Freedom

3개월 전

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drawing by Akil Jahi, reproduced here with his permission


Two days ago I had the honor of spending time with two men who have spent many many years in Unit Two, known in the parlance of the outside as Death Row, of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee. I knew not to fear them by what I had been told by my daughter, who visits Akil Jahi regularly and enjoys his dear friend Abu's company whenever Abu has a visitor at the same time. But I was not prepared for what I felt when I was with them: elevated, open, honest and joyful.

We began our gathering as Akil and Abu always begin gatherings, with a poem about forgiveness, a moment of reflection, and Abu's beautiful voice singing Amazing Grace. What then followed was a remarkable conversation that I hoped to share with all of you here on Steem, so I asked their permission to write about them. They both readily agreed. What man who knows he has a valuable message would say no? And what Steemian would not give writing a blog post about them a shot?

But I found I was unable to write a thing that did justice to these fine men. No words of mine could capture the joy and love I felt in that cement block room, sharing a meal of vending machine selections on a makeshift table, six of us (two from the inside and four from the outside) discussing poetry, art, music, cooking, trauma, choices, family, justice, truth and love.

Akil Jahi and Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman are leaders among both prisoners and guards in Unit Two. I could see the respect and love in the smiles of all who exchanged a word or even a glance with them. But more than that, I could see the same in the other prisoners from the unit and their visitors, whether they were in shackles or handcuffs and meeting behind glass, or allowed the freedom of movement that Akil and Abu have earned in their decades at the prison. This surprised me at first, all the joy evident in the visiting room for the inmates on death row, which was very different from what I saw as we passed through the visiting room for the general population. But after three hours with Akil and Abu holding forth on finding strength, goodness, and joy in what could be one of the bleakest of places, I understood. This is a special place in large part because of the two of them, a place of honor, opportunity, worship and freedom.

I have decided to let Akil tell you himself of the rewards of his incarceration. Here are four of his many poems. The images are my photos of poems he has sent to my daughter.

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There is some bittersweet news to tell of Abu, news that is cause for both celebration and sorrow. His death sentence was vacated a few days ago after many years of fighting the injustice of this sentence, and he will be leaving Unit Two, thankfully not to be executed, but to take up residence in Unit Six for the rest of his life.

I have no doubt Abu will be a force for positive change among the prisoners and guards of the general population as well, and that is truly wonderful for many many people. Akil will likewise continue the good work in Unit Two. But Akil and Abu, friends of a very special sort, may never see each other again. They will be able to send verbal messages through their visitors, they will be able to send each other letters, but they may not ever again be in each others presence. Akil too is trying to vacate his death sentence which would result in their being again housed in the same unit.

I leave you with a few powerful words of Abu's, and he too has many more of these:

Shed the past of unwanted suffering and become the healer, others await you.


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🎁 Hi @owasco! You have received 0.1 STEEM tip from @dswigle!

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Oh this is so heartbreaking and beautiful. The poetry is lovely - simple, heartfelt, morsels of divine truth. I have been talking to my students about compassion and forgiveness this week, and how it is the anecdote to holding onto the hurts and pains of the past. Thanks for sharing this with us! @artemislives, one for the Freedom Tribe? xx

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That seems to be the key for them, to move past the prior pains. They are both very wonderful men. I watched the report on Abu's death sentence being vacated, and there was no mention of how kind he is now, none. It was a terrible omission.
Oh for goodness sake I forgot to tag @freedomtribe. I thought I did though! erg. That's the kind of thing I have no head for.

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I am so glad you called me over her @owasco. A very moving post and which again confirms my instinctive rejection of the death penalty. And humanity.

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And I am glad you came to my call. These guys deserve the love! Love, not war. Peace!

What a really, truly, fascinating read. One generally visualises the inner workings of any prison system as a 24x7 rough and tumble affair. Without knowing anything about their crimes it's nice to know that they've been able to achieve a bit of inner peace. I would like to think that the victims have as well, because living with negativity just breeds further contempt and negativity.

The prison system is designed to be 'rehabilitation'. Very often that isn't the case, but it's nice when we can get at least part of the way there.

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Thank you for your comment. I know that in Abu's case, the surviving victim has forgiven him and did so in court last week.
These two men have been more than rehabilitated, they have gained what many of us dream of, a freedom of their souls and unending love and compassion for their fellow men. Happiness. Remarkable.

there's no doubt that the poem is meaningful. It stated that how life might be cruel there are still goodness of it. It's up to you to have patience and just don't focus on bad thing in life.

