In­ner voice un­veils se­cret of Merry Christ­mas

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS

‘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 dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­

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