Part III: Breathe, it gets better
Two men: both of them I have known for more than fifteen years — they are close to me. I love them. I try my best to understand them. I want nothing more than to always support them. And I pray that this world sees the beauty in them just as I do. I thought, “How can I have the world listen to them for several minutes? What can I do to gift someone other than myself the opportunity to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes?” The idea that turned into the words you see before you. I asked them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today to see where it would take us. This is the third and final installment of this series.
It pains me somewhat to bring this series to a close, but a new project is already shaping itself in my heart and mind and will include snippets of their perspectives of this world from the various men and women in my life and will probably be a prose-poetry piece, so that is some consolation. Dre, like me, has been anxious for the publishing of each part of this series as we both wanted to see who our work would touch, speak to, and inspire.
He has been steadfast throughout this project — ready and willing to answer anything thrown his way and is supportive of every step we have taken to bring this project to light. It has been this project’s practice to begin with Dre and for this installment, that remains the same.
“While incarcerated, were you ever harassed for your arrest? Did other inmates attack or belittle you in any way? If so, how do you think that has shaped you?”
“I can’t say I was harassed at all. It didn’t change much of who I was. I was still quiet, reserved, and observant; as well as cool and down to earth. However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences. Funny thing is, being from Savannah, Georgia, you learn that there’s an unspoken brotherhood no matter if you knew any of the men prior to being incarcerated or if there was any type of hostility within any of them. In prison, Savannah stuck together, so there was no harassment from other cities. It shaped me to be alert in a sense, at all times, and always on guard — ready for the unexpected.”
However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences.
When I learned of Dre’s incarceration, I immediately thought, “I wonder how he held up. What happened to him and how did he survive it?” Dre’s incarceration took place while I was in college. I did not know about it until after his release. I knew him well enough before those years were taken away from him to know that he would survive this battle. I felt he would win that war. I was right. Every new day he is given is shaping him into the brilliant man that I know and reminds me of the persistent, observant, and inquisitive boy with whom I grew up.
“If you could say whatever you wanted to the arresting officers, what would it be?”
“I don’t know — really . . . I would ask why didn’t they investigate more to see if I was the person involved instead of just running with the first person (they could find) and probably the only person they thought was the criminal.”
Dre’s situation is one I have read about, one I have seen in movies — and one I learned about through word of mouth. I didn’t personally know of any cases of mistaken identity, cases of rushed or lack of thorough investigation, and cases of “arrest first, ask questions later” that hit so close to home. Dre has moved through the toughest part of his life and is an example of someone who is beating the odds.
My last question is one I thought I should ask — its relevance is pertinent to Dre’s life, what he has learned, and what he is enduring from it — both good and bad things.
“What advice would you give another young, Black man wrongfully accused, arrested, and incarcerated? How would you tell him how to survive while doing time?”
“ I would tell him: find a way to keep your mind active with some type of positivity. Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release. And although it hurts and even when you feel all alone, life isn’t over but you have to want to succeed more than you want to succumb to the environment around you. Trust me, you can make it out here once released despite the felony on your record. But it will take hard work and determination. It’s beyond possible.”
Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release.
I read through Dre’s responses. I sat with them and pulled the pain, anguish, and optimism from each one. He has sustained. He is sustaining. He has not been torn down. One of the things we both wanted to take place with this project is a connection — for someone to read this and feel it if they need to. Sometimes, it only takes one person to grasp something that has been said, share it with someone else, and the message moves without the messengers touching it.
This is our greatest hope for this project. As the years pile on, I know that my friend and I will continue to build upon what we have created and share our life’s experiences with those willing to hear them.
This is Dre. He is a loyal friend, a source of wisdom, beaten yet not broken, and a faithful follower of Christ. I have more to learn from him and I look forward to it.
Vic has his running shoes on — chasing his dream. He is creating art at a faster than normal pace due to an upcoming art exhibit to be hosted in Austin, Texas, in December 2019. While he was working on his contributions to the exhibit, I worried this project would interfere with his creative output. It has not. He has been more than willing to [move forward and] finish what we started. For this, I am grateful. But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank. And since he is getting his affairs in order for what could be a momentous event in his life, I felt it only fair to build the questions of our last installment around his future endeavors.
“You will soon have the opportunity to showcase your work again. How will you use this event to your advantage?”
“I actually plan to wash and repeat the method of going to galleries that host the art of my interests and speak with the owners. It’s how this opportunity came together. This event is great for putting my name and work out there for sure.”
But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank.
“Being a man of color, specifically a Honduran (Black Hispanic), living in the South, have you found it harder to network and build a name for yourself and your art?”
“What has made things hard for me is my unwillingness to jump out there — really just a lack of confidence in my art. In my opinion, art could possibly be that one space on earth where talent brings forth a bit more of a level playing field.”
Vic’s response to my second question is one in which I too, have struggled — lack of or not enough confidence in my work. Until recently, I dwelled in the shadows of fear and did not take many chances when it came to sharing my work through various outlets and reaching out to publications of interest. Things began to change significantly when I removed the crippling aspects of fear from my daily habits of operation. The task now is to continue to pursue these connections I have made in hopes of continued growth and finding a bigger audience for my work. It is an eye-opener and a thing of beauty to see Vic doing the same thing.
“Have there been any helpful devices and tools for your art at your job? Or, is your job set up for functionality and production based on the company’s brand? How has this stifled your growth as an artist?”
“There have been ‘ah-ha’ moments at my job, so far as what I can do with the software. Creating or aligning customer provided graphics and making sure those graphics are screenprint-ready is my primary job. So, all in all, yes, there are helpful devices in aiding the functionality and production, which we’ve been busy with these past two months of which I am appreciative. Stifling? Well, there’s also that. I don’t do much vector work at home as I once did. (See: F.U. Robot.) But it has led me back to more analog pursuits like said art show coming up soon.”
Vic has learned that his work will not reach a bigger audience without some additional help from others within the industry in positions of being able to catapult his artwork to higher heights and he has also learned that the move in that direction begins with him. Asking him the questions I prepared for this project has opened up my creative world significantly. From Vic, I have found that if we remain silent in our creative corners or comfortable with our old ways of creativity, we will never reach our goals. It begins with us. We must push our art to where we want it. No one else will do it for us.
This is Vic. A fellow artist, a die-hard motivator, and a great friend. I believe as we grow older, we will become more comfortable and confident in our work and less afraid to share it. He is teaching me that we must have a starting point in order to finish. I look forward to the years ahead.
This project is one of great importance to me and I am ecstatic simply because we have been able to come together as a team to finish this. We started off with an incredibly high level of momentum and I know the three of us have maintained it. Our purpose here is clear: to connect with others who may need to share their story but would benefit from a starting point or boost from someone else.
We’ve put our truths out in the universe. —Vic
When I think about how much I have learned and what I will learn from the men of color in my life, I become filled with joy and love. I am also filled with hurt, anguish, and some despair. There will always be struggles for anyone simply trying to move further along in life, however, these struggles are made harder for People of Color.
I want to thank both of these men for continuing this series with me and giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray and Victor Garcia — here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts. To know the struggles of those I love and watch them excel despite their previous circumstances or take notice of how they press on without giving up stirs a sense of action in me.
I will not give up. I know the importance of breathing after all.