Category Archives: Education, Growth, Guidance

Prison Experiments

prison expA little over a decade ago, in one of my first psychology classes under the tutelage of Dr.Cook at Trinity Valley Community College, I came across the work of Stanford psychologist Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and was literally blown away by how closely Dr. Zimbaro’s had adequately reproduced the conditions of prison life with his Stafford Prison experiment.

This learned man-made be believe in the power of laboratory experiments to reproduce and study the conditions of everyday life and experience. Since first coming across his work more than a decade ago, I have been a huge fan of this great man who had so eloquently provided a voice to, over 2 million voiceless American prisoners scattered around the nation.

Although Dr. Zimbardo’s work is now several decades old I find it as chilling in its accuarcy today as it was when first published.

What follows is a short summary of his work that he prepared for the U.S House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary: Hearing On Prison Reform

The Psychological Power and Pathology of Imprisonment by Phillip G. Zimbaro:

In an attempt to understand just what it means psychologically to be a prisoner or a prison guard, we created our own prison. We carefully screened over 70 volunteers who answered an ad in the Palo Alto City newspaper and ended up with about two dozen young men who were selected to be part of this study.  They were mature, emotionally stable, normal, intelligent college students from middle class homes throughout the United States and Canada. They appeared to represent the “cream of the crop” of this generation. None had any criminal record and all were relatively homogeneous on many dimensions initially.

Half were arbitrarily designated as “prisoners” by a flip of a coin, the others as “guards.” These were the roles they were to play in our simulated prison. The guards were made aware of the potential seriousness and danger of the situation, and their own vulnerability. They made up their own formal rules for maintaining law, order, and respect, and were generally free to improvise new ones during their 8-hour, 3-man shifts. The prisoners were unexpectedly picked up at their homes by a City policeman in a squad car, searched, handcuffed, fingerprinted, booked at the Station House, and taken blindfolded to our jail. There they were stripped, deloused, put into a uniform, given a number, and put into a cell with two other prisoners where they expected to live for the next two weeks. The pay was good ($15 a day) and their motivation was to make money.

We observed and recorded on videotape the events that occurred in the prison, and we interviewed and tested the prisoners and guards at various points throughout the study. These data will be available to the committee in a forthcoming report. Some of the videotapes of the actual encounters between the prisoners and guards can be seen on the NBC news feature Chronolog, November 26, 1971.

In the short time available at this hearing, I can only outline the major results of ‘this experiment, and then briefly relate them to the “experiment” which our society is conducting using involuntary subjects.  Finally, I wish to suggest some modest  proposals to help make “real” prisons become more successful experiments.

At the end of only six days we had to close down our mock prison because what we saw was frightening. It was no longer apparent to us or most of the subjects where they ended and their roles began. The majority had indeed become “prisoners” or “guards,” no longer able to clearly differen­tiate between role-playing and self. There were dramatic changes in virtually every aspect of their behavior, thinking and feeling. In less than a week, the experience of imprison­ment undid (temporarily) a lifetime of learning; human values were suspended, self-concepts were challenged, and the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature surfaced.  We were horrified because we saw some boys (“guards”) treat other boys as if they were despicable animals, taking pleasure in cruelty, while other boys (“prisoners”) became servile, dehumanized robots who thought only of escape, of their own individual survival, and of their mounting hatred of the guards.

We had to release three “prisoners” in the first four days because they had such acute situational traumatic reactions as hysterical crying, confusion in thinking, and severe depres­sion. Others begged to be “paroled,” and all but three were willing to forfeit all the money they had earned if they could be “paroled.” By then, the fifth day, they had been so pro­grammed to think of themselves as “prisoners,” that when their request for “parole” was denied, they returned docilely to their cells. Now, had they been thinking as college students acting in an oppressive experiment, they would have quit once they no longer wanted the $15 a day we used as our only incentive. However, the reality was not “quitting an experiment,” but “being paroled by the parole board from the Stanford County Jail.” By the last days, the earlier solidarity among the prisoners (systematically broken by the guards) dissolved into “each man for himself.” Finally, when one of their fellows was put in solitary confinement (a small closet) for refusing to eat, the prisoners were given a choice by one of the guards:  give up their blankets and the “incorrigible prisoner” would be let out, or keep their blankets and he would be kept in all night. They voted to keep their blankets and to abandon their brother, a suffering prisoner.

