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Monday, October 26, 2015

A Sweet Heart: The Flavor of Realness

What if the blink of an eye was worth 75 years?  What would you want to hold onto before your next blink?  Would it be something tangible or would it be the untouchable thrill of success?  Respect, maybe?

As I continue to awaken and my age grows, my memories have much greater value.  Memories of what I once deemed as “the best of times,” lose their significance when the other people involved no longer share the bridge of communication when times get real.  Na mean?  So, if I had one blink left, I would hold onto a friendship cultivated in a garage that was converted into a candy store.

You see, a lot like the rhythm of a haiku, a union between two people can be ambiguous to the casual observer, however, within what may appear to be an unorthodox union, every syllable or action has a profound significance that can only be felt by those privy to its intended meaning.

Rochelle was a teenage girl on a mission.  She calculated, packaged and distributed licorice whips, Now & Laters, and Charms lollipops in the truest entrepreneurial fashion.  As a frequent customer of her establishment, I embraced my addiction to the edible sweets displayed on a foldout table, acting as a service counter.  But it was her sweet heart that compelled an adolescent Mann to remain long after our $.75 transaction had been finalized.

Her place of business gave me a reason to share her space.  At times her older brothers would chase or literally carry me out of her store.  To no avail, I always came back more determined than before.  It just felt right being around her.  There were levels to our friendship and I made the early efforts to keep climbing.  Then somehow, I became the person that no longer shared the bridge of communication.  SMH.

Decades later, the sweetness of that diligent teenage Sista continues to feed my addiction.  Jolly Ranchers, Hershey’s Kisses and Hot Chocolate are merely metaphorical attributes of the rush Rochelle infuses into my existence. The taste of our reconnection makes me a better Mann, indeed.  And her sweetness will not permit me to stop blinking.  Feel me?

Chelle, I am humbled by the reconstruction of the bridge that brings me closer to you, the proprietess of my fix.  To many, our friendship is a haiku that frustrates more than it teaches.  Their fog surrounds us but the expression of our friendship is crystal clear to me and your extended hand is met with the most sincere gesture of gratitude.  With every blink that remains, your life will always be the unforgettable sweetness that made my existence taste-worthy.

Much love to you on your special day.

Happy Born Day, Ma!!


NP 4Life
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Rising Temperature of Progression: an End Game Objective

I can remember the sound of the teakettle coming from my grandmother’s kitchen.  You could hear that whistle blowing from anywhere in the house.  The kettle’s high frequency indicated the temperature of the water was sufficed.  If your preference was tea or coffee, the hot water was ready for the transition.  It was time to make the next move.

Living on North Carolina’s death row for 18 years has felt like a ‘stand still’ of an existence.  A lot like holding that tea/coffee cup and never hearing the high pitch of the anticipated transition.  It is only natural to wonder if your next breath has any relevance; if there is anything in your cup worth savoring?

Chess master, Eugene Brown is bringing the heat to an environment where living beyond a dismal circumstance is nothing more than a spark of some far-fetched fantasy.  Long before he entered the halls of North Carolina’s ‘death house,’ Mr. Brown was using the game of chess as a megaphone to communicate life to children in desperate need of a positive transition.

At a time where our juvenile justice system has tagged some children as future criminals rather than reach out to them as future citizens, Mr. Brown has given them a reason to think before they make their next move.  His vision on both sides of the concrete walls transcends into a blue flame igniting ambition through the understanding of 64 squares.

The men of North Carolina’s death row have words that counter their propelled deployment as societal throwaways.  And, we champion this Chess master of men for the position of,
National Prison Chess Ambassador.

John D. McNeil said:
“He is a pioneer as to transcending prison life to conscious chess moves.”

Nathaniel Fair said:
“He is well versed in chess, and his prison background makes him a great spokesperson on behalf of prisoners.”

Warren Gregory said:
“It’s long overdue considering his experiences and accomplishments.  I feel he is more than qualified.”

Being condemned to die could never be a smooth transition.  It was a painful experience for me, on the brink of turning 29.  There is a deeper hurt for my comrades who have endured reproof as mere teenagers.  Are we now living in a society that allows principals and parents to only deal with one set of kids, and call the police on another set of kids?

William C. Gregory said:
“He knows prison life.  Who else better to represent us?  Mr. Brown is sincere about chess.  I have learned that my choices have repercussions, now that I understand life through the 64 squares.”

