What Is Helpful For Reentry?

Posted on Jul 20, 2014 in Champions

Current SQ class - Damon Cook

By Damon Cooke

I personally feel that the most helpful thing society can do is take another look at some of the causative factors as to why most men recidivate? The answer for me is simple: Opportunity. I’m not a person who believes in a hand-out per se, but a simple band-up can go a long way into the “psyche” of man who is trying to feed himself and reenter into society. I believe we All have a stake in whether or not we succeed as ex-offenders and I’ve been fortunate in my twenty plus years to have seen talented, good, hard-working men fall by the wayside because opportunities were limited in nature.

This brings into question motives, agendas and general consensus of the mass populous as to how they perceive criminals and crime and punishment. Chris and Beverly have been a blessing in so many aspects because the social experiment they have launched has so far proven to be a success and that is a testament to the strong character prison produces when a man is willing to change and do the necessary work to uplift himself from the pit of despair. I can’t speak for every prisoner, but I can say that this opportunity has afforded me options beyond belief and having people believe in me is a motivating factor for change. Thank You for this chance, Chris and Beverly, you won’t regret any decision you ever made about me! @TLM#DLC

What Would You Say To Future TLM Paticipants?

Posted on Jul 19, 2014 in From the Men

DSC_0043

By Jorge Heredia

First and foremost, I would like future participants to bear in mind that The Last Mile is not a “make me rich” kind of a program. Yes, it is an entrepreneurial tech incubator where one can learn how to turn a one-minute pitch into a full business plan, culminating into a five-minute demo day presentation. So my advice to new prospects is, try not to come into The Last Mile thinking about how much money you are going to make, or having the misconception that all your problems will be resolved magically just by being a member of TLM. No! lt doesn’t work that way.

On the other hand, let me tell you that TLM is a unique opportunity which, we should not allow to pass us by. Just don’t forget to bring your best attitude, effort, and a lifetime commitment to earn a better lifestyle. So if you are serious about making a positive transition for the common good, don’t wait much longer, go ahead and fill out your application. You will always be WELCOMED by The Last Mile. It’s never too late to start carving a brighter future. Oh, by the way, did mention that, through hard work, many good things will happen. Just trust the process, believe in your potential, and never give up. Change is always possible, but it must start with you embracing it.

What Defines You?

Posted on Jul 1, 2014 in Featured

tommy profile

By Tommy Winfrey
Inmate, San Quentin State Prison

Not too long ago, someone asked me the question, “what defines you?” My immediate response was to think this question would be easy to answer. However, the truth of the matter is that I have struggled to find a clear and concise answer to this question. The question has helped to shape my answer more than I care to acknowledge. What I discovered was I know who I want to be, but this is somehow different than who I am. That line of reasoning and questioning “what defines you”; I am a person defined by my quest for knowledge.

My drive to make sense of the world is driven by my quest for knowledge. I question everything and everyone. A long time ago I learned I am not just the type of person who accepts things on blind faith alone. My desire to ask the question why is way too strong to accept blind faith. I constantly analyze the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. I look for keys to discovering their motivations in their deeds and words. I realize now after analyzing myself this process leads me to be over critical of people and pushing them away. This quest for knowledge does not always end up benefiting me.

Some people would say the best asked question is the one left unasked. The question of religion had the potential to be just one of these questions. When first asked the fateful question what defines me, I leapt at religion. I am a devout Odinist, a pre­ Christian religion native to Northern Europe. Then, I thought well Odinism really does not define me, but I am drawn to the religion for many reasons. The blind faith problem is one of the reasons I knew I could never be defined by a religion. Odinism is not a mainstream religion, however, and blind faith is not a key component of the religion.

The more I thought about it the more I realized the reason I am drawn to Odinism is because of my quest for knowledge. One of Odin’s attributes is overwhelming desire for knowledge. The god sacrificed an eye just to drink from the well of knowledge. He is trying to make sense of the world just as much as me. Modern Odinism is a reconstructionist religion. This means that adherents are in search of knowledge about how our ancestors practiced this faith. So in a way I am helping to define the religion just as much as it may define me.

Another marker on this road to self discovery is the institution of college. Since starting college in prison at the age of 29, I have received a fulfillment that transcends spiritual bounds. The kind of fulfillment where your soul lets you know you are doing what you are meant to be doing. Why else would I enjoy studying and the hours of homework I do weekly. I perform these tasks with a certain zest one only gets from doing something he loves. I have discovered new methods of uncovering truth and information. My quest for knowledge is nurtured and groomed in the classroom.

I have come to realize that my life is consumed by this quest for knowledge. My life is centered around discovering what lies beneath the surface. As I have said, this search can be a mixed blessing. Truth is not always what we want it to be, and knowledge always puts us closer to the truth. Some people may say what you are searching for cannot define you, because what you possess is what defines you. Things like faith, experiences, and family are the answers to what typically defines an individual. However, I say the things we have a desire to achieve, or the drive to fulfill is what defines a person. We are defined by what makes the most sense to us in life. For me, this is the quest for knowledge.

