(2021) by marlon peterson
from amazon page:
From a leading prison abolitionist, a moving memoir about coming of age in Brooklyn and surviving incarceration—and a call to break free from all the cages that confine us.
Marlon Peterson grew up in 1980s Crown Heights, raised by Trinidadian immigrants. Amid the routine violence that shaped his neighborhood, Marlon became a high-achieving and devout child, the specter of the American dream opening up before him. But in the aftermath of immense trauma, he participated in a robbery that resulted in two murders. At nineteen, Peterson was charged and later convicted. He served ten long years in prison. While incarcerated, Peterson immersed himself in anti-violence activism, education, and prison abolition work.
n Bird Uncaged, Peterson challenges the typical “redemption” narrative and our assumptions about justice. With vulnerability and insight, he uncovers the many cages—from the daily violence and trauma of poverty, to policing, to enforced masculinity, and the brutality of incarceration—created and maintained by American society.
Bird Uncaged is a twenty-first-century abolitionist memoir, and a powerful debut that demands a shift from punishment to healing, an end to prisons, and a new vision of justice
reading via library request to purchase.. thanks library
i don’t believe in cages of any kind. let me tell you why.. t
only these words on blank page.. prior to table of contents.. love
1 – hiding
(part of note from his mom): too many of you hid, in cages of your own creation, but mostly in cages created for you. often the two were indistinguishable..
(on why his parents did what he did – about documentation et al) survival isn’t always logical to the observer
born in 79.. i was supposed to be an abortion because my parents could barely afford me.. found out yrs later via sister wen i was in my 20s in a cell.. though.. i never felt like a mistake to anyone.. except brother.. grew up estranged..
w the new godly blessings came rule.s. lots of rules.. (on dad taking up jehovah witness).. i was born into the routine.. jw preschool et al
most of the kids in the de facto orphanage of our brooklyn neighborhood were trying to break free form the lie that were tasked to work extra hard not to die
most of us learned to hide just enough not to be discovered.. discovery could expose you to deportation, drug misuse, aids, teen pregnancy , or being killed by police, a crackheads, or some hurting kid from the block..
i wish someone told me that simply moving on was not freedom from the harm felt and seen.. t
(on being close to his dad who was teaching him).. he inculcated honesty to jehovah, ,but left out the part about being hones to myself.. he was being a good dad. i loved him because he was a great dad to me.. i did not know aobu this past days .. philanderer (womanizer), cig smoker, weed puffer.. i did not know that those parts of him could rub off on me despite his hiding them.. i was dedicated to preaching in the field ministry.. at the same time.. i wanted to learn more about the world he vigorously tried to tuck away..
2 – move on
(ch starts w another letter/note.. this one from dad?) .. try not to let your pain lead you.. at some point i want you to understand that everyone and everything that scarred you was not your fault
who taught us that there was no sense behind our responses to being treated senseless and unempathetically.. ?survival of the oppressed isn’t always logical to the oppressor when observing the oppressed.. none of our people are monsters.. none.. the moment we describe people as monsters we shift human behavior into the realm of the unexplainable.. every act of violence can be explained..t esp ghetto shit
remember, running away fro slavery was a crime and a diagnosis for mental illness.. senseless running away.. yet entire biographies get written when white boys/men shoot up concerts, churches, synagogues, schools, and protestors.. white people made us believe our pain was monstrous, senseless, and pathological.. we have reasons..
all i know is that being a (6th grade) valedictorian felt insignificant until i was in a courtroom years later seeking to e seen as someone more significant than the mistake i’d made;
on being raped by gunpoint (fr in hs) .. jehovah didn’t show up for me
3 – losing my religion
gun or no gun i convinced myself i should have known better.. boys form the hood don’t get raped.. esp 14 yr old boys who were almost 6 ft tall.. i was more ashamed than anything else.. by puberty i was committed to notions of manhood that were determined by how much pain i could keep to myself.. i was good at moving on and acting ok.. i moved on .. told no one.. acted regular.. but i knew i needed to be diff.. couldn’t be a victim no more.. being this good kid who wen tot he kingdom hall and sat in the front of class wasn’t working for me.. it didn’t feel safe.. i had my first hs fight a couple weeks later.. guy cracking jokes about my lips.. started cutting classes w regularity to sneak into gym to play basketball.. scheduled my life to see as little of my father as possible.. the life he wanted for me, to be a baptized jehovah’s witness, was no longer attractive to me.. that life wasn’t protecting me, and daddy couldn’t save me form the streets because neither he nor mommy knew my secrets
my ability to disconnect from feelings became much easier.. that’s what sanity looked like for me.. no way could i sensibly move thru my day feeling the depth of the emotions that tried to surface..
