pounded with electrical extension cords or thick leather belts for making the slightest misstep at the wrong time. I went back so far into my memories, digging up old repressed pain and forgotten scar’s that became difficult for me to look at them again. But, necessary for me too. In order to reach answer’s and to reconcile with some personal strains, I’ve ignored and had buried away for a long, long time. But eventually I managed to uncover answers and reconcile with some issues that have caused my life to have great distress, for years.


My hurtful history, and painful past traumas, so that I can get over it, for good. I could see what drove all of us into our very own different private, personal and secretive “coping” world’s.

Placing where we all went to, in private, with our suffering. Where we process our trauma in our own ways. Nobody deals with their trauma exactly the same. What I did with my pain and lost innocence, how I eventually came to cope with my trauma wasn’t how my mama came to cope with hers, Tina and Tisha didn’t choose the same coping mechanisms either. They both developed their own way’s of coping. We watched our mama slowly start to sink into deep depression and turn to alcohol, for her self-medications, coping mechanism, and started self-medicating often. As I uncovered more and more buried memories, small ripples on the surface grew into waves of memories I had long forgotten. Becoming a driving force inside me, triggering a strong desire and more determination for me to stay on course and keep my focus. Using this same process, to keep my torch lit. I became unafraid to open myself up to an ever-widening spectrum of self-archaeology. Losing shame and ditching embarrassment, I reconnected with myself again. Who, for awhile, I lost touch with. Putting up so many other faces and alter-ego’s as a way for me to hide behind, as a “coping” mechanisms. Finally the “master of disguise” I became, was over with. Remembering how we use to sit together, as a family at our dinner table, once dad came home from work. Always angry, grouchy, and complaining to mama about something she did or either didn’t do, we’d be flinching if he as much as reached for a piece of cornbread. Those giant black, calloused hands of his swiftly moving in any manner at all, had conditioned us all to jump and tremble, nervously with tension and fear keeping us anxious for something to happen next. Like 3 little puppies, trained. Constantly making our house as if it were a simmering pressure cooker. Mama’s self-medicating brought her to get up the nerves and courage to grab a few items, with me and my sisters in tow she waited ’til my father left for work and she left our house behind for good.

Coming to land at her mother’s house, Granny’s. Where she felt right at home as Granny too was an alcoholic, Mama’s self-medicating picked up even more so, her physical abuse led her to suffer a nervous breakdown and even mental illness, issues later on. Her parental abilities declined shortly afterward. Neglecting her motherly duties and abandoning all responsibilities to us. Having to fend for ourselves as six, seven, and eight year olds, with the recent arrival of Bird our infant baby cousin who Aunt Michelle just brought into the world, her first born we all doted on him, and being an only boy myself, he and I instantly bonded a big brother, little brother. With Mama’s declining capacity to parent us, my most memorable period of childhood, were the instances grown up after getting out of school, coming home to find no gas for the stove, no electrical power, empty food pantries just days after our month [AFDI?] government welfare checks had been issued out. Yet, I’d clearly notice empty alcohol containers strewn all over the house, as it was always dirty, unkempt anyways, Mama and Granny both would be passed out, hungover from the night of drinking before. Even after seeing all of this for what seemed like years but had only been several months of deplorable, filthy living conditions. It still wasn’t enough for me or my siblings’ to want to leave our mama. Besides it gave us the chance to finally feel like kids without fear or nervousness. We never wanted to go live anywhere else, definitely not with our father again. To us, the neglect was “no big deal,” and so we learned to adapt and put up with is, just to be with our mama. Plus, it also gave us a chance to have unsupervised childhood’s, with all the adults partying and drinking nobody was watching us kids. With no rules at home or curfews like our father enforced in his household, we’d be outside at all hours of the night, running around with other neighborhood delinquent, under-supervised kids. Coming and going as we pleased, at eight, nine, and ten years old, without any structure in our still-early stages of life. Fortunately our father loved us enough to keep in touch with us, he really wanted to live up to his role and fatherly duties, as a good parent. He made regular visits every so often to take us to eat out at fast food joints, etc., etc,

How else does a “kid” develop their own unique ideal’s and belief’s? How does a young, youthful, naive adolescent kid know how to process destructive attitudes? How did I know how to cope with painful early childhood experiences? My own “critical” inner-voice was formed in my early childhood, without my realizing it. I internalized negative thoughts of thing’s seen done and said all around me. Later on this became self-sabotaging thoughts for me. The kind that would tell me “not to bother trying, it’s only a waste of time,” or “don’t think about doing that, you’re not meant for that.” I cast “self-doubt,” on my own self. Making myself choose self-sabotaging behaviors.

Another self-sabotaging behaivor from my childhood year’s, carried over into my adult life, is “worrying” and “anxiety.” My view of the world developed from my childhood years, and managing stressful situations happening in my life, that were complicated for a kid my age, to be dealing with, demands placed onto my shoulder’s which adults have difficulty dealing with. It’s unfortunate that, it has taken me this long, before I could “dig up” all these answer’s. Rather than continue repeating the same mistakes, for the rest of my life. I’ve invested the time, developed the self-discipline and focused on literature to recover useful information that’s provided much help, and insight to turn my thinking all the way around, showing me way’s to deprogram my old way’s of thinking, and finally develop a new healthy “view of the world.” Facing my past dysfunctional history of experiences or my early childhood memories became an important part of my deprogramming process. Helping me to re-familiarize myself with the way’s I chose to cope with my pain back then, choosing “criminal rebellion” to act out and express my inner frustrations even back then, how I came to use disobedience and defiance as a kid to be my defense mechanism against everything in authority. Looking back on this was the start of my own deprogramming process, deconstructing my old thinking patterns, reconstructing newer, healthier ones.

Family Relation Deterioration While in Prison

Being away from family and community can be the hardest part of prison for many folks. It takes years to build relationships, and prison picks people out of their lives and drops them in a cement cell, often hundreds or thousands of miles away from their family. While incarcerated people are in prison, the world is still ticking by on the outside and their friends and family may live a similar life to when they weren’t incarcerated. Incarcerated persons miss anniversaries, weddings, births, deaths, and other life events. Inside the prison walls they are living in a completely different society from their family members. Incarcerated people often find it difficult to communicate their experiences to family on the outside because they simply don’t understand what prison life is like. 

Incarcerated people face stigma not only from the general population, but from their families as well. Even parents may disown their children, and siblings may cut off ties. For many incarcerated individuals, they are desperate for interaction with the outside world, and relationships that predate their incarceration. However, for many, their relationships will deteriorate while they are in prison. They will struggle to find common ground, and their family may lose interest or not understand why the incarcerated person is changing, as prison activates instincts different from what their family may have seen in general society. The following essays describe how incarcerated people communicate with their families and the struggles they face in attempting to maintain family relationships while in prison.

A man died today

Kenneth M. Key

Key regrets taking his family and relationships before prison for granted. Now that he is in prison, he understands that he no longer has the ability to make relationships like the ones that he once had before. He expresses the mental and physical battle of losing familial relationships.

We would speak of the loves we lost and the friendships that got away. See for many years my Friend and I traveled the back roads of sinning together, getting high and drinking homemade wine.

When I reflect back, I have to ask, why did I get high? To be honest it was to escape the reality of living with men in prison, of the possibility of dying here alone, failed relationships with family, and a girlfriend who was about to leave, as well as shame and simply wanting to feel good and forget.

This would continue until my resurrection and my crossing over both spiritually and physically. I guess it had not been for the covering of YAH, I could be where my friend is today, gone! Unable to deal with the barbwire of Life present entanglement of doing Life without the possibility of parole.

So I understand why, not really and I could go on and on summoning a thousand and one reasons. But I know this to be true, when a man enters this world and he has Family, Friends, relations, etc. it gives him a certain sense of hope and provides them with all types of possibility that they may return them.

But as the years go by, Life has a tendency to claim its creation and circumstances take place and you can wake and Find yourself all alone.

I always express in my writing, that freedom allows you to place yourself in a different environment and create new Friends.

Prison does not allow that, many men are guarded when it comes to letting someone into their Family, into their private life and emotions. So you don’t see men hooking their homies up with cousins and sister, those aren’t the stories that love is made of.

Loneliness can make a man seek out many things and my Friend never really stopped trying to escape, only to awake in the reality of living in prison, of living in pain and loneliness.

A practical approach to prison
Mick Whitlock

Whitlock begins by describing the optimism he had upon his entrance into the prison system and how he wanted to become a better person so that he could one day return to his loving family. The long process that prisoners endure makes them hopeless and discouraged by the end of their sentences. Later on, Whitlock expressed the reality of going to prison and by the time IP are released, family is often long gone and inmates will spend the rest of their lives alone.

I had never spent a day in jail in my life until I was arrested at the age of forty-six and sentenced to thirty-six years in prison on a charge of “burglary with bodily injury.” I soon found myself incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, at Carlisle Indiana. The degree of culture shock was overwhelming. As I struggled to survive and forge a life for myself, I quickly decided to enter every program available and embrace every opportunity I was presented with. My motives were two-fold: (1) to better myself and become the best man I could possibly become, and (2) to obtain an early release from prison and return to my loving family. Surprisingly, I was granted immediate entry into every program that I applied for.

In time, my knowledge concerning the correctional system, as well as the people within it grew dramatically. Now, by definition, prison is not only a place of incarceration, but rehabilitation as well. And one thing is certain: the Indiana Department of Correction is very adept at the incarceration phase. However, it seems as though there were not nearly enough rehabilitative programs for a facility housing over two thousand inmates. Just when it would have been easiest to blame the system itself, I reminded myself that I had gained immediate entry into every program I had applied for. My focus of inquiry quickly shifted. Why were so few inmates volunteering to participate in rehabilitative programs that would inevitably prove to be beneficial?

I entered Indian State University in the fall of 2006 and immediately found my niche. Attending college not only kept me focused on learning, it shifted my attention away from the direness of my situation. When I was assigned to research and complete a term paper for an English class, the topic I was assigned enthralled me: Recividism.

I began my research with earnest. The facts and statistics I uncovered were astounding. The national recidivism rate is nearly seventy percent! That means that the exit gate for any prison is little more than a revolving door. Of those that re-offend, eighty-five percent are unemployed at the time of the commission of their crime. Furthermore, national statistics indicate that twenty to thirty percent of the prison population is functionally illiterate. These individuals can not even read a job application, let alone fill one out! It is apparent that upon their release the vast majority of these individuals will resort to doing what they do best: criminal activities.

Facts and statistics are extremely valuable when evaluating the effectiveness of any system or organization. In that regard, our prison system has failed miserably. The mere fact that nearly seven out of every ten offenders that is released from prison will return one day is a testament to the ineffectiveness of the prison system. It is also an indictment on a political system that continues to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into a prison system that seemingly does little more than warehouse the masses.

The obvious solution to reducing the recidivism rate is to bolster rehabilitative programs. In Indiana, only six percent of the prison budget is used for programs that are geared to rehabilitate inmates. Statistics indicate that an inmate that completes at least one rehabilitative program reduces their odds of re-offending to less than thirty percent. It is apparent that the money spent on rehabilitative programs is the best use of taxpayers dollars within the prison system.

Of course inmate participation is essential for any program to be effective. Inmates here at Wabash Valley have been reluctant to participate because of what they perceive to be minimal potential benefits. Few programs offer time cuts to ones sentence, and that is an important factor of consideration to an inmate sentenced to decades in prison. Many inmates that are totally rehabilitatable become discouraged by the length of their sentence. The reality of their circumstances has left them feeling both helpless and hopeless. After serving twenty, thirty, or forty years in prison any remnants of a family are long gone. Instead, many of these individuals will spend their final years in a retirement home or mental health facility, all at the states expense.

16 years since inception
Brandon Martinez

Martinez expresses that without the unconditional love of family, incarcerated people would be left all on their own. Family is the one of the main reasons that inmates make it through their sentences, and those who are the lucky have family that stays by their sides. 

