I want to share something I once read. About a flea circus. I was taken aback because I had never heard of anything like this. Who would waste time, and how do you for that matter, train fleas. Well, come to find out this phenomenon actually exists. What happens is the trainer puts the fleas in a box with a lid covering it. The fleas, by their very nature, will jump. They jump and jump and jump. The trick to the training is that when they jump they bump up against the lid of the box. After a while they limit their jumping to the height of the lid on the box. The trainer then comes and lifts the lid off the box. The fleas continue to jump but they will not jump the heights they once could. They have been trained. Although, to the naked eye people think the fleas are acting naturally, while in fact they aren’t. What is the morale of this. Don’t be the flea. Don’t allow yourself to be limited by the things going on around you, especially when you know you can jump high. Many people are like fleas. They have been trained to only want so much out of life. They forget to explore. They forget to stop and take in the moment. They live and die without never having thought of jumping out of the box, in order to reach their full potential. Don’t be the flea.
Often times the impression of the incarcerated is negative. Truthfully speaking there are those who wish to perpetuate ignorance and anti-social behavior. Yet, there are men who desire nothing more than to be able to offer proactive, pro-social and effective suggestions to the problems that plague our communities. Communities that we, admittedly, influenced negatively.
Growing up in DC during the 1980s, up until my incarceration, was not easy. DC was a city under siege, known as the murder capital of the US, where the murder rate soared well into 300 a year. Many people, mostly young, lost their lives during this time. Many lives were destroyed, families torn apart and homes broken. I am sure long time DC residents remember those trying times.
The positive changes we have seen over the years shows the efforts of the people here tonight have not been in vain. The job of securing public safety is never easy and often times goes un-noticed. But at the end of the day we have to appreciate the work of those who effortlessly strive to make DC a safer place. Thank you for that.
I have had the chance to read the recent Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016. I must say I was very impressed by what I read. The strategies mentioned will produce positive results. As a youthful offender who was just put into the adult system with no guidance, as someone who had to figure it out along the way and got it right. I am sure that current offenders with the help that is being extended to them stand a better chance of being successful.
It is well documented that crime is a result of social disparity, economic inequality, marginalization, disenfranchisement, and most importantly lack of education.
I strongly believe that there are two systems within our society that operate hand and hand: the educational and criminal justice system, for whatever flaws they may have.
Failure and success, within society, depends on ones approach to education. Those who take advantage of the educational opportunities provided to them almost NEVER end up in the criminal justice system.
Those who fail within the education system almost always END up in the criminal justice system. It was mentioned in the bill that 81% of DYRS committed youth are male and 100% are African American. That is startling, to say the least.
Education extends beyond text books. It begins with the values, morals and lessons we are taught by those around us: parents, guardians, teachers, community leaders and community members. What they teach us is what we take out into the world.
What are the youth being taught?
Some of them are taught in order to survive in this harsh world they have to be harsh. They are taught they cannot trust those who do not look like them, act like them or are of a different skin color.
They rebel against authority and are not held accountable for their actions. They are taught in order to survive they have to be uncaring, unsympathetic, and un-empathetic towards others.
They are taught that violence is used as a means for survival. They are taught that when all else fails they have to fight dirty, using weapons, or anything else to gain the edge. These are some of the lessons they learn from their care takers. These are the lessons they take into the world.
Violence is everywhere. We see it on TV, video games, hear it in music, read it in books. It is almost impossible to escape violence. They have become so desensitized to violence that they don’t understand the full repercussions of harming others.
What is violence?
Violence is fear perpetuated and fueled by anger, desperation, and ignorance. Couple that with drug, alcohol and mental health abuse you have a bomb ready for destruction. The more fearful a person is the more desperate they becomes. This fear and desperation will provoke violent behavior.
Reducing crime and violence calls for targeting its roots causes: fear being one of them.
We, also, have to consider the way we view our communities. The word in itself is made up of two words, Common-Unity. In order to restore the community we must unite and restore those elements that have been removed from it.
