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Introducing Caged Cranes

The crane is born to fly… Caged, some cranes peck at themselves until they are bare. Some of them conform to their entrapments, others, they continue to fly…

The description above is not only about the tall wading class of birds known for their grace and elegance. It is also a survey of the many men I have seen held to the confines of the Virginia State Correctional System.

For over a decade, I have been one of those men… bound and surrounded. I have been sentenced to murkily strut the grounds of state correctional facilities speckled across Virginia – quite simply, as a crane caged and barred from its birthright. However, I’ve always been accompanied by the practice of prayer and meditation: my means to fly…

Furthering my spirituality by body, a friend and I came into possession of a few books on the art of Tai Chi and Chi Kung a year ago. We took to the practices in the books, got more into general health and wellness, and had an idea to help make a difference beyond the walls, Caged Cranes.

Caged Cranes is a concept that seeks to unite at-risk youth with the spiritual practices of Tai Chi and Chi Kung as a means for greater personal growth and spiritual development. It is based off of the idea that the opening of spiritual awareness is an opening to a greater outlook on life and an increased chance to see better options in less than opportune circumstances.

Fortunately, I found spiritual desire in my own journey, but I know I would have benefited from this type of programming in my teenage years. In the past 13 years of my incarceration, spiritual development has been a key pillar in my overall growth. 2008 is when I received a 20-year sentence for a mistake I made as a wayward young man, after the loss of my grandmother, Sharon Lynn Dixon. She was my rock and a vehement believer in God. She was an evangelist at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. For as long as I had known her, she was bound to a wheelchair, where she had been ever since she was shot in the back by a possessive ex-husband. As tragic as her situation was, my grandmother never let it stop her from taking to the streets every Saturday, going door-to-door to share the joy and strength she received from her belief in God. From a wheelchair, she still managed to stand as tall as anyone in the room. Her voice was always filled with vigor and passion, spirit and truth. Her hope was never sealed to the limits of her chair, it buzzed around the air she carried, and it flew as high as the heavens she envisioned.

I’ve held the spirit of my grandmother close every step of the way through my incarceration. Through her spirit, I have found my own connection and relationship to God and spirituality. A relationship that has kept me on a path of great personal growth and spiritual development. Growing up, we didn’t have much, but what my grandmother gave me has proven itself a priceless and irreplaceable treasure. A message I wish to share with others who find themselves caged: imprisoned by circumstance. No matter the obstacle or situation, we are all cranes with a birthright to soar.

I am imprisoned, but by body only. My mind continues to soar above and beyond the prison walls. I never gave up on my desire to seek higher education and help others. When I first entered the prison system, I didn’t have a high school diploma. Not only have I acquired my GED, I’ve also been blessed with an opportunity to fulfill my college-level education goals. Currently, I’m taking correspondence courses at Ohio University. As of right now, I’m seeking to obtain an associate degree in social sciences. For years, I brainstormed this very platform to help showcase the brilliance of people incarcerated and was given an opportunity to bring Brilliance Behind Bars to fruition, going strong for nearly 2 years.

My successes in the darkest of places only prove that progress is possible for those who may have experienced difficult childhoods or economic drawbacks.

I truly believe that the troubled youths of today can benefit from the practice of Tai Chi, and we can work with them to identify the spiritual beacons of their own lives. My hope is that this would result in an increase in youth achievement and lower incarceration rates for young vulnerable black men and boys – helping them find a higher purpose within themselves to achieve their goals.

I plan to implement this and other programming to give back to the community when I am released.

Q. Patterson, Founder of Brilliance Behind Bars

Editors Note: To learn more about Q, take a look at his origin story here.

A Thin Line Between a Hero and a Criminal, Q’s Origin Story

I’m not sure how many people understand how thin of a line there is between the path of being a criminal, and the path of being a hero — other than the people who have walked it. More so, the people who have unfortunately stumbled upon the darker side.

