Thoughts on Life, Prison, and Other Subjects...

                                                                                               Keith Washington

December 15, 2012 --- Sandy Hook

Everyone should say a prayer for the innocent lives lost yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Say a prayer for all children; for the innocence that was lost; say a prayer for the parents who will never hold their little ones again.  Say a prayer for those school teachers who lost their lives, and their families.  No matter what you think you’re going through in life, no one could imagine a tragedy of this magnitude.  So today let us all reflect on that.  Let us all show some compassion and decency no matter what our individual plight may be.   

 

July 7, 2013  ---  My Bosnian Tour/My NATO Assignment

As I reminisce about my life certain dates come to mind.  It was about fourteen years ago that my unit deployed to Bosnia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force.  It was a new adventure with the same perils.  Man against man for control of the land and the resources therein; a three-way civil war in the Balkans.  For those that don’t know, the Balkans were once part of the Ottoman empire which later became the country of Turkey.  Soon after the U.S.S.R. disintegrated it caused a chain reaction within that part of Europe.  That chain reaction in the former country of Yugoslavia caused a three-way civil war between the Bosniaks, Serbs, and the Croats. 

I was later deployed with a segment of my unit to the outskirts of a city called Brchko.  This city was strategically located along the Sava River and became the Serb stronghold.  Brchko was originally placed under the joint administration of the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims.  The history of the Serbs who are Orthodox Christians was influenced by the Byzantine Empire.  The Muslims, sometimes known as the Slavs, were influenced primarily by the Ottoman Empire and converted to Islam, mostly Sunis, in the 15th and 16th century.  The Croats, sometimes called Bosniaks, were Roman Catholics.  This region of Europe became extremely violent with atrocities committed by the warring factions.  Even one hundred years ago in 1914 it was the powder keg that launched World War I when Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.  And now, American soldiers, men and women, were thrust into the middle of this conflict in order to maintain peace and stability in Europe. 

One day I was tasked with meeting a Serbian Commander who was suspected of committing war crimes.  My Muslim interpreter was fearful of attending this meeting.  I, like many soldiers, was not fluent in the Serbo-Croatian language and so the Army in its wisdom contracted with the local population to be interpreters for certain U. S. military personnel and their teams.  I sat in a room with about eight Serbian soldiers, my Muslim interpreter who was their sworn enemy, and three-four U. S. soldiers who accompanied me.  We were to discuss projects within the area that would help return Croats and Muslims to the city of Brchko.  During the initial phases of the civil war, the Croats and Muslims had been forcibly removed from their homes, and sought to return which was one of the objectives of the Dayton Accords which was the international agreement to bring peace and stability back to that region, at least in theory.  Needless to say, there was a lot of tension based on the fact that all three parties had shed blood over the preceding seven years of civil war.  Now part of my duty was to have them return ground that they had taken in war. The Serbian Commander was very cordial, respectful, but blunt.  His battle worn face, his steely eyes, and those of his men, conveyed to me that this meeting was going to be an exercise in futility.  We talked for about three hours on different subjects having nothing to do with the primary objective of the meeting.  It was customary to eat and drink and get to know one another before getting down to brass tacks.  My Muslim interpreter had informed me that there was a factory a few kilometers down the road where the bodies of Muslims and Croats had been massacred.  He informed me that their bodies had been ground up into a meat grinder and dumped into the Sava River so that the evidence of war crimes could be disposed of.  Midway through the meeting I proposed a tour of the facility.  This proposal was not on the itinerary nor did I expect it to be acceptable if such crimes had been committed.  Later as the meeting adjourned I was to return by military convoy to Camp McGovern and not deviate from the route that was pre-planned because the country was still littered with IEDs and other dangerous obstacles within and around the entire city.  As we drove through the city en route back, the driver in the lead vehicle radioed me that a woman running and screaming was approaching our convoy.  I had him dismount and go talk to her and he came back and informed me that she had told him that there we several armed soldiers that she recognized as the men who had broken into her home and taken away her husband and two sons some years earlier.  She was terrified beyond belief as my interpreter informed me that she was in danger of being kidnapped by those men in order to silence her.  I could see the armed men standing in the alleyways about 200-300 meters away waiting for us to leave.  It was a moment I couldn’t soon forget.  I had her loaded into the back of one of the vehicles and we proceeded to the U. S. civilian representative on the outskirts of the city and I turned her over to the U.S. /U.N. rep and informed them of the circumstances of her plight.  It was just one day of many in that country where real life and death situations for the people of that country, and most looked to the U.S. soldiers to make a difference in their life.  The human condition throughout the world can sometimes be very tenuous at best.  The desire to live in peace, safety, and security; the desire to live free and prosperous; the desire to not live in fear for oneself or ones family is what most of us, no matter who you are, aspire to have.  The so-called fight for economic, political, and social power is a never ending struggle.  I would tell any person who seeks a life free of tyranny to be not afraid in your hour of darkness.  Like Henry David Thoreau said “Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams and be fearless, grow in self awareness, and don’t have any doubts about your ability.” 

