In order to be successful in life — from undergoing a true transformation in prison to launching a promising career — you must align yourself with all of the inner qualities of a successful person. Prison leaves the enlightened man with very few examples to learn from in the general population. But this only means one has to be a leader of men and not a follower.
One of my mentees walked and talked with me in the yard the other day and told me, “All of a sudden, my cellie is starting to do what I do. He rushes to wake up earlier than I even do, tries to begin a morning work out like I have been doing since we started this. It’s starting to bug me.”
“W” had been my mentee for a couple of months at this time, and I tried to open his eyes to some truth about this prison world we live in. I told him how in the cell with two grown men, each one lives out his own “illusion” and projects it onto their cellie. I said illusion is essentially our daily program. Depending on who has the most confidence and who lives a more attractive “illusion,” that will decide the atmosphere of the cell.
I gave an example — if you use drugs and want to stop upon transferring to a new prison or to a new cell, if the new cellie is using, that illusion usually swallows you up because that’s what you are used to. I explained how his illusion of enlightened life — learning, growing, transforming — has probably rubbed off on his cellie. I told him how when both are on the fence, the illusion never really changes, but with one straddling and the other progressing, progress always takes over.
The illusion that controlled most prisoners for so long was the illusion of drugs, gangs, warfare etc. I said that it is always more “gangster” to wake up early, work out hard, clean the cell, read books, do school work and educate yourself. I told him how with him now living with confidence and joy, it has won over his cellie who had a chapped ass from riding the fence for so long. I told him how instead of letting it bother him, take credit for his example. Thank God for giving him the clarity to see how the path he has chosen can be an attractive path, even more attractive than the illusion of drugs and gang-banging.
After this conversation his eyes filled with tears (convict code says it was just the dust in the air hitting his eyes). He told me how every night before he goes to sleep, he prays for two individuals he’s met in prison: his old cellie “C” and me. He told me how grateful he was for inspiring him and how it has really changed his life.
His prayer, said in front of me, was innocent, and unselfish: “God, I would like to pray for the world. For all those who are sick and suffering from COVID-19 to make a speedy recovery. I would like to pray for my family and friends if they could have your protection. And God, I would like to ask you, please give Clay and “C” one more chance at life. Thank you, God, Amen.”
Immediately after he finished, he said, “See, I told you. That dust must have flown into your eyes, too!”
I chuckled and said, “No, sir. These are a couple tears of humble gratitude. You helped me overcome one of my biggest disadvantages of prison code life.”
I had thought in prison that I would never have one true friend. I told him — this man with his neighborhood barrio tattooed all over his face, head, cheek, sideburns, a south-side “R” — “No matter what the unwritten prison laws of the division of races says, all BS aside, you’ll always be one of the few, if not the only, I consider my friend. Thank you, bro.”
In a world of never-ending stigmas and immortal prejudices, two men on different sides of the political spectrum have come together.
Our childhood similarities — his dad overdosing on heroin and finding him, at six years old, dead with a needle in his arm, in the family driveway; and my dad overdosing on heroin when I was also six, seeing his open casket — showed how Brown, Black or White does not mean a thing when God shows up in your life.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.