Whos the one whos going to be carted off to jail your face will begin to turn pale. The cold thang about it, they wont even offer you no bail. All alone you will roam, gone are the days of the mobile phone. Where are your friends they didnt stick around. How fast it all came tumbling down. A few family members who will stay by your side with that unconditional love fit tighter then a glove. Without them you would never make it through your ordeal, real talk. Thats what I want to express unveil. I miss you lil Salena. Had to do what I had to do to survive. Put a roof over our head. Than God I didnt end up dead. It wasnt my fault because I just wanted some food to eat.

Behind Enemy Lines
Al-Fatah Stewart

Stewart recalls how her family relationships have slowly gotten worse as she has been incarcerated. She was absent for her daughter’s childhood, many of her loved ones have died, and her brother was shot. She grapples with the emotional toll that these losses take on her, especially because she feels so removed in prison. 

I missed all of my daughter’s child hood years. She is twenty-five now. My uncle Manny died, along with countless other loved ones while I have been a hostage behind enemy lines.

My younger brother who was in college in Pennsylvania was shot in the back outside of a club and is now a paraplegic. It hurts me deeply every time I see him. To add to that pain later in that year, my dear maternal grandmother passed on to join our ancestors on September 19th, 2003. I wasn’t allowed to go to her wake or funeral to pay my last respects. Because my grandfather was a World War II veteran, the United States government buried her with him in the military cemetery (Grandpa passed in 1983). This went against her last wish and so we had to petition the government and force them to dig up her remains and have her remains shipped back home to Egypt where her will stated she wanted to be laid to rest and this process took four years. It was so frustrating but I fought for her like she always fought for me and honored her last wish. Family members over there wrote me a letter and told me when they received her body and sent me photographs of her tombstone. Now she is home. And I can’t wait to get out of prison and go back home too.

Civilian Rehabilitation Letter
Steve Risk

In this essay, Risk discusses how his family relations have been strained since he has been incarcerated. His siblings are distanced from him, and he only speaks to them once a year. He feels as though he is in a downward spiral as he did not expect the toll that his incarceration would take on his family and loved ones. 

Well, I am indeed a federal prisoner with a 262 month sentence. I have served 5 years already. Recently, when I called home, a new boyfriend to my daughter’s mother answered and advised me they would no longer visit me, and not to call.

Certainly, I would rather be in my family’s lives, raising my daughter, than in prison, She is 4 years old. I was able to be added to the birth certificate while in prison, which required a release of paternity for child support purposes. The government had a DNA sample cheek swab from me when I was arrested to compare to. I met my girlfriend and within 3 weeks, she was pregnant. After 5 months, I was arrested. 4 months later, she had our daughter while I was in the county jail, having plead, and awaiting sentencing. Thankfully, I was able to see my daughter once a year for the first 3 years of her life. Hopefully, I can attend her high school graduation, but this would most likely be a probation violation, and not be possible. There’s always the reception, if she’s amenable. My relationship with many of my relatives are strained. My twin sister and (older) brother have distanced themselves, and I only call them on Christmas. I understand my perpetual downfall since young adulthood has been hard to handle, and there comes a point when those bridges are pretty much burned for good. We never think of the sorrow and disappointment we cause others when we destroy our own hopes and dreams, along with the ones they had for us.

452 Words on Incarceration
W.E. Roberts

Roberts writes about how prison changes them into a person that is unrecognizable to their family because the conditions are poor and the culture is dehumanizing. Roberts expresses how they understand why their family recedes when they see what prison does to them.

Prison is a poisoned environment. It leaves no one untouched. It seeps into the pores like mustard gas. It fouls the very air we breathe, polluting it with anger and hatred and bitterness. It creates unseen lesions on our souls, damages our being, eats away at our minds until we have no choice but to shut down all emotion or risk self-destruction. One cannot “care” for another in here, it is a weakness pounced upon by those who prey on misery, a liability that brings the danger of attack, physically or otherwise. To be safe is to be callous, to save one’s self is to become ruthless and aggressive. Prison rips away our humanity and forces cruelty down our throats and into our words. It fills us with psychic bile, a caustic fluid that splashes uncontrollably on all who come in contact with us. It is unforgiving. We cannot see it as it happens and are shocked when our families and loved ones recoil in fear. It is the nature of this place –eat or be eaten– a reflexive reaction to anything which threatens survival. Learn to use the poison, to digest it and draw strength from it… or die.

It is killing me. It is killing my wife. We were not born to it, rather had it thrust upon us. It has robbed me of all I once cherished as good and honorable: sensitivity, compassion, patience, generosity. I have been bludgeoned into unwanted submission and cheapened by its coarseness, boot-heeled into the mold of a lesser human being. It is an ocean of failure, a torrent of emotional sewage and I must swim in the putrefaction of greed and corruption and self-obsessiveness. No one thrives here. No one benefits. Can execution be worse? Can suicide? Prison is the State’s solution, but not a solution. It is macabre and sick to do this to men and women, to those who love the “prisoner.”

Are you kidding?!: A Lifer’s view of the death penalty
James P. Doyle

Doyle writes about how his family used to be a strong support system to call upon, but being incarcerated caused his family to abandon him. He would put in effort and reach out, but was being ignored because his attorney gave his family a copy of his confession. He describes in detail how each family member slipped away.

On April 25, 1985, I pled guilty to first degree murder in exchange for a life sentence. Like the rest of the misinformed, I felt it was more humane than the death penalty. Two days later, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) welcomed me to my new home. They traumatized me with the two month hazing they call the reception process. Then the DOC transferred me to Union Correctional Institution in Raiford. I was in shock but I was not abandoned.

Whenever I was lonely and needed the comfort of a friendly voice, I could call my family. Someone was always there for me. Sadly, this would not last. The first to fall away was Nanny. It may have been July 1985. Still new in prison, I lived in a constant state of anxiety, confusion and fear. Early one evening, I went to the little patch of grass in front of Dorm 57, where two blue phones hung on the slime green wall. I picked up one of the black receivers and pressed the little silver buttons, entering Nanny’s number. “Hello.” The operator informed Nanny she had a collect call from James Doyle. “Will you accept the charges?” In a voice filled with desperation, Nanny replied, “Nooo,” and hung up. I did not understand. Others soon followed suit. I sent Amy a wedding gift: she did not acknowledge it. I sent everyone Christmas cards: only my parents and my sister Diane reciprocated. Trapped between the majority of the family and Dad and me, Diane made excuses for everyone. “Everyone’s fine. Busy working.” But that did not make sense. I still did not understand.

I finally learned the truth through “family leaks” and Dad. In building their case against me, the State Attorney had called my family in for depositions. But first…he gave all of them a copy of my confession. I finally understood: I had committed an unpardonable sin. With the exception of Mom, Dad, and Diane, my family had turned away from me.

Eventually, I lost Mom. Though Mom lived in Georgia, she and I maintained a healthy communication. We exchanged letters and holiday cards. We talked on the phone at least once a month. She even came to visit in 1987. Then things began to change. She divorced her third husband; Garlock, the company for which she worked, went out of business; she suffered a severe concussion in an auto accident. Finally, she moved back to Rochester, New York, to be with her family. Suddenly, her letters arrived more sporadically. And then, the “Phone Games.”

The phone games began around 2005. One sunny afternoon at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, I walked to the D-Dorm day room. Picking up the black receiver of the blue phone on the wall, I pressed the little silver buttons entering Mom’s number. “Hello.” By this time, the phone system was automated. The computer put me on hold while it gave Mom instructions on how to accept my call. About a minute later, the curt voice of the computer kicked in. “Your call was not accepted. Please try again later.” A few weeks later, I called Mom again. She accepted my call this time. Beginning our conversation, she asserted, “I heard you called a few weeks ago, but I was not here.” Knowing she lived alone, I guessed, “I must have heard your answering machine.” Caught off guard she blurted, “I don’t have an answering machine.” My mind went blank. I did not understand, but I was afraid to press farther.

As a dutiful son, I continued to go to that blue phone and enter her number every month. I never expected an answer, though. She almost never accepted my calls now. She was just smarter about it, waiting to hear a computer voice warn her of a call from her son before she said, “Hello.” This continued until she died, May 3, 2007.

Then I lost my Dad. Though we had a tumultuous relationship in my youth because of his verbal abuse, Dad became my best friend. He was there for me from the very beginning. Not a religious man himself, he sent me religious books he thought would be helpful and he visited me twice a week while I was in county jail. And even though he was 71 when I was arrested, he continued to visit me faithfully regardless of where DOC sent me. Whether I was 300 miles away at Raiford or 45 miles away at Bowling Green, I survived knowing that Dad would visit every other week. Only two things could stop him: I was involved in a weekend chapel activity or he was incapacitated in the hospital.

Time is merciless. It has neither empathy for the elderly nor sympathy for the suffering. Over the years, I watched as the arthritis in his back and neck stooped his shoulders. The cartilage in his knees wore away: he digressed from walking independently to hobbling on a cane to supporting himself with a walker. He lived alone in this condition. With a daughter busy with her own family and a son in prison, his only help came from a dope addict who had worked with him in a print shop years before.

On June 30, 2007, Dad visited me for the last time. He seemed to have a little cold, but he left with his customary parting: “I love you and miss you, and I’ll see you in two weeks.” The following week, his cold made it hard for him to breathe. The dope addict got him to the hospital, where they discovered he really had pneumonia. They admitted him and put him on heavy antibiotics. His pneumonia cleared up, but he had become so weak, they sent him to a convalescent center to rebuild his strength. He finally returned home on August 18; however, things were still not right. I called him on August 19. Diane was with him. She let me know that Dad had had a “bad night” and that she was going to call hospice the next day. She let me talk to him for just a moment. He ended with his customary parting: “I love you and miss you, and I’ll see you in Heaven.” Hospice admitted Dad on August 20. Then, on August 29, 2007, Chaplain Fortner called me into his Hardee C.I. office. Dad was gone. He was 93.

Finally, I lost Diane. The last member of my family to maintain contact with me, she grew more distant after Dad’s death. She had promised Dad that she would visit me faithfully when he was gone. I held on to the hope of seeing her for five years before I was finally able to accept the truth. She would never come. She and her husband moved twice, but they never gave me their new phone number. She stopped sending me a little money for birthdays and Christmas. She sent no notes or family news, just holiday cards that simply said, “Love, Diane.”

Over the years, I tried to woo her into a deeper correspondence. To her credit, she did write me two real letters. She actually vented some of her feelings as well as dismissed any possibility that I will ever be paroled. I count them as special treasures; she finally told me how she felt. Years went by until I was again called into the chaplain’s office. My sister died on May 4, 2019 after a long struggle with an unspecified illness. She was 81. The last thread connecting me to my family has been severed.

Centuries ago, there was a king of a small, declining nation. It had been a great nation at one time, but now it was a vassal state to a powerful empire. Perhaps he had hopes of restoring his little nation to its former glory. Whatever the reason, he rebelled against his sovereign. Incensed, the sovereign sent his army to destroy this rebel nation. The little king fled, but he could not escape. He, along with his whole family, was dragged before his sovereign to stand judgment. The sovereign forced him to watch as soldiers murdered his seven sons. It was the last thing he ever saw. His captors gouged out his eyes and carried him away as a prisoner to their own country. There he died, the memories of failure and loss echoing through his empty heart. A life sentence is a lot like that, but with one exception. The little king lost everything immediately; I have lost everything progressively. I have dealt with the confusion of being rejected by family, the desperation of relationships growing cold, and the self-condemnation of being helpless when my parents and sister needed me. Today, the memories of failure and loss echo through my empty heart. Yes, I have a life sentence. I will die in prison. But I will be forced to hear these echoes for another thirty years before I reach a place where I will hear them no longer. The death penalty is truly the humane option.

Martin Sanchez
My Name is Martin Sanchez

Sanchez reflects on his inability to see his mother for a last time before her passing, while grappling with the realities of his life sentence. His incarceration prevented him from saying his last goodbyes to a loved one.

