Voice of an Unheard Nation
On the eve of November 4, 2008, the entire world rejoiced in Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States of America. The land of the free and the home of the brave.
This charismatic man was the torchbearer of the slogans “Yes We Can!” along with “Yes We Will!” Numerous Americans took tremendous pride in these chants that were heard from the Golden State of California all the way to the Big Apple of New York.
This movement of “Change,” along with the sincerity of this man’s voice, united people of different cultures, beliefs, and ethnic groups, and individuals with the opposite political views, for a cause much more powerful than cynical thoughts. Barack Obama stood and spoke at different podiums across the nation with the same goal in mind every time his mouth opened. He promised to “bring change to the way that Washington operated” which in turn would bring order to the way American people were treated.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, that voted for this man believed in their hearts that he not only has the determination to bring forth change, but also possesses the faith in seeing the things he promised come to fruition and blossom.
We witnessed the reactions from coast to coast, in far away countries in the Middle East, and also on the continent of Africa. Everyone embraced Barack Obama’s ideologies because of the destructive decisions that we have become accustomed to over the last eight years.
One nation that went unheard from in this event were the “disposable” men and women incarcerated. No longer will this void remain unfulfilled. I am now that voice! Taking a cue from Barack Obama himself, “I will be the change I seek!”
In the early morning on that November 4 day Barack would be announced the President-elect, I woke up like every other morning the Lord allows me to rise. I thanked God for allowing me to breathe, and began to wake myself up with the help of a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a face cloth. The only difference between this morning and any other morning was the feeling of the butterflies that seemed to be constantly bouncing off the walls of my stomach.
This would be the day that I would observe if the racism that has plagued our nation for countless years could be set aside in the name of “Change.” The same “Change” that the American people needed at that moment in history to guide them through the tough tribulations that were facing our nation.
My thoughts were pessimistic due to the unbelievable position this man named Barack Obama was in. This man possessed the same exact skin color as mine. Still, I backed him with the same spirit that I would have backed my blood brother.
I started my day off working on my physical well-being by running a few miles and knocking out a few push-ups. I was also preparing myself for the mental stimulation of the college course I would attend later on in the day. I felt these two things would keep my mind partially occupied leading up to the conclusion of the election.
In between working out and attending school there seemed to be a buzz that resembled that of the “Democratic National Convention” taking place in the prison. People were in groups talking and asking one another questions. I listened to some of the questions that ranged from, “What do you think about the election?” to “Do you believe they’re going to let a black man into the White House?” These questions were among other theories and thoughts that our excited and imaginative minds could come up with.
A lot of these black males, old and young, that were being warehoused in this particular prison seemed to be scared of the outcome. What I mean by “scared of the outcome” is that my intuition told me that “if Barack Obama won this Presidential race there would no longer be the leisure of blaming the White Man for our struggles and problems in life.” I called this monumental moment that had great potential of taking place for the Black communities “No More Excuses.”
At four o’clock all the prisoners were locked in their cells due to the Bureau of Prison’s mandatory stand up count. This count requires you to stand up and be accounted for when the correctional officers make their rounds. This count takes approximately forty-five minutes to clear.
During this count, I heard fellow prisoners shouting out the windows of their steel doors, screaming “they’re about to get busy!” referring to the polls on the east coast closing. I continued to lie in my steel bunk that has a mattress that stands no higher than a Webster’s Dictionary when it is laying face-down opened up.
I felt the return of the butterflies floating again in my stomach.
Once the count cleared and the steel doors slid open, I made my way down the three flights of stairs on my way to the education department in preparation for my Philosophy class.
While sitting in class the instructor went over the topic of the day, something dealing with the Cosmos of the world. My attention span was short that day as my mind began to wander and think about what was going on with the election on CNN. A student in the class, who happens to be white, entered the class with a smile on his face. I knew from his smile that we as a nation were in for a historical night. This fellow prisoner, who I had conversed with about the election earlier, was supporting “Change,” not race, unlike the other prisoners of this man’s ethnic background.
I asked the man supporting “Change,” “What is it looking like?” referring to the status of the election. He replied, “Obama is winning. He won Ohio, Florida, and he looks to be holding his own in Texas.” I smiled because the two battle-ground states of Ohio and Florida had all the prisoners worried. I also thought about how big it was for him to be so competitive in the red state of Texas.
