Prison Only Exists in The Mind: Meeting My Father For The First Time.

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I looked at the reflection of my 24-year old face in the hand mirror. I was in a barbershop in downtown Oakland analyzing my fresh cut, as I told the gentlemen in the room of my upcoming journey.

It had been about 18 years since I had seen my ole man.

He and my mother had been separated for over 19 years.

A recent arrest left him incarcerated in Alabama, facing up to 20 years.

I hopped out of the barber’s chair and it was confirmed: my hair was indeed thinning at the corners. Another one of God’s clever jokes: give the bighead kid a receding hairline.

That was the final line. I had to have my question answered: Is my biological father where I got my bighead? Is he as short as I am? Is he charming and good looking, like myself?

I bounced out that barber’s chair and setout on a journey.

A 4-hour flight from San Francisco to Chicago, a 12-hour road trip with a friend, from Chicago to Alabama, just to speak to my father for 90 minutes in an Alabaman prison.

We crossed the Blue River, the Red river, and the White River as we drove through America’s heartland. Our trek lead us through the flatlands of Indiana and the Mountainous terrain of Tennessee.

The drive from Chicago to Alabama on Good Friday was a breeze.

There’s truth to the Billie Holiday song, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, the southern night sky proved it. It had been 18 years since I had seen my ole man, and the billions of stars overhead became meek in comparison to the zillions of thoughts running through my mind as I sat in a hotel parking lot in Birmingham the night before the meeting with him.

My mother and father separated when I was three. I visited Alabama as kid, but from the time I was six until the time I was about 23, I had spoken to him only a handful of times; and not seen him since that last visit to the South. Most recently, I had gotten in contact with him through his brother, my uncle Erick, who I met via facebook in 2011. My father and I exchanged phone calls and letters; the last of which resulted in the words: “please don’t write back” written boldly on a piece of paper addressed from him to me.

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… this is what I was thinking as I looked at the stars…

The following morning I continued to think about all of this as I waited to meet up with my uncle in a Winn-Dixie parking lot. I drove behind him as we made our way to the State Facility just outside of Montgomery, AL on the Saturday prior to Easter.

I wanted to take pictures, but the guards at the jail informed me that nothing but my ID and car keys were allowed inside the jail; and that I would have to change my shirt: my white-T was too similar to the ones the prisoners wore.

Upon entering the small meeting room, I shook my fathers hand. There was no glass to separate us like on the movies. I sat adjacent to him. He wore glasses when we initially shook hands, and took them off as we delved into our meeting. It was history lessons, light humor, and talks of spiritual growth; it felt like a nonprofit board meeting. It was a stiff room. We we’re two Black men from the hood- and Cancers at that, which means no emotions shall be shown, no matter the circumstance.

“I don’t think I can cry- my tear ducts don’t work.” He literally said that as he described the conditions inside the prison. He said he had seen a man get stabbed just last week. He was solemn, calm, and very centered as he spoke about the incident.

He had been incarcerated for a number of months; it was his second time being in prison. He hadn’t yet been sentenced, but given his charge, he could be facing up to 20 years behind bars.

He was forced to face the window, in plain sight of the officer overseeing our conversation as we sat in that small blandly colored room. We talked about life: His life. My life. The meaning of life.

He showed me his only tattoo, a prison tat on his chest which read “Isaiah 10:13”. We recapped his childhood and his turbulent teens. We discussed the breakup between he and my mom, and how is addiction to crack cocaine pushed her further away. We talked about regrets and what could have been. We mentioned the future, and what will be if we choose to work towards it. We laughed about the origins and the ironies of our shared first name “Pendarvis”. We conversed for an hour and a half. But it seemed more like half an hour. The meeting concluded, and I was escorted out the prison.

The image of him remains with me. His rigid mannerisms- stiff moving, like he just worked out. His height, he is 4 inches taller than I. His hair, he had waves and salt-and-pepper sprinkles of grey… I have waves too- but I’d much rather have grey hairs than this receding hairline.

His skin tone was brown with a hint of red; kind of like the Alabama clay in the morning sun. He had high cheek bones- like my sister. He had an aura of centeredness, calmness, and spoke with eloquence. That reminded me of myself.

I left out of the jail and took one photo of the outside of the facility. The correctional officers barked at me for doing it, and asked me to leave the primacies.

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I left abruptly. I had regrets about questions I didn’t ask and words I didn’t say. I wanted to continue the conversation with my father, but I didn’t want to spend another minute in jail.

… Aside from my reflections of his image, six simple words stuck with me: “Prison only exists in the mind.”

He nonchalantly stated this profound sentiment, and subsequently admitted that he has now become a poet.

“Prison only exists in the mind.” A sentiment I had heard before, but it resonated much more, coming from someone on this side of the fence.

He expressed that he would’ve loved to have been with my sister and I during our upbringing; but I could tell the deepest regret was losing the love of his life, my mother.

Four days later I was back at my mother’s house in California, a letter from that jail cell in Alabama was waiting for me. He wrote me the day I left. In the letter he thanked me for traveling to see him, congratulated me on my accomplishments, and asked that I never come to see him in prison again- he stated that being seen in a prison is not the only memory he’d like for me to have of him.

He told me that prison only exists in the mind. Although those profound words came from a man physically sitting behind bars, I don’t believe it.

