Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Breaking Failure's Grip


 Some time ago, I was talking to my son while he was preparing my grandson for football practice.  The sound of his fatherhood continues to instill a great sense of pride within my being.  

At the same time, when I hear his fatherly instructions, and my grandson’s obedient responses, I become overwhelmed by the reality of my political handicap.

Capital punishment and mass incarceration cripples a free society with the psychological effects of knowing one poor decision can lead to spending the rest of your life living in captivity.  Everyone you know and love continues to thrive – making new memories day after day, while your eyes and ears absorb the same walls and routines of day-to-day life inside of the box.

Once the gates close and the steel doors are locked, failure eats away at any aspirations to be more than your circumstance, similar to a terminal illness deteriorating its host.  There are no light switches, thermostats or windows for me to control.  Prison extracts the minutest forms of independence – making success seem like a distant pipe dream.

Prison rarely grants the opportunity to unleash success from the shackled grips of failure.  As a first time offender, I long for the second chance to show that the most extreme failures can entail progression.  Rehabilitation for death row prisoners in North Carolina is unsettling; to a society who trusts their political leaders’ core values are what fuels the potent engine of justice.

These same leaders ignite their megaphones and political platforms with the malarkey of capital punishment being a justifiable deterrent to crime: the need to kill, in order to prevent murder.  They will convince their constituents that it is more suitable to build more prisons than schools.  Underpaying schoolteachers while cops get a pass for the escalation of black death rates. 

If our kids are not being taught properly; if they’re not staying in school, they are destined to join the ever-growing population of mass incarceration.  Some will even meet the demise of a poisonous cocktail that the twisted political leaders will promulgate as humane.

Looking at the free-world from a slit five inches high, I can clearly see the generations of my son and grandson, resisting defeat while in the sights of capitalists eager to fill up their prison spaces.  Death row prisoners, on the other hand, know the disappointment of defeat, yet some have proven rehabilitation through prison programs like: social psychology, creative writing, journalism, and the chess club.

In most cases, success is stimulated by failure.  The best way to understand success is to know that it is subjective.  The successes of Barack Obama, Michael Jordan and Jay-Z are templates of what can be accomplished when your work ethic speaks louder than your proclamations. 

In life, we all fail to some degree.  As my grandson takes the field for his Pop Warner Football Team, I am inclined to see that he can drop a pass, and then come back to the huddle for the very next play.  If he stumbles before making a tackle he can still recover to make a game-winning play.

While, some prisoners take their place in the stadium of outside competition, winning through our diligence to change the game, others may choose to sit in the parking lot, listening to the game on the radio.  To fail and end up in prison could mean the end of your opportunities to fail again.

Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Sunday, March 18, 2018

My Son


I was four years old the last time I heard my dad’s voice.  The distinct gruffness of his vocals would be no more.  But, through my dreams, I could still hear him, “That’s my Lil’ Mann right there.  C’mere Lil’ Mann, give Daddy a kiss boaw.”

As I grew older his voice acted as my conscience, I guess that had everything to do with Moms always reminding me how disappointed my dad would have been, whenever I screwed up.

I often wonder, what type of dreams did My Son have as a child.  Was my voice a part of those dreams?  I wondered if he could hear my pride, as he recited two of my favorite songs – over the phone – when he was barely three:

“Give me the microphone first, so I can burst like a bubble,
 Compton and Long Beach together now you know you in trouble.
Ain’t nothing but a G thang baby.”

“Just waking up in the morning, gotta thank God. 
I don’t know, but today seems kind of odd.
No barking from the dog, no smog, and
Mama cooked the breakfast with no hog.”

I wondered if his dreams relayed my pain when I stared into his familiar brown eyes, through a stained Plexiglas partition, which forbade me from squeezing a nose that once belonged to me.

If My Son saw me in his dreams, was I the monster who neglected him, or the troubled father who longed for his only son’s love?

My Son!, the greatest gift that God has given to me.  My many years of being away have given me so much to say.  Although I wonder, what is appropriate to ask, when I’ve been absent for so long?

            ‘How old were you when you lost your virginity?
            And did you use a condom?
            When did you have your first drink?
            Is it something you’ve come to regret?

As a father, I would ask these questions out of concern for my son.  As a fellow Mann, I simply want to swap war stories.  Despite the distance between us, My Son is every bit of me…a much better me.  The evolution of a Mann is My Son.

The only one.
One Mann who makes me a grand, and at the same time, I’m becoming his biggest fan.

There is nothing I could do that would instill a greater sense of pride, than when I was chosen to be one half of making you.

My gift to you?

It is a voice that is far from being an adlib in your dreams.  A voice that will forewarn you of mistakes already made, that do not need to happen again.  Feel me?

A voice that can say, ‘I love you, son’ today, then live to say it again tomorrow and the day after.

I never forget a voice. This is me assuring that My Son will never forget mine.

