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Chalk drawings at CSP Corcoran remember those lost to suicide.
Chalk drawing at California State Prison, Corcoran (Photo courtesy of Jessie Milo)

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, round-the-clock help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line by texting “hello” to 741741.

Far from family and home, depression can run high, especially for those locked in prison with no release date. So when the population of Facility 3B at California State Prison, Corcoran, came together to spread awareness about suicide prevention, it was a unifying experience.

Incarcerated people gathered to draw positive chalk art on the outer walls of housing units and passersby stopped to help. People shared stories of fellow prisoners and loved ones who lost their lives to suicide. 

In 2021, 31 people died by suicide while incarcerated in a California prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Many more attempted suicide or experienced suicidal thoughts.

For me, this event carried personal meaning. I know five people who have taken their own lives in prison. And a few months ago, one of my favorite cousins lost her son to suicide. My heart breaks for her, and I drew an angel to honor the lives lost.

Hope is the vaccine for suicide. And in a hopeless situation, hope must be redefined. Reasons for hope don’t have to be grand; they can just be something small that you enjoy and look forward to. 

Hope can mean making burritos or watching a favorite show. It can come from the kindness of others or from the joy of being of service to others. Even false hope can help someone make it through the day.

As we chalked onto the walls: “Live your life for the release date you want, not the release date you have.”

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.

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