Life sentence

Joey Garcia

I’m a 32-year-old inmate in the California prison system serving a 53-year term. A year ago, I learned that my mother was fighting breast cancer. To this day I do not know how to deal with this kind of news. My mother is my best friend. I was married in 2006, and since I have been incarcerated, my wife and kids have not visited. It really bothers me. I can’t even tell you the last time I got a card or letter. I write but never get an answer. I’m completely shut out, wondering how my kids’ schooling is coming along. I’ve been with my wife for eight years, married for three. I love my wife with all of my heart. My biggest fear is being by myself, not having that special someone in my life. Being incarcerated, with the sentence I have, is scary. My mother and wife do not like each other. I wonder if getting married was the right thing to do. Any advice?

Yes, keep writing. Pen a letter a day if you like, but stop expecting—and asking for—a reply. Let each of your missives be pure gift, no strings attached. A response to a letter is a social expectation, part of a binding but unspoken contract. When a reply is refused, you have choices: Keep insisting on a reply and feel impotent when it is withheld; stop writing and complain to everyone who will listen that you love your family but they don’t care about you; or grow spiritually by learning how to give freely of your time and attention. Comprende? Write because you want your wife and children to know that you are thinking about them. Write a letter to each child full of stories about your childhood, your hopes that they avoid the choices you made and how different the world was when you were a boy. If you fear your wife will not give the letters to your children, send the package to your mama and ask her to read them to each child. Send your mama love letters, too.

Now, what the H-E-double-toothpicks are you doing in prison? I know life is tough; I grew up in a comfortable suburb, but spent many school holidays with my grandparents in Compton, Calif. The neighborhood was full of the working poor, good people striving for the American Dream. I also met junkies, con artists, welfare queens, pimps, hookers, drunks, hustlers, ex-cons and gangbangers. The working poor tried to live these principles: Tell the truth; commit to a power greater than yourself; surrender to love; be trustworthy; relentlessly seek help when you need it; keep learning (secure an education and learn at least two trades); teach others what you know; gain skills to handle anger, sadness or other difficult emotions (yours and others); and take care of your belongings with pride. The other group did not.

It’s never too late to change, especially when it comes to honesty. Like this: You betrayed your wife, children, mother, yourself and the very concept of real love by committing the crime(s) that landed you behind bars. I suspect that’s why your wife refuses to visit. She’s hurt, angry and doesn’t trust you. She does not want your children exposed to life behind bars. You may believe that love should triumph over prison, but that’s not your reality. It’s also a waste of time to wonder if you should have wed because, hey, you’re already married. Stop worrying about your wife and mama not liking each other, too. Focus on growing up into a man that God, you, your mama and your kids would be proud of. That’s a beautiful way to spend the next 53 years.

Meditation of the week
“Materialism is the only form of distraction from true bliss,” wrote Doug Horton, a Protestant minister. I think of this every time I see you walking your dog and talking on the phone. Absent from the bliss of the moment, of nature and your four-legged friend, engaged instead with a phone. Mindful? No. Mindless? Yes.

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