MY story

On December 17, 1980 I was born  and raised in the small farming town of Sunnyside, Washington.
I lived with my biological mother until up until the age of 7. Then I went to live with my step-father up until the age 15. 
I have three siblings: one older sister, one younger sister and one younger brother.
We grow up very poor, but never felt like we were. My step-father raised me and my two sisters on his own but he always worked very long hours to pay for all the costs and bills. Most days we would only see him for an hour or two before he went to bed. He did everything on his own for us. My father's house always felt really stable and safe in comparison to the the chaos of living with my alcoholic mother.

Schooling

The 2nd and 3rd grade I attended, was at Washington Elementary School. The 4th and 5th grade I went to was Chief Kamiakin and in the 6th and 7th grade I was at Harrison Middle School. I was transferred to O.I.C. Alternative Middle School but my school-career ended at O.I.C. Alternative High School. All these schools are based in my hometown Sunnyside. I never finished the 9th grade because I was sent to prison so young. 
As you can see, I seen a lot of different schools during the relatively short time I lived in the streets. I  wish I went to prom, but I never did. Instead of experiencing going to college or university, getting my drivers license and having my first job, I learned how to survive on my own in a dangerous and mentally exhausting prison system.

Religion

As a baby, I was baptized Roman-Catholic but was later raised Protestant. I attended many churches in Sunnyside while I lived with my biological mother. The church was an intrigued part of my daily life as a child. I continued to go to church for a short time while I lived with my step-father. Nowadays, I daily pray the Rosary, read the Bible and I also watch inspiring sermons whenever it's on TV.

Recreation

Most of my summer days were spent swimming at Sunnyside Central Park Pool or the Yakima River. Riding my bike around town with friends, going to the local movie theater and mall, exploring the numerous farms, orchards and canals around Sunnyside was what I really enjoyed doing in the free world. We also went camping in the Cascade Mountains or along the water front on the Columbia River in Tri-Cities, Washington. The camping every summer was a bit of a family tradition. Unfortunately, that family tradition faded away when I was sent to prison. My step-dad didn't like to go without me anymore, I guess. It was just too painful for everybody. 
Hopefully in the future, we'll all go together like we did back in 'the good old days'.

Support Junior

Help this incarcerated man by donating money. It will be used for phone calls so he can stay in touch with his family, to buy stamps so he can write letters to organizations and to order some books for self-education. It will also be used to get basic prison supplies. Thank you for your support! 

Doing time: the beginning

When I was charged on May 22nd 1996 at the age of 15, I was placed in the Yakima County Juvenile Justice Detention Center in Yakima, Washington.
This juvenile justice detention center was very violent. The facility had a policy of housing rival gang-members in the same housing pod*. The mixed housing created a very intense and violent environment where large multi-offender fights took place on a regular basis. I managed to stay clear of most of these large fights simply because the pod I was housed in, seem to be a little calmer then the rest. Luck of the draw I guess. But what also played a factor, was my temperament. I have a tendency to stand alone and away from the crowds. I don't like to be the center of attention. I would rather walk alone along on edges of the crowds unnoticed and just be observing.  And this disposition has served me well in prison.

Although the juvenile detention center was very violent, there was some good aspects of it, if that could even be said about any place of confinement.
But it was acceptable because of the food that was actually really good, the 'out of cell time' we had each day from the morning till the evening and the one hour visiting with family members everyday. There were also religious activities each week such as church. We also had school five days a week. I always spoke about my wrongful conviction towards the other juveniles I was housed with. I felt that speaking about my innocence would eventually reach the ears of the right people that could set me free. I was upset, but hopeful.

I learned a lot about prison during that time. What to do - where to stand -  who to not  trust... It's strange to realize that all this time I was convinced that somebody would come forward with actual information that would show I didn't do it, or that some investigator suddenly found the real killer of the murder I was charged for.
But none of that happened. It was more than 20 years later that there was finally some newly discovered evidence that would certainly proof my innoncence. But in juvenile, I truly thought that somebody would notice all the mistakes that were being made during my entire trial. To me and my family it was so obvious I had nothing to do with anything of that crime. Why was the rest of the court so blind; how could this all have happened?

