Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tears From The Pen (2004)

"The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. The real nobility is being superior to your former self" - Whitney Young

What are we but black men armed
With paper and pen.
Thoughts aspirate as invisible
Up in smoke, lost in foolish
Out wishes are endless,
And our dreams rarely come through
Our memories defined as:
Pain, sorrow, torture,
Where's my father,
What about ME big borther?!
He's shooting around the corner
Remember that block where I let off my first glock?
Cuffed, the bus, the cell, the judge.
Damn, I'm only sixteen!
But now I am a man with a paper and pen.
What the hell do you expect me to write
About, takl about, think about!
This is the life that chose me and i'm
Gonna live it the way that suits me.
You see,
I gotta do me or else life itself will continue to do me.
I got a bullet in me, a felony before
Twenty. Enough tears to fill the sea,
Only I don't let them out.
I'll let this paper and pen cry for me.

Incarcerated Scarfaces on Hip hop

“D-Block-What up!” “Thoughts of a Predicate Felon.” D.J. Kay Slay’s Papoose’s “Law Library” Thursday night prison shoutouts on New York’s Hot 97. Hip Hop artists show tremendous love to the people behind bars. Whether it’s 16 bars or an entire song like Akon’s, “I’m Locked up,” rappers definitely speak to (and sometimes for) the 2,000,000+ people in prisons throughout the US. Their ability to inspire relevance into the hearts of society’s discarded is necessary because according to Dostoevsky, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Many rappers have been interviewed regarding their views on the state of hip hop and a few have been interviewed during their incarceration. Their opinions, however, are compromised because they have a monetary interest in the music industry. When their opinions are voiced it is assumed that they speak in unison with the millions of other people behind bars—the average infamous incarcerated person.

Thus, the question remains, what does the average prisoner think about the state of hip hop in 2007? I interviewed eight other inmates at the Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York and this is what they had to say.

The Incarcerated Scarfaces
Shai: 27, 9-years down. Loves a debate. DJ Stone: Thirtyish, 15-years down, co-facilitates program that prepares men for re-entry into society. Be-Bo: 39, 10-years up; copyrighted several economics-based board games. Wise: 34, 17-years down, Ving Rhames look-a-like. Had one of his own hip hop tapes played on Hot 97. Talent: 29, up 10-years, b-ball fanatic. Serious businessman and fluent in ASL. Boogie Down: 41, 6-years up. Subscribes to several hip hop magazines, and is an R&B enthusiast. Gee: 23, 3-yars down. We call him Young G; potential not yet realized. Al Almighty 26, four years up. Claims he once played ball with Channing Frye of the Portland Trailblazers. Extremely articulate, but you have to dig deep to find that out.

“What is your definition of hip hop?”

Al Almighty- Hip hop is a culture of music, fashion, and awareness of the inner city.
Wise- the music of rebellion, the language of America’s forgotten. In essence, tits the last voice of black folk.
Boogie Down- Black culture, black expression.
Gee- Hip hop is reality, what you feel is what you express.
DJ Stone- The stories of many life spans and life times. It gives the listener a brief history on one’s troublesome past. I define hip hop as a collaborated effort in seeking love, truth, peace, freedom and justice for all humanity.

“Is your definition of hip hop different from hip hop in 2006?”

Gee- Hip hop today is different, there’s so much violence with hardcore rappers. The question is, will it change.
Al Almighty- Today it sends a message that it’s cool to be a thug or a gangster.
DJ Stone- Hip hop is about me, myself , and I.
Shai- today a person will say or do whatever to make money. Beefing with another rapper is the latest thing.
Wise- Today hip hop is a billion dollar industry that pop culture has found a way to pimp. Hip hop is America’s promotional whore!

“At this stage in the game do you think rap music encourages negative lifestyles seen in the hood or is it still only narrating what happens?”

Wise- I think its all still about narration. I view it more as an act of defiance. “Look at what I’ve come fro. I’ve defied the odds by making what’s bad good. I did it my way, now you’re forced to acknowledge me.
Talent- Hip hop doesn’t encourage the selling of drugs or the use of guns. It’s still a big magnifying glass with rhythm, and music as its soundtrack.
Al Almighty- Hip hop, the music and the industry both support negative lifestyles. Tupac was telling a story about a harsh reality in “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Jay-Z painted a picture of the urban struggle in “Where I’m From”. Songs like these are the exception. I challenge you to find a platinum selling hip hop album that doesn’t have songs glorifying murder, extortion, armed robbery, drug possession, sale, use, or misogyny.
DJ Stone- Hip hop music is only an expression. With proper guidance and understanding of this expression one will grasp it as such.
Shai- Rap music doesn’t promote negativity. People just blame everything on it, but it’s not the game it’s just the people trying to live up to the rap game.