People don’t realize that they’re “destroying”, more than “rehabilitating”, by giving offenders these large amounts of prison sentences. Peoples’ minds deteriorate, and ultimately, leads many to suicide, because the structure doesnt work. This structure is inhumane. It’s straight up torture… Another example; I recently lost my mother. She passed away about a month ago. My mother has been everything to me, my whole life. She raised me. She took care of me all my life. She sacrificed most of her life, to give me and my family, the best that she could. There’s no doubt, that a mother, is a person’s most beloved thing, in all our lives. Yet, while she layed in a coma, on life support, I was denied, by this facility, and the department of Corrections, to go and say my goodbyes. I wasnt allowed to go to her bedside while she layed dying, and I wasnt allowed to go to her funeral either. My Aunts and Uncles offered to pay mileage, officers overtime wages, and any cost, just to be able to go say my goodbyes to my mom before she passed. I was denied that. It has always been a right, for inmates, to be allowed to go see a mother or a father, either, on their deathbed, or funeral. Why couldnt I go? I have to live w/that agony for the rest of my life. I wont ever have the peace of mind, that comes w/at least saying goodbye to the woman that gave birth to me. This system is fucked up. It only breeds hate.

Maintaining Relationships While Incarcerated, Our Jails Are Ages Behind The Rest Of The World
Matthew Hattley

Hattley describes the difficulty of maintaining familial bonds within the New York State Department of Corrections, citing issues of privacy to the deterioration of family relationships within prisons. 

The New York State Department of Corrections (DOCCS) promulgates the strengthening of family ties. However, the rules and regulations of the department seem to stifle and smother the relationships necessary to transition back into society successfully. Rare is the case where an ex-offender returns home without any healthy ties, who does not re-offend. A strong, healthy support system is essential if one expects to reenter society as a productive citizen. Yet, DOCCS has imposed and strictly enforces restrictions that help to hinder healthy relationships.

Maintaining relationships with my family and friends while incarcerated is no easy task; it’s literally a full time job. I have been up against various obstacles from day one, especially since I’m from Queens, New York City. After receiving my sentence of twenty-five years to life, I was uprooted from my community and relocated seventy miles upstate.

While incarcerated there are only three means of keeping open lines of communication with the outside world. 1. Telephone calls. 2. Correspondence, and 3. Visits. For security purposes, all three have stipulations attached. It’s a daily reminder that we prisoners are no longer in control of our own lives – the prison staff are.

Telephone Calls: all calls are made collect and cost about $1.45 per half hour. They are subject to random electronic monitoring. At any given time a prison employee may be listening and/or recording our conversation. So privacy no longer exists.


Correspondence: Your basic missives and greeting cards. Mail arrives and leaves the facility five days a week. This also applies to incoming packages, with the exception of something brought by a visitor. All incoming mail is opened outside our presence, physically checked for contraband (cash, drugs, etc.) and glanced over by a state employee, usually a civilian, before it is finally delivered to us.

Are you just as guilty… for ignoring American Prison Conditions?
Lennox K. Armstrong

Armstrong takes issue with how the prison system limits modes of communication between family members, thus degrading bonds between IP and their families. 

Most prisoners do not have a good support system with family and friends on the outside. The DOC system will promulgate that it encourages family interactivity. This is a big lie and anyone who has a family member in prison knows how difficult the system makes it to communicate and interact with their loved ones. Most of us don’t receive money from outside and getting a job in the system is a task in itself because the prisons are so overcrowded. No job, no family, no friends, no adequate treatment, rehabilitative, educational, vocational programs, and no realistic opportunities to self-improvement.


2) Problems with Visitation

Occasionally, a visitor may get busted for bringing in contraband. This is nothing new and it is an issue that will always be as long as there are visiting privileges. But certain visitation rules are outrageous such as a female pants being tight- casual tight, not skin tight. Or a shirt that shows a little cleavage- a casual shirt. Or if a t-shirt is a little thin to where you can barely see the bra strap. For these reasons, visitors are often told to go change at the door, and they may not be allowed to come back in. C.O.s find the slightest reasons to deny visits. Visitors are given rules to follow only to be faced with a different set of rules upon arrival at the facility. They often drive long distances to see their loved ones and are forced to leave without being able to visit. Fathers are not allowed to hold their children during visits and some places don’t even allow a husband and wife to hold hands. That’s ridiculous! The DOC promulgates in its literature how it encourages family involvement and how it promotes keeping families connected. This is not true. The DOC discourages, complicates and hinders family and friend interaction and destroys the relationship that tie prisoners to their loved ones because of its rule and regulations.

Prison is a Place
Darrell Limbocker

Limbocker writes about how over time he is distanced from the outside world, people stop reaching out, and his only community becomes fellow incarcerated persons. He talks about the stigma and how he begins to lose hope in the midst of losing his family, friend, and romantic relationships.

What is prison like? It’s not the same for everyone. The prison I know is different from the one you know or heard about on the TV or on the two minute sound bite on the evening news.

Prison is a place where the first person you see looks like an all American college boy and you’re surprised. Later on you’re disgusted because the people on the outside still harbor prejudices about the prisoners they once knew about, such as family, relatives, friends, or neighbors who were incarcerated.

Prison is a place where you write letters and can’t think of anything to say, where you write fewer and fewer as time goes by. Finally you stop writing altogether… because you receive few or none in return.


Prison is a place where the flame in every person burns low, for some it goes out, but for most it flickers weakly, sometimes flashing brightly, but never to burn as bright as it once did.


It’s a place where you learn nobody needs or loves you and the world outside of prison goes on without your presence.

It’s a place where you can go for months or years without feeling the touch of a caring hand or hearing a kind word. It’s a place where most or all your friendships are shallow… and you know it.

Prison is a place where you hear about a friends divorce and you didn’t even know they were married. It’s a place where you hear about someones kid graduating from high school and you thought they hadn’t even started yet. Then the lapse of time and loss of memory eats at you, until you learn to repress the thought so well… as the days and years blend together, as one…

Prison is a place where you wait for a promised visit. When it doesn’t materialize you worry about a car wreck or some other serious problem. Then you find out the reason your visitor didn’t arrive, you’re glad it wasn’t serious. Then you become depressed and downcast that such a little thing, in your way of thinking, could keep them from coming to see you.

It’s a place where you may feel pity towards other peoples lives while feeling anguish or regret for yourself. Then you become mad at yourself for feeling that way, then you attempt to mentally change the subject, sometimes you can… sometimes you cannot.


Prison is a place where a letter from home or your attorney can be like a telegram from the war department. When you see it laying there on your bunk, you’re afraid to open it. You do anyway and usually end up disappointed or angry… Then you wonder why you were so scared of receiving a bit of good news for a change.

Prison is a place where you gain a new family in lieu of your old one at home. You’ll soon be coerced into thinking you have no need for parents, aunts and uncles, or cousins, nieces and nephews. Your new family will consist of king pins, shot callers, captains, lieutenants, sargeants, thug life hood rats, and prospecting wannabe’s. This family will initiate you with open arms through its right of passage rituals and bloodletting. If you survive the beating, rape, or knife fight, you may reconsider your new family’s meaning of showing “brotherly love” to you. You’ll soon reminisce of your old familys past and ambivalence. You’ll ponder which family loves you more than the other. Once the denial and warped sense of reality wears off, you’ll soon seek out a new set of relations, if you live that long. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll use your intellect or street smarts to remain solo or alone regardless of the challenges you shall face.

Prison is a place where, if you’re married, you watch your marriage die in varying degrees and spans of time. It’s a place where you learn that absence does not make your heart grow fonder and you stop blaming your wife for wanting a real man instead of a fading memory of one.

It’s a place where you go to bed before you are tired, where you pull the blanket over your head, when you’re not even cold, to hide the tears and the pain.

Prison is a place where you try to escape… by reading, playing games, by day dreaming, or by going slowly and so subtly insane.

It’s a place where you try to fool yourself, or others, where you promise yourself you’ll live in a better place when you get out. Sometimes you do… more often that not you don’t.

A Different Type of Dictatorship 
Bruce W. Herforth 

Herforth notes the many levels of systemic barriers to maintaining strong relationships between incarcerated individuals and their families outside of prison within his incarceration at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

I received regular visits from family members and friends about four times per year in Vermont. In Vermont prisons, an approved visitor can visit a specific inmate during his regular weekly visiting hours without informing facility staff in advance. I have been living in Mississippi for more than nine months, and I have not yet entertained a single outside visitor. Part of the reason is distance, and part of it is policy.

The regular visiting hours for out-of-state Vermont inmates at TCCF are Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM. According to the “Visitation” section in the TCCF Handbook, (page 20), “The inmate must have the visitor’s name, address, relationship to the inmate, and date of the intended visit on the request form.” The correctional counselor explained to me in no uncertain terms that if an approved visitor’s name does not appear on the visiting room roster for a specific date, that approved visitor will be denied across to the facility. Yet there is no blank line designated, “Date of the Intended Visit” on the Inmate Visiting Request Form for Vermont Inmates at TCCF-MS. It is basically just a copy of the Vermont DOC’s Inmate Visiting List form, where the date of a regular visit would be irrelevant. I have concluded that any approved visitor would have to call ahead to inform the record supervisor of the date of the intended visit.

In addition, the SSCF Resident Handbook (page 37) requires, “The visiting list must include the exact address and dates of birth for all visitors.” Because I did not have the visitors’ dates of birth, I have missed two potential opportunities to receive a visit here in Mississippi.

In early May, 2019, I received an unexpected letter from a pair of second-year law students at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton. The man hails from Mississippi, and the woman originates from Minnesota. They were looking for a “service project,” and news of the recent transfer of Vermont inmates from a state-run facility in Pennsylvania to a private prison in Mississippi caught their interest. They had written in their introductory letter, “We are traveling to Mississippi on May 17th and 18th. We hope to visit you at Tallahatchie County.”

They sounded serious to me, and May 18th fell on a Saturday, which is a regular visiting day for Vermont inmates. I submitted a Visitor Request Form including their full names, the relationship to inmate (correspondent), and the date of their intended visit. I did not know their dates of birth (DOB), but DOBs are not specified as necessary at TCCF so I entered N/A on that line. My Mississippi case manager returned a faxed copy of my visitor request form after the date of the intended visit. My Vermont caseworker had inscribed on the form, “Denied for lack of DOB’s.”

My regular correspondent attempted to arrange a visit from his cousin and nephew who live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is located near the Gulf Coast. He filled out a Visitor Request Form with all their information except their respective dates of birth, and I submitted it to my case manager. They recently took a trip through the Mississippi Delta region, where Tutwiler is located. After their trip, the cousin wrote to my correspondent via e-mail message, “I was not able to visit Bruce during this trip for two reasons: (1) I called and determined that Vermont inmates can receive visitors only on Saturdays and Sundays; (2) I am not in their files as an approved visitor. I know you sent some paperwork on my behalf, but the place did not seem like a model of efficiency when I called.” Apparently, I am not the only one who is frustrated with the administration at TCCF.

The TCCF administration does not seem to empathize with the loneliness of the exiles from Vermont. Many inmates in this group have not seen their loved ones for many years, since they first left Vermont. Lack of clarity in the rules, and lack of consistency in interpreting them, when added to the distance from Vermont, make visits very rare if not impossible.

We all know that the world has gone crazy
Billy George Reed

Reed writes about how his life in prison is so different from being with family and how IP can’t connect with people on the outside anymore because they are two different worlds.

To Whom It May Concern:

We all know that the world has gone crazy at this moment in time. Being incarcerated for over sixteen years on a capital life sentence I have no first-hand knowledge of the “free world” anymore. I rely on accounts relayed by prison guards whom I see on a daily basis, news reported on television, or radio airwaves. Also letters from family or friends.

But I can tell you first-hand that the “prison world” is so much different from the “free world”. This life is definetly not for everyone. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to not experience this degrading form of life or existence, you can not even


begin to comprehend the things that I am about to discuss. Only my fellow ex-convicts or current prisoners can understand what I’m talking about. I would not wish this kind of degrading life upon my worst enemy.


Circumstances of Incarceration 
Tafari Tai

Tai writes about the strain that his incarceration has created in his family, especially on his relationship with his young children, and the seemingly endless cycle of incarceration that occurs when a parent goes to prison. 

I am the father to a little boy who will be five this year. His sister is about to be six. I have not seen them in three years, and that was only for 50 minutes. My son was only two months when I was taken away from him. I was feeding him his bottle at around five a.m. that cold January morning. As his mother got her last hour of sleep before having to get up for work, when the A.T.F. and U.S. Marshall kicked in our apartment door, fully suited in riot gear with rifles pointed. I knew that this was serious and it might be the last time I would be with my kids as a free man. Standing there being hassled and cuffed, I was caught in a trance. Just staring at my kids in their mother’s arms. As she looked hurt, confused, and angry, that just broke what little love I did have left in me, that was 5 long years ago.

