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Justice heroes illustration by Randy A. Watterson
Illustration by Randy A. Watterson

I am a prisoner with a life sentence in North Carolina. I didn’t commit the crime that has landed me in prison for 14 years now, but who’s gonna believe a criminal, right?  

For most of my undisciplined life I have been in and outta jails and prisons and just couldn’t figure out why I kept coming back. Then, in my 40s, I began to study criminal law and social justice after I realized that my own children were right behind me, walking in my shoes down these same empty hallways, enduring, feeling and experiencing gang oppression, prison guards and all of the same feelings of hopelessness and unending loneliness that I am feeling.

I knew I had to do something to help them. No one else would.

That’s when I started seeing younger versions of myself in a lot of the younger men around me.

One day, after reading an anarchist newsletter by civil rights advocates, I organized an inside-and-outside protest at Hyde Correctional Institute. On Aug. 20, 2018, over 300 prisoners stood with me and protested alongside dozens of public citizens who gathered in the prison parking lot to bring awareness to prisoners’ conditions in the North Carolina corrections system as well as all of the prisons across the United States.

Through Sept. 9, thousands of prisoners across 17 states joined us protesting the widespread injustice of long-term solitary confinement, bad food, censorship of correspondence, racism, cruel and unusually long prison sentences, the lack of parole, police and prosecutorial corruption, and the widespread ineffective assistance of counsel.

We demanded better living conditions, abolition of our state’s slavery statute, more education and rehabilitative opportunities, and better medical and dental care. We also wanted the reinstatement of the Fair Sentencing Act, which was meant to reduce the sentence disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

I was interviewed by NPR, and I was subsequently placed in long-term solitary confinement for several years as a result of the interview and my inside organizing.

With nothing else better to do than count the cracks in my wall, I drew this picture to represent the struggles and needs of North Carolina prisoners. I truly believe that those closest to the problems are the ones who are closest to the solutions.

Rehabilitation has got to start with educating our state leaders, police, prosecutors, lawyers and prison administrators. Effective correction and rehabilitation of criminals begins with education, love and compassion and a moral compass for us to follow, not fire-and-brimstone and life sentences.

My political art represents my children, who are my heroes, as well as all of the prisoners who continue to strive to become better people, and it represents the desire to one day fix the broken things in this cruel world that caused us all to be here.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Randy A. Watterson is a writer incarcerated in North Carolina. He is a member of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and an activist in the Prisoner Human Rights Movement.