My dad used to tell me that the hardest prison you can escape is your mind. I always listened to my dad. He was like this god to me. He wanted me to stay away from “the life”. That’s what he called it. Got me in a great school. Paid for my school. Bought me everything I ever wanted. He wanted me to go down a path of success. And here I was! I wondered how disappointed he was right now if he could see me standing here.
I wondered what he would think.
“You are now the property of Arrowhead Rock. Take off your clothes, stretch and bend over.”
Arrowhead Rock. It was a state of the art prison. One of those prisons of the future. I’d seen it on the news even before now. I’d heard it was built. Hell, my dad even donated to the campaign of the jackass politician who funded this experimental prison. The prison is on an island of its own, segregated from the rest of the world. When I look up I see silver walls. I see the faces of the criminals all around me.
I’m standing there. The Probation officer gives me a weird look. One of those looks that tells me things are going to get worse.
“Did you hear me?” he asks again louder this time, “Take your motherfucking clothes off, inmate. I’m not fucking playing with your black ass.”
I don’t move. I’m shivering.
“Bro—you better do what these niggas say before they get at you,” the guy to my left says.
I turn to my left. He’s acting as though he’s done this before. He probably has. There are multiple men in this room. About a dozen of them. All eyes are on me. I’m the only new inmate who hasn’t gotten naked yet. Seeing all these naked men around me gets me nervous. All of a sudden this shit was real.
“I’m innocent—“ I whisper.
Laughter follows. It’s not just the inmates. It’s the guards as well. You would think I was making a joke. They were all looking at me and laughing like I was some type of fucking clown.
“Me too,” another guy says, “Mama always told me a 9 to 5 is better than a 10 to life.”
“Shut the fuck up Lynch,” another guy tells the guy provoking me before turning to me, “Just do what they say, kid.”
I don’t even look at the guard. There were three of them but only one was somewhat nice. The other two were straight up assholes.
Then there is the smartass named Lynch. Lynch is handsome. The kind of guy that you wonder if he realizes just how handsome he is. I assume not. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have covered his entire body with tattoos. The only part of him not covered in some sort of tattoos is his face and even that has a bit of a teardrop on it. He has waves in his hair. The kind of deep waves that look like you can swim in them. He’s constantly rubbing on his waves even now. His hair isn’t black but like a rust color. It’s very unique especially against his caramel skin tone. He looks over at me and he’s just as amused as the others I think. The idiot kid who doesn’t belong here. I know that’s what they are all thinking.
They were intimidating. And it’s not just because Lynch looks like he spent the last 10 years working out and building a body of pure steel and testosterone. It’s because these people were comfortable. They’d been through this before in some form or fashion. All of them. It’s written on their face. They’d been on this rodeo. All of them but me.
“OK, the comedy shows over. Take your clothes off,” another PO aggressively comes up to me and presses his hand on my chest. He presses harder after a minute of no reaction, “You hear me? Hey? You deaf or dumb? Here at Arrowhead, you do what we tell you when we tell you.”
I’m so scared I’m shivering. I’d made enough of a scene. So I do what they ask, reluctantly. I didn’t have a choice. My shirt comes off first and then my pants. Before I know it, I’m naked.
And then I hear the words.
“Bend over. And spread your cheeks.”
This was it. This was the big time. I can’t believe I’d gotten here. I didn’t believe it when they broke into my house. I didn’t believe it when they arrested me. I didn’t believe it when they charged me in a RICO statute that I wasn’t even aware of. All I knew was that my entire life was going to shit and I was bent over realizing that there were strange men behind me talking in slang I couldn’t understand.
That’s when I see the guy Lynch, the tattooed muscle tall man with the ocean waves in his hair, baby face, abs, and a tattooed tear.
“Ay, lil nigga—somewhere out there someone is thinking about you and they need you to pick your shit up and get through this. Someone is praying for you. Someone wants you to survive this. It’s not me though—I think you’re a pussy.”