About a third of the guards became tyrannical in their arbitrary use of power, in enjoying their control over other people.  They were corrupted by the power of their roles and became quite inventive in their techniques of breaking the spirit of the prisoners and making them feel they were worthless Some of the guards merely did their jobs as “tough but fair” correctional officers. Several were “good guards” from the prisoners’ point of view, since they did them small favors and were friendly. However, no “good guard” or any other one ever interfered with a command by any of the “bad guards”; they never intervened on the side of the prisoners, they never told the others to ease off because it was only an experiment, and they never even came to me as Prison Superintendent or Experimenter in charge to complain. In part, they were “good” because the others were “bad”; they needed the others to help establish their own egos in a positive light. In a sense, they perpetuated the prison more than the other guards because their own needs to be liked prevented them from disobeying or viola­ting the implicit guard’s code. At the same time, the act of befriending the prisoners created a social reality which made the prisoners less likely to rebel.

By the end of the week, the experiment had become a reality, as if it were a Pirandello play directed by Kafka that just keeps going after the audience has left. The Consultant for our prison, Carlo Prescott, an ex-con with 16 years imprisonment in California’s jails, would get so depressed and furious each time he visited our prison, because of its psychological similarity to his experiences, that he would have to leave. A Catholic priest, who was a former prison Chaplain in Washington, D.C., talked to our “prisoners” after four days and said they were just like the “first-timers” he had seen.

But in the end, I called off the experiment not because of the horror I saw out there in the prison yard, but because of the horror of realizing that ^ could have easily traded places with the most brutal guard, or become the weakest prisoner full of hate at being so powerless that I could not eat, sleep or go to the toilet without permission of the author­ities’.  I. could have become Galley at My Lai, George Jackson at San Quentin, one of the men at Attica, or the prisoner quoted at the beginning of this report.  I believe you could too.

Significance of these findings

(1)   Individual behavior is largely under the control of social forces and environmental contingencies rather than “personality traits,” “character,” “will power” or other empir­ically unvalidated constructs.  Thus we create an illusion of freedom by attributing more internal control to ourselves, to the individual, than actually exists.  We thus underestimate the power and pervasiveness of situational controls over behavior because:  (a) they are often non-obvious and subtle, (b) we often can avoid entering situations where we might be so controlled, (c) we label as “weak” or “deviant” people in those situations who do behave differently from how we believe we would.

Each of us carries around in our heads a favorable self-image in which we are essentially just, fair, ‘humane, understanding, etc.  For example, we could not imagine inflic­ting pain on others without much provocation, or hurting people who had done nothing to us, who in fact were even liked by us.  However, there is a growing body of social psychological research which underscores the conclusion derived from this prison study. Many people, perhaps the majority, can be made to do almost anything when put into psychologically compelling situations—regardless of their morals, ethics, values, attitudes, beliefs, or personal convictions. My colleague, Stanley Milgram, has shown that more than sixty percent of the popula­tion will deliver what they think is a series of painful electric shocks to another person even after the victim cries for mercy, begs them to stop, and then apparently passes out. The subjects complained that they did not want to hurt him more, but blindly obeyed the command of the authority figure (the experimenter) who said that they must go on.  In my research on violence, I have seen mild-mannered co-eds repea­tedly give “shocks” (which they thought were causing pain) to another girl, a stranger whom they had rated very favorably, simply by being made to feel anonymous and put in a situation where they were expected to engage in this activity.

Observers of these and similar experimental situations never predict their outcomes, and estimate that it is unlikely that they themselves would behave similarly. They can be so confident only when they are outside the situation, but since the majority of people in these studies do act in these “non-rational,” “non-obvious” ways, then it follows, that the majority of observers would also succumb to the social psycho­logical forces in the situation.

(2)   With regard to prisons, we can state that the mere act of assigning labels to people, such as “prisoners” and “guards,” and putting them into a situation where those labels acquire validity and meaning, is sufficient to elicit patholog­ical behavior. This pathology is not predictable from any available diagnostic indicators we have in the social sciences, and is extreme enough to modify in very significant ways fundamental attitudes and behavior. The prison situation, as presently arranged, is guaranteed to generate severe enough pathological reactions in both guards and prisoners as to debase their humanity, lower their feelings of self-worth, and make it difficult for them to be part of a society outside of their prison.

