An account of a young man's last day before being executed.
Craig A. Ross
I could see myself in the dark mahogany coffin. How I had gotten there and why was something I couldn't remember. I could hear the hum of an organ playing softly in the background, as mourners began filling the pews of the small church. Most of the faces I didn't recognize, but there were a few mugs I was happy to see, homeboys from the old neighborhood-Big J.T., Lowdown, Spoony, and Spoony's little brother, Klepto, who, at the ripe old age of ten, was already a professional thief. I thought it was strange that they were wearing white dinner jackets and carrying serving plates. Then again, these were guys who'd wake up in the morning and smoke weed for breakfast. They probably thought there were going to be some eats after the funeral. I didn't blame them; these things can be pretty boring. I saw my family seated in the front row. My lawyer, with his secretary, Dora, was sitting behind them. My mother, who never dreamed she would outlive any of her children, looked on, stricken. I felt a pang of guilt.
The sound of the organ began to fade and the faint hush of whispers among the mourners slowly subsided.
Whack! "Now put that back!" I heard Spoony say, as he popped Klepto upside the head. Then they all began to stare hypnotically at the dark-robed figure standing ominously behind the wooden podium. His face was obscured by a large hood, and his hands were gloved. Man, this guy is straight outta the comic books, I thought.
When he spoke, his voice seemed to resonate off the walls of the church, sending icy chills through my skin like an arctic breeze.
"Let us all rejoice in the holy offering!" he bellowed
Offering? What offering? I thought.
"Let us give thanks to the blessed one," he commanded, as everyone in the church began nodding their heads in unison and shouting, "Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!"
Whooooaaaa! Back up, mister! What fucking offering? This is my goddamn funeral, not a-
"We shall partake of the sacrifice!" he thundered on, followed by another joyous chorus of "That's right, Lord. Thank you, Lord!"
Hey! What the hell is going on here? I tried to scream, but couldn't make a sound. He then beckoned to everyone to gather around the casket, and I could feel them pressing and pushing up against the sides, peering in at my lifeless body, lovingly . . . almost hungrily. Panic set in, and I tried to get up and run, but I couldn't move. Aw, c'mon-let me outta here, I pleaded. I ain't no offering.
I felt hands caressing and poking my body. Then I saw my little sister and Klepto licking their lips and my lawyer's secretary wiping off her silverware. The dark figure walked to the head of the casket and pulled back his hood. His face was hideous: there was no skin, just bone and pieces of rotting flesh. His mouth was twisted and mangled as he grinned, displaying rows of sharklike teeth, and his eyes were only gaping holes filled with maggots. I frantically looked around and saw everyone changing into grotesque and disfigured creatures. My mother was barely recognizable as she grabbed me by the throat with a clawed hand and began to lift me straight from the coffin. Filled with the horror of what was about to happen, I tried to close my mind to the gruesome scene. . . . I couldn't.
"Now! Let us all feast!" the robed thing said, as he snapped off one of my arms like a chicken wing.
Noooooo! I screamed in my mind, just as the thing that used to be my little sister dislodged one of my eyeballs from its socket with her easybake oven fork and greedily gobbled it down.
My eyes flew open and I quickly sat up in the bunk to survey the small cell. Everything was still. "Damn!" I whispered to myself. "You gotta get a grip, man." Dreaming is one thing, but this shit is ridiculous. Some would claim this was guilt eating away at my conscience . . . fuck them! I bet that prison shrink would have a field day analyzing my dream. Fuck him, too.
I looked out the small window directly in front of my cell. It was dark outside, making things seem almost peaceful. But that was an illusion. There was nothing peaceful about prison, nothing serene about death row, and at that very moment certain preparations were being carried out that placed me at the center of it all.
My name is Nathan Cole Walker; Nat Cole for short, a nickname my grandmother gave me on account of her fondness for the singer Nat King Cole. Personally, I can't hit a note and rap music is my thing. I must admit, I did have a smooth style that infatuated the young ladies. But that was eons ago and a helluva lot has changed since those days.
In less than twenty-four hours it will be my twenty-fifth birthday, but there will be no celebrating, no party, no happy nothin'. Because I'm not gonna live to see it.
Six years ago, I was sentenced to death. The whys don't matter now, and the particulars aren't important. Today I have run out of time, destiny has come kicking at my door, and I am scheduled to be executed promptly at eleven thirty Wednesday night. It is now Wednesday morning... my last day on Earth.
I tried to shake the dream from my head, before beginning my routine of pacing the six-by-ten cell. It's a mode of controlling the rage of the half-man, half-animals we've become. A silent way of expressing our malediction at being caged. It is never escape-respite, maybe-but never escape.
"Anything wrong, Walker?" the guard who was posted outside my cell asked. He had been watching me from the moment I woke up, jotting down his observations on paper.
"Naw, nothin' I can't deal with," I shot back in disgust.
"What time is it?" I asked the guard. He glanced up from the Playboy he had stashed between the pages of a National Geographic, rubbed his eyes, and looked at his watch.
"It's almost six thirty." He yawned. "Just about time for me to be gettin' outta here," he added, with apparent relief. Six thirty was the shift change; another guard would be taking his place for second watch in a few minutes. I resumed my pacing.
Anyone put on death watch is provided with around-the-clock security and scrutiny, compliments of the Department of Corrections, just in case you decide to skip the scenic route to the gas chamber, in an attempt to cheat the state out of its judicial duty to personally kill you. The guard who would be coming on for second watch was named Ford. I had known Ford over the years; he was okay, as guards go. Sometimes we'd get in a game or two of chess, or shoot the breeze to break the monotony. When you're waiting to die, the boredom alone could kill you.
I could hear Ford locking the door.
"How's it going, Ford?" I said, still looking up at the ceiling.
"Not too bad, Walker. And you?"
"Same old tune." There was silence for a moment.
"You wanna get in a game of chess later?" he asked, trying to sound cheerful. We both knew we'd played our last game.
"I don't know-maybe."
"Well, if you do, just holler." He turned to his paperwork and I shut my eyes in a futile attempt to shield out reality. My mind was like a movie screen.
"Nigger, you got somethin' to say before I end you black ass life?" I didn't say a word as I watched the cop pull his pants leg and reach for the gun that was strapped to his ankle. I let the Glöck slide easily down my sleeve and into my hand. By the time the cop realized a gun was pointing at him, it was too late. The first bullet tore through the front of his neck and the second one entered his right eye. He died before hitting the ground. The scene repeated itself over and over. After all these years, that one event still seemed like it happened yesterday.
The ringing of the phone brought me back. "I'll ask him, hold on. Walker, it's Chaplain Graves," Ford said, with an ear-to-ear grin. "You wanna see him?"
"Fuck him!" I said. I sat up on the bunk and grabbed a book from the pile on the floor. It was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I could relate to the main character, because all my life I've been invisible to folks. The only time they seemed to take notice was when I got into trouble. No one really knew me, not even my family-hell, I didn't even know myself. Everything I did brought me close to death, toward this very moment. I once read somewhere that desperate men are always running out of time. Well, right now, I must be truly desperate.
