From Da Bronx to D.M.V.

Jeffrey Melendez

 Third place, Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility writing contest, August 2021

I can still hear Da Bronx and smell the Bronx. It’s his own world. Very different very unique very alive in spirit, in culture. All different types of races, ethnics, different flags hanging from windows, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, Cuban, Dominican, Jamaican, Ethiopian. We all from different countries but we stick together here in America, here in the Bronx. If we can make it in New York City, we can make it anywhere. I’m proud that I was born there.  I still hear police sirens, honking horns in morning traffic different languages Chinese Swahili Spanish.

I hear car alarms going off and ambulance too. People screaming inside the Yankees stadium. I hear Mr. Softee ice cream truck. I can’t forget I hear the A, B and D train. Music playing through thru windows speakers blaring Salsa, Rap, Merengue, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Soka, Bachata, Danie Hull. The fire hydrant popped because it’s hot that’s all. White man pull-up in the white vans, asking for papers. Pops working late to put food on the table.

You see me I ain’t have the same luxuries I have 2 grandmothers in different countries. I’m a first generation born American I can’t say I’m going to grandmoms today she 2,000 miles away.  In the Bronx I can hear families argue about eviction notice. From High Bridge, Kings Bridge, 3rd Ave. Big Brother telling Little Brother don’t be a loser be a winner.

Moms going to a corrupt church the pastor is the biggest sinner. Moms cooking food, gun shots go-off her son ain’t coming home for dinner. In the corner smells of delicious Jamaican food, curry chicken, coco bread, and beef patties and in the other corner Giovannis Italian Pizza up the block, the Chinese spot. Down the block Dominican restaurant fry plantain with everything delicious. Never mind that half the buildings are rat and roach infested, Black and Brown around here we got Big money invested. We unite U.N.I.T.Y Latinos, African Americans, East Africans, West Africans. We all learn from each other different foods, dances, languages.

This is the Bronx. We are stars. On the rooftops we look up we don’t see stars. We see Police Helicopters and the Goodyear Blimp above the New York Yankees stadium. Shout out my Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, Hondurans, Haitians, Dominicans, Nigerians, Trinidadians, Asian, and Italians. The good men doing time in Rikers Island. People taking meds in the Asylum. My young youth in the street wilding. No matter where I go I represent where I’m from (The Bronx) I’m from DA B.X.

Out of my Dispair


Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility/OAR writing contest, August 2021

I am

I am human

I am a citizen

I am not the criminal conviction

I am….


It is with premise that I sought a way out of my dispair. A dispair due to the fact that I and many others were sidelined during the 2020 United States Presidential election because of incarceration. So, on November 3,2020 and the days immediately afterwards, an idea was spawned to create non-profit organization with the focused pledge to aid all eligible formally incarcerated citizens returning to their community exercise their democratic right to vote. This pledge would be achieved, in part, through advocacy, voter education, and voter registration.

The organization would be branded/named:  The Returning Citizen Initiative ©

                        – We’re home, we’re voting – ©

A 501(c) non-profit dedicated to the voting rights of the formally incarcerated citizen returning to their community.

What follows is a considered snapshot of the content to be included in the formal business plan for the establishment of The Returning Citizen Initiative.

Let us concisely place this unique form of the disenfranchisement of ex-felons (the “invisible punishment”) in a historical context.

                        “[T]he slave went free, stood a

                        brief moment in the sun; then moved

                        back again towards slavery.”

                                                                                    W.E.B. DuBois

                                                                                    Black Reconstruction America

In Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she opens with a penetrating introduction to Jarvious Cotton:

“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote.  Like his father, grandfather, great-great grandfather, and great-great-great grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy…the freedom for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life…His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy test.  Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many in the United States has been labeled a felon…”

During the previous generations of the Cotton family, there were historical periods referred to as the Reconstruction Era (1863-1877) and the Jim Crow era (1877-1945).  Blacks went from a time where a host of federal civil rights laws protecting the recently freed slaves were passed including the Fifteenth Amendment.  This change to the U.S. Constitution provided that the right to vote must not be withheld on account of race.  Then came Jim Crow (a racial caste system).  It was at the beginning of Jim Crow that the criminal justice system was used to force Blacks back into a system of repression and control, a tactic that would continue for decades to come.

The National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning: The definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by the Harvard University facility member, Ibram X. Kend, artfully details how the “Jim Crow Codes” denied Blacks the right to vote through various devices including felon disenfranchisement laws.