The door I entered, looked nothing like Oz or Prison break or any of the other fucking shows I saw on television. The door was an interior door, dark grey metal slid into a recess in the wall. It was about 6 inches thick, probably 8 feet tall, at least that wide. It was massive. I could not guess how much it weighed. The thing that made the biggest impression on me, was how it sounded as it locked behind me, going in. Going out didn’t seem nearly as menacing. Having that door lock securely behind me going in, was like, it. That was when I knew there was no going back out.
Walking into Receiving and Discharging for the first time, I felt what seemed to be a million butterflies bouncing off the inside of my stomach. Here I was, an 18-year-old first-time offender carrying a 50-year sentence on my shoulders.
One of the officers called names from a piece of paper that she held in her hands. When she called, “White!” I stood on the wall just as the guys before me had been instructed to do.
My heart began to pick up its pace as I stood next to two older criminals who were having a conversation about all the prisons they’ve been to and all the shit they’d been in. I hear only pieces. The slang took me back to my childhood. Hearing “Nigga” spit out after every other word.
“Nah my nigga, I got life, my nigga. Yeah, nigga? Can you believe they sent us to the fucking Rock nigga? Damn nigga! Just hope I don’t get the jungle nigga. Niggas ain’t never getting outta here. Shit nigga. This gonna be hell for sure.”
While listening to them, my mind began to drift. I started asking myself, Am I suppose to be at this particular prison? I’d heard the guys on the bus talking. Lynch and the other guys were saying something about how bad this place was. Someone had mentioned Hell on Earth.
“White!” I heard someone yell.
I snapped out of my nervous and scared thoughts before asking, “Did you call White?”
“About three times! When someone calls your name I suggest you answer, kid.”
The officer pointed to a door that was slightly open. Entering the room I noticed two officers sitting at a table covered with brown folders. One of the officers looked up from whatever he was reading before telling me to shut the door and have a seat. As soon as I sat down I looked at the two officers. One was fat and the other attractive clean-cut model looking guy.
The officer with the perfect all American face said, “It seems that you’ll be spending the rest of your days with us. They gave you a fifty-year sentence. Is that right Mr. White?”
“Yeah, they gave me fifty years.” I was still trying my best to come to grips with all that time.
“Well, I have a few questions I want to ask you before we place you into General Population, ok?”
I shook my head up and down indicating that I understood him.
“Do you know any reason that you cannot be placed in General Population?” I didn’t know what to say so I took a minute to rethink his question. Sooner rather than later he began to pepper me with more questions. They came one after the other, “Do you have enemies? Have you cooperated with law enforcement? Are you scared to go into General population?” He saw my hesitant reaction and asked, “ Do you have any enemies? Are you a homosexual?
I shook my head no to all his questions, but in all honesty, I was scared. Yeah, I was gay but what the hell did any of this have to do with anything? I felt like I needed a lawyer here or something?
“We are going to have to hear you verbally say no to the questions, young man,” the fat officer said.
“No,” I choke the words out.
That’s when I see the young officer walk over to me. He stands over the fat officer and just keeps staring at me for a second. The tears are still in my eyes. They haven’t dried. I knew I had to get myself together but it just wasn’t fucking working.
“Let’s give him a minute,” the young officer says to the fat officer.
The fat officer looks annoyed, “We got a lot of people to process Destin.”
“Just a minute,” the young officer says, “Hey kid? You still with me?”
I don’t answer. Of course, I was still here. I couldn’t go anywhere. And the way he looks at me makes me feel like a caged bird with a broken wing or some shit.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I state.
“Kid you need to get it together. You ain’t going to last a fuckin week in the Rock with that look you got. You hear me? They got gangs out here. Big gangs. The Mob. The Cartel. The Black Union. You heard of the Black Union?”
“Yeah…yeah, I heard of it,” I state.
“Animals. They’ll kill you for looking at them the wrong way. You got to be better,” the young officer says.
I don’t respond. I just turn away and pretend not to hear him. I got up and made my way to the door that would place me in another world.
“Pop the exit door for Receiving and Discharging,” the lady officer I’d seen earlier said into her walkie-talkie.