Why do we call our community the hood? If you take the word “hood” and put it in the middle of a sheet of paper and write the words father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, and servant you will see they are tied to the word “hood.”
When we take these human qualities out of the community we destroy the neighborhood. Therefore, we are left with the “hood”. When there is no fatherhood, motherhood, sisterhood, brotherhood, or servant hood left in the neighborhood we are left with victimhood.
We have to unite and restore our communities by putting those human elements back in order for the community to be productive.
We need to remain hopeful that our communities can be restored. Those of us who believe there is hope have to continue acting on this hope. Hope is that thing that propels us each day. Hope is the light that shines in darkness. Hope is the armor that we use in the battlefield as we defend those who are preyed upon and unable to defend themselves: the desolate, hopeless, elderly and children.
An important question that needs to be asked…”What is it that these young men and women need”? Do we even know what they need to change their behavior? Not what we think they need, but what they know they need. We will never know if they are not included in the conversation.
One would be surprised how much is learned by simply asking, “What do you need to become a better person”? We need to find out the needs of the youth. Most of the time we try to assume what they need. While in fact we are just as clueless as they are. Not knowing the answers to these questions could cost someone their life.
I often ask myself how my life would be if someone, during my time of rebellion, would have sat me down and simply asked, “Talib what do you need… What do you need to be successful? What do you need to feel loved? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need to be the best you can be?” In all of my years of delinquent behavior and experience with DHS, Oak hill, Cedar Knoll, Residential placement have I ever been asked any of those questions. Rather it has been we have assessed you and this is what you need. Most of the time they got it wrong.
In my opinion, one way to hear from them is to have a summit that emphasizes the idea of non-violence. Where they are included in the discussion. The theme is simple. “What do our DC youth need to become successful in life?” I am not talking about fun and games or a concert. I am talking about a summit of serious conversation and discussion, a place where people can speak their fears, broker peace and become informed.
It would beneficial to organize city leaders, elected and appointed, parole, probation, teachers, parents, mentors, pastors, Imams, directors of the various organizations that exist in DC, white, black, Hispanic, Muslims, Christians, the entire DC community needs to be involved. One would have to utilize available resources to sponsor a summit such as this. In order for any of these measures the community has to be involved and supportive of the goals of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
A summit of DC residents will be a good place where the victims of crimes get to speak. In most cases victims are like blank sheets of paper. These youth need to hear how crime and violence effect the lives of others. They need to hear how lives are destroyed by their actions. They, themselves, need to tell others what role crime, neglect, and violence has played in their lives. Often times the victim becomes the victimizer.
I have facilitated and participated in victim impact courses for many years. Participation in these courses led me to acquire certification in Victim Advocacy. The most emotional moment I have had in prison was during a victim impact seminar. To hear the stories of these victims soften a lot of the men to tears. It is often the catalyst needed that moves them from seeing themselves as the victim. It helps them reframe and understand who the true victims of crime are. For this reason we would begin all of our courses with a victim impact seminar.
A summit will allow other successful citizens to show themselves to the public and share their stories. Where they can share their stories of triumph. They can speak of breaking barriers and achieving goals despite the obstacles surrounding them. These stories can inspire.
A summit will allow law enforcement to express their willingness to work with the community, not against it. One of the downsides of wearing a uniform is we forget that beneath the uniform there is a human being. Most of the time we judge each other by the clothes and uniforms we wear; we don’t give people the benefit of doubt they deserve as human beings, based on the clothes, outfits and uniforms they wear.
When people talk of law enforcement most of the time they are talking about the uniform, and what it represents to them. They sometime fail to realize these people are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. They are human and the community need to see them as human beings.
Which is why it is moving to see an officer challenging a young girl to a dance-off in the middle of the street, as a means to ease the tension of anger. This is the type of community and law enforcement interaction that reminds us that law enforcement are human too.
We all could benefit from respecting one another as human beings and not products of our environments. We cannot continue to ostracize people from community affairs while expecting the best from them. The only way we, as a community, will be successful in reducing crime and violence will be determined by our willingness to stand together.