Darrell W. Maness said:
“The first time I heard Mr. Brown speak, I knew he was a special individual with tons of knowledge – not only for prisoners, but free people as well.  He is one of those people that come along every so often that wants to make a difference for the benefit of the ‘underdogs.’ Mr. Brown would be an excellent choice for the underrated post that brings relevance to the lives of death row prisoners.  He is a genuine voice for the voiceless.”

Living on death row is a torturous journey that seems endless.  We are men pushing through life’s end game.

Jamie L. Smith said:
“You can’t begin to understand this struggle unless you’ve walked a mile in out shoes.  Mr. Brown has walked more than a mile, which makes him more than qualified for this position.  The game of chess is a challenging universal meeting of the minds.  Knowledge is always a work in progress.”

J. Dushame Murrell said:
“To be diplomatic anytime you consider the delicacies that incriminate prison, it is necessary to understand the environment before judging an institution that plays a corrective role accepted by society.  To ‘Think b4 U Move’ is a motto that empathizes and resonates with any culture or class of people.  Mr. Eugene Brown personifies a discipline we all need to experience.  It is never too late to reason.  Even the face of incarceration needs a role model.”

The temperature continues to rise, and our cups are filled with purpose.

Your Move,

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Year 7: Keeping Close To the Roots

"You can't understand most of the important things from a distance. You have to get close."
Just Mercy


Last month, I received a scribe from my son where he genuinely inquired about the status of my case, and my necessity for reading material.  

To some, this may be nothing more than a routine gesture, but to someone whose physical presence has been eclipsed by the dark shadows of reproof, closing the gap within familial proximity quells any urge to "throw in the towel." Feel me?

On 8/17/2015, I performed a spoken word piece (Judicial Pantomime Disjoints Society From the Real) before an audience, which seated one of the top legal minds in the United States, Mr. Bryan Stevenson. 

He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and he personally autographed my copy of his New York Times Bestseller, "Just Mercy," a story of justice and redemption. 

A man who has been referred to as "America's Mandela" has his eyes on my case.  I would like to think this degree of progression should pretty much cover my son's concerns. "Keeping Close" cultivates my will to prevail. So, I thank you for showering your roots with a Mann's love, my son. 

From what I have seen and read, my son is one hell of a dad. I love that about him, and I adore his beautiful offspring. My oldest grand seed, "Deuce," is already donning football pads as he embarks on his 7th year in this realm of living. 

Wow! I mean, I can look at pics of "Deuce" and live through his experience of being a Lil' Mann. Who said a man ain't suppose to cry? SMH.

This is why I fight to stay alive.  This is why my next breath is always filled with hope. This is why I can shed a tear without losing a shred of virility. My grandson, Daveante E. Mann, Jr., is the fruit from a tree that stands tall and digs deep. 

Our tree is rooted in moxy, and bears branches bold enough to exude beauty without a hint of decoration or gimmick. We are who we are, Lil Mann. 

We fight. We love. We grow. And, most importantly, we keep on keepin when the popular opinion calls for us to resign. Ya heard?  Your born day is an anniversary for you and your mother to always share, but the roots of your family tree 'keeps you close' by celebrating your mere presence above the surface.  

Deuce, you perpetuate everything good that comes with being a Mann. Happy birthday!! I love you Lil' Mann. 

Still Livin,


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Black and White: an interview by Leroy E. Mann

All too often the brutish actions of cops in urban communities throughout the United States will influence panic when cooperation should be instinctive.  

Badges and guns have a tendency to make a community hypertensive with the single swing of a baton or the flashing blue lights of a cruiser.  We read it in black and white print every day, “armed assailant gunned down by police.” “Three suspects shot in police drug raid.” “Off duty cop shoots boyfriend of Ex.” “Decorated cop punches unarmed woman.”

Simply put, violence is an integral part of policing.  The march to Selma, Alabama (60’s); the eruption of barbarity at Kent State (70’s); the devastating MOVE bombing (80’s); and the dismantling of Rodney King’s humanity (90’s) are graphic examples of law enforcement officers standing on the strong side of excessive force.  It’s no wonder that anxiety excels at a hypertensive rate during “routine” traffic stops.

