Life: A Short Story

Today’s post comes with two apologies. First, to you readers – here at the Program, many of us have been experiencing end-of-semester crunch in our day jobs.

Second, this post comes with an apology to the student whose writing it is. Last summer, I taught a course titled Political Analysis and Political Narrative. Since the course focused on the way that James told the history of the Ste-Domingue (Haiti) revolution in such a way as to “argue” for his preferred Marxist understanding of politics, over the course of the class students were asked to write narratives of historical events – whether “public” history or the story of something that happened in their own lives – in a way that made a political or moral point.

After the course ended, most of the students didn’t have pieces they considered finished (in retrospect, it was an ambitious writing project). But I sent everyone a follow-up, and ended up receiving a while later responses from some of the men in the course. By then, one thing had led to another, and they sat for an inconsiderately long time on my desk. Over the next couple weeks, I plan to redress that. We’d talked in class about putting their writing online for others to read, so I will be doing that here – as usual, editing only for spelling errors and clear grammar mistakes (any typos are probably mine from the transcription). And in addition, I will be finally getting around to replying to them with apologies and some comments. So, without further ado, this is a piece by D.A..


This is a short story I would like to share with you concerning the things I did in my life that basically led to my lapses. Though the length is short and just a small preview of my life, the message I wish to convey on, especially to the young men and women, is that we can be better at what life has slid our way if we put our minds to it.

I’m going to talk about ‘life,’ then ‘law’ and how it all comes back to the ‘men and women’ in the mirror, with a little knowledge. So read this and apply it to your everyday life. In life, it’s during the most difficult times that we can tend to reflect on how we come to be in such a (dire) state. I was taught, just as you were, that “what feels good isn’t always good.” Many of us feel comfortable in the streets. I myself was one of them who was comfortable in the streets. I became addicted to the power I got from the streets.

As I sit here in this cell, I analyze my life. As a then-young Black man from Northwest Baltimore Maryland, I was under the delusion that I could beat the working life. “Life ain’t free,” my grandparents used to say to me. But, still, I was feeling that my freedom would be taken by a job. Instead, however, it was taken by the streets.

I was a Junior Counselor. My job was to do everything from “make sure the kids got home from school, to fixing lunch for them in the summer when their parents were at work.” I must say work was not all that bad. But, at $5.25 an hour, I just couldn’t see me doing that too long. What I didn’t realize was that was falling for the trap the streets were laying for me. Due to my failure I fell into the trap that ensnared thousands of young Black men and women before myself. We had our freedom taken away by the streets and not a job.

I’m 39 years old and am currently serving a 50 year sentence with 20-plus years in. I’m sure you are like, “damn,” but with parole I will be alright. For all of you who have been in my situation we know the real deal about parole. But for you who don’t know, parole is a façade, much like the broken promises of Change that never seems to come. I myself, like so many, ate from the same tree in the hood. I don’t consider myself to be a victim, because I was a part of the problem, now I’m trying to be part of the solution.

Everybody’s situation is not the same, but, in some way or another, we all had the same motivation (money). Whether you agree or not, money played a big part. Now we must grow from our situation. We have to destroy the fascinations we have with the violence and drugs that plague our communities. Education is the key to combating this destructive fascination we have.

Today we enslave ourselves over a lot of foolish things. I was taught the “definition of ‘insanity’ is ‘to continue to perform the same action and expect a different outcome.’” This applies to us who may be living a ‘dangerous’ lif and thinking that we can’t or won’t be locked-up or killed.

Since you are reading this, I would hope and pray that you are at your wit’s end and would like to help evaluate today’s youth mind and faith in life? Let’s put what matters the most out in front; today’s youth. See, life is not complicated. We make ours and other’s lives complicated. Life as we know it is a sad relationship for some of us. But, for others, we just find what makes us happy and “just do it.”

