S.T.O.P. – a poem from the prison yard

As you know, Crystal and I put a lot of effort into helping reform the racist and wasteful criminal justice system. This work ranges up and down the stack from helping people navigate the court system, gain access to early legal support, providing bail for those who don’t have it, funding lawsuits to eliminate cash bail systems that punish people for being poor, advancing legislative efforts to rationalize sentencing, and much more. But some of our most rewarding work comes from our time spent inside both juvenile and adult maximum security prisons in partnership with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Within those walls, we encounter some of the most stunning examples of redemption and personal growth. The emotions can be confusing as you balance intense empathy and admiration for someone who is describing violent, even murderous crimes in their past. In the words of Bryan Stevenson, we believe that “We are all better than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Being inside a prison puts those words to the test, and never more than during therapy and restorative justice programs, where offenders meet with their victims and/or their families and work through unresolved emotions. “Hurt people hurt,” as the saying goes. Restorative justice initiatives can break the cycle. They give the incarcerated the chance to heal themselves and turn their lives toward positive outcomes. Add job training to that, and we’ve seen remarkable results with recidivism rates of almost zero following release.

Through this work, we’ve made some good friends and been exposed to some downright inspiring characters. One of those is the poet Samuel Nathaniel Brown. He has recited verses that I find to be some of the most thought-provoking poetry I’ve encountered. Guys inside don’t usually have any access to computers, and as a result  their work often never leaves those walls. What a shame it would be in this era of mass communication that you would have to be standing in a prison yard to hear his wisdom. So, I asked my friend Sam if I could share one of his pieces with you here.

While you read this, please imagine the poet standing on a box and screaming “STOP” so loudly and gutterally that activity on the dusty prison yard ceases and everyone, inmates and guards alike, turn their attention to listen. Nothing can stop time and bring us together like words done right.


By Samuel Nathaniel Brown

Bloods and Crips, Starz and Zillas, Sureños and Norteños, Vicelords and Gangster Disciples, Democrats and Republicans – STOP.

Atheists and Believers, Muslims and Christians, Proletariat and Bourgeoisie, I’m above you and your beneath me – STOP. 

Native, Immigrant, Lover, Fighter, men and women, rich, poor, sinner and savior, hated and hater…

Palestinians, Jews, clicks, klans, crews, Boko Haram, Isis, Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the United States with your White Supremacy military coups…STOP, STOP, STOP!!!
With the hating, the arguing, the backbiting, the slandering, the posturing, the fighting, the murdering, the massacring. 

It’s time now, now is the time to heal from a place of realness – STOP  – racing towards our collective demise and practice stillness. 

For there is a light that shines for you and me, that is something we all have in common so let’s just be

A lot more cognizant of the fact that we are all we got and if we got and if we don’t watch each other’s backs

Then we’re gonna watch each other get buried…by the droves

Moment of silence for all the Lost Souls________

That died behind jealousy, racism, policy brutality, religion, oppression, gender discrimination, drug wars, and the color of their clothes
Or natural resources, ‘cause (geopolitical) powers commit genocide behind natural resources too, and if you thought that war was really about what they said it was really about, then I really doubt that you ever really had a clue – STOP!
…Letting people stick their fingers in your skull to reach inside your brain to seize hold of your mind, and mold your thoughts: Bring to remembrance the pure of heart, summon the spirits of the fighters that fought

In order to evolve us as a species to a higher level of consciousness…
In my own game of life I will not be a bystander, meaning I will not stand by: as another child loses their innocence, a woman is violated, or another unarmed man dies

That’s why, I stand by Black Lives Matter, cause we do, I stand by #metoo, I stand by the Fair Chance Project, The Family Project, The NAACP, ARC, the Poor People’s Campaign, Code Pink, and the ACLU, and if you are an individual or an organization dedicated to effectuating positive social change, then I stand by you too

I stand by the asylum – seeking, oppressive country defectors, by the god women and men in law enforcement that protect us, the firefighters, the freedom fighters, the school teachers, the Imams and Preachers that try to reach us through spiritual verses, our beloved nurses, and the water protectors.
With them I S-T-A-N-D. We strive together against negative development because we all agree. That is, we advocate gender racial and economic equality

Y’all can say I’m a man of many acronyms, synonyms, and spirituals hymns, I just know that when their cold minds apply pressure, they produce a lotta gems

And we are them

With our Golden Hearts, Silver Tongues, and eyes of Onyx, from English Speakers as a second language hooked on phonics, to those relegated to broken English and evolutionary Ebonics

When I say stop, it’s not stop as in sit on your hind quarters and accept the status quo, but rather, come together as a people to see how much mo’ we can grow

and further we can go…
An Ancient African Proverb says “If you want to go fast – go alone, but if you want to go far…go together”

Putin, Assad, Trump, Netenyahu, Kim Jong-un, will y’all just chill? If a mill got peeled in the battlefield would you then feel the need to be still or would y’all still just kill?

I mean on – the – real

What is it that y’all cherish? Is it the long-term existence of us as a species or are you too selfish and fulla pride to see the greatness that resides inside of being selfless?
Well, as long as their greed persists, we resist , and we insist, they cease and desist with their cataclysmic, catastrophic, characteristics centered at the core of the problems that plague us all – come on now – let’s read the list…

Mass school shootings, ocean polluting, reef killing, ozone layer destroying, genetically modified organism producing, cancer causing, terminal illness perpetuating, prejudicial, stereotypical mischaracterization of strangers from target groups from which you don’t know a soul, but’chu claim that you hate’m and despise’m and detest’em because the negative attitudes and beliefs that you inherit as a youth now that you are an adult you haven’t taken the time to reassess ’em…………STOP!

Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, and all the rest of y’all…

Drug dealing, coffin filling, orphan making, profit raking, Uniform Commercial Code spawns-of-Satan, mega-corporations such as Monsanto, Agri-Corp, Dupont, Pfizer, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Purdue Pharma, Bayer, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wall Street…Y’all need to stop.
…Cause your paper chasing, nuclear arms racing, natural resource wasting, mass incarcerating, gender discriminating, social-economic subjugating, biased immigration, vindictive deportation, bullying and intimidation , negative socialization, neo-colonization in your quest for validation you’re ripping apart our nation

Even worse, you’re destroying the underpinnings of human civilization…
…our waterways, our trees, our wildlife, our air quality, Global Warming

Climate change is real, I don’t need the ocean to super tsunami me, or the Earth to open up and swallow me…for me to get it…

From the East to the West, the North to the South, the bottom to the top: we need to S – Stand, T – Together, O – Or, P – Perish…STOP!!