You can have anything you want in this world. All it takes is focus.
I’ve been serving a 67 years to life since I was 18 years old. It’s a
reality I’ve never accepted because I can’t accept it. I need to be
free. Because I need to be free, I promised myself something when I
was 19. I will go home. In order for my plan to succeed, I would need
to be ready to go home, so I began to live every day as if the next
day I was going before God to prove I was ready.
I quit smoking and drinking. I’ve never had a drug problem, and I
believe in an individual’s right to decide what they will and won’t
put in their body. But I quit for two reasons. First, I’m obsessive:
Anything that doesn’t bring me closer to my dreams doesn’t hold my
interest. Second, smoking and drinking in prison is a rules infraction
that will say to a parole board that I am not ready to go home. And I
think I’ve been very clear about this: I’m ready to go home.
My life has been traumatic. It made me a hard man. I was hard not
because I was evil but because I didn’t want to feel pain and
disappointment and loneliness. My defense was to close myself off to
vulnerability, so I only felt power and strength. This hardness
brought me love in the streets; it allowed me to kill another human
being, and it made me feel safe from attack in maximum-security
I sacrificed my hardness because hard men can kill when they’re angry,
and I have no argument for why a killer is ready to go home. I’ve
opened myself to a lot of sadness, regret, a lot of pain. But I can
say that 10 times more people love me for being open — for saying I’m
hurt when I’m hurt, for saying I need help when I’m failing — than
have ever loved me for being hard.
I’ve sacrificed my free time: hanging out with friends, watching
television, working out every day, sleeping until noon. I love all
these things, but once I’m free, it’ll be easier to remain free if I
can take care of myself. The way I’m going to provide for myself is
writing, and if I’m going to support myself writing tomorrow, that
means I have to learn to write well today. And writing well takes
time, lots of free time. Now I hang out with friends on Sundays, watch
TV a few hours a week, work out once a week, and wake up at 6 a.m. Some
people think I’m crazy. They don’t understand why a man with a life
sentence is working so hard toward a life in society.
I’ve been living for a tomorrow that many people have called a pipe
dream for over a decade. Before you decide I’m crazy, listen to this.
After 12 years writing, I published my first story December 2014. I
was nominated for a fancy award. Today, only seven months after my
first publication, I work for Easy Street magazine as a monthly columnist
and have 13 pieces accepted for publication. Something tells me
I’ll be able to take care of myself when I get out.
I was sentenced to 67 years to life, but get this: In February, a
senator introduced Senate Bill 261 in California. This bill would give
people like me who committed their crimes when they were under 23
(years of age) a second chance if we can demonstrate to a parole board
that we’ve changed. I’m focused: I really wanted this bill to pass, so
I did what I’ve become best at doing. I wrote. I wrote a hundred more
letters of support and gave them to friends and family to send to
their senators. I gave them to strangers, used everything I’ve learned
about convincing people with my written word to get strangers to
convince their friends and family to support SB 261. I asked every
magazine editor, people I never would’ve met if I hadn’t sacrificed to
build a writing career, I’ve worked with to support the bill. I walked
cell to cell in my prison and helped other prisoners write letters to
convince California’s Senate to pass this bill.
It passed in April. The bill is currently in California’s Assembly,
and suddenly what was once impossible is real. I’m writing more
letters, of course, and if SB 261 is signed into law, I’ll parole in
seven years. I’ll be ready because I’m focused.
I never knew that I’d work for Easy Street. I didn’t know the state
would change its laws. I knew what I wanted, and I sacrificed for it.
That’s the secret.
Emile Deweaver, 36, is in San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. He is serving time for murder and attempted murder.
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 email@example.com.
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