K: Thank you for sitting down with me and for agreeing to do this interview. If I remember correctly, you said you’ve been in prison for about two-thirds of your life? That… is a long time.
S: Trust me, it’s been very long. From the boy’s home to death row – I came into the system in ’79.
K: Has it been hard?
S: No. It’s life. It’s survival. Out there, in the streets, you have to deal with everything – bills, jobs, boss, kids. In prison it’s the same. Life. It doesn’t mean it’s easy or hard. It’s just part of living.
K: So what have you learned from doing all of this time?
S: That there’s always a tomorrow. At the time, you don’t always realize how you get through things but there are moments when you wake up and it almost surprises you!
K: It sounds like you’ve come to accept your situation.
S: Well. Yeah. I knew what I was doing when I did what I did. So I can’t come in here and not accept it like I wasn’t supposed to be here. It’s, as I like to call it, an “occupational hazard”. Just like the risk that you will hurt yourself on the job, our life- style comes with the risk of going to prison.
K: That sounds like a wise perspective. Why do you think a lot of youngsters come in here and have such a hard time?
S: I think these kids can’t accept responsibility. it’s never their fault. I mean everyone I meet is innocent now-a-days. (We share a laugh at this)
S: They act like they’re the victims, always blaming everybody but themselves. You see, with me, I always make my own decisions. I’m in here and I’m living with my choices. Now I’m surviving. Living. To progress is a choice.
K:I see you going to a lot of programs – when did you make the decision to “calm down”? I’m assuming you haven’t always been like this.
S: What’s that supposed to mean?!
S: I’m just messing with you youngster. Somewhere along the way I got old. (He laughs) But it started in ’94. I was 5 days away from execution-
K: 5 days? How did you feel about that?
S: I was ready. Like I said, it’s an occupational hazard. I had this saying on my wall “Life is but the sleep from which death awakes the soul”. It’s a Native American saying. It’s always stuck with me. The first few days felt like Russian roulette. But after seeing something called the ‘many faces of death’, my only goal was to show my kids that the system didn’t break me – the ‘many faces of death’ was a collection of mug shots of all the people they had executed. Everyone in those pictures looked mad or sad or de- pressed. I wasn’t going to be that, so in every photo I had a big smile on my face.
K: What happened to the… execution?
S: My lawyer filed some paperwork and had it stopped. 5 years later, I got a reversal and they gave me life without. During those 5 years, a friend of mine taught me how to meditate. I had way too much energy. Iwasinmy40’sandhad to deal with my inner self. Things happen in life and you have to learn from them, move forward. There’s this saying, “A fool will lose tomorrow looking back on yesterday”. Once I calmed down, I started to want to be better for myself. That’s the key. It’s not about doing programs because they look good on paper, but because you want to be better for yourself.
K: With all of these pro- grams, have the people changed? Is it better? Worse?
S: No. It’s still the same type of people. The way I see it, it’s just evolution. Things change. Not everything has to be good or bad. It’s just life. Survival.
K: You use that word a lot. Survival. Why?
S: Well, back when we didn’t have so many pro- grams, we had two types of convicts. We had the hustlers and we had the survivors. The hustlers were the ones who always tried to get over…
“I think these kids can’t accept responsibility. it’s never their fault. I mean everyone I meet is innocent now-a-days”
K: What do you mean when you say ‘hustler’?
S: I mean the types of people who would steal a bar of state soap even though they had a locker full of personal soap. The types of people who had no respect for the well-being of oth- ers and who always tried to game the system. The sur- vivors just wanted to live , and every once in a while maneuver within the system. We had respect and thought about everyone who would be affected by our actions. This was our community. This was where we lived. So we treated everyone and our environment with care The hustlers thought that they could get away with everything and didn’t care if they put others at risk. I re- member when I first came to prison. I was at Old Folsom. They put us on Fish Row. At night, after 9, some of the new guys were still being loud on the tier. When one of the homies called down to them to keep it down so the other people could sleep, the guy who was making all the noise said, “F$!& you. I’ll do what I want”. The next day, one of the older homies was schooling me. I had my fish kit in my hands, and right as he was telling me about the importance of respect and how to be mindful of others – even to c/o’s and other races – here comes the guy that was making all the noise the night before, with a knife in his back. (laughs) That’s how it was back then. You learned fast.
K: You mentioned some- thing about c/o’s?
S: Why bring heat to
yourself and make life hard-
er? It was the same for c/o’s
back then. They handled
their own, too. It was so
violent back then that they
didn’t want to have to come
to work worrying about their
safety. Respect , youngster,
that’s what it’s all about. At
the end of the day, we are all
humans, trying to make it
through the day smoothly as
possible. They had a job to
do, and so did we.
K: It kind of seems like that’s been lost, or at least isn’t as prevalent now as it was back then. There are a lot of ‘hustlers’, today. What do you think happened?
S: Too many youngsters, and not enough old-timers to school them. Back then, the older homies sat us down, taught us manners, the do’s and don’ts, how to live and how not to live. They taught us how to carry ourselves because they actually cared.
K: Why do you think youngsters come in here so wild?
S: They didn’t have proper role models in their lives.
K: You think having a male figure is important to a child’s development?
S: Yeah. Strong women can do it, too. Kids need structure. There are a lot of kids in here, now. It’s our job to teach them. We’ve lost our sense of unity and com- munity. It takes a village. We’re all in this together, you know?
K: I know we’re in prison, but our community, this environment, can still be a place where we can grow, right?
K: Thank you for all of your insight. I think some guys can really learn from this interview.
S: They can and will, if they want to. That if, that’s the problem we have to fix.