Independence Day may seem like nothing deeper than its name, a day in which Americans freed themselves from their British colonizers. However, the birth of America also signified the continuation of another set of restrictions on freedoms and violations of human rights, from the genocide of Native Americans and their forced removal from their land, to the enslavement of millions of Africans, to modern incarceration, which traps more African Americans in its system than early slavery.

To reflect on the true meanings of Independence and Freedom, we'd like to share an entry from Bilal Coleman's video diary series, The Freedom Chronicles. Bilal was sentenced to 20 years in prison when he was just 17 years old. Today, Bilal is still free from state incarceration and proud of beating the statistic that 7 out 10 people who walk out of a California State Prison are back in less than one year. Now, he is a farmer's market vendor and educator at Planting Justice!

Here's a message from Bilal:

Greetings, 

My name is Bilal Coleman. When I was 17 years old, I was sent to prison. That was 20 years ago. I was released on parole on November 16th, 2015. I started working at Planting Justice the next day, and am blessed to have this great organization supporting me during this transition. 

The Freedom Chronicles is my way of documenting my journey back into society. Hopefully, sharing my story with all of you can bring attention to the trials and tribulations that one may face during the re-entry process. More than pointing out the faults of the system, I want to highlight the positive moments of freedom, growth, and community. I hope that by seeing my journey, people will realize the importance of re-entry programs like Planting Justice, and will work with us to motivate those who are in power to fund more programming like this.

I am the 18th person that Planting Justice has hired from San Quentin. My 17 predecessors have all successfully made the transition and stayed out of prison. I plan to follow in their footsteps, with the help of Planting Justice and all of our supporters. I hope that sharing my story will show the world what Planting Justice is capable of. The State and others with resources should be supporting and funding this work so that we can help hundreds and thousands of people just like me stay out of prison for good. Talk is cheap, but actions aren’t. Follow my story and see how we’re moving and shaking at Planting Justice.

I hope that sharing my story will change people’s minds about so-called “violent criminals” like me. I am human. I am gentle. I do not deserve to be thrown away.  I have a light to shine. 

I'll be posting here every week during my first year out. 

Thank you for your support,

Bilal

MORE ABOUT BILAL

Bilal Coleman was born in Berkeley and raised in Oakland, CA. He is a parent of two and he enjoys spending time with both his children. He has a passion for health and personal fitness and giving back to the youth by sharing his personal experiences with the criminal justice system. He appreciates the way everyone at Planting Justice treats each other like family and has supported and accepted him as part of the family. 

Bilal was also recently featured on Upworthy! Check it out here: He left prison for the first time since he was a teenager. Then he started filming.

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