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From Death Row to the Front Row

By Shawnfatee "Muhsin" Bridges

December 7, 2019

After spending twenty years on death row, then being thrust into general population, I didn’t know what would become of me. I felt nervous, anxious, not really knowing if I would fit in or not.

Now I was re-sentenced, blessed with numbers and a date to come home in a short period of time. I took this time to reach out to my childhood friend Felix, who I knew was involved in a lot of programs. I let him know I would be returning to Graterford in the next couple of weeks, and that I needed him to enroll me in any and all programs that he believed would be beneficial. So I was finally returned to Graterford State Prison. And of course I hit the ground running, and met Charles, Felix’s co-founder, who made me feel welcome from the start. He once told me he knew me before he actually knew me, because Felix talked about me so much. And to finally meet was a pleasure. My first LCU workshop was an adventure, because I still had my death row mindset, for if and when I ever made it to the general population. I didn’t need any new friends. I would just get as many certificates as I could, and stay low and out of the way. Being on death row, in solitary confinement, you learn to rely to yourself, be your own worst critic or your own greatest fan. You don’t want to be alone, but you are forced to be. But of course things don’t always go as we plan. As I sat in this classroom in Graterford watching all these new faces enter the room, I was starting to get nervous. Because I was not really a public person at this time. And of course our first exercise was a community-building exercise. So I shared my story about being on death row. Like always, still to this day, I got nervous and started talking fast. But the looks I saw on people’s faces weren’t of confusion, because they couldn’t understand me, or of fear. What I saw was joy, encouragement and hope. And on Charles and Felix’s faces, the look of pride, of now being able to see the person he had been talking about all these years. LCU allowed me to blossom into a public speaker, a growing facilitator. It also allowed me to learn responsibility, empathy, accountability. Not that I didn’t really have it per se, but I didn’t know how to portray what I was feeling, especially not in public. LCU gives you that safe space to do so. This is one out of many experiences I had being involved in LCU.

--I was a boy who had to become a man rather quickly. I am death row inmate who overcame his circumstances! I am father of 5 and grandfather of almost 6 who now has the opportunity to be a influence from the right side of the fence. I am a free man! And now GAME CHANGER! I will not be defined by one thing but rather acknowledged for many.


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