I have been incarcerated going fourteen years now. Over this time, I’ve lost my grandmother, chose to pick up the practice of prayer and meditation, and through the help of a loved one, been able to embrace my great desire for higher education. Reflecting on my life, I’ve been able to ascertain the point where it all changed for me — a childhood experience where I trickled over the line where hero meets villain.

I’ve always considered myself a good kid. After several different location changes in my childhood, concepts like school and friends did not have the time to take an impacting hold on my life. However, I’ve always honored my parents, respected my elders, and was always ready to help anyone I could, when I could. My mother struggled with jobs and relationships as she tried to raise my siblings and I. She didn’t have enough energy to work long hours, endured massive migraines, chased behind three pre-teenaged boys (and a baby girl), on top of being very poor. An over-premissive parenting style seemed the viable option for her, so my brothers and I were free to roam and interpret the world on our own. Innocent enough, all of these factors set the ground for the childhood experience that changed my life.

I was ten years old when my family moved to a housing project in Durham, NC. Then, the Pokémon craze had set in heavy. Everyone had their gameboys, the videogames, and the trading cards. This craze didn’t fail to reach me either. I was totally in love with all things Pokémon.

I was at a cousin’s house, walking around their neighborhood. I was showing my cousins my rare holographic Pokémon cards, when a group of three older, unfamiliar kids walked up. I remember them clearly. One was a light-skinned boy, his hair was unkept and his clothes were a bit ragged and dirty. There was a kid who was big and round, he wore an old dress shirt that was too small for him, some old khaki pants and had a chipped tooth. The third was a very small boy who looked way younger than us. He had a bandana wrapped around his head with the knot tied to the front. “Hey, let me see those,” the light-skinned boy said. I looked at him with a smile on my face, and without hesitation gave him the cards in my hand. Excitedly, I began to explain the different cards and my love of Pokémon. Suddenly, he punched me in the shoulder and said, “These are mine now,” he then jumped back and threw up his fists in a fighter’s stance. I looked at him in amazement for a second before I understood what was going on. Outside of play – wrestling around with my brothers on the living room floor, I never had been in a fight before. Recognizing what was happening, I took a stance in defense of myself and my property. We danced in a circle, and before any strike was thrown, I saw a shiny piece of chrome glimmer in the corner of my eye, and then was frozen in astonishment. “What you gonna do now!?” is what the tiny bandana-ed boy said as he pointed a small handgun at my face. My mind and body were locked in place. Of course, I had never since an actual gun before, but being predisposed to cartoons, movies, and video games, I knew just how deadly a gun could be. Noticing how petrified I was, the boys turned away and fled with laughter and my trading cards in tow.

Seeing them disappear behind the houses of the neighborhood, anger and sadness boiled up inside of me. A raging ball of newly recognized emotions exploded, and I just erupted into tears. I sat on the porch of my cousin’s friend’s house shaking uncontrollably and bawling with my head in my lap. My younger brother sat beside me, his hand was rubbing me on my back in an attempt to comfort me. Strangely, I felt shame, cowardice, and disgust with myself. “Why didn’t I do something!? Why was I so afraid?” I cried inside and began I blame myself for being too kind, for giving the boy my cards. I looked at my little brother… I wanted to be strong for him, be his hero, and I felt like I had let him down. Through tear-filled eyes, I looked him in the face and cried out a promise, “I will never let anyone take anything away from me again!” Little did I know, that day and that promise would change my life forever.

Not too long after that encounter, I found it harder to walk away from confrontation or any type of situation that I could prove how brave I was. I found it harder to walk away from fights with the other kids, to walk away from challenges of thievery and delinquency. My behavior lead me to a childhood of truancy, underaged drinking, doing drugs and even joining a gang at the age of eleven. I no longer felt like a coward or a victim, but I didn’t realize at that age, that I was victimizing my mother and eventually myself with my erroneous quest for bravery. As a child, its hard to determine the line between being a hero and a villain. Even as adults, we look at most criminals as fearless or unhinged. These assumptions are not entirely true. Most of us here in prison were fatherless, scared children who managed our fear in distressing environments by imitating what we thought was brave.

