“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace.” —Malcolm X
Many of us are caught in the cycle of incarceration. Is crime about decisions or is there more to it? For those who believe you have made a change in your life, what helped you transition into becoming a responsible citizen? For those in the process of transformation, what do you need to help you get out of the criminal lifestyle?
I am 24 years old, covered in tattoos, just paroled from the notorious High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California, where I know more people around me than I do not. I have seen and been a part of riots, stabbings, removals, fights, suicides, etc., etc., etc.
You can say I’m “somebody” in here. I am doing seven more years currently after only being out of prison for eight months.
I am the epitome of a convict, a jailbird, a gangster, a misfit. For the past nine years I have been in and out of jail and prison. (More in than out.) I will have 12-plus years in a cell once I am done with this sentence. (That’s if I make it out.) I will be 30. Half my life will already be gone or maybe more.
I haven’t finished anything in life except for jail and prison sentences. I don’t have a wife, a girlfriend. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a job, a car or my own place to get out to. My family hardly writes me. In fact, I have yet to get a letter from anyone but my mom. I have nothing a respectable man has. Who is to blame? The cops? The judge? Abuse that I went through? My ex-girlfriend? Anyone?
No. I am to blame. I have made countless bad decisions time and time again. Thinking that a carefree attitude is cool or respectable. Not caring about the consequences. It has gotten me nowhere but a cell.
When I was sentenced this time, the judge told me if I ever come back with ANYTHING remotely violent, I will be doing 35 to life. I will never forget that moment. That means I will, most likely, never be getting out if I continue with this careless attitude. I will die within a prison cell and, more likely than not, with nobody.
I am beyond sick and tired of this lifestyle. I have NOTHING to show for my 24 years of living.
After being sentenced this time I continued to make wrong choices. Fighting, drinking “pruno” [prison home brew], getting high, talking crap to the cops.
All because the hate inside of me. The hopelessness and despair that “here I am once again” made me break. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth. I lost my visits for getting caught with pruno and the day my mom was going to come see me, I caught the chain [transferred from county jail to prison], and she wasn’t able to because of my actions.
The one person I have left that cares, I don’t even care enough about to not make wrong decisions. I proved this through my actions and as we all know actions speak louder than words. Once again, my careless attitude.
My best advice to anyone out there is to start caring. I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out 100 percent. But I do know with all my heart there is no future in the criminal or gang lifestyle. Your friends, family and people that you care about won’t stick around forever. We are hurting them as much as we are hurting ourselves. They get tired of it.
Start caring with actions, not just words, about yourself, your future, consequences to each action, friends, family, significant others before it is too late. And there will come a time when it is too late for everyone and anyone.
I am only 24 years old and I am so sick and tired of this life. I am willing to do whatever it takes to right my wrongs and figure out exactly what I need to do before I’m too late. I know this is my last chance.
If I come back I will probably die in here all by myself and it was all because of my careless attitude, my criminal belief that “I’m gangsta,” that I’m “somebody,” that I don’t care about nothing. Thinking like this led me to be a nobody with nothing to show for except guilt, shame and many regrets. Please don’t ever forget that.
Trey L. Pike, 24, wrote this for The Beat Within from the California Institution for Men in Chino, California.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio 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.