See, there comes a time of the year when we mourn over the absence of family. It’s doing this time that we ponder. Miss family time. Images of family surface to memory like it was yesterday. Reflections of then allow us to connect to where we went wrong.

We always consider ourselves to have the obligation of being free, but it only seems to be relevant when consequences are being faced. There’s always crises or tragedy that make us straighten our crooked walk. Had we been prepared with the knowledge to confront our disappointments in life, chances are we would not be in our predicament now.

It’s been told to us over and over, yet we still want to do things our way. We try convincing ourselves that our way is the best way. I know I did. Some of us were and still are IGNORANT to the law, the same law that keeps order in society is the law that will send your ass to prison if you violate it, like it or not.

No matter how we were brought up, we have a way that was instilled in us however by influences or experiments we should obey the law. Whether it’s “our” law or “society’s” law, we still had to follow it. Me, I followed my own law, in return I came to prison.

What I and so many young men and women before and unfortunately after me failed to overstand – yes, ‘overstand,’ because we already have ‘understand’ – that the law is already made, we just try and make it beneficial for our own enjoyment. We choose to carry it out and act upon the belief, that it is our own law. And we still can’t or won’t come to the reality of overstanding that this is not a game. The only game’s that’s being played is the game that you may think you are getting over.

Overstand that this “game” becomes a detrimental game when we mix “our law” with “society’s law.” Society’s law supersedes our law. We create in our lives our own way of living, through a democracy that allows us a freedom of choice. It’s a God-given choice that we are able to make them on our own; until we make a wrong choice that determines right and wrong.

See, some of us intentionally go against the grain because we somehow became rebellious against society, for whatever the reason maybe. We figure that the law can’t or won’t do this and that to us. The result, one’s own disappointment turns into anger, then to actions, and from that a situation that sucks us away from what matters the most… ‘our freedom.’

I was asked a question about one year ago, and at that time I could not really answer the question. So, I will ask the same question to you that was asked to me. “Why do we want to change when we come to prison?”

Is it the time? Is it the time spent away from family and true friends? Or is it all an act to get out of prison? Well, sadly all are true. Whatever your reason is, we are in the same boat; we are at the end of what was our own law, that bit us in the ass, only to realize that society’s law is “LAW.” And because we tried to do it our way, we failed.

Overstand that there’s no such of a game that was ever made that doesn’t have an end to it. We try and try to get ahead of this game, but we can’t. Why? Because, the same game we try and play our way, society always dictates the outcome, wrong or right. Now, the departure from loved ones becomes a regret. The presence of being locked-up becomes a reality.

We think, think, and think of plans to get out of prison. Our means to getting out is by obeying the rules, the same ones we broke to come to prison (law). While in prison, we study the law, in pursuit of an appeal or post-conviction. We do our best to overstand the law which we broke. We contemplate how the law violated us after we violated it. We put together a plan after studying and studying the law. It’s the same law that got us here, only this time it’s favorable to us. Ironic, I know, but it’s true. That’s how the law works; part of it anyway.

Prison is now a big business. This is not to say that prison has never been a big business, but, today, the US locks up more people that some society’s population. Why? Because it’s business. Keeping a large prison population is beneficial. Reason being – it’s profitable to lock people up. We as prisoners are easily exploited for our labor. In some prisons top of the line stuff is made. Let me ask this, would you buy anything from a murderer, rapist, or kidnapper? I’m sure the answer to that question would be “hell no.” Well, the next time you go and pay to renew your tags, just remember that one of the above if not all has made just about everything that has to do with your tags. Remember this the next time you are at work and whatever big name companies you may work for buy a nice desk, or if you are from Baltimore MD and are not fortunate enough to have a good paying job and have to rely on ‘Ms. Bea.’ [I believe this refers to Bea Gaddy – DHL] Remember, this year your meat was cut by one if not all of the above parties. All for around $200 a month.

