My divine connection with the great Veronza Bowers

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by Domita White

In 2015, I participated in a re-entry program at the Women’s Prison in Raleigh, N.C. Prior to this, I had never set foot in a prison before, and I was so anxious on this day to meet the two mentees that were assigned to me. The only way for me to describe my excitement was as if I were on my way to a family reunion to meet family members I had never met before. Well, on Nov. 3, 2018, I encountered another first and that was to actually visit someone in prison.

Carolyn King and Lei’Lani and Domita White visit Baba Veronza Bowers on Nov. 3, 2018.

I was introduced to Veronza Bowers by a fellow inmate who told me that Veronza was a former Black Panther who had been serving 46 years in prison. I was immediately interested in connecting with this iconic figure in the Black Power Movement, as my late dad was also a former Black Panther. So, on Aug. 14, 2018, thus began my journey into a beautiful, lifetime connection.

My 15-year-old daughter, Lei’Lani, my dear friend. Carolyn King, who is a school principal, and I were greeted by a couple of friendly officers at the front desk at FMC Butner. As we entered the visiting area, we saw the setup of plastic chairs and small tables that were arranged for visitors and for the men that they were there to see at the prison. As we waited for Veronza, I watched the interaction of the children with their fathers, mothers with their sons, wives with their husbands etc.

Although Veronza and I are not related by blood, I refer to him with respect as Baba Veronza. He instantly became family to me the moment that we began communicating.

I was super delighted as he managed to maneuver his walker and pressed his way towards us with such difficulty and excruciating pain. But, in spite of his physical pain and his housing circumstances, he had the most beautiful and gleeful smile. It made me forget that we were actually behind prison walls.

Although Veronza and I are not related by blood, I refer to him with respect as Baba Veronza. He instantly became family to me the moment that we began communicating.

He hugged each of us and we began our conversations. He told us that he has been incarcerated for 46 long years. He explained how he should have been released back in 2005 as he had served the years that would have automatically granted him eligibility for mandatory parole, but his parole was postponed in order to give the victim’s relatives a chance to express their opposition at a new parole hearing.

Baba Veronza was denied parole in December 2005 as the family of the victim and the New York City Fraternal Order of Police fought to keep him behind bars even though he has proof of his innocence. It is unconscionable for me that in this country, political prisoners are being held captive simply to be made examples of.

It is unconscionable for me that in this country, political prisoners are being held captive simply to be made examples of.

Baba told us many stories which were truly fascinating! He also talked about why he has a missing pinky finger which was blown off by a shotgun. He also discussed his love for the Shakuhachi, which is a Japanese longitudinal, end-blown bamboo-flute. Baba had previously shared a few of his beautiful songs of meditation and healing with me which he had written and composed.

As I listened to him speak, I could not fathom how or why this charismatic, charming and humble man was still being held captive. As he sat there in excruciating hip pain, which yours truly knows all too well, I couldn’t help but wonder how this man who was being held in captivity maintained such a positive spirit. Between each comment, there was a smile or a joke that was filled with laughter.

The time came for us to leave and I just did not want the moment to end. As we hugged each other and parted ways, he and the other men were lined up in order to be searched before heading back to their cells. And the visitors were lined up prior to leaving the facility.

This was a painful experience for me. I had to fight back the tears and I couldn’t look his way. I wanted to scoop him up and take him away from that slave ship.

I briefly glanced his way and it just broke my heart to see him hunched over the walker as he waited on that line. That was when it hit me that this is something that children who have to leave their fathers behind have to experience.

This was a painful experience for me. I had to fight back the tears and I couldn’t look his way. I wanted to scoop him up and take him away from that slave ship.

This is what mothers, wives, siblings and dear friends have to experience. Then I asked myself if this was something that people just have to get used to? It is not a good feeling at all. I said to myself that I do not want to keep visiting him behind those walls.

Well, on Dec. 15, 2018, I got to see Baba for a second time. This time my good friend and mentor, Pastor Linda Ross, joined us for this visit. I did not get to speak much as Baba engaged Pastor Ross in conversation. He was impressed by her passion for helping formerly incarcerated and homeless women. To me, she downplayed some of the things that she does and I had to give him a summary of the remarkable woman that she is, and how she has been such a Godsend to me.

Then he engaged Lei’Lani by asking her about things going on in her school. I was so moved that he asked that question. Later on after our visit, I thanked him for asking that question because it is so important for youth to KNOW that adults CARE. I just sat back and soaked it all in. My 15-year-old baby girl was in the presence of an icon!

Before we even made our way to the meeting area, the officer at the front desk told my daughter that she was so beautiful and then she asked her what was it that she wanted to be or do in life. Then she gave my daughter valuable words of wisdom and encouragement and I was so grateful to God that it was meant for us to visit with Baba that day. These are nuggets that prayerfully my daughter will cherish forever.

This visit was different, but it was still difficult for me to leave him there. I can only imagine how his daughter, grandchildren, siblings and other relatives must feel. It takes love, strength and God for someone to be able to have the resiliency to endure such challenges.

We also took photos with Baba and I was super excited about that! He kept commenting how he was flanked by beautiful women, but I was honored to be in the presence of this wonderful man.

Lei’Lani and I sent Baba copies of our books as a token of our appreciation. Lei’Lani’s book is titled “Epilepsy in My World,” which was written by her when she was 9. She won a National PTA Award for this book which was about her uncle and my late brother Dannee White’s experiences with epilepsy. I also sent him my book that I wrote titled “Aspire 2 Acquire: He Said it Begins With ME!” and this is the story of my childhood. I was so honored by the compliments that he gave us on our literary work!

