How much do we know about life? How do we spend our days? Are we happy enough? Do we cherish the sweet moments we spend with our loved ones? Do we complain a lot or not at all? I have so many questions to ask, actually way too many. It’s quite interesting just to look how we spend our spare time, the love we have, or excuses we use not to be kind or considerate, and more importantly the thing we should never take for granted and still, sadly, do – freedom.
Has it ever happened to you that you receive a phone call from someone, maybe a friend, a family member that would get interrupted every eight minutes by the voice of an operator to remind once again, “This is a call from the Louisiana Department of Corrections Facility?” I hope you have not. I truly hope no one will ever have to listen to that because it’s painful enough to realize not everyone has what we have, but would have given everything to get a minute of what we’re sometimes unhappy about – a job that does not pay enough, a mortgage with high rates, uninvited relatives coming home, noisy neighbors, rainy weather, cold winter, bus that’s never on time, or the flight that had to be rescheduled.
The interview you are about to read is one of the main reasons I run this website. Because we need to know about the things that matter. And it matters much more than you can imagine. While you read this, perhaps, holding a glass of wine, a cup of tea or coffee, or simply enjoying your day in whatever part of the world you are right now, there are people who have no idea how their day will start, continue, or even end. Will they lose their hand, an eye, or their life? Will they be killed by someone who they used to call a friend or in a brutal fight? Or will it be one of those days where someone will have to enjoy their final meal before heading to their own execution?
Michael Taylor is a Louisiana death-row inmate who is a documentary subject of Catherine Legge’s Met While Incarcerated. Using a pen pal website, he meets Angela Taylor, a woman that disregarded his dark past, mistakes he made, and the reasons that brought him to The Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison farm known as Angola and falls for him as deeply as we all could imagine. I am not here to talk about the crimes he committed even though it matters. However, we should all understand what happened to him could have happened to any of us, or, even did happen in a previous life which we just know nothing about.
As soon as our calls were merged, thanks to Catherine Legge, we began our interview to have our main focus on things that can change our perspective, make us a better person, and perhaps stop taking things for granted, such as love, friendship, freedom, time, past, and the future. What Michael Taylor said is inspiring, important, and must be read by every individual. Because it could potentially save lives, lives that could have otherwise been wasted in a prison where future offenders could be locked till the rest of their lives.
MOVIEMOVESME: How did you met Angela?
MIchael Taylor: Well I met Angela when she wrote to me on a pen pal site a few years ago. We started out as friends and we’d both been going through some relationship troubles. It kind of just turned into this amazing relationship after six months or so of writing.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you share your experience of meeting someone like Angela while been locked up in prison?
Michael Taylor: Well it was incredible meeting her, just becoming friends with her in the first place. It blossomed into what it did of its own accord. I mean she’s an incredible girl, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. I mean she’s amazing and just having her in my life has been an incredible experience.
MOVIEMOVESME: What if Louisiana fails with its new prison reforms and they finally decide to proceed with the execution? Are you not afraid of leaving her broken hearted?
Michael Taylor: Well I’m not really sure how to answer that. I think what we have is the realest of the real. And I would rather both of us experience what we’re experiencing than not experience it at all. I’m not sure how the situation’s gonna end but right now I love this girl with my whole heart and soul, and I know she feels the same way about me. So I don’t know, I mean I think I’ve thought about it, the situation and the circumstances but the way it is here in Louisiana, they don’t really execute people unless you voluntarily go to the death chamber.
So my case in particular is pretty much at a stand still because of the way the laws are here. I mean I’m just now starting my post-conviction relief, and that takes multiple years just to get through that. So I don’t think that the situation’s gonna leave her with a broken heart, whether prison reform is on the table or not.
MOVIEMOVESME: We people tend to take life for granted, freedom for granted. How would you describe taking things for granted?
Michael Taylor: So, I don’t take a single moment of anything for granted anymore. You know, I used to be the same way, I used to take life for granted, you know, just in my everyday normal life. But after being in a situation like this, you have to take every opportunity available to you and make the most out of it.
I mean, even my personality, I don’t dwell on the situation as it is. I try to take every opportunity to better myself in here, and I take every opportunity to enjoy everything that life has to offer. But even I’m guilty of taking things for granted, you know love, or other things, the everyday normal things. But, I know if I got another shot out there that, I would never take anything like that for granted ever again. Just because I’ve had to do without these things for so many years and I know what it’s like to go without the necessities, or love, or friendship, or kindness and so I know what you mean about everyday people taking things for granted.
MOVIEMOVESME: How different was Michael Taylor before meeting Angela?
