Cristel and daughter Rayonna. Photo by Sue Johnson.
I had been incarcerated at the Rhode Island Training School for three years when I met Joe [Richman]. He asked if I wanted to carry a tape recorder around the training school for a few months and record my life. I told him yes. But at the same time I was wondering why in the world would people be interested in someone that’s not famous at all. I mean, what’s the point?
That was 1999. Three years earlier, when I was 15, I cut a girl many times on her face with a razor. The judge had locked me up for six years. I didn’t think anybody would want to hear from a criminal’s point of view. I figured people would hate me for what I did, or at least they wouldn’t be interested.
At first it was strange to carry the tape recorder around, but it also made me feel special. There were times when I had no one to speak to. The recorder became my friend and social worker. It was like I was keeping a verbal journal. I knew that one day, millions of people would hear my story. But I never pictured it like I was talking to the whole world. I felt like I was just talking and nobody’s listening. It was just me and the recorder.
I remember one time I stayed up all night in my cell to watch the sunrise. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and I told the tape recorder how one day I was going to see the sunrise from a better view. And that’s what happened. Soon after that night, the judge decided that I was rehabilitated and let me out three years early.
I was scared to have my story on the radio. But when I heard it, I began to understand why people might want to listen to somebody that’s not famous. I guess it’s so you’ll know about other human beings that you may not know about, and hear their stories.
Cristel was released in early 2000 after being incarcerated for three and a half years. Now 20 years old, she lives with her boyfriend and two daughters and still carries her tape recorder with her.
|“Sometimes, you know, I just look out the window and I just sit here and think like something I decided in 10 minutes changed my entire life. Not even 10 minutes. I mean three years gone by, and I’m still sitting here. What would I be doing if I was out? What would my life be like? Would I have finished school? Would I have settled down? Would I have done something worse? I just look out the window, and I think about all this stuff.”—From “Prison Diaries” series.