Beginning this week, I will be choosing a journal entry from the many that Prisoner Express receives and reflecting on the entry in a brief blog post. I encourage you to visit the online Journal Archive.
Life Story of Deshuan Flowers
In a little over a page, Deshuan Flowers tells what he titles his “life story.” He writes, “I never been to high school, and I can’t tell you what the inside of a high school looks like unless I watch T.V.” The AC-less rooms that made the summers unbearable and the tan-colored desks are so firmly imprinted in my mind that it’s hard to imagine anything else. For Flowers, though, the entire idea is foreign, since he has spent much of his childhood jail incarcerated.
“I grew up in a gang infested all black neighborhood at the age of 11 I started gang banging. That’s when I got locked up for the first time.” Somewhere at some point, it seems like the system failed him. I wonder if it was because of a lack of supportive role models in his community, or if it was the teachers in school. Flowers writes earlier that he was “kicked out of kindergarten for fighting.” At the age of five or six years old, his teachers had already given up on his. The prison problem—of so many incarcerated individuals—is something we don’t even really talk about as a society. Sometimes the conversation touches on capital punishment, but rarely do we think about why this are so many people in prison. While incarceration is undoubtedly a product of individual choice, the factors leading up to that choice are many, from a lack of mentorship, poverty, abuse, and so on.
“All I got out of it is a record as long as Main Street, and some hurting people because they represent a rival gang, taking them away from their relatives, and being very well known by the police. But most importantly I’m hurting the ones that love me the most, my first family. Being part of a street gang is a second family.” Change and growth begin with realization, and I think Flowers, at the age of 35, sees that there is more to life than gangs and prison. There are people that love him; even still, he writes that “a street gang is a second family.” I don’t know if he is set on changing the path of his life, or if he still feels a pull to his gang. I can understand why he feels connected to a gang; it sounds like that was all he knew, and once he stopped attending school, that was who he could turn to.
“This messed up world” that Flowers writes of certainly contributes to the number of people who are incarcerated today. In the middle of his entry, Flowers writes, “I can tell you more about jail then I can tell you about the outside world.” What is the outside world? The outside world means very different things to someone who grows up in, say, downtown Manhattan, to someone who grows up in a housing project, or to someone who grows up under a tin roof in the slums. The outside world that Flowers can tell you about is probably one in which gangs are a permanent fixture of the community, where incarceration rates are high, and where violence is rampant.
“I use to think gang banging was the way of life because growing up that’s all I knew. I got family members that’s part of the gang life.” I think that the world we are born into and the people we are surrounded by are important determinants of where we will end up and who we will be. Breaking free of a community chained to gang-related violence is very difficult, especially without the right mentorship. It is much easier to go along with what’s around you, especially when you’re barely a teenager.
“As I am much older and a little bit more wiser I see that all…I’ve done in the name of gang banging was foolish.” With the ability to make choices is the capacity to choose change. The journal program gives individuals who are incarcerated a space where they can reflect, vent, and explore the possibility of change and growth.