Tag Archives: law

A Righteous Stand

Righteous standI stand unified with the MEN of Pelican Bay in support of the strong stand they have taken to secure what Thomas Jefferson called, “inalienable rights” by the holding of mass hunger strikes.

Beginning on July 8, 2013 over 3000 MEN currently held in the California Department of Corrections refused to eat for 9 consecutive days in a effort to receive improved conditions.

The focal point of this movement is the Pelican Bay Security housing unit where MEN are tortured psychologically 23 hours a da by being confined to their cells.

You see, as a incarcerated MAN myself, I know what the public don’t care to know. Which is that prisons are harsh, hostile places designed to completely crush the souls in their charge. Places where most men and women leave out worse than when they arrived. Someone once remarked that most people misunderstand the design and constructions of prisons; they think the fences and towers are strictly to keep inmates in, while never realizing they are equally there to keep the people out. Because much of what’s done couldn’t stand up under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

This is the sad state of Corrections within America. It’s also noted even within the same state some prison are much, much worse others. Such is the case with Pelican Bay. The first time I ever heard of Pelican Bay was when the scandal broke involving several guards who were running a gladiator school at the prison by placing rival gang members in the same cells and forcing them to fight while the guards watched and took bets.

In a place with this type of history it didn’t surprise me that conditions at the facility are so deplorable that a group of MEN have declared, ”Give me liberty or death.” According to the United States Constitution the people have the right to petition the government for redress. But when these people happen to be incarcerated MEN, the powers that be have taken an adverse position that seeks to escalate rather than deescalate the situation simply by fixing the problems.

Bureaucracy being bureaucracy, they have refused to meet any of the inmates five reasonable demands:

*  Eliminate group punishments for individual rule violations.

*  Abolish the debriefing policy

*  Comply with the 2006 recommendations of the US Commission
on Safety and Abuse in Prisons

*  Provide Adequate food

*  Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges
for indefinite SHU inmates.

The California department of corrections response to these reasonable demands and calls for human rights has been to petition the Federal Courts for permission to force-feed the 70 remaining inmates still striking in a effort to keep them from starving themselves to death. Wow! And to think this is what’s going on while most people sit around the water cooler discussing the latest occurrence on hit TV Show Scandal or Under the Dome. Men are starving themselves to death to secure their human rights while politicians debate how to stop Bashir Assad in Syria from violating the human rights of his people. The old people use to say, that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How can we concern ourselves with human rights abuses around the world without concerning our­selves with the human rights abuses right here at home. The media will show you on every station several times a day what Bashir Assad is doing to his people but want show you what your tax dollars doing to your own people. But that’s what those fences and towers are for to keep you out.

When the supposed enemy combatants held at the military base in Cuba went on hunger strikes to protest their conditions, our governments response was to petition the courts to force-feed these men. Now the same thing that was done to supposedly enemy combatants is being done to United States citizens in California – and you don’t have a problem with that, but have one with what’s going on in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere in the world. Something’s severely wrong with that.

Russian writer Feodor Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

How civilized are we?

Same Old Soup

same old soupFor a brief moment try to imagine this. You are a poor Hispanic or African-American in any of the this nation’s high-crime, impoverished, predominately minority neighborhoods; Watts, South Central, 3rd Ward, Southside, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York. I’ll let you pick your own poison.

Now on top of being a poor racial minority let’s say you’re unemployed and like to hang around your neighborhood and maybe even smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to ease the pain of a constrained existence.

One day while hanging out at the local barbershop, corner store,  nightclub etc, a guy you kinda, sorta know-one of those friends of friend’s cousin’s baby-moma type of things. But this guy approaches you, it has been a while since you last saw this friend of a friend and by all appearances it looks like he’s doing well for himself. After shooting the breeze for a few, he asks you what you into, how you getting by. Since that’s all you doing is getting by, there really isn’t much to tell him. Before long he’s flashing his bankroll and telling you what he’s got going and asking if you’re interested. This is like asking a man lost in the middle of the Sahara desert in 115 degree temperatures if he would like some water. You think?