“Artists like T.I., Lil’ Kim, and 50 cent---have they used their prison experiences to catapult their careers?”

Gee- Yes.
Stone- Without a doubt.
Be-Bo- T.I. and Lil’ Kim, no but 50 cent certainly used his earlier misfortunes to become successful. Americans are intrigued by shock value. Fifty and his marketing team have exploited the shot nine times scenario. They rode the trails to riches, which propelled him to rapper icon—Mr. Invincible.

Does hip hop music and culture have a corrosive effect on our youth?”

Talent- Nah, children hear vile speech in their homes first. They are mentally abused in the houses first. Hip hop just exploits what’s in the house and in the streets for the world to see. Hip hop is no different from what Rock ‘’ roll and blues was to earlier generations.
D Stone- No. To say yes, in my opinion , would condone genocide.
Al Almighty- I would say yes because almost all of today’s artists claim to have been killers, drug dealers, the ultimate playboy, or pimp.
Be-Bo- Definitely corrosive because our youth believe it speaks to them due to how they have been marginalized by the popular culture. The music is so corrosive that youths take rappers words as gospel over a church minister or politician.
Wise- Yes and no. In many ways the music teacher us to live life void of responsibility. On the other end of the spectrum, the culture has produced more entrepreneurs and successful businessmen and women than any other genre of music.

“Hip hop police—is it warranted?”

Boogie Down- No, it limits their imagination to tell their stories.
Be-Bo- no. We can look back at the COINTEL program orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover. The government monitored activists, celebrities, radio hosts, and athletes. Anyone they believed could say the masses to a united coalition they spied on, and they are aware that hip hop has that potential. Trust me, Kanye West has an FBI file on him for his comments about Bush and Hurricane Katrina.
DJ Stone- In this age and time, yes it can be warranted. It’s very sad that gatherings such as the concerts of today are plagued with mishaps and such. Still added security is better than no security at all.
Talent- Hip hop police is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Wise- Definitely a waste of taxpayers’ money. The only purpose they serve is to further criminalize the art form.
Al Almighty- the creation of a task force to police these individuals is a waste of government funds and manpower. If these artists did half of the things they claimed to do, they would have been buried in the deepest darkest pit in the most remote federal penitentiary long ago. This is the fate of our inner city youths who grow up believing their stories and act them out in real life. The creation of this task force shows that the powers that be are no wiser than the misguided youths who perpetuate the crimes their rap idols praise in their lyrics. Scary though!

The Incarcerated Scarfaces have spoken!

Emphasizing the Impact of a Crime

Why do prisoners fail to emphasize the impact that their crimes had on their victims and their families? It deserves immediate attention from credible sources—the prisoners themselves.

I interviewed seven Otisville prisoners, as young as 22 and as old as 55; with as little as five years in and up to 26 years in and over a dozen years accumulated from years of parole denials. Here’s what the men had to say:

*Brother Ward (imprisoned 16 years) – Some men aren’t able to articulate those emotions. We don’t have forums in which men can becomes comfortable with expressing those feelings of remorse. Conversely, in some instances their emphasizing the negative impact of their crimes can be construed as feigned and insincere.

Art (twenty years) – I feel that it’s a given that negative acts brought me here. Emphasizing the impact my crime had on the victims and their families leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths and it can be perceived as me sensationalizing the crime. At this point in my bid I don’t want people to continue to view me as a monster. I want to change the negative perceptions people have of me. I think that it is only right that I focus on my growth and change as a person while giving the public a hint to the injustices that is being perpetuated by those that claim to spearhead justice.

Sunny (Fifteen years) – Why would you emphasize the impact your crime had on the victims; that would be subsequent to your won demise. There is a time and place for things like that.

D-Mass (fifteen years) – I don’t think men have a blatant disregard for human life, but your time has been served already. In the case of homicides, why would I carry the cross of the dead? I think that everyone wants injustices exposed and conquered. Emotions don’t get laws passed, laws get laws passed. What’s wrong with focusing on the issues?

Louis (Five years)- Some men may have changed and are now more responsible, however, they may not have any real remorse for the actual act.

O.T. (twenty-six years)- Subconsciously, some may be in self-denial. Reasoning that it was the victim’s fault for whatever transpired. In cases of drug dealers robbing or killing other drug dealers, some may not consider their victims to be actual victims, that they did society a favor by harming another criminal.

Earl (Seventeen years) – Who would help you after you emphasized negative happenings about yourself?

