I was in my mid-20s when I had my first conversation with a man who had just gotten out of prison (San Quentin) about the inside organizing incarcerated people were trying to do. It was 1970. I was in San Francisco. The BPP was visible. And I was about the work of finding my place in it all. Within six months, I had joined a prison abolition collective and within a year, I had dedicated my life to that cause.
I met the fathers of both of my children (the one who was murdered while he was the shotcaller for a gang in Ft. Lauderdale and the one who is the Vice President of Engineering for a multi-national media company) while they were incarcerated. And my last "relationship" was with a man who had just come out after doing 28 years flat. But my commitment to the incarcerated men, women, and children of this country is not rooted in a personal "relationship." It is rooted in a lifetime commitment to the principle that NO human being deserves or is best served by incarceration in prisons such as exist in their current form.
The commitment I made in 1971 when I stared into the night sky and invited the Universe to use me to serve the incarcerated of this world has burned in me ever since. In nearly five decades, it has never gone away. And no matter where I was geographically, what job I was performing, or what was going on in any other area of my life, the work to be of service to the incarcerated and their families has always been present. It sometimes compromised the "professional" reputation I built. It sometimes got in the way of my being a "good mother." And it sometimes put me in incredibly dramatic situations. But it never went away.
I'm not a "Christian." And I don't assume the presence of a "God" per se. But I believe in an energy that we can tap into (whether we mean to or not). I believe that energy can drive us to be bigger than we are and accomplish more than one person can accomplish. I believe hope is prayer. And I believe that working for the greater good can produce powerful results. So even though I don't get on my knees or beg some ole White guy in the clouds to bring down the walls, I know in my soul that walls do come down.
So today, in honor of Aretha Franklin, who passed to the other side this week, I offer this video of her performing, "I Say a Little Prayer for You" dedicated to all those who are incarcerated. You are not forgotten. And I am not the only one out here who cares.