16
Jul
08

WHY ARE SO MANY BLACK MEN IN PRISON?

WHY ARE SO MANY BLACK MEN IN PRISON? A Comprehensive Account of How and Why the Prison Industry Has Become a Predatory Entity in the Lives of African-American Men, and How Mass Targeting, Criminalization, and Incarceration of Black Male Youth has Gone Toward Creating the Largest Prison System in the World.
ISBN-10: 0979295300 ISBN-13: 9780979295300 LCCN: 2007900788 Author: Demico Boothe Publisher: Full Surface Publishing http://www.fullsurfacepublishing.com/ This book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Lushena Books, Afrikan World Books and everywhere books are sold!





CHAPTER ONE

MY STORY: My Incarceration, My Release, and My Re-Incarceration

Drugs is a government game . . . a way to rob us of our best Black men,
our army. Everyone who plays the game loses. Then they get you right
back where we started, in slavery! Then they get to say
“This time you did it to yourself.” I won’t play that game.

Sister Souljah
In her book “The Coldest Winter Ever”

I remember it like it was yesterday because it was the worst day of my life. On December 13, 1991, my father’s house was raided by the Organized Crime Unit (OCU) of The Memphis Police Department. They had obtained information from a confidential informant (who turned out to be my best friend who had himself recently been busted by OCU on drug dealing and weapons charges) that I was dealing drugs there and that I would be in possession of a couple of
ounces of crack cocaine. This so-called friend of mine had called me earlier and
asked me to provide him with 9 ounces of cocaine, but I had told him that I
only had 3 ounces. He told me he had someone who wanted to buy them, but
that they did not want it in powder form. He instructed me to convert the
powder cocaine into crack, which I did, and when he came to pick it up he
brought the police with him. (I later found out that the police had instructed
him to have me convert the powder into crack.) I was 18 years old, fresh out of
high school, and had just recently enrolled in the local community college. At
the time, I had my life all planned out; I would only hustle drugs just enough to
pay for all 4 years of college and to buy myself a car, because my mother and
father couldn’t afford to pay for all of this but still expected me to go to college.
I didn’t want to put that big financial burden on my parents anyway, so I decided
to do what I had to do to put myself through school since my grades weren’t
good enough for a scholarship. Looking back, I know now that it was mostly
peer pressure that impelled me to sell drugs. I also was too young and miseducated
to understand the full consequences and the big picture affects of selling drugs.
When you’re young, you are largely ignorant and extremely impressionable, and
especially so if there is no real guidance present in your life, like was my situation
at the time.

They say that human beings are the total sum of their genetics and
environment. The environment that I grew up in largely caused me to consider
selling drugs as a way to finance my college education because I had observed so
many young Black males like myself doing it and making money. Crack cocaine
was everywhere and it was a fairly new phenomenon, but selling it seemed like it
was so easy to do. Almost everyone that I knew seemed to be indulging in the
drug trade in one way or another, and some of the older men had obtained
expensive material possessions that they normally wouldn’t have had to show for
it. They had the nicest cars, nice apartments, and plenty of money to spend on
their multiple girlfriends. I wanted to be the smart one and use my drug dealing
proceeds to pay my way through school and invest in the future. That “smart”
decision turned out to be the worst decision of my life when I ended up getting
busted and found myself facing serious prison time.

The first time I remember seeing crack cocaine was when I was around 12
years old and I was living with my mother in the Castalia Heights Projects in
South Memphis. I was washing dishes one day in the little closet-sized kitchen
of our apartment and looking out of the back door at the same time when I saw
a young man talking to a woman, and he was showing her a little blue colored
plastic seal in his palm. I saw her look closely at the little plastic seal, then hand
him a $20 bill. I remember noticing that the substance inside the seal looked
from a distance like a little beige pebble, and also that the woman buying it
looked like she was ill. At the time, I didn’t know what exactly it was in the
plastic seal because I had never seen nor heard of crack before, but 3 years later
when I went to live with my father in another part of the city, that’s when I
learned what it was I had seen. I had decided to go and live with my father
because I was sick and tired of living in the projects and being poor. I was
looking for a better life, but what I got when I moved with my father turned out
to be even worse than what I had left. When I first moved in with him, his wife,
and my 6 brothers and sisters, my father had a good job, a decent home in a
residential, crime free neighborhood, and had a longstanding habit of buying a
new Cadillac every 2 years. What I didn’t know at the time was that my father
was also using crack cocaine. Everything seemed alright at first, but within a
year of me being there his cocaine addiction went into full swing and major
changes took place within our household. My father gradually started being
broke all of the time, and over a short period of time we went from eating 3
meals a day to eating only 1 meal a day, which usually was made up of something
of the cheapest order like half a smoked sausage apiece or a tuna fish sandwich
and some kool-aid. By it being 7 kids in the house, our school clothes, lunch
money, and all the other financial variables that go into supporting and
maintaining healthy children were cut down to the bare minimum and eventually
cut out all together. I started to see some of the young drug dealers from a
nearby public housing project who went to the same school as me driving around
in my father’s Cadillac, and I would notice that on my father’s payday 3 or 4 of
them would come to our house under the guise of visiting me and my brother
but really to see him, and when they would leave my father would be broke
again from paying off all the debt he had accumulated over that week’s time.
They would give him some more crack on credit, and he and my stepmother
would lock themselves in their bedroom and get high. By me being the oldest of
my siblings, this especially affected me because I knew what was going on. And
since my needs were greater than my younger siblings, I decided to go out and
get a job so that I could make some money to buy food and clothes for myself
and for my brothers and sisters. I started working in fast food restaurants and in
a summer job program at my father’s company. When I started making a little
money and started to buy food and clothes for all of us, my father seemed to take
offense to that. I guess it made him feel like he wasn’t providing for his family
and that maybe I was trying to upstage him or take his place as head of household,
so he started to regard me in a very harsh and mean-spirited fashion. At first he
started making me pay him 1/3 of my paychecks every week as rent for living in
his house, then he just started flat out taking all of my money. I got fed up after
a while with working hard all week only to come home and see my father waiting
on me and asking to “borrow” almost all of my money, knowing he would never
pay it back. One day, instead of going straight home when I got off work like I
normally did, I went across the street to one of my friend’s house and stayed all
night, with the intention of going home when my father left to go to work that
next morning. He called over to my friend’s house time and time again asking if
I was over there, and I’d told my friend to tell him that I wasn’t there. That next
morning, I was hastily awakened by my friend and told that my dad was running
across the street towards the house. I guess he had known I was there all along.
Before I could get somewhere and hide, he burst in the door and commenced to
punching and kicking me as if I were an adult stranger instead of his 16 year old
son. This did it for me. After he had beaten me and gone off to work, I packed
up my clothes and belongings and had a friend take me back to my mother’s
apartment in the projects, where I stayed for only 4 or 5 months. I ended up
moving back in with my father despite the circumstances. Except for the not
eating and stuff, it was a teenager’s heaven at my father’s house because he and
my stepmother were so busy getting high and working that there was no
supervision or discipline and we could just run wild and do as we pleased. My
mother on the other hand was very strict, and if I had stayed there with her I
knew I wouldn’t have had as much freedom to come and go as I pleased and to
date girls, not to mention that the living conditions weren’t that great there
either. Plus, while living with her I’d had to take the city bus to get to my jobs
that were over on my father’s side of town. I still had to pay him a third of my
pay when I moved back, but I eventually quit my jobs because he started back
taking all of my money again.

About a year after I had moved back, my father’s neighborhood was being
invaded by some Crip gang members from California who were trying to induct
the younger men in the area into their gang and organize and expand the small
amount of drug dealing that was going on there. One by one the young men in
my father’s neighborhood were pulled into their crew, and before long the once
residential and serene neighborhood became a haven for crack selling, gun toting,
blue bandana-wearing Crip gang members. The second oldest of my siblings,
who is only 6 months younger than me, got hooked up with them first; they let
him sell $20 rocks for them and paid him $5 for each one sold. Soon crackheads
from all over the area had gotten wind that our neighborhood had plenty of the
good stuff, because the Crips were bringing it in from California and it was
purer than what they were used to. Our neighborhood was turned into a full
fledged dope track almost overnight; with a constant flow of traffic coming
through there 24 hours a day, every day. I started seeing my little brother with
hundreds of dollars that he’d made just standing out on the street with the rest
of the men in the neighborhood and selling the drugs to people who drove up
and asked for it. I stayed away from it at first, but around the time that I was
almost about ready to graduate from high school, my dad was deeply in debt
and had inducted himself into a residential drug rehab, so I figured that this was
probably the best and maybe the only way for me to get the money to buy
myself what I needed and put myself through college. I knew that my parents
couldn’t do it and that there wasn’t enough time for me to work a job and save
up enough money. I knew that going to school would be my best chance to
escape a life of being poor like my parents were. I jumped into hustling drugs
head first, and after doing it for about 6 months, when I was just about to have
the money that I needed, I got busted.

When my family and I heard that the least amount of time I could get for
that small amount of drugs I was caught with was a 10 year sentence of which
85% would have to actually be served in prison, we couldn’t believe it. It just
didn’t sound right. I had seen and heard about numerous Black men killing
other Black men in the streets in cold blood and plea bargaining and getting less
time than that. We just could not believe that those drugs carried that much
time. (My mother later told me that she was so mentally distraught when she
heard the amount of time I would have to serve that she began to regularly walk
out of her house leaving the front door wide open when she would be going
somewhere.) We just knew that because it was my first offense and such a small
amount of drugs that I would be given a plea bargain for probation or maybe a
6 month sentence at the most, instead of 10 years. After many inquiries and
failed attempts at negotiation, when the prosecution would offer me no less
than a 10 year sentence on a plea, I opted to go to trial, hoping for some sort of
divine miracle since I had already made statements to the police admitting
ownership of the drugs. It was not to be. At my trial in 1992, in Federal Judge
Julia Gibbon’s courtroom, I was convicted of possession with intent to distribute
over 50 grams of crack cocaine and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years of
probation. My life, like so many other young Black men in America who’ve been
through this same mind blowing and numbing experience, would never be the
same again.

The morning that I left the Federal Detention Center in Mason, Tennessee
on the prison bus heading to the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, I was
scared and didn’t really know what to expect. This was my first time ever going
to jail, and here they were sending me to not only a high security penitentiary,
but the one that had the most notorious reputation of all the federal prisons at
the time. It was 2 busloads of men, all handcuffed and shackled, the majority of
whom were young Black men around my age who had never been to a penitentiary
before either and were just as afraid as I was. We all had heard about the rumors
and horror stories and had seen the movies depicting prison life as full of drama
and violence and homosexuality. We had all heard about the humiliating greeting
that the hardened convicts supposedly give you when you first come in, and the
ever watching eyes that would be looking for any sign of weakness in you. We
also were foretold that in federal prison there was what was called a “homeboy”
mentality among the inmates; meaning that men grouped up with other men
who were from their same city or state and stuck together with them against
everyone else in the prison, somewhat like a protective gang. We were warned to
only trust our “homeboys” when we got there. (It is interesting to note that the
Whites, who are the minority in prison, stuck together just because they were
White and not based on where they were from.) All of these things we had heard
were going through our minds on that bus and we consoled each other by
openly discussing our fear so that no one would feel like he was alone or the only
one who was afraid. When we finally pulled up to the prison after an all day
drive, our fear was intensified by the Gothic, castle-like appearance of the prison.
It looked and felt like everything we had heard. It had the tall gun towers, the
big 30 foot whitewashed concrete wall around it, and a vibe of thick tension and
despair permeating the air. We were taken off of the buses and to a large holding
cell where we were individually strip searched and photographed and
fingerprinted, which is the standard procedure anytime you first come into a
prison. When we all had finished getting processed and clothed in our new
prison garb of khakis, t-shirts, and steel-toed boots, we were free to roam around
the prison compound and check out our new home. When I hit the compound
and began to look around, I started to feel like I was a juvenile inside of an adult
prison. Most of the men I saw were much older and had already been locked up
for a long time and had full beards and mustaches and looked like bodybuilders
from all the weightlifting they had been doing. I, on the other hand, was totally
new to prison life, and looked it. I had no facial hair, had a little boy faded
haircut, and weighed in at about 150 pounds soaking wet with bricks in my
pockets. I will never forget that first day. To say that it was a culture shock is an
extreme understatement. Me and a friend who had also just come on the bus
walked around together and went into the prison gymnasium where men were
playing full court basketball and saw a cheerleader squad of 10 or 12 homosexuals
on the sidelines, cheering for the teams and actually doing the feminine,
cheerleader-type antics that real female cheerleaders do. This was so shocking to
us and we couldn’t help but stare at them, which turned out to be a big mistake.
As we walked by them, one of the homosexuals reached out and suggestively
rubbed my friend’s arm and made a sexual comment. My friend, who was a
fairly big guy, immediately grabbed the homosexual by his throat and jacked
him up against the wall and told him that if he ever touched him or said
something like that to him again he would kill him. When he let him go, the
homosexual ran out into the middle of the basketball court, stopped the game,
and started talking to this big Lou Ferrigno looking guy who had been playing.
When I saw the guy and the homosexual point in our direction and start to walk
toward us, I broke off from my friend in an attempt to circle around to the back
of them, just in case there was going to be trouble. The big guy came up and
asked my friend what had happened between him and the homosexual. My
friend told him that the homosexual had put his hands on him and that yes; he
had jacked him up and told him that if he ever did it again he would kill him.
When the big guy heard this, he went on a chastising tirade against the
homosexual, cursing him out and telling him to stop messing with people and
to stop doing stuff to get him in trouble. He then turned to my friend and told
him that if the homosexual ever did something like to him again, he had his
permission to “fuck him up”.

