Freedom seemed unlikely. There I stood in front of a mirror in the bathroom of Pine river correctional facility in St. Louis, Michigan, October 2009. I had already served 8 years and 7 months of a minimum 9-year prison sentence with a maximum of 22 years. For a brief moment, I thought to myself; “What if they ( the Michigan parole Board) decide that I am not yet fit to reenter society? What am I going to do?”
When I left the bathroom, each step I took as I made my way to the control center seemed heavy and loud. The further I walked and the closer I was to my destination, the thought of the parole board deciding my life were as intimidating as if I was David going against Goliath, but without a stone. Couple that with a troubled past, I just knew my future was dim.
My record suggested a young, inexperienced boy with a volatile nature. As I approached the parole hearing, my past way of life fought day by day against a new and improved mindset that was becoming more impenetrable and fuller of empathy each day. Yet, my past always managed to resonate and manifest at crucial times. However, as the time drew closer, I forced myself not to think about all of the ills of my past that could be detrimental, but to focus on my new and improved mindset. I entered the interview room full of confidence and surety. This is where my freedom was regained.
Having to sit and listen to a stranger talk about what’s in my prison file and troubled moments of my life shook my nerves, and it became difficult to listen. The board was viewing the troubles I lived without seeing what was in my heart. Despite all of that, with an excellent representative my Aunt; Meon Stubbs, and with the completion of my stipulations, I had some great leverage.
As the interview came to a close, I battled with my conscience on whether to speak my mind or just remain silent as if I were in a police interrogation. Sensing that I had nothing to lose – except more years of my life – I asked to speak. Without my new mindset and strong faith, I know I would have failed. Ironically, I can’t tell you what I said, only the feelings and emotions I poured into whatever I spoke. After speaking, my eyes were watered and so were my aunt’s. The parole board member, Mr. Charles Brown, then looked me dead in my eyes through a TV monitor and said: “I think you will make it. I believe you learned your lesson and I hope you don’t make me look like a fool for my decision.” Hearing those words, all of my internal organs seemed to do somersaults and my knees buckled as I thought about the possibility of freedom.
When it finally dawned on me that I would be free, the excitement and tension in my mind and body reached a level of anxiety that I had never felt before. I knew I had to prepare myself for the outside world. I knew that I needed something larger than myself to strive for. I knew that I needed something that could understand my struggle but push me to do better at the same time. I understood that, systematically, I was at risk to return to prison if I didn’t stick to my plan and find ways to stay motivated and inspired to break down any and all barriers that would impede my progress. In that struggle is where I found the solution to, not only my problem, but to the problems of hundreds of thousands of men who share the same experience as myself. Now, what was I going to do about it? The answer laid right in front of my very existence, a brother who lived what I lived, came from where I’m was from, who practiced what I practiced and understood what I understood. That brother was and is Leon El-Alamin and we became MADE.
Republished with permission from the MADE Institute