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Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Testimony

By Sonny Slay

God can change you – he did me. 

I was born in Wichita Falls, Texas on November 11th, 1989. My mother was a single mother and a drug addict. My biological father was incarcerated after my birth. He was a well known drug dealer. When I think back, as far as I can remember, things after my birth must have changed, because I was a part of a loving family, with a mother and dad. I had attention and celebrated holidays. I was a happy kid, who was taught manners, respect and how to love. We even went to church on Sundays. I made straight A’s and played sports. The day I got taken out of school, all that ended. 

This was a turning point in my life. I was about nine or ten years old. My mother picked me up from school. She was with a guy, who had just got out of prison. Old friend of hers, signed me out of school. This is when I found out that my dad wasn’t my father but stepdad. This is when I was introduced to the streets and a whole world, that didn’t make any sense to a kid. 

My mother and her new boyfriend were on drugs, I went from being loved, a kid with friends, to none. A kid from stability, discipline, attention, to none. There were times I was left places to be watched by babysitters, while my mother and her boyfriend would be gone for days, sometimes weeks. I didn’t fit into the new schools. I wasn’t in one long enough, nor was I disciplined enough to stay in school, but again I didn’t want to, because my home life was not something every-day-kids got to live. While kids my age were going to the mall, movies, skate rinks, stay-overs or amusement parks, I was usually in the drug house, watching people come in and out. There were times I’d catch people’s attention, which made me feel really good. They would even do grown folks business in front of me. Selling drugs, using drugs, wheelin’ and dealin' . I had freedom, that I never had before. No bedtime, running around all hours of the night, riding around in cool cars with loud systems. It appeared to me these people were happy and had so many friends. Something I guess I lost and wanted. 

By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old I began to rebel, and live up to the lifestyle I looked up to. I started doing meth around people who would let a kid do it. I had friends, a new family and I finally fit in somewhere. I started to put myself out there for those friends, in order to be real or prove my loyalty. They showed me love and kept me high, so I dedicated myself to the small crowd. I no longer had time to feel let down or neglected by my mom. Nor did I have to face the hurt I had inside, so I didn’t slow down long enough to know anything else. 

The life I developed grew into the criminal past that I have. Taking the easy way out isn’t always the way, but at this time in life, I didn’t know of any other way. Now I know, God has a plan. Since day one. I thank Jesus now for all the hurt and pain. I thank Jesus for loving me and being patient. The lifestyle I developed has caused me to be judged here on earth, but where God forgives, he allows your past to be displayed, so that his mercy can be shown. I’m no better or worse than anyone, but because I have lived what I have lived, I can help those that God puts in my life. This is my testimony. 

I now realize, them so called friends that I looked up to, kept me high and allowed me to do what I wanted. Not only because misery loves company, but because that’s how this world in sin works. I dedicated my life to those people by committing felonies and crimes, which opened doors to youth prison, adult prison and state jails. I built a known name, reputation. But all along on my journey to find love and attention, I was missing something and that was God, the one I was doing wrong. 

God sent his son Jesus to this world as a living sacrifice, to die for me. Jesus came into this world, knowing he was going to suffer and be put to death, so he could save all those, who believe in him. 

How could I not be loyal to that? God has saved killers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes. He will let us suffer, suffer, and suffer so that we may be drawn to him. We may not know God, but he isn't far. He tells us in the Bible, that if you seek, you will find. To know the truth and the truth will set you free. I've been ignorantly loyal to the devil and his schemes by cursing the Lord, putting my hands on people, misleading people, taking advantage of people. I have stayed high on drugs, high on adrenaline from stealing cars, fighting for my friends, committing crimes for my friends and when I needed someone the most, where were they? 

Fifteen years old, I went to the Texas Youth Commission. I found a little tough guy clique, who beat up on the weak or put down those who were doing right. I learned to manipulate, because I didn't want to change but to go back to the streets, where I fit in and where they were waiting. I went back to the same people and places, nothing changed. I was remembered where I was popular. My love was still there. 

