Sheldon JohnsonDear Younger Self,

If you only knew you’d be spending your life in Sing Sing prison and the degree of suffering you will endure, you’d stop the hands of time. But you don’t, you can’t. Your young mind cannot create such imagery.

As I write you this letter, I will have already spent twenty-two years and eleven months in prison.

In twenty five years, you will find yourself emotionally torn between realizing you’ll never have the chance to get to know your grandson and 20 nieces and nephews — and realizing they’re in danger of making the very same mistakes that you made. They are in danger of being murdered in the streets that you so willing sacrificed your life for.

Your own son Sheldon will kill someone when he is just thirteen years old. All the men in your lineage will have been incarcerated and entrapped in a system that has been designed to make you think and react exactly the way you do.

Don’t Miss Sheldon’s story about his father and son in prison

Sheldon Preston Johnson, walk away now. Right now, I am begging you to walk away. But you won’t, like Pharoah in the book of Exodus, your heart has been hardened and my pleas will fall on deaf ears. Just like your mother, father, sister, and aunt all are legally deaf, you too cannot hear my pleas. You can’t hear me telling you to take that plea of twenty-three years flat that the judge will offer you. Do not listen to your lawyer. At least then, you will have light at the end of your tunnel.

All the destruction you will leave in your wake will be disheartening. All the places you think you’re going? You’re not. Many of the things that you placed value on will prove to be worth nothing in comparison to the decades you will spend in prison. You’ll be separated from everyone, including your son. You will blame and beat yourself up until your soul is black & blue.

One day, you will look back at who you were and not recognize yourself.

Just because you are surrounded by violence does not mean that violence is the way to solve your problems. Sheldon, two wrongs do not make a right; violence only begets violence. Learn how to respond and not react.

At the moment, you’re too hard-headed to see the forest for the trees. Theresa, your grandmother, will die in 2001 and you won’t make it to her funeral. You will never see her beautiful face again. She loved you so much, and gave you the best she had, but you just wouldn’t listen; all you seemed to do was disappoint her.

I know you were hurting and traumatized and,  because your ability to trust was destroyed, you pushed everyone away. You were afraid and ashamed and too embarrassed to tell anyone that you’d been molested and raped, so you bottled it all away and it fermented. And like some rare form of cancer it ate you alive.

Life isn’t fair Sheldon. And you can’t say that you didn’t have opportunities. You had the chance to do better and be better. Look at your friend Antwon. He saw something you couldn’t see. In the blink of an eye, Antwon started working a legit job and left the streets alone. If only you had done the same. Jacqueline Fox was going to help you get into RIT, with a full scholarship, but you walked away from her too. She travelled hundreds of miles all the way to NY but you refused to leave. You were so in love with the streets.

This attachment and loyalty to a code of street ethics is misplaced, warped. Your aspiration for going to prison and surviving it — as if it is a ‘Rite of Passage’ — is insane. Waiting to go to prison isn’t normal. It takes courage to change Superb. Show me how tough you really are.

The world is so much more than just the five boroughs.  Education is the key to opening up your mind beyond the small radius around the “Martin Luther King Towers” (projects). Go to law school, you’ll make a great lawyer. I know it is difficult for you to see outside that box of the ignorance you are drowning in. I wish you could have read Baldwin’s the ‘Fire Next Time’. Or the ‘Count of Monte Cristo’. What people think about you does not make you who you are or have the potential to be. You have to focus on critical thinking and analysis.

You have a son to raise. You pledged to never do to him what your father did to you, but you will. You will abandon him through your criminal behavior.

So many people have tried to help you. How many times have you run into the same wall? When will you start to make better decisions?

I often imagine things would have been different if you had a father figure that you could have respected and trusted; someone who would have loved you and shown you that its okay to be vulnerable; someone who could have shown you the importance of work ethic and the value of a dollar; someone who could of shown you that men cry too; that you don’t have to hold in the Hurricane Katrina of tears until they brake the dams of your heart & mind.

I wonder if you would have been able to let anyone in had someone been willing to enter. Your mother was raised in a different time, forgive her. I doubt that she hates you. She gave you what life gave her, a hard time. Imagine what it must have felt like to have all her hopes and dreams snuffed out. One day you will see why she had every right to be angry, to hate the world from which she was temporally disconnected; a world where she had to constantly depend on other people to find her own voice.

As I write you this letter we are living in a global pandemic, a disease called COVID has killed more than a million people. As I write you this letter, I pray that I do not get sick again, because I don’t know how many times I can get sick and expect to survive.

Love, You.

Sheldon Johnson is serving 50 years in New York for 1st and 2nd degree robbery.

Sheldon P. Johnson #99A3011

Sing Sing C. F. 

354 Hunter Street

Ossining, NY 10562