This new Insight Out blog is authored by Dante Owens, who is currently serving a life sentence at Sterling Correctional Facility in Colorado. He’s been in the prison system since 1998. Insight Out is a platform for Dante to share his personal stories, reflections from years ago to the present, and the programs taking place at Sterling, many led by Dante, to support its residents’ well-being and to reduce recidivism. This first piece takes Dante back to the early years of his incarceration.
My name is Dante Owens and I am an inmate at Sterling Correctional Facility. I came to prison when I was 18 years old and I’m now 39, so I’ve done 21 years so far. I am serving a life sentence without parole.
Collectively I have done over seven and a half years in administration segregation, which is known as solitary confinement or ad-seg, a 23-hour lock down in a cell with only one hour outside of it a day for recreation and shower. As I sat in my prison cell I had two choices: 1) lose my mind or 2) face my reality and learn about myself, my dislikes, my likes, what makes me happy and what makes me upset. But most of all: what I wanted my future to be like.
One of the hardest things for a person like me, and many others growing up in Compton, is that our family, friends of the family, my friends, and then me, we all become a part of the gang at a very young age. Growing up in a family where at the age of 9 years old I was a part of the gang life as my uncle, God uncles and God Father had been, each day was consumed with surviving day-to-day. I never had the time to reflect on who I really was.
I have family members also serving time and last year one of my cousins died in prison. Rival gang, drug deals and retaliation has been a result of all the life sentences, both male and female.
Being a part of that gang lifestyle you become so hardened in all your ways. Using drugs, dealing drugs, and family members doing the same. Seeing killings, people being beaten, stabbed, shot and incarcerated was a part of my everyday life. You only learn one way to become in order to survive, which is to be numb to the pain of your surroundings.
While in solitary I got to thinking about my life and all the pain I have put so many people through. Being convicted of murder. Facing the death penalty. I have struggled to understand how I must change my way of thinking. I’ve found space to learn and understand WHY I’ve made the decisions I have. Until you understand that you can never really make the change you want in yourself. For people who have played a part in violence or been around it, or who have been assaulted themselves, until you honestly deal with it in a structured and intense way you can never truly grasp what is right and true, which is a different concept of what is right when you’re in the street.
I continually allow myself to change for the better and release the old patterns of thinking. In doing so I have grown to understand what it takes to become a responsible, productive, and educated person for me, for my family and my community. I ask for nothing but a chance to share my education and past experience with the hope that I can help others to change their life, to help parents’ struggle with their children and prevent our youth from being pulled into the gang lifestyle.
And while I often fail and revert back to my old ways, I get back to my new way, dust myself off and continue to fight the good fight of our time: to save our kids future.
In 2017 while at the Fremont complex in Canon City, Colorado, I decided I wanted to take these thoughts in my mind and put them into practice within the prison community. I put together the program “Break the Cycle” to introduce the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People while discussing healing and humanity for the collective good.
My thought is, “Who better to end the generational cycle of gangs than someone who has lived it, seen it as it is?” I wish to help as many kids and adults as possible, as many as I can reach. I wish to teach parents how to prevent their kids and others from turning to gang life.
Now at Sterling I continue to develop, receive approval for, and administer programs like “Break the Cycle” for Sterling residents while also Skyping with residents of the Youth Offender System in Colorado, a detention center for minors, providing mentorship and support.
I have realized it’s not about me anymore. It’s about the kids because they are our future. Through this blog series I will share my own personal experiences and the restorative programs being developed as Colorado’s Department of Corrections goes through its own transformation.
About InSight, Out
InSight, Out is a blog series by Dante Owens, an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility, with editorial and publishing assistance by Kim Owens. InSight, Out conveys Dante’s personal stories and experiences of his life inside prison in an effort to share them with the world outside. This editorial journey will also provide insights into changes being made and restorative residents programs taking place, some of which are led by Dante, within the Colorado’s correctional system that strive for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Dante Owens’ writings and opinions are his own and do not reflect or represent that of anyone other than himself.