* Smaller, separate and self-contained housing units known as "pods" or "modules" are designed to hold 16 to 50 prisoners and are arranged around exercise yards or support facilities in a decentralized "campus" pattern. A small number of prison officers, sometimes a single officer, supervise each pod. 

Doing time: solitary confinement

Whenever I reflect on the large amount of time I have spent in ‘the hole’, I begin to wonder where I managed to find the strength to survive that level of emotional, psychological and physical deprivation.
After experiencing the horrors of solitary confinement, I tend to view my life in two phases: before- and after solitary confinement.
That is how drastic and profound the change was to my personality. There are parts of myself that are forever gone, blown away and pulled into the dark tempting abyss of insanity. Isolation is so hard on the mind that insanity becomes tempting. 

 

I spend 23 hours a day in a 8’x11’ cell with no fresh air or natural light.

 

Because of that, the mind gets weak and it will reach toward anything that will give it some relief from the sensory deprivation that surrounds it.
Most minds are ill equipped to deal with that kind of pressure and will begin to crumble within days of being placed in isolation. Some inmates who tend to be more social, lost themselves completely. Watching these individuals descend into madness is something I wish I could erase from my mind. The cries, screams and utter terror was so loud that it went through steel, metal and even concrete walls. 
But there is one thing that sadness me the most about this experience. And that is the indifference and utter callousness of those that seen it and had the power to intervene but did nothing to help a broken soul...

 

“Prolonged solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.” 
- United Nations Human Rights


I have vivid memories of leaning against my cell wall and being helpless to quiet the horrific sounds coming from the other cells. 
I also felt the tug of insanity on my own mind. 
For my own sanity it was very important that I recognized it and called it out. It was not enough to simply nod my head and whisper: "I see you", like I would have done if I saw somebody crawling and creeping their way towards me, hoping not to be seen. No. I had to announce it in a loud voice to ‘scare’ it away. That was the only way to buy myself some time and maybe survive that day.
When I first finally made it out of solitary confinement, I began to realize how strong or lucky I really was. Now I realize I was a little bit of both. 

 

There were times where I felt I had gone passed the point of sanity. At other times, I felt I could outlast any amount of time I was given. But one thing I know for sure is, that I made it. 
Yes, with many psychological scares, but I survived over 9 years of solitary confinement. That's got to say something about the tenacity of my will and spirit or at the very least its stubbornness.

I now live in the ‘after solitary confinement-phase’, but with the awareness of knowing that I have survived one of the most perfect designed human version of hell. And it has changed my life forever.

doing time: 10 Years of change

In 2013, I began to think seriously about the bad choices I was making in prison.

By this time I had already spent a number of years in solitary confinement. It wasn't so much the consequences of the bad choices that I made that was compelling me to seek change, but it was something more deeper and spiritual.

I felt a deep loneliness and sadness within me; a certain shame for the hurt and pain I had caused my father* and those I had wronged during my incarceration.

I remember I had a conversation I my father back in 2009 while I sat in the Spokane County Jail. I was facing new charges for a fight that I had been involved in one of the prisons. My father had come by to visit me. The first thing I noticed was the look on his face. He was tired, obviously. But there was also a deep sadness in his eyes when he said: "Mijo**.” As he shook his head: "What are you doing? Why are acting like you have no hope? What do you think that is going to happen when you have finally proven your innocence? You think they are going to let you out if you continue doing the things you are doing right now? Those things will keep you inside of this prison. You came here for something you didn't do. Stop acting like you deserve to be there.

I know you are hurting and you are angry for what has happened to you. But please don't lose hope. You will come home!"

Four years later as I sat in the hospital at the Washington State Penitentiary with a broken hand after another fight I got involved in, I thought of what my father said during that visit. Those words brought tears into my eyes while I looked at my hand. I regretted not listening to my father earlier. All he did was trying to help me to get through the misery.

