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BUILDING A LEGACY: ADVERSITY INTRODUCES A MAN TO HIMSELF

By Ivan Kilgore
Excerpt from Mayhem, Murder & Magnificence

One day I was standing on the tier in the housing unit at Cimarron City Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma when a Muslim brother named Mohammed approached me. We had known one another for quite some time so, after greeting each other and making small talk, he asked, “I see you’re building your body well, but what about your mind?” By now I had been in prison for about ten months after spending two years in the Seminole County Jail. I had become what we call in prison a “yard ape”. In just that short period of time, some ten months, I had gained over 50 lbs. of muscle on a 5’9” frame, weighing in at 197 lbs. and was bench pressing 315 lbs. I was a beast!

That was some 23 years ago and yet the conversation with Brother Mohammad still resonates with me to this day. After taking a moment to reflect, I responded by informing him of my plans to attend college after I was released. I will never forget the look on his face after telling him this. It was a look of disappointment. For there were plenty of brothers in prison making penitentiary promises to attend college. Disappointed with my response, he calmly leaned on the rail of the tier, looked out across the dayroom and stated, “You’re in a university now! Why aren’t you studying?” Stubborn, I took a position that college would suffice; that it would provide me with an edge to succeed in the real world.

Needless to say, that conversation with Brother Mohammed would forever be etched into my memory because it forced me to acknowledge the fact that I had neglected to spend my time in prison wisely developing my conscious. Simply put, I had failed to study that which he was attempting to expose me to which was readily available right there amongst those brothers who, like himself, had spent decades behind the walls and concertina wire studying and analyzing the world before us.

Still and yet, I would eventually discharge my sentence and set out on a journey in search of knowledge and wisdom. Unknowingly, it would be a journey that was to send me into Oakland’s ghettos, college hallways, and, eventually, land me back at square one. Whereas, after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, I would be forced to attack my ignorance head-on.

Some two decades later, I am on the eve of my 47th birthday and to great pains, struggle with the fact that I have spent the majority of my adult years in prison. When I look back on my life—my humble beginnings, school days, trappin’, murder trials, etc.—there is now a sense of urgency and consciousness that has compelled me to embrace a higher calling to be part of the solution instead of the problem. My motivation to do so I attribute to my roots which, when you rot in a prison cell for decades, at some point, if not often, will force you to think about your core values.

Naturally, all the above brought me to a point in life where I was compelled to reflect on my legacy—that is, what I wanted to be remembered for when the etchings set on my gravestone. I began to realize that my footprints were going to be washed away in the tide of life because I had not gave due consideration to how I was living it. In fact, I was not living at all. I existed and was struggling to survive. What prison did was gave me time to take inventory, a hard look, at the fact that I had become a statistic, a number with little value amongst my community and peers. It was then that I became determined to change not only my plight but those of others.

A magnificent discovery indeed, this in and of itself would instantly change my focus. No longer was I chiefly concerned with the material things in life. I realized that they were a carrot on a stick controlling and driving me down a path of destruction.

Often, I tell people about this moment, this time and space, when it finally “clicked” and the light shined on me. It was the summer of 2006. I was six years in on a life sentence. There I was lying on my bunk at New Folsom, Facility-B, Housing Unit 4, cell 101. Staring at the ceiling, I began thinking about where I was in life, how I had arrived there, and more importantly, what I was doing to change my predicament.


My cellie and I were what we call in prison “penitentiary rich”. We had accumulated all those things that made for a comfortable living arrangement: 20 cases of Top Ramen soups, 50 to 75 pouches of meat products and other foodstuffs, a kitchen detail, 150 CDs, a boom box, a runner (I.e., a female who visited regularly and took care of our business on the outside), drugs, a knife, and of course, a cell phone. In terms of prison, we had it all figured out and were at the top of our game. So we thought.

Then, one day, as I was laying on my bunk, I begin to think about all I had accomplished while attending college and the work I had put into becoming a legitimate business man prior to this jolt. Instantly, I was struck with the reality of our situation, which then forced me to ask myself: If I left prison that day, what would I have to show for my efforts while incarcerated? Twenty cases of Top Ramen soups? Fuck!


Indeed, it was a moment of truth that, from that day forth, forced me to begin the long process of figuring out how I could, from a prison cell, get back on track to becoming a successful businessman. Of the many things I would have to do first, I had to readjust my focus by disciplining myself to reject much of the values that the streets and prison had put to me in terms of culture and limitations.

Seeing my ability to change and acknowledging the fact that change started with making a different choice, was powerful!

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Cage Fever? Ever wonder what 20 years in a prison cell looks like? Click and see for yourself!
Mayhem, Murder and Magnificence chronicles the inspirational story of Ivan Kilgore who, after suffering a wrongful conviction for first-degree murder and being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, set out to build a successful, multi-million-dollar community-based organization from within the walls of a maximum-security California prison. Born into a world of chaos, murder and mental illness, this is a story about a country boy from Oklahoma who turned tragedy on its head by taking everything he learned from small-town trappin’ to big city hustling to lessons learned while fighting for his freedom after spending over 20 years in some of the nation’s most violent prisons.
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In what has become a highly controversial topic, American institutions have come under fire as a growing number of committed scholars and advocates for social justice have caught the vapors and awoke to the fact that these institutions have been designed with the sole intent of organizing American social and economic life to the advantage of its predominantly white ruling class. In the case of many Black Americans and other people of color, this often means that their communities and lives will be exploited to the fullest.

In his highly critical analysis of these institutions, Ivan Kilgore explains unlike any scholar the various cultural and institutional forces that have operated to preserve this agenda. Here, the backdrop of this thesis centers around his 39 years of a short life and experiences in the streets of American ghettos, college hallways, and prison dwellings where the day-to-day struggle to rise above the mire of poverty, injustice, racism, miseducation, and violence in American society have taken him on a journey that, prior to his 26th birthday, had placed him before two separate juries for capital murder; sent him across the continental United States and into the bowels of Mexico to traffic illicit drugs and other forms of destruction prior to a life commitment to the California Department of Corrections.
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My Comrades' Thoughts On Black Lives Matter is a volume of writings collected from people imprisoned by the U.S. racist state. It is a prisoner-led project produced with the assistance of an outside editor and aims to bring a prisoner’s perspective on the Black Lives Matter concept and a much-needed perspective on the Movement for Black Lives in its entirety. Key components of the project focus on the abuse and violence suffered by imprison people, histories and theories of the prison industrial complex as a regime of engendered racist chattel slavery, and the methods of resistance from—the everyday to the insurgent and spectacular—that people inside U.S. gulags use to oppose their condition of enslavement. The book includes the works of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Yusuf Bey IV, Ivan Kilgore, and many other imprisoned artists’ writings and poetry.
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