Michael Taylor: Well the “me” before I met Angela, I had pretty much given up on relationships. Because I had a bad experience in a relationship before Angela. And that was, I don’t know, three or four years before I met Angela. I had pretty much sworn off freedom relationship. I mean I would get to know a person on a friendship level, but I wasn’t really into giving my heart out to somebody else after what happened the last time because it’s a pretty fragile situation we’re in here. You live one day to the next, and I was just existing down here. I was just existing from day to day, just doing the normal prison life routine. So, for me personally, I just shut everything off. But after I met Angela, it was totally different. I mean, she completely transformed my life for the better. And I learned to take every opportunity I can to better myself in here, just for that one in a million chance that I’ll get another shot at freedom.
MOVIEMOVESME: We don’t know much about what’s going on in prison, but there are lots of movies about it. What would you tell about life in prison? How bad or good is it? How does it do the job of helping people to get better, correcting them, or is it making them worse?
Michael Taylor: Well, life in prison in general, I’m sure you can imagine, is a horrible experience. It’s not the place you wanna be by any means. But, solitary confinement in general, how we used to live, things just changed for us a couple years ago. Where we’re able to come out and mingle with the rest of our seniors and talk, and play games, or get on the phone or eat together. That wasn’t part of our everyday normal life, and things changed a couple years ago, so since then, it’s a completely different experience. But before that we were in solitary confinement for the last fifteen years of my incarceration. When everything was shut down only then we’d come out. We were in our cells for twenty-three hours a day and we had one hour to come out and use the phone, take a shower, make a water run, get the microwave, heat our food up or get us some ice.
So life in general here was pretty brutal. And I had met Angela before all these changes started happening here at this prison. So just having her in that comfort level and that camaraderie with her… She’s my best friend here, she’s become my whole world in this situation. Just having her in my life has completely changed my entire outlook, my perspective on life in general. It’s been an incredible experience and I’m thankful for that every day.
MOVIEMOVESME: For me you’re a very important person to talk to because I know there is a lot to learn from you. Imagine there’s someone who wants to commit any type of the crime tomorrow. And then you have a chance to stop it by talking to that person today, what would you like to tell to that person?
Michael Taylor: It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. No amount of situation or circumstance could ever describe what they’re about to put their families through. What they’re about to put their spouse through, their friends, their loved ones. This situation is hell on earth.
If I could talk to the old me, and I could tell the old me what was about to happen, I would’ve never been in this situation. I can’t even describe. I can’t even describe this situation that I’m in right now. And my situation is a lot better than other prisons.
MOVIEMOVESME: How is friendship inside a prison? How different is it from the outside of these walls?
Michael Taylor: I’m sure you can imagine but the people you’re locked up with aren’t really the best of people. So, friendships in here are really few and far between because it’s hard to trust a person when you never know what their motivation is. What their motives are towards you, or your family or your loved one. So, friendships in here are very hard to come by. When you find a friend in here, you really put your all into it. It’s not like out in the free world, where friends are many. In here, people try to take advantage of the situation or the circumstances to better themselves, or how they look.
It’s a completely different environment to live in a place like this. That’s why people reach out to pen pals. To get a real connection and a real friend. To stand by them through everything that life throws at you. In here, you don’t have that at all. I’ve got a few close friends that I’m really good friends with in here, but I would, I’d put my life on the line for them every day. I’ve known these people for twenty years and I know who they are. I know exactly, I can put my trust in them every day, just like they can put their trust in me.
So when you find that in here, it’s very rare and you have to nurture that relationship, that friendship.
MOVIEMOVESME: Is there anything you would like to tell to the world that I did not ask you? Maybe your biggest regret or your biggest hope or your biggest expectation? Maybe a thing that is so important that people need to know about you?
Michael Taylor: The thing that’s on my mind the most is people deserve compassion above everything else. A person shouldn’t be judged for his entire life for one mistake that he made when he was a teenager. I’ve seen people in here completely change their life. They’ve transformed their life just doing the right thing and living the right kind of life in here. And in a situation like this, it’s hard, it’s so hard to live a decent life. Just by what you’re surrounded by. You’re surrounded by sometimes the worst of the worst and it’s hard to step above it and do the right thing. I believe that everybody deserves a second chance if they’re doing the right thing, changing their lives, bettering themselves, and bettering people around them. I think those are the people that deserve another shot at freedom, another shot at life in general because in Louisiana a life sentence is a life sentence. You’re here for your natural life. It’s not like other states where you do twenty twenty-five years and you get another shot.
It’s not like other places where you can do so many years and you get a parole date, or you get probation or something and get another shot at life. Here, you’re locked up for the rest of your life on a murder charge. That’s why we’re so involved with the prison reform now, it’s because we want things to change. This is one of the only states in the United States that has natural life where you don’t get a shot at freedom anymore. Once you commit a crime, then you’re locked up and thrown away for the rest of your life.