Through meditation, prayer, and education, I’ve now come to realize what bravery truly is. I earned my GED within my first years of incarceration. I have been mentoring young men for over 10 years, helping them find their own spiritual journeys, tutoring various subjects, and motivating them to seek higher education. I currently take print-based college courses at Ohio University, studying to receive a degree in social sciences. I plan to use my education, reinforced by my experience to help deter youths who have fallen on the wrong side of that thin line. I also want to work with local legislators to create policies that support them.

While I’ve been able to achieve this level of growth during my incarceration, my story did not have to have this chapter of imprisonment. That leaves me with the questions: How can we save those noble little boys out there who are only seeking to be heroes? How do we teach them not only courage, but righteousness and strength, without ever having them see a jail cell? Through my story, I hope to increase the awareness that the world is full of these misguided good kids, who didn’t have a proper chance to find the heroes they truly were, before it was too late. If we can do a better job of identifying these special children, we can help them be more than just villains society believes deserve nothing more than a life of incarceration. We can create more heroes…

Our mission focuses on remembering the brilliance behind bars, giving incarcerated people who want to be heroes a chance to show the world that they CAN be.

– Q. Patterson, Creator and Organizer of BrillinaceBehindBars.com

Fit For Society

How much time am I expected to serve before I’m deemed by the public eye as being fit for society? When will enough be enough? There has to be a common denominator where the offender and the people in power can have a meeting of the minds to determine how much is enough time. What is time but the calculated motion measuring how long it takes to get from one place to another? With that being said who are you to determine how far I have come in my growth and development as a man, and how long it has taken me to do so? So once again, how much is enough time?

What if my rehabilitation has come faster than the average offender’s? I have done more than enough to exemplify that I am, and have been for a while now, deemed fit for society. What is the purpose of programs, vocational trades, maintaining employment, and being infraction free if they are not tools used to determine whether or not a person is rehabilitated? The prison system is broken and it is obvious that those in power do not believe in their own system. Their theory is to lock them up and throw away the key, whether you’re innocent or guilty. I have been incarcerated for 21 years and have done everything there is to do, but yet I am not deserving of the good time sentence credit because I am considered to be a violent offender.

Before parole was abolished, was it not for non-violent and violent offenders. When the 85% good time went into effect, was it not for both non-violent and violent offenders? If so, then why change the customs of past laws and legislations to exclude a certain category and class of people that in past history, were treated with equality. Did our United States Constitution not grant us equality and protect us from cruel and unusual punishment? Are those in power not supposed to uphold the Constitution?

How much is too much time? A message for the political powers that be. I am serving a 53-year sentence for a robbery that I committed in which no one was harmed. I plead guilty to a term of 13 years for this offense. I was given 40 years solely for a crime that is documented that I didn’t commit – so you tell me how much is enough time.

My name is Antoinne Pitt # 1157338 I’m currently housed at Lawrenceville Correctional Center. Peace and Blessings to you all.

Undiscovered Talent

On of the biggest difficulties that I come across on a daily basis has to be the undiscovered talent and skills individuals have, and us ‘inmates’ are the only ones that tend to see them. With very limited access to the outside environment, many of the talents and beautiful skills that these incarcerated individuals have go undiscovered for years (and sometimes even lifetimes) without ever being discovered by normal society. This is one of the things that tends to rub me in the wrong way.

Freedom of expression in our free world (country) should be and unalienable right? Am I wrong? And without the proper platforms for these types of expressions to reach the free world, turns into a form of oppression in my personal opinion. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few ways that we can contact the outside , but we have to pay for it in order to do these things. From buying postage stamps, J-Pay stamps, and collect and debit calls. J-Pay & GTL Phone services offer very few things for individuals whole are not fortunate enough to have financial support on the outside. This not only inhibits people from reaching out to the people who could spread the word of their particular gifts and talents, but this is also morally crushing as well.

