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Breaking the Prison Habit

Book Review by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Changin? Your Game Plan: How To Use Incarceration As A Stepping Stone For Success (Self-published: Big Mouth Street Media, 2006) pp.234] $14.99

This writer usually does reviews for political books, or ones which address the controversial or newsworthy events of the day.

I will break that usual trend to review a book written, edited and self-published by a remarkable man: Randy Kearse, author of Changin? Your Game Plan.

This book will never be reviewed in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, or the London Literary Review. And that?s not only because it?s self-published. The reason has more to do with the intended readers of this work: prisoners, especially Black men in prison.

Kearse writes to them, not to pontificate, nor to preach, but to share his own harrowing life story, and his climb out of the abyss, not merely of prison, but of the mindset that led him there, and which continues to lead others to the pits of hell.

He grew up in a good home, with parents who loved and cared for him, and did well in school (other than being bored to death).

The lure of the streets called to him, and he answered, finding endless excitement, a lucrative (albeit short-lived) career in the (shall we say--unofficial pharmaceutical industry?)--drug dealing, which led him into a life of excess, of madness, and finally prison.

He tells the tale not just of his falling, but of his rise, his rebirth in prison, and his ability to question his earlier beliefs, which did not see him nor the vision he wanted to have of himself, his community, or the young who are to inherit this world.

In a series of essays, Kearse addresses issues of prison life and culture with a rawness and truth that can only be called refreshing. I found myself reading things that I told friends just recently, in words that could?ve been my own.

In an essay called, Playing the so-called game, Kearse writes:
?We?re the only culture on this planet that accepts prison as a [rite] of passage. We feel like we did something special when we come home from the jail house. We walk around like we accomplished something and that?s not how it?s supposed to be. We use the term ?I just came home,? like we were off on some world adventure.? [p.44]

Years ago, while rapping with a young fellow who got caught up in the drug business, he began telling me about the hours he worked on the corner, or keeping his workers in line. I was, quite frankly, dumb-founded. He worked significantly harder than any ?square? ever did; he told of pulling 20, or 40-hour shifts, stopping at home only to eat, or sometimes not even that. I thought of him, when I read Kearse?s take on the incredible work ethic of drug dealers:

?When we?re on the streets doing our illegal grind we were workaholics to the fifth power. Sometimes we?d stay out on the block from sun up to sun down. We didn?t wanna miss a dime. When we made it big in the drug trade, we put dudes out on the strip for us, from sun up to sun down. Sometimes we?d he hustlin? so hard we wouldn?t even take a shower when we finally hit the crib. We?d get a call early in the morning and be right out. We put money in front of everything and everyone.? P.108

Kearse?s words reminded me of Huey P. Newton?s observation that street hustlers and other assorted criminals were ?illegitimate capitalists?, who differed little from their counterparts working on Wall Street. Think of this: what?s the difference between selling illegal drugs, and legal cigarettes? (To the consumer, not the vendor; for we know that one seller goes to jail, and the other goes to the penthouse.)

Changin? Your Game Plan isn?t a political book. Nor does it try to be. It is a motivational work, addressed to men and women who rarely have been directly addressed (at least with love). For this reason alone, it is worthy of regard.

There are quite a few youngsters, especially those doing their first bit, who will appreciate these words, for they will pull them back from the brink of madness to the road less traveled--that of familial and communal caring, and yes, love.

Kearse has said good-bye to ?the game?, and hopes, with this work, to encourage many others to do the same.

With honesty and courage, he speaks to another way out from the dungeons.
One hopes his work will find a receptive eye. Copies of Changin? Your Game Plan are available for $15.99, post paid, from: Positive Urban Literature, 118A Fulton St. # 329, New York, NY 10038 and

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