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Staying above Ground
By Rashid Junaid,
Jan. 27, 2007

Shots are fired and the smell of cordite is in the air. A man lay at my feet, dying from multiple gunshot wounds. This whole incident took all of sixty seconds. I am frozen with indecision. Should I flee the scene or should I follow after the running witnesses, to ensure that I don't end up in jail? Time elapses and the witnesses are gone. Maybe I will see them another day, I hope &

Nearly two years later, I am standing before a judge who is infamous for being drunk when he sentenced two men to death. There has been a dramatic turn of events. My co-defendant, who was erroneously identified by a witness at the scene as being involved in the crime, has agreed to testify against me. I'm in disbelief that he did not honor "the game," and had also admitted to being involved in something he didn't do.

My lawyer, who I'd confided in, knew the truth about my case. The day before the hearing he visited me briefly. He walked into the visiting room and said, "Your boy rolled over on you," and threw a copy of the Kansas City Star onto the table. The article told the details. My lawyer explained that the trial strategy we had planned would have to be scrapped. We talked about the uphill battle of trying to discredit a childhood friend. We talked about plea-bargaining. Forty years was on the table. Thirty years was the suggested compromise, but I said I would only do twenty-five. He left to speak with the prosecutor and never came back. The next morning, in the courtroom, he told me that the state would not go below thirty. I relented, and the drunk judge sentenced me to thirty years.

My mother was unaware that the lawyer, to whom she'd paid thousands of dollars, had just brokered a deal that was no better than what a public defender could have gotten. When she found out that her 17-year-old son had been sentenced to thirty years in a Missouri state prison, she had a breakdown on the highway and had to pull the car to the side of the road.

That weekend, in the county jail, I attacked an inmate I didn't like. My anger and hopelessness fueled my motivation to assault him. As I stood over his body and the guards rushed in, I was in a daze. I was issued a conduct violation and sent to the hole.

This was a defining period for me. I began to analyze how I came into this situation, and whether the outcome didn't perhaps justify the means. I started to loathe myself for things I'd done, because the answers I came up with didn't make any sense. In essence, I had killed a guy over the $150 he owed me. My lawyers' retainer fee was much more than that, and by the time the case was over we'd spent thousands to defend the case in court. I was spending about $150 per month on the canteen at the county jail. I even had shoes that cost $150! This was chump change. And now, I was about to spend thirty years of my life in prison. In the hole, I vowed never make that kind of decision again. However, I continued to make decisions that led me to dig a hole for myself, literally and figuratively. But there comes a point when you hit rock bottom and can't dig no further. You can either make your bed at the bottom or climb out of that hole. Usually, it takes much longer to get out of the hole than it did to get in. It took me sixty seconds to get into the hole I'd dug so deep, and it will take me thirty years to dig my way out of it. What sane man makes these types of choices?

In order for us to stay out of these holes we must change our thinking. We must be moral, prudent and decisive. Every day, we must weigh what we are sacrificing our freedoms for and how we are damaging - even destroying - the lives of other people with our decisions. Break the handle of the shovel, and make the choice to stay above ground.

Rashid Junaid, # 191386
Potosi Correctional Center
11593 State Hwy. O
Mineral Point, MO 63660

Rashid Junaid is a Muslim prisoner who is deeply engaged in his endeavor to raise the consciousness of his fellow men, especially the youths, to a higher level. Rashid is a former member of the CRIPS and has helped to develop programs to steer youths away from gang violence to positive action. He is the Imam (prayer and spiritual leader) of the Muslim community at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri, and has filed various litigations against the Missouri Department of Corrections to establish Islamic rights for the Muslim communities in the state of Missouri. He is also the editor of the Muslim Prisoner Bulletin, a publication designed to bring attention to the concerns of Muslim prisoners incarcerated throughout the U.S.

Rashid would appreciate receiving letters from people who read this essay.

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