Still, this’ the streets so you got to keep your game face on. So you pretend to think about it for a while then say what the hell. Why not, you’re broke, unemployed with little future prospects – I mean what do you have to lose? And according to your new buddy from around the way he knows a guy who has a lick (robbery) set up. Supposedly there’s this cartel stash house with 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine plus a few hundred grand inside, but this friend of a friend’s friend needs some guys to do it. He can’t do it hisself because the people inside know him.

Wooed by the prospect of quick riches and a escape from the soul-killing poverty that has destroyed and is destroying nearly every person you know, you agree to go along. The only problem is you don’t have a gun, but your new friend waves you off, that’s no problem, and says he will hook you up with one, and since you don’t have a car he’ll even pick you up.

After a brief discussion a date and time is agreed upon and when the time comes, your new buddy who is going to help you get rich picks you up and drives you to the scene of the crime.

A few moments later you and your friend setting down the block from the alleged stash house supposedly casing it out. Eventually your friend reaches in the glove box and hands you a gun while asking you if you ready? You nod, never expecting that nod to cost you the next ten to twenty years of your life.

Before you can get out of the car large red-faced aggressive men in Dupont made Kevlar body armor welding American-made machine guns rush the car and snatch you out, “ATP”, they scream, while slamming you on the ground face first, “you’re under arrest.”

The scenario I just asked you to imagine might sound like a scene out of the latest Triple Crown urban novel, but it’s not. It’s a real life sting operation currently being conducted in these United States of America to unsuspecting potential criminals with the prospect of quick riches.

In these stings, the ATF who selects the alleged criminals to target begin the operation with a paid informant (the friend of friend flashing cash). This informer, paid snitch, legal criminal, introduces the target to an ATF agent who provides the transportation, weapons, along with the who, what, and where of the robbery. Nationwide more than 1,000 people have been duped by the federal government and subsequently incarcerated in these “stash-house” operations over the previous decade.

More likely than not this injustice would’ve continued to rob young minority men of their liberty and the general public would’ve been none the wiser, had US District judge Ruben Castillo not noticed a peculiar thing about all these cases. Of the 26 “stash-house” cases filed in the Chicago Federal courts, all of the defendants were either black or Hispanic.

Which is even more troubling when you consider how these cases begin. Unlike a normal criminal case that begins when a person breaks the law, with these cases the government selects the person, proposes the crime, and provides the means of carrying out the crime.

What they were doing was so blatant that it forces even a conservative Republican judge to conclude that the government was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics and to call for a full investigation.

So here it is once again in our supposedly best justice system in the world, in our post-racial no need for Affirmative Action, or voting laws society. Those entrusted with the power of life and death s well as liberty are caught red-anded breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold and targeting the most vulnerable among us .

“You tell me things have changed… and I say not enough.

You tell me justice for all… and I say all who can afford it.

But you tell me a Black man is President… and I say ride through the bedrocks of the ghetto and tell me what that has meant

No Justice…No Peace to me is evident

Upset you turn away…scream why can’t I see?

Oh but I do see that our ideals are myths

Myths propagated to make me behave…

and send me passively to my grave

Perhaps some would say even make me a slave”

While operation “stash-house” as reported in the USA Today, Friday August 2, 2013 edition might surprise some people. For most blacks and Hispanics living daily up under the heavy arm of the law, this story was nothing more than a mainstream expose of of their day to day reality.

Crooked Officer

“Oh, he got a problem with the police. No, I do not have a problem with the police. I have a problem with the police putting drugs on me that I did not have.”

— James Prince, founder of Rap-a-lot Records, on the chorus of 90’s rap song “Crooked Officer” by the Ghetto Boys

In Houston local activists are up in arms again after another Houston police officer has killed yet another unarmed citizen. This time it was Brian C. Claunch, a mentally challenged white man with one arm and one leg, confined to a wheelchair.

If you know anything about the Houston Police Department, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, then you already know that the police had the same old, tired, scripted, illogical, common sense defying story: “Officer felt threatened and in fear of his life as wall as the life of his partner, and as a result used deadly force to protect himself and partner. We regret the unfortunate loss of life.”

