Victim Impact Week 8
November 21, 2013
Victim Impact 8 was canceled and will not resume again until Dec. 5th. That is when I will be back. I still intend on asking that question. The question of why.
Victim Impact Week 8
November 21, 2013
Victim Impact 8 was canceled and will not resume again until Dec. 5th. That is when I will be back. I still intend on asking that question. The question of why.
Today I am starting the comments on the class before it takes place. I want to pose something to the viewers of this blog and to give you some of my thoughts prior to class. I do this also with the hopes of getting some feedback from the viewers so that I can share real life experiences and thoughts with the men. I think that it is VERY important that the public has a VOICE in this particular topic. At the end of the day victim impact is about you, not me nor the other guys there. It is about us making amends for the wrongs, direct or indirect, that have been bought about by crime and violence.
One of the haunting questions that I think of, as it concerns my offense, is one word. Why? I am sure that this is a word that haunts many people that have been victimized one way or another. That why is the hardest why to answer in the world. Why do you take the life of a loved one? Why did you molest and rape a loved one? Why did you steal my car? Why did you assault my friend? Why did you burn down my house? Why do you sell drug? Drugs that you know will kill my love ones and destroy other lives. These are the why’s that often go unanswered. These are the why questions that people need to hear and have the right to have answered.
I remember, early in my incarceration, participating in a victim impact class and not taking anything serious. I was thinking to myself that this has nothing to do with me. That it was a waste of time. I mean the way that I grew up all of us were victims. In fact my journey down this road began with being a victim of violence. I have lost many family members and friends to violence and the prison system. So what make these people so special. These were my thoughts at the time. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was going to be confronted by someone who was going to ask me that WHY question.
The first time a person asked me why did I kill the person who died in my case I had not legit answer, at least not one that I wanted to share. I felt it was not that persons business. At that time all I could think about and focus on was all the bad stuff that happened to me.
As I got older and began to understand how my behavior impacted the lives of some many people. When I began to understand this I did something that I thought I would never do in my life. I actually put myself out there to be asked that Why question. Not that I had to have a reason for why, but someone needed to ask why.
It was during a victim impact class that I was able to give a woman some relief, to lighten her load and guilt. I asked this lady whose daughter was killed by her boyfriend, a case that is nothing like mine, if she should could ask him anything what would it be. She said she would ask him why. I told to act like I was him, as I was locked up for killing someone, and say to me what you would say to him. Or what you would want to say to him. I will say that it was very emotional to say the least and there was hardly a dry eye in the room.
Would I want to endure that again? I don’t think so. At least not for the sake of. It would have to be a need for that person. The emotions were too strong. But, it was needed and she could not stop thanking me for allowing it to happen.
So today as I go in here I am going to ask that question. Why? Why did you do what you did? Hopefully I get some honest feedback.
Well things didn’t workout as planned. There was a fight so we were locked down. Whenever there is a fight or incident between races they lock us down. They lock us down for other reasons too, but whenever things are racial it is a given that we are going to get locked down. Lock downs are common and something that one has to stay ready for. I have what is called a lockdown bag.
That is a bag of commissary food that can be eaten without using the microwave. So, I have crackers, ramen soups, squeeze cheese, mayonnaise (for the cheese sandwiches that the prison feeds us during these lockdowns) and tuna. I don’t touch this bag except during a lockdown.
Lockdowns can be rough. The prison feeds bologna and cheese sandwiches, as all the cooks are inmates and locked down too. I have been in some lock downs that have lasted 45 days. This is when the whole prison is locked down. Early in my incarceration I spent a lot of time in the hole.
The hole is 23 hours locked down and 1 hour for recreation. That is the use the phone and shower, that is about the time it takes to do those things. One hole I was in had the 23 and 1 schedule set for every other day. So, I would be in the cell 48 hours and out for 1 hour. The longest time I spent in the hole like this was 17 months. When I got out I barely had legs.
Yesterday we were locked down due to a race issue. Well, for most of you it would not be surprising to know of the amount of racism and separatism that exist behind these walls. It is like a blast from the past. Everything is racially divided. The kitchen, the rec rooms, the TVs, the cells, everything. Whites and blacks generally don’t mix. Mexicans and Whites generally align themselves with each other. The Blacks stay to themselves, for the most part. When you go in the dining hall there are two lines. One goes to the right and the other to the left. There is an unspoken rule that the whites use the right side line and the blacks use the other line. It is so much so that guys are conditioned to follow that trend, even if one line is shorter than the other. At the end of the day it is fear.
