Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we are featuring the story of Tyrone Toliver called ‘My Journey Behind Bars.‘ This is the final part of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part one, part two, and part three.)
“Because we are family!”
Written By: Tyrone Toliver
Imagine if I had gotten the baseball scholarship that I was working toward before I began my journey behind bars. What if I went to college? A year or two later, I’m good enough to be drafted by a pro team. I’m worth millions! I tell uncles, aunts, and cousins not to put their time, energy, and life savings in an investment that I know isn’t good. But no one listens to me and as a result, they lose everything.
Am I now obligated to support them? To give them loans? To help them just because I’m family? Why can’t I say, you should have listened to me, so live with your decision. Why can’t I say, you’re on your own, my money is mine? Everyone in my family would expect me to help because I could, even if they didn’t take my advice and avoid trouble. Why? Because we are family! Anybody who is in contact with an incarcerated family member needs to say to themselves, he or she might not have taken my advice, but we are still family.
I was loyal to a fault in the criminal world. I put that loyalty into something positive when Kristy came into my life. The moment Kristy was supporting my goals and proud of my accomplishments, I was receiving all I needed to stay out of trouble. It was tough in the beginning, but I had Kristy as my backbone. There were so many days that I wanted to give up and quit. What helped me get through these difficult times was looking at her photos, reading her letters, calling her, and hearing her say, “I’ll be visiting at X time Saturday and Sunday.” How could I hurt her by giving up?
“The words “I’m proud of you’ motivated me, and her loving support inspired me to change.”
The rehabilitative groups I signed up for were substance abuse, coping skills, life skills, and art appreciation. These groups helped me accept responsibility for my actions and gave me a clear path to successful change. I had to use my time wisely and put in an honest effort. Talking to Kristy about my time in all of these groups was helpful. I would send her my certificates every time I hit a milestone.
The words “I’m proud of you” motivated me, and her loving support inspired me to change. I become a better person every day. From her compassion, I learned the definition of reliable, respectable, and being resilient. This all came through in her efforts to distract me from prison life and to get me to think about the free world. It’s funny because she had no idea how much of a difference she was making in my life by simply being by my side. We got married on March 21, 2014 and I am so grateful to call her my wife.
My belief system slowly started to change. Kristy’s compassionate support helped me think about what I used to value and what I value today.
I sit in my cell with eight photo albums of her, working on achieving my limit of ten photo albums. Each album has 100 photos. When I’m stressed, I look at her photos. When I’m depressed, I look at her photos. Bored, anxious, or when I want to fantasize, I look at her photos.
She dedicated the past eight years of her life to giving me companionship, a commitment, dedication, and love. I get the feeling that my biological family gets jealous of Kristy’s understanding of my needs and her compassion for our struggle.
I believe that incarcerated individuals who are in a rehabilitation program and recovery need someone on the outside to help motivate them and hold them accountable. I went from the SHU to a maximum-security, 180-design (highly secure), level 4 yard; to a medium-security, 270-design (more open), level 4 yard; to this minimum-security, level 3 honor program. I achieved countless certificates, laudatory chronos for jobs I held, conduct credit, and mentoring and group facilitator achievements. And now I’m a college student. None of this would have happened these past eight years if I had never met Kristy and saw that there still was beauty in this world.