It was then that I said the most powerful but shortest prayer in my heart in which I begged for forgiveness. After that short prayer, I felt a genuine peace coming over me.

I didn't know how I would go about making those changes: I just knew I had to.

 

About three weeks later, I was given an indefinite IMS*** program. In my situation, that basically would have meant I would never leave solitary confinement.

It was very hard to accept this mentally but I decided that I would begin my change as soon as possible. And so began my long journey of change that started with that one, specific prayer to God. Each day I set a time for prayer and for studying The Bible. I challenged my anger, depression and I began to take some of the classes they offered to me.

Ten months of being in the IMS program, seemly out of nowhere, the prison administration decided to release me back into the general population again. Explaining to me that this would be the last opportunity I would be getting, they would consider me for a 'lower custody level' prison. In order to qualify for this, I had to stay out of trouble and get no serious infractions for at least 18 months while I was still in 'closed custody'.

As I arrived at the Washington State Penitentiary, I was determined to change. I felt this was God's way of saying: "Show me you've changed yourself."

The one and a half year that I was no longer in solitary confinement but back in the general prison population, was difficult. It was very hard for me to navigate through the constant violence’s that was taking place around me. There were very little opportunities to better myself because there were almost no programs or classes I could take. It was difficult to rehabilitate with zero assistance. I learned most of it through self-study from the books I was borrowing from the library.

Luckily, there was one class that really helped solidifying my journey towards change.

It was developed by fellow prisoners and was called 'Redemption'. After 10 weeks of taking this class, I graduated and was immediately asked if I would be willing to take the facilitator course and possibly become a facilitator. 
I felt motivated to become one and I had managed to stay out trouble for the following 14 months which meant I would be finally recommended for the 'lower custody level'.

Unfortunately, one day I was on the wrong place at the wrong time when an incident happened during our ‘yard time’: a large fight took place at that prison yard. 
I wasn't even involved, but was still sent to solitary confinement until the prison administration could determine what actually took place and what my role would have been.


I arrived here at Airway Heights Corrections Center in late 2015 and immediately began to take advantage of all the schooling and programming they had.

I first enrolled in a ‘homebuilders’ class which taught me the fundamentals of carpentry. I graduated and then joined the Toastmaster International Club and earned my Competent Communicator certificate. Also I became a part of the Hispanic Heritage Committee and organized and participated in the first Aztec-dance at the Hispanic Cultural Event in 2016.

I along with 5 other individuals established and facilitated the first Redemption-class here at Airway Heights. Since that moment, I helped facilitate three classes. I also created and established the Violent Reduction Committee with some other inmates, which led to the formation a Pro-Social Unit. It helped to significantly reduce the violence here at the prison.

I also created and facilitated a class called ‘TC Toastmaster’ which helped former drug addicts learn better ways of communicating with their surroundings. All these activities also helped me grow as a person.


I have not been gotten in any trouble for nearly 9 years.


And I have come a long way from the cries of a desperate prayer. Yes, I made mistakes. But I learned from them. My father was right: I do not deserve to be here. I’m supposed to be home. 
And that is my next ultimate goal. 
But honestly, I don´t know if I would still like to do the same things I enjoyed when I was a young kid. I have to reinvent myself when I’m home again. Figure out what my hobbies are, discover swimming again, camping and walking in free and open nature. No fence will stop me from seeing all the incredible wonders of planet earth. 

I have to make up for all these years that were taken away from me. And the world has changed so much since then, especially with all these different COVID-19 mutations spreading through every country. I don´t know what I can expect. But I will be freed from this cage. 
A cage I entered as a vulnerable teenager and will leave as a grown man, husband and a father...
This cage almost destroyed me.
But in this cage, I also found hope. 

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” 
- Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption.

And with these powerful words I will end my story about how I survived doing time in prison for a crime I did not commit.

*Stepfather by law

**Spanish for “son”
 ***Intensive Management Status: long term segregation due to chronic behavioral problems, extreme protective needs or the presence of a serious threat to the safety or staff or other offenders through a pattern of violent or seriously disruptive behavior.