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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Being the Architect of My Real Identity



Hotep,

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.

Always 100,

MannofStat
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What We Really Know


Hotep,

Wisdom.  Why is it’s meaning such a complex topic of discussion?  In my early years, Wisdom was defined as, “one who knows all.” 

As an adult I understand that only my Creator can hold claim to such a feat.  No man can know everything, and knowing everything is not exclusive to religion, science, or politics.

To say a person is wise beyond their years would imply this person is knowledgeable of things they have yet to experience.  Reading is fundamental, which makes such a statement plausible.  In my experience, knowledge, wisdom and understanding began with the female anatomy.  I was always aware of the difference between a girl’s body and my own. 

I routinely referred to their breasts as ‘hearts,’ a terminology that won favor with the women in my family, but my brother expeditiously corrected this flaw of believing females possessed three hearts.  From that day forth, I knew their bounce had nothing to do with a heartbeat.

As a teenager, I absorbed all of the knowledge within conversations between my brother and his friends, about male and female relations.  With this smidgen of knowledge, I thought I was before my time; wise beyond my years; a legendary playa in the making. 

The females would be outmatched when in my presence.  Well, on more than one occasion I learned that wisdom should have been knowing that a condom, is not solely for the use of pregnancy prevention.  Trust me, acting on “burning” emotions without the benefit of intellect is not wisdom.

Today, as a mature adult, I see wisdom wherever I choose to place my focus.  Wisdom can be buried beneath the consequences of one’s actions.  Or, it could be found under the ruins of a church bombing and continuously resonates through the names of four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.  Wisdom is what perpetuates the memory of how ugly racism can truly be and that all that really matters is love.  It really does conquer all.

Who says I’m locked away with no key insight?  Writing has opened doors that I never knew were there; doors that have liberated my soul and replenished my perspective on life.  Wisdom is the pulse of my liberation.  And, that is all I know.

Hoping You Enjoyed Your Valentine’s Day,

MannofStat
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Monday, February 2, 2015

Inkblot: The Mark of Words

The following is an excerpt from the internal death row magazine, Lethal Injection, for which Leroy Mann is a co-founder and co-editor.
 
Protestors at UNC
Writing can be a powerful tool when used in the construction of bridging the gaps between cultures that differ to the point where stereotypes dictate our interactions.  Writing is like a sales banner hanging from the tail of an advertisement plane.  Parked inside of a hanger, this banner is secluded from the public eye.  But when the plane takes flight the banner rides the winds of freedom for all to see the influential message it bares.

Writing has encouraged some of the greatest movements of our time.  It has also forecasted some of the darkest moments known to man.  Not even the stain of a death sentence can prohibit the moral duty of a scribe representing a community marked by the words of condemnation. 

Here, in the U.S., exercising your first amendment right to free speech, and expression is not exclusive to any particular race, religion, gender or political placement.  Most recently, NBA ballers, Lebron James and Derrick Rose have expressed their support for the family of yet another victim of police brutality, Eric Garner.  They wore t-shirts baring the words, “I Can’t Breathe.”

Students attending prestigious universities are sprawled across the campus lawns and walkways emulating unjustifiable homicides by the hands of law enforcement agents.  Others carry signs of protest to combat the injustice surrounding the untimely demise of Michael Brown, in Ferguson.

Writing is a culture that continues to grow here on North Carolina’s death row.  George Wilkerson has become an engaging presence within.  As the editor of the long-running newsletter, “Compassion,” (http://compassionondeathrow.net/pubs/current.pdf ) and a revitalized drive for visual art, his expressions are becoming a mark of hope for death row prisoners throughout the United States.  Some might even say, George is giving us a reason to breathe.

Lethal Injection (L.I.): How long have you been on the row? 

George Wilkerson (G,W.):  I received my death sentence on December 21, 2006.  Time perception is a funny thing: sometimes it feels like only yesterday; other times it seems as if my entire life is prison.  I am 33 years old, and I was 23 when I was arrested.

L.I.: Taking on the position as editor of a published newsletter must be pretty demanding.  Do you have any other projects on your creative table?

