STAND UP

Interview with Rasheed Jihad


by Mike Jones
June 2008

 

Rasheed, what occurred in that period of your life that lead to your wrongful arrest and subsequent wrongful conviction of a crime for which you received a prison sentence?

Youthful indiscretion would have to be the biggest common denominator for half of the problems that youth experience across the world. 

I was 20-years old when I woke up from a motorcycle accident induced coma, and after months of therapy, I was able to do the very thing that the doctors told me that I would not be able to do for at least two years – walk!

I was a very active teenager. I’d played basketball and practiced martial arts since I was nine-years old and the doctors told me not to concentrate on those activities because it was going to take me years to regain my 100 percent recovery status and get back into my old routine. But what the doctors didn’t know about was the inner strength that I have been blessed with to defy the odds against all forms of struggle.  Within nine months from awaking after the comma, I was walking, talking, and moving around like my old self, and the only sign of my accident was my body weight, because I went from a healthy 170 pounds to 135 pounds, so others were concerned.

While getting back into my routine, I received a visit from a college friend and he convinced me to get away and come to Ohio with him to relax and get a change of scenery since all my days were being spent inside of the house.  Two days later, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for a two-week vacation with friends from college and never once did I question my internal voice of reasoning, nor did I ask about the new Mercedes Benz that my college friend had paid cash for, or question the fact that he wasn’t attending college.

All of the questions that rattled around inside of my head within those first two days of vacation in Cincinnati, Ohio with college friends were soon answered within the first three days of my vacation, when I was arrested for “Capital Murder.” Capital Murder is the title of my book that will be out this summer which tells the experience in more detail.

I ignored the jewelry and flashy cars because of our friendship and my sense of denial but the reality of the fact was that my college friends were selling drugs and one of the guys who was storing his drugs ended up running off with his drugs and about $200,000 in cash. Prior to my arrival, my friends had been looking for this guy for months and he just had to surface during my stay in Cincinnati while I was on vacation. Well, that two-week vacation turned into a 10-year stay at an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction maximum security prison.


While in prison, knowing that you were wrongfully convicted of a crime you did not commit, how did you overcome that setback as the months and years passed?  Could you talk about that struggle?

First of all, the Creator governs all events, so my spirit was always at peace even as I was being tried for Capital Murder with the death penalty “specifications.”  Knowing that I had not played a role in the death of another was my serenity and the fact that I have a super supportive family was the very reason why I was able to focus on developing myself and preparing for my one-day release.

People who knew me prior to my incarceration and folks who have met me during and after I had been released know one thing about me and it is the fact that I don’t get stressed out. I have never consumed alcohol or used any drugs in my entire life. I do not curse, and I do not get mad. I get upset from things in life but I never allow a situation to dictate negative thinking towards others.

You see, when you educate yourself, you change your thinking and when you change your thinking, ultimately your behavior changes and this is the cycle of transformation that I have been committed to since I was a teenager doing community advocacy work with my parents.

My struggle was getting the prison administration to buy into the fact that there are those who are committed to change and helping others. Personally, I was blessed daily and I smiled everyday because I wasn’t supposed to be breathing, according to others. I survived the struggle of awaking from a coma and escaped the death penalty, so anything less than those two vital struggles in my life were beneath me, in terms of focusing any negative attention toward my incarceration.


After you were released from prison, what motivated you to start the program into which you have put a lot of serious energy and hard work?

The programming that I am committed to today is nothing more than the programming that I was committed to daily in prison; the motivation never stopped.  I brought the programming out with me and developed it with the stronger resources that I gathered upon my release, and I am fully committed with the same intensity that pushed me daily inside of prison to encourage, empower, and inspire others.  I love what I do, and if God stripped me of all of the education, the money, and resources that I have at my finger tips, I would still continue to do this work because I am inspired daily by those that I share my life with.


What is it that you really want to achieve from the program, and why do you think it’s so important, given the increasing rate of incarceration today?

