By Sincere Born Allah
I’ve been up since 3:30am having full on (out loud) conversations with myself about random topics. They share a common thread; my current standing as an incarcerated man and the Virginia legislators’ weak arguments (and misinformation) regarding overall prison reform (or lack thereof). These conversations I’m having with myself aren’t unlike the many I’ve previously had with myself (and others) regarding this subject. However, this time it was a couple of hours before I realized I was giving a speech and passionately debating “myself” (out loud). I’d like to think that I’m mentally stable yet there are moments like this when I’m not 100% sure of that (is “Mentally Stable” a relative term? like the term “Normal” hmmm). I acknowledge the fact that I’m off a lil bit. To what extent is what I am unaware of and that worries me the most. How far gone am I? How much longer do I have before I mentally enter a point of no return having spent that last 22 years incarcerated?
Anyhow, let me set the tone for you. I really need you to take a moment to envision this: I’m sitting in a cell listening to my second favorite Tupac song, “White Man’s World” (for context please listen to this song on repeat at least 3 times with NO DISTRACTIONS), and there is a verse where he says: ‘Do you love me momma, why they keep on calling me NIGGA / get my weight up with my HATE and pay’em back when I’m BIGGA.’ Then laced throughout the song are excerpts of Minister Farrakhan’s Million Man March Speech (I was at the million man march standing in the crowd listening to that speech October 16, 1995) and Stokely Carmichael. In one excerpt Farrakhan says: (speaking directly to white legislators) “You’re out of touch with REALITY! There are a few of you in a few smoke-filled rooms calling that the mainstream while the masses of the people… white, and black, red, yellow, tan and brown poor and vulnerable are suffering in this nation” Think about that for a moment. What comes to mind when hearing that? The song ends with Farrakhan saying, “The seal in the constitution reflects the thinking of the founding fathers that this nation was to be a nation by white people and for white people.” “Native Americans, Blacks and all other non white people were to be the burden bearers for the “REAL CITIZENS” of this nation.” I was 13 or 14 when I first heard Farrakhan speak in Boston at Prince Hall lodge. I was 15 when I heard him again at the Million Man March and at that time I couldn’t (or didn’t) appreciate the depth at which he spoke directly to me and my condition. And those of us that were able to witness the prophetic greatness of Tupac can agree that he was so far ahead of his time – that most of his music is only now being understood and used at universities as a course of study 25 years after his death.
The first part I want to address is getting my “weight up with my hate and pay’em back when I’m bigga.” I’ve learned that the phrase “getcha weight up lil’ nigga” means more than your physical stature. In life, we are assessed by our ability to think independently. Our intellectual prowess can only be developed and enhanced through problem solving. So, like using weights for our bodies to get bigger, we must challenge our minds in the same way in order to be respected and allowed entrance into certain arenas. Hate is second only to fear as the greatest individual motivator (I’m sure I do not need to give you a history lesson to support that claim). Just for the purpose of this essay, think of the KKK and Hitler as the most recent examples of targeted Hate and Fear. When you’re a gazelle amongst lions your hate for and fear of the lion will still get you eaten. However, the elephant doesn’t worry about the lion. Their physical stature and intellect keep them thriving. My hate was so strong at one point it consumed me. But at the same time it motivated me to figure out how to better position myself against my enemies (those that I have and haven’t identified). I wanted to be a knockout artist and fight like the legends behind these walls. I did that through boxing (check). I wanted to make sure I was never the dumbest person in the room and able to mentally spar with the master builders in any cipher like the great scholar James Baldwin (check). My payback won’t be complete until I’m home and successful in my work (soon check).
Now, there’s the part where Farrakhan speaks to the politicians “a few of you in a few smoke-filled rooms…” those back room closed door secret meetings by the powers that be are commonplace in a system built on secrets and lies in order to perpetuate the original agenda of this nation. For example, we just witnessed Virginia legislators elect a Crime Commission to do a study that came back HALF-ASSED and INCONCLUSIVE (at best). Rather than wait a few more months to gather the necessary supporting facts and empirical evidence, lawmakers in the House and Senate rushed to create a bill for the special general assembly that essentially does NOTHING to truly address the issues of this current system. In fact the bill further marginalizes, dehumanizes and discredits thousands of individuals like myself who have put in the time and done all the work needed to make the strongest case for earning our freedom. This decision was made by a few people in a room playing GOD with what’s left of our lives and negotiating side political deals with “NO” new information available to them. How was this deemed okay to do and by who? The masses continue to suffer because it suits an individual agenda that is not directly affected by our constant suffering.
