After 33 years of incarceration and seven denials by the Parole Board, Troy Smith, (52) never give up hope. He became the latest Kid CAT member to be found suitable for parole.
“I want to thank all of my brothers in Kid CAT who supported me while I was preparing for my hearing, especially Charlie Spence who spent many nights walking the yard helping me to prepare,” said Smith, locked up since age 19.
“I never been to a place where there is so much support before.”
In response, Kid CAT Chairman Charlie Spence said, “The credit really belongs to him. The work he’s done is amazing. He is living his truth and I’m so happy for him.”
After overcoming decades of internal conflicts rooted in his childhood, Smith was found suitable on May 10.
“My biggest challenge was telling the Parole Board the truth of my childhood,” said Smith. “In the past, I told them it was normal, but the reality was – I never knew my father and my mother was a drug addict who raised five kids on her own and I was mostly left to fend for myself.
“For the longest time I also couldn’t talk about the shame of being bullied when I was younger.
“But with the help of facilitators in the Kid CAT curriculum – I was able to open up about my shame in order for me to heal.”
From an early childhood, Troy sought male role models from those in his neighborhood.
“Crime was prevalent where I grew up, I was small and shy, and the neighborhood kids targeted me,” said Smith. “My mom, brothers and uncle told me to fight back, but I was afraid.”
The turning point for Smith came at 13 years old.
“One day, when I was 13, I was beat up real bad by older kids at school,. Older gang members in my neighborhood asked me what happened and the next day, I went to school with a gun they gave me to use, but luckily, nothing happened,” said Smith.
“It was the first time I felt powerful, and I was praised by the gang, for ‘handling my business.’
“At 14, I joined my neighborhood gang, and began selling drugs, committing crimes to create an image to hide the insecurities I felt about being bullied.”
From 14 to 19, Smith accumulated 10 arrests ranging from petty theft to his life crime of kidnap robbery in 1984.
“On my first night in prison, someone was murdered in front of me”
After being convicted of kidnap robbery, Smith was sentenced to seven years to life plus 12 years.
“I thought my life was over,” said Smith. “On my first night in prison, someone was murdered in front of me.”
“That incident opened my eyes to see what I was facing so I made knives to survive.”
From 1986 to 2004, Smith had 17 disciplinary infractions ranging from disrespecting staff to stabbing an inmate.
“I was angry for so long at the system I didn’t understand,” said Smith. “People were going home before me, doing less time for murder.”
“In 2004, I had an awakening, and realized that it was me, not the system, that kept me locked up.”
Encouraged by a school administrator, Smith obtained his GED in 2006 and graduated with an associate’s degree in 2008.
“When I arrived to San Quentin in 2013, I saw a family friend go home after serving 36 years,” said Smith. “Seeing that gave me so much hope.”
In early 2015, Smith’s mother passed away – later in the same year, Smith was found unsuitable for parole for the fifth time.
“When the board denied me three years for a lack of insight in 2015, I felt demoralized,” said Smith. “I question whether to continue on the path or say screw it.”
“What pulled me through was the promise I made to my mother to never give up,” said Smith. “We made amends and she’s been there with me for the 31 years of my incarceration.
“When the board found me suitable this time, I thought of my mom, and it made me cry to remember all the times she supported me, and now she is gone. So I just have to live the best I can in her memory.”
Smith will begin his new life when he paroles in August.
“The biggest advice I can give to others is to never give up and embrace yourself,” said Smith.