I am at one of the closest prisons to DC, FCI Cumberland. The DC population here is high, and young. These young men are in need of a lot of help. Some of the stories I hear are hard to believe, as it concerns some of the choices they have made in life.
I hear them talk on the prison yard and in the prison kitchen. I see them when they first arrive at the prison. I teach them in GED classes. I see the side effects of drug use. I listen to their stories. Stories that end with them back in the communities they come from. Some of them, when they are released, I follow up with. I call them and try to continue to encourage them. Most of the time they are back on the block or on their way back to prison. They tell me things like, “it’s just a matter of time before I’m back in the joint.”
It was once said that the measure of society can be judged by entering into its prisons. If that is true society does not look to promising.
I want to close with a true story. The story of my last cell-mate, a young man from DC. As an infant he was left in a crack house by his mother. He was left there to die. After a few days of being left in this house someone realized he was there and took him to the hospital. In short his grandmother was given custody of him. During his formative years he acted out and became increasingly violent.
He was later diagnosed with severe mental health issues and a learning disability. He was prescribed medicine but could not afford it so he turned to heroin. Now on top of being bi-polar he was abusing drugs. His violent behavior increased, he began carjacking and robbing people. By the time he got to prison he was on the brink of self-destruction.
We lived together for about 2 years. By the time he left he had a different outlook on life and had goals, was clean and healthy. One month after being home his grandmother, the primary care taker, passed away. He sent me a message saying, “she is gone, what am I going to do now.” In this desperate state it was only a matter of time before he returned to his old behavior.
Maslow hierarchy of needs suggest that when one’s basic needs are not met they cannot survive. They will resort to whatever means to meet their needs.
In order to find out what best suit their needs..simply bring them in on the conversation, and listen. Once you know what they need you can act effectively.
From personal experience I know that change is possible if given the right opportunities. I am hopeful.
I close with this “If you treat a person as they are, they will stay the same.
If you treat a person as they ought to be or could be, they will become what they ought to be and could be.
In response to Mayor Bowser’s crime bill several DC governmental officials, along with other community leaders and members, have sought out ways to target young at risk DC youth. Some of those efforts were rejected and deemed “ineffective” in addressing the needs to reduce crime, drug use and recidivism.
There is another component that would prove beneficial and productive. A component that, with the right collaboration, would be effective in accomplishing the goal of reducing rime and violence among these at risk teens and young adults: Partnerships with the incarceration population and DC youth, young adults and returning citizens. I would like to present to The Reconstruct Program (TRP).
The Reconstruct Program is designed to introduce productive principles that provide realistic solutions to help reconstruct the lives of those who may be at risk of incarceration, juvenile delinquency and substance abuse, by way of life coaching techniques. The Reconstruct Program focuses on reinforcing the idea that people can change and become productive regardless of race, gender, social conditions and educational background. We choose to focus on the strengths of the individuals and not the weaknesses.
Our mission is to reconstruct lives one at a time. Our goal is to provide positive relationships and awareness in order to reframe ones way of thinking. Our comprehensive program involves the use of evidence based information along with a treatment plan, and facilitator’s guide. Participants can put to use what they learn in their daily lives. The information learned addresses the need for victim impact awareness, restorative justice, community building/repairing, leadership, parenting, substance and alcohol abuse, along with other anti-social behaviors that contribute to current social ills.
What makes TRP different is that we use real life experiences, techniques and evidenced based coaching techniques to foster positive and productive relationships. I founded this program after over 20 years of incarceration. I have been incarcerated since the age of seventeen, as of now 23 years. I have walked the path that many of these at risk youth are walking. I am still living the repercussions of making poor choices, well into my adult years. This is an important and critical fact. One that translates into real life experiences, insight and solutions for those that may find themselves at odds with pro-social lifestyle and behavior.
My personal experience along with the collaboration of my mentor, Dr Patrick Williams MCC BCC, The Reconstruct Program brings a wealth of viable options and creative solutions, that will not only influence change, but will motivate and inspire others towards healthy living and positive behavior.
