By Andrena Muhammad
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1 Say: He, Allah, is One.–Holy Qur’an, Surah 112, verse 1
BOSTON – Concord Prison in Massachusetts is at least 388 miles southeast of the Rochester Correctional Facility in Rochester, New York. But ask Brother Student Minister James Muhammad if the distance makes a difference, and he will tell you that walking into a Massachusetts prison is like walking into a New York prison– they are always filled with Black men.
“The wave hit me walking into Concord,” said Bro. James, who is the Nation of Islam East Coast Regional Prison Reform Minister. “I’m coming from New York and walking into Concord and again seeing hundreds of thousands of Black men locked up. This is by design– to have every Black man locked up.”
That design is exactly what Prison Reform Ministers in the Nation of Islam came together to attack in the first ever East Coast Regional Prison Reform Ministry Conference. The three day conference, which included a prison visit, workshops, a panel discussion, a keynote address and a Sunday lecture presentation, was held in Boston earlier this year at Muhammad Mosque No. 11. The purpose of the conference was to bring together all of the skills and talents in the Nation, and to organize the Prison Reform work.
“We have a need for real organization,” said Bro. James Muhammad. “Minister Abdullah wanted to help all of the requests that we had. Re-entry is a big field to really work out and service our people in and we have a wealth of knowledge that we can use. We have a wealth of knowledge to really put together N.O.I. Prison Reform Ministry.” The idea for a conference, which drew Prison Reform Ministers, volunteers and advocates interested in Prison Reform work from Chicago, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, actually began more than 15 years ago.
“Allah inspired Brother James to be a true helper,” said Brother Abdullah Muhammad, Nation of Islam Student National Prison Reform Minister. True help is what this mission needs.
Bro. Abdullah, who has been on his post as the National Prison Reform Minister since 1989, was the keynote speaker for the conference and had long envisioned that a meeting like this would take place, not only on the East Coast–but in the other six regions.
“Brother James came with the whole package and proposal. He put together the programmatic form and presentation,” Bro. Abdullah said. Brother James sponsored the conference with his money.
The East Coast Regional Prison Reform Ministry Conference was held July 24-26 and drew a crowd of approximately 35—45 attendees, and featured a panel of experts including ministers, who serve in the N.O.I. Prison Reform Ministry, men who have served sentences up to 30 years in prison and community advocates for prison reform.
The panelists shared their journeys, about their lives behind the wall and their walk toward reformation. Panelists included Brother True-See Allah, Student Minister Mark Muhammad, both of Mosque No. 11, Brother True Love Allah of Mosque No. 13 of Springfield and Brother Salaam Muhammad of Mosque No. 7 in New York.
The panel, which focused on the theme “Keys to Successful Reentry,” took questions from the audience. Their stories and answers spoke to the great need that the Prison Reform Ministry has for helpers in the mission.
“I had a lot of help along the way,” said True-See Allah, the Director of Reintegration for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Massachusetts.
“I think the most important part of success and the reason why I was able to gain success is one, because of the Nation of Islam, giving me that spiritual checkup from the neck up–so that no matter what it took coming out or how hard of a struggle it was to get here, I just refused to revert back to where I came from,” he said.
Student Minister Mark Muhammad, who served 16 years behind prison walls, agreed that the community of Believers in the N.O.I., helps lead to re-entry success.
“I have been blessed because I have been around a group of beautiful brothers and a group of beautiful sisters that have made my transition out here into this world a little easier. He also credits his success to the leadership of Minister Don Muhammad.
I don’t think I could be around a better man, next to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, than Minister Don Muhammad.” Being supported by a community of Believers helps ease the pain of transition, he added.
You don’t know what it feels like to be incarcerated, not knowing if you’re ever going to get out,” he said. “And then to have these dreams–is your mother still going to be living? Are you ever going to be able to pro-create? You don’t know these things, so you’ve got to hold onto the handle of Allah!”
Brother Salaam Muhammad, who was exposed to the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad through the Five Percent Nation, was in and out of prison between 1968 and 1991.
“I came home in 1991 and I ran to the Mosque,” Brother Salaam said. “I had to look into myself.” Not only that, he went back into the prisons as a volunteer to share the message with his Brothers. “These teachings do give life,” he said.
Brother True Love Allah recalled being told by a Brother that he was involved in “some movie type of stuff.”
“When I went to prison, ‘Boyz in the Hood’ had just come out and I saw the movie ‘Juice’ and I thought —‘wow, that’s my life. That’s my life on the screen.’ I was ripping and running through the streets of Springfield. I was a very violent individual, which is far from where I am today,” he said.
While in prison, Brother True Love Allah became engrossed in the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
“It starts with your inside. And inside, I knew that I wasn’t going to be returning,” he said.
Hearing the testimonies of panelists really touched the audience, especially Martha Perry.