I must have read for almost an hour before putting the book down. I was just about to close my eyes when Ford asked, "Say, Walker? If you want, I can call the Muslim chaplain or something. I mean, in case you wanted to speak to someone."
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"Well, I just thought you might want to talk to somebody who can understand-well, who can relate to-you know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean, Ford."
"Say, Walker? Are you afraid of dying? I mean, I can't even imagine how I would feel in your place."
I thought about it for a moment, but I already knew my answer.
"Naw, I ain't afraid of dying. Dying is something I've been doing all my life. But when you know when and how it's gonna happen, all it takes is that one step over the edge inside your head-then bam! That's why most men are able to walk to their execution. They're already dead inside their heads."
"That's a helluva way of looking at it, Walker."
"I don't need to get nothing off my chest. And if there is a God out there, then he's gonna have a lot of fucking explaining to do when I reach the hereafter."
We both laughed; then there was a long pause. Empty of anything else to say, we both went back to what we were doing. I was tossed back to old times, and it wasn't long before I dozed off.
"Hey, Walker! Walker!" I heard my name being called from far away.
"Whaaat . . . " I mumbled, still half in the dream state.
"Walker. Someone here to see you," Ford said apologetically.
"Who?" I demanded, fully awake now.
"Doctor Cohen?" I tried to place the name. Cohen was the prison shrink. This was his third visit; the first two times I simply ignored his ass.
He pulled the extra chair from the desk and planted it in front of the cell. We were face to face with the cell bars between us.
"What's up, Doc?" I smiled.
"How are you feeling today, Walker?" He always started off with the same stupid ass question, trying to sound as sincere as possible.
"Well, you caught me in a good mood today, Doc. I was just about to start playing with my dick . . . but what can I do for you?"
"I came by to see how you are doing."
"For cryin' out loud, all of a sudden everyone is concerned about my fucking welfare. What gives?"
"I'm just doing my job, Walker," he stated matter-of-factly.
"And what is that, Doc?" He looked at me, puzzled.
"Well, to talk, mainly."
"About emotions you're feeling, about things that may be going through your mind, or dreams you may be having." His mention of dreams caught me off guard, and I wondered if I had talked in my sleep.
"Dreamt I walked on water, Doc," I said sarcastically.
"Walker, I understand that under the circumstances it's normal to feel anger, but you don't have to be confrontational."
"Wrong! That's my style, man, plus I like testing seersuckah-suit mothafuckahs like you, just to see that geek look you get on your face." I burst out laughing; he just sat there, turning beet red. His mouth opened and closed, as if he were trying to find something to say.
"Okay, Walker, you crazy bastard!" he whispered through clenched teeth, trying vainly to maintain his clinical composure. "If you want to play fucking games-"
I immediately stopped laughing and sprang to my feet, cutting him off. I had him and he knew it.
"Game! Naw, this is far from a fucking game, Doctor. Here the stakes are much higher."
"Well, then, what would you call it?"
"I call it . . . my personal responsibility to upset bullshit mental tacticians like yourself. You waltz in here doing your friend routine, thinking you'll become famous at my expense by getting me to expose the juicer morsels of my brain-so you can jump in front of the camera seconds after I'm dead, claiming you were the only one I would talk to, the only one I trusted."
"Walker, that's not true," he said, nervously shaking his head. "I would never do anything like that."
"Tell me, Doc, when were you planning on cutting a book deal-while the dirt was still moist on my grave, or after it dried?"
"I'm telling you, Walker, no such thing has ever crossed my mind. Nothing that's mentioned here will go beyond these walls. I'm a professional doctor, for Christ's sake!"
"When you look at me, all you see is an experiment . . . some data that might make you famous. But you sit there confident, grinning inside, never realizing that by trying to look into my head, you incriminate yourself, just like all the others who will watch me suffocate, watch me slowly, painfully, pass into nonexistence. My death will render me not guilty, but it illuminates your guilt, your savage necrophilia. I'm every bit as human as those who seek to strip me of my humanity."
He sat there looking like a kid who just got busted bang with his hand in the cookie jar. If I had been in doubt, his eyes convinced me that my words had hit their mark.
He stood abruptly, began to walk toward the door, hesitated, and then left. I lay back on the bunk with my hands behind my head, staring at the ceiling.
"What time is it, Ford?" I called out.
"Ten twenty," he called back.
He was the only person I still cared to talk to. "Ten twenty," I said to myself. You're gonna be a statistic, Nat Cole, in less than fifteen hours.
I lay there for about thirty minutes. I had already resigned myself to the fact that the courts weren't going to give me any action. All this waiting around was starting to make me edgy.
The phone rang. Ford answered it.
"Walker, your attorney is here. They're on their way to pick you up."
"All right, thanks."
Two guards escorted me to the small room where they allowed me to visit. When I walked in, Duncan Brock stood up to greet me. We shook hands warmly, then sat at the small table. He looked tired, and I knew he had probably slept only a few hours in the last four days. His otherwise immaculate suit was rumpled, his hair halfheartedly combed, and there were noticeable dark spots beneath his eyes.
"How are you holding up, Nat?"
"So-so, but you look like you been mugged." We both smiled. Duncan was one of the few people left in the world I truly respected. Over the years we'd had our share of differences but always managed to work them out. It made us respect each other as persons, as friends. I felt sorry for him. He had done his best, yet I thought he was always going to feel that there was something more he could have done. Even in these final hours, Duncan was optimistic.
We talked about how my family was doing, and about the people outside the prison protesting my execution. Then he began to tell me about the legal strategies he was trying.
"Listen, Nat, I filed a new writ with the Ninth Circuit Court challenging-"
My thoughts began to drift, and images floated through my mind. "Son, where are you going?" "To basketball practice, Momma-"
"I talked to one of my law professors and he thinks-"
"Momma, Nat hit me-"
"-also the Supreme Court could-"
"Homeboy! Nat Cole is straight crazy-"
"-other options that legally-"
"Mrs. Walker, we've arrested your son for-"
"-the main thing is the constitutionality of-"
"You are hereby sentenced to be put to death in the-"
Like a motion picture the scenes came and went, until one thing remained; the words The End.
We sat there exchanging small talk until a guard showed up at the gate, announcing it was time for me to go back. We stood and embraced each other.
Then the guard motioned me to him. I walked over, turned around, and he put the cuffs on and opened the gate to escort me back upstairs.
"Take care, Duncan," I said.
"I'm not going to give up, Nat!" he said strongly. I didn't answer. I knew this was the last time we would see each other.
Back at my cell, it was a little after four o'clock. The phone had been installed right outside, a direct link to my lawyer for good news... or bad.
It was almost six o'clock when Ford called to me. At first my mind couldn't compute the reality of his question. I was stunned by its finality, even though I knew they would ask me.
"Walker, the warden wants to know what you'd like for your last meal."