dev (9 yrs younger nephew) was the best thing i had going in my life
police and peers were punking me where i lived.. it was about that time i began feeling like nothing or no one could protect me or understand how i was feeling..
losing my religion came at a high cost.. i didn’t know how to exist in a world outside the confines of the kingdom hall..
our parents provided a decent life for us and we were no longer on the dangerous nostrand ave.. bringing up any personal pain would be showing ungratefulness to that progress. . rising out of poor to poverty was our measure of success..
learning how to dismiss and abuse women is something we picked up along the way..
masculinity told us that we had to perform manhood at all times.. it told us not to see those girls as people..
we became practiced in not seeing women.. we were falling inline w the bs that goes back to the framers of the constitutions, who chose not to see women (among other folks) as citizens and people at the brith of this nation.. book smart people call it patriarchy. all the same thing.. our yearning to perform for other boys/men takes place on college campuses, apts, street corners, and malls eerywhere.. most men need to admit to that.. everyday we do not admit to these things.. we (re) traumatize countless women..
i have no idea what it’s like to live in the body of a woman.. and i struggle w listening to that unknowingness.. my failure at hearing more often than it is fair to any of my other imperfections.. i have so much room to be better than that.. to be ok w being wrong about what i thought was normal behavior to women.. our best possibilities as men have so much room for growth.. justice is what love looks like in public, and treating women as things of invisibility i snot loving.. most men need to say that.. all boys need to be taught this.. i admit that as much as i needed to be seen as fully human, i was denying the women in my life that same humanity
what we need is a means to undo our hierarchical listening
4 – dash
dash – the cumulative trauma that shapes us from infancy
(in his letter/note to dash).. i hurt those closest to me w emotional distance, but i perform being aight to the world masterfully..
i’m like america.. america, he hurts people all over the world every day. weakness seeks out the strength in others to support its own fragility.. i was being american. america the beautiful founded on masculinity and grit.. america is me.. a lie that support its original injustice. being dishonest w self..
his twitter handle now: @MarlonMerikin
what was your dash? what occurred in your life that would allow you to act out the worst parts of your humanity.. what was your 9/11? your stench changed me
5 – okay
skeez (nickname) was the version of myself that no one saw coming.. but he was here, and he made me feel freer. liberated from the insecurity of having big lips and feelings that i was soft. he was the best mask i ever had because he made it so easy to disguise marlon.. there were 3 of us.. i would reason w skeez and ignore marlon.. i was the person who always knew a choice as available.. i is also the person whose voice wasn’t trained up to speak w exclamation points, so i was never heard.. skeez did a lot of dumb adult shit in marlon’s teenage body..
i wore that memory like glasses.. the trauma shaped how i saw the world.. no amount of distractions, college included, could take me away form what was most important to me then: safety and reputation.. ..unhealed wounds can spread like cancer.. the benign ones are the most insidious because you don’t realize your’e an asymptomatic patient in a society w little patience for wounded black boys..
i was exposed to writing, history, the arts in music, steelpan, and dancing, but none of that outweighed the need to feel safe in my own neighborhood.. my social group understood violence and proximity to violence as the currency for street care.. buying that gun was street recognition.. and street recognition is like filling a bucket w holes w water.. the bucket empties quickly .. it is never full.. no one is ever full..
how i needed to be seen was way more important than how i felt. reputation mean more to me than peace of mind.. i could have no peace of mind w/o a reputation that protected me from being seen as prey..
feeling unnecessary is a terrible thing
no bail.. you’re going to rikers island.. jail was hell
6 – 911
jails are designed to disorient.. time is replaced w waiting until.. until, as a new index of time, was the hardest thing for me to adjust to.. manhattan central booking, the first stop after the precinct, was when until began and time stopped
this is the form of accountability we as a society are most comfortable with, and have been conditioned to believe is repair; this is what rehabilitation looks like form the inside, and this was only day one of the 3722 days i’d eventually serve, suffer thru, and survive..
