Standing inside a 6-by-8-foot cell barely big enough for a bed and a few milk crates, the man wearing an orange prison jumpsuit stretched his arms through the bars to show two adolescent boys a copy of the rules from his former cell block.
After reading a few lines, Michael Ta’Bon urges them to say “Jail is for suckas.” The soft-spoken pupils oblige. Lesson over.
Ta’Bon, who spent 10 years in prison on charges including armed robbery, is technically free, but he is spending the entire month inside the makeshift cell built on a vacant lot in front of an R.I.P. wall at 1924 Hunting Park Ave. His message: One poor decision can affect your whole life.
“Drastic situations call for drastic measures,” Ta’Bon said. “I done had everything bad happen to me, so I’m not afraid of somebody coming up in this cell at night.”
The 36-year-old said he intentionally scheduled his demonstration to coincide with Black History Month because “it’s specifically for black people, but not exclusively for black people.”
A YouTube video and word of mouth has led to hundreds of visitors, some of whom just wanted a listening ear, Ta’Bon said.
On Sunday, Raymond Mason, whose son was murdered 10 years ago, said a 29-year-old man he knows said he wants to kill his wife and her lover, so Mason is trying to convince him to meet Ta’Bon.
“I’m hoping that if he comes down here and hears my wife’s story about what she went through he’ll calm down,” he said.
Re-entry efforts need work
Ta’Bon, an author, motivational speaker and licensed barber, said the city needs to step up its re-entry efforts for former inmates. He suggests involving them as part of anti- violence efforts.
“If this was a football team, they would have fired the coach,” he said. “This ain’t working.”
He is also pushing for legislation that would require a license to buy bullets, which he thinks would cut down on shootings.