There is something undeniable about Dr. Mutulu Shakur; he couldn’t hide it even if he wanted to. The beauty of it is that he knows what he has and wastes no effort trying to avoid it. I met Dr. Shakur in 2014 at United States Penitentiary Victorville. To understand the significance of the bond he forged with me, I first must tell you who I am, not the watered down image that I have wasted so much of my life trying to portray.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska– a place full of culture, but a very small world to dwell in– my childhood was not remarkably the best, nor was it the worst. I would imagine that many others shared the same love, nurture, dysfunction and abuse throughout their experience. I must also acknowledge that our experiences play a role in shaping who we ultimately become. Unfortunately, not everybody learns how to or has the people in their lives to help them process and overcome individual circumstances.
Growing up I could identify with the raw emotion in Pac’s music, whether or not I understood why. I was 10 years old the first time I fantasized about suicide. As a teenager, I spent more time in juvenile institutions than in school or at home. I didn’t respect authority and acted out violently. My infatuation with death and suicide only grew after two of my closest friends died within a year of each other. By 19, I had acted out my suicide fantasy by intentional overdose, been expelled from school for a vicious attack on another student, developed an affinity for guns, began contemplating a second attempt at killing myself and selling crack before I was eventually indicted for murder.
I accepted the realities of the consequences of my actions, but I quickly learned that the legal process I was engaged in was more about gaining a conviction than about what was fair and just. I was embittered after the four years of psychological and emotional trauma from the legal wrangling, jailhouse fights, abuse by correctional officers, but what had the most significant impact on me was the suffering of my victim’s mother and my own mother that I was responsible for. Up to that point in time, I was incapable of settling my internal conflicts or organizing a clear thought into an expression of remorse and at my sentencing I failed miserably by resorting to an emotional and aggressive display. I remember watching myself on the evening news through the window of my cell and still feeling that void and even more frustrated at my inability to express what I needed to. Outside the courtroom, the victim’s mother was asked about her thoughts on the hearing, she responded through tears and a palpable heartache, “I still think, he just doesn’t get it…” This woman had nothing negative to say about me, I was at a loss and in awe of what I now recognize as her strength and resolve. Her words never left me.
By relying on my disdain for authority, my obsessive compulsion and hyperactive, erratic behavior, I fought a 99-year sentence down to 12 years at trial. But I only caught a glimpse of myself through all the suffering I had caused. During my sentence, I felt a sense of relief, not so much in the outcome of the criminal process, but moreso in the feeling that my life’s turmoil had finally came to an end. I met an older prisoner who, although never explained to me his reasoning, challenged me and pushed me to develop myself physically. As time went by, I began to feel stronger and experience a level of confidence that I had never before felt. The growth took the edge off my internal struggles and affected how I dealt with disrespect and what I perceived as threats. I was not involved in any further acts of violence for the remainder of my incarceration. I believed that I had finally become whole and I had possessed real life aspirations. Later, I would find out just how sadly mistaken I was.
When I was released, I was ambitious in my pursuit of employment and playing catch up with life. Shortly thereafter, my mother was diagnosed with early on-set dementia/Alzheimer’s. I became emotionally detached as my sense of security and my only consistent supporter began to deteriorate in front of my eyes. Making money became my primary focus as I sought to escape my fears and improve my material reality. I objectified the women in my life, fathered two children, failed to be supportive and there for my mother in her time of need. Before my arrest, there were nights that I spent counting money and reflecting on how far I told myself I had come, or so I wanted to believe in my diluted state. But even with that I still envisioned myself back in prison, and accepted it. I was dishonest with myself and everyone else until I was abruptly confronted with the irresponsible and selfish person I become when I was indicted for federal drug conspiracy charges.
I arrived at United States Penitentiary Victorville roughly four years ago. I was not prepared for the racially-based social structure, nor the ways in which the Federal Bureau of Prisons psychologically manipulates the prisoner population. More importantly, I have not seen my mother or my children. The presence of the fear-based, convenient racist mentality that exists here, provided me with ample distraction from the reality of my own life’s failures. However, I began to internalize the hatred I felt, toward other prisoner’s and their offensive views. Considering my life’s experience up to that point, my outlook was increasingly negative.
I knew who Dr. Mutulu Shakur was, from Pac’s lyrics, specifically “I ride for Mutulu, like I ride for Geronimo…,” from the song Letter to the President, off the Still I Rise album; but I had yet to meet the man. It just so happened that I was sitting in an empty classroom in the education department when other prisoners began quietly filling the seats around me, one of the men was Dr. Shakur. The prisoner instructor took a head count and the men began a spoken word rehearsal. I was thoroughly impressed with the passion expressed by the men and the organized structure of the prisoner lead class. Dr. Shakur did not speak until the last man finished his rehearsal, but when he did I realized his influence on these men’s creative interest and energy. Before the class was dismissed, he turned his attention my way and asked my name, where I was from, and about my interest in the class. I was honestly just sitting there and didn’t know they had a class planned, so I told him exactly that. He nodded his head and smiled before we exited the room.
After our chance encounter, Dr. Shakur sought me out about my ability to type and expressed that he had a curriculum he’d been working on for UC- Berkeley on the concept of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions; and was I interested in doing the typing. Throughout my life I have had difficulty bonding with adult males and authority figures. I’ve dealt with anxiety, depression, trust issues, insecurity and struggled with my identity. Mutulu saw me for who he believed I could be, not the person I wanted present myself as. When I began to learn about the concept of Truth and Reconciliation, he also shared some of his personal stories and listened to some of mine. He often asked questions and sought my input on subjects well outside the realm of my context, such as concepts of International Law, acupuncture, creative writing, spoken word, criminal justice reform, re-entry and rehabilitation. He fully expected informed and thoughtful responses, as if I would present a point of view that mattered. I soon realized his aim, he was challenging me to develop my voice and express creativity in the process. “The THOUGHT is the beginning of it all, Steve…”
In the time I have known him, Mutulu has only encouraged me to accept and embrace my true self, challenged me to exercise my evolving conscience and pushed me to be a better version of me. Together we explored my failures in expressing remorse, avoiding responsibility to my mother and family, and how as a result I cheated myself out of meaningful opportunities for personal growth. He showed me that through stiff resistance to my own past shortcomings and failures, I don’t have to live my life as a victim to circumstance.
What Dr. Mutulu Shakur has is an unshakable and persistent faith in people improving upon themselves through meaningful self-reflection and a commitment to purpose. Through Mutulu’s resolve and strength I am encouraged about my own ability to evolve my life’s narrative.
I support the petition for clemency on behalf of Dr. Mutulu Shakur.
Steven Michael Hinshaw
Federal Registration #16805-006