Six month before my release on my last prison term in 2012, my mother died of brain and lung cancer at 59. Her name was Karen and she gave birth to me, her only child, at the age of 16. I found out about the cancer diagnosis about 8 months before her death during one of the bi-monthly calls I made home to her and my son, whom she had custody of due my incarceration and his mother's struggles with addiction. Except the call was answered by my aunt, who had the unnamable job of relating to me that my mother and her little sister was hospitalized with cancer and it didn't look promising. It was, needless to say, difficult to communicate all the heartbreak and demonstration losing this person would mean to my aunt and my son and myself and everyone who loved my mom into a 15 minute phone call that had a recording repeat "This is a call from a California State Prison" pop up every 5 minutes. My aunt and I got through it but when I hung the phone up, I was still in prison. It is not a place where it is acceptable to show anything but strength in the face of adversity. Even among people who become friendly during stretches inside, heartbreak, loss, fear, the prospect of years, decades or even life terms are supposed to be met with the same "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK" attitude that you meet all of prisons little frustrations with. At that point my 4th multi year term inside, I had been through so many lost relationships, the birth of my son, the loss of friends, that I thought I could absorb anything while locked up and not communicate to anyone how gut-wrenching all these things (all these important life events) were to me. Well this time, when I was visibly shaken by some news from home, I was lucky enough to have a friend, Red, pull me aside and ask me what happened. Like a brother, he gave me a hug, walked me to my bunk area and kept everyone away while I cried and went through those rough first moments. This was 9 years ago and is as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday. What also remains as vivid is the genuine kindness and empathy conveyed by the rest of my dorm mates and acquaintances when I let them know what my mom was going through and how frustrating it was that I couldn't be there to comfort her or take care of my son. It is so easy to throw people away once they have done something that society finds unacceptable and dehumanizing them with labels like drug dealers, thief, killer, gang member.....Labels that might very well apply but it should not be forgotten that we are also human beings capable of the worst, yes, but also the best human nature is capable of. I witnessed that with statements like "Fuck Brother, Im sorry. Tell me about your mom" and stories about similar situations.
Because of California's 3 strike laws I received a 4 year sentence, of which I'd had to serve 36 months for possessing 50 methadone pills without a prescription. I had been validated as a gang member had done time for robbery and drug sales and had been inside so many times that I guess California decided I was a career criminal when I called home and heard about my mom. That's the only way I can understand the heartlessness and robotic reaction the Prison administration displayed to both my family and myself when we tried to have me moved close to the Los Angeles area so my mother and I could at least see each other a few times in her final months. I was in an institution 5 hours away in Central California and asked to be moved to one 40 minutes by car away from my family in what's called a HARDSHIP TRANSFER. If this did not qualify, with letters from her oncologist and calls from my aunts and uncles, cousins, dad and step mom, to my correctional counselor I don't know what would. My mom did chemo and everyone remained hopeful but reality dictated that we try to make my mom as comfortable and happy as possible and visiting her son is what she wanted the most. I wanted it too; this lady raised me by herself from the time she was a teenager and as I slowly started getting in trouble and getting into hard drugs, had my back but never enabled me or pulled any punches. She could be brutally honest with how disappointing I was but always let me know how I was loved unconditionally. She traveled to every prison I ever ended up in to visit me, scold me, laugh with me but most importantly, to let me know I mattered to someone. Now, as I tried, as my family, tried, to make the transfer happen, we were stonewalled by the administration. I was treated like I was trying to game the system because of my record (I guess?) To this day, the indifference of the staff is mind boggling. I harbor no ill will towards anyone… people are in prison because of their own actions sometimes their family members get sick and pass away, it’s no one's fault. I think it’s worth mentioning that I experienced more human connectivity and compassion from my fellow gangbangers, bullies, robbers and junkies than any of the professionally trained correction and rehabilitation staff, though.
I was eventually transferred, it took 6 months of appeals and pressure from my family but I was moved to prison close to L.A. Except my mom was too sick by then to leave her bed much less go through the whole process of a prison visit. I am truly blessed to have a father and stepmother who not only took care of my mom during her final months but also rented a van, took time off of work and traveled the 5 hours to the prison I was trying to get transformed out of so her and I could visit. They are Buddhist, as was my mom as am I and I believe this is what brought us all together in that visiting room in that moment, for the truly painful but also loving and ultimately cathartic goodbye my mother and I were able to experience. She deserved a better son and I used the memory of that last visit with my mom to try to live a life she could celebrate post prison. The memory of losing her though, proved to be a hard one to shake and I again was drawn to heroin addiction and am in prison again for drugs 7 years after her passing.
But but that…… I did get of parole with no violations after 3 years. Stayed clean and sober the whole time, got an entry level job and became assistant manager after 2 years (THANK YOU [redacted] @ [redacted] PLEASE GOOGLE THEM) and became an important part of my sons life. I relapsed, yes, but I am not a toxic person because the child mom was when I was born still knew how to pass along the basics of how to a decent human being to the man I have become. I practice the Buddhism my mom and step mom and father practice and I know it put me in the right frame of mind to take a trip to OAHU and let Karens ashes wash out to sea 4 years after her passing and 3 ½ years after my release. Yes, I stumbled, yes, I am reincarcerated, but “hope springs eternal” and it’s never too late or too difficult to live a life the ones who love and loved you unconditionally will be proud of.
Respect and Solidarity
“When you are young and strong, you can stay alive on your hatred and I did for many years… I realized they could take everything away from me but my mind and my heart. They could not take Those things...Those things
I still had control over and I decided not to give them away.”
“A LONG WALK to FREEDOM”