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In this human warehouse, specifically the Florida Department of Corrections, the need for leadership is at an all-time high. This is not just because of the social climate on the outside and inside, but because the sheer volume of young men being locked up for decades at a time is rising. 

These men — some as young as 17 — walk in with no expectation of seeing the streets again for the next 20-plus years, sometimes never. They are being locked away at a stage in their lives when their brains are still not fully developed and they are very impressionable. Oftentimes, they come from broken homes having lacked guidance for all of their lives and yet they are expected to survive, not thrive, in this environment. Although this situation applies to young men of all races, the number of young Black men is considerably higher than all other races. 

As a Black man who has been incarcerated for almost 20 years, I’ve accepted the responsibility of becoming a leader in the prison community. Every single man in here needs to be shown how important they are to learn their self-worth. They have to be taught not to let their status as an inmate define them. They have to be shown how to become leaders themselves. Being a leader is more than just telling people what to do. Being a leader is about being a listener, being empathetic and sometimes sympathetic. Being a leader is about being a selfless servant. 

In this type of environment, it takes a brave and secure man to be a true leader. Occasionally humility is mistaken for weakness. Sometimes confrontations are unavoidable. This is especially true for leaders. Positive and negative forces are always at war, and you will find leaders on both sides. For those of us on the side of positivity, it is our duty to protect whoever we can from powerful negative influences. It’s not always pretty. But it’s always necessary. 

This letter is a call to all of my positive leaders. Amp up your efforts and help guide as many as the creator will allow. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Rasean Tyree Smith is a writer from the Bronx who is currently incarcerated in Florida.