Ultimate Freedom. Ramon Escobar x Angelique Cabral
“My People.” Written by Ramon Escobar. Performed by Angelique Cabral. Ramon is quick to thank InsideOUT Writers for helping him make the transition from feared gang member to highly-successful business owner who happily employs other IOW alums.
“I’m in a different place now where I don’t have to hide this other person anymore – it’s part of who I’ve become.” – Ramon Escobar
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Ramon Escobar, Walter Thompson-Hernandez, Angelique Cabral
Angelique Cabral 00:37
In our lives, we were put in a place in which we did not intend to live in and a place that brainwashed us to fail and commit nothing but sin. We grew up to be people that are ignorant, and that were taught to make bad choices. That when positive was available and angels came by to help we ignored their voices. We grew up in a world that was haunted by negativity and wickedness. And when we failed and people die, their meanings to us did not make sense. Most of us were shown how to fight, lie and steal that when we didn’t even hesitate to think twice when it was time to kill. Our minds were so corrupted, that now we’re proud of the life we represent. But our ignorance is so great that when consequences come to life we just cannot comprehend. We run around stealing and killing in our already poor communities, that when we get put in jail for our stupidity, we blame the authorities. But when the questions come, and they wonder why we act this way, our lack of knowledge and intelligence catches on to us and we have nothing in return to say. Some of us make excuses and find ways to explain why we live the way we do. But nobody would ever tell you what’s real, or what’s really true. The sad thing about this, is that the cycle keeps going on with no intention of coming to a conclusion. And the longer it goes the more young lives we end up losing. I myself am part of the cycle and I’m still in this life that has given me the most crucial ride. But now I’m finding a purpose to life. Because where I’m from, there’s nowhere I could find some pride.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 02:53
I’m Walter Thompson Hernandez and this is WRITTEN OFF. That was actress Angelique Cabral. Reading a piece by IOW alum Ramon Escobar. Ramon sneaks into the room wearing a keen spread baseball cap, black sunglasses, black mask, and a white Nike sweatshirt. He’s so quiet. I don’t even notice him until he comes up to the front. Ramon is the embodiment of pride and success, but doesn’t need any recognition. He started his own private security business, growing it from a tiny company to a well-oiled operation. Hiring other IOW alum to work as security at private events, commercials, and TV film sets. He immediately brought himself across the gray couch like he’s home. And he is in a way. IOW has been a part of his life since he was 14. His arms are wide across and his leg resting on the other. You can tell Ramon is a […] kind of person, even before he starts talking. But then once he does, that all seems to melt away. What does it feel like to have someone read your piece?
Ramon Escobar 04:10
Well, it’s just gave me a different like POV on that poem entirely. I mean, I honestly I hadn’t read that in years now. I think this is the first time I even listened to it. Since I wrote it. I mean, automatically. I just went back to probably where I think I wrote that, which was in a very, very dark place. I mean, I’m actually shocked that I even had that type of perspective at that age. Now looking back, it’s moving for sure.
And it’s moving because of the age you were of where you were of how you wrote it. Like why is it so moving?
It’s just my bluntness maybe, being able to be transparent in a place where I constantly had to wear a mask, where, you know, I could only talk to the paper, but not anything or anyone around me.
And where were you exactly when you wrote this?
I was a juvenile convicted as an adult. At that time, I was facing a life sentence, luckily, I didn’t receive the life sentence. But I do recall, I think I was in Chino state prison. I just got there. And very rapidly, I started to understand that it’s this sort of path. And this track that I was on that I kept glorifying, wasn’t really a reality. When I got to where, you know, in that being in that state of mind in that timeframe, and growing up to this belief of like, being this hardcore character, and making it to prison, and being someone that such a young age and running these grown men, and adults is like, I’m looking around, there is literally nowhere out to be prideful, to, you know, for so much that I have already done. And then just, you know, it was just a shame that everything and everyone there were just 1000s and 1000s of people and guys in prison that everyone justify while we were there, but no one really wanted to have a real conversation.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 06:10
So when you write this poem, you are already at Chino. Walk me through, Ramon, before that, and who you were before that poem.
I think I felt that I was probably 18 years old when I wrote that 17-18 years old. And at that point, I felt like I was already 40 years old, just by how much I had already been through. I’ve, you know, I grew up in the system, I went into the juvenile hall system at 12, you know, came out at 14. And at 14, I was facing a life sentence essentially, facing life sentence because I was juvenile tried as an adult. So I automatically I had to, you know, start thinking as an adult. Even prior to that it was, you know, grew up in South Central, broken family home, became a product sort of like environment by choice. And then very rapidly started to get involved in the lifestyle. That mean, I thought was the way to be, because that’s what I was shown. And that’s what I knew. And while in juvenile hall, I just continued, sort of like this angry path until I landed at 14 again, and I met InsideOUT Writers, and through inside our writers, it became sort of like this invisible friend per se, this way of having this, you know, the pen and paper and having to be able to have an outlet.
