Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility/OAR writing contest, August 2021
I am human
I am a citizen
I am not the criminal conviction
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.”
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. Kendi, 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.”
Fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021
Her pulchritude stimulated my primal appetite, as I observed the arresting rhythmic gyration of her picture perfect gluteus, in her ambulation down wind, leaving her redolence in its wake, bringing to my nostrils a fragrance very familiar to my taste. She was something of a sculptural opus, that only the Almighty God could fabricate, in a spiritual realm where perfection is prominent & dominant. I ached for a closer inspection of this dynamical collection.
Stopping before a small stream of flowing honey, in the midst of fruit trees & candied flowers watered by sweet showers, she kneeled to take a drink. I’d never witnessed such elegance of configuration enveloped in such flawless epidermis, as if she’d been dipped in a robust dark chocolate, with hair like sable stringed layers of refined silk cascading to the small of her back.
Shifting my body to improve my angle of observance, I stepped on a twig & startled her. She stood and faced my direction. Her eyes located mine and seized them. I shuddered in embarrassment & attempted to flee, but my legs would not respond & I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
Her thick, well contoured lips did not move & yet I knew that it was she that I was hearing in my head. Then again, maybe it was her alluring dark eyes speaking in silent modulation, whichever I received it. She held out her hand to me & grasped it, shocked by how cool & comforting it was, its softness like unto nothing I’ve experienced, however simultaneously there was a surge of warmth that shot through my being. And with more intensity in her gaze she asked,
“Why are you afraid of me?”
Although I wanted to respond, my lips refused to obey.
“Surrender your mind to your heart, stop thinking,” she said.
I did not know how to accomplish that & as if she heard that thought, she came close to my ear. I felt her soothing breath on my ear & she wispered,
“Yes you do. Just feel it & let go.”
She came closer, her ebony eyes never leaving mine. As she did this, I felt an invigorating flutter of butterflies in my stomach. My legs flacid, I felt drained & yet elated. I heard beautiful R&B slow jam melodies, saw orange birds & river cousins dressed in green. There was joy & pain, strawberry snow & purple rain, when lo, all that remained, was she & I, somehow transported to a desolate place, that moments before was thriving with life, color & wonder. Now it was as if we stood in a white world from top to bottom & end to end with just us in it. She was still holding my hand.
Placing her head on my chest, I found her aroma was sweet and smooth like an assortment of rich, expensive chocolates. She looked up at me seizing my gaze. My heart throbbing, I gently pushed her away and mustered the will to remove my gaze from hers to see all of her & found her to be a symetrical brilliance of moving parts, that were orchestrated by the omnipotent hands of my imagination & faith in my prayers & wishes. Every aspect of her was exactly the way I wanted it to be, needed it to be.
I kneeled before her, took her hand & placed a kiss upon its palm. I looked up into her eyes, she smiled & bid me to rise & walk with her hand in hand. I heard a loud metalic sound. I opened my eyes & was greeted by the funk of a prison cell. It was all a dream.
Third place, poetry, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021
in comprehension of your sacred Black exterior,
the likes of such I’ve never seen,
true invigorating phenomenon –
of the spectacular Ebony Queen.
Without a hint of conceit,
just flawless configuration from your head to your pretty little feet,
enshrouded in luscious regal brown epidermal –
making you scrumptious & unique, in harmony like a well composed song,
within your melody is where I know I belong,
your captivating presence can right any wrong.
Utmost enthralled that you exist,
your chocolate sexy can’t resist.
I live to need Blackwomanness,
those lips, hands and hips to kiss,
compel my heart to insist
that I emphatically persist,
to make you an integral part of it,
to pull you in as close as close can get,
knowing that you are a perfect fit
and until you’re mine I refuse to quit,
you’ve got my mind, body and soul lit –
Queen, Queen, you’re that damned exquisite
Beautiful pretty you’re pretty beautiful
and my vision sees nothing less,
true embodiment of heaven,
Black masculinity you truly bless.
We began as light energy,
we developed and next we flee,
into the macroscopic stratosphere
where can be found the beautifulest Black galaxy –
a place where we first met,
that we are the original,
our love for one another innately provisional.
So enunciates the Creator,
the All in All known as Allah, Maker,
Owner of that beautiful Black Star,
authentic Black God worshipped in the Motherland,
before our enslavement by the “other man”,
biblical rider on the pale horse called Death,
who worked the hell out of us til we had nothing left,
responsible for over 100 million of us taking our final breath,
the most atrocious of slave histories
and the world’s greatest theft.
You were compelled to take a stand,
you were not only the woman,
tending to my mental/physical wounds,
for more than 400 blood moons,
yet with all that on your plate,
I could feel your love proliferate
and that beautiful pretty that you still maintain,
throughout this haunted odyssey of tears & pain.
And I’m grateful you stayed,
unbeknownst to you I’ve begged,
thanking Allah for this Black woman He made,
dauntless and beautiful in every hue of shade,
in my soul there’s a perpetual parade,
because I’m still here due to the price you’ve paid!
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!
by Demetrius Spencer-Coates
Poetry, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility/OAR writing contest, August 2021
They weren’t thugs when the stripped us from our land
and made us eat from there hand
They weren’t thugs when they took my father
and beat him right in front of his fam
They sprayed us for marching with Martin
Told us we couldn’t drink from there fountain
Burned our houses.
Hung our Ancestors.
Where was our justice?
Where was our justice when we were riding for freedom.
Where is our justice for all the black lies lost at the hands of police.
But they call us thugs.
Because we sag our pants
Got tatts on our face and hands
Sell drugs to feed our fam
Stand outside late night after street lights
Drive cars with tinted windows and get into street fights
Come from low income families were its hard to sleep at night,
Because of roaches, rats, killers, and street mice
So it ain’t our fault if we get discouraged
That ain’t a reason for them to want our race to perish
Because we was born to flourish.
Because you all took our ancestors and brought them here,
Instilled fear in there minds that would last for centuries and be passed through genes.
Do your research these thugs manipulated and brain washed us
Then called us thugs for what we could not control.
So tell me
Who are the real thugs?
Part 2 coming soon on the brainwashing techniques and the Government.
Let my words free your mind.