Today a guy asked me if we could talk about something that was bothering him. He is about to go home and has to be released to a shelter. What he wanted was advice on how to approach that situation and deal with the transition. There are questions that when I am asked I have to actually take time out before answering them. I mean after 20 plus years incarcerated it is hard to give unbiased advice about going home. The last of my worries would be going home to a shelter.

Anyway it got me to thinking about this question, “Where do you start?” Everything that he spoke to me about was how things “used to be”. I know that it is easy to get caught up in the thoughts of the past and the “good” times. Yet, those are the times that caused most of us this punishment.

I asked him a few simple yet direct questions. How do you view this current situation? Do you think that prison is a step down from a shelter, where you are free, or a step up. I mean in order to see being free in a shelter as a dooming thought he has to see prison, some how, as a better place to be than free. So, that is where the conversation began.

This guy was not seeing the bigger picture. All he could see is the images that were circulating in his head about shelters. He was so caught up in this thought that he forgot to look around him and evaluate his current living situation and condition.

So, where do I begin. Here they have cells, like the one that I live in currently, where there are 3 guys living in a cell the size of a bathroom. This is how they have dealt with the overcrowding of prisons for years. They put another bunk in a 8 by 10 cell. It is hard enough for 2 men to live in there, let alone 3.

There is a toilet that we all have to share. That means if someone has to defecate late in the night the other two guys have to endure the stench that comes from his bowel movement. There are no windows to air the smell out and the ventilation is not the best.

There is no room in the cells and alone time is impossible to get. Tempers flare and arguments ensue all the time due to the stress of living in this type of setting. I get frustrated when I need to get in the shower and can not get in at the time that I want to get in because the cell is being occupied by one of my cellmates.

The food here is not that great. It is carb induced and veggies are hard to come by. The meats that they serve are processed and most red. Literally, one will eat red hamburger meat for all three meals. For breakfast it will be cream and beef, lunch will be hamburgers and fries, and for dinner chili mac. Only to come back the next day and have red meat served again.

The showers are out in the common area and guys cooking at the microwaves can look right in and see you showering. There are 12 showers and all of them are located where one can look right inside of them when they are being used.

The mail and other stuff is always monitored, that goes without saying.

And in a nutshell you can not leave and move around the way that you want to. You are not free. So with this being said I think a shelter is an upgrade to this. But he has to be able to see this for what it is. He has to be able to see the here and now and compare it to what he wants.

Unfortunately, this is the mindset of many guys here. We often only look at where we come from and to where we want to be. This is often done to escape the reality of where we are at. But here and now is where it begins. This is what the focus need to be on.

What is going on in your life now that will not allow you to see what you want in the future. As I asked a friend the other day, “what are you holding on to that will not allow you to let go?” This is the question that I posed to him. There has to be something else going on that will not allow you to see what is really happening in his life.

I hate to say this but as long as he sees nothing wrong/bad about this situation he is bound to come back. That was the part I forget. This is his 4th time back in the system. Every time before he minimized, chalked it up as something small. He see himself as the victim. This is the attitude that will cause him to leave and create more “real” victims. That is the tragedy of this system. When certain attitudes, beliefs and thought patterns are left unchecked the greater public suffers the most.

For many guys the worst, “prison” has already happened. For many of you it is hard to even phantom the idea of coming to prison once. Let alone 2, 3 or 4 times. For many guys once the shock of it all wears off the become immune to the side effects of prison. The younger guys are the worst. I have heard many guys in their early 20′s say they have another run in them. They think that they can out live the time due to their young ages. This is the way they see their current situation, as a time to play and meet friends and to get tatted up, as they say.

So, back to my friend. After talking to him and putting things like this to him he had a chance to think about the way he was thinking. I don’t know if he still feel the same way but at least he has another way to think about the situation.

When it comes to change one has to start with NOW. What is going on NOW. Not what I want, where I came from but what am I going through NOW. If one truthfully begin now it will allow him to be objective about the past and what he wants the future to be. It is this objectivity that is needed to begin the process of change. It is easy to be blinded by the glitter and glam but what is the truth?

