“I write my lifetime in between the paper lines” ~ Prodigy of Mobb Deep
On a cold and dreary August morning I sat in a San Francisco Police Department jail after being raided in a cheap hotel room by Drug Enforcement Agents(DEA) with guns drawn. As a twenty year old the severity of the charges didn't mean much to me. I could not have comprehended that I was within an urban plague that would wipe out thousands of men of color or the fact that our involvement was creating a new economic industry for America’s legal system. Talk about Big Pimpin! Heck, I didn’t know becoming a felon would require me to disclose my illegal business venture on every professional or educational application. Then again, I wouldn't have cared anyway. How could I when my "street" morals were planted during my early teens? It's hard to have an accurate perspective when you grow up within a subculture that values going against the status quo and defying America's created cultural barriers. Neither my street perspective or circumstances mattered in the real world, what did matter was making immediate money.
I had been in a cell with a red brick wall and rusty bars for nearly four hours before I saw a deputy causally walking by with a San Francisco Chronicle in one hand and a coffee in the other. Pig, I uttered. My naivety bordered into foolishness and out right ignorance, as I thought to myself this shit is taking entirely too long for a young player, I gotta keep it moving. Believe it or not, I wasn't angry by the raid I was angry at being late picking-up my girlfriend at 10:00 a.m. She was a feisty Latina and was going to give me hell for this and I didn't want to go through that shit.
All of that changed the instant an agent sat down to interrogate me. The look in his eyes were ice blue and intense, his questions were exact as he moved from one question to the next. He was physically imposing standing 6'3" wearing a bullet proof vest and hand gun strapped to his waist. More uncomfortably, I felt intellectually intimidated as he began asking"where did the drugs come from?" "Who did you buy them from?" He continued with a harsh rhythm that reminded me of my high school football coaches. "Do you have any tattoos?" he continued. I didn't answer and lowered my head trying to break the pace of his questions and gain a sense of control. "Do you have any tattoos little punk?" I took a deep breath, and waited another two or three seconds before replying, "No". I couldn't articulate my sense of feeling manipulated but my awareness was registering the subtle moment. "Ok De, if you answer every question truthfully you'll be out of here in no time at all". My dumb ass believed him because I knew guys who were arrested and released the same day, so with this being my first arrest, I knew I was walking.
The next morning I awoke in the same crud infested cell and still foolishly expecting to soon be released. Not! Instead of freedom I had two new cell mates, a latin dude and an older white cat. With getting out at any moment on my mind I ignored their small talk, which I still tend to do, and waited for my name to be called. Ok Mr. De you’ll be leaving here soon. Finally! Soon I realized I was being moved to the larger city jail: 850 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA., to experience a "real" awakening. A man's first time being stripped searched is humiliating, spreading butt-cheeks in private is odd but doing so for someone else is on a whole other level of mental warfare. I was placed in a larger cell, next to several other large cells with seven to ten inmates each. I was shocked that the majority of the men were black and Latin. My new environment was a sight to see and equally impossible to digest the nature of institutionalized men who were entirely too young to have been stripped of hope. These cells felt like a late night street block had been microscopically minimized to examine our behavior, which at times felt like an ignorant funny farm. I wanted to laugh at dudes nearly coming to blows over the silliest disagreements, such as which car had the strongest engine. Not sure if I looked as out of place as I felt, but I knew this roach motel wasn't meant for me. My modus operandi has always been quiet and observant, as being friendly with cats can lead to favor requests which can open a new box of worms. Nonetheless, I made a few connects which I eventually brushed off once I was free.
The following May, I turned myself in to begin a six month sentence. As I arrived I didn’t know what to expect and was exhausted from running around at every hour of the night trying to cover bills. I started to grow a shabby beard to avoid the light skin, curly haired, pretty boy label. The bus ride from San Francisco to San Bruno was embarrassing, I remember looking out the window and feeling the effects of not being free. To this day, those buses catch my attention. After arriving everything went as expected, check-in, hand cuffed, stripped, etc… What I didn’t expect but soon learned was the importance of phone time. I signed for 9:00 p.m., and I couldn’t wait to talk to my girl. I noticed guys started lining up about three minutes before their slot which was a not so subtle gesture to the person ahead of them. About 8:58 p.m. some dude asked, "do you know your phone time?" Don't you see me standing here I thought. "Yea", I chirped. About 9:03pm the same guy returned and said "homie, you don't get your lost minutes back". "Is that right", I muttered while feeling my anger rise. “Bro, you almost done?” He put his hand up to express hold up, I waited another minute but was becoming more and more pissed with every second. I’m a calm dude but when my anger got the best of me I was a different guy. Without warning I rushed to his right side and grabbed under his arm, “bitch, don’t you see me waiting”? I grabbed the phone and slammed it onto the receiver. Then barked “what”? "My bad" he replied and walked away. Trying to calm down but still breathing deeply I called my girl while facing the rest of the cell block in-case dude would try something. The next morning, a Muslim from the Nation of Islam approached me to say, “I liked the way you handled that patna”. We talked awhile and became friends. I never committed to the Nation but support many of their ideals, delved into the teachings of the Nation and soon gave up pork (which I haven't had since). But my true learning came from time spent alone. I must have re-played life mistakes dozens of times, going over the slightest details and always kept coming back to feeling "I knew I should've..., I knew I should've"... I began to realize I always had an inkling or feeling before making mistakes but more importantly this feeling was something for me to pay attention to. Being isolated led my instincts to evolve into intuition. Somethings I knew without reasoning and I loved it! Anytime I had a difficult choice I would ask myself, which one of these am I most likely to look back on andfrustratingly feel "I knew I should've"?
I beat the odds and triumphed through that period of life and have never looked back.