My Project, What Brought Me Here, and Enacting Change.

In brainstorming ideas for an informative, intriguing, and affective video, I’ve done some serious contemplation regarding my issue of precarity and the enormous body of people impacted by it. By this point, I’ve met with a good handful of people who’ve had a lot to say about imprisonment and the subsequent issues that haunt felons integrating back into society. I’ve listened to their frustrations, empathized with their struggles, and have done the best I can do to show them that there are people outside of their shoes who are invested in seeing a better future for individuals in their situation. I’ve come to realize this: when you show compassion to people who feel as if they’ve been wrongfully abandoned by society, their hearts soften, even if it’s only temporarily, and they walk away from these interactions with a reinvigorated sense of hope for their future. My goal, through the video and the project at large, is to transform their temporary sense of hope and positive outlook into a permanent one.

Yes, many people have had stories to tell. Some heartfelt, others troubling, but all with a common theme: Something’s gotta change. While some subjects blame an oppressive system, other more conscious individuals (usually older) acknowledge that some of the real underlying issues begin here, at home, in El Barrio. Poverty and lack of decent opportunities has a crippling effect on low income communities of color; but when drugs, guns, violence, and false idols are thrown into the mix, the effects become lethal. In considering certain terms from the Glossary, such as War, Violence, and Monster/The Unhuman, one gains a real understanding of how these issues manifest themselves throughout the community in the context of a Posthuman society.

In thinking about what I’d like to achieve through my work, I’ve reflected on the life I’ve lived and what brought me to doing this project to begin with:

As rays sunshine creep past my curtains infiltrating my room with light and life, I lay in bed with a surge of energy brewing deep in my body. I am nervous, but excited; I feel oddly upbeat, as if the nostalgia overwhelming my mind and soul has pressed play on a soundtrack full of the songs that shaped my adolescent years. As the hour approaches, the music in my head grows louder and louder. I go about my morning activities in a chipper mood. I am never up this early without the motivational assurances provided through a cup of Cafe Bustelo. But today I don’t need any coffee. I don’t need the sweet taste of liquor to provide me with a temporary sense of joy. And I certainly don’t need my early Saturday morning blunt. I move with a convivial carelessness, similar to a Kindergartener entering the playground to play kickball with his pals. My mom is at ease knowing that i’m happy. Even my cats, who remain aloof so long as I’m not feeding them greet me with an affable meow. It is a warm June morning, with a high of 74. Even if the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and the skies opened up to release shower of raindrops over my head, I’d thank the heavens for generously washing my face and body. Nothing in the world could damper how I feel, for today is the day my best friend comes home from jail.

When you’re an only child in a single parent household, you tend to hold your friends a little bit closer than most. Growing up with little resources but an abundance of spirit, we’d spend our mornings, days, and nights on the stoop, in a tree, or somewhere distant, doing something our mothers would have surely beat us for if they were aware of our antics. We’d kick our deflated soccer balls around until our feet were cracked with cuts and calluses. We’d throw rocks and acorns at each other, taking turns assuming the role of criminal mastermind versus federal agent. We’d stay up far too late on school nights, playing Naruto and Smash Bro’s on our GameCube’s that we unrelentlessly begged mom for the Christmas before. My best friend is the closest thing I’ll ever have to a brother, and as the years unfolded and we were separated by space and time, our bond never broke.

We went to high schools on opposite ends of the county, so naturally we saw less and less of each other. Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat replaced our GameCubes and Pokemon cards, now serving as our shared sense of entertainment. My friend became a “rapper”, and I was convinced that I was destined to play professional soccer. In chasing our respective dreams, the differences that marked who we were grew more intense. I did my best to surround myself with athletes and competitors. Bro favored scammers and hustlers; agents of the streets whose code of ethics were discarded at any chance to acquire a little money. In truth, I’m friends with a fair share of scammers and scavengers as well, but that life is simply not for me. While we came from humble beginnings, I never saw this as an excuse to chase an easy buck at the expense of someone else. Whenever I tried to paint the bigger picture for my best friend, he always had some clever way to justify his actions. Maybe I wasn’t using a big enough brush.

Years passed. His music career has yet to take off, and I quit the soccer dream in pursue bigger things. What I’m after, I still don’t know; but I will use surely utilize the tools I’ve been handed throughout my endeavors as a college student. When I got the first jail call from my best friend, I heard the operators voice and was instantly brought back to the years my mom would spend her evenings on the phone with my uncle as he did his twenty year bid. My mom, who lost a brother to the streets and two to the state penitentiary was determined to ensure I didn’t meet the same fate. Whenever I veered off track, my estranged father always reminded me that he and my mother didn’t put their differences to the side to co parent a future felon. He also told me at least twice a year that if I ever got locked up, he’d never visit me. I wonder if my best friends parents had ever had these conversations with him. If they did, it was to no great effect. As I entered my first year at NYU, he served his first sentence as an inmate at Albany County Correctional facility. At the tender age of 19, we both embarked on journeys that would shape the rest of our lives.

We spoke on the phone. I wrote him letters and tried to put money on his commissary. I even wrote a letter of recommendation to the judge to have his time reduced. When school ended and I had the chance to go upstate, I made sure to visit him. We talked, we laughed, we prayed, and we did our best not to shed a single tear. But most importantly, we brainstormed. When my Uncle came home in 2014, the streets of East Harlem brimmed with elation. The first annual “Welcome Home” barbeque at Jefferson Park was for him. To this day, it remains an ongoing tradition, celebrating the life and freedom of respected figures of the community who survived their time. When I got the news that bro was coming home, I remembered how it felt to see my uncle as a free man for the first time. I recalled the unspoken sense of excitement that filled the park and our hearts alike. It is the same feeling I experienced the morning my best friend was released. Only this time, I’m not a kid welcoming his uncle home. I’m a grown man, and I have the agency and wherewithal to do my part in making sure my brothers who serve time can learn, grow, and become positive figures of society.

As young men marked by poverty and racial parameters we are constantly at war. War with the law, war against oppression, and as painful as it is to admit, war amongst ourselves. Authors within the Posthuman Glossary described war as an alternative system of profit, power and protection. Young men of color are often exploited by old heads who give them false guidance that in almost all cases leads to their demise or incarceration. Older felons who return home to a lack of resources or stable employment turn back to the streets, often employing the youth to carry out their dirty work in order to avoid getting jammed again. At this point, impoverished teens are so deep in the mix that they obey their OG’s under fear of aggression or not living up to the code of the streets. These kids, who often find themselves getting locked up come home five, ten, or fifteen years later and assume the roles of the men who misguided them. It’s time that we break this destructive cycle, and replace it with a system that promotes peace, positivity, and the potential to gain power, as a community, through productive and life enhancing means.

~ by iancarlosgr on March 31, 2019.