Bosnia was a great experience for me; there were many lessons to be learned from it, good and bad.  I don’t know what happened to that woman, but I hope she’s well.  I don’t know what happened to my interpreter, but I hope he’s well also.  I don’t’ know what happened to the men and women who fought and died on all sides, but I hope they’ll have eternal peace.  And I hope that country can prosper and that those three groups can somehow reconcile and live in harmony.  As I remember Bosnia, I remember the long days and the longer nights and a cold winter.  And I remember that the Bosnian people and their quest for peace.

 

July 18, 2013 ---  4300 Vermillion Avenue

I had a weird dream last night about an incident that happened about twenty years ago at 4300 Vermillion Ave., a high rise building where nearly 500 families, many on section 8 lived.  Crime was rampant inside the building as well as outside in the parking lot and the surrounding area.  The Police Dept received daily calls for shootings, robberies, and drug dealing even in the lobby entrance of the building.  One day I was assigned to that area along with my buddy, Warren “Wild Man” Hayes.  The building set about 80-100 yards off Wheeler road, and from the lobby the criminals could see the police when they pulled into the parking lot, and would scatter throughout the building, about twenty stories high.  There were a lot of good and decent people trapped in that building who were terrorized on a daily basis for years, but there was little the police could do about it.  I told my buddy, “tonight we’re going to solve this problem”  I told him we would park our police cars down the road about a half mile away from the building.  The building backed to a wooded area and I said we could walk through the woods and approach the building from the rear so we couldn’t be seen from inside.  As we got closer, we could hear the calls over the radio that there were several people inside the lobby openly selling drugs and displaying guns.  We skirted the side of the building in complete darkness until we got to the front entrance.  I peeped inside and could see seven or eight guys standing inside the lobby with drugs openly displayed.  These guys were all known to carry weapons during that time period.  I looked back at the Wild Man and said you take the four on the left and I’ll take the four on the right.  As he always did, he  just smiled and said, let’s do it bro’.  When a woman came out of the building, as soon as the door opened we rushed in.  People in the lobby screamed and chaos ensued.  People in the lobby, regular citizens, began to scream and grab their children and run for cover.  As I rushed forward I could see that the Wild Man was in a tussle with one of the drug dealers and could see the handle of a gun in his waistline.  I then told the guys that I had targeted to get on the ground and don’t move. At that time, only one guy went down to the ground; the other three stood firm.  As I pointed my weapon I told them, “today is the day it all stops”.  Seeing that we both were serious as two men could be, they all laid down on the ground.  People were still scurrying and screaming; as the guns and drugs fell from their waistbands.  We called for backup and could hear the police cars with sirens blaring coming from blocks away.  We handcuffed the suspects and as we began to search them, I think we recovered six guns, an untold amount of cash, and marijuana and cocaine packaged for sale.  You have to understand how the lobby at 4300 Vermillion is situated.  Once you walk in the door, you were in an area of about 40’ by 40’, extremely close quarters for weapons.  There were two elevators on each side of the lobby and three different exits – one to the right, one to the left, one down the hallway, and a staircase on either side, and two garbage shutes beside the elevator where they could dump the drugs and later retrieve it from the basement.  But now, we had gotten the jump on them and caught them off guard.  I saw the Wild Man physically engaged in a struggle with one of the suspects I kind of smiled because I knew that guy had picked the wrong one to resist.  Eventually Warren got the handcuffs on him and there we had these guys laid out in the lobby with handcuffs on.  Citizens started coming out of their apartments and heading to the lobby where the incident was unfolding.  Some were pointing and cheering and thanking God.  I remember one older woman saying “thank you Jesus.  Now I don’t have to be scared when I come home every evening.”  But that wasn’t enough to myself and the Wild Man.

When we arrived back at the police station I talked to one of the young men about what his life could be; he was seventeen years old, a baby compared to his fellow drug dealers who were hardened criminals.   That he didn’t have to be a drug dealer, that he didn’t have to be a community terrorist,that he didn’t have to be a statistic.  That he should have a desire to achieve something in life.   In the holding cell at the police station, he and I talked for about 45 minutes about life.  At that time, carrying a weapon and selling crack cocaine while armed was a serious felony.  I told him that his life was just starting, and not to shut the door to the possibilities that await you.  About six months later the case came to trial.  I talked to the State’s Attorney on his behalf and told the SA that I saw something in that young man; that he was a good kid and that he needed someone to give him a break in life.  I told the State’s Attorney it would be a favor if he would stet the case and not prosecute the kid, and that’s what happened.  As we walked out of the courtroom, the kid thanked me for all I had done.  He told me that two of his friends that had been arrested that night in the lobby that one of them had been killed in a drug deal, and based on our conversation, he vowed to change his life.  I never saw the kid again until about thirteen years later.  I came to work one day and the secretary told me that someone in the Marine Corps had come by and had called seeking to talk to me.  I returned the phone call and it was that kid.  He was a thirty year old man now, a sergeant in the Marine Corps with a wife and two kids of his own.  He recounted the incident at 4300 Vermillion Ave to make me remember who he was.  He asked me to meet him for lunch at the mall which I was happy to do.  As we sat and talked he told me how that night at 4300 Vermillion had changed his life.  How my taking the time to separate myself from being merely a police officer to being a human being and showing and telling him that there was a better way for his life to unfold.  He said how over the years stationed in different places, and when he came back to Maryland he wanted to look me up.  He should be about retired now from the Marine Corps.  As my memory fades I don’t remember his name, but if he ever reads this I just want to tell him that the only thing he owes me is to pass on his character to the next generation.  To give to others what was given to him, because we don’t own it. 

