Rattling the Bars: Man wrongfully imprisoned for 26 years speaks out

In September 2020, Lacino Hamilton was exonerated for the murder of his foster mother, Willa B. Bias, and released after 26 years in prison. Convicted at the age of 19, the only evidence linking Hamilton to the Bias’s death were a confession police forced from Hamilton, and the statement of a jailhouse informant. Through his decades in prison, Hamilton educated himself on the nature of the prison system and how to fight back, thanks to the help of existing Black nationalist prisoners’ organizations. Hamilton wrote thousands of letters to journalists and lawyers seeking support with his case, and also became a contributor to Truthout, where he shared his firsthand experience and analysis of the prison system.

Lacino Hamilton is a writer, thinker, and activist who was incarcerated for 26 years thanks to a wrongful conviction. For more information about his case, see “Ring of Snitches: How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men.” After being sent to prison, he spent four of his first six years in solitary confinement. It was there that he began to read, think critically and distinguish between expressing a desire to change and demonstrating the ability to achieve it. He can be reached for a larger discussion on this and related topics via email.

Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

Mansa Musa:  Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m Mansa Musa, co-hosting with Eddie Conway. Today we have a remarkable individual here to talk about not only what evil looks like, but how evil impacts people’s lives. We have Lacino Hamilton. He was exonerated in 2020 of a crime that he did not commit. This is when I’m talking about the evil, when we talk about a person that was convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit, served over two decades in prison, and later to be exonerated. But like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, Lacino Hamilton has risen from the ashes. Welcome to Rattling the Bars, Lacino.

Lacino Hamilton:  Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Mansa Musa:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Lacino Hamilton:  Lacino Hamilton, I’m 47 years old. I was born and raised in Detroit. Became a part of the foster system as a baby. My mother had me when she was about 13 years old. She was a part of the system. So, I became a part of the system as a baby. Raised in the foster system, man, about 10, 11 years old, I became a runaway, bounced in between my foster home and the streets. The foster care system, I think, is a completely broken system here, at least in Michigan. But at 19 years old, I was arrested for a crime that I did not commit. The police framed me, I like to say that. It wasn’t just a result of the jury got it wrong, police officers manufactured a witness by giving him information to say, and he repeated it in court, information that the prosecutor would later go on to ask the jury how would this man know these things that he’s testifying to if Lacino didn’t tell him? I’m [inaudible] as to the jury that the police provided him with the information.

I was 19 when I was incarcerated. Emotionally and psychologically, it was probably one of the hardest blows, because the person I was being accused of or framed for killing was my foster mother of 15 years. Went into prison. I was lucky to run into some older men, part of a Black nationalist organization called the Melanics, who kind of nursed me back to health. I was a pitiful sight. Like I say, emotionally and psychologically, I’ve been just torn down through that charge and in the trial and conviction process. And these men slowly began to help me get back on my feet, primarily through self-education, giving me the tools to self-educate with, offered me some other perspectives to understand not only my incarceration, but my place here in American society.

And through writing thousands of letters and articles and different things that brought some attention to myself, Dwayne County Conviction Integrity Unit and the Cooley Law School here in Michigan, it was a new program. There happened to be new funding. And I’ve been a person who has fought my case for over 25 years by that time. And once they got my case, there was evidence that had never been disclosed to myself, to my attorneys, or never disclosed through that entire 26 year, almost 27-year process. And once that evidence was taken a look at, as you said, I was exonerated September 30, 2020. My two year anniversary is approaching. And I was released, and I’m finally back out here able to contribute not only to righting wrongs as similar to what happened to me, but just in our society in general, there’s a lot of inequalities and things that are just flat out wrong.

Mansa Musa:  And let’s pick up on that. Exonerated after serving close to three decades in prison – And congratulations, your anniversary’s in September. Mine will be… I’ll be out three years in December. I was locked up for 48 years. But I’m not claiming innocence, I’m just claiming being Black and in trouble. That’s what I’m claiming.

