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. 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.

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. 📸

 

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.

Abdul ‘Malik,’ 41

Abdul ‘Malik,’ 41

Meet Malik…

…I entered prison without knowing how to read and write, so I taught myself. I never understood the importance of education until I got locked up.

Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Facility, Illinois

I have watched my relatives grow old – through pictures, then I had to watch those same pictures turn into obituaries. I no longer have a place to call home, I do not have a home to go home to. I have been incarcerated longer than I have been free. I have spent 22 years in prison for a crime I did not commit. I entered prison without knowing how to read and write, so I taught myself.

I never understood the importance of education until I got locked up. Recently I received an 8-0 a favorable decision from the Illinois torture inquiry relief commission. I was tortured and framed by a former sergeant. A person that the Federal courts have recognized as not having credibility. My court date is February 14, 2022, and I hope to prove my innocence. Judge Flood is presiding, here in Chicago, Illinois.

I am asking the global community to pray and come out to the courthouse and stand with me because I am afraid. Like so many others who have died in prison recently, I may never get the chance because of my pre-existing conditions – tuberculosis, hypertension and obesity, which places me in grave danger if I were to contract Covid-19. I am petrified! The outbreak here represents an unprecedented threat to men and women who are currently incarcerated. It is rapidly spreading among the prisoners and staff. 📸 Malik’s

 

 

Todd, 33

Todd, 33

Meet Todd…

…Isolated. Anxiety ridden. Helpless. Inhumane. All of these sum up how I’ve been forced to feel about myself over the past two years.

 

Incarcerated: 10 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center

Cry For Help

Deaths due to drug overdose have reached an all time high in America and there doesn’t seem to be any brakes on the runaway train. This is the reality we face in 2022, but the lost and forgotten in prisons across America deal with the same struggle. The difference? We’re property of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The cells we live in should be condemned! Cockroaches nest in the walls. The water we are forced to drink causes illnesses. IDOC says, “Nothing is wrong with the drinking water,” however staff and outside visitors are told NOT TO DRINK THE WATER. We need water to survive, but the commissary has not sold bottled water in 4 months. Dayrooms and yard times are denied due to short staffing. Just stay in your cells and dwell on Covid-19. Do not ask for help or complain. Stateville doesn’t care.

Christmas 2020 we weren’t allowed in person visits – the vaccines had not yet been distributed. Christmas 2021, Stateville goes on a “Medical Lockdown,” due to officers testing positive. No visits from my 73 year old parents. December 24th, I’m watching the Wizarding and escaping into childhood memories of Harry Potter. Stateville, supposedly “Short Staffed” due to another covid outbreak, somehow has the officers to do cell shakedowns on Christmas Eve. I do my best to go along, not make waves, but I COULD NOT COMPREHEND why I was being pulled out of my cell at this time.

As a man of faith I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, but what happens when you run out of cheeks? Taking “medicine” along with blood pressure pills was my remedy that night. Under the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve tattooed myself from head to toe, been to segregation twice, and had debilitating depression and anxiety. Prison itself brings about isolation. COVID cut off all in person contact with the outside world. The lack of humanity and personal connection has been crippling for me.

Will you help me keep my sanity in an institution that views me as nothing more than a product on a shelf that will expire and simply be thrown out? Will you step into my pain? Acknowledge my humanity and tell me that it’ll be ok?