Tomorrow I will begin to take writing classes at UCLA; part of an 8-month fellowship awarded to a small, selective group of writers every year by PEN USA, an international organization of writers and free speech advocates. It is called the Emerging Voices (EV) Fellowship and I learned about the program through Leslie Schwartz, author of Angel's Crest, who was the EV director when, in the spring of last year, she sent me an application and encouraged me to give it a try, even though we did not know if I would even be free when the program finally started in January 2007. Of course, we were hopeful.
I started filling out the application right there, at Calipatria State Prison, working on several other projects while awaiting word from the California Supreme Court about the then recent reversal of my conviction by the California Court of Appeals. Though I did not understand the magnitude of opportunity this EV fellowship would provide, as I had way bigger things to worry about then (as I do now), I was smart enough to mix the application with other "legal documents" stuffed inside the one manilla envelope I was allowed to carry during the transfer from Calipatria to L.A. County Jail after receiving "the good news" and finally leaving prison in late May.
For the next three months, I worked on the application--in between writing letters, experiencing riots, keeping quiet during prayer circles, and singing songs--living under the worst conditions known to this human being: awaiting a retrial for the same false charges that costed me a decade of freedom, feeling so close to being on the other side of that tiny visiting room glass--just ask my friends and loved ones--yet trapped inside that despicable Downtown Men's Central Jail, like the rest of the "nobodies" nobody wants to hear about. I kept filling it out even while writing "Commentaries from the County," a short column I created for my friend Fidel Rodriguez's hip hop show, Divine Forces Radio, on KPFK-L.A. 90.7 FM (www.kpfk.org, www.divineforces.org). I would deliver these short pieces, by telephone, on the air every Friday night until--after ten and a half years of wrongful imprisonment--I finally made it out alive. (Even after August 24, 2006, the day I was released, I have continued to work with Divine Forces Radio, contributing my "Notes on Freedom" the way I did the "Commentaries" every Friday night until recently, as I now need to focus my efforts on completing my book, Young Lifer: A Prisoner's Quest for Justice & Freedom, as part of the PEN Fellowship.)
Finally, during my first days of freedom, I met with Leslie Schwartz at my friend Javier Stauring's Downtown office. It was about noon, the sun had been shining brightly all morning, and I was there to hand her my EV application the way we had optimistically planned months prior.
But first, I had to fill out the final question. Can you believe that?
Tomorrow I will begin the 10-week course, "Writer as Witness to Life: The Power of Observation," with liz gonzalez as my teacher. Along with the writing classes at UCLA Extension, the fellowship offers so many other opportunities to advance as a writer, such as participating in writing workshops and public readings as well as working with a professional writer as one's mentor throughout the course of completing a manuscript for possible publication.
For the next eight months I will be working with Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, whose work I truly respect, and whose credibility as historian scholar I will uphold through my dedication to the written word.
In the coming months you will see less of me, and more of the hope--and change--I strive to see.
Thanks for the love, encouragement, and support everyone.
With much gratitude and appreciation,
In Solidarity and Struggle,
Yours for the cause of Justice,