When I think about where I am at now and what I am going through I know that this can never happen again. I can never put myself in this situation EVER again. There is not a fast buck that could entice me to fall into this trap ever again. The guys that I know that think the way I do go out and never return. They understand what it takes to get out and stay out. That is having a strong dislike for the way things are now.

I have spent quite some time, lately, reflecting on life. My life and the life of those around me, near and dear. A guy told me something quite profound today. He said that the price that we pay for some things makes us more appreciative when we reach what we are seeking. Looking at my situation this way it makes sense. I guess that is the price that I am paying, bittersweet, but it if this is the price to appreciate life I am willing to pay it.

I look at others that come in and out of prison and often wonder why. It may be that they don’t see that they are paying off their life in installments. That life does not have that much value to appreciate having certain liberties. Freedom is priceless yet so many people willingly give it up for next to nothing.

I don’t wish prison on anyone but if you could just see the conditions of the men/women here you would weep. The American public is not getting the real when it comes to the penal setting. There is no structure in place. From the top down. There is no real concern for the public. The order of the day is not helping inmates change but to just enforce more rules and regulations. Rules and regulations that have nothing to do with survival on the outside. The only concern is that I have my bed made before I leave the unit in the AM. That I have my shirt tucked in while outside the unit. That I talk with respect to those in authority while it is of no concern what I do to those around me (inmates). It is a game and the losers are those that have to accept many of us back to the community.

I am once again teaching in the school, ESL and GED in Spanish, and this is by far the saddest learning setting that I have been in. Upon my introduction to the department I was greeted with this. ” These guys don’t want to learn. Are you sure you want this job? You have to have the hard convict exterior to deal with these guys.” All of this was said to me by those that have been entrusted with providing educational structure and information to these men. My response was, almost sarcastically but honestly, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That is a statement that refers to human beings. Humans are humans no matter where they are. Here in prison we are often referred to as other than humans. Many of us are simply known for the crimes that we have committed. Circumstance of those events do not matter. Only that we are guilty of committing them.

The assumption is that we don’t have the capacity to be other than these crimes. It is sad that in order to be taken seriously for a job that requires patience, care and dedication, I had to explain my prison resume. What is that? That is me telling them, in so many words, that I have been in 20 plus years. That I have been in almost all the serious and dangerous penitentiaries that the BOP has.

This is a medium prison so the age group is younger. The crimes are not as dangerous and the guys are generally serving shorter sentences. Those here that have been in a lengthy amount of time come down from the USP (United States Penitentiary) which is where most of the lifers are at. The climate in the USP is very hostile and violent. It is in the USP that most of your prison deaths occur. I have been to 6 in the time that I have been in the BOP. It was not until I explained all of this to them that I was taken seriously. I still look young for my age so it is easy to look at me and misjudge my age, time spent in prison and experience. I rather prefer it to be and stay that way.

I thought by coming to this place things would be better, in terms of education. Sad to say that is far from the case. But every sad story has a happy point.

After the first week of working there has been a drastic change in “my” students. They want to work, they want to learn, and they want (even if they will not admit it) someone to care. Someone who is going to dedicate time and put forth the effort to help them. “No one cares what you know until they know how much you care.”

Often people ask me why do I do what I do. How do I do it? I tell tell them that what I do and how I do it has more to do with me than them. That I care that much, if not more about myself, that I can care about others. See part of paying the price with this incarceration is learning to appreciate life. Mine and those around me.

I think a lot of times people who have been convicted of murder are often written off as psychopathic, cruel, heartless and careless. Yes, there are convicted killers that are like that. Just as there are people out in the world that are as equally cruel, heartless and careless. People who have no regard for human life. How often do the “responsible” people find themselves behind the wheel of a vehicle after a night of drinking? How often do people text and drive? Eat while driving etc. How many people have died at the hands of these people? These acts may make them careless but not necessarily evil and bad.

So, when I show care and concern for others it surprise many. It is hard to see the human side of someone if all you know about this person is what a piece of paper says about them.

Imagine spending 20 plus years without having your human side catered to. Where you are dehumanized and looked down on. It is a hard task to endure. What helps me is caring for others. When I care and show concern for others it allows me to gauge how much I really care about myself. It opens the door to getting that validation from those around me. Those who acknowledge my intelligence and strengths. It helps keep the fire inside of me burning; It keeps me hungry for more. That is one of the benefits of helping others. When you see others succeeding due to your help it just does something internally for you.

