Black eyed peas for the soul

The Bus Ride Home

For many years I thought that the way in which I was living was the only way to live. Crime was my religion. I breathed it, ate it, and simply lived for it. In my heart I always wanted there to be more to life than the choices I had made, but I was addicted. Doing crime was a definite high. I loved the excitement of almost getting caught, then getting away with the crime. Perhaps, deep within, I wanted to get caught.

I had no social ties other than to the small circle of individuals with whom I was committing crimes. We would sit around and contemplate what crimes to commit and how to implement them. While planning my crimes, I always carried the thought that no matter how well I calculated, one day I would be caught. A criminal who is in tune with his 'spiritual' criminality knows that one day he will slip. Spiritual criminality simply means that I was consumed by crime. Crime was my god, my idol, my life impetus, and nothing else mattered outside of that. My devotion to crime was no different from that of devout Christians who live and breathe the Bible.

When I finally graduated to the penitentiary, I took that inevitable bus ride down South. All I could think was 'I finally made it.' I looked around and 98% of the inmates were men of color, mostly African American. While in prison I plotted and schemed my return to crime upon my release. It was impossible to automatically turn off that mindset. If that way of thinking is all a man knows, he will remain addicted to it. Only a spiritual awakening can save him.

One day when I was lying in my cell, I had an out-of-body experience. I actually saw my body, or what appeared to be my body, step outside of itself and turn towards me. I saw myself ask me, "What the f- are you going to do when you get out of the joint?" That experience was the turning point in my life when my thoughts began to change. I looked at my life and realized I was getting old. I saw other inmates who had been incarcerated twenty, thirty, forty years - longer than I had been on earth - and they were never getting out. I decided I did not want to be in jail forever and made a commitment to never return.

I began to think about my talents which were acting and playing music. I thought that I'd like to try and pursue a career in which I could make active use of my talents.

I was in prison for six years, and was finally released in 1992. Since my freedom, I have taken advantage of the opportunities to do very simple things that I had taken for granted before being imprisoned, such as going to a wedding and to the city zoo, which I had last visited when I was in grade school.

During this transformation, I began cutting certain people loose, such as my friends and associates who had grown into this life of crime with me. There was often conflict because they associated my desire to change with weakness. However, they often ended up back in prison, sometimes even for life.

The temptation to commit crime has definitely been there, and so I see myself as a recovering addict, no different from a drug user or alcoholic. What helps me stay focused, however, are my bass guitar, which I've been playing for 20 years (even played while I was in prison) and the development of my other talents.

The two bus rides to and from prison played a crucial role in my transformation. During the bus ride to prison, my thoughts were, "I'm going to a place I've never been before. I don’t know if I'll come out alive." On the bus ride home from prison I thought, "I'm going to a new world, one that I've been in before, however, it's new because this is where the test starts." The test actually started when I boarded that bus, and headed for home. I was more terrified about going home than about going to prison.

I knew that my prayers and promises about wanting to play music professional, contributing to something positive to the community, especially for my daughter, were about to be tested. I would have to prove that I was sincere about wanting to change, even in the midst of poverty, crime, and former friends flashing wads of money.

Overall, I've learned that a man will get out of prison what he wants out of it. I know for a fact that there is no program of rehabilitation in the penal system - not as Americans would like to believe. The only way an inmate will become rehabilitated is if he or she decides to use that time to study, heal, and grow. This will happen only if change is truly desired. We, especially Black men, cannot continue down the path that we're currently traveling. If I had allowed it, this type of mentality eventually would have destroyed me spiritually, mentally, and physically. I can never allow myself to forget, either, because if I forget my prison experience, there is a great probability that I will return.

Today, I have a nine-member band called Mystical Entity. The music we play is very spiritual, and it touches not only the hearts of people of color, but also many whites. I've also discovered that there are some white people who have the essence of Africa flowing through their beings and that one doesn't need to be Black to appreciate the spiritual struggle between good and evil.

As I move through my transformation, I continue to nurture my dearest relationship with my mother, daughters, siblings, and a few progressive friends. They are all reaffirmations of my new purpose and new existence. I now have a healthy, life-giving and receiving spirit. Furthermore, I am truly committed to living up to my responsibilities as a man, father, son and member of the African American community. I just hope and pray that the music I play is a testimony to all of this.