Education for Anti Recidivism

I just finished my English Literature class provided through Bakersfield College. Yes, college in prison. Bakersfield College runs a program that provides classes with professors coming into the prison to give in-person instruction. It is an incredible educational opportunity for the men here.

The number one factor in lowering recidivism rates is a college education, which is why the Anti-Recidivism Coalition helped establish this program. Being able to see the men participate in these classes as they grow and change is a clear example of the rehabilitation that is possible within these walls. The greatest example I have seen of this was the day we all shared our poetry project in class.

Our professor asked each of us to stand in front of the class and recite the poems we had written. We were asked to stand in front of our peers, fellow “convicts”, and leave ourselves vulnerable to their criticism and ridicule.

Many of these men were once enemies. Whether they were enemies by choice, circumstance, gang affiliation,or race; it would be nothing for them to meet each other on the prison yard with violence. Now here in this classroom, a safe place, they expose a deeper side of their personal self. As these men opened up and shared, the only criticism that came was constructive. There was no ridicule. No shame. Each poem recitation ended in praise and genuine applause.   Everyone had a good time sharing their poetry.

Some of the poems were deep and profound, some touching on subjects once unimaginable to discuss in such a diverse group. While others expressed humor and optimism of a better future for all. Watching all these men open themselves up in such a way was a truly moving experience. To see everyone enjoy themselves so freely was a rare and special gift. In a safe environment these men are capable of letting go of their old ways. They can become men society would embrace when they return to their communities and homes. These are thinking men. They are feeling men. They are compassionate men. They are grateful men; grateful for being given a safe environment to educate themselves and to become men they can be proud to be.

Written by Sean 5/26/2018

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Birthday Sunrise

Sunrise on Sean’s Birthday 2018

Since the beginning of this year, I have been traveling to visit Sean in a slightly different way in order to save money, time, and be more efficient. My new method is to wake up at 3:30 am, get on the road around 4 am, and arrive at the prison just before 8 am in time to visit for about 5 1/2 hours then drive home the same day. This eliminates the need for all the preparations I was making before. The only things I need to bring are extra clothes to be able to adhere to the ever-changing strict dress code, some water and snacks for the road, as well as plenty of podcasts to listen to as I drive. Rather than stay overnight in a hotel, I get to sleep in my own bed which means better quality sleep, more energy, and I still have half my weekend free to get things done. This has made visiting easier, cheaper, and it means I can do it more often. Along with Family Visit it allows us to see each other more often which has been really good for our relationship. This also allows for more spontaneity which is good because life isn’t always based on the calendar. Sunrise visits, as we refer to them, have quickly become our favorite way to do normal visits.

I was never a morning person. According to chronobiologists, there are 3 types of people; morning larks, humming birds, and night owls. Larks  typically function their best and are most alert early in the morning, they wake up before their alarm with a spring in their step.  Owls don’t enjoy waking before 10 am and are most productive in the dark hours past 9 pm. The rest of us who fall somewhere in between are humming birds.  I am somewhere between a humming bird and a night owl. I wouldn’t naturally wake up at 3:30 am on a typical day, but there is something sort of magical about setting out in the dark quiet before most people are even awake.

On these trips the highway is free from traffic and everything feels quiet. There are less distractions in the dark, it’s colder and calmer. The air seems different at 4 am than it does during the day. I  drive for at least an hour or two before the sun rises depending on the season. I get to see the entire sunrise which is honestly something I have never seen before and it’s surprisingly beautiful. It was especially meaningful on Sean’s birthday. As I drove the sun rose by 5 am, officially marking our day of celebration.

It was a special day for us. I sang him Happy Birthday before we ate the individually packaged slices of cheesecake from vending machines, he blew out the imaginary candle and I clapped. How many more birthdays will be celebrated in the prison visiting room? We don’t know, but we don’t let that bother us. For now these moments mean everything.

*edited: decorations not real

Also edited: cake & balloons not real

If you enjoy night time and listening to podcasts check out Nocturne, a podcast about peering into the dusty corners of the night and exploring often undisclosed and overlooked slices of life. It’s worth a listen.

