"A Real Life Interview With A Juvenile Lifer"
Hello let me first begin by saying how pleased I am to be conducting this interview with Eric V. Here at Reflect Truth 77.com. We are about promoting the realness of life and bringing to light topics that few may hear about in society, nor may they understand. RT77 is a socially conscious site and is pleased to have someone working hard against all odds to conduct this interview with.
Q.1: -Please state your name, and how you came to hear about Reflect Truth 77.com (RT77).
A.1: My name is Eric V. I came to hear about Reflect Truth 77 through its Founder, Mr. Jennings.
Q-2: How long have you been incarcerated?
A-2: I have been incarcerated for 27 years ( as of 4/15). I was arrested when I was 14 years old for a homicide.
Q-3: Okay. so after all these years what would you say is the one thing that keeps you standing?
A-3: After all this time in prison, the one thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that there is more than one thing that is worth living for. At times this experience can become very hopeless and extremely hard to figure out; meaning figuring out your place not only in prison, but society. And also on a macro level: the world. That can create a very selfish perspective. And as time goes by and the situation becomes more dire, your place in the world becomes nonexistent. Your place in society begins to get blurry because your relationships begin to deteriorate. So then as a result, your left with realizing your place in the institution. That can be a very cathartic moment.
There are a few paths that you can choose to take in the institution you are in. you can fall off all together and slowly lose your willingness to liberate yourself from this predicament you're in. It isn't unlike the analogy of the frog in the pot of water that doesn't realize she's beginning to boil until it's too late. Because she's been sitting in the pot for so long, she becomes comfortable with the ever so subtle change in temperature that her complacency ends up killing her. That happens all too often in prison to men and women that are facing long sentences- often times, life sentences.
For me, it really happened when a guy invited me to participate in a program called Inside Out. Temple University came into the prison with some students, and shared in the experience if of taking a Criminal Justice course with about 15 of us. I humbly realized I wasn't the smartest in the room and begin to challenge myself both intellectually and socially. I felt, in many ways, socially retarded. This place will do that to you. We can quickly or gradually forget how to properly interrelate with folks on the outside. That program was the catalyst for me, since then I have been enrolled in Villanova's part time studies program and I'm about 70 credits into my Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Q-4: What is it that you not only stand for but would like to see your time and effort achieve?
A-4: The things that I stand for have a lot to do with recognizing each person's individual struggle. I try to do that on a daily basis with every encounter. You might call it "Empathy Profiling." of course I didn't always do this. When I was younger, I was so self- absorbed that I would rarely, if ever, be considerate of other people's feelings to the point that I would attempt to recognize them upon a meeting. It's a difficult thing to practice, let alone master at this!
This helps tremendously with keeping me connected to a world that I can easily feel left out of. Empathy crosses all racial, gender, and class lines. So at the end of the day, I realize that we all have layers- some more than others. But, it is our layers that make us who we are.
Throughout, I would like to see my time and efforts achieve freedom. Freedom, for me, looks like many different things. if I am one day physically free from this institution, but remain in psychological and spiritual bondage, then what kind of meaningful freedom have I really achieved? But I realize also, that no person on earth is totally free. We are all slaves of money and necessity.
Q-5: What do you believe needs to change, in order for true change to occur within the prison system?
A-5: The prison industrial complex needs to be identified as part of the entire societal organism. People should be just as connected to those that commit crimes as they are to those arresting them. This is not an unrealistic goal. The actions taken by each (cops & robbers) causes one to look at them with exclusivity. However, they should be spoken about with a connotation of inclusiveness. For example: with the black lives matter campaign, there is a counter campaign that states that police lives matter. But it took some time before someone finally said that all lives matter. That needs to be the sentiment from any movement's inception. All lives matter should be spoken about when it comes to funding the public school system. It's a shame but maybe they need to have a Go Fund Me site for each child. Then maybe people would be more interested in their investment.
Q-6: While being incarcerated at SCI Graterford; and taking classes at Villanova University; what are other ways in which you spend your time?
A-6: Besides attending the Villanova part time studies program, I have participated in a number of things that have been beneficial spiritually and scholastically. Early on in my imprisonment I learned to be a literacy tutor. I have always played sports for as long as I can remember. Playing in prison is just like an escape. In retrospect, sports for me were like the 'fix' for the drug user. I am not a drug user. I became very interested in personal training. Being able to help someone realize their potential is gratifying. I have taken some Vo Tec courses and completed a bunch of prison based programs (alternatives to violence, citizenship, impact of crime, etc.) that I realize was only as good as the facilitator's competence. Listing everything here suffice it to say, I have done ( in spite of this oppressive environment) a lot of positive things.
Q-7: Are you in contact with family and friends?
A-7: I am in contact with my family and friends- both old and new. I just had a great weekend with my friend. we were able to visit with each other for both Sat., and Sun. My parents should be stopping by in a week or two. Hopefully they will bring my niece with them. I have just re-established contact with her after 14 years or so. I speak to my cousins and a lifelong friend that we used to always play ball together. I see him periodically. He is a great friend and supporter.
There are also people that I have met throughout the years that I have continued to maintain good relations with. Maintaining good relations with people that you know love you is extremely important. Every day we are around people that are in many ways adversarial. And at the risk of sounding a wee bit paranoid, often times people (some) are trying to see what they can get out of you. The environment breeds desperation for some.
I see a lot of men that don't get regular visits and don't have good contact with their friends or family. There is a stark difference in the way people act that do get visits and those that don't. But the reasons that this is true (to me) are many. Some people burn their folks out by constantly placing unreal demands on them. Other times it can be the folks on the street that just don't have the time or don't want to make the time for someone in prison. I just had a conversation about incarcerated women and the contrast between the visiting room at the women's prison and men's. Women are less thought about in prison- for a myriad reasons. One of them being that men are usually the ones receiving compassion, the women giving it are coming to the men's prison. Men aren't going up to the women's prison to express their empathetic and compassionate side.
I think that until we realize that we're wired different; we won't be able to understand the needs of the other person in/outside of our relationship(s). BIG TOPIC.
Q-8: What type of books and literature do you read, and can you state a few of your favorite authors?
A-8: I have read somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books in my lifetime. i have read everything from Big History and the Future of Humanity, from Spier to Middlesex, from Eugenides. I have read most of Steinbeck's work and read Plath's poetry. I just read Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey again for school. I read Rand's The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. Right now I am reading about Christian ethics for my upper level theology class. I read magazines and get print outs off the internet of all sorts of topics, I stay updated.
When I do watch TV, I watch Meet the Press on Sunday and Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. I watch the RT news. I try to stay informed as much as I can.
Charlton: Well Eric V., it's been a pleasure to conduct this interview with you. And I know as a man that we all live and learn. But the best of men will grow to become the best human being that they can be. And as far as those who know you this is very obvious in regards to you. I wish you the best.
"From truth comes chaos, like dark secrets exposed. Truth is love, yet it's pain! Tear Drops on a Rose."
Quote taken from "Inspirational Thoughts: Freedom Of The Truth From Within, by Charlton Earle' Jennings poem "Tear Drops On a Rose."
#juvenilelifers # juvenilelifersp.a.