This story was inspired by the interviewer’s belief that anything above a whisper is public information. The following is a transcript of interviews with three individuals at North Branch Correctional Institution in Maryland. Some of the questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Part 1: Interview with Michael “Ghost” Boyer
Chris X: What’s good, Homie? Tell the people who you are and where you are from.
Ghost: I am Michael “Ghost” Boyer. I am from Baltimore, Maryland. To be specific, the Liberty Heights and Garrison Blvd. section of the city. I am an African-American man. I am currently serving time in the Maryland Division of Corrections.
CX: You have been in administrative segregation (“Ad-Seg”) for a long time. Why were you placed on Ad-Seg in the first place?
Ghost: I was placed in segregation initially for a fight that occured on Feb. 13, 2011. The fight went too far, further than was intended, and the other guy lost his life. I was given 730 days on lock-up. After I finished the time, I was placed on Ad-Seg because the administration felt like I was a risk to hurt someone else. I have been here ever since, infraction-free without hurting anyone else.
CX: Roll out your affiliations for me: political, cultural, mental and spiritual.
Ghost: I have a few affiliations that make up the structure of my identity. First and foremost, I am African centered. I will say that my first affiliation is to the Baptist Church; I grew up and was raised in the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church in Baltimore City. I am also affiliated with the Nation of Islam headed by Louis Farrakhan. I am a retired member of the Bloods gang and politically, I am currently an active member of the New Afrikan Independence Movement.
CX: You and I have built and destroyed on levels that exceed mere idle chit-chat. So when you hear the name George Floyd, what comes to mind?
Ghost: George Floyd demanded that I acknowledge the Black man’s place in the world in America. Our position can at the very best be considered marginal; that is generous language.
Our slavery is jolted into my consciousness when I hear the name George Floyd because of the shock of watching a human being be drained of life like an animal. Certainly, the officer with his knee on this man’s neck only considered him three-fifths of a human being, if that. No man can sit on top of another man casually. He had to see him as less than a man. I have seen White people shoot and kill a deer with more emotion for the deer than these officers had for George Floyd. So when I hear the name, I am immediately pushed into the reality of my place in the world and how much work I need to do to develop myself into a conscious Black man of consequence.
CX: Coming of age in the 1980s and 90s, what is the difference now between the youth of the 2000s and the youth of your generation?
Ghost: The biggest difference I can immediately put my hands on is that we do not know how to treat each other anymore. We do not love and respect one another. Our forms and structure of family and, consequently, the community, have been severely crippled and deformed. Individual capacities have been retarded and malnourished. We seem to be in a sad state. Younger brothers, specifically those in prison, seem not to know who they are. They neither care about who they are nor the quality of their lives. We must deal with these issues and begin to attack our self-decadent images and behaviors.
CX: To the men and women who think that convicts and inmates are the same, please elaborate.
Ghost: Convicts are people who are conscious of who they are and what is being put on them as punishment for their behavior or lifestyles. Inmates are unconscious of this aspect of reality. [The rapper] Plies said [that we are] too stupid to even know what all that time means. That is an inmate — they are not necessarily criminals, they are young men who have not awakened to the sanctity and purpose of life or the value of how precious time is.
A convict is keenly aware of these things and pursues freedom, self-correction and purpose, and rarely wastes time.
Part 2: Interview with Dwayne “Harris El” Harris
CX: Salaam. Introduce yourself to the blind.
H. El: I am the ancient 711 Moor, Dwayne Harris El. I’ve spent 30 years in the bowels of this beast, and now I am being held captive in solitary confinement witnessing the increase of my failing health.
CX: So, as one of the elders in the urban prison and street community, at what point and year did you see destruction begin to take form?
H. El: The point and time when I saw the start of the destruction of “the system” — convict code for schools of hard knocks and old school — was when a White gang set up. A White gang was responsible for attacking Black guerrillas and other Blacks. When other Blacks silently allowed Europeans to attack other Blacks without rendering assistance and in some cases a warning, it violated major precepts to the Black prison movement. Now prisoners ask, “Who is that?” and “What did they do to be put in such a predicament?”
CX: Personally, where are you at in this COVID-19 struggle? How has it affected you?
H. El: The COVID-19 struggle is stressful and frustrating. I have many health complications [including] diabetes, liver and lung disease, and sarcoidosis, which makes catching the virus a death sentence. As I watch the pandemic get worse, people, especially Black people, are refusing to do those things which will serve to prolong their own lives.
CX: In your opinion, how could the prison industrial complex better improve its response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
H. El: The fact [that] society is having so much trouble staying in and self-isolating in their own homes with all sorts of entertainment to save their own lives and the lives of others, yet [is] forcing people like me to live independently for years under the conditions of solitary confinement, I believe, is hypocritical. [Society] can improve its response when solitary confinement is no longer used as a means of torture.
Part 3: Interview with Jonathan “BG” Woodard
CX: What’s bangin’ fool? Not only do we share gang relations, but also we’re family. Do me a solid and tell the world who you are.
BG: I’m Jonathan Woodward, but people know me by OG BG Ru MKA (gang related), and I’m from northeast Baltimore.
CX: Answer me this though, Blood! Because we live inside of this gang culture in prison, what good can come from you and others in this lifestyle that people would be shocked to learn?
BG: So, I realize that in this life, we are loved by few and hated by many. People would be shocked to learn that this does not change who we are as a whole. I’m against oppression, and I believe that people should know we can rise to the occasion when the odds become stacked against us. I’ll leave it to others to decide if it is good or not.
CX: And I’ll say I can partially agree with some of that. Yet answer this: When you hear the slogan ”Black Lives Matter,” what do you think?
BG: I’m going to say Blood Lives Matter! No disrespect to the Black Lives Matter movement, but I’ve had some White folks that have done more for me over any Black person. This is one of the things that has shaped me. Five things I’ve come to hate are poverty, police, oppression, weakness and snitches.
CX: But you do recognize that the ”Black Lives Matter” movement serves a purpose?
BG: Of course!
CX: In that case, who is your natural enemy?
BG: A big conscious enemy I would say has been the police based on the image they put out there. As a Black man that is unacceptable to me.
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.