The Psychology of Incarceration (P.O.I.) is designed to create a state of belonging and challenge those to take a proactive position toward facilitating their own development. The book we use is called The Psychology of Incarceration: Distortion of the State of Belonging [by Robin Herman, Khalil Osiris, and Tony Villa, Sr.]. The P.O.I. program goal is to share this blueprint curriculum with the world, so that we can begin to transform the thinking of incarcerated and formally incarcerated people from their self-imposed incarceration.

There is not a program in the world that possesses a curriculum which engages and challenges an individual’s thinking like The Psychology of Incarceration curriculum and, trust me, we have done extensive research looking for a similar model. Yes, there are activities that are offered but nothing that has been proven, tested and grounded in the research that The Psychology of Incarceration has been grounded in.

Is this important? Absolutely. Because, for once, there is a potential solution to all of the failed approaches to the biggest challenge of the increasing rate of recidivism and the best part is that the curriculum is co-authored and facilitated by formerly incarcerated individuals.

The Gang Prevention and Intervention programming that I have developed and facilitate is a potential solution to the increasing gang violence across the country and it is our goal to share the programming with the world because I use The Psychology of Incarceration curriculum to engage the gang-involved youth and challenge their thinking.

I helped develop the Comprehensive Gang Model for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the lead outreach training facilitator for the East Cleveland model that was funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention, which is a federal. I also developed a comprehensive case management system for gang-involved youth that is being marketed and sold as an e-book.


Should other individuals in higher positions of power, such as government officials, be more involved in the program?

The federal government has been involved indirectly on some level with the Comprehensive Gang Model because the success came from the use of The Psychology of Incarceration curriculum. And to answer your question, Yes! Yes, they should be involved with the work that is being done with the programming that I am involved with simply because I see daily the results of the transformation of the thinking and the renewal of the heart/spirit.  Now, that is the very transformation that is spoken about in the scriptures. So, then, the question that should be raised is, “Should higher positions of power, such as government officials, read the scriptures?” I say this because when youstrip away all of the academics from the curriculum, there is an underlying theme of honesty, truth, integrity, and respect which is what you will be fed from the scriptures.


Given your success in recent years, do you think that, if you hadn’t been incarcerated, you would have taken this same approach, or would you have gone down a different path?

Prior to my incarceration, I was a junior in college with a concentration on business and law. My plans were to become an attorney and I even passed the LSAT upon my release from prison. However, I have always had an interest in serving humanity and have been working for humanity since I was a youth doing community advocacy with my parents.  My path has already been charted and I have been navigating the waters with different waves approaching my every path.


Do you know yet if all you are doing is positively influencing inmates and groups that you speak to?  Is there any way you hope to measure the success?

Yes, I am a firm believer that the work that I am involved with is transforming lives and that is my measurement of success. Click on the link below to read for yourself or google my name and see the work that folk are embracing across the country. The article below is written on March, 2000 and I was released in March 1999, so it’s proof that I didn’t waste time continuing the work that I was committed to while in prison. Click on this link:  http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20000311truce3.asp

I am reminded of the influence every time I enter and exit an institution and the prisoners are validating the truth of the work that I am doing daily!


You have such a variety of skills, including filmmaking and leadership development. What are you working on now or planning to do in the near future?

Currently, I am working with both Yusuf Baskin and Khalil Osiris for the upcoming National Restorative Justice Walk-A-Thon that we will be doing in five cities across the United States with the emphasis on raising funds for children of incarcerated parents.  This Walk-A-Thon has been a major resource for the children of incarcerated parents and we are uniting our resources to reach out to those that can make a substantial contribution to the success of this Walk-A-Thon.  We are currently completing the website and starting to solicit for participation this month.

I just completed the first phase of filming in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the documentary “Gangs in Pittsburgh” and the process is coming along well. I am excited about the process and the footage that we have, especially since I was raised in Pittsburgh and lived there after my release from prison.

 

Rasheed Jihad and Khalil Osiris

Rasheed Jihad and Khalil Osiris