“Blacks were disproportionally charged with felonies – in fact, some crimes were specifically defined as felonies with the objective of eliminating Blacks from the electorate – felon disenfranchisement laws effectively suppressed the Black vote as well.”

Now fast forward to the 1983 Drug Reform Act; the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the “Big Lie,” and the current sweeping voter suppression efforts underway in several state legislatures.  With this historical backdrop, The Returning Citizen Initiative’s onramp onto the stage to join with those voices crying to front the returning citizen the right to vote will be a starting point.

Aside from the required process of launching a new 501(c) non-profit organization, the mission of The Returning Citizen Initiative is to ensure the voting rights of the formally incarcerated citizens to their community through advocacy – voter education and voter registration. The vision of The Returning Citizen Initiative is to be a nimble; data-drive, and best practices organization effecting legislation and policy, first on a state level and then on a national level to the benefit of the formally incarcerated. Thereby, creating an opportunity for our brothers and sisters, who have “paid their dues; did their time” to enjoy the dignity, self-confidence, and purpose that participating in the political process – as a full citizen – can endow.

As we approach this important work, we will partner with like mind organizations and policy generators to fill any needs gaps. Armed with a plan, persuasiveness, and persistence, The Returning Citizen Initiative’s initial political lobbying will involve approaching the Virginia State Assembly to pass legislation allowing for the voting by convicted felons while still incarcerated in jail/prison.

On a final note, The Returning Citizen Initiative was born out of dispair. However, I have the unyielding hope that this organization will have an impact on bringing overdue solutions to the issues of the formally incarcerated citizens fully participating in their right to vote – to have their…”moment in the sun.”

Ain’t I a Person?

by Marc Williams

Nonfiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

            Rugged, hard and mean. Concerned, worried and confused. I have been manipulated controled and stereotyped, often judged for my actions but ain’t I a person?

Labeled and frowned upon for actions of those that came before me. Tossed to the wayside based on my appearance but ain’t I a person?

I am curious, inquisitive, worried and confused, often scoffed at when I expect a chance or a equal share, ain’t I a person?

Punished and condemed for exploits that were committed in a time of need and hunger. When I have depended on survival instincts, doing what the generations before me have done, and for that I am wrong? ain’t I a person?

I only want to achieve the American dream. Picket fences, children and a dog. ain’t I a person?

Why am I wrong for reaching for the stars wanting a house and cars? I am often reminded of morality, right and wrong. But morality is a great song that a person sings when he or she has never been hungry.

I mean yes you can walk the road of nobility but no one will remember you were a nobel person only that of what you have gained, and I am catagorized for using the method that my environment has used for generations to gain that wich I am expected to have?

ain’t I a person?

so yes I have traveled down roads that are more paved just like those who rode a train to freedom that tracks were laid by the likes of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and for this I am persecuted?

ain’t I a person?

I sweat, bleed, and dream, laugh and cry all the same so excuse me because yes, I am a person!

Life’s A Game; Game of Life

By Aaron Johnson 

Nonfiction,Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

Chapter 1—God Chapter 2—Pain Chapter 3—Money.

You win some. You lose some. No pain no gain. Do what’s hard, so your life will be easy. If you do what’s easy your life will be hard. What is life compared to death or death compared to life. It’s one big contradiction, but ultimately it’s fair. My life hasn’t been all good, neither all bad, it’s been what I made it & and for that I’m grateful, some people are forced into poverty, genocide, rape, adoption, hate, wealth, abundance, music, family business etc. Not all good not all bad but they all have choice, free will & decision-making to decide what will be there ultimate path.

You can begin in one destination & end on the next, that is what makes unfair Fair and Unjust, Just. God is Great, Merciful, Kind, Forgiving & Loving. So why would he allow man to suffer such fate at it’s own hand? Me personally I’d rather be just a humble servant of the Lord. Why give a choice to choose evil & not only that but give us satisfaction when doing it. Now Im not saying thats all I have done was be a servant, but I rather not have the choice to do anything else but be a humble servant. I feel it would be for the greater good. Life is a constant Push-Pull Give-Take & in the end it becomes more about how much you can withstand and keep going. Rather than dodge the blac itself sure you can dodge certain events & manifest destiny but it’s constant pain and suffering whether you like it or not, good or bad, outlaw or inlaw we all fall short to the glory of God. I love life & life is love & like I said before I’m grateful for the life given to me, family etc. I’ve made decisions in my past thus creating a certain future, a future that is mine and mine only but those decisions have brought wisdom & discernment that must be shared with others, so that they not suffer the same fate or misfortune. I will break everything down in the following chapters. Just keep an open mind & spirit. God bless you.