Lacino Hamilton:  Yes, sir. When, early in my prison sentence, like I say, some of these men who mentored me when I came to prison had been in prison for like 25 or 30 years. And having the benefit of their experiences condensed and given to me, they were telling me, don’t have faith in the criminal justice system. And they began to expose me to some of the raw – And you know how they say numbers don’t lie? Do something here in Michigan, like 90% of the people who go through our first court, which is said to be the court where you had your best shot at, routinely receive no action. And as you move up the appeals process, those numbers get closer to 100% of people who basically – They just showed me that the system didn’t work. And they put me on the process of saying that I was going to need some outside help. So, I began early in my printed sentence writing law schools, journalist schools, lawyers, innocent projects. Anybody who I thought may listen to my story.

One of those men also exposed me to some information, some academic information on behavior modification units, which is another name for solitary confinement. And this information, I’d been in prison a couple years, I was starting what would be a four-year stint in solitary confinement. The information blew my mind, that people were articulating the harms that they knew that this environment caused, some government bodies like the United Nations back in solitary confinement onto torture, sensory deprivation. But it was through this process that, when I read this information, I began to make prison a study of mine.

One of the men told me that the best way to defend myself against these harms that they know are calculated into this prison system was to get all the information I possibly could about it so that I would be armed to have some defense. And that’s what I did. I began to study prison on a more academic level from sociologist, criminologist, [inaudible]. There’s a lot of science and discipline that goes to making up this environment.

Having done that, I was introduced to a woman named Maya Schenwar, who was writing a book about her sister’s experience in prison. Maya Schenwar, the executive editor of Truthout. It was through my introduction to her that she encouraged me to write an article for Truthout which was published. And that opened me up to being published by different people. So, the only thing I’ve ever done with Truthout is publish articles, but they were so instrumental in my release. It was that exposure to a larger audience, people becoming aware of who I was and my story, which allowed me to acquire some help from different parts of the country; Colorado, New York. So, that was my relationship with Truthout.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. All right. Thank you. Thank you for that clarity. And we applaud you on your self-development and your ability to overcome your circumstances. Much like yourself, in my entire time being locked up, I did the whole gambit, super max, lock up, super max. So, that comes with the territory in your observation of prison. The prison-industrial complex is no more than the new plantation. This is our belief. Our belief is that prisoners are the new form of chattel. Just like you had sugar was pride up, and tobacco and cotton was pride up in the 1800s. In the 20th century, the 21st century is people, human beings are the chattel.

Let’s talk about this article that you wrote, the gentrification from, I think you said prison. The gentrification to prison pipeline. And everybody hates the term gentrification. And when corporate America that’s primarily responsible for the gentrification of communities, because oftentimes corporations, plow construction, or one of the major construction companies get the contract and start demolishing communities and build apartment complexes that the average income had to be somewhere between $200,000, $300,000 before you can afford one bedroom.

Now, we know that Detroit was called the Motor City. And that Detroit was considered, at one point in time, with the auto industry, it was a vibrant economic town. The closing of the major industries led to an exodus of people leaving. More importantly, if they didn’t leave, they were forced out. You made this observation in [inaudible]. Talk about why did you go in this direction? This is a unique perspective in that you are actually saying this is premeditated when you take and displace people. But the premeditation is predicated on, I want this area because the people in this area can ultimately become chattel in the plantation. Talk about that.

Lacino Hamilton:  I’ve been reading a lot, actually, about the prison to school pipeline and how there was a connection between the public school systems, how they are custodial in nature, and how they sort of feed the prison system. I grew up in the neighborhood in Detroit, Seven Mile [inaudible] area, nicknamed the Red Zone here in Detroit. It looks like a war zone. Our neighborhood literally has blocks and blocks of houses that used to be there that are gone. So, where there used to be houses on both sides of the street, there are no houses. There may be one house, or a house that the roof is missing and the side of it’s gone. This entire neighborhood looks like that.

Well, somebody had asked a question, where did all of those people go? Because these were neighborhoods with families and children, and what happened to the people that lived there? And the person that asked me that, we had looked around the prison day room that we had been in at the time, and realized that a lot of our friends who we grew up with were also here in prison. And somebody said, hey, they’re all in prison. And we began to think about that a lot more of how that process happened.

