Thoughts on Redemption
I was the piece of shit responsible for Stefan losing his life. After working through the shame and magical thinking that I could somehow alter the past and bring him back or switch places with him, I wondered why I kept waking up each morning. I caused Stephan’s death shouldn’t I cause my own? An eye for an eye? Yet God was giving me the gift of life, a sacred second chance. Was I smarter than God? Waking up, I could embrace the potential of redemption or lose myself in a meaningless existence. I chose redemption.
For me, redemption is the idea that it is possible to move forward and transform a horrific act or mistake by realizing the preciousness of life. Doing redemption: It is a challenge to look deeply within myself for the causes and conditions that allow me to become fully accountable for my actions. Fortunately, there are many figures who have found and exercised their potential for redemption (King David, Moses, the Apostle Paul, etc) Demanding more from myself means creating a ripple effect that demands better from those closest to me and my environment. I take heart that the idea of redemption reimagines what is possible for a wrong doer to move beyond his worst moment to create awareness and opportunities for others. Waking up to redemption means waking up to accountability, to the knowledge that God has given us this day to learn, to care, to embrace the gift of life (despite denying it to someone else), to bring light, hope and healing that allows the human to make a mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it and move forward.
By: Michael Shane Hale. Hale is at Sing Sing for 50 year to Life.
No More Bloodshed
By Moshe Canty
My name is Moshe Canty, and for the last eighteen years of my adult life I have been incarcerated in the New York State Prison system. To say this ride has been a tumultuous one would be an understatement, yet, in spite of this fact I can honestly say that my personal transformation from a misguided, confused and rebellious man-child, to a man with a purpose has been a rewarding experience. Over the course of this journey, I have utilized my influence to assist younger brothers coming into the system by addressing the very same issues I myself had a difficult time coping with at their age.
Believing these shared experiences to be a direct link between the past and the present, the primary aim and vital significance of the work I am involved in is to prevent the next generations from becoming entangled in the perpetual web of their own self-inflicted ignorance.
Idealistically, these are my objectives, however, with every endeavor comes adversity: therefore, my biggest obstacle on one hand are those who have an invested interest in seeing that ignorance prevails, while on the other hand from the proponents of ignorance who, due to their lack of awareness, cannot discern the devastating effects ignorance has on themselves and others. These two groups pose a major threat to the youth exercising their ability to effectively transform their lives for the better.
With respect to the efforts I have made in furtherance of the aforementioned, as Vice-President of the African-American Cultural Organizations, I helped draft and am currently teaching a solution-based curriculum geared towards showing us exactly how to climb the steps essential to make realistic and significant changes in our lives.
I am also the author of the upcoming book entitled, NO MORE BLOODSHED: COMMUNITY IS A CALL FOR UNITY. It addresses the myriad issues confronting youth engulfed in the maelstrom of the gang sub-culture and the violence associated with it. Also, said book challenges the youth not only by demanding that they put an end to the perpetuation of senseless violence, but simultaneously calls on them to unite around the neglected and purposeful cause of self-construction.
To the naysayers, my efforts on face value may appear to be fruitless, nevertheless, to me, they are worth all of the time and energy I can possibly muster being that countless lives could potentially be saved in the process of this arduous task.
It is possible my efforts will fall short and fail to produce desired results initially envisioned, however, maybe, just maybe, they could inspire you the reader to alter the circumstances of your life for the better.
I am Me
"This is a difficult time for me. Probably the most difficult time throughout my entire time of being incarcerated. But I am me and there is no other like me. Everything that comes out of me is mine and I, and only I, can choose it. My feelings, my voice, my actions, my pains. My hopes, my fears, my failures and my successes.
Because I own all of me, I have become intimately acquainted with me. By doing so I have worked very hard to love, to understand and respect me. Then, and only then, can I find the courage to look for solutions to put the pieces of my life back together. That type of work takes patience and commitment. It takes being willing to discard all which is unfitting. Keep some things and invent other things.
Do I have the tools to survive? To be close to others? To be productive? A better question is do I have the time to make sense of all of this? Time beats everyone. Has time beaten me? I’m still working on finding me, but until then I AM ME.”