But also being able to be shown that there was more to life than what I had known. Like, I literally felt that going to jail and going to prison and becoming a Mexican Mafia member was like the life to live. That was my hardcore belief. And the more I kept being in the system, and especially around the time, I started getting involved with InsideOUT writers within juvenile hall at that time, I started rapidly learning there was more to life that I was kind of blinded to as a kid. And yet at that time, I didn’t feel as if I was a kid, my actions, were all adult actions, you know, I just constantly was in the system. And I just grew very fast to adapt to this character that I was becoming, I think I had a big influence when I was, you know, in those teenage years with, you know, everybody around me the way the system was corrupted and corrupted the system.
Ramon Escobar 08:40
And I had control of the system at 14, 15, 16 years old, you know, having the power of just like, pointing a finger and then having somebody get killed or stabbed like it was, it was pretty powerful. So yeah, by that time, I probably wrote this. It’s when I started to realize that it was hard for me to find a purpose to continue to live the way I was living so fast. And more so having a deeper conversation within myself once again, because I, the only person I could talk to was a piece of paper, I couldn’t show weakness. I couldn’t have these conversations with anyone when I was in that setting, I had to continue to live up to the character that I have built in order for me to survive.
So this character, which almost has nothing to do with writing, because it’s a real person, it’s you. Who are you learning from to become this character or this person?
A lot of behavior was learned from my uncles at a very young age. Most of my uncles that live with my mom and my family were all really active gang members. And from my father’s side, I have very vague memories of him, but his brothers and his uncles will come around and they were all Mexican, like cartels or whatnot. So I kind of started glorifying these male figures that were in my life, and just the very few conversations that I recall, with them, it was always a way to sort of motivate me to be a better version of them, but not in a positive way, more in a negative way, you know, be harder than me be, you know, bigger than me. And this is how you do things. And again, I just continued to kind of glorify this picture of these male role models that I had. And I felt like I kind of accepted that role and took it to heart.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 10:31
And at this point, like you hadn’t start writing yet, right?
No, I hadn’t yet. I was, I was very young at that point. I didn’t start writing until I landed in juvenile hall, and I was facing a life sentence essentially.
I want to go back a little bit. And I want you to describe the scene where you were, smell sounds, where you wrote the piece at Chino. Like, I want you to like, really take us there for a second.
Yeah, remember how it was just a dark energy, I remember driving into the prison and really having a conversation with myself, like, wow, like I made it to, you know, the big house essentially, and graduated from a juvenile detention facility to like an adult prison. And you just feel like this wave of dark energy within the bus and more […] or like a nervous energy, where everyone in that buses kind of sort of wondering what we’re driving to. And then as soon as you enter the facility is sort of like an old facility, old barbed wire, the hole, just exiting the bus. You can see like the old bars, sort of like the old movies where you see these cells with bars, and that actually sort of became that rapid reality on more modern jails and prisons now have sort of like steel doors and steel, electronic gates and Gino was very old, like very modern. So you walk in and the first thing you smell is just either like feces or like urine and, and like, on top of like bleach, maybe that they were trying to clear it, I was just like a mixture of this just horrible odor walking there.
Ramon Escobar 12:37
And my first reaction was like, wow, you know, I’m seeing these, like grown men like, like old people in their in cells. And remember sitting in a cage they put on they put us in these, we walked with these long corridors within this corridor, there’s different housing units. But within the corridor, there’s these cages, they’re like, literally like dog cages. And within those dog cages that were just, you know, men after men after men within this within these cages, and they put me in one of the cages, I was chained up from my ankles, around my waist, behind my back in orange jumpsuit. And I remember sitting there and I’m watching and obviously, the outer me is very hard. But within me, it’s also just more curious about what’s going on. And I didn’t think I would have that reaction; I feel like I was going to be a little bit more prepared than what I walked into. I think I was more in shock. When these 40–50-year-old men are having a conversation or trying to have a conversation with me.
