Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Unwrapping G-Dad: A Birthday Gift for Daleah


I come from the cheesesteak hoagie,
     My neighbor’s camera,
          and Pop Pop’s hair clippers.

I belong to my Mom’s heavy hands,
     Pine Sol’s lemony fresh scent,
          City exhaust, ain’t nothing sweet.

I come from loving to write,
     The exhausted appeals of another death row prisoner,
          Everybody in prison is innocent.

I know thinking rationally isn’t the same across
     The board.

 And, I am an ocean,
      A tidal wave!

So much left undiscovered.

This was my opening monologue in the ground-breaking play, SERVING LIFE.  It is the “I come from” poem that symbolizes what was – becoming what is.  Twenty summer seasons have rotated throughout my time inside of “the Box.” The past four have been celebratory, a newfound freedom while remaining imprisoned.

My granddaughter, Daleah is the reason.  Now, I know at this juncture of her promising existence, the words I express may come off as a jigsaw puzzle without color, she can’t tell one piece from the next.  But G-Dad is here to reveal a clear picture for you, Lil’ Mama.

The beginnings of a Mann will always be tethered to you. So let’s’ put this puzzle together – decode this familial blueprint and you will see me, when I was you:
The cheesesteak hoagie is the sandwich of my city (PHILLY).  Served with the works and a side of cheese fries; your G-Dad was a fixture in steak shops.

My next-door neighbor was a professional photographer.  His work captured my earliest years – all the way up to my high school graduation, and eventually the promotional photos of a Hip-Hop career that ended too soon.  Love ya, Mr. V.

Julius Samuel was my maternal grandfather.  He was a barber by trade.  The “ART Barbershop” was a staple in our family dynamic.  Pop-Pop was a positive male influence when I needed one, Baby Girl.

My Moms’ heavy hands are easily decoded as, “Moms didn’t play no games.” The lemon scent of Pine Sol was common in our house, and the exhaust fumes of public transportation (SEPTA) were a constant.  There was nothing sweet about my treks through the city.

Writing has helped me to deal with loss.  Writing, to me, is like bench pressing: I get the stress off of my chest while raising the bar of my own expectations.  Feel me?

The stigma of “every prisoner claiming innocence” is frustrating.  I knew a man who said he was innocent for 33 years.  Because of that stigma, he entered prison a teenager, and then he was eventually released as a middle-aged man.  SMH.

And know this, Daleah; rational thinking can be deceptive when love comes into play.  An ideology that keeps me from holding you in my arms.

The beauty of an ocean is its mystery.  Most eyes can only explore the surface, but there is so much more to be discovered.  So much potential that goes unseen, but every now and then a tidal wave gets everyone’s attention.  Ya heard?

This “I come from” poem is my gift to you Lil’ Mama.  The Mann legacy is an ocean.  Be a tidal wave Daleah.

Happy Born Day, Baby!!!

Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Seated As One

Re: SHOOT, THAT WAS EASY, by Helen Ubinas

Seven minutes is all it takes to own the weaponry suited for soldiers putting their lives on the line for the stars and stripes that represent this country’s freedom.  Seven whole minutes… The difference between patriot and domestic terrorist.

The recent sit-in protest concerning gun control legislation is an action that is long overdue.  200 democratic leaders, led by Georgia Rep. John Lewis shouted, “No bill, No break,” on the floor of the House chamber.  After the worst mass shooting in American history (if you don’t count the 1923 Rosewood Massacre or the 1921 Tulsa Riot or the Elaine Massacre of 1919) the whole world is watching US.

It is unfortunate that we are a culture empowered by guns.  On television and in our movies, guns are a stronghold that our children identify with whenever they are rewarded with water guns, cap guns, B.B. guns, and plastic M-16’s.  How is this any different than giving a child a replica of a suicide bomber’s vest for Christmas? Or a rope that assimilates a hangman’s noose as a birthday gift?

