When we don’t fight hate, we are preparing for others to die

by Michael ‘Zaharibu’ Dorrough
Originally published in: SF Bayview, Dec. 24, 2016

“You can never solve a problem with the same kind or thinking that created the problem in the first place.” – Albert Einstein

“Bringing Down the Flag of Hate” – Art: Lester Ransburg III, V-09164, 4B-4L29, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran CA 93212. This drawing was inspired by Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole in South Carolina and taking down the Confederate flag.

In light of what occurred in Orlando, Florida, and other mass shootings, it comes as no surprise to any of us that the political establishment wants and encourages us to think of madness like this within the narrow context of gun control – taking guns out of the hands of criminals. But, the question must now be asked of the larger community: Why are we so unwilling to view and struggle around what these acts really are – hate!

We do understand that these specific acts, whenever they occur, constitute hate crimes, but those crimes occur as a result of our people being under the influence for the past 400-plus years of white supremacy and patriarchal authoritarianism. Hate is a weapon, a tool, to prevent those of us who are subjected to it from coming together to rid ourselves of it.

As long as we view, define or discuss hate within this narrow context that we have been conditioned to define and discuss it in, hate will continue to manifest itself exactly as it has.

Why are we so unwilling to view and struggle around what these acts really are – hate!

This country, indeed the planet, should be ashamed of itself that we are so unenlightened that in this day and age communities are under siege for any reason, that the humanity of people continues to be disrespected because of color, class, gender or who they sleep with is just utter insanity!

We realize that when hate has manifested itself on a scale like this, it causes us to feel that much more vulnerable. And that vulnerability actually can, and does, push us into the camps of those who are responsible for the maintaining of hate.

Those who advocate hate have to be made uncomfortable, believing that if they do so, it will cost them their jobs, their careers! Any attempts by the political establishment, law enforcement, churches – anyone – that reduce or try to reduce any of us to “those people” should be shut down.

This is Michael Zaharibu Dorrough in a photo taken in December 2014. We at the Bay View don’t know of any prisoner – except perhaps Hugo “Yogi” Pinell – who is so universally loved. Everyone who knows him has praise for Zah.

Words are instruments of power. Hate speech does in fact result, eventually, in the loss of life. Hate speech does disrespect the humanity of the citizens and community it is directed towards. If we are to live in a civilized society and planet, there are rules that everyone has to play by.

And if we are to live in such a place, we must all be willing to subordinate ourselves to the greater good. The greater good is the kind of society that we want to live in. We have a responsibility to contribute to what that will look like, what it will sound like.

But we must be willing to fight and sacrifice to create and live in that kind of society. How can there possibly be any doubts that this is the only logical course and that we must take it.

Words are instruments of power. Hate speech does in fact result, eventually, in the loss of life. Hate speech does disrespect the humanity of the citizens and community it is directed towards.

Far too many of us have already died. By not fighting back, all we are doing is preparing for others to die.

Former San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman, always a friend of the Bay View, gave us a folder of photos from the Selma March on March 21, 1965, given to him by Doug Knott. In this one, haters displaying a Confederate flag watch the brave marchers. – Photo: Doug Knott

We must come together. We must set aside our tribal differences, the things that separate us. Even those who know better but will not join this cause maintain their tribal positions because they – and we – continue to be under the influence of white male supremacy and patriarchal authoritarianism.

The most effective way to overcome our tribal attitudes is to form coalitions, just as we did during the recent protests to end solitary confinement, with everyone who loves liberation. If we don’t, whether it is in churches or clubs, on the streets or in the alleys, people will continue to die.

History will judge us harshly, as will future generations, because of our failure to fight back.

We have had an opportunity to meet some really good people here, people who have really helped us to avoid making some mistakes in making the transition to the general population, a transition that is ongoing. The people – the prison population – has been very approachable. There are quite a few younger guys here, good people, but we have learned that young people are going to make mistakes.

Far too many of us have already died. By not fighting back, all we are doing is preparing for others to die.

What’s important is that we be there to try and help them to have a cushion to protect them from making costly mistakes. It occurred to me that the biggest adjustment was that I needed to rethink the way that I have thought about some things.

This is Zaharibu and his family back in the day, before he was sent to prison in 1988 for a crime he didn’t commit and spent about a quarter of a century in solitary confinement. He was one of the leaders of the peaceful protests that didn’t end solitary but scaled it back considerably.

Educationally, when I first saw a math problem [after coming out of solitary] it was, quite honestly, a bit intimidating. The language used, the look of it, is very different from what I remember. So, I am now being tutored in a class that I have enrolled in.

There is also an effort being made by this administration to bring quite a bit of programming to this prison that could provide people with some of the skills that they will need upon their release. Skills that might be useful. Of course, the problem with this is that there are twice as many people as there are opportunities. There are also a couple of lifers’ programs here that should be a model for other prisons throughout the state.

One such group is called LWOP. This is an acronym developed it by its founders into Lifers With Optimistic Progress. Although the title most commonly reflects prisoners sentenced to life without parole, membership and participation of all prisoners are welcomed and encouraged.

The LWOP group or organization was established to provide a voice to an often unheard and/or overlooked segment of the prison population. There are workshops that help individuals unite and declare their rights to all available rehabilitative tools and activities – the focal point being, “At some period all men will be freed from this form of incarceration, thus every man and woman should be prepared for that eventual re-embrace of societal norms.” That is the official position of the group.

