I have just recently been reunited with my uncle Earl referred to nowadays as Ptah Amen. He’s only one year older than me so we’re more like brothers than uncle and nephew. He’s just coming home from completing a 22 year sentence in prison on an initial sentence of 20 years to life. He went in around the time I dropped my first album Dah Shinin’ so he never got to attend any shows or studio sessions. He was and still is a great influence in my life and I am glad to have him home. Home is where the heart is and we came a long way from 131 Belmont Avenue in Sethlow Projects where we grew up together.
As kids, before Steele or Ptah we were just Tony and Earl. I lived with my parents and two brothers on the 14th floor while Earl lived on the second floor at Grandmas house, where all the action was. Rule was always ahead of his time, as his asiatic attribute connotes, Intelligent Ruler God Allah. During his last prison time he officially changed his name to Ptah Amen. He is responsible for people like Supreme, Top Dog, Rockness, Lidu Rock and many of us learning the 120 or the Lessons of the Nation of Gods and Earths or simply The 5% Nation, amongst other plus degrees exceeding religious theologies. He exposed us to this very early on but unfortunately, he went to jail for a 1 to 3 year sentence.
When Ruler returned, after his first jail stint, the nieghborhood had changed. We had moved from the projects but life didn’t get any easier. At that time crack was still king and pretty much every urban black and latino family was heavily affected by this epidemic, Ruler was also a victim of this systematic trap. He was never a guy to pursue money or fame, he was more family oriented. He would hustle and then give his earnings away to his family, friends, etc., he never cared much for material things.
Ruler became an integral part in one of the most notorious drug crews in Brooklyn, but his entrance into the drug game was as innocent as any others and his dedication and loyalty would prove to be both his making and undoing ushering a magnificent transition of growth and evolution but not without a great deal of sacrifice and suffering. Some say no pain no gain and if that be the case then Ruler has endured more pain than the average person should have to bare. We saw a lot as kids, probably more than we should have to at such a young age but it’s those experiences that make us the men and women we are today.
He’s my idol because of his strength and his undying love for what is right. I can only hope to possess such genuine atonement with nature. I know its odd to hear for most, considering that he is a convicted felon, and we know how young black males like to glorify jail culture, but I’ve had the honor of being around some great minds and learning the most valuable lessons from folks some would deem as degenerates of society.
Some of my best lessons came from folks who actually lived in the harshest conditions. Many want to write off the dopefiend, the crackhead or the drunk, the convict, the war vet, the homosexual, the blacksheep of the family. Many want to condemn children for growing up as victims and making choices no child should ever have to make. Many would deny that the playing field is layered with racism, fascism, classism and all kind of isms nonetheless we find ways to co exist with-in this social kaleidoscope.
Although Ruler and I stand at opposite ends of a particular spectrum we share inbred similarities not to mention the same astrological sign of Sagittarius. It means a lot for me to be reunited with Ruler at this time and just to have him free from prison bondage. Since he’s been home he’s been impressively focused. He’s always been super focused to me but I can only imagine the pressure he has, not only from re-adjusting to current day society but from personal aspirations, family and friends as well.
To rehabilitate or to be rehabilitated requires one to be willing to change or even to see reason for considering change in the first place. Ruler, Ptah, Uncle Earl has always been a beacon for change in my eyes. When you listen to my lyrics on my debut LP Dah Shinin you will hear his influence thru out as well as LPs and songs to follow.
After 22 years of talking via letter or kite, by phone or on 2 hour prison visits, we finally get to build one on one, on several topics of life. There is so much I want to ask and say and there is so much he has to offer. Rule expressed his interest in sharing his experience with others which inspired me to come up with some questions to ask him pertaining to his time in prison. I wanted to have a conversation that wasn’t too opinionated or too esoteric. I chose to build on the inter-connection between Hip Hop and Prison culture.
Ruler spoke with the poise of a scholar, poignant and considerate. This would be the first of many deep conversations that we would share publicly. I look forward to learning about his prison experiences, how he managed to stay strong, what methods he used, the programs he was a part of, the people he bonded with, the politics of prison industry, the school to prison pipeline, religion, astrology, etc. Rule has always been a vast source of knowledge and information. As kids he studied the lessons of the 5% Nation Of Gods And Earths, The Bible, The Holy Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, Egyptology, Numerology, Spirituality , to name a few, and this was as teenagers and young adults. He was also into boxing and the arts of self defense so he studied all the great fighters as well asprinciples of the Art Of War.
In the streets, I witnessed Earl transition into Ruler and in prison, Ruler transitioned into Ptah Amen, not just a name change but a life transformation, an inner growth. Sometimes we go through things that make us bitter toward our experiences but Ptah illustrates a heightened evolution as if he was freed of all human burdens ready to embrace his newfound path. He once said to me during a visit, “I didn’t make a mistake, it was a trap that was set from the beginning.” To some it may sound somewhat unrepentant but I understood it in a broader scope, being fully aware of the challenges we faced as children from home to school and within the community as a whole. Poverty and drugs was very prevalent in my neighborhood as in many African and Latino communities. Many were unable to avoid the allure and temptation of the drug culture, hence the trap is set.
Unfortunately this trap has claimed the lives and souls of young and old alike. The crack epidemic destroyed whole families like a plague offering no relief or rescue from its death grip. Former President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs, while oddly enough, figures in his establishment were directly responsible for the import of drugs and guns into the United States. This war, like most wars drew many casualties. Ptah fell victim to the trap that was set and was severely punished for his transgressions.
Instead of damning the system that condemned him, he faces life with the positive outlook of an explorer on a quest for new land and experiences always open to constructive conversation as opposed to the introvert who has been conditioned not to trust, not to love and clings to every principle of survival. His energy is vibrant yet calm, his vision is clear and his mind is stable.
I understand that the transition for him is still a work in progress as it is for us all but his discipline has shaped him into a divine sculpted model for change. Ptah was a model prisoner, sharing his wealth of knowledge with many fellow prisoners, guards and civilians alike. He was respected and adored on the streets, in prison amongst friends and family which still holds true today.
I had the pleasure of attending a function with Ptah where I got to meet some of the dedicated people responsible for the advocacy of his release. Prior to Ptahs release he was denied twice at his parole hearings, which is an issue many inmates face. With the help of these volunteers, through The Parole Preparation Project, associated with the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter Mass Incarceration Committee , Ptah was released in August 2015 and now gets to celebrate his first birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas amongst his family and friends after 22 years of prison bondage.
I look forward to learning from Ptah whatever he chooses to share from his life experiences as I look forward to sharing my experience with him, the way we both have with so many others over that last two decades. Welcome home Ptah, you are truly a gift and an asset to us all, thank God for bringing you back to us, Amen.
For me, it gets to be just plain ole Tony and Earl again. I love you unc’.
BY GENERAL STEELE