Greetings. I am writing this to say this has been a long journey of self discovery. I committed a crime that put me away for a long time. When I first entered CDC in 1992, I carried the same value system that I Had when I was in the free world. I came to prison as a young kid, coward. I carried guilt and shame. It was me against the police, catch me if you can, I don’t care what you say. However, in 2001 through 2005, the light bulb came on when I entered another part of prison which they call the shu. That was the beginning of my new change. One particular class started to create a new found out look on my journey which is called ten toes in. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this insight class at Avenal State prison. Our outside Facilitator Darlene Burke started to teach us about the importances of intimate Relationship and the do’s and don’ts of a Prison relationship. Each class she would challenge our intimate belief system through a variety of simple open discussion in several areas making us question our thought process. Toe toes help me honor and respect my partner in so many ways. So grateful for the opportunity to have Ten toes in restructure my vision on relationship. Since my return home I have worked for several non profits such as The Actors gang, Creative Act, I spoke at several colleges about my journey to freedom and the importances of how to maintain it. Started my own business and nonprofit and just got my own place. Life is good and I owe it all to these types of programs. The great part about this program is you can continue this work when you come home through workshops she’s provided the moment you get out. When she said Ten toes in she meant every aspect of your journey. Ten toes In is the model.
Manuel and I met about 6 years ago with what were supposed to be just friendly letter exchanges and conversations. nothing serious, strictly friendship, but Manuel was very charming and from the moment I met him in person, I was captivated by his kindness and his beautiful smile. Manuel has always had a beautiful heart and has always been very sincere in his intentions, however, in the beginning, he was also very guarded with just how much he wanted to share and indulge about himself, his thoughts, his feelings and most critical his past, because he was very ashamed of his past. I have always reassured Manuel that I have never seen him for who he was in his past but loved him for who he is now and loved him for the Man that I knew he would be.
Manuel was always curious about Mrs. Darlene Burke and her Ten Toes In curriculum at Avenal State Prison but watched from the sidelines and asked questions to those he knew about the program because he was unable to attend the first class in 2018. Manuel patiently waited for his opportunity and in 2019, Manuel completed and graduated from the Ten Toes In curriculum. I can honestly say before going through the curriculum, Manuel was a good man, but after experiencing and sharing the curriculum, Manuel became an even better, understanding and sharing Husband after participating in the Ten Toes In curriculum.
Being in a relationship with an incarcerated individual is not an easy task because you each individually have to be independent and you live semi-separate lives daily, but when have the moments to be together, via phone calls, weekend visits or overnight stay visits, you create a strong bond , a strong friendship and an unconditional love for one another by applying the fundamentals and understanding that you learn by being a part of the Ten Toes Family.
We are truly blessed and grateful for Mrs. Darlene Burke, the Men and Women, we call our ”Brothers and Sisters” in our Ten Toes In family. Thank you all for being a part of our journey.
My name is Bertha G. Ford and I was born December 3rd, in Shreveport, LA. In my later teens, I moved to Monterey, CA. I worked my way through college by working with the Monterey Peninsula School District. I graduated from Monterey Peninsula College with an AA degree in Business Administration. After working with the school district for several years, I wanted to do more. I have a thing about the English language and wanted to go to Munich, to learn how to speak proper English so I enlisted in the Army. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to accomplish that goal. I was stationed miles away from Munich. My military career extended over a 26- years period. I enlisted in the Army as a Private First Class and retired from the Air Force in 2005 as a Master Sergeant.
I have lived in four foreign countries and toured two others. I also lived in or visited 22 states in the United States. If I could live in any of the states I visited, it would be Alaska. Some of my favorite things to do are traveling, sampling foods from different cultures, whale watching, walking on the beach, and collecting sea shells. When I want solitude I got to the rock. No, I’m not talking about the Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, but the one on Pacific Coast Highway in Point Mugu.I am active in the church and the community.
I serve as Sunday School Superintendent, church secretary, and my favorite duty was serving as a teacher in the children church. I am a facilitator for Alternate to Violence Project, an organization that teaches how to channel emotion in a positive and non violent way. I met my husband in 1995 while he was severing time in the California Department of Corrections. After visiting and corresponding for nearly a year, Ray and I were married in January 1996. Being married to anyone is a challenge and requires work if it is to succeed which means making changes, compromising, and meeting each other needs. Being in the military, I have encountered men from all lifestyles and I must say that I have never met anyone of Ray’s caliber. If I had the choice to do this again, I would marry Ray without hesitation. I would be a fool to reject a valuable gift that God has given me. Today we work together in establishing quality housing for men and women looking to turn their lives around and move forward in society.
The purpose of this correspondence is to shed some light on my life’s journey. I was born into a household of 9 boys. My mother was a single parent for most of my life there was a brief interlude in which she was married to a gentleman named Marvin Cropper. He was a good provider but he was not a faithful husband, he was a womanizer thus, he and my mother ended up getting a divorce after about 7 years of marriage.