That was the first of many crazy and unthinkable observations and experiences
that I was to go through over the next 9 years of my life. I did time in prisons
with security levels that ranged from high to minimum, from penitentiaries to
camps. I traveled all over the country doing my time and met people of all
ethnicities and nationalities and from all walks of life, and saw all sorts of things
go on. I was in 2 riots. I saw people get killed, raped, assaulted, and extorted. I
saw knife wars go down on the yard between different groups that sometimes
involved 200 or 300 men; Whites against Blacks, Blacks against Mexicans,
Jamaicans against Muslims, Muslims against the Crips or Vice Lords, Blacks
from Washington D.C. against Blacks from Detroit or St. Louis, etc. I saw grown,
rusty, heavily mustached men French kiss one another and walk around the yard
holding hands and actually having monogamous sexual relationships with one
another. I saw men get killed and seriously hurt over another man a great number
of times. But believe it or not, most of these types of activities were the exception
to the rule and not the rule. There is no place on earth where respect is given so
much priority as it is in prison, being that your health and well-being depends
on giving and demanding respect. In most prisons, if you carry yourself like a
man and show no immaturity or weakness, you will more than likely have no
problems. Generally, if a problem does arise between 2 individuals, it spirals out
of control and ends up involving dozens of men because of the pervasiveness of
the protective clique or “homeboy” mentality that is the culture of prison life.
Most of the inmate-to-inmate problems in prison arise from arguments over the
television or the phone or from men either partaking in gambling, drugs, contact
prison sports, or homosexuals. If you avoid all those things, it is unlikely that
you will have any major problems with other convicts.

When I first came into the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the previous few
years before I came, the prison system was nothing like it is now but it was going
through the process of changes that led up to it being what it is today. There
were only 50 or so federal prisons in the country, and in terms of prison standards
of living, all federal prisons, including the high security penitentiaries, were
posh and accommodating. The overwhelming majority of those inmates in
medium, low, and minimum security federal prisons were white collar criminals
and people who had committed big money crimes, and they were almost all
White. There was premium carpeting on the floors, 1 man rooms, you could
wear your own street clothing and you could actually have cash money in your
pocket. The quality of the food that was served in the cafeterias was equal to or
above that of an average restaurant, and the commissaries carried pretty much
everything that the grocery stores on the outside had. The health care that was
provided for the inmates was excellent, and all medications and treatments were
free of charge. There were putt-putt mini-golf courses and swimming pools, all
the channels of cable television, and 300-seat movie theaters. There was lots of
exercise equipment made available to the prisoners; free weights, computerized
treadmills, stationary bikes, etc. They even brought in professional trainers and
instructors from the outside to teach yoga and exercise classes. Entertainment
like circus type acts, motorcycle clubs and car clubs, motivational speakers that
sometimes included politicians and celebrities, and even semi-pro basketball
teams were brought into the prisons on a regular basis. The inmates were also
periodically allowed to take furloughs, which are unescorted trips home for a
couple of days to visit with their families in order to maintain family ties. The
correctional officers as a rule treated the inmates with respect, and the overall
atmosphere was lax and comfortable. Back then, the federal prison system would
educate inmates free of charge and made all kinds of Pell grants and financial aid
available for them to be able to obtain the college degrees of their choice, and
provided them with training for any job skill that they might desire to obtain
while in prison. The prison jobs, (everyone in federal prison must perform some
type of work) paid relatively well, especially if you worked in the Unicor factory
where workers were able to make up to or above a thousand dollars a month. A
person serving time could actually maintain his household on the outside, pay
bills, and provide for his children from the prison job pay, or at the very least
save up and have some money in his pocket when he finally walked out the
prison doors. Unicor factories are the manufacturers of most of the amenities
that the government and the U.S military sells and utilizes; the uniforms, chairs,
desks, wires for the military aircraft, blankets, sheets, mattresses, etc. (Unicor
factories are the cornerstones of the prison set-up and are so cost efficient that
they could afford to pay every worker, inmate or civilian, $40,000 a year and
still make a bigger profit that almost any private sector corporation, if indeed
Unicor was a free market company with the government contract to perform
those services instead of an exclusively Bureau of Prisons ran company.) These
are all the reasons why people used to refer to the federal prison system as “Club
Fed”, because the jails were really similar to and ran like country clubs. There
were no jail bars anywhere. To do your time in such a fashion was less stressful
and pretty easy, and I caught the last year or two of that era before the entire
prison system was revamped and totally restructured. The Federal Bureau of
Prisons has since become one of the fastest growing arms of the federal government.
In 1980, the bureau’s budget was 330 million dollars and there were 24,000
inmates in 44 prisons. Compare that to the 2002 budget of 4.6 billion dollars
to service 102 prisons housing 165,000-plus inmates, with projections of it
getting to 190,000 by 2005. Just 1 year prior, in 2001, the Federal BOP was
only third largest with 142,530. Now, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is the
largest prison system segment in the country, closely followed by California’s
prison system with 161,387 and Texas with 146,773. The federal prison
population is up 700% since 1980. These statistics, I believe, are a direct result
of Bureau of Prison policy changes due to a shift in governmental perspective
and laws being constructed and put on the books to reflect that perspective.

The BOP implemented its changes in coordination with the new and growing
influx of Blacks into the federal prison system. This “new breed” of federal inmates
was serving much longer sentences and was largely poor, uneducated, and young;
in stark contrast to the usually White, well off, small sentence-having “old breed”.
A lot of these young Blacks were coming into the federal prison system with
sentences that would require them to do more time in jail than they themselves
had already been alive. Over a very short course of time, Blacks became the equal
and then the overwhelming majority in federal prison in terms of numbers.
New prisons were being built everywhere, and predictably enough, all of the
pre-existing perks and accommodations that everyone had heard about that made
doing time in the Feds “sweet” vs. doing time in state prison disappeared with
every new federal prison that was being built to accommodate the swelling growth
in inmates. Over 65% of the federal prisons that exist today were built in or
after 1985, which correlates with the implementation of the Mandatory
Minimum Sentencing Guidelines and the Crack vs. Powder law, which were the
main causes of all these young Black boys coming to federal prison. All of the
newly built prisons were uniformed under these new harsher and much different
provisions, and the majority of the pre-existing old prisons were eventually brought
into uniformity with the newly built ones. The thin wooden doors that were the
norm in federal prisons were taken off of the rooms and replaced with either iron
bars or thick steel safe-like doors. Gone were the carpet and the psychologically
soothing flowered wall paper and wall paint colors that used to cover the walls.
The water fountains and flower gardens that were used for decoration on the
compounds were uprooted. The 1 man rooms were turned into 2 and 3 man
cells, with the television rooms being converted into 8, 10, and 12 man cells.
Prisons that were built to house 800 men were packed with 2,500. The
commissaries and the cable television channels were pared down to a bare
minimum, and we were told that because we were convicted criminals we didn’t
deserve “premium” cable channels and food items. The free weights and expensive
exercise equipment were eventually pulled out, and the prison job pay was lowered
to a maximum $120 a month for the Unicor factory workers and to a miniscule
$5 to $20 a month for all the other job details. Because necessities like washing
powder, deodorant, and phone calls to your family, which were formerly given
to inmates periodically and free of charge, was not given any longer, this lowered
pay forced inmates to either do without or ask their families to send them money
to purchase these items and phone credits from the commissary. The phone calls
went from being unlimited to being allowed only 300 minutes a month of
phone talk time in 15 minute increments at almost $10 per increment for long
distance calls. The Pell grants and financial aid for college courses were
discontinued, the putt-putt golf courses and swimming pools were concreted
and sanded in, and the unescorted furloughs came to a cease. Even the possession
of porno magazines, which was formerly allowed, was outlawed. The meals went
from Grade A quality food that sometimes included steaks and shrimp to the
cheapest food possible; meals mostly made up of processed soybean or mystery
meats and lots of potatoes and rice. All the medicines that used to be free were
now sold to the inmates in the commissary instead. The posturpedic-styled
thick mattresses and spring-bottomed bed frames that were the norm in federal
prison were taken out and replaced with flat 2 inch thick mattresses and sheet
steel-bottomed bed frames that basically make you feel like you’re sleeping on
the floor when you lay on them. As for the overall educational availabilities,
manual labor courses became the focus of the curriculum; brick masonry,
carpentry, plumbing, and assembly line skills. Federal prisons as a whole took
on a sort of plantational structure and a very different kind of oppressionistic
aura that formerly was not present. Inmates became more limited in ways that
they could move around or things that they could say and do. The majority of
the white collar criminals were sent off to minimum security prison camps,
where there were no barbed wire fences or walls around them and where they
could still be afforded some of the same privileges that they were used to.

At this time, corporations were allowed to jump in and profitize off of the
new prison industry boom with privately owned prisons. From 1985 to 1995,
prison beds under private corporate management grew from 935 to 63,595.
Professionals then predicted that there would be some 350,000-plus privately
run prison beds in the U.S. by the year 2004, which is an increase of almost
49,000% from 1985. Wackenhut Corrections and CCA (Corrections Corporation
of America) emerged as the biggest and most well known private prison companies.
They are profit motivated conglomerates of privately run prisons that were started
for the purposes of taking advantage of the budding inmate “market” during the
mid-late 80’s and to make large sums of capital off of it for their investors, via
state and federal government contracts. These private prisons usually receive
between $25 and $30 per day per prisoner from the government, which is
about $25,000-$30,000 per day if the prison houses 1,000 inmates in it. CCA
is the frontrunner in the corporate private prison sector of the “market”, and is
typically one of the more recommended and profitable stocks on the stock market.
Since the big incarceration movement, there have been scores of CCA prisons
built all across the country. In 1985, there were less than 5 prisons owned or
managed by CCA. In 2003, CCA alone owned or managed over 65 facilities and
housed over 70,000 prisoners nationwide. The major investors and profiteers in
CCA are politically connected high profile people or individuals in the know
who invested at the IPO stage (the Initial Public Offering of the stock) because
they had first hand, dependable information that prisons would be a most
profitable investment in the upcoming future. (Some are very famous celebrities
and ex-politicians, so many of them set up their investment ventures in such
ways that their involvement is secretive and cannot be easily traced or verified,
therefore I can only speak on prevalent rumors about their doings.) Some took
the opportunity to take advantage of the prison boom by setting up companies
to manufacture generic foods, clothing, and cosmetics to sell to the federal prison
system for inmate purchase and use. Keefe, a multimillion dollar company which
makes snack foods and drinks to be sold in prison commissaries all across the
nation, is rumored to be owned in large stake by late former President Ronald
Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and The Bush family. Keefe virtually has a monopoly
on the snack food and inmate amenities market for federal prisons. Bob Barker,
founder of Bob Barker Inc., is the primary manufacturer of boots, soaps, clothing,
and other items for federal and state prisoners, and allegedly utilizes cheap labor
in Mexico to do it. Only well connected, high profile, and trusted people within
certain circles would be able to secure these lucrative contracts with the
government.

