With heavier restrictions on visitation in jails due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most incarcerated people are currently relying on the postal service and mail for communication with the outside world.
With all the rules and regulations related to this, navigating communication with your incarcerated loved one can be confusing. Here are some tips on inmate mail rights and what they are allowed to send and receive while incarcerated.
What are Inmate Mail Rights?
Inmates have the right to send and receive mail while incarcerated, as protected by the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, U.S. citizens have the right to the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech includes the right to read books and magazines, the right to call or write to your family and friends, the right to criticize government or state officials, and much more. The rules of this amendment apply to inmates, however, censorship regulations exist for those who have been incarcerated.
Due to the nature of the situation of incarceration, the center where your loved one is located may inspect and censor mail for security reasons. The difference depends on whether or not the mail is privileged. Privileged mail is mail that includes things such as attorney-client communications, and must be clearly marked. This type of mail has much more confidentiality and freedom from censorship than non-privileged mail.
Non-privileged mail includes commercial mail, letters from family members, friends and businesses. This type of mail can be opened and censored by prison officials without a warrant for security reasons. This means that personal letters and photos you send may be restricted by the workers at the facility if they are deemed inappropriate, dangerous, or a security threat.
Although personal mail may be more prone to censorship, you have the right to send photos and letters to your loved one in prison. There are restrictions and regulations on the types of pictures you can send to prison, but if you follow all the guidelines, your mail should make it to your incarcerated loved one.
5 Tips to Avoid Mail Censorship
Avoid photos of or language about guns, weapons, gangs, or other forms of violence.
Avoid images and descriptions of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Do not include sexually explicit content or nudity. This includes partial nudity and images of children who are not fully clothed.
Do not send photos of money or write about it.
Avoid photos where a person is holding up a hand sign, including a thumbs up or peace sign.
If the mail you sent arrives at the facility and ends up being censored by prison officials, both the sender and receiver have the right to be notified. The notification should explain to you why the mail was censored, so you can understand the reason and better prepare for next time. Rules and regulations may vary from facility to facility, so looking up the guidelines for the specific location before sending your mail is recommended.
If you are looking for an easier way to send photos to your loved ones, partner with Pelipost! We can help ensure that your incarcerated loved ones get the mementos you’re looking to send them, and take the guesswork out of the process.
The holiday season is a time filled with anticipation, excitement, and joy for most people. However, it can be the loneliest time of year for inmates. At Christmastime, incarcerated people may feel left out as they are separated from their families and their cherished holiday traditions. Here are four ways you can help Christmas in jail feel more cozy for your loved one.
1. Celebrate with an in-person visit.
A visit from family or friends during the holiday season will mean the world to your incarcerated loved one. They may be feeling sad or lonely, and a loving familiar face can brighten their spirits. At federal prisons, in-person visits are allowed on Christmas Day, even if it does not fall on a regular visiting day. On the other hand, at state facilities, not every location will be open on December 25th. Make sure to look online or call the facility your loved one is at before planning a Christmas visit. However, visiting your loved one does not have to fall on the day of the holiday. Any visit during the season will be beneficial to both you and your inmate. Make sure to plan your visit ahead of time and look up the rules and regulations for visits in your loved one’s specific facility. If you are unsure of how to approach the visit, follow these tips for what to talk about when visiting someone in jail.
2. Keep in touch with festive phone calls.
Phone calls can be a great way to keep in contact with your incarcerated loved one during the holiday season. A majority of families live very far away from their inmate’s facility, and with all the rules and regulations, visiting during the holidays may be difficult. If you do not get the opportunity to visit in person, or are only able to do it once or twice, speaking to your loved one on the phone is the next best way to help them feel the Christmas cheer. Sharing your joys and letting your incarcerated friend or family member know they are loved can make a huge impact on their outlook for the season.
3. Send books and magazines in lieu of gifts.
A traditional part of Christmas that prisoners miss out on is gift-giving. Facilities will not accept most types of presents that you would send to a friend or family member during the holidays. However, most facilities will accept books and magazines. Books and magazines are something your inmate will be able to enjoy over time, so they can act as the gift that keeps on giving. Some tips to remember when it comes to sending books include:
Do not send more than three books at a time.
All books must be new and soft cover (no hardcover or spiral bound for security reasons).
Always ship via USPS.
Books must come straight from the publisher (ie. Amazon).
