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I wrote my novel “Dutch” out of rage. Call it a passive-aggressive response to an unjust incarceration, which is why the whole book takes place in a courtroom. To have your life taken away is traumatic, but to have it taken away for something you didn’t do is beyond traumatic. 

“Dutch” was the embodiment of my burgeoning rift with any type of higher power. It was the beginning of me taking control of my life. 

“Dutch” was my rebirth.

The story is about Bernard James Jr., known on the streets as Dutch, who is on trial for allegedly masterminding a 30-day killing spree. 

There were two themes I wanted to explore through the book. The first is the Kafkaesque absurdity of an unjust system passing judgment on an absolute evil entity. Yes, Dutch is a killer, a destroyer of souls, a manipulator of minds — but how can you measure a straight line with a crooked yardstick? If you have read Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead,” you may remember her character Howard Roark’s speech when he was on trial, when he refused to acknowledge the court’s authority to try him. This is the premise I built on in “Dutch.” Instead of refusing to acknowledge their authority, Dutch challenges it. He decides to enforce his own authority.

The question I ask is the following: If the system is truly unjust, does it forfeit the right to judge? 

The second theme I wanted to address was the nature of desire, which cuts to the question we subconsciously ask ourselves everyday.

What do you want and what are you willing to do to get it? At what point does reaching your dream become a nightmare? Dutch is willing to do whatever it takes; do we applaud that kind of ambition or discourage it? Is ambition contextual?

Don’t get me wrong. “Dutch” is a gangsta story, a street story told from the perspective of street dudes (and dudettes). And in the end, the bad guy gets away. But it isn’t your average hood joint.

Growing up, I was always a fan of gangster movies, going all the way back to the original “Scarface” movie shot in the 1930s, as well as “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” “Year of the Dragon,” and Oliver Stone’s 1983 version of “Scarface.” I was attracted not so much to the violence and bravado, but to the types of men who were willing to make their own rules in a society that was determined to hold them back. The criminal mind is a creative mind, even if we don’t always like what it creates.

I grew up in Newark, N.J., so a lot of these types of men — and a few women as well — were my mentors. They taught me firsthand how to look the world in the eye and demand what you will, not what you can. 

I still live by that code to this day, though I don’t use illegal means to do so. Prison has taught me to expand my horizon and raised my ethical standards. 

“Dutch” may just be a book and a movie, but the question it poses for us still remains: Does an unjust system have the right to set the standards of justice? What can we do to change it?

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.

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Kwame Teague

Kwame Teague is a writer and a creative writing instructor for Nash News at Nash Correctional Institution in North Carolina. Past issues of Nash News can be read on JSTOR's Reveal Digital archive of prison newspapers (https://bit.ly/3t47neh)