In prison, there are many obstacles to a prisoner’s freedom. The razorwire topped perimeter fences, the walls and gun towers all ensure that the number one obstacle… escape, doesn’t occur. There are also other obstacles in prison for those prisoners who wish to legitimately better their situation. When a prisoner takes it upon himself to do some things positive during his incarceration, oftentimes, the staff and administration at the facility deliberately try to make it hard on him. Anyone would think it would be the other way around, that prison staff would encourage prisoners to pursue positive objectives. That however isn’t necessarily the case.
Case in point: Wahida Clark…. inmate. Wahida Clark became an Essence bestselling author and was profiled in King magazine and numerous other publications while she was and still is serving time in a federal prison. Wahida recently became the subject of an intense bidding war between several major publishers. As Wahida, the author of several lit classics, THUGS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM, EVERY THUG NEEDS A LADY and PAYBACK IS A MUTHA, gets ready to hit the streets in the summer of 2007 after serving a 125 month Fed sentence for money laundering, mail and wire fraud she’ll tell anyone that is willing to listen that it hasn’t been easy. Wahida has endured her trials and tribulations to be sure. Even though the First Amendment applies to all Americans, even those in prison, Wahida’s keepers “the Bureau of Prisons” have continually tried to make her feel as if she were doing something wrong simply because she started writing, got several books published and decided to carve out a future for herself. She was singled out and punished for trying to make something of herself. So much for rehabilitation.
Wahida’s personal story demonstrates all that is wrong with our criminal justice system…where close-minded, robot-like administrators who can’t think for themselves are permitted to make arbitrary decisions that drastically affect the lives of inmates. Even though the prison authorities tried to intimidate Wahida into not writing any more books with their rules and regulations, they were unsuccessful. They couldn’t shake her. The girl is gangsta. Trips to the hole and constant harassment by the Feds couldn’t break Wahida. Just as she faced down the 10 year sentence without flinching or breaking weak, way before the current “stop snitching movement”, Wahida faced down her captors, stared them straight in the eye, defied them and kept on writing. But let her tell it…
“I was at the federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky,” she says. “At the time, my first book was floating around at both the women’s prison and next door at the men’s FCI. One morning around SAM, I was awakened and ordered to get dressed and report to the lieutenants’ office where the SIS lieutenant was waiting to speak with me.”
As anyone in prison know, the SIS Lt. is like the FBI. They investigate prison disturbances, riots, escape attempts, stabbings, murders and drugs. Only the most serious offense however are brought to their attention so as expected, Wahida was seriously surprised to be called in to see the SIS Lt. Wahida had never received a shot (incident report) in all her years of incarceration. The SIS Lt. was hot on her trail though and wanted to know how she had managed to write a book in prison.
“I explained to him that a former inmate who used to be a literary agent, had been incarcerated at the Lexington prison. I also explained that the camp administrator had approved her to give a creative writing class where the curriculum consisted of a crash course on writing and getting published. Upon graduating we received a certificate.” Wahida pointed out.
This piqued the SIS Lt.’s attention even more but with a prison administrators close-mindedness, he probably thought something nefarious had resulted. A prisoner writing a book…definitely illegal, the SIS Lt. most likely thought.
“He asked me if I had a copy of my book,” Wahida states. “I told him yes and he sent me to get it. When I returned and handed it to him, he asked me whether the staff knew I had written a book. I told him of course and also showed him where I had thanked the staff in the Acknowledgements section. Since the inmate copier had been broken at the time I was trying to send my manuscripts to publishers, several staff members were kind enough to make copies of the unpublished book for me.”
No big crime, right? Attempting to do something positive. Unfortunately the end result was big trouble for Wahida.
“We are going to have to conduct an investigation,” the SIS Lt. informed Wahida. “We are going to have to put you in “lock up” in the county jail for your own protection while the investigation takes place.” Wahida couldn’t believe it, but what could she do?
“I was at the mercy of my keepers,” she says in reflection. “Here I was doing something positive, something legitimate for my future and the prison authorities acted like I was smuggling drugs into the prison or something worse. I was pissed off.” And she had a perfect right to be.