I don’t know why I dreamt about that incident, but it came to me.  And Wild Man, if you’re still out there, tell the family I said hi.  Love you bro.

August 14, 2013 – Mom and Education

Today my mother would have been 74 years old, and the lessons she taught me as a child still remain with me today.  She grew up in a time when opportunities were slim to none; mostly none for women like her.  She picked cotton with her brothers and sisters up until she was eighteen years old, which was in 1957.   She knew the value of hard work because in her lifetime you either worked hard or you starved.  She sang in the church choir on Sundays and cooked for her family every night all of her life and made sure we were taken care of.  She never got a chance to pursue her dreams and so she instilled in us the values of responsibility, compassion, self-reliance, to give back more than you take, and to be a bridge builder for others who follow after you.  And so I decided as a teenager, I didn’t know when or where or how, that I was going to attain a college degree.  I wanted her to be proud of me and so whatever it took, I was going to get it done.  My mother believed that education was the key to everything.  It opens up opportunities that people don’t even know exist. And so, that’s why I decided to start a scholarship fund for needy students.  And since my mother sang in the church choir, I thought as a tribute to her, I would give scholarships to local members of churches throughout Prince George’s County and let the church members decide on the recipients in their respective congregations.  It was truly one of the more enjoyable moments in my life watching young girls and boys who were going off to college with these needed funds.  I remember giving a scholarship to Ebeneezer AME church where Granger Browning is the Pastor.  I remember giving a scholarship to Mt Enon where Delman Coates is the pastor.  I remember giving a scholarship to the Spirit of Faith where Mike and Dee Dee Freeman are the pastors.  I remember giving a scholarship to From the Heart Ministries where John Cherry was the pastor.  And many more churches throughout Prince George’s County.  But, it was all because of my mother and what she never had the chance to do.  Her light shone bright for a lot of people who never got a chance to know her.  Her inspiration to others has caused them to commit acts of kindness that still endure.  So although she’s no longer with us, I want to still wish her a Happy Birthday.  To those young men and women who received those scholarships, I hope that they pass it on to the next generation.  That’s their obligation.

 

August 25, 2013 --- Dorothy, Don’t Look!

I have to fight through the depression and despair of having my post conviction petition turned down.  Everyone says the evidence is there that shows the misconduct, the perjury and false statements, the ineffective assistance of counsel, but the battle for freedom continues; the fight for justice goes on.  The illusion of justice is like Dorothy looking behind the curtain and finding out there really is no Wizard of Oz, and once you see behind the curtain, you can never be the same.  I have to believe that there are fair minded and courageous judicial officers who still care enough about the law to do what’s right.  I have to believe that they are supposed to represent what we care about.  And I have to believe that citizens will and can hold them responsible.  I have to believe that young men and women who fight and die on behalf of this country don’t do so, so that a privileged few can game the system.  Truth and justice is why we fight, and truth and justice will prevail.  We cannot surrender our core values and deny who we say we really are. So we’ll file another petition, another motion, another appeal, and pray that a fair and just verdict will be rendered. 

 

November 1, 2013 -- David and Me

I was again today reminded how precious life is. I saw a story on TV about a soldier in the Army who came home from Iraq and has been unable to adjust; he committed suicide.  My heart goes out to him and his family; only God knows “the trouble he’s seen”.  It made remember when I was stationed down at Ft Polk, LA as a young Specialist 4th Class, full of ideals and enthusiasm.  I thought I had the world by the tail.  I was a member of the Fifth Infantry Division.  I dreaded the morning PT runs that seemed like they would never end, but afterward I always felt a sense of accomplishment when the run was over. 

