My unfortunate introduction to the penitentiary system was granted to me for the heinous act I committed in 1998 against the beautiful soul – Ms. Lilius Landrum. As a result of what I’ve done, I have been described as a “monster”, “the devil”, “evil”…… and the list goes on. Those who use those labels when speaking of my past behavior are thoroughly justified. I violated the inward part of myself better known as my conscience. I’ve beat myself up day in and day out with guilt, shame, condemnation, and thorough disgust for myself; I have to live with the fact that I murdered Lilius. My actions were shameful, horrific, horrendous, and inexcusable. Prison has a way of changing people for the better or for the worse; I can not make excuses for myself or remain in denial about myself, nor can I only be sorrowful for the time I must spend in prison. I must be truly remorseful for the havoc that I have inflicted upon victim(s), families, and society-in-general. This goes for every prisoner. If we refuse to take responsibiity for what we have done, we would actually become worse human beings than we were when we committed our crime – if that is possible. I know it’s possible, because I’ve lived among some of the most bitter and angry human beings on earth – within the prison system.
I’ve also been exposed to a whole different breed of prisoners that would baffle the mind of most in society. In fact, there are civilians that volunteer at the prison which have witnessed the lifestyle of this “different breed” of prisoners that I speak of. These are men that come to prison and humble themselves, acknowledge that much is wrong with them, and actually take action to change who they see in the mirror. These are not your stereo-typical inmates who are super-tough and just plain scary – although they may have been that way once upon a time, they now utterly despise who they’d become prior to their incarceration. Everyone has their own story and journey toward becoming a better or worse human being behind bars. I can only speak for myself and share experiences from my own passage.
The combination of the humiliation and embarassment that was experienced through being handcuffed and arrested, stripped naked and searched, being paraded in and out of court rooms and jails, being questioned day in and day out – being the focalpoint of newspapers and other media outlets, having people whisper back and forth with a look of horror in their eyes as they glared at me, not to mention having to look at my family and friends in the eyes – as well as Lilius’ beautiful family. Please, don’t get it twisted, this is by no means at all a complaint – this is mentioned to show how much shame, dishonor, and disgrace there is in murdering and taking a precious life from this earth.
Everything that I mentioned was self-inflicted and brought upon me by selfish self; those experiences forced me to look at myself in the mirror that society was holding up to my face – reflecting who I had become. In this “mirror”, I became fully cognizant of the deep depths that my soul had sunk to. At this point, most people check out; they don’t want to believe that they are that messed up and depraved and they enter into one of two doors. Door #1 leads to further denial and self-deception. Behind door #1 there are no mirrors to remind you of who you truly are; you take no responsibility for anything and blame everyone else for your problems. This leads to a life of delusion where you live your life with eyes shut to this ugly side of yourself. In this space there are lots of places to hide and be isolated from anyone that would attempt to help you. Even though you may cross paths with people that can easily diagnose your problem and bring healing to you, you refuse their assistance and help – all because you refuse to look at yourself in the mirror of truth and decide that enough is enough and change who you are.
Behind door #2 you will find a “different breed” of prisoner. Behind door #2 there are mirrors everywhere; it’s a place where you cannot hide from anyone – especially yourself – everything is transparent and open to every eye. Entering into this place in life guarantees that you will experience a great deal of pain which by no means can be avoided. The pain I speak of comes from self-reflection and the subsequent work that must follow to change; there are so many self-inflicted wounds and scars to deal with behind door #2 – so many hurts, regrets, unresolved childhood issues, memories of physical and psychological abuse issued to me as a child, trauma of witnessing my mother almost get beat to death, being bullied in school, and an actual murder being committed by my own hands – WOW! There’s so much to unpack behind door #2 that you can get weary from just peering at the mountain of obstacles and issues that must be addressed. Only with help from God, first and foremost, can a mess like this be cleaned up in ones life. Some people see the monstrosity of a dump pile that they have made of their life and decide that it’s impossible to change. However, for those who, by faith, take on the challenge to be courageous and committed to the process of transformation, they have already accomplished a great deal just by taking the first step into being a new person. My personal choice was to walk through door # 2.
