Eddie Conway Talks Activism and Shares His Life Story With Seniors
The Real News Executive Producer Eddie Conway talks to senior citizens about his book and how Baltimore city has changed since the time of the ’68 riots.
EDDIE CONWAY, PRODUCER, TRNN: I’m Eddie Conway for the Real News Network in Baltimore. Recently I stopped by the [Ednor] Apartments senior living homes to speak to the residents there about my book, the recent events that have occurred in Baltimore, and what’s needed to change the systemic class inequalities in the city.
Anybody that didn’t read the book, I recently got out of prison, March 4, last year, after serving 44 years in the prison system in Maryland. In 1970, I went to prison as a member of the Black Panther party. I’ll leap forward, I did 44 years after fighting to get released, and I got released about a year ago. And after I was released, I came back to the community. I’m from Maryland, and I was born and raised in Maryland. And so I decided–I decided and the parole boar decided that I have to stay in Maryland. So it wasn’t completely voluntary, but I would have stayed in Maryland anyway.
In 18 months, they locked up the primary and secondary leadership of 25 of the states that we–we were in 37 states. 25 of those states lost its leadership. And we lost our national leadership, they got ran out of the country or they were assassinated, or they were in jail. The secondary leadership, which I was a part of, got scooped up in New Haven, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, across the country. Ended up in the prison system.
So 12 years after I got locked up, they made a determination that they had given me a bad trial, and what they had done was illegal. This is like, 1982. They made that determination. They went to the Maryland Constitution, and they changed the law. ’82, they changed the law of the Maryland Constitution based on how they had tried us, and they knew they were trying us wrong.
Then it took 32 years, up until last year, for me to get out. And for–and all, not me, but they [for] all–it was like, 500 of us that they had wrongly tried. And in the period of that 44 years, something like 250 of the people had died.
SPEAKER: You left out being framed for a murder where your supervisor said, your supervisor–a supervisor in the Post Office of the U.S., a well-known corrupt organization, said he was here in the office when he’s supposed to have done this murder, and they let you out–it doesn’t say that you just–in your 44 years that what you chose to do were things that everybody recognizes as worthwhile things. Working with inmates, helping them to get ready to get out. And I just want to stick that in.
CONWAY: It traumatizes me to revisit that, is why I kind of like, leave it out all the time. Because that’s 44 years of my life. And in the process, I almost lost my life three different times, right.
But the work that I was doing, it is significant. I started working with an organization called Friend of a Friend. I’m one of the co-founders, and it’s a Quaker-related organization, from the American Friends Service Committee. And we trained a bunch of people in the prison system, gang members, Crips, Bloods, BGF, Muslims, black radicals, Christians, intellectuals, we brought them all together as a team, similar to this, and we trained them so that they could counsel and advise young people how to one, negotiate their way through the prison system without getting in any trouble and without using any violence, and two, how to go back in the community and become a part of the community that was no longer destructive.
There’s been a truce in there about using weapons for the last year and a half. When I first went to that jail, about–I guess it’s six years ago now. This is JCI, Jessup Correctional Institution. Every week there was somebody murdered in that jail. I mean, it was every single week without fail. There was somebody murdered in that jail. I would come back sometimes–and this is not just my experience. But we would come back from lunch and there would be a body laying on the chair. And we would have to step over it and go and lock in our cell, and make sure we didn’t get any blood on our shoes or our clothes. Because when the police discovered the bodies, they would come and open everybody’s door, and they would check everybody to see if they got stabbed, or if they had blood on their hands, or stuff like that, right.
That was six years ago, in 2009. When I left in 2014, it had already been six months not a single stabbing. Because of the groups working together. And when there was a problem in this gang with somebody in that gang, the people sitting around in the room could say, well, I’ll talk to him, and I’ll talk to him. Let’s get both of them together.
SPEAKER: I remember all that. And when you start talking the houses of people being shot up, I remember that. But we try to forget it. But in our forgetting, we are not teaching our children. So when they see something like Freddie Gray, it’s new. But when we see it, it’s old. And I think if we need to teach them in order that we don’t repeat these things over and over again.
SPEAKER: I was locked up for 19 years, but I got to go home every afternoon because I was in charge of a prison program. How do we capitalize on your experience without fueling the flame that–well, it’s not really a flame now, it’s a fire, so that we can get the best out of your experience?
I did work with ex-offenders after they got out, and we did something called Don’t Follow Me. And we went inside of the schools to talk to at-risk students who had this type of anger. And I’m wondering how could we capitalize on that? I know we could use the technology. But I believe in eyeball-to-eyeball, you know, face to face.
CONWAY: If you go on the Real News, and you punch in Freddie Gray, you’ll see we’ve been down there working for at least a couple years already. And we–50 feet from where he was beaten at is where we have been working at. And so if you go there and you put my name in there, the stories will come up. Or you put the Real Baltimore in there, the stories will come up. And you’ll see that we work with the guys in the neighborhood and the [sisters], and we work with the schools.
But I encourage everybody to work with at least one person. And if you can, work with two. Do whatever you can do. And if it’s, if a whole person is too much for you, get a partner, and y’all share a person. So yeah, we have to do that. Because the anger is out there, and the conditions are really bad out there.
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