Inner voice unveils secret of Merry Christmas
‘Merry Christmas.” Those two words automatically cross our lips this time of year. When that phrase greeted my “hello” after I answered my phone the other day, however, I knew who the caller was.
It was Rhozier Brown, a D.C.-born and -reared 70something for whom every day has been a merry Christmas since then-President Gerald Ford commuted his life sentence in 1975 and he was released on Christmas Day from Lorton Reformatory in nearby Fairfax County, where he had been sentenced to 20 years-to-life in the fatal shooting of a man over money.
Redemption for Mr. Brown, if that is indeed the appropriate term, manifested while he was imprisoned. He counseled other prisoners, and he counsels to this day; he wrote and he writes poems and letters on behalf of others. His activism has garnered the attention of the White House and the U.S. Capitol, and a popular WPFW Radio talk show with him as host.
He also has a priority list for President-elect Donald Trump, which of course includes commutations and pardons, and the release of aging and ill seniors. He also wants prisoners to be allowed to attend the funerals of loved ones.
And the school-to-prison pipeline? “Close it down, and start by ending private prison contracts,” Mr. Brown said during a sit-down this week at one of our favorite eateries, Torrie’s, near Howard University.
Where the Trump administration will stand on those issues is unknown. (If you’ve got Trump tea leaves, brew a cup.)
What is certain, though, is that Mr. Brown — or “Roach,” as he is better known — is as relentless as Mr. Trump was on the campaign trail. For sure, Mr. Trump’s anti-Hillary fervor is comparable to Mr. Brown’s giveback passion and commitment.
Mr. Brown, 72, helps feed the homeless and shelter battered women, and he uses his voice as an advocate to criticize the mayor (whoever it may be) and the D.C. Council (when lawmakers try to close their eyes or cover their ears) to the truly needy. While many of us might readily say we feel someone else’s pain, Mr. Brown also tries to ease and heal it.
Indeed, it was while Mr. Brown was in Lorton prison that he listened to his own inner voice to create the Inner Voices in 1971, a traveling black theatrical group that was trashed by then-Rep. Joel Broyhill, a white conservative from Northern Virginia.
Inner Voices, whose members were inmates, traveled around the region and the nation — singing, acting and making all kinds of merry like Christmas.
On Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Inner Voices, an a cappella group, will be showcasing their harmonies at the Workhouse Arts Center, which is situated on the very land that also housed part of the former Lorton prison. The evening will include a stand-up comedy routine by Mr. Brown and a fashion show by the beauties affiliated with the stylish Mertine Moore, a local designer and Mr. Brown’s wife.
Five of the original members of Inner Voices are still alive, Mr. Brown said, adding that he grew up in Lorton and was imprisoned during the same time as his dad and two brothers.
He also said he wrote the theme song for Inner Voices, which has a gospel feel, and that, to this day, listening to his own inner voice is a way of life.
Asked if he has any concerns about returning to Lorton territory, he gave a pearly grin and returned the query before answering.
“For what? I’m free, and I enjoy being free,” he said. “Freedom, that’s what Christmas is about.”
As for the nickname, Roach? “I’m Rhozier Brown Jr. My dad’s nickname was Roach. I became Little Roach.”
Life. The sentence of a condemned man.
Productive life. The choice of a reformed felony.
Merry Christmas to inner voices.
● Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.