The longer you run the streets, the deeper in, the more stress, worry, and disloyalty you encounter. It became everything you don't see at first. Who is telling me, I can't go here or there because the laws know me. Constantly on the run to keep from going to jail. I had a chance to find God in TYC, I heard about him, but only weak people go to jail and change. I wasn't ready for that. I wanted to be the most real guy known, I wanted people to fear me, love me, respect me. I wanted to prove to the streets that if you messed with me, you would get beaten up, your door kicked in, car stolen and just know, my friends would do the same. The same friends, who go with your girl behind your back, or steal from you when you go to jail, or forget about you, when you need them the most. 

I was only out just a few short months. At seventeen, I landed in the county jail. As I look back, it was a blessing, because I could have been worse off. I was angry at the world, nobody who claimed they loved me was there. I had to be tough. I didn't have nobody positive or people to look out for me. This time, I was on my way to adult prison. I was hurt and confused but didn't show it. Matter of fact, I shared my attitude and lived up to stories I heard. I prepared for prison by fighting for respect, working out and not taking any lip from anyone. This caught the attention of those, who introduced me to a prison gang. A whole new life that taught me about my race and cause within the system. It captured my interest and heart. It gave me a place to belong, it gave me the love and family I never had, but always wanted deep down. I learned quickly by listening to those who have done time, on how to do my time. After all, I better get used to it, because given the life I lived on the streets, this is what comes with it. 

While I was in jail and TDCJ, I served this family who showed me love. I was offered all the good but not the bad. For me, it was really just a part of life I had to go through to learn more. I realize now what I was doing, was committing idolatry serving two masters. Not only did I break the law but was sinning against God. One thing about the Lord is, he desires for his people to be saved and does not turn on you. He loves you, like he does me. When I think about Jesus, I imagine him standing with open arms, as he was when he hung on the cross and died for me. 

While I was in TDCJ the first time, church for me was a place to meet all my buddies and pass on information to others, or just kick it but there were times and things people would preach about that caught my ear. I would hear stories about how God changed their lives. I looked at those people thinking that they didn't have a clue, what I had been through. God did this to me; I can live some life and hope everything is going to be okay. 

You know, down inside there has always been this little kid who just wanted to be back in school that day. Who wanted to be back where I was loved, celebrated holidays, but this new life and family kept me off focus for what I needed to do in my life. Because I was too worried about the new life I lived, I missed out on time I could have been learning how to pay bills, cook food. I have no living skills, so each time as I was released, I would go back to what I knew best. The same people who left me hanging when I was gone, were there with open arms when I got home. Here you need this, need that, and before I knew it, I was back in debt to the streets, paying with my time and loyalty. 

Real friends should help you, and teach you how to live in society, help you to stay free, but because the world is so full of sin and so corrupt, you can't or I couldn't turn on nobody. The whole time he was there, the one that died on the cross for me. Putting stumbling blocks in my life. Giving me enough freedom to hang myself. That life really is getting old fast. It's tiring and the payoff is always your life. 

From 2005 until now, I have been on the streets a total of three years, give or take. I have nothing to show but a name, reputation and some tattoos. Most of my old friends say they love me, but they really just love what I could do for them. A lot of old friends or people I knew feared me, because I was a loose cannon, always making people walk on eggshells. I could walk into stores and people would know me from the news. Many times I got pulled over, if I pulled over, I would spend hours on the side of the road. 

In this cycle you learn to fight hard for your freedom, but not the right way. I am known in my city and by the police department for being a gang member. Known to be involved with selling drugs. Carrying drugs. Stealing cars. Fighting. I took pride in that but it is not worth a smile or two. The people it attracts are people that don't care about you and it has taken a long time to realize these things. 

I want a family of my own. I have no kids and desire to build a family and life I didn't have. A family I can put my all into and receive the same amount of love. But reality is, things don't always come overnight. You may not always want to realize this, but I wish I would have. Again, because I didn't, when I got out each time, I went back to doing what I did. Each time I would get locked up, I got a little taste of a little something new, that would make me want to do different, do right. But because I didn't see life for what it could be, because I didn't have the right people in my life, and because of my foolish pride, each time I got out, I got a little worse. 