Almost an hour into possibly having an anxiety attack, the woman who watches over the college course program got on the intercom and said, “Westside recall! Westside recall!” This was our notice that we had to return to our living quarters for the remainder of the night, stopping all other movement for the day.
I grabbed my books and folder and strutted the distance from the education department to my housing unit. Entering the door I was overwhelmed by the loud and joyous atmosphere. People were shouting, “Yes we can! Yes we can!” I looked up onto the tiers above me and spotted grown men convicted of crimes that ranged from drug offenses and gun possessions, all the way to murder, crying tears as if they were called down to the prison chapel to be notified of a loved one perishing. Only this time, of course, these were tears of joy.
As we leaned over the tiers waiting on CNN to broadcast Barack Obama’s victory speech live from Grant Park in Chicago, we looked at each other silently, the expressions on our faces saying to one another, “We have no more excuses.”
Watching this man of great principle give a remarkable and truthful speech we all felt the sense of pride not only for this man’s accomplishment, but also for whom we are.
As he concluded his speech and led the gracious Obama family off of the victory stage, I ran to the phone to call a close friend of mine. Without any initial greeting the first words that escaped her mouth when she answered the phone were, “Yes we did!” I felt the energy radiating from her soul causing her two daughters to scream at the top of their lungs, “Yes we did! Yes we did!” in the background. We shared our happiness with one another from seeing somebody of our color in the highest position in this nation.
A lot of American citizens have a misinterpretation of prisoners. Society says, “If you know one of them, then you know them all.” This way of thinking could be no further from the truth. I am not going to go “pro—prisoner” and tell you that all men behind these walls are good, because if I did, I would be lying to you as well as to myself. I will, however, tell you this: people do have the God-given ability to recognize their mistakes, to learn from them, and to change.
Would you contend that a juvenile that has been given a fifty-year sentence at the age of fifteen for being involved in a heinous crime cannot change by the time he reaches thirty?
What about the man who was dealing drugs to support his family? Does he deserve a mandatory life sentence for a nonviolent crime? In the federal system prisoners have to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being released. A lot of these men have 30, 40, and 50 year sentences—or even worse, life. These men with these draconian sentences change for themselves, not for the benefit of early release or parole. These two beneficial actions no longer exist in the Federal Prison system.
Prison has given us the opportunity to right the wrongs that we have done and pay back society, along with the determination to change and walk righteous paths in life. Unjust and extraordinarily long sentences make it useless and meaningless to practice the skills obtained in prison because the sentences that are too long make us unable to put them to use in society.
In the 1980s crime was still the same as it is today. By some measures even worse. Society wasn’t scared of the sentencing policies that Washington practiced then, and at that time the sentences handed out were a lot more reasonable than they are today, giving a person a second chance after learning from their mistakes or bad choices. In this day and age, society (or at least politicians fearing to appear “soft on crime”) feels criminals can no longer be rehabilitated, which is another thought that needs to be reexamined. I, speaking from first-hand experience, as well as prison reform advocates, believe this is not the case. We do agree that prisons are becoming more violent, but nothing less is expected when dealing with overcrowding and longer sentences causing unnecessary tension and an atmosphere of gloomy and diminished hope.
“Change” has to come from across the board. That’s why when I saw prisoners who attend college classes, trade schools & Vocational Training classes, and G.E.D. classes, as well as those who shy away from prison politics, crying tears of joy, I felt that this beautiful nation had to hear about this. About our situation.
We were rejoicing in Barack Obama becoming President of the United States of America because of his promise of “Change.” The change that is hoped to affect this “nation of the unheard,” those imprisoned men and women that have brought change into their lives. The nation of people who have changed their way of thinking, paid for their mistakes a thousand-fold, and want to become of some benefit to the families and communities that birthed us.
The historical moment of Barack Obama becoming the first African American to hold the highest post in our land has birthed “Change” not only in communities across this nation, but across the globe.
President Obama’s restoring of integrity, humanity, and hope into the human race all around the world was heard and absorbed by everyone—including the nation of the unheard.