10/4/13 Blog Post Entry # 4
Submitted November 23, 2013
The film, The Interrupters had a big impact on me. Having lived in Washington, DC and taught in prisons and jails, the story was close to my heart.
For my 'student choice' post, I'm submitting a re-worked prose piece as a poem.
The setting was my prison class, "Studies of Soul," and the day described took place in a mandatory drug education class, December of 1996.
An Old Young Man
“When I was young I was the meanest baddest ass there ever was.
I joined my gang when I was ten and I was the youngest,
but the meanest baddest mutha fuckah in town.”
~ Inmate at FCI Bastrop, Texas
Cut the colorful language
You know better
Staff will chart you
If they hear you
“My boyz, we all took care uh each other.
I saw guys shot. My boyz got shot.
I got shot once, too,
When I was young.”
He swayed gently from side to side
Gazing at the floor in front of him
Arms clamped tight to his sides
Top button tight against his throat
“I got shot once, when I was young
That bull-et it bounced off’a my breast bone.”
He pointed to his chest and showed us the
Path the bullet took
“I laid in the street bleedin’ cops came
They asked me questions and I grabbed
one and I said ‘get me a am’blance, you
Everyone in the room, alert, listening
I recrossed my legs and didn’t interrupt
People mostly sleep through this
Mandatory drug class
“I got took to the hospital. Dr said it was
A mir’cle I didn’t die. My momma let me in
I had to smoke some dope and she wouldn’t
Get me none. I had to go steal somethin’.”
He looked up for the first time and saw that
Everyone was quiet and listening
He swayed, started to say more, then moved
Toward his chair
“I got back with my boyz and lots more shit
happened. Then I came to this here prison
And that’s what’s happene’ so far.” As he sat
Down he flashed four gold front teeth at us
Star cut out of one. Face smooth and calm
Eyes bright and clear. 20 years old and
Totally cool. Long lashes framing bright
Green eyes. An old young man.
Here's the original short story, written in June of 1998:
AN OLD YOUNG MAN
He rose to shuffle to the front of the room. His khaki work clothes were freshly pressed, the top button of the shirt fastened neatly at his neck, the lapels stiff and starched looking.
This week’s class had not gone as planned. Our topics for the session were gratitude and humor, and those themes had inspired my guys to tell their personal stories. The stories we’d heard so far finished up with a dramatic event of spiritual redemption, or a religious experience that had made them see the light, and the folly of their criminal behavior. I had the feeling, as I often did in my years of working in prisons, that the inmates were saying what they thought would be acceptable to get them through the program. Sometimes I felt like patting them on the head and saying “good little prisoners,” but I had managed to resist so far. They were running a scam, like they’d done all their lives, and we all knew it. I forgave them for it. It’s how they’d managed to survive the horrendous childhoods most of them had lived through. I held tightly to a cherished illusion that maybe just one of them would catch something that was said in a class and remember it at some point down the road, when the need was great.
He started his monologue in a soft, singsong voice. His eyes were fixated on the floor in front of him. His arms stayed clamped straight to his sides, as he swayed slightly, side to side.
“When I was young I was the meanest baddest ass there ever was. I joined my gang when I was ten and I was the youngest, but the meanest baddest mutha fuckah in town.”
“Uh, could we leave out the most colorful language, please?” I requested quietly.
Without acknowledging me, he continued. “My boyz, we all took care uh each other. I saw guys shot. My boyz got shot. I got shot once, too, when I was young. The bullet bounced off my breast bone ‘n went sideways.” He lightly touched the tips of his fingers to the area of his chest where the bullet had struck, and showed us the route it had taken, to the left. His eyes remained on the floor.
“I laid in the street for a long time, bleeding, and this lady drove by in a car and asked me if I wanted her to call the po-leece. I said, “No, call a amb’lance.” I guess she called 911, ‘cause the cops came and there weren’t no amb’lance. They started askin’ me a bunch a’ questions, like who shot me and I was bleedin’, layin’ there in that street. I had to grab a cop and say, “get me a amb’lance, you mutha fuckah,”
I squirmed, recrossed my legs, but said nothing. Everyone in the room was awake and seemed to be listening, a rare event in this mandatory drug class.
He continued. “I finally got took to the hospital and I was there for ‘bout a week or two. The doctor said it was a mir’cle I didn’t have that bullet go in my heart. I got out o’ that hospital and went home to my momma’s. I had to smoke some dope. I yelled at my momma, “get me some money so’s I can get some dope,” but she wouldn’t, so I had to get up and go steal somethin’ to get some dope, and I went home and smoked it and smoked it. I was mad.”
He looked up for the first time and seemed to notice everyone was listening intently. He swayed a few times, looked like he was going to say
more, but then just started toward his chair, saying, “I got back with my boyz and lots more shit happened...”
He stopped, hesitated, looked around. “Then I came to this here prison and that’s what’s happene’ so far,” he finished.
He sat down and grinned at me with his four gold front teeth. One of them had a star cut out of the gold and a gleam of white tooth showed through. His face was smooth and calm, his eyes clear and bright and totally cool.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Antoine DeLeon,” he said quietly as he looked deeply into my eyes for the first time. I realized I hadn’t seen him in class before and didn’t recall his name from the register.
I felt mesmerized, suddenly. His eyes were light green and beautifully framed in long dark lashes.
“How old are you?”
“And you talk about “when you were young.” Do you feel you are not young, now?”
“Ah, my momma tol’ me I was a ol’ man when I was ten,” he answered as he studied the floor.
“And what do you think about where you are in your life right now?”
“You mean in dis here prison? Aw, man, if I wunn’t here now, I’d be dead, no doubt in this boyz mind. I’m glad I’m here. Comin’ here, it saved my life.”
“Do you think there’s a reason you didn’t die when you were shot?” I asked. “Do you think there’s a reason that you made it to dis here, ah, this prison?”
“Doun know, ma’am, I’ve had lots of es’perience maybe I can share with other ol’ boyz my age.” That big grin flashed again as our eyes connected. I felt thrown off base, uneasy, intrigued with him and wanting to know more.
I broke eye contact with him, reluctantly, and looked around the room. Many of the older prisoners had sad looks. I thought I caught one with a tear in his eye, before he looked away.
“I hope you get to do just that,” I said quietly to the old young man.
It seemed like a good time for a break.
© Jade Beaty
Boulder, CO 80306
Written June, 1998