This interview takes place within the corridors of the death row housing unit, located in Raleigh, N.C.  It is the manifestation of camaraderie that is tethered to playing basketball, working out at the weight pile, and daily treks to and from the prison’s chow hall. “J-Witt,” the focus of this interview, was charged with killing a police officer at the tender age of 19.  

He has been on North Carolina’s death row since 2006.  No longer a teenager dodging the widespread gunfire of cops in hot pursuit of a murder suspect, J-Witt is now a grown man whose perspective on life goes well beyond his 29 years of earthly existence.

By sharing this platform with him, it is my hope to shed some light on a survivor’s guilt.  We cannot hear the fading voices of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, and the Africas that perished in the West Philly MOVE bombing.  This is a unique circumstance where the pursued suspect lives to reveal the humanity existing on the short side of authoritarian rule.  

It is a predicament that is not as simple as good and bad; right and wrong; or even black or white.  By the conclusion of this interview, you may think differently about what society deems as a cop killer.

MannofStat: Tell me something about the person you were before you caught this charge.

J-Witt: Growing up was pretty hard at times.  I didn’t have my real father because he’s serving a life sentence for killing a cop.  The only time I saw him would be at visits.  I was introduced to the prison system through him at a very young age.

MannofStat: How about your mother?

J-Witt:  My mom was on drugs for most of my teen years, so I lived with my paternal grandparents most of the time.  There is where I learned to work hard, and I also learned discipline.  At the time, I just thought they were strict but they were trying to keep me out of trouble.

It’s hard to see that when you’re young because you want to go, go, go, all of the time.  I worked really hard cutting wood and mowing lawns with my grandpa for about 6-8 years.

MannofStat: How did you relate in school?

J-Witt:  In middle school and high school, I played football, made the honor roll most times, got perfect attendance and a few other awards.  I actually liked school and planned to go to college one day.

I tried out for my high school basketball team but didn’t make the cut.  So I signed up for AAU.  I love sports, but I also found work at SKIDs and Food Lion, in addition to helping my grandpa.  Most of my days were pretty full but I loved working and making my own money.

MannofStat: You mentioned your mom doing drugs.  Did you eventually indulge as well?

J-Witt: Drug use has been in my family for years, so I guess it was a matter of time before I got caught up.  My grandparents were strict, but I guess I had a rebellious streak.  I moved in with my maternal grandmother where there was a little more freedom to do what I wanted.  I started going to clubs every weekend.  Having fun meeting all types of women. 

Dancing and selling weed on top of smoking it, yet I still went to school, kept my job, and played football.  I was around 17 or 18 when I was reunited with my mom.  She was off the drugs and things were going good.  At 19, I get charged with killing a cop.

MannofStat: Please speak freely about the man you’ve become since that time.

J-Witt: For one, I’ve become more perceptive.  I missed a lot of things while free because I was too carefree.  I should’ve listened more and talked less.  Instead of ignoring good advice, I should’ve just followed it.  In here, you have to stay on your toes because guys are trying to run game all the time.  I’ve learned to see through most facades, plus I have a few close friends that school me; best believe I’ve listened this time.

I’ve also become hardened around the edges.  I still love my family, who is still here for me, and my friends.  Although a lot of people have abandoned me over the years, I can understand people have lives to live and society moves on.  It still hurts when people leave you.  It does something to you.

MannofStat: How would you explain this ‘something?’

J-Witt: When someone tells you, “I’ll be by your side forever.” Then they just stop writing or visiting.  It’s like being in love and having you heart broken; it hurts! (A brief pause as he adjust his glasses and gathers himself).

I’ve developed a thick skin because I don’t like getting hurt.  When my maternal grandma passed, I tried not to let it hurt me, but I just couldn’t help that one.  Not being able to be there for her in her time of need hurt me the most.  I feel like I failed her because she was always there for me growing up.  As a competitor I try to learn from every loss, but I don’t like the feeling of losing my grandma. 

I couldn’t see how to learn from her death at all.  Eventually, her passing has helped me to see things clearer, which I guess is learning in a way.  I now know that life can be short, and loss hurts as much as love, until something comes along and shocks you- so to speak – you won’t feel it.  The passing of a loved one will make you feel it.

MannofStat: How does a teenager handle being sentenced to die?

