Author’s Note: Some of the information in this article could not be independently verified
Life has never been easy for 62-year-old Talib Akbar. Born in Mississippi (town unspecified), he was the youngest child in a family on the run from an abusive stepfather. They made their way to Arkansas, where he would spend most of his teen years. This is also where Akbar would do his first prison stint. Akbar did not specify what his crimes here were, but he did state they were non-violent crimes. He also claims to have done another stint in Iowa, also non-violent.
It was in 1986 that he first moved to Wisconsin. He and a friend moved to Green Bay to start a boxing club. His friend ended up gaining some traction and competing at a higher level, while Akbar stayed back to run the club. But for Akbar, it was in Wisconsin where his life would be permanently changed.
Nine years later, in 1995, Akbar was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault, after a patient at the facility he was working at reported him. His trial was peculiar to say the least. He said he knew the moment he lost. “My attorney told me, ‘They want you,’” he said. His attorney subsequently quit.
After his attorney left him, he was forced to represent himself. Akbar said the jury would not allow him to present evidence that could have potentially exonerated him. Akbar would then be convicted of two counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 10 years.
“I’ve never been a violent man my entire life,” said Akbar. “You ask anyone who knows me, I’m innocent of this crime.” While Akbar maintains his innocence, he also tries to maintain a positive attitude towards life. “That was just a chapter of my life,” he said. Akbar does not want to focus on what happened to land him in jail, so he has diverted his attention to prison reform. He says the horrors he has seen behind bars were enough to chill anyone to the bone.
Since being released, his life has focused on prison reform. He recalled a memory from part of his time done in Kettle Moraine, a town in southeastern Wisconsin, is also home to a prison facility. He remembered it was February, and another inmate was having convulsions. Having been trained in CPR, he tried to help. According to Akbar, he was then ordered back to his cell by a correctional officer, where he watched his fellow inmate die on the floor of the jail. “His name was Gilman, he was getting out in April,” explained Akbar. He claimed that once the officers arrived, it took them nearly half an hour to call the medical professionals.
While in prison, Akbar was subject to abuse himself. He claims that, while once being taken to the infirmary for an illness, the correctional officer groped him non-consensually. Akbar has also done multiple stints in solitary confinement, which has become the centerpiece of his activism. While in solitary confinement, he sketched the makeup of his cell; a group in Madison built the cell based on his sketch and has been touring around the state trying to expose the corruption within the Wisconsin correctional system, which made a stop at Beloit College in the fall of 2015. He says the corruption extends to much higher levels. He said some of the guards would often distribute the wrong medication to inmates. Whether or not the guards purposefully and maliciously distributed the wrong medication, or it was just negligence, Akbar stated that it needs to be changed.
While he was behind bars, he decided to put his time to good use. He has since become a paralegal, giving him a far better understanding of the legal system. Akbar hopes to use these skills to truly expose corruption in the system. In 1999, he tried to amend his sentence because he claimed that his sentence was extended without his knowledge. His sentence was changed from concurrent to consecutive without notifying him. His motion was denied, claiming the error did not lengthen his sentence and was a simple clerical error.
He also claims that the detective who investigated his case (name not given) had already decided his guilt, and overlooked evidence that could have potentially freed him. He had another friend who was investigated by the same detective during an appeal to be let out on parole. One of the last things his friend ever said to him was “I can’t go back to jail.” After an investigation by this detective, his friend committed suicide.
Akbar’s time in prison was, in his words, just a chapter of his life. He has many years ahead of him, during which he hopes to take time to continue to inform people about prison reform, to tell his stories and to enlighten people as to what’s really going on behind bars. “When you walk into prison, you lost control of all facets [of] life,” he says. That’s something he wants to change.
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