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 Our current Governor made that crystal clear when he repealed the bill that would have allowed those that made the necessary to better themselves.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

Restraints

Those who tell themselves they will never be free will never experience true freedom because they will never do what is necessary in order to obtain that freedom.

Freedom is to have a free-dome; it is only gained when you free your mind of all mental restraints. Until those restraints have been loosened from the wavering mind of those who have doubt or a level of uncertainty of what it feels like to be free, they will remain a product of their own thoughts which have held them captive because they have yet to learn the art of self mastery.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance and I am of the belief that if you aren’t ready, get ready, and once you get ready, stay ready. I myself have a very lengthy sentence and have currently been incarcerated for 21 years. The new good time sentence credit will help, but due to my sentence, I will still have double digits left to serve. For years now with the glimpse of hope I have, I’ve prepared myself physically, mentally, and spiritually for that day when it does come. Preparation starts in prison, so don’t wait until the last minute to prepare.

– Antoinne Pitt

What’s Free, Part 2

by Lord Serious

What does freedom mean to you? Freedom is commonly defined as being free from restraint or bondage. There will be some who will read this, who think to be free simply means “you are not in jail or prison.” Then there are others who are currently in prison, or who’ve spent time in confinement, who view it a little differently. After serving time as a prisoner under physical restraint and bondage, you may tend to look at what it means to be ‘free’ from totally different perspective.

When you no longer have the freedom to come and go as you please, you quickly realize that the worst thing about being incarcerated is not the physical bondage; it’s the mental chains that weigh you down the most. Being trapped in your own head, reliving past traumatic events, imaging endless scenarios about how your life would’ve turned out differently if you had only made different decisions. The stress and tortured inflicted by the what ifs, the I should’ve – could’ve – would’ves, and the unbearable pain of heartache you feel after losing a loved one who you never got to say goodbye to, or a love interest to another man who can fulfill her physical needs. All of the above cause pain that teach the physical prisoner that it is the mental chains that he must first liberate himself from in order to endure and survive prison.

But you see the problem with these two perspectives is that they are too narrow. What freedom is, or isn’t in the above-mentioned context can only be explained through its relation to prison.

What about the restraints society imposes upon the public? Do these encroach upon our freedom? Do the laws and social norms impede our ability to fully express ourselves? Are we somehow less free in a society with man made laws that place restrictions on our behavior? What about the laws of nature? Can you be truly free if you are unwillingly bound to obey the physical laws of the universe?

What about financial freedom? Why must we borrow and accrue debt just to live a lifestyle beyond our means? Why must I pay back what I borrow, especially when the creditor adds interest? In a truly free society, wouldn’t food, clothing, and shelter be free?

What is sexual freedom and should society place limitations on it? Should people have the sexual freedom to explore all our their urges whenever they choose? Should same sex marriages be lawful in a free society? Should the society determine gender roles, or are we free from making a choice because these roles have already been predetermined by nature? Are we bound to the gender of our genitals or do we have the freedom to change it whenever we please? Now, do not think I am advocating any of the above-mentioned behavior. This is simply an impartial analysis of the broader implications for what is, or what isn’t freedom?

These are some complicated and controversial personal and societal issues. But the central theme to them all is what’s freedom? These are controversial issues because they put individual freedoms into direct conflict with societal norms. It is the duty of society to act in the best interest of the majority? But many times these societal norms oppose our freedom to pursue our own individual self interest. So how do you find a balance between individual freedoms and group freedoms? How do you reconcile their differences when they take opposing sides? And who decides who’s right and who’s wrong when everyone has their own opinion?

So when you ask me what’s free? My answer is simply I don’t know. I haven’t the slightest clue what freedom is, because I have never fully experienced freedom on an individual level, nor have I experienced it on a group level. Freedom has eluded me my whole life. In fact, I spent my entire life living in a society that had laws and social norms that I played no role in deciding, yet, I had to conform to them. Sometimes I did, but a lot of times I didn’t. But these social norms are used to control the behavior of those who live within the society. Certain social deviances are frowned upon but they are accepted, but there are also categories of social deviances that this society has criminalized. As a result of my social deviance from societal norms, I was sent to prison. So as an individual, I have never been free. I have always had to live by someone else’s rules.

However, on a group level, the native Black person living in America is the most over-regulated and controlled group in this country. The societal norms of this society has literally passed laws that explicitly stated that it is illegal to be Black in America. As societal norms changed, these laws were rewritten in a race neutral language that permitted the racist spirit of the law to still be enforced. So is it really any surprise that in less than 200 years after the abolition of slavery, my group would suffer from the mass incarceration of our people all over again? Or that we would still be fighting for the freedom to cast Black ballots in free and fair elections?