Where I am From
I am from the Chenab River which feasts on innocent souls
every year, and lies south of mini Switzerland.
I am from the country where peace is the true
meaning of our religion, yet others will manipulate its true meaning to mean other.
I am from Punjab, the heart and the soul of Muhammad Ali Janah's country. The bearer of black tourmaline, salt, and propane.
I am from the country where its leaders are getting fat from the milk of the west's breast, yet its people are starving.
I am from the land where spring dresses it into a heaven
and summer’s dried desert heat stings it,
like a bee taking away its glee.
I am from the guava trees, sugar cane grass, and the henna's leaves used to decorate flowers on our women's skin.
I am from the conflicted part of the world, where bullets are used to intimidate
the freedom of education and speech of our women.
I am from Malala's courage, Tasheer's bravery and Bhutto's shawl, that embraces honor, encourages modesty, and loves humanity.
I am from a new school of thought ,
a mosque of a new beginning.
My relationship with nature reminds me of my childhood. We kids sang for rain in our broken rhythms, and "she," in my part of the world, in my town, accepted our vocal sacrifices and sent wind to let us know her intentions. We would put our shorts on and run out looking funny and cute.
And after a few enticing minutes, she came down, but not like in America. Here she comes down reluctantly, in brief pauses, in bits of drizzle, like unintentional burps and then stops. I think she hesitates to come down here because she is well aware of innocent Navajos, Cherokees, creeks, and many more who were forced to move out from their land - who died walking on the Trail of Tears. She knows there is no comfort for those innocent souls deep in this land .
And not like in Europe where she struggles t o find a bit of leftover untainted land by its people through thick layer of dark and gloomy clouds. These clouds keep her composed and cover the atrocities people have done on that land. Here and there, betrayed by that veil of clouds, she comes down briefly on Auschwitz and Dachau. After smelling their suffocated bodies from the earth, she realizes that her heavenly pure water cannot wipe away the blood stains of millions innocently dead in the camps and wars.
She quietly weeps and drifts away to my part of the world. There she comes down impatiently like an uncontrolled passion and, generously opening her arms, she embraces the earth as if she might not get another chance.
She sings the monsoon-winds and lyrics and plays the thunder-lightening beat. She dances with us and plays that grana instrument – nature – on earth for a long time. We feel her happiness and for a moment we become one in nature.
When I go back there again, I will enjoy her comforting shade once more.
Redeeming the Casket Seller
You remember me?
No. I figured you wouldn’t. You come across so many of us, and to you, we all look alike. Let me refresh your memory: I was that scrawny little kid you tried to sell those ghetto dreams made of mahogany and pine, lined with red satin interior. But I didn’t listen.
Oh, now you remember. That’s good. I came back for you, to thank you. Mr. Casket-Seller, you were right about so many things, but I was only sixteen at the time, so young and naive to the cruelties of the world. I didn’t understand what you were really offering me and my momma was a form of life-insurance.
As I got older, I thought about reconsidering your offer countless times. Because my friend Stephan, he died from multiple gunshot wounds, and my nephew Lloyd, overdosed on ecstasy. So both of their mothers could’ve used two of your caskets when their sons turned nineteen.
Attending far too many funerals made me realize your business is lucrative. You may run out of trees, but you’ll always need caskets. So I know you’re living the American Dream: full benefits, paid vacations, a pension plan, a beautiful home with two cars in the driveway, and your children, I’m sure they’re on their way to becoming greater than you ever were.
Oh they’re in the back. Casket-Sellers-in-training. You must be so proud.
Why invest and sell products that promote life, when investing and selling death is so much more profitable? Why sell baby bottles and school books when you can sell bullets and crack? Why sell cap and gowns when people don’t live long enough to graduate from high school? You know eventually, they’ll all need caskets.
And look at you, you haven't changed a bit: your top-hat still has that pop to it, and your Southern drawl is still deep and rich as fried catfish. It’s as if you’ve kept your youth and vigor by feeding off of the death and violence in our communities. It’s as if Black Lives Don’t Matter.
Thankfully, I didn’t listen to you that day, nor did I follow the path of the death-dealers, who’re even worse than you are. They sell death directly to buyers while you merely profit from the result of your consumers’ foolish choices.
