For your diary from FRI JUN 17, 2011 AT 07:26 PM EDT
I’m Sorry Uncle Marcus I'll Never Do It Again"
And the video of Dr. King you included:
When I was maybe ten or eleven years old the Martin Luther King story came out on T.V.. I was deeply moved and inspired by it's portrayal of the struggle for freedom in this country and others. I didn't know a tenth of it. I was a sheltered child living in a white suburban neighborhood. I found out over the intervening years that riots of the late sixties and early seventies and other incidents between then and now had left perhaps hundreds of black people dead without the benefit of a full public account.
While I was getting my associate's degree at a community College many years later I took a required history class AMH2020. Required reading for the class was a book called "Worse than Slavery" by David M. Oshinsky. The book detailed the atrocities of the Jim Crow South between the end of the civil War and 1965. In particular the practice of convict leasing, something I would later experience first hand as a prisoner myself. The book scared me because I could recognize that the trappings of institutional racism still exist. And, that the institutional mechanisms operated by the Police, the Courts, and the penal system could ultimately be turned on me for the simple sake of some rich dude needing hands to work the fields. Terror is after all used to control people. But, that is another story.
Adept2u's experience was intense and formative and not lost on me. I am a white man living in a white man's world that is, in my eyes, slowly evolving. I see and have seen vestiges of Dr. Kings "Dream" coming to pass and I'm not just talking about the election of America's first black President.
In 2004 because of an error in judgement by me about how to handle a situation with my oldest brother I ended up shooting and killing him. I was indicted for First Degree Murder and denied bond. I went from the kitchen door of my house to the county jail where I spent the next fifteen months. I ended up copping a plea to Involuntary Manslaughter with a firearm, Culpable Negligence,and I got a ten year sentence of which I was incarcerated for eight and a half years. Please forgive me for not digressing into the well known racial skew of America's court system. I was blessed with a ten year sentence because I had mitigating circumstances.
I was told stories of years gone by in the chain-gang and in the county jail about how black prisoners would "put down" on white guys. True enough, some of that still existed. And, in all fairness, if I didn't have the reputation from my charge as being a "crazy cracker," I probably would have had to fight more than I did.
What I witnessed throughout my incarceration, however. was the incredible melding force of the thug culture. Throughout my stay behind bars there were White thugs, Black thugs, Filipino thugs, Japanese thugs, Puerto Rican thugs, Mexican thugs, you name it. And depending on the environment and the individuals, they all worked together for their common physical enrichment. In fact, at the last stop of my incarceration, work release, the enclave of criminals (I really wouldn't call them a gang per se because they simply grew up together) in my dorm were evenly split white and black and they all got along like a big happy family. They had unanimity in their pursuit to get over on the police.
Throughout my entire time behind bars I experienced extraordinary intelligence, wisdom, patience, and compassion from my black brothers. This was life saving wisdom, compassion, and intelligence on more than several occasions. Many of them were true Christian and Muslim brothers living what they believe, not just mouthing the words. They were bold teachers by their actions who taught me the meaning of the words commitment and accountability.
And then, the 34 months I spent on a work camp praise team(Church Band) were incredibly formative. In the beginning, we had two white guys and three black guys and that balance would shift depending on who was ready, willing. and able to play music. We didn't care if you were from Mars, If you could play, we wanted you on the praise team. And, for a precious few months we had racial harmony between us. Then an old black twenty year veteran chain-gang war dog got transferred over from the main unit and blew that racial harmony out the window. He injected so much resentment , hostility, and low self esteem into the mix that we could not get anything done. Even so, he was self-admittedly a work in progress and our situation slowly improved with frank communication that was at times heated and contentious. Our growth was linked. It wasn't all on him. I had to change myself. Indeed, as always, my own willingness to change was the key, and our collective growth required mutual commitment to the truth. I began to respect him greatly for his commitment to the Lord and to change within himself. I grew a lot in his presence.
There were times when we were having church that the racial divide disappeared. I began to see that in spite of the scars that are still detectable in subtle ways, there were still a lot of people who just wanted to have church. For them, the struggle may not have been over but they seemed tired of discord. Perhaps my hope for even more harmony has gotten ahead of me. Who am I to say? In some of these places that I talk about I had more freedom to speak than I do out here in the world. That might just be a function of association that comes from meeting in person and getting to know someone. What ever the case, I have been reminded by my blunder song "American Epithet" that in the world at large, I must still tread carefully because not all wounds have healed.