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!
Category: From Q
Too Much Time: A Letter to the VA State Leaders about the Budget Amendment Rollback of Earned Sentence Credits
By Quadaire Patterson
I can say, with utmost certainty, that I have been in prison for TOO LONG. And the longer I stay, the harder it is for me to keep my spirits high, to give my all to the pursuit of ‘better,’ and to truly be the change I’ve become.
Despite the DOC’s egregious lack of true focus on rehabilitation, I know that I have made the most of my 14 years behind bars by leading my own journey to being the best version of myself. Day in and day out, waking up in prison slowly gnaws away at the intensity of that inspiration and stifled MY momentum… but never totally extinguished it.
I plea with Virginia state leaders to save my spirit and others like it, as time in prison can be just as destructive to a person, as it can be in rehabilitating them. It is true, time heals all wounds; but too much time begins to erode even the greatest of monuments.
My story isn’t one you hear often when thinking about the concept of prison – but its more common than you may think. Not once have I ever taken my incarceration, nor my rehabilitation, lightly. I always took the experience as an opportunity to grow and change my life around. From the onset of jail, before reaching prison, I worked tirelessly to build practice in meditation and spiritual strength, and gain purpose behind my life. Not once have I ever denied myself the responsibility of my own actions or felt as if I didn’t deserve to be in here. I chose books instead of card games, I chose to watch news programs instead of entertainment. At times, I even accepted that I wasn’t ready to return to society just yet. I used to say to myself, “even if they came to let me out today, I wouldn’t be ready.”
I’ve faced challenges along the way, as I haven’t always made the right choices. But still, I kept my head above the fray and the thick air of desperation and destitution that fills the penitentiary from wall-to-wall. I can recall great moments of inspiration, where I was more than ready to face the world with new eyes and put forth my newfound perspective toward the mission of making a better tomorrow… these moments began in the year of 2012, 4 years into my 20-year prison sentence.
I have never once sought my rehabilitation with the motive of early release. I’ve undertook every means of my own rehabilitation, purely because I would inevitably be released and finally got serious about my own life. Still, I continue to maintain the vision of a new day of freedom for me and to maintain a version of a future in my heart where I can use my past to help guide others with the guidance I needed as a child. I just figured the leadership finally recognized people like me when they passed the expanded earned sentence credits in 2020.
Maybe that’s why it hurts me so much to hear that people don’t believe I deserve a chance at earning an earlier release date. I’ve put faith in the system – even when it was hard to – and even when it imprisoned me. I sought to understand it, and in return, it has not reciprocated the same sentiment. The system has not sought to understand me as a person; to understand that against the odds of incarceration, I’ve still maintained my hope and faith in society regardless of what it has done to me.
Yes, I had to come to prison to find myself, but I am absolutely sure that I don’t have to STAY in prison to keep it. As a matter of fact, I feel a tiny piece of my spirit gets chipped away every time I hear another person has overdosed, or got into a fight, or stabbed. Every time, I lose a little more faith in the system, another fragment of my vision of a new day…
I know WAS a misguided young man, and in the process of being so, I may have caused harm to some people over a decade ago. I’m not making excuses and not saying that the pain of the people I hurt was not important. What I am saying is, I’m a new person, and I deserve a chance at being proactive with my change and begin to make amends sooner than later. The person I am now will NEVER revert to crime. The person I am now, at 34 years-old, understands his own potential: an understanding that isn’t afforded to a lot of poor, black youth.
I ask state leaders to not disregard my efforts, or others like me with a self-imposed rehabilitation and personal growth, by saying it is unworthy of actual redemption in the form of an earlier release date. When you disregard us, now it is YOU who are working against a greater version of what we are today.
-Q. Patterson, Brilliance Behind Bars Creator
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
The Cycle of Victimization
When will we, as a country, began to see crime as an extension of a vicious cycle of victimization?
I myself – a ‘convict’ – have been beaten, abused, shot, and stabbed… ridiculed, rebuffed, and victimized. None of my assailants were arrested, or put to trail. Even now, I do not wish the harshest of punishments to befall them. I wish only for a chance for their hearts and minds to be changed…
When I see people who have been victims of crime profess that the people behind bars should face more punishment, I wonder to myself how easy it is for people to forget that they (the ones incarcerated/the “criminals”) are victims themselves: victims of financial oppression and social oppression, victims of mental illness, victims of emotional dilapidation. It’s so easy to ignore the voices of those victims… easier to sacrifice the tears of ‘con-victims’ to appease the ‘real’ victims.
Do not misunderstand, I do not disregard their loss or abuse. NO ONE should have to go through such, life itself is hard enough. I merely want to offer a perspective that may hopefully open the mind’s eye and get us on a path to ending m the vicious cycle of victimization.
I hear the testimony of state senators about constituents as victims of rapes and murders. I also hear the testimony of incarcerated constituents as victims of molestations, fathers and family members lost to wrongful deaths, poverty and abusive upbringings… what I see, what I hear, rings a tone of hurt people, hurting people… is it right? NO. But neither is the outlook that the prisons that span this country coast-to- coast do not house the majority of the greatest victims of society.
