Kenneth, 69

Meet Kenneth…

I want people to read my introduction to know I am not my past. That I am constantly evolving.

Incarcerated: 23 years

Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois

Everyone calls me Aranyah (which means the Covering of YAH). I am one of three sons, one deceased, the other I’ve been estranged from for over twenty five years. Both of my parents are also deceased. I want people to read my introduction to know I am not my past. That I am constantly evolving. That I’m an artist of over thirty plus years. A writer and poet over the last several years, which started at the prompting of my son, who is also incarcerated, to join a writing class, so he and I could spend more time together. In our writing class I met a professor Andrew McKenna, who had recently retired from Loyola University and who changed my life. He opened my eyes to all types of literature that would speak of issues that are still relevant today. Authors such as George Orwell, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin to name a few. These authors have influenced me to write about social issues, the marginalization of mass incarceration. Line paper became my new canvas, like painting, it allowed me to correct the narratives so falsely presented to the public about people in custody. My stories are filled with vivid color and emotions, and the reality of the perils of doing time. Its foundation is firmly set on the pillars of integrity and truth. I have worked hard to share stories that seek to chain the moral compass that has been pointed in the direction of forget them, just lock them up and throw away the key, to a narrative of forgiveness, thoughts of redemption and restorative justice. My prayer is to reconnect in some way that is helpful, motivating and encouraging and that will create a space of Shalom. What I’ve learned is that writing is therapeutic and I just want people to join in the conversation. 

Jeffrey, 65

Jeffrey, 65

Meet Jeffrey…

My desire for more of a life, for direction and meaning is undiminished. I’m living in the nest of the enemy and my fear is great, yet it only feeds my rage.

Incarcerated: 42 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center,Joliet, Illinois

I was in Cook County Jail fighting a triple murder. Beat one, convicted on one, I had one left and was facing the death penalty. I ran outta loot, my lawyer left. I was juggling to come up with some quick cash to attain proper representation and maintain my dame, Ada Marie and 18 month old little girl. When I would call I would say to her mama to put her on the phone.. She would make my day, listening to her explaining whatever it is she’s talking about. I got convicted, facing the death penalty. I had an emptiness inside me that couldn’t be filled. I was in an Abnormal Behavior Observation Unit (ABU)and was allowed to have visits. I was on one side of a concrete wall with a window with little steel holes to talk through. Not given chairs, we had to bend down to talk through the holes. We hear loud electronic gates which make a ton of noise. Opening and closing. Ada Marie has Pumpkin in her arms and the loud noise has Punkin shaking like she was out in the cold. I see her bottom lip trembling on the verge of tears, holding on to her mama tight. She put her face in her mother’s neck. The gate shuts with a loud bang, her little legs shaking. Ada Marie is telling her to say hi to daddy and I’m saying, “Hi Punkin’, don’t cry.”  She wouldn’t budge. Ada Marie puts her ear to the steel hole. She resisted wholeheartedly. “NO, MAMA, NO,” her feet kicking. Ada Marie held her head to the hole, and I roared like an 800 pound lion, “ARRRRRRRRR”. Her little feet stopped kicking, trembling, eyes watery, lip shaking, she looked through the glass and I roared again. Her pretty brown eyes got big, her lip stopped shaking and her little hand reached out to touch the glass. A sly cute smile began to take form, “Daddy – Mama look it’s Daddy!” At that moment, the empty hole inside me overflowed. The dark cloud was no longer. My desire for more of a life, for direction and meaning is undiminished. I’m living in the nest of the enemy and my fear is great, yet it only feeds my rage. I’m confident I’ll achieve my freedom, one kind or another.

Eldridge, 56

Eldridge, 56

Meet Eldridge…

I’ve taught myself, instead of reacting to situations, act on them. To think before I act.
Incarcerated: 30 years
Housed: Statesville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois

I’ve been talking to men the past 30 years and it’s hard to share your feelings with guys in this place. My mom lives in Michigan so I haven’t seen her in 30 years. We talk on the phone two times a week. I have never had a visit which is sad. Recently I’ve tried reaching out to my kids, two daughters, 31 and 36 and my son, 37. I’ve got grandkids I’ve never met and might not ever meet. I don’t know what to say to my kids. I just got back into their lives in 2020 and it’s been strange. We don’t know one another and it’s hard to write because my hands are shot. I have a tablet, so we can email but they haven’t done it and that’s what hurts knowing I have any kind of future with my kids. I filed a clemency petition last year and getting it scares me more than being turned down. I have no place to go and some nights that keep me up, but I have to lift my spirits up and stay strong. Nobody got me here but myself so I blame myself for all the wrong choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve taught myself, instead of reacting to situations, act on them. To think before I act. I have tested positive twice for Covid but never got sick. But I feel blessed, four of my friends didn’t make it. I shed a lot of tears for them. During these Covid times, please stay safe.

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.