A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
I’m a ghetto child to the fullest. I come from the bottom of poverty, and with all that I’ve been through in life, I’ve made it back to the bottom, only it’s not poverty. It’s prison.
I have been the stereotype of a Black man from my background, ignorant, angry, uneducated, and unexpected. All I knew was the streets, so I mastered my skill, not realizing that my only skill was confusion, destruction, and death.
My greatest attribute to life was taking from life, from my family and community. How I imagined my future was determined by what the ghetto thought I should be. Then I get convicted for killing one of my brothers. A man who looked like me, who had the struggles I had, who had the same odds of survival I had, who had a family to provide for.
Since my imagination was extended to my selfish standards, taking his life was no different to me than eating a burger. I did not know the damage of my decisions or the collateral effects of my choices, because I was numb to my struggles and to my actions.
Between the first and 16th years in prison, I’ve come to mature in my perception of my life and reality. I lost everyone and everything to death, betrayal or abandonment. Loneliness was a friend I never asked for but one I so desperately needed, because without loss, heartache, pain, etc. one will never appreciate the good he has inside… that good in who he/she is within. It’s like that for those who never give up on themselves.
If I can give my people any words of wisdom, it would be the following: It is important to keep in mind that the image of yourself, and how you utilize it, will determine the potential limitations of your mind.
If people have a narrow image of themselves, then their minds are narrow. If people believe that their biggest reality is the universe, then that is the extent to which their minds can aspire. If one believes that one can be only as large as a lake or river, then that is as large as their mind will be able to reach.
Such an image prohibits you from conceiving of the ocean that feeds the lakes and rivers, and if you cannot conceive that, then you won’t be able to conceive of the clouds that feed the ocean.
In such a case, your potential for understanding “truth” and the competence which comes from truth is limited. People with a limited or narrowed concept of self, then, have an automatically limited and narrow perception of themselves, the rights they deserve, the love within themselves, and the possibilities of their happiness and greatness!
Until we begin to truly love ourselves, family and community, we will never understand the potential of our freedom. Freedom of self-hatred will be the only key that will unlock the chains of our oppressor’s racial restraints.
Self-love and respect build the unity to endure unjustly heinous acts upon our people, because we will stand together before any of our troubles with outside races, opposed to unity only when tragedy strikes. The reality of everyone’s hatred for us never disappeared; it was forgotten by those who focused on their selfish approach to life.
While our oppressors remain focused on eliminating our truths and our freedoms, while we give our attention to superficial and materialistic aspirations, we lose the substance of our essence. We become sidetracked from our truths and lose value in what we should stand for, which is each other.
We do not have value within our own families and communities, so how do we expect other races to give us what we don’t give ourselves? That’s an unrealistic expectation. To give the responsibility for us to another eliminates our accountability for ourselves. Without that understanding our truth is reduced to our oppressor’s agenda.
Black lives matter. And it should matter before tragedy becomes apparent, not after we realize how many we’ve lost. All lives don’t matter because all lives aren’t dying by the hands of the police, so don’t ever let anyone take that truth from you.
Your reality and your everyday struggles cannot and should not be denied by you or by anyone else. Recognize your truths and embrace them no matter the difficulty in accepting whatever they may be. Only then will you understand the importance of self and community love.
The Black family is the cornerstone for our communities. We must get back to investing more effort in our families, not in the image of a superficial lifestyle.
Nathaniel Brooks is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to email@example.com. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.