RAVE: My Life Since Getting Out of Prison
Tucked in a folder of an old notebook at the very bottom of the box was the essay that follows. Written in longhand, it was the first assignment from the first class in my first semester.
January 20, 2003
Hey man, I’m not really sure if you’re supposed to put an introduction in this thing, but here goes anyway. My name is ____________. My assignment today is to write an essay about the best thing that happened to me this last summer.
I know everybody’s been kinda looking at me in class, wondering why a dude in his thirties is taking English 1A instead of being out there working a job. I’m not too keen on talking about myself much. Most folks aren’t, I guess, unless they’re Paris Hilton. But since the assignment is a personal essay I suppose I don’t have much choice. Anyways the best thing that happened to me this last summer was when I finally got outta prison based on that DNA evidence.
I’ll tell you man, if you can’t appreciate getting outta prison then you haven’t been there to begin with. For me it started about three years ago when this chick got murdered in East San Jose while opening up her plumbing supply shop. Me and Merle came by a couple weeks later to pick up some PVC for a sprinkler repair, and for some reason the dude behind the counter thought we was a little suspicious, so he called the cops. They put me in a line up, but of course the dude already knew what I looked like and what clothes I was wearing so it wasn’t that tough to pick me out. Other than that there was no real evidence, but I didn’t have an alibi and I had a couple drunk and disorderlies on my record back from when me and Merle used to fight each other for fun after closing time.
They had it in their minds I was guilty, and they kept after me for two days, yelling and throwing stuff at me and telling me made-up stories about how Merle told them I did it. I always figured I was pretty tough but after awhile it just wore me down. I had to look at some pictures of death row and I got showed on my arm where the needles would go and everybody called me Dead Man Walking. They told me if I signed a confession I wouldn’t get the death penalty and I had to think about that one pretty hard. The lawyer they assigned to me smelled like he’d been pulling a cork during lunch and he fell asleep while they was questioning me. I knew I didn’t do nothing but sometimes life just ain’t all fair, and this seemed like one of those times. So I signed.
After the sentencing Merle sold my truck and moved all my stuff into storage for me, and promised me he’d look after Mussel Shoals, my black lab. They sent me up to San Quentin, and when I got there, I was put in the section with the black dudes.I found out later that’s what they do with new prisoners, except the blacks end up in the white section. I guess it’s to soften up the new inmates, I dunno. Whatever the reason it didn’t take long for them to find this paleface. One day I turn around, and there they stood, the welcoming committee.
It didn’t take but one look to realize they weren’t there to bring me a fruit basket. I figured this was gonna be a test of me, find out if they could push me around, so I got a good shot in on the first one and broke his nose. Since it was four on one, I was looking at an ass-kickin for sure, so I didn’t follow up on the others too much, to try and keep ‘em from getting too mad. Well man, was I ever wrong about that. They got me face down, one on each arm and leg, then they got my pants down. About this time, right up till the last minute, I was thinking, this can't be happening to me.
The dude whose nose I broke went first. I was heaving and twisting my body trying to get loose, but the others held me down good. He started to poke around and then forced himself in. I never in my life had anything hurt like that, man. Everything got all cloudy and I heard him call me his white bitch. Bits of snot and blood from his nose dripped down on the cement next to my head. It’s the only time in my life I ever tried to talk to God. First I asked him why. Then I asked him to help me. And he never said a word.
You know, the only thing worse than being shined on by God is having it happen at a time like that, man. But it’s just like the preachers say: you can’t fool God. He knows why you’re finally talking to him – because you need help. So God never answered me, and I was on my own. And the only thing I wanted to do was to die.
When he was done, he got up and kicked me in the head. That in a way was kind of a blessing, cause I don't remember anything that happened after that for awhile, and I'm pretty sure the rest of those dudes took their turns.
A few weeks later, they came around again. I knew what was coming this time, and I didn’t hold anything back. I popped three of em pretty good before they got me down and did me again. They got the better of me, no question, but I left them worse for wear. That was the first time I ever saw a black eye on a black dude.
By this time I was hoping they’d think I just ain’t worth the trouble. There were plenty of others there that were easier pickins than me. But this wasn't about finding someone for sex, it was about breaking me down. So I got another visit from my new buddies. This time, they kinda formed a circle around me before moving in, and I could see in their eyes that some of them weren't really looking forward to this at all. Well man, welcome to the fuckin club.
This time I ended up in the prison hospital and spent a couple weeks there. One day, I was laying there thinking about how much I hurt and wondering what a life sentence was gonna be like with this happening all the time, when one of the inmates working in the hospital starts talking to me and tells me about the Aryan Brotherhood and how I don't have to put up with the nee-grahs no more as long as I join up with em. And that’s how I ended up with the tattoo of the swastika and WHITE POWER on my arm, right up there by the bicep.
Well, time goes by and I’m getting settled into the routine of prison life, and no one is messing with my behind no more now that I’m in this white guy gang. Then from outta the blue I find out that that someone from the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility in Montana got religious and wrote a letter confessing to killing that chick. He was just a kid, only seventeen years old. Can you believe that? Well, no one at San Quentin did. No one takes you seriously when you tell em you’re innocent, cause everybody in prison says they’re innocent. I didn’t have the letter or anything, just what I heard, so no one gave a shiet.
