Our Struggles and Similarities are Ultimately Undeniable

Apr 5

Wud up World,

My name is Christophe Lewis and I have been locked down since early 2010. I am writing this with hopes of motivating those out there dealing with depression, as well as, oppressive thoughts that may be manifesting criminality. I am also writing to those out there involved in crime for gain or retribution. I will share with you some of my personal experiences, to illustrate how similar we all are irrespective of what race, culture or orientation we bring to the table as individual beings displaced vis a vis diaspora.

I migrated to this country from Jamaica in 1990 to Scarborough, Ontario where I lived in a house with 2 of my aunties and 1 of my cousins. I was separated from my mother in Jamaica and brought to Canada for a “better life.” A few years later, my mother migrated to Canada in order for us to reunite and start our new lives in North America. My mother and I moved around for quite some time before we settled for downtown Toronto, in the heart of the city. My mother gave birth to my youngest sister shortly after we moved downtown. My youngest sister and I grew up in a single parent household with mom dukes. Moms worked 2 jobs at times so this meant I became a babysitter by default. Saturdays and Sundays were always reserved for grocery shopping and church. I will never forget those Saturday mornings grocery shopping at No Frills for the weekly deals. And even with all the deals and coupons, sometimes we would have to put things back after the cashier started to ring the items up. I remember standing on the opposite end of the conveyor belt hoping that at least 2 boxes of 99 cent cookies would slide down the belt and I could bag’em up. Cookies weren’t considered essentials in my mom’s crib so it was a blessing to get treats like that. As I think back to those days. I realize, I always had an appetite for more than my mother could provide. As I got older I was determined to get money by any means necessary. This led to me sneaking out the house at night, skipping school among many other dishonest activities. It only took a few years before I found myself behind bars at a juvenile detention centre. The crazy thing is, the juvenile detention centre was literally adjacent to my apartment building (311 Jarvis & 300 George street). Facts.

Growing up in my neighbourhood, police brutality was accepted as a way of life. I was an occupational hazard of sorts, for everyone, even those not involved in the street life. At times, I attempt to think back to moments from my past where I wasn’t apprehensive of the police. I can’t. As far back as I can remember, I have visions of the police beating up and intimidating men and women from around the way. And before I knew it, I was one of those people being accosted, carded and beat up by the police. The same people my mother worked 2 jobs and paid taxes to serve and protect us, were the ones we had to be afraid of. Hence the reason I instinctively gravitated to the opposite direction of what they (the police) were supposed to be representing “justice”. To me it seemed more like just “us” and just “them.”

By the age of 13 I had already started to have bad attendance at school which ultimately led to me dropping out completely. I was knee deep in the game (street life) by the age of 15. I distinctly remember, one day sitting with my homies attempting to count on both hands, how many friends and neighborhood associates had been murdered in our generation. Sad to say, but even back then we were not able to count on both hands. I grew up in the first housing projects in North America (Regent Park). Look it up, it was designed and built in the early 1950s before the infamous New York City Housing Projects. As a matter of fact, I think the New York City Housing Projects were designed and built with Regent Park in mind or as a template. The funny thing is, I actually never lived directly in the Regent Park perimeters. I actually lived on the outskirts, but back then, we considered all the surrounding areas Regent Park territory. And we protected the hood by any means necessary. I started hanging out in Regent Park because I was forced to go to school there by way of the Toronto District School Boards’ Zoning Laws. Those zoning laws were just another instance of systemic hurdles, low income households are forced to endure. Nonetheless, the hood had me hooked. There is this misconception that the hood is just filled with violence, drug dealing, prostitution and negativity. I am here to tell you “that’s bullshit.” The hood is filled with lots of love, morals and respect. In the hood, there are people that barely have 2 sticks to rub together, but somehow they are still able to provide for their families. The hood teaches you how to appreciate what you have and strive to attain more. I remember life in the hood before all the hatred and violence consumed my generation. There were house parties, block parties, barbeques, cookouts and all kinds of fun stuff to do. All these events made us feel as if we were a part of something special, a family. As time went on, I noticed the envy the old heads had for the younger generation. And I was no exception, this hatred ultimately led to extreme violence and sometimes much worse, death.

By the age of 16 or 17, I found myself battling bouts of depression. Back then I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew one thing for certain. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone how I was feeling. Culturally, someone who battles with stress or depression is viewed as a “Mad Person.” Essentially you would find yourself the butt of jokes and/or just straight up shunned. To this very day, I continue to suffer from depression. The difference between now and then, is the fact that I have developed coping mechanisms because succumbing to depression is not a feasible option for me. Depression compounded with my incarcerated circumstance is overwhelming at times, to put it lightly. Years ago, I made the conscious decision to never succumb to any level of depression or oppression. There are days I literally feel as if I can’t get out of bed. My thoughts are so clouded, I see doubles. I intensely scrutinize everything from my weight to minor blemishes on my skin. This level of anxiety is a segway for a litany of possible ailments i.e. Insomnia, paranoia and short-temperedness, to name a few. When I get like that, I walk over to the closest mirror and talk to myself. I will spare y’all the details of what I tell my reflection in the mirror. Nevertheless, just know, there is always someone out there that literally has life harder than you. So if or when you fall down, don’t stay down, dust yourself off and keep it pushing.

Throughout my life thus far, I have bumped my foot on many stones along this journey called life. Nonetheless, I push through the pain and all the struggles in order to attain my goals. I know this is easier said than done. However, with repetition and time, you too can train yourself to fight through anything and muster up the discipline needed, regardless of how down and demotivated you may feel at times. Trust and believe, in order for you to achieve. Some people utilize their faith in God as a coping mechanism to push through tough times. Some people have family members to lean on, but there are many people out here that feel as though they have no one or nowhere to turn to. And to those individuals, I implore you to look deep within yourself and you will realize you have more than what it takes. You have life and with that, anything is possible. Trust and believe.

I share with you all my thoughts, through these words, to remind you all that we are not that much different at the end of the day. I “over” stand the concept that everything may boil down to our individual circumstances and how we deal with the adversity that comes in tandem. For this reason I challenge you all to reflect on how, in this moment, clearly I am incarcerated and you are free. As drastically different as the contrast may seem in regards to our current circumstances, just know that in the blink of an eye, you could have been imprisoned and me unshackled. So get up, step up and push yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be.

Real talk,
from a real inmate,
doing real time,
in a real systemically racist system.

Christophe Lewis

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