The state offers employment, but the waiting list for a job opportunity can be very lengthy. Additionally, over the years the educational opportunities have become fewer and fewer.
In conclusion, another terrible thing is that this bill that was rescinded after many people across Virginia were promised closer release dates. My time is very short so I have to end this as briefly as possible because of the time limit on the kiosk. But these are some of the things that aren’t right from my perspective. We need more people to notice the true Brilliance Behind Bars!!

J. Reinard #1523818
Lawrenceville Correctional Center

TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING! by Jerry James

TALKING LOUD, but SAYING NOTHING!
TALKING LOUD, but SAYING NOTHING!
TALKING LOUD, but SAYING NOTHING!
TALKING LOUD, but SAYING NOTHING!

Every 2 years state Delegates run for election. They promise tax paying citizens they will do this and do that– TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

Some of them even tell you they believe in second chances any prison reform. TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

They get in front of cameras taking photos, talking to crowds, shaking hands. TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

Then they go behind closed doors having meeting after meeting not taking into consideration the outcome of their decisions, they make on people lives. TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

We say Black Lives Matter. We say White Lives Matter. We say Latino Lives Matter. We say ALL Lives Matter. But here we are 53 days and counting with the budget amendment to the enhanced sentence credit bill that affected a little over 8,000 inmates behind the prison walls. There are about 53% of Black men behind bars in VADOC. There are 38% White men behind bars in VADOC. There are about 2% Latino men behind bars in VADOC—and less than 1% of other nationalities behind bars in VADOC. TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

July 24th there was a rally for what happened to the ESC for our loved ones to show up to have their voices heard. Sad to say only about 60 people showed up. TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

Families are we going to stop TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING and rally together to fix the injustice that was done to all of us! So that your loved ones can get the chance they have rightfully EARNED! 

If you really care, you will get on board with prison reform advocates at the next rally coming up.  STOP TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

To the national groups like NAACP, we need your support too because you say you stand for Black Lives Matter. You say you stand for injustice to our people! STOP TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING!

There are many behind bars for some 15+ years that’s spent time rehabilitating ourselves, taking programs, remaining infraction free and maintaining employment. We are not the men/women we use to be–at least some of us are not. Why penalize us for the violent crime that is still happening in VA today. We want to help make a difference and join forces with the community, advocate groups and law enforcement to make change happen.

I say to you today, “You without sin cast the first stone!”  Let’s put an end to TALKING LOUD but SAYING NOTHING and start TALKING LOUD and DOING SOMETHING! 

Written by Jerry L. James, #1157844
Brilliance Coordinator @ Deerfield Correctional Center

Sharing the Case of George M. Lynch Jr.

“I was arrested in 1991 for multiple armed robberies and malicious wounding. I had charges in Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia. I was convicted in Maryland for robbery, use of a firearm, and shooting in an occupied dwelling. The charges were dropped in D.C. I was extradited to VA to face criminal charges in 1992, while serving a 5 year sentence in MD. After finishing going to court and receiving my time in VA, I was extradited back to MD to finish my sentence in 1994. I made parole in MD and was extradited back to VA penitentiary in 94. I never was released in between my extradition. That was my first offense. I was sentenced to serve a total of 58 years with parole.

In 1995, I received a letter from court and legal telling me that due to the change of the law, I would not be eligible for parole. Court and legal placed me under the “three strike” rule (53.1-151(B1)). They unlawfully took my parole. In 2018, I received a letter saying I might have been placed under the wrong law. I explained to them my situation and they reinstated my parole. I was suppose to be eligible for parole in 2003. I missed 15 years of seeing the parole board. Now that I’m going up, they keep turning me down due to nature of crime and haven’t served enough time. I’ve been incarcerated for 30 years and 8 months. I was 18 years old when I got arrested.”