I didn't say anything. My mind locked on the question. The concept loomed like a giant neon sign, pushing all other thoughts to the side, until it alone remained. Last meal! Hell, how in the fuck was I supposed to enjoy something like that? My stomach did some gymnastics and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to eat anything. The very thought of crapping on myself while choking to death was enough to deter me from eating. When they pulled me out of the chamber, my drawers were going to be clean.
"Fuck that, man. I don't want nothin'!" I told Ford.
"Absolutely. I don't want shit!" I could imagine the warden's expression. He'll probably try to send that shrink over here. But I doubt he wanted to see me again. I got off the bunk and began pacing again. I also started singing every song I knew in my mind, but after a while, I would sing the first verse, then nothing . . . hum a few notes, then nothing. It was like the words were just vanishing from my memory. Verses got mixed up, songs became intertwined. I finally gave up.
"What time you got, Ford?"
"I need to use a pencil and paper."
"No problem." He went in his desk and got out some sheets of paper and a small pencil that had been broken in half, for my supposed safety.
I rolled my mattress back so I could use the flat steel bunk as a table. I was going to write one last letter, but instead found myself just sitting there, staring at the paper. After about an hour of scribbling on several sheets of paper and tossing them into the toilet, I finally wrote something. I titled it A Seminar in Dying. It was a poem, the kind only a desperate man could write.
Imagine seeing the flash of a camera, and in that same instant you
witness the most violent and brutal scene of your life.
Imagine seeing a contorted face, broken limbs, blood flowing.
Imagine the terrified screams, the unbearable pain, the pleas for help, the tears.
Imagine death, as you fall to your knees, embracing a dying body... your body.
Imagine that last look , that last word, that last touch . . . that last breath.
Imagine life the day after, the week after, the year after . . . the hereafter.
Imagine seeing that camera flash in your sleep and your waking moments
...over and over, every second, every minute, every hour, in your mind.
Imagine seeing the end . . . your end, every day, until you die . . . imagine.
It was all I had left in me. I folded the paper, got an envelope from Ford, and addressed it to my lawyer.
"Make sure he gets this after-you know, when things are over."
"He'll get it, don't worry."
Sometime later, the phone in front of my cell rang. I just stared at it, uncertain of what to do.
"Answer it," Ford said, enthusiastically. I reached gingerly through the bars and picked it up.
"Yeah?" I whispered.
"Nat?" It was Duncan. He sounded exhausted.
"Yeah?" I whispered again.
"Nat, the courts turned us down, but-"
I put the phone down, not hanging it up, just laying it on its side. I could hear Duncan still calling my name, but there was nothing else to say, nothing else to hear.
"What time you got, Ford?"
"Eleven-o-five." Just then, the phone on his desk rang. The sudden change of his expression told me everything.
"Walker," he said solemnly, as he hung up the phone.
"Yeah, I know." They were on their way to get me. This was it-time to face the matador.
"You want some more orange juice or something, Walker?"
I just looked at him. I knew he was trying the break the overwhelming sense of dread that had started to condense like storm clouds around us. I looked down at my feet. I didn't recognize them. They seemed like independent machines separate from my body, and they would of their own volition lead me right to the gas chamber. Looking away, I thought, I would hate to have to whack you guys off. I put my shoes on and splashed some cold water on my face. I took a piss, washed my hands, and combed my hair-but as I was combing it, I was struck by the realization that everything I was now doing would be my last time doing it. I suddenly felt completely alone; my heart started to thump somewhere in my throat.
"Walker, it's time to go." The warden and two guards were waiting like stone sentinels. I walked over to the bars, consciously controlling each step. One guard put the cuffs on through the tray-slot. Ford opened the gate and, as I stepped out, I nodded to him slightly. He nodded back. I walked slowly, my breath hard. The sound of it echoed in my head like giant waves. I turned to the warden.
"Do me a favor, Warden?"
"What is it?" he asked, bewildered.
"Well, do you think we could make this long walk short?"
"How?" He looked even more confused.
"By running!" I said and burst out laughing.
They all looked at me like I had just snapped, Ford included. They stood there, uncertain of what to do next.
"Aw, c'mon guys, it's a joke," I said. "I'm just trying to ease the gloom. Hell, the way you dudes look, a person would think you're the ones about to get x'ed out."
"Walker, how can you joke at a time like this?"
"Yeah, you're right, Warden. So when do you think would be a good time for me to joke?"
Then, looking him straight in the eye, I asked him seriously, "Warden? When was the last time you been to a circus?" But I didn't give him time to answer. "Let's go," I said. "There's one waiting for us."
We walked out into a long, narrow hallway.
The warden stuck a key into a slot where the buttons should have been and turned it. It took a few seconds for the door to open and I could hear the elevator lumbering toward the top. The door opened suddenly with a whoosh, and we all stepped in. The guards positioned themselves behind me, while the warden remained at my side. It had all been rehearsed, their roles, the parts they would play. I imagined them practicing it. I wondered who they got to play me.
The elevator stopped and the door whooshed open. We stepped into a smaller hallway, made a right, and walked toward a large green steel door. I thought I could hear a murmur of voices on the other side and I imagined rows of people drinking soda, eating popcorn, and chanting, "Kill him, kill him, kill him!"
The warden pressed a button this time, and a few seconds later the door popped open. As we walked in, my entire body grew hot and the palms of my hands started to sweat. The first thing I saw was the gas chamber.
Everything became dreamlike and every second was an eternity. My mind went numb, my throat bone dry. This was my first real look at the chamber-I stood there, my eyes transfixed on the cylindrical shape and the chair sitting directly in the middle. The feeling of déjà vu hit me again, this time much stronger. Now don't get the wrong impression-I didn't all of a sudden get religion. But when dying is the central theme of your life, your perspective on things can change. I don't think it's an issue of whether or not we're afraid of dying-it's more like being afraid of not having existed, you know what I mean? I guess that's why people tend to believe in things like reincarnation, heaven, and transmigration, because those things offer a sense of continuity or immortality. Hey, life after death sure beats ashes to ashes.
"Let's go, Walker," the warden said, taking hold of my arm. We walked to the door of the chamber. One of the guards pulled open the door and, as I stepped in, the air was stale and oppressive. I swear I could sense the men who had gone before me-that somehow I could feel them still in that room. If my mind was playing a trick on me, it was a damn good one.
I sat down hypnotically. The chair was hard and cold. The two guards began immediately to strap me in, wrists first, then my waist and legs. My eyes were wide, alert, as if trying to suck in the last images of life. They darted around the chamber seeking anything . . . everything. The cubicle was spotless, almost as if all trace of reality itself had been vacuumed out. It was the only place I had ever been inside prison where there was absolutely no graffiti . . . no "Kilroy was here," no "Jesus loves you," no gang writing, not so much as a scratch. I guess anyone coming in here ain't in a position to do nothing but die-and the only thing that will ever deface these walls will be the souls of dead men. The warden double-checked the straps after the guards had finished. Then in a well-practiced monotone, he asked, "Do you have any last words, Walker?"
