Me along with my brothers and cousins when we were younger. Half of them have since passed away at young ages. Of the others still living, only one of them has remained in contact with me since my incarceration. The pain and blessing of prison—severely straining and often severing family relationships, but also giving me time to grow up and saving me from the same fate of dying young which has befallen my other family members.
I have been incarcerated for nearly twenty-seven years. Prison has been both a pain and a blessing. The distance, isolation, and sigma of prison has strained and severed family bonds. It has created distance between me and my siblings and others, as well as making strangers of us who were once close. This loneliness, isolation, and loss, although painful, has forced me to take a long hard look inward and honestly face the person I was and to envision and ultimately become the person I would like to be. As a result of years of self-reflection and self-molding, I am not the same person today that I was when I got incarcerated nearly twenty-seven years ago as a nineteen year old boy. That person has been gone for quite some time. That person was insecure, impulsive, ignorant, a follower and a victim. A forty-six year old man, I am now confident, introspective, educated, a leader, and a survivor. Prison has given me time to mature, educate myself, reflect, and become someone I would feel proud of and others would admire. My time in prison has been some of the most productive years of my life—academically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, developmentally, and artistically. It has been spent educating and fixing myself as well as honing my skills as a self-taught artist. My time has also been spent using that knowledge and artistic talents helping and teaching others in the hope that their lives too will be enriched and that they too will become better people as it has done for me. There is no greater joy than the joy from helping someone become a better version of themselves. I often pray for the day when it will no longer be true that the most productive years of my life were when I was in prison. I look forward to having far more productive years outside of prison.