I was a young man growing up in inner-city Detroit, and like any other young man, I had dreams and ambitions of being successful in life. Making my Mom and Dad proud to call me their son. Life was good for me. I grew up in a loving home, raised by my aunt and uncle who love me and continue to love me today as if I was their own son. I loved to draw and make things, and I still do today. I had no real influence in my life, but in later years, I grew to understand that the greatest influence in my life was standing right in front of me, and that was my uncle. I say this because he had no son of his own, and for a man to take in a boy that was not his own is a remarkable demonstration of love. So I grew to understand that he was my greatest influence in my life. When I look back at my life as a youth, I would say to that young man, I wish you would have listened to the people that loved you the most.
THE THINGS THAT LED ME TO PRISON
As a young man I started to experience life, as most inner-city kids did, by the influences of our peers: We drank, smoked weed, chased girls and lived life like there was no tomorrow or future. This lifestyle led me down a path to nowhere. As I grew old, I moved from drinking and smoking weed to playing with guns. At this time in my life, I thought having a gun made me a man—a Big Man, at that. Boy, was I ever wrong.
In the end, I was involved in a shooting that killed a young man. I was not the person that shot and killed the young man, but I was convicted of his murder as if I was. It took me many years to come to grips with the fact that I was just as responsible for the death of Das the person that shot and killed him. I went to trial and was sentenced to life without parole for the death of D. I had to take a long look at myself and understand that my actions directly contributed to the death of D. To this day I feel guilt, remorse and responsibility for his death because in my soul I knew, back then, that I could have prevented his death. Because of my failure to act and stop the hate between my co-defendant and D, he lost his life, and I will always be forever sorry for my failure to act.
I have mixed feelings about the justice system. I understand there are truly two justice systems 1) The justice system for the haves, and 2) the justice system for the have-nots. I belong to the justice system for the have-nots. There’s nothing like trying to fight a poor man’s appeal under these circumstances. You fight the courts, the prosecution and everyone else.
What stands out about my trial experience is that I was appointed an attorney who never in her life tried a first-degree murder trial. My case was the first and last murder case she ever tried. Finding this out explains why, at the time of my trial, she called no witnesses and cross-examined no one. She just sat in the courtroom with me. The most memorable event in my case was seeing my grandmother stand up in the courtroom after the case rested and say, “Hell, I could have done better than her,” and she walked out the courtroom.
To make matters worse, the appeal was no better. I was appointed an attorney on appeal that was disbarred and fined for failing to file a timely appeal, resulting in the loss of my right of appeal. The court, with its slick handling to get around this problem, did not reinstate my right of appeal but issued me a back door solution, “Granted Leave to Appeal,” which I later found out did not carry the same protection under the law as an Appeal of Right, and to make matter even worse, under this granted leave to appeal, I was appointed another attorney that did not file a brief on appeal to the court of appeals on my behalf. By this time, I did a first-time brief and gave it to him, in truth not knowing what I was doing. This brief was fine with him, and he submitted it and said “See you later,” you’re on your own.
This has been my fight for the last 37 years, fighting a “Poor Man’s” appeal. My experience with the justice system has been one of “anger” because here I sit, fighting to prove I did not kill this young man, and my plea falls on deaf ears. It’s sad because the whole experience is tragic for both families: Darrell’s and my own.
I have now been in prison longer than I have been alive in the free world, so I no longer know what the free world is like. I only dream. I came to prison at the age of 22. I am now 60. I was an angry young man because I knew I was in prison for a murder I did not do and I displayed fear and anger. I began to change when I started understanding that the life of others had meaning and I started to understand others’ feelings. I understood that everyone wants the same things in life, that is to love, be loved and help one another.
So I started by spending my time with like-minded people, prisoners who wanted something better out of life, prisoners who wanted to make a genuine change for the better. I started to read more; with reading came inspiration and a sense of pride and self-worth and a wealth of knowledge. I started to see prison as a means to enhance my life for the better. I started to show other prisoners a better way and understanding about life in general.
I have an art skill. You see, I build clacks as a means of survival, and I sell them to other prisoners. I work, so I do well for a prisoner; as I grew older, I grew in the understanding that life is all about helping others. This is the true meaning of a good life, and I hope that God is proud of the man I have become. I find joy in helping others solve their problems; this gives me a sense of belonging to a community.
I feel lonely sometimes when I dream of how my life could have been with a family and children. I came to prison before I had the chance to have any children, so I have none. I understand that it’s up to me to stay in touch with my family and the free world, by any means that I can, because I understand that you can lose all sight of the world. I am forever keeping my “Eyes On the Prize!” and that prize is to be free and offer my help to all those who are willing to allow me to help them. In doing so, I help myself.
MY FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
My fight for freedom is a lonely and hard fight, but what I want the world to know is that someone has confessed to my crime, but yet the court’s still saying no, we can’t free him. This is the wall: A “Poor Man’s” appeal runs into a system that is blind to the truth when confronted with it.
So a big part of my change in prison is the knowledge I received in the law. I have never stopped fighting for my freedom, and this fight has been the hardest fight of my life. I am not winning, nor do I have the help, but I fight on anyway. I have no choice. I see myself as worthy of freedom because I have a lot to offer my community. The knowledge I have should and must be shared with the youth of today in the hope that they will not walk the same path in life as I did. This is done by showing them and giving them the true understanding of the pitfalls that life will place in front of them and enforcing them with the understanding and knowledge to see the trap before it snaps shut and traps them. It is important to instill in them a sense of self-worth, and this requires direct interaction and understanding of what their life experience is all about.
Freedom, for me, looks like Heaven: A place where I give help and receive help, share good thoughts and receive great feedback. This is just some of what freedom looks like to me. My visions and dreams for the future are wide and outstanding. I envision growing older with someone and dream of having my first child to raise. What I want to say to the free world is I love you. Thank you.