A closer look inside

I recently came across an essay on Quora.com. It was written by Tommy Winfrey, an inmate in San Quentin State Prison. His words were in response to the question: “What should everyone know about prison?”

As someone who regularly goes behind bars as a Truth Be Told volunteer at Lockhart Prison, I found myself wondering what it would feel like to enter those same doors as a convicted and sentenced offender. It wasn’t the first time I had imagined it, but it was the first time I had imagined it as something that could actually happen. Why? It was in the way that Tommy Winfrey concluded his essay — with a reference to people who drink and drive, or text and drive. Says Winfrey: “A prison sentence can happen in the blink of an eye.”

My truth being told? I’ve been guilty of both offenses. But there, by the grace of God, go I.

I’m taking this as a wakeup call, a direct message from my Higher Power. Call a cab next time. It’s worth the expense and having to retrieve your car the following morning. Leave your phone in your purse — even while sitting at a traffic light. Email, phone calls, text messages — it can all wait until later.

Anyway, here’s what Winfrey had to say in response to the question: What should everyone know about prison?

“I believe that everyone should know that they can end up here. In my fifteen years plus of incarceration I have met people from every walk of life. I have met lawyers, teachers, bankers, coaches, and even highway patrolmen. Prison is full of what society would have deemed ordinary law-abiding citizens. These citizens just made a bad choice or two that cost them their freedom. Some of these decisions were horrendous; some were not. But they all broke the law. I would bet you that if you were to ask them if they would ever see themselves in prison before they committed the acts that landed them here, they would have all said no.

My point is that prison is not just full of misfits and desperados. Although, there are plenty of them here too. But, prison is full of people. People from every walk of life. Some are good people. Some I wouldn’t invite to my house. A great amount of people didn’t set out to commit a crime, circumstances just happened, and they made a bad choice. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be here. All I’m saying is that they are here. So, think about that the next time you decide to text or drink while driving. A prison sentence can happen in the blink of an eye.”

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM


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