There are also a couple of lifers’ programs here that should be a model for other prisons throughout the state. One such group is called LWOP. This is an acronym developed it by its founders into Lifers With Optimistic Progress.

The lifers group is also committed to contributing to abolishing life without parole sentences. Also appropriately called “the other death penalty.”

Artist Lester “Hollywood” Ransburg III

There is also a website now for the group, https://liferswithoptimisticprogress.wordpress.com. There are sponsors as well. They are from the education department in the community here and are genuinely committed to the development of anyone who is interested in developing himself.

There are young people here who are involved in youthful offender programs (YOP) and a lifeline program – all a part of the LWOP program. There are some very beautiful brothas who are trying to give back and have already reclaimed their humanity.

I also have a promise that I made to myself that if the opportunity presented itself, I would overwhelm myself with jazz. So I had Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” sent – with some Whispers of course (smile).

Struggling with you always,

Zaharibu

Send our brother some love and light: Michael “Zaharibu” Dorrough, D-83611, CSP Solano Level III B7-131, P.O. Box 4000, Vacaville CA 95696-4000. And go online to read this 2013 story to learn more about Zaharibu from a comrade: “Tribute to Zaharibu.”

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Ruben Contreras

Photo of Ruben on a visit with family

Ruben and family during a visit

I have been in prison for 27 years. I am doing an LWOP (Life without Possibility of Parole) for aiding and abetting 1st degree murder, LWOP (Life without Possibility of Parole) for attempted murder plus 2 counts of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. I was 19 years when I was arrested and was sent to Folsom Prison at the age of 21.

I have a big family that loves me and wants me home! Before all this happened I had never been in trouble and not even a traffic ticket. I used to be many things; a hard worker, a brother, a son, an uncle and a friend. Now I am reduced to being labeled “ a murderer without redeemable qualities.” I have brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces who still remember me. They have their own lives to worry about still they help me when I truly need it. I have my lady who is a God send and my soulmate. She’s been in my corner since we were fortunate to find one another 6 years ago and we plan to get married in the near future. My hope is to one day come home to her…

During my time in prison I have furthered my education by earning my GED, taken AA classes along with courses in Life Skills, Relapse Prevention and also earned my Forklift License while working in prison. Currently I am training to be a mentor with Life Line for Youthful Offenders so I can help out the younger generation through my experiences and hopefully get them pointed in a positive and productive direction. I want to stay positive and be around people that want the same.

Sincerely, Ruben Contreras

Photo of Ruben and family during a visit

Ruben and more family during a visit

Ruben Contreras
H-14475
CSP Solano B7-138u
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville California 95696

Carlos Foster

Photo of Carlos Foster

Carlos Foster

Carlos Foster
CDCR# F67464

“The Life of Being a LWOP On a Journey Trying To Regain My Redemption From My Past Transgressions While In Prison”

Hi my name is Carlos and like many LWOPs, I am another “Youth Offender” that unfortunately has made bad decisions that put me at the mercy of California broken system.

In 2005, when I was 19 years of age I was arrested and charged with Murder, Robbery, I was convicted in 2006 of all charges when I was 21 years of age. The Prosecution used the Felony-Murder Rule (FMR) which lessoned the Prosecutor’s burden of proving every element of the crime and made it easier to secure my conviction. The FMR only requires proof of an intent to commit the underlying felony, (Robbery) to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

So through my communication I hope and pray that, when you hear my story and others who are LWOPs, please let it encourage Friends, Families, Churches, Grassroots Organizations, and Legislatures to adopt and/or support me and all LWOPs in our cause for Redemption.

Born and raised in a broken home in Oakland, Ca. by my Mother, a single parent trying the best she could to raise three (3) kids on her own. I never really knew my Father because he drowned and died when I was only 3 years of age, (sighs). As I got older, I felt that growing up fast could help my Mother and myself.

The loss of my Father created the very first stages of me seeking approval where my Father’s knowledge, wisdom, and guidance was very much needed. By not having a father, I sought a father figure in all the wrong places, and in people that never had my best interest in their hearts. Being misled by strangers in the street (drug dealers) and even some people in my family, I was misled to their own drug addiction and alcohol. So when I was 12 years old I began to emulate the drug dealers that I saw and looked up to in the streets, being around this abnormal repetitive environment throughout my entire young life growing up, the “abnormal” became “normal” to me.

At 16 years old unfortunately I lost my Mother, and from this tragic loss of my Mother, the pain and grief I was feeling I had never experienced or felt in my entire life, and not wanting to ever feel this kind of pain again, I turned off my “humanity”, and it turned me into a different person that I couldn’t even recognize. Too far gone, and out of control, was the cause of me losing control.

For almost l2 years now I haveve been incarcerated in State Prison, surviving life without the possibility of parole, plus, 25 years to life for a gun enhancement. Bound by concrete walls, shackled and chained to the restraints that bind my flesh.

I have finally, through my journey of almost 12 years, matured mentally, spiritually, and physically. As of 2016, I have been constantly working on improving myself through active participation in A.A., a Socialization Group, earned my G.E.D., and through the Mental Health Lifer Group I have gained new insight in myself and Life too! For instance, through my Socialization Self Help Group, I am now able to identify my “anti-social” behaviors, and it gave me the tools I need to continue working every day for a better me and practice good “Social Skills” that I’ll need in society to live a more productive life! God Bless.

Download a PDF flyer of Carlos’ story here