This is an injustice that will only serve to further the vicious cycle of victimization… and continue to cost lives… to the grave of the prison system.
– Q. Patterson, BrillianceBehindBars Creator, #1392272
Black America Inside-Out, the Sequel
Happy 1-year anniversary to Brilliancebehindbars.com! A year ago, we at set out on a journey to show society that incarcerated individuals were living, breathing, thinking human-beings, full of latent potential and intellectual prowess. Since then, our country has experienced the worst of it’s times. It has been hit with a highly contagious and deadly pandemic and governmental upheaval, widening the gap across race and political lines… but our mission to humanize and secure scholarships for incarcerated citizens has not slowed in stride…
Within this very month, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. and in our own special way, we show our respects by reviving our original assignment, our premiere event: Black America Inside-Out…
Participants from Lawrenceville, as well as other Virginia facilities, are to select a quote from a prominent black American figure, past or present, and write a paragraph or two about that quote and its relevance to the situation we face in this country now.
Multiple entries are encouraged and like always, do not forget to include your name, the city you’re from, and any other efforts (projects you’re involved in, books/pieces you’ve written, etc.) that you might want to incorporate for additional exposure. We are trying to shine a light on YOU and this is a platform of the people and by the people, so go hard!
With great love and respect for each and everyone of you,
BrillianceBehindBars Creator, Quadaire Patterson
Q. Patterson’s Thoughts on Abolishing Mandatory Minimums in Virginia
On paper, a mandatory minimum is a prescribed amount of time a person who has committed a specific crime MUST actively serve in prison, as opposed to what can be suspended by a judge or jury. The judicial device of mandatory minimum seems extremely arbitrary, due to the fact that their are two bodies (judge and jury) who, through a hands-on knowledge of the facts of the crime, can discern specialities of that particular crime and sentence accordingly. I do not understand the need for mandatory minimums as they are excessive, since descriptive sentencing guidelines exist.
They restrict the ability to sentence justly, being that no two crimes are identical, even though they may share the same charges. The presence of such a device, being that of mandatory minimums, can only leave room for corruptive and nefarious usage. For example, a police officer can threaten you with multiple charges carrying mandatory minimums, effective increasing prison time tremendously if found guilty, simply because you decide to invoke your right to an attorney during questioning, which in turn, makes their job investigating a little harder. This vindictive practice is common amongst law enforcement and is abetted by the law itself through the vessel of mandatory minimums.
I, myself, am a victim of this very practice. Police officers decided to charge me 3 use of a firearm charges (another controversial law enforcement practice referred to as charge-stacking), each carrying a mandatory minimum, 3 years for the initial UFA, and 5 years for each subsequent UFA charge. This comprises 13 years of a 15-year sentence… mandatory minimums should be removed from the courts and the power to impose fitting, fair sentences reinvested to the judges, as they should be.
– Q, 1/14/21
How many of us actually understand the complexities associated with social structures and their influence on the minds and lives of their participants?
It is a common thought amongst most of the incarcerated – that we are the sole producers of our fate… that if we are rejected, abused, or oppressed, it is solely our fault. That where we come from or the state into which we were born doesn’t hold power over our destiny. We are right, but only to an extent…
Most of us, here in the penitentiary, are obilvious to the influence of social machination. Which made it hard to understand what is now neatly prepackaged by media outlets as systemic racism. The common mindset of the incarcerated, myself included until recently, is that of self-determination. Nothing more, nothing less. That it was our choice to commit crimes rather than succumbing to pressures brought on by hostile environments and unfruitful conditions. It may be a matter of pride to take on the responsibility of our crime, than to acknowledge that there is a force beyond our control, before our time that has planted us in a position tilted in the favor of failure…
The design of racism and its effects are ideological. It begins in the form of idea, before it festers and works its way into culture, and then manifests into mental illusions, stereotypes and prejudices that the masses come to affirm as facts. The weapon most effective in a democratic society is that of idea. Once the people can be made to believe customized ideas, then laws customized to serve agendas outside of public interest can be easily accepted… leading to a social system that makes a single race out to be villains. Villains who should be kept down thus they rise up to enact some form of violent justice… politicians scapegoating on the backs of an ostracized and victimized people, all the while diverting attention away from political failure and corruption… sound familiar? It’s textbook Hitler.
Not only has the plague of racism infected the minds of the common American, regardless of race, those prejudices gave life to legalisation that created way for mass ghettos largely populated by black people, writhed with violence and poverty. It also gave way for laws that allowed mass incarceration and its great racial disparities facilitated by our American justice system. Even laws for gerrymandering and districting to render black voting less effective and obscure the practice of scholastic segregation.