When sending magazines to your incarcerated loved one, make sure to avoid publications with mature or sexual content, like Playboy. The facility will not accept magazines with adult themes and your inmate will not receive them. It is better to stick to more family-friendly or news-focused magazines, like Time or National Geographic.
4. Send holiday cards and family photos.
One of the simplest yet most impactful ways to make Christmas more cozy for your incarcerated loved one is to send family photos and cards. Having family photos will help your inmate feel included in holiday traditions and remind them that they are not alone. Pelipost can help you send these holiday photos and cards to make it to your loved one in time for Christmas. Before you send, make sure to check out the guidelines for what types of photos are accepted.
It can be complicated to know just what to talk about when visiting someone in jail, even if they’re a loved one that you’re very close to. However, fostering that connection with your incarcerated loved one can be very beneficial to them long-term. Studies have shown that incarcerated men and women who maintain contact with supportive family members are more likely to succeed after their release. Before taking the trip to their facility, read our tips on what to talk about when visiting someone in jail to help you prepare.
1. Share your joys
Sharing the positive events in your life, no matter how small, is a great place to start. Your incarcerated loved one wants to feel connected with you and with what is going on in your life. Talking about things like good grades in school, promotions at work, who is dating who, engagements, marriages, babies, etc. will help your inmate catch up with what is going on in your life. Even the small joys that might seem insignificant to you will be important to them, and make them feel as if they are still included in the outside world.
2. Let them know they are loved
One of the most important ways to show your inmate that they are loved is simply showing up. As most facilities are a long drive away, it means the world to them that you take the time to travel to visit. Your incarcerated loved one may feel lots of guilt and emotional baggage, and assuring them that they are worth the trouble of visiting can make them feel loved and important.
3. Lend a listening ear
Sharing the joys and triumphs in your life is meaningful, but listening can be equally important. The person in jail may not have an outlet for sharing personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and lending a comforting listening ear can make all the difference.
4. Be wary of future planning
Discussing future plans can be a very touchy subject. Release dates can be very uncertain, and talking about the future may be difficult for the inmate to think about. For the most part focusing on past memories, fun moments, and joyful times together are better to discuss than plans for the future.
5. Don’t be scared of emotions
Talking about and working through emotions is a very necessary part of visiting a loved one in jail. It can be a very difficult journey for them, with a lot of pain and sadness. Discussing how they are feeling, and maybe crying together, are good to go through in the beginning of your visit so you can end your time with the joyful things.
6. What to avoid
The topics you should be wary about bringing up vary from person to person. Certain tough subjects like death in the family, struggles the person is facing on the outside, and other issues that the incarcerated person cannot be of any help with are best to avoid. The inmate may already be feeling helpless and disconnected from their loved ones, and do not need the additional pressure of the person on the outside’s struggles.
7. Continue to stay in touch
Visiting an incarcerated loved one is very valuable, but staying in touch in between visits is essential as well. Staying connected can be very beneficial to the inmate and remind them that they are loved and valued. Sending photos to your incarcerated loved ones using Pelipost can help foster your relationship with one another and stay in touch.
Sharing photos with incarcerated loved ones is a great way to stay in touch, uplift your loved one, and empower yourself during a difficult time. But what kind of pictures can you send to prison? Most facilities have restrictions on the size and content of photos sent to inmates. If you do not follow the facility’s guidelines, your photo will be returned and your inmate will not receive it. To ensure that your photo makes it to your loved one, Pelipost has created the following guidelines:
What size can your photo be?
Answer: The size restrictions and regulations will vary depending on where your loved one is located. We encourage you to look at the website of the specific facility to ensure you have the proper sizing.
Can you send a photo if there are drugs pictured?
Answer: NO. Facilities will not accept photos of drugs, individuals using drugs, or drug paraphernalia. This includes anything from a photo of someone smoking marijuana to drug-related imagery in the background. Double check the photo to ensure there are no drugs pictured in the background. Use a plain, clean background and if you are unsure if something is drug related, don’t include it.
Can you send a photo of money to an inmate?
Answer: NO. Do not send photos of you fanning yourself with money, a graduation lei, or any other form of money. Instead, put down the cash and focus on subjects like family members, friends, or pets.
Can you send a photo of a weapon?
