By Uhuru B. Rowe
December 5, 2015
Today was quite extraordinary. My eldest niece came to visit me today, along with her boyfriend and three wonderful children. Its been nearly four years since she last visited me and I was so excited when she told me that she was coming to visit me on this day I could barely contain myself. Out of my entire family Nonie has been the second-most constant in my life during my incarceration- second only to my mother. Nonie and I have a pretty unique relationship in a family divided by deeds done and words said…and words left unsaid. When Nonie was younger, my mother used to baby-sit her so often that it seems as if she was staying with us on a permanent basis. But I was a momma’s boy who demanded all of my mother’s attention; and so I felt that Nonie was encroaching on my territory, so to speak. I began to feel neglected by my mother because I selfishly felt that all of the love and attention she was showering Nonie with belonged to me. And so I began to resent Nonie and I began to verbally and physically abuse her. I didn’t understand it at the time but Nonie’s presence in both me and my mother’s lives during a difficult period for the family was a blessing in disguise. My parent’s marriage was on the verge of collapse and I was battling mental and emotional problems. I vaguely remember one day when I was sitting in my room crying after suffering a traumatic experience, Nonie came to me and put her hand on my shoulder and asked me what was wrong. When I turned to look at her in the eyes, I saw nothing but pure and genuine concern for my well-being. I remember feeling quite fine after that. And here I am after nearly 21 years of incarceration, she is still showing me that same love and concern. She is quite an extraordinary person, so full of love, compassion and loyalty. I am blessed to be her uncle. Her consistent presence in my life serves as a powerful reminder that I must fight with every ounce of my being to regain my freedom.
Black people make up 60% of Virginia’s prison population- 90% of which are black men. Consequently, mass incarceration is destroying black communities and is crippling the foundations of black families. It is an injustice to keep rehabilitated prisoners behind bars for decades who could otherwise serve as a powerful and positive role model and example for our sons and daughters. America’s criminal injustice system punishes not only prisoners, but also our families and communities. I bear witness to this fact when I see the look in Nonie’s eyes when it’s time for us to part was from our visit.