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Prisoner Expresses Regret

Steve's Story—Steve Grant

This column is a continuation of "Testimony of a Juvenile Offender, Part 1"

A young woman I worked with, named Susan Perry, heard my voice and, trusting me, opened the door. I still had a mask on and upon seeing that, she screamed. Panicking myself, I grabbed her by the shoulder, shoving her into the store and immediately shot her point blank. In the instant before the reverberation of that shot finished sounding, I knew I had just made the most horrendous choice of my life. Yet, I still ran to the back room and checked the safe, which was locked. I saw her purse on the desk, grabbed it, and ran out the back door.

Writing that down all these years later is devastating for me. Facing the ugly fact that I was so cowardly, sick and uncaring, and knowing the pain and shame I continue to experience is NOTHING COMPARED TO THE UNSPEAKABLE DAMAGE I CAUSED TO HER AND HER FAMILY. She had a five year old son whom I robbed of a lifetime of his mother’s love--a lifetime of memories and experiences. . . . I did that!

I was arrested for murder on February 8, 1991, and by the end of that year, I was justly convicted of first degree murder, second degree burglary, and a gun enhancement. Judge McGillivray could have sentenced me to life without the possibility of parole but chose instead to sentence me to 29 years to life. A sentence I knew I deserved for a crime for which I was (and am) so ashamed that I never pursued an appeal.

My story does not end there. I would compound these horrific choices with equally bad decisions as I began my incarceration. Upon my initial arrest, I went to Juvenile Hall and was quickly indoctrinated into the juvenile gang culture.

As a young white kid, I had no clue as to where I fit in at the Hall which claimed White Pride or Supreme White Power. Looking back on it now, the options were pretty pathetic, but in a system dominated by gang culture, all that most white kids (24 years ago) had to identify themselves with was race. And with my cultural background growing up in East Texas, it was easy to seize that racist identity as my new incarcerated identity. I took that attitude into the County Jail California Youth Authority and on into the adult prison system, getting into trouble every step of the way.

I was floundering in serious, unresolved issues and too scared and immature to seek help. Being so self-centered, all I could see was MY pain, MY fear, MY hopelessness over my sentence, and MY shame over MY past abuse and the senseless crime I had committed. All I saw was one big, black hole with no future and no hope.

Having no real concept of what honor really is, I resolved in my own twisted logic and rationalizations that I would be the toughest, “downest,” and most loyal white gang member I could be.

In that mindset, I was desperate to do anything I could to repair my own personal sense of honor. Having no real concept of what honor really is, I resolved in my own twisted logic and rationalizations that I would be the toughest, “downest,” and most loyal white gang member I could be. And so the cycle of doing anything I could to find acceptance through destructive, violent behavior, just as I had in my youth, perpetuated itself. Thus, by 22 I found myself in Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit—otherwise known as solitary confinement) around older and equally dysfunctional gang members.

The White gang members in the Aryan Brotherhood overlooked my past and spoke to me with pride about my willingness to represent our race behind bars. They viewed me as an asset to furthering their own violent, criminal ideology and agenda, and so I became genuinely proud of their acceptance.

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Even at 22, I still wasn’t mature enough to take an honest look outside of my own pain or to see the big picture with any clarity. I didn’t question the ideology of the A.B. or the widespread use of violence in prison life. I was accepted . . . and that’s all I cared about. So when I was ordered to kill Philipe Cruz for the A.B., I did so without any thought about the value of his life or the terrible pain I was to cause his family. We held no value for our own lives--apart from how we could ease our own pain through self-serving actions. In an existence where our own lives have no value, there’s certainly no value for the next man’s life.

Murdering Philipe Cruz spoke volumes about my lack of character and just how lost I was. I’d do anything to take these choices back, but that’s not how life works. Some choices are forever and can never be made right. I live with these horrible decisions day in and day out—even now at age 41. I am sick at heart and filled with remorse over my actions and will take that knowledge and self-awareness to my grave.

I had become a member of the Aryan Brotherhood at the cost of Philipe Cruz’s life and the immeasurable pain suffered by his family. I sat single-celled in the Pelican Bay SHU for over 16 more years in a small, windowless cell. I only saw my family though thick glass twice during that time. Equally hard, I only received two phone calls during those years to inform me of the deaths in my family. My nephew, Christopher was born, lived, and died during that time. I lost friends, one of my uncles, and all of my grandparents--never being able to be there for anyone because I sat in the SHU, “staying down for the cause.” I chose to stay “loyal” to the A.B. whose purpose is racial hatred and criminality. All of this as I watched my own family members and real friends pass away--along with everything else good in my life.

All of those years alone in that cell afforded me the opportunity not only to mature but to take a deep look at my life, to finally reach a place where I could see the big picture and to understand the causative effects of how my childhood abuse directly led to my fear and anger which fueled my addiction, criminality, and violent behavior. And it’s in really understanding why I ended up making the horrific decisions I made that actually gave me the power to finally take control of my life and break the destructive cycle that ruled my thinking and behavior.

I consider myself to be blessed by God in that I was able to see my life with an honest eye, no matter how painful it is to live with. I left the A.B. and debriefed in 2012-13, a choice I can tell you without hesitation that I am proud to have made. I made the concrete decision to stop running from my past; to stand up and deal with my character defects and addiction; to take advantage of every class, group, or service offered to us in bringing us to a better understanding and healing; to never again allow my pain to lead me to destructive behavior.

I have finally found the real meaning of honor while working every day to be the very best man the Lord created me to be. I’m living every day dedicated to helping others while at the same time trying to make amends for the lives I’ve destroyed and to all the countless people I’ve hurt.

As a juvenile offender, this was my road. With all of the trouble I got into after my conviction (I was sentenced to an additional 16 years for manslaughter), I don’t know what the results of my upcoming Board of Parole Hearing will be. But my sincere prayer is that my story give the readers a little more insight to understand why and how such crimes can occur. I also wish to stress that SB 260 will, without question, save lives behind bars. If we can identify these young juvenile offenders, who may only see that same hopeless black hole that I and so many others did so long ago, we can bring real light to their lives with genuine hope for their future—before it is too late.

I am thankful for the opportunity to share my story with those concerned about this grievous issue.

James Elrod