So, for an example, in the early… They used to have a place in Detroit called the Cass Corridor. It’s been nicknamed Midtown. Midtown is where we have four professional sports arenas there now. Football, baseball, hockey, basketball. It’s been completely redeveloped. The people who were there historically, the people who came in, as you said, to work the factories, they were gone. But around this time, people were being sent to prison for drug paraphernalia. They were given one to 10 years. Certain areas are targeted. Certain times the federal government will come in and start policing an area, arresting and charging, because they have laws that will allow them to give more time for the exact same offense that you may be charged with through the state.

So, we got to talking about this process and how it happened. There was an effort you could see to come in and arrest people, give them time for things that, like I say, for drug paraphernalia, a person could get caught with a utensil U to smoke crack and give a two to 20 year sentence. And we began to notice the process that all the people that we grew up with were in prison. And as we were going to prison, the same places that we used to live were deteriorating through some form of social neglect, or, like I said, being developed in the people who were there who were not allowed to be there anymore for several reasons.

Mansa Musa:  Right. Right. And when you describe your neighborhood, I’m in the Washington DC area, and I oftentimes go to Baltimore. And what you said, if you went through Baltimore City, you would actually think that you’re in Detroit. Because on some streets, it’s one, it might be three, it might be 30 houses on the street. Out of 30 houses, there might be maybe 10 families occupying them. And that might be between abandominium, one here, five abandominium.

So, what that does is it destroys any sense of community, the five people, the five families that lived there had. But more importantly, I think you’re spot on when you talk about how everybody that was in the neighborhoods winded up. The children wind up in prison. And the families, more than likely, were given a voucher to go into an area that they would not be able to maintain the income, the rent. And so therefore, they wind up even being homeless.

But talk about once you made this observation, and what did you do besides writing? What was the next thing? What was the next step? Because I think it says this is a series of articles that was written.

Lacino Hamilton:  So, it wasn’t a series on that particular subject matter. Like I said, my relationship with Truthout and some of my perspectives on the criminal justice system allowed me to write and get published a lot of different articles surrounding criminal justice, poor people, oppressed people. So, it wasn’t a series on that particular article.

At the time that I was incarcerated, the thing that motivated me to write is I kept saying, people can’t know these things. That’s the thing that motivated me. I’m in prison, it was difficult for me to be active. Even prisoners are active, always starting groups to do things to try to reconnect with the community or do something to educate. It was difficult for me to do anything in prison because I spent, as you said, as your own experiences, a lot of time either in solitary confinement, maximum security prison, or on some security threat group status. So, my contributions at that time were primarily through my journalism and trying to make as many people aware, hoping that people that were in better positions that I was in at the time could weigh in on this subject and do something about it.

Mansa Musa:  Let me ask you to say, because that’s an interesting observation. By your own admission, you went at an early age, young age. And like all of us that go into the prison system at an early age, we’re basically functionally illiterate. We’re not literate, because the environment that we are in doesn’t call for us to be literate. We are in an environment that, like you say, is a lot of degradation, a lot of oppression. But more importantly, the subculture that we involve ourselves in doesn’t call for us to have a nice understanding of the English language that make our subject verbs agree. We use a lot of slang. So, how much education did you have when you came into the prison system?

Lacino Hamilton:  So, I went to the 12th grade. I ended up getting a GED. So, I had a general education, the GED, before I came to prison. Like you said, when I, early on, I was encouraged to write. So, I’m trying to write, and I was amazed to discover that I couldn’t put a grammatically correct sentence together. And I tell people I was an A and B student. So, I sometimes wonder what level they were grading me on and what did those grades actually mean. Because, like you said, I was really functionally illiterate. It wasn’t until I began to self-educate myself that I learned just how uninformed and how uneducated I was, and how useless I found my education, because it was really of no use to me. It didn’t teach me anything about how the world works and why, or how certain things have a… Things like the International Monetary Fund of the World Bank, how those things may have an impact on my life, or causes of…

And it looks like we got Labor Day coming up, and I wonder how much people know about labor struggles and how much that will be celebrated. The strikes in the plants, working for the eight hour day. It’s a lot of things that people may hear but don’t know much about what went into it and how important they are. And I knew none of these things. And it was, like I say, difficult for me to have any type of positive contribution on something I was completely ignorant about. And my lack of contribution was actually, in a way, a form of contribution. Not doing something is contributing to a problem too, right?

