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Story Publication logo April 26, 2022

Facing Life: Fahim Reese

Melvin Smith stands outside his childhood home in Compton, California.


Facing Life

"Facing Life" is a multimedia project focused on the struggles of recently paroled people.

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Multiple Authors

Vallejo, California

“Success is going to come from your feet, from your hands, and the sweat off your brow.”


“My earliest memory of Richmond, California is the first time I learned how to ride a bike,” says Fahim Reese, during an interview at the Masjid Waritheen Mosque in East Oakland. He says his younger years were fun, but in his mid-teens he got into a life of crime, and “things started to spiral out of control.”

His first significant instance of being on the wrong side of the law was in the eighth grade as he was leaving school with a couple buddies. “We saw some guys and some bikes,” says Fahim. “So we hopped off the AC Transit bus and attempted to steal their bikes, and I got suspended for five days of school.”

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The bike incident was an escalation of habits that began much earlier. He says he was around six years old the first time he stole a candy bar. He recalls drinking brandy at a house party at the age of nine; as well as smoking weed at 11 or 12, and always being around his uncles and friends as they were selling drugs.

Fahim says he got “attached” to those things, and it all grew from there. His first major offense was at age 19—it happened on June 30, 1987.

An ongoing beef with a rival crew came to a head that night. Fahim and another friend left the south side of Richmond looking to settle the matter. Without going into detail, Fahim simply says, “It led to a murder.”

“I saw my victim’s brother,” says Fahim. “I saw him at school the next day and he was crying.”

During that summer school class, the younger brother of the person Fahim killed told Fahim about his brother’s death. “I acted like I didn’t know,” says Fahim. “But all the time I’m the one who did it.”

He says he was sad, numb, and so deep into the lifestyle that he felt like there wasn’t anything he could do. “So I just had to move on with my life, and just keep going.” He was 17 at the time.

On top of that homicide, Fahim says police were looking for him for a number of crimes. He was in a state where he didn’t care. 

Around that same time he found out that he and his girlfriend at the time had conceived a child. “Once I found out, I was arrested like two days later,” says Fahim. “I was like, ‘wow, here I am—I’m leaving, and my daughter is out here.”

Fahim says his trial lasted until early 1989, when he was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 42 years to life in prison.

Fahim says the music coming from those “little-bitty Sony headphones” helped him survive the first night in jail. “I put Marvin Gaye on, and just listened to Heard It Through The Grapevine,” says Fahim.

He went from county jail to the local youth authority and then back to county jail. In December of 1993 he transferred to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, before spending a short period at the Sierra Conservation Center, and then a decade in Solano State Prison. While at that institution, the uncle of the person Fahim murdered was admitted to the prison. As a precautionary measure, the administration put Fahim in “the hole,” solitary confinement. 

Fahim eventually landed at Folsom State Prison where he served from November 2005 until he paroled on September 13, 2018. Along with soul music, religion guided him during his time behind bars. “I accepted Islam in 1992, while at youth authority,” says Fahim. 

During Ramadan years ago, Fahim, who was working in the kitchen, took note of another guy who was sitting in the chow hall and not eating. Fahim started asking questions about his belief system. 

“It was peaceful. It was harmony,” says Fahim of his introduction to Islam. “In order for me to survive in prison, I had to get away from this negative and surround myself with something that’s fulfilling and someone was driven by God...Islam was right for me.”

“May 1, 2018 was one of the most beautiful days of my life,” says Fahim. “I went to the Parole Board and I was granted suitability.”

His co-defendant was granted parole in 2016, but Fahim, who had become eligible in 2013, had been denied multiple times—including once after his co-defendant was released. Fahim says that inspired him to do his own legal research.

After the state passed SB-260, which allows people who’ve been charged with life sentences for crimes that happened when they were 18 or younger to seek parole (applying retroactively), Fahim approached the Board again. And this time he was prepared. 

“My speech was so heartfelt and so true that even the commissioner started to tear up,” says Fahim. “Once they said, ‘We do not…’ I put my head on the table and busted out crying,” He says, in reference to the term used when someone is granted parole, ‘We do not deem you a current threat to society.’

On the day of his release, Fahim says he made his final rounds, gave away his TV and his radio, and made his way to “R&R” (receiving and releasing). “I realized I forgot my Koran,” says Fahim, “So I ran back to the building.” The staff was surprised. “What’re you doing back?” they asked. “I need to get my Koran!” Fahim explained. They suggested he buy one on the outside. He responded by saying that he needed “that” Koran. They laughed and let him back in to get it.

"We do not deem you a current threat to society."

“May 1, 2018 was one of the most beautiful days of my life,” says Fahim. “I went to the Parole Board and I was granted suitability.”

“I wanted some real pancakes,” says Fahim, discussing his first meal. “I was tired of eating boxed, hardened pancakes with syrup, with no sugar in it.”

He and his family ended up at IHOP. He says converting from 30 years of using plastic cutlery to using metal utensils was jarring, but that was just the start of his reintroduction into society.

With the assistance of family and community he learned to navigate the debit card machine at the local sporting goods store and the self-checkout kiosk at Target. With persistence and patience, he overcame problems with the DMV (the major issue being that the name he goes by isn’t his given name).

He stays in close contact with his mother, his daughter and her children. After spending time in a transitional home, he now lives in the Vallejo with his girlfriend, Keysha, and her daughter.

He enrolled and graduated from an apprenticeship program for metal workers. From there he has worked multiple blue collar jobs; construction at Oakland’s Brooklyn Basin mega housing complex and in San Francisco, at the state of the art home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors—the Chase Center. He also opened up his own physical fitness program, Motivated 2 Help Others, which meets twice a week.

“Success is going to come from your feet, from your hands, and the sweat off your brow,” Fahim says. “Meaning that you have to get up every morning, as we did behind the walls, and put forth the effort.” 


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