I’m ecstatic that it’s finally April and that no matter how inconceivable my release may be, it’s closer today than it was yesterday. It’s so frustrating sitting here knowing that I made choices that caused all of this; no one else but me. That’s the whole thing about it, accepting responsibility for my choices, learning from them and moving forward in order to grow as a man; yet that’s a lot easier said than done.
Growth and change are inevitable and it’s the path that we take that stimulates us to grow. We all take a different path, that’s for sure. I know that I would be sitting in a completely different cell in a completely different facility if were not for The National Incarceration Association and Canine Cellmates. They say that great minds think alike and I know for a fact that the minds behind NIA and CCM are great and are fighting for criminal justice reform everyday to make a difference in men and women’s lives alike. They have both made a remarkable difference in mine.
I wish I could say that my stay at 901 Rice Street (Fulton County Jail) was just splendid, that staff was helpful, that I ate three hearty meals a day and my living conditions were on par with that which is acceptable by mankind. Well none of that is true and it was one of my darkest hours. I have never been so lost in my entire life. Many nights were restless and filled with thoughts of regret and pain; there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Family and friends were upset with me and I lost everything God had blessed me with and I worked so hard to obtain. I had lost the trust of almost everyone around me and freedom wasn’t a word I readily recognized. After being denied bond three times and getting drug back and forth to and from court for what seemed to be a non-progressing situation, I had given up hope. I lost in my motions hearing and getting my case dismissed was completely out of the question, if i went to trial I was facing up to 30 years behind bars; I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Yet, what happened next is concrete proof that life is beautiful no matter what happens to us or how much pain and suffering we go through.
Susan Meadows, Executive Director of Canine Cellmates, came into my life and shortly after I would be introduced to Kate Boccia, founder of The National Incarceration Association. Little did I know CCM and the NIA would become my greatest advocates through this journey and remain in my life even as I sit here writing this at Burruss CTC.
It was around November 10th, I was pacing in my cell contemplating my next step in this process when I was called out for an attorney visit. I didn’t want to go see my attorney because I thought she was coming to tell me that I was going to have to except the plea deal of 10 years and if I didn’t we were going to trial were I could be sentenced up to 30 years if we lost. When I walked up to the attorney booth there Susan sat. She introduced herself as part of the Canine Cellmates program. I answered a series of questions and expressed my interest in the program. It was about a week after that interview before I was told to pack it up. I didn’t know what to expect from Canine Cellmates.
I remember like it was yesterday when the dogs were brought over from the Fulton County Animal Shelter. it was like the stress and worries of my situation dissipated. I met all of the dogs and one stood out above the rest, Leah, a pit bull hound mix. Leah was something spectacular. Like me she had come from a painful past and was a misunderstood pup that was left out to die. I no longer had the time to worry about my situation and what was going to happen; I had to take care of Leah and train her so that she could make a difference in someone’s life like she was making a difference in mine.
Canine Cellmates holds educational seminars every week to open the minds of inmates and to provoke creative and critical thinking. The first special guest speaker was Kate Boccia, founder of the National Incarceration Association. Kate told us how and why she started NIA and what her goals were. I was immediately captivated by her story because she was pushing to make a difference in the lives of those who are all too forgotten. Since I was experiencing everything she was fighting to change, mandatory minimums, ineffective counsel and a process believed to bring justice to our beloved country. I knew that I wanted to remain in contact with Kate and the NIA. I wrote a letter that week and told her my story. The NIA reached out to my mother, whom has been such a rock through all of this, and ensured her that no matter the outcome of my situation I would be under the watchful eye of the NIA.
I was pushed into accepting a plea deal of a 10 year sentence with 7 years to serve behind prison bars. I didn’t know what this meant except that I had no choice but to face the reality that had come my way. I thought for sure that the next sum years of my life were going be filled with fights, struggles and the issues that a prisoner faces on a daily basis. When my family heard they were heart broken, Canine Cellmates was upset that sentencing happened in the manner that it did and NIA ensured me that I would not be going through this alone.
When I was shipped to diagnostics at Jackson State Prison, I quickly realized that prison was a whole different ball game. Only allowed to shower once a week and locked down 24 hours a day except to be herded to the chow hall to swallow globs of indistinguishable food; Jackson was not a place I would wish on my worst enemy. I wrote the NIA and let them know of my whereabouts. Kate notified my mom, educated her on the process and ensured her that I would be okay. on February 8th, I turned 26 and it was a day that was like the rest but around 8pm that night something unexpected happened, my name was called at mail call and I received my one and only birthday card from Kate, ensuring me that I was thought of and that even though I was incarcerated on my birthday, everything was going to work itself out.
The NIA was able to get me placed at Burruss CTC which has ample opportunities for an inmate and is one of the much better facilities. Now that I am at Burruss, I am adapting to my environment and pushing to get through this time. I was recommended to go to this facility by Kate and it was my past experience with the dogs from Canine Cellmates that landed me in this facility. I now find myself working directly with the Guide Dog Foundation and preparing dogs to go on and assist the blind and visually impaired. Even though I still have some time to do and I don’t know what the future holds, I know that with the support of family, Canine Cellmates, and The National Incarceration Association, I can not only conquer the hard times but persevere to live a substantial and meaningful life.
I would like to thank all of the supporters of The National Incarceration Association and Canine Cellmates. Your efforts do not go unappreciated and differences are being made in men’s lives who are fighting to make a change.
With Much Love,