Chapter 1

God is good all the time & all the time God is good, depending on what you believe in this thought may differ for you but nonetheless he still is good to you whether you share that thought or not. There is no such thing as creation without creator, Son without Father & Daughter without Mother. There is a delicate balance to the Air you breathe in & let out, you do not tell your heart to beat or hair to grow. Things are all put in place by something much greater all to your benefit. Like a raindrop in an ocean you must start somewhere, religion distorts the facts, a culture put in place by man to get closer to God, but backfired & we’ve been dealing with it ever since. Now when I say humble servant & rather not have a choice let me break that down. To serve a being so great that it has made you & I two uniquely different people but of same flesh would be an honor, to be of service is the ultimate show of gratitude for an example your phone is of importance to you (for some people their entire lives are in their phone). It provides you a tremendous service in multiple aspects, in return you pay a bill faithfully to keep the relationship between you and the phone provider in good standing. Me personally I would like to just serve without the option to betray such a debt, giving free will & the choice to choose. Bad is a blessing & curse, some can’t control Temptation, Envy, Lust, Greed, Pride, Hate & fall victim to themselves. If you exercise self-control and steadfast you will be fine, but in a world design to test you & your faith, design to break you, design to make you a savage or die. I’d rather not have a choice to choose wrong. Just let me be of service to the one who serves all, but he is so good he allows us the freedom to sink or swim. There is a cost associated with this freedom it’s called PAIN. Saint and Sinner must pay the cost no one is exempt as long as you live you’ll have to endure. Makes a little more sense to just serve, but God is good all the time & all the time God is good.

Chapter 2

No pain. No gain. Pain is constant throughout your journey especially the more accomplished or sucessful you are. If your life is carefree you’ll have the pain of seeing others succeed. If you’re fortunate enough to succeed, then pain is inevitable, how much & how great depends on God. Good decision making can help a great deal you want to avoid trouble and dysfunction at all cost. Trouble will find you no need to go looking for it & pain is the result of thge last two I named. Pain humbles the unhumble & has made wise of the unwise. Never be envious of others because you do not know their pain, it’s easy to wish for a better life much harder to make one. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” You don’t truly know life until you know pain. Here’s a little cheat code so things won’t seem so down, Pain is 93 Premium gasoline in the car of life. The smartest use pain to fuel them & take life to new heights, since it is so constant and keeps with relentless intensity it makes for a great source of energy. As long as you live Pain will come so see it as another obstacle to overcome, a building block. As I said there is a price for free will & to live a life according to your own rules. God doesn’t miss a beat, he is the beat and the beat maker so try not to be in debt give much praise and be grateful for everything even the small stuff. If he inflicts pain & it is feeling unbearable rest assured it could be worse. That’s one thing about life’s pain, it could always be worse, create a pain tolerance & try to endure every bit you can because eventually it will get better it has to it’s the law “What goes up must come down” (universal law) like inflation in the economy. Ever lost “Money”? Now that’s pain, but you’ll get it back. It won’t be the first or last time it happens. Speaking of money let us begin!!!

Chapter 3

Money is the currency of the world this energy exchange from person to person, generation to generation has established dominance for centuries. A social structure put in place by mankind that has lasted ages. See in our society “Money isn’t everything but having it is” What are you in this world without money? Or better question Who are you when you have it? Pride. Greed. Lust & Envy. All are manifestations of money. So is money the root of all evil depending on who you ask you may get different answers. Nonetheless, it’s still essential whether you’re a pastor of a congregation or a Vicious Dictator of a nation your regime is funded with money. So how could good and evil have a fundamental base they both share, how could a piece of paper dictate the balance of life & death, good & evil, right & wrong. (Birth & burial, church & politics, school & prison). It’s the energy that makes money so powerful. It’s just wax paper but we the people give it the value, to the average person “Money” is their God. They idolize it, chase it, & worship it all their lives, wrongfully so. Money should be just a tool in your utility belt to make life easier. Money has only the value you set for it. You tell yourself a $100 bill is worth $100. Therefore it is. Don’t believe me? Give an infant a $100 bill. They might tear it because it has no value to them. They see it as a paper nothing more. However you give them a toy they will play with it & you can buy toys with money. See life is a big contradiction. Money is no different. Don’t be fooled with the illusions of grandeur. See no amount of money can buy time. So money lost has nothing on one wasted. We will continue time in the next book. Be safe. M ay God bless you.