They have people here on drug charges, simple drug charges that are here for the rest of their life. That doesn’t seem like equal justice to me. I just feel like we should all have a shot at redeeming ourselves, our families, our friends, and give them another shot at life.
MOVIEMOVESME: Do you believe prisons correct people or it’s rather more damaging to their psychology, their mind? Does prison make people better or worse?
Michael Taylor: I think it makes the majority of people worse because if you, let’s say, are an innocent person who got locked up here, they have to do things to survive in here that they would never normally do. If you aren’t a criminal when you got here, you’re gonna be a criminal when you leave here for sure. Because the situations and circumstances, they bleed over into each other. They turn a normal person into something they never would’ve been otherwise.
We see people come here with simple charges. Well, not so simple. Let’s say, somebody comes here with an armed robbery charge and they got ten years and they have an “out” date, a probation, a parole date. They get locked up in this life, and it’s so brutal in prison that they might have to hurt someone to defend themselves. Before you know it, they’re on trial again for a manslaughter charge or a murder charge. We’ve seen that many times here where people get locked up on grand theft auto, getting five or six years for stealing cars. Then they get locked up at Camp J, which is our disciplinary unit for getting in trouble. Then before you know it, they throw feces or something on a prison guard and they get assault charges, more assault charges. They got twenty to thirty more years tagged onto their sentence.
The death row population in general, here in Louisiana, we’re all trying to do better, we’re all trying to get another shot, get a lesser sentence. We’re all trying to do the right thing. But our population, some of these people have three or four hundred years. We have three hundred and four hundred year sentences which some of these guys have and they don’t care. So they don’t care what happens to them. They already figure that they don’t have another shot. There are people like that here in the death row population too. They feel like they all have nothing to fight for, or nothing to live for. They treat the guards exactly how you’d expect, they don’t care.
I guess it could go either way. It’s just that the majority of people I know, they’re trying to do the right thing. They’re going to classes, they’re going to school. I got my diploma here. I graduated. I’m thinking for a change, anger management. With the hard hours we’ve done a lot of self improvement stuff, that has just become available to us after these fears opened up and we got rid of our solitary confinement status. So we’re trying to do the right thing, but for a normal person to come here, and experience this situation. Unless you got your head on straight, this place is going to make you a lot worse of a person.
There are programs and institutions that you could put a person in with a short sentence and they could actually thrive. But if you just throw them to the wolves, like they do here, it’s just gonna make a bad person worse. It’s just the way it is.
MOVIEMOVESME: If you’re able to travel back in time what is the day or the moment that you would like to erase completely?
Michael Taylor: I would have to say while I was fifteen, I got in trouble when I was young. It was bringing some stuff to school and selling it to an individual who threw it in the toilet and blew it up. If I could go back in time and know what I know now, I would go back to that time. I would do better in school, I would really put my nose to the grind, get a real professional opportunity. I would go to school and find a profession that I love, like tattooing or art, and I would focus on that.
MOVIEMOVESME: Do you think that the society is responsible for dividing people in two or three groups where they care more about one and less about others? Even though you were just fifteen years old, you’ve been held accountable for your own actions. If you or your family were given better opportunities do you think you would’ve end up somewhere else? Do you think that society also needs to be held accountable for what happened to those who aren’t given much opportunities?
Michael Taylor: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if I could see it one way or another. I don’t know if society can be held accountable for one person’s actions. My actions got me here. My actions I’ve done, and I know the hurt I’ve caused to, not only the victims family, but my family. I understand that wholeheartedly. I would do anything in my power to make amends for that. I don’t know if society has caused a rift in between the poor people, or the rich people because I think people here, in this situation that have come from really great situations. I mean financially, maybe not with their families, but financially they have everything you could ever hope for. Opportunities to go to school and better themselves, and they end up in the same situation that I’m in right now. So, I can’t really say society has put any pressure on us because none of the rest of my family has been in a situation like this, and they come from the same environment that I came from.
MOVIEMOVESME: What would you tell to any fifteen year old boy or girl that has the same trouble as you do or is about to get into? How would you change that child’s mind to make him or her better and help them stay away from troubles?
Michael Taylor: I think if I could do anything, I would take a child like myself when I was fifteen, take them to a place like this and show them. I’ll show them the reality. I wouldn’t try to sugar-coat any kind of situation or circumstance that’s in this prison, I would let them see it all. I would let them watch videos of how these people act up here, I would show them that this is your future. I would tell them to focus on school and understand that if you screw up like I did, if you screw up, then this is your future. Here in the U.S. people don’t care. Once you’re in the institution, people don’t care. That’s just the way it is here.