General Conclusions and Specific Recommendations for Reform

Prison is any situation in which one person’s freedom and liberty are denied by virtue of the arbitrary power exer­cised by another person or group. Thus our prisons of concrete and steel are only metaphors for the social prisons we create and maintain through enforced poverty, racism, sexism, and other forms of social injustice. They are also the physical symbol of the psychological prisons we create for others, by making even our loved ones feel inadequate or self-conscious, and, worst of all, the imprisonment we impose on our own minds and actions through neurotic fears.

The need for “prison reform” then is a cry not only to change the operating procedures of our penal institutions, but a more basic plea to change the conditions in our society which make us all prisoners, all less happy, less productive, less free to grow, and less concerned about our brothers than about our own survival.

Our national leaders for years have been pointing to the enemies of freedom, to the fascist or communist threat to the American way of life.  In so doing, they have overlooked the threat of social anarchy that is building within our own country without any outside agitation. As soon as a person comes to the realization that he is being “imprisoned” by his society or individuals in it, then, in the best American tradition, he demands liberty and rebels, accepting death as an alternative.

The third alternative, however, is to allow oneself to become a “good prisoner,” docile, cooperative, uncomplaining, confor­ming in thought and complying in deed.                                                                                             Our prison authorities now point to the “militant agitators” who are still vaguely part of some communist plot, as the irresponsible, “incorrigible” trouble-makers.  They imply that there would be no trouble, riots, hostages, or deaths if it weren’t for this small band of “bad prisoners.” In other words, if they could break these men, then everything would return to “normal” again in the life of our nation’s prisons.

The riots in prison are coming from within—from within every man and woman who refuses to let The System turn them into an object, a number, a thing, or a no-thing.  It is not communist-inspired, but inspired by the spirit of American freedom. No man wants to be enslaved. To be powerless, to be subject to the arbitrary exercise of power, to not be recognized as a human being is to be a slave.

To be a “militant prisoner” is to become aware that the physical jails are but more blatant extensions of the forms of social and psychological oppression experienced daily in the nation’s ghettos. They are trying to awaken the conscience of the nation to the ways in which the American ideals are being perverted in the name of “justice,” but actually under the banner of apathy, fear, and hatred, if we do not listen to the pleas of the prisoners at Attica to be treated like human beings, then we all have become brutalized by our priorities for property rights over human rights. The consequence will not only be more prison riots, but a loss of all those ideals on which this country was founded.

Recommendations:

1)                      Do not demand simple solutions for the complex problems of crime and law enforcement.

2)                      Do continue to search for solutions, to question all assumptions regarding the causes of crime, the nature of the criminal, and the function of prisons. Support research which might provide some answers to these issues, and continue to keep the legislature and the public informed about these issues.

3)                      Put the specific question of prison reform in the broader context of societal reforms and social injustice which may account for why many commit crimes in the first place.

4)                      Investigate the public’s latent attitudes about punishment and retribution, and then initiate programs to reeducate the public as to the rehabilitative purposes and goals of our correctional institutions.

5)                      Insist that Judges have a continuing interest in what happens to people they sentence.

6)                      Help make the public aware that they own the prisons, and that their business is failing. The seventy percent recid­ivism rate, and the escalation in severity of crimes committed by graduates of our prisons are evidence that current prisons fail to rehabilitate the inmates in any positive way. Rather,
they are breeding grounds for hatred of the establishment, a hatred that makes every citizen a target of violent assault. Prisons are a bad investment for us taxpayers. Until now we have not cared, we have turned over to wardens and prison “authorities” the unpleasant job of keeping people who threaten us out of our sight. Now we are shocked to learn that their management practices have failed to improve the product, and instead they are turning petty thieves into murderers. We must insist upon new management or improved operating procedures.

