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I have been before California’s Board of Parole Hearings three times in the last four and a half years. During two of the three hearings, the commissioners expressed confidence in my ability to be a successful individual. Each time, I felt elation and relief. I felt validated that the commissioners believed I am no longer a danger to society. 

Unfortunately, both times these grants have been subsequently denied by the governor’s office based on my criminal past. According to them, my past outweighs the accomplishments I’ve made in the last 18 years.

Each time I was denied parole, familiar feelings of hopelessness overrode any optimism for my circumstances as a prisoner. The grief coupled with feelings of rejection and shame made these setbacks debilitating. Then came the anger and confusion. I feel that I have earned my freedom, and yet it has been denied.

Imagine how it would feel if a person discounted another’s high school diploma, GED, trade school diploma or college degree. Accomplishment based on achievement is healthy. But being rejected even with achievement causes disappointment and anger. Disappointment and anger lead to negative reactions, such as isolation, substance abuse and violence. 

Conversely, positive actions follow acceptance and resilience, which strengthen a person’s resolve as they learn from disappointing experiences. 

It has taken me six months or so to recover from my last parole denial. Even so, I accept my circumstances and tap into the resilience that has made me a survivor. My setbacks have manifested into humility and maturity, easing prior feelings of stress and hopelessness. 

Life is a series of triumphs and setbacks. It is not linear, predictable, nor perfect, thus strengthening my resilience and resolve.

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.

D.J. Sierra is a staff writer for The Mule Creek Post, a newspaper published out of Mule Creek State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.