By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Weinstein
By Tessa Stuart
Judgment day last Friday crept up on Jamaal Barrow and, like a thief, snatched the last bit of freedom he'd savoreda heart-to-heart rap over lunch with Conrad Muhammad, the former Nation of Islam leader now known as the "hip hop minister," who had become an adviser to the MC in the closing weeks of the trial.
According to Muhammad, Barrow had no inkling he'd be convicted that day. He had given Barrow a copy of Marvin Gaye's commemorative CD, What's Goin' On? and discussed with him "how an artist can really look at what's going on in contemporary society and comment on it without promoting negativity." Barrow promised he'd listen to the CD over the weekend. "He was pretty much resigned to the fact that he was going to do some jail time, but the important thing was that he was willing to accept responsibility for what he had done. He made it clear that he did not intend to hurt anyone. He truly felt his life was in danger when he pulled the gun. As we talked, I could see that Shyne desperately wanted to beat the attempted murder charge. He had hoped that the jury would come back with self-defense."
But that's not how the jury saw it. In court, Barrow made the sign of the cross each time not-guilty verdicts were read for Combs and Jones. He went through the same ritual when it was his turn to be sentenced. "When the forewoman pronounced him guilty on five counts, his jaw tightened and I could see that he was under tremendous stress," observed Muhammad, who runs CHHANGE (Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment).
By then, spectators were bolting from the courtroom. Before Combs left, he went to the back row where Barrow's mother, Frances Franklin, sat with his 77-year-old grandmother, whom Barrow calls "Old Girl." Jennifer Perry, an adviser, and a handful of Barrow's loyal "dawgs" also had remained seated, stunned by the verdict. According to Muhammad, Combs expressed sorrow over Barrow's conviction and departed. Then Combs's mother, Janice, with tears in her eyes, came over to Barrow's family and "grabbed the mother and grandmother's hands, essentially telling them the same thing." Johnnie Cochran followed. "Cochran said that Puffy had promised to get the best appeal lawyers available for Shyne," Muhammad claimed. "At that point the family seemed appreciative but very cool."
Several minutes later, court officers returned Barrow to the well. From behind the railing, he passionately embraced his mother and grandmother. He urged his relatives to find the strength to cope with the new life he was about to face. Afterward, he reached out to Muhammad and hugged him. The convicted rapper was then led away to a holding cell. Muhammad recalled asking a Latino court officer with the rank of captain for permission to go back to the cell to pray with Barrow. "He said, 'I don't have a problem with that' and asked the officer in charge, who said, 'If he goes back there, it's your call.' " The captain escorted Muhammad to the holding cell.
Barrow's eyes lit up on seeing Muhammad. "He was sitting on a bench in an opened cell and he wasn't handcuffed," Muhammad said. "Clearly he was bewildered. He was trying to get his bearings. He had his Bible with him." The captain ushered Barrow and Muhammad to a private area where they sat down. Muhammad grabbed Barrow's hand and led him in prayer. "I started prayer, thanking God for the victory over the attempted murder charge," he recalled. "Then we both prayed that he'd be protected."
After praying, the captain approached. "This is Satan's kingdom back here," he told the astonished prisoner. "These guys [other prisoners] are gonna try you if they see any weakness. But we're gonna look out for you. We're gonna make sure you're OK." Muhammad said the captain offered to request that Barrow be put in protective custody, presumably on Rikers Island, as he awaits sentencing. He urged Barrow to accept the offer. "I know the image he has as a gangsta, and I didn't want him to have the extra pressure of having to worry about whether he should accept protective custody and how people would perceive him," Muhammad said. "As a brother, I encouraged him to go into protective custody, at least until he got his bearings and was fully aware of what had happened to him." He said Barrow nodded, indicating it was good advice.
"Be strong, brother!" Muhammad urged, clasping Barrow's hand in his as he said goodbye.
"Minister, I'm gonna try," Barrow promised.
"No, brother!" Muhammad shot back. "Now you have to be strong!"
They embraced one last time and Muhammad left, pondering how Barrow wound up in this mess in the first place. "He pulled a gun to protect Puffy," Muhammad asserted. "When I was a young man under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, the man I loved and respected, there were times when I wanted a gunman to jump up so that I could leap in front of the bullet to show my loyalty. This is what happens when you are young and impressionable, and admire and respect someone. I believe that is what this whole affair is all about. Shyne was just a kid."