John, 47

John, 47

Meet John…

“One thing I have noticed during my walk is the more I submit to God’s will, the more blessings I receive. God is clearly guiding my footsteps.”

Incarcerated: 17 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois

I was one of ten men selected to be a part of a music program constructed by Ari Williams and Common, the rapper. Common had a music studio built right here inside the prison. Nine guys and I record music once a week in the studio. But God wasn’t done blessing me. Not only did I meet Common the day the studio opened, but I was able to rap for him, talk with him for several hours and even record a song with him. Which I hope will be out soon. I have been blessed to even record music. One thing I have noticed during my walk is the more I submit to God’s will, the more blessings I receive. God is clearly guiding my footsteps. I am a God fearing man who lived a very sinful life. I was a gangsta rapper who sold drugs and took life for granted. I dated several women at the same time and when two of them had a physical altercation in my apartment that ended fatally, my life was changed forever. I was wrongfully convicted of murder. After I was sentenced, I accepted Christ as my Savior. I am mindful of how cliché it sounds to find God in prison, but actually God found me. My spiritual transition was gradual. I stopped swearing, being disrespectful and reinvented myself musically. I threw away all my old raps and began to write Christian raps, inspirational poetry and the spoken word. The Holy Spirit kept inspiring me to minister through my music. I believe one day he is going to guide me right out of prison. I am 47 years old and I compose better music than I did when I was 27. I have a powerful testimony for whoever is willing to listen. Every day above ground is proof that God gave me a gift and why I now have a record deal. I was called to be an ambassador for Christ, a world wide evangelist. Not an inebriated gangsta rapper with an appetite for sins of the flesh. It took the injustice of a 75 year prison sentence for God to get my attention. But boy does he have it now. Looking at how far God has brought me is proof of how far he is willing to take me.

Quayshaun, 30

Quayshaun, 30

Meet Quayshaun…

“I was able to impact him in a profound way and it never would’ve happened if I didn’t choose to make the most of a negative situation. This is my twelfth year in prison and after that day.”

Incarcerated: 12 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois.

I kneeled in my cell digging through my correspondence box until finally pulling out the manuscript to my self-help book. An acquaintance of mine had recently gotten his life sentence reversed and was projected to go home in a few more years. He’d been incarcerated since he was 16 and in his mid-thirties. This concept of life as a free man was so far in the past and his experiences so limited that he was unsure of whether he could make it on his own. Prior to getting locked up he’d sold drugs and robbed to support himself and wasn’t provided any programs to help him develop life skills that would prepare him for his return to society. “I don’t want to go back to my old ways, but I don’t know nothing else,” he told me when I asked him what he had planned for when he got out. It was then that I mentioned my manuscript “Snares Of The Trap.” I wrote it specifically for people like him, who wanted to transition from the streets to a legitimate career but don’t know where to start. I passed him the large manilla envelope containing the loose pages then he disappeared down the gallery and into his cell. After he started reading it we began walking to the chow hall and the yard together talking about what he learned. As intended the book was helping understand how to apply concepts that he used when hustling, such as budgeting and marketing, in his legitimate business pursuits. And the more he read the more I started to see alight in his eyes and hear a hope in his voice that was previously not present. About a week later I exited my cell to go to chow and heard him call my name. “Ay, I’m done with it”, he said handing me the manuscript. Then, the moment I’ll always remember, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you.” By compiling my knowledge and experiences I was able to impact him in a profound way and it never would’ve happened if I didn’t choose to make the most of a negative situation. This is my twelfth year in prison and after that day I can say that, despite how hard it’s been. It wasn’t all for nothing.

Robert, 41

Robert, 41

Meet Robert…

…Jennifer Lackey, a philosophy professor at Northwestern University, introduced a values class at the prison which I pursued. She told me to apply. This I was accepted to something that would transform my life. My first true college course wasn’t easy because her expectations didn’t allow for less because of my situation, so I responded accordingly. 

incarcerated: 24
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois

A few years ago while running the yard I saw my economics teacher going towards the educational building. She was with a female visitor, being intrigued I made my way to them. I was informed that her name was Jennifer Lackey and a philosophy professor at Northwestern University. She was introducing a values class at the prison which I pursued. She told me to apply.