G.W.: It’s challenging in many ways, but not so demanding in terms of time and energy because I don’t have the luxury of consulting with contributors – hence the challenges.  I have to figure out what they’re saying and sometimes must make judgment calls about what to change/cut/add if necessary, and hope I got it right.

As to other creative projects, I’m always working on new visual expressions.  I just finished a book of poetry, which I sent out to be prepared for publication as an e-book.  I’m indecisive about whether to focus my energy on writing a devotional, a collection of topic essays, or a series of poems.  I’ve also been asked to write for a parish magazine in England, that has a distribution range of 7,000 readers/church members.

L.I.: You’ve obviously been pushing the pen, but what are your aspirations as a writer?

G.W.: I want what I do to be meaningful.  I would like to be as productive and helpful as possible, which is qualitative rather than quantitative, i.e., being prolific doesn’t necessarily mean I achieved that.  So, I’m very intent on what I write, over how much I write.  I can’t write for the sake of writing.  I don’t exactly have to see how a thing can help, only must believe that it can and hope it will.  It is the intent.  I aspire to stay true to that core.

L.I.: I have to say that I agree with your perspective on qualitative writings.  Just because you can pick up a pen, or punch a key doesn’t necessarily mean you have something profound to say.  In saying that, I strongly believe when a death row prisoner’s words transition into global sentences pertaining to humanity, he/she becomes an activist for the cause of humanity.  So tell me, how do you feel about the tension stirring across the country, concerning the Ferguson and NYC decisions to not indict police officers for their usage of excessive force?

G.W.: I watch very little t.v. and read very few newspapers.  Although I am familiar with the cases you refer to, I’m not familiar with all the details, but from what I can gather, it seems like there is something deeper going on and the incidents themselves were only the proverbial back-breaking straws.

L.I.: Oh, I wholeheartedly agree.  I don’t believe for one minute that Eric Garner was murdered because he was selling “looseys” without paying taxes.

G.W.: I’ve seen such things get exposure – as they should – only to fizzle out.  It disturbs me because the problems are pervasive, systemic even, so these places aren’t isolated incidents.  I don’t believe race relations are at the heart of the problem, but rather there seems to be an across – the – board dissatisfaction in our country.  E.g.: In here, I often see guys who are unhappy… and they seek out problems with others, latching onto the smallest “wrong” even after evidence shows it wasn’t how it at first seemed.  They just wanted an excuse…

L.I.: An excuse to target?

G.W.: Well, an excuse to argue or fight, to vent their frustrations or whatever.  The world is ripe for revolutions, and it’s like our country is soaked in gasoline looking for a spark.

L.I.: Speaking of sparks; what can a death row prisoner/humanitarian activist do to assist the nonviolent demonstrations taking place on the campuses of Duke, Carolina and North Carolina Central?

G.W.: Off the top of my head, I don’t know.  I suppose it comes down to who we know or are connected to.  If there were an open communication link between a death row prisoner and someone connected to an organizer, then it’d be about resources and goals: what resources do they have in terms of influence/manpower, time, money, willingness, etc.  A clearly defined goal along with a thorough analysis of the resources is a prerequisite.  A death row prisoner could be a resource depending on his connections and intelligence.  And such a one has immeasurable potential.

L.I.: Our creative writing class has featured several lectures by Duke University professors.  Through theological history, Arabic studies, and political science we learned the magnitude of writing from captivity and civil disobedience.  I don’t think it is farfetched to believe that some of these campus protestors are students of these very same professors.  Six degrees of separation is not always coincidental.  The connection you speak of may merely be a lecture away.

G.W.: I try not to get caught up in things I can’t change, or aren’t the areas I believe I need to be working on.  I’m not saying the incidents aren’t important, I’m just saying I’ve got problems popping up at every turn.  I believe everyone has a role and position; I’m maintaining my position and playing my role – that’s all I can do.

L.I.: Fair enough, George.  Share some of your humble urban beginnings with our readers.

