Cover 10Blackberry Juice

by Ralph C Hamm III




(Paperback 6 x 9, $14.95, 192 pages)


Fundraising Events:

Please use this price point for bulk purchases of 20-50 books. For quantities greater than this and to coordinate publicity, please contact the publishers, Michael Linnard or Russ Carmichael, via our contact page or the facebook page. 





Blackberry Juice is an impressive collection of short stories, essays, poetry, and a full length play, from a remarkable man who has spent the greater part of his life in prison. It contains a wide range of his writing styles and subject matter that not only attest to his talent as a writer but also to his insight, vision, and intellect as a leader of stature in the prison reform movement and the black community in general. It is powerful book, not a palliative full of mellifluous words attempting to soften the implications of the harsh truths of racism in the justice system, too often ignored or simply dismissed as the work of an “angry black man,” merely playing the “race card,” rather it is a clear-eyed, analytical exposé, by a gifted writer, of the realities and implications of racism for one prisoner who is in need of justice.


INTRODUCTION

“Lighting is flashing outside the windows, and a torrent of rain falls. It is about midnight and everyone has quit,as they always do during a hunger strike. It is my time to stretch out and relax. I’ve lead these prisoners, all 755, to raise their voices in peaceful protest against the Massachusetts Prison System. I am their leader, their representative, the designated Champ Chairman. In the dark silence I pray none of us gets hurt.”

                                                                          (Father Russell Carmichael, Founder NPRA)

How many years has it been? How long and hard a struggle? It did not start out that way. Like all prisoners I was sentenced for wrongdoing. I deserved to go to prison for the crimes I committed. Nevertheless, three years into my sentence the treatment I received, or lack of it, turned me into a victim. Something was wrong and I was not one to stay “quit” and not do something about my condition. 

I had an advantage over other prisoner’s. I was a leader who had a very powerful group of followers. I was somewhat educated, came from a solid family and had political connections. The prison administrators just wanted me to shut up, do my time and get out quietly. It was not meant to happen.

In the late 1960s, in the jails and prisons of Massachusetts, members of my own crew, and other convicted prisoners, were beginning to become educated and recruited to form peaceful united groups to protest and rebel against an oppressively unfair prison system that made victims out of sentenced criminals.

Ralph Hamm III, was one of those recruits: a young teenager of Seventeen, sentenced to natural life. By the time I was introduced to Ralph he had already come under the wing of my associate, Robert Dellelo, another of our prison leaders, and a part of our greater coalition of activism. Along with my partner, Arnie Coles, we introduced Ralph to the struggles of the political prisoner, molding him through education and the unity of camaraderie into a warrior for our civil rights struggle. Little did we know then, how far and how articulate he would carry our struggle. My love for Ralph Hamm is united with the love for Dave Collins, Stanley Jones, Arnie, though passed on, lives in our hearts and minds, with dedication and loyalty that is only molded in men who fight in foxholes together, we covered each others back from harms way; no words can adequately describe nor explain that life time bond.

Our vision carries on through Ralph and his work; though we left him in the cage, in the “Belly of the Beast,” he carried on from the New England Prisoners Association to our dream of the first Prisoners Union in the Country (NPRA) hope is carried on through, Ralph Hamm III, my brother warrior.

This book of poetry, short stories, a play, and essays, is his story—our story—in which he articulates the pain of suffering like few can. He is a tall, strong, black leader. He is a Stokely Carmichael, a Malcolm X and a Cornel West all rolled up into one. Members of the Massachusetts parole board described his writing as “angry.” One past chairman of the board actually told him to “die in prison.” I see no anger in Ralph’s writing, deep frustration most certainly yes; in fact I wonder how any black man, brought up in the most oppressive society, as it relates to its justice system and one of undying racism, could not be angry or frustrated. My white privilege allowed me to leave my friend behind for the last forty-seven years. I pray he will be released, be free; he did not kill anyone; it is a fact that older men, involved in his crime, used him as the scapegoat; a kid to be used and then thrown away.

I sometimes wonder how much our influence lead to Ralph having to serve our time, as retribution or payment to the oppressive prison system for our being the kind of fools who faced Caesar and his starving lions. As Jack Henry Abbott would say: all we had to do was walk away, do our time, retract a statement, and suppress the “‘fuck you’ to Caesar.” Knowing full well the consequences, we were and remain men that just could not do that.

I have been a leader in the Prison reform movement now for over fifty years. I do not stop. Ralph does not stop. The phrase, often spoken by all of us in prison reform, for as long as I can remember and still stands: “While one is chained, I am not free.” Few men in our country have borne the lash of the Justice System like Ralph C Hamm III. It is a story that needs to be told. Listen to his words. Feel the bars that hold his voice.

Father Russell Carmichael 

New London, CT 2015