When you do finally begin to have enough, you watch and evaluate others. How they have changed. You begin to humble yourself, speak about feelings, outlooks on how to do things different. I did, because after a long hard road, I started to realize that you couldn't just want to do different, it had to be done. I got to the point in my life, where i didn't know who or what to turn to. It took me going to the TYC, TDC, and the State Jail. Not once, but twice. When I got out of State Jail, I depended on those I knew in the streets to help me. I became selfish and hateful, because at that point, I just wanted to change and be different, but I couldn't stop and didn't know how to. 

February 12, 2014 I found a way out. The good Lord saved me. 

As the police pulled me over for warrants, I had every chance to run but I was finally tired of being tired. I gave up, ready to go. Last time I was out for about five months and stacked up about 10 or 11 different charges. In and out of jail. It was over for me this time. I wanted it to be. Life isn't life on the run. At times, you can't go home, or when you are home, you can't walk outside, or come and go as you please, because you fear the law enforcement. Many times, I would go to jail. Bond out the next day, just to turn around and get arrested again by warrant officers. Time after time. Crime is not a way of life. Drugs are not a way out. When I got locked up this last time, I gave it to God. I built a relationship with him through faith. You may wonder, how you can put your faith in someone or believe in something you don't see. Well, what about believing in that drug, or way of life? That didn't work out, so I put my life in the hands of Jesus. I jumped out there blind. I prayed, read the Bible, not knowing if what I was doing was right or wrong. Nothing changed overnight but the desire of my heart to change made me keep pushing. The more I begged to learn about the word, the closer to God I got through his son. I began to find scriptures and verses that would jump out at me. 

Psalms 23 and 27. Matthew 9:12-13. Matthew 16:26, these were the first verses that brought me closer. It's not easy and every day I battle demons that make me want to give up, or give in. Now that I know what I know about the Lord, I feel if I stray away, give up, I'm letting him down and I don't want to do that. 

I know if I believe in God, trust and obey him, he will take care of me. I have learned that I have to pick up my cross daily, draw a line of or between heaven and hell, trusting his will over mine. This life is only temporary and how we spend our time here determines our eternal future. 

This is just a brief story to show where I came from and where I am in life. I wanted to take this website opportunity to reach out to others, who God may put in my life. I have built my life around the Christian way of life and look forward to getting out. Not only starting a family of my own, but building a bright future. Since I've been incarcerated, I have spent much time in self help books, the bible, getting trades,, anything to better my life. I look forward to getting out and starting my own business and I also would love to reach out to troubled teens. 

I look forward to meeting you! 

Sonny Slay 01965875 
Michael Unit

2664 FM 2054 
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886 



Thursday, June 20, 2019

Awakening

By Vernon Robinson

It's July 14th, and for some reason I feel compelled to write down my feelings. I'm lying in bed, and I've just watched Serena lose her Wimbledon championship match. I'm locked in this cell with my tablet and the rest of my property. As much as I enjoy the time in my cell alone, this time it’s eerie.

I'm in the State Correctional Institute Phoenix. The cell is brand-spanking new, and I am the first occupant this cell has endured overnight. Everything in here smells new and has that state-of-the-art look. But I am not titillated—or fooled—by the modernized environment I've stepped into. I am fearful of what's behind this façade of fresh paint and air conditioning.

On Tuesday, the 10th, I had a bad feeling. The mere thought of our impending move from Graterford to Phoenix enveloped me in intense feelings of fear and panic. I wasn't afraid of any of the men that would be moving with me or any of the other jailhouse mysticisms that instill fear into the uninitiated. My trepidation was born from the prospect of an unknown future, but the intensity of these feelings was sort of alarming, given how much I've already been through in my twenty-seven years of incarceration.

Then on Wednesday the 11th, we were locked down for the move. Having a single cell makes these lockdowns more tolerable, but this one signaled the end of an era. So I lay in my cell and slept or watched TV until it came time for me to go. They started taking people off my block on Thursday. It was crazy watching brothers leave the block,each  with a big cart full of personal property, escorted by the men in black (CERT team members). And even though my time to move was coming, there was this sense of disconnection as I watched each of these men leave before me. I wasn't even close to most of them, but they had been part of my life for many years. If they had been going home, I would've cheered for them. But their movement didn't warrant celebration—nor a memorial. So what do I feel?

On Friday the 13th, one of the men in black stopped at my cell.

"Mr. Robinson, you're moving."