Some of America’s biggest financial institutions took advantage of the prison
boom situation as well. Financial monoliths like Merrill Lynch and Co., Prudential
Insurance Company of America, and Goldman Sachs and Co. got involved and
competed with one another to underwrite lucrative construction jobs with private
tax-exempt bonds that didn’t require voter approval. Other hallmark companies
also found ways to profit from the exploitation of prison labor. (TWA, McDonalds,
Texas Instruments, Dell, Kaiser Steel, Spring, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Pierre
Cardin, MCI, IBM, Motorola, Toys R Us, AT&T, Revlon, Eddie Bauer, Lexus,
Boeing, Honeywell, Nordstrom, Jostens.) Public officials cashed in on the
blossoming industry as well. Former Tennessee Governors Don Sundquist and
Lamar Alexander and Tennessee House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh as well as a slew of
others invested gigantic sums of money through their spouses into the new gold
mine prison industry. They made tremendous profits while simultaneously using
their elective government positions to push for more and harsher laws to be put
on the books to ensure that their prisons are filled and more are built. I’m using
Governors Sundquist and Alexander and Speaker Naifeh as examples because
they are from my home state and I am very familiar with their doings. CCA
founder Tom Beasley is a former business partner and very close personal friend
of both Sundquist and Alexander. In 1998, Sundquist tried unsuccessfully to
get most if not all of Tennessee’s prisons privatized so that he could bolster his
own (his wife’s) CCA stock value. Alexander had done the exact same thing 13
years earlier when he was Governor. In 2002, one of Governor Sundquist’s last
big initiatives as a lame-duck Governor was to draft and propose a plan to add
7,000 new prison beds in Tennessee, much of which would be either owned or
managed by CCA. There are so many examples of this type of abuse and
malfeasance going on across the nation, but it is all kept very quiet and among
friends. This type of activity is a sort of legal insider trading, because the owners
of the prison stock are ensuring the growth and profitability of their investment
by tailor-making the laws to ensure that more people will be imprisoned and for
longer lengths of time. It is obvious that this type of corruption would arise
where you have legislators and government officials who have a financial selfinterest
in prisons and who also view prisons as a tool for stimulating economic
development.

Whoever originally came up with the idea to industrialize and then capitalize
off of the criminalization and incarceration of millions of Black men could arguably
have their names mentioned in the same breath as the Henry Ford’s, John
Rockefeller’s, and Bill Gate’s of the world, but more befittingly with the Hitler’s,
Stalin’s, and Mussolini’s. The overall grand scheme of it, with its societal probability
hedges that keep the revolving doors of prisons swinging with the more-likelythan-
not entrance and return of the Black and disenfranchised, is ingenious in
its setup and sinister in its purpose. The penal system is indeed being utilized as
an economy stabilizing tool for the nation and as a predatory entity against the
Black men of America. That fact is especially obvious when you’re on the inside
looking out. Factories, steel mills, large convenient stores and malls used to
bring the small cities and counties of the nation jobs to bolster their attractiveness
as a place to live and to raise their tax revenue and build their small economies.
Today, prisons are one of the most sought after economy boosters by these low
population, low revenue areas. For the past 15 years or so, prisons have been
strategically placed in virtually unknown backwoods areas like Estill, South
Carolina; Manchester, Kentucky; Beckley, West Virginia; Forrest City, Arkansas;
and Yazoo, Mississippi; little towns that you would be hard pressed trying to
find on a map. They are being built in complexes; meaning that 3 or more
1,000-plus bed prisons of different security levels are placed in 1 area together.
Upon arrival of these prisons, the small towns’ populations always grow
substantially, other businesses come in, and the unemployment rates drop
drastically due to the several hundred good paying jobs the prisons create. It’s
also the norm that these small towns are typically full of rednecks and racist
Whites who are mostly related or at least closely familiar with one another and
have no regard or respect for the mostly Black male prisoners that they are put in
charge of overseeing and managing. A lot of them usually have never had any
real dealings or close contact with Blacks in their entire lives. They usually have
a blatant us-against-them mentality, and as an inmate you are totally at their
mercy. It is true that the closest thing to being a slave is being in prison, but
under these types of circumstances it’s not just close, you are a slave. You have
absolutely no rights that they are bound to respect, and if a disagreement occurs
between an inmate and a guard the inmate is always wrong, even if his gripe is
totally legitimate by their own policies and rules. A prisoner can easily get thrown
into isolation in the S.H.U. (Special Housing Unit) for several months simply
for disagreeing with the wrong staff member about something, and if they should
decide for whatever reason to beat you up or punish you in some extra-extravagant
way that they are not supposed to, the staff members all stick together and cover
it up. I have personally seen and also been the victim of assaults by prison guards
on numerous occasions. In 1993, when I got transferred from the Atlanta
penitentiary to a newly built prison in Manchester, Kentucky, the first day I was
there I was assaulted by a prison guard and ended up with 2 cracked ribs. I had
just gotten off of the bus that brought me there and someone had pointed me in
the direction of the case manager for my assigned housing unit so that I could
ask him to let me make a phone call to my family to let them know where I was.
My case manager happened to be standing outside in front of the cafeteria talking
to an officer. I stood a respectful distance from them and patiently waited until
they would finish talking. The officer, whose name was Worthington, then turned
around, saw me standing there, and told me to turn around and cuff up, meaning
put the handcuffs on, because according to him I was listening to them talk.
When I refused to cuff up, he swept me off my feet, slammed me face down on
the concrete, and dropped his knee on my back, which cracked my ribs. I was
then taken to isolation where I stayed for 7 months, and while I was in there I
was allowed no phone calls and was not allowed to send out or receive mail. A
few days after it happened, Warden Luttrell and the captain, who is the chief of
security in prison, came through the S.H.U. and saw me. I was in severe pain
and my side was black and blue. I showed it to them and asked to see the doctor.
The captain told me, right in front of the Warden, that “By the time you do see
the doctor, you will be healed.” (That Warden, ironically, was the Sheriff of
Shelby County in Memphis at the time this book was published.) I’ve seen so
many men get thrown in the hole or isolation for 2, 3, even 4 straight years,
sometimes for just saying something that some staff member didn’t like or agree
with. Truth be told, some of America’s deepest darkest secrets have occurred
behind prison walls; from basic violations of civil rights to actual torture, beatings,
and hangings being committed by prison guards.

While at that newly built prison in Kentucky, I was eventually released from
the hole (after my ribs healed) and put back into general population. Shortly
thereafter, I observed dozens of White inmates get their sentences reduced and
get immediately released because of a decision by Congress’ Sentencing
Commission to revamp the LSD drug laws, which at the time were very harsh.
The Sentencing Commission had voted to change the way that the possessed
amount of the drug was tabulated, which effectively cut the sentences of those
incarcerated for the drug by 50%. There were only around 500 people in federal
prison for LSD at the time, and almost all of them were White. Congress agreed
with the Sentencing Commission that LSD defendants weren’t getting a fair
shake and that their sentences were too high. Most were given immediate releases
in November ’93 when Congress decided not to hold a voting session to veto the
commission’s recommendation to lower the penalties for LSD. (When the
Sentencing Commission, which is an independent panel of sentencing experts
hand picked by the President, makes a recommendation to Congress, it
automatically becomes law on the first of November of that same year unless
Congress takes decisive steps to vote it down beforehand.) It was maybe 3 or 4
days after the first of November that I awoke and looked out of my cell widow
and saw 30 or 40 White inmates, who formerly had 15 and 20 year sentences,
lined up at the prison entrance gate getting ready to be released. Most of them
had not even been locked up for a third of their sentence. I distinctly remember
how the prison staff and case managers scrambled to get them released as soon as
possible after they had verified the change of law. This action by Congress gave
most of us who were serving mandatory sentences for crack cocaine some hope
that we too would soon get some kind of relief. If Congress thought the LSD
sentencing law was unfair and that too many people were in jail for too long
because of it, then surely they would see fit to change the Crack vs. Powder law,
where there was absolutely no doubt that it was too harsh and was the direct
reason behind the overflow of offenders into the federal prison system.

Just as we had hoped, The Sentencing Commission, under President Clinton,
began to make inquiries into the illegitimacies and disparities encompassing the
Crack vs. Powder law. They subsequently began to make recommendation after
recommendation to Congress to repeal the law based on what they saw as clear
evidence that there was no justifiable reason to give 100 times more jail time to
a poor street level crack dealer than to a high level multimillionaire powder
dealer. The Commission found that there was also clear evidence of racial inequities
in the effects of the large sentences given out for cocaine in the form of crack.
The Commission pointed out that since the Crack vs. Powder law was enacted,
Blacks sentenced in the federal system had 49% higher sentences than Whites
sentenced in the federal system. They agreed that cocaine is cocaine no matter
how it is consumed or sold or who sells it, so everyone who is sentenced for it
should be given a sentence determined only by the amount possessed and not
take into consideration the “form” that it is in because that is irrelevant within
that context. President Clinton himself had even proclaimed that the Crack vs.
Powder law was wrong and that it should be changed. He had promised Black
voters he would get it changed during his 1991 and 1995 Presidential campaigns.
(In reality, I believe that Clinton knew all along that it would never happen, but
decided to just tell Black folks what they wanted to hear.) The Sentencing
Commission continuously made recommendations to revamp the law, all of
which Congress vehemently voted down. In 1995, the Commission made its
third recommendation to Congress to change the law, and the rumor had been
spread throughout the prison populations that this was the year that they would
finally correct the serious wrong that had been allowed to stay on the books for
far too long already. Everyone was hopeful that Congress would not step in this
time and prevent it from being enacted into law. In October, just 1 month
before the recommendation by the Commission would have become automatically
instituted into law, Congress held a vote on the issue, which was a good indication
to us that they would once again turn it down. The debate and voting session on
the issue in The House of Representatives was broadcast live on C-SPAN, and
probably every single television in the entire federal prison system was tuned in
to that channel when it was being conducted. I was in the Federal Correctional
Institution of Memphis at the time, and I know that every TV there was on CSPAN
and almost everybody there was watching, even those who didn’t have
crack cocaine cases. This was the first time many of us had taken the time to
actually watch Congress doing its business of voting on issues, and everyone
who had been sentenced under the Crack vs. Powder law was enthralled with
anxiety and hope, despite the odds. We all squeezed into the television rooms
and sat nearly motionless and watched the debate from beginning to end, which
was nearly 3 hours.

When an issue is being debated and voted on in The House of Representatives,
the lawmakers that are for or against the piece of legislation at hand traditionally
sit on opposite sides of the aisle from each other. But on this particular day, it
looked like they were separated by race instead of their voting intention. The
Black Caucus was on one side of the aisle along with a few White Representatives
who were empathetic and agreed with them that this was a bad law. On the
other side were the other 350-plus Representatives who wanted the Crack vs.
Powder law to stay just as it was. There was no Democrat vs. Republican
partisanship on that day; the voting session was blatantly conducted, from our
spectators’ point of view, as Black vs. White. Despite the fact that the entire
Black Caucus was Democrats, the White Democrats did not side with them on
this issue. The “Black” side was led by Rep. Maxine Waters of California and
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. An ex-federal prosecutor out of Florida named
Bill McCollum led the “White” side. The side where the Black Caucus sat was
mostly empty because there were only 39 Blacks in Congress at the time, but
the other side was full to capacity. What we would see play out in that
Congressional session would stir an already fermented anger in every one of us
who was watching and who was affected by this law.
The Black Caucus had brought in expert witnesses who were chemists and
law enforcement officials. The chemists gave concurring testimony that crack
cocaine and powder cocaine are chemically the same drug, and that any sentencing
disparity between the two is not justified. The law enforcement officials testified
that they in fact are normally given orders to focus on low income urban areas in
their policing and undercover drug operations. Rep. Maxine Waters, while
confronting the bastion of resistance by the White Congressmen who stood firm
on their position even in the face of righteous argument and hard facts to the
contrary of what they were espousing, became highly emotional in her
chastisement of them. She told them that she knew that if it were their sons,
brothers and nephews going to federal prison for long stretches of time for first
time offenses and small petty amounts of the drug, that they would be head over
heels trying to remedy the Crack vs. Powder sentencing laws, or that the laws
never would have been implemented in the first place, but because it was only
Blacks being affected they didn’t care. Since there are 435 Representatives in the
House, those wishing to speak are allotted only 5 minutes apiece so that everyone
wishing to speak can be afforded the opportunity to do so, but Mrs. Waters
became so upset with the obviously racist overtones involved with the opposition’s
argument that she repeatedly refused to leave the podium when her time would
run out. Other members of the Black Caucus would stand and give her minutes
of their time so that she would not be forced out of the hearing because of her
refusal to adhere to the rules and relinquish the podium. Whenever she would
finally leave the microphone, she would snatch her papers from the podium and
march defiantly back to her seat glaring back at the other side, only to get right
back up and march back to the podium as soon as one of them said something
that wasn’t right. Her passion about the issue was so strong, and her courage and
willingness to tell it like it was in plain language made me fall in love with her
right then and there. I think a lot of us did, and moreso than just the fact that
they refused to change the Crack vs. Powder law, the way they disregarded and
disrespected Mrs. Waters during the debate that day is the main reason why
numerous federal prisons all over the country erupted in riots and demonstrations
almost immediately afterwards. (Those insurrections were history-making in
magnitude and scope just like the one that took place in Attica in 1971, because
they caused the government to have the first ever nationwide prison lockdown;
meaning all federal prisons and some state prisons in the country went onto
lockdown status simultaneously. Unlike Attica though, most people are not even
aware that this happened. I have never seen something of such massiveness be
kept so quiet.)

