From Zone 8 to Cell Block to Urban Network Bookstore
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“My mama became my hero and my father became my mentor.”
Hunkered down in a WDET motor city hoodie and a down sleeping bag listening to KAXE in northern Minnesota, I caught the first episode of The Listening Post, a documentary series from the BBC that “invites close, unhurried listening to the stories of individuals.” And wouldn’t you know it, the first profile tells the story of a Detroit native.
Yusef Shakur, who now runs a bookstore and community center in Zone 8, grew up in the same neighborhood and became a gangster as a teenager. At the age of 19 in 1992, he began serving a nine-year prison sentence. While there, he reaches out to his father who’s also serving time — a man he’s never met and considers “a sperm donor.” His father’s reply changes the course of his life:
“Son, let your past mistakes become your teacher because your mistakes can become our greatest education. … You must use this time to prepare yourself to leave better than what you came in as. Turn your cell into a university by rebuilding yourself from the inside out. … P.S. You misspelled knowledge, religion, envelope, address, message and religious. If you don’t have a dictionary, you need to get one. Words are powerful because they convey who we are. Use your mind to free yourself or somebody will use your mind to keep you a slave.”
It’s a story about the power of a lost father’s love, hope and resurrection, and a tale of the meaning of time and attention in the most dire of circumstances.
For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.
—Troy Anthony Davis, speaking to the prison officials who executed him by lethal injection at 11:08 in a Georgia prison last night, according to an eyewitness account from an Associated Press reporter.
About the photo: A demonstrator outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, on Wednesday, September 21. (photo: Erik S. Lesser/AFP/Getty Images)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Gangs are the effect of ineffective communities. Somebody dropped the ball, whether it was the family, the church, the schools…
—Juan Pacheco, a former gang member who leads Barrios Unidos, an alternative gang movement
This article from Discovery News does a good job of introducing gang alternative movements and touches on tattoo-removal as a “reverse baptism,” using smudging as part of ritual and ceremony, and programs to reorient and reintegrate youth into local communities.
Any advice on other voices participating in these movements that we might hear from?
“A Change Came Over Me”
by Kate Moos, managing producer
I spent a couple of hours Saturday morning rapt, listening to a woman named Mary Johnson talk about her spiritual path toward forgiveness after her son was murdered in 1993. We were gathered at St. Jane’s House in north Minneapolis, a neighborhood where street violence leads to the death of many young men each year. In Mary’s case, her spiritual path toward reconciliation brought her to found a small organization called “From Death To Life” that brings the mothers of people killed in street violence together with the mothers of those who have killed.
Mary told us there was a time she did not see her son’s killer as human. Then a change, she says, came over her heart. Now she knows him well and has visited him in prison several times. He’s preparing to transition back to the community, and she says when he does they will work together to end the cycle of violence.
Our program “Getting Forgiveness and Revenge” will be available here at onbeing.org later this week. We’re interested in your stories about forgiveness and revenge. Mary Johnson can be reached through her ministry called “Two Mothers” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(photo: Kate Moos)