ROSEMONT, Ill. ( – With the United States leading the world in incarcerations, the Prison Ministry workshop at the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day 2009 convention touched the lives of many attendees who have a family member, friend or associate involved with the legal system.

“Our responsibility is to reform and restore the incarcerated and so-called offender,” said Abdullah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam’s Prison Ministry. “Just because you stop using drugs isn’t reform. Just cause you stop shooting someone doesn’t mean you’re restored. True reform begins with proper enlightenment and a connection with God; to reform means to cleanse of wicked ways.”

Under the Saviours’ Day theme “Accepting Responsibility to Build Our Community” this session focused on the things people could do to help those incarcerated, those recently released and their families.


The workshop featured a panel that included Saleem Wali Shabazz from Muhammad Mosque No. 12 in Philadelphia, previously incarcerated for 18 years, and LaShaun Rickman of Brighter Behavior Choices.

“I tell the people I work with that you must love yourself before you love anyone else. You have to believe in yourself,” said Debra Higens of Safer Foundation at the North Lawndale Adult Transitional Center.

“You will return to your circumstances but you have to return as somebody. You are somebody and you are worthy.”

More people are being released from incarceration and returning to communities around the country. In California, a judge ruled that thousands of prisoners must be released to relieve overcrowding. The ruling requires the state to reduce its prison population by 36,200 to 57,000.

“We have to understand our power,” said Bennie Lee, a longtime prison activist who was incarcerated in Illinois. “Every formerly incarcerated (person) needs to organize and affect legislation. Make sure there are resources, jobs and money coming back to your community. We need to take a lesson from the Nation of Islam, which survives on self sufficiency. We must recognize power we have by unifying.”

Haroon Najm of the Inner City Muslim Action Network spoke on the issues of immigrants. “Before 1960 most immigrants were White. Since then there has been massive non-White immigration. We have to recognize the color line in society. We have to come into solidarity. This issue is an opportunity.”

“We’ve gone from plantations to prisons and from lynchings to state ordered executions,” he said.