The First Sergeant gave the briefing that nobody went downtown Leesville alone, you always had to go in pairs.  I remember one weekend especially when myself and what the Army calls my “battle buddy”, my friend David, went downtown one Saturday to a section of town called The Crossing.  He had met a young lady a few weeks prior and wanted to pay her a visit.  When we drove down, there were fifty or sixty people standing on corners selling drugs.  They could tell by our haircuts that we were young solders not from that town.  We parked the car and he went to knock on the lady’s door.  It seemed like every eye within a four block radius was looking at us.  We were well dressed and mannerable young men.  As we approached the young lady’s residence, we saw another woman walking toward us with what looked to be a ten or eleven year old child walking behind her.  She stopped to talk to three or four drug dealers standing there in an open area and I could hear her talking as I stood there by a three foot high hurricane fence adjacent to the house we were going to visit.  She was clearly there to buy drugs to feed her addiction, but there was something more terrible than that going on.  She was going to sell her daughter to the one of the drug dealers for twenty dollars worth of crack cocaine.  The little girl looked as frightened as one could look; standing there behind these grown adults who were bartering to do God knows what with her.  I knew, and my friend knew, that it was none of our business, but who could let that pass?  I was a twenty year old soldier with my future ahead of me; the smart thing to do would be to walk away and keep walking.  But I guess that’s why I was there, to say or do something.  That’s how God works, he puts you in a position to say something or do something when it’s your time.  And so, as one of the dealers said “yeah I’ll take that deal” I could see the terror and uncertainty in the little girl’s eyes and I told my buddy David, watch my back, I’ve gotta do something here.  I said hey, you’re not going to touch that little girl, and told the woman, you’re not going to sell that little girl.  David looked at me and I knew I could count on him if things got hairy, which I thought they would at any second.  I don’t know why but I grabbed the woman and the little girl and said walk with us, we’re going to the car.  When we got to the car the drug dealers were behind us and talking loudly about what they were going to do to us.  We assumed they were all probably armed, but it didn’t stop us.  I told the woman and the child to get in the back seat, and they got in.  My heart was beating a hundred miles an hour because I didn’t know what would happen next.  One of the guys said, “man you’re ‘effin with my money; I ought to kill both of you.”  “Well, before you do something to this little girl,” I said, “that’s just what you’ll have to do”, not knowing that inside of me there was anger and fear.  I wouldn’t call it courage; I would just say that David and I were just doing our part.  One of the other guys said, “you know what, they’re soldier boys, just leave them alone.  They’re leaving anyway, let ‘em go.”  We got in the car and left, and took the woman home to her trailer.  We stopped at Piggly Wiggly grocery store, I don’t know if Piggly Wiggly is still even a grocery now, but it was then, and bought $60 or $70 worth of groceries for the woman and her daughter and took them back home to her trailer.

David cursed me all the way back to Ft Polk, telling me “man, you’re gonna get me killed”, but he said it with a dry laugh. Once we passed through the front gate, he looked at me and I looked at him and we both just started laughing, and laughed all the way back to the barracks.  And every time I saw him after that, no matter where we were we just looked at each other and laughed.  I don’t know if David ever went back to visit the young lady he had met, probably not, but I do know that when I was a young enlisted soldier in the Army the values that were preached and taught that men lived and died for were what has sustained me throughout my life.  Anytime I hear about a soldier in an unfortunate situation, my heart goes out to them and their families because all that I have and all that I am I owe a large percentage of that to the Army and the opportunities it gave me in life.  It helped me pay for college tuition, it helped me believe in myself, it helped me believe I could do things I never thought possible, that all I had to do was put in the effort, and effort was the easy part.  The Army gave me the opportunity; that’s the hard part in life—getting opportunity.  I’ve always been an advocate of providing opportunity. Prepare yourself for opportunity and the effort determines the outcome. 

I don’t know what happened to that little girl and her mother, but I hope they can say that at some point in their life, somebody cared.  I don’t know the soldier that committed suicide, but I want his family to know that somebody still cares.  So if you see a veteran today, give him or her hug and tell them thank you.  If you have a veteran in your family or a friend, or neighbor, just tell them thank you; I’m sure it will bring a smile to their face.

 

November 19, 2013 --- Big Sis’ Birthday

Today is my oldest sister’s birthday; God rest her soul.  She loved me and always gave me words of encouragement my entire life.  Whenever I think about her as a young girl who had to grow up fast and take on the responsibilities of the world.  My sister, June, is my hero.  She told everybody she knew that her brother was graduating from college.  She always overfed me; I could never go to her house and not eat.  She piled the food on the plate so high I’d say “I can’t eat all of this”; and she’d say, “Just eat it boy”.  So sis, happy birthday; I’ll always love you; I miss you dearly. 

 

December 10, 2013 --- Gladiators Bow

As another day comes to a close, I’m reminded that prison life is raw and uncut.  I watched as one inmate stabbed another inmate numerous times.  It’s simply a gladiator pit where only the strong survive.  Prison will determine your true character; it will reveal who you are, and who you are not, in every sense of the word.  A brutal confrontation by wolves over money, drugs, reputation, and affiliation you name it; it doesn’t take much.  So the norm in this environment is that of a hobbian war – without a governing body, people will constantly be in conflict; adversaries in the truest sense of the word.  But life shouldn’t be about adversaries, it should be about how to live more abundantly; how to live like decent human beings.  We are all in a sense bound together, but the constant struggle for resources, be they small or great often turns man against man.  The question is, do we reach beyond who we are to reach those who bring us harm, and in so doing show our vulnerabilities?  Or do we participate in this hobbian free for all?  That’s the question that each of us must answer. 

