Aerial view of housing development with rooftops of identical houses.
Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash

Life before incarceration was pleasurable for me. Going to prison had nothing to do with my upbringing. I had the luxury of having my mom and pop in my life, and both of them raised me well.

Growing up, I had everything I needed to be content as a child and teenager. My family celebrated the typical American holidays: Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas, Easter Sunday and Halloween. I always looked forward to my birthday and the gifts I would receive. We did plenty of family activities together. We used to go bowling, visit amusement parks and movie theaters and eat out at restaurants. My parents did a wonderful job raising a family.

Throughout high school, I had a few different jobs. One of the most important things that I learned from my father was that industry pays off and that a man is supposed to work hard and make an honest living. I always kept this in mind whenever employers would put a check in my hand. It truly felt good to earn my way. 

A lot of people have asked, if I had this great childhood, how did I end up incarcerated for the past 13 years? 

Some people in society believe all those who choose this path in life are deranged animals, and they automatically toss labels on us and constantly judge us. 

However, I had made the decision to hang out and gangbang, and those decisions had nothing to do with my upbringing. While gangbanging, I was still going to school and working. 

In January 2008, I was arrested at 18 years old. In November 2008, I was found guilty of murder and attempted murder. I maintain my innocence, but this life of proximity to violence is the one I chose — and it’s the one that led me to jail.  

I do not regret a thing in my past, for it was all those choices and circumstances that led to the person I am today — a better me. I just want to let those still in society know that you shouldn’t be too quick to judge a man based on what the system has decided to label him. 

Everyone in prison has a story to tell on what led them to their life behind bars. Everyone in prison had a life before prison.

For me, life before prison was a beautiful one, whether I was at a gang party, at school or just at home watering the grass with my mother.

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.

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Cedrick "CJ" Johnson

Cedrick “CJ” Johnson is a writer incarcerated at California State Prison Folsom. He writes to remind people that even though he is incarcerated, his voice matters and he has a story to tell.