Tag Archives: design

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

Rims to Die For


I am the product of a Southern urban culture in which cars play a major role. In Houston the city of my birth people trick out all types of cars which makes living in the city like being surrounded by a 24/ 7 car show. You are likely to see everything from a late model Cadillac with Ferrari doors to a purple Maserati with hot pink interior.

It’s literally off the chain and for the most part it’s all good. But there is one pair of rims that have been dubbed the most dangerous rims in the city.

These rims known on the streets of Houston as Swanger or Elbows are a essential part of Houston’s car culture, yet they have a long bloody and deadly history. Originally invented by Crager for limited edition Cadillacs, the car giant put the rims on the 83 and 84 Eldorado models, but quickly discontinued there use after it was discovered the rims had a tendency to loosen in certain places and to make a clacking sound.

The rims bare a strong resemblance to another chrome Crager rim the 15 inch 30 spoke, with one exception. Unlike the 30 spokes that sit flush with the tires, the company’s 83 and 84 model rims extended out from the tires hence the nickname elbows. Due to the rims tendency to clack Cadillac stopped ordering them for their cars forcing Crager to discontinue production.

Shortly after the Detroit auto giant decided to move on to another type of rim for their luxury vehicles, the rims became a smash hit with Houston’s underground car scene, often showing up on late model Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles.

From the mid to late 80’s the rims could still be purchased through Cadillac dealers as they proceeded to liquidate their entire back inventory of the troublesome rim. Once that avenue was tapped out the rims began to be bought and sold strictly on the secondary market. And as is generally the case high demand caused the prices to sky-rocket. To the point that a brand new set of 83’s or 84’s that could’ve originally been purchased from the dealer for under six hundred dollars a set nearly tripled in price.

By the early and mid 90’s a set of 83 and Vogues would set you back anywhere from fifteen to twenty five hundred depending on their condition. While a set of 84’s which have straighter spokes that stick out about an inch further would cost anywhere from three to five thousand.

On top of this sudden price increase was the fact that with the exception of a few Mom and Pop tire stores, most notably Big Tex on the Southside there was nowhere in Houston that you could just walk into and purchase a set, creating a process to where even a person with the money to buy a set would have to search around and try to find someone willing to sale a set. A process that was not only tedious but equally dangerous.

A tragic consequence of this high demand and short supply was the robbing and killings that began around 92. At one time the car jackings were so bad that a saying developed which was “83’s get you jacked, 84’s get you killed.”

Between 1992 and 2000 it’s believed that over a hundred young men and even a few women lost their lives as a result of riding Swangers.

Before long the rims had developed their own folklore to the point where putting a set on your car meant you either had a death wish or that you were someone who didn’t mind riding around strapped at all times.

When I was growing up, I craved a set badder than I wanted oxygen and didn’t rest until I got my first set. But soon I discovered that the rims were more trouble than they were worth and ended up selling them to another guy who didn’t mind spending most of his time guarding his car, or better yet his rims.

Today while these rims remain as popular as ever and very much a H-town staple things have improved a whole lot. In the early 2000’s spurred on by an employee who had grown up in Houston. Executives at Texas Wire Wheel decided to purchase the rims design patent from Cadillac and to start making newer versions of Elbows strictly for the Houston market.

While the originally elbows only came in 13 and 15 inch and are still favored by old heads. The newer version come in a range of sizes including the mind boggling Gorillas and Super Pokers.

Texas Wire Wheel’s decision to begin production of “Swangers” again was undoubtedly a good business move for the company. It also had the unintended consequence of decreasing (not stopping) the robbing and killings that had become a regular occurrence as result of the rims coveted status.

So the next time you’re in Houston, enjoy the weather, the Zoo, the Space Center, Reliant Stadium and all the beautiful shinny cars you’re likely to see. But beware of the rims, they bite.

Discovering the Wonderful Art of Sonya Clark

I would venture to say that it’s something few of us have ever thought of as anything more than a natural part of our lives, along with a occasional annoyance that we have to keep groomed and maintained. But not Sonya Clark, the textile artist, who often uses hair as her artistic medium. While studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, she said, “I got to thinking about what the first textile art form was, and that led me to hair dressing. Hair is the first textile humankind used in decorative and functional ways.”

Clark, who often uses her own hair in the pieces she creates, has produced a treasure trove of memorable pieces including Heritage Pearls, a strand of pearls made out of her hair, Black Hair Flag, and Afro Abe, that have been exhibited in over 250 galleries and museums all over the world. Clark says her art is about identity, individual and collective along with her black heritage.

One of her most politically charged pieces and the one that tends to cause the most uproar is “Black Hair Flag” in which the artist makes an American flag using black cotton braided into corn rolls for the stripes and Bantu knots for the stars, superimposed over a confederate flag – thus signifying the African-American triumph from the slave ship to the White House .

My personal favorite is “Afro Abe”, a collection of seven five dollar bills with ever increasing afros affixed to the nations 16th President. “In one sense, giving Lincoln an afro is honorific,” said Clark. “But Lincoln’s decision to free the slaves was an economic decision as much as anything else.”

She is currently in the process of making 44 slightly different versions of Afro Abe as a kind of tribute to President Obama the nations 44th President. According to Clark, “I almost consider “Afro Abe” as a kind of portrait of Obama.”

Sonya Clark is a amazing black artist who has taken a common often overlook element, “hair”, and transformed it into an amazing statement of human creativity.

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

I Am An Artist

At least that is what I tell myself.

Between laughing and crying,

I think I am really trying.

I am my own canvas, painting myself,

Constantly working on myself

At least what’s left.

A constant process of re-creation

A daily transformation.

Descendant of African Royalty,

Now just considered a minority,

Entrusted to the state’s authority,

Re-creation is defiant priority!