 

December 19, 2013 – Pfc. Charles E. Bush, Jr.’s  Last Ride Home

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the death of a fellow soldier, Army Private Charles E. Bush Jr. of Buffalo, New York.  Private Bush, another in a long line of American heroes who died in Iraq on behalf of a grateful nation.  I was tasked with the honor of escorting Private Bush’s body home to Buffalo, New York, and delivering his remains to his family.  To make a long story short, when I arrived in Dover, Delaware I was to take official custody of the body.  As I sat in the lobby of the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, I felt a sense of sorrow and sadness for his family.  After receiving my briefing from the mortuary affairs officer they loaded the casket into the military transport van, I and PfC. Bush’s body were driven by an Air Force Tech Sgt. to the Philadelphia airport to catch Private Bush’s last flight home.  When we arrived at the airport tarmac, I could look up into the bay windows and see 60-70 civilians looking down at the tarmac at me in my Class A Army uniform standing beside PFC. Bush’s casket draped in the American flag.  Several baggage handlers came over to me and asked me where did I want the casket placed.  I told them to put Private Bush up front.  They carefully loaded his body onto the plane and I then turned to proceed into the terminal.  As I ascended the flight of stairs outside the terminal, a young flight attendant opened the door for me and said to me “Sir, we’re honored to transport Private Bush home.  You’ll be the first passenger loaded onto the aircraft.”  She then removed the velvet rope and as I walked through the terminal, I could see some of the people visibly shaken; they had never seen the casket of a fallen soldier in war time.  As I walked down the long tunnel to the door of the plane, I thought that this was one duty that I never wanted to do again.  As I entered the plane, the Captain stood at the entrance and said “Major Washington, it is our honor have you aboard and to transport Private Bush home.”   I was seated on the plane and as the other passengers filed in, some stopped and shook their head at me, some wiped tears; the plane was completely silent.  The Captain came over the intercom and announced that we had the body of a fallen soldier being transported home.  It was a solemn moment, one of many in my life.  About midway through the flight a young child walked up the aisle and approached me; he appeared to be about seven or eight years old.  He said eight words to me then turned and ran back to his seat to the open arms of his mother about five rows back.  Those eight words were “I want to thank you for your service.”  As I looked back and saw the child jump into his mother’s lap I thought to myself that those are the words that should be uttered to the men and women like PfC Charles Bush Jr. who are willing to give all.  PfC Charles Bush Jr. was killed in action by an IED, an improvised explosive device.  He was and is a true American hero, like many before him and after him.  As the plane touched down at the Buffalo airport, it was about two in the morning, a cold, wet, rainy night. As I disembarked onto the tarmac several airport security personnel and baggage handlers met me there to unload Private Bush’s body.  We sat in a hangar, and as I looked outside, I saw numerous members of the Buffalo media; from TV stations to newspaper reporters.  There were several Buffalo police department personnel as well as an Honor Guard.  It was a sight to see on a cold, wet, rainy night with the temperature hovering around 15-20 degrees.  The police were going to provide an escort for Private Bush’s body to a funeral home somewhere on the other side of town.  By this time my Class A uniform was soaked from standing in the rain, but I felt a sense of pride from seeing the citizens from all walks of life gathered to honor Private Bush and of how proud they were of Private Bush’s service.  A Buffalo police officer asked me to ride with him as we escorted the hearse to the other side of town.  And all along the route, in the middle of the night, there were citizens standing outside for miles and miles, standing in the cold, wet night at 2 a.m. paying homage to Private Bush.  I’d never been to Buffalo in my life, but I do know this, the people of Buffalo honor their military men and women.  When we arrived at the funeral home it had to be nearly 3 a.m. and there were crowds of citizens gathered outside the funeral home who had waited in the rain and cold just to greet his body for the last time; from ten year old kids to eighty year old senior citizens.  So I salute Buffalo and its citizens.  It doesn’t seem like it was ten years ago, but time flies.  I salute Private First Class Charles E. Bush, Jr. and I too thank him for his service. 

 

December 31, 2013 ---  Can You Trust It?

Today is December 31, 2013.  In order for a just society to truly succeed, we must trust our judicial system.  When we find out that that bond of trust has been broken with lies and perjury and false statements, it erodes our confidence as it relates not just to who we are as people, but what the constitution truly stands for.  When people become fearful of trusting our judicial system, how does that system regain its citizen’s trust?  Can a sheep trust the wolf?, can the seal trust the shark?, can the zebra trust the lion?  And does our survival depend on mutual trust?  Those who break that bond of trust through “the color of state law” have set in motion the eroding of our American judicial system.  We will always have miscarriages of justice.  We will always have people in high places abuse the power.  The issue is what do we do as a people when we find out.  You cant just say that you have rights as an American citizen, you have to exercise those rights.  And in 2014, we always should exercise our rights.  