Through this ministry, I’ve learned so much and I continue to learn so much every day about prison culture, and this just pushes me ever more to advocate and champion for men and women who are behind the iron bars in this country. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve never met anyone like me before or that they don’t know anyone who does what I do. There are people in this world who have the same heart and compassion as I do. And it’s not me, but the love of God in me. So I love from my entire heart and I am here to assist in the right way, which is God’s way.

Baba Veronza and everyone else I communicate with in prison are not mere registration numbers to me. They are all humans. And the Bible says that children are a reward from the Lord. Now if we were born, we all have the privilege to be the Lord’s children so that makes the men and women behind bars my brothers and sisters and certainly nothing less! And in His eyes, they are rewards and the apple of HIS EYES!

I thank God for connecting me with this amazing human being. And I thank the editor of SF Bay View for allowing me to share my experiences of my visits with Baba Veronza Bowers!

Domita White, founder of The Warriors 4 Epilepsy, CEO of Aspire 2 Acquire, founder of Bar None Prison Ministry, author, motivational speaker, mentor and event coordinator for the Durham Epilepsy Support Team, can be reached at dwhite@aspire2aquire.com.

My visit with Veronza Bowers

by Lei’Lani White

Lei’Lani White visits Veronza Bowers

On Nov. 3, 2018, for the very first time ever in my life, I set foot inside of a prison. I went with my mom and her friend Ms. Carolyn King to visit former Black Panther member Veronza Bowers.

Before this experience I did not personally know anyone who was in prison. I was not intimidated at all to be in that prison, but curious to see what the inmates experience on a daily basis.

Once we got into the room where all of the inmates were, we had to sit down and wait for Mr. Bowers to come out. We waited for a good 20-plus minutes for the prison guards to get him while all of the inmates and their families were conversing. I saw many little kids with their families talking to inmates who were most likely related to them, which seemed kind of sad to me that the little kids had to see their family members like that. I don’t recall seeing any kids my age (15) or teenagers. Actually, there was one and he was a special needs child.

When Mr. Bowers finally came out, he was using a walker to walk. I did not know what I expected him to look like, but I most definitely did not expect to see him with a walker. He hugged us and then he began to converse and he talked about many important topics.

I really feel bad for children who have to visit their parent in prison and I also feel bad for parents who have to visit their children in prison. My mom explained to me that there were thousands of children in prison in this country. This experience made me reflect on my life and on how fortunate I am. My mom always talks about the horrible conditions in prison, but as a child, we don’t really know the extent. But this visit was an eye opening experience for me.

I really feel bad for children who have to visit their parent in prison and I also feel bad for parents who have to visit their children in prison.

He referred to us as his earth angels and I thought that was so cool!

To be honest, I don’t know what I would do if my family member or close friend were in prison. I can’t even begin to imagine life without my loved one. I guess it would probably feel like how it felt when we lost my uncle. :-(

We went to see Mr. Bowers again on Dec. 16. This time, he asked me how I felt about what was going on in my school and I went in! I told him how I was disturbed by a teacher who had given me a zero on a project because I was out sick that particular day and in order to make it up, he had me do a 500-word essay on top of doing the project, which I didn’t think was fair. Plus, he had not even graded our previous project a month prior to this one and it was affecting my grade. My mom was upset when I told her this. But I am glad that he asked me about school.

Before we went in to see him, this really nice female officer said that I was so pretty and that I reminded her of her daughter. Then she asked me what I wanted to be in life or what I wanted to do. I told her that I used to want to be a lawyer. I also told her that I wanted to be a cheerleader but I didn’t think that I could and she encouraged me to pursue whatever dreams that I had. She told me not to allow anyone to deter me and to always keep God first. She just gave me so many words of encouragement. And so did Mr. Bowers.

To be honest, I never met anyone on his level as far as a celebrity or anything like that except for the Flatbush Zombies, because one of the members is my cousin’s fiancée. But it felt so great being in the presence of an iconic figure in the civil rights movement. I got to tell my friends about this and it’s a big deal to me.

It felt so great being in the presence of an iconic figure in the civil rights movement.

I wanted to show him my appreciation so I sent him a copy of my book titled Epilepsy in My World which I wrote when I was 9 years old. I won a National PTA Award for it. I wrote this book to talk about my experiences with my uncle Dannee White, who lived with epilepsy and who as a result had been bullied a lot. I wanted to express to the readers that we are all different and we must still embrace one another.

Although my uncle is no longer here, I know that he will always be with me. But Mr. Bowers is my family. He’s like a grandfather that I’ve never known. I kept wondering why my mom calls him Baba Veronza. I think I’ll start calling him “grandbaba.” :-)

I pray that he gets out of there. Although he was always happy and smiling whenever we saw him, I hate that he is in that place. I saw the sadness in my mom the first time that we visited him. I wished that I could hug those kids that were there visiting their loved ones only for them to have to leave them behind. I hope my experience can help others to really embrace their loved ones and to do all that they can to prevent them from entering prison.

Lei’Lani White is founder of Youthrepreneurs 4 Life, co-founder of The Warriors 4 Epilepsy and vice chair of the National Junior Honor Society chapter at The Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Raleigh, N.C.

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