So I wrote to Merle, and he sent some dude from the Innocence Project to visit me. Next thing I know the prison doctor is scraping some skin from the inside of my mouth, and one day, just like that, they're walking me out the door and on my way. Course it didn’t take more than five minutes to be up to my ass in ambulance chasers all wanting to help me sue the government for my troubles. Most of em didn’t smell much different than the public defender, and I began to wonder if I was ever gonna get a lawyer who wasn’t a fall-down drunk. The dudes at the Innocence Project gave me the name of some chick up in San Francisco to call. That was kinda far away for me, but she turned out to be a pretty good lawyer and didn’t smell of booze either. She spent a lot of time yelling at the guys from the city, and let me tell you man, after listening to that I sure was glad she was working for me and not them. In the end, I got some money, not a lot, cause I wasn't in all that long and of course I didn’t tell a soul about the other stuff, but it was enough to get my trailer and a good truck, and they also promised to pay for retraining which is why I’m taking this class.
Once I got all signed up for school and the dust settled down, I figured I better get rid of that tattoo. So I called up Merle and told him to come on over and give me a hand with it. We heated up a weeding tool in the barbeque, and I bit down on a little stick of wood while Merle burnt off the tattoo with the weeder. You know, I never stopped biting that stick, but when the flesh started to burn, I tried to push everything outta me like emptying a squeeze bottle of Heinz ketchup. All the shame, all the rage I was carrying around inside me since I got out. I just forced it all outta me and I guess I yelled a good deal, cause Merle was looking at me kinda funny when it was done.
Merle's my best friend, and I figured maybe it was OK if I told him about it all, so I did. And when I was done, there was a long silence, then he kinda looked at me and asked in a quiet voice if I was gonna make him burn my bunghole too, and finish the job. That Merle, he's as dumb as a box of rocks, but he always finds a way to make me laugh.
I never really took to queers in the first place but it ain’t cause of what happened to me when I was inside prison. I don't blame the blacks or the queers for it. That stuff really wasn't about color or sex; it was about power plays by cons who had to ditch their humanity in order to survive. Still, as everybody knows man, no matter how many times you squeeze the bottle, you can't get every last bit of ketchup out, and for me, I still had some bits of my experience I couldn’t get outta my head. Sometimes, I'd be watching TV and just start to feel terribly sad and weak. Mussel Shoals was back with me by then, and he seemed to know something was wrong when I felt like that. He didn't know what, but he’d always come on over anyway, and lick my hand and rest his head on my leg. I tell you man, I really love that dog.
It was real tough getting back in the saddle with the ladies after what happened to me in prison. I’d always heard that if you so much as touched another guy’s privates you were queer for life, and although I was hoping that weren’t true, it was hard to think about sex without remembering all the bad stuff. Merle brought by some chick he was going out with who had a lady friend, and though she was nice and all I was kinda scared I wouldn’t be able to deliver the goods and have to start explaining everything, so I had to pass.
About a month after I bought my trailer, I met a nice chick at the park while out walking Mussel Shoals. She's about my age and pretty agreeable. Betty’s her name. She has a dog, too, a female Dalmatian named Dotty. Mussel Shoals was OK with that, ‘cause he ain’t prejudiced, and they got along just great. After we'd been going out for a few weeks it was my birthday, and she and Merle came over to my trailer and surprised me with a little cake. After I blew out the candles they said we could do anything I want, their treat. So we talked about it awhile and decided to spend the day out at Great America.
Well I don’t know if you been to Great America lately but they have this new feature which is a water park, and if you asked me that part alone is worth the price of admission. After we got in we headed on over there and changed our clothes in one of the little changing rooms they have nearby. While I was waiting for Betty to change (course chicks always take forever, took me and Merle about a minute and Betty about four hours) I struck up this conversation with this Filipino dude who was waiting behind me. He had a shirt on said he’s a police officer, so of course I didn’t mention anything about being in prison. Then one of the changing rooms opened up, not the one Betty was in (of course since she takes a million years) so I told the dude to go ahead of me since I had to wait for Betty anyway.
He moved on into the room and then his son, who was maybe 3 or 4 years old, started following him, but he told the son to wait outside. So the kid kinda backstepped a ways without turning around and then reached up and took my hand, and I closed my hand around his and we stood there awhile like uncle and son. It was a great feeling man. I never got to do that with my dad, cause he passed out on some tracks and got all mashed up by a train when I was only six months old, and none of the dudes that Mom brought around after that ever stayed more than a couple days. I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do, so I just stood there and tried not to squeeze his hand too hard.
Pretty soon though I heard this laughing behind me, and it’s the kid’s mom. And I looked down at him, and he’s looking over at her, and his forehead gets all crinkly, and he looks at his hand in mine, and you can see him sorta follow my arm all the way up to my shoulder and to my head. When he figured out I wasn’t his mom, his eyes got real big and he yanked his hand away and scampered over to where she was sitting.
Well by this time his mom is pretty much doubled over with laughter and she and I are talking, and of course Betty comes out right about then and sees me talking to this hot Filipino chick and gives me the stink eye. But it didn’t take too long before I’m the one who was upset cause Betty is wearing this string bikini top and let me tell you man, if I had charged a quarter a peek for a look at her tatas I would have made a fortune that day. Betty looks a lot like Salma Hayak (specially when she gets mad, which is all the time, Geez!) and she has a really nice rack.
But you see man this is where chicks are really sneaky. Betty knew we was going to a water park and there'd be lots of chicks to look at and she didn’t want me looking at em. So she wore her most revealing outfit cause she knew I’d have to keep an eye on her. At a place like Great America there are tons of buff dudes walking around trying to grab your chick when you’re distracted. So you got to keep your eye out every minute and that cuts into your