Still I pity you... but you disgust me. Instead of using your superior powers of salesmanship to uplift humanity, you’ve chosen to use your viper-like tongue to fill graveyards.
You can use your black-thumb to plant hollowed-corpses in shallow plots or you can plant seeds of hope. But you can’t do both. Continue doing what you’re doing and no one will ever love you or remember you for anything other than what you are: another dealer in the business of death. Is that what you want?
What did you say? You can change? You, of all people? But it’s not that easy, you can’t go from promoting playground to-grave pipeline to-- Give you a chance? Well, I guess everyone deserves one of those, even you. And if you can see yourself trading in your bone-boxes and black-heart for the enlightened soul of a humanitarian, then I guess there’s hope for us all.
A Hidden Home
VOICE: Alkim Mills?
ALKIM: Yes, ma’am
VOICE: Please take a seat. Simple procedure today, Mr. Mills. You have completed the mandatory minimum required by the State of New York for your conviction of mur...
VOICE: Well, the Board would like to know why we should let you go.
ALKIM: Go where?
VOICE: Yes, Mr. Mills. Home. You do want to go home, don’t you?
VOICE: Is there a problem, Mr. Mills?
ALKIM: No, ma’am. It’s just...
I got a locker full of food. I’ve got a great job. I can be whoever I want to be in this place, so why leave? What do the streets have to offer me anyway, huh? Freedom? What am I supposed to do when I’m used to people telling me what to do? Survive? Nah, you can keep the streets, I’ve found my place in the world right here.
I’ve completed every mandatory program, I’m a role model for other inmates, and I just met someone that’s willing to endure the abnormal hardships of a prison relationship. She accepts me for me, so why leave? I’m content. I swear it.
Truthfully miss, I can’t see anyone having done as much time as me wanting to leave. I mean think about it: Where else on this planet are you provided dental care, T.B. shots, flu vaccines, three meals a day and clean running water... for free?
And all my surrogate parents ask is that I stay out of trouble. Yeah, this is the good life and I realize that.
I made up my mind a long time ago that I would never leave this place. You guys would know this if you took the time to check on my state of mind, what you now call the “new developments” in my thought process. After all, I was a child when you brought me here. This is my world, my life. This place has provided me with a sense of security and I wouldn’t trade that for ... The World.
Somewhere in a small corner of my mind lies a distant memory of when I prayed to leave this place, when I dreamt of this moment, of that question. It’s pathetic. I’ve grown to realize that some things are beyond our control, and in these cases the best course of action is to simply adapt.
So please Miss, if you are actually giving thought to releasing me - don’t. I have no desire to leave and have done nothing to warrant you abandoning me. I came here before my life started, and I’m now too old to start one.
Have I done something wrong? Or is this some sort of cruel joke? When I cried and cried until the strain gave me headaches you simply ignored me, but now that I’ve found the hidden beauty in this place you want to kick me out? I have nowhere to go. The family that I once knew are strangers to me now: consumed by the unapologetic predispositions of a society that’s ignorant to the hidden beauty of this place, of this world, of my home.
So no, ma’am, I don’t want to go home. But thanks for the hospitality.
By Kareem Joyner
Who was the idiot that created time? What were you thinking when you quantified our existence?
Because of your ability to measure time, everything that I do is based on time. I have to be on time. Meet deadlines on time. Eat at a certain time. Go to sleep at a certain time in order to wake up at a certain time. Because of time, I know that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year, 365 calendar days, and how old I’ve become.
When I was a child, I didn’t have to worry about time. I was young, vibrant, full of energy, and could play all day. Because of time, I’m feeling things in my body that I never knew existed. I suffer from hypertension, arthritis, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, and wrinkled skin.
Time has put everything in perspective. I had to make time to tell you about time. You got me realizing that I’m doing hard time. And time ain’t moving fast enough. I feel like I’m locked in a time capsule. Have you ever thought about creating a time-machine, so I can propel myself to the parole board?
The only time I wanna know about is how do I get around doing time. Boy, you better be lucky I ran out of time. Because I would’ve whupped your ass if I had the time.