Mansa Musa:  Right. And Comrade George Jackson, he said that when he came into, at a point during his imprisonment, when he got to the point where he started raising his conscience, he said he identified the prisoners that were in there that were there before him that had a consciousness about their environment and they saw prison for what it was, they saw the system for what it was. And they educated him. And their whole goal was to turn the Black criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality. And from your own observation, you spoke on how older inmates or Black [inaudible], or older prisoners, rather, how older prisoners had taken you up under their wing and started giving you information, relevant information to help raise your consciousness. Are you still in touch with these individuals to the day or do y’all have a relationship?

Lacino Hamilton:  Some of them. I was in prison 27 years. I was transferred a lot. They had something in Michigan called systematic transfers where prisoners who they thought were influential, they would constantly move me, I guess so I couldn’t educate other men. So, I’m saying that to say that I’m not in contact with every gentleman that I met throughout the years, but my number is a well known number in the Michigan prison system. No matter what I’m doing, when I see that 972 area code pop up, I accept it. So, I stay in communication with as many people as I can, because there’s a lot of men in there that have a similar situation as mine, men and women who’ve been in there 50… Well, let me say this, I’m an abolitionist. So, I don’t have a qualification per se for who I believe should be out of prison. I believe every man, woman, and child that is currently incarcerated should be released today. I just want to put that out there.

But I stay in contact with as many of those men as I can. I’m grateful for, like I said, they had an accumulated knowledge that they shared with me. The things that took them 30 years to learn, a lot of that I was exposed to, so I didn’t have to make some mistakes. Some of the observations, these men were so intelligent that a lot of the things that they said I took at face value and I began to search immediately off of what they said. So, contact with those men was invaluable because I didn’t have to go through… They say bumping your head is the best teacher, maybe sometimes. But some of the things I read in these books that men and women, I don’t have to bump my head. Some of the things, it brings me up to speed immediately and puts me in a position where I can immediately begin to do something to change my situation or circumstances or reality in general.

Mansa Musa:  Let me ask you, and we’re going be doing this at some point in time, we’re going to be examining the innocence of people that are in prison, trying to really raise the consciousness of our viewers and society at large about this evil that takes place when a person is stripped at their freedom and doesn’t have a way to get redress of, I did like what you say, constantly trying to get somebody to take note of. And that’s in and of itself. How’d you hold on? How’d you hold on to staying focused and not succumbing to depression, man? Because I know this is a reality that I’m innocent and ain’t nobody trying to hit me out. And I’m here in this crazy environment, and I ain’t supposed to be here. And every time I say something, somebody looks at me like I’m crazy. This in and of itself is trauma. How did you manage to navigate through that traumatic experience in that environment and deal with the trauma upon being released? How have you been able to deal with that?

Lacino Hamilton:  It was a common… First I want to say that I have an assortment of residual effects of prison. When most people interact with me, I’m able to articulate myself or socially interact, but I have dreams. There are things that bring back memories, like the re-trauma of it. So, now I’m going through the legal process of trying to address this, to be compensated. I could be having a good day. I go see my lawyers and I get to talking about this, and I start crying. And I was having a great day, but sometimes we live in that trauma.

But having said that, there was a combination of things. One, I was a part of a group, a Black nationalist group that was well respected in the Michigan prison system. And because of that, I’ll tell you, I did 27 years in prison, I never got in a fight, I never stabbed anybody, none of the things that people sometimes associate with stereotypes. So, being a part of a group that was well-respected impacted my prison system a lot. One of them was through self-education. The more I learned, as I alluded to earlier, I was able to build up a defense against the trauma, for a lack of a better term, because I was aware of what was happening to me. And having the benefit of academic studies, knowing what the sociologist says or the criminologist, it was giving me an insight in the prison that was allowing me to say these are some of the things that you may want to do or stay away from.

