by Mahmud Khabir Al-Matin
The system which I attempt to discuss is a familiar place in the world. The name of this system varies from mouth to mouth in casual conversation,or heated debates. Some call it gulags, others call it the prison industrial complex, others the human warehouse.
I agree with all these names, including those in numerous books that have surfaced in the last two decades about mass incarceration. This system as we know it holds 2.5 million people – including some they refuse to let go regardless of rehabilitation, programming certifications, college and ignorant youthful mistakes. I am one of those 2.5 million.
On June 4, 2019, after having served 31 years of my life (I turned 18 in Union County Jail in Elizabeth, New Jersey), I was transferred to Rikers Island, where I turned 19 and was sentenced to 25 years to life in 1991 in New York. I was finally granted parole after being denied four times. I convinced the commissioners of the Parole Board that, by the grace of Allah, I was no longer that easily influenced teenager.
I was no longer a threat to society. I was a college graduate twice. I was in school working on a degree with Ulster Community College through Hudson Link Prison Education Program funded by Mr. Warren Buffett and his sister Doris, and many other famous people. To name a few: Harry Belafonte, Ice-T and Coco, his wife. (See HudsonLink.org.)
I was a teacher’s aide helping men whose reading and math levels were below fifth grade. I was the imam’s clerk and taught Arabic. I had numerous letters from staff supporting my release. Some staff were retaliated against for such belief and reprimanded, although New York DOCCS rules state that staff should write these reports.
I am the author of an urban novel entitled “Can’t Stop the Grind” and a book of poetry entitled “From the Mind of the Incarcerated Slave” that has yet to be published. I gave speeches for prison grassroots events regularly.
I had become a father and a husband. I had written articles about “the system.” The comrade brother Rashid, who was the codefendant of Assata Shakur and Abdul Majid (Anthony Laborde), was placed in solitary confinement with me on two separate occasions. Once was in Wende Correctional Facility, and the last before his death in Elmira, for organizing and other false charges.
I had also written articles in the Bay View on the death of Hugo Pinell and how it was our obligation to adopt his daughter as our sister, daughter and niece.
However, on June 4, 2019, the day when billions of Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan, I was waiting in the cell to go home. My family and I had been told there were no warrants or detainers, no reason for my further incarceration.
My brothers had catered a beautiful meal for the evening for me, daughters and sons-in-law to partake, after the evening prayer. I was dressed in full Islamic attire – full length prayer robe and Kufi.
Instead of my release, I was told that my backpack that I was to pick up from Hudson with a laptop computer and suits of clothing as part of the coming home package, and pages of trial transcripts and books, would have to stay. I was taken into custody by Union County New Jersey sheriffs and my family was told to leave the parking lot. I was not coming out.
My daughter Aminati and my wife, who is a strong prison advocate on Prison Radio’s Voices Beyond the Wall on WKBR 91.3 Radio, was crushed. My wife has not gotten back on the radio because she can’t speak without breaking down.
I was placed in a filthy bullpen with walls smeared with all types of disgusting substances while foot-shackled and waist-cuffed. I was told I would not be allowed to wear a black Kufi and my attire was confiscated as I was given a tan uniform.
I was given one phone call to let everyone know what happened. I had not seen any judge and within 48 hours I was zoomed off at 5 a.m. to Trenton State Prison, which sent me to Central Reception Assignment Facility (CRAF) butt naked in a jumpsuit and flip-flops. I was issued No. 550844, an old number, and simply told I would see Classification. This is 31 years later.
My family was not allowed to speak to me for a week. Upon seeing Classification, I was told I owed time – 16 years with a five-year stipulation. The Classification Committee removed six years from the back of the sentence and gave me an early parole date of November 2023 plus 202 to jail credit days. This was my punishment for getting a reversal in 1994 and being re-sentenced, which in the original judgment of conviction showed there were 256 gap time days plus 202 jail credit and another eight months missing.
The judge has since died and a motion has been filed to amend the judgment of conviction to reflect 1,014 days are owed to me on the front of the sentence and 1,059 on the back, which under State v Hernandez, Stay v Beatty and State v Rippy, I am entitled to every day. This time would put me at an immediate Parole Board to be released or at least a halfway house for which, under New Jersey law, anyone who is 36 months short of the earliest release is eligible.
I am in need of legal representation. I have been given a public defender and assigned Judge Deitch in Union County, who is reviewing the pro se motion.
Today I need people to contact Judge Deitch at 908-787-1650, extension 21250, or in a written letter of support that such a motion be granted for an amended judgment under indictment 88-12-2105. The address to write to Judge Deitch is: County Courthouse, 2 Broad St., Elizabeth, NJ 07201.
Otherwise, I will continue to be lost in the system. Your help in my liberation as a changed, conscious man is imperative. No prison do I wish to be lost in, although I remain strong under such tormenting conditions. Please feel free to write.
Send our brother some love and light: Mahmud Khabir Al-Matin, 550844, East Jersey State Prison, 3 Wing IT 152 Top, Lock Bag R, Rahway, NJ 07065.