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

Positive Attitude Defies Limitations and Exceeds Expectations

Posted on Jun 29, 2014 in Featured

932

By Caryn Quincey

Caryn was released from the Twin Towers in December of 2013, and now works with The Last Mile and the Michael Santos Foundation, helping formerly incarcerated men and women transition successfully back into society.

Caryn with recent TLM grad James Dillard (photo).

—————————

I believe that each of us lives in a prison of our own making, prisoners of our own hearts and emotions – restrained by unfulfilled goals and dreams that have dissolved. When we lose one kind of freedom, we must look for another. We can look at our “prison bars”, or we can look through them.

The conflict between who we are and who we want to be is at the core of our own human struggle. We are all living with the wreckage of failed ideals that once seemed like perfect solutions.

The longest journey that you will ever make in your life is from your head to your heart. It is the movement toward wholeness, integrity, and compassion. Learning to experience emotions is one of the most difficult tasks that can be undertaken. Many people do not know that they are angry, even when rage flows through them like a river. Some do not know that they are grieving, even when sorrow is the only sun that rises for them in the morning.

Becoming aware of our emotions means becoming aware of our pain. It is challenging, difficult and unpleasant. It is also more rewarding than most of us can imagine. That is because most of us cannot imagine a life free from compulsions, fixations, obsessions, and addictions, in which we act with an empowered heart and are free of attachment to the outcome.

Becoming emotionally aware is a process. When you allow yourself to project your emotional awareness, you increase your ability to see challenges of others, and you are better able to see your own.

The need to feel safe, valuable, and loved is at the core of human experience. It is a need that is as deep as the need for food and shelter. We are conditioned to reaching outward to satisfy that need that we scarcely notice it. Millions of humans live in poverty, are abused, and suffer oppression, humiliation, and brutality. Changing these circumstances requires our hearts to feel the pain and understand our inner anguish.

Remember the past can only be escaped by embracing something better.

————————————

Background:

I wrote that from inside Twin Towers (Los Angeles County Jail) while serving a two year sentence. I came to realize that good people are sometimes capable of doing bad things and allow stupidity to overcome rational thought. For believing that we are all much more than the worst thing we have ever done. I felt the need to turn chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It’s not what we do occasionally that makes us who we are; it’s what we do consistently.

I spent hours alone with myself in my cell. Sometimes we become scared of what we will find if we look inside ourselves. Instead of shame, we feel compassion. Instead of embarrassment, we gain courage. Instead of limitation, we experience freedom. What’s inside us has the power to radically and positively alter our lives.

I believe in the power we have for change, to transform are way of thinking and being, and become productive member of society. I believe that we may have a fresh start any moment you chose. Failure is falling down, and choosing to stay down.

Remember opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat. If I could wish for my life to be perfect, it would be tempting, but I would have to decline, for life would no longer teach me anything.

I’ve come to believe that a positive attitude defies limitations and exceeds expectations.

—————————-

Hope Is Eternal

Posted on Jun 21, 2014 in Champions

DSC_0074

By Joe Demerson

Inmate, San Quentin State Prison, California

——————————————-

Hope

Definition: A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, goal, plan

Hope fuels the promise that I will have an opportunity to share the goodness within me, with the world. I knew from the first day of starting this prison sentence, prison wasn’t where I belonged. However, I also knew I needed to work on myself from within, and destroy the negative belief systems that led me to prison.

First, I worked on my inner being and my spirituality. My faith in God always gave me hope. The definition of faith: having belief in the substance of things hoped for, and believing in the evidence of things not seen. My life has changed because of this belief system. I know now that I have the power to change with faith and strive for the best, and what is just and right.

To keep this hope alive and burning, I take daily evaluations of myself. Setting short term and long term realistic goals helps me stay focused and driven. Having something to strive for allows me to tap into the positive energy inside me. Being proactive and making calculated decisions that lead to feelings of gratification and elation, gives me hope in my aspirations, knowing that I contributed to those positive consequences. This propels me to reach even higher in my desire for change and to seek something different for my life.

Change is good and to be totally honest, I love it and I’m at the happiest point ever in my life. Having inner peace is so joyful and less stressful.

Now remember my definition of faith, the part about evidence not seen? The Last Mile has allowed me to see and have that vision of the future. It is full of promise and prospects. Knowing I can make a difference in someone’s life gives me immense hope.

That is how I keep hope alive in my life, by giving back.

Hope is eternal.

###

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

From the Inside Out

Posted on Jun 8, 2014 in Champions

1400618425293

By James Dillard

On Saturday, May 10th, I was released from Los Angeles County Jail, and surprisingly I didn’t have any anxieties about returning back to the community, in fact, I welcomed the opportunity to become a citizen for the first time. What do I mean? Let me see if I can explain what I’m saying.