There is a clear answer to the question: is this the Virginia Dept. of Corrections, or the Virginia Dept. of Human Warehousing? There is no other nation in the world that treats its people like this. Not even Nazis convicted of the most atrocious crimes against humans were forced to serve more than 25 years in prison (there were some sentenced to death). This nation claims that Justice is BLIND, yet amazingly a very specific and targeted group of people are still fighting for justice and equal rights because somehow lady justices’ blind ass can still SMELL MONEY and HEAR when a NIGGER is in her presence. SHE may be blind but these policy makers sure as hell aren’t. They can see just fine. The proof of this is in this nation’s recently exposed history and current policies including Gerrymandering, Redlining, Tough on Crime, War on Drugs, Stop and Frisk, Slave Codes, Three Fifths Compromise, Mass Incarceration, School to Prison Pipeline, Segregation, and Slavery. All things justified, upheld and made possible through this so called justice system. The exact same system we now expect to just suddenly change and start benefiting us or working in our favor. That kind of change will only come by force and that force has been and will continue to be met with a greater more nefarious force. From 1555 (not 1619) until 2020 is 465 years. That is how rooted these systems are. You have to go back another 6,000 years to find the making of the mindset that created these systems (I Love History).
Now lastly Farrakhan says: “The seal in the Constitution represents the thinking of the founding fathers that this was to be a nation by white people and for white people.” 1776 is when this document was written. Black People Everywhere were still being hunted, kidnapped, tortured, openly traded and treated as property not people at that time. In fact, the government in 1787 (I believe), even went as far as to outline that no person of African descent can EVER claim to be a whole human hence the term “Three Fifths of a Man”. And for our Native American Brothers and Sisters we need only to remember the “Trail of Tears”. It took a Revolutionary war, Civil war, 2 World wars, Korean war, Vietnam war and a Civil Rights uprising over the course of 200 years to finally get this nation to acknowledge us as people (flesh and blood human beings). What do you reasonably think it’s gonna take for us to acquire JUSTICE and EQUALITY? My answer is 5 more wars and another 200 years, at the very least.
I laugh at the fact that seemingly every time we make a fuss and cause a lil disturbance (Good Trouble) we get thrown a bone and that bone is seen as a VICTORY…. Smh. Fools, it was YOUR bone in the first damn place!!! It’s just enough to either keep our mouths shut. Remember, to open your mouth again means to lose the bone that’s in it or keep us at odds with each other over who gets the bone instead of staying focused on the oppressor. Malcom X has a few quotes that I’ve proudly applied to my life, one of which is, “Be sure not to confuse Movement with Progress. You can certainly run in place and achieve movement and yet get NOWHERE” another is: “If a man stabs you in the back 9 inches deep then pulls the blade out three inches that doesn’t make him your friend or worthy of your gratitude.” These are timeless quotes, because half a century later, the conditions that made them relevant then still exist right now. Someone should have told the members of the Virginia House and Senate who so willingly accepted that bone and also celebrated the blade coming out 3 inches.
The promise of fairness and equality is the longest and most successful hustle this nation has been running on what it considers to be its inferior population. Hoping that next year, they’ll pull out another three inches of that 9 inch blade is INSANITY! There is no incentive for them to look at this again. These policy makers’ moral compass is guided only by MONEY. We counted on them to have some common sense, common human decency, and to look at the data and make adjustments accordingly. NONE of that happened. Instead they made life altering decisions with NO DATA whatsoever all in the name of MONEY and UNJUSTIFIED FEAR. And for those legislators who stayed SILENT (neutral) rather than take a stance on the RIGHT side of history and use their power to make a real difference , The Great Dr. Martin Luther King has this to say about you, “There is a time when your SILENCE becomes BETRAYAL”.
Now let’s address FEAR with FACTS, LOGIC, REASON, and REALITY.
As it pertains to those convicted of violent crimes, with the exception of an individual clinically assessed and found to have a depraved mindset, it has been proven on every continent in the world that age and length of time served drastically lessens the chances of re-offending (especially for another violent act) . Recidivism even goes as low as 0.1% for an individual that has served at least 20 years and is over 40. Men Lie Women Lie … Numbers Don’t!
- Prior to the enactment of truth in sentencing (85% no parole) violent crimes statewide and nationwide were already trending down and had dropped 110% (some as much as 150%) and have not wavered in the years since, while ALL other crimes have had drastic increases.
- Truth in Sentencing 85% No Parole Law was presented and enacted with admitted faulty data (data compiled 5 years earlier and had not been updated by the time states had adopted the system)
- Hilary Clinton and the President at the time Bill Clinton have both addressed this issue and apologized publicly for their mistake (especially Hillary Clinton for her fear mongering tactic of calling the inner city/urban youth SUPER PREDATORS that needed to be locked up and have the keys thrown away)
- The federal government financially incentivized states to adopt this policy.
- The only credit this law has actually been able to claim is the mass increase in prison populations for every state that adopted it and a HUGE staffing and budgeting nightmare in every one of those states as well. Annually Billions of taxpayer dollars nationwide are being funneled into a human warehousing system while schools and youth programs close due to underfunding. Affordable housing is scarce and homelessness is at an all time high.
