Sean’s Recent Chronos

The following are some of the most recent letters of recommendation (Chronos) written by prison staff for Sean’s commutation. Sean will be sending these to the Governor in his commutation packet, along with many other chronos, letters from friends and family, achievement certificates, college transcripts, and photos. (Certain names have been removed for privacy)

A chrono is not something that comes easily. It is not something you will find in an inmate’s file unless they have worked hard to earn it. You would be hard pressed to find anyone with multiple chronos in their file. Sean has countless chronos from prison staff, so many I can barely keep them all straight. Why? Because he clearly does not deserve to be in prison, he is not a typical inmate and he is always of upright moral character.

These descriptions of my husband Sean: “Highly respectful, courteous and polite” “positive role model” “never displays the usual prison attitude” “open and honest” “does the right thing even when inconvenient for himself- putting his integrity and values above peer pressure” “has shown exceptional character” “hard work, dedication, positive attitude and admiration of both peers and staff” these are things I already know and love about him but it is so valuable to have it come in the form of a professional letter from experienced highly reputable people. Even though Sean proved his innocence in court at the Evidentiary Hearing in January 2017, we are still being forced to wait for the ruling and during that wait we are painstakingly proving his character as well as his innocence in his commutation packet. It’s a task we do not take lightly, but it is a challenge we are ready for because we know the truth.

Thank you to Sean’s professors, prison staff and officers who have written chronos and letters of support! It means so much to us.

You can sign our petition to ask Governor Newsom for Sean’s freedom or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @emeliaobrien12. GoFundMe

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They Know who They are

There are several individuals out there in the world who repeatedly lied under oath in a court of law to wrongfully convict my husband Sean O’Brien when he was just a teenager. There are individuals out there who are free, right this moment, living with the knowledge that they took part in covering up a serious crime and sent an innocent child to prison for life. There are many individuals who did not do the right thing in this case, people who covered up the truth, or failed to protect an innocent child and those people will live with the guilt of their actions for the rest of their lives. These individuals know who they are, they know that the truth will come out and their lies will be exposed. If they have any kind of conscience left, they know the pain and suffering they have inflicted.

16 years is a very long time. It is more than half my husband’s life. That is how long these individuals have had to bear the weight of their actions. This is how long they have tried to hide from the truth. This is how long is has eaten away at them, bit by bit, day after day. Yet they continue to live in their lies and rob themselves of the opportunity to come clean, and attempt to right what is so very wrong.

We know we have made the right choices every step of the way. We would rather be on the side of good than on the side of evil and lies. My husband says we need to forgive these people and let go of the pain they have caused us.  He is free from the weight these individuals carry, he sleeps peacefully at night knowing he took no part in the killing of the victim in his case and is free from the lies. I know that he is right, I also know that we will prevail. We are stronger than the monsters who walk among us. We are right where we are supposed to be, in the place of righteousness and light. Every day brings us another step closer to truth and justice. We have God on our side. We know that our consciences are free from the guilt and darkness those individuals must bear for not only hiding the truth from the victim’s family but also for what they have done to my husband and our family.

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Family Visit 14: 2 Year Anniversary

Card drawn by Sean’s friend Jessie

Sean and I were recently blessed to receive a Family Visit date on our 2 year wedding anniversary weekend in August. We were grateful to be able to spend quality time together to celebrate reaching 2 years in our marriage. The weather was beautiful for us and we spent some time outside having popsicles and playing catch with an improvised ball. I was happily surprised how good Sean was at throwing and catching. I distinctly remember how lovely it felt, so free and easy to play a simple game with the splash of a golden sunset just beyond the gate. The hum of insects, summer air thick with promise.

On Saturday morning Sean made us breakfast as he normally does, I sat at the kitchen table reading a book I had been able to bring in, sipping our hot Irish Breakfast tea. Country music on the radio. It is always the best feeling on this morning because we still have an entire day and night ahead of us, a day that is ours for the taking. No one can control this time, and what we do is entirely up to us. The magic of the morning is exciting, offering up fullness beyond description. As he set down my plate, Sean surprised me with a heart shaped piece of toast, it meant more to me than anything that can be bought in a store.

There is nothing I can write that would adequately summarize our weekend together. But I will say that our time together means everything to us, it renews our spirits and lifts our hearts. We are lucky to have each other, some people spend many years searching for someone with whom they can share life, feel understood and loved beyond a doubt. We have been told time and time again that our love is unique and we see it firsthand every day. We never take it for granted.

