art contest

We invited our currently incarcerated participants to submit written pieces and art works about their Top 5 for a chance to win a quarterly package valued at $150! Help us select a winner on Instagram.

Below are the complete versions of written submissions. To vote, visit our Instagram page.

Christopher Diep, OCJ Unborn

As a pup, I tortmented my mother by asking, "where is he, when will he be home?" How does a mother tell her only five year old child that his father is never coming back? Like a deserted soldier, my father didn't fulfill his obligations. The wound continues to resonate through my veins but this pain blossomed into a clear vision of fatherhood.

To my unborn, I'm patiently waiting until the day, to place my ear against your mother's womb and hear your miraculous heartbeat. To see your bright smile, hear your giggles, touch your soft skin, and smell your innocence will fill my heart with love, joy, and happiness. I promise to catch you when you fall, listen to your fears, spend time with you when you're lonely, and support your goals and ambitions. I want to walk by your side through this journey called "Life" and help guide you in the right direction. To be a father who you can confide about your worries, concerns, and sadness. I will protect, encourage, or just be there for you to lean on.

The unconditional love I have for you is endless. Unborn forever you will be my Top 5.

Kenneth moore, CMC
My TOP FIVE

"From the earth to the turf and back again"

Why did the reve one four twelve appoint Dirty

Red to the dirt? Dam that hurt, 

What am I missing? Dam I'm gonna miss him,

The mighty D.R. has gone back to be with the Almighty,

Is this what it took to keep you still a steal box, to

Keep you off the block?

Gone but not forgotten, out of sight, still in mind,

Dirty Red you will never be dead as long as you live in

my head,

I see love ones in cars following behind the car

you're in,

As many in the neighborhood followed in your shoes

to become a groove,

sense of humor out of this world, dam why you had

to leave this world?

Using the golden gloves on your golden hands to do

a flip flop back,

Even though on some days you was without dough,

But no need to fret, lil C-Will and Big Popeye would

come through to be a blessing in disguise,

Love ones gathered around you as you came out

of the womb,

So they will gather around you as you go into the

tomb.

Antonio Santillan, SCC
How my Top 5 Ruined Prison for Me

Every morning I wake up to a loud speaker, blaring whatever announcement the cops feel necessary to be sharing at 5:30am. That, along with the lights being turned on full blast, is my alarm clock. I am a 38 year old convict and I am incarcerated. For now, this is my home. Unfortunately this is the first time I've been to prison. Thought it is, by far, the most life changing. I recently attended a self help group called Success Stories where I was asked to make a list of my top 5 goals in life. Just seeing it on paper made me realize how much time I've wasted. Thank to that list, I look at things in here differently.

I live in a dorm that is designed to hold 77 people. The dorm is rarely filled to capacity, but at any given time you will find 70 to 75 individuals living and functioning together. That's 70+ different personalities I have to interact with on a daily basis. Dodging BS becomes an acquired skill.

It took me a while to to get used to dorm living. I prefer to do my time in a cell. More privacy, less noise. However jail is not like Burger King. You can't have it your way.

Our bunks are lined up next to each other, with only two feet of space in between. Only a locker separates me from the next man and we are literally head to head with each other. Sometimes, the guy I share head space with wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to ear. Sometimes, I think he purposely chooses the loudest snacks to crunch on. What can I do? I am incarcerated. And for now, this is my home.

The dorm is divided into two halves, the bed area and the dayroom. A waist high cinder block wall separates the two. There is no set schedule in the dorm, but everyone usually abides by a ten to ten program. Quiet before 10am. Quiet after 10pm.

Throughout the day you will find people reading, sleeping, playing guitar, cooking or working out in the bunk area. A threshold of carpet lets you know you are entering the dayroom.

The dayroom consists of numerous tables and chairs. Two flat screens TVs hang from one wall. Six phones line another. These eight appliances are the nucleus of the dorm, and also the cause of most physical altercations.

Among the inmates, you have various cliques. In one corner are the musicians, who jam out on guitars, write songs, or practice their Grammy acceptance speeches. In another corner are the health freaks. They spend their days researching vitamins and trying out new exercises. The other day I saw a guy doing squats with another guy sitting on his shoulders. Yeah, it's that serious.

The tables in the dayroom are reserved for the gamers. These guys literally spend all day, every day playing. From the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep, they are either slamming dominoes, shuffling cards, or strategizing chess pieces. If only they would spend half that amount of time on something that would actually benefit their lives...

Around the TVs are the sports junkies. ESPN and Fox sports news run simultaneously, with scores of games and player statistics being called out like numbers on a stock market floor.

Scattered throughout the dorm are the war story tellers. These guys have seen and done it all. According to them, their lives are like a Rambo meets Scarface movie.

Then there are the complainers. These people sulk around complaining about everything. "It's too hot in here!" "It's too crowded!" You can actually spot these guys by the dark cloud of negative energy that follows them around. Like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown.

