From Inmate to President – Gerald Hankerson

The head of the NAACP for the Seattle region was once serving a life sentence for aggravated murder.

At 18 years old Gerald Hankerson was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Despite his testimony of mistaken participation, he was convicted mainly on the basis of two witnesses who later recanted, saying they were pressured by the prosecutor. After serving 23 years, he was granted clemency with a parole time of 80 months. That prosecutor is now the King County Prosecutor. Yeah, I thought that was interesting too.

At 45 years old, Gerald Hankerson is leading the regional NAACP, overseeing activities of Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.  Nina Shapiro wrote a full length article in Seattle Weekly that I read, and then re-read to make sure I was not making it up.

If this guy writes a book, I’m going to read it and then I’m going to watch the movie, even if it’s a made for TV movie, because it’s REAL. His story has it all. When the Aryan Nation inmates controlled access to a prison group called the Concerned Lifers Organization, Hankerson got into political life. He, along with his mentor Henry Grisby (still serving his life sentence) successfully gained access to the Lifers organization, shared membership applications with lifers they knew and challenged the Aryan Nation for the leadership positions during elections that year. The multicultural slate won. (And though things were tense, there was no violence.)

Hankerson went on to institute a program that warned kids away from behavior that would land them in prison, and he also led the Black Prisoners’ Caucus.

I know what you’re thinking… This is not a movie. Ahhh but you’re wrong. Because there is a love story. Sure, it’s not a romantic one. But one of the people Hankerson met while incarcerated was Maurgee Merritt. He met her working in the kitchen and despite a huge age gap, became the best of friends. Her quote to him has become his mantra. “Live your life to prevent yourself from becoming what others assume you to be.” The two married though never romantic, and six years later Maurgee passed away from breast cancer.

And flash forward to today? Hankerson is invigorating the NAACP with much needed new passion combined with real world experience.

I’m going to do two things: Wish him the best and join the Washington State NAACP.

Source: The Redemption of 9-0 by Nina Shapiro, Seattle Weekly