Loud trumpets of thunder and silent, scary whips of lightning are taking over the Hudson Valley. A blanket of heavy clouds sprinkles its drops, piercing the dark puddle on the softball field. Water hitting water creates an illusion of flashing lights, instantly transforming the puddle into a pool of ballerinas showing off their grace, precision and fluidity.
They fade out of sight, making room for the parade of raindrops to display their creativity. It’s a theatrical show put on by mother nature, for my eyes to enjoy from the solitude of a prison cell. "Belle! Belle!" I yell as each drop outdoes the other. Awaken!
The prison guard walks angrily towards my cell. “What the hell is all the fuss about?” he asks. Joyfully, I reply, “Sorry Sir. I never kiss and tell.” Bemused by my answer, he turns, walks toward the window and says, “Go to sleep, it’s an ugly night out there.” As if God is offended, lightning rends the darkness, chasing the guard back to his post without saying another word. The night and the show are all mine to enjoy.
Every song has a loop or a hook that incessantly plays in a listener’s mind, holding them captive. When you’re doing time, you must find that loop or hook, and it will keep you whole in prison until you’re released. Otherwise, you will be sucked into a false loop and become a legend of prisonville.
Every day when I wake, after my mind registers my prison surroundings, my heart prays that God gets me out of this misery. Yet every night after closing my eyes, I chase this dream - my loop - that keeps me whole. In this loop, I am back in my country...
While the sun is almost setting and turning the western sky dark-reddish, I am standing next to my mother’s room. She is the most important person in my life, but I owe her an apology. I hope she will forgive me in her heart for the poor decision I made twenty years ago. I feel tender knowing that her love has glued me together all those years.
I lightly knock.
“Welcome home son. It is good to see you.”
“Mother you look wonderful."
“You know, I missed you a lot when you were out there in America."
“I know, mother. I missed you too.”
I wonder how she’s felt all these years, and what had gone through in her mind. I could never forget what people say in prison: “When you are locked up, your family is locked up as well. The only difference is they are out there and you are in prison.”
A pleasant memory of us arises.
“Mother, remember when you used to kiss me over the phone before saying good bye and-”
“And you would hesitate to return a kiss because a female counselor was sitting in the room with you.”
“And after a while I got used to it.”
“You are my son; I gave birth to you. How could I forget you? You were shy, weren’t you?”
She grabs my face in her fragile hands and kisses my forehead generously.
“Here, don’t be shy now. There is no stranger here.”
As she lets go of me, I watch her lightly puffed round face. I remember putting small flowers on her delicate ears.
“Mother, why did you let your children go to America?”
I see the color draining from her face, as she turns back into her shell. My heart beats fast. I regret asking that question. I wish to take it back, but it’s too late. The damage has been done. My mother must be thinking of
her older daughter, now widowed, whose husband’s blood is on my hands.
“Some questions are not to be asked, Furry. I hoped for a better future for you.”
“What do you mean, mother?”
“I don’t know how to express… I think you were a lucky child and you still are. I saw a bright future in you. You were my ‘Golden Sparrow.’ I don’t know how and where you slipped off, but you are still different than other children. I can speak to you… I mean it is easy to express myself to you.”
“Mother, I want to ask you… I mean… I’m sorry… I apologize for my mistake. I mean what I did… I am sorry for that. Yes, that is want I want to say. I’m sorry.”
“Stop being foolish. I know you are sorry.”
“Mother, I’m sorry. I know… I know I have broken this family in half-”
“I told you, I forgave you. I did not blame you for much of it… You were not the only one to blame… I mean, part of it, you were responsible for, but you were young, and there were many others around you who were much more mature than you. You have changed. Since your mistake, I have seen change in you. I felt that change in your letters, and I noticed it over the phone. You are trying to mend your mistake.”
“Mother, I am… I mean… I tried to-”
“I told you, Furry, I accept your apology, and I love you. Stop dwelling on your past and move on.”
I don’t know what to say, so I just move forward and hug her. After a long moment, she lets go of me, and I look in her eyes. It’s as if she is saying, “Don’t leave me, stay here with me.”
Something startles me. Beep, beep, beep.
