BrickHouse Books author Baari Shabazz and actor Hill Harper from USA network’s Covert Affairs share more in common than you might think. Both men are successful writers; Harper wrote the best seller Letters to a Young Brother and Shabazz wrote one of BrickHouse Book’s most successful publications For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide and Found No Rainbow. And both men speak out about prison life.
Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother offers advice and motivation for the thousands of African American men behind bars and the people who love them. After the book was published, Harper received several letters from inmates, all looking for a connection with a successful role model.
Shabazz, who spent 25 years in prison, wrote For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide and Found No Rainbow as a male response to the book For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough. Written with five other writers, the book was a finalist in the Channel 11 Playwrights content and was performed at Baltimore’s Artscape and Morgan State University. Shabazz’s book is currently sold out.
On Thursday, November 14, 2013, the event “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones” featured Harper speaking out. Shabazz attended the event and was able to speak with Harper. He then wrote a letter to Harper to thank him for the experience.
On Wednesday, November 20, 2013 12:35 PM, baari Shabazz wrote:
I am extremely grateful that you were so responsive to my concerns when I spoke at the library. It speaks loudly about your humanity and compassion. I have asked for help many times by writing to big corporations and did not even get a return letter.
On page 4 you wrote about the failure of the rehabilitation process. I too recognized this same flaw. So I began my own efforts of self reform. First, I looked at what my own values were and saw that my values were criminal. I looked at my morals and saw they were not good. I was not satisfied with my assessment. So I thought it would be good to engage other people who had clean healthy values and morals. I ended up writing to 75 pen pals. Then I thought that I should not be limited to American values and morals, but should include a global view. So I began writing to 21 embassies at the United Nations. I remember most that I received press releases from the Nigerian embassy that gave me CORRECT information about things that were happening that were reported falsely in the American media. When I tried to share this kind of information with other prisoners no one believed me. It was then that I decided that this process of changing my mindset had to be personal and just for me until I had some results for my own life.
As I told you, I was semi-illiterate when I was put in adult prisons at 15 years old. At 18 years old, after joining the then Nation of Islam, I began to educate myself. I spent 25 years in prison because I was involved with changing inhumane prison conditions by writing letters to top prison officials at headquarters or filing legal writs in the courts and educating other prisoners to get their GED diplomas. I was labeled a trouble-maker. I went on to become a teacher of Business English in the School of Business and Management and writing all of the documents to start The Writers Club. I spearheaded the efforts to write a male response to the book “For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enough.” My book, which I coauthored with five other writers, “For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide And Found No Rainbow,” was a finalist in the Channel 11 Playwrights” contest. In addition to being performed (it is a choreopoem) at Baltimore’s Artscape and at Morgan State University, it has gone through 4 printings, sold out, and now hardcopies are only available on Amazon. (I am trying to find funding for another printing.) However, I pushed my publisher towards doing an e-book which became available about 4 or 5 months ago.
After all other problems with my own self reform, I finally asked the prison officials if they would allow a prisoner to write a rehabilitation program. After a little haggling, I wrote a 30-page proposal, “Offender Restoration Project.” I was given permission from headquarters to teach it, but was stymied at every turn by Directors of Pre-Release Centers who assisted guards to write false infractions of prison rules and had me transferred four times when other prisoners started to take advantage of my reform ideas.
Now today I am using the life planning component of those reform ideas to assist youth, ex-offenders, and people in drug recovery. I also help writers to self publish books and help people to start businesses. I teach religious classes, Arabic, genealogy, and English, also one-on-one instructions. I have three manuscripts I am working on; one is an autobiography. I am also attempting to market my visual art, but I am handicapped by lack of lack of funding. This is one way I could use some help if you know someone who might take an interest in the whole package of my work. I know I need to be able to project a professional image and use social media as well as having a website. I lacked in-depth computer skills; all I have learned is SELF TAUGHT. I owe school loans and this stops me from taking more college courses to complete my B.A. in Business. I need maybe 10 courses or less. I gained 39 credits from past learning credits and was assessed and told I should be able to get more than 200 past life learning credits. Because my present work in the community has never been evaluated, nor my art and manuscripts.
As I mentioned when I talked at the library, I would like to see the work of many positive ex-offenders exposed. My long term goal is to be able to help prison writers to get published.
Well, that is all for this first communication with you. I look to our friendship and future communication. Thanks for hearing with an ear of compassion.
Shabazz is currently waiting for a response but nonetheless has gained an insightful experience.
For more information check out Hill Harper’s Facebook and Baari Shabazz’s work on Amazon.
Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The Towerlight, Limerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.