“At barely 18 years of age, I was thrown into an unpredictable and predatory penitentiary culture where I was confronted with two sets of choices: I could remain as I was or evolve into someone new.”
Who am I? In order for you to know who I am, I will have to tell you about who I was in the past so you can appreciate who I am present and what type of impact I will have in the future.
I was born and raised in the city of Richmond, Virginia. I was the typical black youth born into a working class family which consisted of my mother, father, and six brothers and sisters. I was the youngest of the bunch; happy, playful, a practical jokester, and full of life and love. My family had its ups and downs like any other black family trying to eke out an existence under the residual effects of slavery and under the knee of American anti-black racism. Before long, my happiness turned into sadness and my sadness into rage. This was the first sign of trouble.
After the onset of mental illness, I became angry, depressed, suicidal, antisocial, and retreated into my own little world where I felt safe from harm. It got to the point where I hated to talk and play, be around other kids, and was often bullied in school because the effects of my mental illness made me appear “different.” Not knowing how to process my feelings, I became increasingly devious. I earned the nickname Firebug because I used to roams the neighborhood and set fire to anything that would burn. Trees, leaves, trashcans — nothing was spared. I would set fire to something to something then stand back and watch it go up in flames. This was the second sign of trouble.
Who I was becoming was a sign of things to come. Though my mother tried as best as she could to raise me right, because I felt empty, because I was in pain, I was determined to reflect the black male stereotypical image of “thug” and “gangster” that was reinforced by miseducated, poor portrayals of blacks in the media, and the dearth of positive black male role models in the community. I ended up getting arrested several times as a juvenile, dropped out of school in the 9th grade, and adopted the so-called street life full time.
My propensity to engage in more serious antisocial criminal activity increased significantly after I began to use drugs and alcohol. And on a fateful day January 1995, I took part in an armed robbery that resulted in the unfortunate deaths of two people. Life, as I had known it before, would never be the same.
I was arrested and charged with 6 felonies, including robbery and two counts of murder. My trial counsel persuaded me into taking a blind plea to all of these charges. Taking into account my role in the crime and my age the time of the crime, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission recommended a maximum sentence of 13 years. The sentencing judge, James B. Wilkinson, who has a documented history of being racial biased against black defendants, ignored that recommendation and sentenced me to a total of 93 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
At barely 18 years of age, I was thrown into an unpredictable and predatory penitentiary culture where I was confronted with two sets of choices: I could remain as I was or evolve into someone new. I could remain a part of the problem or become a part of the solution. After discovering my purpose by rediscovering my humanity through a long process of self-reflection, self-criticism, self-healing, and political education, I chose chose the latter in both instances. I became what the great gaidi George Lester Jackson described as the New Man.
In the beginning of this essay, I posed the rhetorical question, Who am I? If you ask those who believe people in prison are animals and deny the redeeming power of restorative justice, they will emphatically tell you I am a thug; killer; gangster; criminal; menace to society; a “super predator that needed to be brought to heel.” But if you ask those who believe people in prison are human beings and have the capacity to learn, grow, change and atone for the error of our ways, they will promptly tell you I am a son; brother; uncle; friend; comrade; poet; writer; teacher; mentor; activist; positive influence; an agent of change.
July 25, 2021 I woke up early this morning around 6am as I do every morning. After almost 3 decades in prison I have never been able to rest easily or comfortably in this place. In here, comfort leads to contentment, and if we’re not careful, contentment can lead to death. Death of the mind, … Continue reading Random thoughts
This is Uhuru speaking from Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia. I woke up this morning on July 12 and was blinded by the sun rays coming through my window. From my window I can see brothers walking through that special door while carrying the bags containing the last few items of their personal property. … Continue reading Visions of freedom from my window