Your Decisions Matter

It’s okay to be kids and make mistakes, but it’s also vitally important that you understand that your decisions matter. Each one of them has the ability to change your life forever and cause others to feel unnecessary hardship. Your decisions can and will dictate the quality of life that you have. As a result of what I did I’ll have to live with what I’ve done for the rest of my life. I’ll have to see the parole board after a period of 25 years, which entails sitting in front of 3-5 people who hold my freedom in their hands. During that parole board hearing I’ll have to talk about my crime, my complete criminal and family history, my conduct while in prison, programs I’ve taken and what I’ve learned from them, a release plan, career plans, housing plans, and any support that I have from the outside community. It will be my job to show the members of the parole board that I can be trusted in the community. They can approve me for parole, or they can deny me for up to 10 years before considering me again. I’ve been here since I was 17 years old and I can’t tell you how scary it is to not know if I’ll ever get a chance to go home. And all of it over 20 seconds of extremely poor decision-making. The worst part? Committing a crime doesn’t just affect you or your victim. It affects all of your loved ones because they’re basically doing the time with you via visits, the stress that comes from having a loved one behind bars, and their overall naiveté to everything Department of Corrections’ related. I only say all this to let you see a glimpse of how bleak a future in crime can be.

As a teenager, and before my prison sentence, I was really struggling and didn’t have the confidence to speak up and ask for help. Instead, I started down a miserable path that ultimately led to my incarceration. I was a shy kid and my self-esteem was always really low because I had acne and crooked teeth. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was bullied often and just spent a lot of my school years bottling things up inside which usually just leads to more problems. I never really talked to anyone about my problems; I just kept them inside and let them build up because I didn’t know how to pull someone to the side and say, “Hey, I’m struggling and I need some help”.

I’ve been in prison for over 19 years now and I’ll tell you with complete honesty; I wish with all of my heart that I had done things differently. I wish that I had talked to people about what I was feeling and had the strength to ask for help when I needed it. I wish that I had focused on school more, and I wish that instead of doing dumb stuff to try to impress people I’d have just stayed at home with my family where I belonged. What I did was wrong. Not simply because I got caught and didn’t want to face the punishment. No, it’s so much more than that. It’s the fact that when you get a little bit older and life slows down enough for you to catch your breath, you just see things a lot more clearly. I started to see that all the lying I was doing to my mom just to stay out late with girls was wrong and contributed to my heading down the wrong path. I started to see that stealing things, even if it was small trivial stuff like candy or CD’s, it was still wrong. I started to see that my attitude towards school, lack of helping out around the house, and the snotty overall attitude I had was wrong because all I did was hurt those who loved me. So many small things, things that most kids do at some point or another, but they add up. They accumulate until eventually something happens and it’s enough to send the whole pile of poor decision making over the ledge. And then an avalanche of shit that you can’t dig out from under covers you. It took many years of incarceration before I was ready to be real with myself, and it hurt once I looked in the mirror because in the reflection I saw the real me. That reflection showed someone who doesn’t want to be a criminal, someone who values family and cares about doing right by them, someone who dreams of having a family of my own, furthering my education, and carving out a little piece of life that I can be proud to say I’ve earned. So much pain and heartache could have been avoided if only I’d taken life a little more seriously, if I’d have valued another human being’s life for the precious thing that it was, if I’d just shown an ounce of maturity and the willingness to be straight up with everyone.

I want you to know that you still have a chance. Make something of yourselves before it’s too late. You have so much life ahead of you and you still have the opportunity to make any dream you have come true if you work hard enough. This prison is filled to the brim with guys who chose to keep acting like they were invincible: doing dope, stealing stuff, robbing people, assaulting people, trying to create the easy life for themselves at the expense of others, etc. Eventually it catches up to you. It catches up to everyone. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t be like the people that are overcrowding these prisons! You’re better than that. Those of us in the RISE UP! hope that through our experiences you’ll learn a better path than the ones we took and now regret. Learn from us. Please.

James

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