Posts Tagged ‘Ashanti’
After leaving prison I didn’t have any problems socializing, because I am a people person. I don’t meet strangers and can function well in most given situations involving people. I had a solid team of eight to ten people who had agreed to be my transition team and help me during my adjustment. All of them had agreed to be a “phone call away,” and promised to help me with any challenges I that i was facing.
I immediately became involved in the activities and events that were close to my heart. I hosted a radio talk show, was a co-host for a tv talk show, assisted in developing town hall and community meetings, worked with organizations that were focused on helping people who had been incarcerated for long periods of time. I became involved in ministries and men’s groups (all of which helped me to develop a personal foundation in society), and a public speaking organization like Toastmasters International. As a motivational speaker I travelled the country, but i also became a board member of organizations like the Innocence Project of New Orleans, La. Coalition for Reform, the Freedom Project, the Teen Summit, the Prison Foundation, am a Senior Justice Fellow with the Soros Foundation, etc., etc. All of these things helped me in my transition. I lived an active life as a leader in prison and I knew that is what I needed to do in society.
There was, however, something that was a challenge for me. I noticed, when I was first released from prison, that I began to have feelings of apprehension when the sun would begin to set. There was a part of me that really didn’t want to be out after dark because I didn’t want to be anywhere where someone might falsely accuse me of anything. Those feelings remained with me for several months, but when I began to travel they begin to diminish.
In the midst of all of my activities stood my transition team of men and women who vowed to help me during my transition. They were true to their word, and were always merely a “phone call away.”
My last day in prison was filled with mixed feelings. There was a part of me that was excited, happy and looked forward to the adventure of being free. There was another part of me that felt like I was leaving many parts of my heart behind. I was leaving men who had become family. We had grown up together and survived many challenges over the years. We were survivors who had conquered our little world and become leaders within our society. We had built a lot of life enriching programs and ministries that helped the institution over the years and i was leaving those friends behind.
Being a father behind bars was a challenging experience. It was several years before I saw my daughter in person, and those were often depressing times. I used to write her a letter almost every day. I would write her as if I were writing to a young adult. I knew that she couldn’t read, write or understand, but her mother promised to read the letters to her.
As time passed, we had the opportunity to visit and share in each other’s love. I received a lot of letters and photos, and I wrote her letters and sent photos when I was able to take some. I used to give her advice on everything and I enjoyed every opportunity to answer any questions she presented to me. Over the years we developed a very close relationship. She wasn’t only my daughter, she was my friend and we could talk about anything. It made me feel special. During her teenage years she often called me her hero and although I felt pride in the fact that we were so close, I also felt a pain of not being with her and sometimes I was hard on myself for making the decisions that caused me to be confined and not physically in her life. We would talk about all of the things we were going to do when I got out of prison, and lived as if I was going to be released soon. Neither of us knew that it would take many more years before we had the opportunity to spend time together in society.
I became an advocate for inmates while I was in prison during my early years. I was a jail house lawyer, classified as a militant and there was a group of us who used to practice martial arts together on the yard who were often found in stand-offs against some of the groups who were involved in raping other young inmates. As I grew older in prison I was always developing new programs, classes or life enrichment programs for others. I believe that I was a part of God’s movement that gradually brought about change in prison on the tail of a federal court order that mandated sweeping changes to take place in the prison.
Once I was released from prison I became involved in a number of prison ministries, and developed several legislative advocacy groups geared toward making changes in the laws so that deserving men and women could return to society. I left a lot of friends in prison. Them and their families need voices and dedicated people like myself and the many others who have gained their released to do what we can to make a change.
Over the years I learned that I could grow in strength if I didn’t blame others for the negative things that had occurred in my life and accepted responsibility for my own actions. I learned that I had a stubborn side of me that really gave me the strength and determination to stay focused on the path that I had choose to travel. I learned how to detach from many of the events that were taking place around me so that I wouldn’t be effected emotionally and if I maintained control of my emotions I was have a clear enough mind to think through each situation I faced. I learned a lot about God and my relationship with God gave me a sense of hope that one day “everything is going to be alright.” I learned that I had the power to reshape the world around me by the words that I speak, the thoughts that I think and the prayers that I prayed. I also learned to love people (it was a gradual process, but I learned that it was really alright to love people as simply being who they were). All of those things gave me a sense of freedom and a different sort of power within me.
It was several years before I decided to change my life. I had seen a lot of violence and was classified as a jail jouse lawyer and a militant, but it wasn’t until I had been confined to a maximum security cell (I had gotten caught with two knives in my possession) for about a year that I seriously began to think about my life, my family and everything that I had lost that the reality of my 75-year entence began to sink into my mind. At that point I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to see my daughter and that caused me a lot of anger and grief. It was also during that time of confinement that I decided to change and never go back to the life I had lived. It was the beginning of a long journey that would be filled with trials, set-backs and victories, but it was a journey that I wouldn’t turn away from.
Ashanti Witherspoon spent 27 years in Angola Prison. In 1999 he was granted parole. Since leaving prison Ashanti has become a motivational speaker and is devoted to mentoring at-risk youth. He was featured in Jonathan Stack’s film THE FARM and THE FARM: 10 DOWN, which will be released June 16th, 2009 on National Geographic Channel.
There were different “first days” of my confinement:
- There was the period when I woke up in the hospital and realized that I had been shot in the head.
- There was the day when I was moved from the hospital to the Caddo Parish Prison, and on to the Caddo Correctional Center.
- There was the day when I was transferred back to the Caddo Parish Prison (when the new prison was built).
- There was the day when I was transferred back to the Caddo Correctional Center. 5) There was the day when I first arrived in Angola.
As you can see my first day had different meanings at different points of my “first day,” but for now let’s look at my first day in Angola.
Traveling to Angola was an emotionally moving experience. I was nervous, tense and prepared to kill or die. The horror stories of Angola seemed to find a permanent place in my thoughts and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. I was relieved when I got off of the bus, stepped through the doors of the Reception Center and recognized the face of someone from the city Shreveport. He worked in the area and was assisting the security guards with checking in the new arrivals. He nodded to me, and when we were out of ear shot of the others he told me that he had a knife for me and would get it to me by the time I reached the dorm.