by Finesse Monet
FCC Oakdale, Louisiana – Dr. Belay D. Reddick asked for a show of hands: How many of the Oakdale federal prison inmates had ever heard of spoken word?
Close to two-thirds of the 150 prisoners gathered last month in the prison’s chapel raised their hands.
He then asked how many of the men had ever attended a spoken word event, a question that alluded to the presentation of his latest re-entry project, “Sharp Words … Powerful Minds: Enhancing Literacy Through Spoken Word.”
Not a single hand went in the air.
That kicked off the show, held for the first time at the prison as a way to bring performance poetry to a new audience and to foster effective communication that helps people with criminal justice involvement develop emotional and social skills that aid in a positive return to society.
Dr. Reddick, author of “There’s No Danger in the Water” and current inmate at the Oakdale Federal Prison, organized and hosted the holiday showcase sponsored by Jennifer Jackson, assistant supervisor of education and interim supervisor of recreation at the facility.
“It’s all about bringing performance poetry to people who don’t typically have access to it, especially those in a prison setting,” said Dr. Reddick. “Through seminars and workshops, my objective is to improve the lives of incarcerated men in a way that only the medium of education can. I put together events that are designed to reduce recidivism rates and increase self-esteem, while never forgetting that re-entry programs’ primary purpose is to empower.”
“It’s all about bringing performance poetry to people who don’t typically have access to it, especially those in a prison setting,” said Dr. Reddick.
Last month’s event featured nationally-acclaimed championship poet Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley of Alexandria, Louisiana.
“Having the support of iCon means a lot to me. Whenever you can get someone like her to perform at your event, it’s major. Her résumé speaks for itself. She has been featured in several stage productions. She has appeared on the third season of the hit TV show “Verses and Flow.” She was the first poetry act to grace the main stage at Essence Festival 2016,” Dr. Reddick added.
Cliff Valencia Jr., an inmate serving a nine-year sentence for selling drugs, had never been to a spoken word event.
“This was the best prison event I’d ever attended in my two years being locked up,” he said.
Officials had never allowed inmate-led programs until Dr. Reddick transferred there. Though this situation at the Oakdale federal prison may be a first, the experience isn’t a new one.
In 2016, Dr. Reddick received media attention for hosting 12 senior White House officials at the Atlanta federal prison to hear a debate team of three inmates with lengthy custodial sentences challenge a team of three Morehouse College undergraduates.
Taney Taylor, an Oakdale federal prison inmate convicted of drug trafficking charges, was excited when Dr. Reddick created the Oakdale Poetry Project.
“I believe every moment spent in prison doing something positive contributes to lowering our chances of returning,” said Greg Warren, who is serving 14 years on fraud and identity theft convictions. “In society, every moment was spent doing something negative, and that’s what ultimately led to our imprisonment, but every re-entry program that they provide gives the opportunity to engage in something positive.”
Cliff Valencia Jr., an inmate serving a nine-year sentence for selling drugs, had never been to a spoken word event. “This was the best prison event I’d ever attended in my two years being locked up,” he said.
Dr. Reddick is nearing the end of a 20-year sentence for producing counterfeit checks. He said, as someone who is involved in the prison and works closely with his fellow inmates, he has witnessed firsthand the impact of events and he thinks officials will see a positive change.
“I believe spoken word is going to help,” Dr. Reddick said. “Words are powerful. The right words always make a difference.”
Send our brother some love and light: Dr. Belay Reddick, 22043-018, FCI Oakdale, P.O. Box 5000, Oakdale LA 71463. Finesse Monet can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.