Broken Promises and Heartache

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My name is Jensen Ramos and I am currently serving a life sentence for committing a crime as a juvenile. I committed my crime at the age of 17. I was tried, convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life. I have currently been in prison for 12 years now, and till this day I hate it.

I still remember the day it happened. On January of 2002 I went to a party with my friends trying to have a good time. One of my friends had an exchange of words with someone and they started fighting. After they fought, that guy and his friends ran to their car and drove off. As they drove off shots were fired at them. Immediately after, we ran back to our cars and drove off and thought nothing of it.

Three months later, at 6 in the morning, detectives come knocking on my door. My grandma opened the door and they came rushing in. I got up out of bed and walked out of my room and they asked me who I was and when I told them my name about 10 officers pointed their guns at me, yelling to put my hands behind my head. They put my parents, grandma and I in the living room while they raided my house looking for the gun.

Then I was taken to the Police Department and I was interrogated. A few hours later they charged me with four counts of attempted murder. I was taken to LA County Jail and was there for 11 months fighting my case.

Being in county jail was one of the worst experiences of my life. For the first few days I could barely sleep. It was cold and dirty. The food was awful. You only ate good if you could afford to go to the store. Fortunately, my family gave me money to make sure that I could go to the store.

Not one of my so-called friends from my gang put a penny in my account during my 11 months in the county. The guards in the county treated us like crap. I've witnessed and experienced physical abuse by them. I've also witnessed and experienced fights among inmates.

On December of 2002 I went to trial that lasted two weeks. It was the longest and most awful two weeks of my life. I had to wake up at 4 in the morning to get ready for trial and it would end at 7 in the evening. And I did this for two weeks.

The hardest part was when they put my mom on the stand and she started to cry. I could see how painful it was for her that I was in this situation. It hurt so bad to see her like that that I cried as well. It was so heartbreaking. In the end I was guilty for all four counts of attempted murder.

[Related: The Perils of False Distinctions Between Juveniles and Adults in Prison]

Soon after that my girlfriend at the time left me and a lot of my so-called friends left as well. On my day of sentencing only two people showed up. My mom and my dad. I was sentenced to 50 years plus two life sentences. I was asked if I wanted to hug my parents and I said OK, and when I did they cried so hard as they held me. It felt as if it was the last time that we'd ever be together again.

At that moment I finally realized that I didn't just disappoint them. I hurt them. I cried so hard as they held me. All I could think about how I just wanted my parents to make all this go away.

Two months later I was sent to prison. Man, it was such a culture shock. My first day there opened my eyes. I finally realized that I really am in prison and I will be here for a very long time. The very first time I went to the yard I witnessed a stabbing.

It tripped me out, but as the years went by I've seen stabbing occur almost every other week along with riots. I remember being involved in a couple of them. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I ended up being hospitalized.

Being in here is somewhat stressful. It takes a lot to keep your sanity in prison. You are surrounded by so much negativity. People in here say they are your friends but they really don't care about you. The only people I believe to be my friends are the ones helping me go home.

I hate prison. Being involved in gangs and thinking that they'd always have my back was a big mistake. All they have to offer are broken promises and heartache.

Being in prison helped me grow up. It has helped me mature as a person. I realized what and who are important in my life. My family is the important people of my life. They are there for me from the beginning.

Not the gang, but the family. My family is suffering for my mistakes. And now I want to do better for them and for me. And to do that I need to stay focused on doing the things I need to do to help me go home and be with them.

I know I can't go back and fix the past, but I know that I can make my future better.

I regret gang-banging. It wasn't worth it and I hope you guys realize it before it's too late. You'll only end up in prison or 6 feet under.

Jensen Ramos is serving a life sentence on charges of attempted murder in 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

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