Monday, September 11, 2017

A Fulcrum Known As the Central 5


It was July 19,2017: A little more than 13 months since the telephones were made accessible to the death row population.  

We are currently under investigation based upon the spurious accusations of undue familiarity with the volunteers of our creative writing class and Hidden Voices group.

Notice: I say ‘We’ as in THE CENTRAL 5, Paul Brown, Rodney Taylor, Lyle May, James Thomas, and myself.  I find it ironic that all five of us took part in the groundbreaking performance of the play, ‘SERVING LIFE,' An artful display that made the Central Prison administration appear to be in line with, the evolution of archaic prison policies that discourage staff and volunteers from feeling any humane connection with prisoners.

On July 6, 2017 the prison’s Internal Affairs Division placed us on administrative segregation pending a 15-day investigation.  Our personal property was seized, while we were forced to live within the inhumane conditions of Unit-1, the prison’s housing for solitary confinement.

For 7 days, I had no access to the telephone, stamps, radio, a dictionary, a watch, personal identification card and shower shoes.  The privilege of showers is granted 3 days a week (Mon., Thurs., and Sat.) I didn’t have any shower shoes, so I stood in a medically prescribed foot pan while locked inside of a caged shower.

The privilege of canteen is granted once a week (Fri.).  My identification card was treated as personal property, so I was prohibited from purchasing any shower shoes or stamps.

On day 6, this ordeal called for me to be placed in full restraint (handcuffs, waist chain and shackles) for the sole purpose of sitting before the preliminary disciplinary board.  It took all but 5 minutes for them to tell me that the investigation had been extended from 15 to 45 days.

When I returned to cell BU-102, the walls seemed to have lessened in proximity.  My blood pressure was higher than it had been in years (157/98) and my breathing was choppy throughout the night.  The next day at approximately 5 p.m., I was instructed to get dressed because I was going back to death row population.

Believe it or not, I was mentally prepared to endure this sub-condition of living throughout the summer months and well into the fall season.  I immediately found myself in a state of quandary.  The officer anticipated an upbeat response, but there was none.  I simply told him that if all five of us weren’t returning, then I would refuse to go back to death row population.  We came together.  We would leave together.  Na mean?

So, here we are, THE CENTRAL 5, back in death row population: political prisoners awaiting our fate.  The volunteers who have come to know us as counter-culture beings have had their volunteer status scrutinized by prison officials prior to these recent events.  Yet they continued to come into this prison and help us change the narrative.

If nothing is learned from all of this, one thing is certainly clear: Our humanity is the evolution of the state’s barbarity.

Long live THE CENTRAL 5!!

Always 100,

Copyright © 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Just a Touch of Becoming

What am I becoming, when I’ve grown more accustomed to fanning flies than shaking someone’s hand?

What have I become when I am overwhelmed by the emotional breakdowns conceived by restricted contact, and a familial touch is just inches away?

“Love is just a touch away.” The sentiment behind these words helped me to endure the mental fatigue of my naval training, in the early stages of becoming an independent adult.  As I listened to the legendary crooner, Freddie Jackson, express the heartfelt lyrics, I began to understand the weight of something as small as a goodnight kiss; a key element that would be extracted from my life for the next three months.

My brief stay in Great Lakes, Illinois was an experience that taught me to appreciate my connection to the people who knew me as I have known them.  My fam and my hood showed their support for me as I engaged in what I thought would be the longest 3 months of my life.  The phone calls, the homemade chocolate chip cookies, the many scribes and around the way pics were all constant reminders that I wasn’t facing my challenge alone.

What have I become when I begin to miss the touch of the grandseeds I have yet to meet?

Prison has seemed like an obstacle course.  Over the years, I’ve endured the emotional jabs and dropkicks that this life has to offer: living behind the Plexiglas.  Showering inside of a cage, or merely existing in a room that some may find too small to be a suitable closet, has been known to groom a person in hopelessness, cynicism and self-hate.

The state of North Carolina has stalled execution protocols for the past 10 years (8/18/06).  Within that timeframe, some death row residents have excelled in a variety of programs and the positive results have left prison administrators in awe.  In a general population setting, similar programs are used to nurture the rehabilitative qualities of someone a parole board would deem as an asset to society.

Who am I when the tracks of a tear have no place in a pain-stricken life cycle?

Should a hard life require the condemned to be without feelings?

The death row housing unit is not on lockdown status.  We walk to and from the prison’s dining facility 3 times a day, without escort.  Medical appointments and day-to-day interaction with prison staff is a reality that does not require the bonds of shackles or handcuffs.  And, it should not go unmentioned that former warden, Kenneth Lassiter – now Deputy Director of Operations – was quoted in a WRAL T.V. 5 interview as saying, “death row has the lowest disciplinary infraction rate in the prison.”

