Voices from the inside: Malcolm Jackson on growth while under incarceration

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When I was 19, I pled guilty to a 30-year prison sentence. But that's not where I started. I actually began a criminal lifestyle in 2000 at the age of 13 and have only been free for five months since I was 15. I'll be 32 in July.

Like most people, my past has had an effect on the choices I made. You see, I come from instability. Not only were we living in poverty, but my father was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive. My mother was unstable in the sense that we moved every year. And my brother molested me for so long it became normal and overtime even incestuous. Eventually I joined a gang at 13 and started running the streets not long after.

Crime became second nature as a result and although I come from an environment that was detrimental I make no excuses or justifications for my negative behavior. The truth is I enjoyed it. The adrenaline rush was fun and I can't deny that. Yet, in retrospect, I admit after 12 years in this box I regret the life I once lived. Although it was exciting, it was more destructive than anything. I not only harmed others but I hurt myself and my family in the process.

I've been away for over a decade and the impact I had on my community prior to incarceration was not conducive to anyone I came into contact with. So, I had to make a change. Luckily I was able to meet many men along the way that played a role in my development: Strong men who despite our situation proved that growth was possible regardless of where we sit. And after looking in the mirror, like they suggested, I fortunately turned my life around. Now by no means does this mean I'm perfect, but I can tell you after all of this time I'm finally at a place that's progressive.

Since I began this journey on November 21st, 2005 I've managed to receive 53 certificates of completion in a variety of programs and educational classes. I've been filmed for four documentaries ranging from restorative justice to the If Project. My writing has been published twice. I was the lead in the Sustainable Practices Lab in Walla Walla State Penitentiary running a hydroponics/aquaculture center where I learned how to produce vegetables, plants, and flowers in pea gravel nodes. I've even facilitated a self-awareness class called the Redemption Project at two different institutions for the prison population.

All in all once I saw the error in my ways, I redirected my life so not only could I maintain a positive life upon release but so I could also give back to the community I once stole from. This may sound cliché but prison saved my life. If I didn't get arrested when I did, I guarantee I'd either be dead or worse off than I am. However, I'm a man now. One that has put negatively behind me because it was never good and still isn't.

Today I'm valuable because I know my worth and would never do crime again. I just hope I get the chance to prove it sooner than later. Until then, I'll just keep living in the light and do my best to bring others out into the sun so they too can enjoy the life we were gifted upon birth. Because if I don't, people may never find the happiness I'm so glad I finally found on this path from destruction to construction: A happiness I wouldn't trade in for the world; a happiness I hope we all can find regardless of our circumstances. Because when it's all said and done, the legacy we leave behind will always shine if we stay consistent with our dreams.

Malcolm Jackson is advocating to end the generational impacts of mass incarceration and has been a Washington CAN member since 2017. 

Mass Incarceration Impacts Sisters, Mothers, and Children.

 Thomas Butler and his family. Tommy was given six concurrent life sentences. Tommy’s sister, Cassandra (far right), brings Tommy’s son, Braden, to visit every month. Even now that he is seven, Braden has trouble making the distinction between a fun weekend with his daddy and a good weekend in a bad place. Cassandra fears that with prison such a normal part of his life, Braden may follow in his father’s footsteps.

Thomas Butler and his family. Tommy was given six concurrent life sentences. Tommy’s sister, Cassandra (far right), brings Tommy’s son, Braden, to visit every month. Even now that he is seven, Braden has trouble making the distinction between a fun weekend with his daddy and a good weekend in a bad place. Cassandra fears that with prison such a normal part of his life, Braden may follow in his father’s footsteps.

The story of my brother, Tommy, is tough to tell but important so that people are aware of just how mass incarceration affects families. He is in prison under Washington’s harsh Three Strikes law. The judge assigned him six life sentences for an incident in which he was the only person shot.

As an adolescent, Tommy was caught up in gang life. At 17, he was charged with robbery. The prosecutor offered him a plea deal, a strike in place of a longer prison sentence. Too young to realize that this decision would later cost him his life in the free world, Tommy accepted the deal.

At 18, Tommy committed armed robbery and was sentenced to more than 8 years in prison, his second strike. During that time, my family and I supported my brother through his sentence the best way we knew how, but he still struggled trying to make his way into adulthood.


When Tommy was released in 2008, he moved in with my parents, found a job, and began to work towards a better future. Unfortunately, he did not have the tools necessary to restart a stable life outside of prison and the pull of the streets was too strong. He lost his job shortly after he started and was unable to find new work or housing. We didn’t know how to help him. Desperate to find some kind of financial stability, Tommy turned to people he thought had his back: his street family.

At 25, Tommy robbed a house where he thought he could get drugs. As Tommy was fleeing, he was shot in the back three times. The doctors told us they didn’t think he would make it. We sat with him, terrified that he was dying. Officials came into the hospital room, and woke him from his medically-induced coma to interrogate him about taking a plea deal. They were more concerned about incarcerating my brother than making sure he lived.

Ultimately, it was not the bullets, but Washington’s harsh criminal justice policies that took him away from us. The judge gave him a life sentence for each charge, ensuring that if he ever successfully appealed one charge, he would have five life sentences waiting behind him.


Tommy is the father of two beautiful children, Jayla and Braden. They are the light of his life. Since my brother is incarcerated, I have been the one to handle many things that a father should be doing. Braden lives in a very volatile situation with his mother, so I have spent the last seven years making sure he and his siblings at least have food and shelter.

I do everything I can to support Braden and Jayla maintaining a bond with their father, even though prison makes that very hard to do. I ensure that Braden and Jayla always have birthday and Christmas presents from their father. I keep money on Tommy’s phone account so he can talk with his kids. I take Braden to visit my brother every other month, even though it is a 8-hour trip each way from Spokane to Clallam Bay. Jayla lives in Texas and was only able to meet her dad for the first time this December. It was an incredible moment, but she cried endlessly when she realized he couldn’t go home with her.

Cassandra Butler is advocating to end mass incarceration and a 2-year member of Washington CAN.