Speaking from my own experience, there is heartfelt pain in constantly being reminded that I murdered a human being; the pain of knowing that all my family, friends, associates, community, as well as Lilius’ family, friends, and members of society-at-large, have been negatively affected by my actions in some way or another, is deeply troubling. Not to mention, all the prison staff at the various facilities, where I’ve been housed, were forced to work around me; they only knew that I brutally murdered a woman, but did not know who I am holistically as a person. After a long process of inward transformation and change, many people began to recognize the undeniable work being done in my life; some people began to treat me as the man I was becoming, but others seemed to not like the fact that I was being transformed into a better man. It almost seemed like they liked hating me for what I had done. It no longer seemed to be about the victim, Ms. Lilius Landrum, but about their own issues to want to be able to look down on someone else to make themselves feel good about who they were. If they focus on me they don’t have to look at themselves and their own issues, because they feel like they are better than me; they feel this way because when they compare the things that they have done with my heinous act – and they come out looking pretty good. They have chosen to hide behind door #1. With this in mind, I have been cognizant of this reality of who I’ve become – and who I am perceived to still be – I must admit, it’s not pretty, in fact it’s down right ugly (my past), but I feel better about the new me. Living within this reality of how others feel about me, it would be easy to make excuses, blame others, and point the finger to all the pain I’ve had to endure as a child. However, that would just be a waste of valuable time. I must consider how my choices in life have destroyed and ruined a human being and affected so many. I must allow myself to weep over my faults and trangressions against others. I must force myself to see self as self really is (messed up). I must destroy all the masks that I’ve hidden behind for so many years which kept me and others from seeing my deep flaws. When everyone saw how jacked up I was (through the heinous act of a murder), very few jumped at the opportunity to help me out of this muck and mire – they just wrote me off as damaged goods. However, even if they wanted to assist me, they weren’t qualified for the job. ONLY GOD can take on the task of helping and delivering the one they call “Tony Rahmel Smith”, aka “Monster”, aka “the devil”, aka “evil one”. Some may say, “He referred to himself in the third person.” I would say to that: “This is exactly how I feel ———-like the person that committed Lilius’ murder has died and that I’m on the outside looking in on something terrible that has happened in my personal history.
PLEASE LET ME EXPLAIN:
Over the years, in the privacy of my cell, and in the presence of volunteers and counselors, I have cried and sobbed over my actions and the effects that my behavior has had on others. I must admit, I’ve cried equally over the fact of messing up my life and the things I could have/should have done with my life – other than come to prison. Oppressed by haunting thoughts and depressed by the reality of my current state of affairs – the justified hate that so many have expressed about my actions can not compare with the hate that I have felt toward myself as I stared in the mirror of truth, reflecting on who and what I’d become. If tears could be bottled – the gallons that have been produced through my tear ducts could fill too many bottles to number – over these past 21+ years.
I know exactly what I deserve. There is a keen awareness in my heart that Lilius and her family, friends, and community didn’t deserve to experience the infliction of physical (in Lilius’ case), psychological, and emotional pain and memories that, I, Tony Smith, inconveniently brought into their lives. You/they are justified in how you/they feel. God bless their/your soul.
‘So, where do I go from here?’ was a question I had to ask myself. There has to be some bottomline that comes into play when it comes to my situation – do I just sit around in prison and do nothing but weep, be sorrowful for what I’ve done, and reflect on nothing else but my past transgressions? No, I couldn’t do that even if it were possible. Or, do I do something about this mess of a life I’ve created for myself. Since I’ve been in prison, I’ve done what it takes to examine, acknowledge, confront, and transform who I am as a person. I don’t believe in merely changing my behavior because it has been proven that things can lie dormant in you if you don’t address an issue at its root. I’ve learned that thought processes and belief systems can be so ingrained by the habitual input of misinformation and error that the irrational thoughts we have and the impulsive things we do become second nature to us; the bad thing about this is we never second guess or question the things we think. A wise man once said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) What you allow to dominate your thoughtlife is really who you are and it will manifest through your character and behavior. This is why behavior modification programs do not work.; it only masks the symptoms temporarily, but does nothing to heal the actual ailment. That’s why starting with our behavior in the process of transformation is backwards thinking. Pull up the weeds (behavior) by the root (faulty thought process, beliefs, value systems), replace them with good seed (what is right, good, and of worth) and produce good fruit (a life that is beneficial to all).