I wake up and find myself laying in the bed of a prison cell in America. I hear my watch alarm go off beside me. I want to stop it, but my limbs don’t respond. So I let it run until it dies out on its own. And I begin my day again.
Now, every time this loop stops in my mind, its addictive magic worn away, I get my reality check. I yearn for another night to fall, taking me into dreamland.
The steal is inflexible - built to last longer than my will. As I caress the cell bars, the lividity sets in my palms, easily visible underneath the perspiration. Standing in the middle of this cage, arms extended, finger tips barely touching either side of the walls. On my tiptoes, every bit of my five-foot seven-inch frame stretches, just four inches short of touching the ceiling. On my knees, hands rubbing the floor’s surface… Get used to this; become one with it. You may be here for a long, long time.
That was September 22, 1997. Eleven days, nine months, and 17 years ago, since I’ve been locked behind state bars. It’s a coping mechanism I found moments after the cell door slammed shut behind me, sending vibrations through my body. Shaking the foundation of my soul.
The gig was up. Exiled by men of real power. Banished from my own existence by black robes, wielding black pens that carried the weight of signatures. Held down by a piece of paper, as light as a feather. Words that read: Order of commitment to the state of New York Department of Corrections to serve 50 years to life. In other words, until I expire. Obliterated into pieces of a man, tucked neatly away in a corner of obscurity. Existing in the realm of nothingness. Getting by in the morass of madness. Finding reason in a place where insanity reigns supreme - where wars are waged with the demons of your conscience. Where spotted cell floors expose cryptic faces that laugh at you with their dagger eyes. I break my gaze from the accusing stares. The walls are closing in, compressing the fire of my mind. The imploding in my head causes my thoughts to combust.
I’m gonna make it. I've just got to exorcise these thoughts. Scrape inside myself. Tap into my reservoir of faith and fortitude. This is just a scene in my script, and I’m the author. I will rewrite my life; revise my map. Clear my mind of all this empty space. I will balance this shit out. Use this time to build upon my greatness. I will never give out, give up or give in; I will win.
When I walked into prison I was full of youth, physically strong with an empty heart, clueless mind, and confused emotions. I began to notice the walls were laughing at me every time I walked by.
I don't know if it was the smell of the caustics used to mop the floor distorting my normal brain behavior, but I'm telling you - these fucking walls were laughing. But I was not going to entertain them. Why should I pay attention to ignorant walls, whose only purpose is to limit the sunlight and life that comes with it from shining in here? These walls keep all that goes on in here to themselves, binding our community in a state of doubt, ignorant to the reality of what is going on behind them.
It saddens me to admit that these walls and my heart had a few things in common. Just as the walls try to keep all that is good from coming or going, my empty heart kept the warmth of that other side, the good side of me, from reaching my soul.
But I was rocked by the reality of the endless nights and sounds of prisoners who, by day, are as tough as the nasty biscuit we eat for lunch, but as soon as the gates close, and the gallery lights dim, they transform into real human beings, coming together in harmony. Like crickets chirping on their nightly stage, they all perform. A weeping orchestra.
I have secretly and quietly performed with them. I'm talking about me, on bent knees, with both arms stretched to the ebony sky, asking the Gods to come together and strike the smile out of these laughing walls.
If someone snooping around happens to walk by and catch me in that position, I play it off, like I'm stretching or practicing yoga, but never ever weeping or pleading. I have a biscuit image to maintain.
But buried alive is how I feel. Like a fish out of water, I'm gasping for another chance at the free world. Like a pigeon caught in the talons of a hawk, these walls are holding me down, ripping every bit of youth from me. Like a winter breeze, the sight of these walls brings me chills.
Tired of allowing these walls and their stench to bully me, I've decided to give them a piece of my mind. Now every time I walk the hallways, I flip my middle finger up at these walls. Sometimes, I do it mentally. Other times, I just put my hands in my pockets and secretly give them the finger. At times, I can't control my emotions so I go like this; Here take this! Laugh now! Yes, you the green one, the beige one, and even you! All dressed in white like you're a freaking Saint. Who are you trying to kid?
Come on guys, you can't blame me for losing control, these walls are some mean sons of bitches. But who's laughing now?
