Statement of February 25, 1999, which ibn Kenyatta attempted to present to commissioners of the New York State Division of Parole:

Parole Commissioners:

A free man in chains. A free man defined by the bars, steel and cages of the New York State prison system. For ten long years i have turned my back on your parole system. Refused to get down on my knees and beg for what is already mine.

There are those among you who say i am crazy. That such a position requires the attention of the state’s most clever psychiatrists. But what would they find, my friends? And what they find, would they then tell that truth to the world? That i am a man, an Afrikan man, who is determined to stand tall on the firm ground of what i know to be right and truth. i stand on my conscience.

You may be puzzled why i call you “my friends.” i do so because we are here together facing a crisis. That dramatic shift in our national economy some years ago so that people of color are now most hard-hit …

—by industry bailing out and going overseas, what they call “capital flight”

—by new businesses locating in suburban areas

—by de facto residential segregation

—by increased rates of minority unemployment or employment in service sector jobs where low pay rates are notorious

This isn’t your personal policy decision or your fault any more than it is mine, but it is the responsibility of all of us to face what is happening. And this cold-hearted reality steels my decision and determination to refuse parole all these years.

It was necessary to get your attention. To bring this critical matter to the attention of everyone to take a closer look.

We can solve the problem of “capital flight” with “capital punishment,” and more of the same of what you have been requested to do—keep prisoners in prison for longer and longer periods of time.

i know the Governor of this state has instructed you to teach us a lesson. What is termed the “6/7 = 85% sentence-served” parole release date. Or George Pataki’s proposed elimination of parole for all felons entering the system (and there’s this sick prison joke which says it would then be even more in your self-interest to hit the rest of us to “save” your jobs).

Still, it is understandable how the manufactured fear of crime makes ordinary citizens want to demonstrate a show of force with law-breakers. It reinforces how force is an acceptable way of educating people. But lawmakers and parole commissioners cannot easily squeeze underneath that mantle of ignorance.

And how can you be so happy in learning that the only way to get crime statistics down is through incarceration? The incarceration of Afrikan and Latino Amerikans, the poor and other minorities? Why should such grim statistics draw applause? And if the recidivism rate points to 40% of nonviolent parolees returning to prison after three years, locking them up has always been the easiest part of the social contract. But where is the necessary social infrastructure in place for them in the community, so that they won’t have to resort to criminal activities?

What ever happened to wise and compassionate government? None of us are all bad or all good. “Felon,” “criminal” and “parolee” have become such dirty and fearful words in Amerikan society. But shouldn’t government also be about the healing of society, not just the enforcer of some of its most draconian laws?

Freedom from slavery is still sought in this country. Slavery continues in our land with incarceration rates the highest on Planet Earth. Did someone actually say 1.8 million and counting? And, thus, the 13th Amendment is alive and well.

The descendants of slaves, most Afrikan men like myself, still go to bed at night with the ring of chains and leg irons in our awareness. Generations of black children are matter-of-fact about seeing their parents in bondage. And lynching has been updated to take place in electric chairs and hospital beds.

i stand here today to remind you that force is counterproductive. Sooner or later someone like myself will say “No.” This is not the way. And others like myself will increasingly turn their backs on a system that is horrified when people beaten down by a shattered economic system become dysfunctional, violent or use drugs to create their own version of The Amerikan Dream.

And it’s not universal when we hear all the colorful talk about a great economic upswing in the Amerikan economy, or see the full-page “Help Wanted” ads in the daily papers, because within the Afrikan and Latino communities there has always been a recessed and depressed, down-sized economy.

i am not apologizing for criminal activity. Mine. Yours. Or the criminal activity of the state and federal government.

We all have to hold ourselves accountable.

i am guilty of jumping a turn stile in the New York City subway system. It was foolish and a rash act of youth. i regret having done it.

But i was supposed to have been issued merely a summons (for “theft of service”) back in 1974, not nearly have my life taken. i stand responsible for defending myself against an officer of the law who viciously attacked me with three of the four weapons he carried. i was unarmed. He had two guns, one nightstick, and a billy club (with lead in the tip). i am fortunate to be here alive to tell this story.

For two trials, during which i entered a plea of not guilty, i refused to participate in what i believed was a travesty of justice. i had nothing. No money to defend myself. No friends in government or the corporate world.

i had nothing but my conscience and a strong sense of what was right.

i went to the courtroom in my underwear to protest my innocence, just like i, over TWO DECADES later, make an equally defiant statement by refusing to get down on my knees before a parole board, accepting guilt and supervision by a flawed and complicit state bureaucracy.

i still insist i am not guilty of the charge. To be on parole would fly in the face of my own conscience and humanity.

You might wonder why i’ve come before you today. Because the time has come for you to hear from my own mouth why we must face this human rights crisis together.

i am not here to ask for mercy or parole, but to speak for myself, as well as for those whose voices have been shattered or muffled. Who does it serve for the great-grandchildren and great great grandchildren of slaves to grovel before you? To get down on our knees, wail and moan about an economic system which has given us a bad check of freedom, as Dr. King would say, for which there are insufficient funds to collect?

When you wave your magic wand of parole, you are merely sending people broken by your prison and criminal justice system back to the plantation fields of Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx, and inner cities all over the nation.

These same thoughts linger among the wives, girlfriends, children, and extended families who stand in lines outside these state prisons, for 100 years that the state prison system has been in place, as they pass through locked doors and accept handcuffs and cages as part of their ordinary reality.

The longer i stay here, the more people will become clearer about the need for us to face this human tragedy together. i am already free and clear in my own mind. And that freedom/self-freedom of mind means far more to me in this lifetime than the possibility of accepting parole supervision on the street.

It ultimately comes down to this perennial face-off of self-interest vs. best-interest. i am ready to face the challenge. Are you?

Just as i am, ibn Kenyatta

ibn Kenyatta
74A 3701 Box 1245
Beacon, NY 12508

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