Love Letter

By Peter Le

Third place winner, nonfiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

Hey Babe. So I have been thinking recently. What is love? After r-evaluating everything, I am more than certain I do want to be with you no matter what. I have always loved you and that will never stop. You are my first love and best friend. Things like that wouldn’t change overnight.  So I will embrace my love for you and work through our problems and differences.

When I first got locked up, I didn’t want to hold you back. I wanted you to be free and happy, but you wanted to hold me down. That’s what love is, so I respected your decision to bear my pain wit me and loved you even more for it. We first thought that I would be home in a few years, but that all changed when you go locked up 2 months after me. It hurts me more than you will ever know. I wanted you snitch on me so they would let you go, but you refused. You don’t deserve any of this. You are innocent, but the Feds thought otherwise. The think you know everything because you are my wife. So they pressured you many times and made you cry. That made me cry too. You told me not to cry and be strong. I hated myself for hurting you.  Sometimes I still do. My mistakes haunt me. It is my fault that the Feds involved you. As our case developed, our relationship struggled. We started to question ourselves and our future. How strong was our commitment to each other? We still wanted to be together, however, and held on.

We wrote letters and passed each other notes whenever we could, but maybe that wasn’t enough.  Our lives were already drifting apart and I didn’t want to accept it. I couldn’t have. I’ve lost everything already, but you and my family. I could not afford to lose anything else. Eventually, I was indicted with more charges and you were sentenced to 3 ½ years. Our faith in each other started to break. Hope was bleak and only our past was concrete. You resented me and I accepted that. It is my fault for your incarceration. I failed to protect you when you trusted me. You were mad and did what you wanted. You stopped writing me and wrote other guys instead. You flirted and entertained them. Maybe you did it out of spite or maybe you enjoyed to. I was hurt and felt betrayed, but at the end of the day it was justifiable. I couldn’t resent you for that. I am the reason you are alone and suffering. Maybe you thought I didn’t love you anymore or maybe it was too much to love me. It didn’t seem likely anymore that I was coming home after a few years. You never ended things between us. You only said that you would write me when you can because it was getting complicated to send letters. Even if you were cheating on me, I couldn’t stop loving you. If it made you feel better, shouldn’t I find consolation in that? It was difficult and I was confused. After a few days of heartbreak, I forgave you and found my peace. Even though you never told me about the other guys, I don’t hold that against you. In our hearts, I know that we still love each other.

I am writing this because it is inevitable. I am sending it to you now because the sooner I address it, the better. I’ve waited and waited, but you never wrote me. But I knew I had to be the one to write you first. When you responded back and said you were doing well in prison, I was just happy and overwhelmed to get a letter from you. It’s been over a year since we’ve wrote each other, but not a day has gone by that you weren’t on my mind.

I was reading this book and it reminded me of what love was. It was a sign and I had to let you know how I feel. I love you and married you. You are the person I chose. Through thick and thin and for better or for worse. I signed up for this and will support you whether you are wrong or right. If I can’t handle you at your worst, then I don’t deserve you at your best. Because I love you, I respect your wishes. Whether you want to or not, I will always love you and wish you the best. That is just what love is. So yes, I really do love you.


Your best friend

Dispised & Rejected

by S. Amir Farrakhan

Nonfiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

More than 38 of my 58 years have been survived in America’s notorious prison industrial complex, commencing from the time I was 12 years old a man. An only child, I was raised by an unwed strong take no sh_ _ type of woman, whom had a very heavy hand, that was employed all to often.

I actually hated my mother, more so because of her disciplinary enforcement. I did not get spankings, I got Kunta Kentaed (the main character of the movie Roots). However, although she beat me like I was a hebrew slave, she was an excellent provider. I’ve never known hunger, had my own room, new clothing & an abundance of games & toys, I even had my own T.V.

As tradition would have it, I’ve not known the face of my biological father. He was a soldier in “ol massa’s army,” whom wanted my mother to move to Chicago & she declined & so he went on his merry way, never sending me even a can of milk. I did however see a photo of him that my mom has.

But this behavior is a common idiosyncrasy that veils Black humanity in Amerikkka & affects all of the descendants of those sacred Souls that were compelled to this land of the free, in the belly of slave ships, like the Jesus of Lebeck among many that set sail through the middle passage.