Answer: NO. Weapons are not permitted in photos sent to inmates. This ranges anywhere from knives to guns. If it is classified as a weapon, don’t include it. When in doubt, leave it out.
Can you send a photo of a person?
Answer: YES. It is encouraged to send your incarcerated loved ones photos of friends and family. However, make sure the photo adheres to the other guidelines regarding the person’s appearance and the activities pictured.
Can you send a photo of a person doing a thumbs up or peace sign?
Answer: NO. Do not send photos where a person is holding up any form of hand gesture. This is not limited to gang signs, but gestures like peace signs or a thumbs up as well. In most cases, you cannot cover up the hand gesture with an emoji. Instead, send photos where the subjects are not holding up any form of hand sign. To play it safe, you could crop the subject’s hands out of the photo.
Can you send a photo of your pet?
Answer: YES. Photos of beloved pets are allowed to be sent to your incarcerated loved one as long as they adhere to other guidelines.
Can you send a photo of your child?
Answer: YES. Children are allowed in photos. However, DO NOT send photos where a child is partially or fully undressed. This includes bathtime, diaper pictures, or swimsuit photos of an infant or child. Make sure any child pictured is fully clothed. This will ensure the safety of your child and that the photo will be allowed in the facility.
Can you send bathing suit pictures to inmates?
Answer: NO. Very few facilities allow nudity or anything that could be considered sexually explicit photos. To play it safe, make sure all subjects are fully clothed with no cleavage. Assure that the subject’s pose is not sexually suggestive, either.
We encourage you to visit your incarcerated loved one’s facility website to verify individual rules and regulations. You are also welcome to reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. We’re here to help!
In particular, the LA County rules are very strict. Click here to learn about rules and guidelines specific to LA County.
Once you understand what kind of pictures you can send to prison, you can partner with PeliPost, or follow the process we shared on our blog.
If you have ever wondered how to cope with a family member in jail then you already know that it can be quite the emotional rollercoaster. It’s normal to feel anxious, sad, scared, or uncertain. You also may be experiencing loneliness. That’s because, according to a recent survey, less than half of Americans have ever had a family member incarcerated. So, in addition to missing your incarcerated loved one, you may find yourself feeling isolated in your experience.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know how to begin to cope, we’re here to help. Here is a list of things you can do to feel more connected to your incarcerated loved one, and more in control of your situation.
Visit Your Loved One Regularly
One way to directly combat your loneliness is to plan visits to your incarcerated loved one. Different jails have different rules for in-person visits, so we recommend looking into limitations and schedules to ensure your visits are smooth and successful. Studies have shown that face-to-face communication is better for your emotional health. It helps us better understand the person with whom we’re communicating with. Particularly if you find yourself worrying about your incarcerated loved one, visiting them can help you understand and empathize with what they’re going through. Visits are also a great way to get a better read on their emotional well-being.
Writing letters has been shown to make the letter-writer feel more satisfied, and to decrease any depressive symptoms they may be experiencing. Letters are a treasured gift that inmates will appreciate. By writing a letter, you’ll have more time to think about everything you might want to share with your loved one. You can provide updates that your family member can go back and reread in difficult times. A letter will make them feel connected with you and the life they know outside of prison. You can also explore your feelings through written art — poetry, sketches, and doodles can help you process what you and your family are going through.
Perhaps more than anything, inmates want to be able to see the people they love so they can feel included in life on the outside. Letters are cherished but to receive an envelope with photos is the ultimate prize when you’re inside those walls. Given the limited interaction while incarcerated, staying connected with loved ones has numerous benefits. The memories that are missed by those incarcerated often serve as powerful reminders and mental motivation.
It’s not always easy to find time to print out pictures to send to your family member — which is why the Pelipost app was founded in the first place. You can upload your photos directly from your smartphone to the Pelipost app and they’ll print and ship them for you. They are the official ‘Photos-to-Prison’ app and have a great customer service team that can help you navigate through this journey with your incarcerated loved one.
When a family member is incarcerated, it can make you feel helpless and lost. By taking direct actions to remain in close contact with them, you’ll be able to feel more in charge of your experience. It is so important to their rehabilitation to show them how much you care.
There are many benefits to staying in touch with an inmate — for you and your incarcerated loved one. If you’re wondering how to send pictures to inmates then you’ve come to the right place. We will be going over the important correctional facility guidelines that you need to follow to ensure your loved one receives your pictures.