7)                      Remove the cloak of secrecy from the prisons. Prisoners claim they are brutalized by the guards, guards say it is a lie. Where is the impartial test of the truth in such a situation? Prison officials have forgotten that they work for us, that they are only public servants whose salaries are paid by our taxes.  They act as if it is their prison, like a child with a toy he won’t share. Neither lawyers, judges, the
legislature, nor the public are allowed into prisons to ascertain the truth unless the visit is sanctioned by “authorities” and until all is prepared for their visit. I was shocked to learn that my request to join this committee’s tour of San Quentin and Soledad was refused, as was that of the news media. However, after talking with convicts, it is apparent that such a guided tour would be the same kind an American
general would get in Moscow. Did this committee visit A section of the South Block, the upper floors of the adjustment center, B section, third tier, any floor above the bottom one in the hospital? It is likely they did not, because these are not part of the prison “show rooms” in San Quentin.

8)                      There should be an ombudsman in every prison, not under the pay or control of the prison authority, responsible only to the courts, state legislature and the public. Such a person could report on violations of constitutional and human rights.

9)                      Guards must be given better training than they now receive for the difficult job society imposes upon them. To be a prison guard as now constituted is to be put in a situation of constant threat from within the prison, with no social recognition from the society at large. As was shown graphically at Attica, prison guards are also prisoners of the system who can be sacrificed to the demands of the public to be punitive and the needs of politicians to preserve an image. Social scientists and business training personnel should be called upon to design and help carry out this training.

10)                  In line with this new human relations training, would be changes in the perceived role of the “guards.” They would instead be “teachers” or “counselors” and the “prisoners” would be “trainees.”  The reinforcement (bonus, advancement) for such a “teacher” would be contingent upon the “trainees” learning new social and technical skills which will enable them to leave the “training-rehabilitation” center as early as possible, and not: come back.

Positive reinforcement would replace coercion, threats and isolation as means of behavior management.  Most prisoners want to return to their community, to be capable of earning a living, to be socially responsible and to be needed by others. Many are in prison not because they don’t have a manual trade, but because of deficits in social training. Prisons should be constituted to provide the opportunity for such people to have positive social experiences, to be responsive to and responsible for others. This could be done by giving them training as psychiatric aides and social workers who must care for other disturbed prisoners. This “peer management” is the best way to build an individual’s sense of self-worth and a feeling of community. In addition, these skills are vitally needed in the communities to which the “trainees” will return. College students and professional social scientists could volunteer their services or be part of a Vista campaign to produce such training.

11)                  The relationship between the individual (who is sentenced by the courts to such a center) and his community must be maintained. How can a “prisoner” return to a dynam­ically changing society, that most of us cannot cope with, after being out of it for a number of years? There should be more community involvement in these rehabilitation centers, more ties encouraged and promoted between the trainees and
family and friends, more educational opportunities to prepare them for returning to their communities as more valuable members of it than they were before they left.

12)                  Once a trainee has finished the prescribed course and is judged ready to leave the institution, there should be no stigma attached to his training, no need to report to pros­pective employers that he/she was a “prisoner,” no need to be labeled an “ex-con.”

13)                  Finally, the main ingredient necessary to effect any change at all in prison reform, in the rehabilitation of a  single prisoner, or even in the optimal development of your own child, is caring. That is where all reform must start — with people caring about the well-being of others, especially people with power, like those on this committee, really caring about the most hardened, allegedly incorrigible prisoner in solitary confinement. Underneath the toughest, society-hating convict, rebel, or anarchist is a human being who wants his existence to be recognized by his fellows and who wants someone else to care about whether he lives or dies and to be sad if he lives imprisoned rather than lives free.

Celebrating Success

Celebrating SuccessControl by the media and lazy group think which promotes the idea that it’s easier to accept the official version than to question things on our own. Too many people take a negative approach toward men incarcerated as if by virtue of finding yourself in a adverse legal situation automatically reduces you to a less than.

Perhaps this is one of the side effects of runaway capitalism — the tenet that if you not producing or at the very least fully engaged in the rat race, you’re no good and a waste of time. One of the reasons the first question most people ask when they meet you is what you do. And if it seems you don’t do nothing, at least nothing significant to that person or society then you are nothing.

So every chance I get I want to trumpet the success of formerly incarcerated men. Nothing spoils the doomsday sayers day more than a fat dose of success.

Exactly what K.B. Webb, one of my former cellies who I co-authored a book with back on the Wynne unit is doing — succeeding on a grand scale. In a mere six months, the brother has started his own business Chiselers Fitness, found employment as a truck driver, reestablished a relationship with his son and is diligently rebuilding his life after spending 8 years locked in a cell being treated as less than.