One of the benefits of having done a lot time is that no one really bothers you. I have 20 years incarcerated, the most time of anyone in my unit and there are at least 120 guys in the unit, so who is going to say anything to me if I decide to go to the left at lunch. I try to show others that there is nothing to fear if you are sure of yourself and who you are as a person. Fear is the biggest enemy in a prison setting. Everyone is trying to use it to control. Inject fear in this environment and you are asking for something to happen.
So, due to fear of repercussion we were locked down for the rest of the day. But next week I will pose the question of why. I think that it is relevant and need to be asked. Well I am out for now. Hopefully, next week we will have class. Until next time. Peace!
Week 6: 11/8/2013
Week 6 was a different week, to say the least. It started way off course and had to be put back in to perspective. That is one of the challenges of a program of this type, or any type for that manner.
In these types of classes you get guys that think that they have it all figured out. They have read a few books and think that they have it mastered. It is one thing to read a book and another thing to apply what you read. One of the things that makes this work, or not work, is that they can say what they want; the fact is that I don’t leave with the professor. I see and hear what they do and often it does not match what they say in class.
This is one of the things that came up. See, I know what the real deal is. I know that for all of the stuff, the good the bad and the ugly, that has happened to us in life it all comes back to choices. So despite of all the horrible things that I have seen, the poverty and hunger that I have experienced, the dysfunction of my family at times. I know that at some point I had to make choices. Why do I mention this? We choose to live a certain way in life. No matter who you are or where you are. You have to make those choices.
That is what I am quick to point out. See, this is not about popularity. It is about saving lives, and not the lives of the men that are there, but the lives of those who they will come in contact when they leave. Or the lives of their loved ones. Some of us are right where we are supposed to. One cannot be ignorant and expect to go out in society, without basic survival literacy skills, and succeed. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. If one does not want to take control of his/her life this it the place for them.
I had to tell them the hard truth about life. I had to tell them what does who are close to them need to be telling them, but are to scared to tell them. That is that they are master con men. That they have learned to play the con game very well. But, there is a flip side to their con. The joke is on them. See in order to con well you have to believe the lie, the con that is being run. So, you are conning yourself if you are watching TV and think that you are going to leave here and live a BET, MTV, Real World, Mob Wives, or any of the dumb ass shows they show to dumb you down. How is this possible if you don’t know how to read and write. Some of them think that they are going to leave here and get big chains, cars, and homes with out education and hard work. When you ask them how are you going to get this they tell you I am going to work. You ask them what job are you going to work that is going to allow you to buy an Audi A 8, a car that cost almost $100,000. What skill do you have? One of the shames of the penal system, the federal system in particular, is that they breed con men.
It is about playing the game to get by. Not about changing. Part of the blame is the design of the system itself and the other part goes to the men that are playing that game. Life is not a game nor a thing that you can con your way through forever. Eventually, it will come out. This is the hard truth that guys need to hear. That they are bullshitting. But the joke is going to be on them. Some guys got mad, didn’t like it. But what do I care? I have lived a life where I have been shot at, stabbed, fought the best and toughest of my time. What do I care about someone being mad at me for telling the truth? It is what it is.
After class one guy, that I know, came and said to me, “I am a con man huh.” and I told him the truth, “yes you are and you know why.” He told me that as much as that hurt it is what he needed to hear. He knows that he is better than the way he acts.
This is not a game nor should it be taken as one. There is an obligation on those that know better to do better, to protect the interest of a society, of a generation that is the come. This is the idea of this course. Many guys don’t want to hear the truth but it must be said.
When it comes to the truth. One has to take ownership of their own lives. One has to realize that at the end of the day not many people care about them; there is nothing so special about their lives that the world must stop. Those that think like often feel that the world owe them. That everything is about them. That is not the real world. The sooner that one wakes up to that truth the sooner one can take the steps that are needed to move forward in life.
When I used this con man example I pointed out a little guy that I know that is in the same unit as me. This guy has lost almost all of his family to the “game”. He has never met his father and his mother was murdered getting high off of crack in some run down motel. He ended up getting hooked on drugs later in life, weed, pills and alcohol was/is his drug of choice. He has no GED and a young son. He spends his time watching TV or shooting the breeze with his friends, if you call then that. None of his “friends try to help him with his education and always seem to be putting thoughts of “one more time” in his head.
I had to call him out and asked him to question those around him. I see that he is being conned by those around him. Conned into thinking that this lifestyle is the life. That he does not need education to get ahead in life. That he is going to walk out of here and not have to deal with the world on the worlds terms. This is the con that is taking place here. Not just with him but with other guys as well, young and old.