If nothing else, this experience has shown me that prison is not just a place where you do time or something confining you within your mind. No… Prison also exists in the heart. And the deepest darkest prison a man can be confined to: The regret of a love lost.

Change the Game

Game Changers Project.

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game changer

Have you heard about the 2025 campaign for Black men and Boys ?

The Grio. com ran a big story on the site at the start of this year, check it out: http://www.thegrio.com/specials/game-changers/about-game-changers.php

The game changer’s project is a media inititative to change the image of young Black men and Boys in the media by simply uploading the untold; by taking stories of men and young men alike doing uplifting things in their communities, and giving them proper acknowledgment.  The theory is simple: become the change you want to see in the world… or in the media.

For more information about the initiative, check the website:

http://www.forwardevermedia.com/gcp.html

A key part aspect to being able to tell the stories of Black men and boys in the urban underbelly of America is having storytellers on site, and the Gamechangers project specializes in that. With representatives in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Oakland.

… I’m the Oakland rep…. Here is my bio, along with the rest of the game changers: http://www.2025bmb.org/thegame/

Here are a couple of stories that I’ve published thus far in efforts to change the game:

Oscar Grant’s Uncle, and the Oscar Grant Foundation: http://www.thegrio.com/specials/game-changers/in-oakland-oscar-grants-uncle-continues-the-fight.php

An article on an education program in Oakland, The Nation’s First African Male Achievement Initiative:

http://www.thegrio.com/specials/game-changers/nations-only-school-district-to-take-on-educating-black-males.php

And soon to come…

http://www.gamechangersproject.org/

Stay updated on how the game is changing via twitter: @Gamechangers007

peace.

Memories of More Martyrs than Martin and Malcolm.

There are more  martyrs than just Martin and Malcolm.Read about: Patrice Lumumba- who fought for his people in the Congo , Assata Shakur- who fought for her people in America and is now in exile in Cuba,  George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson -the court case that inspired the last verse to Easy-E’s lyrics to Boyz in the hood!

It is Black History month- but any time of the year you should read about: Amilcar Cabral, Emmett Till,  Kwame Ture,  Geronimo Pratt… and this young man named “little Bobby Hutton”- a founding member of the Black Panther party who was killed by the Oakland Police…

This post is partially inspired by a fellow Howard Bison and talented writer from New York who’s latest posting on her “Mother’s Chronicles” WordPress page, asks the readers to “learn your Black History“. After reading her feelings about the tunnel vision that is Black History month in popular culture,  the powers that be- and a text message from a good friend lead me to a presentation on the legacy of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr.

The presentation was organized by Howard University’s History Graduate Students Association, and was titled “The Assassination of Fred Hampton, The Black Panther Party, and Black Power in the Diaspora”. The keynote speakers were former member of the Black Panther Party Lynn C. French Esq., Attorney and author Jeff Haas, and author Quito Swan.

The portion of the presentation I chose to focus on was author Jeff Haas’ new book titled ” The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther”.

For those unfamiliar with the story of  Fred Hampton’s death, in brief: Chairman Fred Hampton Sr.  was an acclaimed organizer in Chicago, Il. His position within the Black Panther Party caused the local and federal law enforcement to take note of his momentum in terms of what he was doing to empower his community. This caused Hampton to be the subject of a document later discovered, called “COINTELPRO“, which was a signed government document to put an end to the perspective of “the rise of a Black Messiah” within many revolutionary circles, including those who fought for civil rights.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were also named targets on this document. But the distinguishing aspect of Chariman Fred Hampton’s death is the amount of evidence. Below pictured are the actual blueprints of Chairman Fred Hampton’s apartment as with held by the US government.

FBI Floor Plans of Fred Hampton’s House

The author of the recent book depicting Chairman Hampton’s story, Jefferey  Haas,  spoke from the perspective of the late Hampton’s attorney; and as the attorney Haas was privy to first hand interviews with Hampton’s widow who was 8 months pregnant at the time of the raid and subsequent execution style murder of Hampton.

Chairman Fred Hampton- dead.

Although Haas’ story is interesting, and any information on a topic such as this one needs to be published to the American People, I couldn’t help but looking at this white man as an intruder. A man who happened to be at the right place at the right time. A man that happened upon this story, and is now capitalizing off of it as he goes on tours and sells Chairman Fred Hampton’s story in order for personal profit.  In Haas’ speech, he told the crowd that the Black Panther Party of Chicago initially hired Haas as a public defender to represent them in a case concerning being evicted from their apartment.  This was just months prior to the night of December 4, 1969- Chairman Fred Hampton’s last night. Now Haas tells this story as if he was “with the movement”.

Amazing,  Carter G. Woodsoon’s concept of Black History week has grown to a month of Black history- complete with corporate commercials shining light on “this moment in Black History”, and other forms of Black History tied into capitalism. Its wild- not only will the concept of American capitalism make sure to make money off of anything done in America’s name- they do it all, and turn our history into his-story.

Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and company in Chicago's Little Black Pearl Cafe
Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. Myself and company.

The greatest story ever told is your own story. This Black History month- tell your own story…

I’ll start… here is a picture of me and Chairman Fred Hampton Jr.

Much respect to him and the Prisoners of Conscious Committee  (P.O.C.C) …yea, read about that too!

much respect to the memory of Chairman Ferd Hampton Sr. and all of my ancestors mentioned in this post. peace.