Ignoring his question, I swallowed the large lump that had formed in my throat and stared straight ahead at the dark glass window in front of me. I knew there would be people sitting on the other side, waiting to watch my death. Well, enjoy the show, folks, I said to myself. The warden asked me again if I had any last words. I said nothing, still staring at the window. He then proceeded to tell me in the same flat voice how the sentence of death was being carried out by order of the court. When he had finished, he and the two guards left without looking back. I heard the latch locking the door, and except for my breathing, there was absolute silence. I pulled against the strap-nothing. I knew it was useless at this point, but still...
I could feel my muscles tightening, as my pulse vibrated throughout my entire body. An eternity seemed to pass as I sat there, waiting for something to happen. I kept thinking that they were going to come through the door at any second. My eyes were frantically searching the window for any movement. Finally, I closed them and let my head fall back. I felt some sweat or a tear rolling off my cheek. I opened my eyes just in time to catch it falling from my face, and as I watched it fall in slow motion, I suddenly tasted something bitter and acidic in my mouth, and my lungs seemed to ignite into flames. Without even thinking about it, I quickly held my breath and, at that very moment, I knew that once I let it go, it would all be over.
With each second, the pain in my chest grew more unbearable-inside I was on fire. I began spinning and tumbling, my head falling backward and forward. I could feel the explosion in my chest heaving upward, as the pain began to burst into a billion pieces of light . . . and then I was falling, falling toward the sky, higher and higher, until I could no longer see beneath the clouds, until darkness began to engulf me. It was almost over. "C'mon, Nat, warp speed, man." Yeah, I thought, I do have something to say... then I felt the rush of warm wind, and I breathed out.
Craig A. Ross
by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
A few days before the murder of Shaka Sankofa, I had this intense feeling of dread. I couldn't shake it. It was like witnessing a horrible accident or being told a catastrophic secret and then told to forget what I'd seen and heard. I felt nauseated, as if I needed to purge myself of something fouling up my insides. I always get this feeling when something sinister and insidious is on the horizon. I know what was bothering me. I know the source of my feelings. But I was thinking maybe, just maybe, this time I was wrong. I really hoped I was.
June 22nd 2000 was probably the longest time I had listened to the radio without interruption. I was glued to KPFA and transfixed to the announcements like a person waiting to see if his lotto numbers would be picked. What I was listening for was news about the pending execution of Gary Graham. Every time his name was mentioned, along with tidbits about his case, I could feel the moisture condensing in the palms of my hands. I was in a state of high alert and every piece of news only heightened my sense of anxiousness.
Like Shafa Sankofa I've been on death row for 18 years (now 35) hearing and reading about men and women being ushered to their execution. It has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. But no execution gripped me like the events unfolding around the Gary Graham drama. I couldn't understand why it captivated me so much. You would think after being in a place that executes people over and over again I would be desensitized to the ritual by now. I'm not. State sanctioned murder is something I'll never get used to.
I think what captivated me was not only were Shaka and I around the same age, but we had been arrested the same year, we both were sent to death row on the questionable testimony of one witness and we both resurrected ourselves from a pathological coma.
I knew Gary Graham. I knew him, because he symbolized black youth who grow up in the charred and rubbled neighbourhoods of America's disenfranchised inner cities. These youth long forgotten in census counts and used as social scapegoats for failed social programs, have their checkered and convoluted histories paraded about as titillating statistics by nightly news programs, and become political fodder for get-tough on crime laws.
Gary Graham was depicted as the poster boy for criminal behaviour, but Gary Graham died when Shaka Sankofa was born, much like the person who undergoes a spiritual transformation, casting off their old self to become reborn in a new identity. It was Shaka the warrior, the lion, who roared and struck a chord in me. His indomitable and unassailable spirit pulled at me like a recurring dream. I couldn't avoid Shaka's spirit any more than I could ditch my own shadow.
Shaka represented the essence of humanity because he found something many people never find: "knowledge of self". Under the most gruelling oppression he was able to transcend who America said he was and reconstructed an identity commensurate with his true nature. He was a revolutionary because he resisted and refused to cooperate with injustice, and in his own words: "I'm gonna fight like hell.". And fight he did, defying his executioners at every stage, right up to the moment he was lying on the gurney, he resisted, and challenged all of us to do the same.
Shaka Sankofa symbolizes the historic struggles that African people have endured since being ripped from the bosom of Mother Africa and forced into cargo ships to the American shores. He's a link in a long chain of freedom fighters who fought, bled, and died for what they believed in. The murder of Shaka (because that's what it is), is the murder of a generation of Black men. It is a disheartening sign that lynching is still legal in America, and the need for a liberation movement is even more urgent.
I can't forget Shaka Sankofa, any more than I can forget Harriet Tubman or George Jackson. He transformed himself and rose through the muck and mire to declare his quintessential African essence; a spirit refusing to be caged, engulfed by a hundred shackles, suppressed by numerous lies, and written out of classroom textbooks. He was able to grasp the truth and evoked the names of Malcolm and Martin, like Gandhi evoked the Lord Rama's name before the assassin's bullet silenced him.
I knew the chances of Shaka getting a reprieve was thin. Yet, still I prayed. I crossed my fingers hoping the combined presence and efforts of personages such as Jess Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Bianca Jagger, Minister Robert Muhammed and Danny Glover might, just might, buy him some time, perhaps even a week...perhaps, even his life. But who was I kidding? We're talking about Tex-execution here; a place where the Alamo took place; the last place where black people found out they weren't slaves anymore; a Texas State Board of Pardon and Parole that decides people's fate via fax machines, and we not forget, a governor who smirks and boasts of overseeing the execution of 134 people people, and still counting. With odds like that, Shaka stood a better chance of a firing squad missing.
I went to bed early that night thinking I'll catch a couple of hours sleep and get an update of what happened when I awoke. I slept soundly throughout the night, something was telling me that I'll need that sleep. I woke up early the next morning, turned on the news, and immediately they announced Shaka Sankofa was pronounced dead at 8:49 Texas time. It felt like a pipe bomb exploded in my chest, and my mind felt like it entered a black hole that was spiralling into another universe. I didn't even try to make sense out of what happened, because I knew I would only end up at the same place I started; looking for justice, where none can be found.
It was reported that Shaka Sankofa died with one eye closed and one eye half opened, even in death he told us to always keep an eye on the real enemy. We will prevail. We will keep marching. Keep marching, black people. Black Power.
c 2000 Adisa A Kamara
Steve Champion C-58001
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974
Shaka Sankofa (born Gary Lee Graham) (September 5, 1963 – June 22, 2000) was a Texas death-row inmate who was sentenced to death at the age of 17 for the murder of fifty-three-year-old Bobby Grant Lambert in Houston, Texas, on May 13, 1981. He was executed by lethal injection on June 22, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas
"Walking With Demons"
by Craig Ross (Ajani Kamara) – 2005
Twenty three years.
