Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we begin this series by sharing the story of Tyrone Toliver and his journey behind bars.
“On my first day in prison, in 1995, I was fighting a mental and emotional battle…“
Written By: Tyrone Toliver
So many find it hard to show love, compassion, and support for a man or a woman who is incarcerated. This is especially true of family, who often say one of the following things, to themselves or to their incarcerated family member:
- You weren’t raised to break the law or hang around anyone who is a criminal.
- I do not have enough time to spend it on a person who is incarcerated.
- You broke the law, you do your time. You did not want to be out here with us; if you had, you would not have committed the crime or put yourself in the predicament that got you there in the first place.
What family members who say these things do not see is the underlying fact that no matter what, the person who is incarcerated is still family.
In my situation, I was taught how to commit crimes and do drugs by my own family. Gang-banging allowed me to make a name for myself, while providing security and protection for them.
But as my journey behind bars began at age 10, I realized that my family did not appreciate my sacrifices. I believed that because writing letters to me, accepting my collect phone calls, and sending me a money order once a month was too much for them to do. So, as a juvenile delinquent, I carried hatred, anger, and animosity inside me—not for my enemies or for authority, but for my very own family.
This hatred was something I had never talked to anyone about. As a result, I entered prison in Tracy, California (AKA “gladiator school”) at 18 years old (1995) and all I wanted to do was hurt someone else.
My journey behind bars continued at 16 years old. My family thought that I would do all that I possibly could to come home. To this very day, I don’t know where they could have gotten such a ludicrous idea. (As a mature, rehabilitated man today, I’m afraid to ask them.)
You see, they never gave me a reason to seek recovery, rehabilitation or help change my way of thinking through education. Speed up to 2012, and for the first time in my life, I heard about coping skills, toxic environments, arrested development, self-help, and cultural conditioning. These are phrases that I had never heard before! I soon learned that they meant changing and improving yourself. There was no way for anyone in my family to think that I’d do anything to come home soon after learning any of that. It’s 2020, and they are still doing the same things I was taught in 1981 at 5 years old.
On my first day in prison, in 1995, I was fighting a mental and emotional battle. I thought I could only win if I hurt myself or someone else. First, I hurt myself and that didn’t work. Then, I hurt someone else and that didn’t heal me either. Once the smoke cleared, I was being transferred to Pelican Bay State Prison, California, for assault with a deadly weapon. I had become the animal everyone said I was. I was no longer Tyrone Lee Toliver. I had become Inmate Toliver #H93393 AKA Lil No-Name Dog at the worst prison in California. I lived off other weak and afraid inmates because I received no visits, no letters, and no phone calls. I actually thought and felt that I had nothing to live for, so I was merely existing to die.
“I was back in the same building at Pelican Bay and forcing a guy to give me back my old cell. Things felt normal.”
Then, I was thrown a curve ball. I won my court battle for assault on an inmate with a weapon. I would be paroling in a month. How? I wondered. I thought it was a joke until I remembered that I didn’t actually have a life sentence; it just felt like it. My original sentence was 5 years. Now, I was even more angry and I didn’t even know why. As I left in September 1996, I told them to keep my bed warm.
A few months later, December 1996, I was back. By the following September, I was in the same building at Pelican Bay and forcing a guy to give me back my old cell. Things felt normal. I felt loved, supported, peaceful, and slightly happy. By now, I was better at hiding my animosity, hatred, and anger…
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