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Commutation Support Letters

Sean would like to apply for commutation of his sentence while we wait for the Magistrate’s ruling from our Evidentiary Hearing in January 2017. Governor Brown is granting more commutations than ever before and it cannot hurt to at least try. As part of Sean’s request he can include letters of support from friends and family. Below are the PDF files of what Sean wrote for friends and family:

Hello Everyone

How to write your letter

How to write your letter 2

How to write your letter 3

Thank you!

I apologize for the poor quality of these scans, my scanner was not willing to cooperate tonight.

The PDF files below are a helpful guide in writing your letter, it does not need to be long. Thank you to anyone considering writing a support letter, they will each be included in Sean’s application.

Document one

support letter 2

support letter 2 continued

Basic information to include in your letter includes: Introduce yourself, how you met Sean, your relationship with him before/after arrest, his character, his achievements before and since wrongful conviction, your feelings/knowledge about his case, your opinion of his Life Sentence, reasons he should have his sentenced commuted, what you hope for him when he comes home.

We are no longer publicly posting Sean’s mailing address for privacy reasons so if you would like to write please see us on Facebook or drop your email below.  A big thank you to everyone who is writing a letter as well as friends and family who continue to show us love and support.

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Family Visit 5: Creatures

Image result for brown spotted toad california

On May 12, 2018 Sean and I celebrated our 9 month anniversary at a Family Visit. Our wedding day is something we like to remember and celebrate each month because it something that brings us both great joy.

Sean’s eyes lit up when he showed me the little lizard he had caught. It was tan with dark brown markings and about 4 inches long.  Sean explained that he had caught the lizard while sitting outside in the sun, waiting the couple of hours it had taken for the officers to process to escort the visitors over. Anyone who knew Sean would not be surprised at all by this, he has always loved animals, especially reptiles.  After all the pictures and stories of Sean catching creatures before his wrongful conviction, I finally got to see it for myself. And it was beautiful. My husband finally got to show me a critter, not just talk about one. He has had lizards, toads, and other creatures as pets in prison before; but those he could only tell me about.  The real lizard nestled into my hand, soaking up my heat. Sean and I moved together outside into the sunshine. We stared at the lizard until it leapt into the grass and was gone.

There has been some talk about the fogs and toads at Family Visit. Some guys are even afraid of them. One of Sean’s MAC buddies says he takes a broom out with him as he walks to count at night to defend against the toads. In warmer weather we can hear them croaking once it gets dark. Sean spotted a big toad once but it had disappeared when we returned to find it. So we were really happy to finally catch one.

The next critter we encountered was a small-ish brown spotted toad who was very friendly. I nearly stepped on him as we were walking back to our unit from the 9 pm count. He sat by a sprinkler along the pathway, blending in with the dirt and grass, and I quickly scooped him up for a closer examination. Sean was delighted, and he’s been talking about it ever since! Seriously, he has told everyone that his wife caught a toad. We searched for moths to feed our toad with no success. But the next night we found him again along the cement wall. Sean found a cockroach and a big moth to feed him. Boss, that’s what I named the toad because he was all business about eating, opened his mouth up and quickly snapped up the insects. I lay on my belly on the cement for a close view of his dinner, I had never seen a toad do this before. Boss seemed happy to play with us and we were entertained by him. Later that night when we came outside again for midnight count we found him near the door, as if he were waiting for more food. We hope to see Boss again next time, or maybe one of his toad buddies.

Now that the DVD players are in the Family Visiting units we are allowed to check out 2 DVDs per visit, which as of now are all G-rated children’s movies. We are working to order some family friendly PG-13 DVDs in the new fiscal year. This time we watched one of our favorites, Wall-E. We sat together cuddled on couch while we watched. Wall-E is such an endearing character. His persistence to keep working even when he is completely alone is a scenario we can both relate to. We like the way he collects things from the garbage to save in categories in his home. Wall-E’s desire for a companion is observed when he watches the old movie of the couple dancing and singing.  Then when Wall-E meets the girl robot, Eve, he brings her into his home to share all his treasures with her.  His care for her is obvious in the way he protects her after she shuts off. It’s really sweet.

We enjoyed watching this movie and everything we got to do together this time around. We look forward to our next Family Visit when we will be celebrating Sean’s Birthday.