This incarceration has put a strand on a lot of my relationships, with friends, family, and loved ones. My baby’s mother seems to miss me less and hate me a little bit more with each birthday, Christmas, Valentine, and graduation that I am not there for. I don’t too much blame her. I just wish she’d understand that my hand was forced, she knows how hard I tried to be legally employed, and walk that proverbial straight and narrow, but with no high school diploma and a resume that includes selling drugs, and working in a Riker’s Island mess hall, there isn’t much chance to make a decent living. Even though I didn’t do half the crimes I’ve been charged with, a man in my position can’t do certain things, it might seem like the correct thing to others, but that does not mean it’s the right thing. The time I got sentenced to does not fit the crime.

I try to remain optimistic and keep close ties with my family especially my son, but he doesn’t like to talk to me. My mother says he just doesn’t like talking on the phone period. She says he asked “when is my daddy coming home?” When they tell him soon, he says “why is he taking so long?” On top of that I spoke to my daughter a few months ago and her first words were “Who is this?”… It’s things like that that drive a person insane.

The way I see it, I have to keep in constant contact with them, that means not losing my phone, or visitation privileges, but the inmates and C.O.’s seems like they’re just set to make that impossible. It’s like the more you try to walk away the more they tempt you, it’s a lose lose in this environment. I just pray I don’t kill someone or end up getting killed in this place. My mother and kids don’t deserve that. I have calmed down a lot though, it’s as if my 4 year old son is helping a twenty eight year old me become a better MAN. Being a father is still awesome to me. It might be because I am in here away from them, but every snowstorm, heat wave, or violence/accidents involving children I hear on the news, I get to worrying about my own kids, that might be a good thing though.

I tell them all the while, that out of sight never means out of mind when it concerns them and me. I know father’s who are free, yet hardly see their kid(s) and do less than I do for mines. It is amazing how corrupt and Machiavellian, not just the penal but the whole American system is, for the lower class, inner-city citizens, don’t get me wrong, I have brothers who have made it out to be successful with their heads held high legitimately; (college, career, taxes), but that doesn’t make me weak, it just makes them that much more stronger, but if you look at what’s in plain view, it’s hard to miss…mom working two to three jobs nodding off, fighting sleep on the train on her way to work in the morning. Coming home when the sun is down, to cook (sometimes), iron and make sure everything is ready for school, just to get a few hours nap to do it all again. And all this on basically minimum wage. Pops ain’t around to the point he’s not even missed anymore and the kids in almost every case is left to parent themselves. Which leads to drugs, violence, and sex. Now Imagine a neighborhood with eight out of ten kids fitting this category regardless of gender. This cycle just repeats. More fatherless kids, who mothers are spending more hours at work to provide for them at home. (And that’s the best case scenario). That is why I am trying to make it home in time to catch my kids before they fall into the ills of the ghetto. It’s like the rapper Billboard Bigs says “It’s the burden of being born black.” I know my family is going through this ordeal with me, sometimes I call, and they sound more down than me. I try to stay strong for them so that they can reciprocate that strength. They say it’s just one of those days. I tell them shit! I’ve got 5 years worth of those. I guess when you become well accustomed to it, you can find a bit of humor in pain.

I am not perfect, and I know I’ve done some things that would break my mothers heart, but I know that this is it for me. I’m tired of waiting years for promised mail to no avail, I’m tired of being the cause for my mother’s tears. I’m tired of living, eating, sleeping in a bathroom twenty three hours out of every day. And I’m tired of wasting my life away behind bars. I’ve put my kids through too much with my selfish ways. I wish my friends that are dead could see what it’s like to be in your twenties. I wish my true friends who are doing fifty years and more, and only in their twenties could get a real shot at freedom and success, but I owe it to them to make it out and stay out.

The Impact of Incarceration on Family: Reflections By a Prisoner 
Joseph E. Jones 

Jones discusses the impacts of incarceration on family members left behind when a person is removed from the “family nucleus.”

Therefore, society feels the impact of incarceration. Neighbors, friends, work, church, and family face decisions about relations towards the prisoner by either negative, neutral, or positive reactions. The aim of my presentation here remains to show the impact of incarceration on family as personally observed. “All human cultures have families…. Anthropologists find that in most cultures one can identify a ‘nucleus’ of mother, father, and child——what the Hindu extended family call ‘the divine triangle'” (Heins & Seiden, 1987, p. 5). Family inclusion I use throughout this paper consists of parents, siblings, spouses, and children of the prisoner.

Although it remains beyond my scope of this essay to represent a complete synthesis of behavioral and psychosocial development theories, there exists several points reviewed for clarity and support. A survey of psychosocial development of family reveals three possible  structures, as addressed by Balswick and Balswic (2014) on page 36. First, enmeshed families experience such a codependency that the impact of incarceration can lead to negative outcomes. Second, disengaged families lack an intimacy and closeness that keeps an individual in identity with family. Lastly, a differentiated family member represents the creative and resilient type of person, which usually results in positive outcomes.


Enmeshed parents of the prisoner starts the look at specific family members. For some parents, especially in the Far East and stern religious cultures, jail brings dishonor. Ruin ensues as mothers and fathers search for or refuse understanding. Also, because of self—blame or deflecting fault onto their child for criminal behavior negativity threatens their health. Prisoners report abandonment, breakdowns, and parental suicides as an impact of incarceration on family. “In rigid families patterns of behavior and communication are fixed, leaving little room for negotiation or a search for creative solutions when conflicts arise” (Balswick & Balswick, op. cit., p. 268).

Next, sibling also endure the impact of ruin. They too face questions about a sibling’s criminal behavior. Dishonor, loss of trust, and not knowing how to process imprisonment leads to rejection. The Prodigal Son example above shows the elder brother in ruin towards family. Although the father held a feast to welcome home the prodigal, the elder brother “became angry and refused to go in” (Lk. 15:28). Instead of reconciliation, flmne remained no repair because of enmeshment’s negative impact from imprisonment.

Moving forward, spouses in enmeshed marriages experience derailment. The loss of a closely interdependent partner creates adverse situations. The spouse assumes added responsibilities of chores, budgeting, maintaining the household, and working outside the home; perhaps for the first time (Heins & Seiden, op. cit.,p. 771). Due to lack of personal identity outside of family in overly cohesive marriages the separation devastates the bond of husband and wife. All to often, it is not uncommon for inmates to receive divorce papers. Enmeshed couples lack perception and boundaries, finding prosperity as long as their needs are met. Yet, as soon as one finds a deficiency of their needs, wants, or desires a divorce ensues (Witte & Ellison, 2005, p. 239).

Finally, the impact on children comes under review. Regardless of age, incarceration of a parent affects the child. Of course, the younger the child the more negative the effect. “Prison existence is hard on families. Rarely do they survive lengthy terms of confinement. Sometimes, due to bitter break ups, children are reared never knowing their father’s love” (Canfield, Henson, & Lagana, 2000, p. 37). All too damaging are the effects of an absentee parent, teasing by peers, and turmoil emotionally. Also, one parent cannot meet all the needs of the child. As a result, the child may develop slowly, school work wanes, and possibly he or she mirrors the deviant parent in behavior (Heins & Seiden, op. cit., p. 771).

Continuing, The New Encyclopedia Britannica (2007) offers that children who are directly impacted by the crime——victims of sexual abuse by the parent——face further ruin in relationship with the parent, for the courts may revoke the abusive parent’s authority (Imprisonment, p. 815). Evidently, there exists no such thing as a victimless crime as seen by the negative impacts of incarceration on family.

About Me
Randy A. Watterson

Watterson describes his feelings of regret and sadness that come from his family dynamic. His children don’t know anything about him and barely see him, and he resorted to drugs and alcohol to mask his feelings. He felt this sadness on the day of his father’s funeral, where his world had crashed in front of him. He was unable to see his father over the past 2 years due to his incarceration. He was reminded of his broken family when he was escorted away from his father’s funeral in chains to go back to prison. 

My life has been like a modern-day pharaoh. I’ve even had the privilege of wiping my ass with ten-dollar bills and for what? As I look back on my life, I went from 0 to sixty in the blink of an eye afraid to slow down for fear that I’d miss something. From sixteen years old to fifty-two just like that and I have nothing left to show for it but a lot of tears and scars. I even have children who know nothing about me or the pain I’ve suffered in remembrance of them when the holidays roll around. How I filled up those empty holes in my heart with cocaine, valium, alcohol and hundreds of women to hide my true parental need to feel their love, hugs and kisses. When I wasn’t dodging bullets from their mothers’ redneck boyfriends I was engaged in a complex racketeering organized retail crime ring dragging in sometimes as much as ten thousand dollars a week from shoplifting electronics from Circuit City and Walmart. My partner Wayne and I were the poster children and pharaohs of organized crime from 1997 to 2006.

But in 2006 my life changed forever after my father was killed in a freak accident while cutting trees alongside my little big brother Jeff. That was the turning point of my life and I will never forget at my dad’s funeral how I leaned over the casket towards his sunken figure and kissed the cold marble pallor of his sun rough cheek. I almost expected him to sit up because I believe in miracles and in the reality of them and in our need for them. So I held my breath and held fast to my father’s hand and waited for a miracle cause this was my father, the most intelligent and strongest man in the world who had all of the answers. “Please God help me I silently begged.” I really expected him to breathe in a sudden deep breath and sit up because the pain of losing him after not seeing or talking to him in two years was too fierce to bear, the world unthinkably hard and cold without him, and I could not be expected to endure. I had been blessed with many miracles in my life, all I needed was just one more, I was greedy for one more, just one damn more. I prayed to God fiercely and I begged and bargained with him to no avail. But as I learned, there is grace in the natural order of things that is more important than our desires and needs and at last as the tears struggled down my haggard cheeks, I had to accept the fact that dad has forever passed on to the natural order of things and he is gone.

That day as I stood in that cold cruel moment of realization in handcuffs, belly chains and shackles in my prison uniform, I felt my whole body and mind being emptied of the strength and security I had once felt. I only had one hour and a half to spend with my broken and divided family and then I would be transferred back into the loud angry unforgiving bowels of prison and back into my solitary confinement cell to weep alone and without compassion or mercy. I would have to face the stark icy reality of indescribable pain and suffering alone in this concrete hell on earth. Who would have imagined in the larger scheme of things and after this had passed, that I’d have to do this all over again by disrespecting my mother’s corpse in prison uniform, leg irons, handcuffs and chains with two armed prison guards in the near future at mom’s funeral?

A Convict’s Prayer
The Wordist WAM

This author deeply fears losing touch with his family while in prison. He is afraid of feeling abandoned and lonely and wants to preserve these relationships so that he can be protected from feeling depressed and disconnected. 

Oh God please hear this convicts plea

And continue to lay your hands heavily upon me

For shive and shank equals my rod and staff

But if death should call, will you intercede on my behalf

Will you touch my spirit and hold my soul

Keep me program enrolled and eligible for parole

Take me off the docket of any further days in court

While at the same time keeping me secluded from the disciplinary reports

Make my environment safe and friendly

Whether at a level five state prison or a privately owned facility

Don’t let my family forget or abandon me

Help me remain connected to the land of the free

Protect me from the throws of depression and doubt

And don’t let me become institutionalized or get jointed out

Keep me strong in this dark place of stress—-

And at the same time not allow me to be abused or oppressed

Shield me from the violence and block me from the hate

While I pay this debt and clear my slate

Because sometimes doing this time is in no ways fair…..

So have mercy on me and answer this convict’s prayer.

A Few Thoughts About the Cell
Mikhail Markahev

Markahev expresses his regret for trading a loving and caring family for a lifetime in prison. He feels as though he threw it all away, and never truly understood what he had until it was gone. Prior to his incarceration, he did not value family as much as he does now that he is disconnected from his own. 