                                

January 20, 2014 --- Can You Handle It?

 I want to thank my family, my friends, and my co-workers, both in the Army, the police department, and with Homeland Security for their support, their letters of encouragement, and for keeping the faith -- and, my baseball buddies. And a special thanks to the Hayes, Simon, and Hampton families for looking out for my love ones, for being there when I couldn’t be and accepting my family as their own.  Sometimes in life we all go through difficult challenges, we all have disappoints and heartaches; but the difficult in thing in life is not that we face insurmountable odds, but how we handle it.   How does a person handle cancer who doesn’t have health insurance?  How does a single mother who doesn't have a job feed her family?  How does a kid who is bullied in school summon the courage to stand up to their bully?  It’s how you handle it that makes you who you are.  It’s one of the ways in which character is built. 

Whenever you stand in the breach, you can expect to become a target, so standing is not an option.  Justice is the goal and the courtroom becomes the battlefield.  I’m not a lawyer but I read somewhere that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights protects us all.  And, so today my prison journey continues, but I hope to be a free man soon.    I hope to return to my family and my friends a better man, and not allow prison to break my spirit or destroy what is most precious to me, my family. 

 

February 18, 2014 --- Bucket List

My Bucket List:

When this nightmare is over, and I hope it to be soon, there are things I want to do.  The first thing I’m going to do is hug and kiss my family, and thank those who assisted us in overturning this nightmare.  After that, I’m going to visit my mother’s grave and talk to her.  Talk to her about the values of courage and perseverance that she instilled in me, and the greatest gift she ever gave me was the gift of responsibility.  Then, I’m going to tell my daughters and my wife how much I missed them, and that their love is what kept me going. The women in our family have always been strong, and I’m not ashamed to say it was from them I’ve garnered my strength throughout my lifetime.  Now, the things that I want to do….

I want to take batting practice and field grounders at 3rd base with the Washington Nationals, so Ryan Zimmerman had better look out.

I want to have a three point shooting contest against the Wizards John Wall.

I want to go to Omaha, Nebraska to the Berkshire Hathaway annual stockholders meeting. 

I want to take one more airborne jump from a plane.

I want to shake the hand of Captain George Nichols, PGPD homicide div, retired Lt Charles Walls PGPD, William Gleason….. David Jordan, volunteer firefighter…. Charles Key retired police officer…. William Bruchey…. Lt Darren Livingston, PGPD; and countless other individuals who informed the State’s attorney’s of the evidence and that I was innocent.  I applaud their integrity and their courage, but mostly, I applaud them for being the men they’re supposed to be. 

I want to take my wife to California to see the giant redwoods, her desire since she was a child and read books about them. 

I want to run in the Boston marathon (one time).

I want to see my youngest daughter play soccer.

I want to visit the gravesite of my mentor, the great George Stanley Lewis.  A noble and honorable man who taught many young college men, including myself, what was expected of us as fraternity members of Omega Psi Phi.  He taught us the value of public service, selflessness, generosity, and responsibility.  I want to tell him thank you, for finding me to be worthy of his teachings.  (Brother Lewis, like my mother, was not one for excuses.)  He was a great son of Grambling State University and I will always remember him dearly.

I want to learn how to make apps.

I want to volunteer at Bethesda Naval Hospital helping the wounded warriors coming home. 

This is part of my bucket list; the bucket is not even half filled. 

 

March 5, 2014 --- Pep Talk In The Pit

I was talking today to a 21 year old young man from Baltimore, MD.  As I listened to his story about how he’s grown up with drug dealers, con men, and gang members as his idol, it struck me that his life was nearly over before it ever got started.  I tried to explain to him that the choices you make and the people you idolize ultimately will reflect who and what you’ll become.  He said that those choices were forced upon him, and to a certain extent, he was right.  But I also told him that you don’t have to be poor, you don’t have to be illiterate, and you don’t have to be fearful of other people who look like you.  You don’t have to embrace poisonous messages you see on TV or in the news.  You don’t have to have low expectations.  On this planet, education unlocks the door to a life well lived.  That should be your goal and your aim.   I told him, don’t go through life wanting to be entertained; seek to be enlightened and empowered.  Seek to be a person of character.  Seek to be a person of competence.  Seek to be a person who loves justice.  I told him that his potential was great; it’s just that he had to believe it first in order for it to be true.  And that he must seek others who are like minded.  I told him my family and I have suffered immensely.  I told him, look around this room, what do you see -- mostly guilty men who are misguided about nearly every aspect of life.  I told him that in any civilized society, we have to trust one another, and that the law of the land covers only two subjects when you really break it down, and that is:  1) don’t bother other people, and 2) don’t bother other people’s property.  When you respect the law you respect yourself, if it is a just law.  In order for this society to succeed, the judicial system must be just.  The judicial shouldn’t make us fearful of trusting that which it pretends to be.  No matter how much my family and I have suffered because of my unjust incarceration, I cannot and will not allow it to destroy me.  I can only continue to endure hardship as a good soldier until my day of freedom and liberation comes.