Having said that, one of the things I did is I held onto my anger. A lot of people would say that anger is corrosive or whatever, but I was angry right about my situation, and I wanted to do something about it. And what my anger led me to do was to educate. The only way I could do something about it was to know something about it, was to have an understanding about it. So, my anger kept me in a book. My anger kept me writing. I was dissatisfied with what I was experiencing, anger. So, for whatever people may say about some of these emotions that people sometimes make you feel like you’re a bad person for having these emotions, I always felt I had a right to be angry about what I was going through, and I channeled that anger into books and writing.

And I met people along the way who supported me, wonderful people. Dr. Dorothy B Fardan of Bowie State, she ran a, it’s a gentleman truth prison network where she created a prison letter and allowed us to write, and write freely. She was my first and one of my staunchest supporters. Claudia Whitman in Denver, she started out fighting for death row prisoners. She met a man here in prison by the name of Danny Burton, who was also innocent, later exonerated after 30 some years and kind of led her in the direction of innocence. I mean the list goes on, [inaudible] New York. It was people who supported me as well, who believed in me, who reassured me. Sometimes when you’re fighting in isolation, even if you know you can write, you could begin to doubt yourself. So, it was a combination of things through some of my own efforts, but a lot of people that I met along the way who assisted me in the critical areas, who made it possible that I could self-educate.

Mansa Musa:  And you know what – And not to cut you off – But in that regard right there, that’s the part of the prison-industrial complex that, no matter what they do, they can’t destroy that spirit of determination. The host of this show, Eddie Conway, a former Black Panther, he was set up because of his politics and did almost 40 years.

But to go back to your point, it was him that got me to where I’m at, because it was him mentoring me and educating me, much like yourself, much like your own story. And that’s the story of the prison-industrial complex that goes unnoticed, is that within this environment – And Angela Davis talked about if they come in the morning about the camaraderie that we have for each other in this environment of this degradation and this dehumanization that out of it comes a commonality that we have to work together to make sure that we survive.

Lacino Hamilton:  Once again, quickly, I was speaking with a guy. I went to an event about a week or two ago, and the comment “product of my environment” came up. And often when we hear this comment is sort of a justification or why I’m fucked up, right?

Mansa Musa:  Right.

Lacino Hamilton:  I’m just a product of this. And I stood up to say that Huey P. Newton was a product of this environment. Harriet Tubman was a product of her environment, Eddie Conway. And I want to say that oppression also breeds resistance.

Mansa Musa:  That’s right.

Lacino Hamilton:  So, sort of what you are saying is that these oppressive [inaudible], they were products of it. Anytime people are being oppressed or people are being pushed to the wall, someone is going to be pushed back. So, that is a product of that environment. Mentoring people, self-education, self-determination. Because the environment forces you, because those things are being stripped away from you in ways that are harmful. So, it’s natural and self-care and caring for others that there will be people to, like you say, to mentor, to educate, to stress the importance of having a self-determined attitude and perspective on life. So, I just wanted to add that in there.

Mansa Musa:  Yeah. Hey, and very well put, bro. Because, like I said, I applaud you, and I know what you’ve been through, and I understand that, because I went through the same thing. And I was in an environment with people that were actually innocent and did 30 and 35 years and grew up in the prison system, and they were like a voice in the wilderness. But give our audience a view of how, when you finally got the news that the criminal injustice system had to reckon with their setting you up and had to let you go, can you give our audience what it felt like to be able to say that finally, I’m out of here and I don’t have to worry about dealing with this insanity no more and can go on to do greater things?

Lacino Hamilton:  I just want to back up quickly. I’m an anticapitalist as well, right?

Mansa Musa:  Yes, sir.

Lacino Hamilton:  And I say that because the capitalist system, as we are taught, is a competitive system, supposedly designed to keep people at their best. You always got to be at your best. But one thing that’s never said about competitive systems is that cheating is an element that you can’t get out of it. And one thing I always ask people is that anything that you know is competitive, people cheat. Cars, football, dice, there’s nothing that we know of in life where people compete. It could be charades, somebody got to talk and open their mouth, and somebody is going to tell them to stop cheating.

