When thinking of someone who was or currently is in prison, they normally are thought of as criminals. Malik Aziz, former inmate of Graterford prison, was in jail for 14 years for drug trafficking and has proved not every prisoner can’t make a change for the better.
Growing up, Aziz was raised in a good neighborhood in Roxborough section of Philadelphia. He became friends with some kids who were not good influences, which got him involved with a gang at a young age. “It was a predominant black housing project and they were affiliated with a gang in North Philadelphia,” Aziz said.
He became a member of the gang and was a leader. “I realized I had leadership responsibility and people would listen to what I had to say,” Aziz said.
It had 300 members. Aziz went into the military still involved in the gang, which almost got him kicked out but he was able to finish. He tried to go to college but his gang activity motivated him more than anything. He made connections with other gangs across the country and began trafficking drugs.
Before going to prison Aziz realized he had made mistakes in his life. He wanted to change his life and come out of the situation using the skills he had to better himself along with others.
When going to prison he did not have any enemies. He read a lot of books and also worked as the librarian at Graterford. There were many inmates who could not read or write and would come to him for help.
“I taught a lot of the men how to read and write,” Aziz said. He wanted to teach them that learning how to read and write can open so many windows of opportunities. Aziz’s motto was, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Another thing Aziz witnessed in prison was injustices. “A lot of times administration manipulate because of the person being in the position they are in,” Aziz said. He saw brutality from beatings to making up lies about the inmates. “Only the strong survive. You have weaker people coming to prison that do not know anybody and aren’t physically fit, that get preyed on.”
These injustices shouldn’t be taken lightly. There is a common misconception that people in prison are terrible people and in some cases that may be true. The fact of the matter is they deserve to be treated fairly.
Aziz spoke out publicly on the rapes and wrongdoings that occured in prison so much that it got the attention of Congress when he was still in prison. “Congress came to Graterford to visit me and get some ideas on what I was talking about,” Aziz said.
Prison rape is deplorable and is something about the system that needs to be addressed. The photography classes have been researching this topic for weeks now and want to educate people on the subject.
In light of this, the students set up a photo exhibit in Founder’s hallway, showing their trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary. There were props and a spooky setting trying to inform students of these wrongdoings. Later in the day, Aziz spoke on his life and what he saw with his own eyes in prison.
“I want no discrimination whether you’re black, white, latino, asian, gay or straight, I want people to realize there is more than just the life you live,” Aziz said. He will continue to be an inspiring story to many and speak out on anti-gang activism.