Right before the vote was conducted, Rep. Bill McCollum stood up and
told Mrs. Waters that if she was looking for someone to blame for the affects of
the Crack vs. Powder law on the Black community, she should be aware that the
only reason that law enforcement has such a big presence in the Black communities
and the main reason so many young Black men are in prison for crack is because
the decent Black residents in those areas continually call the police requesting
for them to come and arrest the drug dealing troublemakers. He said that the
police were trying to serve the Black community’s interests by doing what those
residents requested, so she should be applauding their progress instead of
lamenting them. Mrs. Waters in return blasted him, telling him that he was
insulting her intelligence and the intelligence of Black people by suggesting
that they (Mr. McCollum and the police) cared more and knew more about the
Black community’s interests and needs than she and the Black Caucus did.
When the vote on the bill was finally conducted, it was overwhelmingly voted
down as we all had suspected it would be, and now there was a fresh new element
added to our anger and our bitterness about the whole situation. We could tell
by the apologetic and overtly racist stance that the White members of Congress
had taken on the issue during the debate, coupled with the condescending
attitude that they had shown toward Mrs. Waters and the other leaders in the
Black Caucus, that they would never voluntarily change this law. We also knew
that the Blacks in Congress would have an extremely hard time even getting this
issue up for a vote again because The Black Caucus has very nominal power on
Capitol Hill when it comes to making things happen in the specific best interest
of the Black citizenry of this country. There is now and has always been too few
of them to make a real difference, and even though they always lobby and vote as
a bloc on a lot of key issues where Blacks have an interest, they are for the most
part unsuccessful in attempts to make any across the board changes or
implementations of law in any significant way. The only times that they are able
to do it is when it is something that the White lawmakers consider to be a winwin
scenario for them also, and this particular issue evidently does not fit that
description as far as they are concerned.

That next morning, everybody in FCI Memphis was up in arms and expressing
a desire to do something to make a statement of defiance about what had
happened the day before. Men secretly began to organize and discuss what, if
anything, should be done. It was loosely decided that we should tear the prison
up. Most of the riots and demonstrations that I had personally seen and the
ones I’d heard about were all about things like bad food, wanting more privileges,
or just pent up anger. I had never before thought that so much unity and
determination among inmates in prison would ever be possible to the extent
that they would mount an organized demonstration for a serious political and
big-picture purpose. This instance proved to be different. All of the gangs that
were supposed to be enemies came together. Even the Aryan Nation and the
Dirty White Boys, who normally didn’t collude with the Blacks on any level or
for any reason, took the opportunity to express regret for what Congress did and
actually were on the front lines of initiating the riot even though none of them
had crack cases. (My personal belief is that they just saw an opportunity to
express their own hatred and malignance for the government and just wanted to
go off and tear the prison up no matter what the cause, and were realistic enough
to know that it would take everybody participating to do it sufficiently.) Before
a decision of what exactly was to be done and how it was to be carried out was
finalized, we got wind that the Federal Institution in Talladega, Alabama had
already kicked off a full-scale riot earlier that morning. The local news was covering
it and they said that it was believed that the riot was pertaining to the fact that
the crack cocaine sentencing law wasn’t passed. When everybody at my prison
heard that, there was nothing left for discussion; we would definitely be next.

The prison administrators at FCI Memphis had also been made aware of
what was happening in Alabama and were put on alert by Bureau officials in
Washington D.C. to be watchful of their own inmate population because FCI
Memphis is the closest federal prison to the one in Alabama. The guards could
sense tension in the air and could see groups of men formulating and whispering,
so they quietly tried to lock the prison down 1 unit at a time. My unit was the
first unit they attempted to lock down. Men in my unit were still undecided
and were skeptical about whether everybody would stick together in the entire
prison in order to pull the demonstration off right. They were mostly still standing
around talking when 15 or 20 guards came in with batons out, yelling for us to
go to our cells and close the doors. It took a while but they finally got most of
the inmates in my unit locked down in their cells. When I went to my cell, I
looked out of the window and saw a group of maybe 50 or 60 convicts convened
in the center of the yard talking amongst each other. I recognized them as the
leaders of the Gangster Disciples Gang, the Crips, The Aryan Nation and The
Dirty White Boys. The administration quickly abandoned the quiet approach
and over the loudspeaker had started calling for all inmates to immediately
report to their units, obviously to be locked down. The officers on the yard were
yelling for everyone to keep moving and not to stop and talk to one another and
were trying to surround the gang members, who despite the instructions being
given over the loudspeakers were still just standing there talking. All of a sudden,
that whole crowd of gang leaders struck out running full speed toward the
recreation yard, and the guards took off running in the opposite direction, yelling
and waving for all the other officers and staff members to get off the yard. The
person on the loudspeaker intercom started yelling at the top of his lungs for all
staff members to get out of the buildings quickly and to run to the front gate to
make it out of the prison. A few moments later, I saw all of the men who had ran
to the recreation yard now returning to the middle of the compound where they
were at first, all of them wielding weight lifting bars and iron weights in their
hands that they’d gotten off of the weight pile. By now they had doubled in
numbers and had started to chase some of the already running officers towards
the front gate. Some of them broke into the Unicor factory building, trampling
over an overzealous, thoroughly hated Uncle-Tom Black lieutenant by the name
of Montgomery, who was blocking the factory entrance doorway trying to protect
all of the computers and equipment that was in there. They stampeded through
there and completely demolished the place, then proceeded to the commissary
building where all the food items were stored. By now pretty much everyone
who wasn’t locked down had joined in the fray, and all you could hear was glass
breaking, running and screaming. I went and looked out of my front cell door
and saw several secretaries trying desperately to get out of the building, but a
pack of masked inmates had the door blocked off. Evidently earlier in that day a
lot of men had fashioned masks out of cloth and skull caps, and now all of a
sudden it seemed that everybody had something over their faces. The women
that were trapped inside the building were hysterical and were screaming and
begging not to be hurt or raped. I heard one secretary voluntarily yell out that
everyone could have a turn with her if they would just let her live to go home to
her children. I heard some of the men with the masks on that were now running
around inside my building consoling the women and telling them that this riot
was not about that sort of thing, and that they would not be touched or harmed
in any way by anybody. A friend of mine who was in the Nation of Islam that I
recognized even though he had on a mask gave instructions for all the women to
be let out of the buildings and escorted up to the front entrance gate where they
could be let off the compound. A few staff guards however, were kept temporary
hostage in the unit because they were considered to be Uncle-Toms or had been
assholes in their everyday interaction with the inmates. Mostly everyone was
just running around breaking windows and smashing stuff, but some idiot had
prematurely set my unit on fire while we were still locked in our cells, and the
smoke had started to thicken and come into the cells from under the doors. Men
started panicking and banging on their cell doors and yelling at the top of their
lungs for somebody to find a staff member with a door key. Right when the fire
was getting really bad and on the brink of engulfing the whole building, my
unit manager, who was usually an entire asshole to inmates out of sheer meanness,
was caught by some inmates out on the yard trying to make it to the entrance
gate and hurriedly brought back to my unit. He had the keys to all the cell
doors in the unit, and when I saw 3 or 4 men march him through the building’s
front entrance jacked up by the seat of his pants and the nape of his neck, I
laughed aloud. Before that day, he would never miss an opportunity to treat an
inmate like crap and work you like a dog and be quick to lock you up in isolation.
Now he was sniveling and sniffling like the little weak coward that he really was,
apologizing for the things he had done and begging not to be hurt. I heard the
masked men instruct him to open all the doors, which he gladly did, and after
we were let out of our cells and everyone had waded through the thick black
smoke and made it out of the building, men just started rampaging and
commenced to setting afire all the other buildings on the compound. Some men
were trying to break into the vaulted records offices to look at the files and see
who the snitches were, and some were trying to get media contact over the
phone to alert them to what was going on and why. The Emergency Response
Teams and SWAT teams had gotten the prison surrounded by now, and were all
over the rooftops of the Unicor and front entrance buildings with high powered
rifles and machine guns with tripods on them. They also had camcorders running
and were taping everything that was happening on the outside. They repeatedly
yelled over the megaphone that if anyone approached either of those buildings
they would instantly be shot down. (Those were the only 2 buildings that they
went out of their way to protect because you could escape from the front entrance
building and the Unicor factories are the money makers for the Bureau of Prisons.
The Unicor building was already pretty demolished on the inside anyway.) After
most of the other buildings had been burned down, men were running around
drinking hooch and smoking dope and throwing finger signs at the SWAT men
looking down on them from the rooftops. Those who were found out to be
snitches were beaten up so bad that they had to be rescued off of the compound
by the police. It was a state of total chaos and destruction that went on for an
entire day and then, just as fast as it had begun, it was over. When the Bureau
officials found out that there were 4 or 5 more prisons across the nation doing
the same thing for the same reasons, they feared that it would get out of hand
and all the federal jails might get encouraged to riot if it was allowed to go on
too much longer. They didn’t want the national media to get wind of the
simultaneous prison uprisings and report on what was happening either. At that
point, they decided to take the prison back and squash the rebellion by any
means necessary, and announced over the loudspeakers that whoever didn’t
surrender themselves by that next morning would be taken down by lethal
force. After a full day of action, nightfall began to settle and everybody said that
they felt that the job was done and the point was made, so everyone agreed to
surrender all at the same time. We were told to report to the gymnasium, which
was one of the only unburned buildings, and to wait until the morning came.

The next day, after all 1,000-plus inmates had turned themselves in and
were handcuffed and shackled and the administration had re-established control
over the prison, they went out of their way to humiliate us and seek revenge.
They stripped us naked, smacked us around, beat us up, and snatched off our
necklaces and wedding bands and put them in their pockets. Some of the men
that had threatened or physically assaulted officers and staff members during
the riot were taken into isolated areas and beaten to a pulp. Then they marched
us all out to about 20 waiting buses and kept us on those buses for 2 consecutive
days, where we were not allowed to talk or even get up to go to the bathroom.
Men were forced to urinate and defecate in their seats. They fed us only 4
bologna sandwiches each over the course of those 2 days, then the buses suddenly
took off heading in different directions, some as far out as the West Coast. The
bus I was on went to a prison facility in Milan, Michigan, where upon our
arrival we were again sporadically assaulted and punished. We were made to
kneel down bare-kneed on rough concrete and make our foreheads touch the
ground, all while handcuffed and shackled. Under threat of a beating, we were
made to maintain that position for several hours and then finally put into locked
down cells, where we stayed for 3 to 4 months. Prisoners that had rioted in
other prisons from all over the country were arriving there also, and we all were
interrogated and interviewed. After they had reviewed tapes and obtained
statements from the snitches about who did what, they charged and prosecuted
those who they could make out on the tapes burning the buildings or hitting
guards. There were very few charged because most of the men that had done the
real dirty work had been wearing masks and couldn’t be identified. When that
process was complete, the ones who they had not been able to prove participated
in the riots were sent either back to the prison they came from or to another
prison elsewhere. I was sent back to FCI Memphis. When we arrived, we were
put to work cleaning up and rebuilding those parts of the prison that were
destroyed or damaged. I ended up staying there at that prison for another year
and a half, and then was transferred to another prison.

