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Awake in my Cell

By Malik A. Uhmari, Sparrow Media Contributor

Here I sit in my cell, alone. Alone in my thoughts, yet no more than three-feet away, just outside my door, there is life. There is commotion; there is a variety of activity. A more accurate description would be “festivity.” I resist engaging in this orchestrated and organized madness induced by the prison experience.


I choose tranquility. The solitude allows me to exercise control over my own mind and thoughts. My (mental) strength increase as I avoid the debilitating views of the prison administration – which constantly promotes dependency on them – the misleading conjecture and commentary supplied by a Left or Right Wing media and the “idle” counter-productive discourse centered around who is the greatest “entertainer, athlete, or drug dealer” and how much money they have.


I am awake in my cell. “They” know this. My inactions betray me. Resistance is my only refuge. Greater men and women have attempted to camouflage themselves among the conformity only to be consumed and eventually silenced all together. Kwame Ture once said, “Years of struggle has allowed our vague, general views to become more precise and specific and provided us with the opportunity to correct previous mistakes.” And today we must continue to learn from these mistakes, as well.


The pandemonium outside of my cell forces me to stay awake. I refuse to be counted amongst the broken. Fear abated, I cautiously make my way toward the small window encases inside the door and peek out. The seconds seem like an eternity as my train of thoughts races through centuries of imagery – Slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes, Colonialism, Apartheid, Civil Rights – toward its final destiny: Freedom, Independence, Sovereignty and Autonomy. This image of me, in my mind’s eye is reminiscent of another man, of another era, same cause, same enemy.


I can visualize “Malcolm” as he pulls back and peeks out of the curtains and scans the environment for any signs of danger – to himself, to his family, his community – all that is missing is my “M1,” semi-automatic weapon.    Am I Malcolm X? No. Am I his successor? No. Am I his student? No. However, what I (and I think to some degree most Blackmen and Women do, but black men particularly) share, understand and have in common with Malcolm is his “fear!” The fear that the Blackman (or any man who is subsequently not of the same race as the power structure) would not be allowed or systematically denies access to that position of power as a provider, protector and promoter of his family, culture, belief systems and governor of his own social and political affairs.  The reality that at the helm of power: power to decide; power to influence; power to control; power to penalize; power to promote; power to denounce; power to organize; power to legalize and legitimize; and power to define often lies in the hands/control of someone who does not support the cause and expansion of our interest, provides a tipping point. This is a reality check, not only as to “what is power” but who has power, and more importantly, “who doesn’t!”


The word “Power” of course has several meaning, but for what is necessary for our collective mission, Power refers to: the ability to do, the ability to be and the ability to prevail. Thus, Powerless means: not having the ability to do, not having the ability to be, not having the ability to prevail. In other words, it means: impotent, without effect or influence.


At some point – consciously/unconsciously – the Blackman/ and or woman, either individually or collectively realized that it isn’t designed for him to achieve the former definition of Power, but instead he/she is to be relegated to the latter – unless one is promoting the cause of someone else – and at this time a natural sense of frustration and/or fear begins to arise within us. A Fear of being made impotent. A Fear of being made of no accord or significance. A Fear of being Forced to endure mediocrity and not being allowed to tap into that source of greatness.


This Frustration/Pain/Fear is all to often something most men and women have experienced in their lifetime, but are afraid or cautioned not to discuss. How one attempts to overcome or avoid this frustration/pain/fear (which, depends on what stage they are in their growth and mental development) of being denied that manhood and womanhood training, which grants, bestows and establishes in increments, degrees of power, control, significance and being (depending on his or her ability) ultimately, (I think) determines the path one initially chooses and it explains why Malcolm X became engulfed in being a “Vanguard, Provider, Protector, and Promoter” of values, family, and race pride. It’s why those outside my cell become engulfed in B.E.T. sports, drugs, gambling and extreme levels of black-on-black violence: to avoid that pain/frustration/fear of being “insignificant, powerless and of no concern.” And it’s why I now realize that to “go to sleep (mentally) is to Die,” so in order to “Live my Dreams,” I must stay “Awake in my Cell!”