Our country’s progression is handicapped by the easy access to firearms that are constructed for the purpose of holding down battlefields – not for the sake of unleashing terror on an elementary school in Newtown, CT, or a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL.  This is why I applaud the cavalier journalism of Helen Ubinas.  Her guilty style of “getting the story,” demonstrated that it only took seven minutes to buy an AR-15.  Approximately 8 days prior to the efforts of democrats to shut down the House’s legislative work.

Gat, tool, heat, hammer, sender, strap, steel and cannon; colloquialisms that make firearms synonymous with crime.  “My Uzzi Weighs a Ton,” “Tons of Guns,” “Pass Me the Gat,” and “Reign of the Tec,” is a soundtrack, which perpetuates the stigma of a gun being a sensible resolution.  I guess this is why a middle-aged Latina woman had no problem walking into a Philly gun shop and purchasing an AR-15 assault rifle during her lunch break.

“Turn out I don’t need a story. The AR-15 is on display in the window of the gun shop.  It is being promoted as the gun of the week,” she says while carrying a cardboard box over half of her height.  Just think about the burning scent a cap gun leaves after each trigger thrust.  Or, how about the dialogue between kids when another doesn’t respect the rules of being shot while playing cops and robbers:

“You dead.  I shot chu when you was hidin behind the statue.”

“No I ain’t, cause I shot chu a long time ago when you tried to hide behind the car.”

These are words of make believe, today, but what do these words say about the future of this country?

If acquiring an assault rifle is as simple as presenting valid identification proving your American citizenship and $759.99, then Helen’s summation reads more like a cautionary take rather than a citizen being cautiously optimistic, “If nothing changed after children – babies – were slaughtered inside their school, do any of us really believe anything will change following the deaths of people so many fear and loathe simply for trying to live their truth.”

It took more time for her to turn the gun into police that it did to make the purchase.  As she filled out the lengthy paperwork, she noticed a sign hanging on the wall in the police station, “United We Stand.”

What is it that we are standing for as a country, when the barbarity of a few laying down Americans in masses?  There must be a vote on measures to expand background checks and block gun purchases.  “No bill, No break” is why the House chamber floor is covered with seated Democrats.  United so that it is safe to stand again.

Leroy E. Mann

Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sound is Inspiration


Advanced technology makes traditional telephone communication seem primitive, like using a sundial to tell time, or dipping a quill into ink for the purpose of writing a scribe.  

The deaths of my beloved Aunt Mary, Nana and most recently Aunt Lena have been cause for the prison administration to “grant” me a single phone call to my immediate fam.  Other than that, the administration’s “generosity” for phone calls is limited to one visually monitored call every December.

My personal boycott of the prison’s annual holiday scam began December 2013.  I wholeheartedly refused to continue exposing my people to this establishment’s outlandish long distance service.  Ridiculous rates, designed to sever familial ties within the sum of 10 measly minutes.

The yearning to hear the voices of my parents during the holiday season, made the sacrifice feel like I was tiptoeing through a quagmire of desolation.  At times, I had to question my motives for abstaining from the pleasantries of their holiday cheer: “Is this my way of letting go?  Have I finally accepted this existence?” As you can see, this was a rough stretch for me.  SMH.

The struggle continues, yet the odds have tilted in the favor of the Underdog.  In April 2015, Vanderbilt University Divinity School hosted the REVISIONING JUSTICE CONFERENCE.  Our phone crisis was discussed and greatly frowned upon.  

We then submitted petitions – signed by condemned men – and sent to the street for the “FREE WORLD” to catch, process, then act on the state’s display of denying condemned prisoners, who are under appeal, the right to have regular telecommunication with our appellant attorneys.

By August 2015, the majestic sounds of legendary speaker and phenomenal legal mind, Bryan Stevenson, stood before us – delivering a powerful message.  He strongly encouraged the writers of “the row” to continue pushing our pens because proximity breeds awareness; a sound that drew a standing ovation, while unifying our sights on a change that would bring us closer to our loved ones.  Feel me?

Along came December 18, 2015.  The performance of SERVING LIFE broke new ground.  I felt these cold walls of covert injustice crumble when my character (PHILLY) warmed the hearts of the audience with this line, “The worst is when you want to tell someone you love about something, and you can’t.  You got one ten-minute phone call a year.” Man, I swear! That was one of the most liberating moments of my life.  Word is bond!