I hope that through this class that guys wake up to the con. That they stop playing the game and take this thing serious. Some guys are being reached. If one person takes it and find the skills need to change I will feel that the message was conveyed. Until next week.
Week 5 Victim Impact October 31, 2013
This week I began with a quote: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead (1862))
We began the class discussing the mindsets that are bought to the prison environment and how they shape our visions for the future.
We also talked about the collateral damage that is a result of incarceration.
“Conviction for a crime, still more a sentence of imprisonment, may itself undermine family cohesion ad security, destroy the offenders prospects, result in loss of employment and assets, all quite apart from any legal measures…Those who commit crimes as youths may outgrow criminality as the get older but they may never be able to outgrow their criminal records.”
I talked about who really suffers from the acts which we have committed, the ripple effects. It is the family that suffer the most often. That the suffering and penalty for incarceration does not stop when we are released. But, that for the men there is a certain amount of degradation and loss of respect within the family. That the mere fact of having gone to prison for 1 day can, and is often set up to, destroy a lifetime of credibility.
The criminal justice system is a machine that is designed to do just that, destroy. What has to be understood is that there are no direct links to crime and incarceration. Crime is a result of poverty, under-education and urbanization. Incarceration policies do not respond to crime but to political agendas and climates. Underemployment , drugs and violence help create that climate due to the subculture that exists in these communities. That is what this system is designed to do. So it is no surprise that many men return to prison as the communities that they come from, and go back to, are still plagued with the very same issues that were there before they went to prison. So, there is a serious need to educate others to how to come up out of these conditions. To understand the collateral damage and find ways to work around it.
I also talked stats. In 1982 the cost for incarceration was 9 million a year. In 2001 the cost was 44 million a year. Today the cost of incarceration is 80 billion a year. Yes!! 80 billion a year!! Yet, crime has not been reduced. In fact between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase. More money is being spent on a concept that is not working. Prisons are not reducing crime and violence yet more prisons are being built; more money is being spent than ever before.
Many of the men were receptive to the idea that they contributed to the conditions of their communities. That they are the ones that have to go back and make the effort to get it right.
In these classes, although they are not typically coaching forums, I use the skills that I have learn to get the guys to see what it would look like. What would it look like to live in a safe neighborhood? What would it look like to come home from work and be a father to ones kids? What would it look like to be respected and really loved? Many of the men, from the hardest to the meekest, all had something to say. That it would feel good to live in a community where people were not be shot and killed. Were their kids were safe from drugs and alcohol. Where they could send their kids to school i safety. So the next question was simple. If this is the community we want imagine how many other people want the same thing. Now imagine how many dreams we have destroyed, by not acting in the community that we come in a manner to be like the one that we want for ourselves. The way that others want it to be for themselves.
Surely no one wants to live in fear under the constant threat of violence and abuse. In fact many of the guys in this situation are here because we had to be a certain way so that we could survive, day to day. It is up to those that know to teach those who do not.
I challenged the men to pick up a book. There is no way that some of us have seen everything and done everything under the sun but a book! I mean it when I say that most of these men have not read a book in years. I asked them what is there to fear in a book? Maybe it is that the truth is to be found, the truth about who you really are. If that is the case than there may be reason to be afraid to open one up. When you look at the reality of most of us we have been shot, stabbed, mugged, drugged from home and imprisoned, put in cells days on top of days with out running water. We have been made to endure long trips across the country chained and shackle, eating stale and old cheese sandwiches. Yet, the thought of opening up a book scares most of us to death.
After class I had a conversation with a guy that is starting to get it. Time will tell, is what i told him. See it is easy to do the right thing when there is someone constantly watching your every move. This is not change. This is getting by, playing by the rules. What happens when the ex offender stigma will not allow you to get the job that you want and you have to settle. Are you going to remember this? Are you going to have the same resolve to do the right thing?
To be incarcerated is easy. There is nothing to do but breath. Yes there is danger. But, there is danger everywhere in the world. The only thing that most guys are dying from here is boredom and stupidity. I often feel the same way. There is no more lesson to be learned for me. Me being incarcerated at this point in my life serves NO purpose. So what am I doing here? Nothing too exciting, other than being bored have the time. They say that an idle mind is the workshop for the devil. Hence the stupidity that guys are getting caught up in. Due to the boredom that exists.
The real punishment is when one is released and have to fend for himself out there. Are you ready for this, is what I asked the young man. Are you ready to make choices? That is what freedom and liberty means. It means that you have to make choices and you have to be responsible for the choices that you make. He said that he was. I truly hope so.