Yet, the process begins with me.

No more fathering children out of wedlock,

or dealing crack at the bus stop.

No more lying, stealing and cheating!

No more calling women bitches and hos

Time to elevate my prose.

At least these are the changes I propose.

Yet, I have to confess my pictures sometimes fall

completely apart.

Which puts me back at the start.

An artist,

Recreating himself,

On a daily basis!!!

Reprinted from “Beauty In Chains: Poems by African American Prisoners On Black Love, Racism, Politics, Religion, and Progress”. CreateSpace Press

Do Women In Relationships Get A Raw Deal?

In my search for the perfect mate, this was a question I had never actually given any serious thought to. Like a lot of singles who desired to be a pair, I had naively assumed that two people who were attracted to each other met, got to know one another, fell in love, then set out to build a life together. Sometimes it led to “Happily ever after” and sometimes it didn’t.

But reading Judy Brady’s essay “Why I Want A Wife” forced me to challenge my naive assumptions about the equality of relationships and exactly what each partner brings to the table in a successful relationship.

In her essay, she so succinctly pointed out the many, many things that women do for the men in their lives that so many men, including myself, take for granted as just being a natural part of the relationship. For instance, I don’t recall any woman I dated expecting me to cook our meals, do the laundry, take her mother to the doctor, or to have sex when I didn’t feel like it or wanted to. Yet, all of the above are things women readily do. But I needed Judy Brady’s to help bring them to my attention.

Of course, since Mrs. Brady wrote her ground breaking essay in the early 60’s, there has been a great push toward equality of the sexes, nevertheless there is still work to do.

So, I confess that I do still want a wife, fortunately not for the stereotypical reason Mrs. Brady pointed out.

Why I Want A Wife

By Judy Brady

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife, and, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.

Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?

I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturing attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife .to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need a rest and change of scene.

I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course studies. I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.

I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the babysitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guest arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my guest so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed hors d’oeuvres, that they are offered a second helping of food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.

I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.

If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.

When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.

My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?

A Nation Set On A Hill

Norway, Norway, Norway
I too weep with thee.

I protest with the world
the fateful day evil attacked
a peaceful nation.

The day 76 angels were granted
their wings
Hark the Heavenly Angels sing.

While we on earth are left
to ponder…
Why Prince of Peace had the
menace of intolerance reared
its beastily head in peaceful Norway.

Oh Norway
I too weep with thee.

My sister, what were your crimes?
Let your accuser come forth.
Which of God’s children had you
fair lady oppressed?
Had you ever built a wall to
divide people?
Forbidden the free worship of God?
Murdered the poor or falsely
accused the innocent?

“No, no” she cried.
“Of none of the above am I guilty.
My values are peace and equality,
tolerance is my cloak, good works
my tunic. Never the stranger or
hungry have I turned away.
Oh do tell me, why this calamity?”

At her words, I turned my head in despair.
To her question I had no answer.
Oh Norway
I too weep with thee.

But this I know, Peace and Hope will never
ever die. Nor will a Nation of peace despair.
For Norway will rebuild, and be forever more
A Nation Set On A Hill.

©Kenneth West

An Interview with the Educated O.G. narrator of “The Young African American Survival Guide”

Kenneth: Educated O.G, why don’t you tell everyone who you are and what you’re about?

Educated O.G. (takes a bow): Gladly. You see, besides being the greatest thing since sliced bread, my main occupation is being the narrator of “The Young African American Survival Guide” along with my co-characters DeShawn and Ray Ray.

Kenneth: Hmm? “The Young African American Survival Guide”, that sounds interesting. What is it about?

Educated O.G. (looks at me strangely/shakes his head): Man, where you been, on Mars? “The Young African American Survival Guide” is a new book for at-risk black youth. The purpose is to pull some of these youngsters coat to what’s really going on to keep them out the graveyard, jailhouse and a whole bunch of other dead-end places they don’t want to end up. Ya dig?

Kenneth: So the book is a Survival Guide for kids?

Educated O.G. (yells): Calling planet Earth! Man, have you been listening to me? That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.

Kenneth: Okay, I got you but what exactly is the book about?

Educated O.G.: Sex. Drugs. Education. Violence. Hustling. Gangbanging.

Kenneth: What? You talking to kids about gangs?

Educated O.G.: Not like that fool, basically it’s a book of what not to do, along with reasons why they shouldn’t. You see, kids these days real sharp which is why this book goes beyond the old-school, “birds and bees” and “Just Say No” rhetoric and gets into the real nitty-gritty.

Kenneth: Well, how many pages is it?

Educated O.G.: 293 fully illustrated with yours truly and my two co-characters the youngsters on the cover.

Kenneth: So where can I get a copy? I want to pick one up for my nephew?

Educated O.G.: Whoa, whoa, hold your horses. You can’t get it just yet. You see the author got a little legal trouble.

Kenneth: Legal trouble?

Educated O.G.: Man, do I gotta spell everything out to you. He’s locked up. Behind bars. Three hots and a cot. Get it?

Kenneth: Now I do.

Educated O.G.: Good. See, he wanted to partner with a church or a nonprofit youth organization that had the resources to publish the book with the hope that they could make it available free of charge to as many at risk youth as possible. But that didn’t happen. People just didn’t seem to understand the vision,or they doubted the source. Right now he trying to find a regular publisher which may or may not happen. If not then he going to have to self-publish the book himself. What all that means is that you can’t get a copy right now. Comprendez?

Kenneth: Comprende. But what should I do until the book is available?

Educated O.G. (exasperated): Man, how should I know? Get married, go back to school, learn a second language, join a gym and lose 20 pounds. I’m not Dr. Phil.

Kenneth: Okay, just keep me posted.

Educated O.G. (shakes his head and mumbles): They don’t pay me enough for this.