That’s how long I’ve been here (*at the time of writing). Surrounded by the same colors, the same sounds, the same faces, the same smells, the same routine. Twenty-three years on death row and I’ve watched more men commit suicide or lose their minds than I have seen executed. No matter how I do the math I realize statistically, either way I could be screwed. So I made an uneasy alliance with this nocuous environment in order to survive, straddled between life and death, I decided to walk with my demons and not give them control. If I did, I would like many others, be a prime candidate for taking the little pills that make you sleep or stare at the TV all day, or worse, a guard could find my lifeless body at count time dangling from the cell bars. The battle for self-possession is a solitary struggle and inside the isolation of prison the turmoil must be nullified alone.
Without blinking I faced my demons head on. There is no other way to do it. Those afraid of transparency take refuge behind a mask. And what is a mask if not the inward reflection of the face behind it?
Death row is fertile ground for personal demons, they roost in the ugly walls and beneath the scalp causing desperate thoughts to claw at the mind like the elongated fingers of a corpse. The lines of sanity aren’t fluid, the bend and curve like twisted metal, so it is easy to take the wrong turn and end up in a disfigured reality, a reality where emotional deformity is the only narrative. I have sensed the dark and paranoid impulses move inside me, pulsating to a primal instinct. I feel but I don’t act. I hear but I don’t answer. I visited the images that terrorized my waking moments. I went as far as I could to the edge without plunging into a schizophrenic psychosis and becoming lost in the dark matter. The key was, not to identity myself with or cling to what I saw, instead I sought the calm ocean that sits at the epicenter of the psyche. Getting there wasn’t easy. The trip was filled with demons from my past who tried to trap me in the wounds. They are always there, always waiting for a chance to surface. They breathe nihilism and despair. Their incessant voices, like razorblades, make small painful incisions on my mind that scream blood and death. It is a lesson in psychological warfare. A lesson in psychological resolution.
I once wore chaos like a second skin. Everything was disposable. But the navigation of pain and trauma can transcend the rawest of scars, offering the possibility of a new beginning. I took the journey in my own way. I’m far too active for sitting meditation, and the traditional religious avenues don’t speak to me. So everything I did became zen, ritual, prayer, focus. I did not have an epiphany. I arrived at my center by the sheer force of my will. Spiritual reconstruction wasn’t cathartic for me. It wasn’t meant to make me feel better about anything. It was meant to acquire strength needed to descend into the mental darkness to face the madness without being consumed by it. I am still flawed. Still bruised. Except now I know who I am at every level. If I fail at something, I fail. That’s all you can ever ask of yourself.
I have this reoccurring dream: I am in the gas chamber strapped in the chair. My feet are disintegrating, turning into vapor. I could stop if I want to, but I don’t. I draw the vapors of myself deep into my lungs. The feeling is beyond euphoric. My legs dissolve next, then arms, and torso, until finally, I consume myself and exist only as pure consciousness without any memory of ever having been alive. When I awaken I have the distinct sensation of having been somewhere I can’t explain. Somewhere minus the spatial boarders that confines us in corporeal form. I think the dream means that I am my own demon, my own god, and no matter how much I try to purge elements of myself, I am whole only when the essential parts, both good and bad, are forever fused together.
I have watched many men set adrift in chronic depression, imprisoned in a private wasteland. They create the paradox between façade and interior in a futile attempt to escape from themselves. But we cannot hide or separate ourselves from the duality of our nature, we have to bring a vital balance to it. We have to be willing to look at our demons and not flinch. As long as we’re willing to do that, we won’t get lost in the fog.
Craig Ross (Ajani Kamara)
* Craig Ross has been incarcerated on death row San Quentin for 35 years.
Craig Ross (also known as Ajani Addae Kamara) was raised in South Central Los Angeles. A Crip emeritus, he has been incarcerated since 1981. While in the hole—ten years in San Quentin‘s Adjustment Center—he began to study psychology, mythology, African and Asian history, and follow a spiritual path. He is now a recognized writer and mentor. In 1995 he won the Pen Prison Writing Award for best short fiction: “Walker‘s Requiem,” a riveting account of a young man‘s last day before being executed. Presently he is completing his memoirs, The Road to Purgatory. He continues to inspire others with his words.
by Craig Ross, Steve Champion and Stanley Tookie Williams - self published in 2007
"The title "The Sacred Eye of the Falcon" is derived from an Egyptian symbol representing the god Horus, who is depicted as having the head of a falcon. In a great battle with the god Seth (Satan) over rule of the kingdom, one of Horus' eyes was gouged out. His eye was eventually restored by Tehuti, the god of wisdom. This act gave Horus divine sight (the all-seeing eye) and he used it to give the people the divine law of Maat (truth, justice, righteousness, order and reciprocity). After years of conflict and imprisonment, our sight has been restored and our lives are now governed by Maat.
the basic theme of all spiritual systems is the need to be awakened. For centuries the words of sages, holy men, and shamans have been committed to oral and written tradition so that the coming generations may benefit from them. We follow this noble path and humbly submit our aphorisms in the hopes that the reader may glean from them light and understanding.
All spiritual teachings share a common thread. Though each philosophy has its own unique qualities, each is connected to the wisdom that preceded it. This book of aphorisms - "The Sacred Eye of the Falcon" is connected to all of the spiritual teachings that have come down to us through the ages, and just as the tributaries find their way to the sea, this book reaches ahead by reaching back to mingle in the great spiritual universe.
At the time we wrote this book, prior to the loss of our brother Ajamu, each of us had spent over twenty years( on San Quentin's death row; collectively, we had accumulated over seventy years. (it is now over 35 years).
In the best of all possibly worlds, during the time we were being sentenced to death, we should have been enjoying our first years of college; instead we entered a realm that few Americans know the actual truth about. To enter prison is to enter the badlands of our society, the inferno of Dante, where the levels of hell are all too real, and where racial divide dominates every facet of life.
Prison is, without a doubt, violent. It is a hard place to become whole and most who walk through the gates will leave shattered in some way. Tossed into such a miasmic environment, how we would survive would be solely up to us. Being thugs, criminals, and gang leaders, we were acclimated to the do-or-die approach and sustained our existence by brute force in this microcosm of madness. It was our way or no way. Inevitably our jingoistic stance would be our undoing.
As a result we ended up in the Adjustment Centre (solitary confinement). It is a place designed to emasculate a man's constitution, paralyze thoughts, perpetuate aggression, extinguish the spirit, and bury him beneath indeterminate time. Being in the Adjustment Centre put us at a crossroads -- the path of violence versus the path of redemption. Either we would continue to allow the predetermined conditions to manipulate our lives, or we would change the course. We chose to change.
Transforming our cells into acadamies for higher learning, we began to study history, religion, English, math, psychology, mythology, philosophy, political science, and many other subjects. Like alchemists, we used the basic elements of our own potential to transform ourselves. The process of introspection imbued us with the knowledge of how to conquer our negative and violent behaviour. It gave us the ability to emerge from the pathological fog that had overshadowed our lives for so long. For over a decade in solitary confinement we embarked on a path of redemption that we have not wavered from, nor have we compromised our integrity or convictions.
