Dear Incarcerated Brother: Don't Lose Hope

Dear Incarcerated Brothers, greetings from a fellow brother in the struggle, though I remain on the "free" side of those cold steel bars.

It might seem strange: Me speaking out to you from a news column. But in the spirit of Brother Malcolm X, I am reaching out "by any means necessary," to let you know that some of us have not forgotten you.

To say that there are some of us who realize that with 555,300 black males in U.S. prisons in 2014--accounting for 37 percent of the total male prison population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics--we cannot afford to forget about you.

That when combined with the number of black males and females in jails (235,436), there were--by mid-2014--likely well over 600,000 black males in prison or jail. More than the 2014 estimated population of Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, Baltimore Maryland, Portland, Oregon, or Las Vegas, Nevada. A nation of black men. Arrested hope, promise, purpose. Fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandfathers...

The statistics--the human loss and catastrophic impact not transmitted by the numbers alone--bring tears to my eyes, especially when I consider that African Americans, both male and female, comprise only 13.2 percent of the U.S. population. And yet, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that one in three black men can expect to spend time in prison in their lifetime.

The agency also reports that in 2014, black males had higher imprisonment rates than prisoners of other races or Hispanic origin within every age group--with imprisonment rates for black males being 3.8 to 10.5 times greater than white males, and 1.4 to 3.1 times greater than rates for Hispanic males.

I write with tears for having seen too many of you--of us--in shackles.
Inside courtrooms, on the side of country roads, wearing
penitentiary-issued orange, or filling sandbags.

But you--so many of you--my brothers, are more than a statistic. More than throwaways. Indispensable to rebuilding our village.

I write to you to say that YOU are the missing link in the lives of so many children and families, a key to helping restore our communities.

To say to you, Dear Brother, "Don't lose hope."

Still, I am somewhat at a loss for words speaking to black men, so many of who grew up like me--in poverty and fatherlessness, sometimes hopeless, suicidal, near homicidal. All of which produced in too many of us the fruit of bitterness. That led too many of us down dead end streets, to early graves, to crippling inebriation and incarceration.

Perhaps I suffer survivor's guilt.

I too know the cycle of ghetto madness, how drug dealing or a "beef," or a night of chilling and drinking and an unplanned ride-along with the homies can lead to quicksand.

How rage and pride and a decision to "handle your business" rather than choosing temperance, humility and letting it go, can quickly lead to murder.

To hard time. To a day-to-day existence as a faceless number in a cellblock, surrounded by the caged rage that befalls men kept like animals.

While I have never been incarcerated, I have heard the stories from other brothers, from family. And I cannot deny that there, but for the grace of God, for discipline and self-control--for one ill decision, for one fatal ride, one minute, or one last straw--go I.

I also cannot deny that so many of you have placed yourselves there. Still, I cannot pass judgment.

I am also not fool enough to believe that amid this so-called justice system some of you are not there by grave miscarriages of justice. But I am not writing now to condemn the system that too often has proven to be destructive, discriminatory and unfairly damning of people of color. I cannot deny that there exists--as author Michelle Alexander coined it--"The New Jim Crow."

But I write with tears for having seen too many of you--of us--in shackles. Inside courtrooms, on the side of country roads, wearing penitentiary-issued orange, or filling sandbags. Peering through the windows of buses while in transport on highways far from home.

I write to say that no Creator made you to live out your life from prison cell to prison cell, but to fulfill a divine purpose to which He has called you, even in your mother's womb.

To say that while some of you will never again pass in liberty on the other side of those bars--until you have passed from this life to the next--many of you will. And for you, the power to right your life doesn't lie with society more than it lies within you.

In your own hands is the power to choose a better destiny. To seek to discover within you a divine purpose--no matter where you live out the rest of your life--that will resound beyond this earthly world to the deep recesses of eternity, long after your soul has departed your mortal body.

And whether ultimately it is Jesus Christ or Allah, or some other God of your understanding that helps you transform your life, you should also know that there is a least one brother out here who hasn't forgotten about you.

And I am praying for you--without judgment. Believing in you, hoping for you--on the "free" side of those cold steel bars, and yet, still in the struggle.

And if this letter reaches just one, then it is well worth the ink.