George M. Lynch
#1181371

A Letter From Jerry James to State Leaders

To The Senators and Delegates,

My name is Jerry L. James. I am a first-time offender who received 73 years with 35 years suspended, which left me with a 38-year sentence. As I sit here at Deerfield Correctional Center, 22 years later, I have done all I can to rehabilitate myself by completing mind-changing programs, as well as getting my G.E.D., plus enrolled myself into college to receive an Associate’s Degree in Biblical Studies.

I also remained charge-free for 17 years of the 22 years I’ve done already. I give all praises to God, who has given me the strength to hold on this long. Not knowing there wasn’t no parole for the new-law prisoners when I came in the system which make it very hard to know you have to do all your time unless you receive a pardon by the Governor. Which we know is like winning the Mega Millions – a slim shot to none.

When the the General Assembly voted and passed the enhanced earned sentence credit bill in 2020, which gives guys like myself a sense of hope for an opportunity to earn more good time to be able to go home a little earlier because we’re only getting 4.5 days a month of good time as I speak. But as we know, Governor Youngkin added a Budget Amendment that replaced the bill -which caused guys like myself to be exempt from getting something that we worked hard to get.

I had to tell my 71-year old father the bad news. He is still recovering from a stroke he had a few years back. I know I did wrong to get in here, but with 10 more years to do, please somebody have some type of compassion and give me a chance and the guys like myself, before our love ones will be no more.

l would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. If you would like to contact me with feedback, questions, or just a conversation. Go to the app store, and download the JPay app, using my name and number to create an account to email me.

Jerry L. James
#1157844

Why I Believe “CHANGE” is Possible

I would like to thank you ll for this opportunity to share my thoughts and feeling, about the current status of the VADOC, and its policy. I have been incarcerated for almost 30 years, and by no means am I asking that anyone should feel sorry for me. I committed one of, if not the worse crime, I took another person’s life.

With that said most of the men incarcerated today (90-95%), will be released back into someone’s community. I know for many of you this is a very scary thought. Now that we know this fact, my question to you today is: who do you want that man or woman to be? One that has been given the opportunity to change, or a very angry person? The next question is: do you believe people are capable of “CHANGE?” If so don’t we want these men and woman who could be your neighbor, to at the very LEAST be given that chance.

In my almost 30 years of incarceration, I have held many jobs, some for the income to support myself. For the last 5 years, I have worked as an Elder/Peer Mentor in the Deerfield Correctional Center Re-entry Program, and I can say without a doubt this has been the most rewarding job I’ve held. This gave me the opportunity to see first hand that people can “CHANGE.” It also allowed me to help others, and myself at the same time. It is so amazing how much you learn about yourself when you are helping someone else. The other thing that I have learned is “CHANGE” is a personal choice, there is nothing anyone can do until the person wants that “CHANGE” for him, or herself. The best part of my job was to see that light come on for them. This is why it is so important to have these programs and opportunities in place for those man and women who want help. They may not always know how to ask, but I know change is possible because l have seen the change, and am lucky enough to be here to help these men when they are ready.

The very sad truth is under our new Governor, we have lost the re-entry program here at DFCC. The re-entry program provides the time and opportunity for these men to make that “CHANGE” in programs like Thinking for a Change, and Victims Impact. The focus seems to be more about punishment, not rehabilitation; which we all know does not work. If it did, why are so many men and women locked up today? I know it sounds great to say ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ and if that was the end, that might work – but that brings me back to this fact: 90-95% will be released.