What got the “folks” pissed off is how in the hell could any able-bodied, armed, supposedly trained police officer feel threatened to the point that he was in fear of his life by mentally disabled man with one leg and arm confined to a wheelchair holding a pen.

Tragic as it was, Mr. Claunch’s death was only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The Malcolm X Grassroots Organization (mxgm.org) released a new report that chronicled police shootings of citizens from January 1, 2012 — June 30, 2012 and found that every 36 hours a black person is murdered by the police in the United States.

According to the report, out of the 120 people killed during this period, 55 percent of them were unarmed at the time that they were killed by police.

Keep in mind that this study only covered a six month period. What’s going on? Have the police declared open season on blacks? Is killing citizens the new form of interactive target practice?

James Prince had a problem with the police planting drugs on him. I have a problem with police officer appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner and killing unarmed people and you should too.

What IS Black?

Is being black an act?

Is it a walk, or talk or, better yet, an attitude?

Maybe it’s the way you dress, or the car you drive?

Does being black equate a life of stress?

Is Clarence Thomas Black? What about Republican J.C. Watts?

What does being black mean?

Does being black meaning standing on the corner smoking marijuana?

Why or Why not?

Does it mean embracing the fictional American Dream?

A dream that was only intended for a few

Does it mean getting a so called good education?

To prepare you for a good job

Or getting the Clock and ski mask to rob?

Does being black mean dying young, or being strung out on crack?

How about doing time in jail?

Does it mean black women raising kids alone,

Or leading the country in rates of HIV?

Will someone please explain this to me

Or just answer the question…

What is Black?


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

43,800 Days

The judge gave me 43,800 days

1,140 Months

1,051,200 hours

63,072,200 minutes

To build a nation

His prison, My university

His punishment, My salvation

Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house

Old Pharaoh still feeding Moses at his table today

He fed Malcolm, Huey, Geronimo Pratt, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson,

Big Tookie, Mumia Adu Jabar

And now Old Pharaoh feeding me

Yet I have the blood of Nat Turner in my veins

The brains of Booker T

The brashness of Muhammad Ali

What Old Pharaoh going to do with me?

Right now I am eating in the kitchen, growing strong

Tomorrow I will own the table

Time to rewrite this American fable…


Reprinted  from  “A Windowless Room”, Trafford Press





I have a lot of respect for Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. So much that he was one of the first attorneys I attempted to hire, but was unable to afford when I found myself facing the daunting prospect that later became a reality of being “railroaded” by Harris County.

Then I heard the “hero” defense DeGuerin successfully raised in the trial of ex-Houston police officer Andrew Blomberg, one of several Houston police officers eventually fired and charged with “official oppression” after administering a sever dose of, “street justice” to 15 year old Chad Holley back in March 2010. It just happened to get caught on tape, which was the only reason the officers were fired, or even prosecuted. Because as anyone with even a casual knowledge of Harris County will readily admit, police misconduct, judicial oppression and injustice are a way of life for the county’s black and brown population. So much so to where the average, poor African American or Hispanic is living a precarious existence not much different than a Jewish person’s in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. I promise you, it’s that bad. They simply have no rights legal or otherwise that the powers that be, police, prosecutors, judges etc are bound to respect. None whatsoever.

So, when Dick DeGuerin proposed his “hero” defense, I couldn’t help but think about President Obama’s sudden election time support of gay marriage. And was reminded of the tenet that just like a politician the average defense lawyer, or DA will do or say anything to win a case. Even stooping to the level of calling a grown man and trained police officer caught on video stomping a 15 year old teenager a”hero”. What the !*??!!*

The not-guilty verdict came down with the resulting backlash of anger from Houston’s black community. (Note: The black masses in the United States of America have been mad so long that nobody really cares anymore. The official line is okay get mad, march, protest, wear T-Shirts, and for good measure we’ll even have a meeting with you. How about that? Would you like that? But next week, the nightstick will be right back upside your head. Why? Because you are a irrelevant population. When are you people going to learn that? No one cares about what concerns you.) But I for one wasn’t surprised that a all white jury of Blomberg’s middle class peers found him not guilty despite being caught on camera acting like the very thug his attorney tried to portray Chad Holley to be.