Required Information to Include
A great place to start is double checking that you have the correct inmate ID number and inmate mailing address. The most common mistake is when the inmate name and inmate ID number do not match. This results in your loved one not receiving those beautiful pictures and the mail being returned to sender. You can easily do an inmate search by visiting the correctional facility’s website where your loved one is located. Keep in mind that the facility mailing address can be different from the inmate mailing address. You will need to locate the actual ‘inmate mailing address’ which can be found on the correctional facility’s website.
In regard to the photos themselves, you should print the inmate’s name and inmate ID number on the back of each photo in pen. This can help the mail room staff keep things organized and ensure your photos are delivered in a timely manner. Don’t forget to always include a return address on your envelopes.
Size and Number Restrictions
Size restrictions and rules for the number of pictures allowed per envelope will vary based on where your loved one is located. It’s a good idea to verify the specific restrictions of your loved one’s correctional facility. By reaching out in advance and/or visiting the correctional facility’s website, you’ll ensure that your pictures will be delivered to your loved one instead of returned to sender. In particular, LA county jails tend to have the strictest rules, which you can look into more here.
When you are going to send pictures to inmates, there are some content restrictions that you should be aware of. The most common are the following:
No drugs (ex. smoking marijuana)
No gang hand gestures (Includes the peace sign and even if covered by an emoji)
No partially or undressed children
No sexually explicit (very few facilities allow nudity)
An Easier Way
Looking up the right information specific to your loved one’s facility, buying the right amount of stamps, ensuring all of your content is acceptable — there are quite a few steps standing between you and your incarcerated loved one. The Pelipost app is a great resource to help you through this process. You can easily upload your photos to the Pelipost app from your phone, Facebook, or Instagram, then we take it from there! Your pictures will reach your loved one’s facility in about three to five business days, and you can stay connected with ease. Plus, Pelipost offers 24/7 customer support in case you have questions or concerns.
Whatever path you take, know that your incarcerated loved ones’ days, weeks, and months can be made through the simple act of sharing pictures of their family and friends. Take the time to reach out, and you’ll be sending out a ripple affect of positivity.
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.
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 part three of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part one and part two)
Written By: Tyrone Toliver
I used to ask myself why my family did not love me. Today, I ask myself, why it is so hard for my family to believe in a family bond or connection, despite being separated by prison?
On October 20, 2012, a wonderful woman by the name of Kristy wrote the first of many letters to me. It shocked me how I could easily feel the honesty and truth in her words.
I struggled with whether or not I would enroll in self-help groups, take correspondence self-help courses and noncredit correspondence college courses. I knew that therapy groups from the mental health department would give me an easy transition, so I signed up for them. How else would I get Kristy to see that I loved to laugh and that I appreciated a great sense of humor if I was still stuck in this dark place?
Kristy helped calm my spirit with her words of encouragement, focus, dedication, and commitment. I knew I wanted to marry her, but I knew very little about relationships, marriage, honesty, balance, and supporting someone emotionally. I decided to dive head-first into becoming sober and rehabilitating myself.
‘I came to grips with the fact that some of my family members needed to hear what dedication, commitment, loyalty, and being family is all about.’
Cleaning up my system allowed me to clear my head. I came to grips with the fact that some of my family members needed to hear what dedication, commitment, loyalty, and being family is all about. They needed to hear from me in a way that only they could understand. So, I wrote all my family members and told them this: I am part of this family, regardless of the choices I made, which have cost me dearly. I’ve been taken away, and yes, I’ve struggled. But you all, no matter what, should have been around throughout this 30-year journey. I was a family member who needed your love and support to connect me to you all…
Learn more about rehabilitation, recovery, and loved ones in Part 4 of Tyrone’s Journey Behind Bars coming soon…
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 part two of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part one here)
Written By: Tyrone Toliver
I may have been better at hiding my anger but regardless I still participated in many of the riots that occurred in Pelican Bay. As a result, my cellie and I were sent to the SHU. This is when I experienced a nightmare that overwhelmed me with fear. I told my cellie ‘something bad is about to happen.’
Not too long after this incident, I was told that I had to go to court for assaulting a correctional officer. Even though I won the case, the fear remained. In August 2000, I was told that in a month, I would be paroled back to the streets. That’s when I knew where my fear was actually coming from. The fear of getting out.
