On Second Look: Incarceration is just another word for nothing left to lose.

There is a song by Janis Joplin where she says “FREEDOM is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I thought about those lyrics and what they mean, then I changed the word FREEDOM to INCARCERATION and it speaks to me in an entirely different way. Context is everything … looking at someone or something today with the eyes of yesterday is the best way to stagnate, ignore and even deny progress.

In life, we have the opportunity to Forgive and Learn. Forgiveness comes from the heart of those offended as a part of their healing process and the lesson is learned by the offender thru the penalty received. In terms of incarceration, its not the amount of time imposed but what you do with that time to atone… and once that lesson is learned, the cycle is complete.

“Second Look” in lieu of parole or more sensible good time laws for exorbitant sentences allows for a fresh set of eyes to review and determine if the aforementioned cycle is complete. Most of those in opposition to any significant prison reforms are denying not only those incarcerated, but themselves of the invaluable gift of growth, as well as the ability to learn and forgive. Unfortunately, personal agendas and biases (both implicit and explicit) continue to block the path to real justice in Virginia, so this has to be addressed if one is to reasonably expect anything different.

Telling people that they are irredeemable by using this strictly punitive and archaic sentencing structure (85%, no parole), then releasing them into society anyway after 30, 40 or 50 years of incarceration does society no good… Has it stopped crime? NO! Has it been a deterrent of any kind? NO! It has no benefit other than retribution.

Wasting a human resource out of spite should actually be a crime itself. 26 years of this system and what you have are packed, understaffed prisons – and some of which need drastic renovations or need to be closed down altogether and a state budget nightmare for years to come.

The punishment of incarcerating someone now isn’t just about doing the time imposed on you when you’re sentenced…. its doing so much of it that when you’re released to the world, you have no real time left.

Depending on how this Second Look legislation is structured and implemented, that will determine its success and benefit… whether or not it means that every year after a certain point in a persons sentence they will be evaluated (by unbiased and subjective people, not a computer algorithm) on a scale that is evidence based, or if its only for those like myself incarcerated at 18 years old, now 41, and about to embark on my 24th year of a 45-year sentence – still having another 18 years before my mandatory release date?

This legislation also has to be retroactive and all inclusive (for violent and non-violent) in order to be fair and combat some of the damage done by the 85%, no parole laws. Either way, there is no downside to review someone after a certain point in their incarceration, that’s the humane thing to do… its why parole and good time credits exist (not in Virginia).

However, what I don’t want to see is another mechanism in place that feels its sole function is to just keep people in prison regardless of any proven change in mindset and behavior. That seems to be what the republicans believe the parole board is supposed to do… just rubber stamp NO or DENIED on every review. There is a point that you reach while incarcerated when there is nothing left to do but sit idle while life passes you by… you have completed everything available to you and mandated to you by the state, and then reached beyond that on your own to do more for yourself and your family, but then you sit and lose it all because you still have another 20 or 30 years before your release date. Second look legislation can fix that issue and much more.

Let’s be honest for a minute though: if 60% of Virginia’s prison population were white, WE WOULDN’T BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION, nor would we still begging to fix what any person with a conscious has agreed are bad laws.

Lastly, I keep hearing people falsely claim that change is a process and then use that as an excuse not to do anything to help the so called “process” … Change is NOT a process, its a RESULT! With regards to people… CHANGE is what happens when an individual or a group of individuals are 100% dissatisfied with their current circumstances or conditions.

I could go through and give historical precedence b.u.t. I don’t see the need because if you’re still reading this, you already know I’m right.

Peace!

– Sincere Born Allah, #1131459, Nottoway Correctional Center

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

Just Maybe

Just maybe,
if I wasn’t considered 3/5ths of a hue-man being
and stripped of my nationality and creed by Europeans,
my right to vote would not denied or abridged,
my citizenship would not be secondary to his.
I would not be treated apparently with racial disparity,
my vote is my voice, my moment of clarity.