The politicians are trying to lull us all back to sleep by crying about how hard their jobs are and how change takes time and doesn’t come overnight. Funny how in 1995, when these laws were enacted, there was no call for a commission to do a study that would take a year or two to compile nor did the department of corrections say that it would take 3 years to update their systems. This change did not come in pieces over a 25 year period (it’s been 25 years since Virginia has done ANY Prison reform). This shit came swiftly, sweepingly and immediately! By the time the ink was dry on the bill, Virginia had built 6 new prisons … 4 supermax prisons and 2 private prisons (Red Onion, Wallens Ridge, Sussex 1, Sussex 2, and Lawrenceville) all opened and filled to capacity by 1998. This prison construction boom happened all across America, almost like States were competing to see who could build the most and fill them the fastest . That kind of construction hasn’t been seen in this country since the “Big Dig” in Boston, MA.
I watched how a single incident can get a teenager 11 felonies and sentencing guidelines were thrown out the window. Teens (you’re still a teenager from age 13 to 19) were receiving de facto life sentences (50, 70, even 100+ years 85% NO Parole, NO Good Time) daily. At 17, 18, and 19 years old we were packed into these warehouses like the surplus population we have always been considered by this nation. Entire neighborhoods were turned into ghost towns with every kid missing from them as if abducted by aliens. I soon found out they weren’t missing at all and those weren’t aliens that abducted them they were Police Task Forces and now they were all locked up with no chance of returning until they (we) became useless burdensome old men (IF they make it to geriatric release age and are deemed suitable for release that is).
The generation before us was told that they still had value NO MATTER what their crimes were, and they were given the opportunity to prove themselves worthy and earn their way out of prison. They were told they still had redeemable qualities and if they did everything right while in prison, changed their thoughts and actions to be more positive and productive, then they could be released at an age where they could have a reasonable chance at a quality life and be an asset to society rather than just a long term liability. What makes the lives of my generation LESS worthy of that same opportunity? Our crimes are no different…
January 1995 marked the year that anyone born in 1980 could be subjected to the harshest policing practices and prison sentencing policies since the (old) Jim Crow era (we’re living in the new Jim Crow era right now).
An entire generation was specifically targeted for extinction – my generation. Sounds like a conspiracy theory doesn’t it? Well, ask Oliver North if it’s just a theory. Those military and CIA planes that were used to transport heroin and cocaine into the US were very real and so was his trial. Iran Contra exposed both George Bush and Ronald Reagan for being complicit in these deals. Among others, but Oliver North took the fall for his buddies. (Damn, how soon we forget.)
Those drugs ended up in every ghetto in America, then guns magically appeared all over these same cities as fast as the jobs and federal funding for housing and programs disappeared. Separately these things can somewhat be explained away, however add them together happening all at the same time all over the country and it becomes impossible to deny. I am convinced there is certainly no excuse or justification for a criminal act especially those committed against another person, however in that same breath I am certain there is always a reason for them.
Think for a moment about George Washington, a man celebrated and held in the highest of honor as a Founding Father (his crimes against humanity aside of course, I mean he did have his slaves teeth ripped out of their mouths and fitted for his own mouth when he felt like it, but we will gloss right over his brutal inhumanity for the sake of my point). He was under British rule and law when he committed treason and had he been caught he would have immediately suffered a treasonist’s death by hanging. So it’s safe to say that America does believe that good men like George break bad laws in order to change their circumstances and achieve what they feel is a more suitable outcome.
It’s a fact that crime and poverty are inextricably connected. Take away jobs and opportunities and replace it with drugs and guns and 10 times out of 10 you will get the same outcome ANY TIME, ANYWHERE.
I’m approaching 41 years of age and I’m in my 23rd year of incarceration on a 45 year prison sentence. I’ve made no excuses and took responsibility for my actions. I’m deeply remorseful for the pain that I’ve caused and the unnecessary loss of a life. I did need to and deserved to come to prison for the role I played in my crime committed. However it hasn’t taken me 45 years to correct and improve myself. It actually took less than 20. Although, I had no incentive to do so, because I was told I wouldn’t have a reasonable shot at life before 60. I made these changes on my own because I felt like my debt to society wasn’t to sit here self medicate and engage in a common prison lifestyle. My debt owed first was to the family of the victim, for me to show my remorse and actually change and then it was to society to help others make the same life changes I did. I recalibrated my thought process and then I became hopeful that it wouldn’t be in vane. I have hoped I would be one considered as worthy of a chance to prove my worth and value as a productive member of society long before even the age of 50. Anything beyond 25 years here is a waste of invaluable irreplaceable resources. I’ve improved my human capital and continue to do so with this hope in mind. This year’s General Assembly destroyed that hope and left thousands of men like myself hopeless and helpless.
– Sincere Born Allah #1131459 (Nottoway Correctional Center, Burkville, VA)