Everybody deserves to have a voice, regardless of there circumstances.
The black community in America has been ravished by the criminal justice system.
In some cases, even turning a momentary lapse of judgment into a life sentence. In our first official interview for the Penitasnary Warfare series, we spoke with Jason Johnson who is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
During our conversation, Jason was able to shed light on the mentality of the youth today, his relationship with his family as well as his views on the criminal justice system.
Talk to me about the Dynamics of your household growing up?
I lived in a two-parent household. We were a close-knit family, yet slightly dysfunctional like I’m sure a lot of households are(laughs). It was a lot of love there but I didn’t come from a family where my mom was on drugs or that type of stuff. I know a lot of the people that are in my position did grow up like that, but it was none of that in my household.
Talk to me about your relationship with your father growing up. What type of influence did he have over you??
He instilled in me a work ethic and actually, both of my parents did. I know a lot of dudes didn’t see their fathers working but that wasn’t the case for me whether it was hustling or working a regular job my dad always worked. He would show me how to manage my money also.
So, when you look back on some of the decisions you have made. What were your biggest influences?
A lot of it was based purely on peer pressure. I think a lot of times we don’t want to see ourselves as followers but I think when you put yourself in a certain position, you put yourself in a position of a follower.
You feel pressured into doing a lot of things you may not have done if you didn’t put yourself in that position. Most of it is based on trying to fit in or trying to be cool. Once you’ve worked your way into this circle its difficult to get out. You think it’s hard getting into it but it’s actually harder maintaining it.
It’s difficult living up to whatever you created for yourself, at least that was always a thing for me. It wasn’t like I was always a bad kid though, just hanging with the wrong crowd which made me think I had to keep up with a particular image.
When we spoke earlier you mentioned that you’ve been down for 14 years now, which I know has been a difficult experience for you. What have you done to help get yourself through that?
Well, the thing that made it a lot easier for me was just acceptance. I’ve always been the type of person that’s been able to accept whatever it is, for what it is. I mean, it’s going to be hard for anybody.
Before coming here I’ve never done any time in juvenile hall or Boys Ranch or anything like that. This is my first time really being in jail. So of course, it was a blow for me. My main worries though were for everybody else and the fact that I’m not there to help them.
Whether it’s helping my family with the death of a loved one or just being there for my daughter’s, nieces and nephews, I’m not there. So, it was more like me worrying about everybody else’s needs instead of worrying so much about my own.
That’s understandable. I’m sure it’s tough watching them go through things and not being able to help. What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make personally since being there?
I would say emotionally, for me that was definitely the biggest thing. I say that because you sort of have to be numb to deal with things. You have to understand there are questions you may have that you’re just not going to get the answer’s for.
Thinking like “Why do I feel like these people that are supposed to be my family are lying to me or not here for me? If you think like that you’re going to question yourself and keep on questioning yourself. We start worrying about who’s going to come see us, who isn’t going to come see us. So, like I said before you have to be numb to a lot of things just to deal with each day.
Once you began to make those adjustments and you had time to think. What are some of the biggest things that you’ve learned about the criminal justice system?
I learned that the system is not for us. I look at it like this, when they established this country the constitution was set in place. The 13th Amendment says that we were three-fifths of a human being. Therefore, we were never meant to be included in the system.
In my opinion, until that gets rectified there’s never going to be any freedom in this country for an African American man. Also, when you’re going up against the criminal justice system, money is necessary. If you don’t have it, and you don’t have a paid lawyer, you’re relying on the luck of the draw.
I went to trial twice for my case and both times I got the same results, I’m still here.
I completely agree with you. The system we are currently operating under is completely flawed. What advice would you offer a young man that may be thinking about involving himself in the street life?
I’ve never been one of them people who would tell someone what to do without providing them with an alternative. At the end of the day, the ends must justify the means. I don’t think a lot of people weigh the risk versus the reward of what they’re doing.
I don’t think young people are looking at it in the right perspective or even in the right light. They put themselves on a pedestal not understanding that if 20 people are on the block and they all went to jail for selling dope, more likely your going to be the next. For some strange reason when you in the street you feel that you’re different from the other 20 dudes that got popped.
So, it’s not a lot of logic going into making these decisions. My thing is, going into anything you have to have an exit strategy. It has to be a purpose behind what you’re doing. Sometimes what your doing is just a stepping stone to get you where you really want to go.
Ok, Jason. Thank you for sharing your story with our audience!! Your time and honesty were greatly appreciated!!!