I must give credit where credit is due – there may be many ways to transform and thoroughly change the way you think and process information – I don’t know. However, it is through the Word of God and belief in the way of Jesus Christ that helped me so much in this area. I also got so much from reading various books and receiving assistance from counselors and volunteers (they came into the prisons where I’ve been housed over the years and gave of their time to help me and others become better people). Over an extended period of time, I’ve had my share of up’s and downs, as well as failures and victories. Just like a new plant that breaks the surface of the ground for the first time – growth was slow and seemingly insignificant at first, but over the process of time and through consistent cultivation, the fruit of my labors began to be evident to all – including myself. Just like a plant grows gradually, change and transformation didn’t come over night, but over the course of MANY years. At the same time, I openly acknowledge a hundred falls and defeats on this journey of transformation and recovery. I would do good for a while and fall down, but I would always get back up. I got discouraged along the way – in fact, at times it got so hard to change my ways that I gave up. Then, after a while, it just seemed really foolish to give up after I put so much work into it – so I dusted myself off (so to speak) and continued on this seemingly impossible journey.
Prison is the perfect lab to test actual, and even gradual, change in your life. There are so many personalities that I deal with on a daily basis, along with their bad attitudes and the games that people play, as well as, being a witness to anger issues, etc. Not to mention, the abundant opportunities, within the prison environment itself, to indulge in criminal behavior is overwhelming; one must be determined, resolute, and diligent on the journey of transformation in prison. To change your life while incarcerated is like swimming upstream – everything is coming at you and working against you – so it sometimes seems. However, once your thoughtlife, thought processes, values, and belief system is put in order, there is no room to get complacent, lax, or take a day off. This is something that needs to be monitored, cultivated, and guarded in order to keep the positive momentum that you have produced in your life; I learned this over a long period of time.
When my thought life changed and mind was renewed, my character changed, as well as my behavior; it literally made me a new man, even behind prison walls. This is not easy because I live in a fishbowl – everyone can see me, and there is no hiding. Also, my thinking became diametrically opposed to the way the average inmate thinks – so naturally I get the strange looks and drama that comes with being different and being against the criminal lifetyle. Some think that it’s too late to start changing. However, there are some that are encouraged by my efforts and are inspired to continue on their own journey of transformation.
If you match up who I once was, when I entered the penitentiary, with who I am today, it’s like night and day – totally different. I was 23 years of age when I got locked up – now, at the time of typing this, I’m 45. Naturally, I have aged physically, but on the inside where there were unresolved issues, childhood traumas, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, fears, and other issues – those things have been addressed and resolved through various methods; I received assistance from mentors, through taking programs, prayer, and faith in God. Through diligence, persistence, and determination, and despite the many falls and failures along the way, I can now look in the mirror and not hate who I see. Overall, it’s been hard work, but I’m grateful that it is possible to renew my mind and change from the inside out. I’m glad that when many wrote me off, I was able to be encouraged by people who refused to give up on me.
On another note, people on the outside looking in have the wrong idea about prison – at least in regards to most of the prisons in Ohio. They call it “Ohio Department of REHABILITATION and Corrections for a reason. It’s because there is an emphasis on rehabilitating a person in Ohio – if a person wants it. Someone has to have the desire to change – and not only take programs just for the sake of receiving a certificate to present to the Judge for Judicial Release consideration or to look good at a Parole Board hearing. Actually being sincere and applying what has been taught and learned is the purpose of programs and was/is crucial to my growth and development. If taken seriously, like I and some others have, a person can REALLY be genuinely changed. You have to think, I’ve had two decades in prison with an agenda and major focus on changing who I was prior to being locked away from society. Do I claim to be perfect – not by any means – as stated before, I’ve taken two steps forward at times only to take three steps backwards at other points. However, the frequency of personal failure began to be less frequent over the years to the point where I began to only go forward. What I do claim is that my development was arrested when I entered prison (I was 23 years old when I was locked up, but I was really more like 17 or 18 in my emotional and psychological makeup), but now I walk in maturity, which only manifested itself after addressing and resolving my many issues.
Education, through college classes offered at the prison, has also assisted in helping me develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking, operating successfully in community, being a team player, and much more; I’ve earned a 3.95 GPA overall. I’ve often thought, “if I could have just applied myself like this prior to being incarcerated, I could have been successful.” However, no matter what choices that any of us have made in life – we all wish we could turn back the hands of time and do it over again, but make better decisions the second time round. If granted that ever so elusive wish and fantasy, my future decisions would be based on how they affect others directly and indirectly.
For what I’ve done, in murdering a beautiful human being, an apology could never be enough. In fact, an apology would be downright disrespectful when it comes to addressing something as horrific as my situation. I can almost hear Lilius’ family, friends, and all that knew and loved Lilius say, “Your apology, no matter how sincere it may be, is not going to bring my daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend back.”
