For the past 13 years, prison life has been the only life that I have known. It is sometimes difficult to see past the unending grind of daily life here and the constant indignity of bearing the label of “felon” as a result of my crimes. But my incarceration did have a beginning and a cause.
I was raised by my mother and my grandmother in a very loving environment. They taught me all of the basic values that every involved, law-abiding citizen should live by. Because my mother had five children to raise, keeping track of everything we did was a difficult task. Fortunately for her, I was the only child who gave her any significant behavioral problems; thankfully, my grandmother was there for my mother to pick up the slack in raising me.
When I was four, my mom met my stepdad. Mom thought that a male presence in my life (I never knew my biological father) would give me a better chance at developing as a mature, responsible adult. And while my stepdad did make an attempt to impart what little he knew at the time about being a man, I was unreceptive to his attempts to connect with me. The values that he taught me -- more from deed than from any conscious effort, such as the importance of having a strong work ethic -- still resonate within me today. But my stepdad’s lack of parenting experience, coupled with a sense of being overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising someone else’s “problem child,” made his attempt to take care of me inadequate to the task of keeping me on the straight path.
My mother and grandmother taught me to love God, respect others, and follow the rules. None of my immediate family members had ever been to prison or had ever been in any real legal trouble, so it was not my family that subjected me to the criminal or gang lifestyle. However, the worst aspect of my family life while growing up was my mother’s alcoholism which caused many verbally violent arguments between her and my stepdad and affected me very much emotionally.
It wasn’t until I ventured out during my late elementary and early middle school years that I really began to rebel and stray from the values that my mother and grandmother had instilled in me.
It wasn’t until I ventured out during my late elementary and early middle school years that I really began to rebel and stray from the values that my mother and grandmother had instilled in me. During this time I was given a large amount of autonomy by my mother who had her hands full with raising four other children besides me. The allure of the world (that I encountered outside of my home and my desire to fit in with that world) led me to manipulate and take advantage of my mother’s inability to supervise large portions of my life when I wasn’t with her.
The more I was away from home and out playing in the streets, the more I was exposed to unwholesome values. The streets are where I learned to steal, vandalize, and sell drugs. Eventually I was running wild and being indoctrinated more from the streets than I was at home with a family that had no part in a criminal lifestyle. Thus, the streets became the primary source for acquiring my values. I gravitated toward what appealed to me the most, which was the instant gratification that I got from running the streets (as opposed to what I then viewed as a mundane, uneventful life at home).
As I got older and entered high school, I began smoking marijuana and drinking heavily, mostly because my friends were doing it. Also, my criminal behavior became more frequent and more destructive. Every chance I got, I stole everything from candy and money from peers’ backpacks at school to cars and appliances from people’s homes. I even joined a gang to fit in with the people I was trying to impress. The criminal lifestyle that I’d adopted continued unchecked until the day I committed the crime that landed me in prison.
On January 25, 2002, at age 17, I was arrested for the attempted murder (with a firearm) of three police officers. During a long, hard night of drinking and smoking weed and PCP, I went on a crime spree--stealing from stores, breaking into cars, and burglarizing businesses. Armed with a gun, but without common sense, I encountered a marked police car and thought it would be a good idea to shoot at the unoccupied vehicle as a prank. When I was arrested and informed of the charges I would be facing, what had seemed like a joke and a stunt that I could brag about to all of my friends the next day, turned into a real-life nightmare. I was 17 years old and facing life in prison for a dangerous, meaningless, and senseless prank.
Fortunately for everyone involved—the officers, their families, my family, myself, and the entire community—none of the officers were injured as a result of my actions. I eventually pled guilty to two counts of assault with a firearm on peace officers and sentenced to 34 years in prison [having pled down from the original 103-year proposed sentence].
[Part II will be coming up in the near future. Expect to find a remarkable turn-around in his life.]
Anthony Andrew Ferguson