This is the final installment from our correspondent “Leather,” who was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison and then transferred to a facility in Ferriday, Louisiana. Since January 2020, we have published hand-written letters sent to us by Leather, with minimal edits for clarity and format. He was released last month and is now staying with family in Texas. After his release, Leather wrote us the following: “I want everybody who have followed me in my journey while I was in jail [to know]: thanks so much for allowing me to give you some insight on what really happens behind the wall. I want to say thank you so much, but our journey has ended. I hope y’all stay out of trouble, stay safe, and continue to follow ANTIGRAVITY and lookout for maybe more articles from me in the near future. So on behalf of me and my ANTIGRAVITY family, love y’all so much and peace and blessings be upon you 4 life.”
Muslims in Prison
First off I’d like to start this article by simply saying “Ash hadu an la ilaha ilallah, wa ash hadu anna Muhamdan Abduhu wa rasuluh.” What that says is “I bear witness that nobody is worthy of worship except God, and I bear witness that the prophet Muhammad is his last servant and messenger.” Next I’d like to greet all of my beloved brothers and sisters with the sweetest greeting known to mankind, “Assalamu-alaikum.” That simply means “Peace Be Upon You.”
Now today I will attempt to help enlighten our readers about Islam and Muslims in prison. Now if you’re anything like my mother was, you probably think that all Muslims are terrorists and hate Americans but that’s so far from the truth. The truth is most Muslims are real humble people. If you ever meet any Muslims you’ll see they’re kind, joyful, honest, and generally good people. Now in prison a lot of brothers convert to Islam and become Muslims. Muslim simply means one who submits his or herself to the will of God. Now a lot of brothers in prison that I’ve met, that come from all types of religious backgrounds, come to prison and realize that they want to get closer to God, and the best way to do that is to find religion or find their Higher Power. Now most people I know are raised Christian or Catholic, only because most people follow what their parents believe in. But once in prison a lot of inmates, the ones who want to do better or want to change their life around, often realize that the best way to do that is to get right with God, and to be forgiven for their sins is to find their way back to God.
Now for me I never really understood the Bible. So when I first came to jail, I was really trying to find myself, because I never wanted to come back to this place. So I prayed and cried, prayed and cried all day. For the first time in my life I picked up the Bible on my own and started reading and asking God to show me the way to salvation. I spent all my time reading the Bible, trying to be the best Christian, mainly wanting to please my mother by learning the Bible front to back. I knew it would make her happy.
But in the process I met an old guy who asked me if I knew anything about Islam or Allah. I got angry when he told me that Jesus wasn’t my savior. This guy was crazy, this dude was basically telling me that everything I was taught as a child, everything that my mother told me, was a lie. Can you imagine what this did to me mentally? So one day I asked him who the hell was Allah, and he told me Allah was the true name for God. I had never heard anything like this in my life. So of course I wanted to learn more. One day he gave me a Quran, and the only reason I wanted to read the Quran was so I could show him that the book he was reading (the Quran) was crap compared to the Bible. But as I started reading the Quran, looking for imperfections and flaws, I couldn’t find any. And as time went by I started finding myself more and more interested in what I was reading. Then one day I decided to go to Taleem (a Muslim call-out) and when I did I found myself enjoying what I was hearing. So I kept going, and the more I went the more I liked it.
I learned that the Quran was the final revelation from Allah and the Quran teaches the same message that all the other books taught, but the difference with the Quran from the other holy books is Allah promised to protect it to the end of time to make sure it stayed free from corruption or innovation. And so far Allah has kept his promise, because not one word has been changed in the Quran in over 1400 years. That’s the first miracle of the Quran.
Now I started really studying the Quran, and it wasn’t long before I decided that Islam was the religion for me. So shortly afterwards I decided to take my shahada, to declare that I believe in the oneness of Allah. Now most of the inmates like myself, I never really understood the Bible. I understand the Quran. But Muslims believe that everybody is responsible for their own sins and that’s also what I believed. Christians believe that Jesus died for everyone’s sins. Muslims believe that if you do wrong, you get punished and if you do good you get rewarded.
Muslims are required to complete five obligations and this is the foundation of their belief. I’ll tell you what they are, in order to be a Muslim. It’s really simple. The first thing you must do to be a Muslim is to openly declare in front of three Muslims that there’s only one God three times, that’s your shahada. Your second obligation is to perform salat: the Arabic word for prayer. Muslims pray five times a day. Now the third obligation for a Muslim is zakat, the Arabic word for charity. In Islam charity isn’t always money. For a Muslim, charity is performed by simple acts of kindness. For example, if I open a door for someone, or if there is a tree blocking a walking path and I move the tree off the path so others can pass, I just performed zakat and Allah would be pleased with me. Now the fourth obligation for us Muslims is Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is the time when the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. It’s when Muslims fast for 30 days. Now some people think it’s hard to fast for 30 days because they think we don’t eat all day during the fast, but that’s not the case. It’s really pretty easy. During Ramadan we eat in the morning before the sun comes up, say our morning prayer and that starts our fast, we refrain from eating and drinking until the sun goes down, then we break our fast, then we go about our day. And the last obligation for a Muslim is the Hajj. The Hajj is when Muslims take the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca only if you can afford to make the trip.