4 innocent people were shot because of me and my codefendants.. i was attached to the worst day of some people’s lives.. giuliani: disgust for animals who would venture out of brooklyn ghetto to shoot/kill people in little italy.. the day of my arrest was my initiation to a jail of another kind: guilt..
i was in a deep deep depression.. i was in a jail inside a jail..
on protective custody being most embarrassing place to be.. meant couldn’t survive in general population.. also where they house people w high profile crimes.. and my case was in every paper .. none of what people thought about pc mattered to me.. jail was jail.. we are all in cages. even then i knew there was no such thing as a good cage..
prison is truly a family affair (mom depressed lost weight, dad retired early- heart problems).. when i went to jail.. the other 5 people in my household were locked up w me.. i love those people so much. they did the time w me..
(on dad visiting him) his next words f-d me up. now crying, he said ‘marlo, we are doing all we can. i need you to learn to be a man in here‘.. i didn’t hear anything after that sentence, so if he tried to tell me what he meant by that, w instruction on how to do this becoming a man thing, i missed it.. those words irritated the nerves of my spine.. i felt disabled from parental protection in a way that felt permanent.. daddy was *telling me that i needed to learn to make better decisions.. i couldn’t hide from this like i did w the rape and the gunshot.. facing life in prison became real to me that moment and so did dying in jail and not from old age, but in a fight.. i had to learn how to survive w/o help. that is what i understood daddy’s ‘learn to be a man in here’ to mean.. daddy was telling me that he could not save, support or secure me.. this was the first time i realized how much i depended on his presence in m life; mommy’s, kelly’s and mike’s too.. i had no fallback plan, no nothing. i was alone. in jail. and no one had the power to save me.. i had to grow up fast, again.. the first time was when i was violated by that broken man at 14..
jail is a miserable place filled w people living thru miserable situations/guilt/abuse/shame.. it was hard not to want bad thing to happen to people who were just as irrelevant as you.. i think most people beat that urge, but those who didn’t kept bleeding their hurt on others..
ms roma.. friend.. co.. got me job.. spa.. suicide prevention aid.. meant i got to be out of my cell in the overnight hours.. saved a guy from epileptic seizure.. next day ‘hey marlon, good looking out last night, bruh’.. short and sweet. i appreciated every one of those eight words because i felt visible.. once had flu .. roma poked head into cell and asked how i was feeling.. ‘not much i can do for you but i hope you get better soon’.. her gesture was one of the memories i wrote about in my journal. i needed those moments to cope w the invisibility of the court process..
w/o bail.. i went back/forth to court for almost 3 yrs.. one of those many court dates was on sept 11 2001
7 – 9/11
jail was hell
i had no physical control over myself, and that was somehow protective custody. i was more afraid of what jail had the potential to do to my mind than what another guy in jail might do to me physically.. recovery from a knife wound or fistfight was easier than rehabbing a coiled mind.. i thought about physical death way too much before i was 25.. i didn’t start thinking about mental death until jail.. i figured out that the thing i had to protect the most was my mind, and my emotions..
the death of us ness
i didn’t want people to know where i was from; my bday; the music i liked;.. i was scared, irate, happy, confused hungry, sick, in need of help.. wanted nothingness from everyone.. my understanding of learning to be a man meant depending on myself for everything, and if i couldn’t get what i needed by myself i dd not get it
protective custody always put my on display, and i hated being in these cages w/in cages.. staying in pc was a convenience for my fam (wouldn’t be sent to rikers) so for that i accepted the constant seclusion from the general population.. that was nyc dept of correction’s way of protecting my body but not my mind.. even so.. people got stabbed/cut.. beat up by co’s.. in pc..