In conclusion I would like to say that change is a choice and one that cannot be forced. The founding principle of TRP is based, on what we call, the 3 R’s and 3 F’s.
The 3 F’s fear, fact and force don’t provoke change. Most programs: mentor and counseling, use fear (which wears off), facts (which are soon forgotten) and force (which often tires out the one applying it) as a means of addressing these needs. We use the 3 R’s: relationships (which is at the heart of all human interaction) reframe (to think differently about the events taking place around you) and Repetition (to do it over and over again) as tools to help individuals choose what direction they choose to direct their lives.
It is hoped that members of DC council and other community leaders will support TRP and collaborate with us to add to the other methods currently being used to address the needs of at risk DC youth.
If you have any further questions about TRP you can contact us at the address provided below. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Talib M Shakir
Dear Friends and Family,
This past week we have seen some major strides. In just under 2 weeks, we have surpassed our first $1,000 in our fundraising campaign! We have also had our voices heard on this week’s WPFW Crossroad’s show with Roach Brown, and at the Enough is Enough protest at the U.S. Parole Commission office. Talib and I are grateful to all the people who have been supportive in helping us to navigate this difficult climate, find ways to plug in and speak up, and come closer to achieving Talib’s freedom. Your support – logistically, emotionally, financially, and so on – means a great deal and helps counter the isolation and struggle of fighting this fight. Thank you all!!!
Support our Drive: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/talib-m-shakir-legal-defense-fund–2/
Currently there are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in American prisons. That number includes state, federal and local jails. Of that number there are approximately 2,230 people serving life sentences from crimes committed as juveniles. The current debate among politicians is criminal justice reform. As it concerns juvenile lifers the question, around reform, is how much time is enough time.
How much time is enough time for someone to serve in prison for an offense committed before the human brain is fully developed? A National Institute of Health study proposes that the part of the brain that restrains risky behavior. and thinking skills is not fully developed until the age of 25. Jay Giedd, the psychiatrist leading the study, told MSNBC earlier this year that this finding came as a surprise to him because he used to think that the brain was fully developed at the age of 18. In all fairness to Dr. Giedd most people have the same opinion, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other critical figures involved in the criminal justice process.
This issue is such a hot topic that Newt Gingrich urged Governor Jerry Brown to sign California’s Senate Bill 9, “The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act”, which authorizes resentencing opportunities for juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment. Mr. Gingrich in an op-ed piece written with Pat Nolan quoted,
“We did some dumb things as teenagers that might have caused a lot of harm. You probably did, too. Gratefully, we didn’t harm anyone too badly, but we cringe about how clueless we were about the possible consequences to what we did. Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways. We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they cannot sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18. But there is one area in which we ignore teens, youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adult and teens. and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison. Should those youngsters remain in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?”
In October 1993, at the age of 17, I committed an offense I deeply regret. I was involved in a crime where someone lost their life. An act committed under the influence of alcohol. An act not intended, nor excusable, and deeply regretted. As a result I was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced as an adult. I was given a sentence of 20 years to life. Due to the seriousness of the offense I was fully aware that I was going away to prison for a very long time. I made a bad choice and justice had to be served. As of now I have been incarcerated for 23 years, three years longer than the twenty years the judge sentenced me to. How did this happen may be the question you are asking. I will get to that shortly.
When I first arrived at the state prison I immediately began working towards seeking knowledge. I knew that education was going to be the thing that would help me get through this sentence. I had, and have, a thirst for knowledge and love the process of seeking it. After I obtained my GED I began the UDC prison college program. It was my goal to graduate with a BA in Urban Studies. (The current national average recidivism rate is 0.4% for those that are released with at least an AA degree; however, it is 70%, at the national level for those released without sufficient education.) Unfortunately, the program was cut and I was not able to complete my studies. That did not stop me from pursuing other educational goals.
