PC: Ray Graciano Via

Vanguard Incarcerated Press banner

By Angel Diaz 

To the reader: I am sharing my story with you in the hopes that you can understand who I am, where I come from, and why I and others like me ended up in prison at such a young age. I hope this will give you insight into how I’ve changed and how I and those like me hope to reenter the world outside the prison walls. This is my story.

I was born and mostly raised in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. My parents, who were of Puerto Rican descent, tried to give me and my siblings the best upbringing they possibly could, but failed at every attempt to do so. Unfortunately, I was subjugated to harsh language, emotional distress, and physical abuse at the hands of my stepfather. He would beat me with his hands, a leather belt, an extension cord, a broomstick, a cane, or whatever he could get his hands on. My mother was so submissive that not once did she intervene in the beatings. No one in the family was allowed to go outside, including my mother. We were only allowed to go to school and back or to the store and back. My stepfather degraded me with insults. He routinely called me “negro sucio,” which translates to “dirty nigger,” likely because I had the darkest complexion of my siblings. He also repeatedly told me that I would never amount to anything and that I would only grow up to be a drug dealer or drug user.

“There’s nothing that creates more confusion about love in the minds and hearts of children than unkind and/or cruel punishment meted out by the grownups they have been taught they should love and respect.” – Bell Hooks, All About Love 

At age fourteen, I was finally able to stand up to my stepfather and bring an end to his cruelty and abuse. My life only took a turn for the worse from there. In addition to my grim domestic reality, I struggled to find assistance and a way out of my oppressive conditions living in an impoverished, drug-infested neighborhood. I dropped out of school and found refuge on the streets. To quell the pain, I stayed out of the house as much as I could and began drinking and smoking marijuana. Because I had no positive male authority figure present in my life, I started looking for leadership and guidance from the neighborhood thugs due to all the money they were making and the degree of influence they each had over everyone around them. As a result of my behavior, my parents moved away from the drug infested neighborhood. But it was too late—I was too far gone and completely consumed with rage towards my stepfather.

“Every child, boy included, comes into the world wanting to love and be loved by his parents. Without [love] children die or suffer emotional damage.” – Bell Hooks, The Will to Change 

On the streets, I rapidly began going on a downhill spiral, descending deeper and deeper into the unknown. I didn’t comprehend that I was on a destructive path that would ultimately bring me to where I find myself today. I was getting high on marijuana, angel dust, alcohol, and cocaine. I also joined the Latin Kings street gang, and found myself surrounded by the constant threat of violence, trapped in a dark occultic world filled with twisted ideology that blinded me from the truth and all sense of good reasoning. In my mind, I felt obligated as a Latin Kings member to retaliate against any perceived disrespect. And, as a direct consequence of that distorted reality, I killed a man by the name of Jose Fonseca.

“No man who does not actively choose to work to change and challenge patriarchy escapes its impact. The most tacit, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the seeds of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in his psyche.” – Bell Hooks, The Will to Change 

Due to the severity of my crime, I was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole (LWOP). Now, while facing a lifetime of incarceration has been a challenging experience for me, I know that my experience cannot compare to the suffering of the Fonseca family. Painfully, they too were victimized by my intentional and unlawful killing of Jose Fonseca back on September 14, 1994. If dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one under normal circumstances is a difficult task, I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be having a loved one brutally murdered because of gang violence.

“Even though masses of American boys will not commit violent crimes resulting in murder, the truth that no one wants to name is that all boys are being raised to be killers even if they learn to hide the killer within and act as benevolent young patriarchs.” – Bell Hooks, The Will to Change 

Twenty-nine years have passed since my arrest, conviction, and incarceration for the murder of Jose Fonseca. Today, when I look into the mirror, I see the reflection of a remorseful forty-nine-year-old man gazing back at me. I have had ample time over those years to reflect on the choices of my past, so I can make better ones moving forward. I hate that I brutally murdered a man, and I hate the events that led up to that horrible night. I’ve come to realize that accepting responsibility and speaking about my harmful actions has given me a better perspective and understanding of the value of life. In other words, as a result of this very difficult experience, I hope to effectively communicate to those who may care to listen how my actions devastated the lives of a community of people and led to a lifetime of incarceration full of remorse and regret.

“To heal, men must learn to feel again. They must learn to break the silence, to speak the pain.” – Bell Hooks, The Will to Change 

While I am truly full of remorse for the murder of Jose Fonseca, I understand that nothing I say or do will ever change that sad reality in any way. And while that is entirely true, what’s also true is the fact that I have completely turned my life around. And I have been patiently waiting throughout my incarceration for the opportunity to demonstrate that to my family, the Fonseca family, and the community I once belonged to. I’ve come to realize that my only redemption in all of this is to have the courage to have the will to change.

“What will never change is the will to change and the fear of change. It is the will to change that motivates us to seek the help. It is the fear of change that motivates us to resist the very help we seek.” – Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Intimacy 

Since my incarceration, I have sought out countless self-help programs. I have thrived in those program roles which provided me with opportunities to mentor others, such as leading MCI Norfolk’s Alcoholic Anonymous program. Through religious temperance and empathy, I also strive constantly to better myself and those around me.

“Throughout my many years of institutionalization, I, like so many of these men, unconsciously took refuge behind prison walls. Not until I read a series of books for adults who had been abused as children did I become committed to the process of examining the experience of my own childhood.” – Jarvis Jay Masters, Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row 

While I’m still a man with many weaknesses and shortcomings, I also possess many strengths and virtues. I have become a man who is driven by self-discipline, generous with compassion, gifted at mentorship, and worthy of respect. I am the kind of man whom others can rely on when they need help, whether that be a reluctant old man who may in fact be struggling with cleaning his cell or offering encouraging words of sobriety to other people in recovery. I’m a man who is always eager to guide others away from the painful path that led me to my lifetime of incarceration.

“Men cannot change if there is no blueprint for change. Men cannot love if they are not taught the art of loving.” – Bell Hooks, The Will to Change 

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for