… hardscrabble was the Game I was on the frontline playing before landing in prison as a result of it. Like so many who came before me I had to learn the hard-knocks and ups-and-downs. My first lesson was to recognize the Rules of the Game were scripted by some stupid muthafucka who idolized the wealth of Trump and P. Diddy then foolishly attempted to connect the dots between his world and the one he entertained after down-loading “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” I was that stupid muthafucka!

When the ignorance of this down-load eventually ran into prison’s brick wall, thereafter, a seasoned vet directed me to picture the world through the eyes of my idols success. I couldn’t. For I quickly came to realize the need to be real with myself and recognize the circle I was running with was not exposing me to those means necessary to obtain the level of success my idols had achieved. Here, I was forced to reckon with the fact that I had paid more attention to the “Glitter & Gold” instead of how they had achieved it. Specially, how the institutions of higher learning had played a vital role in making them better exploiters of human and social capital. This was what the institutions of higher learning had allowed for them. It allowed for them to dissect the intricacies of America’s capitalist system to enable their material fortunes.

It wasn’t until I found myself facing capital murder charges for killing Conan that I discovered this value-that is, the value of education (n.b., “knowledge”) and how it opens doors. My world had shrunk to a 20′ x 15′ space with five other prisoners ever in my company. We were forced to share one sink, shower, and toilet. Never had I realized what grand surprises fresh air and sunlight were until having been deprived of them those 23 months I fought for my life. No commissary, TV, radio, or yard this was the program-24/7 cell program. Hard time for real! And they starved us so. What we ate for lunch was reheated for dinner. And on the two occasions we saw a chicken leg over that span of time, a couple ole boys came up short. And I was no impressive threat standing at 5’8″ and then 135 lbs. Yet those conditions had made me savage inside as if a puppy caged and starved then constantly irritated so as to intentionally make vicious. The fear I harbored walking in would in time evaporate. Moreover, I came to understand why it was the so-called friend I just so happened to be charged with killing was so savage. He had been a regular in that hellhole spending up to eight to ten months of each year of his short life trapped and shackled like a slave.

When I look back on that experience, it’s as if I’m looking at someone else’s life or a scene from an old prison movie where the guards (and they did) rack the door in the wee hours of the morning to sick another rabid pup on the unsuspecting. Though, I was primed for the get-down when it happened. For I had long learned to sleep with one eye open with my steel ready.

Bored, I was forced to pick up a book. Reading had never been my joy. Yet I sure discovered an escape in doing so while incarcerated and subsequently improved my ability at the same time. For in my “reading world” there was no cage, no long hungry nights, no misery or loneliness. Reading became like eating for me. Since, I’ve done it daily and consumed the best. Unfortunately, there was not much to select from in that Barney Fife hellhole called the Seminole County Jail. Nevertheless, I read every shit-kicker they had on the shelf. During this time I acquired an interest for the African history my racist school administrators had denied me. My aunt, who lived in Oakland, California, had paid me a visit and dropped several history books on me. She would also suggest that I move to the West Coast “if” and when I got out.

Those books were a revelation to me and a testimony to the great empires of Africa I had been made oblivious to during my formal years of (mis)education. Often, thereafter having read them I thought about had I been taught the rich history of Kings and Queens in Africa and the great African civilizations that gave life to modern science, mathematics, etc., during those former years of school, I just might have had paid more attention and most definitely would have had more self-respect and dignity to hold my head high in an environment plagued by bigotry. Needless to say, when I eventually moved to California I further enriched my conscious with a few courses of African history while attending college. These experiences would open my eyes to what Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) had written in his book The Miseducation of the Negro: “If you want to keep something hidden from the Negro put it between the covers of a book.”

As I sharpened my tools, an epiphany for the value of education would come during this troubling time while preparing for the death penalty trial. When the “Dream Team,” as the father and son team of attorneys were aptly named, took over my case the situation had long before their appointment been disparaging. I had ran through five other attorneys (firing some, some withdrawing). Dealing with the public pretenders and an initial money hungry, good for nothing attorney out of OKC named Ervin Box, who was a renowned legal analyst reputed for his coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, had forced me to do my homework. Even here I ran into roadblocks because the county jail and court officials refused to allow any prisoner law library access. So I had to have information smuggled in. Fortunately, I was able to gain some insights regarding the legal process. Though, I make no attempt to claim I became seasoned in something (the law) that’s ever changing. In this particular case, however, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to put one and two together. And this was exactly what I did with serendipity for my attorneys by simply reading a book.