The cell enabled me to truly appreciate what I had in the outside world and taught me that a man’s life is immeasurably enriched by the people in it. How blessed was I to have people, family who loved and cared for me; and yet how foolish — because I forsook that love for a lifetime in a cell. At the time, I didn’t think I had much, but time in a cell helped me to realize the riches of my loved ones‘ care, which I took for granted and neglected. Indeed, those are the true riches!

The worst thing that you can do is fall into the comfortable falsehood of complacency — simply “relaxing” by floating through time and doing nothing to better yourself. That’s not what the cell’s for. You’re not there to “relax,” but to examine yourself like God. called out to a hiding, shivering Adam, “Where art thou?” even so does the cell ask each of her occupants, “Where are you? Where are you in life? What are you doing in a cell? Where is this path leading you? What are you doing to your family, parents, children? Why are you wasting your life?”

How Having a Family Member in Prison Impacts Children

Prisons are populated by people who, regardless of their crime, wear the same clothes and are identified by a number. But these incarcerated individuals are also mothers, fathers, siblings, children, friends and loved ones. Incarceration affects much more than just the individual in prison. Having a parent in prison is very disruptive to the development of a child (Davis 2011) . The effects of having a parent in prison can even be similar to a traumatic event on childhood development. It is also traumatic for a parent to have a child in prison, as the visiting policies put a serious strain on familial relationships. Many children who have parents in prison are put in the foster care system, or another relative such as a grandparent may look after them. Regardless of who takes care of them, the incarcerated parent and child will be very distanced (Davis 2011). In this section, a variety of authors express firsthand how being in prison has affected their family on the outside. 

A Hidden Cost
Peter Mehmel

In this essay, Mehmel discusses the “hidden cost” of having a family member incarcerated and the impact that it makes on the rest of the family. The author describes the pain of seeing his son for the first time and the inexplicable negative mental impact that he has made on his son. He feels his family will suffer throughout the rest of their lives because of one bad decision he made.

The party arrangements were done, the cake safely stashed, we’d confirmed who would attend and even had a few bucks left over. That evening friends were playing in a band at a local bar. Maybe everything was just too right not to go wrong. Most bar fights don’t end in death. Mine did. And suddenly everything changed. My loved ones had to live in the wreckage I left behind. This was clear in the eyes of my son.

When my family brought him to our first visit a month later, he had dark rings around his eyes as though he’d been crying the whole time. His haunted, frightened look ground salt into my pain. He lunged to meet me, hugging tight. His skin was hot, feverish, and he didn’t let go after the initial greeting. I searched for an answer to his unspoken plea for an explanation. The small, unadorned visiting room was crowded and seemed to close in upon us. I found no answer in the water—stained ceiling, the pale yellow cinder-block walls, the speckled concrete floor. I just held him, fighting back my own emotions. Maintaining a front grew harder as the visit continued. My voice threatened to break. I managed to ask about his He-Man Castle Grayskull birthday present—-fun to assemble but tricky to wrap. I’d imagined watching him play out each character’s role. We didn’t get the chance to share that birthday, or any since. Some things cling and won’t let go—like his hug, and how I had to pry his tiny hands apart when the visit ended.

Prison has extracted pieces of all of us. Happy childhoods. Bonds between brother and sister. My son went to live with an uncle in another state. My daughter, who I’ve held only a few times as an infant, stayed with her mother. The logic may have been sound, but it wasn’t mine. My children were split up to grow under others’ guidance without my nurturing. I didn’t appreciate it then, but they were fortunate to have family looking after them. They would be loved, have a home, and were spared being thrust into foster care.

None of us saw the stigma they’d endure. Schoolchildren can be mean. As a convict’s kid, there is no acceptable answer to “What does your daddy do?” Sporting events, musicals, any public outing where parents normally appear scarred my children, who had to cover the truth to their peers. They learned shame and how to lie. They grew thick skins to shield them from the abuse. Laughter isn’t joyful when it’s aimed at you. It shaped their views of the world, and determined who they associated with and ultimately who they became. They saw the pecking order from the bottom and had to fight to fit in where they could. They migrated to the misfit groups.

Drug use became abuse. Maybe it dulled the pain, maybe it enabled them to socialize. In either case, it brought more trouble than they could handle. Through no fault of their own, they grew up experiencing prison secondhand. As if that wasn’t bad enough what weighs upon me now—both went to prison themselves. “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations…” So the pattern is set for the third generation: they too suffer a parent in prison and bear the marks. It’s said that people are responsible to carry their own cross. I bear the weight of how my children turned out.

When the judge’s gavel slammed like a lightning bolt from above, my family was sentenced too, the consequences piling on with each passing year. As I’ve learned, so my children have learned to question everyone’s motives. It’s a kneejerk reflex with every relationship. People abandon convicts. There are so many hardships, few survive the distance a bid demands. These facts twist a convict’s psyche, making us less likely to reach out, trust, or even begin new relationships. My children will learn to keep others at a distance. All that I’ve experienced will be passed on.

For over a decade, my son believed that I did not love him. My daughter had her first child at fifteen. Neither finished high school. Treasured moments in their childhoods never became memories of mine. My triumphs were never theirs. They didn’t share their first bike rides with their father, or fishing trips, or Easter egg hunts, Sunday morning pancakes shaped like elephants, or even the mumps. Decorating the Christmas tree, who lifted them to place the star? Did they miss me at tea parties? Who patched up their skinned knees or built their tree forts? Was the very thought of me so painful that they built a wall to keep it hidden? Was I a traveling companion on adventures into lost worlds, or was I the enemy they rallied the troops against? I never met the people they loved. My grandchildren, all born out of wedlock, never met their grandfather.

Both my children went to prison when their children were young—so repeats the cycle that I started. No doubt they too have learned the anguish of restricted space, resources, and actions. They will have no careers, no pension plans, and college is out of the equation.

APWA – essay
Tom Shaffer

Shaffer describes how his mother’s murder and his father’s (presumed) incarceration set him up for a poor support system. He describes his early involvement in the juvenile justice system where he heard about other kids’ tumultuous family relationships. He mentions how his remaining family turned him in for a parole violation for driving without a license.

I was raised by a mom the first 6 years of my life mostly because my Dad was not given the chance to;

I seen my first injustice at 6 years old when a guy who was not my Dad killed my Mother in the middle of the night to steal the drugs that she was selling. Then, I went and hid under the bed until I fell asleep. Then, I woke up and rode my bike until I found a lady named Beverly (or Beth)–one of the two who called the police. The police are telling me after 30 minutes in the house, “Give us a statement”. “Your Dad did this right”. I said, “No, he did not!” They said, “Would you help us close this case quick if we got you some candy, kid.” I said “My Dad will get me that.” They said, “Not when he is doing life in prison”! (That was my first encounter with corrupt law enforcement.)

Then, I seen more when I went to my third juvenile placement called Northwestern Academy where I watched staff suffocate kids to death in restraints called “prone-positions”. I still cannot get those poor kid’s voices out of my head to this day! I still cry sometimes knowing so many of their parents just do not know.

One of the one’s I remember best is a kid who hit his stepdad for beating his mom. He was 11 years old. I remember him being put in the “prone-postion” over complaining about a little piece of cake on a tray that day. I remember his cries of “I cannot breathe, please!!!” Then, shortly after, I heard that last pant for air and knew I’d never see him again or be able to meet his stepdad and beat him myself.

I did 6 years of juvenile placements and never got out until I was a month from 21 years old. I was in for a probation violation for driving without a license. Not to brag however, I pulling back in my Grandma’s driveway with the car she told me I could use. My Uncle is the one who called the police on me.

I got a simple assault charge on a staff member at Northwestern who bragged about how easy it was to get female offenders in the ‘Building Bridges’ unit to do ‘sexual acts’. (We’ll call it that for ‘edit’ purposes). I waited until cleaning time to make him sorry. He was in the education wing the next day when I choked him until his lips turned light blue. There had to be a reason I did all those years. Teaching manners to folks could be one thing and the other would be telling my story.

Father Alert: How Prisons Destroy Families
Corey John Richardson
“Fourth City” (pg 134)

Richardson writes about his experience and that having a parent or a parental figure imprisoned is the biggest indicator of a child’s future imprisonment. He understands that although he is the one in prison, there are other victims affected by a family member being sent to prison including the spouse and children of the inmate. He concludes with the fact that once a family member is incarcerated this puts a substantial strain on family relationships outside of the prison.

The U.S. prison system houses millions of men; millions more are caught up in the system through probation, parole, halfway houses, etc. One of the few studies on incarcerated fathers found that over 6o percent of men in prison are parents. Let me say that again: over 6o percent.

While much effort has been placed on maintaining a bond during imprisonment for women with their children, next to nothing has been done for incarcerated fathers.

When a father is sent to prison, all parental responsibilities, economic or social, are left unful-filled, thus straining or destroying familial bonds. Experts agree that these men lack the insight to view their world and their place in it clearly. Only after the fact do most begin to feel the full weight of their actions. By that time it is far too late, and fatherhood consists of short, monitored visits and collect calls home. And that is in the very best of circumstances. For many, their fatherhood will cease to exist outside a distant memory or fantasy.

When a prison sentence is handed down, we rightly consider the victims directly affected and their respective families. But, for a moment, let’s do something unseemly. Let us consider the other victims indirectly affected: (1) the children of the convict, who have now lost access to a father: () a spouse or partner, who must raise the children on her own without the much-needed assistance and participation of the father; and (3) the incarcerated father, who statistically is not only likely to be a product of abuse, poverty, violence, and addiction, but will now be thrown into prison, where years of violence, abuse, disease, and isolation will take their toll not to mention a diminution of an already scant list of legal employment opportunities, few of which offer a living wage. When we discuss true recovery and healing, we must include all pertinent points of view. In doing so we can heal not only victims, but also the “other” victims, and possibly begin to address the larger problem: mass imprisonment and its effects.

The number one indicator for future imprisonment is having an incarcerated parent or familial role model. In this way, prison is a self-perpetuating reality, like a gene passed on generation after generation. The idea of a parent in prison is often painful, confusing, and frightening for children. Removal of the father creates an increased burden on these affected families, which by and large exist in impoverished communities. These children often find themselves caught in the criminal-justice system during adolescence.

Though their crimes are always before them, convicts do not see themselves in purely criminal terms. Incarcerated fathers self-identify as parents, though removed from the family unit, and rank the value of relationships at an extremely high level. This identity is extremely important for these men, particularly for those with no wealth, no property, no education, and no viable employment opportunities waiting for them upon release. Right or wrong, having children validates incarcerated fathers as few other attributes can.

Difficulties maintaining these relationships are obvious. Far-flung and costly travel weigh on already constrained family budgets and limited transportation options; brief visits in tightly controlled conditions, cards and letters with their intrinsic limitations, and expensive collect calls, all added together do little to keep the family together. They in fact have quite the opposite effect. The inclusion of another male role model, usually supplanting the father for brief periods of time, often adds to the confusion and overall difficulties. The rates of anxiety and depression for the incarcerated fathers and their children are high.

Addendum to #32392 commutation application: Sylvia Boykin
Sylvia Boykin

Boykin describes how she feels she has failed her three daughters by being sent to prison and she cannot be the mother she wishes she could be. She describes the importance of her faith and the interactions she is allowed to have with her children. 

I pray to God everyday that if I could have prevented Mrs. Pope from being killed, I would have. I am so sorry that Mrs. Pope’s life was taken away. I am so Very sorry that Albert lost his mother.

I am consumed with guilt for not calling an ambulance or the police. I also did another unimaginable act that day: I abandoned my three daughters. I never thought that on that day, so many families would be broken apart. As a mother to three school aged daughters, I failed at protecting them. I was caught up in survival, and got caught up in an illegal drug business. I thought I was doing the right thing and I wasn’t. I can only blame myself. Although I did not pull the trigger, I was apart of this crime and am responsible for her death. I have spent the last 23 and a half ‘years praying for forgiveness, trying to parent my daughters and learning about the factors in my life that led up to that day Mrs. Pope was killed. A son lost his mother and two young men were sent to prison as well.

We were all sentenced to life without parole. Antwan was released in 1998 from an appeal to the Superior Court.