Given the opportunity, death row prisoners in North Carolina, have/will continue to develop a culture where humanity blooms at a pace that is more conspicuous than the red jumpsuits we wear.  As a spokesperson for this culture, I feel compelled to make this push toward the evolution of death row prisoners receiving bi-monthly contact visits.

In a state where capital punishment has proven to be flawed and archaic, I am unable to experience the gentleness of a touch.  My mom’s laughter continues to be muffled by Plexiglas and steel grate.  For far too long, my lady’s goodbye kisses have gotten lost in the stale air of non-contact.

I’ve been out of touch for way too long.  It is a pain that is way too strong.  

What have I become?

Copyright © 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Monday, May 8, 2017

60 Seconds of History

This is a spoken word piece inspired by Colson Whitehead’s, The Underground Railroad, a 2016 Oprah Book Club selection.  This fictional work of art is my current homework assignment for creative writing class.

On 10/18/16, each student will have to recite a spoken word piece that will hold the attention of the class for 30-60 seconds.  Each piece has to be orated from memory.  There is no pretty way to paint the brutality of slavery.  The more receptive we are to the horrific accounts that forged African American’s history in the U.S.  The clearer our view will be of the modern day politics that forces our hand in voting for “the lesser of the two evils.” So this is what it is:

60 Seconds of History

Artist Unknown

Sorry, Massa! I’s clumsy is all.
One drop, to stain a pristine garment is all it took
To know the bite of a Silver Wolf,
And hear the pain of a black woman’s wails
As hate burrows through my flesh
With the strike of cat-o-nine tails

The Massa certainly knows his way around a plantation
He knows what every woman wants before she ever gives consent
A characteristic manifested over centuries,
And can now be heard in the phrase:

My grandma was my Massa’s daddy’s plum,
He plucked and tasted her until Mama was born
But his only heir was a son
Now, the son terrorizes my Mama with verbal threats
And the heinous beatings of his brown-skinned nephew
The backside of my physique displays a horrific view
Of lashes of contempt,
Soiled and scrubbed with the malicious sting of
Pepper water

Massa want me to be the example
Show how easy it be to silence me
So he cut me…string me up…
Then stuff my mouth with my own privacy

Think of your words
Are they no more than a parlor trick?
Do they possess substance founded on your principles?
Or, are they just a blind recitation
Of someone else’s declaration?
We The People

Nuff Said,
Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trump Card

 Editor's Note: It is not our practice to present the work of those who don't wear the 'red jumpsuit,' but Leroy was moved by the particular piece and felt the need to share. Please enjoy.


The 2016 presidential election has been an ongoing topic of discussion in our creative writing class.  It would seem that the newly elected president Trump has been the stone that sharpens the literary swords of my brothers who fight with the pen.

The following spoken word piece was created by “Dee-Kay.” It is a powerful perspective coming from someone who ‘Donnie’ might assume his political views are in line with his presidential bigotry. “Let’s Make America Great Again.”

I only wish you could have heard Dee-Kay’s delivery, as well as the overwhelming applause that followed.  Here’s the next best thing.  I know give you, “Trump Card.”

Always 100,

Copyright © 2017 by Leroy Elwood Mann


By Dee-Kay

Young Emmett Till got killed for speaking to a white lady.
Just 14 years old, they shot and killed someone’s baby.
Tied a fan to his neck and tossed him overboard.
Not even an open casket changed our hearts, how long, oh Lord?

Meanwhile, Don brags about grabbing pussy with his hand
His reward? Elected to the highest office in the land.
Praised for his honesty, his conviction his drive,
While his racist, sexist comments get excused and are allowed to thrive.

We exonerate Emmett’s killers; ignore dead black bodies in the streets,
But say, “boys will be boys” when it comes to Donald’s tweets.
After the trial, Emmett’s killers admit to doing it, but still walk,
But Don, oh he was just engaging in locker room talk.

“That’s the past” you say, back then were a different time,
But look at our jails today, and you think that being black was a crime.
And it’s not that things are different.  It’s just the names that have changed,
Lynch mobs became country clubs; we made prison bars from slave chains.

If justice were truly color blind, then we wouldn’t base guilt
On the size of your bank account, or the number of businesses you’ve built.
But I guess there’s something about that name,
And for Donald, you don’t need to look hard,
To see that when you’re rich and white in this country,

You’ve got the ultimate Trump card.