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…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.

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