I mean, why should anyone be surprised? Was anyone surprised when a all white jury in Mississippi acquitted the two half-brothers of killing 14 year old Emmet Till for whistling at a white lady, after the brothers bragged about the crime?

Getting beyond the surface, let’s examine what took place from the reality of modern day America. Andrew Blomberg is a married, college-educated, white middle class man with enough disposable financial resources to hire arguably one of the best, if not the best criminal defense lawyers in the state. On top of this he has many supporters in the community and police force who packed the courtroom to add weight to the fact that he’s not the type of guy to normally do what he was caught on camera doing.

Now compare all that with the 15 year old victim who was a poor, black kid from a single parent home, burglary suspect and alleged gang member at the time of his assault by Houston Police officers. On top of that he’s dragging the weight of history with him and every stereotype and prejudice that the average white mind harbors about young black males.

Put another way in the eyes of this society Andrew Blomberg is a “somebody”, even a “hero” according to his attorney. While Chad Holley was and is viewed as a nobody. Just another unemployed, young black thug (code word for nigger) who was committing a crime and got what he deserved, a good old-fashioned butt whipping. Sure, in our political reality, never say what you really feel or think, no one in society will admit this – not the DA, defense lawyer, police officer, Blomberg, or his friends and family, but I would bet a small fortune that deep down, this is how they all really feel.

Undoubtedly, it was how the jury felt when they chose to acquit Blomberg.

Until people get real about what’s really going on with the police department and the criminal justice system – and how very little has really changed in the hearts and minds of the people of this country, despite the election of the nation’s first black president and all the post racial nonsense pundits like to sprout – men like Andrew Blomberg will continue to be “heroes” despite their actions to the contrary. While the Chad Holley’s and Trayvon Martin’s among us will remain endangered species under a official order as in Blomberg’s case, or unofficial as in Zimmerman’s to seek out and destroy where ever they may be.

No Justice. No Peace.

Radical Christianity

20 Year old Robbery Suspect Montoya Givens

The gospel singer Marvin Winans and Pastor of 4,500 member Perfecting Church is Detroit, Michigan who gave the eulogy at singer Whitney Houston’s funeral recently became a crime victim. Pastor Winans who is black was robbed by three young African American men Montoya Givens, 20, Christopher Moorehead, 20 along with Brian K. Young.

According to news reports, the pastor was accosted at a Detroit area gas station and relieved of his SUV, cash, Rolex watch and credit cards. Following the robbery, the three suspects were quickly arrested, charged with several crimes and are currently being held on bonds totally $200,000.

It’s doubtful that the young men knew who Pastor Winans was and were simply attracted to his outward displays of material wealth. Following the ordeal in, which he sustained a few bruises and scrapes, Rev. Winans said, ”I’m just saddened that it has come to this. This kind of nonsense just has to stop. It’s just the savageness of what’s happening in the street.”

While I empathize with pastor Winans and what he went through, what “saddens” me is that this Man of God had to be relieved of his $50,000 SUV, $10,000 Rolex watch etc. for him to realize how dire things were in the very community he purported to serve and with the youth of the community. The old people use to sing a song, “maybe God is trying to tell you something.”

The sad truth of the matter is that pastor Winans was actually blessed in that he came through this ordeal with his life. I can remember a time when our youth were robbing and killing each other over Starter Jackets and Michael Jordan tennis shoes.

What so many of us fail to realize – or we realize and just don’t care about as we devout the bulk of our time to seeking more pleasure, and material possessions for ourselves and families – is that young men like Montoya Givens, Christopher Moorehead, and Brian K. Young need help. Help that I can guarantee you is not going to be given to them in the criminal justice system, regardless of how many years, or decades in prison they’re sentenced to.

What kind of help do they need? Help to overcome the nihilism that has become the day to day reality of so many young black men in this society. Help to realize their self worth and potential and that there are better ways to get nice cars, clothes, money, jewelry etc. than knocking a 54 year old man upside the head and taking his.

