In 2001, rapper Chi Ali was arrested for the shooting death of his girlfriend’s brother, Sean Raymond. He spent a year evading police and even appeared on an episode of America’s Most Wanted.
He ended up doing 12 years in prison for the violent crime and has turned his life around. He earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science while serving his time and is now an activist. He’s most passionate about combating and eradicating solitary confinement.
Ali says: “Solitary confinement is prison on top of prison. You can say it’s awful, and it is. Solitary confinement and prison, too, they’re awful, but until you experience it, it’s only words.”
He continues, “It’s definitely a tool used to break individuals.”
Ali is now using his prison experience to become a voice for the voiceless. He believes that prisons use solitary confinement as a practice because it generates money: “Inmates are charged when they get an infraction. They open new jails, and they then need more employees. It’s all big business.”
Just because he’s against solitary confinement, however, doesn’t mean he’s against prisoners being punished for doing wrong. “Some people are savages and not fit for society or regular prison, so you do have to do something with them. There’s some animals out there. I don’t want them around me, and I’m a street kind of guy. I’m not saying that individuals don’t need to be dealt with to keep law and order. I don’t think putting someone in an empty room is addressing those issues.”
When The Root sat down with Ali, he was candid about his experience on the inside. He told us stories of a friend who was in solitary for a length of time, and he’d scream to keep from hearing the deafening silence. Ali says that those screams became his friend’s reality. He also told us about the time he was given 90 days in solitary confinement and how it was the loneliest time of his life.
On Tuesday, April 12, in Albany, N.Y., Ali is joining fellow hip-hop artists Ahmen, Peter Gunz, Mysonne Linen and DJ Kay Slay, as well as activists including Ricky Jones (of the Harlem Restoration Project) and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (of the Hip Hop Caucus), for Hip Hop 4 Human Rights, a rally-concert dedicated to ending solitary confinement in New York and promoting positive changes in the justice system.
The event is co-sponsored by our sister network Fusion and Univision’s new music vertical TrackRecord. The Root will be in attendance, sharing the experience with you on social media. Follow along with us with the hashtag #CallingAllVoices. We’ll see you there!