As it stands, our spiritual journey has motivated us to pursue a missionto enlighten others. Our writings simply reflect our change, growth, and struggle to achieve self realisation under the worst circumstances. We dared to forge a new compass for ourselves and this is what we desire for others."
Excerpts of the book will from time to time be published here on Steve Champion's site. You can if you wish also purchase the book from Lulu here:-
I want to touch base on a couple of subjects and one of them is the emotions. When I look at the word "emotion" I see it comes from the Latin word "emovére. I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist or behavioural scientist, but it is clear to me that when a person experiences an emotion it is an internal feeling to be expressed, or which can be expressed, externally through words, deeds or action.
An emotion(s) can range from a myriad of feelings which I label as energies. These energies can and do cover a broad range such as fear, anger, rage, hate, love, happiness, envy, joy, peace etc... Our state of consciousness enables us to shift from one energy to the next. We can be happy one moment and sad the next. Our attitude plays a large role in this. Our attitude gives life to whether we are negative or positive to how we respond to a given situation.
Although the emotions are a necessary part of our human make-up they should not be the vehicle we use as guides to govern our life. I distinguish between feeling an emotion versus acting on it. I've met many people in my life who were under the misguided notion that because they were angry at a person or believed that that person was the source of their anger, that they are justified in acting against the person. But in actuality, the root of their anger comes from within themselves. There is nothing wrong with feeling emotions but it doesn't mean our emotions are a validation of truth or that we have to act or react to them.
Ask yourself if you are angry and feel like exploding, what would happen if you didn't react or if you did nothing? Nothing would happen. Eventually, you would calm down.
I came to the realisation and acceptance that one should never lead by, or be lead by emotions such as anger, hate or rage etc... because the emotions have very little ability to reason, rationalise logically or see things clearly. When you are angry or in rage, these emotions cloud judgement and undermine wisdom.
From personal experience I can attest to the fact that whenever I became infuriated or angry I could not see anything beyond these negative energies. I had tunnel vision and the only thing I could see was the rage. I was too entrenched and stuck in the mud of my own feelings and ego to form a rational thought. Anger can override the cerebral cortex - the sector of the brain that deals with rational thought, intelligence etc... You can bet if a couple are in an argument and they get angry, there are going to be things coming out for their mouths that under normal circumstances would make them cringe.
The emotions have to be brought under arrest and under the guidance of the intellect. Trying to lead by emotions alone is equivalent to trying to drive a car without brakes. The result - an accident!
It wasn't until I perused the Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama that I began to seriously place myself under critical self-examination. During my early years of self-reflection, I saw how my ego played a crucial role in how I dealt with people and situations. Because I had a distorted sense of manhood and my identity was wrapped up in how I saw myself.
Any time the ego is involved things are going to be personalised, which means a person is going to take it personally. In the book "The Four Agreements" by Miguel Luis Ruiz, one of the agreements is "Don't take anything personally". When it comes to an unchecked ego this is nearly impossible. Because the ego is all about me, me, me and me. If you criticize someone functioning from their ego then it becomes less about what you are critiquing, and becomes interpreted as a personal attack on the person because egocentric people are fragile and thin skinned.
I suspect an individual who is easily inclined to anger has a problem with their ego
Every human being has an ego. Some egos vibrate at a higher level than others. Some people do a better job than others at managing their ego and keeping it in check. Then, there are people (inside and outside of prison) who have spent time developing themselves to a point that they are unaffected and unmoved by issues that irk and drive the average person mad. This comes back to attitude and state of consciousness of which I spoke about earlier.
Whatever state of consciousnjess you are in, energy is going to follow it. Energy doesn't discern between good and bad, positive and negative, and destructive and constructive. Energy gives fuel to the mindset you are in. Whenever you shift your consciousness energy strengthens the state of mind you are in.
It would be irresponsible and untrue to suggest that you should never get angry or that you can rid yourself of anger totally. What I am suggesting is you don't have to surrender to anger or hold onto it as if it is an anchor. Holding on to anger is like carrying extra weight and eventually it is going to get heavy.
I know the statement or phrase "Let it go" has become a cliché, but the question is, is there value in this cliché? I emphatically and affirmatively say "yes". When you hold onto anger, who benefits from it? The only person who is harmed by holding onto anger is you. Beside the physiological harm you do to your mind and body by adding stress, you give power and control to that which you are angry at. Ask any person who has been angry at another person for a period of time, and when they let go of that anger, how they felt? The answer is free and liberated. The reason why you feel free once you let go of the anger is due to the fact you were not free as long as you held onto it.
Think about his, you are angry at a family member because you were wronged in some way and you feel justified in being angry and you hold onto this for years. Even though you can go about the daily routine of your life, the anger you hold onto will manifest in other areas of your life unconsciously. Plus, the family member you are angry at holds power over you. You can't move forward because the person is still in your head. How I began to deal with my demons was not by avoiding them, but by facing them head on. By spending quiet time with myself. This allowed the thoughts stirring in me to reach a point of cessation. Everything eventually stilled and peace and calm engulfed me. This made me think, if I can feel this way in meditation then I should like to strive to be this way in life. I asked myself wouldn't it be wonderful if I could live my life in meditation. By that, I mean being patient, kind, respectful, calm and understanding in my wakeful life. I considered this as an important spiritual challenge. Taking what I learn in my meditations and transporting it to my everyday life.
When I meditate I visualise myself in various situations. For example, I am in a hostile and stressful situation, but I handle it with patience, wisdom and calm. I stamp this visualisation on my consciousness so it becomes a part of me.
What meditation does for me is that it gives me clarity of mind. It allows me to explore and unmask deeper dimensions of myself in order to get at the essence of who I am. Meditation has helped me to work on being less judgemental of people. This is a constant work in progress that I pay close attention to because a person can do or say something you disapprove of, and reverting back to old patterns of behaviour of judging someone is like reuniting with an old friend. I fight against this.
By gaining more insight about myself, I gain more insight about human beings. Life is made up of nuances and comes in many shades, and cannot be reduced to just black and white. As human beings, we are fallible. We have the extraordinary and contradictory capacity to both amaze and disappoint. And sometimes we do. I believe we have to give people room to make mistakes. Refusing to do so is like issuing an indictment saying the person is incapable of growth,change, and transformation.
If a person decides to pursue a path of enlightenment and self transformation, this ought to be applauded and seen as a positive development that should be encouraged. No one has the right to deprive or deny redemption to a person who seeks it. If redemption isn't an option or is not made available to people who have lost their way and try to find their way it back, then who is it for?
Some people do not seek redemption nor do they pursue self transformation. They leave this earth with a state of consciousness of how they lived their life. That is their choice. People who choose to live a different way of life of self improvement and spiritual enlightenment should be supported in their efforts.