Being raised in a household of nine children proved to be very challenging for my mother as well as for myself and no doubt my siblings. I was introduced and educated to both violence and criminal thinking and behavior without having to leave the house. Some of my siblings were involved in gang activity, drug usage, promiscuity, and the criminal justice system thus, I learned about dealing with law enforcement/police at an early age. These early introductions would help to shape my beliefs and behavior toward police and those in positions of authority. At the age of 16 I committed a murder during an attempted robbery. I murdered an innocent woman who was leaving from work to return home to her family. At the time of the murder I did not care about her life nor anyone else’s life. I was in a predatory mindset and I lived my life by a street code which was basically “eat or be eaten!” As a result of my crime I was sentenced to 7 years to Life, which meant that I would be eligible for parole or release after 7 years. I however turned that into 43 ½ years of incarceration. I was confined inside of a penal institution from 1974-2018. Needless to say I was far from a choir boy inside of those walls. I pretty much did what I wanted to do and consequences be damned. In my mind I was a dead man walking.
I met Darlene Burke in 2016 while housed at Avenal State Prison. She was introduced to me by my sister Joyce Stewart-Johnson (extended family). As a result of our meeting I was able to assist Darlene in getting inside of Avenal State Prison so she could conduct her class on prison relationships. I became her facilitator for the class at Avenal. I learned a lot from Darlene and the Ten Toes In program. One of the things that stood out about Darlene and Ten Toes In was the fact that Darlene was a straight shooter meaning she walked her talk and talked her walk, she kept it “Real” as she was truly committed to her mission of educating both men and women who were in relationships on the importance of honesty, communication, consideration, understanding, and commitment to name a few things. I learned the importance of making sure my words and my actions were reflective of one another as opposed to saying one thing and doing something else. I also learned the value of being attentive and giving a woman the attention she desires and deserves. I learned about partnership. Darlene used to always tell us that “raggedy attracts raggedy” and just because a woman is a good woman does not mean she is good for you. As a result of Ten Toes In teachings and continued work with me I am now in a committed relationship. Truly I was a hard nut for TenToes In to crack because I was hearing her but I was not always following the sound teachings and advice that was being given. Since I have been home Ten Toes In has continued to play a positive role in my life relative to my personal and romantic relationships. We have monthly mentorship meetings that are very helpful in that they allow us to share our concerns and fears in an open forum thus being able to obtain or elicit advice from my peers which enables me to continue to make sound decisions as opposed to irrational or reactionary ones.
I am very thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to meet Darlene Burke aka Mama Darlene because she is emblematic of Ten Toes In. It is her baby and she believes in it wholeheartedly. I fully support the work of Ten Toes In because I have witnessed how it has helped to change my life and that of others.
My name is Ray Ford, born March 27th, in Los Angeles, California. In 1980 I committed a crime that landed me in the California Department of Corrections with a 25-to-life prison sentence. I served 31 years and 8 month to complete that prison sentence and was paroled September 8th 2012. During that hellacious journey I changed from a stubborn, clueless, ridiculously uninformed young fool to a mature, educated, and highly motivated man that’s striving to continually make positive changes in my lives as well as the lives of others.
After years of reflection, while incarcerated, I begin to capitalize on talents that I always knew I had. I was always able to write fluently. I wrote very nice letters, poems and songs. That was cultivated and I begin to write novels. I wrote seven novels and was actually able to get my first novel, “Circle of Fire” published while still incarcerated. That was an accomplishment that I am very proud of. I went through so many positive changes during that term of incarceration and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that my wife was a positive and motivating influence in my life for most of that term of incarceration and even more so after being paroled. She keeps me grounded in so many areas, especially the area of spirituality. Her belief in God and commitment to Jesus is amazing.
Once I paroled, we opened an upholstery business “Plush Upholstery” (Where Your Comfort Is Our Business) that helped to make life better for us. Later we open First Phase Clean and Sober Transitional Housing. It provides clean and sober housing for men and women attempting to make positive changes in their lives. Since then we have opened a total of 7 sober living home and we provided housing for over 70 members of our community. Our goal is to open different businesses so that we can provide quality jobs to individually who could use a hand up in life. I’ve learned from the mistakes in my life and I’ve become a better person because of it. We plan to give back as much as possible to leave the world better than the way we found it.
One of the joys that we found in our journey is partnering with Ten Toes In; an organization founded by Darlene Burke that help foster relationships with incarcerated men and the women they have in society. This organization has been a vital part of our lives for a number of years. We’ve traveled to the capital in Sacramento to speak to a panel of Parole Board Commissioners to show them the progress the parolees they granted parole to have made, as well as serving as an example as to what parolees can accomplish if given the opportunity. We have gone inside of prisons as a team and spoke to groups of incarcerated men educating them on relationship as well as prison issues and any other topic that can be of assistance to them. Ten Toes In is a dynamic and extremely valuable organization that’s sole purpose is to be of service to the community and Darlene Burke is the driving force behind it.
My name is Sithy Bin and I was sentenced to serve two life sentences in prison for the gang-related shooting. For those crimes, which were committed in 2005, I was sentenced to serve 25-to-life plus 15-to-life, making it a total of 40 years in prison before I could be considered for release. I would have to be 64 years old. However, I didn’t want to write my life off, I didn’t want to give up and I didn’t give up. I wanted to do better. I had felt great shame and remorse in what I have done and want to make it right, to make amends. Therefore, after arriving in prison I have changed my life regardless of knowing I have to serve 40-years-to-life before I am eligible to get out.
