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A Man Serving a Life Sentence Vows to Prove Society Wrong

Written by Jeffery Shockley,

Originally published @ Prison Journalism Project

February 2, 2024

Black History Month is a time to reflect and to redirect the hurt and divisions created by slavery and exacerbated by Jim Crow laws. But it is also a time to consider self-improvement — the mental, emotional and spiritual adjustments that can help us rise above the negativity that’s been perpetrated against and within the Black community throughout U.S. history.

On one hand, this month asks us to highlight the wrongs done to people of color and the need to hold white people accountable for fueling forms of oppression: slavery and involuntary servitude; the historic and continued violation of, and violence against, women; and the systematic denial of civil rights, educational benefits and economic opportunities to Black people and other people of color.

On the other hand, one must also look at the conditions of Black people as a whole and look to the positive figures who have fought to better themselves. Doing so can empower you to say: “I will become more than the systemic stereotypes and false narratives imposed on me.”

This month, I remember Black historical figures like the scholar Richard T. Greener, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. — men who were limited in their freedom but excelled in their abilities. 

Shamefully, my own Black history is riddled with illegal acts — life choices that undermined the values our ancestors shed their blood and gave their lives for. Still, I wish to serve as an example of a Black man who strives to excel within the confines of a life sentence, marked as I am by the residue of slavery and branded with the stigma of “felon,” “ex-con,” “inmate.” I am compelled to prove society wrong. 

I am worth more than historical limitations; and I am defined not by my yesterday, but by my today and my tomorrow.

This article first appeared on Prison Journalism Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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