G.W.: My mother is Korean and my father is a white American.  He was in the army, got stationed in Korea and met my mother there.  I’m American born and raised – though from Korean heritage.  We were living in Germany when my youngest brother was born.  My parents were divorced while my dad was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

The insulation in our trailer accidentally caught fire and a few minutes later, we were homeless in the snow, which is how we ended up in the projects.  I was six, with one older brother, and two younger.  I began to understand the concept of poverty.  The socio-economic lines were clearly defined – all the white kids were middle class and up.  Everything else was poor.  Kids can be cruel, and the differences in status also became associated with race superiority/inferiority. 

The teachers were quick to discipline us, so we got into a lot of fights.  My family was only one of two that weren’t black, in my neighborhood.  We experienced years of racism against us, having to fight almost daily.  Eventually everyone saw us as just people.  Drugs and criminal activity were the norm.  Welfare checks were delivered to the big square communal mailboxes on the first of the month. 

The whole neighborhood would be posted up around the mailboxes.  The mailman just stood there with a bundle of envelopes calling out apartment number after apartment number; similar to mail call in here.  There’s a saying in Latin: “Humani nil a mi alienum puto” – nothing human is alien to me.  We thought we were free, but we were only hammering out our chains, enslaving ourselves.

L.I.: Heavy.  I think this quote from First Lady, Michelle Obama is a suitable response to your words.  “The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction.  Build something… Earthquake; it’s gone, but everything else requires time.  Don’t let the struggle discourage you because it’s hard.  It’s supposed to be hard.” Keep making your mark, George.  Your role in all of this is much bigger than you realize.

Always  100,

MannofStat
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann




Monday, January 19, 2015

The Darkest Hour Before the Dawn


“If I answered all criticism, I’d have time for nothing else.”
President Abraham Lincoln


Hotep,

Why are we so in tune with using a fast food drive thru rather than going inside of the establishment to order our food?  Have we forgotten the monumental “sit-in” of the Civil Rights era?  

Now tell me: at what point did sitting in the back of the bus become the general placement for the cool kids?  Without the legal ramification of being removed from the bus, we will by-pass the empty seats at the front and walk directly to the rear – subconsciously perpetuating the racial injustice that led to the infamous bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1960s.

At the age of 14, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won an oratorical contest in Dublin, Georgia sponsored by the Negro Elks.  Ironically, the subject matter of his speech was “The Negro and the Constitution.” On the bus ride back to Atlanta, he and his schoolteacher, Mrs. Bradley, were forced to stand in the aisle for the duration of the 90 miles. 

The white bus driver insisted they give up their seats to white passengers.  In an interview with Playboy Magazine (1965), Dr. King describes that moment as the angriest he had ever been in his life.  Obviously, this was a dark period that preceded the dawn of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycotts, and the historical achievements that labeled Ms. Rosa Parks as the first lady of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The darkest days these pioneers were forced to endure have made way for the dawn of a new era.  An era in which so many of us have elected to stem the progression of civil disobedience by rationalizing the plights of inequality and racial injustice as being the norm.

The persistence of a leader is what gets him/her through their journey.  A leader will reach their potential the best way they can.  It doesn’t matter if the road of travel is paved, riddled with potholes, or leads to a bridge road blocked by angry racist.  The leader will meet his/her destination because there is a purpose etched within their journey. 

In the process, a trail is blazed for upcoming generations to evolve – not regress.  As an elder of the “upcoming generations,” I am obligated to articulate the similarities between today’s platforms for activism (death penalty debate, culturally biased voter registration laws, and same sex marriage) and the quest for seeking equality under the umbrella of civil rights (integration of schools, local sit-ins, the right to vote and interracial marriage).

Dr. King’s legacy is the blueprint for being a societal thermostat; one who changes an environment and molds the popular opinion.  I do not have the luxury of discussing my personal journey with Dr. King, but for some reason I can hear him advising me through his words from 1965:

            “You can’t ride a man’s back unless it’s bent.”

I choose to walk upright as we embark on the 5th years of the W2TM journey.  This brand of journalism is an ongoing homage to the memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his belief in nonviolence being a powerful and just weapon.  I am the change I wish to see in the world.

Peace and Love,

MannofStat
Copyright © 2015 by Leroy Elwood Mann