Omar “Sefu” Shannon went to prison when he was 20 years old to serve a life sentence. Seventeen years later, he is now being moved around the prison system, keeping him away from his family, attorney, and the young prisoners he mentors.
Infraction-free for the last 11 years, Omar has made a conscious effort to mentor young prisoners, serving as a mentor with AFSC’s Friend of a Friend and taking leadership roles in many programs focused on violence prevention, conflict resolution, and recidivism prevention. He’s considered a model inmate and a positive influence, and was given a certificate in 2010 for his good behavior.
But in September, Omar was transferred to a maximum-security prison in Cumberland, Md., without explanation. As recently as Aug. 22, 2012, he was told he would remain in medium security, so the move to Cumberland just weeks later came as a surprise.
Now, in the Western Correctional Institute, he is 98 miles away from his wife, who lives in Frederick, Md., and 140 miles from his attorney and other family members in Baltimore. The high cost of long-distance communication and the time it takes to travel to Cumberland are causing emotional, spiritual, and mental stress for Omar’s family.
The distance is not the only new burden. When his wife was finally able to visit him, the differences between medium and maximum-security stood out starkly just in the visitation room. The lack of privacy and uncomfortable physical barriers between them made her question whether she would make the trip again.
His family and supporters believe that he was moved to Cumberland because of the influence that he has in prison—which, they point out, is positive, though certain prison staff seem to feel threatened by it.
Omar points to one prison guard in particular who may have instigated his transfer, following two incidents in Maryland Corrections Institute in Jessup, Md., in which the prison administration agreed with Omar rather than the guard in the end.
It was on the heels of the second incident that he was suddenly moved across the state.
“I believe that if one commits themselves to doing wrong, they should be prepared to suffer the consequences for such behavior,” Omar says. “In this case, I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. I’ve faced the scrutiny, threats, and harassment, but also the punishment bearing this incident and can only ask that this situation be justly rectified.”
Omar sent the Department of Corrections a letter of complaint about his transfer, and friends and supporters have been contacting the department on his behalf.
The likelihood of Omar getting transferred back to a prison near his family may increase as the department hears protests from the public.