Obviously, I lived. But it was touch and go there for a while. COVID-19 should not be taken lightly.
I was born in 1959. I’m what you might call a late bloomer. As a youngster, I thought that death would be preferable to what I was going through at the time. My first five years were spent in blissful happiness under the loving care of my grandmother and her second husband. If only I could have stayed with them. That was not the case. At least I learned what love was before my life turned into a living hell.
My mother, Linda, returned from her travels after I finished kindergarten. She took me to live with her new husband and their son, my half-brother. We lived on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in California. That’s when I changed.
I’m not exactly sure what caused this change, but I became mean. I truly believe it was due to the influences of my environment and new stepfather.
Things did not improve for me or my siblings during the next five years. By age ten, I had lost my uncle in Vietnam, and my mother had run for her life. My stepfather had a new job as a California Highway Patrol officer. He became extremely violent.
I, too, continued to change. My relatives became concerned about me, my mother thought I had been brainwashed by my stepfather, and my two siblings didn’t know what to think. We were all part of the same ugly life and abuses. By this time, I should have known that life for my siblings and me was going to be hard. I had no idea that as the firstborn it would be somewhat worse for me. Or maybe I just took it harder than my siblings.
Maybe it had something to do with being told at age ten that my stepfather wasn’t my father and that I didn’t really belong anywhere anymore. Hearing it certainly cleared up why I felt out of place. My relatives should have understood why I was so angry. They all knew I was adopted by my stepfather and they knew what kind of person he was, yet no one spoke with me about it.
But it was a different time. It was the 1960s and 1970s. I realize now I should have been united and resilient, not lost or angry. Being either of the latter solves nothing. Things change! It’s as simple as that. If I had realized that much sooner in my life, I may have come out of the mess of my life with a lot less pain.
Instead, my anger grew. I ended up abusing drugs, alcohol, and my fellow humans. My life was so out of control, or rather, I was so out of control, that I killed someone simply because I had come to internalize anything I perceived as hostile toward me.
Now, I sit in San Quentin State Prison, coming up on my 40th year here. I was born in 1959 and I spent two years — 1974 and 1975 — incarcerated, then graduated high school in 1976. I went to state prison in 1981 after I was arrested in 1980. Therefore I’ve spent over two-thirds of my life in state care. I should say state incarceration because you don’t really get much care in here.
I came within a hair’s width of dying in here countless times. I’m only still here because I decided to live and because God gave me what I needed to want to live. Where I live is still up to them. How I live is up to me.
The years prior to 2015 were a living hell as far back as I can remember. Like so many people living today, I had some serious emotional issues. That’s why I am writing this essay. With all the things plaguing Americans today, there are so many people needing the same help I needed. I’m talking about mental and emotional help. It’s out there, just as it is in here now. I say now because for 30 years you really couldn’t get professional help the way you can today.
If you are looking for this peace, it is easy to get, no matter what your circumstances might be. I found it in prison and not even COVID-19 could take it away, even if it almost did take my life.
It is only a matter of choosing. Choosing to live in peace or choosing to live in misery until you can’t stand another day. It’s a free gift, but you really have to want it.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.