Rehabilitation and Reentry:

I was 33 years old, the mother of three daughters, ages 16, 14 and 13 when I entered prison. Nothing prepared me or them for this separation. My daughters were my world and I, theirs. Before I began my life sentence I was a member of the Church of Christ. I have continued to do so While in prison. I am so grateful for the support that I have been receiving from my religious community and in return, I encourage the women here, to get to know their God. My faith encourages me to help others. During the last two decades I have spent. that time thoroughly thinking about my crime and my life choices and circumstances to that point, while coping with my imprisonment and the welfare of my daughters. It has been painful, but necessary in order to honor Mrs. Pope’s death.


Whatl learned about myself the most was from the Certified Peer Specialist program. My counselors, Ms. Dixon and Ms. Scarbarough were there for me when I experienced a crisis or a difficult situation. Being a parent in prison means having to pray and to hold on to faith order to be a good listener, provide encouragement and celebrate successes.

The staff at Muncy and Cambridge Springs truly were motivated to help me to reach my full potential. I am particularly grateful to the organization Kids and Kin for helping me with my daughters. The religious offerings at Muncy and Cambridge Springs helped me by encouraging The Reverends Johnson and Smith especially. I am very proud of my faith as it has been helping me to -survive all these years in prison.

I never thought of myself as criminal while in prison. I identified with being a mother Without her children. When I first entered Muncy, I was able to bond with my daughters with the Wonderful program, Project—Impact. This was great. As my daughters grew up, our time together changed. The visits were both very enjoyable, but heartbreaking as well. We cried a lot. I learned how to cope with this sadness by praying. All the while, I couldn’t not think about the life thatl was responsible for taking. I had to change. I had to change for my daughters and I thank God that to this day, they forgive me and love me.

My role as their mother consisted of mail, phone calls and visits to teach and guide them. We missed so much together: birthday’s, first days of school, body changes, graduations, the birth of their children and my grandchildren. Many times they have all experienced challenges and really needed me. The pain in my heart for my children, I can’t put into words. I can’t describe it in a card or letter. When a parent is sent to prison, so are their children. They are locked away from I missed the funerals of my parents. That is one of the most painful aspects to being in prison for life or any time.

A Selfie Criminal Autopsy 
John Robert Sweat

Sweat describes the different ways he has seen his past actions impact his family including his parents, siblings, wife, and daughter. The unconditional love that his family had for him is what inspired him to become a better person during his time in prison, and to one day make a difference in the lives of others to never repeat the mistakes he once made. The author is aware that the pain he has caused his family is something he will never be able to take back, especially from his parents who both died heartbroken.  

Of Family

I have witnessed the repercussions of my past actions throughout the realm of my family and the souls that care about me. Like the ripples of a stone cast upon still waters, I have watched the damage I have wrought reverberate throughout the lives that surround me.

The most predominantly effected of all is the life of my daughter. She was born a month before I committed my crime, she was a tiny handful I was too scared to hold. While I was still in the county jail my wife divorced me and I heard nothing of my child and ex-wife for eleven years.

When my ex-wife initiated contact and brought my daughter back into my life, my child was a chest high eleven year old who looked exactly like her dad. She had just found out that the man she thought was her dad wasn’t, and was told of me.

Of my parents, they both have passed away, brokenhearted because of the condition of my existence. They would have done anything passible to help me. Their love towards me was always unfailing, in the past they were caught up in the emotions of a divorce and didn’t understand what was going on in their child’s head. Over the years, the best I could do was to achieve, to become someone of which they would be proud – even in this capacity.

My siblings… one of my sisters tried to take her life when I was in the county jail. The parental divorce followed by my disaster was more than she could handle. Each of us had our breaking points, thank goodness the attempt was unsuccessful and in time she balanced. I see the scars, I know how it wounds them to walk away from me after spending a day together in visitation.

I’ve watched the kids in my family become adults, get married, choose professions, have kids and lives of their own and now I am getting to know their children. I can only imagine what the children are told when they are coming to visit me in this place, probably that it has to do with my job.

My family became my foundation, without them I would have lost hope and sight of my goals long ago. My family is a source of solace and comfort like no other. Our bonds are strong, and now my generation are the elders of our family. It is up to us to teach and guide our youth, to prepare our family for the life ahead of them. In learning from the mistakes of the past, we take this task seriously.

… I know the harm I’ve caused in this world; my victim’s loss of life, the pain and suffering I launched into the lives of the victim’s family, I’ve watched the ripples spread across the surface of my family’s lives. It is major disfunction I’ll never be able to retract.

Life Without Children
Linda Field
Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America (pg. 115)

Field explains her struggles as a mother separated from her three children, and how they were too young to understand the gravity of what was happening. She describes how her imprisonment is also a punishment for her children and she isn’t allowed to go to the family living unit because she is sentenced to life in prison.

I came to prison when Sara was seven. She was too young to understand 25-to-life meant she’d grow up without her mother. Her brother and sister, who were fifteen and twelve, didn’t truly understand.

Sara’s first visit was traumatic. She spent the day begging me to allow her to stay with me.

She promised to be good, never leave my room, and never bother the guards. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t want her. She sobbed, clinging to me when it was time to leave. Her little arms reached out to me over her grandfather’s shoulder; her hands rapidly opened and closed, begging me.

I kept telling her I loved her. When she was finally out of sight, the dam I had erected broke and I let the flood free. I cried for my children and myself.

I cried for every mother and child who went through this. Why didn’t the courts understand?

They passed a verdict not only on me, but my children. My children were abused by their father, orphaned by me, and abandoned by the court system.

After thirteen years of heartache, we now have a governor who doesn’t want to hear any circumstances of why a murder was committed. He believes we should rot in prison. While I cannot justify my actions, no one is beating my children anymore.

The state decided family living unit visits were no longer acceptable for lifers, further punishing my children. No longer could we have visits in a little apartment in prison which allowed a pretense of normality. During those visits mothers could rock their children, cook for them, and talk for hours. No more can we maintain a thread of parenthood with children or grand-children. Instead visits are conducted in a visiting room with cameras and guards who look at a mother-child relationship as abnormal. We cannot talk about important things because “Big Brother” is watching.

The playroom in Visiting has few toys, only foam-type blocks. There are no strollers, no high chairs, no outside toys or activities. The few board games are geared for older children and adults.

Our children deserve better. Punish us, but not our children. It is time for the state to reevaluate their treatment of our children.

Cell Block Society Punishing Initiative (Publishing Plan)
Levert Brookshire 

Brookshire is writing his loved ones to explain how he ended up in prison. Most specifically he is writing to his children since he has never even met them because of selfish acts he has made in the past. Now in prison he recognizes the time he has wasted sitting in a cell and feels guilty about the man he could have been. Through taking this time and writing these pieces he hopes that he can become a better man and be granted a second chance in life. 

These writings here are written with my closest supporters in mind, my loved ones, and more specifically my children. Even that special woman whom, I haven’t met yet. In this writing, I attempt to articulate for them, my past failed ways of thinking, how it became that way, showing them how my past failed ways of thinking turned me towards irresponsible decision making, a failed parent who took fatherhood for granted, satisfying my own immediate needs. When, now I know that I should’ve been sacrificing for theirs. A reality that’s heart wrenching but I must now face today, as I have to look myself in the mirror. Seeing guilt, regret, and heartache looking back at me, as all of it has taken its toll. Having realized all of the precious years wasted, being absent and unavailable to my children and family, when they needed me the most. Failing to make sacrifices expected of a father a son, brother, and uncle. I can’t turn back the calendar or fix yesterday’s mistakes. But, through writing, I’ve found a way to ask them for their forgiveness. How does a flawed father, who’s come to correct his flaws, ask his children for their forgiveness, mercy and a second chance. After abandoning them, leaving them alone to fend for themselves. Just so, I could pursue the selfish instant gratification and enticement of the streets. I honestly don’t know of any way I can possibly make up for that. This here master plan that I’ve spend years working on, has become my one and only way to ask them for a second chance. If granted their blessing, I would make whatever sacrifices asked of me, in order to earn their confidence, trust and forgiveness. The very first half of my life was used selfishly to satisfy my own wants and desires. Today it’s different, with my own mental maturity and my eye’s wide open, I’m prepared now to devote this complete second half of my lifetime to responsible fatherhood, sacrifices and everything else expected of any parent or father. Writing has now become the most productive and effective way for me to send my pleas out to them. A way for me to display the amount of time and effort I’ve put into transforming myself, chaining my old dysfunctional thinking patterns. Helping me to create something that they can hold in their hand, touch and feel, perhaps someday use as their handbook, written for them to find answers about who their father strived to become. How I worked to overcome my flaws in the end. Using what was suppose to be a failure in my life (prison) and turning it around to become an asset. Looking around for whatever was available to me, trying to produce something of use, value, and worth. Doing this from a stripped down cramped prison cell, literature and writing material’s. Learning about myself, making changes developing, shaping, and molding something for myself to use in life and other’s also, can potentially benefit from.

Dear Mr. Unwilling and Reluctant Witness
Kenneth Nixon

Nixon writes about the support his family provides for him in prison to help prove that he is innocent. The first time he met his son was in the visiting room of the prison. He does his best to stay calm and keep it together for his family because he has already caused them enough pain. His family stands by his side telling him to be patient with the hope that he will be released. 

I know that we don’t know each other personally, but whether you realize it or not, we are connected. We’ve never formally met or been properly introduced, but we definitely know of one another. 8 years ago, almost to the day, I was arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime that you watched someone else commit. For every day of the past 8 years, My family and I have been trying to diligently and desperately prove my innocence, but nothing seemed to be enough until you came along, I’ve been screaming to authorities for years that I am innocent, I’ve personally passed three polygraph test, and my son’s mother (my alibi witness and my former co-defendant who was acquitted at trial) has passed the polygraph exam twice. Before all of this happened to me and shattered my life, I was only a 19 year old kid who just had a kid myself. Now I’m 27 and he is 9. My oldest son is 10 and I met him in the visiting room of a prison. Prior to this, I was a firm believer in our American justice system. Every night from the very beginning, I’ve been praying and asking God to help us prove my innocence. A few years ago when my attorney informed me that they had finally discovered a witness who would actually seen what happened, I was elated. I couldn’t wait to call home and tell my family. I just knew that our prayers had finally been answered, as time went on and you kept saying that you didn’t want to get involved, I just really didn’t know what to say. As time went on and you continually refuse to help me, I slowly began to lose my faith in God, I stopped reading my Bible and I stopped praying because I felt that God was testing me. Sort of like carrot-in-front-of-the-rabbit type thing. I couldn’t believe that God would allow you to show up in our lives but still keep me so far away from my freedom and release me from the confinements of this injustice.

If you will not stand up for your own humanity… who will? 
Richard Hall

Hall despairs the reality that many children of incarcerated parents end up incarcerated themselves and pushes readers to take action against this phenomenon. 

This is by no means an easy subject to touch upon. Simply because the families of – especially — those who perpetually fill America’s severely overcrowded jails and prisons, who are chained to parole and probation supervision, or wasting away in the Juvenile Detention Facilities and camps out in the boondocks are generally perpetually poor. They lack economic means to protect their loved ones from the often roughshod injustices inflicted by the notoriously corrupt racist, as well as a classist CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. A system which has been conducting a full scale war against especially perpetually poor families of color and their communities for the past 40 years. This outright siege has been met with little real resistance.


In 1980 I observed a woman with child inside her who used to visit her husband faithfully while he was housed at San Quentin State Prison. She had a bouncing baby boy, the apple of her eye. Try to imagine how I felt in 1999 when I reported to my prison work assignment and learned that that woman’s baby boy had grown up from wearing diapers to end up with me and his father in prison? How many baby boys in your family have grown up from diapers to end up locked up like an animal behind prison bars? What about the baby girls? How many of them do you know? Always remember one very important thing about prisoners in general. They usually embrace the same exact mentality of the communities they come from. They are also a reflection of, too often, the worst about their own family. I have lost count of how many youngsters I have encountered in here who were not even born when I entered this bottomless pit. Even worse, so many will never leave, and some even have more time to serve than me. That is TERRIFYING. And it hurts. Do you have any family members that fit such a profile?