My hope in writing this is just to say we can “CHANGE.” I have changed, I have grown, but it was not easy. The most important thing is I wanted help. I have taken responsibility for all my action. I know I caused a lot of pain to so many good people, some that I can never repair. It also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. The last thing that I would like to leave you with is: one of the answers to the violence that we are seein today is not the police – its men like myself, who will be willing to go out into those community and speak to these young men, and women to tell them there are other choices – you too, can “CHANGE.”

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. If you would like to contact me with your feedback, questions or a longer conversation, go to the app store and download the JPay app using my name and number to create an account and email me.

I have not lost hope and I won’t, nor will I give up on “CHANGE.”

Kenneth Bibbs #1114910
Deerfield Correctional Center

Thinking Within

What’s poppin’ my God’s & Goddesses of the Universe? I invade your atmosphere as God of my Universe in the name of Allure The Seer of Truth and as always, I want to give a warm and genuine thank you and salute to the brilliant founder of this platform, Q.

I want to start off by saying: “The devil’s time is up. These are desperate times for the devils for they know what most of us know not.” I know what they think I know not, I don’t feel bad cause I know and understand they are 100% weak and wicked they have no good in them. So when they do things of this nature, I understand it is their nature to do so. The evolution of extraordinary things is happening before our physical eyes but we have to give more attention to our mental eye for it is the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise. These devils do these hideous things to us because they know we care about the material rather than the most precious jewel on earth, universe, which is ‘US’. If what we’ve been doing isn’t working, then let’s do something different. For example, Dragonball Z, when a villain comes with all physical powerful strength, they use their energy and thoughts to ‘in-think’ the villain. I say ‘in’ because within is where everything exists, and is projected out. GET It?

Let’s use our energy together and overcome everything that is not us. For all that belongs to us, do your research on self and find out how powerful you really are.

Allure The Seer of Truth
DeAnthony Clark
#1411732, is where you can reach me on JPay.

Challenge

Hello my name is Leroy Williams, and I’ve been in prison since I was 18, now I’m 44 and I am not the same person I was when I was 18!! Not to make light of what I done to be in prison, but I am being punished for who I use to be, and not who I’ve become. Our current Governor made that crystal clear when he repealed the bill that would have allowed those that made the necessary to better themselves. It’s a challenge, but we must move forward with the same intensity that brought us this far. There’s an understanding that we want to make sure we do the right thing and not play politics with people lives.

Yes, I am very strong due to my faith. But for those that are not, I want to encourage them and believe that God is still working behind the scheme.

Your brother,
Leroy Williams
#1162777

Speech by Q at the Rally Against Earned Sentence Credit Revocation

Listen as Q speaks at the rally about what it’s like to be incarcerated right now, and what it’s like to do too much time. He also addresses all of us out here and reminds us how much WE can take action and show up as families of the incarcerated. Thank you to Voice for the Voiceless, Humanization Project, Delegate Don Scott and others who were able to show support today. The work isn’t done!

Our editor, Santia, holds an iPhone to the microphone for the public to hear.

Too Much Time: July Prompt

It’s been about a month since Governor Youngkin dastardly used his power to amend the state’s budget and deny thousands of deserved inmates a chance at an earlier start on a new life in the free world…

Advocates have rallied in the name of those incarcerated. Media outlets have been taking notice. The time has come for us who are imprisoned to speak for ourselves… WE have a voice, and we have a platform. Brilliance Behind Bars belongs to us all. Let’s let the world know what goes on behind the walls – the things apathetic politicians deliberately hide from the public eye…

Write an essay, compose a poem, or just drop some quotes describing your personal struggles in the penitentiary for your own rehabilitation, and explain how the denial of justice has affected you and your family. Explain to the public, legislators, advocates, etc. why you deserve a shot at an earlier release date. Remember: the world is really taking notice now. Let your voices be heard!

Do not forget to include your name and any contact information for any readers who may be able to offer you some assistance.

I have more love than you can imagine for each and every one of my brothers and sisters on this side of the struggle. I pray we find the light in these dark times.

Sending love, blessing, strength, and hope,
-Q