Change from Inside

By Troy Phillips | June 22, 2018

When they send you to prison, they don’t think or seem to care about the reason why you acted in the way that you have. They sentence you according to the crime you committed, and you’re shipped off like cattle to slaughter. Most of us aren’t physically slaughtered, but mentally is another story.

Prison should change a man; it has me. Yes, I’ve been in prison before, but the other times it didn’t seem to hit me, and it never made me look at myself and wonder why I’ve done the things I’ve done in the past. Fifteen and a half years later, I have a fuller understanding of my actions and decisions.

Feeling that I was not loved and that something was wrong with me created a false sense of self-worth in me. Not dealing with feelings by asking questions and looking for answers, even the ones that could hurt, is one of my biggest regrets. I’ve come to know myself in a personal way without baggage or fluff. Lying in this bed at night with no one to talk to will make a man look at himself in a real way if he has a heart and mind to.

Prison makes or breaks you. The system wants you to act in a certain way, and the people in blue want you to hold a false sense of loyalty that brought you to prison in the first place. I have come to understand that education is the key; but before education you have to have the want to change and the desire to follow it through no matter what someone may think about you. The biggest question is what are we hiding from? Who are we trying to be or impress? What do I want out of this life and do I love myself? Answering these questions has helped me to move forward and not look back. I am very apologetic for the crimes and the pain that I caused people and the drug use that I was involved in, which pushed me into this lifestyle of criminal activity. That hurts me in a way that runs deep and that I have to ask God to forgive me for every day.

Prison isolation is damaging; no family can come visit and no physical contact in an affectionate way with the opposite sex. This does something to the humanness of a person. Watching and praying that you don’t get that phone call from the counselor, where you have to call home because you have lost a loved one, is heartening. One has to be very strong not to give into the destruction that is always lurking around the corner—personal self-destruction.

Today with the way the prison system is with rehabilitation at the forefront, anyone that doesn’t take advantage of its personal benefits is not trying to benefit themselves nor are they trying to find a way home sooner. In my case, I started rehabbing in 2008 because I wanted to change, and I felt the need to be able to help my child and my grandchildren. I also thought about what I still owe to society as a whole. I cannot live the way of my past, I have to be a productive member of society and to my family. So change has come from the inside—heart, mind, and soul. Being real with one’s core moral values is the only true way to walk behind these bars and these walls and expect to make a change in himself.

There has been tremendous support from the outside volunteers that come into San Quentin State Prison, be it self-help groups or the Prison University Project. These people come in and show their humanness and give all the knowledge and compassion they have so that we can become more educated and self-respecting individuals. This is the true rehabilitation that all prisons need, human kindness on the inside.

Please note that the Prison University Project became Mount Tamalpais College in September 2020.