I grew up in Gary, Indiana during the 90’s; gang violence, poverty, drug infestation and lost hope, were the epitome of my existence. I, like many raised in those streets, fell victim to the idea that “this is all there is for me, the grave or the penitentiary”. A self-fulfilled prophecy or so I thought. I chose to become a product of these ideals. I sought acceptance from the gangstas, the visions of brotherhood, the feeling of belonging to something more. I listened to the music, internalizing the lyrics of manhood, living out those “philosophies”. I watched the movies, emulating the mannerisms and language. I became another character without a plot. I smoked the weed and drank the liquor attempting to deaden the pains of poverty and the feelings of isolation. I chased the girls fulfilling the rites of passage through sexual conquest, replacing love for pleasures. And yes I pulled the trigger, shooting at enemies that looked like my own reflection, survival of the fittest right? I never fully understood who I was suppose to be, I became defined by what everyone else said a man should be and became that definition. I joined the Army attempting to escape a felony charge, and to also give my son and family something better in life. My priorities were still misconstrued. I was traveling with no destination, no purpose in life. Even in the Army I suffered from my own self-delusions. Believing that I was still this ghetto-child, this gangsta and only now do I understand the lie for what it is.

For the past 16 years, I’ve been serving 28-year sentence for the crimes of 7 aggravated robberies. Not once in these 16 years have I been able to hold my son or assist him in becoming a man. Sleeping with a terrorizing fear that he can easily end up where I am or dead. I am guilty as charged, guilty of victimizing my child by my absence. Not once in these 16 years have I had the privilege of a visit from my mother, to hold her and explain how much I love her and how sorry I am for sentencing her to serve this time day for day with me. I was unable to say bye to my grandparents before they passed away. Living this lonely life, yet I strove to find the answers to why am I really locked up, why are we killing ourselves, why isn’t anyone doing anything to help? I have prayed for guidance, a better understanding, and to be a better man. And through this time I have learned this; “Non Sum Quails Erum” loosely translated as “I am not who I used to be”. I know now that growing up where and how I did, my actions were not the only means for escaping the ghetto. I choose to accept the LIE, to become less, to become another statistic I unconsciously, in ignorance choose these consequences. I know now the importance of identity as well as strong active and vocal men in a child’s life.

I have lived with convicted felons for over 16 years and I see what society can’t or won’t. I see true men of value, assets where the world only sees worthlessness. I see sons that just want to be accepted and loved, where peoples say, “they don’t deserve love”. I see brothers and fathers, who have followed in the footsteps of absent brothers and fathers and are blindly leading their children into the same fire, feeding this cycle. I fight here and now to change this culture to abolish this genocide. To give us back identities and independence. I fight to assist in building up men to go home and become more for their families while I still can’t hold or help my own at this time. I work for our people but I can’t do it alone, we deserve a true change, I am R.E.A.D.Y. are you?