Once I heard the pop, my heart stopped. More doors locking me out. Having that door lock securely behind me going in, was like—Alice. I was Alice and this was some fucked up Wonderland.
Everyone in the group began to ask the young guard, “What unit am I going to?”
He answered some and, with others, he acted as if he hadn’t heard a single word they’d said. His nonchalant behavior added to the nervousness I felt about asking him the same question.
I didn’t want it to seem as if I was lacking in the confidence department in the eyes of the rough looking inmates, so before I knew it I heard myself asking, “What unit am I going to?”
Officer Destin, seeming still stuck between pity or maybe something else looked at me for what seemed like an eternity before asking, “What’s your last name again, Youngsta?”
“So you just gonna ignore the rest of us?” Lynch asks.
“You can wait, Lynch. This ain’t your first time here,” The officer said, “What’s your name again youngsta?”
His emphasis on the word “Youngsta” caused the group to grow quiet. I instantly felt what seemed like a million eyes on me.
“Um… White,” I said nervously.
While he looked for my name, I heard someone behind me say, “Damn. These muthafuckas are locking up kids now. He doesn’t look any older than 15.”
And that’s when I hear it.
“Ass fat though.”
I think I’m imagining it when I hear Lynch say the words that he says. A few of the other guys laugh as though this is the most normal thing to say. I felt my defensive mechanisms begin to activate. Air filled my chest cavity, I stood up straight, and my kid-like face turned into a menacing look. I turn around and see Lynch and a bunch of other guys. They were like a pack of wolves maybe.
“White, you’re going to Block B,” the CO said. “It’s better known as “The Jungle,” the CO said.
One of the guys shakes his head, “Damn. They got the youngster going to the Jungle?!”
His question had me on edge. “Where is Block B at?” I asked.
As soon as I asked, everyone’s head swiveled to the CO. The officer’s eyes landed on a red brick building. I was trying to make sense of all that was going on at the moment … and the site of the building didn’t help.
Here it was close to 11 PM at night and while all the other units seemed to be in a “sleep or preparation for the next day” mode, Block 2 was wide awake. I remember what Destin had said about these guys being animals. I see how their eyes circle me as I walk in. My stomach drops. I was prey to them. That’s why they called this place the Jungle.
As the group I was in approached my new home, the noise grew louder. I noticed someone looking out of the windows as if he was waiting to sound an alarm if he spotted the cops.
Pausing at the unit door, I took a deep breath before stepping foot inside the Jungle.
As soon as I entered, my nostrils lost the scent of fresh winter air and were replaced by the strong aroma of homemade alcohol and the overwhelming stink of stale cigarette smoke.
As I walked into the dayroom I felt so many eyes on me that I began to feel uneasy again. Just as I was about to go into a panic attack, I heard someone calling me by my nickname, “Worm!”
I looked around without trying to catch too much eye contact with the other inmates.
“Worm!” I heard again.
Instead of continuing to look around, I let my ears do the work.
Before I knew it, I saw a familiar face standing right in front of me. His eyes were brown. Tavontay Little. We’d grown up together. He had on some joggers. I was surprised honestly. For some reason, I figured they’d have the same uniform that I had on.
“I didn’t know that they were going to send you here!’
Tavontay was a guy from the block. He was named in my Rico charge. I had no idea why though. When he sees me he grabs me up and pulls me into a small room, smaller than the others.
“Yeah, they sent me here!” I said not letting on about how happy I was to see him.
Tavontay called me worm because I was always into books. I look at him trying to see how likely I would survive compared to him. He was “ghetto” in the normal way. He hung out a bunch at the house doing little errands for my dad. He was skinnier than I was and a little shorter. Still, regardless of how small he was, he’d grown up in this lifestyle where as I became the bookworm and went to college.
In a few years, I was supposed to be a nurse.
“Bro—-how the hell did you get caught up in this?” he asks me.
I shake my head, “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”
He pauses for a moment. He’s looking at me the same way that Destin was looking at me.
