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.

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