People in prison are judged and defined by what they are in prison for. If you are on death row, like me, you are labelled the wost of the worst without any redeeming qualities. Some people want to freeze you in time at the worst moment of your life and declare that is who you are and all that you will ever be. I've learned that you cannot take a snapshot of a person's life and define them by it. People are not the total sum of their mistakes. The one constant in life is change.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
San Quentin State Prison
"Lueur d'Espoir" - acrylic on canvas - by Tauno Waidla - San Quentin Death Row
"Glimmer of Hope"
The Light Within Me
“You are the Light of the World”
I have often asked myself if given a chance would I erase the singular episode leading to my death row experience? Perhaps so. But if I could erase my unpleasant and bad experiences, would it not cancel out an essential part of who I am? I believe so. I know life isn’t reduced to a single event, but is an accumulation of events that produce who we are no matter where we are.
The same stream of consciousness that existed twenty thousand years ago still exists today. It is still accessible to the human mind if we tap into it. What happened ten thousand years ago and ten minutes ago occupies the same space in time and consciousness as Albert Einstein has showed us. So we cannot separate the past from the present. In order to understand the past, we must study it. To understand the present, we must study the past, and to understand the future, we must study both the past and present.
There is a level of consciousness that cannot be explained by cultural diffusion where the human psyche intersects and connects at a realm of energy and matter. Where human beings turn inward and are able to transcend their physical entity, in order to see and experience the consciousness that runs through them. By having this experience we learn that our differences shaped by ethnicity, politics, economics and religious factors are superficial constructions that have no real meaning at the level of oneness.
But how do we as human beings reach this central point of the world where all spiritual lines intersect? How do we transform ourselves from human beings to human becomings? Some people strongly believe travelling to a holy place or reading religious scriptures is the key. There might be some truth to that. I believe the central point of the world is right where you are standing. In ancient times, the temples of Luxor in ancient Egypt were the central point and light of the world. For Native American tribes like the Algonquins and Sioux, the central plains were their central point. Many people see Jerusalem and Mecca as the central point of religious and spiritual vitality. The Tibetans see the temples of Tibet as their central point. The central point of the world is where you have a mythical experience and spiritual transformation. Once you know who you are, it does not matter where you are.
The most important pilgrimage that you can make is an inward journey of self-discovery. There is a sphere beyond the reach of our senses, but accessible to the mind, when the mind is one-pointed and free from chaos. Everything drops off, putting the mind at the central peak of consciousness, where everything is beyond names and forms. There is no division between God and man. The sacred union of man and woman is one as it was intended to be. You belong to no clan, tribe or nation. You exist in a world of non-duality, like the biblical and symbolic Adam before his fall, where consciousness is conscious of itself.
We can only be the voice of the earth when our heart is not motivated and driven by fear and hate but is inspired by love and peace; when we understand our conscious life is also informed by an invisible world which constantly demands we evoke our higher nature so that we can be the true guardians of the universe and of each other.
The spiritual world beckons humanity to search and find god within. Religion is supposed to be an apparatus to help guide humanity to its natural role of oneness and connectedness. However, religion has become too bogged down in theology and ideology, conforming to politics and unsuitable to address the evolving conditions of today’s world. Of course, there are many religious teachings that are timeless, but trying to apply two thousand year old myths, or those over fifteen hundred years old, to a world vastly different from the world when those myths were created becomes problematic.
We need new mythmakers and myths which address and speak to the human condition and convey the unvarnished truth that puts us in alignment with our authentic self, and explains how we can successfully relate to an ever changing world. Each generation must create its own soothsayers and listeners of the human heart and soul. We must claim and support them along without shamans, our mystics, and our artists who have knowledge and wisdom about life, who give us insight and glimpses into the invisible world, who remind us that love is a spiritual condition that requires spiritual practice.
The physical planet has been conquered. There are no new lands to explore and no new adventures to pursue. This has stifled and stagnated the imagination of man. Man has looked outward instead of turning inward for answers. He has stopped listening to the impulses of his nature. He believes space exploration will nurture and quench his imagination. He has forgotten the fertile ground of mysteries existing in his own consciousness. He has forgotten his self.
There has been a spiritual crisis in the world from the moment man misdirected the energies of his mind, an internal battle between the higher principle and the lower principle in oneself ensues. Returning to paradise, unity and oneness of mind and spirit is a constant tug of war between light and darkness. We need a ritual to reinforce our bliss and simultaneously put us on track to lean towards the light.
When I meditate, I tap into portals of my consciousness. I experience a psychological transformation that puts me in tune with my divine nature. Within the temporal moment of stillness, I dwell in a sacred world where I am not who I am in this material world. I cast aside the shackles that begird my mind. I am humbled by the beauty of the interdependence and interrelationships of humanity. We are all connected as one people, functioning from different strands of consciousness.
We are the highest expression of creation when living by a spiritual based definition of who we are. I hope one day to perceive the mysteries of the world, hold on to the light within me, and to one day bask in the company of Gods.
San Quentin Death Row
The Abuse of Authority – San Quentin Adjustment Center
Steve Champion(Adisa Kamara)
On 21st March, 2007, an incident occurred inside the Adjustment Center. A prison guard was allegedly assaulted by an inmate. Never ones to miss an opportunity for retributive and repressive punishment, San Quentin prison officials exaggerated the nature of this threat posed to guards and declared a State of Emergency. It was as if Homeland Security had upgraded the Terror Alert. A memorandum was swiftly issued to every prisoner stating, hyperbolically, that an inmate attempted to murder a guard.
After a series of invasive cell searches and mandatory interviews, (some inmates, already cuffed and shackled, were physically forced to the interview room) prison officials were still not satisfied. Consquently, they meted out collective punishment to everyone in the Adjustment Center, as follows : Every prisoner is now forced to wear leg shackles and shower shoes (or go barefoot wherever he goes) whether to the shower, the visiting room, the legal law library, or the hospital and the exercise yard. We are allowed to carry our shoes and put them on once we arrive at the yard. Some consolation!
The yard policy was changed sharply, as well. In the past, when the yard was recalled, inmates were escorted inside AC, strip searched, and then escorted to their assigned cells. Now, each inmate is strip searched on the yard, in plain view of everyone, before being returned to his cell. According to California code of Regulations Title 15, Section 3287 (4)(B), “Whenever possible, unclothed body inspections of inmates shall be conducted in an area where [they] can be conducted in safety and allow the inmate to preserve some measure of dignity and respect.” These regulations recognise the fact that prisoners are entitled to some modicum of dignity, respect and privacy. But basic human rights are immaterial to prison officials who view prisoners as the scum of the earth.
On April 4, 2007, when yard was recalled at 11:30am, I and two other inmates (Ward and B) refused to be strip searched on the yard. We were immediately confronted by a bevy of guards demanding to know why we refused. One at a time, each of us, (caged in walk alone yard cages) explained that we were not refusing to come off the yard or cuff up, we were only refusing to be strip searched on the yard.
