By Jeffery Young
While sitting in my prison cell reading the September 8 issue of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, I came across something that revitalized a call of action in me. In the article “Mpls streets a battleground for city’s soul” [Sept. 8], Mr. Ron Edwards scathingly denounced Minneapolis leaders for their silence and inaction, writing, “Despite the people in our city being shot, knifed, maimed and killed, the silence continues. Silence is not acceptable.”
Mr. Edwards went on to suggest that community leaders are either out of ideas or just disregard the “violence and terror gripping the neighborhoods.” I personally think some have been subdued into silence by the rhythmic cadence of violence pounding our neighborhood streets. It’s so common that it lullabies people into accepting it as the norm rather than being shocked into an outcry.
In an attempt to jar them from their dulled senses and dreadful indifference, Mr. Edwards specifically calls out the church community, city council members, and Mayor Rybak and his administration. Though not directed at men convicted of crimes, his comments caused me to consider the role I and other incarcerated men have played in teaching the younger generation to act with no regard for life.
I wondered if we felons could be categorized with the ineffectual citizens who, through their silence, passively allow our children to be murdered. Well, I will be silent no longer! And neither should any other man who has been or is in prison.
We are the ones who these gun-toting youth are striving to emulate. With our perpetuation of the “hood” mentality, our scorching, treacherous teachings have forged these young men’s hearts into cast iron. With the absence of our fatherhood and leadership, we have amplified the conditions necessary to breed destructive behavior.
It’s our abject, mythical “hood legend” that these young men adhere to. It’s time we used our influence to build up the community we once terrorized. The streets will not change unless those of us who propagated this destructive mentality reach out with our words and actions to model the correct way to live.
Only we can prove to them that there is redemption from the depths of the underworld. This is the true debt we felons owe society. Whether we are already out of prison, getting out soon, or have a long sentence to serve, it is time we right our transgressions by becoming change agents and hope merchants in our community.
We must do our part to end the vicious cycle of violence. These are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins living in the communities where we once transgressed. We must be the men our community needs and demands of us.
We must speak out and take action to save our children’s minds, hearts and future. If we remain silent, then any violence that touches our loved ones is simply a reverberation of our personal contribution of violence to the community, meaning we would share in the responsibility of the violence visited upon our friends and family.
So, I’ll start with myself and lend my voice to the uplifting of my community. To the young men out there perpetrating acts of violence, there are people in your community who care about you. There is hope. You are valuable! You are lovable! You are important! You are a powerful man without a gun!
Ninety-nine years in prison is not “what’s up”! Trust me, I’m doing it. Having a felony is not “hot.”
Embrace and cherish your freedom. Do not relinquish it over petty words, money, or the many things you mistakenly associate with your manhood and respect. As a man who has lost my physical freedom for the remainder of my life, I know, and I speak the truth. You may have been dealt a harsh hand in life, but you can improve your circumstances without a gun.
To Mr. Edwards and other community leaders, there are felons who want to help. Provide us with the avenues to help make a change, and we will not fail our community.
To my fellow prisoners, it is our past the youth model. We’ve been there and done that. We speak their language, we vibe with their frustrations, we’ve walked in their shoes. We are whom they will listen to if our actions are congruent with our words.
So, take the time to improve yourself and your leadership skills. For you too are still important to the community and can make a difference. Answer Mr. Edwards’ call. Remain silent no longer! We may be imprisoned, but as I’ve done with this commentary, we can transcend the wall!
Jeffery Young is “reaching out from the Minnesota Correctional Facility system.”