Clinton Nkechi Walker on Strength, Social Awareness, and Trying to Heal

Letter from Clinton Nkechi Walker on June 5, 2014

Clinton Walker Interview #1

Please tell us something about yourself. Feel free to include whatever you feel comfortable or interested in sharing.

I am strong in mind and spirit. My self-proclaimed strength is not meant to be braggadocious at all, because though my strength may seem self-proclaimed at face, it is the overcoming of my trials and tribulations that allow me to claim such strength. I believe anyone that survive(d) the obstacles of confinement without compromising who they are is strong in nature because the mechanics of prison are designed to break down, tear apart, and demoralize the strong-willed.

What’s one thing that you think people would be surprised to know about you (be it a particular experience, a part of your daily activities, an interest, a skill/talent, a lived reality, a personality trait, etc.)?

The one thing I think people would be surprised to know about me is that, though I love and cherish my strength, I, at times, wish I was weak – even if it’s only for a moment. Strength is not a normality amongst these confines and those that do not seem to put forth any resistance against the evils bursting through the seams of these so-called correctional facilities give the impression as if they have no worries in the world and they’re detached from all hurt, stress, concern, and yearnings. It is as if not dealing with their conditions allows them to be at their happiest.

I’ve been carrying the weight of those mental tensions for what seem to be a lifetime and the absence of that heaviness is reminiscent of freedom which makes me envious of that carelessness that is an attribute to weakness.

What’s one thing that you think the public needs to know about either life sentences or the individuals who have been sentenced to life sentences?

I think the public needs to know a combination of truths. One is that the definition of life sentences in Pennsylvania is exactly what its title entails – to be in prison until the end of one’s natural life. It also means a life sentence of attacks on one’s psyche, and a lifetime of possible attacks on one’s physical. It means a life sentence of sleepless nights and lonely days; a life sentence of looking over your shoulder with suspicion. A sentence of life in its entirety is a life ban of any conventional sanity one ever had. It’s a slow agonizing death.

The public needs to know that a life sentence and all its abnormalities is a torturous sanction and should not be given to anyone without an unbiased, microscopic consideration of all circumstances involved.

Another truth about a life sentence that the public should know is that many lifers are redeemable and are not the monsters they once were or were portrayed to be. It would be good if members of the public were to ask themselves if they are the same person that they once were 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. If not, than I would ask why expect anything less from men and women in the system. I believe with the combined ingredients of a real sense of hope, which is a real chance at freedom from what has become a re-occurring nightmare for many of us, and a clear focus/practice on rehabilitation, rather than retribution, the so-called worst of the worst would be the top prospects to be re-integrated into society.

What do you think it will take to end the use of Life Without Parole sentences here in Pennsylvania?

It would take every morsel of emotion that it takes for one to be empathetic towards another if Life without Parole (LWOP) sentences in Pennsylvania is to end. Pennsylvania and its population is very conservative and seems to naturally hone in on the punishment factor more than any others, especially when a criminal act is involved or the accused is not relatable. I believe that if the public could truly experience prison life and all its horrors, they would conclude that in many instances a LWOP sentence is cruel at a minimum and not a fair sanction to the many that it is imposed on.

What are some of the strategies, tactics or practices that you and people you know use to support one another and to challenge the conditions/realities that you experience?

Some of the strategies, tactics and practices that I and others use to support one another about the conditions/realities that we experience are the sharing of information and knowledge of how and why we are experiencing these conditions/realities. For an example, how we are experiencing the breakage, tearing apart, and denying of family bonds resulting from the over-expensive cost of the phone system and the housing of prisoners far away from their family/support system which makes visitation scarce or impossible. Why? To simultaneously hide and perpetuate the ills that keep the prison industry thriving with benefits that end with financial gain.

Some prisoners utilize prisoner-friendly publications to publicize their issues, while others suppress the experiences resulting from their conditions/realities. I am a practitioner of them all.

What do genuine genuine justice and healing look like in your ideal vision of each?

Justice, to me, looks like responsibility for one’s actions, punishment for one’s actions combined with adequate and sincere support/help to correct one’s actions that led to the reason why justice had to be implemented in the first place. It’s a healthy balance of penalties, discipline, and social adopting/recovery.

Healing to me looks like the beast blossoming into its beauty. The man/woman who once destroyed his/her community now building and bettering his/her community through family building, activism, creating economic opportunities, etc.

How does the vision that you’ve just described differ from the current criminal justice system?

My ideal vision differs from the criminal justice system in the way that, the criminal justice system focuses only on the economic opportunities and penalization of individuals in the penal system. The utilities to help correct one’s thought process is nearly absent; although, the illusion of it is very much alive and present. Without the reshaping of the mind on the skill of problem solving, I can’t see how the thought of healing could be entertained.

If you could have dinner with any person (living or dead) who would it be and why?  What would you most want to discuss, learn from, or tell them?

I would have dinner with the Honorable Marcus Garvey. He was an excellent executor and organizer. He had deep concern for the mistreated and oppressed people of the world and believed in their ability to function independently of their oppressors.

I would want to discuss and learn the best strategy he would use to motivate the generation of today to act on the mistreatment, on all levels, that is plaguing our communities. I would tell him that I love him, cherish and respect his work and we need him more than ever.

I want ______________ to begin with me (or with my generation).

I want social awareness and social change to begin with my generation.

There are many social immoralities flooding this society that need to be corrected. Social immoralities such as inadequate education, miseducation of our children, criminalization/cruel treatment of our children, poverty, discrimination, mass incarceration, etc. – which is unfortunately and disproportionately effecting folks of African descent. I believe once people, and especially those who it’s most effecting, become aware of those ills it will lead to mass concern and organizing, which will lead to social change.

I want ______________ to end with me (or with my generation).

I want greed, selfishness, and hate to end with my generation.

I believe those attributes are the effects that a lack of sharing resources case within a materialistic society. With the absence of greed, selfishness, and hate, I’m sure there would be an abundant amount of energy that could be spent on the social wrongs of this society.