Anthony Lasallie Coleman, 57, has been incarcerated since 1996, for constructive possession of guns and drugs. That means that although the items were not physically on his person, they were in a place deemed under his control.
Coleman said he rented a motel room where the police discovered the contraband — that was enough under Californian law for a conviction.
He was sentenced to 55 years to life under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Since his incarceration, Coleman has come to terms with why he ended up in prison and what it will take to stay out, once released.
“All human beings need to be loved. I struggled with that coming up,” Coleman said. “I grew up in the 1970s—the civil rights movements were just happening. I didn’t feel like the world loved me, but as I got older, I learned that every human being needs to be loved, even my enemies.”
Coleman said his incarceration experience began in the 1980s. He ended up at San Quentin’s Tent City, in 1982, because of Kevin Cooper’s escaped from Chino.
“San Quentin was considered the roughest prison in California, but it was also known to have the best surgeons,” Coleman said. “If you got stabbed, San Quentin was known to have the best care.”
It was Coleman’s first term—and he said he was a gang member.
“My image is dark, because of gangs,” Coleman said. “I was young, and I was trying to become someone to be feared by rival gang members.”
He said gangbanging kept him misdirected and consequently, from 1984 through the 90s, he in was in and out of prison multiple times.
In 1991, he was serving a parole violation in Chuckawalla State Prison. There, he met Todd Coleman.
“Todd changed my thinking and outlook on White people. He mentored me and later became a friend,” Coleman said.
Todd Coleman introduced Anthony Coleman to a reentry program, called TOPS (Transition of Prisoners).
“He embedded my understanding of Christianity,” Anthony Coleman said. “Seeing him doing the things he did gave me more insight about Christianity.”
“Todd helped me change my thinking as I was searching for a change,” Coleman said.
He got out, got married, got a “decent job,” and began a family. “But when my mother died, I fell back into addiction,” Coleman said. This resulted in his current incarceration and sentence of 55 years to life.
Coleman said he struggled to come to terms with a long sentence and dim hopes of getting out of prison.
“I continued to use drugs and smoke,” Coleman said. “But after my youngest son wrote me and told me that he was going through the same kind of drama that I went through — that woke me up”
Coleman said he rethought his life choices and enrolled in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and “actually worked the steps.”
“I started back into my relation with God, which made me understand that I could be in prison for the rest of my life,” Coleman said. “If that were going to be true, then I wanted to have a legacy.”
First, he said he went back to school and earned his GED. His teachers recognized his efforts as well as an ability to communicate with younger inmates. He was asked to become a tutor — not only in academics, but also in life skills.
“I didn’t think that I could do it, but I realized that I had chemistry with people,” Coleman said. “Sometimes, people don’t realize how hard it is for someone with criminal thinking to get an education. The simple things like having a subject and a verb to make a sentence. I had to learn these things.”
Referring to being open and honest about his past mistakes, he added, “I teach youngsters about stupidity. I’m the poster child for stupidity, which is a stamp on my forehead for the stupid things that I did.”
Since then, Coleman has left the education department, but he’s still available to men on the prison yard for life lessons and, every now and then, to solve a math problem.