The young man was expressing himself in a place where self-expression is the forgotten option. In Juvenile Hall, where the belief that shame and isolation prevents crime shackles youth under restricted movement. He seemed completely aware of the barriers against him -- not just the physical barriers of bolted doors and authoritative figures, but also the larger concepts of how young people of color like himself often hardly stand a chance in a world that offers more opportunities for prison than progress.
I've been returning to the Hall with The Beat Within for weekly writing workshops with incarcerated youth, and it's been enlightening. This was one experience from last night's workshops.
The young man had just finished writing his piece, which concluded with the declaration that, in spite of the obstacles in his way, he is "a young black revolutionist." As the others finished their writing, he drew the attention of me and my co-facilitator to share some of his thoughts.
What makes a young man still so bold, that he can call himself a young black revolutionist from within a jail cell? How is it possible that, while trapped inside of an institution that tries to break everyone who walks through its doors, he still had so much spirit in his eyes, so much hope in his voice?
If he knew one thing for certain, it was this: knowledge is key. His body may have been claimed by his oppressors, but he knew that his mind is his own. And holding this knowledge, he was sure, would be enough to change the world.
He has plans for when he is released, but his impact on social change has already begun.
The NAACP has recently released a report that confirms this young man's suspicions about what stands against him. Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate reveals data that shows the negative impact of overspending on prison systems while cutting funding for education.
The good news is that, while releasing such reports and advocating for policy changes can be helpful, we don't have to wait for somebody else to come along and help our communities. We can, as this young man knows, help ourselves. This idea is on my mind especially because Safetyfest begins tomorrow, which means that the weekend will be filled with powerful events in which folks from communities that are continually oppressed will express themselves, gain knowledge and come together in ways that pacify violent systems through the power of our own minds.
The incarcerated body still has the freedom of thought. And there's no way to disempower the thoughtful mind.