Nice content, as if I'm reading a fiction story even though it's true to life story.

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I am staying as true to this story as I can, I'm just recounting what they tell me, what I know from the Tennessee news, and my feelings about it all.

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yeah that's what I meant, when I said it's like a fiction but actually a true story. Sorry if I didn't state it well, I wasn't criticising but complementing. I just didn't say it understandable, sorry

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no no I understood, you said it beautifully! I was just agreeing. Thanks so much for you comments.

man, what a story! thanks for sharing; it breaks my heart knowing that people are locked up in such places... and then of course there are their brutal (but sometimes even innocent) crimes.. is this form of punishment the best way to deal with this problem? I have to think of the open prison in Norway on an island. Although I think they are kept there only if they haven't done major crimes

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I think I have read about that prison. Sounds very rehabilitative. I have no doubt these two men, and several of the others I saw in that visiting room, would be excellent neighbors and friends. I oppose the death penalty in all cases now. Before this visit, I was not so certain, but men like these must be allowed to live and love. And yes, there are many in prison and even on death row who are innocent! If you are interested I just read a good book "The Sun Does Shine" by Anthony Ray Hinton who was an innocent man on death row for more than 20 years. He, like these two, had horrible representation, criminal representation if you ask me. Thanks for you comment.

What a profound, beautiful and glorious post, @owasco They are separated so that each of them can spread that light further, because there are so many who need. Thank you for sharing their poems, and for bring such humanity and joy for what others would imagine is a dark place.


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I thought of you as I wrote it. Thank you so much for your comment.
Yes, I agree. In some ways their wrongful sentences have done a tremendous amount of good both for them and those who come into contact with them. Akil proudly told me that when a female guard becomes pregnant, she is sent to their unit to work, because it is the safest and most loving unit in that prison. It's no longer hard for me to imagine that, I have seen it. Redemption in unlikely places. Or maybe it's the most likely place. xo

Wow. I stopped by to deliver your reward for the recommend your favorite Freewrite and I am so glad that I got to read your post.
https://steemit.com/freewrite/@freewritehouse/rewards-for-recommend-your-favorite-freewrite

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Thanks for the reward and for reading!

Howdy owasco! Great post, you did a wonderful job of sharing your experience with these men, very powerful!

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Thank you. They are worthy of so much more than I can give.

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Well I understand what you mean but you did a great job with that post! And perhaps you can write more about them sometime. Like about their story because you said the one man especially was wrongfully convicted.

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They were both wrongfully sentenced. Neither should have received the death penalty, both were black and poor and got terrible representation. I do hope to write more about them. I hope to visit them again too. I'll never have the pleasure of being with both of them at the same time again, a very special something. Thanks so much for your appreciation!

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Howdy today owasco! Yes, the court appointed attorneys generall don't do a thing for people except fill out paperwork, very tragic indeed that they couldn't get a fair trial.

Looking forward to the next posting about their story though.

What a powerful post! Thank you for this!

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Powerful people these two. I can't say it was easy to write about them though. It took my many hours to leave my own ego far enough behind to write about them. Thank you for reading!

Oh thank you for sharing so I could come absorb this post! I trained a fantastic lady for quite a number of years who visited death row in the jail here regularly. I was always fascinated, and often heartbroken, by her stories and those she shared from the men she visited. It wasn't all positive, as there were many very bad men she came across, along with her "buddies" as she called them. She and her husband helped get an innocent man released after way too many years in prison. Our prison system here is quite broken, but this is a true breath of fresh air to read about these men and the positive energy they continue to share.

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Oh thank you for your comment! There are days I think they deserve so much better, and then I realize they DO have it better than I do in one critical way. I get annoyed by my smoke alarm going off, my landscapers making a racket, my chickens needing clean water everyday, finding a tick on my dog, my vacuum cleaner acting up, my gutters needing cleaning, my money not quite lasting the month. I am imprisoned by my things. They cherish and find freedom in what little they have, and they are far more wealthy than I am in love and spirit.

Really a touching reading for its content. Without having any idea of ​​the lives of the characters in his writing, the value they have in achieving inner peace, despite finding themselves in a place that they might not be able to imagine, that I perceive to be impassable.

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Thank you for your comment. They have altered my perception of right and wrong, freedom and imprisonment. It's amazing. You might be interested to know they are both guilty, but not guilty as charged, which means the difference between life and death in prison.

