By Tracey D. SyphaxIt’s been 20 years since I left Rahway State Prison. For my last conviction, I received a 4-year sentence. Prior to entering Rahway I had already found myself in Mercy County Youth Detention Center at 17, where two detectives delivered my High School diploma and gave me strict instructions to never enter Trenton Central High School again. From 1980-83, I served time in Yardville Youth Reception & Correctional Center for possession with intent. Once released, I used my street smarts to start my first business on paper, Capitol City Roofing. It was a front to run drugs up and down The New Jersey turnpike hassle free. I was 23. Within 3-years time I was headed back to Yardville. An altercation during my bid landed me in lockdown 23 & 1 for 365 days in ad seg (administrative segregation) at Rahway State Prison. That’s when my official pursuit for the American dream came to life.
Unless you’ve been under a rock the past 10 years then you should be well aware that the prison industry is the second largest employer in state government. Prison stocks are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The industry consists of over 10,000 employees and continues to grow as approximately 60% of inmates are arrested within 3 years after their release. I was one. I remember an older guy telling me during my 80-83 bid that I would be back. I figured out how the old guy knew I’d be back once I spent one year on 23 hour lockdown living the lyrics to Beanie Siegal’s 1999 album release “What Your Life Like.”
“What you know about 23 & 1,
locked down underground all day
never seeing the sun…”
Standing in my cell, those 16 words were poignant to me. Those 365 days in ad seg allowed me the opportunity to grow mentally, evolve as a man and recognize my weaknesses. I decided to seek out something different for my life. I became involved in a group that taught on African American studies. I read about powerful black leaders - like Madam C. J. Walker and A.G. Gaston - who had strong entrepreneurial spirits and gained great inspiration from the words of W.E.B Du Bois. Du Bois was dedicated to the higher education of his race. Entrepreneurship and education would be my focus upon re-entry into the community.
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