Now I’m not trying to steal the show here. I’m confident the Dream Team would have done an excellent job deciphering and discrediting the state of evidence against me. And they did. Yet the fact remains that during that nineteen-month period that I had been firing attorneys left-and right, I had composed a summary of notes covering every stitch of the state’s case-pointing to its deficiencies. At pretrial my attorneys argued some thirty or more motions and ninety-five percent of them were granted. When Jack Jr., who had never tried a murder case, took to the lectern under the direction of pops, I then had the epiphany of the value of education due to the fact that just about every entry I had presented in that binder of notes was used during the course of my trial. Notably, there were insights I had gained from reading a forensic science book that detailed the modalities of firearms and thus allowed for my attorneys to undermine state witness testimony-the ballistics did not match their testimony. The end result of the trial further validated the epiphany-KNOWLEDGE KEPT ME OFF DEATH ROW!!!

IN JUST FOUR MONTHS we had put together a defense and presented it to a jury where each-and-every one of those white jurors had declared their willingness to lethally inject upon a finding of guilt. Fortunately, it was never delivered. Hung nine to three in my favor to acquit in self-defense, the now twenty-three year-old kid would unknowingly trade his innocence for the compromise which had been based on misinformation. At the time I agreed to the deal my attorneys had been told that the favor was not for the defense. So the deal was most appealing. Especially, since it was nothing more than a turnaround at the prison reception center to freedom within months. Never would I have imagined in taking that sweet appearing deal that it would be something that I’d live to regret. Nor would I in my wildest dreams ever believed, had God himself told me, I would find myself back under the gun of another capital murder case. I’d have called God a fool. But turns out I was the fool for not changing the way I viewed the Game which allowed for me to continue to entertain the vultures and the rats.

In total, it would be thirty-six months of a life changing experience. Eleven months prior to this my then wife had blessed me with a Queen whose birth had initiated the notion of change. The idea of my shortie looking up to a father who was a drug-dealer was not ideal to me. Indeed, her birth was transformative in many ways as it inspired me to focus on my education and legitimate business opportunities that would afford me the kind of money I had had grown accustom to from selling dope. Up until this point of my life my activities had appeared to make a way out of no way in a racist environment where legitimate opportunities to make Dope-Boy Magic seemed to only present themselves to white folk who owned everything and practiced keeping the wealth in the circle except when they wanted to take a blast.  After the trial, my journey to the free world would take a short spin through a medium security prison in Cushion, Oklahoma. Here, I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of an elder who had fared beyond well in the Dope-Game. He had been transferred to the state pen after a short stint in the feds related to a drug seizure in Columbia. Eventually we would become cellies and the O.G. would lace me with some real “G” (i.e., Game!). Up until meeting him, he was what I aspired to be-A BIG TIME DRUG DEALER. However, his life story would further inspire me to pursue another career. In short, his story went like this: Twenty years ago (1977) he owned a small janitorial service in Inglewood, California; had received a contract for $250,000; bought several kilos pure cocaine and never looked back until his current pinch (55 years state). His situation, we observed, was he may well die in prison from his twenty years of hustling that in the end would account for nothing more than a slow death in a 6′ x 12′ coffin and a phat commissary account. He would often sigh in great distress: “If I could only give all I have, all I’ve made ($$$) for my freedom. I’d walk out of here ass-hole naked and broke and wouldn’t think twice about showing the world my naked ass.”

He would ever encourage me to pursue a legitimate business and what mother always wanted-for me to go to college. “College!” For what? I used to think when she would say: “Son, I didn’t raise you to become a drug-dealer, go to college….” My response to this would often be: “What cha mean YOU DIDN’T RAISE ME… Hello, we broke and you like to smoke coke, which draws the neighborhood Nino Browns to the porch like flies on stench come the first and 15th. Yeah, you kept me in school with the encouragement of an ass whippin’ when bad grades hit the mailbox, and I love ya for that. But Momma pleeease! Come on now! You knew I had that Williams and greedy white man’s blood running through my veins. Hustling was in my DNA! And I’m stacking money like logos off the block! College? Yeah Right! So I can learn some more about useless facts that aren’t putting bread and butter on the table or Nikes on my sisters’ feet?” Having ran this down to O.G., he would drive mother’s point home by stating: “How you go seriously entertain having Trump change and not know anything about accounting for your money to the IRS, business law, economics, and other money related ‘G’? You know how to hustle and get block money. But you gotta learn how to make money make money beyond investing in dope. When I was your age, had I invested the kind of time and resources in my janitorial company as I did moving weight from country-to-country, state-to-state, I’d be sitting on top of a multi-million dollar company instead of this bunk giving my hustle stacks back to the man!” What he said came down on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. It was a powerful message. One that I immediately recognized by not only taking heed to his situation, but also the “G” he was lacing me with being real talk. What I did not realize at the time, however, and I’m sure both he and my mother had good intentions, was the fact that what they had put to me with this whole college thing was in all actuality learning to become a better exploiter of the resources before me. I was blind to this fact and it would take me years thereafter to come to such a conclusion.

