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


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.