After those uprisings, the way that federal prisons were run became even
stricter than they already were. Psychological deterrents were put into place to
make sure that insurrections of that magnitude would in the future be harder
to initiate and carry out. Prior to the riots, federal prisons were classified and
differentiated by 5 security levels: Super Maximum Security, High Security,
Medium Security, Low Security, and Minimum Security. Inmates would be
screened and separated by the nature of their crime and by the amount of time
that they had to serve. For example, if you had a 3 year sentence for a nonviolent
crime such as money laundering or possession of counterfeit money,
you would be sent to a prison camp, which is minimum security. On the
other hand, if you had a long violent criminal history or you had a murder
conviction or was convicted of having a “large” amount of crack cocaine (which
for some reason is also considered to be a violent crime) and you had a long
stretch of time to do, you would more than likely be sent to a penitentiary,
which is high security. The point of this was to have everyone with like
circumstances in their crimes and sentences housed together and not have
men with 3 or 4 years to do or men with non-violent crimes in the same prison
with men who had life sentences and violent crimes. Since the riots, they have
determined that it would be better to have men with small time and nonviolent
offenses housed directly with the men with big time and violent offenses.
Their logic is that it would be much harder for the inmates to form a large
enough consensus and galvanize for the purpose of rioting or demonstrating
under those circumstances because the ones who are going home soon would
probably discourage or at least not participate in such an activity since they
would have too much to lose and nothing to gain, vs. the long timers who had
very little or nothing to lose. All of the prisons that demonstrated in the ’95
riots were medium or high security institutions, but now security
determinations have no real effective purpose, even though those security labels
(high, medium, low, etc.) are still used for specific prison descriptions. Serial
killers are now doing time in the same prisons and even in the same cells as
someone who maybe just got caught with counterfeit money. Despite the
obvious danger that these new procedures place the short sentence, non-violent
inmates in by having them in such close proximity with inmates who are never
going home and who are doing their time by a different standard, they were
implemented, and so far have worked. There has not been any more group
demonstrations of that sort since, even though Congress has continued to
refuse to change the Crack vs. Powder law and the other bad laws, and the way
prisoners are being treated is steadily getting worse and young Black men are
filling up these new prisons at an alarming pace and are increasingly serving
longer, harder sentences. Because of the lack of public awareness about the
events of October ’95 and the lack of follow-up support by the prison
populations all over the nation, the riots only served to make doing federal
prison time even harder and did not result in any positive changes in the
sentencing laws whatsoever. Yet and still, I do not for 1 minute regret that the
riots happened but only that they were not continued until Congress did the
right thing or until there were no more prisons in which to keep us. I wish
that the protest could have been sustained to at least the point where people
in society, particularly Black people, could get the gist of the magnitude of
what is taking place within the criminal justice system and thus keep some
attention on the matter. Those serving time in prison are obviously aware and
are still at the boiling point of anger, but have no real platform from which to
address it. Charles Colson, the famous Prison Fellowship chairman who went
to prison in the 70’s for his role in President Nixon’s Watergate scandal, says
that since he started the Christian organization he has visited 600 prisons
across the nation doing his ministry and that he has observed that Black male
inmates harbor intense anger over sentencing disparities and injustices within
the criminal justice system. He characterized this anger as “legitimate” but he
warned the U.S. government in a report issued after the September 11th tragedy
that this pool of Black angry prisoners could become a ripe recruiting ground
for radical Islamic terrorists and could present a formidable danger to America’s
interests when they get released back into society. That observation by Colson
demonstrates how bad this dilemma of Black male mistreatment and overincarceration
by the criminal justice system has become, and to date there are
no signs of corrective relief coming any time soon.

When I was released from prison on May 7, 2001, it was the happiest, most
memorable day of my life. Not only mine; my family said that it was the day
they had been waiting on with great anticipation since the very first day I was
put in prison. After 8 years and 10 months, I was finally free. I was released from
the Federal Correctional Institution in Beckley, West Virginia at 7 o’clock in the
morning. My last night in prison had been spent in solitary confinement because
I had gotten into an argument with an officer and I didn’t bite my tongue this
time since I was going home the next day. The officers had taken me outside in
the blistering cold and snow and stood me out there handcuffed with no shirt
on for about 30 minutes while they looked on the computer in the lieutenant’s
office to see if I had any good time credits left that they could take away from
me. When they saw I didn’t have any and that there was nothing they could do
to stop me from going home the next day, they threw me in the hole for the
night. They kept me handcuffed for the first 3 hours I was in the cell and took
the mattress and blanket out of it so that I would have to sleep on the naked
steel-bottomed bed frame or the floor. Nevertheless, I went home the next
morning, but when I went to Discharge to get processed out and get my things,
I found that all of the old letters, pictures and other property that I had compiled
and wanted to take home with me had been vindictively thrown away by the
officers. Just as I was leaving out through the gates, one of the guards told me
that I would probably be back within a few months and that I would have to see
them again one day. We jabber-jawed at each other for a minute and I got the
best of him and he actually had to be physically restrained by his fellow officers.
One of them put his hand over his mouth just as he was getting ready to call me
a “Black ass nigger”; he was only able to get “Black ass nig . . .” out before his
mouth was covered.

My mother and my girlfriend picked me up at the front entrance area outside
of the prison and we drove for 10 hours all the way from Beckley to Memphis,
Tennessee. We stopped along the way for something to eat, and I had my first
meal as a free man at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. The first thing I did when we
got to Memphis was go to the newly built shopping mall and pick up a few
clothing items, and then I went straight to see my maternal and paternal
grandmothers. I went to my maternal grandmother’s first, then over to my father’s
mother’s house. Over at my father’s mother’s home, I was immediately confronted
with the state of things in the New Millennium. I remembered my grandmother
as being a very stately and very together woman that demanded respect from
everyone, especially her grandchildren. She had always driven a new Cadillac,
wore expensive jewelry, and kept her home immaculate. My first cousin Dorian,
who is my double cousin since our fathers are brothers and our mothers are
sisters, was still living with her. She had raised him and given him everything he
needed and desired growing up and had shielded him from most of the negative
stuff that my brothers and I were exposed to when we were all kids. When I got
over to her house, I saw the total and complete opposite of how things used to
be at her house in the past. My grandmother’s health was failing; over the years
she’d had many complications from her diabetes. She had a glass eye, and one of
her feet had been partially amputated. She could no longer work and just could
walk without assistance. Her home was in complete shambles, with roaches and
rats running rampant and the paneling coming off of the walls and no air
conditioning. Her Cadillac was up on concrete blocks and her front and back
yards were unkept and full of weeds. I was in complete shock by all of this, and
I hadn’t quite gotten over it all when my cousin and my brothers all pulled up.
My grandmother had called them and told them I was over there and they’d
rushed over. As they came into the house, I looked at them closely and I hardly
recognized these young men standing before me. They all had grown up to be
drug dealers and gang bangers and they all looked older than their years. They
had hardened, piercing looks in their eyes and just looked stressed out. Now I’m
sitting there in utter amazement of what I’m seeing, with thick weed smoke
pilfering through the air, marveling at how those little kids that I left in 1992
had turned into these men that I was looking at now.

Contrary to how my grandmother had tried to raise him, my cousin by this
time had been kicked out of all Memphis City Schools, kicked out of Job Corps.,
been shot twice, and had been to jail 5 or 6 times. He exemplified very little care
for himself and was preoccupied with why his mother, my aunt, did not want
him when he was a baby and had given him to our grandmother to rear. His
father, my uncle, had been killed when Dorian was 11 years old so he had barely
even known him. Now Dorian had just resigned himself to gangbanging and
selling and using crack cocaine, marijuana, and pills of all sorts. (As I’m writing
this book, Dorian is locked up facing 15 years in prison.) As I’m sitting there
pondering and trying to register all of what I am seeing here, I hear Dorian
swearing and grumbling in the kitchen about something. I go in there, and he’s
at the stovetop rocking up an ounce of cocaine. The cocaine isn’t formulating
right and he is trying to figure out what is the matter with it. I hear my beloved
grandmother, the one who I could not imagine anything but good and proper
things about when I was younger, tell him to “put some cold water on it.” It
really struck me then how far things had regressed since I had been gone. Here
was my grandmother giving my cousin advice, proper advice, on how to rock up
his cocaine. Things had gotten that bad, that desperate, and I eventually saw
that it had gotten that way with quite a few of the people that I’d known before
going to prison. It was like everyone in my old neighborhood and everyone in
my area was doing badly; either working dead end jobs, unemployed, or doing
illegal activity. Most of the people that I had known from my mother’s old
projects were still living there, and their children had gotten grown and were
still there also, sometimes living in the apartment next door to their parents. A
lot of people that I grew up with had died from Aids and violence. Almost 10
years had passed and everybody was either in the exact same economic and
mental state that they were in before I left or was in a worse state than they were
in then. Crack cocaine was still as ever-present as it was in ’92, and there were
just as many users if not more, only now most of them were young people.
Gangs had totally taken over the streets of Memphis. Old factories and plants
that used to employ big numbers of people in the city had either gone out of
business or had restructured and moved out. The young drug dealers had not
learned a thing over the years; they were still conspicuously riding around in
their drug dealer-looking cars and wearing their drug dealer-looking jewelry, the
same stupid highly noticeable stuff that had caused so many drug dealers before
them to be caught. It was just an overall sad and stagnant state of affairs.

I personally was blessed to be released into a better than average situation
than for most young Black men getting out of prison, being that my family was
in a better economic position than most incarcerated Black men families are in.
My mother and stepfather had long since gotten themselves together, moved
out of the projects, and was now making a high middle-class living as selfemployed
entrepreneurs. They weren’t filthy rich by any means, but they were
fairly well off. They bought me clothes, helped me get transportation and a
place to stay, and gave me a job working in the family business. The first day
home, my girlfriend and I conceived a child, and we made plans to get married
and be a family. I worked everyday, made plans to start my own company, and
went out on the town and enjoyed my freedom. I met a lot of new people and
made some new friends and met some good potential business contacts. I finally
was seeing the world that I had dreamed and fantasized about for nearly a whole
decade up close and personal, and I felt that my chances of making something of
myself were good despite my ex-felon status.

One day, about 6 weeks after I’d been out, I received a call from an old
childhood acquaintance from my father’s neighborhood named George. I hadn’t
seen George since I had been out and we weren’t ever really that close of friends
to begin with, but when he called and asked me to come and kick it with him I
didn’t have any problem with it. It was normal; all of my old acquaintances
wanted to kick it with me being that they hadn’t seen me in nearly 10 years. I
went and scooped him up and he and I rode around and talked about all the
things that had happened in the neighborhood and in the city since I’d been
gone, and he showed me some of the new clubs and hot spots that had been
built since I left. He also told me that he wasn’t doing too well financially, that
he made about $100 a week cleaning out horse stalls in a local horse barn where
his mother kept her horses, and that he was still living with his mother at 27
years old. He didn’t have a car, and his mother was paying his child support for
him. I kind of felt sorry for him but I was not in any position to help him out
being that I was fresh out of prison and was trying to get myself together still. I
dropped him off at his mother’s house after we had been together a couple of
hours and went on my merry way. A few weeks later, I received another call from
George at about 7 o’clock in the morning asking me to please come and pick
him up at the horse barn and take him over to his father’s house in East Memphis,
which was out by where I was living. My motor had blown in my own car the
day before, and I was temporarily driving a friend’s car. When he called me, I
had just dropped my friend off at work and was headed over to my maternal
grandmother’s house to see her and to pick up my briefcase that I had left over
there with all my work related paperwork in it. George said that he really needed
to go over to his father’s house to get something, and that he also needed to talk
with me about something important. He made it sound urgent that I pick him
up as soon as possible, so I promised him that I would be heading his way as
soon as I picked up my briefcase. I made it to my grandmother’s house, picked
up my paperwork, and told her that I would be coming right back, but that I
had to make a quick run somewhere. I left, found the barn where he worked,
and picked him up.

