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

Prompt: The Incarcerated Vote

HR 1 is a voting rights bill that if it was passed in its original form, would have restored the rights of incarcerated people and ex-felons to vote in federal elections. The bill has long been amended solely to restoring the voting rights of ex-felons, but it also brought attention to another intriguing aspect I’m sure most people probably don’t know.

For centuries at the behest of the white establishment, minorities have been disproportionately policed, jailed, and imprisoned. Beyond stripping the lives away from young black and brown men in this country, states have found ways to actually profit from putting minorities in prison economically evidently, but more interesting, politically.

HR 1 identifies a law that allows counties with prisons to have people they house counted toward that county’s population on the U.S. census. Thereby pilfering the population of multicultural, urban (largely Democratic) areas and adding them to rural, largely white (largely Republican) areas. All the while, eviscerating the incarcerated person’s right to vote. This dynamic is the core of what can be considered as politically-motivated slavery.

With the reallocation of the urban populace to these rural areas, the voice of the people is stricken from a more accurate representation of the people, and is instead granted to a more diluted form of constituents who would be more likely in favor of continuing the trend of mass incarceration, post-millennium slavery, and the further exploition of black and brown people for personal and monetary gain.

HR 1 intends to correct that law and return the population of those incarcerated back to their hometowns… There has been much work in recent legislation concerning criminal justice reform to correct the racist systemic devices that have been used to disenfranchise droves of minorities in America for a majority of its history, however the threat of the old establishment looms over us all, impeding our progression to a more perfect union. Awareness is the first step, activism is the following one.

Know that the bile of racism runs deep, and its effects are subtle. The old guard feared that we, as a people, would become aware, so they withheld education and knowledge from us for centuries. But what they fear most is that, armed with such education and knowledge of self, we would actually do something about it, so they try to break and discourage us, and even pit us against one another. We must understand that we are solely responsible for making sure that their every effort from here on out is made in vain. Times ARE changing. We, at this moment, may not be able to enjoy a world truly free of systemic racism before our time is up, but be sure, our efforts now will be the catalyst for the world our future generations will experience…

I extend my love to each and everyone seeking freedom, not only for themselves, but the world now and the world to come…

Love, peace, and action…
-Q.

Prompt For Incarcerated People: Compose an essay, poem, art, or any other form of creative expression you may have. Think about your experience participating and learning about the political process. Below is a list of questions meant to serve as inspiration for your piece.

  • What is your experience with voting and the political system before and after incarceration?
  • What are your thoughts on voting while incarcerated?
  • How can we change the point of view on letting incarcerated people vote?
  • How has participating in the political system impacted your life?
  • Are you more educated about the system now than you were back then?
  • How would being able to vote change your life?

Make sure to let the people know who you are, where you’re from, and any project(s) you may have or have been involved with so we can promote it. Thank you for your contribution. We are working together to bring awareness to the brilliance they have locked away behind bars.

Thank you to the readers of BrillianceBehindBars.com. Answers to this prompt will be coming in through April of 2021 from those incarcerated across Virginia.

Integration

The quote that I selected for this months assignment is from a past-prominent African man. Malcolm X. His quote reads: “We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.”

In today’s society, I feel African people in this country are still faced with adversity on this exact quote as we speak. Prejudice, discrimination, and repression; African people are still faced with now in 2021 as if we were still in the 1960s. There are numerous examples of Malcolm Xs quote that exist to name to date to live in america as a African man/woman that continues to happen as if nothing has changed much from now as it was back then that we still see on the news and social media now.

-Kamau Lumumba #1025732, Norfolk, Va

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

The Greatest Joy

My name is Shaveek Pittman and I am currently in Lawrenceville Correctional Center. I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia for about 5 or 6 years. I have had quite a few different experiences since moving to VA from New Jersey, and this is why I can relate so well to this quote from Malcolm X that I chose for this assignment.

This quote from Malcolm X that I chose says: “It is only after the deepest darkness, that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison, that the sweetest appreciation can come.”

It is self explanatory what is being said here, but still so many people feel as though they can understand what prisoners, minorities and everyone else suffering from some form of poverty are going through – simply because they read a book or heard about it from another source. The truth is: unless you have fallen under this category yourself, it is highly unlikely that you will ever truly understand the struggle that those who are at the bottom of society must endure.