I’ve actually been afforded the opportunity to sit in on programs – some of which I have assisted in organizing – where mothers have shared how having their son or daughter murdered has affected their life. Something deep within me happened while listening to various mothers testimonies; the level of intense emotion that was stirred up within me is beyond my ability to explain. Remorse for my own victim and her family cannot adequately describe what I feel. The tears that have flowed unceasingly and uncontrollably, combined with the impact of what I have done to my family, to Lilius’ family and her friends, weighed on me heavily. Where do you go and what do you do when you’ve done something so horrible – as I did…………….?
I’ve decided to do the only thing I can do – change my life. I can also use my life to help and assist others to make good decisions and avoid making life-altering choices that can derail their life. Just MAYBE, I could become a person who troubled individuals would listen to, after hearing my story. MAYBE, I can assist in preventing horrible events from happening, just by sharing my story and counseling others. For example, I have been able to mentor and speak to guys headed back into society and prevent them from selling drugs, committing robberies, retaliating on enemies and family members that have done them wrong, as well as assisted in preventing other horrible acts. Guys have confided in me and shared things – and thank God that they had respect for who I have become and felt comfortable enough to share what they were thinking; thankfully, most of them listened to what I had to say. I’m humbled by this. I recognize that if I would have squandered my time in prison, I would not have had anything good or wise to impart to those around me. God and my Lord Jesus Christ gets all credit for this first and foremost. Also, I acknowledge all the people that have REALLY changed and lived a life of integrity in PRISON – modeling true change in front of me and all of their peers. These are a “different breed” of prisoners and I give credit to them as well for giving me hope. Some Prison staff members also must be acknowledged for assisting me and many others in our transformation process. One person in particular comes to mind (and she really doesn’t like any credit or acknowledgement). This lady has impacted my life and so many others through her example of agape love and unselfish lifestyle in allowing God to use her to help change the lives of inmates as our Warden. Even now, being retired from the State, but very active in nonprofit reentry work, she assists ex-felons in their efforts to reenter society successfully through her EMBARK ministry. Her name is Mrs. Christine Money. She and her husband are wonderful people. She’s a many persons SHERO, including mine. She deserves a reward for working with and inspiring inmates to change. The public has been made safer through her efforts to help men and women change and become productive citizens.
True change is possible – even after entering prison as the “Worst of the Worst” as some have called me and others doing a long stretch of time in Ohio’s prison system. The young and troubled person that I was in 1998, who committed a heinous act of murder against Lilius Landrum is no longer alive – if I may – he died and the man that I am today slowly grew, developed, and emerged to be the person who has taken you on this long journey and story of transformation in my life.
Please permit me to leave you with this:
Let’s say that there is a building that is dilapidated and the city steps in to condemn it. Let’s also say that someone purchases the building and begins to go in and do the hard work of restoration in that old disgusting and terrible structure. They begin the process by removing broken down furniture and taking up the smelly and soiled carpet, etc. After everything that could be removed was removed, they began to scrub and clean the inside thoroughly from top to bottom. Even without any furniture, carpet or fresh paint, there was a very noticable and dramatic change within the house. Things were looking up – plus it no longer smelled foul. They rewired the home, replaced all the pipes and plumbing, patched up holes in the walls, put in new carpet, tile and new cabinets, etc. The inside was totally different than before – only minor work needed to be done on the outside, which was strange because you would have never known that the house was so messed up just by looking at it from the outside. When everything was in order, the city came back and evaluated the house and it passed their inspection with flying colors; the house was no longer condemned by the city, it was now safe to be inhabited and was put back on the market.
Now check this out:
The owners were ready to sell the home and opened it up for public viewing. It was evident to all that much time, effort, and money had been invested into restoring and making that house new again. However, all some people could talk about was how wrecked and wretched the house looked once upon a time, in its condemned state. That house is evidently no longer what it once was. It would be more reasonable for them to compare the condition it used to be in, with what it has now been made to become.
In the same way, I am no longer what I once was. I’m altogether renewed and different – no longer condemned. My hope is that there are more people in the world that encourage true change, than people who would attempt to hold transformed and remorseful individuals to their past. Everyone wants and needs to be forgiven of something.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…(Romans 8:1)
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Thank you for your time and patience in reading this.
Tony Rahmel Smith
Categories: Tony Smith