I remember reading that “studies have been conducted to determine the cause of crime, but no one specific cause or any exact combination of causes has been pin-pointed as the determining factors that lead to criminal behavior.” Well, as I’ve said, crime is a hot topic, and a number of big name companies have invested in prisons. The circumstances of why we committed our crime is less and less important.

Many of us have seen headlines that read “too many behind bars,” “record numbers of adults in prison,” etc. or something along those lines. Well, as you will see why we have these headlines, the numbers may or may not shock you. As of 2012 for Black men 3,023 per 100,000 will come to prison. As to that of 478 per 100,000 for white, and 1,238 per 100,000 for Hispanic men, and the numbers are more shocking when you look at age. Black men 30-34 years old are 7,517 per 100,000, white men 30-34 years old 1,115 per 100,000 and Hispanic men 30-34 years old 2,762 per 100,000. And for women it is 129 per 100,000 for Black women, 71 per 100,000 for Hispanic women and 51 per 100,000 for white women.

Some states spend upwards of $25 billion on building prisons and the US has an annual operating cost for state and federal prisons of about $30 billion a year. So, you can see and overstand why it’s a big, big benefit to keeping a large prison population? And why the politicians are so into the crime factor? It’s all business, it has nothing to do with the fact that ‘we broke the law!’

See, I want you all to really read and overstand the next part, because it’s real deep. According to Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (Oxford University Press 2007), “Prison was once an aberrational experience for all segments of the community, even those with the highest level of imprisonment. If present trends continue, nearly one in 15 Americans born in 2001 will serve time in prison during their lifetimes (6.6 percent of that birth cohort). Broken down by race and gender, the odds are even more daunting: one in three Black men, one in seven Hispanic men, and one in seven White men will go to prison in their lifetime. Given current trends, the odds of an African American man going to prison today are higher than the odds he will go to college, get married, or go into the military.”

With these numbers of people being locked-up, one can raise questions of racial equity. Overstand that about 10% or more of Black males in their teens or twenties are locked-up! Compared with about 5% or so of Hispanic men and a whopping 3% or so of white men; all in their teens or twenties. Now, depending on who you ask, these numbers may vary, so, please do your own digging and see for yourself. When it comes to assault, burglary, and drug crimes, for example, more white males are arrested than Blacks – yet, more Black men are behind bars for all these crimes. Why? Business!

As I’ve said, prison is a big business. Y’all are aware of the numbers, and business side of prison, but there’s a political side as well. And, for reasons that are above my pay grade, I will just say this: a many of big name people have run on the ‘hook’ of crime and with that I say research for yourself and I will move on.

I know some of y’all will say to yourselves and your friends ‘why should I respect the law when the law don’t respect me?’ Well, I say to you my brother or sister, look at the man or woman in the mirror. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his way. And, no message could have been any clearer… If you want to make a help take a look at yourself and make a change.”

The preceeding words are from the song “Man in the Mirror” by the one and only Michael Jackson, R.I.P. Now we can poke at the man and come up with an endless amount of jokes pertaining to his lifestyle. However, one thing that cannot be disputed is the truth and clarity of this song. So, how many of us consider ourselves ‘perfect’ people? None of us do; or at least I don’t. So, if none of us are perfect, what are we going to do about it?

How many of us are trying to make a change in our lives for the better? And I’m not talking about our physical health! Not to say that this is not important in our life. But, I’m talking about our ‘temper and language.’ Let me ask you this: how many of us have had our tempers and our language get the best of us over the course of our life? Well, let’s do something about it!! Who actually likes getting angry and losing control? If you said you do, then you need to go to rehab with Chris Brown. But, most of us don’t like losing control, but that’s exactly what happens when we lose our tempers.

A lot of us are in our current predicament, whether we are in prison or not, because we lost our tempers and got out of control at some point in time. As a result, a poor decision was made, so how can we fix it? I know it sounds like a cliché, but the answer lies within. Only you know how to fix your own problem(s). Some of us have had horrible traumas happen to us that we carry with us for years and keep. Let it go. However, blaming a temper tantrum is some Bull-????.