 

March 16, 2014 – Will the Real Prisoner Please Stand Up

I’ve taken to writing poetry as my mind wanders about the circumstances in which I find myself.  I can empathize with how Senator John McCain felt as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  I can empathize with Kenneth Bey in North Korea.  I can empathize with U S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being held by the Taliban.  I can understand all too well the circumstances that bind them and have bound them.  But we are in America; we’re not in the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, we’re not in Pyongyang in North Korea; we’re not located in some cave in Afghanistan.  We’re in America, an so by the mere definition of that, justice is the goal, and truth, integrity and ethics are the tools that help us achieve it.  When you intentionally lie to the people, when you intentionally help falsify evidence, that means that your legal argument never had any substance to begin with, and your real agenda was never justice or to illuminate the truth, but merely to conceal it.  Injustice -- hiding behind a curtain, protected by men whose self interests and relationships run deep and who enjoy an intoxicating construct of privilege and anonymity; essentially a hidden branch of government with no oversight.   Relying on its citizens to forgive and forget when they have failed to live up to their oath.  There is an old saying “people who do more must forgive more.  Justice is the goal, not revenge or anger.” 

 

March 18, 2014 ---  Forgive Me Not

Today something was confirmed that I’ve always known.  I watched two men arguing over something most people would consider trivial at best.  It was about some street in Baltimore and what was located on the corner of that street – whether it was an abandoned building or an abandoned store.   This seemingly meaningless argument of semantics led to an all out brawl in which one person ended up being taken to the infirmary.  This is the reality of prison, where logic, reason, understanding and values are left outside the gate.  I can imagine that there will be retribution, because in prison, just like in life, forgiveness is the most difficult thing to give another person.  When a person feels aggrieved, how should they respond?  I say that all decent people have the right to redress their grievances.  Who among us in this life, has never felt aggrieved, has never felt wronged, or has never felt unjustly accused?  The power lies in forgiveness.  Forgiveness has a way of transforming human beings.  It transforms the person who’s been wronged and it transforms the person who has wronged.  In order to make a friend, you must first be a friend.  A smile has a way of disarming people if it is sincere.  A chuckle or laughter has a way of drawing them near.  Like I said I saw something today that I’ve always known.  No matter how you feel at that moment, in order for you to be a better person you must first rise above it.  So as I go into the next day of this God forsaken place, I must rise above these things that make me feel aggrieved. That is my goal and my aim.

 

March 27, 2014 –- What I’ve Learned

Today I learned that my 3 judge panel motion was turned down without granting a hearing for me to present my evidence.  It was another tough day, one of many in my life.  But I’ve also had great days in my life where I’ve been taught, studied, learned foreign languages, developed my character, buried friends, soldiers, police officers, neighbors, I’ve laughed, cried, sighed; I’ve jumped from C-130 airplanes in the middle of the night, repelled from helicopter skids, prayed I wouldn’t get hurt, slept in ditches, trenches, fox holes, cars, highway rest stops, saved lives, helped people, given away nearly half the money I’ve made in my life, ran into burning buildings, dark alleyways, been injured numerous times, arrested murderers, carjackers, burglars, sexual predators, volunteered at my favorite charity, volunteered as an unpaid social worker at the Caine River Children’s Home, married the woman of my dreams, had two amazing daughters, a soldier, police officer, neighbor, friend, community activist, father, husband, son, brother, and uncle.  I love fried chicken, baseball, ice cream, and the Redskins, my mother and my grandmother were both maids and housekeepers nearly all of their lives and before that, worked in the cotton fields, and I will always love them and will go to my grave proud of them for all they did for our family.  I decided and dedicated my life a long time ago to service.  As I learned going through life, character and commitment is what matters.  I’ve walked or ran nearly ten thousand miles in a twenty five year career in the United States Army, both in the Infantry and the Special Operations Command.  I went from an Army private to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  I’ve been hungry and homeless as a teenager, twice.  Yes, in my younger days, without cause, I’ve been pulled over and stopped by the police.  I’ve been searched and assaulted.  I received my GED and I also later received my Bachelor’s Degree from a very prestigious university.  Had to drop out of high school to work; saved my money and bought my first car at 16 years of age while making $2.15 an hour.  I’ve been to at least eight foreign countries and have learned that people all over the world are essentially the same – they yearn for freedom and justice.  Like many people of my generation, I’ve experienced racial discrimination, but it never stopped me; it’s part of our undeniable history.  All you can do is remember it and leave it where it belongs and continue to move forward.  Don’t allow people who mistreat, exploit and abuse you to make you cynical and destroy your outlook on life.  Some masquerade as the shepherd when they’re really the wolf.  They will lie and mislead you so that you serve their interests thinking you served the common good.  I am also proud of the men and women who persevere in their lives and the opportunity that exists today for young people.  Those opportunities are endless, but there are those who seek to exploit us all by destroying the truth and the constitution.  So, yes, today is a sad day for me because our motion was turned down without a hearing even though it clearly has merit, as you can see from this website.  I am thankful to those who put it together and to those who continue to fight for justice on my behalf.  Sooner or later someone with moral courage who is a part of the judicial system will step up to right this wrong.  Hopefully sooner than later. 