If this is part of the price that I have to pay I know that when I am, one day, free from prison, that I will look back at this as a priceless experience. I will enjoy the moments that I have left. I will have the capacity to connect with my human side and the human side of others. There is so much in life to be grateful for. I am grateful that I have not lost my way. Rather, I have found my way. My faith in the Creator is strong, I have the love and support of my family and friends. I am in a rather good place. The least I can do is help someone else get to that place in their life.

A Voice from the Inside/Reconstruct Program is working in connection with Dr. Patrick Williams and Coaching the Global Village on a project called ‘From the Inside Out: A Prison Documentary’.  A documentary about my life and life coaching in prison. You can find out more information by visiting the page. Where you will hear a clip of this project. If you like the idea and please donate, and encourage others to donate. We appreciate all help given!

Talib M. Shakir

Hello all.

I have been transferred from one prison to another. This is the reason why I have been out of touch. The transition has been somewhat of an eye opening experience. I had been in the last place for over 4 years and did not have any intentions on leaving. When I was up for parole I transitioned out mentally. One of the things that I was looking forward to, had I made parole, was never putting on another pair of shackles or handcuffs. This was in my head and I would tell myself this everyday. To me those handcuffs and shackles symbolize everything that I want to be free of.

Being in transit is one of the worst experiences that one can suffer while incarcerated. You are stripped of all of your property. You are given paper pants, a t shirt and those karate shoes to wear. In the winter, as in my case, it is the worse. We were given 10 packs of crackers, the kind that has two crackers in them, to eat. That was to last us for a 6 hour ride. We were not given breakfast.

Luckily, I was transferred from general population and knew the routine so I ate a piece of fruit before I went to R&D. I knew not to eat heavy or drink a lot of fluids, because it is almost impossible to use the toilet in chains and shackles, the also belly chain us.

One of the most humiliating aspects of this is to use the toilet and splash urine all over yourself, due to the motion of the bus. There is no water to wash/rinse your hands, so you have to ride with urine on your hands. Bear in mind that you have to also eat those crackers with those same hands. The best thing to do is not eat. That leaves you feeling sick and tired but it beats the other alternative.

If you are lucky you will get a good guy to ride with. Usually, I am not in my best mood and want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk or chat. I just sit, endure the pain of tight handcuffs and watch the scenery.

One of the things that I noticed was all off of the paths that were cut into the mountains. I like to ski so when I see something that resembles a slope I try to see if people are skiing it. As we were riding I kept seeing these paths that looked like ski slopes. I kept asking myself,” why are people skiing one trail mountains.” What I came to realize was that they were not slopes but paths that were cut in order to put up telephone towers. It was the towers and the wires that made it look like a ski lift and a slope. It made me think how much people, even in mountain rural areas, depend on cell phones.

I also noticed that all of the cars looked the same. I had a hard time distinguishing between some of the newer model cars. They all looked boxed and bulky. Not like the cars of the early 90′s, the cars that I remember. Another interesting thing is that as we rode and passed other vehicles nobody even noticed the prison bus. It was as if we did not exist in the minds and worlds of other people. When you see a prison bus you know that it is a prison bus, but people seemed to not even care.

Depending on where you are going you may have to pass through a transit center. I had to pass through USP Canaan. An officer was recently killed there so they run that place real tight. They treated us as if we had something to do with it. The operation hours were so that we were out from 6 to 3.  After 3 we were locked in the cells for the rest of the night. On the weekends were were locked in all day. I was fortunate that I got in on a Thursday and left that Monday. I spent the weekend locked down. I read four 400 page novels in that time. I was alone so I read. One of the things that I noticed was that I did not utter one word while I was in that cell alone. Not one word. I read and slept. I had no concept of time or anything else.

Funny how humans can adapt and adjust to almost anything. I had spent time in the hole before and being there resembled that time spent in the hole. The thing is that I have not been in the hole in years so to be able to just accept the situation and adapt to it without thought was somewhat scary. It is scary to be able to accept that time of segregation as something that is normal.