The answers of the men proves that their opinions are as diverse as the difference in their years of incarceration—all prisoners do not think the same. One of the biggest hurdles to prisoners being viewed as men capable of true rehabilitation is the misconstruction that we are babies crying in a giant crib.

The blatant disregard for humanity displayed by some prisoners and freed men is not the case for all prisoners and freed men. Furthermore, as the majority of the men in this interview expressed, what I once was is not what I am now. Is there anything inherently wrong with finally forgiving yourself for your past? Is there anything criminally wrong with fighting for the freedom a judge said you would deserve after you proved that you were rehabilitated?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy!

Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy!

It's 9am at Otisville Correctional Facility, a medium-security lockup in the hills of Orange County, New York and several inmates known only as Juggy and Lou are chanting those words to Lebrew Jones, aka "Jonesy".

A correction officer in earshot chimes in, "Hey Jonesy, are you gonna be on the Oprah show? Let me know!"

Jones, a soft-spoken and obsequious 50-year old man was expecting his business to be tattooed all over the prison that morning. The night before, he was too anxious to get any sleep because he knew he would be featured in the local newspaper, "Times-Herald Record".

Jones is in the 21st year of a 22-years to life sentence for the 1987 mutilation and murder of a 21-year old prostitute, Michelanne Hall, affectionately referred to as "Micki". But here lies the twist---

He is innocent.

He's maintained his innocence througout his sentence and thanks to his belief in God, good fortune, and some savvy journalism, he's finally getting the opportunity to tell his story and hopefully be exonerated.

Christine Young, an award-winning investigative reporter with the Times-Herald Record first heard about Jones' case in 1989 as a journalism student at CUNY in new York City. While investigating an unrelated story she met Paul Clermont, a detecctive at the 10th Precinct in downtown Manhattan. young had heard about a brutal murder of a prostitute from Buffalo who was known on the streets as "Blue Eyes."

The details of the murder are gory. According to the THR, the half-naked body of Blue Eyes was found bent over a metal bar in a walle off construction site, face down, with an 8-inch section of scrap wood shoved inside of her vagina. Another piece of wood that fell to the ground tore a 2/5 inch hole in her rectum. A 2-inch rock was embeddged in her broken skill and a bloody white and yellow sock was stuffed down her throat. Her mud-and-blood streaked white leather jacket was pulled over her head.

Savagery. The technical term is necrophilia.

When Young quizzed Clermont about the particulars of the crime he grew perturbed and defensive. He abruptly ended the conversation.

Busy with school, Young eventually graduated from school and pursued her journalism career outside of New York.

Meanwhile, Jones was being portrayed as a monster--a savage--in a New York City courtroom. He was convicted of murder in the second degree on June 23, 1989. His words to the judge after the verdict was read were, "I didn't do that murder".

I met Jonesy in the summer of 2005 when I was transferred to Otisville from another prison in Utica, New York.

To me he was another insignificant inmate that had unique idiosyncrasies like everyone else. He wore layers of clothes (even in the summer), seldom conversed with anyone, and jogged EVERYWHERE. Otisville is a very large prison with a mountainous terrain. The distance from the messhall to the furthest housing unit is a mile each way.

Jonesy appeared to love the journey. Equipped with his no-frill white mid-cut sneakers, green state issued pants, a sweatshirt (this was his outer layer only), and a pair of biker-type shades Jonesy would trek the daily marathon by himself.

I thought he was weird, but ironically I began to follow his lead and traverse the prison in at a light pace.

"Jonesy, are you an innocent man?" I asked, commencing my in-prison interview with Jones.

Sitting with his legs crossed like a guest on Jay Leno, Jonesy unhesitatingly answers, "Yes, completely".

He says that he is not bitter because "being mad doesn't help me." The experience has taught him humility. He believes that harnessing animosity and anger is wrong. The completely gray-headed Jones is more convinced that the real perpetrator is out there somewhere laughing and needs to be caught; a job that the cops who arrested Jonesy did not do.

When the cops initially said that they would like to ask Jonesy a few questions about the murder he had a thought to run, but then reasoned, “Why run if I didn’t do anything?”

Those few questions resulted in a13-hour interrogation that led to nothing. The detectives in the case, James Lockhart and Paul Clermont (Jonesy sardonically refers to them as the “apostolic detectives” or “Mutt & Jeff”) were forced to let him go back to his job because Jonesy refused to tell them what they wanted—that he was the culprit.

Resilient and unconvinced of Jones’ claim of innocence, Clermont and Lockhart returned to Jonesy’s job where worked as security guard. This time, however, they were going to try a different strategy to break him.

