Prison Radio
Izell Robinson

This is Izell Robinson, inmate number 210006 in Minnesota. Um, I wanted to do excerpts from a personal piece I wrote called “Now or Never: Education Versus Excuses.”

Langston Hughes wrote a populsr poem that ask us what becomes of a dream deferred. Sadly, I have become the answer to this question by squandering life opportunities through poor choices that led me to prison.

In prison, I’ve learned a common sentiment that when a person enters prison, they find religion or deeper criminal thinking. I think: what about an inmate finding education? Why can’t this be a true means to reform? If you asked me why pursue an education now, well, I’m tired.

I’m tired of being known as the man with so much wasted potential. I’m tired of feeling like a failure. I’m tired of resenting myself for not becoming the person I know I can become. I’m tired of hearing the convicting chatter of, “Do you remember?” Honestly, I do remember.

I was previously looked at as a person who was never supposed to make it through high school, let alone go to college. And I say this because I come from my area in Chicago known as one of the worst areas in the city. Yet I went to many private schools and in those private schools, I learned how to have thick skin when it came to dealing with people’s racial attitudes. But beyond the surface, that’s still bothered me.

But as it turns out, racism will be the last of my worries because I would finally find myself in handcuffs being taken to a jail cell. In all veracity, I would have never experienced or thought that I would experience confinement in jail or prison. I definitely am ashamed and embarrassed to be in prison. I know I felt there were lies and injustice involved in the judicial process cementing my confinement.

However, what I feel did not matter because I was off to prison and for me, that aroused an uncertain fear. When I first walked through the prison doors, I was angry at both the criminal justice system and myself. Second, I was furious as I thought about circumstances at a moment of my crime and action that I should have avoided. Third, I was enraged because my choices had led me to this moment where I would have to face my shame and learn to be accountable for the poor choices I made when using chemicals as an attempt to solve my problems and medicate my trauma.

Fourth, I was exasperated because I did not feel like continuing to battle myself or hiding behind the mask that I relied to shield my family and others from the truth of my negative behaviors. Finally I was perplexed because I was now somewhere where I didn’t want to be in life, and I didn’t want to take fault for that. Therefore I was content on looking to blame the system and anyone else from my failures. I was a bit in denial. I know depression and frustration all too well that sometimes I just need to scream. Although that- I realized that, and that being irate and screaming won’t change my condition or solve my problems.

I had to look at the man staring in the mirror to find out who I am, realizing that I am intelligent and my life does matter as a black man. I wanted more for me than the stain of confinement. Consequently I began to educate myself through becoming involved in and really participating in positive programming options that the prison offered.

And for me, that changed a lot because sitting in that jail cell, I was alone, alone with my thoughts and fears. I thought about my life and death. I thought about my past along with what I want for my future, my racing mind thinking until I felt that I can think no more. I had finally hit rock bottom and was afraid for myself.

But I knew I must change something to get back to the old me who I was in high school. The jail staff offered me an opportunity to retrieve a book off the book cart. I noticed the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X throughout the night and found myself inspired. I felt the renewed in a sense. I was enthralled by Malcolm’s courage to educate itself by studying the dictionary.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.