i’ve seen no place more religious than jail.. i had read the entire bible once during that time (2 yrs into the bid?).. i started using court visits as opps to preach.. as i had done as a kid w my pops
on codefendants stoking rumors on him.. i forgave them.. they were boys like me in way over their heads.. we all needed some grace
jail preys on broken minds (on guy who was mentally ill)
on cos being esp malicious.. it was sport to many of them.. they were in prison along w us.. they were subjected to being the keepers of people who were at their worst points in life.. many were convinced their role was to break us for the betterment of society.. only a minority understood .. not beneficial to anyone.. esp society
in 2002 judge offered me a 12 yr sentence.. i reluctantly accepted.. my attorney said of me at sentencing:.. ‘american dream: work harder, do school work, disciplined, enter a profession, raise fam, be rewarded, move up.. it’s perplexing and a conundrum why we were not able to sell that dream to peterson; someone who was valedictorian, numerous certificates of merit throughout his academic years.. he is clean cut, well spoken well mannered.. been that way all his life.. and yet we could not sell the american dream to him .. that is frightening to me.. i am proud of mr peterson though, that even in this moment that we could not sell him that american dream, that it’s possible that we can resell him that dream’.. i couldn’t relate .. when did the american dream ever factor into my life.. i never believe in an american dream.. i don’t think anyone ever tried selling it to me.. the words of the declaration off independence that ‘all men are create equal’ are a lie by omission.. these lies prevent us from changing the wrongs we commit.. america’s inability and unwillingness to acknowledge its first lie – the american dream – prevents it from creating a new nation, a new doc that is inclusive of the humanity of everyone
man shit is what got me into prison.. the belief that there was a standard to manhood that i was unable to meet
given new name – #’s – meant to force an individual to shed their id to conform to the world of state prison.. along w .. had to shave heads and facial hair.. shower in front of cos.. given prison greens.. i learned this process was passed down thru white history.. these breaking down exercises are what kidnappers did at the salve castles in ghana.. et al.. centuries later, being convicted of a crime subjected me to the same inhuman process.. this time in name of public safety and justice.. i wonder if there could ever exist a reiteration of concentration camps, even it is most benign form, in the name of justice..
i was desensitized to danger, but not oblivious to it.. becoming someone who was adjusting to the inhumanity of confinement.. all my dreams took place in prison.. even when dreaming about freedom.. i had become so fully committed to prison survival that i couldn’t imagine living outside of it.. even in the subconscious of my dreams.. so when people ask me how i made it thru prison, i always refer back to when daddy told me that i needed to learn how to become a man.. for me, part of becoming a man meant suppressing any feelings/emotions that could compromise my safety/sanity..
on girlfriends.. those frustrations would manifest itself in fights and drug escapism (other prisoners he observed).. and i needed none of that drama.. my only job, as i saw it, was to not stay in prison one day longer than my sentence, and i saw women as a distraction to m occupation.. i believe that the possibility of love/companionship .. was an obstacle to freedom.. this belief system, the need to control, though of good use for me while in prison.. would haunt me for years after my release..
less than 5 mos after transferred to green haven i as summoned back to court in nyc.. the prosecutor wanted me to snitch.. cages were hell
14 – sponge
prison was hell
meeting men who had been incarcerated since the 60s, 70s, 80s was one of the things about prison that blew my mind.. so many lives were on pause while the world was playing.. that frightened me..
prison taught me to love imagination no matter how far off it appeared. imagination was my hope.. t
(on his spiritual ness and getting baptized) i chose to suppress my contention that the god of love killed innocent kids and elderly people during his wars against ie: sodom/gomorrah.. i know this might sound sacrilegious to some and frivolous to others, but that’s how my mind works.. i have a hard time committing wholeheartedly to anything that doesn’t fully sit well w me.. i went along w the baptism because i thought i’d disappoint daddy if i didn’t go thru w tit.. that’s how much i loved my father.. i felt disgusted for making such a serious decision against my own conscience..