“It was quite an experience for me,” said Ms. Perry, who was visiting her son, Brother Nubian and his wife Carline, from Texas. “It was the first time I’ve been to a Muhammad’s Mosque and I just listened. I was very inspired,” she said. The stories of their hardships behind the wall made her think about her life. Her daughter-in-law, Carline Perry, agreed. “It was excellent. I loved it. It is very necessary,” she said.
The conference also touched Sha Noble Indeed, a Brother from the Nation of Gods and Earths. To him, the conference was a gift. “I didn’t know what was going on until I saw that there are more brothers incarcerated now than in the 1850s during slavery. That struck me,” he said.
“That day, I felt like whatever the amount of money it would cost to be there, I would pay it. That was time well spent,” said Sha Noble Indeed.
For Student Minister Abdullah, this coming together to share information–is vitally important to the mission. During his keynote address, he went to the Holy Qur’an. “Do you know what it takes to convert a murderer, a robber and a thief? What it takes is to replace ignorance with wisdom, and being an example of the message that you bring,” he said.
Some of the knowledge shared came from two presentations. The first was a special Prison Reform Ministry presentation video from Bro. Demetric Muhammad, a Student Minister and a member of the NOI Research Group. His presentation connected the history of Black slavery to current incarceration. In the presentation, Bro. Demetric shared research from the American Slave Code, which stated: “The slave may be ‘used’ so as to be ‘used up’ in seven years; may be used as a ‘breeder,’ as a prostitute, as a concubine, as a pimp, as a tapster, as an attendant at the gaming-table, as a subject of medical and surgical experiments for the benefit of science, and the Legislature makes no objections against it!” Seeing this raw data in print, really hit home for listeners.
“All of us, all of us, we’ve got a very important responsibility to put a halt to what is now considered the number one form of disempowerment for Black men in the United States, affecting the Black community” said Reverend George Walters-Sleyon, whose presentation “Mass Incarceration in the United States Penal System” highlighted the alarming statistics surrounding U.S. mass incarceration.
“It’s Blacks, Hispanics and poor Whites, but the people that are most affected by this are Black men,” Rev. Walters said. “It is very important for us to think about this from a very strategic perspective and from a place where we begin to broaden our mentality and look at it from the future and accumulate the consequences of this mass incarceration–particularly, its impact on the home, its impact on the family, its impact on the community.”
Rev. Walters is the Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Church and Prison, Inc., is a resource and research center working towards community revitalization through sentencing reform and strategic solution development and intervention in the high rate of incarceration and recidivism in the United States criminal justice system.
Rev. Walters is currently a Ph.D. student at Edinburgh University and the author of: Locked Up and Locked Down Multitude Lingers in Limbo: Revised Edition: A descriptive and pre-scriptive analysis of the high rate of incarceration of minority men, women and youths in the United States criminal justice system. His presentation also touched on the criminalization of the public school system.
“The conference was beautiful,” said Student Minister Randy Muhammad, Assistant Minister to Minister Don Muhammad of Mosque No. 11. Brother Randy is also the Prison Reform Ministry Chaplain serving nine prisons in Massachusetts. “We have a lot of talent in the Nation and it is powerful hearing the stories of other brothers,” he said. But he also stressed the importance of coming together to organize.
“I see our prison work as the work of Yakub in reverse. Yakub got his start in the prisons,” he said. “We have to become more strategic and the prison is a strategic outpost of the Nation of Islam. The takeaway is that the National Prison Reform Ministry is serious about this work. We’re going to be more deliberate about this work. We are charged with making a God. It’s very important.”
There are so many ways that you can help, said Bro. Randy. You can participate in the adopt-a-prisoner program, brothers can mentor a brother, sisters can mentor a sister. People can donate books and materials, and more, he said. In fact, Bro. Abdullah’s vision is for so much more.
“Right now I want us to purchase the first property for returning citizens to assist in housing and transitional housing. The next phase will be a building for females, the next will be for juveniles and the next will be for children of the incarcerated.” If you are ready to help, the Prison Reform Ministers have a request.
“Don’t come judging, come ready to work,” said Brother James Muhammad. “We’ve got to follow what’s already on the books,” he said referring to Master Fard Muhammad, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s mission to free the incarcerated. “(They) laid the foundation,” he said. “We have a duty.”
Brother Abdullah expanded Brother James’ point and referred to Minister Farrakhan’s words in Torchlight for America, an excerpt from the chapter titled, “Developing America’s Moral Backbone.”
“When you look at what the Muslims are doing with our prison program, in the midst of you, here again you see a torchlight. Muslims are relatively crime free, and our rate of recidivism is lower than in the main. We respect law and order. Since so many of the inmates are our people, why not let us reform them and help to save the inmates and lessen the taxpayer’s burden? We can handle the inmates for less than what America is paying now. And better, we can reform our people and make them productive members of society.”