Friday, October 10, 2008

Otisville & Vassar: Bridging the Gap

Otisville Correctional Facility in Otisville, New York. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. A 1 1/2 hour drive. Two very different institutions of higher education. One, a school of liberal arts. The other, a school of hard knocks and those knocked hard. One where the age range is 18-22. The other, 35-55. One where razor wire stifle in mostly Black and Latino men. The other where gothic buildings cradle mostly white men and women within its bubble. One where the lives of do or die Bedstuy's lives lie. The other where do or die Bedstuy was seen on MTV or heard in a Biggie rhyme.

Cultural chasms.
Polar points
Society's regurgitated
Society's most hopeful

"Let Me Take My Hoodie Off"- by Marlon Peterson
Let me take my hoodie off
Let me take my hoodie off

Bridging gaps/
See you can't stop it.
When you sit here every week
And they sit here every week
And we sit here every week
We become us
And, see, we can never be weak
can you dig it?

Even when they portray us as son of a guns/
in here b/c of guns
intentions to leave and pick up guns
Assuming we can't wait to corrupt, cajole, connive
Pollute and program their young white ones
Yeah, same ole' song

Us- the crooks
Us- the criminals
Us- the con artists
Us- the drug dealers
Us- the murderers

You- the rich
You- the innocent
You- the right
You- the white
wrong or right
Bump that, we bridged that
Even though you don't want that.

We ain't all right.
Some I won't trust in the still of the night,
Without a lamp, a flashlight, or God's might
I ain't painting pictures that ain't right
Deceiving the masses about
"It ain't fair"
"the system put me here"
"I don't deserve to be here"
blaming everyone else for everything else
ignoring that that the answers and the blame
the questions and the shame
lied within self.

Gaps bridged!

I ain't here to complain,
Just make it plain
Like the NOI proclaim
"That's right, brother minister"

See, I ain't here to preach
Just bridge
I ain't here to sneak
Just bridge
I ain't here to freak
Just bridge
I ain't here to do what you expect me to-
Which is fail
I bridge
Just bridge

When they claim that all we do is play?
See, that can't be true.
I've seen brother Roc cry- parole after his 5th try
Determined "D" hug a guy
Young Anna recite & cry
Nice Nini sigh
Outstanding Oscar raise his ever radical fist to the sky
Victorious ask for advice
Serious Black morph into Rigorous Rob
Super Steph mature b4 my eyes
Jazzy J inspire me to write
Diversified open up my eyes
Courageous Chris show why she's wise
And saw Sara smile 1...2...3...
All the time

Seen hip hop on trial b4 Oprah tried
PTA meetings
Parole mockeries
Discussions on HIV

That's all you see?!
That's all you see?!
Nah, that's what you want to see

Like Bush huntin' WMDs
El Sun trying to convince me that Macy Gray is sexy
Or Dreaming that girl Beyonce will be visiting me
after she dumps Jay-Z
Hey, that could happen

The point is:
What you see are perversions within thee
Exaggerated to the highest degree
Fantasies of your inequity
Mixed with apprehension of frivolty

Based on what?

Our impeccable record of integrity?
Our dedicated dignity?
Our desire to empower others green
Enlightening those still young & green
While bringing them together with those that do quarterlies
All for $13 or $14 every two weeks
Worth the gray hairs--hardly
But we do it--
Don't compliment me
Just respect me

When you sit here every week
And they sit here every week
And we sit here every week
We become us despite all the dust
Despite all the fuss
The accusations & the distrust
Denials and disapprovals
A common unity is built
Bridges are built so strong--
Foundations so strong
I'm talking titanium strong
Benching 310 lbs strong
Real love strong
Can you dig it?

Let me put my hoodie back on
Let me put my hoodie back on

Inspired by the Vassar/Green Haven at Green Haven Correctional Facility started by Lawrence H. Mamiya, Ph.D. over 30 years ago, the Bridging the Gap program has created its own legacy. Started in 2005, this program has impacted my life enormously. It has empowered many, invigorated, inspired, excited, & incited social justice active-ism.

It has allowed me to see the world from behind a cage. More importantly it has allowed the world to see the PEOPLE within.


The range of creativity & subject matter we use minimizes the socioeconomic differences between the two communities-- Otisville and Vassar. When we are able to acknowledge our differences and realize how minimal they are to our many similarities, we gain a sense of community-- a common unity.

'bridge' - (noun) a transitional passage connecting two subjects or movements

Everyone is in constant transition, whether it be physically, mentally, or spiritually. This program has linked individuals who probably wouldn't otherwise have a conversation with one another because of differences in locale, age, and yes, race. Because of this unique opportunity, minds once closed have been bridged, and we know that bridges expand land-- in this case we have expanded social bridges.

The BTG community offers you the opportunity to read-- to get a glimpse of what social engineers can do amid prison walls.

"Therefore we do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day". 2 Cor. 4:16 (You've been blessed with a burden).

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