Portrait

6x8 Portrait is a research project that will explore the impact of mass incarceration on families in the New York City metropolitan area in a way that aims to trigger a national conversation on the topic. 

Tobias Brown, Part 2: Conviction, Prison, Faith

Tobias Brown, Part 2: Conviction, Prison, Faith

On being tried and convicted 

“It was 1995. I actually turned myself in for a crime that I had committed, because the police had caught a few other accomplices who were with me. I heard that they were interrogating them in some really harsh ways. The only way it would stop is if I turned myself in…I made a full confessional to the crime. The process was really long and exhausting—more emotionally exhausting for my family who had to come to court to watch me be sentenced and to hear the sort of case that they had against me.

In November of 1995, I was sentenced to six years in prison on a plea bargain. I was originally looking at 15-30 years as a felon. I was only sixteen years old. 

My public defender told me I had no chance to win this case, because I had a signed confession. So the only thing I could do was plead guilty and get a minimum of six years…

The first two years I was going to do in juvenile detention, and then the last few years I was going to be in adult penitentiary.”

On entering prison 

“I was afraid.  I remember before they sent me upstate, I was told by some random guy on the bus I was riding: ‘Don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t be afraid.’ I took that mindset. When I first went into the system, I was greeted by guys who were part of the gang that I was part of. Usually the way that they flag you is that when you walk into the detention center, there’s a group of guys waiting and they flash up all these gang signs. When you see your gang sign being flashed, you respond back. That’s the way they plug you in the system, so that you have a family—someone to take care of you and give you soap and shampoo and all this other stuff if you need it. If you didn’t have anyone sending you these things, that’s what the gangs were for.”

On coming to faith

“I was in solitary confinement because of a riot that I was a part of. When I was in solitary confinement, there was a Catholic priest who was walking up the galleries, and he gave me this Bible to read. As I was reading the Bible, there was a connection between the Jesus that I grew up listening to and hearing about and the sort of words I was hearing on the pages of this book. It was the first time the Bible came alive for me and to me. It was almost as if I was encountering the tangible presence of Christ in my jail cell.

My life changed. There was peace; there was joy. I used to have a lot of nightmares and a lot of fears and a lot of guilt from some of the things that I’ve done and from some of the people that I’ve hurt. And there was a sense of freedom that I no longer needed to carry that and that I was forgiven—that God was with me. And not only was He with me, but He was with me all along. His presence was with me all along. 

It was in solitary confinement that I really made a commitment to follow Christ…I knew it was God speaking, and I knew it was time to release to Him all of my fears, all of my guilt. I found freedom there.”

Tobias Brown, Part 3: Leaving, Reintegrating, and Rebuilding His Life

Tobias Brown, Part 3: Leaving, Reintegrating, and Rebuilding His Life

Tobias Brown, Part 1: Growing up in Chicago, Blackstone, and the Criminal-Justice System.

Tobias Brown, Part 1: Growing up in Chicago, Blackstone, and the Criminal-Justice System.