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A Change Within OneselfYusuf Khalid
[Beyond Racism, Behind Bars]
By Yusuf Abdullah Khalid,
Feb. 19, 2006

My early years were not years of privilege. In fact, they were quite the opposite. My father was never around and my mother was preoccupied with her male friends. There were three of us, boys, two older brothers and myself. Both of my brothers have lives marred by crime, drugs and spouse abuse.

By the age of thirteen I was living on my own, and homeless, because my mother tossed me out on the streets in favor of a life with her boyfriend. It was then that I had to begin surviving by whatever means necessary. Even after I contacted Children Services, I received no help. Without a family to turn to, I turned to the streets.

On May 13, 1990, at the age of fifteen, I made the decision to rob a convenience store. It was the worst decision and it radically altered my future. Scared, Hungry, Desperate, I went into the store, and I ruined the future of so many people. A million times, I have replayed what happened on that day. Fifteen year later, I still have nightmares.

In the nightmares, the man behind the sales counter slowly stands, picks up a butcher knife from the countertop, and begins advancing toward me. I scream at him to drop the knife. Undeterred, he continues to draw near me, and I pull the trigger. Only it is me who is shot. This recurring nightmare has plagued me throughout the years. I have been told that it means I cannot come to a place of forgiveness for what I have done.

I have sought the forgiveness of the victim's family, to no avail. I understand why this is.

Following the events of that day, I entered a world foreign to me--a world that I knew nothing about. My life was snatched away by the act of that day, as was the life of my victim. I have been in prison since I was fifteen years old. I am now thirty. My transition into this abnormal, foreign world was not easy because I had never been in a prison or a youth facility.

At the age of sixteen, I was transferred to the Lebanon Correctional Institution. When I entered the receiving area, surrounded by coils of razor wire and gun towers, I knew then it meant learning a whole new way of life, a life I had better learn fast. I knew that I was going to face hardened criminals and be preyed upon. It was at that moment that I set it in my mind not to compromise my integrity, nor to allow anyone to compromise it.

I remember walking down the long corridor carrying a mattress and state-issued clothing. Hundreds of people wearing the exact uniform I was wearing were in transition, moving to and from the "chow hall." Never could one imagine the feelings that run through your soul. I am man enough to admit that I was scared to death and had no clue as to what I was about to face.

As it turned out, I was fortunate enough to have an uncle and older brother in the same prison. They taught me the "do's" and "don'ts." The one thing they did not teach me was that one does not really want to develop a reputation while in prison. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I did. I was hotheaded and wanted to be known as a fighter--that if you messed with me there would be retribution.

Once this reputation was securely established, I attracted the attention of the Aryan Brotherhood, an extremist racial group prevalent within the prison system. They wanted to recruit me. Lacking any family of my own, I soon found myself becoming a "Brother" within this group. Never did I stop to consider what such an association truly involved. Quickly I moved up in the ranks and my reputation was well known.

One day, while cooling my heels in the "hole" (under Administrative Control for my reputation), I had an epiphany: "This is not you. You don't really believe the rhetoric. You're not a racist." It was then that I resigned my association with the Aryans, calling it quits and renouncing all ties with them. The ones who really mattered supported and respected my decision, ensuring I would have no problems.

Soon afterwards I began to question God and began studying the faiths of differing religions, never truly committing to any particular one. Reputations being what they are, I was transferred to higher-security prison: the Ohio State Penitentiary. While there, I remember one particular day that was life changing. A white Muslim was moved into the cell directly across from mine. It is extremely rare to see a white guy who holds to the tenants of Islam, especially within the prisons. There exists among the white population a belief that Islam is a religion for people of color and that it teaches that white people are "blond-haired, blue-eyed devils."

True to my antagonistic ways, I started a conversation solely to belittle this man. I asked him very bluntly, "How can you, a white guy, believe in Islam? It teaches that we are devils!"

This true Brother politely stated to me, "I'll send you a Qur'an and if you find it in the Qur'an, then I'll take off my Kufi (an Islamic headgear) and give up my faith." He sent me that Qur'an. Accepting his challenge, I read it. I couldn't find anything to support my assertions. Not wanting to be proven wrong, I read it again. Nothing. After the third reading, something in me began to change.

While reading Surah Yusuf (chapter 12 in the Qu'ran named after Prophet Joseph), I realized that I could relate to what I was reading. I felt that Allah had sent this Brother to me, to teach me the set way of life. I asked thousands of questions of him, the most important one was: How do I become a Muslim? This Brother told me that I needed to believe in the One True God, and to believe that Muhammad was His messenger. It was not a choice that I made quickly, but one that I contemplated. I converted and have not looked back, as Islam is now my life's foundation.

It was after my transformation to Islam that I started having problems with the Aryans. Now, due to my newfound faith, and the decision to do right, I was considered an enemy to them and remain so to this day. A "hit" was placed on my life. Allah is my Protector and Sustainer. No matter what form the discrimination may take or the threats that are made upon my life, there is a bigger picture.

We live in a world of unfounded hate, misconceptions and stereotypes. As a Muslim, I want to live in peace and I want us to find a common understanding--that is, to respect one another and support one another in our positive endeavors. It has been my experience that convicts draw imaginary boundary lines and live constrained within such limited codes of conduct. These codes keep us narrow-minded, and unable to accept others with differing points of view. I choose to live a humble life and long for the day that I will get a second chance at a life in the "free world." I never thought much about this possibility before embracing Islam. Now, I live each day with the hope that some day I can find peace and forgiveness from the family of the murdered victim, and that society in general will accept me. I refuse to become institutionalized. I will continue to better myself so that upon my release I will not return to the foreign, evil world that I have languished in.

I would like to thank my wife and aunts for their continuing support and help, which has aided me in so many ways. Most importantly, I thank Allah for all of His blessings that have been lovingly bestowed upon me.

Yusuf Abdullah Khalid aspires to assist troubled teenagers and to offer them the opportunity to see that no matter how troubled they are, or their circumstances may seem, they are able to succeed in life. He wants to share his life experience with families and to offer them advice on how to deal with troubles they may be experiencing. He also aspires to bridge the gaps of religious and ethnical discrimination and have open dialogue. He seeks to right his wrongs and to live a positive and productive life.

Yusuf Abdullah Khalid, #247-212
Warren Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 120
Lebanon, OH 45036

When writing to Yusuf, please send him a pre-embossed stamped envelope so he can promptly answer your letter. He is not permitted adhesive stamps, that is, regular stamps.
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