I wonder what all the talking heads who seem to only want to increase penalties for this or that, while labeling every man in prison as a current or future Charles Manson. Which is nothing but a bunch of hogwash and propaganda that politicians and wannabe TV personalities spread to make a living, seem important, and keep a job.

A real success story like this will never make it onto the nightly news shows that are only interested in scaring the people with horror tales to increase their ratings. Yet somebody has to tell the world “the rest of the story”, and since they won’t, I will!

Check this brother K.B. Webb and Chiselers Fitness out on Facebook and Instagram because he’s the truth. When you’re in the Houston area, look him up so he can help you drop a few pounds, mention the “Prison Griot” and he’ll probably give you a discount. Real talk.

Where Failure Ends and Success Begins

Someone, who someone else felt was wise enough to quote, said ,”You only truly fail in life when you stop trying”. I mean that’s not rocket science, so I’ll go with that.

So much that throughout my sojourn in prison, as I continuously try to go against the grain and create a masterpiece out of dust, I’ve adopted this quote as one of my life’s mottos. I mean why not. Corporations have mission statements and mottos, think Google’s, “Do know evil.” And human beings need them to, at least I think so. I also like this quote because in my book inactivity is death. I mean dang, do something even if that something doesn’t work at least you tried.

With this in mind I recently had the chance recollect on some of things that I have tried to make happen over the years but didn’t succeed at. At the time I counted them as failures but today I’m not so sure .

What got me to thinking about this was that the prison where I

am recently had its annual shakedown. For those not in the know, all

prisons in Texas have periodic shakedowns where the COs search inmates personal property for contraband and other prohibited items. How it usually works is that we are confined to our cells from seven to fourteen days and required to pack all of our property in nylon commissary bags and then take it to a designated area where several officers search it, piece by piece. I am pretty sure it goes without saying that it’s a rather dehumanizing process to have all of your personal items, pictures, letters from family, friends, books etc. searched through by a stranger who then decides what you can and can’t have .

Unfortunately it’s one of the indignities that you learn to live with, as being in prison can often be described as the forced endurance of one series of degradations after another.

For me I use the days leading up to the shakedown when we are confined to our cells to go through all my things myself and see what I really need and what I can live without.

In the process of doing so I came across three projects I had worked on in the past that I wasn’t able to do with what I initially set out to. The first was a cell phone wrist watch that I designed and actually tried to write my own patent on. While still in the patent pending stage, I submitted my invention idea to a few companies including Motorola and LG communication and collected a folder full of fancy rejection letters written on 100% cotton paper. And not long after that, the US patent office hit me with my first office action which unfortunately I didn’t have the technical knowledge to overcome and ended up abandoning my application.

Yet now that the Thomas Edison bug has bit me I feel like I got a few more better mouse traps up my sleeve and I am just waiting on the right opportunity. Plus I learned three crucial things about inventions and patents in the process 1. You need to do a exhaustive prior art patent search before filing. 2. Make sure your patent application is airtight with adequate claims. 3. A working prototype works a hundred times better than a pretty picture.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was pretty expensive knowledge considering the filing fee and research time. But when I invent the next I-Phone, it will be well worth it.

Besides this particular incident with inventing there was the time back in 2002 when I was watching a Nike commercial and thought, “Dang, I can come up with something better than that.” That thought prompted me to write the “No Limit Commercial”, which I copyrighted and submitted to Nike’s co-founder and billionaire Phil Knight. Nike told me I had to get with their advertising agency who really didn’t like the ideal of little old me poaching on their turf by suggesting ideas to their number one client. But like they say, it’s haters everywhere in the corporate suites.

Not easily deterred, lightening struck a third time when I designed a pair of tennis that I felt would fit well with either Tommy Hilfiger or Phat Farms casual clothing lines. But the fish weren’t biting.

Still each failure left a small seed of success. Seeds that I’ve been able to replant and try again with. While the validation of having come up with a great product would’ve been nice, not to mention the monetary payoff cause you already know a brother gifted but broke.

Damn, don’t that sound like a T-shirt logo? But on the cool I feel like these still births are paving stones on the road to success. And that the ability to make love to your intellect and birth your ideas is a reward within itself.

