writing my wrongs
‘the unexamined life is not worth living‘ – socrates, plato’s apology
foreword by joi 2013
july 2012.. mit media lab creating an innovators guild.. teams.. that would go to communities to help people.. first was detroit.. during q&a.. shaka: ‘many well meaning people come to detroit w missionary mentality.. if you want to make a real impact, you have to go out among the people in the communities and not buy into the romanticized view of detroit based on midtown and downtown..’
by the end, i could begin to see how a generation of bright children full of promise are channeled into a system that sees them as little more than felons-in-waiting..
the book may be about shaka’s past, but it points to a future in which we all take the next step to build a more just society..
we all wear the mask. it is the one that says, ‘i am fearless, i don’t care, and i will destroy anything in my path, including myself’
but all of us know that beneath this mask is a vulnerable boy whose heart has turned cold..
all of us.. crave a nother way
all of us
i wanted someone in that restaurant to stand up and rescue me from the streets.
i wanted someone to see a lovable, smart little boy who was hurting inside.
i wanted to cry out, but i knew i could’t because i had vowed never to allow anyone to make or see me cry agains. deep down, i was ashamed of my own fear.
thinking back, those tears might be the best gift my father has ever given me. he showed me that real men cry, especially when they love deeply
i wanted her to care for my safety and well-being; i wanted her to hurt in the way that i hurt. but that never happened, so i turned to the streets
i learned that jail wasn’t much different from the streets, it was a power-based environment where the only means of gaining respect were violence and money.
i had never thought about the fact that be getting locked up, i was also imprisoning everyone who loved/cared about me
it was thru these stories that i learned about the years of abuse and neglect that we all had suffered.
we were wounded boys, all of us, and our emotional scars ran deep
i would join the hundreds of young men and women who were lost in the war that rages thru our community. how can a child expect to exist like this and not go insane.
goines’s vivid tale of inner -city life and the underground lottery had me in its spell, and his ability to articulate the pain of he streets validated the anger, frustration, and disappointment i felt toward life in the ‘hood. goines places me back on the streets of detroit; he made me feel alive again. i read the whole thing that night.
the synopsis made it sound like i was about to read another in a long list of stories about black people who just wanted to get along. i had grown tired of hearing about mlk’s i have a dream speech an.. rosa parks.. to me,.. these stories only served two purposes: one, to make white people fell guilt-free, and two, to appease black people and ensure that hey remained docile in their attempts to get equal respect.. i decided to go ahead and read the book.. w/o question, it was one of the best and most important decisions i have ever made..
goines’s novels had created in me a desire to read, but malcolm’s words snatched my eyes open and embedded in me a burning desire to do something meaningful with m life..his ability to go from a common street thug to a world renowned orator and scholar inspired me in a way that nothing had before..
i began reading with a purpose..id also helped me understand why the majority of the prison pop looked like me ..
the things we learned about (in school).. seemed designed to keep us dreaming of a better tomorrow, on that would only come when white america felt sorry enough to treat us as equals..this never sat well w me and for the most part, left me feeling angry, inferior and confused…
his insights into how christianity had been used to make african people passive in the face of such horrendous treatment .. made me look at things differently
the more disenchanted i became w christianity the more intrigued i became with islam. from the time i was a child i had envisions a world that was all inclusive and a god that was all loving, regardless of color..
instead of trying to dazzle w imaginary paradise or terrifying damnation.. the spiritual advisors set our to help us understand our daily realities. this approach reminded me of malcolm ad how instead of standing at the podium as though he were on the mountaintop, he came down and walked among the people. he related to their struggle, pain, and frustration because he had lived it himself.
i was terrified that my son would get caught up in the cycle of violence, drugs, and crime that had claimed so many from my generation – including me.. black male stats.. the more i thought about it the angrier i became..
there could be no more settling for less in life.. i could no longer think destructively.. i had to reclaim my humanity and soften my heart so that i could be a voice of reason and wisdom for my boy..
i had given up on myself, my parents, and my brothers and sisters.. but i would be damned if i’d give up on my children.. i was determined to fight against the side of me that didn’t think i could be anything more than a thuggish criminal or a predator to my community.. i knew i was in for the fight of my life..
as much as i wanted to change, it would take eight years for me to have a true awakening and begin to grow to the fullness of my potential.. true to form, chaos ensued, and for the first time during my incarceration, i would learn the true meaning of hell on earth..
let’s try that..
despite the fact that i grew up around guns/violence, suicide was something we never talked about.. back then, i didn’t understand the power of depression, didn’t understand how it could cause someone to end his/her life, just to get rid of the pain that person was carrying. i didn’t understand that the thought of painting the walls with my brain was a cry for help, one i should take seriously.
what had happened to us that allowed us to laugh away a question like that..
maybe she would cry as she remembered all of the times she told me she wished i had never been born.
but i didn’t feel at home, and i wasn’t happy. the longing to be love and accepted by my mother ate at me, and the memory of her rejection made me feel unwelcome, even in the loving home my father and stepmother had managed to provide.
the most troubling thing about this part of my life is that no one ever stopped to ask me what was wrong.. they never questioned how/why i had changed so dramatically in such a short span of time..
i thought about every beating i had suffered at the hands of my mother. i thought about the day she hurled a cast-iron pot at my head after i asked her if she wanted to see the good grade i had gotten on my test..i thought of everything i could think of to make myself more miserable, until i had worked up the courage to reach beneath the mattress and grab the shotgun.