Three short months later, those same words left hundreds of people stunned and outraged when the monologues that makes up SERVING LIFE were performed at U.N.C. Chapel Hill’s Genome Sciences Building; a conference titled, RACE, INNOCENCE, and the END of the DEATH PENALTY.  

It was a blessing to have my parents attend such an event, and I don’t mind telling you; the sounds of their enthusiasm during the following visit, reaffirmed that our position of protest had grown legs, and was methodically beginning to stand firm.

On June 7, 2016, the sound of a dial tone – that may have been annoying at some time in our lives – inspires the men of death row to purchase phone minutes at the rate of 10 cents per.  The sounds rumbling from the cellblocks, rec yard, and corridors that make up Unit 3 (death row), no longer exudes despair.  

I am now captivated by the sounds of Moms feeling refreshed after her “silver sneakers” workouts, and Pops handling business down at the state building.  Real talk.

I have been floored by the sound of my son handling L.A. traffic on the 110.  And then, the very next morning listening to him wake up my beautiful grandseeds for another day of school.  Their sleepy tones may as well have been bullhorns in my ears, because both of them told me they loved me.  SMH. You should have seen me attempting to maintain my composure at that phone.  If concrete could melt like ice cream; this Mann was it.  G-Dad loves you too. Lil’ Manns.

Then there is the sound of my Queen saying, “good morning” or “good night.” Listening to her travel the Ben Franklin Bridge; arriving home and inspecting her mailbox – only to find a scribe from her Mann – is the sweet addiction that encourages me to continue creating expressions for the benefit of positive change.  Having the inspiring sounds of my peoples back in my ear makes the last 2 tumultuous decades feel like I’ve gone from a Euro to a hundred in a matter of minutes.  Holla if ya hear me.

Still Livin,’

Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Gallows of Skepticism

I have no problem admitting that I tend to be skeptical whenever a group dynamic is presented, and I am invited to partake.  I guess this would be considered my defense mechanism to impede the potential distractions that collide with the theory of interdependence.  

North Philly is the urban subculture that taught me the difference between “Bullshitters” (actors), and those who can smell their stench (perceivers) a mile away.  I consider myself one of the latter.

From 1991-1994, I was a respected MC in the underground hip-hop circuit.  DOC TERRA (me) was one third of a three-man crew known as the CONCRETE CHILDREN.  Our independent label was call, Products of the Urban Streets (P.O.T.U.S.).  We promoted this label by selling t-shirts, posting fliers, and “rockin’ the mic” from North Philly to Brooklyn, NY.

We once shared the same stage with the Notorious B.I.G. and Mic Geronimo.  We were on our way.  So close to a recording deal, but individual interests began to conflict with the mutual understanding of achieving success as a collective unit.

Approximately one year prior to everything falling apart, my instincts told me that individualism would sink our music careers into the depths of chasing the unattainable dream.  A single person’s selfish actions changed the course of three lives.  Now, none of us have a record deal, only the memories of the best thing that never happened; a cautionary tale.

When I first came to this class, I saw my current circumstance to be very similar to my days as a member of the CONCRETE CHILDREN.  The furtherance of programs made available to death row prisoners will require a collective effort to defeat the stigma of being “the worst of the worst.” This alliance is not necessarily synonymous with friendships, however it is the embodiment of the interdependence theory, and has no room for the prior scars stemming from group association.

I can only hope that my optimism for the best outcome – concerning these programs – is not a direct result of the endowment effect.  I take great pride in my capabilities to facilitate; therefore I have a tendency to see beyond what is expected.  For me, commitment is synonymous with success.  But, at the end of the day, the “actors” still play a part in this equation.

Someone once told me,
“no matter what the circumstance, the cream
will always rise to the top.”

I conclude with this:
My skepticism instinctively hangs another individual’s character, but I could just as easily be hanging myself by allowing the taint of incredulousness to detach me from productive communal functions.

Keeping it 100,

Copyright (c) 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann