Hey guys! It’s James and I just wanted to write and encourage you all to hold your heads up. Why? Well, because you matter. That was something I think I could have benefited from hearing when I was your age, so hey, I’m here to let you hear it. I know how easy it is to look at your current situations and become depressed, or feel hopeless, or just wonder if things in life will ever feel ok. I know how that feels because I’ve been there myself. My struggles started around the age of 12. I had really low self-esteem and just wanted to know what it was like to be accepted…to fit in…to feel like I belonged. I wasn’t much of a trouble maker and I had a pretty normal family life, but because I didn’t know how to set appropriate boundaries for myself or others I started stealing candy. Then I started smoking weed. Then I started lying to my mom about things and quit paying attention in class. That was me not having self-control and it culminated in me taking another person’s life one night when I was 17; it had devastating repercussions for many many people. I never grew up wanting to be a criminal, I never wanted to let people down, but all of a sudden I was in jail for life at the age where most kids are thinking about prom and the proper way to let a girl know they’re feelin’ her. Instead I was introduced to adult prison. Cells. Gangs. Drugs more available on the inside than they ever were on the outs. I was introduced to anger, and men with severe mental health issues. I was introduced to adult officers who looked at me like I was the biggest puke who ever lived even though they didn’t know a thing about me. I was a convict. That’s all that they saw. I was locked in such a scary environment and I thought my life was over at that point. I think that’s a pretty normal reaction to such a drastic change in environments. It took me a while to get some traction underneath me, but I’ve made a life for myself here. Over the last 20 years of my incarceration I’ve: strengthened my bond with my family, earned a GED, got in college and graduated with 3 degrees, secured the best job in the prison, the best living situation in the prison, the best of a lot of things. I did it because I looked in the mirror and decided that I wanted to be more than who I was on my worst day. I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to learn and become a man. I did these things by practicing self-control. Wasn’t easy at first, and yeah there were hiccups along the way. But ya’ know what guys…I’ve now had over 15 straight years of clear conduct. No write-ups. No cell ins. Nothing but behavior that shows I’m a man who can be trustworthy, honest, and dependable. Takes time, but the effort is worth it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity to be free again, and that’s sad to say since I came here at the age of 17. But I’m responsible for what I did as a youth and the possibility of potential freedom means enough to me that I’ll try my hardest each and everyday to get to the point where I’m allowed to have that taste of home again. It’s worth it to me. Even during the tougher times when depression and other frustrations mount. I continue to fight and I always will. I hope you guys will as well. Have a great week.