For all of my adult life I have been a parasite – taking, manipulating, draining, taking for granted, expecting… never giving of myself without having an ulterior motive. You see, I was caught up in my feelings, not really understanding what I was feeling or how to identify what I was feeling, and because of that, I felt the need to act out in ways that deflected attention away from my deficiencies. Then there came a time when even the drugs and alcohol that I used to medicate over the pain of my feelings ceased to work, and once that happened I had the presence of mind to appeal to a power much greater than myself, and I received some help that allowed me to begin the process of changing the way I think.

Fast forward to my release. For the first time in my life I felt like I was prepared for whatever life threw at me. I felt empowered through the very people that had volunteered their time and lives to helping a few men to learn how to effectively use their time and recreate their lives, and I for one was extremely grateful to be counted among this group. For six (6) months prior to my release I’d been groomed for a life-changing experience. Through a group of mentors – male and female – I have created such a positive support system around myself that I feel like the CEO I’ve become. By the way, CEO stands for “Confident, Empowered, Optimistic”, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Just a few words about some of the people who have been instrumental in helping me achieve the confidence and awareness that I have today. The Last Mile Entrepreneurial Program has empowered me with the resources and confidence to reach for success. People like Ross Rowe and Grace Bowden, who selflessly gave of their time and wisdom, coming into the jail facility consistently week after week, standing the test of time because they saw in us something we had yet to wake up to; Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti for their timely instruction and advice, because I believe that you have to surround yourself with the type of individuals that are living the quality of life you aspire to have. There were other faculty members who donated their time and positive energy, not to mention their expertise, and it was all extremely helpful in so many ways and I look forward to incorporating these people into my personal support system.

Where I’m at today is learning how to operate in a society that is constantly evolving. I’m learning about scheduling, time management, budgeting…these are things I’ve never concerned myself with in the past, but I’m finally able to understand that if I am to be the success story I’ve come to believe I’m capable of becoming, these are qualities I need to learn to incorporate into my life. I should be working soon, and thankfully I began preparing for that about a year prior to my release by rising at 3:30 am every morning to do my daily devotion, then staying busy throughout the day until it was time to lock it down for the night, usually around 8pm, then winding my day down with some reflection about my day and a few words with my cellmate, finally laying down for the night around 10, 10:30. During my time behind bars I worked really hard to change my thinking, and I can definitely say that the tools I acquired has definitely been put to work and have afforded me a stress-free life, even when I’m not sure of the next move.

I’m living an awesome life right now for where I am, and I realize that I am right where I am supposed to be. There is not enough gratitude to express the appreciation I have for the TLM family – that’s what it is, a family – and I am thankful I was chosen to become a member of such an exclusive organization. And last but not least, there’s Caryn Quincey… She has been a godsend to me and my TLM-LA running mate, Kenneth. If not for her, our transition would have been so much more difficult, and I can’t sing her praises enough.

Life as I now know it is bearable and stress-free. I serve an awesome GOD, and He continues to open doors for me I never imagined were available to a guy like me. I thank Him each and every day for the mentors and supporters He’s placed in my life, and it’s because of them that my life has been turned inside out.

Hope…From An Unlikely Place

Posted on May 28, 2014 in Champions

DSC_0068

By Harry Hemphill

San Quentin State Prison

—————————–

Hope is the power to fuel change and help people. Hope enables groups overcome barriers and strive for something different. What does hope look like for you and where did it come from? How do your keep it alive?

Hope is faith that allows me to visualize my dreams and desires as realities in the future. Hope allows me to see light even when I am surrounded by darkness. Hope gives me the strength, hunger, and determination to continue moving forward even when I am faced with obstacles, and shackled by negative stereotypes. Hope allows me to believe in a prosperous future even while I am making amends for the past mistakes.

First, and foremost I have found hope through a committed spiritual relationship. Some nights as I lay on my bunk wrestling with myself, my faith is the only thing I can cling to.

I also find hope through the support and love of friends and family. A kind gesture, a letter with words of encouragement, or a card on special occasions which reminds me that I am still cherished by others.

I have also have found hope through unlikely sources; People who genuinely have a passion for helping others. Visionaries who are able to see past negative labels, and see inherent qualities within me. People who do not define me by the crime I committed, but by the person they see before them today.

And finally, I have found hope by simply believing in myself. I often encourage myself not to give up in spite of failures, and opposition. I am determined to leave San Quentin State Prison and return to my community as a stronger, healthier, and more complete person.

