The following is an excerpt from “Sam I Was,” a collection of letters written by members of the Folsom Prison Gavel Club to their younger selves. This book is a result of the efforts of some 40 men incarcerated at Folsom State Prison who wanted to realize their dream of imparting words of wisdom and hope to young people currently involved with the juvenile justice system. In 2016, the FPGC held a fundraiser to give back to 916 Ink youth writers who were incarcerated, like them, at the Juvenile Detention Facility in Sacramento County. They continue to give back today.
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What’s up with ya, youngsta? It looks like you’re going through some things and you need someone to talk to. Who better to talk to than the future-you, who ended up with a life sentence for killing an innocent college student? The murder happened six years after you joined a gang at 15 because you were tired of getting jumped and you were looking for something bigger than yourself to believe in. You’re only 14 now, so how could you know that you’d become a self destructive, alcoholic drug-abuser who beat, shot or stabbed so many people that you can’t even remember all of it? Oh yeah, congratulations, you’re famous. You made it to Oakland’s Most Wanted hit list and now you have a horde of cops and an army of enemies looking to put you in a box!
I’m 52 now, and so far I’ve been locked up for 30 years of nightmares, empty dreams and lonely, fractured fantasies. What’s crazy is that for this whole time you’ve been on my mind because I know how much you need someone in your life who understands you. Well, I do, because I am you… all grown up. I want to let you know that it’s not all your fault. I know that you’re angry, confused, and sometimes you hate yourself, life and everybody else. Sometimes you get so mad that you can’t control it and all you want to do is make people feel your pain.
Yes, you are in pain and you’re hurting, because your parents’ indifference makes you feel like they wish you were never born. You’re in pain because they make you feel like they love your brothers and sister more than they love you. You’re in pain because sometimes you hate yourself and don’t know why. You’re in pain because nobody hears your screams for help, so defiance and anger become your defense against undiagnosed depression. You’re in pain because you don’t know how to fix yourself and you’re starting to believe them when they say that you got the devil in you. You’re in pain because you don’t want to admit how worthless and insignificant you really feel, so you fight to become somebody by balling your pain and depression into bitter fists of anger that you unleash in your war against the world.
You can’t admit that you’re in pain because somewhere along the way you learned that feelings are for females, and even though you’re only 14 you’re supposed to be a man and men don’t feel pain, we use anger to cover it up.
How you feel is not all your fault. You have to believe that if your parents knew better they would do better because whether you believe it or not, they really do love you. When you asked your mom why you had to go live with your father instead of staying home with her and your sister and brother, she didn’t know how to explain it to you. When you told your mother that you didn’t want to go live with your father because he beat you and blamed you for everything that went wrong in his life, she didn’t know what to do. Even your father didn’t know he was destroying your self-confidence when he beat you, mentally and verbally abused you, and ignored you when you needed him most.
You have to find a way to forgive your parents; you have to believe that if they knew better they would have done better. You have to take your life back by learning how to find forgiveness for yourself by forgiving others. By holding onto your anger, you’re holding on to the pain that caused it and if you’re holding onto the pain, you’re still holding onto the blame.
You’re young, multi-talented, and you have your whole life ahead of you. You are strong and smart, and of high value and infinite worth. Take your life back by finding a preacher, teacher, counselor, or older family member that you can talk to about how you feel. Before you swallow that bottle of pills, take your life back by finding the strength to trust someone enough to be real with them and yourself about why you feel like killing yourself.
Who you are is not all your fault, but who you become is all up to you. The power to fix yourself is in you, you just need some patient, intelligent, caring adult to help you figure some things out.
I promise you this: if you test your strength and learn how to love yourself and others, you’ll learn how to believe in yourself and in your power to make your life better. Learning to love yourself obligates you to treating yourself and other better because now you know better.
Trust me because I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you—you can make your life better.
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Printed copies of “Sam I Was” will be available soon on the 916 Ink website.