Momma was sobbing as she told me that my sister was dead. I sat in the Chaplain’s office in a daze. She was murdered while her daughter was in her lap. I was twenty-eight years old, and I had been in prison for a decade. The perpetrator received a six-year sentence, which he expired in less than thirty-eight months. My family was divided over this travesty of injustice, and some of my brothers contemplated revenge. It was the strangest feeling I had experienced in all of my years as a young adult. I was housed at one of the most violent prisons in the State of Tennessee, and I had become a victim of crime.
I was the third born of seven to a sixteen year old girl. My mother was pregnant at age eleven and gave birth to my eldest brother before she was twelve. My brothers and I were born bastards according to American culture. We were also born out of sin, according to our Baptist version of Christianity. Poverty and an absent father figure were the big issues for me. My mother married a man she didn’t love when I was six years old to place us into a home and to recover from the heart-breaking blow of my dad not showing up for their wedding. I didn’t respect my stepdad, and I decided to sever my ties and move out at age seventeen. I was a senior in high school working a part-time job and paying a car note when I left my family.
I moved in with a childhood peer known as “Cool Bro.” He was the only male that intervened on my behalf against my crazy stepdad, who often became violent when he was high on cocaine or drunk on hard liquor. He was abusive to everyone in our household except for his two biological children. Cool Bro manhandled my stepdad one evening while I was being chased in the back yard after I ignored his command to stay in the house. Not long after I was in my new place, Cool Bro informed me that he could not afford to pay the bills shortly after my eighteenth birthday due to child support and other outstanding debts. Faced with a dilemma of going back home or living on the streets, and remembering my mother’s words, “you were born poor, you will die poor, and you don’t have any friends,” I made a desperate choice to get a gun and to commit a series of four robberies in sixteen days. I shot a man during the fourth robbery attempt, and he died two days later. I plead guilty and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. That was a quarter of a century ago.
Desperation and reckless choices landed me into a warehouse of concentrated flesh-bodies held under the misnomer: Tennessee Department of Correction. Words are inadequate to express my remorse for the pain I caused the victims and my family. I have worked hard to make amends in any way that I could, but nothing I have done has alleviated the pain and anger of the victims in my case. People ache differently. People believe differently. My mother and I have forgiven the man who murdered my sister; my victims have not forgiven me. I remember one day when my younger brother was cursing about the guy who killed our sister, I calmly stated that whatever you feel about him you must also feel about me. Transformation happened that day. I have built strong ties with other victims of crime and supporting members of our community. I would be grateful and appreciative of an opportunity for victim-offender reconciliation with the victims in my case. However, Tennessee and its practice of retributive justice discourage such opportunities, and it doesn’t help that the victims in my case are not in a place to consider reconciliation.
A restorative/transformative approach to justice would encourage healing for both victims and offenders. This would be ideal for a State that believes in justice for all. Also, forgiveness is a core principle of Christianity and to my understanding more than eighty percent of Tennesseans believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
After serving twenty-five years in prison and observing the politics of our society, I have come to the realization that true justice in Tennessee is not a reality for everyone who loves GOD. It is my contention that the State of Tennessee and its agencies (Criminal Courts, Department of Correction, and Board of Parole) and organized religion (specifically churches and individuals who claim to believe in the GOD of Christ Jesus and who do not share their blessings with the poor and do not visit prisons) should be charged and indicted for conspiracy to deny true justice for victims and offenders, and for discrimination and neglect of the poor and prisoners by deliberately refusing to take a moral stance opposing the Prison Industrial Complex (corporate slavery). They have also been complicit in allowing “prisonism” and “felonism” (legal exploitation of prisoners and legal discrimination against ex-offenders) to flourish. They have created a caste system that disenfranchises, marginalizes, demoralizes, and dehumanizes more than one hundred thousand of its citizens who are made in the image and likeness of GOD.
Are we not deserving of the same love that Jesus sacrificed his life for to redeem the lives of all sinners? I am a redeemed sinner who repented and atoned for killing a man twenty-five years ago. I challenge readers to justify why I cannot re-enter the State of my birth. How can we claim to believe in Jesus and practice the above? I will continue to make my case as the weeks go by; and if I am wrong, I will remove my thoughts from this venue. Thank you for your time, attention, and response.
by Souljah Saul-Paul