Thank you to everyone who wished us a happy anniversary and those who support us and our dreams.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. -Maya Angelou

 

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Family Visit 13: Summer Time

Our most recent Family Visit was our 13th Family Visit date, beginning on July 13th. The temperature in Corcoran was over 100, so we planned on doing something to cool ourselves off: a water fight! Summer time at Family Visit can be very hot so we have been hatching this water fight plan for quite some time. At Family Visit we have extremely limited resources: no water balloons, water squirters, sprinklers, or anything like that would be allowed; so we had to think pretty creatively. The rules clearly state that we are to be fully dressed when going outside into the enclosed yard space, Sean has to wear his prison uniform and I must be visit-approved, but we did wear our “shower shoes” aka sandals. The dishes, pots and pans for each Family Visit are provided by the prison in a large plastic storage bin. Sunday afternoon, when the sun was bright over our unit, was the perfect time for our epic water battle to begin. First, we cleaned the bin and filled it with water from the bathtub until it was almost too heavy to lift. Then we placed the bin on top of the rolling cart that I use to bring in all the supplies for the weekend, filling the big bin up more. We had plastic cups to use to sling the water at each other as planned, we set those onto the cart also. Once the cart was carefully pushed outside onto the cement patio into the heat of the day Sean went back inside to grab our iced tea. This was my chance for a sneak attack! I dipped my cup into the bin of water to fill it, and quickly hid behind the wall of the unit outside, out of view from the door. I was sure he would have no idea, and since his cup was outside with me, I believed he would come out expecting to get ready for the water fight. I waited until I heard him coming out the door and as he came into view I quickly launched the water right at him. But the surprise was on me because while inside, he had grabbed a bowl, filled it with water and had sneak attacked me at the same time! We were BOTH wet and laughing. It was the best surprise water attack ever.

After the initial water attack we set to work filing our cups and splashing each other in the yard, the sun was super hot and intensely bright over our heads but luckily I had been able to bring in sunscreen knowing we would be spending some time outdoors playing in the water. I remember his big smile as we ran around chasing each other with the water. It was fun. Once we were both soaking wet we got out the popsicles we had made hours earlier using drink mix packets and the clear popsicle tray I had brought in. The strawberry drink mix was the perfect flavor and we sat on a towel, dripping wet, enjoying our cold treat in the sweltering heat. It felt great, this is what summer is all about.

Later that day, we stood at the fence line watching the sun set as we often do. It struck me as a heavy moment. I tried my best to explain it to him. “All you have been able to see for over 16 years is whatever lies beyond the fences. It’s all flat and barren. You don’t ever get to see anything else but this.” But he totally surprised me by saying “I see this beautiful girl.” And I completely understood.

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Sean’s Letters of Support

The following are some of the letters of support written for Sean’s commutation/parole packet; certain personal information has been withheld for privacy. On behalf of us both, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write in support of Sean, it really helps his chances for freedom. These letters are heartfelt and beautiful to read, I am so glad so many of you recognize all the hard work Sean has put in and what a amazing guy he is. (Additional letters are still being scanned and added)

Sean receiving his ARC certificate from David Garnica

Letter from “The Russian” May 2019

Sean’s 5th grade teacher Mr. Tom Marshall

 

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DVI 5: Filth and Pests

This is the fifth post Sean has written about his experience at Tracy Reception Center (Deuel Vocational Institution) in 2006. DVI has a long-standing reputation for being violent and dangerous. Sean was housed there for a brief period shortly following his wrongful conviction. Click below to read the previous installments

1: Welcome to Tracy, 2: The Nightmare, 3: Trading, 4: Shocking Conditions

I was in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or “the hole”) as I transitioned from the manline to Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) population. I already knew I wanted nothing to do with the gangs and violence of the mainline. I was even more sure of my decision when I saw a man being escorted past, covered in pink and white scars all over his torso, arms, and neck. My neighbor said the guy with the scars was a victim from the riot between the whites and the Northern Mexican gang, the scars were razor blade cuts.

I had done nothing wrong to be in Ad-Seg but I was prepared to endure whatever was necessary to get to the protective custody of SNY. Within the prison culture, an SNY yard is considered protective custody by those on the gang-controlled mainlines. In some cases this is true. Individuals who for one reason or another may be targets for violence from the prison gangs must seek refuge on the SNY yards because they no longer want to participate in the gang culture of the mainline and the subsequent violence. Whether considered protective custody or not, SNY yards have allowed individuals the ability to be themselves within the prison environment, making their own choices rather than being told what to do by others.

To be admitted to the SNY population, I had to go through a process to be cleared that left me in Ad-Seg for 45 days. I went through a classification committee review to determine my eligibility. Having never been involved in any gang activity, it was easy for them to clear me which is why it only took 45 days. Validated gang members may spend years going through this process.

While I was in Ad-Seg going through this process, I was still locked in my cell nearly the entire time. However, because I was in Ad-Seg and in the Ad-Seg SNY population, I was no longer under the restrictions of the lockdown. I was finally allowed to go to yard (go outside) for the first time since I had gotten to Tracy. In every Ad-Seg, the yard schedule is segregated to one degree or another. In some Ad-Seg facilities, the inmates are secured into individual mini-yards for their recreation time. These mini-yards are referred to as “dog cages” because they are essentially enclosed dog kennels used for human “recreation”. In other Ad-Seg facilities all groups of inmates go to larger exercise yards segregated by gang affiliation or ethnicity. As I was transitioning into the SNY population, I was allowed to access the SNY recreation yard. This recreation yard was not segregated by gang or race, it was for all SNY inmates and all SNY inmates went to this yard together 3 times a week for about 3 hours each time.