I will assure you that if you conduct a survey of all your own children or the children in your communities all around you asking them what they want to be when they grow up, trust me, not one will tell you are a criminal or a prison inmate. The cold reality is, too many of them will take that route. The question is, whose child is going to fall by the wayside? There are untold numbers of fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, even mothers in here. Do you have family members in prison? There are also a whole lot of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, daughters, even cousins in here. Nine times out of ten each one of them have numerous family members out there in the world. Mentally multiply all the family members behind bars times all the family members they have out on the streets. That is one massive army…that’s sheer power!

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health
Newton McLeod

While incarcerated,McLeod feels very distanced from his children. They need him, and he is not able to be the father figure they deserve. He is treated unfairly by the judicial system as well. 

To whom it may concern:

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health. I am not trying to drain your resource, but seeking help. Since my hands are tied, I am forced to contact you. Because of my status as a prisoner, don’t write me off as an other statistic. In crisis people come together, then why I am alone. My daughter and son need me, but pride makes the judiciary refused to treat me fairly.

Handouts I careless for; I wait to be independent and pursue other goals in life, then is it possible when the courts we turned to have prejudices lied within itself. Where is justice. The knowledge I accumulated post a threat, then, the public schools, public, etc. were designed to failed.

I am writing you as a United States citizen–not a criminal woke up one day and decided he wanted his freedom, but one that should be treated equally in similar situated circumstances. In a Democratic Society, judges cannot and should not pick who and when to treat someone equal. We are only equal in the eyes of the law. Impartiality, according to the Code of Conduct, judges should rule in every cases; because we are all human people tend to go rogue.

March 30, 2020

Newton McLeod

Visiting Room Relations

Prison visitations are a means through which incarcerated individuals are, in theory, able to spend quality time with family members and loved ones in a controlled environment. Although studies claim that family visitation is integral to maintain bonds between IP and their families, “the barriers, processes, and procedures [of prison visitation] overshadow” the perceived benefits of the visits themselves (Boppre, et al. 2022). Visitation is difficult for the family members who want to visit their incarcerated loved one: they may need to travel hundreds of miles, can be turned away at the door for any reason, or find that the person they’re visiting has been placed in administrative segregation and barred from visitation without notice. The following essays and excerpts describe the highs and lows of prison visitation. 

4 year old nephew travels across the state to visit, but is denied by prison staff
Shane Bell

Bell writes about the red tape and arbitrary rules that prison staff creates around seeing a family member, particularly when the visitor is a child. In this excerpt, Bell was unable to see his nephew, who he has never met despite the nephew being four years old, because the prison staff was feeling vengeful. It costs time and money for a family to make visits to a prison in South Dakota, and every minute lost with a family member can be devastating, particularly when missing the early years of a child’s development.  

About a month or so ago I made arrangements with my family about when they would visit me. I was excited to meet my 4-year old nephew named Carter for the first time ever, as well as my 6 year old nephew Keegan.

I needed to get my 4-year old nephew Carter on my visit list so my parents, who were traveling across the state of South Dakota to visit me with him could get in to see me. I contacted the Unit Coordinator named Angela Steineke to find out what to do as I was told that the prison made new changes to visits lately.

I was told by Unit Coordinator Angela Steineke that new requirements to get people on my visit list required a copy of a birth certificate for anyone under the age of 18 years old. I had my mother send my the copy of Carters birth certificate and handed it into the unit coordinator with the visitor information form.

About a week later and a few days before my visit, I was called to Unit Coordinator Angela Steineke office. I was told by her that my 4-year old nephew cannot come visit me because only the biological parent or legal guardian can bring him into the visit room. I was told this was “per prison policy” which I found out was a lie.

The Unit Coordinator and I have never gotten along and she really hates me because I have done prison grievances on her in the past. i thought this last requirement was just retaliation because I have had my parents bring in my other nephew who is 6 years old and they were allowed to visit even though my parents aren’t his biological parents or guardian with no problems. I went and did some research, looking up the prison visitation policy 1-5-D-1. On page 3, Section 2A, eligible visitors; it states “Minor children (under the age of 18), must be directly supervised for the duration of the visit by a responsible accompanying adult on the inmate’s visit list.”

There is nothing about a requirement that it must be the biological parent or legal guardian. The Unit Coordinator Angela Steineke lied to me and prevented my visit with my 4-year old nephew out of retaliation and spite. I even told the Unit Coordinator the policy section and page where it state that my parents, who are on my visit list can bring in my 4 year old nephew. She simply was rude to me as usual and again stated it was prison policy.

A few days later my parents and my 2 nephews showed up all day across the state of South Dakota to see me at the prison.

They showed up at the South Dakota State Penitentiary, Jameson Annex only to be told that my 4 year old nephew Carter can’t visit me.

My step-dad and Carter stayed outside while my mother and my 6-year old nephew came in to visit me. As you can probably guess, I was pissed off that my 4-year nephew was denied to visit me.

I had a good visit with my mother and 6 year old nephew Keegan, but the denial by the Unit Coordinator because of her retaliation was in the back of my mind the whole time.

I ended up filing an informal resolution on the Unit Coordinator Angela Steineke for lying to me about prison policy and denying my 4-year old innocent nephew Carter. She did this purely out of spite, retaliation that shows how vindictive she is.

I got the informal resolution response (grievance) back today and it states “Your parents can bring in Carter Krameck.”

No apology or explanation as to what she knowingly did. The damage is already done. I get few visits and when my family spend the time and money to travel across the state to visit me, denying their visits out of retaliation is wrong.

This kinda things seems to happen more often, I wonder what will be the excuse next time to deny my visit. Retaliation rampant here.

A lesson in language
Robert Piwowar

Piwowar writes about his experience in the visiting room with his family — time he claims is the closest he will ever feel to freedom. He describes the visiting room as completely different from the rest of prison because it looks like a normal room, filled with natural light. Visiting hours are one of the few times that the writer feels excitement and removal from the daily drain of his incarceration. 

The visiting room is vastly different from any other part of the prison. Brightly colored murals of Niagra falls, downtown Buffalo, and lower Manhattan cover the walls. Women and children’s voices are a welcome, pleasant change. Tall, clear windows allow natural light to fill the room. Walking through the entrance door after being pat-frisked I quickly spot my brother Martin, his wife Kristen, and their two-year old daughter Jenna. After checking in with the c.o. at the front desk, I approach their table with excitement. I embrace all of them individually. Sitting, talking with family during a visit is the closet to freedom a prisoner experiences. It’s an escape, briefly, from confinement.

The story I will tell you
Stephen LaValle

LaValle writes about their experience of family visitations while on death row. His visiting room options were very limited due to his sentence, leaving him with a metal hole to communicate with his mother and sister. He mentions that his family is so torn apart about the life he has created for them that he has no other option but to be the person to comfort them. LaValle writes about the one time where he was gifted a few minutes of freedom when the pocket door accidentally opened and those few minutes of contact with his mother and sister gave him a lifetime of satisfaction. 

One of the worst things for me to cope with while on death row was not being able to have contact with my family. Your visiting room as well as your shower were in the back of your cell. There was a big metal-plexiglas pocket door that closed when your visitors came. You were only able to talk through a small metal hole in the door.

My mother, and sister would sit there and cry looking at me behind the plexiglas door. I wished that I could have held my mother and sister. Reassured them that no matter what everything is going to be ok.

I remember one day my mother and sister Marisa came to visit me for my birthday. We were laughing – joking, talking about old times when I pushed up on the door and it opened up. I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack right there. My sister Marisa was reaching out to me hysterically crying.

I knew I had to calmly take control of this situation. If that door opened up all the way they were coming in full force. You have to understand at this time my mother, and sister have not touched me in almost five years.

I waited for the officers to walk down the hall to bring back the other death row inmates from the yard. The time was just right, and I opened the door that separated me from my loved ones.

For those few minutes I was no longer on death row, nor was I incarcerated. I received a lifetime of hugs & kisses just in a matter of minutes. I cherish that memory more so now. My mother passed away on April 7th, 2013 of a heart attack during a small stomach operation.

Family Relations Inspiring Hope

It is common for incarcerated people to lose a sense of self. Dehumanizing inmates is often a part of punishment and the general structure of prison operations. Officers are directed to depersonalize incarcerated people and strip them of their identity. When individuals lose their pre-prison identity, or have their new identity as a “criminal” assigned to them, they frequently feel like a shell of their old life. To cope with these circumstances, incarcerated people will often use family, if family is a resource available to them, to inspire hope. 

Family can be a motivating force for good behavior, morality, and avoiding conflict that may lead to revoking privileges such as visitation, probation, programming, and early release. By publicly devaluing incarcerated people through disenfranchisement, reducing job opportunities, and general ostracization, incarcerated people can quickly feel that the world is telling them they are an intrinsically immoral person undeserving of respect, forgiveness, and compassion. For some, family can be a beacon of hope in this darkness. Family members can be people to live for, people to look forward to seeing, people to talk to, and people who genuinely care about their well-being. Further, families can provide emotional support and finances. As seen through the previous essays, prison is a resource-deficient environment riddled with abuse and maltreatment. Therefore, having the opportunity to share their experiences with someone living in the outside world who cares about them and will acknowledge their suffering is invaluable. 

Family can be a vehicle for incarcerated people to live vicariously through. Being proud of family members and sharing their success can be a very personal way of injecting positivity into an incarcerated person’s life. A stable and positive community that has a desire to maintain their connection with an incarcerated person is a valuable tool in preventing recidivism. Research by the Department of Justice has shown that any visit reduces the risk of recidivism by thirteen percent for felony reconvictions and twenty-five percent for technical violation revocations (Minnesota Department of Corrections 2011). These findings clearly stress the impact family has on incarcerated individuals’ well-being and likelihood of recidivism. 

Family puts faces, names, and futures to an incarcerated person’s concept of hope. In the following essays, authors describe how family motivates them through the dark times they face in prison.

A Day in the Life of Time
Eric Clemmons-Bey

Clemmons-Bey writes about his experiences after being incarcerated for the past 34 years of his 50-year sentence. He writes about the remorse he feels and the efforts he has made to take advantage of all opportunities that might allow him his freedom and support his family back home. He cites his close contact with his family as his reason for pushing through the torment he faces in the prison. 

I am 55 years of age. I’ve successfully completed all the restorative justice classes, educational courses, and vocational training the DOC offers. I’ve utilized family funding to take and earn my paralegal certificate from Blackstone Career Institute. Funds may soon be available from my family for me to take an advanced course. I maintain daily contact with family and friends. This is what gives me strength to persevere. I have very innovative ways in which I can run and operate a business from here in which I could care for myself and loved ones, as well as save tax payer money by providing my own room and board. While my doing this only need approval, Missouri would rather keep me desolate and stigmatized as a tumor on the body of the State instead of promoting me as a shining example of rehabilitation.

Attained in Anokkka
Isiah M. Thomas

Thomas writes about how his family supported him after his arrest by showing up for him even after he received bad press about his crime. He found that leaning on family and inmates who he would later refer to as family (i.e., “brothers”) is how he fostered hope during such dark times.


Second week in January, I went to my third court date and to my surprise, all of my siblings

were present even the sister from out of state. I hadn’t spoken to any of them since my arrest so, seeing

them all at once in such a strong stance of support overwhelmed me with joy


Here I was, back in segregation again after only 2 short weeks. This time I mentally braced

myself for the oppressive living conditions. I called my mom to give her the bad news which, sadden her but, she told me to stay strong and her simple words strengthened me. I went to the disciplinary hearing and got 15 days segregation time. A day or so later, the lawyer that I asked God for prior, came to visit me. She told me that she agreed to take my case: pro bono. It was a blessing and I was beyond ecstatic. We already knew each other well from my previous case. We had connected and maintained a good relationship since. During this brief visit, we discussed the long term plans of my case and also my current well being. It went really well. After concluding our meeting, my lawyer shot me her recommendations: continue to pray, lean on family for support, ask the doctor for a anti-depressant, write grievances if there’s more issues at the jail, and also she promised to send me a book of my choosing. Which she did but, it mysteriously disappeared after showing up in mail records. I wrote tons of people about it and I still did not receive it. It was also during this time in segregation that I met and befriended a brother named.’JJ’. JJ was a tall, white, red-headed scrawny brother that loved to crack

jokes. He kept me smiling. He was also capable of holding intellectual conversations as well as deep spiritual debates which I really enjoyed. JJ was only 29 years old but, his hairline receded to the far back part of his head so I jokingly referred to him as “Mr. Burns” from the Simpsons. Haha. He grew on me and I took a liking to him. I learned that he’d been in segregation for six months! He was getting out of seg in the next few weeks. Later we’d become much closer.


