By: Mustafa Zulu, Contributing Writer
“In order to reform a criminal you must first break his spirit.” – Elam Lynds, warden of Sing Sing prison in New York
Last month I was busted with a knife and been here in the hole since. Winter months in North Dakota State Penitentiary (NDSP) are the worse time to be slammed in the hole. The type of coldness that settles into the concrete and steel in a penitentiary is nothing like the jolly holiday season cold a family cozy up to. Cold inside of a pen is forever mean, aching to the marrow, touching any convict’s soul over the years.
Amongst the host of sanctions I must carry for carrying a 10″ steel shank is the loss of property , therefore I have very little clothes to fend of Old Man Winter. I’ve been taking intervals every 5 minutes to do push ups and squats. Body heat. 2000 push ups and squats get me through the day–Excuse me, I’ll be right back…
There, nice and warm–for now. But my blues isn’t all that’s moved me to take the pen in hand. I’m at another crossroad in my life where a crucial decision must be made that could have far reaching consequences.
I’ve accomplished quite a lot in the 6 months I’ve been in general population after two torturous decades in solitary confinement. I’ve been a mentor to several young inmates; helped organize the first Black and Native team to win a championship at NDSP; made a few solid friends and fell in love with an amazing woman; invited and honored by the Natives at their sweat lodge; obtained a suitable gym job; worked on hobby craft projects; wrote a number of articles about it all; appointed as an imam by the muslims; and despite having a knife, resisting violent impulses.
The knife charge is the least of my worry, but the result of it seems to have brought to an edge two conflicting qualities that characterize me most, ie, helping people or hurting people, I’m excellent at both. Of course, most people have those same two qualities, but it’s uncommon to be really good at both. Recently, for the first time in my life, I’ve questioned if such conflicting qualities can occupy the same space without resulting in continuous crisis. Wether or not my warrior-scholar path has come to an end. Should I commit to a new path? I make no attempt at philosophizing here, no it’s basically my family, friends, the warden and most of all the culture here in NDSP that has me questioning my ways and path…Excuse me, I’m freezing (more push ups and squats) Gotta keep the blood flowing.
Very briefly here’s some context of my situation: I’m a federal prisoner that was brought to NDSP through a program called a state placement program. There’s two main reasons why a federal inmate can be sent to serve federal time in a state prison.
If the inmate’s life is in danger due to he/she being a government informant or a vile sex offender etc..
If the BOP deem an inmate so controversial that his/her presence or influence may cause a threat to their life, others or the orderly running of the prison.
I qualified for the later. Why? In 1997, a deadly race war broke out with the DC Blacks and Aryan Brotherhood ( two groups renowned for extreme prison violence who have warred of and on since the late 70′ over drugs, extortion, gambling, influence, etc, basically for supremacy over the federal prisons racket, more so than any perceived racial supremacy)
The so called DC Blacks don’t have one official leader, so the B.O.P singled out a number of us as leaders or “shot callers” Wayne Perry (Nkosi Shaka Zulu El) Khalif “fly” Mujahid, Willie Horton, Opio Moore, and myself (then 19 yrs old) We all deny such claims to this day. The point is we’ve all paid a heavy price, true or not, and after 20 years of refusing to allow us general population, the B.O.P offered Perry, Mujahid and myself state placements (Moore went home 10 yrs prior, Horton lost his damn mind)
So, that’s how and why I’m in ND state prison. Why B.O.P chose to send me to a state where the prison population is (according to NDSP staff members) 80% sex offenders and informants is the million dollar question. In every federal penitentiary (U.S.P) and nearly every state pens, sex offenders (S.O’s) child molesters (chomos) and known informants (rats) are voluntarily or un voluntarily placed in protective custody units or “drop outs” (former gang member who drops out of a gang without a leaders permission) prisons. But North Dakota only has one penitentiary, no other place to separate max security level inmates. So it’s a big bag of mixed-nuts out here, a fucking freak show.
The old-law convict code written in blood doesn’t exist here. ND convicts and officers seem to share their Canadian neighbor’s pacifism and tolerance. S.O’s chomos, rats and punks run this yard. If the few men are seen together laughing too rowdy–they likely to get piss tested. It’s snitching inmates you have to worry about, more than the most vigilant guards.
There’s a vermin three cells down from me who I’ve learned of from the local newspaper, that he stuck a tampon up a 1 year old virgina. Another guy here stuck a dildo in (I forget how many month old she was) infant causing the poor baby to go blind!
Forgive me for writing this, but if I don’t give you guys a whiff of the shit I’ve been eating since I got here, resisting a daily urges to slit open throats, break bones or violate them in the worse way, you may think like some of my supporters that I’m throwing away “a good thing”. You maybe one of them uppity citizens who view all criminals as the same and feel I have no gripe or you could be one of countless sexually abused victims, or victims’ family member who sat in a courtroom disgusted and unsatisfied by the judge’s sentence, but content that where this scum was going, a devil (as you may think of me as) will give him hell. It’s common knowledge that upstanding citizens quietly applaud this brand of justice. Be honest, wouldn’t you just love for me to get my hands on that chomo three cells down?
Convicts have a sense of justice too, people. And believe it or not gangsters have very firm morals and principles. Personally, I paid 20 years worth of miserable solitary confinement for mine. The B.O.P knows what I stand for, they tortured my comrades and I for our set in stone ways. So, once again the question is why the hell would they send me to a place like this? I mean if I was to stay here and be of help to myself and to others, I cannot be trying to “hurt” these scumbags. I can not ignore them, because they are the majority, they cook the food, serve it, have all the best jobs, run the sports, commissary dept. etc. So I must compromise, there’s no getting around it and I know the B.O.P did this on purpose.
No? I’m being too paranoid? Don’t blame them for giving me an opportunity?
No, I’m not paranoid or irresponsible, please believe me, they knew. It would be foolish to assume the B.O.P would not make a careful and critical examination of the state prison they were sending a supermax level federal inmate they’d deemed necessary to confine to solitary for 20 years. They damn well knew this was a damn monkey pen. What type of zoo keeper puts a lion in a monkey pen.
It’s painfully funny when I think about it all. I mean, they couldn’t break me in their Alcatraz of the Rockies, so they sent me here to see if I’d break myself ha!! As I said, I must compromise to stay here, no question. Who was it that said “association breeds assimilation?”
Two years, five years from now of living out here, compromising, thoroughly desensitized, do I dare look myself in the mirror, square my shoulders and affirm “They can’t break my spirit!” And my angels say back “Amen”. Do I recognize in that mirror Mustafa Sigidi Zulu who struggled every day in ADX to put my principles into practise?
For six months, I covered my iron hand in Napoleon’s velvet glove, handing out common courtesies to the lowest of the low, pardoned or ignored minor offenses. Pretended to my family and supporters I was doing well because I want so bad to show them how much I appreciate the long years of unwavering support. All the while, my soul felt like a bad toothache. None knowing I carried a knife on me since almost the moment I got here. With a smile on my face, something else in my heart.
I’m determined that whenever I go, to strive to progress and resist violence except to defend myself of course. But the glove must come off for this little prison on the prairie. This time spent in the hole is sort of a relief. I was hurting myself here, not “helping”. I’ll request nicely to be sent back to the feds and if they bury me alive in ADX….. “They can’t break my Spirit”