On meeting Iyapo X Adisa


This morning as I waited in line with the other visitors, I noticed a sign/disclaimer on the front of the counter informing me that should any injury to my body or belongings occur while in the visiting area, the Department of Corrections administration will not be responsible.

I had met Iyapo once before but only briefly enough to exchange a greeting with a handshake. His initial greeting was warm and, it seemed, slightly cautious. His eyes smiled, but his mouth just hinted at a smile. Throughout the course of the conversation, however, we opened up enough with each other to openly share them.

We talked a lot, it seems, in the little time we spent together. He talked about his family and his plans for when he is released fairly soon. He talked about prison and his becoming politically conscious. We talked about the books we’d been reading, the need for historical perspective and the difficulties of breaking through the mainstream culture to educate unknowing victims and pawns.

We talked about the dangers of ageism, sexism and racism in revolutionary settings and particularly the dangers of denying their existence in all of us. It all comes down to interpersonal communication, he says. We talked about the importance of keeping each other in check with constructive, compassionate criticism and of remaining open to receiving it ourselves.

He talked about his constant struggle to reach and to educate those around him not by attempting to impose his reality, but rather by pointing out the system’s influences in their realities. He talked about the prison system as a system within a larger prison system that we refer to as our democratic, capitalist society. He doesn’t expect to be truly free when he is released, but to continue to struggle for the good of us all for a true freedom at all levels from global to the self.

He talked about prison society, prison racism, prison labor, prison education, prison ageism, prison solidarity, prison living conditions, prison guards, prison courts, countless prisons within prisons and each of us in our own way responsible for it all and, as a result, responsible for doing something about it. It works both ways, he says.

My thoughts turned back to the no-responsibility sign in the front entrance. Here is a man who believes profoundly in responsibility and is caged by a system that will not be held responsible. This man is not a criminal, although he’d probably be the first to admit he once adhered to a criminal mentality. He has been rehabilitated, but only through his own strength and perseverance, and of course some help from his friends, despite all attempts to the contrary by the very system charged with rehabilitating him. Here is a man they utterly failed to rehabilitate, and he is punished for showing them up by doing a better job of it himself.