After The Dance, After The Morning After.
I felt a bit different the following morning. The knot in my stomach was not as heavy, but it still lingered like a lost lover. Though I wrote about my upcoming experiences volunteering in prison and touched on some outreach I did when I was in college, the experience I had the day prior was different as an adult.
There are certain things that serve as triggers of memories. It will be the cold air on my head that serves as a catalyst for me to remember May 15. On May 15 I rode with over 40 other business and startup executives about 60 miles north of Los Angeles in Lancaster, which seemed more like 600 miles away with the cold wind and landscape. We served as business coaches with Defy Ventures, an organization founded by Catherine Hoke that fights for the entrepreneurial underdogs.
There is often talk in venture capital and the startup community about the underrepresented. This is just about as underrepresented as you can get, but not just in the startup community but also the American workforce. Messaging and language matters, so for clarity when I talk about the residents of the California State Prison in Los Angeles, I will not refer to the men in the program as inmates, but rather in the way of Defy’s language — calling them EIT (entrepreneurs in training).
As of September 2016, the prison in Lancaster had a design capacity of 2,300 but a total institution population of 3,294, for an occupancy rate of 143.3 percent.
I expected to come in and do what I normally do at places like UCLA, Chapman, Berkeley — listen to pitches, evaluate startup ideas, and give some thoughts on paths forward albeit with a different audience. We did that and more. We explored race, class, history, shame, pain, and repentance. We danced, some better than others. We sung, we smiled, we embraced.
The EITs acknowledged their own decision making that lead to not only the path of self destruction, but also a path to redemption, as EITs who complete the program will earn a certificate in business from Baylor University.
It was not only an emotional experience for the EITs and volunteers, but also for myself. I realized that culture and the culture of masculinity in certain communities plays a huge role in our being. Why is the “hood” of the 1980’s still the hood of the 2010s until other communities move in? While I also spoke with the EITs about their history, their lineage from King of Kings, I too grew from the experience.
The moments after our 6 hour day in prison, some of my colleagues wanted to talk and open up about the experience. I didn’t want to but hustled a game face similar to spouses who have lost a love one and is comforted with questions after the funeral.
While nearly every EIT was black or brown with the exclusion of 4-5 gentlemen who were Caucasian or Asian, the volunteer pool was a transposed mirror image, with 3-4 black or brown faces in the population of over 40 business executives.
The volunteer pool also had a significant number of women, which is not surprising if you study religion and the story of Mary Magdalene. The anointment here was not oil, but rather hope and self determination.
While I know Catherine stated she did not want us to feel pity or shame, I have to be honest about my personal feelings given that I’ve had so many family members who could have been an EIT. I also have family members who have been victims at the hands of people like the EITs. The conflict of both still resonate. I felt the duality of guilt that I was one decision, or in some cases a decision of others, away from being in the shoes of the EITs. I also had this sense of indignation because I remember my grandmother being taken away from me by a man who made the wrong decision like many of the EITs.
I often wondered how did the left behind feel when La Amistad, Lord Ligonier, and Tecora set sail to the west. It seemed as if the experience I felt in Lancaster mirrored my ancestors in that exact position at that moment.
Ava Duvernay covered the disproportionate numbers of the prison population in her documentary 13th and there have been a number conversations both on Medium and outside that debate specific narratives. Michael Moore looked at how other countries deal with those who commit crimes, especially those who will be reintroduced into society.
In the Holy Bible, the book of first John chapter 1 verse 9 teaches about forgiveness.
In the Holy Qur’an, the Surah Al Maidah 5:45 speaks to the need for punishment for our sins, similar to the Torah, as well as charity (forgiveness).
There is a need for law and order and the punishment for our transgressions. But we have to be honest about the historical and systematic context that has created the environment where the EIT population and the volunteer population exists.
I hope others get to experience what I did and volunteer with Defy so that the nation could have a collective morning after. Perhaps we would rethink the idea of rehabilitation and recidivism.
For every William R. Horton, there is a Kalief Browder or a Tim Allen somewhere, someplace. I thank the staff and volunteers at Defy Ventures in searching for solutions for all three. I hope that after this experience, I do not forget May 15 after the morning after.
After the morning after
After the night before
When all of the fun is over
Will you want me anymore