Until next week Peace!
October 24, 2013 Week 4.
Well today we picked up from where we left off last week. Talking about responsibility and who is at fault. Some of the guys have yet to come to terms that the actions that they committed were solely their fault. There are a lot of other issues that played in the events that happened in our lives but ultimately we all have a CHOICE. That is the most important thing that has to be realized.
It is hard to get to this point when for the most part many of the men in prison have adopted a criminal personality: that has its own thinking pattern associated with it. It is hard to get some one to see that they have created victims when they feel that they are the victims. It is true that we are victims of something, yet, there has to be some accountability for the actions that we commit.
So, who is the blame? That is were the conversation took off. The professor says that our parents failed us, if we are in here. I disagree to a certain extent.
There are many men and women locked up that come from stable homes and have gone to good schools. If this is the case have the parents failed? There are many men and women here that have lived in the inner-city all of their lives, yet they were raised with good morals and values. Yet they end up in prison.
There are also men and women incarcerated that were raised in these communities that have parents who have never been to prison. Who worked hard and did all that they could to provide. So if this is the case who failed who? Is this an excuse to continue crime? For many people it is. It misdirects the blame, responsibility and accountability that is needed to stop committing victims. This will be the cry when these men find themselves in trouble.
This plays a part in how we may be raised but at some point we knew that our actions were wrong. If that is the case we cannot shift the blame to others.
I had an interesting conversation with a guy after the class. We talked about his upbringing and how he ended up here. In fact this is the same kid that met his father in prison, doing a life sentence. He told me that through all of his life his mother was on drugs, crack. Yet, she did the best that she could do under the circumstances. He told me that he faults the older guys in his neighborhood because they had the most influence on what happened in his life. They knew that his mother was on drugs and that his father was incarcerated. If they knew this and wanted the best for him why did the teach him the rules of the game, streets. So, I think that we all have had experiences that are very real for us, experiences that landed us in prison.
Everyday we send our kids out in the world to be traumatized by what is out there in the world. Most of these experiences are unknown to the parents, yet these experiences are the most profound experiences that our children have ever had in life. These are the experiences that shape the way that our children think, believe and act. This is so true for the kids that grow up in the inner-city. What do you expect from kids who grow up in communities polluted with beer bottles, syringes, old condoms and drug baggies? On the way to school they are confronted with bullies and glimpse of the attractive life of drug dealing. These are some powerful experiences. Children spend more time out the house and are influenced more by what happens outside the house vs. what goes on in the house.
What does this mean? It means that there are several key factors that play a role in the events that lead many of us to prison. But, what does that have to do with going out and making conscious decisions to steal, deal and kill? None what so ever. In fact the victim role plays a big part in the reasons why criminals and crooks continue criminal behavior. Life is never about others, only about them. The life of crime is a selfish life. It is a life that no one gets into except that there is some self gain and profit.
In fact there are other issues that come into play when it comes to this issue. Fear is a factor. There is a fear of putdown and vulnerability that leads to a zero state. Anger, when it is used as a means to control others. Pride, false pride/criminal pride, there is too much pride to do what is needed to change. All of these issues and more are issues that have to be dealt with in order to begin to understand what it means to victimize others.
It is a serious thing to get men who have been conditioned to think and believe that their life is the only life that matters to change. I have high hopes that their lives are being changed. I believe that there is a wealth of untapped talent and potential in every human being. It only takes a willingness to tap into those talents and potentials. I look at myself and know that I am living proof that what I am saying is true. That I have talents and potentials that if I knew of them at 17 I would be in a different situation. That rings true for most of the men that I come in contact with through this class. It is a matter of educating and a willingness to take the steps and be patient with the process.
Until next week. Peace
Week 3 of Victim Impact.
Wow today was a very intense day, to say the least. The topic started out on education and the importance of education. One of the questions was how much is enough. During that discussion the topic of race and history came up. To me this is an important topic. Some of the other facilitators did not think that this issue was relevant.
One of the thing we suffer from, not only in this country but the world over, is fear of the truth. The truth is that many African- Americans lack the information that other races have that make them feel proud of how they are. The history, as it is taught in this country, of Blacks began on a boat; on a boat in chains in shackles. What does that say about the trans-generational trauma that many Blacks suffer from today.
It is a known fact that certain behavioral habits/traits and diseases can be breed into a race of people. Look at the disposition that the Native Americans have to certain diseases, alcohol in particular, that stems from the introduction of those diseases in their communities as they were fighting for the land that was taken from them. It is a fact that alcohol was used as a means to buy off and control the natives by the white settlers.
