Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

My family and I lost four people in the last few weeks and none were to COVID-19. 

The first loss was to suicide. I was on the phone with my dad when he got the text. The second was to murder. I went to call my dad and when he didn’t pick up, I called my sister. When she picked up, she said, “‘I’m glad you called!” Nothing could have prepared me for what came next. 

I found out my nephew killed my uncle with a crowbar. That led to our third loss as my nephew was lost to the system.

The fourth loss came two days later as everyone gathered at my sister’s home for comfort after my uncle’s murder. Grandma passed away at 5:30 pm. Then later that night someone pulled a gun on my mother.

For the next week, I called my sister and the first thing I asked was if everyone was still alive.

Strange things pop in your mind during times like this. My uncle’s death was the second time someone in my family was murdered and the police left the blood. My sister said she walked in and my mom was cleaning the blood from the floor and walls. She was cleaning her baby brother’s blood from the floor and walls in his house where he was murdered.

In no world should a mother have to do this. 

As her son, I feel guilt for not being there. Not being a role model to my nephew, not being there to comfort my mother. You see my actions put me in prison 18 years ago today, October 5th, 2020. So I know a lot about regret and making bad choices and messing things up. 

I know what it’s like to ache inside. I know what it’s like to want to die while fighting to live. I know what it’s like to be molested, to overeat, and hate your own body. I know what it’s like to cheat and be cheated on, to abandon and be abandoned, to break up and lose lovers, friends, and family.

In prison, I learned that hurt people, hurt other people. So when I see someone hurt someone I see their pain. In all my life, hating anyone, including hating myself, has never gotten me anywhere.

I’ve been sentenced to die here since I was 22 years old for gang-related attempted murder. I’ll be 41 years old this November 18th, 2020. I’ve spent over 6,000 days in a 6×9 foot cell with another prisoner, locked in over 20 hours a day with one metal toilet next to my bed. 

I’m hundreds of miles from my family and haven’t seen my mom in 18 years because she’s not approved to visit. From my concrete cell, I watch my family grow old and gray and pass away and I can’t be there to comfort them or enjoy their company. I’ve been away so long I struggle to know them, strangers of my own blood.

Physical wounds are visible wounds and you know they hurt without asking. If only depression and suicidal thoughts were this way and people would run to help us. Instead many people walk past us everyday while we slowly die inside. Shame and regret can eat you alive until you learn to forgive yourself and love yourself. Your creation alone is proof that you are needed in this world and worthy of love.

So I choose life and I choose to find hope even in this situation. If I can, so can you. I am no better than you who is suffering from these invisible wounds. I am you! We are human and we all need each other. Even one smile can change someone else’s life. If it’s too hard to live for yourself, then live for others and be someone else’s reason to choose life. We need YOU!

You can find purpose by being of service to others. You are needed somewhere by someone. You just don’t know who or where yet. 

Despite the struggles I’ve faced in my past and even today, I realize that we all have value. We are all still miracles. Our stories have value and maybe if we share our stories, then fewer tears will fall because others will help to carry our pain. Let someone help you, and please don’t let cultural stigma prevent you from seeking mental health treatment. I’m a prisoner covered in tattoos, so if I can seek treatment, so can you!

Call a professional because a lot of friends and family aren’t equipped to respect or appreciate your pain. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of day or night. And if you’re in treatment and it’s not working, try a different treatment, don’t give up when the square peg doesn’t fit in the round hole. I usually have to go through a couple different clinicians before I find the right one. The right one will motivate you, help you, and make you feel heard. 

I don’t carry my life sentence by myself. By telling you about it, in a way you are carrying it with me. And just like I’m not alone because of you, neither are you, because we exist and choose to share our invisible wounds.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Jessie Milo

Jessie Milo is a writer, artist and poet incarcerated in California. He is a volunteer for InitiateJustice.org and an advocate for mental health.