Here is our next story in our series Voices of the Unheard…
My name is Jeremiah Bush and I’m currently serving a life sentence in the Pennsylvania department of corrections. I’ve been incarcerated for thirteen years, and I’m currently housed at SCI Coal Township prison. Prior to my incarceration I was employed full time working as a barber in Philadelphia. One of my goals since childhood was to own a barbershop someday. Growing up I was active in several different sports and I even excelled in education, having graduated Valedictorian of my high school class and then enrolled into community college for a year. There was a point in my life during my late teenage years when I felt like I was in perfect alignment on the path towards accomplishing my goals and dreams. But now when I reflect back on my life, and specifically to those years, I realize that dropping out of college was a pivotal turning point in my life. It was during those years when I had dropped out of college and then engaged in drug dealing which was the start of my cycling in and out of prison, ultimately leading up to my current incarceration.
The concept of going to prison for African-American men is so pervasive, and even glorified in so many ways. In the street life going to prison is popularly regarded as “part of the game.” And whether you consciously or unconsciously adopt this mentality, going to prison is almost inevitable. My experiences while engaged in the street life shaped my perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about the world and of myself. I did not truly care about myself and others in a meaningful kind of way. All I cared for was money and the excitement of living the street life. I remember when I first entered prison, my mentality was radical in the sense of feeling angry, resentful, self hatred, hopeless, and having no desire for transformation. This is the reason why I cycled in and out of jail prior to my most recent incarceration. Until I reached the point of being tired, tired of finding myself in situations which did not truly define me, although it did accurately define the poor life choices that I had been making. Deep inside of me I knew wholeheartedly that I was so much better than the circumstances I kept finding myself in, and so much better than my worst mistake. I wanted to do better and I wanted to be better. And I knew that the transformation process had to start within me. I remember a professor at Yale University speaking about recidivism and he said that the key to stopping recidivism is “not about just changing the things you’re doing, but more importantly changing the way in which you think.” His words have stuck with me throughout the years, as I have applied his words in a practical sense to many aspects of my own life because changing my way of thinking was the key to changing my actions as well.
Early on in my transformation process I admit that I faced several challenges. My personal growth was not accepted by everyone, even those closes to me. This can be a stumbling block for most people especially because acceptance and validation from others is such a strong desire, but my validation comes from within, based on my own principles and beliefs. But often times we so desperately seek that validation and acceptance even when it is given for the wrong reasons. I strive to grow and evolve everyday. I believe that growth is a continuous process, and my motto is to take life “one day at a time.”
While being incarcerated I’ve learned so much about myself and have also discovered my purpose in life. I’m not nearly the same person that I was so many years ago. I’m extremely passionate about helping and serving others and being an inspiration and a light of hope for others. Sadly enough though, the prison system, as well as the criminal justice system fail to prioritize and provide resources for meaningful rehabilitation to those incarcerated. I believe that meaningful rehabilitation is rooted in addressing issues such as restoration, accountability, responsibility, education, job training, mental health care, etc. I know that when people have access to resources and also have options of making educated decisions in their own lives they naturally want to do the right things and be contributing citizens. Prison literally strips you of your humanity, and everyday we have to reaffirm our humanity by reminding those in power that we are human beings too.
Fortunately for me, I’ve encountered many great men throughout my incarceration who have active roles of being mentors, father figures, and teachers in my life. Their grace and wisdom bestowed upon me has significantly shaped my life and positioned me on to my own purpose filled path, without their leadership and encouragement I could not imagine being the man that I am today.(Suleiman Beyah; David “Dawud” Lee; Jimmy Dennis; Nathan Riley; Jerome Gibson). I acknowledge these great men for who they are, and all that they mean to me. I’m inspired and motivated each day by my own testimony of transformation and hope, as well as the powerful testimonies of so many others like me who stand in the face of adversity and obstacles, and turn them into opportunities to be great! Showing the world that we are worthy and deserving of freedom and human dignity!