by Carl Raybon

Carl Raybon is a student at the Prison University Project (PUP) at San Quentin State Prison. His story is one in a series of oral histories that Voice of Witness has collected through collaborative storytelling workshops with PUP students.

I grew up in Spring Lake (N.C.). This is a small town outside of a major military facility, but none of my relatives were active duty members during my childhood years. Reflecting back on these years, it comes as no surprise that there were some years or moments when my life was so innocent and I felt loved and cared for by a host of men and women who were self-made people maintaining their own land, animals, and lives. This was the 1970’s and I had lived in California with my mother for a few years before returning to “the country.”

As a rambunctious and curious seven to eight-year-old I found the woods, creeks, and rivers very adventurous and teeming with wildlife that had my eyes wide and my hands and legs busy. All the same, the wrap around porches and big magnolia trees with their beautiful flowers provided shade and a calmness that eased all of the anxiety brought on by the running, jumping, fishing, and playing. Along for the many journeys would be my host of best friends – my cousins Tim, Ted, Todd, and Lenard- in our own imaginations we were every person or thing we wanted to be. Cowboys. Indians, Army men, Treasure hunters. The woods provided all the wonder that the television projected.

Beyond the imaginations of wonder, however, were the realties that would later awaken in me a conflict with my own flesh and sense of innocence. The fun of using stealth to get “our” way – when the cousins and I would experiment with the “grownup’s” ways of entertaining and mood altering – would offer us the right amount of risk and rush of adrenaline. The consequences I saw many of the adults incur wouldn’t occur in my life at the “tween” or teenage years, but there were glimpses of what was to come as adulthood happened on us teenagers. As high schoolers in North Carolina we worked part-time jobs on the Army base and drove the school buses for our public county school district, so behaving like the adults we looked up to would often times get overplayed and life would get a little confusing.

Living life as an adult would allude on occasion to my inability to maintain the mature, levelheaded patience and sense of insight it takes to grow into an adult. I often resorted to medicating my insecurities and uncertainties about life, and that led me to loss in every aspect of life. As the years have come and gone, I have come to realize for all those years I traveled, I got further and further away from that age of innocence. I collected more baggage of shame and guilt than any man should want to carry. But no matter, for a new day has dawned and visions of “Ole Spring Lake” come again, and hope, life, and love seem possible again.