StoryCorps
3:42 am
Fri May 16, 2014

An Inmate Who Killed Another Rethinks His Own Past

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 12:07 pm

Carlos Rocha grew up in Chicago and became a gang member like his brothers. In 1998, he was arrested for weapons possession and sent to prison.

Right before he was to be released on bond, Carlos, now 40, got into a fight with another inmate and killed him, resulting in an additional 24 years behind bars.

"I didn't look at it ... like I took somebody's life that really mattered," Carlos says during a StoryCorps visit to Danville Correctional Center in Illinois, where he is an inmate. "I looked at it like he was a criminal, just like me. I was defending myself. So that's what it was at first," Carlos says.

But then his brother, just a day before his set release from a penitentiary in Texas, was murdered by another inmate, Carlos says.

"At first, I felt a lot of hate. I broke down because I thought that it was karma for what I had done," Carlos says. "I kept thinking back about the victim in my case and I thought, 'Well, this guy, you know, he had a daughter. He had a wife and mother. They're going through what I'm going through right now,' " he says.

He says he was told that the daughter came to see him at the county jail, "but she just came in to see who I was, and I never got a chance to talk to her.

"I think it was drilled into us when we were younger, you're supposed to hate this guy, or hate that guy over there. You just hated him because he was on the other side of the street. I think about that every day. I think about how I could have been different," Carlos says.

"I think the judge, when he sentenced me, he said that when I would be released, I would be an old and patient man, and I think I'm accomplishing it."

Produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's time now for StoryCorps, the project that travels the country recording the stories of everyday people. Thousands of recordings are already in the StoryCorps archive. The project recently visited Danville Correctional Center in Illinois where Carlos Rocha is an inmate. Carlos grew up in Chicago and became a gang member like his brothers and in 1998 we was arrested for weapons possession.

Right before he was to be released on bond, Carlos got into a fight with another inmate and killed him and was sentenced to another 24 years behind bars.

CARLOS ROCHA: I didn't look at it like I took somebody's life that really mattered. I looked at it like he was a criminal just like me. I was defending myself. So that's what it was at first. But then my brother, he passed in a penitentiary in Texas. He was murdered by another inmate. And he was 24 hours from his release.

At first, I felt a lot of hate. I broke down because I thought that it was karma for what I had done. And I kept thinking back about the victim in my case and I thought, well, this guy, you know, he had a daughter. He had a wife and mother. They're going through what I'm going through right now. I'm told that the daughter came to see me once when I was in the country jail.

But she just came in to see who I was, and I never got a chance to talk to her. You know, I think it was drilled into us when we were younger, you're supposed to hate this guy or hate that guy over there. You just hated him because he was on the other side of the street.

I think about that every day. I think about how I could have been different. I think the judge, when he sentenced me, he said that when I would be released, I would be an old and patient man, and I think I'm accomplishing it.

INSKEEP: That's Carlos Rocha recorded at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois. His interview will be archived along with all the others at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And this week on the StoryCorps podcast, more stories from prisoners. You can subscribe at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.