There is so much I can tell you about Islam it would probably take up this whole month’s magazine, so I leave all my beloved brothers and sisters as I came with the best greeting ever heard:
This month we welcome Jacorey Demond James (he prefers to have his full name published), who is currently serving in the same Ferriday facility as Leather (and who was referred to us by our previous incarcerated columnist). The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters. Because of barriers that restrict and complicate communication with people in prison, we are unable to independently corroborate claims herein.
At age 19 most young adults leave home for college, a job, etc. But in my case I was forced to leave for an institution or jail. In the following pages I give you the ins and outs of growing up in jail. Around six months after I turned 19 I was arrested for armed robbery and a plethora of other charges. After being in my parish jail (EBR) for about nine months I took a plea deal in court to serve a 10 year sentence for my charges. I was only two months into my 20s with 10 years hanging over my head. About two weeks later I was shipped to a DOC facility (TENSAS). When entering my dorm, I sat all my belongings on an empty rack, and went to the phone to let family know where I was. While trying to place a call, I was approached by an older inmate who asked me “Aye youngin, that you in bed 76 on top of me?” I responded, “Yeah I think so.” He replied, “Come holler at me right quick.” I said, “OK let me call home real quick,” thinking to myself, damn what I done did already? He said, “No, come now.”
Me thinking I did something wrong, I hung the phone up and walked with him to our rack. When we get there he has the whole bottom rack covered in bedsheets, what we call a tent. He told me, “Go ahead, handle your business.” I responded, “No thanks Unc, I’m good.” I guess he noticed my fear so he took one side down, lifted his pillow, and pulled a cell phone out, told me I could sit down and call my people to let them know what was going on and where I was. I reluctantly did as he said, got my moms on the phone, told her what I needed to tell her, and returned my celly’s phone.
I had been on a van for hours so I wanted to shower and sleep. So that’s what I did. Around 2:30 a.m. I had to use the bathroom so I jumped down, and while doing so I knocked my neighbor’s tent down. What I saw surprised me: it was two older inmates breaking down what looked like a pound of weed. I stood there frozen. One guy asked me, “Say youngin, you smoke?” I managed to say yeah I do. He reached and grabbed a handful of weed and handed it to me, told me to grab that I.D. clip and put that sheet back up for me. I did as I was told and jumped back in bed, forgetting I even had to use the restroom. I took some paper that comes on tissue rolls and rolled a nice stick of weed and smoked, thinking to myself, “Damn how they get that in here?” I must’ve passed out smoking because I was awakened by chow the next morning.
After about two weeks I was in the flow of things. I even had bought me a cell phone, and to be honest, jail wasn’t that bad, so I thought. The night before while asleep, another inmate phone had gotten caught up with the freeman [anyone on premises not incarcerated]. Me being a Fresh Fish (new to jail), someone took my phone off the charger and told me to come to the back and die about it. Now I’m not the biggest baddest person walking, but I’m not scared, so of course I went to the back to fight, but fighting wasn’t on his mind. He pulled a homemade shank on me. I ended up getting cut in the eye, but my celly came and broke us up because I had no weapon. He told the other guy to give me a fair shake. So dude put the shank down and we had a fist fight. I won’t say whether or not I won the fight, because I won more than that. I got respect from other inmates because I didn’t bow down. Later on that day, a couple older inmates brung me my phone back telling me, “You got heart, youngin. You need that back here.” I took my phone and said, “Bet, thanks.”
I stayed at that facility around six months, and was shipped to another facility (Jonesboro), where I stayed over three years. In those three years I learned a lot about being behind bars, such as: All a man has is his word; if you say something, stand on it; show respect to receive respect; respect every man’s space; don’t play/joke with freeman; don’t borrow anything you aren’t certain you can pay back; stay away from gambling and punks; never back down, and so much more. At this time I’ve been in jail seven years and three months, been to 14 different facilities, stabbed and been stabbed, but I’ve become a man behind these walls. I think different, move different, and want different for my life. I have less than two years left now. Almost done. I can’t fathom going through this process again. So I must learn from my mistakes and correct as many as possible. I’m now almost 27 years old and I’ve grown up in jail.