Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Words earnestly escaped Malik Wade as he paced housing units inside O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Youth nodded respectfully in Wade’s direction as he stayed illuminated in the harsh light of high windows.
With raw emotion, Wade explained his past incarceration and the life principles that guided his path to post-prison success so vividly, you felt like you could paint it.
The author, entrepreneur, mentor and nonprofit founder is a regular speaker in county correctional facilities, but his trek to O.H. Close represented his first outreach to youthful offenders serving time with the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
The man who served 12 years in federal lockup before discharging and writing Pressure: From FBI Fugitive to Freedom was candid when discussing his past criminality and the moment that changed his life. He encouraged youth to find their own career path by serving deliberate time, not “bucking”, accepting responsibility, adhering to self-established principles and visualizing a better future.
Wade helped the youth envision their own specific reentry plans and gave all five housing units a copy of his book. He shared another copy with DJJ staff and delivered six more copies to the O.H. Close library.
“It was really remarkable to watch Malik share his story with our youth,” O.H. Close Senior Librarian Rebecca Hill Long said. “His words were powerful and his message was so important.”
Since his first visit, Wade has also visited the nearby N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. He’s becoming a welcome sight at the Northern California Youth Correctional Center where both facilities are located.
“Mr. Wade is exactly the kind of person we want our youth to interact with,” DJJ Director Chuck Supple said. “He is someone who came into prison and took immediate steps to better himself and forge his path to success.
“Reentry begins at intake, and the sooner our youth dedicate themselves to an education and prosperity, the better.”
Wade is the founder and executive director of the Scholastic Interest Group, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that assists young men in economically disadvantaged communities. The nonprofit develops personal development programs and provides students with the skills necessary for college preparation, career readiness, and community service.
Wade has spoken at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and Cal State University San Francisco, but his most powerful messages are delivered to the state’s most vulnerable youth.
Below are some of Wade’s excerpts from the discussion he led at O.H. Close:
On being a young criminal
“I grew up in the 1980s in the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, so I started selling drugs at an early age. By the time I graduated high school, I was being investigated by the FBI.
“I was busted with a gun, and another gun, and another gun, and another gun ― which put me in a situation where once I caught the federal case, I was considered an armed career criminal.
“When I was 21, I was actually indicted by the FBI, and they were seeking a life sentence to federal prison. I left the United States and I stayed on the run for the next seven years. Seven years later, feds arrested me and the first day in court I pled guilty to 15 years.”
On his turning point
“Once I got all that time, I knew I had to change my life.
“I immediately, from the very first day, immersed myself in education. I signed up for every educational class and program they had.
“Twelve years is what I ended up serving and 12 years in federal prison is not easy, being in a prison with 2,000 to 2,500 dudes. I have been to prison in 10 different states and came across every type of personality and every kind of gang member there is ― every kind of Crip and Blood from every kind of neighborhood and every other kind of gangster there is… but I was strategic enough to be able to navigate around the stuff.”
On finding a career path
“I do what I love to do. This is what I do. I go into different institutions and help young folks, try to give them something they can use to make their life a little better.
“The way you measure success is what you do when you get out. Get a job, find something that you want do, something you have a passion for, whether it’s becoming an electrician, a plumber, an artist, a tattoo artist, a dog walker. Get out and stay out.
“When I got out of prison I started a nonprofit, a mentoring program. I mentor young men in my community.
“I read and I studied. I read the newspaper and I read books that people think guys like me shouldn’t read. I read and I studied and I conditioned my body and mind and my spirit so when I left, I felt 10 feet tall, because of the way I went about building myself up.
“You can make the situation work for you.”
On deliberate rehabilitation
“Going to prison changed my life, and when I went to prison, I was very deliberate and very intentional about how I did my time.
“I suddenly wanted to read all day and devote my mind to be the strongest possible muscle that it could possibly be. I didn’t worry about who was a snitch or who had a relationship in prison. That wasn’t my business. My business was my time and getting back to my family.
“A lot of times in these places, we can get caught up in the gossip and different stuff that has nothing to do with us bettering ourselves.”
On not ‘bucking’
“I did 12 years and a decade straight without one write-up, because I was very deliberate about doing my own program. You can’t allow someone to dictate to you how you are going to do your time, because you are ultimately responsible for how you do your time in here.
“I have always been an advocate for respecting staff, because nine out of 10 times, if you respect the staff, they will leave you alone. Ultimately your goal is get out and get back to your family, and you have a unique opportunity, while you are here, to make that happen.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for you to look at this as a bad experience, be negative, want to buck and not program.
“You know how I would buck when I didn’t like counselors and (correctional officers) telling me what to do? I would go to my room and read for 10 hours. I did that for years and years because I knew it would develop my intellect and my mind.”
“We have to take responsibility for ourselves, as a man. I take responsibility for what I’ve done. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but I take responsibility for it.
“If you are doing something you are not supposed to do, you can’t blame nobody else. Ultimately it’s on you.
“This is not something I have read in a book. This is me pleading guilty to 15 years in federal prison. This is me being convicted of firearms offenses on four separate occasions. This is me being shot at by the police. This is my life, and I’m sharing it with you in the hopes you that you would take one little piece from it and learn from it, and better your life.”
On principles of the universe
“You have to be very careful with the energy you surround yourself with when you get out, the people you talk to and the conversations you have.
“You can make your own space healthy, even among a negative environment.
“Get something out of this. Don’t use it as an excuse to get mad and bitter, hate the world. That hate is going to be like a casket and eat you alive.
“I believe there is some sort of principle of the universe you have to adhere to. Develop a way to center yourself and focus. That could be through meditation, basically just staying quiet and getting into your thoughts.”
On visualizing your future
“I still had 10 years left in prison when I started writing down different things I could do to help this population. I knew when I got out, I was going to come to O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (and other institutions).
“Draw your plans. Draw your thoughts. They will manifest themselves.
“Everything I said I would do, I wrote down, and I did it.
“What is your plan? College? Speak that into existence. Start researching what college you want to go to.
You want to be a nurse? Start reading books about nursing. It can happen.
“Auto mechanics? You can do it. Get that information. When you get that job, send some pictures back to inspire others.”
On his book, Pressure: From FBI Fugitive to Freedom
“My book came out June 2017.
“It pretty much details everything that I said to you guys. It’s a little more cinematic and contains a lot more detail. The book is a redemption story.
“It talks about growing up, the certain things that happen in the street and the best part is about how I changed my life.
“It talks about the trauma that I experienced. It talks about depression, spirituality, growing up without a father, certain things that happened while in that lifestyle.
“It talks about me apologizing to the community and about restorative justice.”