And it literally felt like I was talking to a 15-year-old kid and instead of me looking up, I was literally looking down on them. And yeah, very rapidly started taking advantage of that in a way where I felt okay, this is my survival instinct. And I know that I could sort of maneuver my way through being in the situation that I was in. Once they move me out of that dog cage, they walked over and in this, you know, they put me into one of the housing units and they opened a door to the housing unit and there’s like three storeys full of just cells with, you know, the bars or whatnot, like the whole movie scene that you could feel and I’m walking down literally like it was just, it’s funny growing up we were glorifying like American me and blood and blood out and these sort of like gangster movies and here I am like walking with like my bed row and you know my blanket and hand walking towards myself and then these dudes just with their hands out, sticking their head out just out of these cells as you’re walking down this very dark corridor with that scent of just, you know, hundreds of men being piled up and it’s not […] was very dark.
I remember it was a cloudy day too. It was kind of raining outside, and just walking into that cell, and seeing this very grown man in there. And the cells, tiny it was, it was literally I could stretch my arms out and touch wall to wall. That’s how small it was. And when that door shut behind me, it was just reality hit. You know, like, here I am on to the next chapter in my life. But a part of me was excited. And another part of me was disappointed. Just because I feel like maybe I expected a lot more. I don’t know what I expected at that time, but I just expected it to be something different. You know, I by then I had had, you know, hundreds of fights. I’ve had been stabbed; I had my job broken. I had been jumped plenty of times I’ve been involved in racial riots, all through juvenile hall or like in the way California Youth Authority System. I had already experienced trauma and violence. And I walked in here and I just felt shame. You know, there was, there’s really nothing I was proud of. And nothing to look forward to.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 16:13
I’ve been to Chino before. I used to. Like when I was in college I used to, I co-founded dislike Prison Education Program called PEP. but it was at Chino Cooke, others like two at Chino, right?
It’s like East yard, which is the modern yard. And then Central, which is like the old And I walked in, I was in Palm Hall, because automatically they put me into like, icy like, segregation. They didn’t put me in general pop. Because when you’re trying as an adult when you’re in juvenile, everything I did in the youth authority, all of the fighting, all of the violence sort of that file transferred with me. So they had me sort of like a high-risk individual Yeah, so I was in I landed there my first year it was like palm HOD and Chino prison. It’s sort of like the infamous palm prison.
When you said Chino, like I remember Chino and I remember like a walk in the yard at Chino. Yeah, and I do feel like this old school sort of, like yesterday. It’s like not modern at all.
I feel like you know penitentiary movie like Shawshank or something.
Now like, you know, I definitely felt like American me for sure. Yeah, for sure.
Exactly. Like, wow, like, this is really real. You know, in Morse, I’ve read books, I’ve seen so many movies, and I walk into Chino, and it’s really felt like American Me.
So you were saying about you getting to Chino, and starting to write, tell me about what you’re writing about in Chino, and also why you’re writing in Chino.
Ramon Escobar 18:03
Inside our writers, I mean, it sort of became sort of like this thing that I carried with me, it’s funny because other inmates that were there that I knew from, again, I was incarcerated through years in juvenile hall years in the youth authority, you know, we’ll run into each other in the adult system. And in sort of like an unspoken thing like, Hey, remember class, like everyone reclass or it was just like this unspoken understanding of ins you know, as being an inside our writers. And then also knowing that I think every kid and every inmate there that was a part of IOW, we all sort of had like this invisible bond because of InsideOUT writers because we’ve all been vulnerable in front of each other because of our writing. And I continued to ride through you know, those years and then once I got to Chino, and continue to do so and it wasn’t like this open Oh, I’m writing a poem thing. It was more so like, yeah, I’m writing letter to this girl.
So you were using the skills you were learning at IOW to like, write letters to girls?
No, I was pretending to be writing letters to girls but really, I was writing my poems or writing like whenever I’ve and it was never like a consistent thing where it’s like oh, I have to write it, was more so like, like I said, it was just like this invisible counselor that was there where I needed to vent and I utilize writing.
Was there a reason why you felt like you had to hide the writing?
Yeah, because I was a very high-profile person and in perceive that as this gang leader, throughout like my juvenile and even when I especially when I got into the adult system, because I quickly got involved in the politics. And like I said, like being in the system for quite, you know, few years. As soon as I landed, I’m walking I remember even walking down that Hall and is Like my name was just being screamed at from the south, like, yo, what’s up like guys remembering who I was, and sort of, you know, that build my credibility very fast as well. So I had to hide that weakness, I had to hide, you know, this vulnerability to that of the inner consciousness that I had.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 20:19
So it was almost like you’re living a double life, right? Like, on one hand, you’re this like, really up and coming and prominent like leader, everyone knows you. Everyone knows he has like this dude who’s hard. He was like well known. But then the other side of you, right is also like vulnerable, and soft and writing, and expressing yourself through writing and like making sense of the world through writing. And it all seem like, these two identities couldn’t coexist, at the same time.
