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

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

Education is the Key to Every Problem

Here’s a topic that I live to expand upon, due to around the time of my incarceration, even before then, I honestly know that had I knew then what I know now, things would surely be different!

Education is the key to every problem. In order to solve a problem, you have to be educated on its solution. I strongly believe that applies to every dilemma that occurs (day-in/day-out). Proper education keeps us ahead of problems that may occur. From the smallest of them, to the big ones.

Prime example here is this Coronavirus that is plaguing the world right now. With the proper education, we can safeguard ourselves, while learning the correct chemicals to combat those sickened by it & it’s spread. “That means to mask up!”

There’s a quote that I always reference because of its realness, and it goes like this: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance…” I reflect upon that quote to the bitter end, due to my personal experience. I’ve paid dearly for my ignorance. A very steep price that no amount of money can compensate, and that I can never get back or replaced. I’ve paid with precious time – over 25 years. That comes from the lack of a proper & healthy education. Now I know… too little, way to late. But the lesson is definitely learned.

If people are properly educated in certain areas of life aspects, trials, and tribulations, then they can avoid the many pitfalls life will throw their way. Take it from me, I’m living proof. For those of you out there, take complete advantage of the education highway and learn all that you possibly can to help you evolve into the best person you were destined to become. Education is the key to life.

D. Moyler #1119539, Lawrenceville Correctional Center, Virginia