‘I will not be broken’

More Than Our Crimes
5 min readFeb 10, 2021

The search for meaning behind bars

Note from Pam Bailey: I recently interviewed Colie Levar Long, originally sentenced to life when he was 18. He now has served 25 years. The following is the story of his “change point” — when, despite conditions designed to break, rather than rehabilitate, he found his purpose.

My struggle is self-induced. My struggle is a way of life. My struggle is a source of solace. My struggle is filled with strife.

My struggle gives me strength. My struggle aches me to the bone. My struggle is the struggle of a million faceless men. My struggle is the reason why I’m alone.

My struggle is a light within this dismal crypt. My struggle is a revolution of the mind. My struggle is a quest of self-discovery. Yet I struggle with the revelations I find.

My struggle is a cry for acceptance. My struggle for recognition is why I fight. My struggle is a testimony to my very existence, for those who struggle understand my plight.

My struggle is divine in nature. My struggle justifies my pain. My struggle was inherited from a stolen people who knew my struggle would not be in vain.
— Colie Levar Long

It was in 2003. I had been in prison for about seven years and was sent to the hole [solitary confinement] for 27 months. One of the others with me was a guy from Chicago, a Gangster Disciple (street gang). We called him Strong because he was a real athletic dude; I mean he was really ripped: 5’10” and all muscle.

One day, I would say about three months in, I woke up and I hear this sound; it’s hard to describe. It was like a soul-piercing scream, agh, agh. Like somebody being killed. It wouldn’t stop, for hours. You’d think the person’s vocal chords would bleed with all that effort. But he just screamed and screamed and screamed until the sun came up.

When the COs came and got me for rec at 7 a.m., I was one of the first. I stripped naked, shook my clothes out, cuffed up and then they escorted me to the rec cage. That was the routine. On the way, I saw the person who had been…

More Than Our Crimes

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 26 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at MoreThanOurCrimes.org