It has been 6,417 days since I have looked into a refrigerator. Allow me to save you the trouble of having to figure out how many years 6,417 days is. It’s 17 years and seven months. I know looking into a refrigerator is something most people do not think about, but it’s a simple comfort that prisoners do. Contrary to popular belief, prison is a place where society hides its mistakes and expects them to be corrected with little to no treatment and/or rehabilitation. So, it is incumbent on prisoners to do the work in order to correct the thought process that led many of us to believe in things that had no real value. But where does one start when, truth be told, most prisoners are damaged goods long before we come to prison. Prison is just the summation of the ails that plague our society.
I came to prison as an old man. I had children, and I had been in a couple of long-term relationships. I had bought a house, cars, vacations, and I helped build a family business. But none of that made me feel complete or loved. So as a result, I began a path of self-destruction which involved behaviors of using and selling drugs, stealing, and violence. None of this was more damaging than being a betrayer of trust.
In prison you have choices, whether they be good choices or bad ones. Either way, you will be forced to make one, voluntarily or involuntarily. Upon my commitment to the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center, I began to unpack all of the shit that had been housed in the attic of my mind, which had led me to become prisoner #507300. The first thing I had to admit was that I was a charlatan, which was very hard. In my mind I was a helluva guy, a man’s man, and a “real solid nigga.” I thought this because I never told on anyone, never screwed over anyone who didn’t have it coming (at least in my mind), I held my own in the streets, and I didn’t run with a clique or crew. I thought all that made me a “real solid nigga.” But being alone in that little ass cell with no T.V., no radio, only a toilet, a locker bolted to the wall, and a bed not fit for a dog to sleep on made me realize I wasn’t the good man I thought I was. Nor was I a good son, boyfriend or any of the adjectives used to describe a good man.
I had abandoned my family, who counted on me more than I believed. I checked out of the relationships that I had been in; truthfully neither woman deserved the things I put her through, and neither did the children. I foolishly believed that I was the most important thing in the world because of the love, respect and adoration I received from the streets, his family and friends. One has a tendency to become an egomaniac, instead of understanding that everyone was just paying homage. The question I asked myself was, “Why did it take being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to even begin to understand me?”
I arrived at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in August 2005. One day, while out on the small yard, I was watching a guy who was built like a comic book character run. This guy was running with a radio in his arm like it was a football. I watched in amazement at how this dude seemed to glide around the track. I watched him run the entire yard. That was my first encounter with the man who, outside my father, would have the most significant impact on me. He helped my evolution from manchild to man.
Ahjamu Baruti looked like an “Afrikan Warrior,” which is funny because his name literally means “warrior teacher.” Upon meeting Baruti, one would think that he was a guy that never smiles. The truth is that Baruti is a man of few words, with a great sense of humor, and is all about action. Once we became comfortable with each other, we began to share things about ourselves and our families. We came to find out that we both had sons who had done time in the MDOC. Baruti became the big brother that I needed. He helped me to understand that I may have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but I still had a purpose. I was still a father, brother, son, friend and, more importantly, an example of what a man can do if given a chance to redeem himself. It was then that I really started to believe that I was worthy of redemption and that I was more than the worst thing that I had ever done.
I know this sounds cliche, but I started studying the Bible and the Quran. I also read the autobiographies of George Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, as well as “A Message To The Black Man” by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and many other books that set me on the path of self-discovery. But this would only be possible if I was willing to put in the work that was necessary. Putting in work means being honest with yourself about what you have done, learning to forgive yourself and being man enough to ask for forgiveness from those whom you have harmed, hurt and abandoned. Critical thinking is a major part of this process (and is a skill that should be taught in school). Upon self analysis, I began to rethink what I believed. I began to look at my impact on my community, not just my family. Once I started to understand what empathy was, I began to start healing myself from all of the scars that I had. It allowed me to grow, mend relationships, and to view things from another person’s perspective.
If I could speak to the politicians, I’d tell them to put more money into community services like rec centers, after-school programs, and financial literacy. I’d tell school board members that the curriculum should include critical thinking and social skills. If our children learned how to properly analyze life situations and how to better convey their thoughts, then that would go a long way to cutting down the acts of violence amongst the youth. If our communities had more access to meaningful programs, we could cut down on poverty and crime.