I had already packed, so I just had to put my belongings into the moving cart. I left a lot of stuff in the cell, knowing that they would discard many of my belongings. Dealing with the CERT in the '95 raid left me with an impression that our belongings were the least of the CERT team's concerns. But I have to say that the CERT team members' attitudes were nothing like those from the raid of 95'. They seemed more…patient. In fact, the officer escorting me might have lulled me into a false sense camaraderie—not as if we were friends, but as if he saw me as human. I don't want to assume he saw me as anything but human, but the illusory moment—more than likely an early stage of Stockholm Syndrome—was shattered by what I encountered once the officer escorted me off the block.

When we got off the block, I saw a long line of brothers in browns. All of us were pushing our carts, and we each had an officer in black escorting us. All of us had to stop at various tables to check in our electronics. The hallway was saturated with CERT team members and men in brown pushing their property per orders of the officers. Once the electronics were checked, our property bins were taken from us and we were escorted to the school building, which was where we'd be prepared to board the bus.

The school building was a snap-back to reality. I still had my respectful escort with me, but the visuals made his attempts to assuage my anxiety a moot point. The school corridor had CERT team members lined up with faces of stone. This environment was more suffocating than the hallway 'cause the stern looks of the officers seemed indicative of a desire to utilize their tactical training skills.

We went through various checkpoints to check for contraband on our persons, culminating in our shackling. I need to tell you what this looked like? Dogs, chains, naked!

This trip on the bus was literally five minutes from Graterford to Phoenix. Nothing much to say about that. Entering Phoenix would have been invigorating—if it hadn't been a prison! It looked like a sprawling campus with technological advances that many of the men of Graterford had never seen; but the fact that the manicured lawns and futuristic resources were used for prison made these things less appealing and not awe-inspiring.

I was escorted, along with the men who’d been on the bus with me, to a cell block. Entering the block, I realized that the structure resembled the newer structures that I had seen on television shows documenting prison life, like "60 Days In." I was told what cell to go to, and I was locked in.

After sitting in the cell for hours, I noticed something. I think that we’d takenfor granted the "liberties" we were afforded at Graterford. Graterford was an oppressive institution, and the design of these new prisons is meant to oppress, but stagnate any communal growth as well. Now I see why the men and women upstate stuck together more. Then, despite the design's intention, the facility ultimately brings the community together because of its oppressive atmosphere. Graterford wasn't an amusement park, but it surely wasn't this.

I've never been an advocate for making prison conditions better 'cause I'm not an advocate for prisons at all. But with no alternative in sight, what am I to lobby for? In spite of all that ails the world, I still search for the good in individuals. I mean, if I want forgiveness, I have to give it, too, right? But I see no good at all in minds that devise machinations of this magnitude. They seem to be devoid of empathy.

This email was started Saturday and I'm finishing it on Monday. It might seem to be a dramatic depiction of this move, but it's how I feel. 

I just watched Trump with Putin on TV. These things have to be related. People ain't listening!

SMART COMMUNICATIONS/PADOC
Vernon Robinson CB3895
SCI Phoenix
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733
Vernon Robinson is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Pennsylvania.  He specializes in editing and proofreading and has a few published works to his credit.  He is also the secretary of the Lifers' Right to Redemption Committee - a committee dedicated to the eradication of Life Without Parole sentences and educating the public about the Life-sentenced individual's capacity to change and become an asset to society.  Vernon considers his greatest accomplishment to be his beautiful daughter.  His hope is that some of the things he does will somehow influence others positively.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

There is a N***** in the Holding Cell

By Jeremy Busby

Prison, like life, is filled with unexpected events. One minute you could find yourself feeling all enriched about where you are personally, and the progress you have made. Then, the next minute those feelings are completely eradicated by merely encountering a negative person or situation.

That was exactly what happened to me during a recent trip to the Main Administrative building at William Clements, JR. Unit located in Amarillo, Texas.

Having just ushered in 2019, I was beaming as I thought about all of my personal success in 2018, and the unlimited potential the  New Year offered. It was unusually sunny on that winter day, and the birds were out in spades singing and dancing through the skies.

“What a great day to be alive,“ I thought as I soaked in the beautiful scenery during my walk to the distant Admin building. 