In January 2019, however, I was sent back to the county jail for resentencing upon recommendation of the Secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation pursuant to Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1). This was something I was unaware of till the very day I went to court and spoke to my attorney. I was back to receive a six years reduction off my sentencing based on new court rulings; however, that would still leave the two life sentences. By the grace of God, though, under the new 1170 (d)(1), the sentencing judge can take into consideration post-conviction factors, meaning anything I have done in prison. My transformation is evident in my C-file, the central file in prison, and it tracks all the positive or self-help groups I participated in including all the other rehabilitative programs. The sentencing judge was the same presiding judge at my trial, the same one who gave me the life sentences, was so impressed by my change that on July 31st, 2019, he struck away the 25-to-life and left the 15-to-life only! And I’m in my 15th year of doing time! Words can’t describe the feelings I was going through. It was a mixture of joy, excitement, nervousness, and disbelief like “is this for real?” I went from 40-to-life to 15 years!
I was sent back to prison and six months later I went before the Board of Parole Hearing and was found suitable. I had served a total of 15 years, and now I’m here and ready to serve the community instead of life sentences!
In 2017, while I was in Avenal State Prison, I met my sister Darlene Burke and participated in her Ten Toes In program. I thank God for the opportunity and experience because it was an eye-opener when it comes to the subject of relationships, especially when one partner is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. At the time, I was single but interested in dating and so wanted to learn more, and what better way than to hear from an experienced woman, Darlene herself. I learned through the classes conducted by Darlene that my philosophy in dating or getting into a relationship is all wrong! I’m also a God-fearing man and yet when I heard in 2017 that lifers were able to get family visits back, that’s where the wife or family members are able to visit and spend nights under the same roof as the prisoner, I was excited for the wrong reasons! The carnal reason, the sensual reason, the looking for that physical or sexual intimacy reason. Therefore, my standard had gone out the window and I was willing to compromise and, again, for the wrong reasons. The Ten Toes In classes set my mind straight and remind me to place value in myself, in relationships, and, for me, most importantly trust in God.
Ten Toes In impacted my life so greatly that I’ve continued with Ten Toes In and became a facilitator for the Intimate Relationship class at Avenal and enjoy helping incarcerated men being enlightened on the subject.Now I’m physically free. Been free since June 4th, 2020, in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Even with everything that’s going on in the world, I am forever grateful to God. It has been a journey, a journey I will continue with my Ten Toes In family. My future goal is to continue my college education, serve the community, and volunteer and partner with non-profit organizations that are giving back to society.
My name is Tharon Roberts. On July 10th, 1995 I brutally beat someone I called a friend to death. Because I did not know or understand how to deal with my personal demons and emotions. I snapped. A family that was once whole, will always be incomplete because of my actions. Not to mention, my family would never be the same again. I fought my case for almost two years. On May 29th 1997 I was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and given 15 years to life in prison. At the start of my prison term, I still had a” me” first attitude. But also being very scared. At that time in my life, I would have killed again, if I thought I had to. As the years went by, I believed more and more that I would die in prison and I deserved to do so. The lack of emotion that I didn’t have, turned into shame, pity, and self doubt. I looked for ways to hide from my thoughts. So, I started taking self- help classes. I started with Narcotics Anonymous. I listened at first, then I began to share. But I still did not take is seriously. In 2006, I joined the mental health program. If I wanted to help myself, I had to understand what was wrong. I stayed in the program for seven years. And I truly found an understanding of what lead me to making a lot of the decisions I made. So, I began to take my self- help journey seriously. And for each group I took, I returned and facilitated it. In 2018, I met Ms. Darlene Burke and was able to take Ten Toes In. I wanted to be better in every way, including being a husband. My wife Sanja and I met a little over a month after I committed my crime. And like everyone else, I lied to her about it. She stood by my side at first. But being young, and not knowing how to deal with my situation, she left. Years down the road, my mother put us on the phone together, and we began to fix what was truly never broken. I told Sanja the truth about my crime and apologized for lying to her. That was 2010.
I took Ten Toes In to try and understand how she made me feel, and what she may go through with our situation. Listening to Ms. Burke share her personal experiences helped to continue to mature with Sanja. Husband and Wife we are, but we are friends first. I listen, she listens, we share, we work together. And we have fun. Life wouldn’t be the same without my best friend Sanja. And I wouldn’t be the husband I am without Ten Toes In. Thank you Ms. Burke for bringing such a special program to the brothers and sisters who are fighting through the system to hold on to what they have…Love.
Ten Toes In was developed on February 8, 2014, when Darlene Burke, Founder & Executive Director, was involved with her former partner, who was sentenced to 25-years to LIFE in a CA prison. The Executive Director created Ten Toes In because she searched for a support group for women who were involved with incarcerated men and could not find one. Ten Toes In became a 501©3 nonprofit organization, January 26, 2015.
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