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At the age of 20, I was sentenced to 11 years in state prison. I thought I had a long sentence until I was shipped to North Kern State Prison in Delano, California, where I met brothers nearly 30 years into life sentences without the possibility of parole.

It opened my eyes to the fact that I have a second chance and a lot of others don’t.

When I first came to prison, I stuck to myself, blaming everybody for my situation except myself. Most of all, I blamed the people who told the police where I was hiding — until I thought to myself, “If I never put myself in that situation, how could they have told on me?”

I also blamed my family for not supporting me in the way I thought they should. But then I realized that I put myself in this situation, and that it was time to find the true me and work my way out.

I started working on myself and spent a lot of time alone in my cell. As I began to self-reflect, I learned to contain my emotions and learn from everything around me. I surrounded myself with positive people who made an effort to resist the incarcerated mentality. In prison, it’s important to think outside the box and keep your thoughts free.

I stopped wasting time complaining about prison issues. Instead, I focused on coming up with solutions. Now, regardless of how much time I have left to serve, I always act like I’m going home tomorrow.

I learned how to take pride in not letting the prison system defeat me. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, but it ends up making them even better people.

Being incarcerated for 21 months has changed my life. I could have gotten killed if I had stayed on the path I was on before I went to prison. Prison may have saved my life or from a fate worse than this. The promise of freedom has become a constant reminder of how much I want to get out and live like the true me. I am eager to show everyone how much better I’ve become, and I am not going to let my past become my future.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Cavonte Shumlai is a writer incarcerated in California.