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As an immigrant to the United States, I latched onto celebrating the Fourth of July and its significance in the annals of American history. Each year, I watched news reports showing individuals who were being sworn in on that day and fantasized about being granted such an honor. 

However, it was only as an inmate, when the scales of naïveté were gradually removed from my eyes, that I learnt that those self-evident truths that “all men are created equal” and the unalienable rights so boldly stated in the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, did not apply to men and women of darker hues like myself. 

The first time I heard of Juneteenth and its significance to the African American community was in 2017. I did not read about it in any book celebrating significant dates in American history. Nor was I aware that it was even celebrated as an actual holiday anywhere. 

As a prison inmate and a slave of the state in accordance with the 13th Amendment, I immediately related to the plight of the slaves in Texas, who were not aware of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. 

The dream of anyone in bondage is that of their eventual freedom. Even as someone who committed a crime and is rightly incarcerated, the desire for freedom is sometimes overwhelming. 

I think of my eventual release everyday. I can only imagine how the slaves throughout the South longed for freedom as they prayed for the Union who were fighting for the soul of the nation and the plight of the disenfranchised. 

The celebration must have been a sight for the ages — former slaves rejoicing in front of their former owners, children joining the celebration without fully understanding its significance or the exuberance. Perhaps there was a woman yelling, “Jump back, Honey, jump back,” as the man she could now marry squeezed her hand tightly.

That is the type of holiday that reigns supreme in my heart. One that celebrates life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all mankind.

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.

M. Yayah Sandi is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey. He requested that his first name be withheld.