U-turn road sign against the sky
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The speed limit was 35 mph. We were going 50 mph. I had just taken some random guy out of his car, beat him with a baseball bat and dragged him into Ruben’s trunk. Ruben was 18 years old, I was 14. I had no regard for human life, not even my own.

Throughout my adolescent years I lacked the confidence, education and motivation necessary to become successful. I’ve changed my way of thinking significantly during my 13 years of incarceration. I’m 35 now.

But to understand my transformation, it’s important to start at the beginning. 

“Mom, I am hungry!” I yelled. 

“Mijo, just go to sleep,” my mother replied. 

I can still see the sun in the sky. I remember knowing it was not time to go to bed.

That’s one of my earliest childhood memories. 

I was born in Los Angeles to my wonderful mother, Sandra Ramirez. I never met my father. I have two brothers, Jesse, the oldest, and David, the youngest. Growing up, I had low-self esteem and insecurities — one being my speech problem. I was an English as a second language student until fifth grade. I never achieved my full potential in grade school. 

Walking to school or going to the park, all I saw were drug addicts, criminals and gang members. This was normal where I came from. At age 14, I made the choice to hang around Ruben and commit both an assault with a deadly weapon as well as a kidnapping. 

I was sentenced to seven months in juvenile detention. I noticed how it affected my mother, so upon my release I promised her I would stay away from negative people and out of trouble. 

My mother was my captain, my protector, my guidance, my father, my sister, all wrapped in one. It was devastating when, on June 2, 2005, my mother died from lupus at age 37. 

Jesse was 21. I was 18. David was 10. One of her last wishes was for the three of us to never be separated. Jesse got custody of David. Meanwhile, I was co-dependent on alcohol and drugs.

I started hanging around negative people again and became a full-blown addict. In 2009, I took one life and attempted to take another. I was sentenced to 34-years-to-life.

In 2014, while in prison, feeling entitled and antisocial, I volunteered to assault an inmate with a weapon. I was placed in the security housing unit for the next 12 months. 

From then on, each day began the same. I woke up in a long, cold corridor, shackled at the ankles, waist and arms, wearing a white jumpsuit and sandals. I was in lockdown 23 hours a day. 

To my surprise, being in the hole in solitary confinement was a blessing in disguise. I started to read the Bible and to see how my entire life I’d been self-sabotaging. I made a promise to God and my mother that I would change my life around.

And I did. 

In 2016, I earned a computer literacy vocation. In 2018, I obtained my GED. In the same year, I enrolled at Palo Verde College and in various self-help programs. In the spring of 2019, I made the dean’s list. In the fall of 2020, I earned three certificates in career preparation, one in small business management, one in business literacy and one in American sign language. I plan to have my associates degree in business technology by the end of the summer of 2022. 

God has given me a purpose in life. I love myself, and I’ve gained my moral compass. I started writing a book for young people who might have poor judgment like I had. 

I also began to write positive affirmation books. My books don’t answer life’s questions, but I hope they will teach our youth the vocabulary, framework and critical thinking skills necessary to be successful. 

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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Brian Quintanilla

Brian Quintanilla is a writer incarcerated in California.