When we left there we had to go to the airport. There are some prisoners that have to fly to other destinations, while others get on a bus at the airfield. I took a bus but had to get on it at the airport.

They had two planes there. One was a federal plane and the other was a deportation plane. The deportation plane was the saddest thing that I have ever saw. I counted about 400 men and women that were being deported back to their respected countries. Most here of Hispanic origin. They had them with all of their worlds possessions in one bag. They were shackled and handcuffed as they were lead onto the plane.

I felt the sorriest for the women. I know that many of them were leaving behind young kids and families that they may never see again. The journey to this country is not an easy one. It is easier for the men but quite dangerous for the women. They stand to be raped and held against their will. So to see them leaving behind this place that has been home to them broke my heart. Another broken family. I can think of many alternatives to what is being used now. Alternatives to deal with this issue. This issue is one of the issues that drives my love for the Spanish language. It is my intent to work with that community when I am released.

Well after sitting on the bus for 6 hours waiting. We left and 3 hours later we arrived at the new place that I am in. It is not that bad here. To me it is another prison. After so many years they all look the same. The biggest thing here is that I am 2 hours from DC, home, and it is easier for my family to come see me. I in fact got a visit this weekend from them.

Being able to see my family was worth the trouble that it took to get here. Hopefully something gives with my case and I get out sooner than later. If not this is where I will be until my next parole hearing, 2018.

I hope that some good things happen here. We will see and I will keep you all posted!

Hey all! I know that it has been a couple of weeks since I have been here. There are a lot of things going on here. As this is the time of year when everyone is taking off work. The guys are going through all kinds of emotional, physical and mental challenges/changes. This is the hardest time for most guys. It is somewhat mind boggling that there are guys here that want to be with the family that they willingly left. To spend time with the kids that they abandoned. Which leads me into the topic of last weeks class.

What does it mean to be a victim? I know that we have covered this many times before. I think many guys fall back into the victim role, when this time of year comes around. It is easy to hold on to the pain and suffering of what many of us have experienced growing up. Yet, at some point we have to be able to recognize when the roles are reversed. The roles are reversed and one has to know when he has taken on the role of victimizing.

Everyday I am reminded of the ripple effect of what I have done. I can see the ripple effects of what others have done to others. I can see it in the visiting as guys try to interact with their loved ones. The ripple effects are long lasting and damaging. I don’t think that a lot of guys have yet to come to that conclusion. I think that a lot of what guys express, in terms of remorse, has more to do with what they feel is just. Not what others feel as just. They have yet to see that this is bigger than this. That there are others who are suffering from this negative behavior. In a perfect world everyone would get it. The world is not perfect and it sad that most don’t get it.

I just had the opportunity to read another blog where my name was mentioned. Something happened to someone that I know. What happened to this person happened 20 years ago. It had nothing to do with me but he referenced me as being in the same school at the time this event happened. What happened to this guy was not cool, he was assaulted sexually, and it appears that he is open about talking about what happened to him.

What happened was 20 years ago but he still suffers from those events. It is clear that in the 20 years that this happened to him he has gone through a lot of other stuff as well. As a young guy he was different and had issues. Nothing that would be considered abnormal when you are talking about a teenager. So prior to this event he was struggling at home and in school. He was struggling with his sexual preference as well. He know what he was and wanted to be. I think those around him had a harder time at coming to terms with it.

During this time he was sexually assaulted and that is what stands out the most to him. From this point it just got worse. I cannot imagine what he has gone through in the last 20 years but I can say that he still suffers from the ripple effects of what was done to him. All the legal measures could not change nor fix what was done to him. This is something that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. My only hope is that the person that did this to him has come to understand the role that he played in these events.

It is not enough to say that I am sorry. Ones actions has to be in-line with what he says. Until what one says and does align with each other everything else is BS. Many of the guys that I deal with here in this class have yet to align what they say with what they do. It is one thing to say, ” what i did was wrong.” It is another thing to change the wrong behavior so that one does not fall back into that behavior. In order for that change to happen it will require one to challenge their mindset, belief system and values. It will require them to question almost everything that they knew or thought about themselves and those who had an influence in their lives, even some of there parents and other loved ones. This is not an easy thing to do.

