Exploring Ways to Abolish Death By Incarceration

by Jeremiah Bush and David Lee

This essay is coming from the hearts and minds of two men serving Death By Incarceration sentences, or what is popularly known as DBI’s. We are just two of many men, women, and children in the state of Pennsylvania serving these never-ending sentences, which will not only take all the life from us, but have seriously affected our families in the most negative fashion imaginable; consequently we appropriately refer to life life sentences as DBI’s because we will ultimately die inside of a prison cell, actually a cage euphemistically referred to a cell. Of course there are many people who are against or indifferent to the idea of abolishing DBI sentences, and these people are usually very skeptical of offering a second chance to men like us; however, we hope to lay the foundation to why they should reconsider their present position if that is the case, and for our supporters we wish to thank you and ask that you continue to believe in the struggle for freedom and redemption.

It is important that we state that our views and perspectives on abolishing DBI’s apply to both the guilty and those whom have been wrongly convicted of a crime, and it is obvious about the latter because the innocent should not be in prison in the first place. We find it vitally important to state certain points of view with extra emphasis because many people have come to see the American judicature as being a system without a terminal illness that is destroying not only this state, but also this country, and they believe that some minor reforms can change the current disease known as DBI and mass incarceration in general, which we are presently dealing with in this state and throughout the country. The essence of our struggle to abolish DBI’s in Pennsylvania is in our ability to connect with street activists because prison activists are not able to do the types of grassroots organizing that is needed without developing these vital connections.

My name is Jeremiah Bush and I have been incarcerated for eight and a half years serving a DBI sentence. The man that I have matured into at this time in my life is unparalleled to the person that I was over eight years ago when I was arrested. At the age of 22 I was arrested and charged with first degree murder, and a very significant portion of my adult life has been spent inside of these prison walls, far away from my family, friends, and loved ones in general. As a result of both the good and bad experiences of my life, I’ve been able to evolve into the man I am today. This is not in anyway [to] suggest that I was innately bad before now; however, I am surely a better person today than I was eight years prior to now.

In the inception stage of my incarceration I was very optimistic and looking forward to having a fair trial and proving my innocence. Notwithstanding, the harsh reality of society’s views and perceptions on anyone labeled an “inmate” began to dim the once shining light of optimism, which I used to feel. The supposed jury of my peers suddenly transformed into the jury of my deepest fears! Consequently depression and self-hatred had soon flooded my thoughts and soul like an internal tsunami moving quickly to dismantle the beautiful landscape that was once my life. Unfortunately during this time in my life I felt less than human; at times more like a slave, and some nights I went to sleep half heartedly not caring if i were to awake in the morning. But it was in the countless days and nights of adversity that I found the strength needed to overcome the despair, which would ultimately allow for me to restore my faith and strength. It was in this period of my life that i engaged in deep introspection and began to realize why I feel the sort of dehumanization that i did, and it was because I allowed myself to internalize the thoughts of being dehumanized. I started to remember some important thoughts relating to some wisdom from a Yale professor, whichs goes as such “true change does not manifest by changing the things which you do, but by first changing your way of thinking.” Since that moment in my life I have been thinking empowering and positive thoughts about the future possibilities that our movement for release and redemption can bring to us all.

I have learned the importance and power of speech in conjunction with positive actions, and now my heart is full of love, tranquility and compassion. I am a human being, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, and I am a man with a purpose. As a direct result of my DBI sentence, my family and loved ones have also been made to suffer tremendously, and they too must endure varying degrees of systematic oppression and exploitation due to their desire to support and stand by me throughout this ordeal. We have witnessed the ongoing oppression taking place in Black and Hispanic communities in this country, and in Pennsylvania nearly 75% of the people serving DBI’s are people of color, and this is one of the ingredients holding our communities in poverty. This is very serious because hile our communities are plagued with gun violence, and continuously transitioning our youth through the school to prison pipeline, huge sums of money are spent of mass incarceration. This is saddening to me because so many young brothers and sisters with great potential are wasting away inside of these prisons. Thus these DBI sentences are counterproductive and a serious waste of life.

