I was sitting in Dekalb county jail after being arrested for armed robbery and aggravated assault. This was just after I had gotten convicted and given 20 years to serve without the possibility of parole. I hadn’t even lived 20 years at this time. Me, the shy intellectual honor roll student, was about to go to prison. This was devastating for me and at the time unfathomable.
A great sorrow was over me and my family. This was a perfect example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This would not only be a long sentence for me but would also be a hard, strenuous circumstance for all those who loved me. Getting my mental state ready for all of the hardships that I would inevitably face was paramount.
Me, a teenager, about to be sent to prison to serve hard time with killers, robbers, rapists, you name it.
I was told that I was just like those people.
One day, I along with some other guys were standing in front of the television following the Brian Nichols story. His situation was similar to all of ours in the sense that he was fighting for his life. Some even more so than others. This former college athlete was being tried for a rape that he said he didn’t commit.
After two mistrials, he snapped. He went on a killing spree killing everyone that he thought played a part in trying to trap him in this physical hell. The people in the jail where I sat were ecstatic. I could hear cheers of excitement all across the seventh floor. That disturbed me deeply.
I was trying to figure out what kind of person or people could really get enjoyment out of innocent people being robbed of their lives. Witnessing the reactions of these people caused me to consider Martin Luther King’s (referring to Reinhold Niebuhr) observation that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”
Does this explain the heinousness behind their reaction in that the group is only edging on the others? Was I really just like those people?
I began to think about all of the different historical events where heinous crimes were committed and were later glorified because of a benefit that came with a certain action. I had always wondered how someone could condone a grave evil such as the establishment as slavery. This is a strange comparison but now seeing such a violent event take place and people being honestly cheerful about it gave me a different perspective.
What is it about violence that makes it acceptable to inflict on people?
Socrates asked, “Is what determines piety what the gods like or do the gods like a thing because it is pious?”
Does the fact that the murder victims were not related to the inmates somehow make the murder ok because they were in opposition to them? If so, then what makes them different from the people who hung people from trees? Or how is their evil any different from the evil that they accuse the murder victims of possessing?
My question keeps arising, Am I really like these people? Day after day I seemed to be modeling myself after what I am seeing to prepare myself for the journey in which I am about to embark. The continuous cycle of jail rituals is subconsciously programming me. I remember telling myself:
“You must not fall into the habit of becoming what you know you are not.”
With this began my journey of literacy.
I learned that through education and discipline I could safeguard myself from a future filled with the consequences of bad decisions. I became an avid reader constantly feeding my curiosity. This awakened a different type of monster then the type that entered into the system in 2004. Once I found out that my mind was my superpower and learning was the fuel to feed it, I became unstoppable. I am resilient, relentless, and absorbent instead of impulsively violent.
Learning and education are keys to my future. From then to now, pursuing an education in any fashion has become top priority. From being a scholar in Arts and the Humanities to Computer Science and Software Development I have excelled. This is how I will stand out to all of the individuals who attempt to put me in a box with stereotypes.
I do not judge. But I am not like those people.
Consider me the exception.
I am J. J., not a monster. I am the silent but powerful presence of being that absorbs knowledge and creates opportunities out of the abyss. I am not a merciless hooligan. I am the heart. I am the mind. I am the intellect.