It was a common practice of ol massa to abduct the infant from its mother & sell off the father to sire children on other plantations after impregnating all the other “heifers,” as he called the Blackwoman. And there is a word that I don’t recall, but it appellates a condition of the mind that’s brought on when an experience is so atrocious, it’s engrossed in & passed down one’s bloodline from generation to generation. I believe this has a direct bearing on the Blackmale in his ability to impregnate women & keep it moving as if the child is solely the responsibility of the mother.

However, Allah did place a very beautiful man in my mother’s life, who was with her before my birth & other than Allah, is the only Father I know & is still in my corner til this day & loves me hard. And I was raised right, he only spanked me once with a cloth belt & my mother made him do that. So why have I spent more than half my life in a prison cage? Guess what? It had nothing to do with my rearing.

The so-called educated amongst us, the “educated negros” taught in the schools & universities of our open enemies, teach us that our quality of life depends on the choices we make, not revealing that choice can be manipulated, because the mind can be manipulated & controled to a great extent if not utmost.

It’s not by chance that Black folk make up only 11% of these United States, yet better than 40% of its prison system. This implies that we, the original people of the earth, the builders of the great pyramid & the greatest civilizations & whom are renowned as the Master builders & mimicked in the masonic lodges by those who enslaved us, are prone to crime. And what’s sad is that many of our own kin take the position that we are. But remember that they are educated & trained by ol massa. It’s even worse when you find those that ol massa has made into himself. During antebullem, this breed of Blacks were referred to by their peers as “House Niggers” & they have no pride nor shame. In fact, they are examples of the manipulated & controlled mind & exist right now today.

A good example is in “corrections” or law enforcement. My grandmother was amongst those Blacks that marched, got beat with clubs & sprayed with water hoses & had flesh eating dogs sicced on them, as they protested for Blacks to be given jobs in law enforcement, to ensure that we would be protected, treated justly & fairly while in jails & prisons. However most of them hired could not have gotten that notice. But there are a very small few, whom are not under subjugation of the badge they proudly wear over their most precious organ, (the heart). Its image is a tyrant, (hermaphrodite) standing on a vanquished Black king. This is the concept, the foundation of this state & it’s fed to every employee in subtle increments, (Sic Semper Tyrannis) this is the aim & purpose of this state Virginia. Look up the word tyrant, & you’ll see what we are under (overt oppression) enforced by the now children of the slaves, “remarkabal!”

I grew up in near abject segregation, programed by white supremacy at every angle, in school the book they started us on was titled, The Little White House about a Caucasian family with a dog named Flip whom said, “Bow wow,” On T.V. the only serious character that looked like me was Bill Cosby who played a Black spy for ol massa. Black folk in this era were still trying to assert themselves, & in the hood there was not alot of positive influences. People for the most part were as Marvin Gay sang, “Trying to get over.”

I fell victim to the gangster shows on T.V. & whole heartedly embraced Al Capone. I wanted to be like him, thus I was fascinated with guns & crime of which is prevalent in poorer hoods & easily accessible, (which is all by design). So the only heros I had who looked like me where I grew up were the athletes & hoodlums & I had my choice made for me by circumstances & conditions which chose for me. The sure rout[e] was crime.

The conditions in & of any community can be & are manipulated. When institutions of employment, businesses, commerce, etc. are removed from a community, a chasm of depletion is created & what follows is poverty which changes the orientation of the mind, making it more susceptible to sugestion, especially subliminal, which is done through music & vision, esp. television “programing.” So when one is put in a sink or swim situation is there really a choice being offered, better yet, if I tell one that I’m going to kill you, pick which gun, a 357 or 44. Is that really a choice? And out of said conditions which imposed on my thinking, boredom sets in, then depression & I turned to older guys in my hood whom fed that chasm with criminal ideas & thus I began my “so-called gangster.”

As a result, reformatories & prisons have been a major part of my life, of which has taken a heavy toll on my mother’s & caused me to be absent in my own children’s lives, so there has been a snowball effect. But what it has done is brung my mother & me closer. Since 1994 she’s been the greatest mother & my very best friend.

However, it’s no secret that we, the Blackman, woman & child are an endangered species, we are not equal citizens in this country & white folk demonstrate this each second, we are still oppressed, exploited & abused. Understand that citizens do not need civil rights, even those of my kind whom have been employed in his systems of government, to him & his constituents in & of the ruling class in & of the higher echelon of society, are merely “things” to be used to help him advance & to maintain control of the common folk not on his team.

This is too Black to win this contest. It might anger ol massa!