New lease on life

Wize Shahid, aka Robert Henry ‘Wize’ Green, still seeks to help other inmates following his release from the Virginia prison system after more than two decades

George Copeland Jr. | 4/14/2022, 6 p.m.
It was in early January that the man formerly known as Robert Henry “Wize” Green learned he would be released …
Dr. Madeline G. McClenney of The Exodus Foundation presents Wize Shahid with an award last Friday during a celebration of his release from prison held at First Baptist Church Centralia. Photo by George Copeland Jr.

It was in early January that the man formerly known as Robert Henry “Wize” Green learned he would be released from prison after serving more than 20 years behind bars.

A public campaign by the Exodus Foundation and others sought his release through a pardon, which was granted by former Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

And Mr. Green, who changed his name to Wize Shahid, was alerted just the day before his release from Deep Meadow Correction Center in Goochland County that he would be going home. It was, for Mr. Shahid, an unexpected but welcome turn that left him “highly elated.”

Last Friday, Mr. Shahid marked the occasion with family, friends and advocates during a small celebration at First Baptist Church Centralia, where they took stock of the work to free him and the path forward for him and others.

“I want to thank everybody who provided the support on my behalf,” Mr. Shahid said. “The support that you provided on my behalf is support for a multitude of others.”

At age 24, Mr. Shahid was sentenced to 39 years prison after being convicted in 2002 of eight offenses resulting from his arrest during a traffic stop. Charges included distribution of narcotics, possession with the intent to distribute, possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony and malicious wounding of an officer who scraped his knee during the arrest.

During his decades imprisoned at different facilities, Mr. Shahid worked to improve the lives of his fellow inmates. He participated in and helped create programs such as re-entry training sessions, and aided other inmates. He eventually became a paid trainer and mentor, gaining supporters inside and outside the prison walls and leaving an impact on people on both sides.

“I think they are impacted by my perseverance,” said Mr. Shahid, noting he worked to foster positive change for those in prison. He said he also kept a positive outlook despite the circumstances.

His efforts to be released from prison, which first began during the tenure of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who left office in January 2018, eventually were taken up by The Exodus Foundation, founded by Dr. Madeline G. McClenney, a Baptist minister and prison abolitionist in 1999 to address the situation of African-Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system.

In 2021, Dr. McClenney partnered with the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Richmond & Vicinity and Richmond’s Community Wealth Building Office to form the “Save Robert Henry Green Coalition.” More than 40 state and local community and religious groups advocated for Mr. Shahid’s pardon by reaching out to then-Gov. Northam and public.

Since his release, Mr. Shahid, a Halifax native, has settled into his new life in Richmond as he reconnects with family and friends. While it has taken him some time to adapt to the technological changes of the last two decades, Mr. Shahid has been aided in great part by the connections he established and maintained during his incarceration. He also has received financial, moral and mental support from The Exodus Foundation.

“I always had contact with the outside the whole time,” Mr. Shahid said. “I was constantly interacting with people through visits over the phone, and so that adjustment wasn’t hard.”

Mr. Shahid’s release was the first mission undertaken by the foundation’s Century of Mass Clemency Movement, which began in January 2021 as the launching point for a coordinated effort to see people like Mr. Shahid freed from prisons across America. With this success, organizers are hoping their work can set an example for similar efforts locally and nationally.

Mr. Shahid already has completed a memoir on his experiences and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in consumer behavior psychology through online courses at Colorado Technical University.

His work in Virginia’s prisons isn’t over, he said, as he established a number of initiatives and ahead of his release. This includes a business venture, Mecca Beez American Inc., which consults with the incarcerated, prison administrations and politicians on Virginia’s prison system, and seeks to serve both the common citizen and policymakers.

Mr. Shahid also has been involved with youth-focused community events, using his experiences to “detach them from traveling down that same path,” he said. He also plans to speak at schools about his experiences.

Mr. Shahid also has continued his mentorship to inmates, returning last month to Deep Meadow Correctional Center to speak with inmates in the re-entry program. For Mr. Shahid, these initiatives are the essence of his efforts to move forward. He wants to share his story and better the lives of others.

“That’s what it is for me,” Mr. Shahid said, “connecting people with people for the advancement of humanity. That’s the mission.”