For all of those people who can relate to these difficult circumstances, the meaning of this quote brings us hope to keep pushing forward, because your time of success and liberation are inevitable. It may be difficult to see this through the thick darkness that permeates the world we live in, but all it takes is just a little patience, a little perseverance and every step of the way becomes much clearer.

This invisible line we have drawn between the upper class and the lower classes is totally dependent on the lower class’ willingness to subject ourselves to the ways of the world. For example, there are many blacks who would agree that in terms of jobs and careers, we will always get “the short end of the stick,” unless we are privileged enough to be given an opportunity to establish ourselves in this corporate America.

The problem with this outlook will always be that – until we understand that this country was built on freedom, justice and equality, there will continue to be roadblocks everywhere we go. These roadblocks may have been set up in the interests of those who seek to control the masses, but it’s actually an indicator that we all do not have to walk the same paths in order to be prosperous and to free ourselves from whatever obstacles stand in our way.

– Shaveek Pittman Contributing Writer | Fredericksburg, Virginia #1870834

My Race is Not a Crime

Here we go again, DAMNIT MAN, I’m sick & tired of being sick & tired of seeing my people wrongfully oppressed by these so-called authority figures.

What possible reason could you tell yourself to justify shooting a unarmed man in his back seven times? I can recall during this journey (bid), talking with an elderly white man, and he gave me a piece (a very valuable jewel) that made so much sence, I must share it with you in hopes that somebody else “Gets It” –

Guns were made for hunting, & you only shoot what you hunt and plan to kill & “EAT”, and since I don’t eat people (not a cannibal), I don’t shoot people!

My being born black should not be a crime, nor should it dehumanized my existence, my right to live in accordance to the standards set for all! If you got an issue with my blackness, then take your complaint to the Creator of all, cause I’m not the problem here, but your views of my race, ethnicities, beliefs, & values are. At the present, we are dealing with two (2) pandemics. One that is new, and deadly claiming over 200 thousand lives, and the other that is over 400 hundred years old, with probably triple the equivalence of a death toll and still climbing here today. Covid-19 vs. Racism. Instead of trying to get a seat at their table, we, as a people need to build or own table. Its doable, especially when we’ve built this country up from our blood, sweat, tears, & ideals. This country, which we claim to love so much was actually built on the backs of our ancestors whom where stolen from their native land, enslaved & forced to do what the others refused to do & given the worst treatment in return. We were viewed less than human. Know your value & self worth, cause we all as a race (the human race) matter beyond what these mere words could ever express. All life is special, & should be cherished as such. That’s Real Talk, that’s Equality!

Sincerely, D. Moyler #1119539

Lawrenceville Correctional, Virginia

Prompt: (Non)/Violent Criminal Justice in Virginia

The fight to dismantle a racist criminal justice system and free disadvantaged minorities from the grip of systemic racism is an uphill battle… Fear is the prime strategy for politicians who favor long term confinement and profitable human warehousing, rather than opting to see the human soul as capable and worthy of rehabilitation. Fear is easiest, because it does not have to be given to anyone. It is primal, and everyone already has it in abundance.

I caught a bit of the Virginia State Senate meet on prison reform and wondered to myself how easy is it to hide the truth of profile-fueled mass incarceration behind the myth of a colorblind justice, and promoting “community safety” as a means of pumping more young black and brown men through the proverbial prison pipeline…

The senators, representing their respective counties, some for numerous terms and spanning decades of elections, stood to give their uninventive political spiel. Lofty, fear-writhed narratives framing Virginia’s prisons full of rapists, murderous lunatics who can’t for Christ’s sake ever be trusted with civil privilege again… That fantasy propagated by our state senate is far from truth… I’ve also come to find that most politicians at the state senate level just so happen to know numerous victims of overtly violent crimes, and no people incarcerated for crimes of any type. I found that concerning… it’s the tell-tell sign of a major disconnect between politicians and so many minorities who are faced with the ‘awesome’ fact of incarceration illy effecting their families and communities.

The senate pleaded for an amendment that extented the good time earning credit to only those incarcerated that have charges falling within the category of “non-violent.” This provision does not meet the cause for which special session was prescribed – reformation for racial and social justice. The simple fact being that most falling under the non-violent criteria happen to be white ‘victims’ of the drug epidemic. Once again, a chance for some correction of the racist system to take place may be manipulated, distorted, and amended to meet the needs of the already privileged.