“Jeremy Busby,” I said to the prison guard as I arrived.

“Oh, yeah? They want you for photo I.D.,” he responded coldly. “They just went to lunch, so I got to lock you in the holding cell.”

“Damn it,” I said, under my breath. I had completely forgotten that it was time for the Prison Administration to update my prison photo, but I was relieved to get it out of the way.
The Admin building was more luxurious and peaceful than the rest of the prison, with it’s flashy waxed floors, neatly arranged office furniture, polished paint job and arrangement of hanging plants. It slightly resembled a medical office, plus it was mostly staffed by female civilian clerks, so the place smelled like paradise compared to the stink of hell that is the cell blocks.

The building’s interior design reminded me of a small city’s downtown court square. One where a huge gothic-styled courthouse sat on an island in the center surrounded by a bunch of small department stores that occupied the outer squares. 

In the Admin building the classification department sat in place of the courthouse, and the surrounding outer offices were occupied by staff from the mailroom, grievance, parole, disciplinary and re-entry departments, instead of clothing stores. Squeezed directly in between the re-entry department and disciplinary office were men’s and women’s restrooms - that displayed a prominent “staff only” sign - and the holding cell I was placed in.

“They should be back in about an hour,” the guard assured me as he locked me in. I was surprised to see that the floor to the 4 x 6 holding cell had been waxed. Equally surprising was the fact that the cell lacked a toilet or a sink. There was only a tiny wooden bench that faced the four-inch thick door securing me. The door had an extremely large window pane to ensure that everyone who passed by could see all of me. It was like a contraption plucked directly from the frontlines of a circus or freak show. The kind that prominently displays a clown or big-foot.

Across the hall plastered to the classification windowless office was a quote from Zig Ziglar that read, “If someone is not smiling offer them yours.”

After reading that quote, I returned to thinking about the great state I was in personally. 
Then, disaster struck! 

An elderly white woman descended from the classification office en route to the ladies restroom. She walked casually with her head bowed as she fumbled through her handbag. Having located the item that she sought, she glanced and saw me sitting in the holding cell. The moment our eyes met, her casual walk came to a complete stop. Her face gave the impression that she had seen a ghost, and her limbs shook. Having dropped her handbag, she lifted up both of her hands to her chest and began gasping for air, as if my presence had induced a heart attack. 

I attempted to offer her my smile in hopes of reducing the anxiety, but she refused. To say that this woman was startled was an understatement. She was outright petrified!

After about 30 seconds of being in complete shock, she mustered up enough energy to get her bag and make a mad dash into the restroom. Seconds later, she headed back to the classification office, having clearly abandoned the restroom break.

When she exited the restroom, I noticed she was clenching her handbag tightly and refused to look anywhere in my direction. The fact that I was confined in a fortified cell - and offered her my smile - provided her with no relief. Unexpectedly encountering a black man had undoubtedly scared the shit out of her. 

Moments after she made it back to the classifications office, an elderly white man and a different white woman peeped out the door as if to confirm, that indeed “there is a N***** in the holding cell. Initially I found the entire situation comical - except when I thought the poor old lady was about to die. After all, what harm could I possibly perpetuate from a locked cell? Not to mention the excess of prison guards that populated the area. 

Then my thoughts turned into sadness. For her, myself, and for the world we live in. This was 2019! For crying out loud, we’re supposed to be living in a “post-racial” society. Yes, I was a prisoner encountering a civilian worker, but one who, over the past two decades has been entrusted to work in numerous Administrative Offices with women, just like her. None of them were ever harmed. 

As I sat and critically thought through the situation - in hopes of giving the poor woman the benefit of the doubt - I concluded that it could have possibly been my status as a prisoner and not my race that spooked her. This was the Admin building, after all,where very few prisoners frequent. 

The raw feeling of being an attraction at a freak show briefly evaporated. 

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, I observed the bodily reactions of each person that passed by. The men - both white and black - were pretty in sync. If there were any noticeable difference, the black men appeared more inclined to accept my smile. 

The women, however were an entirely different story. Much like the elderly white woman, each white and Latino woman – even those of different generations - were clearly frightened by my presence. Their reactions ranged from the handbag-clenching to the complete abandonment of their restroom break. I was that monster that you didn’t believe exists, but once it’s shown to you in a cage, you become shook and want it gone. 