“Grayson’s in another block,” he says randomly.
“How?” I ask him, “How the hell did this happen?”
“You should talk to your homeboy about that.”
“He’s not my homeboy Tavontay. He’s my husband.”
He looks uncomfortable with me saying it out loud but he shouldn’t. Most of the guys who hung around growing up knew about me and Grayson. He was my high school sweetheart even though he was a senior when I was a freshman. We married young. I think it was because my dad said we couldn’t have sex unless we did. Grayson was always terrified of my dad for some reason and wouldn’t even look at me naked. He proposed soon after. They didn’t say shit then either. Meaning Tavontay and all the other good guys who hung with my dad. They were quiet at my wedding too. Maybe when you grow up with gay people it’s just “I’m not down with that gay shit—-but I’m cool with this gay person”. Whatever the fuck they had to say to make them feel like they were still men. Tavontay hung around Grayson often, way more often than me.
“Tavontay!” a voice calls out.
There’s a guy at the cell door. A guy that I don’t recognize. He looks over at me and shakes his head.
“Lynch is back.”
There is that name again. Lynch. I couldn’t get away from this motherfucker and now I was learning that he was in the same block as me. He probably just arrived from processing. The fact that Tavontay knows who this Lynch guy is doesn’t necessarily surprise me. Tavontay knew a lot of people. He was a regular hood dude and this was just a part of the process.
As soon as the guy entered the cell, Tavontay was introducing me to this guy named Earl who looked to be a few years older than me. It wasn’t long before Tavontay was leading me all over the unit introducing me to people.
“Yo—I gotta handle some shit kid,” he tells me, “Keep your head up though, hear me? I’ll get up wit you later though. Feel me? You need anything?”
“No, I am good,” I said, thinking back to all the stories I’d heard about people offering things in prison, only to want what it back later with other things attached.
I thought I knew Tavontay. I thought I knew a lot of things and then all of a sudden I’m in jail for something that I didn’t even fucking do with no idea how.
When I made my way back to my “new” cell, I noticed my cellmate was asleep. That made me feel at ease because I didn’t feel like talking. I quietly made my bunk up with the blankets and sheets I was given, jumped into it, and thought about my new life in prison before sleep took over.
This was a nightmare…
But I’d recognized someone. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
I wake up to the sound of heavy breathing. The sound of someone over me. At first, I don’t know what’s happening but my eyes adjust to the darkness. Rocking. Glaring at me. My heart is beating heavy. I turn over and see this man standing there. This big black man. It’s my cellmate. The cell is closed. Locked. It must have happened later on that night. I look over at him and realize that he’s naked. One of this man’s arms is the size of both of my arms.
“Wh—what you doing?” I ask.
I knew what he was doing. He grunts and puts on a toothy smile. I smell his dick from here. A strong manly funk fills the small cell as he grabs on this huge dick and keeps looking at me in the darkness.
“Beg yuh a kiss nuh, tings hard an mi cyan afford fi buy sweetie,” he says in a thick Jamaican accent.
I have no idea what he’s saying. All I hear is ‘kiss’ at this point.
“Baby a weh u get dah bumpa deh?”
When he asks whatever he asks he looks at my ass. It has something to do with my ass. At that moment I roll over onto my back. I try to slide off the bed. I don’t make it far before I feel his arm pulling me down. When he touches me all of a sudden I knew it was serious.
All of a sudden it was real.
All of a sudden I knew that it was all bullshit. I couldn’t survive here. I couldn’t survive here.
I can barely get the words out, “Don’t do this…please.”
Tears are rolling down my eyes. It turns him on even more. His dick gets harder. His eyes look down at me. I keep repeating, “please don’t do this, please don’t do this, please don’t do this.”
His face looks at me. There is this hunger in his eyes. I feel him pull me down. I feel him pin me down. I struggle. The struggle only makes him tougher. But I can’t help it. I just cry. I just struggle and my world falls apart at that moment. My reality is real.
This was my first day of prison.
And that night…I was raped.
“I’m sorry this happened to you,” Officer Destin says.
I don’t respond. He’s walking me back to the block. It’s 8 hours later maybe more. I can’t cry. It’s strange. I can barely walk. I can barely do anything. I’m a shadow at this moment. I guess I’m in shock. I knew it was dangerous to come here but until last night I had never imagined killing myself. They’d come and saved me after 10 minutes of being pounded by this man. They’d finally come after he’d already cum in me and was just holding me down.
The feeling of being violated. The feeling of not being strong enough to fight back seemed to suck the entire soul right out of me.
Officer Destin stops me, “We took him out of the cell. You know that right?”
Was that supposed to make me feel better about what happened? I just stare out. I wasn’t safe. I was a piece of meat here. I saw how those boys looked at me. I saw how they did it. I don’t say anything. I don’t look at them.
I just stare.
Officer Destin as though having a conversation with himself just nods. He doesn’t say anything else. He keeps walking me down and I notice the eyes staring at me. The silent eyes soon become shouts.
“SNITCH!” someone screams.
“FUCKING FAG!” another boy screams.
That’s when I notice people are throwing things at me. It almost feels like a riot. I take off running. That’s when I see Officer Destin by my side. He’s threatening people to stay away from me. It’s not working. As we get closer to the cell I almost feel like we’re getting chased. He doesn’t say anything before literally tossing me in my cell as though to save me.
And thank god for him.
If it wasn’t for Officer Destin I’d probably be jumped…or worse.
I’m back in the cell but the crazy thing is that I’m not alone in that cell.
Lynch is standing there. He might have been the most beautiful human being I’ve ever seen in my life but right now he was nothing more than a monster. He’s just like the Jamaican. And I find myself retreating to the side of the cell, sitting near the toilet.
As soon as I get in there with Lynch I hear some people outside. Jamaicans. They are going off. I don’t know what’s going on.
“They calling you a snitch bro—” Lynch states.
“Can you…please not let them in? Please…sir?”
I don’t know why I’m calling Lynch sir. Between the tears and all the bullshit, all the fake tough guy image I had was breaking down. The fake cool was gone. I was having a mental breakdown and the Jamaicans angry about me so-called snitching outside of my door wasn’t helping. They were getting louder and louder. There had to be at least a dozen of them out there.
“You can’t snitch on the Jamaicans. If they come in here I can’t help you. I’m in a gang man.”
Lynch gives me a look.
He looked like a gangster. I wasn’t that surprised by it.
“I don’t want to get you involved.”
“Good because I can’t bro. I’m Black Union. We don’t fuck with the Jamaicans. You snitched on Buddha Benson. He got clout with the Yardies. The Yardies and Black Union got a truce. I can’t help you.”
“You can leave. It’s OK.”
I look at Lynch. He looks like he wants to leave. I’d heard of Black Union. They were the most dangerous gang in my hood when I was growing up. Just the name caused people to cringe a bit. Lynch wasn’t going to go against them. I can see it in his eyes.
“Man I ain’t no bitch…it’s just—”
“You don’t got to explain.”
I think he’s saying it as a joke but when I look up he has this confused look on his face, “I ain’t explaining shit. It’s just crazy man. Nigga, you snitch? Those Jamaicans are going to be pissed you snitched on one of them. You can’t fuckin’ snitch dawg. Where you from? That’s rule number one. You must want to be a dead man. You want to be a dead man?”
“Yes. Yes, I want to die.”
“Oh…well…shit. Wasn’t expecting you to say that.”
“Wasn’t expecting to get raped my first night here…”
There is a pause at that moment. He pauses and just sits on the bed, “This shit don’t got nothing to do with me man. I’m about to go show. I’m about to—eh. Damn.”
He sits back down.
“Man—-hey—hey man you OK?”
He’s saying that because I’m breaking down in tears. He looks at me and then looks at the bed. I stop looking at him. At some point, I would have been embarrassed. But somehow my pity is drowning out everything. It’s drowning out the torment of those Jamaicans wanting revenge for me “snitching” on their rapist friend. It blocked out the rape itself. It blocked out the future that I didn’t know.
“You don’t care you think I’m a pussy.”
He pauses. He brushes over his head a little bit. He has this perfect jawline. He plays with his jawline a bit before shaking and saying, “I’m sorry about that man. I was just fuckin’ around. You know. Fuckin the shit. I didn’t know this shit was serious.”
“No. You acting like this. Nah, mean? Like all shook up and shit. You all flushed kid. I’m kind of nervous.”
He isn’t looking at me in my eyes. Maybe he does feel bad. It’s kind of hard to know. He’s a fucking asshole.
“You keep saying that. Looking at you, you don’t seem like no con. I’ll be honest. The courts didn’t see that. What happened? Spill it, kid. And not with all the crying shit, right? Take a sec. There you go. Breathe. There you go. Get ya shit together. Aight cool. What are you in for?”
“Whoa, you’re what?”
“Husband.” I’m too shook up to give a fuck about hiding my sexuality.
“Shit. That fucked me right up. I thought that’s what you said but then again, I just smoked before I came up in here. But carry on. You were saying?”
“My husband worked for my dad. And we were delivering something for my dad. We got pulled over.”
He sighs, “Let me guess—-your husband had some shit on him and you had no idea?”
“What was it?”
“That’s the fucked up thing. I didn’t even know. They said they’ve been watching us for a while.”
He sighs, “Hm…”
He grunts a little bit, “Your husband was in some fraudulent activity man. Sorry to tell you. Sounds like your pops probably was too. You got caught up in it man. I’ve seen that shit before. That fuckin sucks man.”
“That’s impossible. My husband works for my dad. A legit job. That’s how we were introduced.”
“Your dad happy you a fag?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
Lynch shrugs, “Damn. We just having a convo. Regardless. What did your dude do for your dad? What kind of work.”
Lynch looks at me like I have three heads, “You can’t be that dumb.”
“Actually I’m going to school to be a doctor,” I respond.
It was actually for the nurse but I wanted him to regret calling me dumb.
“Actually you’re still dumb,” he states, “And stop with all the smart ass expressions before I pop you. Besides—-you can be book smart and dumb in these streets. Construction is literally a keyword for illegal ass bullshit.”
“There’s no way. My dad…”
“Always had money? Always paid for you to do everything that you needed?”
Fuck. I pause.
Lynch is standing there shaking his head like I’m an idiot and the whole time I just start shaking my own fucking head. I grew up in the hoods of New York City, you can still see characters who appear as if they stepped off a casting call. I remember my father. The diamond-studded pinky ring, the language, the dress code. Everything was always over the top expensive and he always just said construction was doing good. The limousine service at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where all the presidents of the United States stay when they come to New York. But for some reason after all of that, he went straight back to the ghetto as though it was nothing. I always just thought he spent his money in stupid ways. I just figured he never wanted to move to the suburbs.
“Your dad is probably just the small town crook. Trust me, in my business I’ve been around a bunch of them.”
I wondered what he was in for but I was scared to ask Lynch. It wasn’t that he was scary at this moment. He was surprisingly calm and almost…controlled, as opposed to earlier. Still, I felt like if I got to ask him why he was here then all of this would feel more real.
But this was real. Regardless of how I pretended it wasn’t.
“I had no idea. I mean people always acted weird. Me being gay…it was almost like no one cared because of who my dad was. Like they were scared of him.”
“Maybe he wasn’t small time. What’s his name?”
“Avonte White. Like Me. I’m Avonte White Jr.
There is a pause.
“Avonte Deathrow White?”
Deathrow. It meant something to me. I look up at Lynch and see the look he has on his eyes. He seems shocked.
“He has a tattoo of Deathrow—”
“On his chest?”
I nod, “Yeah.”
That’s when he just looks at me, “Nigga. Your Pops is a big fucking deal. You wondering why you in the worst prison in the world? You wonder why you got the time you did? I can fuckin tell you! Your Pops is the Leader of the Black Union.”