This letter is written to anyone who needs or wants a change in life. I hope that my experience can keep you from walking the same path as me.
I'm 20 years old serving a 50 years to life sentence, which means I won't be eligible for parole until I serve 50 years, and even then my parole isn't promised.
I was 17 years old when I got arrested, and to be honest, each year that passes I regret my mistakes more and more. It sucks to spend any birthday in prison but that's my reality.
I began my downhill spiral at the age of 12 when I started doing drugs and joined a gang. It was like a rite of passage for me, a way to prove to everyone that I wasn't a little boy anymore. That was one of the worst mistakes of my life.
I grew into this lifestyle not knowing any better. All around me gangs plagued my neighborhood for generations. The false belief that I had was that I was protecting my block, making sure no outsiders messed with my friends and family. But in reality all we do is lie, cheat and steal from each other and in most cases kill one another.
I know because I'm serving a life sentence due to a gang-related murder. And you know what's a trip? Out of all those who claimed to be my homies, not one remembers I exist. I no longer am relevant to them. Just another dummy doing time.
The only real support I have is my whole family, who has been there for me since day one. Without them who knows where I'd be right now.
I understand that some have no family and that's why they join a gang. But real family encourages you to become something in life; they don't turn their backs on you when you choose to do good. In my case I followed in many of my older family members’ footsteps. I tried to become just like them, from how they dressed to how they talked. I needed their approval. I could have chosen a different life for myself but I was too young to understand what life was.
My mom and dad did their best to keep me away from gangs, but destiny always brought me back to the same neighborhood. Twice my dad moved us away to keep us from growing up in a tough neighborhood, and twice he lost a house. So back we went to live in my aunt's garage. I was in seventh grade when my dad lost the last house.
When I came back things were different with my old friends: They suddenly did drugs and shaved their heads and talked different. They no longer desired to play kid games, so I made the decision to be like them. It was the only way for me to keep my so-called friends.
I was really young, didn't even realize what I was doing. I joined a gang. Since then I've lost two close family members to gang violence and many friends to gangs. This life is hard and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. You either end up dead or in prison, no other way around it.
All the fame and respect you think you get as a gangster is a huge lie. No matter what I did for my neighborhood, I no longer exist. I lost relevance. The new generations took my place, not realizing they will end up just like me or worse.
If only I could go back and stay in school and do the complete opposite of what I've done, I would probably be in college or something even better. Who knows where I would be?
But for you it's still possible to get it together: It's never too late. I myself continue to change the fact that I messed up big time.
Nothing is impossible, even in prison. With a little help it's all possible. All you have to do is look for help and put in effort. So I encourage you to do something with your life. All you have to do is try.
Jesus Trujillo, 22, is serving his time in the California State Prison Los Angeles in Lancaster, California.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.