Just maybe,
if I knew the power of the vote before imprisonment
and realized the inability to vote was a hindrance
I would not be looked at as insignificant.
Just maybe, I would be treated with equality,
and not defeated by poverty.
just maybe,
they would understand my people’s psychology.

Just maybe,
if my political views weren’t misconstrued as being racist, or me being bias.
Just maybe, my views come from me being tired,
and me being bullied by Goliath.
What is power, but an illusion driven by force?
What better way to gain control than imprison the source?

Just maybe, if we were able to cast a vote,
It would give the people of the lower class some hope.
Just maybe…

My name is Antoinne Pitt, I am from Portsmouth, Virginia, currently incarcerated at Lawrenceville Correctional Center. I am the author of Thinking With A Purpose, which is a curriculum created to reduce the rate of recidivism and prevent criminal thinking and influences and the author of C.O.A.T (Countering Overdoses and Addiction Treatment) a curriculum created to combat the opioid epidemic that has plagued our nation. You can contact my publisher, Winter Giovanni, for additional information or go to www.infinitypublicationsllc.net to see my bio. You can also support my fight for freedom by signing my change.org petition, or writing a support letter to: the Secretary Of Commonwealth, P.O. Box 2454 Richmond, VA 23218- 2454.

Peace and Blessings.

Future

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” -Malcolm X

This quote just spoke to me as I read it this morning – because for millions behind the walls, their outlook of a future is bleak. Their daily view of life is bars, concrete and metal. Their days consist of daily counts, consumption of food not fit for humans, wearing the same orange/blue/brown jumpsuits (for the most case). I ask, how does one prepare for a future when they have no idea what the future holds for them? They were given decades long sentences and laws continue to overlook them because of their offense. They are deemed outcasts, a threat to society and threaten public safety. Some are innocent and punished for exercising their right to a fair trial. Others were teenagers, immature or dealing with mental illnesses and made a bad choice. How can they prepare for a future when they are not promised one outside the walls? How can your future belong to those who are prepared for it, when their future lies in the hands of legislators and lawmakers!

Over the last month and even some in 2020, I witnessed lawmakers and legislators sit in a box, debating the future of thousands of men and women behind the walls. Having intense discussions about their very livelihood as if they were discussing a non-existent thing that has no life. When they were discussing the fate of a human—a person that lives, breathes and who has the same red colored blood flowing through their bodies as them.  But they argued and determined that their lives do notmatter. They made decisions to kill bills that would allow those persons to come home to people that love them, children that miss them and spouses that bears the weight of life without them daily. These lawmakers and legislators do not know what it feels like to live this life every day because at the end of each day, when they are done making choices and decisions that keeps men/women behind the walls—they go home to their family, their children, and their spouses. They go home to family dinners and spend time tucking their children into bed each night. They sleep in a bed that is plush and comfortable. They have access to an unlimited supply of necessities. They do not worry whether they will wake up to see another day. 

These men and women still strive to have a positive outlook on life. They still strive to lay the foundation of a better future. They do not allow their current situations stop them from becoming a better person. They have owned their bad choice. They are not making excuses for what happened to them. Daily, they are growing, maturing, and changing the trajectory of their future. They have not allowed the obstacle of their path deter them from working towards their FUTURE!

In the words of our first black President: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama

– Jerry James, Deerfield Correctional Center

Criminal

To be a criminal is not soley a matter of self determination, no more than being homeless is. It is accompanied with a lack of social responsibility as well. Almost no one randomly wakes up and says “I just want to commit crimes for a living.” No.

Illegal acts are social dilemmas, mostly committed in states of distress, where individuals are seeking immediate relief from very present, very persistent problems. In this search, they make grave mistakes, sometimes harming others… inconsiderate of others, because of the apparent lack of consideration for them by others. The pressures and problems they face are less likely of their own making. Crime on a large scale is a societal problem that plagues the impoverished. A problem few of our leaders see fit to impute upon the victims or simply ignore.