After giving me directions to where his father’s house was, George started
telling me about this girl that he knew named Renita that made and sold
counterfeit money. He said that she had just recently told him that she had
some now, and that he wanted to go and see it to see how it looked and maybe
get some of it from her. He wanted me to take him to meet her after we came
from his father’s house. I told him that I didn’t want anything to do with any
counterfeit money, and advised him not to mess with it either because dealing
with counterfeit money was a federal crime. I knew that because I had just
gotten out of federal prison and had known many people who had been caught
with fake money. When I said that, he probably could tell how serious I was, so
he promised me he wouldn’t do anything with any counterfeit money with this
girl. He then told me that this Renita also had a friend who sold clothes and
shoes, and that she sold them for much cheaper than store prices. He asked if I
wanted to see some of it. Since I had only been out of prison for 2 months, I still
needed some more clothes and shoes for my wardrobe so I told him that I would
be interested in seeing some of the stuff this woman had. He didn’t say whether
this woman was a booster or if she was one of those street hustlers who go up
north and buy large bulks of clothing cheap and bring it down south to sell at a
higher price. He just said that she was a friend of Renita’s. He told me he would
call Renita and let her know that he had someone interested in seeing some of
her friend’s merchandise. I told him to let me talk to her when he called. After
we left from his father’s house, I stopped by my place and ran in for a minute
and when I came back out to the car George was on the phone with Renita. He
hung up, and then told me that she was going to call back with her friend on the
phone. Renita had told George that the girl with the clothes didn’t trust her
with the merchandise, so she was going to call him back with her friend listening
in so that she could hear for herself that someone was actually trying to buy
some of her goods. George told me that Renita said that I should talk on the
phone as if I was going to purchase all of the clothes in bulk so that the girl
would give her all of the stuff to show us instead of just some of it. When Renita
called back, he handed me the phone. I talked to her for about 1 minute, during
which time she told me where to meet her and said a few other things that I
interpreted as the scheme to convince the girl listening in that I was going to
buy her stuff. I didn’t hear the female who supposedly had the merchandise say
anything, but George had told me that she would just be listening in. I asked
Renita if this stuff was illegal or if she had anything to do with the police and
she said no. She told me to bring George and meet her at a Sam’s Club store
parking lot and told me that she would be in a new white Lexus truck. She asked
me what kind of car we would be in and I told her that we were in a green
Mazda 626. Right before I finished talking with her, George told me to ask her
if she was just getting “15”, to which she replied yes. George then took back the
phone, said a few more things to Renita, and then hung up. I asked him what he
had told her we wanted and he said he told her we wanted to see some jogging
suits and sneakers. I asked him if he planned on buying anything himself and he
said no; that he just wanted to see what she had. I then asked him why he had
told me to ask her if she was getting 15 if he wasn’t buying anything. He said
that Renita’s friend who was supposed to be listening was under the impression
that the buyers, us, would be taking all of her merchandise off her hands and
that we would give her $1,500 for it, but that Renita had only told her that so
that she could get the stuff from her. (Looking back, all of the complexity involved
with the situation, a situation that really should have been very simple, should
have indicated to me that something wasn’t right.) I got directions from George
to where the Sam’s Club was and after we found it we pulled onto the parking
lot and immediately spotted the white Lexus truck sitting in the middle of the
lot. I pulled beside the truck and I saw a light-skinned Black female sitting in
the driver’s seat. We made eye contact and she beckoned for me to come to her.
When I opened the door and stepped out of the car, George hurriedly got out of
the passenger side and told me to get back in the car and pop the trunk. I sat
back down in the driver’s seat and reached down and pulled the lever to pop the
trunk. I figured that maybe he was going to put the clothes in the trunk and
then we would go somewhere other than in the middle of this parking lot to
look at it. I saw George go to her window and talk with her for about 15 seconds,
then go to the back of the truck and come out with a big brown paper bag. He
walked toward the trunk of the Mazda with it. I’m sitting there and as I look
forward I see a white Cadillac Escalade with completely tinted out windows and
big 20-inch chrome wheels slowly pull in front of my car, horizontally blocking
my path. A thought flashed across my mind that this may be a robbery or
something, but when the Cadillac’s window rolled down and I saw a White guy
with a Secret Service hat on pointing a pistol at me, I knew exactly what it was.
I started hearing tires screeching, motors revving, and voices yelling. My door
was violently yanked open by someone I didn’t even see and I was forcefully
snatched out of the car and slammed on the ground. I heard voices screaming
“Get the bitch, get that bitch! We’ve been wanting her a long time!”, and I
looked up and saw some officers grab Renita and pull her out of her truck and
put her in another car. I saw George on the ground about 30 or 40 yards from
the car; he had tried to run when the police jumped out on him, but they
caught him. They pulled me up off the ground and stood me next to the trunk
of the Mazda and pointed to the brown paper bag that was sitting in it. The
head agent informed me that this was a sting operation involving counterfeit
money. The brown bag was stapled shut, but one of the Secret Service men went
over and pulled the bag open and started snapping pictures of the stacks of
counterfeit bills that were in it. There were now at least a dozen Secret Service
agents out there on the scene, all with body armor and automatic assault rifles
that looked like guns you would use in a full scale military war. The way the
agents were manipulating the bag of counterfeit money by opening it and taking
dozens of pictures of the open bag looked like they were trying to make it seem
as if the bag was put into the trunk already opened; as if everyone involved had
clearly seen what was in it. The head agent came up to me, pointed at the
money, and said that I was under arrest for conspiracy to possess and purchase
$200,000 worth of counterfeit money and that I was facing 15 years in prison.
After I told him that I didn’t know anything about that counterfeit money, he
read me my rights and then threw me in the car alongside George. They took us
both downtown to the Secret Service office to be interrogated.

When we arrived at their office, they photographed and fingerprinted us
then they put us into separate rooms. They fingerprinted George first, and while
they were doing me I heard the officers in the interrogation room screaming at
George and George screaming back at them. They took me into another room
and left me in there alone for about 30 minutes while they continued to interrogate
George, then a Black agent came into my room and told me that they knew I
didn’t have anything to do with the counterfeit money and that they were only
after George and Renita. He said that George had given a written statement in
the other room detailing what had happened and my not knowing about what
he was doing. However, he wanted me to make a statement against George
saying that he was actually going to purchase the $200,000 in counterfeit with
$30,000 in real money even though no buy money was found at the scene or on
George’s person. I told him I knew of no such intent by George and that George
in fact didn’t have that kind of money, and therefore I could not make such a
statement. How in the world could I make such a statement, even if I wanted to,
if I didn’t know what George was doing in the first place? They wanted me to
tell a lie for them, which would not only be used against George, but in effect,
would also be an inadvertent admission of guilt on my part. If I had made such
a statement it would have shown that I at least had knowledge of what George’s
plans were and took him to Sam’s to meet Renita still, which in itself is a crime
punishable by the same amount of time in prison as if I had actually committed
the crime myself. (I didn’t find this out till later on in the process after I researched
my situation and the laws involved in it, but I guarantee you those agents knew
it at the time they were trying to get me to make that statement.) After the
agent prodded and prodded and I continuously refused to say what he wanted
me to say, he got up and left the room. A short time later, the head agent came
in. He placed a file and a tape recorder on the table. He began telling me in no
uncertain terms that he could and would be able to make a case against me and
send me to prison right along with George if I did not cooperate with them in
convicting George and in working for them on the streets to catch other people
up with counterfeit money. He told me that he had run a computer check on
me and had seen that I had just gotten out of federal prison 60 days ago and was
on 5 years probation, and if I didn’t do as they say he was going to get on the
phone and call my probation officer and get me violated, then turn me over to
the Federal Prosecutors Office for indictment and prosecution. He said he had
me on tape talking about counterfeit money. When I told him he was either
mistaken or lying, he pressed play on the little recorder. I listened to 2
conversations between George and Renita talking about counterfeit money, and
then the brief conversation between me and Renita that we had earlier when I
was talking on George’s phone in the car. Even though that conversation was
clearly not about counterfeit money and was only about 1 minute long, he said
it was ambiguous enough that a jury could be convinced that I knew something
about what was going on. I told him once again that I had absolutely no knowledge
of what George and Renita were planning to do, and I told him that George had
mentioned counterfeit money to me but that I had told him not to mess with
that and he had told me that he wouldn’t. I explained to him what George had
said about the clothes and the people who were supposed to have the clothes
and that that’s what I was talking to Renita about on the phone. I still refused to
work for him, so he packed up his stuff, told me I was going back to prison
regardless, and left the room. Soon afterwards, they took me from that room and
put me in an SUV where I once again saw George. As soon as George saw me, he
started telling me how the officers were trying to get him to lie on me and say
that I knew about what he was doing. He told me that he had told them the
truth but they didn’t want to hear it. I cursed him out and asked him why he
lied to me about what he was doing. He said that he knew I wouldn’t have taken
him to meet Renita after I told him that counterfeiting was a federal crime and
that he shouldn’t mess with it, so he came up with that clothing story. He said
he had written out a sworn statement explaining how everything had happened
and admitting to what he had done. He promised he would get me out of the
situation as soon as he could explain to a judge or an attorney what had happened
and how he had gotten me involved.

We were detained in a private holding facility overnight, and when we had
our bond hearing the next day George was given a $10,000 bond and I was
denied bond because of an offhand statement I had made to one of the Secret
Service officers that I “would rather die than go back to prison”; a statement
I’d made to him when I was telling him that I would not dare commit a crime
such as dealing with counterfeit money because I didn’t want to go back to
prison. The agent manipulatively took that statement out of context and
portrayed it like I was an escape risk and used it to get the judge to deny me a
bond on that premise and to try to put pressure on me to work for them. It’s
ironic that they were painting me out to be an escape risk and George had
actually tried to run and get away at the scene of the arrest but yet wasn’t
considered to be an escape risk. It’s also ironic that George did not have the
$1,000 needed for him to make bond and had to stay locked up too, though
he was allegedly going to somehow provide $30,000 in this counterfeit deal.
The whole ordeal was based on lies by the agents and the informant. The
Secret Service agent had also lied purposefully when he said on the scene of
the arrest that I was facing a 15 year sentence. The sentencing guidelines for
$200,000 worth of counterfeit money was 18 months on a guilty plea and 2
years if a trial commenced and a guilty verdict was rendered. I found this out
once I got locked up. Before I found this out, I really thought that I was
possibly going to get a 15 year sentence, and for the first 3 days I was locked
up after my bond was denied I was physically sick. I didn’t eat and I didn’t get
out of bed. I didn’t take showers and I didn’t call my family. For the first time
in my life, I seriously considered suicide. All my life I had never thought I
could get so emotionally low to the point where I would seriously think about
taking my own life and I never understood how it was that other people could
kill themselves, but at that point I knew exactly how they felt. It was only after
another guy in my cellblock who was also locked up for counterfeit money
heard about me and what my charge was came to me and told me that there
was no way I would get 15 years for counterfeit money that I came out of my
funk. He showed me in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual how much
time I was actually looking at, and that lifted my spirits a great deal although
I still was very distraught because I was back in jail after only 60 days of being
free. I had hired a prominent local trial lawyer to represent me in the case and
had given him $2,000 to come to my first preliminary hearing, which was the
bond hearing. At that hearing, he came off with an uppity attitude and told
me that he couldn’t make me any promises and that he would charge $25,000
to be my attorney if I went to trial, most of which he wanted up front. Of
course I couldn’t afford that and plus he had failed to get me a bond, so I
ended up having to get a public defender. George’s mother had a friend who
was an attorney and she had hired her to represent him. Both of our attorney
tried to persuade us to plea-bargain, which George eventually did, but I refused.
Our indictment had 2 counts: Count 1 was for conspiracy between George
and me to purchase $200,000 in counterfeit money for $30,000. The second
count was for knowingly possessing the counterfeit money. George plead guilty
a few months after our bond hearing, and at his plea hearing he told the
judge, who was Judge Bernice Donald, the only Black federal judge in Memphis,
that he was not pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge on the indictment
because it falsely implicated me in conspiring with him to buy the counterfeit.
He told her he would only plead guilty to the second count of possession. He
explained to the judge what he had tried to explain to the Secret Service agents
when we were first arrested and had been explaining to me the whole time
that we were in the detention center together; that he in fact had known of the
counterfeit money, had sought to possess it but not buy it, and that he was
acting along with a scheme initiated and proposed to him by the confidential
informant Renita. He admitted that he had in fact lied to me as to why he
wanted me to take him to see Renita. He brought to the judge’s attention as
he had brought to mine that Renita had told him that day before we were
apprehended that she had access to $200,000 in counterfeit money and that
her friend, who prints the money on her computer and actually has it, would
put it in her hands only if she told her that she had someone who would buy
it. She (Renita) told George that if she got the fake money from her friend that
she would split it 50/50 with him and that they would tell her friend that the
so-called buyer had robbed them of the money, but that George would have
to help her convince her friend that someone was going to actually buy it first.
It was an elaborate scheme that she concocted to get him to have incriminating
conversations on the phone with the police listening in and recording them,
unbeknownst to him, about him buying the fake money for himself and a
friend of his for the price of $30,000. Renita along with several other people
had been arrested and charged with conspiracy of manufacturing counterfeit
money a month or so before all of this happened. She had been making and
selling counterfeit money for years and she drove luxury cars and wore expensive
jewelry, all acquired with profits from her illegal activities. Because she had
children and did not want to go to prison, she made an agreement to testify
against all of her co-defendants in the conspiracy case and to work for the
Secret Service on the streets. In exchange, she would do no jail time and would
be allowed to keep all of the possessions she had acquired from selling counterfeit
over the years. Her whole intent in bringing this scheme to George was to get
him on tape talking about purchasing the counterfeit, then tell him to come
pick it up whereby he would be arrested as soon as he touched the bag it was
in, which makes it an airtight case and an easy conviction for the prosecutor
and puts another notch on the belt of the head Secret Service agent. The only
problem for George was that he didn’t have a car and he needed someone to
drive him to where he had to meet her to pick up the counterfeit. That is why
he called me. Initially he had wanted to put me in on it, but when I told him
that I didn’t want any part of dealing with any counterfeit and that it was a
federal crime to have fake money, he told me he wouldn’t mess with it and
concocted that story about the clothes in order to get me to take him to meet
her. The story he told me was the same story she had told him, but he just
substituted counterfeit money with clothes.

