virus: Acting Like Life's a Ballgame

Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:38:44 -0700

"Wade T.Smith" wrote:

> >kids were given a
> >chance to turn around when they made a mistake.
> But, too often, they are allowed to make the same 'mistake' again and
> again. Or the 'mistake' is overlooked in the first place. Or the
> 'mistake' is called a mistake.

Acting Like Life's a Ballgame
by Mumia Abu-Jamal

When I hear politicians bellow about getting rough on crime and barking out "three strikes -- you're out," several images come to mind. I think of how quickly the tune changes when the politician is on the receiving end of some of the so-called "toughness" after having fallen from grace. I am reminded of a powerful state appellate judge who, once caught in an intricate bizarre web of criminal conduct, changed his long standing opinion regarding the efficacy of the insanity defense, an option he once ridiculed. It revealed in a flash how illusory and transitory power and status can be, and how we are all, after all, human.

I also think of a young man I met in prison, who was one of the first wave of people imprisoned back in the 1970's under new, tougher youth certification statutes, that allowed teenagers to be sentenced as adults. The man, whom I'll call Rabbani, was a tall, husky 15 year old when he was arrested in southeastern Pennsylvania for armed robbery. The prosecutor moved that he be judicially certified as an adult and the court agreed. Tried as an adult, Rabbani was convicted of all charges, and sentenced to 15-to-30 years in prison for an alleged "robbery" with a CO2-air pistol.

His first six or seven years in this man-made hell found him constantly locked in battles with guards, and he logged more years in "the hole" than he did in general population status. He grew into manhood in shackles, and every time I saw him, he seemed bigger in size, but more bitter in spirit. When we took the time to converse, I was always struck by the innate brilliance of the young man; a brilliance immersed in bitterness - a bitterness so acidic that it seemed capable of dissolving steel. For almost 15 years, this brilliance had been caged in cubes of time and steel.

For almost two of those years he tried, largely in vain, to get a judge to reconsider his case, but the one line, two-word denials - "appeal denied" - only served to deepen his profound cynicism. For those critical years in the life of a male, from age 15 to 30, which mark the transition from boy to man, Rabbani was entombed in a juridical, psychic, temporal box branded with the false promise of "corrections." Like tens of thousands of his generation, his time in hell equipped him with no skills of value to either himself or his community.

He has been "corrected" in precisely the same way that hundreds of thousands of others have been, that is to say, warehoused in a vat that sears the very soul. He has never held a woman as a mate or lover; he has never held a newborn baby in his palm, its heart athump with new life; he hasn't seen the sun rise, nor the moon glow, in almost 15 years. For a robbery, "armed" with a pellet gun, at 15 years of age.

When I hear such easy, catchy, mindless slogans, like "3 strikes - you're out," I think of men like Rabbani, who had one strike, if not one foul, and are for all intents and purposes, already outside of any game worth playing.