In the case of African-Americans we suffer from some of the same trans-generational trauma, if not more. Some of the myths of Africans still are used today. From the comparisons of our penises, shoe sizes. lips hair types etc. Black women right now have a mountain of identity issues when it comes to being accepted in this country. As to what is beautiful and what it looks like. It says a lot when you see a Black woman dye her hair blonde and wear blue colored contacts. Everyone has the option to dress as they want it is just sad that the image of beautiful has to come from outside oneself. What makes a person beautiful is not what is on the outside but what is on the inside.
So what does this have to do with victim impact? A lot! History plays a major role in the acts that many of us commit. It is not the focus on the program but it is a starting point for many. An example of this is that almost everyone incarcerated dropped out of school. I believe that there are two systems in this country that allows it to thrive and fail at the same time.
The education and criminal justice system. Almost everyone who drops out of the educational system find themselves within the criminal justice system. Almost everyone who takes education serious almost never find themselves in the criminal justice system. Not to say that they have perfect crime free live but due the having a certain amount of education they have other options and more opportunities.
I believe that the more education one has the less likely they are going to, either come to prison or come back to prison upon release. Often crime is committed due to lack of education. One of the most monumental cases of our time is Brown v the Board of Education. It is a historical case in a time and era that had many challenges in terms of equality. This land mark case changed the education system in this country forever. I asked the question how many guys ever heard of this case and only 3 hands went up! If many of the young men in the class understood the implications of this case would they take education more serious? See this is one example where knowing history plays a critical role in the choices that one makes as it concerns committing crimes etc. Not to say that it is the end to all but it is a start. As we talk about victim impact it is important that we talk about education and history at the same time.
Another fiery topic that came up is role models and aspirations. I made a statement that the role of role models has been misplaced. That the true role models for our children are the fathers and mothers that bear them. Some of the guys mentioned what did I think about Obama and him being a role model. I told them that I did not believe that he will not be a role model for the children that I have one day. That, regardless of my past and the bad choices that I have made in life, I will be that role model for my kids. I also mentioned that what they were using, mentioning him to be a role model because he is the first “black” president is misplaced responsibility. That it is easier to point your children in the direction of someone else to aspire to be like than it is to change the behavior that is needed to be the role model and example that our children and communities really need.
This did not sit well with some of the men as it seems as if I was to giving credit to the achievement of Obama. It is not that I am not recognizing the accomplishment. It is I am not going to put my job off on him. This has become a pattern that is found in the urban communities. Whenever something goes wrong people place the blame on external sources. Not to say that there are no outside influences in the decisions that are made; but to say that there has to be some accountability as well. This attitude is very common in those that refuse to admit that crime and anti social behavior is a result of their actions. That at the end of if all it boils down to the choices that are made, individually.
It is unfortunate that the institutionalization of these communities are as such. The harsh reality is that a lot of the conditions we have created ourselves. If one does not want to admit to that at least admit and own up to the conditions that, individually, have been made. Choices that have lead to the destruction of communities and lives. That is the part that as individuals we have control.
Those around us are our best teachers. What we learned we learned from others. So when we talk about role models we have to be the example that we want others to live by. It is not the job of another black athlete, politician, doctor etc. It is the role that we must fulfill. This is where it becomes important to know history, as a starting point; To use as an example.
This is not an easy journey as it means changing belief systems, values and mind-sets. It is a challenge to get someone who has been a victim to realize that through this he/she has become the victimizer. It is a challenge but hopefully some one gets it.
I asked a question in the last class and yesterday one of the younger guys approached me and mentioned to me what happened to him. I challenged all of the men there that had children that if they told their child that if they had one wish what would they wish for. I told them that most of them would wish that they were there with them. This guy did this and his daughter told him, ” I wish that you were here with me.” He said that it bought tears to his eyes.
There is another guy that meet is father in prison for the first time. They were in a state prison together doing time together. His father went to prison shortly after he was born for Life. He never meet his son until his son came to prison 20 years later. They spent 4 years together and when the son left he knew that he was leaving his father behind forever; that he would never see him again.
This guy came up to me later and vowed to do and be better for his son when he went home. I thought that it was all talk. He began getting serious about his GED studies, he even got a tutor to spend time with outside the class. He has opened up more in class. He has even severed some of the negative ties that he has.
So although it is a challenge it is worth it. If one persons life is change it makes a difference. Until next week.
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