Like the movie Ground Hog Day, each time a shook woman made it back to their office, a white male or different female - sometimes both - peeked out their office door to ensure the narrative was true, “there is a N***** in the holding cell.”

In less than an hour, the bigotry and racial ignorance that bombarded me in the Admin building had robbed me of my feelings of enrichment, my empowerment turned into a discarded paper from a fax machine.

After updating my photo, I walked back to my cellblock in a daze. Unable to rejoice with the birds or relish the rays of the sun, I thought about how much more work has to be done to rid the earth of such foolishness. 

I vowed to never allow anyone the privilege of determining my value. My undergrad, and grad degrees were probably more education than anyone walking in the Admin building could ever obtain. The hard work I had put into transforming myself into an upright human, a law-abiding citizen and respected member of my community; will always triumph over “A N***** in the holding cell.”


Jeremy Busby 00881193
Stiles Unit
3060 FM 3514
 Beaumont, TX 77705

Jeremy Busby has served more than 20 years of a 75 year sentence for murder. Currently house in the Mack Stiles Unit, a maximum security facility in Beaumont, Texas, he is seeking exoneration for what he has steadfastly maintains is a wrongful conviction at age 21. Meanwhile, he has earned a Graduate Degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and is a former staff writer for Texas Prison Newspaper. Readers’ comments are welcome.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Something in COMMON

By Michael Manjeet Singh

Leading up to concert day, October 18, 2018, people would ask, “Is Common actually gonna perform here?”  On the tenth, I came out at noon (for insulin) and saw that a real concert stage was being set-up, on the back of an 18-wheeler trailer, with huge speakers. It was super-amazing just to see it, cause I’ve never seen a concert. After all my incarceration started in 1996 when I was 21-years-old.  (I’m excited just recalling it!). 

The night of the concert – approximately 6:45 p.m., after security “pat-downs”, my building (#1) was let out. I wheeled my wheelchair around the track. At first, I was limited to staying on the concrete. I could hear really loud thumping music and see hazy concert smoke and lights.  The other disabled brotha, who is blind, and I stood at an ADA table as the grass field quickly became crowded. Suddenly, an Inmate Disability Aid (IDA) worker came and wheeled me onto the grass, taking me a lot closer to the stage. 

The show started and the audience erupted when Common (dressed in all black wearing a hoodie) energetically hit the stage. We were even louder once he started rappin!  Watching the show, I kept forgetting I was in prison, but reality jarred me back to life each time I saw a clique or crew walk in either direction.  [I say this because I’ve seen a lot in my 22 years here. Even on the streets (freeworld) there are a lot of fights at rap concerts, so being vulnerable (disabled), my security was paramount]. On the stage, Common’s energy radiated in a truly positive fashion!  Leaving no race out, Common gave shouts of love and respect to us all:  Asians, Blacks, Latino’s, Native American’s and Whites.  I truly felt the impact of the positive messages in his songs. No concert has ever made me think about so much!  Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol I saw my past, thought about where I’m at and even dared to dream about the future. [Understand, that as a LWOPer, dreaming is something that I never do!]

(This experience caused me to drop tears). In prison, it’s taboo to expose vulnerability, cause it’s always exploited as a weakness. The Youthful Offender Program (YOP) inmates were loudly chanting – Common, Common, Common!  The YOP’s had gotton special time with the entire ARC Crew and Scott Budnick before the concert. Dudes who I wouldn’t have thought to be into it were bobbin’ their heads front to back and wavin’ their hands back and forth!  All races were intermingling!

Understand that prison is a place where many people don’t like one another. Despite that fact, there were (under cover of darkness, and in a crowded concert in prison) no stabbings!  No one snuck into the middle of the crowd, crept up behind someone to reach around and slice their throat.  There wasn’t even one fight!  I was stunned that nothing happened.  A true anomaly!  I was also happy that for one night our collective hope for a better future was more important than retribution or the lure of false prestige or the artificial respect that a gang gives members who “put in work for the crew.”  