The fear of finding out the truth. The truth that one has been taught wrong his/her whole life. That they have been doing things wrong for a long time. That is a scary reality that many don’t want to face. That is not a prisoner issue. That is an issues for most of society. What we learn becomes who we are. No one wants to find out that what they have learned was wrong. Some of what we learn is becomes part of or defense mechanism, what we use to survive. Being in prison and having lived a life of primary crime seems to complex things.

These communities are have another set of rule, subcultures if you like, that some how becomes the primary view that many residents have. So whatever the experience is for them there is the way that life is. It makes no difference if makes sense to those outside of these communities, as long as it makes sense to them. This mind-set and indoctrination becomes so intense that not even prison can change it. A bullet cannot change it for many in these communities. To get shot often build street cred. It makes one a living or dying legend in the “hood”.

So how do you reach some one who considers themselves a victim to all of what they have experience in life. I know I am fond of saying that the only experience worth believing is my own. I can look and learn from others but at the end of the day it is my own experience that is going to determine what I do and where I go in life. If one is not willing to step outside of what they are used to, in order to have new experiences in life, how do they change a mind-set? So, when we have this class there is always a constant struggle to increase awareness. There is always a constant struggle to get guys to see the world as a place that they are part of. That whether they like it or not they have a responsibility to not only themselves but to the world. I hope that someone get it.

I hope that as you all spend this time with those whom you love that you really consider yourselves grateful of that time. That you cherish the moments that you have together. Life is short and we are all headed somewhere. You only get one life. When I think of times such as these. I think about those families that are in mourning. The kids that are without. The family that is struggling to stay above water.

I think about my family and how I have bought grief and shame to their lives. But, most importantly I think about what can I do to change any of it. What can I do to make it better. Not for me but for someone else. With that I leave you all in peace.

Dear followers and friends,

We thank you for your dedication in staying updated with Talib’s blog and story.  Right now our family is readying to attend a quarterly meeting of the U.S. Parole Commission.  At this upcoming meeting we plan to raise our concerns about Talib’s case, his recent denial of parole and set off of 5 years.  In anticipation of this important meeting, we have been gathering our resources, pulling together letters and people who plan to attend by our side to voice their support for Talib.  You too can play a role and help Talib’s voice be heard and our concerns listened to.  Sign our petition to show your support for the U.S. Parole Commission to reconsider their denial of parole to Talib M. shakir.

Here are the details:

Here’s why it’s important:

We, the undersigned, call on Mr. Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Chairman, U.S. Parole Commission to reconsider Talib Mustafa Shakir for immediate parole. Talib has grown from a confused, misguided youth into a focused, mature adult. He has been a positive influence among those around him, as was displayed in the show of support by the deputy warden, and we are confident that he will continue to display this outstanding character upon release into society.

Talib M. Shakir has served 20 years in federal prison for an unfortunate crime he committed at the young age of 17.  Having immediate remorse for this crime, Talib has been on a path to change his life around for the better ever since.  He has made remarkable achievements while incarcerated, including receiving his G.E.D., barber’s liscense, physical training liscense, and making strides toward a Masters Certificate in Life Coaching.  He has enrolled in numerous college courses as well as facilitated several Victim Impact courses and workshops.  His role as a mentor and life coach has touched the lives of countless youth, inmates, and ex-offenders, many who now lead successful lives on the outside.

We who await Talib’s release from prison have felt firsthand his personal contributions to society and ability to improve lives.  We recognize his high potential for full rehabilitation and fully support his chance at release on parole.  We know and trust that his skills, dedication, and compassion will lead him to continue his positive work here on the outside, where he can be surrounded and supported by his family and friends who miss him dearly.

We ask the U.S. Parole Commission to reconsider their denial of parole atTalib’s July, 2013 parole hearing.  We ask them to go with the recommendation of the hearing examiner, who recommended him for a release date of March, 2014.

You can sign our petition by clicking here.

Thank you for your support!

The family and loved ones of Talib

VI Week 8

Posted: November 24, 2013 in Victim Impact

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.