When George told all of this to Judge Donald, she accepted his plea of
guilty to possession of counterfeit obligations and dropped his count of conspiracy.
My goal was to have both of my counts dropped, but the prosecutor refused to
do that. He offered me an 18 month sentence on a guilty plea, which I refused.
George had already made statements in my favor on the record and had expressed
to me his willingness to testify on my behalf in a trial in order to set me free, so
I went ahead and opted to go to trial. I felt that if George got on the stand and
told the truth there was no way that a jury would convict me of this crime. This
would be my second trial in federal court and I didn’t plan on losing this one
like I had lost the first one.

We had discovered through street buzz that Renita had been attempting to
use the same scheme she used on George on other people in and around George’s
neighborhood even before she had approached him with it, and we had obtained
the addresses and phone numbers of different people she had approached with
it. I told my attorney that I wanted her to contact these men and if necessary
subpoena them to come to court and testify about what Renita had tried to get
them to do. This was very important, because Renita had told the prosecutor
that George had approached her wanting to buy $200,000 in counterfeit money;
that everything was initiated by him and was his idea in the first place. Regardless
of her telling them that, I know that the Secret Service officers and the prosecutor
had to eventually know that this couldn’t be true. George couldn’t even make
the $1,000 deposit needed to get himself out of prison on bail! It would take a
person of extreme naiveté to believe that it was just coincidence or extremely
good luck on Renita’s part that she was in desperate need to supply the police
with victims so that she could stay free and not have to go to prison when Bam!!!
A man who doesn’t even have a car and lives with his mother approaches her and
asks to buy $200,000 in counterfeit money for $30,000 real cash. I just knew
that a jury would see through that in a trial. For her to approach people and seek
to entrap them in such a way is illegal and would cause the case to be thrown
out. Since the agents and the prosecutor didn’t want that to happen, they went
along with her version of who approached who, and probably even told her how
to say it.

After I made my intention to go to trial known, they switched my judge
from Judge Donald to the same judge I had on my first trial 9 years prior; Judge
Julia Gibbons. She is an ultra-conservative pro-prosecutor judge who is married
to the state district attorney of Memphis. I knew that she would be staunchly
against me, especially since this was my second time in front of her, but I never
expected what was to come.

My trial commenced on October 1, 2001 after being delayed a couple of
times by my attorney for what I thought were investigative reasons. I thought
that she and her investigator had subpoenaed the people who could come testify
about Renita approaching them with the same scheme she had approached
George with, but my attorney hadn’t even bothered to issue any subpoenas.
When I found out and asked her about it, she said that we didn’t need those
people to testify; that all we needed to win was George’s testimony. George had
written her a statement and sent it to her in the mail detailing his wish to be
called as a witness on my behalf and what he would testify to. He also sent a
similar letter to his own attorney letting her know his intentions. The prosecution
already had his statement that he’d made when we were first arrested which said
that I didn’t know what he was doing because he had lied to me and that I’d told
him not to mess with any counterfeit money when he had told me about it. The
prosecutor had included that statement in the discovery evidence (discovery
evidence is the evidence that the prosecution intends to use against the defendant
in trial) because at the time the prosecution submitted the discovery to the
court as evidence, it was unclear whether George would plead guilty or not, and
in case he didn’t, that statement in which he admits his own knowledge of the
counterfeit money could be used as evidence against him in trial. Once specific
discovery is declared and entered to the court and to the defense so that they
will have foreknowledge of what the prosecution plans on using and the ability
to map out a defense strategy against it, it is automatically entered into evidence
at the trial. In other words, it does not have to be approved again by the judge in
order to be entered and used as evidence in a trial. When George pled guilty, his
statement went from being a potential weapon against him to being an extreme
plus for me. All together there were 4 statements, including the verbal statement
George had made to Judge Donald during his plea hearing. George knew that
for him to go to trial would be useless because he had in actuality intended to
possess the counterfeit and had admitted that at the onset, but he knew that I
was innocent and he also wanted to expose the lies and entrapment tactics that
Renita had used to catch him up in the deal in the first place.

After we had picked the jury and were set to go, the prosecutor put on his
case first. He put Renita on the witness stand and she commenced to tell her
side of the story, which was a complete series of absolute lies. She testified that
George had seen her in a friend’s driveway the day before she set the bust up and
had approached her and asked her if she could sell him $200,000 in counterfeit
money for $30,000 real money. She then said she told him yes and immediately
contacted the Secret Service officer supervising her “work” and told him that
George had approached her with this proposition. She said she was then instructed
to meet again with George and talk more in-depth about the transaction with
the Secret Service agent listening in through a body wire. She then said she
subsequently talked to George again over the phone and that he told her that I,
Demico, was the one who would buy this money for me, him, and some other
person for $30,000, and that she talked directly to me over the phone about
this also. She claimed she was instructed by me and George to meet her at a
horse barn. She said George gave her directions to the barn and when she got
there, both he and I came out of the barn, got into her truck, and conversed
with her about us purchasing the fake money. She said that I allowed her to talk
to the other person on a cellular phone that was actually going to provide the
buy money. She went on to say that the conversation that she and I had that
next morning on George’s cell phone was concerning counterfeit money, not
anything else. She described how she was sitting in her truck wearing the wire
she had been outfitted with by the agents when we pulled up beside her in our
green Mazda 626. She said that I got out of the car, told her that we were
getting ready to take the counterfeit money over to the guy who was providing
the $30,000, and that we would call her later once we had made the transaction.
Then she said George got out of the car and asked where the money was, and
then went to the back of her truck and opened the door and retrieved the bag
containing the counterfeit. Finally, she acknowledged that she had been promised
a deal by the prosecutor in exchange for her testimony against me.
Scott King, the head case agent for the Secret Service, was the next prosecution
witness. He took the stand and said that Renita first contacted him on May 6,
2001, the day before the bust. He testified that she told him that a person by
the name of George had approached her and asked about purchasing $200,000
in counterfeit money. He said that she “later” told him that she had met both
George and me at a barn that same day. (He purposefully used the ambiguous
word “later” which could mean she told him that after the arrest or even at a
time way after that. It is so devious and crafty how these obviously deceptiontrained
government officials and officers play word games and semantics and lie
“legitimately” in court under oath.) However, upon cross-examination by my
attorney, he did admit that there was no one who was actually going to purchase
the counterfeit from Renita, but he said he believed that we were going to just
take it from her instead and pay her nothing. He had to admit there was no one
else involved because if he had said that someone else was involved, it would
have suggested that he didn’t do a good job with his investigation and arrest
tactics because he didn’t get the other persons Renita said were involved nor did
he know who they were.

After the agent’s testimony, the prosecution rested. The first witness we
called was George. George’s attorney, a Black woman, was visibly afraid of the
prosecutor and Judge Gibbons and tried everything she could to stop us from
calling George as a witness because she knew what they would do to him if he
testified for me. Everybody knew that Judge Gibbons was extremely proprosecutor
anyway, and that she didn’t want to see me go free. She had offhandedly
made comments and remarks that made that perfectly clear. Because of this,
George’s lawyer falsely told the judge, out of George’s presence, that George
didn’t have anything to say in my defense and wished to have his written
statements stand in lieu of any potential testimony we wished to extract from
him. She said that she felt that if he were put on the witness stand, the judge
would choose not to believe his testimony and would find him guilty of perjury.
The judge then essentially agreed with that assessment, saying that if George
got on the witness stand and testified in my favor that “It could potentially
create problems for him in terms of sentencing issues and whatnot.” This was
the first of several illegal veiled threats that she would give him in order to
prevent him from testifying because she knew that if he got on the stand and
told the truth that I would undoubtedly go free. George’s lawyer then went so
far as to suggest that George may actually lie on the stand in order to help me
and that because of that he shouldn’t be allowed to testify. His own lawyer did
this! After Judge Gibbons had made it crystal clear to everyone involved that she
didn’t want George to take the stand and testify in my defense, she had the
Marshals bring him out and put him on the stand to “find out whether he’s
going to claim his Fifth Amendment privilege” as the prosecutor had suggested
that he do once the judge had let her wishes be known. First she directed George
to talk to his attorney again so that she could thoroughly inform him of the
consequences that the judge would take out on him if he testified, and then the
following proceedings took place.

George, after having been first duly sworn, took the witness stand and testified
as follows:
The Court: I think this will proceed quicker if I can just question him. You are
Mr. Calvin Boothe, is that correct?
The Witness: Yes Ma’am.
The Court: And you’ve been brought in because Mr. Demico Boothe, your codefendant,
wishes to have you testify as a witness on his behalf. Do you
understand that?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: Have you had an opportunity today to consult with your lawyer
about that?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: And do you understand that it’s, if you testified, that Mr. Demico
Boothe’s lawyer would be seeking to ask you questions concerning the offenses
with which you are charged in this case, do you understand that?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: And have you made a decision about whether you wish to testify in
this case?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: Do you understand that you have the right to claim your Fifth
Amendment privilege in the case and refuse to testify on the basis that your
testimony might incriminate you? Do you understand that?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: Do you understand that you could testify if that’s what you chose to
do?
The Witness: Yes ma’am.
The Court: What is your decision concerning this matter?
The Witness: I came to tell the truth. That’s all I can do.
Now here is where the law requires her to stop questioning him with regard
to his decision to testify. She had met the burden of what the law instructs and
requires a judge to meet when questioning a potential witness who desires to
testify in court; she had made sure that he had consulted with a lawyer and
knew his right to not testify. He had already been sworn in to “tell the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth” before ever taking the stand, and after
all of this had again expressed his desire to testify and do just that; “tell the
truth”. Judge Gibbons then unlawfully continued to question him further and
seek to scare him off the witness stand:
The Court: Well, do you understand that—do you understand that it is
probably not in your interest as your lawyer has advised you, to testify in
this case?
The Witness: Yes, I understand, Judge, but I know the person that set all this up
and set me up with this, sitting up here lying, doing all the lying, so it is not
going to be right to sit up here and let her lie about it.
The Court: Do you understand that if you testify falsely in this case that you
could be charged with perjury?
The Witness: Yes.
The Court: Do you understand that if you testify falsely that that could also
have an impact on your sentence in this case because you could receive
enhancement points for obstruction of justice? Did you understand that?
The Witness: No.
The Court: And furthermore, you could potentially lose any points you would
get for acceptance of responsibility in this case if you testify falsely, so you
would end up with a longer sentence perhaps, not only because of the
obstruction of justice enhancement, but also because of the denial of points
for acceptance of responsibility? So if you do not tell the truth here or if the
court determines that you’ve not told the truth, then your sentence could
be significantly longer that it would otherwise be. Do you understand that?
The Witness: Yes.
The Court: Given that understanding that you have now, what do you want to
do in terms of testifying?
The Witness: I’m going to testify.
The Court: Anybody have any other suggested questions we might ask?
The Prosecutor: No.
The Court to George’s attorney: Is there anything you want to cover with him?
George’s attorney: No, Your Honor.
The Court to George: Do you think that a further opportunity to consult with
your lawyer might be of assistance to you? Are you confident that this is the
decision you want to make or do you have any interest in talking to your
lawyer further? (While she is saying this she is glaring at him and emphasizing
her words.)
The Witness: Can I talk to her again.
The Court: You may talk to her again if you want to, yes.

Now, what Judge Gibbons has just told him in a veiled but clearly
understandable way is that if he should testify, she will first of all not believe his
testimony, second of all not allow him to receive his 2 point deduction for
pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for what he did, which would amount
to an additional 6 months tacked onto his already agreed upon 24 month
sentence, and third, charge him with perjury and obstruction of justice which
could give him an additional 2 years. So now, if he testifies he will get 4 ½ years
instead of 2. She suggested that he go back and talk to his lawyer yet again
because she wanted the lawyer to let him know exactly what risk he was taking
by trying to testify. She knew that his lawyer didn’t want him to testify anyway
and that she would strongly discourage him from doing it. Now keep in mind
that all of this is clearly and precedently forbidden by law. A judge cannot
discourage a potential witness from testifying in a case in any way because the
defendant has a constitutional right to present a defense in a trial. A judge can
only inform the witness of his or her rights, and cannot give their opinion as to
whether or not a witness should testify, let alone encourage a witness not to
testify. I’m sure that Judge Gibbons knew this but figured she had a defendant
in front of her who was dumb, poor, and Black, and represented by a public
defender who probably wouldn’t really make an issue out of what she was doing,
so therefore she could get away with it. I guarantee you that if I would have had
a highly paid renowned and enthusiastic attorney representing me, she wouldn’t
have dared do what she did.

