There is horse culture is my blood. My grandfather was a former member of the Federation of Black Cowboys in Harlem, New York, but I haven’t been on a horse since I was about six years old. Covering this story made me reflect on my grandfather’s life and his passion for cowboy culture.
As soon as I saw the sign “Arizona State Prison Complex Florence,” my heart sank.
This was my first time in a prison. The thought of the seeing men locked up behind bars and prison guards toting guns made me anxious, but once I got to the horse stables, that feeling changed: I saw inmates cleaning the pens, petting the animals and grabbing saddles to ride the horses. I felt calm, and I kicked into reporter mode and began capturing the sounds of horses chewing hay, neighing and men walking on muddy pathways.
I met Dashonate Abdul-Wakil – the protagonist of my story. He walked out to the round pen and greeted me with a smile. I asked him to tell me his story – how he ended up in prison – and he shared it.
He was a former gang member, but didn’t tell me which one. That was off limits. And I didn’t ask too many details of the crime he had committed that landed him in prison. Abdul-Wakil served 17 years for second-degree murder. Although his past was bleak, he said he was optimistic that he’s not going back to his old ways upon release. And after being in the horse program for over a year, he has plans to buy a horse when he gets his freedom. Check out Abdul-Wakil’s complete story of how he found the wild horse program.
Transcribing my story took me awhile, but my mentor Tristan Ahtone introduced me to software that allowed the process to go a lot faster. After transcribing the story details, Tristan challenged me to come up with themes that came up in the interview and group those ideas into chunks of dialogue to organize the script. Even though I knew I couldn’t fit everything in the story, it did hurt that some information was removed.
I have been out of my comfort zone this whole week. I’m 27, married with children, but this week, I grew up. My experience in Arizona put me in uncomfortable situations, made me think critically, and forced me to be humble. I’m grateful for the people I was surrounded by who taught me so much about myself. I’ve met some really interesting people in the program. Ericka Guevarra does intercollegiate speech and debate in San Francisco. Maggie Freleng did an internship for the same station as me. She has two cats; I have two children – it’s like the same thing. Abhilasha (Abby) Madan is a part of an interesting housing co-op in California. And Tristan travels to various states covering Indian country. Cheryl Devall shared some journalism industry wisdom. I will never forget the conversations, interesting foods and laughs we shared. The Next Gen Radio, powered by KJZZ, training just elevated my confidence to a new level.
It feels strange to me that I’m free to tell Abdul-Wakil’s story, but he’s still locked up. My hope is that his story is shared by many people and they see him as a real human being: a man who made a lot of mistakes, but found redemption through his work with wild horses.
I will never forget Abdul-Wakil. Meeting him made me think of Willie “Bitter Creek” Malone–my maternal grandfather. The man I knew for six short months, but left the biggest impression on my life. I dedicate this story to you, Pop Pop. Love, Trenae.