Thanks to ‘S’ on the Teen Spirit Board of Directors for this post
We all walk along in life, moving swiftly, often untouched by the worlds of others. But every now and again there comes along something or someone that touches your world. Last Thursday this is exactly what happened.
Last Thursday Teen Spirit had the honour of welcoming Robert King who came in to give a little talk. A little talk and one of the biggest inspirations I have ever witnessed. Robert King was one of three young black men now known as the Angola 3 who was kept in solitary confinement, in a 6x9x12 ft cell sentenced to never see the outside world again for a crime that he evidently didn’t commit.
The appalling prison conditions, such as segregation and sexual violence inside Louisiana State Penitentiary (otherwise known as “Angola”) sparked the activist in these young men and they managed to initiate the Black Panther Party within the same concrete walls and prison bars that had stolen their freedom. They attempted to change the culture of the prison and encourage de-segregation and an end to many of the other crimes going on inside Angola. However these actions gained the punishment of solitary confinement after the three men were convicted and sentenced for the death of a prison warden, despite unchallengable evidence that they were not responsible. King was not even at Angola at the time of the death but was kept in solitary confinement “under investiagtion”.
Robert King ultimately spent TWENTY-NINE years in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit and for standing up for his –and others’ – human rights. In 2001 he was finally released however his fellow comrades are still held in solitary confinement for now more than three decades and their freedom is Robert’s mission, backed by big international campaigns such as Amnesty International’s.
For me the inspiration wasn’t just in his story but how Robert has reacted to these events in his life. I was looking at a man who had lost everything many times over. He had lost his freedom, his son, the ability to be share his time and space with his family and friends had all been robbed of him. He literally had a grave with a tombstone already written for him.
The only emotions that I could imagine were anger, bitterness, grief, misery. But looking at the man in front of me, this is not what I saw. I saw positivity, gentleness wrinkled in an abyss of wisdom. The man that stood in front of us spoke of hope and belief in all the possibilities in this world. The same world that was so cruel to him, that ignored him and left him along for half a lifetime, he spoke of changing. He spoke of the power of humanity and the changes that we can make when we stand together. He had robbed of all his human rights and all he loved by the lack of any kind of humanity so it’s understandable that he values it so highly.
Robert explained that indeed he felt these difficult emotions but his human spirit couldn’t allow this to be the end and wasn’t willing to settle for this life, he was not going allow someone to write his life off like this and he most definitely was going to fight back; not with knives or guns but with something stronger. With his mind and spirit. And he wasn’t just going to fight for himself or just his comrades, he was going to fight for justice, humanity and a better world and he wouldn’t stop until he saw a change in this world.
Although I myself have never been to prison, sometimes being HIV positive feels like a life sentence that society grants you and you can’t escape from. It robs you of the freedom to honestly be yourself and be open amongst your friends and sadly, even relatives. This by itself can leave you lonely in a world that you don’t feel welcomed in. If mixed in with a cocktail of unfortunate life events, you can find yourself drunk in anger, grief and bitterness. And as time passes by, hope becomes bleak and faith can be difficult.
Looking at this man from whom society took everything away, he was clearly someone who had every reason to be bitter, angry and hateful but here he was trying to change the world and reminding everyone that we can all change the world even if we all do a little. Mostly it reminded me our wounds can be our wisdom. And for me I shall try to live by this for the rest of my days.