The concert was awesome. Between songs, Common reached out with positive messages for us all. He told us it’s our future and that he is there for us). I really felt his genuineness.  Common came down from stage and hugged all brothas of all races standing at the barrier.  Back on stage, he asked, “We got any rappers out there? Who can rap?”  Suddenly, helped on stage was an Asian (Hmong) brotha, about 5 ½ ft. tall, with four strands of braided hair, 2 on each side, same length as his height. Then the DJ started playing a beat, and the crowd gets hella hyped up. The inmate rapper known as Cha-Zilla missed the starting beat and the crowd said, “Aww!”  Then the next beat came and Cha-Zilla was on it, spitting lyrics with the beat flow, one of his hands holding the mic and the other rhythmically moving to the rhythm of his words!  It was hella cool! 

Common reached out to us all and created a truly positive atmosphere.  Even staff got in on the act, nodding their heads and recording the show – signified by cell-phones held in the air!  It was almost like that for the duration of the ARC concert, no one noticing who wore blue (inmates) or green (the correctional officers). It felt like we were one, without racial barriers!  In my 22 prison-years, I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it, and I mean that!  Hope was inspired, unity was formed. Between songs, Common introduced his fellow performers (to my best recall):  the DJ – Ace; electric guitar – Julian; the background singing Sista – Abdul-Karim; drummer – Phil. Common also talked about MC’s he grew up to: KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and recent greats: Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z and a few more. 

After performing a few more awesome songs – which transferred more of Common’s energy to the crowd, he finished with shout outs to other agencies that help us and our families: Initiate Justice; Ella Baker Foundation; Gina Clayton’s Esse Justice Group, all names I’ve come to know through my correspondence with them over the years, and shout outs to us, SATF “E” yard, to Warden Sherman for approving the concert and all the staff here.  Then Scott Budnick got on the mic, told us he’s with us and described Chicago’s Windy City native and described how hard Common fought for us in (The State Capitol) – Sacramento to pass bills helping us to go home early. Then hope really spoke. Former “lifers,” one by one to a respectfully purely silent audience who now work with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) spoke. After each said their name, stated how much time “they did.” “I did 22 to life!”, “I brought 30!”, “I fought a 25 to life – ya’ll know me!” and also two sistas, one black sista – “I did 20 years!” and one Latino sista – “I did 25+ years (on a LWOP!)” I could not believe it, a former LWOP was on stage! I’m a current LWOP! Then ARC executive Director, Shaka Senghor got the mic and gave us love, told us he’s working hard for us and knows (as a former ‘lifer’) what we’re going through, saying, “I’ve worn your shoes and I won’t forget!”

My experience was positive, hopeful. A concert during which I experienced a past, present, and future emotional journey, a night free of violence – inside a prison at a rap concert.

I gained hope for a future in which I could use my skills just like the current force of ARC who are former ‘lifers’. Common said “PEACE GODS!” to all his brothas, us.  The whole experience energized me, empowering me with hope and made me come to a realization, that under my ‘state-blues’ is a guru untapped!

NOTE: In the days surrounding this event, I kept hearing about the Youthful Offender Program (YOP) sponsor and all the uncountable hours he put in to ensure this whole ARC event would actually happen. CCI-DelaCruz actually counsels and assists us strive for better and greater things; he can breakdown lyrics and actually reach us. I made it a point to mention him because most staff become CCIs to have weekends off and Lieutenant level pay.  DelaCruz teaches us how to turn stumbling blocks in to stepping stones. That’s why ARC’s show happened here – at SATF – (Facility ‘E’).

Michael Manjeet Singh T22165
CSAFT
P.O. Box 5242
Corcoran, CA 93212
I’m left-handed and love to write when in the mood.  I’m amazed where my mind goes and how one memory sparks another regarding the subject at hand. I suffer from depression but do my best to stay positive.  At this point, I’ve been incarcerated over half my life.  I was arrested in December 1996 at age 21 and have served twenty-two years.  I don’t know how I made it this far.  Writing helps! I love meeting people through correspondence.  Getting to know someone is an amazing process.  If you have a moment, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.  I used to ignore my feelings, then I realized they don’t change until you ignore your fears.  I’d like to say that even though I’m in prison, I’m lovable and capable of loving others.  I eagerly await your thoughts.  Thank you!