Keeping It Real

Any time is the proper time to oppose injustice

By: Pardoned Illinois Death Row Prisoner Stanley Howard

I was fortunate to give my first ever speech before a large crowd, and wonft forget the experience. Stateville Prison hosted a Black History Month event that was sponsored by "Amer-I-Can" and "Prison Ministries Fallen Men and Women of a Village." I was asked to speak as the inspirational speaker--along with six other prisoners. The few politicians scheduled to speak had failed to appear for various reasons, but many high ranking Department of Corrections (DOC) officials and outside guests did appear, along with about 200 to 300 prisoners.

My goal was to inspire all the prisoners to drop their differences and come together in the fight against the criminal justice system, which in a meeting at the prison on November 2004, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jesse Jackson described as "the most major civil rights issue of our time that must be addressed."

I titled the speech "Igniting the Flame." I emphasized the fact that the same tiny spark in our ancestors led to many slave revolts, emancipation and the end to legal segregation and discrimination. It propelled the civil rights movement and convinced then-Gov. George Ryan to issue four pardons and clear out Death Row.

I explained that "we must ignite the spark thatfs in all of us to become one huge burning flame, because when we come together and become one huge burning flame, we can ignite the spark that can bring an end to the death penalty, natural life sentences, truth-in-sentencing and all these other outrageous sentences, rules and laws; bring back rehabilitation programs; and turn these prisons into correctional facilities.

"We cannot sit back and be the do-nothing generation. After having my cell shook down over a million times over the past 20 years, and after too many strip searches, I still possess two of the most dangerous weapons known to man--a Black mind and an ink pen, and you all possess the same. Letfs use them to ignite the flame."

I must admit that I was so nervous when I stepped up to the microphone that it felt like I was going to have a breakdown. But the love and energy I received from the prisoners had me so charged up that I began deviating from my pre-approved written speech by expressing my feelings concerning police torture and brutality; the racist, corrupt and broken criminal justice system; living on death row; and why we need to help and teach each other.

By the time I asked everyone to stand up and give my good friend, former Gov. Ryan, a big hand (which they enthusiastically did), I was so charged up that I failed to notice the whispering and unhappiness of the DOC officials, who had been reading a copy of the speech as I spoke.

Unfortunately, I didnft get to finish the last paragraph because I was kicked off the podium right in the midst of it. The stated reason was that this "wasnft the proper format to talk about police torture and brutality, Jon Burge, etc."

Keeping it Real, I felt bad for ad libbing without approval, but any time is the proper time to talk about police torture and brutality, Jon Burge and the most major civil rights issue of our time, especially if itfs going to inspire prisoners to band together peacefully to become one huge burning flame.

To read Stanley Howardfs speech, "Igniting the Flame," click here. You can contact Stanley by writing to: Stanley Howard #N71620, Stateville Correctional Center, P.O. Box 112, Joliet, IL 60434.