May 26, 2014 -- Memorial Day 2014 – A Tribute

This blog is about my family, especially on this day, all my family members who have served in the military, starting with my two uncles who both served in Vietnam as teenagers.  My uncle, my mother’s brother, Marine Corporal Robert “Sonny” Hollins “Hoo-rah”, who at the age of 19 was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart.  My Uncle Sonny, when he came home from Vietnam, would always take me with him in his 1972 Road Runner.  I loved that car and seeing him drive it.  He was a great example, even as a teenager to all the boys in the family.  My Uncle Joe McGee, who served in the United States Army and later died at a VA Hospital from the effects of Agent Orange.  Uncle Joe was a strong man who had a profound impact on my life and we all miss him.  My wife’s cousin, Specialist James L. Hawthorne who was killed in action as a 19 year old Army soldier in Vietnam.  And James’ mother, Aunt Dorothy who was and will forever be a “Gold Star Mother”.  My sister Allison, who served in the Army.  My cousin, Sgt. Larry Williams who was like my brother growing up, who served ten years in the United States Air Force.  Larry’s wife MSgt Dorothea Williams, who retired after twenty years in the Air Force.  My cousin, SFC Jory Curry, who retired in 2013 after serving twenty years in the United States Army.  If you’ve ever met anyone who cared about family and who is loyal to the core, it’s Jory Curry.  He loves his family deeply and that’s what he lives for.  My cousin MSgt Thelma Williams who served twenty years in the United States Air Force, and now sells real estate in San Antonio, Texas.  My cousin MSgt Laverne Williams Parker, who served twenty-one years in the United States Air Force.  She always opened her home and her heart to me, and made me feel like she was my big sister.  Shortly after retiring from the Air Force, Laverne died of cancer; God rest her soul.  My cousin SSgt Ernestine Williams who retired, after twenty years of service, from the United States Army.  I always admired my cousin Ernestine; she was always inquisitive about life and society.  My cousin MSgt Verna Williams who served over twenty years in the United States Air Force and now lives a peaceful country life in Alabama. 

Our family get-togethers were quite a sight.  Strong men and women who served with honor, integrity, courage, and distinction.  They served in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, England, Alaska, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia; they served in the Atlantic, California, South Carolina, Louisiana, Iraq, and many other places.  Serving in the infantry, serving as medics, serving as airborne paratroopers, serving in civil affairs; and then a family whose blood was spilled in defense of this nation.  A family not unlike many other American families, who had triumphs and setbacks, and victories and disappoints; who collectively had nearly 200 years of combined military service.  Our parents and grandparents who were siblings and whose blood and character courses through our veins.  Memorial day is a day that many American families pay homage and respect to those who have stood the line; to those who have manned the post; to those who answered when they were called.  My Uncle Sonny, my Uncle Joe, and cousin James all paid for our freedom with their blood.  They were all young men who were drafted, fighting abroad for our freedom and facing many challenges and obstacles when they returned home. 

Fighting abroad in the name of freedom, defending the Constitution and what it’s supposed to stand for.  As for me, I served twenty-eight years in the United States Army and never regretted a minute of it.  I have met and served with men and women of tremendous character and personal courage.  They exemplified the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, and integrity, and all they required was competent leadership who possessed the same qualities.  I remember as a young Lieutenant sitting in a class whose focus was leadership. Fundamentally, that person must first possess character, then competence.  You were taught and had it drilled into you that you had to have skills with people, ideas, and things, and above all war fighting.  I remember my instructor referred to those qualities as conceptual, technical, tactical, and sometimes interpersonal.  But even skill is not enough.  You have to know how to influence people by providing them with purpose, direction, and motivation.  That’s what the Army infantry school taught me.  And so, on this day, we honor the men and women of the U. S. Armed Forces past and present, and those still to come, and pass them the baton of character, courage, and leadership.  Be not afraid to change and accept change.


If you would like to offer your thoughts and ideas, or words of encouragement, please write Keith at the address below.  He would be honored to hear from you:

Keith Washington, 350861/SID# 3100847
Eastern Correctional Inst.
30420 Revells Neck Road
Westover, MD 21890