Much Love,

Copyright© 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Toastmasters Epitaph

Toastmasters Mission Statement

We, the Toastmasters of North Carolina’s Death Row: Strive to be better than the vitriol that has defined our societal displacement.  Our collective voice will exude the elocution of various races, religions, and regions – harmoniously refusing to be impeded by the walls of incarceration.

Written by:
Leroy E. Mann

The Toastmasters Epitaph


I was assigned the role of Toastmaster when the above words came to me.  I recall feeling the need to be a proper host/mc to such a monumental gathering.

According to the protocol/ role instruction handout, the Toastmaster is obligated to begin each meeting with the recitation of the group mission statement therefore, if someone has to ask, ‘why does North Carolina’s death row have a Toastmasters group in the first place?'  Our mission statement should more than resolve their skepticism.

What is a Toastmaster?

I personally had no clue until January of 2017.  In the 6 months since our first session, I have grown confident in the public speaking and speech writing of some of the men who share in this plight of facing the proverbial gallows, years prior to meeting the noose that is designed to relieve you of all awareness.

My personal journey with elocution has involved 7-10 minute prepared speeches of various topics: LAST MEAL (Ice breaker speech) DELIVERING THE DEATH BLOW (Statistical speech), JOIN THE RIDE (After dinner speech).

Each week possesses a different vibe from the last.  The roles of President, Toastmaster, Ah-Counter, Grammarian, Timer, General Evaluator, Topic Master and two speakers (prepared speeches), are selected through a lottery system created by the group’s Sergeant-At-Arms (holla if ya hear me, Ms. Barker).  These roles are interchangeable from week-to-week, which means no meeting  is predictable.

Our sessions grow in suspense when the Topic Master presents a particular topic, then randomly chooses three impromptu speakers to discuss the topic for the duration of 2-3 minutes.  Speaking ‘off the cuff’ is a great exercise for public speaking.  Throughout the process, you have the Grammarian analyzing the diction of each speaker, as well as, noting the usage of the word of the day (Grammarian’s selection).

At the same time, the Ah-Counter is tallying the number of times a speaker may use crutch-fillers such as, ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘like,’ and ‘so.’ The Ah-Counter is also required to note the ever-dreaded, ‘pregnant pause’ (the extended space between a speaker’s words due to uncertainty).  This is progress beyond belief; death row prisoners finding their voice through the art of public speaking.  It gives me every reason to look forward to next semester.

Unfortunately, ‘next semester’ may not happen.  The unit manager has made it his personal mission to silence the voices of Toastmasters, and conclude other programs made available to death row prisoners for the past three years.  This unit manager seems to believe that no good can come from death row prisoners improving their public speaking skills.

A great public speaker by the name of Frederick Douglas once said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.  Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground.  The want rain without thunder and lightening.

In the past, we have been poorly represented when the television cameras, and journalist’s recorders have provided a platform that can potentially lessen the proximity between redeemable beings and a misinformed free society.  Some of us choose to be better than the mistakes that define our past for this reason, Toastmasters is a necessity.

The unit manager spews words that may kill a productive program, but from a Toastmaster’s standpoint: my words are worth dying for, ya heard?

Always 100,

Copyright © 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

True Nature

Spoken word commentary on Colson Whitehead’s, the Underground Railroad, by Leroy E. Mann

We The People!!

In order to form a more ‘civilized’ union
Will remove the noose from our necks,
And take the necessary steps toward our hopes.
No longer will our place in this sinister space
Be tethered to the ends of white supremacy’s ropes.

Tell me,
Why is it that slaves and slave masters can share the
Same heaven, in death?
Yet our earthly existence is filled with hate, fear,
And lust of the opposite shade…
The old declaration must fade, because

We the People are not the common defense,
We are defenseless against a white man’s
Licentious advances.
Even with the documents of manumission
Our general welfare ‘hangs’ on the discretion,
Or brutal urges of the witless patroller.

Prosperity? … Only if we agree
To be shipped and fixed… As if
We don’t have the scruples to control over sexual nature.
The nature that knows the sting
But never the softness of cotton…
The nature that provides breast milk
When the Missus has none to provide…
That same nature that sees high – Praying to be
More than three fifths, while the massa’s view
Is essentially killing you, and
Eventually making you his equal.

We the People
Anticipate evolution not the sequel
Of fighting amongst ourselves to impress our oppressors.
We must take off the blinders and face the truth
Of the sexual, racial and economical abuse
That will plague our future generations,
Who will kill for sneakers.
Drowning out their history of foreign tongues
By blasting Alpine speakers
I, would rather be defeated and die,
Than act against my own Nature.

Think of your words…
Are they no more than a parlor trick?
Do they possess substance founded on your principles?
Or, are they simply a blind recitation
Of the next man’s declaration?

We the People

Copyright © 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann