Khafis…The Prison System

       Rahway in 1977 was the same as it was  when conceived in prehistoric times. Dark, labyrinth like, with steel and concrete seasoned with brick and stone, it squatted and sprawled out  for all to see. A bird feces green dome sat over the central complex . It was the second maximum prison in New Jersey until the middle 20th century.  This human stockyard had  a green toad effect as it sat by  old US highway #1.

The central dungeon was actually constructed to warehouse 750 humans in the late 19th century. ’77 was the year the population was at a angry overflow of 1200.

No, Rahway wasn’t ever big. Certainly, not by today’s standards and being totally without a tad of technology or modern creature comforts became a redundant confirmation. It was an old joint with walls that sweat in the summer,toilets that were..clogged … and a sardine packed population that constantly fueled volatile climates and random violence.

Seems it was a hot year from the early spring sentencing. Some inmates were upset when Elvis died.  Some .  A lot of people die in prison everyday.   The celebrities outside get a little fame for a few ..minutes.. Inside  they  get to live differently.  they discover people die in prisons much more than one can imagine.  Not exactly needed information, perhaps,is the reason it is so hushed.

Khafis was an inmate there at that time  and so was  Omar, at least that was the name that the inmates decided fit him more often than Buddha. Both were often the preference rather than his  birth or slave name. Often one’s label was a nickname that might prevail but in the Iron house, you even got your “number” called a few times every day. Dehumanization was easy to feel.

Muslim influence was strong. Before Malcolm X and forward to now that plantation last name and the oddly spelled first English names of African-Americans had a uncomfortable odor ….for some us for sure.

The opportunity to embrace Islamic attributes was felt intensely after being submerged in the  vat of human misery that is  a prison. Other “benefits”from being incarcerated there and then was OJT on survival tactics ….from running to striking first.

Discussions on how to be a better “stick-up man” were always enlightening. Did you ever consider what was more intimidating or persuasive during a robbery between a double barrel shotgun over and under or side by side? Hmm?

Those Muslim names are now common. In the 3 million inmate population of this civilized and progressive country of which 2.8 million are….nonwhite, these names flourish .They are often statements of respect from others or of self value.

This is how Khafis evolved and Omar was  initiated. This was Omar’ s  first bid…in Rahway …..but Khafis had been a product of the NJ correctional system from his  early youth. The usual progression was Jamesburg (youth) 2  terms,  then Annandale Reformatory (teen) 2 terms followed by Bordentown Reformatory and the PRISON SYSTEM.

Khafis was one of an endless line of life’s early ineligibles. Since the beginning of the ghettos in the industrialized cities in every state this process in self elimination was encouraged. Many of these young people were deemed “ineligible”for the rest of their life from the first arrest.

Khafis and Omar  met  while operating the morning dishwasher in the Old Soldiers Home in Edison. Being on minimum custody after serving in max behind the wall was a incentive getting assigned there  a huge  plus. The Reception/library room was also a totally better environment to receive your visits. Omar always got his and Khafis, like so many others never got a visit. There were people that could  get a “conjugal” visit, on the sneak, depending on their risk factors. and their intestinal fortitude.

Great artists, writers, musicians, teachers, scientists, were  often sprinkled  among the drug felons, B&E craftsmen and assorted  other serious outlaws. The drug related sentences were so great in quantity and variety that we the inmates always knew that the book rules were stacked against the people who just wanted their preferred medicine.

Every one from the informers to rehab snitchers know the real deal. None of that works and the prison population that is constantly swelling would be so much less  and possibly productive with effective therapy and abolition of draconian drug laws .Separation from the career criminals and psychopaths would lift the spirits of many or certainly couldn’t hurt.

Hell, Rahway was prison. Inmates were not having a bitching session. That chaos was what goes down in Prison. That inner “Chaos” is a most lasting by product of the inmate who is being funded by the taxpayer to the tune of Thirty thousand dollars per year for each….Inmate!!?

My question after  talking to Omar was ” What does one do with this human being who has been trained in breaking all rules, angry as hell and deeply frustrated, after being released?….Options were and still are short.

Dying in prison is a choice or even a strong possibility until…parole….. and then after being  stunned  into hopelessness by realizing that being deemed “expendable” for life, returning to crime and then back to prison….?…Is it that automatic?……

What does a humane  society do with over three million prisoners in the house?…What do you  do when you have to “release” these often intelligent or not so intelligent angry people? These people who have families and human needs like all others yet cannot be included ever again. They are felons  or convicts, now,educated and newly  skilled in the courses that you cannot help but remember  and consider when deemed “expendable”.

Omar said what made Khafis memorable was his fierce pride and strength.. and ..heart.  A soul commitment to Islam…. coupled with the fact that he was the man that was sticking up a supermarket when his Mom walked in…..She was a breath from fainting as he demanded the store manager to give  the shaky lady his coat because they all had to go to the freezer …etc

Khafis was not his birth name either.

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