Prison Radio
Sergio Hyland

Sup everybody. It’s Uptown Serg. I got another one for you right now.

Last year, Philly’s gun violence epidemic pushed the homicide rate to new heights. Nobody seems to be safe from becoming a potential victim. Sitting in my small dark prison cell deep within the bowels of a state penitentiary, I can’t help but to cringe every time that I see a report on the news where another person was shot to death.

My response is always a grieving empathy for the victim and their family, because nobody deserves to experience such a tragedy. But then I find myself grieving for those responsible for pulling the trigger, because in my mind, I have no doubt that those young people pulling the trigger have absolutely no idea what their future holds, and that’s the heart of this crisis.

I can assure you that most young people who grow up immersed in their inner city culture don’t think twice about the potential consequences of their actions. I’m living proof of that. I owned my first gun when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been in prison for 20 years straight, convicted of third degree murder. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about harming myself or others or my community—and it wasn’t that I didn’t care about coming to prison. But rather those potential consequences didn’t outweigh the potential power and respect I thought I’d earn by being a gun-toting gangster.

My action destroyed lives, and the same is happening to the young people in our community who are only yearning for the very same respect, appreciation, and love that all human beings must have in order to be productive members of the human race. When a teenager is willing to risk their own life in order to feel wanted, appreciated, respected, and valued, that isn’t a teenager problem. It’s a societal problem.

And one of the biggest reasons why we can’t reach these young people is because we’re too busy blaming them, criticizing them, reminding them of their worthlessness. Is there really any surprise that they aren’t listening? Accountability is necessary. Pointing fingers is not. We can do better. At some point, we all must accept responsibility for what’s taking place in our city. Because all behavior is learned behavior.

For years, I worked relentlessly mentoring young men in and out of prison who seem to be enamored with the street culture. Right here at SCI Chester, the administration allows us to create the safe spaces necessary for true conversation and leadership, and a common theme among the younger guys is a feeling of hopelessness and despair. It’s my belief that they feel this way because they don’t know what their options are.

And when it comes to teaching them what their options are, they won’t trust just anybody. Therefore, if city leaders really want to curb this violent trend without building more prisons, they must allow people such as myself to do the leading, because people in my position have been on both sides. We’ve done it all. And through God’s grace, we’ve made it to the point of positive self-revolution.

It isn’t good enough for us to simply tell our stories. We have to be examples of what success looks like. We have to be providers of opportunities for that success. Let’s not forget that youth is a barrier to understanding. Our young people have to be shielded as they grow into maturity. There are countless men and women in prison who’ve taken on the burdensome responsibility of mentoring on the inside, and we don’t do it for recognition.

However, when we come home, we need the city to invest in us as well if we’re to continue trying to set things straight. So far, as I look at the actions that the city has taken to reverse this negative culture, it seems as if they’ve included everybody except for those who actually understand it the best. So I urge everybody to dig deep and come up with better solutions to this problem. And the best way to do so is by involving everybody, including those who perpetrated these crimes.

To learn how the Human Rights Coalition is working to make our communities safer, visit Thanks for listening. I’m Uptown Serg, and you can follow me on Instagram @uptownserg.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.