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

Prompt: Education and the Prison System

Can you agree with the age old saying, “if you know better, you’ll do better?” I, myself, take the phrase as a praise to education as a means to curb criminal behavior in light of a better society. I believe that education, especially at the collegiate level, can help to reinforce moral values of ex-offenders and strengthen them with critical thinking, creating a line of innovative professionals and reputable contributors to society. This would ultimately result in curbing violent crime and would be a more effective use of the state’s rehabilitative efforts. Education is defined as training. So, lack of proper education can be synonymously linked to criminal behavior. Thomas Jefferson even linked being a good citizen to education by saying that ‘no one can properly use their freedom as Americans, if they do not have a proper education.’

Examining my own shortcomings, I could say that many of us who had turned to crime suffered from a sort of mental strangulation brought on by lack of education. Not only were we captives to our resources, being children of poor black families, our belief in getting a college education was shared amongst us too far and few in between. Having been one myself, its hard for a poor young man to really get behind the idea that an education would solve all his problems. Hefty tuitions discourage many poor people from even believing they could actually go to college. College to them is a pipe dream and fit only for the affluent; increasing the gap of disparagement mentally and literally. Instead, they see school itself as a waste of time and shortsightedly decided on faster, more lucrative options to relieve very real, very immediate stresses. It is becoming a common fact, the money it takes to house a single prisoner, could be used to send a person to college for four years. Why do we as a country continue to allow the school-to-prison pipeline target and claim wayward young black men’s lives? Corruption of the prison system became racists’ main weapon in retaliation to the emancipation black people. Now, it has been a system in motion coldly devouring young black and brown lives before bloom. Making higher education readily available to incarcerated people would at least help put us on a path to correcting some of the damages caused by the corruption of a justice system plagued by generations of oversight.

Rehabilitation through education… that isn’t a hard idea to get behind, is it? Maybe even a community college program could work with justice departments and start getting involved with lost youth looking at potentially life-destroying sentences. Me, I sacrificed my high school education because I became a teenage parent. I knew it was a bad decision then, but failed find another way. If I had had the opportunity offered to me to go to college, as an 18-year-old boy who’s life had gotten away from him, I would have jumped at the chance. I know the resources are there.

There was a program that made collegiate education readily available for many incarcerated people – involving the use of grants called Pell grants. This program has long been restricted to the point that only about four thousand inmates within correctional systems across America (less than 1%) receive them. Plus, the program goes up for review every year, leaving those few incarcerated individuals to worry if they’ll be able to finish their college courses. There must be a better way… to achieve this ‘better way’ is the job of both the people and their political leaders. The people with respects to raising concerns to their local politicians that they want safer streets and actual, effective rehabilitation efforts. Simply imprisoning people alone does not rehabilitate them. In fact, it may actually only make matters worse. Men and women, who were deterred from a path to higher education, could benefit by getting another chance at higher learning. Most of all, communities deserve to be safer places to live and raise children, and in a space where a person doesn’t have to be relegated to criminal thinking because of lack of education… its possible.

I believe if the upcoming administration wants to stick by their promise of relief from systemic racism, they would be more than open to providing greater swaths of incarcerated people with a readily available path to higher education. Only time will tell if change is really to come for race relations in America. Or, will it be the same story: America continuing to fail at acknowledging black oppression, and continue holding our country back from fulfilling a dream of establishing a greater union. Until then, whether behind the wall or on the streets… the struggle never stops…

Prompt for the Incarcerated:
How do you think people can benefit from a higher education while incarcerated? Do you believe there should be any specific types of educational course that should be offered to incarcerated people and why?

Remember… you may expound on the topic in a variety of forms: essays, poetry, art, etc. make sure to let the people know who you are and any project you may be or have been involved with. Thank you for your contribution. We are working together to bring awareness to the brilliance they have locked away behind bars.

-Q. Patterson

Thank you to the readers of BrillianceBehindBars.com. Answers to this prompt will be coming in through December of 2020 from those incarcerated across Virginia.

Prompt: Justice for All? Overcoming Racism in America

From day one, American children are unassumingly taught of a set of illusionary lines concerning race… lines that marked boundaries, established sides, and created imaginary boxes that have kept a great disparagement present between races in America, possible.

The American heritage can be accurately described as one giant story of racial volatility. Its origins are steeped in a history of industrial slavery, initiating racial proclivities sustaining major gaps between the black and white conscious in America since the emancipation of slaves. All the psychological devices used to engineer more complaint products in the slave trade, and ensure that the markets could be ripe with white consumers who actually WANTED to own other human beings, had some serious after-effects. Effects that have prompted a set of unspoken laws and rules that serve to preserve the series of debaucheries that created America and its debased heritage of racial inequality…

No present day American is totally free from the effects fore mentioned. The propagation of racial class and the absurd idea of an inferior or superior race forms the basis of what the present black-white social interaction is in our counter. The concepts of white privilege and black anger show the deep contrast of the American experience. The practice of widely accepted, government sponsored denigration of humans into property, is our history. Black leaders only sought out the complicated task of reconstructing the identity of an enslaved, newly-freed, newly- formed people, Black Americans. The first bit of culture Black Americans assumed for themselves was met with public skepticism and political fear-mongering. The majority and mainstream America instantly demonized it and branded the concept of “being Black” as a lunatic fringe, subversive counterculture. “Being Black,” they labeled as “aggressive” and “anarchist.” Black people were displeased and here to overthrow the government. “They’re angry, they’re loud, you should fear them…”

Time has exposed the truth and brought their devices to heel. The modern-mind of our nation now has experienced the advent of social media in the age of information, a Renaissance in thought on American society and race relations. Now, what do we do with it? We COULD say the atrocities committed against black people were done in the ignorance that befell a still growing America… sure, that COULD be said… but that’s for those who truly believe in the strength of human decency and the belief that love can and will transcend us all into a greater society. Still, for those select few, there is the essential task of activism – manifesting beliefs into the material world by means of work… regardless of color, right is right. That feeling that claws at the heart for change, is justice. It is real and it is one. It is the key to the next step in us all making America ‘greater than it’s ever been.’

Educate the mind, keep up the body, free the soul. All power to the brothers and sisters of the struggle… We are one nation. INDIVISIBLE, with JUSTICE FOR ALL…

Prompt: Write an essay, make art, or write a poem answering the following:

What is your experience with racism? Can it be conquered or overcome? Do you have ideas how to do it?

With the special session coming up, they say there’s a chance for change within the system. Do you see that helping or hurting chances at overcoming racism and achieving justice?

-Q. Patterson

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. 🙂