From The Book: The Syllabus of Malcolm X, by Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed


“They say,[the] best men are molded out of faults…”[1]

The scope of this book is limited to what Malcolm X learned, how he learned, and the prisons in which his learning began. Moreover, it deals with what Malcolm X passed on to us. He passed on to us a very valuable gift. He left us his syllabus. A syllabus is a summary of a course of study. If those of us who are incarcerated follow the syllabus of Malcolm X we can bring about the greatest cultural reversal in the history of humankind.  The fact is that if African American males and females who are incarcerated and who have been incarcerated in the past can make a change in their moral and vocational orientations the African American culture can be reinvented and it can thrive.

Malcolm X had to make some serious decisions in prison. As we face the challenges of the 21st century, all of us will have to make important decisions, too. The stakes have never been higher. Our decisions will involve matters of life and death. But we need not travel blindly on the road ahead. We do have a crystal ball full of numbers.  Look at the numbers and see what they describe. The many problems facing African Americans in the United States are becoming less and less significant each passing day in relation to global climatic, economic, and geopolitical changes taking place today. Even our numbers are beginning to dwindle as the African American baby boom population ages, retire from the active population, and finally die out by 2050. The percentage of Africans Americans in the United States today stands at about 15%. But that percentage will dwindle to below 7% by the start of the 22nd century and maybe sooner if we do not address a broad range of problems besetting us and begin with all haste to make decisions which are in our best interests.  We should not doubt that the tendency to corruption will increase. Outside of us there will be no help.   We have only each other.

For some folks cultural change may not matter, but I think it mattered to Malcolm X and it matters to me.  It matters to me because I perceive yet another method of genocide, albeit soft genocide, being practiced on African Americans. I also see environmental circumstances have changed. Today, soft genocide is not being practiced in a nation of plenty but rather in a global environment with an ever decreasing carrying capacity to support over 7 soon to be over 8 billion human beings. Running in opposite direction to the decreasing carrying capacity of our planet are the increasing demands for food, water, and shelter that are being made on it by billions of people throughout the world. African American survival in the United States over the next one hundred years will depend on whether or not the millions of African Americans incarcerated and with felony records can make moral and vocational changes in their lives.

There is nothing more important than cultural survival. Malcolm X wanted to contribute to the growth of a more functional African American culture. He understood the premise that dysfunctional cultures don’t survive in the face of overwhelming challenges. His studies of history demonstrated to him that the archeological remains of past cultures are evidence of that fact. He also understood that even though the civil rights movement was and is driven by the belief that there is nothing more important than cultural survival the fact that it operates within a narrowly defined range of interests limited to expanding the range of constitutional rights to non-Caucasian Americans makes the civil rights movement a top down effort rather than a bottom up or grass root effort. That is because all political rights expressed through law originate within the collective sentiment of a people; their fears in the face of challenges and their love for one another which bond them are rationalized into sound institutions like the family. This leads us to an indubitable fact, change begins within each person and political rights follow necessarily when enough people feel that their dignity and worth as a people must necessarily be reflected back on them as tradition and law. That is grass root change. If their sentiments turn on their mutual respect for and love for one another then it triggers cultural and social movement which becomes legally constructive.

The subject of this book is about our total ethnic survival and the means by which we can effectuate our ethnic survival. Legal changes, from the top down, before there is a change in the collective sentiment of a people result in what we see today.  Open schools but students who walk away from free and open education because they have closed minds. An integrated society but with a large segment of the population who do not have the wisdom rooted in long established tradition to first and foremost be monetarily responsible for their needs. Therefore, it should be of paramount interest to us all how Malcolm X changed his life. My examination of the life of Malcolm X reveals a way for those incarcerated, on parole, and those who have been incarcerated to make changes in their personal lives and to make such changes in a relatively short period of time. Malcolm figured this out. It dawned on him that he couldn’t continue living his criminal life because in fact that life style was killing him from within and outwardly. What he figured out while in prison may be summarized this way: don’t serve time, let time serve you. He also realized another fact. He realized that time can run out for individuals and whole groups of people.  Sometimes it can be too late for change. That may happen no matter the age and no matter what gender.

Age, gender, and education level are related to your incarceration but it is not necessarily a cause of your incarceration.  You also made illogical choices. You need to know that. If you are a young African American and or Hispanic it is more probable that you will become incarcerated. Malcolm X was 20 years old when he was sentenced to prison. You, too, are probably a young male but you are also more likely to be a young female. Nationally, there were approximately 250,000 persons incarcerated in 1946. The chances, then, were less that you would go to prison because even though most African Americans were dirt poor during the depression of the 1930s they had strong and more uniform cultural bonds and lived in rural areas.

As of 2012, there are over 2,500,000 persons incarcerated in prisons in the United States. Today, the chances for incarceration are greater for African Americans because cultural bonds are weak and most youth live in urban areas.  Over 800,000 persons in prison are African American and the majority of them are young people. Of all 18 to 64 year old African Americans, 1 in 12 are in local, state and federal institutions and of those, 33% of the 20 to 34 year olds are high school drop outs.  Malcolm X couldn’t foresee the relation of age, gender, and social dysfunction leading to his incarceration. But if he had been able to foresee that relation Malcolm could have reduced the chances of his incarceration by changing his life-style; but remember, Malcolm was a prisoner of his mindset.  You will need to change your mind in order to change your life-style.  Otherwise you will become subject to the criminal justice system for the rest of your life.

Penal law, in 1946, was repressive when Malcolm X was sentenced to serve time. As a rule prisoners did ‘hard time’.  The prison ‘chain gangs’ were the norm throughout the nation. Nor did prisoners have Constitutional rights they have today. Chapter 10 and 11 in the Autobiography of Malcolm X distinguished the living conditions that Malcolm X had to contend with in the Charlestown State Prison versus the Norfolk Prison Colony. Prisoners did not have a legal right to books, freedom of religious practice, and access to law libraries in 1946. This was the legal reality in all state and federal prisons.  Any opportunity for a convict to learn above and beyond what was available to him or she in a prison library was a purely gratuitous act by the prison officials and could be arbitrarily taken from them. So, Malcolm was sentenced to serve time; he was not sentenced to change himself for the better.  Somehow though Malcolm X figured out how to convert the passage of time from a subversive dimension so that in effect he was no longer under the sentence of time but was in effect liberated from it.  Malcolm X found a way out of prison.  You can find a way out of prison, too.

Yes, legal rights in prisons for African Americans are different today than what they were in 1946.  That is so because state and federal laws were repressive in relation to African Americans in 1946. Today, however, state and federal laws are more permissive in relation to African Americans generally and in prisons. Nevertheless, one of the repressive legal conditions expressed as a clause in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes it constitutional to enslave all those convicted of a felony. That law did exist in 1946 and has today grown unfettered from the chain gang system in the state of Mississippi and other states to such a national extent that it has eroded the very fabric of African American neighborhoods across the nation, today. Secondly, the vast majority of convicts do not have the academic skills when they enter prison to access rehabilitative programs if they exist and in the vast majority of state prisons rehabilitative programs do not exist. So, the system makes slaves, it does not give them the means to free themselves. It falls upon you as it fell upon Malcolm X to rehabilitate yourself.  Your communities and neighborhoods depend upon you.

Your communities have become internal colonies in relation to federal, state, and private prisons; your communities provide to those prisons one resource. That one resource which prisons harvest from the African American community is human bodies. Even though the expressed intent of the criminal justice system in relation to the African American community is to protect and serve society there is another side. The growth of the prison industry has the collateral effect of human exploitation for capital gain in the form of private prisons and other businesses which contract with all prisons and jails. This is called the prison industrial complex. If you think about it and do the analysis you’ll find that the incarceration of African Americans is a rushing revenue river flowing from the African American community to state and private bank accounts. In California, that amounts to approximately 3.9 billion dollars per year for the 39% of the state prison population who are African American.[2] It is a new form of slavery. You are on a plantation whether in prison or in the hood.  You are exploited economically as a slave.

The growth of the prison system cannot be stopped short of state or federal bankruptcy because of the 74 billion dollar per year revenue stream to federal, state, and corporate interests to maintain and grow it. So, what the study of Malcolm X provides us with is how the power of individuals within the prison system can change themselves and by changing themselves they can save their families and bring down the prison system simultaneously. It really is that simple. All one need to be is motivated to change and then act to change one’s life-style. Malcolm X says that while he was in the Charleston State Prison he became motivated to learn and to not just learn partially but to learn in the fullest sense of the word.













[1] Measure for Measure, Act 5, by William Shakespeare, Bracket mine

[2] It is predicted that that percentage will rise nationally to 65% by 2030!


© Copyright 2013 Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed, All rights Reserved. Written For: Earth Colony

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