Back at the precinct Lockhart struck Jonesy with a closed-fisted backhand after Jonesy wrote a statement affirming that he had nothing to do with the crime. Only the inside of Jones’ lip was swollen where no one could see the wound. Great police work!

After repeatedly ignored pleas of ran attorney and seven hours later, Jones eventually gave in because in his words he was “tired of the interrogation and just wanted to go home.”

Gullibly, Jones capitulated to Lockhart and Clermont’s insidious new strategy believing that they would let him go after he told them what they wanted to hear. Mutt & Jeff proceeded to feed Jones with the details and pictures of the crime scene and Jones regurgitated the information into several written statements and a video confession—the nail in the coffin.

Before Clermont left Jones alone in the holding cell, Jones attempted to reason with him one last time.

“Paul, you know I didn’t do this, right?”

“I know, I know. I’ll see what I can do for you. I’ll be right back,” Clermont responded as he walked away.
Clermont never came back.

After a trial that lasted approximately 1 ½ months, the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office got a conviction. The presiding judge, Richard Andrias, was able to write another case off his loaded calendar because of an unwritten policy called judicial expediency—a necessary evil in the court system he would relate to the NY Times during a February 19987 interview. Jurisprudence in its finest hour.

Sipping a copy of cowboy style coffee (i.e., no coffee or creamer) Jonesy recalls what his mother said to him during his first phone call from jail.

“God is with you, especially since you didn’t do it.”

Those words have sustained the hopes of Jones during his 21 years in prison.

His decades in prison have been rocky. The frustration is written all over his face. He is sometimes seen thinking out loud—convincing himself that he will be released form this nightmare—someday.

All his attempts to appeal his case have failed. His petition to the governor for an executive clemency was unsuccessful.

Inmates have been cruel to him also. His sheepish demeanor is no match for hits lion-like jungle. About a year ago someone blanketed his bed with fresh fish while he wasn’t in the housing unit. How did Jonesy react?

He cleaned his bed.

When asked about his childhood he smiles. His father, Rufus, “Speedy” Jones, played with Count Basie and was called “the most exciting drummer in the world.”

“When I went to music supply stores with my mudder (sic) people would often recognize me as my fadder’s (sic) son,” Jonesy reminisces.

Jonesy inherited his father’s drumming talents and claims that his life would be much better if the hands of time were changed. His dream before this fiasco was to tour in a band and sell records.

Today his dream deferred is compensated with a walkman with which he listens to jazz, rock, blues, R&B, and some hip-hop. He likes to stay attuned to the music scene as best he could. He even attempted to start a prison R&B band, but a lack of participation by other inmates and his unwillingness to get involved with “jail politics”, quelled that dream.

Jonesy has different dreams now. He envisions himself as a free man. He wants to speak to people about issues that are dear to him and have been part of his experience throughout his incarceration. He wants to speak with youth at his old elementary school in Brooklyn P.S. 257 to let them know "that this [prison] isn’t the place to be”. Jonesy is also interested in telling the stories of the innocent men in prison, preferably at colleges. Lastly, he wants to use his platform to shed light on the unfair practices of the NYS Division of Parole because “they need to start letting the right guys go home.”

The fact remains that Jones will have spent a loquacious amount of time in prison, so is he ready to go home?

“Yes, I’m ready. These two decades have been long. Laughingly, he says, “I don’t want to get run over by a cab. The world is a lot faster than it was in 1987.”

Jonesy sees these the prison gates opening for him soon, hopefully this year. The efforts of Christine Young and their supporter’s are where his hopes rest.

Speaking of his life after prison, he states that he has a few jobs lined up. He has learned several trades during his incarceration such as: a/c & refrigeration, carpentry, carpet cleaning, and custodial maintenance. He doesn’t have any children now, but would like to have some when he is financially stable.

At 50-years old and 21 years of prison under his belt, Jonesy understands that he can never make up for lost time. Notwithstanding, he remains humble and appreciates the positives that he’s gotten out of this tragedy.

“I would never want to do this [prison] again, but I do value my experiences in prison”, Jonesy opines.

Before we conclude, he leaves me this warning for anyone wrongfully arrested:

Always have a lawyer present.

Don’t go for a deal [with the police or District Attorney].

Still sheepish and irritatingly courteous, Jonesy sums up his situation as “an innocent individual caught up in the system for no reason”.

Free Jonesy!

Free Jonesy!

Free Jonesy!

Free Jonesy!

If you want to contact reporter Christine Young, contact her at To learn more about the murder investigation and conviction of Lebrew Jones, go to