Legend, Husband, Father, Felon… But Never Fell Off

Here I go. Putting fingers to keyboard. Thoughts to action. Heart to words, for the first time since being back in the “free” world. It took some time to get to this point. The point where I feel I could write about my experience over the last 7 years of my life and somebody would even give a damn. But here I go.

It felt safer the last time I did this. I knew that there was only one person on the receiving end of my entry, my wife (Amanda Santiago at the time but now Tarver), who loved every sentence on each page so much that she would read it 3 times before going to the next paragraph. I know because I did the same thing with her letters. They were the only way I could hear her voice and I even read the phrases out in the way she would say it. Letters were the only thing keeping us connected due to the fact that we were on the same case and two felons (even married couples) arent allowed to correspond with each other for at least a year into their sentence. Our letters were probably the only time I felt safe with my thoughts. The thoughts I had entirely no lack of now that I finally had nothing else to do but sit & THINK.

Legend at Coleman Federal Prison circa:2016

It was time for honesty. The position I found myself in had been a long time coming and I had no one else to blame but myself. My life had been going 200 MPH for a while now and not only did it catch up to me but it caught up to the mother of my child to be. I was a big dreamer and had plenty of fantasies but I never envisioned a time where I would be meeting my first born son from behind prison walls.

I went from celebrating the completion of my BA degree at FIU in 2014 to settling in at a Federal prison early 2015. All those years of dabbling in street life just until I got out of college were wasted. I learned that there is no dabbling. You’re either in it or you’re not. It didn’t matter that I was from Miami, the city where you’re either buying or selling drugs. It didn’t matter that I started out of necessity or that I supported my family through what I considered a righteous hustle. What mattered was that I got caught and would now be another statistic. Something I always said would NEVER Happen to me.

Incarceration can be a very enlightening experience if you open your ears to the right people. It didn’t take long for me to come across one of the most valuable lessons I was told, which was “ Focus your energy on the things you have control over, and never let anything control your energy”. I decided to do just that by utilizing my time in preparation so that I could stay true to my word, that I would NEVER become another statistic.

Amanda and I wrote at least 300 Letters to each other during our incarceration. That was 300 letters manifesting everything we wanted out of life from my Son’s (Legend Jr.’s) green eyes, to our marriage/ honeymoon on another continent, even my fitness career in the hottest gym in the city! ( Shout out to my brother Sean Casey, a fellow F.E.L.O.N who answered a call from a complete stranger based on the fact that we came from the same place and Manning Sumner, owner of Legacy and my mentor who gave me the opportunity to earn my way back into life through fitness.) 300 Letters of daydreaming, fantasies, memories, and premonitions. Did going back to prison ever come up once in any of those? NOPE. But according to the numbers it should have.

As I made my way through the next 2 years building some of the most authentic relationships I have, I couldn’t help but realize the similarities. Young. Black, Brown, Hispanic. Poverty level upbringing. Hustlers. Head of households. Big Dreamers. Ambitious. Relentless. In different circumstances, I could be surrounded by some of the best on wall street, and ironically enough, we shared lunch with some of those types as well.

So why then, were we meeting under the circumstances of life threatening experiences. Why then, were there kids who made 500$ a week in somebody’s drug house, getting longer sentences than somebody who stole the life savings of over 500 people?
It was concepts like this that pushed me past coming home and doing the right thing for myself solely. No, I had to do better than that. I had to do right for the brothers that are just like me. Plotted on since birth but making sure the world remembers our name.

You see, I’m just one voice of the many that has been silenced because they deemed us as negligible. They figured we would remain in our shackles forever but underestimated our resolve. They hoped we would be too tired to push forward but overlooked our stamina. They expected that we would scurry home quietly but we have a message that we will yell to the ends of the Earth until that message is CLEAR.

I AM NOT INFERIOR.

I love harder because I know that love is life.
I Breathe Deeper because I know that fresh air is sacred.
I move with purpose because I know now that mine is greater.

300 Letters, our third child , is going to be a place where we can be SAFE to talk about ANYTHING that needs to be said. “WE” the formerly incarcerated, the “Felons”, the “Evil People”, the counted out, the unimportant, the “they deserve its”, the people who share no difference from the ones who cast judgment besides getting caught. “WE” the people who have paid our debt to society, took responsibility for our actions, and are continuing to thrive despite our mistakes to show the world that WE are not our mistakes.

Yea, this is for the F.E.L.O.N.S.
The “Formerly Entrapped Leaders Overpowering Negativity”.

We shouldn’t have to wait seven years to open up about our experience. This is no longer taboo, or political, and it damn sure won’t be canceled. This is an issue that has finally been acknowledged and WILL be addressed. The smoke and mirrors of the “American Dream” came crashing down a long time ago and we’re here to pick up the pieces. The 650,000 people released from incarceration every year have something to say.

300 Letters is here to help you say it. Here WE go…..

4 Responses

  1. Light of my life!
    So proud of everything you are everything you do! Honored to share life with a man full of integrity and love !

  2. I AM A PROUD PARENT
    Words can’t begin to explain how proud I am of my son and daughter-in-law, Amanda ❤️
    this just goes to show that one mistake should not define the rest of your life.
    FELONS but NEVER FELL OFF !!

  3. Your transparency and this project are what’s needed to break the stigma. This collection of real stories is so important. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  4. It takes courage to be vulnerable & authentic. Keep telling your story , setting the example & showing the world that your past mistakes do not define you. Proud of you & Amanda. Best is yet to Come!

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