When Inmates Teach Each Other Humanity

A lost prisoner finds himself through the love, wisdom and grace of three prison yard mentors, his “hidden treasures.” A story of rehabilitation.

By Dallas Boyce

I’ve hurt many people in my life and I’m certain I’ve disappointed many more. I’ve burnt a lot of bridges, some of which I’m glad I never have to cross again, others to sore regret. Sometimes my past haunts me, but only to a certain extent. I don’t allow it to hold me hostage nor do I dwell on it, but occasionally I shove a sharp stick in its eye in order to help me on my journey forward.

I’ve been incarcerated for seven and a half years now, enough time for me to learn many things about myself and my past. I’ve also been blessed to be placed on A yard of the California State Prison in Lancaster, a yard that is known as a Progressive Programming Facility.

This is a unique place for inmates who want out of the gang life of violence in order to earnestly work on themselves. Its many programs provide the much needed recipe for recovery and rehabilitation. I have found many hidden treasures here, as have many other men who have completely changed their lives by taking full advantage of A yard’s opportunities.

Three men here have been instrumental in my personal quest for change. When I arrived at A yard, I had never been in prison before. I moped about aimlessly, carrying my heavy sentence around like a dead carcass shackled to my feet as my hope diminished day by day. Then I met Lester Polk.

Winter was fast approaching when one day Lester came up to me with two brown paper bags in his arms. One contained a heavy-duty sweatshirt, pants and tennis shoes. The other was full of food from canteen. Such a brotherly gesture was the last thing I expected. How did he even know that I wasn’t equipped for winter? I later found out that Lester has a long history of such generosity. He has a heart for giving and looks for opportunities to bless others. His actions taught me volumes. He showed me that it is all right to be selfless, that it is good to put others first. Throughout the years, I have seen him to be constant in this regard, and he’s always been available for me, whether to lend a helping hand or give sound advice.

Dortell Williams is another who has led me in the right direction. I started working with Dortell in 2014 in the Men of Honor self-improvement program. He impressed me right off the bat with his wisdom and the way he walked and talked like he wasn’t even in prison. He began teaching me about the inner work — how to dig deep within myself to recognize and fix character defects. One particular time, he helped me with an assignment called “Victim’s Shoes,” a writing exercise in which perpetrators show understanding and insight into the depth of harm their actions caused to others by writing about that harm from the victim’s perspective. This exercise was not easy for me but Dortell showed me that I could do it by being extremely honest about myself and breaking down the walls shielding my vulnerability. In doing so, I overcame a big hurdle in my journey for change. Through the years, Dortell has graciously opened the door for me, and others, to come to him at any time out of a passion to help others. I am so glad he is my friend and more.

Tobias Tubbs became my friend in 2015. A master of people with a charismatic inner freedom about him, he is simply hard not to like. He drew me in with his big personality and once I was in, he was going to teach me no matter what. He sat down with me one day and in a gracious and loving way, he helped me identify inconsistencies about myself. Who could do that without offending? But Tobias has done so much inner work that only his beauty shows. He loves people and makes that known abroad. He is another constant on this yard that has made his life a beacon of hope and desire to see people change.

These are many other men here who are instruments of change, but these are my men, my counselors, my mentors, my friends, my father figures who take the place of the one I never had. They are also men of faith who love God and easily give Him the glory for all the good they do.

Irrespective of the crimes they were convicted of, these men have become some of the best the world has to offer. They see the potential in people and go to great lengths to get people to see that in themselves, thus helping overcome the type of negative thinking that leads to criminal activity.

Could people in the free world also learn from their translucency? It is clear to me that they could. I leave you with a few passages of scripture, Isaiah 42: 7, 21–23, to ponder:

“To open the blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house…But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore. Who among you will give ear to this? Who will harken and hear for the time to come?”

Who will open the gates to free these hidden treasures to the world? Will their immense value to society be shut up in a prison house for the rest of their lives? Who will listen? Who?