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I’m an incarcerated veteran. A United States Marine. A survivor of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

I am a 56-year-old African American in Norco, California, a degrading correctional armamentarium. It is supposed to be a substance abuse treatment facility but instead of treatment, we often find that it is a place of punishment that perpetuates violence and oppression through social stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.

I entered into this institution with feelings of fear, hopelessness, depression and horror. My peers seemed lost in an intonation of evil. I was deep within my own prison isolation, yet isolation became my kin, my catalyst for hope, a guide through this state of horror that was surrounding me. Deep within the isolation of my cage, I waited to find my inner consciousness.

And I found in my isolation mentors and communities that care for each other, mentors like Gandhi, whose words vigorously moved me: “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” 

I’m more than the system. I am more than the devalued, undermined and marginalized person some wanted me to believe was all I am.

Recovery, healing, and forgiveness came to me. I began mapping my past, present and future possibilities in an attempt to understand that the decisions I was making today were influencing my tomorrow.  Higher education changed my life. This has been an amazing awakening of my inner consciousness, a wakening to a world of new hope and life purpose. Nobody is disposable. I recognized we need one another as human beings. We need an alternative to throwing people away that’s positive and restorative.

Rather than take away as I did in the past, I am compelled to give back to my community. This is the inner consciousness I found.

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.

Linden Sawyer is a writer and veteran incarcerated in California.