Four years ago, one Friday afternoon, I was sitting in my cell sipping coffee. Just the day before I had gotten my diploma of IC3 (Internet & computer core certification) in the mail and I was still savoring the moment.
As I took another sip, an end gate opened and a correction officer put two pieces of mail in the slot of my cell. Excitement ran through my body as I put my coffee on the metal locker and rushed forward.
Both envelopes were identical and light-weight, only a page inside. I felt my heart beating under my chest like a moth gone wild in a lamp shade. I scrutinized the letters. They were mailed consecutively a week ago.
A bad sign.
The rest became mechanical. Once I opened them, I found the same page mailed twice. "I am sorry to inform you of the sad news of your father's death..."
I wondered: Should I grieve for my father's death or feel remorse that I couldn't make it to his funeral?
That afternoon, as tears ran down my cheeks, I calculated which day he passed away. Was that the day my counselor never showed up for work after scheduling me a phone call with my parents? What if another counselor had stepped forward and helped me make the call, could I have spoken to my father one last time? What if... What if...
I struggled to recall the day he had passed away, to find any emotional connection. Why didn't I feel my heart broken when he died 6,000 plus miles away from me? After all, he was my father and I was his blood. Shouldn't my body have felt some chemical change?
But how could I have recalled anything from that day? For the past seven years, I had been deliberately training my mind to ignore passing days in prison. I was wiping each day from my memory as one less day in prison. How could I have gone back and rummaged through those half-conscious fragile memories when my whole focus was on the future?
The same way a horse wears blinders or a donkey eyes a carrot, in prison, I vigilantly look at the world through tunnel vision, knowing that one mistake will cost me. A lot.
Just like these animals, I must focus on my own issues in prison, minding my own business, not breaking any rules, not daring to show sympathy or empathy to other prisoners as that would only bring their trouble to
To get through it, I have hope. I live every day with a hope that one day this will be over. One step at a time. One day, there will be a light at the end of this tunnel vision. One day, this dangling carrot in front of me will turn into a prison gate I will walk out of.
I keep my mind dwelling on lost loved ones or those who don't stay in touch. I look around and find my hope - my carrot. I have a few friends who visit me throughout the week and recharge my emotional battery - friends like Krista Tippett (On Being), Terry Gross (Fresh Air New York), Diane Rehm (Fresh Air Connecticut), Guy Raz (TEDTalk).
This is how I am living in prison, collecting all of these bonus rounds on air and putting them under my pillow to keep up the kindle in my heart; trusting that one day a carrot will transform into a prison gate to walk out.
Would You Care
If I shed a tear, would you care?
If I told you that the rust on the cell bars, and the cold of the huge cement wall cuts sharper than sheers, would you care?
If I told you that I can't wait till the gates to my cell close so I can meditate on how spring is taking over the Hudson Valley, would you care?
If you do, I would let you see my tears, tell you how the caring would chase away the cold and lighten the way I've yet to go.
I'd tell you how your caring would make my day, alleviate the pain, that like ball and chain, I must drag everywhere till this life sentence ends or my soul is released for the heavens to take.
Then, I can join nature's orchestra, open up the day with the chirps of the birds, and close the night in a concert with the crickets.
Like quicksilver in a glass tube, poetry is bottled up in my soul.
Like wild mustangs escaping the ropes of men, tears run across my face.
Like an iceberg suffering from global warming, my senses are disappearing.
Like a mouse in a labyrinth, my brain is looking for a way out.
Like a cat burglar sneaking into the U.S. mint, your absence snuck into my life and stole my voice, leaving me isolated.
Like a kitten on his hind legs playing with the wind, I glue my silent cries to the draft that comes from under the cell’s door, hoping freedom will get the message that I'm missing her...
Poetry was conceived by a lake, in a car, with romantic music playing on the radio...
Poetry was born on her cocoa color skin, curly black hair, and the beautiful dimples on her face...
Poetry was punished the day I got arrested, and she had to move on, and start a family in someone else's arms...