In the mean time, along the way to discharging my prison term, I picked up the pieces and direction to what I believed at the time I needed to further my insights and carry me during those challenging times change would bring. One route I stumbled into that would ever change my outlook on life and what I could achieve if I put my mind to it was a Zig Ziggler motivational course. Initially, when I enrolled my objective was simply to get thirty days knocked off my sentence for partaking in rehabilitative programs offered by the administration. Never would I have realized the impact this program would have in carrying me during those hard times while in transition. Thereafter my release, I came to understand the challenges I had to face, to which I embraced with open arms, were only temporary adjustments required to get me where and what I wanted out of life. Often I trip on how, during this time, I went from ‘hood rich to financial aid and public transportation by choice not fretting the ride on my beach-cruiser and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to-and-fro from Los Medanos Community College in the ‘burg and Laney College in Oakland. I was learning that exploiter’s Game that Momma and O.G. had put me up on (accounting, business law, economics, international business, etc.).  Awarded, I received praises from instructors, deans and family. Imagine that, an ex-con who was pushed through high school with a 1.5 GPA was now in college maintaining a 3.75 GPA and recipient to an academic scholarship. Moreover, like I told one of my instructors, I wasn’t there (college) to receive a piece of paper (a degree) to become an “educated servant.” I was there to get that “G” to empower my family and dreams.  Where I once had blinders on my eyes as to the importance of education and how it was so necessary to fuel my dreams, a capital murder trial and prison experience had removed them. These events, along with the responsibility of being a father, had assisted to change my world view. Thereafter, having found myself in the college world, I began unraveling the exploiter’s Game and was receiving what we call on the streets “boss game.” However, I must admit that my Grandpa Willis had done an excellent job lacing me with the hands-on aspects of business I chose to major in and further study. Of course my escapades in the Dope-Game had also assisted with this. Moreover, having acknowledged these experiences would later in my life pursuit of wisdom and knowledge serve to caution me as to the danger of simply taking lessons from a sterile classroom setting. I would discover there was a danger, a certain naiveté to simply learning in a college setting. Nevertheless, these experiences collectively allowed for me to peep into the window of my idols success with real expectations fueled by education and experience enough to succeed at the exploiter’s Game. No longer did I simply hold to those miscalculations of the dope-sack and its peril to my future. I had found a way to feed my family and dreams without having to take penitentiary chances that I at one time I was so adamant to believe was the only way. I was relieved at having made this discovery to say the least after spending countless nights on my knees asking the Creator to keep my family and I safe as I trended through the shadows of the valley of death.

There was yet another more significant change that I would undergo as a result of this near death experience-I lost my fear of death! The experience had forced me to make the ultimate wager with my life on the line. Stirring death in the face, my heart was willing to make this wager. The stakes were certainly high. It was a “Give Me Free!” moment-life or death! The D.A. was granted a death warrant by the State of Oklahoma. The day it was served on me was the day I came to realize I was not faint at heart as a many of my childhood friends would tease. Ironically, I looked on this death warrant as if a challenge. Instead of cowering and accepting compromise, I chose to be “judge by twelve instead of carried by six.”  The challenges and outcome of this trial had assisted to boost my confidence unlike anything I’d experienced. Sure I was successful in my own rite in other endeavors; looked upon as an O.G. at sixteen years of age; and by age twenty had more money than I legally was supposed to have. But with this trial I had looked death in the face and not only found I was fearless, but willing to die for what I believed in. I was unyielding and determined in face of such stakes; I won at all costs and arrived in California a change man; a confident man; a focused man. The prose of Du Bois had swept over me:

With all this came the strengthening and hardening of my character. The billows of birth, love, and death swept over me. I saw life through all its paradox and contradiction of streaming eyes and mad merriment. I emerged into full manhood, with the ruins of some ideals about me, but with others planted above the stars; scarred and a bit grim, but hugging to my soul the divine gift of laughter and withal determined, even unto stubbornness, to fight the good fight….   – W.E.B. DuBois

Over 4,500 people have tuned in to hear this interview of incarcerated author Ivan Kilgore discussing what inspired him to write his recently published book Domestic Genocide: The Institutionalization of Society.


Click on the links below and hear some truth talkin’.

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Domestic Genocide The Institutionalization of Soc…:

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Friend Ivan on You can contact him directly at:
California State Prison Sacramento,
Ivan Kilgore, No. V31306,
FB2-118, P.O. Box 290066, Represa, Ca 95671.


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