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Prisoner Expresses Regret

Steve's Story—Steve Grant

A Prisoner Expresses Regret

As I write to my beloved mother (my Beautiful Black Queen), I express many thoughts that I have contemplated over the years and yet did not have the courage to write. Here are some of those meditations:

“As always, you remain in my prayers, and I hope God will continue to bless, protect, and guide you. I also pray God will use my experience to spread my words to all the others who need to hear them. Though I have not always understood it, nor been able to explain it, I know there is a reason and purpose for my life and some day it will be revealed to me. . . .

“I am ashamed to say to you that in the 35 years of my incarceration, rarely have I thought of how my actions not only led to my arrest and separation from you but how it also affected you and victimized you. To see your child violate your teachings and the laws of God, humanity, and society must have been and still is some of the most difficult tribulations you have had to encounter.

“I can only imagine your many tears and sleepless nights you have had, possibly wondering, “Where did I go wrong?” thinking of how you prayed for me, sacrificed and tried to teach me and guide me along the right path.

I am in prison, not because you failed as a parent, but because I failed to live up to your expectations as a son. I am in prison because of my own choices which you had no control over.

“I write this letter today to ask your forgiveness, for any pain my crime caused you and to release you from any guilt you may feel. I am in prison, not because you failed as a parent, but because I failed to live up to your expectations as a son. I am in prison because of my own choices which you had no control over.

“I am sure as a mother, nothing could have prepared you for the shock of seeing your child being handcuffed, shackled, tried and convicted, and led to a place so far away and, yet, unable to do anything to make things right. No parent should ever have to witness such scenes nor should she have to become a victim of her own child’s doings. In my thoughtless, senseless act, I took the life of H. R’s mother’s son, but, at the same time, took your son away from you.

“Never having had the chance to be a parent myself, I can only imagine the pain I caused both mothers. The shame I caused you in church and in the community because I chose a path that led to me being responsible for ending someone else’s life.

“For a long time, I did not think of the sense of the loss, misery, and shame I caused you. I only thought of myself. For many years, I felt wronged and looked at myself as a victim too and that an injustice had been imposed upon me. One Parole Board Commissioner even told me years ago that I was always feeling sorry for myself. What a self-centered person I was then.

I had not really thought about how I had victimized you with my actions--because you never once mentioned to me your own pain, loss, or suffering. Instead, you always showed me concern, compassion, strength, God’s glory, and, especially, your unconditional love. I indulged myself, taking you for granted because of your awesome demonstration of non-judgmental love for me.

“Beloved Mother, if I do nothing else with this letter, I want to let you know that you taught me right. And it is totally because of my own actions, thinking, and choices that led to me being in prison today. I accept full responsibility for my crimes and criminal lifestyle.

“You have been blessed to be on earth over 85 years, so I ask that you don’t waste any more energy blaming yourself in any way for my actions. Yet, I thank you for loving me despite my atrocious behavior. Thank you for standing by me these past 35 years of my incarceration and the 50 years of my life. Thanks for believing I can learn from my mistakes and change my life.

“And, Moms, even if you do not live to see me released from prison, rest assured, I will leave prison some day with a sense of purpose and determination—to become the son you can be proud of with plans to touch someone else’s life in a positive way, just as you have touched so many in your attempt to serve God and others.

“Know that it is inside me now to try to make amends to everyone, anyone I have in any way wronged. That is why I finally wrote the mother of the young man I senselessly murdered in order to express my true remorse and regret—even though my expressions will in no way bring him back or make amends for the horrors I caused.

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“So I want to share with you part of the letter that I wrote the mother of my victim. . . .

“As I write this letter to you, I sincerely hope you find the grace to open it and accept it from me. We are strangers, yet we do know each other because I have affected your life in the most horrible way and have been the cause of the greatest pain imaginable.

“Even as I attempt to introduce myself, I am ashamed to do so because I don’t feel worthy enough of the right to address you.

“For over 20 years, I have wanted to write to you, and I have struggled with the decision to do so. I have searched the very depth of my soul, and after each search, I still felt unworthy, lost, and anxious. As I write this letter, I am moved to tears, but even so, I feel I don’t deserve the right to express my personal pain after the pain I have caused you. It has taken me so long to write because, initially, it was from selfish and cowardly reasons and out of plain ignorance.

“I was selfish about not writing to you as soon as I found myself incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison. On my mind was the fact that a fellow inmate had written to the mother of his victim, asking for forgiveness which she offered. I did not want to write to you asking the same thing because my motives would not have been pure. I would not have been thinking about you, then, but myself, motivated by trying to make myself feel better (and even hoping you too would write a letter on my behalf to the Parole Board—as the other man did). For me at that time, it would have been a truly selfish motive and so, despite my feelings, it would have been wrong to write to you and so I did not.

“I have chosen to write to you today, ready to say I am sorry for the pain I caused you and how much I regret your loss. The only thing I can offer you now, as a symbol of my sincerity, is to try to become a better person by helping others become aware of the true destructiveness of their actions. I want to encourage others to think first of the victims and their families before acting-- but, if the wrongs have already been committed, to seek atonement by attempting to make amends to all the victims.

“My own 17-year-old brother was murdered when I was 16, so I do know something of the pain and anger over such losses. Why I did not learn from that, then, is unexplainable and perhaps unforgiveable. I don’t want to blame the environment I grew up in (though I know it was a factor) even though retaliatory murders were the way things were handled by all the people I knew. I realized only later just how much I was affected by those who had the power to influence me.

“If by sharing with you how sorry I am and if by asking for your forgiveness causes my own death (through future pay-back), I am ready to accept whatever comes as a result. I know my words can do nothing to bring you son back, but I am no longer a coward. I have the courage now to apologize to you even though no apology can come close to what you need and deserve.

“I sincerely hope that the act of writing this letter is in no way considered disrespectful of you and your memories. In no way do I want my words to dishonor you or your son.

“I was at a workshop not long ago when I heard from a mother of a murdered son. She talked about all the wounds that had been inflicted upon her and how that one dreadful, irrevocable act had forever shattered her life. I realized then the long-term consequences of all our actions, and I am so sorry for mine.

“But while I listened and saw the mother’s tears, I also thought of you and my own mother and all the mothers who have lost children to such senseless violence. For the first time I understood that no circumstances can justify such dreadful crimes nor lessen the grief felt by all those related to the victim.

“You and your family members remain always in my prayers. If it is possible for me, I want to do something to honor your son and help you in some way. I know how that must sound, but truly I am sincere in all that I have said.

Sincerely,

Ronald Patterson

And so this 48-year old man writes to each of us to offer some insight into what can transpire within the hearts and minds of those who have committed such crimes. This is not an anomaly among inmates who have had the time to mature and learn about what drove them to their actions. In fact, so many of them (and it is a surprisingly large number) now realize that they can be transformed and, for many, they are ready to be approved for parole and get that second chance that all of us deserve—to get that second chance to leave a positive mark behind. –R. J.