Here is a list of some of my achievements over the last 23 years:
UDC (college program)
Georgetown University (college program)
I am a certified and Licensed Barber
I am a certified instructor of basic English
I completed the BOP’s Life Connection Program, an 18 month, 1588, therapeutic residential community program
I have completed several drug courses, anger management and family courses
I learned (self taught) fluent Spanish and Arabic. My job for many years has been teaching Spanish GED and ESL
I have taken computers, Microsoft Office classes, and I am computer literate
I and a certified teachers aide. Through the Department of Labor I completed a 4000 hour course that allows me to serve as a teachers aide
I have taken building trades that required over 500 hours to complete. Also Residential Construction Electrical Principals that required 300 hours to complete
I have been the lead facilitator for several programs: Thinking for a Change, Quality of Life, Victim impact (taught in conjunction with Dr. Tony Gaskew, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Pittsburgh). My favorite course was Concerned Offenders for Youth Awareness (COYA). COYA was a program where I worked with at-risk youth through the Maricopa County Youth Probation Department, in Phoenix Az. They were brought inside the prison were we were able to mentor them.
I have certification as a Drug and Alcohol Abuse technician
I have recently completed two major courses. One as a Peer Recovery Advocate, someone who works with mental health patients that may struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. The other course I completed through Adams State College is Victim Advocacy. Learning these skill allow me to work with victims of crimes and other abuse.
Most importantly, I have skills and training as a certified wellness and personal development Life Coach. It was a goal of mine to bring the concept of Life Coaching to a prison I was in. I was able to do that through a program sponsored by the Institute for Life Coach Training founded by Dr.Patrick Williams, who also became my coach mentor, friend and advocate. This program, in FCI McKean, has graduated over 90 inmates. Inmates who, upon release, can seek employment, or further their coaching skills. To list the recommendations I have would take up a lot of space and time. But, those people include Senators, an ex-Captain of the KCPD, Chaplains, College Professors, Wardens, and the list goes on.
In 2010 I had an initial parole hearing. At that hearing I was parole eligible but due to the nature of the offense I was recommended a 1 year set of until my next hearing. The final decision comes from the US Parole Commissioners. They set me off for 3 years. In 2013 I had a rehearing and was recommended parole. The USPC Commissioners sent back a decision to set me off 5 more years. Yes, I was given more time the second time at the second hearing while it was noted I was a better candidate for parole at the re-hearing. At the second hearing my staff representative was the Associate Warden of Programs. Not to mention the employment opportunities I had available, housing, community ties and support, along with money saved. But here I sit.
Why am I explaining all of this? Because as my family and I try to raise $20,000 for an attorney to represent me against the parole board. I need your help. I feel that if I am going to ask for you help and support that you know exactly what and who you are supporting. I want you to feel that your donations are being contributed to a worthy cause.
What is the cause? Yes, it has to do with me but it also address a bigger issue, and answers the big question. How much time is a enough time for a person who committed their offense as a juvenile to serve? How much rehabilitation is needed to prove to the parole board that a person is ready for society.
I need this lawyer because she is going to help gather other experts to show that I am not the same 17 year old kid I was 23 years ago. The board’s reason to deny me parole; I have the same propensity to commit crime, and that I am a danger to public safety, based on my behavior at the age of 17. Regardless of what I have achieved during my incarceration, my record of the last 23 years of my adult life. Despite the fact that experts have determined that most people outgrow crime around the ages of 35 and 40. What I have presented to them is not enough so I have to go the extra mile. I need your help to get there.
After reading this piece. What do you think? Do you think 23 years is enough time to serve for an offense committed at a time when the brain is not fully developed. Do you think, that after reading some of my achievements during my incarceration show, I am ready to return to society and be productive? If you do please donate to this cause.
Donate whatever you can. Post this story and pass it on to your friends, family and colleagues. Your donations and generosity will not go unnoticed and will be appreciated. I am ready for society. I am ready to be productive and live life as a productive upstanding and law-abiding citizen. I need your help to make that happen. So please help by donating, any which way you can. All you have to do is go to this link, Talib M. Shakir Legal Defense Fund, and make that donations. You will not regret it.
Thank for your help and participation!