met moses.. got involved w yap – youth assistance program.. school groups came into prison on occasion and this group prep’d for that
my relationship w god i what i believe had protected me from the worst of prison – the concentrated violence.. i was fearful of losing god’s protection and was intentional about not doing anything that could place me in his disfavor..
group was no youth program prep workshop.. and i loved it.. guys threw around names like bell hooks, and audre lorde as if it was common knowledge.. it was during these discussions that i first heard anyone speak about african people before slavery.. first time i heard men articulate the trauma we pass on to little boys when we tell them ‘boys don’t cry’.. first time i felt intellectually aroused in a way that religion could not offer.. i was in awe of way moses facil’d convos.. he used humor to interrupt/correct.. he paid attention to everyone’s words, o r so he made it look.. i wanted to get nice like him .. then he got moved.. grouped died.. but that group had gotten me wide ope to grow outside my faith.. in some ways, the answers to my doubts were being answered.. i was learning form questions instead of answers
curiosity over decision making – back to p 84 et al
this is how i survived prison. i imagined fun/love
(on getting similar to solitary – keeplock – after taking pic while in dad’s jacket).. after first 21 days.. i shifted my brain to accept no human interaction.. i took solace in reading may angelou’s i know why the caged bird sings.. she went mute for several years after a traumatic incident, so surely i could go a few months only speaking to myself.. it was during this period of keeplock that i wrote a poem inspired by angelou that would play a role in changing my life’s trajectory
parts of poem: ‘do you really want to know why the caged bird sings? to maintain its sanity.. to let out what it wants to hide.. the bird is in dire pain.. that’s why.. no matter how you treat me.. what you feed me…. i may be a caged bird.. but i will always be a beautiful, exquisite bird’
being invisible w/in a cage was what i had to adjust to.. and i had no power over changing the situation other than writing words that imbued my mind w resistance and beauty.. words were my place of refuge.. i wasn’t ok.. but i moved on
(then dev connects him to nadia – teacher – 6 yrs into 12 yr sentence).. 2 weeks later.. letter from nadia lopez.. ‘i’ve been compelled to let (students) know that even good people are condemned for other people’s actions.. i would love for you to send letter i could read to my kids.. telling why you ended up there.. what you’ve been thru.. your goals et al.. and they’ll write back.. ‘
in his letter back ‘i grew up w the innate need to always fit in’..
parts of this story read before.. via hony fwb 2015.. and this:
2013 on gawker
letters to and from a caged bird:
most people like to believe the illusion that prison is the intervention that stops crime.. but no, it’s getting older, having a sense of usefulness, believing in something you want to live for.. we were people broken by experiences, surviving the best way we knew how.. we were you.. that’s the thing about prison that i wish more people understood, incarceration doesn’t rehabilitate; people do
9 – freeish
prison was hell
(ch on how great his mom is and how much he’d hurt her) they (mom and uncle) were a brother and sister tandem who blessed me w the uncageable spirit of fun.. that cultural pastime of finding fun in misery, of enjoying my own company , was another way i survived prison (trinidad carnival et al)
too bad though that i couldn’t experience prison w/o bringing her in there w me.. she did nothing to deserver living in a cage.. esp a cage created by her own son.. my bad decisions took some of the fire out of her. prison is never experienced in a vacuum. never..
i was a sensitive kid whose greatest fear was being seen.. i wasn’t naturally tough. visibility ran synonymous w being exposed for my sensitive inclinations.. people robbed beat, and raped me when i was visible.. shame pushed me to hide w/in.. hiding w/in meant i had to create a mask that others could see so i wouldn’t be faceless..
but daddy saw me.. he was the chief judge of the family, but jail changed him too.. his son had shocked his system.. the 9 yr old giving speeches became a 19 yr old crook.. i think he accepted my situation before i did.. i think he convinced himself that he had failed me as a father.. jail confuses the shit out of everyone who comes in contact w it.. despite that confusion.. daddy came to see me every week.. you gotta understand why that meant so much to me.. i was so scared everyday, not form physical harm, but from the idea that people saw me as disposable.. i could see that this world didn’t want me to exist.. and despite all that he wanted to see me.. every week
but that’s the thing.. no amount of love or attention from my parents could have saved me from myself and the way the elements of my experiences surrounded me.. i was broken before i was an adult and i lived it out w inconspicuous grace.. but i was still okay..
