On February 7 and 8 there was an African American history celebration held at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes. During the two days there were several prolific and amazing speakers and performers, such as Pastor Arthur Agnew; Portia McClain, professor of African language at the U of M; Tracey Williams-Dillard of the Spokesman Recorder; Barbara Epps, Bush Fellowship ACES; Angela Stewart, gospel singer; Michelle Horovitz of Appetite for Change; and storytellers Mr. and Mrs. Zulu.
These speakers and singers delivered a message of knowledge of self and redemption to the lost and misguided men. Also, these very same messages were words of inspiration and affirmation for men that already had knowledge of self and understand their purpose in life.
As I sat in the front row being inspired and affirmed, I began to think it has been a very long time since I’ve felt this good while incarcerated, if ever. Then I started to recognize why I had such a great feeling of elation. It wasn’t just because of the message being delivered or how it was being given, but because these were my people, my community and my family.
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I remember when the community used to come in and check on the brothers in these institutions to make sure we weren’t being mistreated, misused, or abused. I remember when Kwame and Mitchell McDonald came to Stillwater and spoke words of encouragement to the men.
I remember Natalie [Johnson] Lee came and spoke about her victory to be elected as a member of the Minneapolis City Council against all odds. Also, she told us about the political games the system plays. Such as realigning the north side, taking downtown out of its district due to the fact the brothers and sisters started to understand their power at the poll.
I remember these things because the times were very different in these institutions when the community would stop by and check on us. Those memories were from around 12 years ago, that’s about how long it’s been since I have seen people from my community come in and give the pure unadulterated truth.
That is the reason my memories were stimulated because these people came to the joint and kept it so real you would have sworn we were on the corner of Penn and Plymouth at the old McDonalds in ’86. In fact they went so hard that they had the warden emotional to the point he got up and declared he was “employable” so if brothers got out and never came back he would be able to get another job.
As a matter of fact he encouraged a brother not to come back. Now that is what I would call when keeping it real goes right.
From everything I hear on the radio, TV and read in the newspapers, it is clear the community is putting in work trying to get itself together and there seems to be investments in all aspects of the community. From business, poverty, education, etc., everything except the incarcerated segment of the community.
It doesn’t need major funds to be invested. We need time, righteousness, integrity, dignity, and honesty to be invested, simply due to the fact these are foreign principles to most brothers incarcerated, and to be totally honest most people in our community.
Lovell Oates is an inmate of Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.
This opinion piece is the first in a series.