Where the jurisdiction of social responsibility ends, the choice of an individual to select a destiny of their choosing must take precedence. The identity of a criminal must be shed, because a criminal is not what you are just because a crime is what you’ve committed. In opposition, society’s inclination to be “tough on crime” and continue to demonize those who (for the most part) are victims of society’s failures, does not allow for such realization. Truth is, society has had a great hand in trapping millions of people into the role of the “criminal.” Showing them that their lives are less and beyond redemption; that their existence does not amount above the mistakes they have made.

The abolishment of parole and the reluctance to restore it, along with the restriction of earned sentence credits disregards the practice of incentive as a means of enforcing ethical behavior. In fact, it enforces the idea that no matter your behavior, your lot in life is unchangeable, breeding despair and further instilling the persona of the criminal.

To be a criminal is not a crime, it is merely a product of an imperfect society, but to remain one is. To assume that this problem is definite is a grave injustice that stands to keep destroying countless lives and stagnating the evolution of society as a whole…

– Q . Patterson, Brilliance Behind Bars Creator, #1392272

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

On Education, Change Starts With Our Youth.

Greetings readers my name is Brandon C.L. Hope, and today I will be writing to the topic of how I think people incarcerated can benefit from a higher education. Now, while I do believe that people incarcerated can benefit from a higher education, I also believe that a higher education should not just be a privilege, but an obligation. My brother and role model so gracefully pointed out an age-old saying: “if you know better, you’ll do better.” So, if the point of incarceration is really rehabilitation, then our political leaders and captors would make sure that we knew better.

I also do not believe that it should start here with incarceration, it should start in society and in our homes. Now, not to say that college is meant for everybody, because everybody has free will so they should do with their lives whatever they choose. However, I do think that there shouldn’t be so many obstacles for those who do choose the path of higher education. But, having said that, I still believe that we should be focused on the generation under the ones who are preparing for college.

See, I was the generation under those preparing for college when I ultimately made a decision that was so life-altering, that if I had known what the outcome and consequences would have been, I know that I would not be incarcerated. More than likely, I would be pursuing my higher learning at this point in time. If I would have had faith in the school system, then maybe I would have actually gone to school. During my 9th grade year of high school, I only had four full days of attendance that were accounted for because at the time, I didn’t care. School was just so boring, and I didn’t understand why I would possibly be doing this school stuff when I could go hang out with the guys in the neighborhood.

Now, I am not justifying the way I felt, but I am saying that even when the youth doesn’t have the understanding to care about these things, it is our jobs to care for them. But there’s only so much we can tell them at that age, we are no longer able to watch over them and tell them what to do, as they will make their own decisions whether we like it or not.

Being that it is our job to care, we must find a way to make school interesting to the younger demographic. I know that you’re probably saying “I heard this before”, and I’m pretty sure that you have, because I have heard this before. But somehow no matter what we try, we still get the same results… or maybe that’s not true. Maybe the truth is that no matter how hard we say that we try, in all actuality we don’t try hard enough. Because I know that this idea that I’m stating right now that everybody has heard before was definetly an idea when I was that kid in 9th grade, yet somehow, no matter what they said they were doing it still doesn’t account for why I only had four full days of attendance and nobody cared.

It’s the school system that failed me and the system period, for allowing the school system to fail me. Nobody cared, and this can not be a continuing cycle or we will continue to lose our brown and black children to incarceration and/or street violence. So it’s time for change to happen, and change starts with us starting with our youth. Thank you for your time.

– Brandon C. L. Hope, From Hampton, VA

Education Helps People Gain Self Worth

I believe people can benefit from a higher education while in prison because education helps a person gain self worth and belief that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to accomplish for themselves in life personally, and from an educational perspective.

I believe there should be additional educational courses provided to all prisoners who have and/or don’t have a GED. This would be a tool one can use to further their education and complete their education if they don’t already have it. I believe the state department of education funds haven’t been used to its fullest potential when it comes to prisoners having options to receive their education. As it stands for VADOC, a GED is the only option provided from the state. The educational funds can be utilized with outside schools who would agree to offer high school diploma programs to prisoners, to receive their education as well.

– Kamu Lumumba