Wednesday, February 05, 2020

A Father Writes From Prison: "SHOTS FIRED!"



NOTE: I received the following essay from an incarcerated citizen with whom I have been working. The photo above is not of him or his children, but is intended to illustrate the issue about which he wrote.
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I imagine that everyone – at some point in life – faces a personal tragedy that shakes them to the core. Well, for me, this is one of those moments.

A few days before Christmas, my youngest son was gunned down and left for dead in the streets of New Orleans, his dreams of one day running his own real estate business indefinitely suspended for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. And as I sit here – 150 miles away at Angola – my heart bleeds for him.

In the quiet moments between the chaos and mayhem of prison life, somber thoughts of my youngest child lying on the cold pavement in a pool of blood sends chills down my spine and nearly breaks me completely. The gruesome images in my mind are the kind that no parent should have to endure – not me, not anyone. As a father, I am beside myself with grief, not just because my son was almost killed, but because I wasn't there to protect him in the first place. I’ve been incarcerated his whole life – 17 years – not knowing the struggles he had to face on his own while I was locked away. Then, on January 21, my son's birthday, I received the most important letter I would ever read:

Friday, January 24, 2020

Steven Lamont Byrdsong: "Silent Cries"



In the midst of my journey I’ve come to the realization that we as humans are only motivated by the desires of our flesh. Even when that warm tingly feeling we get in our hearts wards against the nature of our wrongs. We surrender, and in life, Justice will never be just as long as humans are the authors that write the script.

We as humans are supposed to be equal in every aspect. We are created and given the same breath of life we all received from the beginning of time. At birth, our hearts and minds are not motivated by the color of our skin or based on the social status that society places on us, but driven by the purity of love and the righteousness of truth that’s within us.

My name is Steven Lamont Byrdsong and I am a convicted murderer. I have been incarcerated since the age of 16 and at the time I write this, I am 41. I have grown up and lived inside the pits of hell. Even when my young mind couldn’t decipher the nature of my actions, my child's heart was crying inside. But by then it was too late to rectify my wrongs and the script of my life was written. Life Without Parole at 16, dead before I even had a chance to live. But continuing to function only from the beat of my heart that was pure and not scarred by the sins of my flesh.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Malik Washington: "Why I Fight So Hard For Our People!"


“The hypocrisy of American fascism forces it to conceal its attack on political offenders by the legal fiction of conspiracy laws and highly sophisticated frame-ups. The masses must be taught to understand the true function of prisons. Why do they exist in such numbers? What is the real underlying economic motive of crime and the official definition of types of offenders or victims? The people must learn that when one “offends” the totalitarian state it is patently not an offense against the people of that state, but an assault upon the privilege of the privileged few.” ~ George L. Jackson, from Blood in my Eye, p.107

Revolutionary greetings, comrades!
As I stare out of my window here at the United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, I find myself in a pensive and reflective mood. I see razor wire as well as concertina fencing immediately outside my window. I see the prison yard, the grass, the gun tower and far off in the distance I see trees. I see a flag on a pole, it is the “stars and stripes”. This flag does not represent freedom to me, it represents oppression, abuse, social control and it represents the hateful legacy of slavery.
I woke up here in Pollock, Louisiana thinking of Angola 3 member Herman Wallace. I remember the day he died. I was listening to Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, and she played a recording of Comrade Herman describing the garden that he and his comrades were preparing behind the house he was planning to move into.
Once the state of Louisiana finally granted Comrade Herman release, he was on his last leg, the cancer had literally eaten him alive. When I heard the voice of Herman Wallace, with the anticipation of freedom and the hope of seeing a brighter day, I cried. I cried because I was angry, sad, and frustrated.
Louisiana had absolutely no love, compassion, or care for the Angola 3. What they had for them was racial hatred and decades of abuse. Comrade Robert King and Comrade Albert Woodfox made it out alive. Herman wasn’t so lucky.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Rodney Spivey Jones: On Messianic Black Bodies


This post is dedicated to the men fighting for their lives
inside the walls in Mississippi. Ashe'

Americans in general have used the Black body as an object of rhetoric to define their identity. Black people, for example, use the suffering Black body, use Black bodies in a way to force Americans to see the suffering so that you can empathize with their pain. We see this not only with Emmett Till, but we see this with the Black Lives Matter movement, with Mike Brown, with Tamir Rice.

[Scholars have suggested that] we shouldn't see history as linear, as one event following another and then the other events are in the past. [Using the word] "messianic" [is] saying that the past is constantly being resurrected. It's constantly re-emerging.

When we take the Black body as a continuum of all this history of suffering and resistance and we have the body of Mike Brown lying in the middle of the street for 4-1/2 hours, for many of the African American activists who are seeing this body in the middle of the street, they're not just seeing Mike Brown. They're seeing all the previous acts of indignity and injustice, and it's not just their personal experiences, but the entire "race." I think messianic Black bodies allows me to explain why African Americans can look at a Black body and say, "Listen, that is all of this history -- and it's me."

During the course of my research, I developed a hyper-awareness of the many often insidious ways in which society disfigures the personhood of marginalized people. I noticed the attempt of so many to lump disparate elements into the category of Blackness or some other category meant to house the unworthy, categories such as "offender" or "inmate." It is difficult to live, to function in one of these categories. You begin to feel like scurf that one cannot scrub clean from the body.

I am an "irredeemable" trapped in one of the crippling categories of the undeserving. I am reluctant to use the word anger -- in America, anger and Blackness and offender is considered a volatile mixture. But everyone, every single one of us, should see when injustice is rampant and bodies are falling and the nation is divided about whether the losses of Eric Garner, of LaQuan McDonald, of Mike Brown, of Trayvon Martin, (insert here), are worth mourning.

Mourning is not a question of race and bodies. It is a question of humanity. Let me say it plainly: the Black body is a prison of flesh and the truth is unforgiving. African Americans can no more relinquish their signifying Black bodies than they can change the history of  this nation, but they must continue to demand.
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NOTE: The above was transcribed from the Kenneth Burns documentary, "College Behind Bars," which is about the Bard Prison Initiative, a college program functioning in the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York. Rodney Spivey Jones was incarcerated in that facility until he graduated from Bard with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences in 2017. He is currently located in Fishkill Correctional Facility and will be eligible for his first hearing before the Parole Board in 2022.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Universal and Unending Question



I spent most of yesterday trying to scale a small mountain of mail that had piled up in the month of December while I closed out my next-to-the-last semester I will ever teach full-time and organized the production and mailing of the first newsletter for the Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation. There were issues inside and outside the walls that had to be addressed during the month, of course, but overall, the mail still sat and then piled up, along with emails, especially after the newsletter went into Angola.

Some of the mail contained submissions for a theater production on solitary confinement we're going to put together to be performed on our campus in the spring. Essays, discussions, and poems were acknowledged and filed for later compilation and development of the project, but occasionally I would just have to read one. Which is how I came across the poem I'm publishing today. It reminds each of us -- no matter where we are, no matter what we have been through or what we may have to face in this coming new year -- that we continually evolve and have the option to consider who we are and who we want to be.