Well, the criminal justice system is also a system like that. It’s a competitive system. It’s about wins and loses. And because it’s predicated upon competitive values, cheating is an integral part of it. And this is the reason why I’m anti-capitalist. It is one thing to create a system where someone cheats. It’s different to create a system where cheating is an element of it. And when we’re talking about cheating, we’re talking about food, clothes, healthcare, some of the most essential things in life are based upon that competition. I don’t want a system where I can’t get cheating out of it. It’s one thing I like to say for people to cheat, but I don’t want a system where this is a fundamental element of the system.

Having said that, when there were all fingerprints, DNA evidence that were just completely hidden and never given to us, when these things were first discovered, I was asked if I would like them to be tested [inaudible]. It was tasked to the Michigan State Police because the Detroit crime lab, or where I’m from, had been closed down because of flat out lying. [crosstalk]. Right. There’s no other way to say it. They were just lying about their findings.

So, the Michigan State Police was tasked with testing the evidence they found, the scientific evidence that they found. It took a year. I couldn’t understand why, after being incarcerated 26 years, it would take so long for something to be tested. When it came back, the Michigan State Police concluded that it could possibly be mine. My mind just blew. I’m telling my attorneys who had my case seven years pro bono, that I haven’t been lying to you. This evidence is not… That something has to be wrong, either they’re lying or they’re incorrect.

Just so happened the Cooley Law School had been given a grant. And because they were given a grant, they matched funds with my lawyers who had been taking this case pro bono, and I had the benefit of one of the leading experts in the country to test it, to retest the evidence. And the courts took his word over the Michigan State Police. So, I just want to add these things.

Mansa Musa:  That’s right. Yeah. Go ahead.

Lacino Hamilton:  And it was a real struggle, because they’re about wins and loses. They’re still trying to win. They’re still trying to hold onto a win. So, the cheating comes out, because winning is the key thing in the competitive system. So, having said that, to be honest with you, when I was finally released, there were men and women who I had met throughout my prison system, some free, some who had been formerly incarcerated, who came to visit me on their first day out. When everybody was gone and I was finally by myself, I stretched across the bed like this, and I smiled. And there’s a movie that came out in the ’80s called The Last Dragon that starred Bruce Leroy [sic]. There was a moment in there he realized his power and he began to glow. That’s how I felt. I felt like pure electricity was running through my body.

I tell people for almost my entire prison system, for 14 to 18 hours each day, I was on a typewriter, I was in a book. I always believed that I was going to write myself out of prison, meaning that I was going to somehow acquire some help from the outside world. I felt so elated that all of that effort, as you said, navigating through prison. This is an environment, once again, where everything is limited. And when we talk about that competitiveness, everything is limited purposely, and there’s a struggle in there for the most basic necessities of life, simple things. And to have navigated through that, I mean just all the things I had to do to have to line up, like I say, never get in a fight. Never really having to interact in that. I just felt elated. I just can, like I said, I felt like pure electricity was running through my body.

But on the flip side, I felt lost. When I came out, there were few things to remind me of the world that I knew, even people, because most of the men and women that I knew at age, when I left, we were all children. These were people who had been in their adult lives, fathers, mothers, grandparents. They had careers, experiences. It was things that sometimes people may not understand.

So for an example, I found it difficult going on Facebook when I first came out. I was eager to go on here and see what this person did or what that person did. But often when I would go on their pages and see their lives, their weddings, their vacations, their children, their birthday celebrations, once again it was something I couldn’t emotionally handle because it was a reality of what I had missed out on. I had a friend who was very shy growing up. I knew her from the second grade on to when I was 19. She was shy, that I could remember. And I went on her page, and seeing how vibrant she was and to see what she had flowered into. And it would be things like that to say, what could I have become [crosstalk]? So, it’s been good and bad. And I’m just being honest with you, some people may not want to admit it.

Mansa Musa:  Oh, no. Believe this here, that’s the reality of, I told you I did 48. And when they let me out, I was in Baltimore City, and I live in DC. And the only thing I could think about was whether or not my family got the message I was coming out, and how I was going to get out of Baltimore and get back home. It didn’t even occur to me that I was actually free. That didn’t set in until I got home with my family, and much like yourself.