Note: Harry Hemphill resides at San Quentin State Prison. He is serving a lengthy sentence, but he has found hope for his future through educational and spiritual programs that are provided by dedicated volunteers. Many incarcerated individuals are willing to rebuild themselves and become positive members of society after they serve their time, but many lack confidence and hope because most prisons don’t provide avenues for change. The Last Mile was created to provide a platform for change, and TLM graduate Harry Hemphill reflects a renewed perspective for the future.

I Will Be Successful

Posted on May 6, 2014 in Champions

DSC_0069

By Ray Ho

Inmate, San Quentin State Prison

————————————–

I know I will be successful, in many ways, I already am.

I am a first time offender and I am fortunate compared to many other men in prison. I don’t think a day goes by without being conscious of the gift that life has given me. I am a success due to the Last Mile program, but also as a result of surviving in prison, and remaining positive.
I believe in myself. I have motivation, hunger to achieve, purpose, and passion. To be passionate about something is the key to being successful, whether you’re in prison or not. Being in prison has made me recognize and evolve these attributes, but it has been a very expensive and costly way to discover that they existed within me.

Maybe some people need to go to prison?

In taking control of my life, I have learned to use the positive tools I have received and apply them to everything, and to work on my short comings to the best of my ability.

I am working on thinking positive, being positive and building a defense against negativity.

I will have short term goals planned out and long term goals set for myself. For example I will be going back to school for computer science, and hone my skills in business. I will also be looking towards volunteering in my community, beginning to give back.
But success will also involve my support system on the outside, like my wonderful wife and family. A strong family ecosystem is critical. Being with positive people in essential. I don’t plan to come back to prison. One time is enough to know that it is not for me.

I will be absorbed with living in the moment and sharing my time with my wife.

I will be more involved with nurturing the bridges of opportunity with other successful people and working towards achieving a balance in life. Giving back to the community is crucial to success, and that is something I did not take full advantage of while I was free.

Now I will.

SUCCESS IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE.

Regaining My Self Worth

Posted on Apr 17, 2014 in Featured

DSC_0056

Phoeun You

San Quentin State Prison

—————————-

I will not preach about why I am in prison or how bad I was before I entered prison. However, I will share with you my experiences about how stressful life is inside prison and how bad it is to be doing time.

Imagine yourself as a lifer from an early age. All your freedom and fun you would’ve experienced is now gone. Just sitting here inside these walls, with only limited things to do. I can’t help but think about the good ol’ days. I try not to, but at times my mind seems to always wonder on its own: thinking about my family and friends, how they are doing, and the pain that I’ve caused them. I can still clearly remember looking back in the courtroom, to see the tears as they rolled down my mother’s and sister’s faces, as they heard the verdict-”guilty.”

To this day, I continue to worry from hearing news of my mother having diabetes, and my sister murdered by a jealous boyfriend. My heart aches and misses them dearly. Besides my family, there are also the simple pleasures of life that I miss: beautiful girls, home cooked meals, and the son I still haven’t yet met. I often think of them, and the simple things. I try to picture how my life would have been like if I was a free man.

What will forever haunt me is that I took an innocent person’s life. No matter how bad my life is today, I will always be ashamed and feel emptiness knowing the person’s life I took never had a chance to see tomorrow. I had no right to do what I did. At times I wish I could trade places with him, maybe this would ease my mind. Nevertheless, the choice I made is something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Through all of this pain, I’ve learned to be patient and keep my anger in check as I deal with other obstacles in prison: the ignorance of the other inmates and the guards who at times test my limits. Not too long ago I was walking the yard enjoying the fresh air, when two guards approached me and one of them said, “Hands on the wall and strip down to your boxers.” “For what,” I asked. The guard said with a smile, “This is prison, I can do that.” I hesitated, but complied. After the guards left, my anger from the humiliation had set in. You don’t know how badly I wanted to jump up and tell him how I felt.

Wearing the badge didn’t give him the right to belittle me.

I tell myself giving up is not an option, but I know that my chances of getting out are slim. In the meantime, I will continue to try to do everything I can to better myself so I won’t slip back to my hard headed ways. Through programs and school, I’ve managed to maintain a sense of hope and keep what’s left of my sanity. Also, now that I finally realize the importance of education, everyday seems to look and feel brighter. Through education I’ve regained my self worth. I believe everyone deserves to have value and meaning in their lives.

If you can take away anything that I’ve said, please know that education is power. (Tweet-worthy!) Giving up on education is like giving up on yourself. So do the right thing, stay in school, keep educating yourself, and never give up. God bless.

###

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

TLM on CBC Radio with Nora Young

Posted on Apr 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Kenyatta Leal spent nearly 19 years in San Quentin prison. Along with venture capitalist Chris Redlitz, he’s a founding member of The Last Mile, a program that trains prisoners about to be released in paid internships at Silicon Valley tech startups.

Interview:
http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/spark_20140406_60266.mp3

CBC – Nora Young:
http://www.cbc.ca/spark/blog/2014/04/06/the-last-mile/