Marshall Byers is in prison, but in some ways, he says it’s in that confined, restrictive environment where he found true freedom.
Byers was raised in Texas. He married his high school sweetheart, had children, worked and even raced motocross in his spare time. But at a certain point, things began to take a turn for the worse.
Byers battled addiction, and he eventually left his wife. The couple had been living apart in Washington state for more than a year before he made a decision that would change his life forever.
“I came home one night, saw another truck in the driveway, tried to kill her boyfriend and ended up getting 22 years in prison for attempted murder,” Byers says.
His victim survived, and Byers was arrested – landing in jail before being sent off to prison.
“When you hit county jail after you get arrested, all the whites approach you and they’re like, ‘Hey, this is how it is: you can’t talk to blacks, you can’t talk to Mexicans,’” Byers says. “I didn’t grow up that way.”
When he got to prison, Byers says he stuck with the Aryan Family gang to survive. While this move was intended to insulate him from prison violence, the decision ultimately led to more danger. Byers was ordered to beat up another prisoner, but he only had a description of the man he was supposed to target.
“As I started swinging on this guy, I hear, ‘No! Not him,’” Byers says. “The guy is already down in the ground beaten down and the guards come down with their alarms and it gets crazy. After all the dust settled, they handcuffed me and dragged me down to isolation, and the guards are like, ‘Basically, you just killed yourself.’”
Byers had made a mistake. He did not assault the man the gang had intended to hurt, but instead assaulted the highest-ranking member of the Aryan Family.
Byers’s safety was in jeopardy, but he managed to move to another prison.
“It was a scary, scary ordeal,” Byers says. “I thought every time I’d see a white guy, I was going to fight for my life. I tell you, I just kept praying and I just kept thinking for the best.”
It was this practice of prayer that gave Byers comfort in prison. He attributes his transition out of the gang-oriented, white supremacist lifestyle to that mistaken beating – and to God.
“It’s fear that drew us to the gang because in prison, standing alone, you’re an easy target,” Byers says. “[Actually,] it’s the complete opposite: when you stand alone, you’re the strongest. You stand up for what you believe in, not what everyone else tells you to believe in. … Love is the answer.”
Byers says he feels a sense of freedom as a result, even behind bars. He will be released from prison in 2021.
“I’m just thankful for that moment when things went wrong,” Byers says. “It’s just one thing after another, you know? My family and the love and support – it’s just helped me so much.”
Written by Hayden Baggett.