Category Archives: Excerpt

Clinton Walker on the Social Costs of Being “Tough on Potential”

Clinton "Nkechi" Walker
Clinton “Nkechi” Walker
Excerpt from an Interview with Nkechi on 2/2/15

In your last set of responses you describe a system and approach to young people (and particularly toward urban youth of color) that has become “tough on potential.” Layne and I thought this phrasing was very powerful. We wanted to follow up by asking, what does it mean for a society to be “tough on potential” and what are its impacts? What would a different approach that alternately encouraged human potential look like?

A society is tough on potential when its first course of correction towards its citizens is punitive.

The essence of tough on potential begins and ends with the children of its society. I believe education is a direct root to all potential. When society and its electors allow its educational system to fail in value and care, it do so with deteriorating the growth and possibilities of its children. It’s the epitome of being tough on potential when society allows its children to be subject to the harshest penalties of the judicial system such as a Life sentence in prison. It’s tough on potential when an ex-offender returns to society only to be confronted with a depressing and discouraging reality, that many opportunities to become a productive citizens are limited or stripped from them, opportunities such as adequate employment, state and federal benefits and the right to vote. It’s tough on potential when society and its elected refuse to recognize and exercise the ability to forgive and allow a second chance to those who have been incarcerated for decades and has achieved the highest degree of rehabilitation. Finally, it’s tough on potential when the lawmakers and members of the court who make up the judicial system blatantly disregard the lasting effects of sentencing a person to a prison stint of no return. These effects consist of displacement of families and the dismantling of communities.
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LifeLines Participants on How You can Be Active in “Fighting for the Light of Day”!

lifelines headerNow that people have received the LifeLines pamphlet and read your words, what do you hope they will do with that knowledge?

DAWUD: I want people to know that we need all of their creative talents, innovation, cognitive abilities, passion for justice and freedom, and determination to bring forth structural changes to emerge at this hour in our struggle. We must understand that our struggle is a continuation of what was started centuries ago when people of various walks of life came together to challenge chattel enslavement, the Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation, discrimination on other levels, etc. The struggle for justice and human rights has historical roots and our current struggle to challenge and abolish DBI is in line with this same tradition.

I hope everyone understands that this will not be an easy fight, thus we need unity in order for us to prevail. We must use our various talents and skills in a collective fashion as we move forward. In closing, I want to thank everyone for their efforts and sacrifices.

NKECHI: Recently, I’ve read that it’s the love of justice that strengthens the soul. The fact that these words are reaching the ears of folks, and actually being heard, is a clear testament of the love of justice that’s in the atmosphere. The LifeLines Project provides firsthand knowledge and a direct avenue to understanding how, in many ways, Death By Incarceration is in relations with, and in fact a continuation of, the dismantling of families and communities. It also gives warning for us to understand that justice cannot be a mere byproduct of prison and profit. Therefore, we cannot afford to allow that knowledge and understanding to fall to the wayside. The old cliche is that knowledge is power, and in the realm of physics, power is energy that must remain active and channeled to ensure the best possible outcome.

In the spirit of my recent read, I wish for the love of justice to be so great that it has strengthened the soul of the listener. I hope it do so in such a way that the listener recognizes the power that they have and it motivates and energizes him or her to continue fighting the just fight that will bring an end to the slow, torturous death known as Life Imprisonment without any chance of parole.

JAMES HOUGH: Now that you’ve got the LifeLines pamphlet, what you gonna do? (Yeah, you!) First, there are several things that the recipients of the pamphlets must do: Thank with gratitude the creators/producers – Emily, Layne, and all the other folk at Decarcerate PA! The small, un-thanked, abolitionists who’ve been around as long as injustice itself. The candles that won’t go out. Please thank them with all you might, then join onto them and move with us. It doesn’t matter how much, or what duty one does, everything helps. Second, recognize that these are your prisons (and prisoners), citizen. You pay for all of them; what are you getting in return for your $2 billion-plus tax dollars? What type of persons would you want to produce with your tax dollars? When you know that, you should contact your local legislator and find out how your resources are being used and how you want them used. The sooner you recognize that you own this system, the sooner you will help reshape it. Third, try to learn about the PA prison system (the $2 billion dollar shadow state). This will enable you to know the difference between fact, myth, and fiction. You’ll see its strengths and weaknesses amongst other things. This will constantly shape strategy and tactics. Fourth, know that there are (many) more than the profiled prisoners who’ve earned a second chance (by self-reformation) and need your support to help create a society worth living in. All lives being interconnected, you just may save the life of the person who helps thousands or more. Knowing this means that all the good we do in this effort goes unwasted. Human potential is uncondemnable. Fifth, and finally, know that we are not ungrateful. Many of us live in “spiritual-debt” due to whatever act(s) landed us here. Almost as if an ever-present sadness lives within us. We may rarely proclaim it, but we know you guys and gals are living blessings to us. In struggle, seeing victory!  Yaya (James)

JAMES CANADY: First, I’d like to say to the people who do take the pamphlet that they are open to hearing us out, that they are caring people and that they are fair when it comes to the justice system. I just hope that people who take the pamphlet pass the word around that people that are sentenced to life do deserve a second chance at life. Because it can change a lot if people do back us up.

AVIS: People should write to the Senators and Governor and ask that they abolish LWOP in Pennsylvania.

TERRI: Now that people have received the pamphlet and heard my words, I hope they will have gained some knowledge and take that knowledge and share it with every single family member and friend they have, whether they are pro-inmate or not, so that more people begin to see the possibility of redemption, change, and renewal. I’d also hope that those same people would listen less to media propaganda and dig more into facts and true statistics and get away from the scare tactics and political machinations this society has gotten lost inside. We are bright people all around, and some of us have done really ugly, harmful, stupid things, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for a better tomorrow.

PHILL: Now that you’ve received this pamphlet, please spread it to others. Help break down the myth that people condemned to death in prison are the “worst of the worst” and are a danger to the community. No one remains the same, and no one should be forever denied an opportunity for redemption. Imagine being trapped in your worst moment for the rest of your life, with no way out. This is the definition of Death By Incarceration.

Many of us recognize the irreparable harm we’ve caused. We have to live with the guilt, sorrow, and regret for the rest of our lives. All we ask is for the chance to  try to put some of our wrongs just a little more right. Just the chance.

This is an issue that affects everyone. A society should be judged by how it treats its “lowest” citizens. In a society that throws people away, no one is safe. A society that doesn’t believe people can transcend their worst moment has no future.