Tuesday, February 6, 2018

1/27/18 Visit with Comrade Malik- Written by: Azzurra Crispino

What struck me the most about meeting Malik in person is how funny and
goofy he is. My mental image of him is a serious activist who works 16
hours a day, so I was surprised at how personable he is.  His bushy
beard can’t hide his huge smile. He’s a bit of a health nut, too –
what he wanted most was fruit and, since there was no bottled water
left and no juice available, lemonade.

When I first sat down, he asked me about the drive and how I was
doing.  I want to take a moment to describe the drive to Eastham. I
went to Texas A&M and I’ve done the drive from Austin to Bryan more
times than I can count. I was not expecting the drive from Bryan to
Eastham. The county roads are heavily wooded and peaceful, but what
struck me most were the road signs. Usually, there are signs saying
how many miles to the next town. Not so when driving to Eastham: each
of these signs list a prison and its distance in miles. What would our
communities be like if these facilities were doing something
constructive for our society?

Malik wanted to get down to business: changing the culture of
corruption and exploitation in TDCJ, and especially at Eastham. I was
shocked at his praise for the warden, Billy Lewis and Major Kent, the
youngest major in TDCJ. I spoke to Kent after my first visit with
Malik, and I found myself relating to him. I genuinely believed he
wanted to help people make positive change in their lives by working
in ‘corrections’. I disagree with Kent’s methods, but I found myself
nodding and respecting the man.

There were two specific examples of shifting the culture at Eastham
Malik wanted me to tell everyone. Both related to the Christian
fellowship group and how they helped other inmates. During Harvey,
these Christian inmates tended to the elderly and infirm who were
overcrowding Eastham unit, making sure they were as well-taken care of
as they could be in the circumstances. On Christmas Day, they sang
carols to the other inmates. As I spoke to Major Kent, I watched
handsomely dressed men and women come in to the Chapel (formerly a
gym) to share and worship with the prisoners. It was heartwarming to
see the building of connection across the razor wire.

 At the end of our visit, we got to take pictures. Since Malik remains
in administrative segregation over the trumped up "conspiring to riot"
charges from the Sept 9th 2016 prisoners strike, we cannot get
pictures taken together - we can only speak through the metal grate.
"Get a picture taken, too" Malik tells me. I realized in that moment
that even if the picture was not of us together, he could put them
next to each other and have a concrete memory of our visit. If just
one thing came out of this visit, it was being able to give Malik a
picture of himself in his kufi and beard. As I write this, I wonder
whether he even has a mirror to be able to see himself. I am going to
cut the kite strings on this blog so that I can mail him the pictures
back and he can see himself, and us, together.

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