over the years of my sentence the routinization of guild, loneliness, and rapid self depreciation dwarfed the constant threat of violence.. i developed a dermis that desensitized me to seeing (all the violence in prison).. none of that is okay.. but it was a necessity for me to survive.. it was way of maintaining sanity.. to allow every harm to bother me would be counterproductive.. i had 4 responsibilities while in prison: don’t do anything to make life harder on my fam.. don’t do anything to extend sentence.. learn as much as i can about everything .. survive.. in that order.. i never thought about healing.. i was okay..
10 – bridging the gap
prison was hell
if we really believed in bryan stevenson’s words that no one should be defined by their worst moment, then the courtesy of grace should begin in prisons.. if, that is, we are committed to keeping those dungeons alive
yeah.. let’s not even have them..
incarceration is the direct result of white people believing that they needed to dehumanize everything black in order to prosper.. prisons are built on former slave plantations in the american south.. the same tactics used to break a slave are used to break an inmate.. none of that prevents this nation from investing billions in an institution borne out of chattel slavery
the rule was a warning for volunteers to suppress the thing that makes us all human.. the consciousness that we can feel.. see that’s why i believe that prisons are senseless in their perceived purpose. prisons and jails don’t help people. people help themselves despite prison. and we hugged and fist bumped the students despite the risk of being caught..
the threat (that he would get transferred because of letter he wrote to superintendent of prison on grievances w the new no contact policy.. because rehabilitation should never reinforce the presumption of danger or otherness) didn’t bother me because i was under two yrs from release.. and by that time in my bid i didn’t care which prison housed me.. they were all slave plantations to me.. plantations weren’t the problem, slavery was.. the location of the facility agitated me less that ten peculiar institution of prison
what mattered to me was that i was helping to create safety and inspiration in hell.. i was learning as i was doing.. i was evolving into a person who felt less confined by my confinements..
11 – decarcerated
prison was hell
dev was one of the main reasons i did not become the savage that prisons want to create.. he was my everything. i think he was the first person i ever fell in love with.. vs born into.. he was my lifeline.. i thought about him when i needed to convince myself that living was more important than dying.. i don’t think i could have survived prison w/o witnessing him living a full life (basketball et al) not following in my footsteps.. i needed him to breathe free so i could wheeze less haphazardly.. my biggest fear about being in prison was that dev would follow me, that he would fail at being free; that he would be just like me – too scared to be himself..t
he kept me alive.. he gave me the will not to break. he was my bridge to believing that i was somebody’s beautiful bird.. i love dev so much.. his spirit uplifted mine from the day he was born.. he was my guardian angel..
we were always trying to disrupt in our own way.. (ie: getting in trouble for using copy machine to print personal/legal docs for whoever needed them).. when i left prison, that disruptor strategy came long w me.. the breaking of prison requires disruptive innovation.. shake up the status quo and expose a new need for freedom.. once the new need is created the system will glitch.. innovate during the glitch. make freedom easier
organizing as a means to freedom require you id w a lineage.. ‘what is the foundation of your work’.. i looked up to malcom x.. maybe he had the lineage of merikins like my family.. the renegade enslaved africans in the american south who joined the british army during the war of 1812.. after they participated in the burning of washington dc.. they relocated to unsettle parts of trinidad and created a self sustaining community w/o white influence/interference..
(on angela davis in prison).. she served time in manhattan just like me.. she cried to herself, and she fought the inclination to be defeated by the bid. i wanted to be like her.. i wanted to be like eddie ellis.. a thinker and former black panthers who served 25 yrs in nys prisons.. we didn’t need covid or the term mass incarceration to expose what we already knew.. that america didn’t love us..