See, this is the devastating part of the prison-industrial complex because that’s what they do. George Jackson says, their goal is they try to take our individuality. The goal is to take our individuality. We’re locked up and we’re incarcerated, you’re no longer seen as an individual, you’re a number? 12443, that’s my number. And that’s what they call you by when they say, what’s your number. They don’t ask you what’s your name, say what’s your number? And that’s to take your individuality. But to close on this point, we applaud you for what you did thus far. We applaud you because of the way you came out, and much like other people in similar situations, to have been exonerated. But you got the last word on this subject matter. What do you want to tell the Rattling the Bars or The Real News audience?

Lacino Hamilton:  I want to say that prison should be abolished. I want to end it on that. Some people think this is a crazy idea. I say that most people are abolitionists, or they understand the abolitionist principles. A couple examples would be children are taken in this country all the time from school, hospitals, immediately. When someone feels that a child is being harmed, they immediately move that child out of that situation, often not knowing what the outcome is going to be. But they say that right now, today, not tomorrow, not the end where we’re moving them, because they’re being harmed.

Another example may be like if you had a loved one who’s in an abusive relationship and you know it, most people would encourage them to exit that relationship immediately. Even if that person would ask you questions like, what do I do about money? What do I do for clothes? It really doesn’t matter what they come up with. You’ll tell them, we will figure it out. Well, it’s a fact that people are being harmed in the criminal justice system. Briefly, we know that the criminal justice system treats people of color unfairly from the moment of contact to whatever the conclusion is. Unfairly it is harming them. Same thing with women, gays, lesbians, transgenders. We know that one’s economic status impacts what kind of justice you so-called get. Rich people, affluent people often skirt those same things that less affluent, less wealthy people are severely punished for.

Having said that, people are being harmed by the criminal justice system. I know I’m saying it quickly, but these are much broader subjects. As you said, prison is the modern day form of slavery. These are set in our Constitution, which I know you are aware of. Neither slavery nor voluntary servitude except where one has been convicted of a crime. So, they put that exception in there. They saying we’re going to abolish slavery except we… So, the criminal justice system is a form of slavery. People are looked at as property. And one of the hallmarks of prison is rooting out anything of an individual nature. Everybody does the same thing at the same time. Everybody wears the same thing. Everybody, everything you do at the same time because you’re not an individual. So, having said that, I believe that we need to look at ways that we can bring the prison system to an end immediately.

One last thing, I have to say this too. Often people ask me what I think America would look like or neighborhoods would look like if prison, if everybody was released immediately. And I tell them that America in the world is in the business of abolishing things immediately, Iraq being an example.

America went in and abolished an entire system. Everything. Police, courts, judges, everything, with the idea that they could put it back together. I’m not saying I’m in agreement of what they put back together, but that’s an example of how something can be abolished and something could be put back in its place.

Another example I use is South Africa. When the Indigenous population was regaining control of the government, a lot of systems were immediately abolished. We did not hear about mad bloodshed in Iraq, we did not hear about mass murders and crime sprees in South Africa. There are examples of how systems can be abolished, something more along the line of being people-centered could be put in its place. So, I would like more people to educate themselves about abolition, and more people to get involved in how we can end harm immediately in this country, and particularly in the criminal justice system.

Mansa Musa:  There you have it. The real news about a man that’s been exonerated, Lacino Hamilton was exonerated, wrongfully convicted. However, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, he rose. He raised his consciousness, he’s an anticapitalist, abolitionist and a true example of what happens when a person goes to prison and not serve time, but let time serve him. Thank you brother for this enlightening conversation and –

Lacino Hamilton:  Thank you for having me, sir.

Mansa Musa:  …We look forward to seeing some of the remarkable things you’ll be doing in the future. Thank you very much.

Lacino Hamilton:  Thank you for having me.

Mansa Musa:  And in closing, I want to encourage all our listeners and our viewers to continue to support Rattling the Bars and The Real News. You can learn how to do this by going to our website. With that, I’m Mansa Musa, signing off with Eddie Conway.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, also known as Charles Hopkins, is a 70-year-old social activist and former Black Panther. He was released from prison on December 5, 2019, after serving 48 years, nine months, 5 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes. He co-hosts the TRNN original show Rattling the Bars.