by Miguel Quezada

Being willing to go alone requires being fearless in the face of the unknown and being courageous in the adversity of the world saying, “you will fail”.

My lack of con dence was because I had learned one way of life. That was to be down with my homies and neighborhood. The beliefs I adopted were those things we learn in the neighborhood: loyalty, trust, honor, respect; these values were real and I would have defended them with my life. This belief system was and is powerful and at that time I lacked the courage to break away and go on alone. This belief system kept me weighed down because I believed I was abandoning and letting down the homies and neighborhood.

Over nearly twenty years in the prison system I learned about my potential and who I don’t want to be in life. The beginning stage of this realization was not easy. The prison yard placed many obstacles in my path. The fact that my former homies from the streets never helped me, but it was my family who came to visit, made it an easy decision to break away from that old life. All along it was my parents and sisters who displayed loyalty, trust, honor, and respect. I had it twisted. My homies and neighborhood might have started on this path with me, but they won’t nish with me or nish me. And that’s okay.

Change was a lonely place. I found myself in a prison yard where the majority of men were still in that old life and I was one of the few that would sign up for self-help groups and take high school and college classes. Guys on the yard would say, “Hey, why you going to class? They aren’t going to let you out” and things like that to try and intimidate or shame me back to the old life. Once, a correctional Captain called me into his of ce to give me the materials for the week’s Alternative to Violence Project class that I facilitated. He suspiciously looked at me and said, “I don’t know what this is, but we don’t like it.” They –so-called homies- wanted me to fail. The prison system wanted me to fail. But I refused to fail. I decided that I was willing to go alone.

The further I went alone, the more con dent I grew. I didn’t fear the judgment of other prisoners or anything they could throw at me. I found myself able to stand alone and grow from it. The men on the yard and the system lived in their own culture of fear. I don’t blame them, as I had been caught up in the same belief system. My willingness to go alone was based on the need to be true to myself, and to my family, because it was them that had been there all along and that are waiting for me at the nish line. My family is why today I can go it alone and, no matter what, hold my head up high, fearless and con dent. The message: it’s okay to have fear, but it’s not okay to let it be your master.