At 3:40 in the morning, Booker awakes in his cell at Folsom State Prison. He does his devotions and exercises until 5:15 when he goes to work cleaning the facility.
Booker is a three-striker, serving 40-years-to-life in prison. He has been incarcerated for 22 years.
THE ONLY LIFE HE KNEW
Booker grew up in a dysfunctional family.
"I had a father who loved me," he says, but his mother's actions kept them apart. She began a relationship with a man who was, as Booker puts it bluntly, "just no good." This man had no interest in Booker except for the welfare check his mother got for him and his siblings.
"[My mother] gave so much of herself to him that the relationship between her and her children suffered," Booker says.
The neglect from his mother encouraged Booker to look elsewhere for community and family. What he found instead were crime and drugs: "Living in that environment and not having any exposure to higher education [and] a different way to live life [meant that] I thought this was the way life was supposed to be."
Inevitably, Booker's life choices caught up to him, and he found himself with three strikes and a life sentence. Feeling completely alone, Booker attempted suicide.
"Before I did that," he remembers, "I prayed, and I asked God, 'Man, I'm really having a problem here. I ain't going to be able to work through this by myself. Can You please help me?'"
God had mercy on Booker and saved him from his suicide attempt. Booker was removed from his facility for two years until the authorities deemed him to no longer be at risk.
"I got transferred to another prison," he says. "Got everything settled in my cell and started reading the Bible."
Booker started with the book of Romans and kept reading. "I just never put the Bible down." He started going to church, praying, and seeking answers to his questions.
REDEMPTION IS POSSIBLE
Today, what keeps Booker going is his relationship with God. He also has hope that one day he will be released. If he is, he wants to spend time with his family and get to know his son better.
"I've got grandchildren now, which I didn't have when I got incarcerated," he says.
To prepare for reentry, Booker has been proactive in attending Bible studies and life-skills groups. He's also participated in TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute), an intensive theological training course offered by Prison Fellowship in conjunction with World Impact.
Prisoners "are still human beings. We made mistakes," Booker says. "I would not deny that there are some people who do need to be in prison … but redemption is possible."