VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Change through Education

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by Armando Ybarra

A major portion of my life has been spent behind prison walls because of, not only my poor choices, but also due to the lack of integrity of the justice system in the courthouse I was convicted in. Vindictive prosecutors hoodwinked me with a “win at all costs” mentality, resulting in a sentence of 25-years-to-life imposed upon me through breach of contract. Their broken promise gave them lawful grounds to classify me as a third-striker under California’s infamous draconian law. I do not deny my guilt, I am surely guilty of the crime of robbery that was committed, yet the injustice occurs in the lifelong sentence imposed for a robbery without a firearm, in which none of the victims were hurt in any physical sense. This injustice is an ongoing theme in my life for which I rise daily to stave off its negative impact upon my existence so that the positive personality I brought with me into prison is not extinguished in this negative atmosphere. This struggle is a reality that takes a toll upon my well-being, yet I push on not allowing it to inflict too much damage.

Throughout my current period of incarceration, many incidents have had me teetering on the edge of resignation. For example, the tragic loss of my father, my family’s patriarch, was a punch in the gut still felt to this date. He was a good father who will be missed. All the way to his last breath, he fought our crusade to bring me back home. His last words to me were, “Do not give up!” He held out hope that we would right this unjust sentence together. Fixing this miscarriage of justice gave him strength in his bout with cancer, as he promised he would be at the gate to drive me home. He passed in October 2015, and I continue the fight we began together.

My father’s death was devastating in itself, yet 48 days later my son was killed in a car accident. His instant death was a stab to my soul in which my sanity slowly seeped through its jagged-edged wound. I miss this young man greatly. It my mind’s eye, he will be forever my little boy who was kind, funny, and possessed a magnetic personality which energized anyone with whom he came in contact. My father and I, along with my son, shared a passion for low-rider cars. We spent quality time together building these machines that were a representation of our Southern California Hispanic/Latino culture. In fact, the 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline sedan he drove to his death was a project he and my father built together during my incarceration, in which they included me by allowing me to choose the charcoal gray and black color scheme. My son was dearly loved and is missed by many others and me. His passing occurred in December 2015.

The next month tragedy struck again with the death of my mother-in-law. We became close when I first met her daughter. As she was mourning the murder of her only son, I stepped in and filled a void that united our two families prior to my marriage to her daughter, which she enthusiastically encouraged. She is another whom I have loved and lost during my thematic sojourn with justice. Dealing with the pain of losing those I loved has been intensified by my inability to provide comfort to family members suffering these losses, as am I.

This final tragedy I’m about to mention is one that has taken the greatest toll on my emotional stability. Due to medical malpractice, my otherwise healthy mother’s life was taken prematurely. During a routine procedure of having her stitches removed from a prior gash to her head, she was exposed to sepsis that entered her bloodstream and inflicted its deathblow. My mother was the light of my life, an amazing woman who was extremely loyal to me. Whether right or wrong, she always stood steadfast by my side. Some may label her an enabler, but to me she was all that was right in the world. Losing her has turned my world topsy-turvy. The fact her life was cut unexpectedly short has made it even more devastating. I wake up with her on my mind, and fall asleep with thoughts of her precious love comforting me within my soul.

All the above-mentioned family members I have described are people whom have meant the most to me throughout my 41 years of life; so life without them to inspire hope has changed me both positively and negatively affecting my behavior. I struggle daily to ensure I honor their legacy by keeping the positive impact more prevalent.

One of the negative aspects brought upon by my effort to cope with the heartache is my reliance on a crutch to aid me in my undertaking to find solace from the sadness and depression that are a daily threat to my emotional stability. This crutch is heroin. I have taken a headfirst dive into the spoon filled with dark murky fluid of ecstasy, an escape from all the murky emotions brought upon by these tragedies and my frustration with this theme of justice keeping me away from where I belong. The coping mechanism I’ve turned to in my endeavor to manage my dark poignancy is a mere spoon used to dig my way through a mountain of sorrow. This opium-filled mind of mine believes that the subconscious world I’ve created in my dazed condition has tempered all the heart-rending pain, yet in reality, it is being sharpened to a point that will pierce me through even after the high dies down. Yet, as my current intoxicated state of mind alleviates the pain temporarily, the rent in the fabric of my soul is patched up to keep the winds of melancholy from whirling through my spirit. For that moment in time, I am able to breathe without the suffocating feelings of sadness overwhelming me. My crutch allowed for my love to overpower the sadness briefly, so I continued to dip into the soothing influence the poppy plant provided, over and over again.

This was all an insincere method of dealing with my tragedies. I needed that pain I was running from to stitch the tear in my heart, yet I have allowed the hole to enlarge in my absence, as I was away on a peaceful journey. With this enlarged rupture, my disconsolate spirit has struggled on inconsolable; yet my realization of the predicament I have placed myself in with my addictive choices has allowed my sober mind to return with a healing objective. The addictive substance did assist in my time of domineering emotional instability, but the damage left behind is still a mess I am currently cleaning up.

As my life continues subsequent to the miscarriage of justice and my draconian life sentence runs on monotonously, I deal with a lot of issues which test my character; yet I refuse to allow this incarceration, and all that it entails, to strip me of my integrity. I have stumbled and allowed addiction to take hold of me for a moment, but this fall from grace does not define me. Therefore, as I kick the habit and move forward with my goals in focus, I clutch my integrity close to my heart so that my character is not victimized in these negative surroundings. The theme of justice has made a big difference in my life, yet my decisions make the greatest impact upon me and my community; so my aim to succeed carries the potential to empower others making my community a better place.

Finding motivation in moments when hope is absent is a very difficult endeavor. With my sense of purpose in my future, I have made the choice to change, and am now following through with the discipline required to make this change permanent. I refuse to give up on my attempt to bring luster to my loved ones’ legacies. No longer will I conform to the theme of justice that has been a prevalent entity in my life, as it has influenced my life negatively for the most part. I now embrace a motif of education. I am at the culmination of my endeavor to earn a college degree and have renewed the élan I lost in the stupor of my addiction-addled escapism. “Do not give up!” were my father’s last words to me. I have left behind some damage along my way, but I will not give up on me; I will not give up on pursuing a higher education despite the pettiness that threatens to derail my motivation. I will not give up!

Despite all my shortcomings, the denials from the courts, the diatribes from administrators, and, of course, my addiction, despite all of this I still dare to dream big and work toward self-improvement so that when I obtain my release I return to society a better person than the guy who left it. My refusal to give up will set up opportunities to mend the damage I’ve created over the years. My refusal to give up will inspire my loved ones to move forward in my example with their own defiance to never give up.

My refusal to give up is the discipline that allows me to grow, so that when my opportunity to return to society arrives, I will not return to my errant ways. I will have grown up having to take responsibility for my actions and turning my failures into a success-filled life that I can be proud of. I WILL NOT GIVE UP!

Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.

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.

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