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Every day, in our minds, there is an internal confrontation in everything that surrounds us and the implementation in our senses, we are constantly involved in a duality towards the truth of the world, Good and Evil, We close our eyes, and we look inside where everything lies, since it is only the way we perceive this duality, in some way, or for some reason.

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Perhaps this helps to explain how men who stand to be executed in the name of justice, who have so little to look at outside of themselves, can see so clearly what lies within.

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Surely you pay a high price to realize.

🔥🔥🔥💖🙏💖🔥🔥🔥

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I am speechless. It make me feel sad in a way and yet inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

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Yes, it's oddly bittersweet for me to have met them both. I will visit Akil again soon I hope. By then Abu will be living in another unit, and the visiting rules are so strict I doubt I will be able to see Abu too. Thank you so much for your comment.

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This is really beautiful to read. It's really good that these men are at peace with their situations, especially Abu, now getting off death row. It must be pretty tough to take losing a friend forever though, in a place where a true friend would be the best thing a person could hope to have.

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Thank you so much for the comment and the cake. I wish I could take a slice of cake to the two of them, but the best I can bring is the stuff from the vending machines at the prison. When I think of Abu's leaving, I cry. Every single time. Such a mixed blessing! But he would have been leaving anyway, at least this way he will leave and still be alive. I'm sure Akil has many friends there, it's just that the two of them together....

Thank you for this wonderful article.

I've also shared your post in the Steem Malaysia Community Page on Facebook, hoping to give you the extra exposure because of its good content. Feel free to join this community page is you wish!

I hope by doing this, more content creators/bloggers/vloggers will get to know this wonderful platform we both thrive in. :)

Keep creating awesome content!

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Thank you kind sir! There is so much good in the world, I am happy to be a part of spreading it.

This is so moving and powerful, thank you for sharing this with us all, the poetry is amazing and their strength is so inspiring xx

Congratulations @owasco! This post was selected by the Power House Creatives as today's Rally Upvote Post :)

You can find the community announcement on Discord :) and it has also been shared on our FB Page and Twitter feed.

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Oh thank you! I am so grateful. Thanks from Akil and Abu too, who can't see this, but my daughter has printed out what she can and sent it to them. They are not allowed to receive images, so she had to just list which of Akil's poems I chose from the great many he had sent to her.

I don't know why but reading their letters make me tear, they are touching, every single line. I could feel the love and the presence of God in their letters. My prayers for them are that they continue to radiate that kind of freedom and love to people around them, as always and more and more people will experience God's unconditional love.

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Your prayer for them is their prayer for others I am sure. We spoke very little about god though, but I do I remember that Abu referred to both Gods and Goddesses before he sang. They have so much beauty in their lives I was astounded, surrounded by cement and barbed wire and their shoes never ever touching grass. Far more beauty than I do in my "freedom". Thank you for your comment, and for allowing my words and theirs to move you.

Shed the past of unwanted suffering and become the healer, others await you.
Wow that’s a heavy line but i love it

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I chose that line from a book Abu had a part in publishing, a book about indigenous cultures in Guatemala (I think). My daughter does not know Abu as well as Akil, so he got short shrift in this post. I was so happy to find that line to end with. Thank you for seeing its power.

I don't know anything about those you talk to, I understand that they are being unfairly imprisoned.
To me this is a big mess ... can American justice be considered incompetent?
I like your writing and style, no matter the theme.
Thank you, @owasco!

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And my thanks to you @bluemoon.
Yes American justice is incompetent, especially when it comes to convicting and sentencing people of color. Unfortunately, the judicial branch in our government is the branch that is still functioning in any way.

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With pleasure! I remember a great movie about such a mistake ... "Joe Hill"

These words are genuinely from the heart. Can actually feel the emotions coming from every letter

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True. I shed a LOT of tears writing it. And a lot of hours! It was hard to capture their purity of heart.

A very touching piece and I can honestly say I have no words for it. Well done, @owascco.

I pray for continued peace in their souls.

!tip

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Thank you Denise. It means a lot to me. When I went to the prison I had no idea what I was in for. My first look at Akil, standing somberly on the far side of a white and grey cement block room before two garbage cans that had been covered with paper cloths to serve as tables for our feast. I left a new person, with more patience and gratitude.

A powerful post, @owasco. Amazing these two men who are imprisoned have such beautiful souls. May they continue to spread their messages of light and love throughout the prison. Upped and resteemed.

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Thank you for helping spread their words!
Akil has called my daughter twice now, at great expense to him, to say how much our visiting him means to him. I hope I can get back there soon. I did not expect to feel that way, so they have touched me deeply too.

