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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 most, 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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Life Brings Significance to Older Ones

This entry was scheduled to post the week of July 19th.  We apologize for the delays in our schedule, but we expect postings to return to normal going forward.  We will be posting two blog entries a week until the schedule is back on track. Thank you for your patience.


For weeks I’ve been wrestling with the most suitable way to say Happy Birthday to my now, 3-year-old granddaughter, Daleah.  Better known to me as ‘Tear.’ Logical thinking might suggest, ‘she’s only 3. How hard could it be to tell a 3 year old child, Happy Birthday?’

Maybe that brand of thinking would hold some weight if the youngest Mann in my tribe did not have such a deeply rooted connection to everything I take pride in being.  Her tiny heart does so much more than control the pulse rate rhythmically flowing throughout her precious little frame.  My life means so much more with you in it, Baby Girl.

By the time you read this, you should be well aware of my lifelong fascination with nature and the way it continues to thrive within a penitentiary setting.  I couldn’t help but to think of you as I watch three goslings stumble around the rec yard where your G-Dad works out.  The goslings know no fear.  They are very energetic and if you stare at them for too long, you become selfish - wishing they could just remain as babies forever.

When I look at your pics, I see the liveliness that dwells within a great beginning.  You have the gene of an evergreen soul, Baby Girl; long life is in your future.  At 3, you are something I have never seen, myself in the face of a beautiful little girl. For this reason, I wish you could stay as you are.

Maybe I’ve already missed your delightful response to encountering geese for the very first time.  As I view their activity on the rec yard, I envision a G-Dad and his ‘Tear’ walking in the park and feeding the geese and goslings popcorn kernels.  I can feel you squeeze my hand as you hold out the other with a popcorn kernel resting in the center of your tiny palm.

Your eyes clench as you feel the slightest pinch of nature feeding from the beautiful life that you possess.  With a kiss on the cheek and the hug of a lifetime, I welcome you into the life you’ve replenished.  Thank you, Daleah.

Happy Birthday, Lil’ Mama!!

Loving You,


Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Echoes of a Footprint


Why should I be envious of a horse that has never known freedom?

The American pastime of horse racing will reward the victorious hoof prints of AMERICAN PHAROAH with a lifetime supply of hay and oats for consumption; continuous pampering by the hands of humans; and now that his genes are a 20 million dollar commodity, his sexual appetite will always be satiated. 

But, he still has no idea what its like to run beyond a man’s finish line; diminishing the echoes of his thunderous imprints by mimicking the high valued presence of SEATTLE SLEW, SECRETARIAT, AFFIRMED, and a slave master’s fiddler.  “Good Stock” on any plantation.

The more I think about life before going to prison, the more I hate existing on the inside.  This is what drives me to raise the bar on my own standard of improvement, when it seems natural to conform to the perks of being oblivious to life on the other side of the wall.  I guess this would explain the brief envy I felt toward a racehorse unaware of anything better than the environment he was placed in.

Revolution begins with knowing who you are.  Understanding your role within the cause and being the best at what you are called to do.  For this reason I chose not to emulate the footprints in the mud before me. Through the use of an ink pen, I am blazing a trail atop the mire of inequality so that others can make footprints on solid ground.

Going to sleep anxious – only to wake up angry can incite the greatest efforts a Mann has to offer.  It feels like I’ve been fighting ever since I was exiled from the protection of my mother’s womb.  Cloak, covert, and colloquialisms are the birthmarks of a successful revolution because they disrupt the abortive confidentiality of informants who have proven reliable in the past.

The echoes of a revolutionary’s footprints hold more relevance than a horse bearing the misrepresented title of a king that never had to fight for a thing.


Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann