I committed two unconscionable crimes. I deserved to be punished and I desperately needed help. I was lost in an almost inhuman haze of pain, craving and despair. Coming to prison saved my life and prevented me from hurting anyone else.
The following account is to help explain this experience as a whole and why I feel I’ve met the extraordinary circumstances requirement for clemency.
In his own Words – Who I Was
I was the only child of an addict and an alcoholic who both got clean when I was young. They grew apart and divorced, but loved me to the best of their ability and gave me every opportunity I could have asked for.
I was a successful student, a high school wrestler and on the right track until I began drinking and drugging at 16.
Just after my 18th birthday, right after I graduated high school, my friends and I had moved on from pot and we’re officially strung out. Cocaine offered the highest high, then dug the ground out from under us, until we were drowning and the only thing that felt like breathing was more cocaine.
As Juan, Daniel, Oscar and I ran out of money and drugs we became desperate. Juan suggested that we break into the home of his former employer, who he claimed stockpiled and withheld the earnings of their illegal immigrant employees. We minimized and justified, trying to pretend it was like a Robin Hood scenario. Really we were scared of running out of coke and drowning, willing to do anything to feel ok for one more minute.
When we went to the house I was terrified and tried to think of any excuse to back out. I thought I was a coward because I didn’t want to go through with things. I now realize I was a coward for being unwilling to say no and walk away.
Juan and I entered downstairs while Dan went to the front door. The house was supposed to be empty but a maid answered the door and Dan held her at gun point. In a blur we looked for money or valuables. In the end I wreaked havoc on this family and was there as Dan terrified the maid, all for a bottle of liquor and a digital camera.
A few nights later, and unrelated, we were at Dans house when someone’s pregnant girlfriend called. She said two men wouldn’t leave her alone. They hassled her, insisting her boyfriend come by and party (bring cocaine). I tried to play hero and told them to leave her alone. Joseph, one of the men, said he knew who I was and knew where I lived. He said he’d show me.
I cursed at him and he cursed back. He threatened me and I agreed to meet him on 29 North. Once I got there and saw both Joseph and his cousin Brian, my false courage ran out. My anger turned to fear and I just wanted to get away. As they approached me I jumped in my truck and drove off.
They chased me, revving their engine and pretending to ram me from the front and side. Finally they settled in the passing lane next to me and Joseph started waving his hands and yelling.
After a moment he reached behind him. To this day I don’t know what he was reaching for. That night my drug addled mind flooded with terror, I just knew I was about to be shot, so I pulled my own gun and fired. I remember yelling and not being able to hear myself. Everything came crashing back in and I drove back to Daniel’s house streaming tears but also feeling numb. We were all arrested without incident the next day.
Awaiting trial, I was placed in isolation and that was the best thing that could have happened. Up to that point I was still numb and psychologically removed from all I had done.
Once alone, I woke to nothing but my own thoughts and memories. The weight of everything I had done crushed me. On top of my crimes, every insecurity and fear I had been running from with drugs and alcohol flooded my mind.
I struggled in that cell. One day I was committed to moving forward and the next I did pushups until I couldn’t move, just to stop the pain in my head. I remember making a batch of wine from the juice and fruit they served me, then pouring it down the toilet because I couldn’t keep killing myself.
It took about a month to start putting myself back together. I wrote a dozen letters saying how sorry I was – to my parents, my friends, people I had been unkind to and girlfriend’s parents who had loved me. I knew I couldn’t undo my actions but I hoped I could make a living amends by helping rather than harming in the future.
I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I compared 12 step literature in English and Spanish for the guidance and to improve my language skills. I exercised daily and began to explore prayer and meditation.
After 8 months of waiting I was able to take responsibility for my actions and plead guilty to the robbery and shooting. I was able to apologize directly to those I had hurt and to their families.
The judge sentenced me to 20 years for the robbery and 12 years for the shooting for a total of 32 years. It was twice the high point of my sentencing guidelines and more than the combined sentences of my co-defendants combined (2 1/2, 4 and 8 years). There was an audible gasp in the courtroom. I felt numb. I didn’t want to be defined by the worst two days of my life, just after my 18th birthday but I felt no right to complain after all I had done.
While I have struggled, that was the beginning of accepting responsibility for what I had done. I have worked on myself to move forward and heal the wounds I created in myself and others.