“I was being kicked out of my home….”
Those of us who do whatever it takes to survive do not allow time to do us. We do not look at calendars, but instead we live according to seasons or sport seasons throughout the years. It’s easy to forget how long you’ve been gone. You forget the date, your age, how much time you’ve got left, and even faces. In 2000, the SHU had taken a mental and emotional toll on me to the point that I would hear voices. So for a while, I thought being told I was going home was actually Thorazine wearing off.
I was not asked to make a parole plan. So once they came to my door, I thought I was being punked. Five hours later, the transportation officers came to the SHU to get me. This is when I really knew I was in big trouble. I was being kicked out of my home.
I was released from prison with no skills and on psychiatric medications. I was to live with my cousin, who was addicted to drugs, in my enemy’s territory, miles away from my city. Fear, anxiety, stress, depression, and delusions made me run to the streets with childhood friends to do drugs. However, through some of these friends, I was able to find two jobs that helped me to stay away from my cousin’s place.
My jobs were in the same city as our hangout spots, so among the younger homies, I took up the big homie role. I told my war stories and backed up my words with my actions. I felt love, support, respect, and like I belonged, and I felt at peace again. Unfortunately, in April 2001, I was arrested again.
Eventually I was convicted of second-degree robbery and sentenced to a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life as a third-striker. Even though I was ready to pick right back up where I had left off, I was different. You see, even though I was gang-banging and committing crimes during my 7 months out, I was also working. In my job, I was meeting future NBA players, recording artists who sell millions of records, and college students. I worked security for all of the music concerts in Imperial County and Los Angeles County, while also covering Long Beach State College for all sporting events. Before my arrest, I had started dreaming of a future again and living a good life. Once I got convicted in February 2002, those dreams faded away.
Then, in 2004, my little brother was killed. In 2006, I tried to kill myself, and in 2012, I tried to kill another inmate. As I sat in the SHU again, facing a second 3-strike sentence, I heard people talking over the tier about recovery and rehabilitation. The first time I have ever heard the word “recovery” was in a juvenile hall Alcoholics Anonymous group, so I stopped listening. It wasn’t for me. But then I thought, a governor of California had recently added “Rehabilitation” to the name of the California Department of Corrections (it’s now California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.) I never knew why, so I became curious.
I started listening again. I heard inmates talk about how you might live in a good home but be the product of a toxic environment. You might have friends that get you caught up in bad things. Your family might blame you and desert you. This got my attention! They were talking about things I thought about and was too afraid to talk about.
These inmates talked about low self-esteem leading a group of kids to break the law. Then they talked about taking college classes, doing correspondence self-help courses, and going to self-help groups when we were out of the SHU.
These guys were talking a language I had never heard before. As I listened, day after day, I realized that they sounded like the college kids I had worked with in my event security and telemarketing jobs when I was out in 2000.
Then, I asked myself ‘why I should do any of that when I have 3 strikes and no one cares what I do or even if I survive prison.’ The only time I was sent money was when I was in the hole or in the SHU. Sometimes I would be lucky to get a package to replace my property when I got out of those places. Memories of my family missing, dead homies and family members played on my mind.
‘What was the point of me being anything than the best at surviving prison?’
For months, I sat troubled mentally and emotionally, knowing that my family would show me more love once I died a respected gang-banger. The neighborhood would show my family the ultimate love and respect only in that situation. So what was the point of me being anything than the best at surviving prison? Then, I recalled a family member who told me that I should have listened to my family’s words, but not lived like they did.
Throughout my life, I made choices behind bars as a kid, as a young man, and as an adult. Now in 2020, I wish I could take some of those choices back. I used to blame my family because I thought that all I needed was for them to do the opposite of A, B, and C (as mentioned in Part One.) However, what I really needed was their support and acceptance. I probably would have had a different time locked up in the very beginning, and probably never would have come back.
I’m wiser today because in October 2012, my life changed. Today, I’m blessed, loved, and cared for because someone came into my life and showed me pure love. Her words helped motivate me to look into self-help courses, correspondence courses, self-help groups, and into changing my negative behavior into positive actions…
Learn more about rehabilitation, recovery, and loved ones in Part 3 of Tyrone’s Journey Behind Bars. Click Here
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…
Ready for Part 2 of Tyrone Toliver’s Journey Behind Bars? Click here.