(on video that showed people he had done time with outside and looking good in street clothes) they didn’t look broken. i wanted to show as many people as possible that there was life after death.. the work of prison abolitionists like angela davis, ruthie wilson gilmore, ad kai l barrow made this way happen.. black people made this lane happen thru their resistance and creativity.. they dream t our freedom.. they (listed more ie: kathy goudin and donna hylton).. were doing the work of freeing themselves from their pasts.. an abolition of personal guilt.. in a way, the work of the women on the documentary (what i want my words to do to you).. made the idea of a world w/o prison, the way angela davis wrote about in are prisons obsolete? viable.. possible..
abolition is a politics of creationism.. wanting to end policing is wanting to create thriving communities that do not need an armed state security force that has no true legislative/judicial accountability
a world w/o prisons is the manifestation of solutions to socioeconomic problems.. a world w/o prisons is a root reckoning of the community problems that preface the prison problems
yeah.. that.. all of that.. but for everyone.. so i like your cage – as deeper than – prison ness.. so we can see we’re all in cages.. so we need a means for all of us to be legit free.. or the dance won’t dance.. and we’ll just keep spinning our wheels in the tragedy of the non common
abolition means the undoing of america, not just the mere unraveling that happened in 2020.. no wonder it scares people..
america’s refusal to listen to what black people ask, plead, strategize, and demand is the core of the american sickness.. jus
yeah.. rather.. it’s the inability for 8b people to legit hear the itch-in-our-souls .. everyday.. what we need is means to undo our hierarchical listening.. to self/others/nature.. none of us are free if one of us is chained/silenced/oppressed/caged
black lives mattering.. is a way out for america.. a road to redemption
not deep enough.. otherwise we’d be there by now..
being un american is the undoing necessary to create anew.. (then on less policing et al)
yeah.. or a huge distraction.. again.. otherwise we’d be there by now.. we need to focus on something that 8b people already crave/resonate-with.. sans policing, oppression, et al.. ie: gershenfeld something else law
all this fear suffocates space for love.. love for others makes you want to undo behavior that hurt
the hardest thing to do is to believe you can run away from your past.. at some point history repeats itself, but w diff oppressors and diff aboitionists
(on his group formed w bill) – holla – how our lives link altogether..
so here we were a bunch of violent crooks meeting while in prison to build a program to save young people.. most criminal justice reforms leave people like us out of the polity proposals.. what policy punks don’t acknowledge is that prison is filled w humans who have the capacity to be just as brilliant as we can be dangerous.. just like you.. opportunity tends to be the decision maker for choosing brilliance..
sadly holla never got off ground while we were still in prison.. we weren’t taken seriously.. or dismissed as being too risky.. but kept on.. had a full on non profit org in the worlds.. 2 months after i came home, and was running holla in a middle school in brownsville.. (was) first time i met eddie ellis..
curtis and all the other founding members of the cau (caribbean african unity) were eventually deported. prison offers no rewards for being selfless and contributing to humanity/community. prison leeches time/dignity
like nadia, janis was another black woman who led me to possibilities.. modern day harriet tubmans, except they didn’t have to brandish the rifle.. i wanted my own gun to brandish w them.. i wish i had learned earlier in life that there is utility in diff types of guns
12 – pens from the pen
(from notes he wrote the night obama became pres) i feel like we we we have won something.. i am happy that my knowledge of my history enables me to understand the significance of this historic day
but see.. not historic enough.. otherwise we’d be free.. see legit change.. by now
obama rep’d for me, in the last year of my bid, possibility, which i already aligned with, but he also reinforced for me the idea that all i had to do was be a good citizen and everything was gonna be already.. stay away from guns, old habits, old friends, and life after prison would be much easier.. i spewed lots of the rhetoric in the classes i conducted inside.. what obama’s speech left out was that no amount of goodness on the parts of black people would prevent us from filling up american jails, prisons, immigration lockups.. et al.. years later i found myself being a huge critic of obama.. not because he wasn’t a good man/leader.. but because he was not being real enough w us.. it is not our job as black people to make this nation more perfect.. there are parts of that 2008 speech i no longer align with.. the part of that speech i still retain as personal creed are the words i recited by dr joy degruy.. i closed that kwanzaa speech w this: (basically are you making world a better place).. i was woke and ready to leave this prison
13 – un american and free
dec 23 2009 was the most anticlimactic day of my entire 3722 days in prions.. nothing felt diff to me.. i was 19 yrs old when i went away.. my freedom would forever be connected to the death of innocent people.. i knew i’d always be considered and ex con.. how many time would i have to prove to people that i was no longer that 19 yr old boy.. did i deserve to imagine freedom? the four people shot, the two who died, the neighborhood that was traumatized .. they all suffer.. still..