“It was New Years Eve in 2002 and we had our seats ready to watch BET’s top 100 videos of the year and here I was on my way to some freakin’ county jail. I was furious. The damn phone calls at the county were $22 for 20 minutes. We were locked down 23 hours a day. The food and commissary sucked. No microwaves. No radio. No music. We couldn’t have books or magazines. I was livid.” Wahida recalls.
To add insult to injury, about a month later, Wahida was served two shots. “One for running a business and the other one for introducing contraband into the prison,” she says. The contraband was her book that several of the other prisoners had legitimately ordered from the publisher. There was a big furor “since the staff was supposed to be mad at me for thanking them in my book, but in reality most of them had talked to me to make sure I had the correct spellings of their names and asked me to make sure I put them in there.” So it was a situation of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s just how it goes in prison when you do things out of the ordinary. Even if it’s something positive.
The end result of the interrogation was that Wahida was informed that the charges would be expunged. Wahida thought they had been. “Until recently,” she says. “I was told that the charge of conducting a business still remained. I was also not allowed to return to the Lexington prison again. BOP Lexington wanted nothing to do with me.” The official verdict Wahida received went like this. “The DHO (Discipline Hearing Officer) stated that it was a gray area and that I could write but not get published. She informed me that it was best not to. She stated that even though they applauded my efforts, that it was impressive that I was doing something positive with my time, that prisoner writing books was still a gray area.” That’s how the BOP applauds prisoners who are trying to do extraordinary things behind bars. They throw them in the hole and try to intimidate them into not pursuing their goals. But Wahida made the best of a bad situation.
“My husband kept reminding me of how he wrote Uncle Yah Yah part 1 and 2 when he was in the hole.” Wahida says. “So not only did I begin penning ‘Payback’ (her current bestseller), I also started my marketing campaign. I had already hooked up my flyers and noticed that everybody was writing somebody. I started collecting addresses and began sending out my promo kit. I became a mailing machine. I even had the girls in the pod stuffing and addressing envelopes for me. I had so many names I couldn’t even write them all I think that’s what really made my name and books ring bells.” Talk about underground marketing.
On September 3, 2003, Wahida was transferred to the women’s prison in Alderson, West Virginia. “Before I was released from intake SIS looked in on me.” Wahida says. “I was like, oh, brother here we go again. The officer asked me what had happened. I gave him the short version. He basically told me to stay out of trouble. I explained to him that the shot I had received was my first shot ever, that I didn’t get into any trouble.” And for real, who in their right mind would call writing a book getting in trouble? Only a mindless BOP bureaucrat.
“As I started learning the ropes around Alderson, staff was constantly scrutinizing my mail and sending a lot of it back.” Wahida says. “I received a stack of flyers and was called down to the Lt.’s office. They informed me I couldn’t have them, I said cool. The next week, I received five books which my family wanted me to autograph and send back. I was once again called to the Lt.’s office. They indicated that I couldn’t sign the books, I said cool. The next week I got a stack of letters. Again staff wanted to know what they were, I told them it was fan mail. They sent them back.”
It seems kind of ironic that when someone takes the initiative to rehabilitate themselves, the people in charge of their rehabilitation fight them the whole way but in prison, that’s how it is. It’s a Catch-22 situation. Wahida Clark however has stood strong. As her release date approaches, she is more than ready to hit the streets and enjoy the fruits of her labor.
“They harassed me consistently until Martha got here,” Wahida says referring to Martha Stewart who also served time at Alderson. “I guess they figured if they were gonna give Martha special privileges that they would have to extend the same courtesy to me as well. Now that Martha’s gone, it’s back tot he same old thing…harassment everyday.” Wahida is dealing with it though. She knows that this too will pass. Things are looking very good for Wahida’s future with a release date in the summer of 2007. Wahida is ready to make her mark in the publishing industry with her own Imprint, WAHIDA CLARK PRESENTS. Vickie Stringer, Teri Woods and Nikki Turner watch out. Wahida will soon be on the loose.