Death row voices will be heard in Greensboro | Literature

Michael J. Braxton, Lyle C. May, Terry Robinson and George T. Wilkerson will not be permitted to possess a copy of Inside: Voices from Death Rowthe second book they wrote with Tessie Castillo.

All four men are being held on North Carolina’s death row. When asked last week, Durham-based journalist Castillo said her co-authors had all received copies from contributors to Crimson Letters: Voices from Death Rowthe collection of 2020 nominated essays they wrote with her after she taught them at Raleigh Central Jail.

“The men had it for a few days before the correctional officers came and seized their copies. The book was banned throughout the North Carolina prison system.

Like all the material it contained, including notes and document files.

“When we were writing the second book, and I was sending the essays back to them for editing and corrections, I had to get volunteers to send these papers untitled so that prison officials and officers couldn’t tell that it was about chapters. in the next book.

This new book is published by Scuppernong Editions, the publishing house of Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books. On Friday, September 23 at 6 p.m., it will debut at the 304 South Elm Street Bookstore as the opening event of prison country, an ambitious nine-part series examining incarceration in America. This event is hybrid and can be attended in person or via Zoom. Castillo’s co-authors will join by phone.

Castillo said that On the inside and her predecessor happened because of a psychologist she met at a Super Bowl party in 2013.

“He worked specifically with people on death row and had long advocated bringing in death row volunteers to teach art, writing and other things. He eventually succeeded and was looking for “volunteers. To my knowledge, no one has been allowed on death row except for chaplains.”

She immediately volunteered, but it took a year for the project to be approved.

“At the time, I was a lobbyist working with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and the state legislature on criminal law and death penalty reforms. As part of criminal justice work, I was also a journalist and published articles for many years.

Castillo said the books aren’t the only thing censored on Death Row.

“The letters are regular. After the switch to tablets last October, texts and emails have been and are being closely monitored, and things are regularly redacted. I sent them stuff that was blocked or delayed for a long time while someone was handling it.

There were other forms of repression.

“One of our co-authors was thrown into solitary confinement for 37 days without being given a reason. After his isolation ended, he was told it wasn’t specifically because of the book, but because of the music he was writing, which appears in the book. The guys sometimes get reminders from the guards that they are being watched, phone calls are being monitored, and letters are being read. My name is on a watch list, so I often have to send things to them through someone else.

In the foreword to the new book, Sister Helen Prejean, author of walking dead man, quoted co-author Lyle May:

“Prison is a place, an experience, a period of time, in which to continue to grow, to develop, to age, to die. It’s a very different place than any other, but still just a place where people continue to be people.

Castillo agreed.

“I think it’s really important that if we’re going to have a system that actually kills people, we should understand how it works. So I would encourage people to find out more. Until you know a person on death row, it’s very easy to kill someone on death row, it’s much harder when you do.

That’s why she and her co-authors offer book clubs where people can call and talk with Braxton, May, Robinson and Wilkerson via Zoom. “They can ask all the questions they want. We also do speaking engagements where guys call from jail, so we provide a lot of opportunities for people to get to know these guys.

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Despite this, Castillo said, most of Central Jail’s 135 death row inmates remain completely silent.

” They do not have money. These guys pay for the texts they send, they pay by the minute to write the texts, they pay by the minute for the phone calls, for the movies they watch and for the games. Their only sources of money are friends and family. They are not allowed to be paid for their work, and my co-authors earn nothing from the book. All money goes to the North Carolina Victims Assistance Network.

Castillo sent YES! Weekly the following statements from each of its co-authors.

Michael J. Braxton, also known as Alim, is the only rapper to release music from Death Row, where he has been since 1993. His debut album mercy on my soul is available through NU Revolution Entertainment.

Braxton wrote:

Here are two things I would like your readers to know. First, I like to learn. I chose my Muslim name, Alim, because it means “one who has knowledge”. I read constantly. I read biology, chemistry and physics textbooks, a scientific and technical encyclopedia, a geographical dictionary. I have read tons of books on black history and race in America. I study Islamic law and have read the Quran several times. If there’s something I’ve heard of but don’t understand, I’ll study it until I understand it. If I wasn’t in prison, I might be a teacher or an academic. The second thing I want your readers to know is that I’m a rapper on a mission. I’ve been rapping since I was 13, but only started releasing records in the last few years. I’m passionate about music, but I see hip hop as my ticket to bigger and more important things. My ultimate goal is to make amends for the crimes I have committed and help innocent people on death row get released, especially my friends Stacey Tyler and Elrico Fowler. Allah says in the Quran that killing one person is like killing all mankind, and saving one life is like saving all mankind. Inshallah, I will use my music to literally save the life of a man on death row.

Lyle C. May is a prison reporter, abolitionist, Ohio University alumnus, and member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society. He has been on death row since 1999.

May wrote:

It is important to remember that incarcerated people are human beings who think, feel and often evolve. We have families, loves, anxieties, regrets and struggle to make a semblance of life in confinement. This, unfortunately, juxtaposes the politics of crime and punishment that anyone convicted of a crime is “less than”. This story justifies inhuman treatment, injustice and death. By reducing me to something less than ordinary citizens, it makes the fight against systemic wrongs like the death penalty and life without parole, or better prison conditions a matter of survival. The public has been conditioned to believe that draconian punishments are morally acceptable. I challenge that belief with what my experience and that of others demonstrate, and what academics have struggled to explain for decades: harsher sentences cause more violent crimes; the death penalty and life without parole are an extension of racial oppression and political power; prisons fail society because they have been allowed to deteriorate under the pretext of being “harsh”. These are examples of why I write and pursue justice. This will to resist is at the heart of my identity and my desire for freedom.

Terry L. Robinson, also known as Chanton, has been on death row since 1998. He is currently working on two books, the urban fantasy novel born to the devil and the memory Tales from the Hood: A Roadmap to Death Row. He maintains his innocence and continues to fight what he calls his wrongful conviction.

Robinson wrote:

I would like readers to know that throughout my life’s journey, I have discovered that I am the product of my hidden flaws that have evolved into the undeniable truth. My past mistakes were not the result of my lack of moral conviction, but the will to be accepted I didn’t know my bad decisions at the time, my shameless behavior, was my resume writing of my life; that I would be categorized and looped into a statistic and deemed unworthy of humanity. I didn’t understand that somewhere in my quest for validation from others, I had given up on my self-approval. And with no way to right the wrongs of my past, I was beyond recovery.

Today, I realize that the path to redemption is not offered by naysayers, but earned through responsibility, growth, and positive change. Today, I am no longer attached to the validation of others; I am defined by my property. My writing is the tool by which I carved out my redemption by laying bare my truths. It’s an affirmation and a reminder that I’m allowed to have flaws.

George T. Wilkerson is a three-time winner of the PEN America Literary Award. He edited the anthology You will be smarter than us and is editor of Compassiona national newsletter by and for those sentenced to death. bone orchard, his collaborative collection from BleakHouse Publishing, examines the differences between making time with a release date and having a death sentence. He has been on death row since 2006.

Wilkerson wrote:

I would like readers to know that I am a work in progress in both respects; and that as I grow as a person, it enriches my writing, which in turn helps me grow as a person. It is an upward spiral growth loop.

For me, writing poetry and personal essays is about harnessing our humanity and sharing what I find. the premise is that despite our superficial and circumstantial differences, below all – or rather, ABOVE all? – we are all fundamentally the same. Writing helps me discover the raw material of empathy, those golden veins of emotion that we all share.

So the more I write, the more HUMAN I feel, the more connected and whole I am.

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