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Dawud Halisi Al-Malik

A remarkable life, a special man

[Dawud Al-Malik’s story, Fifty Years in Prison for Crimes He Didn’t Commit, was told in a two-part interview with Wendy Tanowitz in the July and August 2018 issues of Works In Progress. An excerpt from his memoir is in this issue.]

Photo credit: Eileen Fuller

Dawud Halisi Al-Malik died on Wednesday, March 22. His story, and his life, describe the all too predictable trajectory of growing up Black in these United States, its triumphs in the face of its tragedies.

In May of 1966, when he was 19 years old, having gone into the School-to-Prison Pipeline before it had a name, Dawud was arrested in Seattle and falsely charged with  two murders. Dawud maintained his innocence, but in September of that year an all-white jury convicted him and sentenced him to death.

He got a BA in Sociology from The Evergreen State College [and] became a facilitator with the Quaker Alternatives to Violence Project…

After he’d spent seven years on death row, the US Supreme Court ruled capital punishment (temporarily) unconstitutional, and Dawud was released into the general prison population, with two life sentences and no possibility of parole. He could have been released sooner if he’d admitted to the murders, but he chose to stay and fight for exoneration and clear his name, and to the end of his life worked to have the criminal-legal system rectify his wrongful conviction. (To understand what he was up against, see Daniel S. Medwed, BARRED: Why The Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison, New York, Basic Books, 2022).

Not only did Dawud use his time to educate himself in the law, but he helped other prisoners with their legal filings. He got a BA in Sociology from The Evergreen State College, became a facilitator with the Quaker Alternatives to Violence Project, and established numerous programs to better the lives of fellow prisoners and improve relationships between prisoners and prison staff.

After converting to Islam, he became Imam (prayer leader) at McNeil Island Corrections Center. Finally released in 2015, Dawud lived and worked in Olympia, where he’d hoped to start a cleaning business employing prisoners on work-release.

Declining health called a halt to  that venture, and Dawud eventually moved to Issasquah to be closer to his remaining family in Seattle. On March 23, the day after his death, he was given the traditional Muslim body washing and burial at the House of Mercy Islamic Cemetery in Covington.

On Saturday, April 15, a Celebration of Life was held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Seattle, which was Dawud’s family’s church when he was growing up, and which gave him its full support over the years. In addition to friends and family, a number of men, former prisoners who had been helped and mentored and lifted up by Dawud when they were inside, came to bear witness to a remarkable life and express their love for this very special man.

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