Nooo, I was not sporting an ankle bracelet, Hollyrock’s hautest accessory!
Recently, I was looking fabulous in jail visiting a family member.
Though this was not my first relative in jail, this was my first time visiting a prison. Like my mother I had vowed that I would never visit anyone in jail, but I never expected to find this person in prison. Things fall apart.
My younger relative was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, but his anti-snitching code of ethics tells him to man up and keep his mouth shut. There you have it. Thank you, Killa Cam’ron.
There was a smidgen of culture shock for me and my sister as we waited amongst the other Marias and Keshas to visit the Orlandos and Kwakus that made up their fathers, brothers, sons, baby daddys, play cousins and nephews. There were no men on this line, nor were there any white people. Most visitors held sneaker boxes of Reeboks, the sneaker of choice in the facility as mandated strangely by the institution itself. I wonder if Reebok is an investor in the prison barge of non-singing caged birds.
My sister and I looked as though we were dressed for tea on the pier while everyone else looked like they were dressed to scale the wall. I thought of Ras Baraka’s immortal words when his beautiful and inspirational sister Shani was murdered in a vicious hate crime against her sexuality. This is not a direct quote, but he said something like, all of our education, clout and poetry could not save our sister.
Luckily the only thing dead in my family’s instance in this moment was a dream, so my sister and I took turns sitting, and tried not to look as terrified as we were. It turned out that the watchman also watched BET J and was rather annoyed that the J no longer stood for Jazz. However, all that any imagined clout could get me was the promise that security would hide our contraband cell phones. This meant that we wouldn’t have to dig a hole in the moist Bronx soil like the other women to bury them in.
I had accidentally / on purpose worn my Chi Guevara (not a misprint) t-shirt gifted from Tamboi/ Crème Magazine. I imagined that the powers that be would feel my silent protest. But no one blinked or made contact except to runs their fingers through my hair for bobby pins that could be fashioned into a shank. Or shiv—sorry. I forget which.The books we brought were searched for illegal knowledge. A hard cover of Native Son was rejected—the guard declared it to resemble a weapon. I bit my lip, wanting to tell him that this was the point.
Isn’t it funny how when someone you love dies, gets sick or has some other sort of emergency, we might have been too busy for them 2 minutes before but we suddenly now have all the time in the world?
After a day long ordeal I sat there looking at my younger relative, who looked like he’d aged 10 years in 2 weeks. I was trying to man up myself and not cry – well not cry as much. He looked at me, I imagine for answers, but mostly he was just embarrassed. As much as I usually can’t shut up, I was semi- speechless. What could I say? What advice could I offer that I would believe?
After asking him what he had learned, and noticing that he kept glancing around at the other prisoners, maybe making sure that they didn’t hear him having annoying philosophical conversations, I said, “Be grateful.” I was thinking about the Toni Morison character in Beloved named Stamp Paid. I love this character so much that he makes an appearance in my new novel DARE as well. The character’s name Stamp Paid means that every one of us has somehow already had our passage paid for. We are free in our skin. If you are free, stamp paid and be grateful.
Now this may seem a strange pep talk for someone behind bars, telling him be grateful for being free and all, but I tried to explain to this beautiful boy that the only bars around him were in his mind. We are still free to make choices. We are still free. We sat and whether he was down with it or not, we counted his blessings. Yes, I wanted to lecture, but I had already realized that this was futile. Count your blessings is not just a saying, it is a way of life.
Only when we can find gratitude for where we are and what we have can we acquire all of the blessings and good stuff in escrow for us. If you have no shoes, be grateful that you have feet. How wealthy you are in this minute to have the luxury to sit and the read random musings of some goddess chick in an online playspace. Give thanks, my gorgeous friend, give thanks.Count your blessings, dream bigger and say yes to the possibility that you are already smart enough, talented enough, beautiful enough to have everything that you envision. You are already there!
Stamp paid because you are free. Free to fly. Free to fail, Free to get back up and do something different.
So here’s our homework for this Thanksgiving moment. Yes, I am aware that the Indians cashed a bum check, but any day, commercial holiday or no, that asks us to be grateful is a good thing.
So our homework is pick 5 things in your life that you are grateful for—every night, but let’s start right here and now. Not the easy, shiny, blingy awesome stuff but the things that you have to remind yourself that you are grateful for.
After all, life is fun if we let it be. What makes you sing this very minute?
“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” ~Wayne Dyer
What’s on your gratitude list?
Rest in love and peace, Dr. Donda West.
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By Kanye West