In this video - Craig Ross (Ajani Kamara) and Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara) talk about their newly published book The Architect. This talk was recorded over the San Quentin prison phone in October 2019
by Steve A. Champion and Craig Anthony Ross
Palewell Press - September 2019
The Architect - Words of Transformation from Death Row.
Steve Champion and Craig Ross have been prisoners on death row in San Quentin, California for more than 37 years. The Architect is written for gang members both former and active. Throughout their time in prison the Authors have never lost sight of their profound need to awaken the consciousness of gang members and promote self-transformation and social change. After years of hard work, perseverance, determination and a strong belief that what they have to say is important and can make a difference, Craig Ross and Steve Champion are excited to share the news that they are publishing "The Architect" in September 2019. For the past year, they have been working with Camilla Reeve, Senior Editor from UK based Human Rights publisher Palewell Press Ltd. Camilla Reeve immediately understood their vision for this book, and worked with them throughout the challenging obstacles that can be faced whilst trying to make your voice heard from behind the prison walls of death row. The result is an enlightening and groundbreaking book which they hope will reach the far corners of the world and will help to bring about positive change and personal transformation. The official press release about the book is here below. And there is a downloadable press release at the bottom of this page. Please spread the word!
A radical social treatise about African American gangs in the 21st century. This book is more than just a blueprint for selftransformation and the reconstruction of gang culture. It is also a unique step-by-step guideline that shows gang members themselves how to do it. Ross and Champion’s analysis builds upon – and expands – the work that Crips gang co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stanley “Tookie” Williams was committed to before his death. The Architect seeks to change the narrative about gang members by providing them with an independent and selfsustaining plan of action and empowerment. This book is the first of its kind. The authors are two well-respected Crips emeritus from Los Angeles, who are now prominent in the criminal justice reform movement. They also reside on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Ross and Champion’s street and prison experience enables them to offer in The Architect authentic, honest dialogue about the problems gang members face and the potential solutions to those problems. The Architect was written for gang members. But anyone working for real community change should read The Architect. The triumph over violence requires extreme responsibility—not just from gang members, but from everyone.
The Architect from Palewell Press, London, UK ISBN: 978-1-911587-14-9 Publication: September 2019 $11.45 and £9.25 From www.amazon.com and www.palewellpress.co.uk/Palewell-Publications.html#The-Architect
A poem by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara) - written in 2006 when he was transferred back to the County jail after a courtroom appearance.
The black and white Orange County Sheriff bus
transports men and women returning
from a tiresome day of courtroom drama
They speak about being detained, being released;
about the tough prison sentence the judges imposed on them.
They are lonesome people,
separated by plexi glass, gates, mesh wire, fear
and a thousand secrets,
bonding with each other,
exchanging booking numbers, smiles, stories
and making connections as quick as speed dating.
The black paint shadows the outer bus windows,
concealing and depriving prisoners of the urban landscape
and bustling social world, within reach.
Seated inches behind me, on the dimly lit bus,
her illumated smile masks a deep sadness
as she freely chats with the other women in her company.
Eager guys hungry for attention of the opposite sex, court her.
Politely dismissing them with the skills of a diplomat,
She keeps quiet.
Our eyes search and meet on dying ground,
transixed into a karma sutra gaze,
and instantly see through her.
She’s translucent, like crystal.
Every word I emit unfurls a layer of her skin,
like daggers piercing a lifetime of lies,
bringing truth to the foreground to be viewed with fresh eyes.
As the rickety bus surges ahead and the unruly captors clamour,
her eyes begin to swell the more I speak,
unleashing a tsunamai of pain
as tears cascade down her courageous cheeks,
unearthing years of struggle, pain and sacrifice.
Her tale is an ancient one,
rooted in the history of women,
past, present and future
who battle to beat back the discrimination and steorotpes
that sought to deny and define them.
Our conversation is transit as a shooting star
but timeless as a work of art.
Part of her has become free
after meeting her other self,
validating her inner core.
I am whisked away from the bus,
with the clinking sounds of leg chains,
tight restraints girding my wrists and waist,
the remembrance of her etched in my mind.
We say our goodbyes.
She promises to write.
Fate gives no assurances of reproducing itself.
But language unites us in a temporal encounter,
And we share an eternal moment.
by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara), Craig A. Ross (Ajani Kamara) and Stanley "Tookie Williams (Ajamu Kamara)
The Ninth Ground, a term derived from the ancient military text the Art of War, refers to the last of the nine grounds – the dying ground.
If someone were trying to kill you, would you use every means at your disposal to defend yourself? And if someone took everything you owned, would you start the process of rebuilding? Well, your response to being sentenced to a long prison term, life, or even death should be the same as your response to defending yourself from attack or great loss; you should fight.
We view the prison environment as dying ground and “fighting” as a metaphor for self-determination. One of the biggest mistakes many people make when coming to prison is that they do not initially comprehend the extremity of their circumstances. Instead, they jump into the flow of the environment, and thus fail productively to utilize those first crucial three to five years in prison for acquiring knowledge and building the necessary foundation that will sustain them for years to come. Self-determination should never be relegated to “just getting by”. Self-determination should always be a priority, and anything less should be unacceptable.
“Plan for difficulty when it is still easy, do the great when it is still small”. – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
From the moment we step into the prison system, we need to begin a program that organizes our energy toward productive goals. We have to kick-start the growth process. In prison, your back is even more up against the wall than ever, so it is imperative immediately, to see the place for what it is – dying ground. Since prison culture is a gross extension of the street culture most prisoners come from, there is a tendency to merge with it even though the pitfalls are obvious. You must begin to think strategically, as if you are always on the battlefield. When you take this approach to your situation, you will not squander time but rather move with a profound sense of mission.