As the Guantanamo Bay-like cages slowly emptied around us, prisoners hobbled pas us in ankle-pinching leg restraints, nodding to us in solidarity – the equivalent of a clenched fist salute.
A sergeant, obviously unfamiliar with AC protocol and/or badly misinformed, tried to convince us that strip searching in open view had always been the policy. A little later, Lieutenant S, flanked by a small army of guards, asked us what the the problem was. Again, each of us explained our position, just as we had before. But as if he had not heard us, S retorted, “You refusing to come off the yard?”
I shook my head in disbelief. The Lieutenant didn’t want to understand. He told us if we were refusing to come off the yard, he would be justified in using force of some kind. He could use pepper spray, blast us with water cannon or stun gun, taser us, order a platoon of guards to suit up and forcibly remove us, or command the guard on the gun rail to shoot us. But we were not refusing to come off the yard. At this impasse, the Lieutenant told us he would give us “a cooling off period” and went to consult with his superiors.
Two and a half hours later, around 2:00 pm, we could hear the guards outside AC yelling to the guard operating the bar box, which opens and closes cell doors, to open cell 61, 63 and 66. This meant that they were entering our cells and punishing us by removing our personal property.
We continued to stand our ground and pass the time discussing current events, bracing ourselves for the worst. Eventually, a squadron of guards headed by Associate Warden D and Captain F arrived. D asked Ward, “What’s the problem?” Ward once again explained that he refused to strip out on the yard, quoting verbatim the relevant portion of the California Code regulations, Title 15 (3287) (4)(B). Apparently taken aback, D adjusted his jacket and replied, “The Warden is our Title 15” The Captain then asked B what the problem was, and B repeated what Ward had just said. It was clear to us at this point in that these San Quentin officials were not interested in our reasons or prison policy. We had explained ourselves to guards, the sergeant, the Lieutenant, the Captain and the Associate Warden.
Finally, Captain F, morphing into John Wayne, barked that we were coming off the yard. At this point, I turned to the guard holding the video camera and said bluntly, “I’m not refusing to cuff up but I’m not stripping out on the yard.” The Captain then ordered me to “Cuff up” and a guard slid a flattened cardboard box between a slit opening in the fence of my cage. I placed the cardboard on the pavement next to the sink and toilet combo. Then I walked over to the small port to get cuffed, before returning, to kneel on the cardboard (to cushion my knees against the concrete.) Several guards entered the walk-alone cage to shackle my ankles. Shackled, I stood up and guards escorted me toward the fence.
At this point, the scene switched to something right out of Abu Ghraib. The Captain ordered a guard holding a large pair of scissors to cut off my state-issue boxes. The guard obeyed and shred my underwear until they were hanging around my ankles.
At that moment, I felt something ancient, something powerful, as if my ancestors were channeling through me, imploring me to stay firm – as if I had been through this before.
Another guard scanned my entire body with a metal detector. I was then marched nude and shackled inside the Adjustment Center and placed in a middle sallyport on the first floor. Shortly thereafter, inmates B and Ward were brought in shackled, nude and held in separate holding ports on the first floor. All the while, prison personnel entered and exited the building, peering at us as if we were a small group of captured baboons.
Twenty five minutes or so passed this way,before each of us was escorted to the third floor and paraded down the tier naked, like slaves on display, into our now empty cells. We were officially placed on property control, which means : no personal property, no purchased food items and no canteen for 90 days.
On April 10, the three of us received Rules Violation Reports. The specific violation: wilfully obstructing a peace officer. On April 12, I attended an Institutional Classificiation Committee (ICC) meeting, where my 90-day property control status was reaffirmed. All the same people who had violated my human rights – the Lieutenant, the Captain, the Associate Warden – were present. ICC was chaired by Deputy Warden L. He informed me that if I were to repeat my ‘Performance’ I would be taken off the yard for a minimum period of 90 days and my case referred to the Director for review.
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974
Illusions of Control
We are in control,
or we delude ourselves
of this daily.
We cannot control the rising
and setting of the sun nor
the tides of oceans or the
movements of stars.
We can’t control the weeping
of children yearning for their
Mother’s breast; so how can we
control the longing of the human
heart dying to be fulfilled?
Every attempt bleeds of failure
while eating away vestiges of our souls.
I knew a man who once rejected love.
He fought it, suppressed it, ignored it
and even wished it away.
He claimed victory in his denial.
“I am in control” he declared
It was his daily mantra.
But like a tsunami,
love grew stronger, building momentum
Until one day
it overran him
Like a volcano
in its path.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
My Brother is Gone - by Steve Champion
I want the world to know
I walked, lived and blossomed
during the time of his presence.
My emotions are too raw,
my senses too frayed
to tell them,
for 20 brass knuckled years
we struggled together,
forging a bond
cemented by our
faith, love, and brotherhood.
Our way was not always as smooth
as a well manicured lawn;
We blazed the path as warriors,
knowing in the end
the highest form of bravery
is laying down the sword.
My brother is gone.
No longer will I gaze upon his glistening
mahogany colored skin,
look into his gentle eyes, or
grip his Hulk-shaped hands.
No longer wil we greet
with a brotherly hug,
or bump fists.
No longer will I
hear his soft-spoken voice,
see his warm smile,
or bask in his charisma.
No longer will I
see his boyish grin,
his smooth gait.
No longer will we
or I poke fun at his modesty
in the face of a compliment.
No longer will we
catch each other's eyes
from across the yard,
acknowledging our whereabouts.
No longer will I
probe his razor sharp mind,
or excite his curiosity.
My brother was murdered
At San Quentin Prison,
December 13, 2005, 12:36am.
My brother is gone.
I curse those who rejoiced
upon hearing the news of his death,
now that they are spared from
the muscle of his mind.
Though my heart aches,
and my rage festers,
no revenge of bullets, blades or bloodshed
will bring my brother back.
My brother is gone.
I watched him shed the shackles
of his wild image,
in a new spirit.
I named him Ajamu,
"He who fights for what he wants"
He fought agains all odds,
against all the naysayers who
sought to pigeon-hole and fossilise
him in his lowest state.
He rose about it to build
a peaceful legacy
that will be talked about
for years to come.
As the energy emptied from his body
and his life was no more -
I yearned to bury him in the African way -
bathe him in lavender
sprinkle myrrh over his body
light a candle
as I wrap him in silk
sing freedom songs.
You are free my brother.
from the perils of a country
that daggers black pride,
emasculates black strength,
and kills black hope.
I wanted to
chant healing mantras for him
to take him on his final journey,
weigh his heart on the scales of Maat,
ensure his passage through the underworld,
where Ausar will welcome him.
My brother is gone.
I will not weep
as others will weep;
I will not break
as others will break;
I will not mourn him
as others will mourn him;
I will not celebrate him.
He has left me plenty,
but taken a part of me with him.
I shall honor him as I honor
every freedom fighter;
I will love him in death
as I loved him in life.
We shall meet again,
as we planned,
at the crossroads.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
San Quentin Death Row
Poetry, writing & Lessons in Life from San Quentin death row