port of harlem magazine

The Other Side

Jail for Life: My Secret Thoughts


t micheal colbertA life sentence was only the beginning. The sentence was only the beginning of a spiraling descent into an abyss of despair.  Finally, I see a glimmer of hope.

During my descent, my father and I had grown close.  We had made plans to live and travel together and to be the father and son that had unfortunately eluded us for much of my young adult years. Eleven years into my incarceration, my father passed away from cancer.

Two months after his death, the courts denied my first appeal, which was swiftly followed by the denials to my second and third appeals.  The hope that I saw at the end of the tunnel quickly became a speeding train traveling in the wrong direction.  I dawdled away many years with self-loathing, useless activities and associating with less than inspiring friends.

Finally, a cousin came to see me with a magnanimous promise to retain a high-powered attorney who had the influence to have the judicial system set me free.  He even offered me a supervisory position in his thriving construction company.

My elation was short lived. Several months after the visit, my cousin told me that his company was not faring well.  The housing market is now weak, he said, and I cannot retain an attorney.  And as if that news was not bad enough, the woman I was planning to marry backed out one week prior to the ceremony.

Instead of my cousin, depression knocked on my door like an old relative.  Soon after, two prisoners killed a correctional officer and the authorities put the entire institution into an emergency lock-down.  Lock-down is not taken lightly; the officers make us remain in our cells for 24 hours. And this lockdown took place in July and August, two of the hottest months of the year. The stench, cold meals and lack of showers while dealing with great mental agony made me have even more empathy for our ancestors who journeyed the Middle Passage.

But all seemed not lost. I found the energy to marshal an impressive portfolio of colorful letters, certificate of accomplishments and prominent people willing to speak on my behalf.   I presented the portfolio to the governor and sought a computation of my sentence.  His reply came back:  No!  Depression took up residence in my cell with his two cousins:  resentment and bitterness.

I then fired off lengthy and angry letters to every family member proclaiming my ardent disappointment in their failure to assist me. I affirmed my fear of dying in prison. Their positive and supportive responses, however, did little to make depression, resentment and bitterness evict themselves.

I then reached out to God in a way that I previously never had and to a Christian brother who gave me genuine encouragement.  It wasn’t much longer that I received a warm letter from a Port Of Harlem reader who declared in her first sentence that God told her to encourage me.

I didn’t wait for depression and his two cousins to pack and leave, I evicted them and love moved in.
Ivy, the Port Of Harlem reader has provided me with hope, and I have hired a new attorney who is determined to fight for my second chance at life. Today, I thank God for the thorns in my flesh.  They have served as a reminder of my inadequacy, brought me low and encouraged me to make space for God to save me.

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