I figured I’d just send you some of my thoughts with the hope that at some point they will catch an empathetic ear or eye and be cultivated into more support. If I have no real content out there or any substantial work to represent me outside these walls then I can’t possibly expect to be supported in my objective. I have to be seen and heard in order to be humanized after almost a quarter century of dehumanization. So here it goes:
23 years, I’ve been in here and in that time I’ve managed to go thru my last years of teenage adolescence and enter adulthood by making and learning from a whole host of mistakes while successfully navigating this unnatural environment. Terms like manhood, responsibility, discipline, and respect were only words to me that at best I could crudely define. I’ve been in situations that were life threatening as well as situations that were life saving and sometimes they happened at the same time. It took many years to get myself on a path that was conducive to my goals and aspirations mainly because of my real time experience with the Virginia Prison System was that of a strictly punitive nature. The same was true for all of those under the post 1995 so called truth in sentencing/85% no parole law. It was made abundantly clear immediately to us that we were meant to be warehoused and punished at any cost to us physically, mentally and psychologically as well as at a cost to the tax payers that bankroll the system. There is no better evidence of this strictly punitive mindset than the choice made by the state to build and open 4 multi million dollar supermax prisons in 1998 to house this large influx of allegedly dangerous incoming prison population (that never came by the way) and they ended up renting empty space to other states (Connecticut, Washington D.C., Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and The Virgin Islands to name a few). During the first decade of this “new law”, access to much needed education and programming was prohibited for those of us coming into the system… mostly young black high school dropouts with exorbitant sentences. I myself received 45 years. The public claims of rehabilitation, restorative justice and evidence based practices was and still is NOT how this system is structured.
We are treated in a way that teaches us that we are not worthy of investing in as a viable future resource (even though its continuously stated that over 90% of us will be back in society at some point) instead we’re told and treated like we are incapable of atonement or redemption. This ideology is systemic and begins in the sentencing phase and is reinforced upon arrival into any one of the dozens of prison complexes across the state.
I spent over a year in a jail cellblock meant to hold 12 people (there were only 12 beds) with over 30 people in it then entered an over crowded prison reception center both of which were already in such poor conditions they were shut down and condemned shortly after I left them. I watched young men die over simple disagreements and others get old bald and gray (myself included). Self medicating, thoughts of suicide, and figuring out how to cope with hopelessness and helplessness in an environment masterfully designed to break me down has been my reality for 23 straight years. Yet somehow thru this perfect storm I’ve managed to put myself in positions that would help me help myself.
I’ve never been one to say that I should have never been in here although I do disagree with the amount of time. I as well as the victim in my case were involved with criminal elements, activities and circumstances that regretfully cost him his life and me the past 23 years of mine. I will live everyday with the nightmare of that tragic day and know that there is nothing I nor anyone else can do to bring him back or bring peace to a grieving mother and father that lost their son, and a sister that lost her brother.
After some time I realized that the best thing I can do is change, beginning with my mindset and position myself to be a tool of prevention for the countless youth that find themselves heading down a path of death and destruction as a result of poverty, lack of access to resources, substance abuse, mental health issues, gang involvement and the lack of access to people who truly understand and care. This was my life before incarceration. I’ve taken every single state sponsored program in the VADOC as well as every peer sponsored program I’ve ever had access to and then I parlayed these programs in conjunction with my own life experiences into a job as a Therapeutic Community Coordinator for individuals dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Through this job I have facilitated my own program that I developed called “Personal Growth”. I’ve gotten trades and taken college courses that are all directly linked to my chosen career path as a Peer Support/Recovery Specialist.
My desire is to make a real difference in society especially the communities I grew up in and help prevent the need for so many prisons packed with limitless potential just wasting away. I’m not just one who says it for effect… I’ve put in the work and earned every bit of the right to say that I’m exactly what’s needed on the other side of these walls after almost a quarter century. Other than the fact that there is still 16 more years left on my sentence, there is no logical reason to keep me in here as human stockpile. There is virtually nothing left in prison for me to do. There are no more programs for me to take. I’ve exhausted my vocational and educational options and now I lend my skills to the institution to help those I can in order to keep my mind sharp . There is no parole and I can’t earn anymore good time than I already have. I have no more time to give.
-Sincere Born Allah