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The disappointment of parole denial
KALW has partnered with radio producers inside California's oldest prison to bring you the San Quentin Prison Report, a series of stories focusing on the experiences of these men, written and produced by those living inside the prison's walls.
Most prisoners probably won't admit this, but men do cry. Amidst the steel bars, concrete walls, and hardened attitudes, silent streams of tears become vessels that reflect the deepest and darkest of troubled waters.
The last time I cried was the day after my parole was denied. It was not the denial of freedom that brought me to tears-- imagine having 15 minutes to get on the phone and attempt to explain to your child year after year after year, why you are not coming home. Not knowing how I would say what needed to be said, I stepped into the prison phone booth and called home. As I dialed the phone number, I imagined my daughter sitting on a couch in her apartment complex, anxiously awaiting my call.
The prison facility where I’m housed sort of looks like an apartment complex. It's a five-story building of miniature cells situated inside a gigantic cube called North Block. Over 800 incarcerated men live there. A series of twelve 1970's-style phone booths are situated on one side of the building, and I was assigned a time slot in booth 8.
Normally there are crowds of men hanging out in the tiers and by the phone booths, talking so loud it's hard to hear. I saw the crowd of men, but could not hear their voices. In that moment, my heartbeat was the only sound I heard. The volume increased with every ring of the telephone, and then she answered.
"Hello, hello?" my daughter said.
A computer generated voice interrupted with a pre-programmed message. It said: "This is Global Tel Link, you have a prepaid call from Troy, an inmate at the California State Prison San Quentin, San Quentin, California. This call and your telephone number will be recorded and monitored. To accept this call, say yes or press 5 now."
"Yes, yes!" my daughter said. I could hear her fumbling with the phone.
"Hello?" she said.
"Hey baby, how are you doing?" I said.
"I'm okay, but what happened?" she asked.
"I was denied," I said.
"Why!?" she said.
I was lost for words. My mind flashed back to a letter my daughter wrote when she was eight years old. It said: "When I'm sad I say, God, please just let my daddy out of jail. I'm about to cry right now."
Here she is 15 years later, still pleading for her daddy to come home.
"Why won't they let you come home?" she asked.
Stuck in what seems like the infinite ripple of a rock cast into a body of water many years ago, I thought to myself: what sort of prison have I put my child in? A stream of tears rushed up as if they were going to explode from my eyes, but I held back the tears like a dam holding back a river.
I felt that if I allowed my daughter to hear me cry that it would cause her to lose hope of ever reuniting with her father in the free world. I reinforced the dam with thoughts of penitentiary toughness. "Don't cry, baby. Everything is going to be okay," I said.
In an attempt to comfort her, I began to lay out a laundry list of options: "I'll petition for a re-hearing, I'll write a writ of Habeas Corpus. I'll be okay, just don't you worry."
By that time, our 15-minute phone call was almost over. We said our goodbyes and I was able to tell her that I loved her before the phone automatically hung up. No sooner than I place the receiver back on the cradle, the dam burst. The river of regret began to flow.
The environment I grew up in taught me to believe my physical safety depended on aggression, and that my emotional safety depended on the suppression of tears. I was ten years old when I had my first fight. In fact my mother forced me to have it. "If you don't beat that boy's a** I'm going to beat your a**, and then I'm going to tell your father to beat your a** when he gets home," she told me.
I learned at an early age that it was safe to be aggressive and violent, but the moment I showed a tear, it was seen as a sign of weakness, and I was preyed upon. Now here I am in prison trying to overcome a lifetime of conditioning. I attempted to hide any evidence of my perceived weakness. I turned, faced the wall, and tried to hide as I used my t-shirt to wipe my tears away. I thought perhaps I could make it back to my cell before anyone noticed.
As I exited the phone booth, a guy I knew was walking past. "Hey, how you doing? Is everything alright?" he asked.
I paused and looked at him with caution. The look in his eyes told me that he had swam beneath the troubled waters of the mask I still wore. The tone in his voice told me there was no judgment in his question. Perhaps it was the sincerity of his concern, perhaps I was just tired of holding it all inside. I shook my head and said, "No man, I'm not."
"I feel you man," he said.
Not another word was spoken. I simply turned around and headed back to my cell.
Troy Williams is the Director of the San Quentin Prison Report radio project – a new series that brings you stories produced by men currently serving time in California’s oldest prison. You can listen to more stories from this series on www.kalw.org.
Cops & Courts