I immediately took advantage of going to yard. I remember the sun being so intensely bright after being kept inside for weeks. Out in the yard area I saw a man I recognized and had met in the county jail. I knew no one else so I began to talk to him. He told me I was making the right choice to move to the SNY population. He told me how none of the guys on the mainline would care about me and they would try to use me to accomplish their illegal goals.

L-Wing, the Ad-Seg area of Tracy, was designed differently than the other housing units of Tracy. Each tier of L-Wing was an entirely sectioned-off floor while the other wings had open floor plans from the ground floor all the way up to the third tier. There was also a partition wall in the middle of each floor so the cells on the other side of the floor could not be seen. L-Wing was highly isolating and designed to be this way. L-Wing was even filthier than the other areas of Tracy I had seen.  There were no inmate porters in L-Wing to do the minimal cleaning. Instead, the correctional officers were expected to do the cleaning. It was never done.

The first couple of days I was in Ad-Seg, I was on the second tier. Then I was moved to the first tier and given a cell mate. Another oddity of L-Wing was that outside my window was a mini courtyard that was no longer in use. As it was no longer in use and some inmates are not the most sanitary, over the years the courtyard had been filled with trash. The area had heaps of trash piling up against the walls at least 4 feet deep. The trash stank. What I did not realize was the amount of pests and vermin hidden in the trash heap, and hidden inside Tracy. Until being moved to this cell I had been on the second or third tier, creating a buffer zone from the pests and vermin. Now on the ground floor I was introduced to the mice and rats of Tracy. 

Each night as soon as the light turned off, the mice and rats would come out in search of food. The bottom of each cell door is about 2 inches or higher off the ground. In this gap, a faint light would shine through and back light their bodies in silhouette. I would see their little shapes sneaking and scurrying about.

I will never forget the first time I saw a rat sitting just outside my cell door. It sat there like a giant mutant evil mouse and I thought “What the hell is this?” The mice would flee at the slightest movement or sound my cellmate and I made. But the rat seemed to care less about us, standing its ground fearlessly.

As bad as the mice and rats were, they could not compare to the insects that infested the ground floor cells. The mice and rats could not get to us up on our bunks, but we found out the cockroaches could. One night I was laying on my bunk falling asleep when my cellmate asked me if I had just touched him. I said no, wondering what he was talking about. Then he said something was touching him. I told him I was laying on my bunk trying to sleep. Suddenly I heard a fast rustling of his bedding and something hit the wall. I jumped up and turned on the light by pulling on the chain attached the single exposed light bulb above my head. There was a dead cockroach on the ground. My cellmate was freaking out, it had been crawling on his body and he had thrown it against the wall. Several more cockroaches scurried across the walls as they fled from the light. Waiting to fall asleep at night I found if I watched the walls I would see their black bodies crawling around. 

Our problem with the cockroaches got much worse the day we returned from yard and the trash in the court yard had been cleaned out. All the insects calling the trash pile home had moved into the cells. There were hundreds of them, it was disgusting. My cellmate and I spent hours trying to get them out of our cell and belongings, but they just kept coming. That night was hell. And the next few nights after that too. The cockroaches and other insects seemed to be everywhere. Nothing we did stopped them. After a few nights it went back to the normal rate of cockroaches crawling across the cell walls, but they were still there every night along with the mice and rats.

Written by Sean O’Brien,  June 2019

Recent LA Times Article about Corcoran Prison’s sister prison SATF here

2007 Article about Tracy’s overcrowding here

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Happy Birthday Sean

Sean’s Birthday 2013

September 2013

June 2014

June 2015

June 2016

June 2017

June 2018

June 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2013, my first year with Sean, he had just been transferred to a new facility and we had no way to get photos during our first visit. The September 2013 photo is from the following visit. Every year we like to visit on his birthday Over the years the visiting rules have varied, we have grown closer & stronger, and my photo editing skills have come a long ways. It’s fun to see how far we have come and how much everything has changed since that first year. While it is absolutely heartbreaking for Sean to have to spend so many birthdays in prison when we have already proved his innocence in court, we choose to focus on the positive, the blessings we have and to embrace our love and happiness. We focus on what we DO have rather than what we DONT, and look forward to the multiple opportunities for his upcoming freedom. We know the day will come, we just don’t know when. So for now we live a fulfilling life the best way we can.

Thank you for the Birthday wishes, we had a great day yesterday celebrating Sean’s 33rd birthday!

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