sometimes i get a horrid taste in my mouth when i hear people spew about ‘mass incarceration’ ‘mass deportation’ and ‘criminal justice reform’.. everyone likes to quote bryan stevenson’s ‘i believe each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done’.. but no one ever thinks about how difficult it is for the person who committed the wrong to believe that they aren’t forever wrong.. i imagined the impact of m decisions on the people who were sitting in that restaurant; the people who were running in the streets when the shooting happened; the mothers who lost their sons that day; the immigrant worker who probably didn’t have good enough health insurance to fully pay for their healing.. i know i didn’t shoot anyone.. but i remember wanting to have a gun w me that day.. why was i so broken that i could volunteer to carry a deadly weapon to a robbery? i had never shot anyone.. so why was i so eager to be in a position to shoot someone? someone i had never seen, or knew exited?
in the yrs that followed my release i implemented holla in 2 schools in brooklyn, worked as a violence interrupter in my own crown hieghts neighborhood; mentored/spoke to 1000s of kids like myself; published essays; gave a ted that amassed over one million views; helped get khalil out of immigration detention.. loads of awards from orgs/politicians; got a degree from nyu; people sent messages telling me how much they have been inspired ;.. for all this i am in deep gratitude
but.. the prison i have had the hardest time identifying and abolishing is the one that has convinced me that i do not deserve to be happy.. that happiness is a fleeting moment, but never a movement.. the opponent is every horrible experience i’ve had.. every lie i’ve believe in.. ever one i’ve told .. lies have been my most despotic captor
even in this book i have lied.. until now i omitted that at 18 i beat/hung .. came close to shooting a dog while it was crying.. never been faithful to women.. about lying.. the footnote nature of this admission is proof that i’ve struggled w the comfort of the victim role..
i daydream about my death as an event when i will get to hear people speak about the way i have positively impacted their lives.. that’s some narcissistic shit. nothing is balanced out here. it’s not excusable for a victim to become a perpetrator, or for the perpetrator to claim victimhood.. but they are realities.. these polarities exist in every moment..
i didn’t tell you that marlon is still scared and uncomfortable w smiling in pictures.. i’ve wanted not to exist more times than i’ve wanted to live .. and *no child should ever think about invisibility as a way out of the day.. neither should any adult..t.. i never attempted suicide, but i thought about it a lot, and sometimes i still think about it.. this is what prison feels like. trapped.. i think about death from the police.. from someone on the streets.. and sometimes by accident.. i am a black person in america, so this ain’t only me.. i wanted to write it out because i want to heal.. i want to end all the prisons that bind us.. we need to abolish all lies.. the ones we tell and the ones we are told.. our imaginations can become a reality only when we are freer and more honest..t
yes.. all that.. there is a nother way
(stats on incarcerateds) we digitizing incarceration.. what does this say about a society that basks in the peace of captivity?
america is an incarcerated republic.. i do not like prisons of any kind this is why i aim to be a better un american.. american patriotism is american patriarchy.. and i don’t want to pledge any allegiance to that.. i don’t want to keep that kind of company anymore..
my first 7 day s of jail were the most dizzying days of my life.. and then, i adjusted.. the chaos didn’t stop, but my relationship to it changes.. i wanted to beat prison, so i stated asking questions of myself, then the system: ‘why are you the way you are.. and why won’t you do anything about it’..
(in his letter to freedom).. i will write/talk more about the attainment of you and less about what we don’t want, which are prisons that we create and those that are created for us.. i’ve realized i don’t need to tell the world about the prisons we already know exist.. i will write more about the ways to appreciate the journey to freedom; the strategies to freedom obtainment; and the pricelessness and beauty of accepting freedom
let’s do this first – free people
imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..
to the people trapped in cages created for you, i see you
incarceration et al