What’s Free?: Writing Prompt For the Incarcerated

Following the ‘What’s Free‘ essay exploring freedom, we’d like to invite the incarcerated community to explore their own definitions of freedom.

“The 2020 Virginia General Assembly has ended….and the outcome has dejected many of incarcerated peoples who were seeking some relief from extensive captivities…

The biggest hope was HB 1532, a bill that was set to change the world of Virginia men and women circulating the VADOC system, adding more good time than the current 15%. A lot of the incarcerated population and our caring families set their hearts on a comprehensive plan that would grant earning captive citizens some relief from their imprisonment. It also had a decent turnout of the public in support. To the disappointment of many, the bill was continued to 2021 due to the fact that the patron, Delegate Scott hoped it could to be more inclusive next year.

The fact of the matter is: the current good time mechanisms set in place to ‘help encourage’ Virginia’s incarcerated peoples, continue to brand Virginia as a state more in favor of human warehousing, than rehabilitating its’ citizens most in need of the system’s help… and not the system’s wrath.

But let’s imagine the alternative future… if Virginia’s HB1532 had passed…

What then? The doors open up for few faster than most. “Free” to roam as they please – but all are still bounded by tremendous amounts of suspended sentences looming overhead, stigmas, outdated legislation needlessly restricting ‘ex-felon’s’ career choices, and restrictions of rights that keep reentering citizens from being able to fully partake in the processes that establish citizens as functional participants in society. Not to mention, the lapse in life development due to lengthy imprisonment…

It begs the question: “What’s free?”

We are incarcerated, but we don’t have to be imprisoned. Freedom is initially a state of mind. One must be free in mind first in order to obtain true, substantial freedom, physically. For those who wish to change their trajectory and stake in life, they first must be free to do so. Though they control the cell doors and gates, they do not control your mind.

What do we do to obtain true freedom? Free in mind, free physically, and free financially. Freedom will not be willfully be given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed (Martin Luther King Jr.). What plans do we have to obtain, secure, and maintain our freedom?

Write an essay defining for the readers your definition of freedom. If you would like, describe a plan following your release for obtaining, securing, and maintaining your form of freedom.

Don’t forget to include what you want readers to know about you…”

– Quadaire Patterson, Creator, Organizer, Writer VADOC #1392272,

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know wants to write on this prompt this month and be featured on BrillianceBehindBars.com, send an email to yourlovedoneq@gmail.com with the essay and bio to review, or we can add inmate numbers to our Brilliance Behind Bars JPay to allow them to contact us directly. 🙂

‘What’s Free?’ Introduction

In the state of Virginia this year, there was a justice reform bill that drew the attention of every eye within the incarcerated community (this community includes family members of incarcerated people.)

HB 1532 was a bill that was set to change the world of Virginia men and women circulating the VADOC system. The bill was set to upgrade an already in-use system of earning “good time,” which in its current state allows inmates with a flawless conduct record to earn up to 15% off of their sentence. For example, an inmate can be given a sentence of 20 years. If they remain flawless in conduct for an entire 17 years, they would find themselves released. No real incentive placed on unrealistic standards – disparaging and illusionary. Under the introduced bill, if an inmate maintained flawless conduct (and mind you, this is no easy task by far), they would receive up to 50% (give or take 5 years) of their time reduced. Hence, tangible incentives to encourage good behavior and rehabilitation… giving some realism to the standard put forth…

The bill eventually – after several committees mulled over it – applied amendments relegating its effectiveness to non-violent offenders (which make up a very small portion of the ones who need it), and pushed its date of effectiveness back to 2021. The patron, Delegate Scott, elected out of Portsmouth, has opted to push the bill in hopes of finalizing a more inclusive clause…

I had predicted for a time before the conclusion of Virginia’s 2020 election season, that the House wouldn’t just ‘flip the jailhouse over’ and empty convicted criminals into the streets. Irresponsible, along side political suicide. I know in these confusing times, it’s unclear whether they go hand and hand anymore.

The idea of being released early was met by the majority of my community with joy. I did not share in the same elations as my community members. I took in that idea with much needed perspective. Knowing that since I came into the final stretch of my sentence, it’s all been about planning. Planning not only to be released – no, that’s not even a fraction of the struggle for me or most in here – and not only to survive; but to thrive in a world that’s unfamiliar. The thought of early release becomes synonymous with thoughts of being unprepared… and the question… what is free?

I started with the definition of release – to be free from restraint, confinement, or servitude…

How many of us questioned freedom outside of being physically imprisoned? A lot of the thinkers inside have attacked the concept of freedom philosophical. But I don’t believe the core of freedom resides solely at the footstep of the mental. I warn against my fellow incarcerated people to disregard what we have already blatantly ignored. The station of the law fails to return a standard form of freedom to those who have been convicted of a crime, resulting in a virtual life sentence.

‘Ex-felons’ are subject to restrictions that accompany them long after their prescribed sentence. nullifying a lot of any possible knowledge they may have acquired over their decade long stints. For example, many of us incarcerated were oblivious to legal process, being that a lot of us didn’t make it to government courses. Nor were many of us properly introduced to ideas or proper outlets to help us define ourselves to ourselves, outside of the deplorable environments which we were raised and ventured.

I plan to help change that by bringing awareness to the political obstacles that impede an incarcerated person reacclimating into society.

Together, we can help better restore the standard of freedom amongst ALL members of society…

– Quadaire Patterson, VADOC #1392272, From Virginia Beach, VA

Editor’s Note: In March, we will be approaching the topic of freedom, amongst those imprisoned. For more, visit: ‘What’s Free?’ To read the prompt shared with those who are writing, check out this post. Thank you as always, for your support.