J-Witt: I got locked up at 19, and got the death sentence at 20.  When they jury said, “Death,” my heart dropped.  It’s like I was looking into the barrel of that cop’s gun again. After things settled down I started trying to live my life.  I loved going to school and playing sports.  I still do those things today.  

Every class brought to death row has nothing but upside.  The chess league has helped me with planning every day movements of my life.  I’ve read plenty of books, and I’ve also learned how to point, draw, and write poetry.

I don’t want to fall behind in today’s world, so I try to learn about things and events that have happened since I’ve become incarcerated. I make it a point to learn and be more perceptive. I actually have the time to focus on more things, and I choose to be smarter about the life I have in front of me.  

I’ve found a way to live with the hand I was dealt.  I’m not a quitter in anything I do, so until the day I die I will be the best person I know how to be, and utilize every opportunity that comes my way.

MannofStat: Preach, Brotha! (hands clap)

J-Witt: That’s what’s up, right there.

MannofStat: Okay, think back.  What was your first lesson about dealing with cops?

J-Witt: My first lesson would’ve been when I went to see my dad in prison.  I used to see how that correctional officers would treat different inmates, whether it be good or bad.  Some of the c.o.’s appeared to be good people just trying to do their job and get a paycheck.  Others didn’t seem so nice.  

My dad would talk to me about the way they treated him or helped him out.  He also told me about the street cops and how he didn’t want me getting in any trouble, and go through a similar circumstance as his.

MannofStat: Didn’t your maternal grandmother have a connection to the police?

J-Witt:  Yeah, my grandma was a 911 operator.  She knew a lot of cops, firefighters and other government officials.  They would come by and speak with my grandparents just to check up on them.

MannofStat: So, you didn’t grow up with a “Fuck the Police” mentality.

J-Witt: Ain’t no way.  I’ve helped my grandpa cut down trees in one cop’s yard, and I’ve mowed the lawn of another. When my grandpa hired a sheriff’s deputy to fix the roof on our house, I assisted him and learned how to put shingles on a roof.  

You see, I’ve had good experiences with most cops, it’s just when you’re on the bad side of the law things change. You find those gung-ho cops that’s been in the military and don’t take no shit.  They don’t want to hear you out because to them, you’re already guilty.

It’s just like dealing with a racist.  We know how those situations turned out, throughout history.  You don’t see many white people getting gunned down in the street. There’s very little balance in this world due to prejudice.  Young black men are dying in these streets by the hand of the people who are suppose to keep that balance (cops). They’re doing a poor job and it’s really sad.

MannofStat: Michael Brown and Eric Garner…can you see yourself in their situations?

J-Witt: It seems like cops killing young black men is deemed as justifiable homicide no matter what the circumstances may be.  I’ve been in a situation like Michael Brown where I’ve had my hands up and looking into that barrel of a cop’s gun.  

Thankfully I didn’t get shot, but I was scared to death.  So I know how he must’ve felt, and I never want to feel like that again.  My life flashed before my eyes.  I was paralyzed with fear, and that may be the only reason I’m alive today.

MannofStat: What would you say to a youngsta on the brink of having an altercation with a cop?

J-Witt: Don’t panic (shakes his head) Real talk.  When you’re scared it’s easy to go into fight or flight mode, and that’s hard to control.  Just try to remain calm.  Those gung-ho cops are waiting for that twitch, to give them a reason to apply force, or even worse, shoot you. Don’t resist. Listen to what they say and follow it to the letter.  

People still get beat up or shot by cops after following instructions, but I’d prefer for the youngstas to follow, not to make the same mistake I did.  Know that what you did was right.


J-Witt’s truth is a heartfelt reality check to anyone feeling the pressure of a racial injustice.  More importantly, his plight as a youngsta is tragic in the eyes of any race, creed or economic status.  A contrite heart speaks a universal language.

What makes this interview so unique?  One thing America doesn’t need is another sob story of the black youth facing a stacked deck.  Right?  That is why you’re not hearing that story.  It’s like I said at the beginning of this interview, J-Witt’s predicament is not as simple as black and white, but then again, maybe it is.  

This has been the story of a misunderstood white kid now serving a death sentence due to the panic instigated by the actions of an overzealous police officer.

I’ll bet that sob story sounds more like a fine tuned orchestra right now. Doesn’t it?  Hold ya head, J-Witt.  Your struggle will always bear fire as long as my pen holds ink. Ya heard?

Much love,

Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann