Malik was not surprised to find himself charged and incarcerated as an adult at the DC Jail when he was just 16 years old. “I knew by the choices I was making where I was going to end up,” he says. “I had already been locked up in juvenile facilities 13 different times by then.”
Looking back at his childhood in the Rosedale neighborhood of Northeast Washington, DC, Malik says that it wasn’t all bad. “I mean we weren’t the richest in the neighborhood, but we weren’t the poorest either,” he says. He and his siblings played sports in the streets. Malik loved baseball so much, his dream was to play in the major leagues one day. Unfortunately, his neighborhood was plagued by crime. By the time he was 11, Malik began to emulate the behavior of older kids who were running the streets. “I was just being influenced by the wrong people,” he says. In 2011 he was charged with armed robbery and served four years behind bars.
At the DC Jail, Malik immediately joined Free Minds and began attending Book Club sessions. “I knew how to read, but I never read like that before,” he says now. “The first time I came to the Book Club, Tara gave me a young adult novel about two sisters growing up in a neighborhood like mine. I couldn’t stop reading it once I started!” But the author who changed everything for Malik was James Patterson. Every week, Malik would read the book club title in one or two nights, and then ask Free Minds Book Club facilitators for a new James Patterson book. He read so many of them, he eventually lost count, but estimates that during his incarceration he read more than 300 different books.
“Books changed me,” Malik says now. “They took me to other places. When I read, I wasn’t in prison anymore. I was wherever that book was taking place and I loved it.”
When he was released in 2015, Malik says that he was different from when he came in. “I had knowledge because I had become a reader. I was smarter, I had more skills, and I had a better sense of my direction,” he says.
Right away, Malik enrolled in the Free Minds paid Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. “That made me feel like I was more prepared for the real world,” he says. “I learned that just because a job is easy to get and easy to do, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. It’s more important to find a job that is a really good fit. So instead of just doing what seemed easy, I went after a job I really wanted.”
Malik succeeded in his search. For more than a year, he has served as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit organization serving children and families in DC. He loves working with and helping children. He is also taking classes with Sasha Bruce YouthBuild and expects to earn his GED this year. After that, Malik plans to attend college to study music.
In August, Malik won the Attorney General’s Right Direction Award for young people making a positive change in their community.
While he hopes to become a music producer, Malik’s most important and urgent goal is to launch his own nonprofit organization to help other young kids who grew up like himself. “I want to show kids that if you want the better things in life, you’ve got to do the right thing. You can’t get there by doing the wrong thing. You might for a while, but it’s only temporary. It’s never going to last.”
When he looks at how far he’s come, Malik says, “I feel proud of myself now. I know I can do the stuff I need to do and do it the right way.”
Malik loves to read and write poetry. He is one of the poets in the Free Minds literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. Get your copy here!
Looking Out My Cell Window
Looking out my window, I see the sky
Envision me working on the cloud next to nine
Staring at the sun, I see to its core
The fire that burns around it is like a boy
A flame that is angry, pained and sad
Waiting to burn, since the day it was born
Looking out my window, I see the moon
Jumping on the stars, I am not that far
From the cool nice night that a boy wishes he had
He’s bright like the moon, but small as Pluto
He runs through the night on a mission
He jumps over the broom, but is stuck with bad luck
Because he ran into a room, with no way out
Now the only thing he can do
Is watch the days and the nights fly past
Like a bird speeding past on a sunny day