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It was during the tortured spring/summer of 2020 that I had rich and rewarding conversations with a fellow writer, John J. Lennon, in Sing Sing’s yard. We talked about COVID-19, being infected with it, life behind the wall, Trump, and the contentiousness of America’s Black and White divide and how words could be a salve, fan the flames, or all of the above. Invariably, all those conversations pivoted to or from the written word. 

I asked John for an in so I could put my words out in the universe. The Prison Journalism Project was that in. It has been a rewarding year of being afforded a voice from the desert of the voiceless. It has been that privilege that has reinforced my sense of duty and obligation to self and others, freeing my superpower. 

The written word is my superpower. A superpower which lay fallow in my soul for decades. I have been writing in fits and starts for many years, the real me peeking from behind the curtain of possibility, but a jaundiced worldview and poor decisions insured my superpower lay dormant. In the journey of my life, I have taken detours and shortcuts. Finally, stepping outside the shadow of a uniquely abject American Blackness, I have taken flight with the better angels who always lift up and celebrate humanity in all its iterations.

Putting words on paper has allowed me to discard the masks of fitting in or following. Words are continually my look into the unbreakable mirror of self; my reflection speaks to me. Yells and screams at me. Chastises me. Challenges me. Pushes me forward out of the shadows. Strengthens and humbles me, laying bare my truths, forbidding me to go back.  

It is with the aforesaid purpose that I wake each morning, engage the other humans in front of me and invite those who chase my wake to come along. It has been in the last year that our human fragility has been laid bare. It has been in the last year that my own mortality danced along the edge and I was unsure whether my life was a lament or something to celebrate. It’s 2021 and I’m still here. I came to the conclusion that my life is a continual celebration as I build on the wisdom of my experiences, no longer spinning in tail-chasing circles.  

As frightening challenges abound everywhere, it is the chronicling of those challenges that we discern the hows and whys, and perhaps do better going forward. The Prison Journalism Project is where I get to hone my superpower. It is where I acquire the tools to tell my story, your story, our story. It is with a significant measure of pride and anticipation that I am a student of the Prison Journalism Project’s first cohort of the PJP J-School. I have so much to say. Word!

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.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.