Fruit on the vine

A monthly column in which contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

By Jermaine Ferguson and Kevin Reese


In 2017 I wrote an article titled, “Don’t Let the Fruit Rot on the Vine.” In this article, I highlighted the impacts that long-term incarceration has on individuals and community. This long-term incarceration phenomenon is part of the mass incarceration tragedy that has destroyed generations of Black and Brown bodies in our communities.

In this criminal justice work, there are many complexities to White Supremacy that continue to show up as we are working towards creating a world that is just, humane and equitable for all. I have evolved to understand mass incarceration as something that is deeper than just rounding up mass bodies from poor communities and locking them in cages.

This mass incarceration tactic was designed to impact the mental health of the community and create a mental condition that they and only they had the recipe to address, and that is incarceration. Mass incarceration is America’s remedy for generational poverty and generational trauma.

The fruit on the vine is the generation of people who know best what needs to change. Jermaine Ferguson is one of those fruits, and there is plenty for us all to learn from his reflections and expertise.


Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward. There was never a passion to be found playing small and settling for a life that was less.

Somehow it took me years to understand that I was socialized to believe that there was only one way of life. All the while it was always hardwired in me to be capable of living a far greater life than I chose.

There was a purpose in my life to be accomplished, and it would take the ”Big Event” that eventually took place to force me to face this. I was living someone else’s vision for my life. I didn’t know that I possessed the very force that could help me to rise above and not live beneath.

Things would occur to make me enter a place of my own manpower. As Robert Kennedy said in a speech, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It has always been from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.”

And in the words of Maya Angelou, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

I am ever-evolving into my place of manpower, and I’m learning that I love being me. My comfort level is shown through my words, body language and actions. My vision is now much bigger than my circumstances, and the life I’ve chosen to live is a direct reflection of the value I’ve now placed on who I really am.


As I work, I continue hearing from different perspectives on mass incarceration, and there are brilliant and diligent minds working to end it, but whenever I need the truth, not the theory, I speak with one of the fruits on the vine, and I’m always left grounded with clear direction.

Jermaine Ferguson is currently in MCF Rush City, and if you want to reach out to him, please take the bold step to hear the truth from someone who lives that truth every day.

Jermaine is also working on a book—stay tuned for that. In this brother’s story is a bit of all of our stories. When we have beautiful and ripe fruits on the vine, we should pick them and feed them to the village.

Free Jermaine Ferguson!

Kevin Reese is director of criminal justice reform at Voices for Racial Justice. Reader responses are welcome to To learn more about the organization’s work, visit