No Limit Commercial

Tennis Nike

WatchWatch 2Phone

Criticism Filter

THINKIf you’re like most people, myself included, it’s easier for you to give out criticism to others then it is to receive it yourself.

In one sense I think we all wear blinders and rose-colored shades when it comes to our own shortcomings. I also think because most of us don’t consider a lot of the criticism we receive as good criticism (meaning factual and true), we out-right reject it. If you are hip you might use the universal ego booster via hip-hop lingo, “They just hating on me.” However, there is usually a trace of truth in even the most virulent criticism that we receive – truth that has the potential to help us grow and mature into our full potential

Yet since we are bound to dish it out – more than take it, I came across a acronym called THINK that I feel we would each be wise to use next time we get ready to tell someone off. THINK stands for, Is it: True, Helpful, Inspirational, Necessary, and Kind.

Just THINK about it when we find ourselves on the business end of someone’s sharp tongue-Most of us would prefer that their words be, True, Helpful, Inspirational, Necessary and Kind. As opposed to Harsh, Hurtful, Mean, Sarcastic and Unkind.

I   know   I   would!

So remember – is it

T True
H Helpful
I  Inspirational
N Necessary
K Kind

THINK before you address someone!

Don’t Forget To Check The Scrap Pile

Have you ever seen a junk collector or metal recycler? If you have then you probably noticed them picking up old broken stoves and refrigerators, A, C units, sometimes discarded furniture and other items. All things that another person judged as useless, unfit,  outdated, and a waste of vital space. So they threw them out.

While you and I may drive by and see only useless junk, a collector sees potential, not to mention $$$$. Because he’s not looking at what is, but what will be. You see, it’s all in a matter of perspective. The person who threw it out was looking at the past and present, while the collector has his eyes on the future.

That’s how I liken my prison experience. As I look around I see a sea of human, wreckage-wasted lives and unused potential. People who just like that junk on the side of the street society have been declared as unfit, useless, outdated, as vital waste of space and resources.

But every now and then, I run into men like myself who do more than refuse these harmful labels. They scoop them up and hurl them right back into the faces of the senders. So fast that they begin to wonder how did he do that, he’s a convict? Who does he think he is anyway? I’ll tell you. He thinks he’s someone with more potential in his future than calamity in his past. Someone who knows that it’s not what you say about me that counts, but what I say about me. As British author Zadie Smith so eloquently states, “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines ME.”

For that reason I was excited when I ran into a group of incarcerated brothers who have created a community service problem solving organization called OnDaVerge.com and I wanted to share it with you that you can be inspired as well. Check these brothers out as they are doing big thangs.

http://www.ondaverg.org/

From the brochure:

On Da Verg.Org is a community service organization geared towards educating & assisting people in problematic situations about proven methods they can use to alleviate their burdens. We also offer vital resources to prisoners, their families & children of incarcerated parents.

Founded in 2004, On Da Verg.Org’s pioneers have designed and developed informational products called Solution Based Models, which are the blueprint or problem or crisis resolution!

At this time, our main focus is on youth ages 12-19 who are faced with various negative circumstances, and at-risk. Our models also assist the parents & guardians of troubled youth, providing easily understood steps to totally eradicate the problem at hand. Our social networking spectrum is wide-ranged & very resourceful, as we direct parents & guardians to the proper agencies who specialize in dealing with specific problems.

Our On Da Verg.Org team is filled with crisis survivors and our crisis response team have effective tactics to intervene in certain problems when necessary.

Everyone is looking for solutions to problems. The problem is, ‘Solutions’ are very limited. This creates a Demand!

Perfect Business Model. The illusion in the world is that everyone is solving their problems. Fact is, almost no one is solving their problems effectively. 99.9% are actually trying to avoid their problems. The
average person’s life is rife with problems. This is what makes the name, On Da Verg.Org what it is? People are constantly on the verge of some extremely important decision(s)….

 

On da verge broch 1

on da verg broch 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity

A question that forever ricochets around my brain like runaway metal pinball in a pinball game with no slot for the ball to exit/as I spend the most productive years of my life inside of the Prison-Industrial Complex is why?

Why?

Why?