Poetry is now trying to make a comeback, willing to commit adultery, but I'd rather stick with the memory of when it was free of sin…
Connecting the Dots
It was 1984 in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. There we were, so young. Terry, Erasts, Big Nose Franky, Tendal, Jamel, Corey, Kief and Puerto Rican Lui. Boy, we were a pack of misfits: Dirty clothes, dirty hands, penniless and always looking for trouble.
We started by meeting in our lobby. There, we planned our adventures. Usually we’d race around the corner to the local KeyFood Supermarket to pack bags for the customers. After earning a few bucks, we'd show the store owner, Mr. Kim, our appreciation by darting through the store aisles, stealing sandwich meat, hero bread, cheese and mayonnaise. We'd find an area in the market with no security and make an arm size hero, devouring it in three bites each. That was heaven.
Then we’d file out of the market onto Rutland Road. It was the Mecca for our thievery - a six block stretch of stores on both sides of the street. There were bakeries, candy shops, grocery stores, ice cream parlors. That's where we went rack'n up! Candy bars down the shirt, tightly tucked in the pants, cakes down the underwear, pudding pops up the shirt sleeves. Store after store we went, filling our pockets and bellies with all kinds of delights, so happy and intoxicated on life. Young and adventurous, filled with the endless energy of just having a good time.
Along my travels one day, I stumbled on a crowd of spectators.
There it was, the end of all innocence. A bullet riddled body lying on the sidewalk underneath a white sheet. The stillness. His life spilling out onto the pavement, making its trail into the streets and ending in the sewage drain. Perhaps it was over a territorial dispute in a drug war, or maybe he was defending false pride. As I looked on, I wondered if the dead could smell the bleach in the sheets.
I’m ten. The sounds of gunshots are following me. Death comes so frequently. Hosing down the blood stained walkways was routine. I’m getting desensitized.
Cancer has come to take my mother. The chemo has made her too weak to walk or talk or be a mom to me. Lying next to her in the hospital bed, holding her in my young arms, I tried to transfer my own strength and life into her body. I hoped and prayed God would make her better.
I’m twelve now, thrown into the life of a motherless child. My shell is hardening, killing my compassion while protecting me from the rough edges of life. My childhood friends are fading in the wind.
I’ve always kept this list of names of the guys I used to hang out with. For some of these guys, I was right there with them until the last few breaths of their lives. Young black males I cared for. Laughed with. Ate from the same pot with. They all lost their lives to senseless acts of gun violence. Bullets tearing through their flesh, hearts and minds.
Lives cut short:
Dennis age 24 (Cut down by a hail of bullets)
Terrel Joyner at 23 (Lost faith in life)
My best friend Troy at 22 (Ego, bravery and a gun)
Darell was 21 (The gunman ran out of bullets)
Lenox 19 (An eye for an eye)
Lindon 17 (A dice game - he gambled with death)
Weazel was 16 (When the bullet pierced his brave heart)
Banner was 15
Banner got shot in the back of his head in a club. If my Dad hadn't grounded me that night, it could have been me lying on the dance floor.
I'm fifteen now. For every funeral I go to, a part of me is buried with my homies. Dying inside my own reality. After seeing so many horrifying deaths, I ask, "How can I have the audacity to expect a different fate? What evidence do I have that I will make it to my twentieth birthday?” Hopes and dreams destroyed by a war zone. City blocks where your intellect is spilled onto the streets, next to pieces of your skull. What was there to look forward to?
The sheets are so bright, they're blinding me. I can't see how life has more to offer than death.
If you pick this gun up, you won’t be able to put it down. I have to carry this gun. I have to protect myself, before I get killed. This thing is going to get me in a world of trouble.
I made choices in life. Choices molded by situations, circumstances and conditions. Yes, I had a choice... so I chose to survive in the conditions that surrounded me.
I'm eighteen now. Though the five slugs pierced my flesh, sending me crashing to the ground, they did not kill my core. Nothing's fair anymore. Get down with the cold-blooded reality of my world or lay down in a pool of blood, judged by 12 bullets. With this gun in my hand, I feel invincible. My feet are no longer touching the ground. Like I'm hovering; just floating through life.
I'm twenty now. My shell is hard and dark. No light penetrates. I'm disconnected. Every time I look around, a part of me is being picked apart. Am I cursed?