July 14, 2016 is the expiration date on my current prison I.D. Whenever I make a canteen purchase I am reminded – not only of this date – but the mustard colored box beneath this date, which displays the letters, F-E-L-O-N. A distasteful branding that accompanies a number by which I am identified by people who never knew me in the first place. My head takes a proverbial spin at the mere thought of someone expecting me to accept this state – induced identity crisis.
My written words can only leave this prison compound under the condition that the number, 0255136, is included in the return address. And as if that wasn’t degrading enough, all mailing envelopes are stamped with the words, “Mailed from Central Prison.” A state tactic that may embarrass family members or loved ones while your existence within the box becomes the elephant in the room; an unspoken truth in social circles that you, yourself, once deemed as intimate company.
In some cases, an attempt to humanize one’s self to complete strangers (lawyers, judges, pen pals and churches) is predetermined by the specification on the outside before the dynamism of the sender is revealed within the pages on the inside.
All throughout history, lineage is identified by names. Royalty is yoked to a name. A name is a person’s title. A name is how generations to come will discern our accomplishments. To be stripped of our names when entering the system, is no different than emancipated slaves losing all rights as citizens for breaking the law.
Whether it be the 17th century or the 21st; chattel or Neo-slavery, this dehumanizing practice perpetuates the low self esteem and inferiority complexes that wash away potential before the seed of enlightenment is sowed within the soil that bears diligence and knowledge of one’s purpose. Once the name has been replaced with a number, you become nothing more than a file to the eyes of society.
I am non-receptive of the barcode by which the state of North Carolina chooses to identify me as, but I embrace this degree of adversity because it has introduced me to my true self; the MannofStat. An identity that debunks the deeply despised brand the state has stamped onto my existence. Years before I started blogging. I would chronicle the annual death row basketball tournament through a weekly commentary.
It sparked a flame within the morale of the row and it gave me an opportunity to memorialize my fallen comrade, Earl J. Richmond, a.k.a. “E.” Officers as well as inmates enjoyed the commentary that was somehow bridging the gap between the two sides. At the same time I was chronicling a more personal account of history through a series of essays and monologues I referred to as, W.O.R.D. to the Masses. This is who I am.
With executions in North Carolina being held in abeyance since 2006, I find it disturbing that the various flaws within our justice system are gradually being acknowledged, yet the mainstream media satire continues to identify me as a monstrous killer. I shared this displeasure with my brother, during a recent visit (non-contact). As always, his guidance recalibrated my focus:
“To be a catalyst for change you gotta rise before you shine.”
Writing for the love of it, is how this came to be. The decades of being locked away, in this basement will prove to be essential to the ascent of a Mann that is the architect of progression, a stimulus to detractors of capital punishment. Get to know me.
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann