The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, February 13, 1990, Page 3, Image 3

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    Prisoner combines art and radical politics
Penitentiary walls hold him in
but don’t confine his creativity
By Natalie Weinstein
He doesn’t expect it. But if Wopashitwe
Mondo Eycn we Langa could leave
prison tomorrow, he says he would
probably do a lot of the same things he docs
now. He would write, paint, sculpt. He would
Of course, he would make up for some lost
time. Nearly 19 years now.
He would travel to Africa and throughout
the United States. He would take a long walk
and wouldn’t stop until he felt like it.
Mondo, who was known as David Lewis
Rice until about six years ago, is serving a life
sentence at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for
the murder of an Omaha police officer in 1970.
Mondo says, as he always has, that he is inno
cent. He has appealed the conviction numerous
times ... unsuccessfully.
Despite spending nearly half of his 42 years
in prison, Mondo does not seem to fit. His
slender frame, his melodic voice, his relaxed
gestures contrast sharply with the steel doors,
the bare walls, the constant tension.
Mondo knows he doesn’t belong.
Sometimes he feels “like a bird that has
been mistaken for a turtle.’’ Someone has
covered him with a shell, he says.
“This is not my shell.”
Prison does more than keep people off the
streets, Mondo says. It can turn them into
monsters. It can make them feel menially
impotent. Not Mondo. He has has grown intel
lectually, philosophically, spiritually.
The walls hold him in, he says, but they
can’t hold him back.
“I never allowed this place to have a pro
found effect on me,” he says. “I never ac
cepted this place as home.”
_+ > _
9 9
Revolution automatically
involves two things, de
struction and construc
tion. It seems to me that
an artist is involved in
exactly the same process.
-♦ *
Since he entered prison, Mondo estimates
he has written nearly 800 poems, hundreds of
articles, at least 50 short stories and about 10
plays. He has published five collections of
poetry: “OM,” “Erogenous Zone,” “Life,
Death and Love,” “Poetry/Volume Four’ ’ and
“Lock This Main Up.”
He currently is negotiating with Third World
Press about the publishing date for “Morning
of the Bright Bird,” a book of fanciful tales for
Mondo has written columns for the Lincoln
Journal since 1981 and for the Milwaukee
Courier, an African-American community
weekly, since 1987.
In 1980, .Mondo earned an associate arts
degree from Southeast Community College.
He is a member of the prison art guild, the
writers’ workshop and Harambee, an African
cultural organization.
Many of hishundredsof paintings and sculp
tures have been shown throughout Nebraska,
including in Omaha at the College of St. Mary,
the Antiquarium and the Great Plains Black
Mondo says ne creates tnc stories, poems
and paintings for a variety of reasons. He wants
his audience to question conventional ideas.
He wants to maintain his integrity in prison. He
wants to help fellow African-Americans.
Most of all, he wants to change the world.
“It’s not crucial what the odds are against
what I’m trying to do,” he says. * ‘The question
is whether or not it’s important that it be done.
His work, as well as his attitudes, didn’t
originate in prison. They are a continuation of
what he was doing and thinking in Omaha
during the late 1960s and early 1970s, before
he entered the penitentiary.
Mondo says he has gone through three stages
of development. He began his life thinking of
himself as an American who happened to be
black. He later considered himself a black
American. He now sees himself as an African
who is convinced that ‘‘Western culture is
killing us.”
He believes strongly in his African roots.
His full name is a combination of four African
languages. In English, Wopashitwe Mondo
Eyen we Langa means ‘‘Wild/Natural Man
Child of the Sun.” He wears a dashiki, a
traditional African shirt. He makes his own
shoes from single pieces of leather.
The changes did not happen overnight.
Experience after experience opened his eyes to
what he calls the suffocating racism that per
vades America.
He was bom and raised in Omaha. He at
tended St. Benedict’s, a Catholic grade school,
and went on to Creighton Prep, a Catholic all
male high school where he was one of only a
handful of African-Americans.
During high school, he began working in the
civil rights movement. He joined a group that
worked toward the desegregation of the Peony
Park swimming pool in the mid-1960s.
He always had considered himself “one of
the boys,” however, until the Homecoming
Dance in 1963, his junior year at Prep.
When the event drew near, he invited a
white friend to the dance. She said yes. W'thin
a week, his schoolmates began threatening
him. Mondo decided he wasn’t going to let
anyone bully him. It was nobody’s business
who he took to the dance, he says.