Since they obviously didn’t get this guidance or direction at home or in the public school system and are not going to get it from the criminal justice system where they are now headed .

Where should they be able to get it? I’ll tell you, from the Rev Winans and his 4,500 member church. You see instead of responding with the typical worldly mentality which is to “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”

The church should let them know that they forgive them and that their lives are precious and that they have value. And because faith without works is dead the church should then bond these young men out of jail, assign each one a mentor who will help them get career training, jobs, decent housing, and most importantly effective life skills.

Then turn around and seek leniency from the criminal justice system by having the young men placed on probation which the church administers. You see when they chose to rob a man of God they brought themselves into direct contact with the work of God which is a divine opportunity for the church do do what God would do, love ‘em to death.

This is what I believe Jesus would’ve did if he had been robbed of his worldly possessions while on earth. How many of you think he would’ve went to Pontius Pilate and said, “get justice for me. Arrest these men!” No he would’ve forgiven, sought reconciliation, and used it as a teaching monument.

That’s what I call “Radical Christianity” and it’s nothing short of the God kind of Christianity. Read your bible Jesus always bucked conventional wisdom of his day by healing on the Sabbath, forgiving a prostitute instead of stoning her, kicking it with a woman of Samaria, tax collectors and other conventional sinners and outcast.

But this other mess that we have in so many of our churches where people are more concerned about who looks the nicest, sings the best, has the nicest car, house, clothes and who sleeping with who, cheating on their spouse etc where nobody is getting born again, delivered, or set free is just a bunch of manmade mess and God ain’t in it.

As long as we who call ourselves children of God arid followers of Christ are doing, acting, and thinking just like the world we can continue to expect our families, churches and communities to decline just like the world is doing around us. With the young men who should be our next generation of leaders locked up for robbing our old leaders who have failed to lead them out of poverty, ignorance, despair, addict ion, nihilism and hopelessness. When this happens ask yourself who’s really the victim?

Slave Labor


Thirteen years ago, in October of 1999, I arrived in the penitentiary, 19 years old and scared shitless. Being my first rodeo as the old cons like to say, I was completely unprepared (if preparation is even possible) for the culture shock I was thrust into.

As the bus pulled up to the prison, it was like the land that time forgot. Picture a large cluster of orange brick buildings four stories high with small planes of glass that were almost completely broken out. My first thought was, “welcome to hell.” And I wouldn’t have been surprised if instead of the guard that met the bus, it would’ve been a small red demonic figure with a pitch fork.

With 4,500 men living in double occupancy misery, 1,400 of them serving life sentences, the Coffield unit in East Texas, once labeled the most violent prison in Texas, was ground zero. Hell on earth .

After pushing the very real fear of assault or bodily injury out of my mind as best as possible, I refocused my energy on dealing with the general gruffness and callousness of the guards along with the cold hard stares of the inmates.

Apart from the new arrival ritual which consisted of eyes probing you for any signs of weakness that could be exploited, the only thing they wanted to know was, “where you from?” and “who you run with?” Meaning were you in a gang.

My answer to the first question was, “Houston” and to the second, “I’m solo.” After this brief exchange, the conversations ended and the waiting began – waiting to see what type of dude you were and how you carried yourself.

Almost at once I began to learn the universal convict rules: mind your own business, do your own time, don’t accept things from people you don’t know, on the tier never look in another man’s cell, if someone challenges you for whatever reason, no matter how trivial, you have to rise to the occasion regardless of the consequences, don’t pop off at the mouth if you can’t or won’t back it up. Prison is a completely different world unlike anywhere out in society, so who you were out in society isn’t worth a Ramen noodle soup, the guards have absolute power and their word is the gospel – if they say you did it, then you did it, even if you didn’t, so piss them off or make enemies with them at your own risk, and so forth.

These were the rules I learned about doing time, but I also learned that many if not all prisons in the South – Texas, Louisiana, Georgia etc. – still operate under a slavery type of system and mentality. Evident by the many inmates here in Texas who still refer to correctional officers as “Bosses”. Another glaring example of this slave mentality is the field labor system found in Southern prisons.