We are at fault when we lose our tempers, not somebody else, and most certainly not something that happened a million years ago. If you allow yourself to get angry and lose control, it’s your fault and not someone else’s fault. Let’s stand up and take our own blame for our actions. Nobody can make you take a drink, swing on someone, or eat a whole tub of your favorite ice cream and then complain about your weight. No one can make you do anything if you don’t want to. Control is one hard thing of many to control in life. Sure, everyone ‘loses it’ now and then, but to what consequence?

Sure, we may go to jail, get killed or kill someone else. But, chances are we will come to prison. Then ask yourself, was it worth it? We have to do a better job on our temper and language, so one does not lose it when our buttons are pushed by loved ones, job, friends, etc. Let me ask y’all this. What sounds better? “Hey you m$th$%f#c*$er! Where the #ell do you think you are going with my s%$*?” Or, “excuse me, may you please allow me to get my things?” Of course the second one does. Common speech is such an overlooked aspect of our daily life that some of us sound like our mouth is a vent leading to a garbage disposal. At times, this is exactly what’s coming out of it, GARBAGE. So what’s the difference, anyway? Like it or not you are defined by how you talk.

A funny thing happened to me not too long ago. Now, anybody who knows me knows I do have a temper, just ask my family. But, I was on the tier and got into it with a guy over something that was so petty it’s funny. But, in prison it could mean life or death if the situation is not addressed right. I will admit, the two of us are two rams butting heads. Now, I’m a little older than him and I have more time in prison than he do. But, for reasons unknown to me, all I keep thinking about was the words from one of the greatest war and field commanders in the history of mankind, “Alexander the Great.” Although Alexander was a tremendous warrior and a ferocious individual altogether, he knew when to exert his power and when to walk away.

It’s said that he would never go to war with a drunken soldier because drunken men are not about their wits. Me knowing all this still, all that kept coming to my mind was “walk away and you will become a better person, for they known not what they do.” Now, I say this story to y’all because this other person was a kid. He could not have been but 19 or 20 years old; I have 20-plus years in prison. So it would have been child abuse ‘cause I’m old enough to be his father.

But, instead of doing what my heart told me to do coming from the streets, I thought about tolerating the young man. Tolerance is something that all of us can work on. If you are already someone with a high level of tolerance, then you can appreciate exactly what this means to you. See, if you are tolerant of others, then more often than not, your temper will be that much closer to being in control.

You have to be tolerant of others because at some time in our own life, someone was tolerant to our IGNORANCE. Tolerance and patience go hand in hand. Think about it this way, for anyone that has kids, you don’t smack or yell at them when they make a mistake, they’re babies, they don’t know better. So, the next time a teenager or grown person makes a mistake, have patience with them. After all, they are babies in their own way.

Sometimes people just don’t know any better. So, if somebody does something to affect you, just be patient with them and if possible try to help them in a constructive manner and keep moving.

Hopefully, some of y’all can take something from this article. Sure, we’ve all said at some point in time that we are going to make a change in our life for the better. But, how many of us have actually tried? I’m not talking about quitting smoking for a month, eating right for a month, or working out for a few months ‘cause the new year came in. I’m talking about real change in our life!

Most of us would like to change for the better someday. But, for some of us in prison, sadly, we will leave the same way we came in, IGNORANT. Punishment and rehabilitation is what prison is supposed to be about. Now, the punishment part, they have this part down-pat, but the rehabilitation part! Well, they are still working on that part after some 200-plus years. But, that’s on us (the inmates).

The reality of it is we can blame whomever we want. Ultimately, it’s all on us my friends. If you want to be a better person, then we can become better people. So, the next time that someone tries your patience or you are trying their patience, remember that we can’t blame everything on them, we have to look at the man or woman in the mirror.

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