Sean was recently accepted into the new REACH program at Corcoran State Prison. Being selected to participate in this program is an honor for only a handful of inmates. REACH stands for: Rehabilitating Educating And Creating Hope It is a program designed and planned out by the inmates to bring in young men who are struggling with issues such as substance abuse, gangs, or problems at school; take them on a tour of the prison facility and talk to them about what life is really like on the inside before breaking into small groups to get to know each of the young men and find out what is going in in their life to cause them such trouble. The goal of this program is to deter young men from making the same mistakes that (more or less) led to the incarceration of the inmates in the program and to give the young men some insight into their own lives and how they can better themselves in order to stay out of prison.
The following is the bio speech Sean wrote to present for the program.
My name is Sean O’Brien. When I was only 16 years old my freedom was taken away from me. I was sentenced to spend the rest of my life in prison for a crime I did not commit. At only 16 years old the state of California was telling me the rest of my life was no longer mine.
How many of you young men know that today as juveniles you can be tried as adults in adult criminal court and sentenced to prison time? This is true. The cops, the district attorney, and the judges all have this power over your life. No one has to ask permission to do this to you. Your parents cannot protect you from it. There is nothing they can do once the government decides to try you as an adult and send you to prison. When this happens you are fucked.
Every choice you make in life matters. And seeing as you are here today you are probably not making the best choices. The wrong choices today can have a huge impact on your future. I made bad choices and now I live in prison. I did not commit the murder I was sentenced for but the bad choices I did make; skipping school, smoking pot, and disrespecting my parents, all led to the circumstances that allowed two other guys to accuse me of their crime. The worst decision I ever made was to smoke pot. I regret it every day of my life. Had I simply been in school where I should have been I would not be in this prison today. I would never have lost 13 years of my life. Think about that, some of your very first memories were about 13 years ago. As long as you can remember I have been in prison, suffering, separated from my family.
I have been incarcerated since I was 16 years old. I have missed out on my entire adult life. When my classmates were graduating, I was on trial for murder. My 18th birthday was spent alone in an isolation cell in the county jail. I turned 21 in lock down at Tracy reception center. My entire 20s were spend locked away in prison. I just turned 30 and spent my birthday working for 26 cents an hour. My greatest gift that day was a 15 minute phone call home. The cost of the phone call was more than I made working that day. How exciting does that sound to you guys?
I have missed out on my entire adult life. And for what? Skipping a few classes to hang out with friends I haven’t heard from in 13 years? Or to smoke pot and get high? I thought getting high was so awesome. It was so awesome that it caused me to make horrible choices in life and ultimately end up in prison.
I did not grow up in a rough neighborhood. I was born and raised in the small town of Placerville in Northern California. Back in those days Placerville was a quiet town with a very small community. There were no gangs or bad influences. Up until high school I got good grades and did everything I was supposed to. I enjoyed school, I was an active member of the Boy Scouts and I raised steers and pigs in 4-H. I had a loving family and friends. I loved fishing, hunting, and the wilderness. There was no path to prison for me, where I am from no one goes to prison.
But here I am. Arrested at 16 years old and tried in criminal court as an adult. Sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus an additional 10 years. Any one of you could be me in 13 years. It is you to make the right choices.
As a teenager I did not make the best choices but now I am an adult. I may live in prison but the choices I make today still matter. I still matter. And I owe it to myself, my family, and God to be the man I know I am capable of being despite my circumstances. I want you to believe in yourself too. Your circumstances do not define who you are, the choices you make in life do. At the very least you owe it to yourselves to be the men and women you are capable of being. It may sound cliché but the choices you make today, no matter how small they may seem, will affect the rest of your lives.
You can continue on the path you are on and the next time you are in prison it won’t be for a single day. It may be the rest of your life. And believe me if you don’t change your ways you will be back for a much longer stay. Or right now, today, you can make the choice to change. It will be difficult. You might struggle and slip, needing to fight to do what you know is right. Do not ever give up on yourself. Because, believe me when I say this, living your life in prison is much harder.