This is an incredible piece of writing, @owasco. I cannot imagine what such a life must be like. Compassion truly does heal the heart and mind. I believe this so fundamentally, and feel it is a key missing ingredient in the challenges our global society is experiencing today, but I never expected to hear that message from an inmate on death row.

It is sad that the two friends will be separated. But it’s certainly great for Abu that he is moving off of death row and has received some vindication and a lighter sentence.

This is one of the most moving and powerful pieces I have read on Steem for some time. Thank you for sharing it, along with the poems.

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Thank you @jayna. I pimped this one, my first to pimp! I know you know what I'm about to say - when the words (finally - it took me at least ten hours of starts and stops) come out as if from above, I know I've written something good. This one still makes me cry.

Akil was slated to lose Abu to execution this coming April. He will lose Abu instead to life in a different part of the prison. It's good, very good!

Great message to share to those living beyond the cell block @owasca, death is no punishment and should never be treated as such.

As long as a person breathes they are able to grow, change and manifest into helpful, kind and generous people, even if behind bars for life, finding strength to carry on assisting others.

The poetry really speaks volumes!

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Akil is an amazing man. Now we have to get his death sentence vacated. I would like to see the death penalty prohibited everywhere. Tennessee has executed five men this year.
Thank you for knowing this.

While I don't know them, I think your post most certainly did justice to them. Beautiful, if bittersweet, testament to them both.

Also,

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Thank you! I am so glad I went to meet them. It was very important to my daughter so I didn't hesitate when she suggested it, but I also did not expect the visit to be transformative.

@owasco - you keep saying you didn't do the story justice, but I think that you did a great job. Any time you can move people to tears from writing a post, you have done a great job. It's so sad that those two great friends must now be separated.

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I have pages and pages of starts and stops in Word documents for this post. And I used NONE of those pages and pages. I felt like I had given up, had decided to write very little, put the images straight into Steempeak's publishing tool and let their words speak for them. My giving up my own ego is what it took to let them speak through me. Thank you for letting them move you.

@owasco,

It's strange where one finds wisdom and insight. Seldom is it where you'd expect.

Quill

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I expected wisdom and insight to be there, because I had been told by my daughter that it would be. I'd recently read The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man on death row, so I expected compassion and love to be there too. What I did not expect was how often those words and feelings come back to me here on the outside, usually after I've been annoyed by something smoke-alarm-ish, and I feel foolish for letting the traps of my "freedom" get to me.

You feel sad to read this kind of story, thank you for sharing this adventure!

Reminds me of the story of Papillon who was also innocently incarcerated, but he struggled for freedom. These men in your post found freedom in their own souls my friend. A remarkable transformation of forgiveness and love.
Now they have become light sowers and we hope that many seeds will grow from their efforts.
This is indeed a remarkable post my friend.
Blessings!

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I am honored to be a part of the force getting their message outside the prison. Heading over to your blog to find out more about papillon.

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Thank you and you will have to search a bit to find the occasional post about our work my friend.
I think I posted last week about one of our projects, the "Trauma training" for child workers one.
We run several projects over the past 18 years to help and empower poor communities.
Blessings!

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Thank you for that information. I did go to your blog but found nothing about papillon. will look again today.

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Look at 10 Days ago. "A great Papillon Project"
Thank you for your interest.

You can also visit us here.

Website; http://www.papillonfoundation.com and our names are mentioned on the website as Stephen and Marian Smith in South Africa.

Thank you for the post I'm lost for words

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I was too when I first started to write. Or rather I had many words, but they did not capture the import. Thank you for your emotion. And your comment.

Thank you for bringing their words to us @owasco. You are fortunate to meet them. 👍

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Truth! Today Akil sent me a present. I hope to write about that soon.

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They are free in a sense, they have the freedom they have created themselves. It is something only you can do for yourself. It sounds like the have more than made the best of the situation.

Very powerful. I do hope they end up in the same unit again--somehow, I imagine that they will. Thanks for sharing :)

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Well. Abu is still in unit 2 because Tennessee's AG is challenging the decision! I do not understand the reason for that. What on earth would it accomplish? What kind of person takes up a cause like that? In trying to make a name for himself, he traumatizes and harms a great many people, at least one of whom is a very fine man. xo

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People are strange and many who have power/control issues wind up working in those kinds of positions...Not all, of course, but certain types are drawn to positions in which they have ultimate power--especially if they're coming from a place of having felt no personal power in their lives.

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Thank you!!!!!!!!