Field labor consist of work crews of 40 to 75 inmates who go out into the surrounding countryside (you already know prisons are always out in the middle of nowhere to keep these houses of horror out of public view) with hoes and shovels to work the land. These field squads are supervised by two or more armed officers called “Cowboys”, who sit on horseback armed with pistols and shotguns. The men in these field squads line up in a straight line shoulder to shoulder and work in tandem in a process called ”four-stepping”.

Which consist of hitting a hoe on the bare ground four times then stepping forward and repeating the process. This is done while two inmates one called lead row, and the other tail row chant in cadence, “one, two, three, four, step”. Inmates in the hoe squads as they are called often clear a football sized field or more a day using this process.

The field squad was my first job in the penitentiary and it was the most ridiculous, outrageous, and degrading set-up I’ve ever witnessed. I found it hard to believe that in the 21st century, in the richest, supposedly most humane country in the civilized world, a system harkening back to the pre-civil war slavery days was being allowed to exist.

In the 14 years of my unjust detention, I’ve witnessed one hardship and constitutional violation after another, from mental health patients left untreated until they eventually hurt themselves or someone else, to healthy guys dying because they couldn’t get adequate medical care for minor illnesses. Staff assaults and the inevitable cover-ups, all the way to incarcerated men who begin to act and live like the animals that society says so many of us are, after having their rights and dignity trampled underfoot one too many times.

Although my personal journey through this house of horrors is far from over, as I continue to fight my unjust conviction, I often sit and wonder how I’ve made it? How I’ve been able to earn my GED, 3 college degrees and write 10 books, blog (KennethWest.org), stay out of Administrative Seg, prevent from getting hurt or being forced to hurt someone else to protect myself, or from picking up and new charge and compiling my misery.

While these may be meager accomplishments by some measures, if you had been the places I’ve been within this penal institution, or witnessed the things I’ve witnessed, then I’m sure you would agree with me when I say, “but for the grace of God, there I go.”

The Breaking Point


When 23 year old Mohamed Merah went on his bloody Jihadist rampage in the French city of Toulouse that left seven people senselessly dead, three of them children, I wondered if this was how he felt? As if his legitimate grievances and the grievances of his people were continuing to go unheard. Before dying in a hail of gun fire at the hands of French special forces soldiers the young terrorist told a negotiator, ”you kill my brothers, now I’m killing you.”

While it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact motives for his attacks, righteous indignation, hatred of French society, or just youthful frustration – I can tell you exactly what is driving the protest that have erupted all across the country in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida by 28 year old George Zimmerman the trigger happy neighborhood watch captain.

Trayvon who was 17 years old and unarmed when he was gunned down insides of a gated community was killed for being black in a nice neighborhood which in the eyes of George Zimmerman automatically made him suspect.

In America we have DWB (Driving While Black).

Which will get you stopped and possibly ticketed on GP (General Principle).

WWB (Walking while Black).

Which will get you Id’ed and frisked.

And plain old BB (Being Black).

Which in Trayvon’s case got him a bullet in the chest.

Same thing with Emmet Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell.

But as the protest that have rocked this nation from one side to the other following Trayvon’s senseless killing attest.

Black people have reached a breaking point.

We are tired of being murdered by police.

Tired of being murdered by the George Zimmerman’s and Joe Horns of the world.

And tired of being gun down senselessly by each other. Enough is enough.

Like Mohamed Merah in France, the African-American community has reached a breaking point. A point were the pain of doing nothing is far greater than the pain associated with change, meaningful change.

The abolitionist and ex-slave Fredrick Douglass said, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”

For too long that’s what the black community has been guilty of quietly submitting. Quietly submitting to our sisters and brothers being railroaded by the criminal justice system on trumped up charges, the same justice system that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away after killing a unarmed defenseless black teenager. We quietly submit to the constant assault and killing of black men young and old at the hand of the police. Quietly submit to one form of injustice after another.

Until now, finally the community has reached a breaking point. A point to where all 13.5 million of our voices young and old are saying a COLLECTIVE NO MORE.



Martin Luther King said, “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.”

Which makes us all Trayvon Martin.