Though the provisions for “violent offenders” likes to cite murderers, rapists, and other sexual offenders as the centerpiece of its public safety interest, it is an examination of the more ambiguous crimes of desperation that exposes a line-teetering sensible policy making and subtle racist devices of the past still being unknowingly used to disempower and disenfranchise minorities today…

The crime of robbery, majorally effecting downtrodden poor minorities, a crime of desperation, is considered a violent crime whether actual violence occurred as a result of the act or not. A large portion of the prison system is made up of robbery charges… some were accompanied with coinciding charges identifying violence, such as malicious wounding or assault. Others, not so much.

A crime such as robbery is not a result of some mania or perversion of mind in most cases. This crime directly reflects the pressures facing a 1st world society and its social systems failing its most needed citizens. It is economical disparities that create the prototype robber, not some lust for violence. It just happens to be black and brown Americans that make up the lower side of that economical ladder. Black and brown men are no more violent than any other race in this country, therefore there must be some deeper reasoning behind the mass incarceration of these people.

Aided by time and information, the once ago capital of the Confederacy has made strides in the abolishment of racism… But the dismounting of monuments means little if the ideals behind those statues remains in tact and still dictate how minorities are treated in this country today…

Prompt: What do you think about the criminal justice system in Virginia and how they are separating violent and non-violent offenders?

What do people need to know about you that would show them that you are human? Imperfect, but full of limitless potential and capable of astonishing change…

We are accepting different form of expression, (writings, essays, poetry, and art) that highlight the question at hand.

-Q. Patterson, BrillianceBehindBars Creator

Overcoming Race: It all starts with you.

Racism can be over come and by nature is not able to establish the human race. I am not one who experienced much racism openly but have felt many of the after effects of the hatred that stems from racism. As long as people continue to keep the mindset that one race is superior, to another none will be able to reach their highest capacity for growth.

In fact each and every one of us are needed to support each other so that we can become what we truly are, which is ONE race. I truly have hope for changes within the system, that they will improve all of our living conditions but unless these changes touch the hearts of those who have had to endure mistreatment through these growing pains, no real change can be made. It all starts with you.

My name is Shaveek Pittman and I am currently incarcerated at Lawrenceville Correctional Center.

-Shaveek Pittman Contributing Writer | Virginia #1870834

How To Overcome Racism

by Lord Serious

We march holding signs,
We hold hands while we chant,
We sing we shall overcome –
but secretly we believe we can’t.

We plead with our oppressors,
We beg our enslavers,
We vote for our enemies
and hope they show us favor.

Our Black men live in chains,
Our Black women get shot,
Our children are miseducated
Are we free? I think not.

To overcome this racist system,
Blacks must face the facts,
We do not need the White man,
it is the White man who needs Blacks.

When he teaches us our history,
Blacks are traded like stocks
When we learn of Black empires,
this comes as a shock.

These books are never recommended,
These facts never mentioned,
Our so called White allies
are those who kept us dependent.

Your thoughts are not your thoughts,
Your own words you cannot talk,
So before you give an opinion,
you first must be taught.

The art of peaceful protest
that’s a tool for the poor,
But the rich and affluent
always threaten civil war.

The powerful understand power,
But the powerless are unsure,
This is why for every life lost,
they will lose a hundred more.

One day when Blacks lose patience,
One day when Blacks stop waiting,
One day Blacks in this nation
will overcome racism through separation.

– Lord Serious Hakim Allah / J. Boughton Jr., Chesapeake, VA #1404741

Lord Serious Hakim Allah is the author of the controversial book APOTHEOSIS LORD SERIOUS HAKIM ALLAH’S HABEAS CORPUS APPEAL available now on Amazon.com for $10.00 plus s/h. It is a must read.

Sleep in Peace, by Brandon Hope

Awake behind walls of concrete,
Stay away wicked thoughts of deceit,
My appearance and my name is clean,
The truth lies in my thoughts and my dreams.

Drift asleep and nightmares are present,
wide awake and life’s still unpleasant.
Through the pain, hate is the norm.
Utilize love and make it form
the new norm,
a brand new society,
one where to get justice –
there’s no need for rioting.
Where there will be no battles where none should exist,
Now I understand why we hold up our fist.

The power’s in us, united at least.
Once we accomplish this goal,
I can sleep in peace.

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