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Transformation (Part 1)

By Brian Darnell Berkley Sr.

I’d like to share a true story.

This is a story about a guy who I once knew better anyone else.

I really don’t know this Young Man any longer, but I do know him as he was way back then and, as I write, vivid memories come to the forefront of my mind.

This Young Man was extremely intelligent, academically speaking, yet at a young age he embraced the street life, gangs in particular.  At the time of his gang membership it wasn’t as it is today, back then everyone knew each other, they all grew up and lived in the same neighborhood, they went to the same schools their parents attended.  True, they were gang members.  Yet parents weren’t afraid of them and they respected their elders.  Justification?  No never that, just pointing out how it was then, as opposed to now, and the insanity of it all, with the crack era being a catalyst.

This Young Man quickly climbed through the ranks of his gang and became a top shooter and advocator of gang activity as he promoted himself to other gangs, letting them know whatever, however, wherever.

This attitude short-stopped his freedom and he ended up in State Prison at the age of 17.  A full-fledged gang member and all of 5’9, 130 pounds, he represented a small gang (at that time) at the time of his introduction into prison.  This was an era when 2nd generation Los Angeles County Gang Members began flooding the California Department of Corrections, the beginning of get-tough-on-crime legislation. 

Part of the get-tough legislation introduced the theme of “TRY THOSE JUVENILES AS ADULTS.”

This Young Man lived up to the code of NEVER make a statement and he had the respect of his peers because he rode a case that wasn’t his, kept his mouth shut, beat a murder charge, yet still was sentenced to State prison when, in reality, he had a California Youth Authority Commitment.  He was 17 and never had he been beyond juvenile hall as far as incarceration.

Prior to this Yong Man’s incarceration, he had two very positive things in his favor, he had options:  one, he had just taken the Military Aptitude Test and at age 17, scored higher than anyone on/in the testing site that day; second, he had just been informed that the Continuation School he attended was allotting Scholarship funding to send him to college.

This Young Man had aspirations to become a Doctor (Pathologist or Neuro-Surgeon), with a leaning towards law.  He had a child on the way and he and the Mother discussed his leaving the gang life style behind.  At 17 he was already well known in the gang world, but unfortunately he caught a case in a get tough on young African American Males era.

The Recruiter tried his all to get this Young Man released to the custody of the United States Marines, after all the case was a Youth Authority Commitment, but the Judge refused.  The Continuation School tried to no avail.  These people saw potential in this Young Man.

Soledad State Prison welcomed the Young Man with open arms, sink or swim.  Of course the, Young Man swam.  He witnessed murders, rapes, extortions, and everything else that came with prison life.  He knew it was a dog eat dog environment, so he picked up that knife, as the prison saying goes, and he became a top hitter in that environment from Soledad to Tracy (Gladiator School) with a trip to San Quentin & Folsom State Prisons.  Along the way, he obtained his G.E.D. in the same year he would’ve graduated from high school, he took a few college courses and he did a lot of Hole time (Administrative Segregation).

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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