Prisoner-turned-activist Rickey McGee spoke to the crowd at the first stuck on replay event. He joined us over the phone from prison and imparted some inspiring advice in the telling of his life story. What follows is a transcript of the speech. You can also find the video version of Rickey's speech below.
“On the behalf of the McGee family I appreciate all in attendance for extending their receptive ears to me in the here and now.
Understand that a change without begins with a change within. The very instrument that could legitimately alter our circumstances is of course our Minds, so what happens when our perspectives are pre-occupied with effectively dealing with the unfortunate societal norms of our times such as systemic racism, joblessness, gun violence, institutional disenfranchisement, absentee fatherhood, mass incarceration, etc.
We are being asked to thrive in conditions that are designed to break our will and sense of determination, so how will we succeed? Allow me to paint a clearer picture for you utilizing my own life as a narrative. Growing up my father was like a deity to me, I truly worshiped him and everything that came out of his mouth was greater than gold. When I was around 8-9 years old my father was dealing an apparent addiction so much so that my mother kicked him out of the house.
This dramatically impacted myself esteem. I felt like nothing because in my mind he had chosen his drugs over me. My father was my main source of motivation so it was difficult for anyone outside of him to animate the vigor within me. My mother was a great parent who tried but her love had felt different than his. I grew up in a house full of girls so I sought my identity in the streets with other young men who themselves had gone through issues in the home. Sadly each of us strongly felt that all we had was each other and we would ensure that nothing would get in the way of us maintaining our brotherhood. Thus a "code of the streets" was adopted.
I was a talented teenager growing up. I excelled in basketball, and at the age of 16 I was offered a recording contract to get into the rap industry. A little after my 17th birthday I made the worst decision and brought a gun into the home I shared with my mother and four sisters.
As a result of this my little sister Shanika was accidentally shot with it by one of her friends who assumed that it was fake when she had discovered it in my boot. It had almost taken her life. I did not know how to process the impact of this event, one that I had blamed myself for, so I started smoking blunts and drinking alcohol beyond its recreational usage in the past in attempts to suppress the shame that was real within me. I started getting arrested, and was soon the youngest person detained in Southbay Correctional Center at age 17 in 1995 as a result of being charged with the gun used in my sister's accident.
In 1997 I was a 19 year old charged with the death of a store clerk in a neighborhood Christie's market, and although the evidence had clearly shown that there were holes in the prosecutor's theory of the case I was convicted to serve a life sentence at the age of 20. It was once told to me by an elder that "in order to go somewhere that you have never been, you must become someone that you never was”, so I began challenging myself to effectively combat the system. But I could not do this until I truly understood it. In 1998 I not only started to educate myself to the criminal justice system, I also studied multiple social systems as well and soon began to see my life in a broader historical context. I felt like a fool to get sucked into the streets, but at the same time it was hard to focus on anything outside of the day, and in addition to that it was preached to us on the corner that tomorrow wasn't promised anyway so why would I invest time to even thinking about it!
For the last 19 years of my life I have not only been fighting to regain my freedom, but most importantly my humanity. I've witnessed a lot of trauma, and experienced a lot of loss, yet I was never introduced to anyone who could explain to me why my life felt so empty - so meaningless. But at 20 I realized that my life would be what I have willed it to become, which is the period where I started changing my thoughts about my potential beyond what transpired in my past. Be very mindful that I have been doing this in an environment that discourages self empowerment and self expression. Through it all I have elevated in conditions that attempted to breed standardized mediocrity within me, and what I have discovered throughout this journey is that there are many prisons but most of them exists internally in the form of low self esteem, insecurity, misplaced identity, etc., all which have the ability to prevent one from living as a liberated people who have decided to become the architects of their tomorrow rather than one who simply reacts to the day.
As I have said earlier change without begins with a change within, which means that our situation will never change until we do, until we vessel our justified frustrations into mediums that can foster the needed solutions. I firmly believe that you are only as young as your ideas, which translates into new visions for old problems. If you are a teenager with old solutions then what changes are you logically expecting to see? It is only when you dare to be different that your conditions will soon imitate the impressions seen within your mind’s eye.
It was once stated by George Jackson, a prison abolitionist. who had himself died in prison at the age of 29 under a hail of bullets, that “life without the control over the factors which determine the quality of my tranquility is of the first of importance to me, for without this control I am forever insecure, forever at the whim and caprice of the man in control." So it is ok to feel a certain way about what is transpiring in your community and what has taken place in society, just look at what occurred to the Brother in Minn. who was shot and killed by a police officer as his girlfriend was live streaming the entire event. With all this understand family that you should never become so overwhelmed by the problems that you miss out on the opportunity to discover its existing solution. Your life will always be what we have willed it to become: so it will always be what it is until it's changed by you and those of similar passion and commitment, and as everyone here this evening realizes we must put forward a greater effort to identify our commonalities rather than magnify our differences being that all we have is each other in this struggle for human decency in our homes, in our communities, and in this country. This is not about race, it's about pacer getting with those who are desirous about dealing with the issues NOW through effective networking and strategic alliance building.
Throughout everything that I have been through in my life I was told for the first time in my life by my wife that I am deserving of happiness regardless of what I have been through. So I now extend this to you that whatever it is you have experienced in this life, you too are deserving of happiness. Understand that the entire world can doubt you, but it is only until you begin to doubt yourself that this becomes a reality. Take care of yourselves, Peace.
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