A Prisoner’s Apology
John Apple

In this essay, Apple expresses how he hopes to work towards helping at-risk children, for the sake of themselves and their families, upon his release. He feels passionate about giving these children lives that are better than his. 

Many prisoners have young teenaged children and grandchildren who are at risk to commit serious crimes. These grandfathers and grandmothers, dads and moms want for their children what every parent wants: we want our sons and daughters to have better lives than we have had.

Instead of publishing Mr. Weinberg’s negative expectations of us, (which in the penitentiary vernacular is known as “burning bread”), I want you to tell the public that, upon our release, we plan to have a stabilizing effect on our at risk children. This is primarily for our own sakes, but it will also benefit society as a whole.

There comes a time in the life of every people when we have to let go of our negative emotions (no matter how justified we think these emotions may be).

Generosity begets generosity; hostility begets hostility; compassion begets compassion; magnanimity begets magnanimity!

Eyes Wide in a Field of Haze
Gillian M. Wlatoro

Wlatoro explains how difficult it is to stay hopeful through incarceration. He found meaning in his life by sticking to his own personal values and being true to himself. Most importantly, his daughter is the main source of hope, as she means an incredible amount to him. 

I was 27 years old when my troubles began. I could’ve easily been described as an intelligent,

driven, caring, and loving father. At 34, I still am. My daughter still rules my heart and means the world to me; I would take the shirt off of my back for a friend in need; I do not give up easily; and I still believe that knowledge is power and education is the only true means to a successful future. These virtues perhaps may mean little to nothing to the next man in here, but they are an unchanging part of me. Things I manage to hold on to, and will continue to hold on to throughout my journey. These, among others, are the things that make me a good man, despite my mistakes. I refuse to succumb or exemplify the theory of secondary deviance; where the deviant label and role given to me is internalized.

Lost Hope
Tandy Marshall

Marshall expresses his hope for the future through his children. He stays hopeful by imagining himself attending his daughter’s graduation, playing with his son, and making things right between him and his parents. His mother is extremely supportive of him and she is helpful throughout his fight for parole. While he was not granted parole, he felt a sense of hope through imagining himself being reconnected with his family.

I allowed myself to hope. After 12 years I started to hope I’d make parole. I hoped to make my daughter’s 5th grade graduation. I imagined laying on my son’s bedroom floor watching him play video games. I dreamed of relieving some of the burden off of my mother and step father. I imagined taking my step dad to a jazz concert on Father’s Day because he is so under appreciated by his own children and he is now raising mine. Although hope seemed like a bad word we all say it: I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I did. Gradually…

I worked really hard here to show that I could follow the rules here and in society. I am the model prisoner. I have outstanding grades. I’ve worked all of these menial jobs without complaint. My support system is excellent with my mother having a career working with women just like me and being able to direct me towards employers who hire felons and other resources. My brother works for the city of Houston. I was chosen on several occasions by the Chaplain to teach classes here. I have absolutely no idea of what else I can do to prove myself. For all of these reasons I let hope slither into my heart and mind. I served half of the 15 year I was given and did my own parole packet emphasizing all that I have achieved including a resume, cover letter, references, certificates etc. Maybe that’s where I erred. It appears the people who make parole are the ones the board are confident will return to prison. After all, do not their jobs depend on there being inmates in prison.

I received their answer through the mail stating, “The Institutional Division will monitor your treatment plan progress and will report your progress to the Board of Pardons and Parole”, but I don’t have a treatment plan. When I wrote the Institutional Division asking about it they did not respond. They are done with me until 2020. The board denied me because of unsuccessful completion of prior parole when in fact in my parole packet was a certificate of completion of my prior parole. At least none of the 3 reasons for denial were things I can change: Prior criminal history, nature of crime, and the erroneous statement that I did not complete parole before. At least when I told my children against my parents wishes I could tell them it wasn’t because I was irresponsible again. It wasn’t because I acted out here or did nothing to better myself. Although I told them parole said no, I couldn’t bring myself to tell them for how long that no would last. My only option is to sit here costing people money doing nothing except work for free until they release me but what I won’t do is hope.

My Brief Escape
Darrell Sharpe

Sharpe writes on his experiences with imagining his life outside of prison. In times of despair, or when he needs to escape the reality that he is subjected to, he closes his eyes and imagines the life he used to have. Watching his son’s baseball games, feeling content and happy watching his son laugh. He reminisces about his backyard, the smell of his kitchen, the TV playing, and his daughter waiting for a tea party with her toys. He uses this image in his mind to find comfort in the coldness of prison. 

My Brief Escape

The day is cold, cloudy, and a blustery spring day. It is wet with rain, devoid of sunlight, and mimics my mind.

As I sit staring between the bars of my cell, just past the fence and rolls of constantia razor wire, I gaze upon the still sleeping woods that surround me. All I see is, dismal, dank, dirty brown blemish to the landscape. The rising temperatures and shinning sun of days gone by, as of yet, have not been able to coax the colorful, luscious green leaves to appear. Both relief and pain are of equal measure in my thoughts. I fight to chase away the painful reality of my current circumstances, hoping that the relief of a comforting reminiscent memory may somehow prevail inside of my mind. I use these memories whenever possible to chase away all of the heartache, loneliness, and despair of the reality I find myself confronted with. I continue to stare outside as the raindrops pelt the windowpane that is part of my human cage. The cold wind whistles through the ancient, drafty window, and the sound of a distant jet airplane echoes in the rain soaked atmosphere. Inevitably my thoughts wander to the contemplation of the destination of this magnificent machine. As I continue to struggle to escape, knowing that any thoughts that can be used to remove myself from the reality of these mundane, soul crushing days behind these bars are welcomed. The thoughts of my children, my home, and freedom of both thoughts and acts are cherished. With a forceful fight of mind, these loving memories rush in. I now see my children; I hear their laughter and enjoy the warmth of a loving embrace as I kneel down to accept their little arms that are tossed around my neck one after the next, I truly cherish this moment.

I am then standing in front of my little boy tossing baseballs to him. He swings the bat and makes contact with the lovely white objects that are really representations of my undying affection for my son. These are true memories and not just conjured up fabricated thoughts of times that once were not. I chose as a father must do, to be part of creating these loving memories. As I continue to reminisce I catch some of the baseballs. Yet others fly above my head as they were newly ignited rockets, at a rate of speed that makes it impossible for me to stop. My little boy cheers, puffs up his chest, and struts around like a game roster in- anticipation of the next pitched ball. I lovingly offer these baseballs again and again until he tires and his thirst for this activity are quenched. Afterward, I take him hand-in-hand to the near corner of our yard where a small garden that he and I started awaits. Together we till, the soil once again. We kneel in the dark, rich soil breaking apart any-remaining clumps of earth in our hands. The smell of the soil is unique and difficult to describe. Then we dig small holes of a perfect diameter and depth to accept our tomato, pepper, and bean plants. This too has been an activity purposefully chosen. It instills an appreciation for what the earth can offer my son. With these plants, planted in straight rows, and perfectly spaced- intervals , it’s time to move on. The grass in both the front and back yard awaits us both. The grass has been rapdily reaching skyward, that’s requiring a much needed manicure. So I gas up the John Deer lawn mower, locate my little son’s toy Lawn mower, and ask him to help me by following behind me cutting any struggles that I might miss as I swipe back and forth over the yard. My little boy dutifully does his part. The Sweet smell of the newly trimmed grass permeates the air. My son and I take the time to appreciate the wonderful aroma. With Father/Son time take care of it’s now my little girl’s time. Daddy’s little girl sits patiently waiting on the deck of our home. A tea party is about to begin. As I arrive, my little girl welcomes me, and lets me know that I arrived right on time, for her easy bake oven tea party. The table we sit at is a miniature version of the dining room table that how sits vacant in our home, piled high with the detritus of everyday life that can’t wait. I struggle to sit in the pint size chair. It is a struggle that with the proper effort I know I can win, and I do. I then introduce myself to the other guest- my daughters stuffed animal collection and dolls are all in attendance I see Winnie the Poo bear and Barbie. I thank my daughter for the invitation to what I am sure is going to be a wonderful time, and the party begins. We discuss the toys advertised on the television, which are desirable, and others that are not. The tea and sugar cookies so lovingly offered by my daughter are make-believe but this matters, not. It is however very surprising how possible it is to actually taste sugar cookies, if I concentrated hard enough. The crunch of the cookies and the taste of the honey used to sweeten the tea are almost real. After much discussion, the tea party ends. We clean up our mess, and move indoors to the children’s playroom. In the playroom we find a miniature version of a fully furnished home awaiting us. As I sit on the floor near the front rooms of her playhouse, my daughter sits in my lap. We start to redecorate process, moving tiny beds, chests, and drawers, the refrigerator and other furnishings to more desirable locations chosen by my little girl. I fight to keep focussed and remain in this very memory, but my concentration is broken as the slams and shuts the doors of those who had just come back from shower time. Its now count-time all over the prison. The counting of each man, as if he were a penned animal, begins as I hear another plane fly by. I listen to it’s engines as it streaks by, and I am no longer sitting joyfully on the floor of my home playing house with my little girl. It is the cold, stark, unwanted reality of the present that unmercifully returns back into focus. So I shelf this memory for use at another time. This interruption is only one of the unpleasant, painful, unwelcome parts of me being incarcerated. These memories and others like them will be revisited time and time again, making a brief escape possible with my mind.


We have put together an accumulation of essays representing the different types of family relationships in prison. The main relationships that we focused on include: how having a family member in prisons impacts children, family abuse prior to prison, family relation deterioration while in prison, family relations inspiring hope, visiting room relations, and deterioration of family relations before prison. It is important for society to recognize just how damaging it can be to have a family member incarcerated, especially for children. Hedwig Lee, Lauren C. Porter, and Megan Comfort’s piece about the “Consequences of Family Member Incarceration: Impacts on Civic Participation and Perceptions of the Legitimacy and Fairness of Government,” highlights just how hard it is to have a family member in the prison system. The curation of essays and the article share the theme that it is not just the person incarcerated that faces consequences but also the relatives of that person. There is an alienating factor in having a family member incarcerated, restricting them in all aspects of their lives. Similarly to what we found, the authors of this article also acknowledge that the context of pre- and post-incarceration also has an impact on family relations. 

These essays reckon with the traumatizing experience that families face when a loved one is incarcerated. Each of these essays from an incarcerated individual allows readers from the outside world to have a better understanding of what it means to be incarcerated with a family on the outside. Family relations are impactful before prison, throughout prison, and after prison to both the person in the prison and their family. These essays detail the ways prison can be mentally taxing on the person confined and their families and often will impact them all for the rest of their lives. The compilation of these essays gives different perspectives of the inhumane treatment in prisons and may expand our knowledge of the impacts of incarceration.

Secondary Works Cited

Davis, Lois M., et al. “The Impact of Incarceration on Families: Key Findings.” Understanding the Public Health Implications of Prisoner Reentry in California: State-of-the-State Report, RAND Corporation, 2011, pp. 117–42. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mg1165tce.13. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Garcia, Chrystal. “Psychological Effects of Long Term Incarceration.” National Incarceration Association, Feb. 15, 2021.

Hopwood, Shon. “How Atrocious Prison Conditions Make Us All Less Safe.” Brennan Center For Justice, August 9, 2021.

Lee, Hedwig, Lauren C. Porter, and Megan Comfort. “Consequences of Family MemberIncarceration: Impacts on Civic Participation and Perceptions of the Legitimacy and Fairness of Government.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651, no. 1 (Jan 1, 2014): 44-73, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24541693.

“The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism.” Minnesota Dept. of Corrections, 2011.Wolff N, Shi J. Childhood and adult trauma experiences of incarcerated persons and their relationship to adult behavioral health problems and treatment. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012 May;9(5):1908-26. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9051908. Epub 2012 May 18. PMID: 22754481; PMCID: PMC3386595.