Mondo talked to his date. She felt the same
way. Then parents of Prep students sent a letter
to her parents telling them about the date. Her
parents told her to break it. She did.
Mondo says that until this incident, he had
never realized the illusionary existence he had
been living. There were boundaries he could
not cross — boundaries he didn’t even know
ne eruereu ureigmon university in ivo:>.
Mondo says he wanted to become an English
teacher. He dropped out after his first year,
mainly due to money problems but partly from
a lack of interest. What he was learning outside
the classroom interested him more than what
he was learning inside it.
Gradually, he became more involved in the
African-American community.
Between 1966 and 1969, he worked for a
number of alternative newspapers: Asterisk,
Buffalo Chip, Black Realities, Lake Charles
Project, Everybody Magazine, Franklin Com
munity Council. Mondo says he wrote about
the Vietnam War and the African-American
community, criticizing local politics, schools
and police.
He eventually chose to follow Malcolm X
rather than Martin Luther King Jr. Mondo
respected King’s efforts, but his own life con
vinced him that revolution -- not reform — was
Mondo joined the Omaha chapter of the
Black Panther Party in 1968. He later became
the leading spokesman for the Nebraska chap
ter of the National Committees to Combat
Fascism, an offshoot of the Panther party.
He worked for Greater Omaha Community
Action from 1968 to 1970, informing the poor
of available services.
His experiences in Omaha’s Northside Afri
can-American community during this time, as
well as the death of a neighborhood girl in June
1969, further cemented his new philosophy.
Vivian Strong, a 14-year-old African-Ameri
can, was shot in the back of the head by an
Omaha police officer when she ran from him.
The officer was fired and charged with man
slaughter, but was later acquitted and rein
stated. If the girl had been white, Mondo be
lieves, either she would still be alive or the
officer would have been convicted.
Mondo’s involvement in the Panther Party
continued to grow. His writing appeared in the
national Panther newspaper. In 1970, he was
one of at least four local members of the
National Committees to Combat Fascism elected
as delegates to the Douglas County Demo
cratic Convention. Mondo went to the state
convention and was selected co-chairman of
Ward Two in Omaha. Mondo says he and the
others eventually wanted to use the mainstream
political system against itself.
The death of Larry Minard changed every
On Aug. 17, 1970, Minard and several other
Omaha police officers entered a vacant North
Omaha home in response to a phony 911 call.
Minard was killed instantly by a bomb planted
in a suitcase.
A jury convicted Rice and co-defendant
Edward Poindexter of first-degree murder on
April 17, 1971. Both were sentenced to life in
From the beginning, Mondo has maintained
that he was framed because of his political
His conviction was upheld by the Nebraska
Supreme Court but was overturned in U.S.
District Court. The district court’s verdict was
upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Ap
peals. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court re
versed both federal decisions and reaffirmed
Mondo’s original conviction.
Last month, yet another appeal was dis
missed in U.S. District Court. Mondo is now
preparing an appeal to the dismissal.
Mondo still holds parts of the Panther phi
losophy. But he resents his work being pigeon
dome oi ms worn, is puuuim, sumc nv^iui
commentary, some humorous. Sometimes he
is just experimenting with words or colors.
“I write about all kinds of things: trees and
generals and love and sex and people being
poor and people being neurotic.”
Mondo says he spends time expressing himself
because he believes human beings have a re
sponsibility to themselves and to the planet.
Some people, he says, feel their time is their
“1 think everybody in the world owes some
of their time to other people.”
He also creates for spiritual reasons.
‘ ‘The way we give praise and homage is by
respecting who we are and the rest of crea
tion,” he says.
Mondo was raised a Catholic. He followed
Islam for three years. He now believes in the
existence of a spiritual force that is responsible
for life, but he doesn’t adhere to any organized
He is a vegetarian, practices yoga and does
calisthenics but has smoked filterless Pall Malls
for years.
Not every piece he creates has an obvious
meaning, but Mondo doesn’t believe artists
create from a vacuum.
“Everybody has an agenda, whether they
are consciously aware of it or not,” he says.
SeeMONDO on 5
- ' ■ —.1.. — ------
“Alone” is among the hundreds of paintings and sculptures Mondo has
Wopashitwo Mon do Eyen we Langa has published five collections of poetry
while serving a life sentence at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.