“If they are to die there, what can they not achieve?” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When on dying ground, you have no fear because you are already in hell. With this philosophy, you can only go forward. For many prisoners a life or death sentence means: “It’s too late to change” or “What’s the point? I’m not ever getting out.” But survival does not mean merely existing from day to day, going from one hustle to the next. Even the most veteran prisoner will admit that the ”play it by ear” lifestyle gets old. Our life in prison doesn’t have to rotate around waking up and hanging out. It should involve the total employment of all of our faculties geared toward enriching our lives. It doesn’t matter where we are, be it in prison or free, we should engage life, not retreat from it. Just because we suffer a defeat or come to prison doesn’t mean we should give up our aspirations, goals and the desire to better ourselves.
On the contrary, we should become even more committed to learning, taking the initiative, building resources, and never giving up. A life without purpose and direction is the life of a walking corpse. There is no middle ground when it comes to surviving, so don’t settle for easy or comfortable little niches that offer not real substance. The harder you push yourself the more you learn how to put theory into practice; how to learn from your mistakes; and how to take optimal advantage of every opportunity. Everything you do must lead you forward not backward.
“Power is the ability to define your reality and then have others respond to your definition” – Dr Wade Nobles
Imagine standing at the base of a pyramid gazing up at the top. Right away, you get a rudimentary sense of the intelligence, the resources and energy that took to build it. You also understand that the pyramid symbolizes the ideas that anything is possible. All one has to do is take initiative. As when looking up at the pyramid, there comes a point in every prisoner’s time when they take a long and honest review of their life and it is at that moment they realize it is going to require a strong will and sincere effort to rebuild it. This fact often discourages many prisoners and they stagnate themselves with a lack of self-confidence, complacency, and mental inertia even before trying. Old patterns die hard and not every prisoner is willing (or ready) to let go of what they have become accustomed to. We will be the first to admit that transformation is neither a quick nor an easy process. It calls for the full investment of your mind and body. Anything not congruent with your mission will be a distraction and hindrance toward defining your reality.
“We cannot afford to waste time in dealing with insoluble problems under impossible conditions.” – Edward W. Blyden
The will deteriorates when the mind is not focused, and when your mind is not focused then your energy will be drained, and your response to your situation will be ineffective. Don’t’ invest time or energy into people who are unreliable. The revolutionary George Jackson once commented, “When someone does not judiciously (and effectively) execute my affairs then I have every right to remove my bosom interest from their hands”. In other words, you should not simply rely on the good intentions and benevolence of others. You should always be working toward self-sufficiency. The facts we need to come to terms with when we come to prison include these: people change, people face hardships, and people die.
Assessing your own abilities and strengthening them through education and discipline brings you closer to self-reliance. Action produces change, creates results, and eliminates obstacles. Inaction produces passivity, escapism, and excuses. Once you take the position that your life is being threatened, you psychologically prepare yourself to do battle. You get rid of your baggage. You become focused, and you strive without compromise to accomplish your objectives.
“One who fears tomorrow has already died today.” – Ajani Kamara
Prison is not the beginning of the end, but it can be the end of the mentality that got you there. You can build step-by-step a viable plan for success. How you play the end game is up to you, but the moment you forget or ignore that you are on dying ground, you have already lost. Take your stand now, right where you are and don’t let anything hold you back. Here are five changes you should make that will strengthen your character and resolve:
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara), Craig A. Ross (Ajani Kamara), Stanley "Tookie" Williams (Ajamu Kamara)
,"Voices from the Row" is an exhibition taking place at the Poetry Society, London from 6th June to 7th July - and features poetry written and read by 5 death row inmates from San Quentin state prison. The men were recorded reading their poems over the prison phone. If you get a chance swing by and take a listen and a look, as there is also some wonderful artwork on display from San Quentin. And the Poetry Café does marvellous food and drink too!
It drives a wedge between my eyes like a double edged sword,
pulling me in motion like currents in the sea.
I cannot escape the pull of its gravity, no more than I can my shadow.
Im orbiting into new dimensions.
Like an object lost in space.
I imagine what it is like to be free from the bondage of pain.
Like splinters being plucked from swollen hands
the pain becomes numb.
Im in pain, from being free from pain
Like Siamese twins separated by surgery
I miss it like missing limbs, but it’s always present.
Steve Champion, San Quentin death row
L e a d M e
Michael S. Combs
From the unreal lead me to the real...
From the darkness lead me to the light...
From imprisonment lead me to justice and freedom...
From stationary lead me to mobility...
From ignorance lead me to self-knowledge...
From deficiency lead me to growth and empowerment...
From all that is evil and wrong lead me to the righteous and just...
From being alone and a follower of life lead me to become a true leader of change and the positive...
From the unknown lead me to be known in knowledge that matters...
From around my heart my these things lead me and give me drive to stay alive within and beyond this place...
Do You Believe
Do you believe
the revolutionary talk
the clenched fist
the right-on gestures
the power to the people campaign?
Do you believe
the rhetoric about unity?
Do you believe
prison walls are just walls
that can be torn down
and the mind is energy and matter
capable of moving mountains
reconstituting the universe?
Do you believe a 15 minute phone call
an exchange of letters
a contact visit
could stir, evoke,
build & create
moments that change peoples' lives?
Do you believe
could change the world?
Do you believe
love is a transcendent
force - powerful enough
to build bridges
redeem humanity and
radically transform the world?
If you believe,
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara) is a death row prisoner at San Quentin State Prison. A Crip Emeritus, he grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Champion has been incarcerated since 1981. you can contact Steve here:-
San Quentin State Prison
Artwork by Daniel Cervantes - death row San Quentin
Poetry, writing & Lessons in Life from San Quentin death row