Over the years of my incarceration I have matured and grown exponentially and have accomplished many good things. As a certified tutor, I have helped and taught brothers to read, write, and how to obtain their GEDs or what is referred to as a Commonwealth Diploma. Words alone cannot express the gratification and humility I feel by being a part of these brothers quests in accomplishing their goals of education and prospering in positive ways. I feel truly blessed to be able to be of assistance to these men as they make critical transitions in their lives. Moreover, I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in the “Read to Your Child” program, which connects prisoners to their children and grandchildren by using various arts and crafts to design colorful cards, and then record a video/DVD displaying their card while reading a children’s book of their choice to the child. I am truly grateful and fortunate to have had such positives experiences and interactions, and I intend on continuing my journey of growth and empowerment of others if ever given the opportunity to live as a free man. In closing I want to state my unconditional gratitude to Ms. Ashley H. Johnson, my best friend, my heart, and my queen! Thank you for always believing in me, I love you!

My name is David Lee and I have been imprisoned for nearly 30 years now for a murder I did not commit, but my innocence did not prevent me from getting a ray deal in the Pennsylvania judicature. I came to the pirons as a functionally illiterate man, and my lack of education certainly did not help me during the course of my trial. Throughout the course of my incarceration I have lost many family members, but none as close as my mother Edna Lee, and my brother Darryl Lee. Both the passing of my mother and brother were extremely painful because I did not have an opportunity to spend the sort of time with them that I really wanted to, especially after I was able to go through a significant maturing process. The turning point in my thinking came during my first contact with the RHU, or what is referred to as the Restricted housing Unit, or the hole, there I met a revolutionary named Russell Maroon Shoats., and the foundation for the birth of my consciousness was laid at that critical juncture in my life. Maroon’s influence was very powerful and that’s where I truly began to question what was wrong with this society, and not just what was wrong with me; however, I did engage in the process of looking within for solutions to the plethora of problems in my life.

I started studying like a madman because I wanted to learn so much. I wanted to learn African history, political, economics, and so much more. I wanted to be a significant part of the solution rather continue to contribute to the as I once did in my ignorant state of mind. Yes although I did not commit the act for which I have been imprisoned, I was no angel. I learned that what has happened to me has been dones to tens of thousands of innocent people, and that our imprisonment has absolutely nothing to do with keeping our communities safe because if that were the case the system would not unleash the police on us the way that they have, nor would corporations be allowed to exploit and even murder innocent people with impunity, and laws would not oppress us, they would liberate us, but that’s not the case. If the American government really cared about us they would not be sending billions of dollars to maintain a system of mass incarceration while simultaneously closing schools, reducing social programs, eliminating decent paying jobs, attempting to transfer billions of dollars to the wealth of this nation while gutting health care, and there would not be any homeless people living out on the streets in the wealthiest nation in the world!

Understanding all of what have been said, we must take a different look at what is happening in this nation, and view the use of DBI’s for what they really are, and Death By Incarceration has nothing to do with public safety and more about public control because no one is being healed in this process, especially not Black and Brown communities and the impoverished in general. Our goal as a society should be to find ways of healing and repairing communities not further rupturing them with the strain of mass incarceration and the most profound state of mass incarceration, which is Death By Incarceration! Not only does such a sentence contradict the essence of forgiveness by saying that certain human beings are unredeemable, but no healing is actually taking place. But the state wants us to believe that such sentences are about the victim, but what about the victims of police violence? Or all those killed and injured by corporate greed and neglect? Are those victims people in need of healing and attention? However, the state, this political system routinely ignores the victims of the state, and her corporate cronies. So to suggest that the need for DBI’s is about public safety should be insulting to any intelligent person because exactly who is protecting us from oppressive, or racist cops, or greedy corporations willing to compromise lives for profit?

We need to build on the efforts started by CADBI and Decarcerate PA because a true healing and building process is needed more than ever. Massive amounts of people in prison has not made anyone safer, so what exactly are politicians doing? We need to realize that the foundation of mass incarceration is death by incarceration, and find ways to stop people in positions of power from abusing their power and undermining public trust in the process because it is our rights as human beings to live whole and safe lives. The serious gathering of the people of this state in public forums to discuss real issues affecting their lives is what must take place, and real facts, balanced reporting must be offered, no alternative facts and the distorting of reality to fit the political scheme of those wishing to profit from our agony. Enough is enough and it is time to look at who really is a threat to our communities and to our lives. We need to think about what transformative justice looks like, and state moving away from punitive justice, or just persecuting people for being poor, and not able to afford top notch legal representation, or being the wrong racial type, or gender type. Millions of people are in prison for reasons that have nothing to do with the safety of our communities, and we need to understand this fact as we move forward, and as stated earlier death by incarceration is the foundation of mass incarceration. More education and no more incarceration!

Jeremiah Bush