.. caressing the barrel as tears began streaming from my eyes. i remembered telling my mother that i wanted to be a dr and more tears fell. i had told her things like that all the time – i wanted her to love me and be proud of me more than anything in the world..i could’t summon the words to articulate why she had been wrong to abandon me, so i knew that the problem had to be with me..
i was learning a lot about white supremacy and the role it played in filling american’s prisons with young black males. this knowledge provided the perfect outlet for the toxic anger that was consuming me.
i anguished over each story of lynching, rape, and oppression, and i began to feel justified in my rage toward white staff and inmates. i was growing dangerously intelligent. what i didn’t realize at the time was hot distorted my thinking had become… instead of going beneath the surface to the root causes of of my negative thinking and violent behavior, i covered up my pain by directing it toward white people. this allowed me to justify my outbursts and remain unaccountable for my role in the mess that my life had become..
he also asked me why i was wasting my young life. this was a question i had been asked quite often when i was young, and i never was able to give an answer. all i knew was that i was hurting inside and didn’t give a fuck if i lived or died. i felt like my life was over, so there was nothing more to waste..
throughout that whole ordeal, no one hugged me.. no on had counseled me or told me that everything would be ok.. no one came to talk to me and explain all of the emotions i was feeling.. no one told me that if i didn’t find way to deal with the fear i felt, i would become paranoid……so i coped the only way i knew how. i became angry, and the first time in my life, i began carrying a gun w me everywhere i went. 13 months later, i would be the one pulling the trigger…
brenda an i really did want better for ourselves an dour child; we just didn’t know how to escape the pull of what had become a vicious cycle of crime and desperation.
everyone needs a way out.. ie: a nother way to leap to.. for (blank)’s sake…
i had learned that isolation causes a disconnect in the deepest part of the human psyche. the feeling of being alone, vulnerable, and unable to make real decisions was suffocating, and the monotony of being in a small cell w/o normal human contact or face to face interactions could drive even the most well-behaved inmate to he brink of insanity. there is nothing human about being caged in a cell for 23 hr s a day and when you add this to all the other stresses that inmates face – the torture of regrets from your past, the neglect and abandonment from your family members – you have a surefire recipe for disaster..
every day that i spent in the hole, there was something going on that challenged my humanity
(after 2 yrs in hole) .. i was tired of living in a ball of bitterness and rage, and i was tired of hurting people, including myself. for the first time in my life, i was starting to see my anger for what it really was: destructive force that would tear me apart unless i found a way to change.
but as i sat back listening to the chaos around me, i felt like i had nowhere to turn. the officers had no vested interest in helping me turn mu life around. in fact, to most of them, i meant job security – the stat had long ago given up the hope that i could be rehabilitated. …so i took a long and painful look at myself, and started the hard work of carving out a sanctuary in the middle of the madness.
i began treating my time in the hole as if i were in school… but real changes came when i started keeping a journal.. anytime i got angry at one of the other inmates, i would immediately .. begin writing down what i wanted to do to him and why
it’s hard to express how much this process of examination began to change me.
within in the lied pages of my notepads, i got in touch with a part of me that didn’t feel fear whenever something didn’t go my way – a part of me that was capable of feeling compassion for the men around me..
self talk as data.. for all of us
for the first time i could remember, i began to recognize my true self..
i thought i had been fighting for my dignity and respect, but i hadn’t realize how undignified and disrespectful my anger caused me to be
w pen and paper, i clung to my sanity..
i realized that spirituality is a common thread that connects all of us to one another
as i wrote i slowly began realizing i had deep emotional issues that i had never addressed – the biggest one being the hurt from my relationship with my mother..
these words touched me in places only a child could reach..each word seemed to scrape away the scar tissue that had formed around my heart..
for all of those years i was consumed by anger. i worried about what would happen if i wasn’t around to save my son from going down the same path i had trod. i never would’ve thought he’d be the one to save me
17 yrs in prison.. 7 yrs in solitary (ended w 19 yrs in prison)
i’m asking you to envision a world where men and women aren’t held hostage to their pasts, where misdeed and mistakes don’t define you for the rest of your life… we can learn to love..
yes Shaka.. envision this.. equity – everyone getting a go.. everyday.. as the day..
Bryan Stevenson – just mercy
Carl Hart – high price
Johann Hari – chasing the scream
Matt Taibbi – the divide
on hold ness
based on maté basic needs