They couldn’t. So I was like, in an internal battle within myself. And I think more so the writing started coming up. Because I started to like I said, I started to grow up really fast. I also started to gain understanding and knowledge of the […] life that I was living, you know, it was started really sinking in very fast that it was all a lie. You know, I’m sitting here like with these […], as soon as I land there, like they send me straight to the shoe. And I’m supposedly here with like, the hardest guys in the frickin world. And here is little me just sitting here like, okay, so this is the reward of old man as a sally a sink, in a metal bed, all those fights, all that trauma, all that pain, you know, everything that I had to endure even too like to juvenile hall, and then these juvenile detention facilities, when I got to the adult prison system, it almost felt a little bit easier, because there was more structure, there’s more, you know, leadership, obviously, the risk is higher of dying because of the weapons, but it just, you know, it was something within me that started to slowly kill the other side of me, because I started gaining that knowledge that I didn’t have before.
Wow, that’s, that’s really powerful stuff. Today, are you still writing?
Ramon Escobar 22:01
Not as often as I normally would. Occasionally, you know, I pop out my phone, and I’ll drop some, I mean, this setting this InsideOUT Writer setting that we’re in is definitely like a sacred place for a lot of us. I mean, all this, all these pictures on these walls that we see now, like, I’m in a lot of home, but everyone on this wall basically know, when I regroup, you know, if IOW opens up, that’s usually when, you know, I start some therapy up, but luckily, I’ve come very far from, you know, that person that was, and then through the writing, so I feel like in my own way, I’ve learned to kind of cope, and more. So I mean, I’m in a different place now where I don’t have to hide this other person anymore. It’s part of like, who I’ve become, in just, in life in general.
What does it feel like to not have to hide the writing side of you anymore?
Like freedom, like the ultimate freedom, like the ultimate, like happiness of not having to, like, filter myself consistently, and having to dumb myself down to, you know, just belong, I guess?
What’s the version of you now? Outside of writing? Like, how do you spend your time?
Now I’m a father, I’m engaged to a beautiful girl. I own multiple businesses, you know, I manage, you know, hundreds of people. And is, life is great, you know, again, that freedom that I’ve gained, that happiness that I found, and through the years, you know, working on healing the trauma and understanding the trauma, and looking back and understanding why I made the decisions and more so forgiving myself, for the decisions that were made, and accepting that life is short. So I will definitely live my life to the fullest extent, you can say, where, you know, I travel a lot, you know, I’m out in the world and experiencing the world in a way where it was only a fantasy or a movie, and I’m making it a reality,
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 24:13
As you’ve evolved as a person, you know, throughout the years, is there one particular piece of writing that you think about the most?
My people is definitely something that I still just carry. Because I still mentor a lot of people, I still get calls from prisons every day, of people still stuck within that cycle. So you know, from time to time, I might just shoot some stuff to some of my friends in there. And then have them see what I saw while I was in there and hopefully spark something up within them to try to keep fighting and keep that faith and keep that hope and the same thing out here with my employees or people that are surrounded by. It’s a constant battle. You know, life in general is a constant battle, you know, reflecting off of something I know my people, there’s a couple other poems that I might, you know, open up my old notebooks and read through. It’s just sort of like a reflection of it. I don’t sort of dwell on it or try to live in it. I just started like accepted my past and I’m living in the present. I think that’s usually one of the ones that hits home most of the time.
Thanks again to Ramon for joining us. He wants to remind everyone to follow IOW on socials. Which is at @insideoutwriters on Instagram, insideoutwriters on Facebook, and at @IOWriters on Twitter. Move by what you heard today. Want to do more? Follow and support InsideOUT Writers Workshop at insideoutwriters.org and click on ways to give. To get involved personally in the work to end mass incarceration in California. Check out the work of ARC, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition at antirecidivism.com. Next week on WRITTEN OFF, writer Kyle Murphy.
This crazy brow is definitely different hear else doing. I mean it’s not much I could say other than I enjoyed it. I thought it was dope man.
WRITTEN OFF is a co-production of Lemonada Media and Black Bar Mitzvah. Our producer is Claire Jones. supervising producers are Xorje Olivares and Kryssy Pease. Executive producers are Aaron Bergman, Jay Ellis, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Music and sound design by Xander Singh. Mix and scoring by Matthew Simonson. Special thanks to all of our contributors, and InsideOUT Writers, you can learn more about them at insideoutwriters.org. If you like what you heard, help others find us by rating the show and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. To support WRITTEN OFF and gain access to exclusive bonus material. Like additional conversations with the writers and producers of this show. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts. And for more of my work, visit my website wthdz.com. I’m Walter Thompson Hernandez. Thanks for listening.