Sure, many of us have heard of Willie Lynch (or maybe should educate ourselves on the subject) and his divisive philosophy designed to control black slave, but who could of thought that that same system and philosophy could be modified to control American citizens. The methods of divide, fear monger, and conquer… these are the foundations by which we allow our government to ensure that a great deal of young black lives are born and may very well die in specially designed situations manipulated generations (and may sustain for generations more), because of a hatred based on a fear they had no hand in creating…
Yes, the seams of the white supremacist power structure has been identified and called out, but if us as a people do not know where to look for sustaining, meaningful change, then what use is a strike… look into the system. Even though many of us did not experience Jim Crow directly, the aftereffects of its era still haunt our lives with racist laws that have a more subtle tone, are a little more hidden… activated by fear and racist undertones that still serve today to accomplish the mission of great racists, dead and gone… whose hate lingers on, hurting and killing innocents by the hundreds… and sabotaging children’s lives before they even get a chance to live them…
I encourage you to continue to fight, but know what you are fighting for. Want life. Want the right to live. Life for your children, life for your family, life for your human brothers and sisters… and know where to look to get it…
Knowledge is power. Power to change, power to grow, power to rise above…
All power to the struggle…
– Q. Patterson, Creator of BrillianceBehindBars
American Growing Pains
The United States of America… an idea grander in scale than any nation before it. Unlike most other countries proceeding its coming, it was conceived deeply in an idea, rather than monarchical heritage or empirical legacy… The American concept is rooted in daring, unimaginable goals that most older nations fear to venture. But the struggle of a pioneer is that of the unknown… we, as a nation have no blueprint. We have no model. Even a child who learns to walk has a parent to mock, as it takes on a task it has never done before, and still it does not succeed without undergoing great difficulty at first… standing, bracing, falling a number of times… these are its growing pains.
Our country in its infancy has no parent. It is self created and unable to model what has come before it. Most of its being still resides in the realm of idea. Slowly, it moves into existence through the gates of the evolving human heart and mind, as they can better identify what it means to be human. The journey from what our country was, onto what it is now, has already challenged the understanding of humankind and its very definition of what humanity is. This shifting of perspective did not come with flowery grace or comfort. No true growth can take hold in such unchallenging conditions. It has come with great troubles, great struggles to stand, great falls; but they are all important to the growth of our nation, and the growth of humanity as a whole.
The great confusion and fear, giving way to the tremendous violence that has ensnared our country for centuries, is a product of the growing pains associated with the next stage of our nation’s development. It is not because humankind is inherently evil, no, it is because humankind is inherently fearful. But as the test of time has exposed the world of fact, we are always more fearful than we should be, and always braver than we expect. So, I welcome the growing pains, as they are evidence of the great transformation my beloved country is taking on…
Everyone who believes that the ideas of freedom, justice, and equality were intended as an absolute for every single person born or sworn to America do not let the unrest of the protest shake, deter, or discourage you…
What has been shown by great leaders before us is that the power of love and truth will withstand any measures taken by its opposition… keep your head up… and see the beautiful future that lays before you…
The Blind Indifference
Racism… I wasn’t brought up deliberately to hate another race of people. Sure my grandmother had a lot of animosity directed to the race of people who aimed water hoses and sicked attack dogs on her purely because she recognized and fought for her identity as nothing less than a human being, but she didn’t propagate such lessons of hate.
My mother came up in a time (mid 70s-80s) where the blatancy of racism was considered taboo and uncool, so racism took a more subtle approach and found less need to make spectacles because the concept of racism was inculcated deep into the social system. It suffused its ethereal existence in prejudice and stereotypes that painted one race superior to another. This form of idealism sunk into the minds of pro-Jim Crow generations and served to maintain the grip of white superiority in the battlefield of the mind on a level subconscious and virtually invisible to the masses of Americans.
By my generation’s coming, racism was still projected in its most overt form, as an egregious, flagrant prejudice where most Americans – black, white, and other – would not believe that it existed beyond alt right racist organizations such as the KKK and neo Nazis, but such was its greatest achievement. Just as the old saying goes, racism’s (like the devil) greatest trick was to make people believe it did not exist.
It took more for me than most to believe that racism was prominent amongst Americans. Most unknowingly partaking in the vile and divisive culture of racism. Myself, in my ignorance, included. But now, the Age of Information has dawned, shining a light so bright that the dark subversive culture of racism can no longer leech off the mind of the Free People. People who are now armed with a knowledge and a weapon undefeatable in a war where fear stoking and ignorance is the primary strategy of its enemy. This weapon is Truth.
The only way to ensure that we, Free People, continue to press the enemy back in our unending fight for the America’s soul is to continue to have the ugly conversations. To continue to sound the horn on watch against threats standing in oppostion to the ideal of equality. Continue to believe in the cause and its eminent ascension…
Know that the struggle for equality, in its truest form, is unceasing.
In this struggle, vigilance is key. Vigilance is mindful awareness.
In this struggle, vigilance allows no enemy to gain ground.
In this struggle, ignorance is blindness…
In this struggle, blindness to a very real enemy is lethal.
– Q, June 2020