What’s free? What will it take for my people to be free from racism? What will it take for the world to be free from White supremacy? I think it takes a virtuous freedom. A freedom where Black people willingly sacrifice some of their individual freedoms for the greater good of our race. Only once we achieve this unified freedom will our group gain the freedom to exercise self determination as a people. Only then will our group gain the freedom to compete against White supremacy, and only then will it be destroyed. Only after White supremacy has been destroyed, will we as individuals have the freedom to enjoy and express our melanin without fear of repercussions.

To learn more about me visit my website http://www.lordseriousspeaks.com.

Guarantee For Success

The Guarantee For Success is what comes to my mind when such topics relating to freedom are presented to me. Yes, the prison doors in Virginia are going to be opening up like never before due to a piece of legislation that was passed in 2021 General Assembly.

Many offenders are going to be released before their expected release date! But the reality is that freedom wont be valued as long as the contents of a man’s heart won’t be challenged beyond the crimes that lead them to prison. Character refers to the moral, strength, self discipline, fortitude or a good reputation. It is also what enables you to act on your integrity, which guides you to believed what is right or wrong. Yes, it is right for us to have this discussion but it is also wrong if everybody don’t play their part, and get a grip on not just prison, but the person as well.

Yours truly, Leroy Williams, of Deerfield Correctional Center

Prompt: What’s Free, Now?

It has been 2 years since BrillianceBehindBars has been encouraged to ask the question about what freedom means to you. Since then, the earned good time credits bill has been passed. Though it might have taken on new meaning, the question remains the same… “What’s free?”

The beginning effects of the earned sentence credit legislation is starting to reach the general population in prisons statewide in Virginia. The spirits within the walls are brightening with a new sheen of hope. but this newfound hope does not come without its own unique set of repercussions — the kind that are sure to accompany any type of mild life changes, whether incarcerated or not.

With thousands of incarcerated peoples eligible for early release and are about to experience an accelerated return to the public, the general air surrounding talks of early release comes with a slight tinge of fear. The burdens of public living have escaped many of us who have experienced an extensive amount of time behind bars. It is not hard to imagine how sudden news of early release could possibly appear a little suffocating for some of us here who seek to be independent and more than functional members of society.

Anyone who has spent even a night in jail has a larger frame of reference to draw from when the idea of “freedom” is loosely thrown around in town hall debates about wearing masks in a pandemic.

However, for anyone like us, who are armed with heightened awareness of what it truly means to be “imprisoned” – the idea of what “freedom” is (or what it means to be “free”) has evolved. That is to say, we know what it means to be free while still “locked up.” True freedom is achieved on multiple levels. Freedom in the truest sense involves freedom of the mind, and in our capitalist society, financial freedom is a must to say that we are truly free…

There is still a matter of tremendous amounts of suspended sentences looming over the heads of many who will soon leave the prison. Along with that, there are still major obstacles facing ex-felons in securing adequate employment and the restricted level they are allowed to participate in the political process. Sure, some of us will be leaving prison soon, but if not properly prepared, we could end up just trading one prison for another. If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to have what we’ve always had. For most of us behind bars, that is unacceptable.

I am interested in hearing what some of us have planned to obtain this truer form of freedom. Whether or not you have benefitted from the new law, freedom for a lot of us now is only a matter of time. For others, freedom may still be in reach someday soon. What will you do with it?

Prompt questions to help inspire writing:
-Do you believe there’s more to true freedom than getting out?
-If you were set free today, what would you do and where would you go? What are your plans?
-What’s your ideal job or career? Do you think it will be difficult to attain?
-Do you see restoration of rights as an importance to your freedom? Why or why not?

With great love and respect for each and every one of you,
BrillianceBehindBars Creator, Q. Patterson

Integration

“And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” – James Baldwin

This quote spoke volumes to my heart because it clarifies the dilemma that we face in our country today and it encourages us not only to make change where it is needed, but to accept each other for who we are. So many mistakes were made in the past that we continue to perpetuate today through hidden (not so hidden) emotional conflict. It’s very difficult, and pretty much impossible to fix any problem while you persist in creating more. If we choose to judge others for their shortcomings, it takes our focus off of ourselves and puts an even heavier burden on them. There is no love in that, just conflict and eventually the line that separates right from wrong becomes non existent. Change is needed and everyone plays a part in that transformation. By dealing with others in love – not only are we acting in our true nature, but we become a light that reveals what’s in the hearts of others; giving them an opportunity to be a part of that much needed change that transforms a divided nation into a whole one. External peace means nothing when we still have animosity under the surface. But when we can see the lives of others as nothing separate from our own lives, integration becomes not only possible but inevitable.

-Shareek Pittman

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