This I Believe

Paul - Vallejo, California
Entered on September 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

A vist to San Quentin State Prison

Several times a year I make the trip over to San Quentin State Prison on the San Francisco bay. After passing through several checkpoints steel gates close behind me, I wait quietly in an open visiting room for my friend – a young man serving a 25 year to life sentence – to be called.

My friend arrives and we shake hands and exchange a quick “man hug”.

I have known Kevin since he was a teenager. He was the one who was always helped to keep the peace among his peers growing up in some pretty tough neighborhoods where I worked as a youth counselor. He was the kid that everybody liked. I still find it hard to believe that he killed another young man in a gang related fight, and that he remains frozen, like a fly in amber, midway through his youthful years.

I am sad for him, mostly because he has missed so much of life. I also feel a chill for the family of the boy he killed. NO ONE should have to suffer the loss of a child. I don’t know what I would do or how I would go on if someone took the life of one of my own children.

The conversation remains positive, and I tell him the news of old friends of his. It has been over a decade since he saw most of them. In his mind they remain as bright eyed teenagers. Yet his boyhood friends are now grown, have their own families, and have moved on. He has not had that luxury. Nor has the boy he killed.

My mind wanders…I think of the over 2 million and growing prison population in our country and of their countless victims.

What a waste. But I don’t have any easy answers either. All I can do is commit to making sure I am there with a handshake and a plan when Kevin is released. To take a bit personal responsibility for his future.

The visit ends and we hug and say goodbye. I tell Kevin that I will be back soon. He watches me go and I look back and wave one more time. He stands silently and watches me go.

As I am released with the other visitors outside of the prison gates I breathe deeply the fresh breezy air off of the Bay. Across the Bay San Francisco rises from the water, the sun reflecting its brilliance on the water.

Another visitor, a middle-aged mother smiles, and I smile too, because we both have decided not to give up. Both of us know that this is all we really have…and it will have to be enough.