Recently Peter Neufeld of the New York Innocent Project brought clarity to my inner turmoil. When asked why wrongful convictions happen he said:

“Eyewitness are often mistaken, confessions

attributed to a defendant can easily be

coerced or falsified, informants lie,

prosecutors sometimes engage in misconduct

and defense attorneys don’t always do the

job they should on behalf of their clients”

Hallelujah!

But even with the truth being revealed, very few people care.

A Dream — Deferred

For longer than memory will let me recall I’ve been somewhat of a fashion connoisseur. And I have always loved to see a well dressed woman — especially if she had that particular shape certain women have coupled with a outfit chosen specifically to accent it – I can’t say exactly where this aesthetic sense of beauty originated, but growing up as an only child and late addition to the family (l have one sister who is much older and was therefore already out of the house). My mother was still young and good looking with a flattering shape and in those days she loved to step out on the town. As she would be getting ready for one of her numerous jaunts, I often found my seven-eight year old self acting as her personal stylist offering subtle and not so subtle suggestions like, “I don’t like that one, you should wear the red one instead.”

Upon entering my teenage years growing up in an urban environment (the hood), a portion of this fashion-forwardness was suppressed. And I adopted the personal dress styles and taste of my environment. Which resulted in me never paying much attention to the fashion scene, especially not the upscale side of it.

That changed when I winded up incarcerated. Now that I had time I began to read the multitude of magazines that were constantly floating around. In prison guys will do or read just about anything to drown out the mindless soul stealing day to day humdrum of prison life. Name it and somebody has a subscription to it from Robb’s Report and Dupont Registry to other magazines featuring products and services a gazillion times beyond most inmates current or future financial stations— to weeklies like Jet, The Week, Newsweek etc. And there is always a ton of women’s magazines within easy access Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Essence, Lucky, Seventeen, Vanity Fair, and Allure.

Initially I was perturbed as to why so many guys were subscribing to these women publications. Eventually I concluded that apart from looking (and lusting) on the models that the second reason came from what’s called the scarcity syndrome. Which means that whatever unmet needs a person has, that need becomes paramount. Since heterosexual men like myself are prevented from having the loving intimate and sexual relationships with women as we desire to as a result of being incarcerated. All things WOMAN become of immense importance and interest. It’s like oxygen few of us give much thought to its’ importance, but that would change in a heartbeat if we suddenly found ourselves without it.

At first I began to look at these fashion magazines just for something to do. Soon I found myself appreciating the designs of designer like Michael Kors, Valentino, Tracy Resse, Marc Jacobs, and many others. In that instant the old fashion bug that I had long forgotten began to stir. It was then that I began to believe that I had the eye and creativity to be a fashion designer. Motivated I subscribed to several fashion magazines, (funny huh? At first I was a critic of other guys getting all those women magazines and ended up subscribing to a half dozen myself. What’s that old saying about the pot calling the kettle black?) and began to sketch my own designs. Designs that I shared with family and friends and for which I received mostly positive feedback. By then I was hooked and began to have Project Runway dreams.

Along the way, I dabbled in urban design, tennis shoe design, women’s ready to wear, as well as couture. But decided I liked designing women’s ready to wear the most at least in the higher price points. But being that the state of Texas wasn’t about to let me travel to New York, or Parson’s School of design any time soon. I slapped images of Heidi Klum out of my head and scaled down my ambition. Because of my unique circumstances, lack of capital, or fashion experience, decided that trying to launch my own line was probably out the question. And set my sights on finding a small established designer with a in-house seamstress who I could contribute seasonal designs to be integrated with their existing line. Kinda like a nameless, faceless ghost designer.  Dream Deferred Design 1 Dream Deferred Design 2 Dream Deferred Design 3 Dream Deferred Design 4 Dream Deferred Design 5 Dream Deferred Design 6 Dream Deferred Design 7 Dream Deferred Design 8 Dream Deferred Design 9 Dream Deferred Design 10 Dream Deferred Design 11 Dream Deferred Design 12

Tamisha and Kamisha

God blessed me with

Not one, but two

Wonderful daughters

Entrusted me with the responsibility

Of being a father

No small task

On my knees, instructions I have to ask

Knowledge of Fatherhood

To help me raise my seed

Provide for their need

With God’s grace, I’m up to the task

Of being more than a donor

But an actual father.

Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West. Trafford Press 2006