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Ning’s First Visit

On March 24, 2018 I brought my good friend, Ning, with me to visit my husband for the first time. Ning and I have been friends for over 6 years, and she has wanted to meet Sean for a long time. She has talked to him on the phone, seen his art, and heard about him for 6 long years; and Sean has also been hearing about Ning from me and seeing pictures of our adventures together. Last weekend they finally got to meet!

It was a great visit, and we all had a great time. When it was over here is what Ning said: “Sean is really sweet, he is a very sweet guy. You can tell he is genuine and nice and I can see how much he loves you. He is very easy to get along with, I really enjoyed meeting him. I don’t  see how anyone could not like Sean. He is a good guy, I felt that. He doesn’t fit in that environment at all.  I would like to go visit again soon. I will be very happy when he comes home.

 

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15 Years Lost

 

Darkness descends too young

with uncontrolled pain ripping apart

freedom lost in the confusion untold 

why, why does the cold constrain?

words spoken, lies all around

still freedom lost in confusion untold

 

Order marinated in the form of kangaroos held most high

dignity lost, a cold mask remains 

covering evil in the charade

what is this power held?

trust broken in shadows

with freedom lost in confusion untold

 

Untruth carries the day

constraining all that is right

lies upon lies build

losing hope the sun will rise

lost to the cold I am

the kangaroos lead

with freedom lost in confusion untold

 

A decade passed by, lies remain

half decade more- light crests the horizon

breaking through the cold untold

kangaroos box to defend their might

what is left in the broken lost?

hope holds onto tiny threads

with freedom lost in confusion untold

 

Lies unravel with dawn’s light

masks cracking and what’s exposed

oathed admissions made public-

“Because Philadelphia told me to”

revealed truth of false statements made

original intent to deceive

caused innocence lost too young

in confusion unresolved what hope remains

when will end-

will it be before darkness descends?

 

Sean wrote this poem about his case for his college English class in February, 2018. His intent was not to use the words: judge, lawyer, court, jury, or anything too obvious for the purpose of expanding his writing. Below are the scans of his hand written poem. 

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Family Visit 4: Rain Clouds

March 3, 2018 The morning I went into Family Visit was dark and cloudy. A few hours later, we heard the sound of thunder in the distance. We went out the door into the small outdoor space and stood together  in the grass to watch the clouds roll closer, dark and heavy.

“It’s raining over there.” Sean pointed to a darkness descending downward from some clouds in the distance, an isolated area of rain. He explained how storms always pass quickly by in this area because of the flatness of the land, unlike the foothills and mountains we are originally from. With land that flat you can see what’s coming, nothing lasts too long.

His arm around my shoulders, I leaned my head onto him and stared out at the clouds, moving quickly closer. The cool winds brushed our faces, tiny sprinkles fell on us. It was real. 

Lightning flashed upwards through the clouds, super fast and bright, so quick we nearly missed seeing it; then the rumble of thunder. The whole experience was simply awesome. Not only was it all beautiful, we got to appreciate nature together; something we rarely get to do. Both of us have always loved everything having to do with nature, the natural elements. It was special to share it together. How many times in the past several years have we seen the weather and wished for the other to share it with? Countless. And now it was finally happening. 

Thunder cracked and struck out in the normally quiet area. The lightning was mesmerizing to watch, shooting out in haphazard staticky lines. I wanted to capture it somehow, remember what it was like to stand there with my husband watching the weather. When the raindrops began to hit us we waited a few minutes before retreating to the shelter of the roof overhang in front of the Family Visiting unit.

All packed up and ready to go, labeled clear bags

Toiletries packed, all clear containers

Rain on my windshield, driving down to the hotel in the evening

View from the hotel window in the morning before Family Visit, about 7 am

The drive to the prison, long stretches of fields

The prison sign on the way out

Sean and I love and appreciate all the time we get to spend together, whether it’s a Family Visit or a regular visit, but Family Visits are incredibly special. Each time we look forward to the date with excited anticipation. We count down the weeks, days, hours, till we are finally together again with as much freedom as we are allowed. And now we begin counting down to Family Visit #5. Until then we are holding onto each other, watching the storms roll through.

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