There are over 2 Million people incarcerated in the U.S. and recent Department of Justice numbers indicate that there are over 21,000 street gangs in the U.S. with over 700,000 active members, numbers we cannot afford to ignore. Street gangs, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration weigh heavily on American culture, mainly its cities, and impose an enormous fiscal burden upon government and taxpayers, threatening to stall the engines of American prosperity.
For far too long, law enforcement’s solution has been “lock them up and throw away the key”. LIVE from LOCKDOWN (LIVE), published by Raise UP Media, is focused on addressing the root cause by using technology to provide voice and access to gang leaders and other influential inmates who are known personally by the community. Rather than glamorize street gangs, the mission of LIVE is to utilize gang leadership as credible messengers to provide an unvarnished view of prison and the harsh reality facing gang members who are behind bars. A message delivered by those best equipped to deliver it to our youth in a way that will ensure the message is received, believed and heeded.
LIVE started in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (SMU)- the Big House at USP Lewisburg, a notorious 23 and 1 lockdown facility where inmates are double-bunked in 5 x 9 cells at least 23 hors per day. This unit housed(s) many of the nation’s most influential and disruptive inmates, including members of the national gang leadership hierarchy. The seeds of LIVE were sown via dialogue between two childhood friends of 20-plus years. One a non profit executive, Kamaal Bennett, and the other an incarcerated gang leader, Tewhan “Massacre” Butler of the notorious Double ii Bloods, who has been profiled on The History Channel’s Gangland and other national media outlets.
As President of a statewide non-profit organization providing afterschool programs and alternatives to street gangs for thousands of students in New Jersey’s largest cities, Bennett was struggling to find solutions for not only the kids in school but also those in “the streets” who had abandoned, and were abandoned by, the school system. After a chance encounter with an eleven year old gang member who was running wild in the streets around one of Bennett’s program centers and claimed to know Butler. Bennett witnessed the boy’s demeanor change as he explained that he knew Butler and promised to provide the boy access. Butler, almost ten years in on a thirty year sentence and on lockdown in the Big House, was more than happy to engage in dialogue. Because of restrictions on visits and phone calls, initial communication was via mail. Through their correspondence the eleven year old who thought he knew the ropes learned that gangs that were rivals on the streets formed alliances in Federal prison. This newfound underground prison structure and Butler’s willingness to “Raise UP”, speak out and reach across traditionally held enemy lines enabled Raise UP Media to penetrate the silos, which exist amongst gang leadership on the streets. This helped cultivate and led to national participation on behalf of other prominent national gang leaders from cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, including BLOODS, CRIPS, GANGSTA DISCIPLES, LATIN KINGS, NETAS, and SURENOS, as well as MUSLIMS and others with no gang affiliation, in order to publish a harsh and realistic inside view of prison from the perspective of those who face daily life behind bars.
These incarcerated individuals, through their experience, have grown to value unity, education and freedom, but because of the extreme circumstances of their incarceration have, until now, been unable to get their valuable and hard learned lessons to the youth in their communities. We hope, by sharing these lessons, we can reach, enlighten and guide other young gang members and youth who are currently on a path of self destruction, educate the public and reduce gang violence and mass incarceration along the way.
Change comes from within. LIVE, its contributing authors and Inmate Initiatives such as MEN STOP, FALL BACK and THE MENTORING PROJECT are shining examples of change emanating from within. Society must engage individuals within their current value system in order to bring about meaningful and sustainable change. Relationships are the key to the success of this idea. To this end, we could be valuable partners. Please complete the Contact Form on the page footer and let us know if you’d like to get involved as a volunteer, advisor, facilitator, joint venture partner, or in another capacity we may not have explored. You can also use the same Contact Form to request permission to use LIVE’s intellectual property and content.
LIVE has now grown beyond the Federal System to include select State inmates.
Participation is by referral only.
Inmates do not receive compensation for their contributions.
A sincere THANK YOU to the forward thinking prison administrators and government officials who have allowed LIVE to flourish.