This I was accepted to something that would transform my life. My first true college course wasn’t easy because her expectations didn’t allow for less because of my situation, so I responded accordingly. Upon completion of the class we were supposed to take her mass-incarceration class, but that got put on hold for something far more beautiful.

She informed us that Northwestern would sponsor her plan for a degree program here at the institution, and her current class would be given priority for applications. After the application process and being formally accepted to Northwestern Prison Educational Program, I have obtained my associate’s degree from Oakland Community College, and I am currently a bachelor’s degree candidate. Through her will to see those that were less fortunate given a chance, I’m one of twenty-one individuals destined for greater things.

I have also used this time to get my barber’s license as well. The growth I’ve chosen to pursue was made possible with the aid and compassion of others, those that have chosen to see more than my circumstances, like the opportunities and possibilities of hope with a little help. So many are responsible for the clarity with which I now see. So thank you all. 📸

 

Raymond, 43

Raymond, 43

Meet Raymond…

…Like many, my environment was filled with drugs, gangs, guns, violence and bad decisions. I became a product of all of it. Falling in the trap of a system designed to destroy me.

Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Lawrence Correctional Center, Sumner, Illinois

My upbringing was a little rougher than the average. Don’t get me wrong, I came from a beautiful loving family, it was outside the home that the problems occurred. Like many, my environment was filled with drugs, gangs, guns, violence and bad decisions. I became a product of all of it. Falling in the trap of a system designed to destroy me.

Being locked up has been an unfortunate experience, yet I didn’t let it destroy me. I did the opposite and used this time to build a better me. Just like my mother and grandmother taught me, I chased after more education and knowledge. Watching them also taught me strength. I can actually say I got my strength from a woman.

I understand that I am not in the situation I’m in right now, and God has a wonderful plan for me. Before I got here it wasn’t all bad, I had life lessons and knowledge I gained from my single mother and grandmother. They continually stressed how important an education was and how I could achieve greatness no matter what life threw at me. They saw the potential in me at an early age. I had a fondness for reading and they kept me with a healthy supply of literature. Then, I found out that my real passion was writing.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, probably a few years after I learned to write a fluently constructive sentence. Simple basic poetry turned into playing with words and leaving people in awe, releasing passionate explicit emotion. A hobby that eased my mind and gave me serenity, something therapeutic to me has turned into my profession, my style, my life which I constantly try to perfect. I’ll have five books published this year, three of which are poetry books. I’m humble but overeager and anxious for people to hear my voice. God willing I’ll be home this year, ready for the world to listen to my testimony.

William, 58

William, 58

Meet William…

…They have shown me that I have worth and humanity irrespective of my crimes that I now seek to atone for.

Incarcerated: Life Without Parole
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Illinois

My bond with JoJo began when she was 10. Though she had no reason to, and despite my being Muslim, she sent me Christmas cards with the most heart-warming messages every year. Even as JoJo grew older, played sports, engaged in social and academic pursuits characteristic of most youth, she never stopped sending those beautiful cards. They continued even after she graduated high school and went on to college.

Now, JoJo is a wonderful, full-grown non-binary “Queer” human being! We continue to engage via email, and we recently started a book-club of two, where she and I read books together, discussing them at length, and just enjoy the depth and breadth of each others minds. JoJo says, they/them learn so much from our exchanges, but truth be told, I learn far more from them about unconditional love and acceptance of those deemed beyond redemption and value in our society. They have shown me that I have worth and humanity irrespective of my crimes that I now seek to atone for.

JoJo has never asked me if I was guilty or innocent. They just opened their heart and welcomed me as family. Today, just before I began writing this, JoJo sent me an email wherein she called me “Sweet”. Throughout my life I’ve been called many things, names that hurt, and diminished my humanity. The really funny part, I was raised in a very hyper-masculine and misogynistic environment where being called “Sweet” would’ve angered me.

Today, as I read JoJo’s message I smile, and my heart swells with joy, humility, and gratitude for my priceless friendship with this incredible human being! I have spent more of my life in captivity than I have in the “free world.” In 1994, while awaiting my death in Pontiac Prison in Pontiac Illinois, I met a white man who would become a life-long friend; and who would afford me a gift beyond measure, the friendship of his wonderful granddaughter, JoJo.