And me? Where do I fit in? That's a good questions, one I've been asking myself a lot lately. After attending Success Stories, I got to thinking about how far behind in life I really am. My top 5 list looks like something I should have written in high school, not at almost 40 years old. 1) I've never had a driver's license, I definitely have to study for that. 2) I eventually want to get married and have a family. 3) My dream career of to become a writer. I write every day and have made arrangement to enroll in Cal State University as soon as I. parole.

My dad recently passed away, and my mom isn't getting any younger. 4) I want to spend as much time as I can with loved ones. 5) And one day, I want to own my own house.

There it is, my top 5. Seems overwhelming. I got my work cut out for me, that's for sure. But I'll get there, one day. To answer my question, no, I don't think I do fit in. Not anymore. I don't have much in common with these guys. We all want to go home. I just feel I do a little more than most.

My uncle once told me, "You wanna play? You gotta pay!" Well, I've played for too long. Until my release date, I'm just trying to be as productive as possible. I used to have fun in prison. Gaming, exercising, even fighting. Now, It is doesn't bring me closer to my top 5, I'm not messing with it. I read. I write. I work out. I welcome any reason that takes me outside of this dorm. I could complain. But what good would it do? It's all part of my punishment. I am incarcerated. Now for now, this is my home.

Horacio López, CTF
Dreams of hope

Poem and painting by Horacio López, an original member of the Board of Directors of Success Stories, Soledad. At CTF Central. I write, and painted this for my daughter Esperanza, my number one on my top five list. Unfortunately it has been 18 years since we lost contact of any sort. I prayed over this decision to donate them to you all. I only hope that it might help someone, somewhere, somehow. To smile, and be thankful for that you have.

On this canvas I paint a special world, it is a place of enchanted fantasies, and make believe of endless dreams filled with hope that live inside my head...I think of it as being filled with harmony, as a beautiful magical benevolent land. It is a place where transformation of past scars, hurts, and pains are healed by LOVE... 

I paint on the winds of my imagination, like so many stories untold, where the impossible can be held one more time; even if it's just for a moment in times past, future, or present. I paint beautiful bright colors of rainbow sherbert ice creams, that are filled with glitter and stars. (Your favorites)

Yes I often paint hoping to find my place in this messed up world. I do this while searching for the power within me to be able to overcome, to forgive, and forget the past...I paint looking forward to finding that sweet creating of joy...You know all that love, and laughter that surrounds me...

This is why I chose to paint the funny man that served in the King's medieval courts. This Jester is floating in the sky on top of a balloon, regardless of his circumstances, he is free of all time fulfilling his mission of hope for love through the land. Like me he has done this since the beginning of time, regardless of how he felt inside. Benevolent in his craft he made people laugh.

I paint while thinking of you, and my wishes and dreams...I am longing to see you, and live that wonderful fullness of life...Yes a new clean lifestyle, a new beginning in the to be continued of a happy story...When I don't paint my reality, and my dreams are shattered like glass that is broken into a million pieces...

I paint while still living in the sea of my teams...Like a real nightmare that never ends for me...I live day to day to say I paint...When I just can't breathe anymore, when it seems all is lost, and my grief is finally taking under...As I struggle to stay afloat, then I think how much can I take, how much weight does it take to draw me...(Just add more more)...Because outside of what surrounds me I am strong and even though I sometimes feel like fish out of water that is choking for that last breath of air...I am resilient so I go to places, thoughts, and things that don't really exist any more...

I paint the endless sea of teardrops, this sea is filled with all the regrets of my past pains, fears, and shames...I paint while living under the perpetual isolation...as I am lost in time...I am floating somewhere into the unknown, into the land of the hard-knocks, the have-nots, and the filled with lots of heart-breaks...

I paint while lost in the dark shadows of time...As I am here I am seeing, feeling the pain...I witness the suffering, and the despair of all these unfortunate forgotten souls...They all share this space with me, and live as Ghosts, or past-aways...Serving indeterminate sentences...

I paint till I laugh, ot do I laugh till I cry? I often ask myself can I live without hope, or love? "Man" thinking just how long can I last on this emotional fast? I wonder if you can understand, or can you even imagine, and can you see with your heart what I am talking about?...Seriously can you consciously relate in any way? (I don't think so!)

Thinking of you I paint the tears on the faces of all those I've hurt, especially the ones who loved me the most...As I paint I can hear their laughs and cries in the winds, in the eternal chains of time past...

I paint as I try to wash away the pain I have caused to so many...As I paint I am asking those I've hurt to please forgive me! and free yourselves of me...

I paint using my kisses and tears as glue, while trying to put your heart together piece by piece, one kiss at a time...

I paint looking for you, no matter how far you are, while sending my kisses into the whimsical winds. I am praying and hoping that they reach you somehow, somewhere, by someone...

I paint, and as I paint God's love surrounds me...He tells me He made tears to wash away the pain we feel...

I have to tell you that in his divine presence I felt healed, somehow forgiven...Filled of his peace in his ever loving presence I felt the purity of my infant essence, deep down inside my soul...He has opened up my heart to show what's inside all of us...LOVE...

So from what you can see now you know the how and why I paint, because of his loving grace I can start another day, and whether laughing or crying I PAINT....

(Accompanying painting below can be voted for separately on Instagram)