After the marshal took George out of the courtroom to a back room to wait
to talk to his lawyer once more, his lawyer first went and huddled with the
prosecutor at his table. After a few minutes, she arose and asked to address the
judge in private. The following was said:
George’s attorney: Judge, may we approach the bench and talk to you privately
about something?
The Court: Sure.
George’s attorney: With I guess Mr. DiScenza. (The prosecutor)
The Court: I don’t want to talk to some of the lawyers. I’m happy to talk to all
of you.
George’s attorney: Judge, Mr. Boothe is at Mason. (The holding facility) He’s locked
up and he’s currently—Apparently there has been, I don’t want to call them
threats from Mr. Demico Boothe regarding the safety of Mr. Calvin Boothe,
and that’s why he’s afraid to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege at this time.
And I think he probably would if he was out of custody, if there was a bond in
this case. I don’t know, you know, how the court would like to deal with this
issue. I know that he would assert the privilege if he was out of custody. He has
indicated that—He didn’t say that Mr. Demico Boothe has actually threatened
him, but he’s afraid that if he doesn’t offer testimony that he would.
The Court: I don’t want to get involved in negotiating with Mr. Calvin Boothe
over a bond and, you know, based on his testimony. I will tell Mr. Calvin
Boothe, however, that the marshal and the Court can try to take steps to
assure his safety. I don’t know what Mr. DiScenza’s position is about a bond.
That’s just another issue, though. We can have him housed somewhere different
if he’s concerned about his safety, and you know, I’m not the final determiner
of where he’s housed, but I can certainly speak to the marshal about it.
Prosecutor: I’m a little confused now. He’s been threatened by Mr. Demico
Boothe, so he doesn’t want to testify, but if he is out on bond where he can
be threatened, that he would testify exculpating Demico Boothe?
The Court: He would claim his Fifth.
George’s attorney: Because he’s afraid—His words to me were “You don’t have
to go back there with that person”, that’s what he said to me.

George’s lawyer, in her desperation to find some way to keep George from
testifying, took something he had previously said to her out of context and tried
to get the court to let him out of jail in exchange for him keeping quiet. He
already had a $10,000 bond that would only take a thousand dollars to get him
out, but she knew he couldn’t post it and thought that if she could get the judge
to let him out with no money paid, that he might change his mind and decline
to testify. I’ve talked to George since this happened, and he told me that days
earlier when he had talked to his lawyer that she was telling him that Judge
Gibbons would crucify him if he took the stand on my behalf and that she as his
lawyer strongly recommended that he not testify. He said he told her that there
was no way that he could just sit there and watch me go to prison after only
being out for 60 days for something he had gotten me into. When she insisted
that he not worry about me but only about himself, he said he told her “You
don’t have to go back to that prison with him, I do. You don’t have to have it on
your conscience that you got somebody into something like this and didn’t do
everything in your power to get them out of it.” She took that statement and
purposefully mischaracterized it to try and get the judge to let him out in
exchange for him not testifying. That kind of move would have been going too
far and would have been too overtly prejudicial, and Judge Gibbons knew that if
she had exchanged releasing him for his silence that something like that would
get her in deep trouble if it was ever reviewed by a higher court. When Judge
Gibbons refused George’s attorney’s offer, his lawyer went and consulted with
him once again and let him know in no uncertain terms that he would be a fool
to testify for me because the judge was certainly going to at least double his
sentence if he did. George’s mother, who was a personal friend of his attorney,
also was there advising him not to testify because she didn’t want him to get
more time. With the judge, the prosecutor, his own lawyer, and his mother all
warning him not to testify, he finally relented. After about 20 minutes of his
lawyer running back and forth from George to his mother, she finally came out
and gave the thumbs up, signaling that she had successfully persuaded him to
take the Fifth and not testify. They brought him out and put him back on the
stand.

The Court: Okay, Mr. Boothe, you are still under oath. Have you had an
opportunity to talk to your lawyer further concerning this?
The Witness: (Nods head affirmatively)
The Court: What is your decision?
52 DEMICO BOOTHE
The Witness: I can’t risk my points being taken from me.
The Court: Okay. So it is your desire to exercise your Fifth Amendment privilege
not to testify in this case?
The Witness: Yeah.
The Court: Okay. All right. You can step down and we can excuse him.
When they took George out of that courtroom, they took my entire defense
with him. Without his testimony, there was no point in me even going to trial.
He was the only person who could tell the jury exactly what he and Renita had
done and how he had lied to me about what they were doing, which resulted in
me being arrested and charged right alongside him. He was the only one who
could tell them about Renita’s lies on the stand and how she had entrapped
him. My attorney had failed to subpoena the men in George’s neighborhood to
come testify that she had tried the same scheme with them before she approached
George with it, so I didn’t have any way to prove that the entire situation was
the brain-child of the informant in the first place. If I could have proved that, it
would have gone toward proving entrapment and would have gotten me an
acquittal and possibly brought about a reprimand of the Secret Service officers
for using such tactics. At that point, I was sitting there in the shirt and tie that
my step-father had brought to the federal courthouse feeling like a complete
fool for believing that justice would prevail this time and I would walk out of the
courtroom that day as a free man. I looked around at the pretty much empty
courtroom and saw George’s mother staring at me. I was really pissed with her
because she knew that I was in this predicament because of her son and still had
lobbied hard to get him not to testify and clear me. I knew that as a mother her
foremost concern was his well-being and him not getting more prison time, but
I was mad just the same. I gave her an angry look, and then she motioned for my
lawyer to come and speak with her. My attorney went over and spoke with her
and came back to our table and told me that George’s mother had asked her if
she could testify for me. She said that she herself had been at the barn that
evening on the day before we were arrested where Renita had said she met up
with me and George to discuss the deal for the following day. Renita had testified
that she had gotten directions to the barn from George, pulled up at the barn
and George and I had come out of the barn and gotten into her truck and talked
with her about how we were going to do the deal, and then I let her talk to
another person over the phone who was going to provide the money to buy the
counterfeit. George’s mother said she was there herself when Renita had pulled
up in her truck at the barn and George had gotten in by himself and that she in
fact had held a conversation with Renita on that occasion, and that, most
importantly, I was not there at the barn when this took place like Renita had
falsely testified earlier. She said that she wanted to at least let the jury know that
this part of Renita’s testimony was definitely a lie and that hopefully that will
give them enough reasonable doubt about Renita’s credibility. She said she herself
would testify because she didn’t want George to do it and be subjected to more
prison time. At that point I didn’t have any objections to her testifying, so my
lawyer informed the judge that we had 1 person who wanted to testify, and then
George’s mother took the stand. She told what had actually taken place at the
barn; that Renita had pulled up in her new Lexus truck and had asked for
George. She said that she and Renita then held a brief conversation until George
came out and got in the passenger seat of the truck. Renita and George sat there
talking in the truck for about 30 minutes, and then George got out of the truck
and she left. After George’s mother told her story and answered all of my lawyer’s
questions, when it was the prosecutor’s turn to cross-examine her, he declined.
He knew that she was telling the truth and that as a witness she was above
reproach and could not be discredited.

What we had come to find out is that the particular meeting between Renita
and George at the barn had been listened to and recorded by the Secret Service.
Renita had haphazardly mentioned it in her testimony, and the lead case agent
had said in an earlier preliminary evidence hearing that they had “attempted” to
listen in on a conversation that day between Renita and George and myself. My
attorney recalled the agent to the stand and questioned him as to the whereabouts
of that recording. He responded that he didn’t have it any longer because he
couldn’t hear what was being said on it so therefore had determined that it was
of no use. That was a total crock of bull, and it had to be obvious to everyone in
the courtroom. Since when do the police throw away evidence? The truth was
that he didn’t want to present it because it would show I was not a party to that
conversation, and therefore would discredit Renita’s whole story. My lawyer
then questioned him about the tapes from the body wire Renita had on when
we pulled up beside her on Sam’s parking lot. Renita had said in her testimony
that I had gotten out of the car and said some incriminating things to her about
purchasing the counterfeit, so that conversation should have been recorded on
tape as well. He didn’t have those either. He said he heard over that wire Renita
and George talking, not me, and implied that I didn’t get out of the car and
speak to her like she said I did in her testimony. He had no choice but to admit
this because if he had said that what Renita said was true, the obvious question
would have arisen: Why didn’t you keep the recordings from that wire? He had
to say he lost or destroyed them because if he had produced them the lie would
have been revealed. Either way he would have looked bad, so he chose to indirectly
admit that Renita had lied about that.

My prosecutor was one of the most experienced prosecuting attorneys in
Memphis, and he out-argued my public defender throughout the entire
proceeding. I knew by this time that I needed to testify in my own defense
despite the fact that the prosecutor would bring up that I was a convicted felon
already and had just recently been released from prison 60 days prior to getting
arrested on this charge. A prosecutor cannot bring up a defendant’s criminal
history in a trial unless that defendant takes the witness stand and testifies. At
that point he can cross-examine the defendant and drag his past through the
mud and make him look really bad to the jury. I knew that it might be extremely
bad for me, but I also knew that if I didn’t take that risk I was almost guaranteed
to get found guilty. I could tell by how things had already gone and by the
lackadaisical investigative legwork and courtroom performance by my lawyer. It
needed to be explained thoroughly exactly what had happened, and only me or
George could do that. Since Judge Gibbons wouldn’t let George testify for me, I
would have to do it myself. I took the stand, and my lawyer guided me step by
step through the events that led up to my arrest. When it was the prosecutor’s
turn to cross-examine me, the only thing he really focused on was the fact that I
had a previous felony and had served a 10 year sentence for selling cocaine, and
that I couldn’t even make it 2 months out in society without getting into trouble.
When I tried to explain to the jury that Renita, the informant, had come up
with this whole scheme and was seeking to entrap someone so that she could
stay out of jail herself, Judge Gibbons stopped me and prohibited me from
getting into that, citing that I didn’t have first-hand knowledge of what Renita
told George. But George did and she wouldn’t let him testify! George was the
only witness in the whole trial that Judge Gibbons threatened and prevented
from testifying. She didn’t do it to Renita, who obviously had every reason to lie.
The prosecutor’s cross-examination of me was really weak on the facts of the
case, and all in all I got the best of him argument-wise. I had truth on my side
and the ability to articulate it and fend off some of the verbal trickery he was
trying in order to make me look dishonest and criminal, but with the judge’s
constant biased interjections throughout the proceedings and with him
concentrating on my past record and prison term and him mischaracterizing
that 1 minute conversation between me and Renita on George’s phone, he was
able to convince the jury of my guilt. After about 3 hours of deliberation, they
returned a guilty verdict on both the conspiracy and the possession counts. I
was torn apart. My lawyer started telling me that we had a great appeal issue
because of the judge not allowing my key witness to testify. (That appeal would
later be denied for no clearly stated reason by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
and also by the U.S. Supreme Court.) I wasn’t trying to hear that though. All I
knew was that I was going back to prison for some more years. I was sentenced 3
months later, and was supposed to be sentenced to between 24 and 30 months
for the counterfeit charges and between 4 and 10 months for the supervised
release violation. The sentence should have been run concurrent, meaning running
the smaller 4 to 10 month sentence in with the 24 to 30 month sentence for a
total sentence of anywhere between 24 to 30 months. Instead, Judge Gibbons
gave me an additional 2 point enhancement on my sentencing point guideline
for obstruction of justice because she said that she felt I lied on the stand. Really
she was giving it to me for taking the case to trial and not plea-bargaining,
which is a common practice for her whenever defendants in her courtroom opt
to go to trial and testify in their own defense. That 2 point enhancement put my
sentencing guideline at 34 to 40 months. She sentenced me to 36 months for
the conviction and 10 months for the supervised release violation and ran them
consecutive, making my total sentence 46 months. (Judge Gibbons has since
been promoted by President George W. Bush to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
She was actually on the 6th Circuit bench when they heard my appeal case and
denied it.)

I went back to the holding tank at the courthouse feeling that same feeling
I’d felt when I was first arrested and when the jury had come back with the
guilty verdict; like I had just been hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. All that
was running through my head was how in the world was I going to do another
almost 4 years right after I had done 9 years straight, and about my mother and
the rest of my family that had been waiting all that time to see me set free. I
thought about having to be around all of the ignorance and uncouthness that
comes with the territory with being in prison. I thought about those petrifying
cross-country “con-air” airplane trips on those old raggedy Bureau of Prisons
planes with duct tape on the wings and with pilots, several of whom in the past
I’ve seen visibly drunk while boarding the planes, who don’t have to be mindful
of the comfort of their passengers like regular commercial pilots do. They take
those planes straight up in the air and come straight down, the whole time
twisting and yanking them and making it feel like it’s getting ready to fall out of
the sky at any moment, while the 200 or so shackled, cuffed, and chained
prisoners sit there in utter terror. I dreaded having to look in the faces of those
same men that I did time with and left behind in prison and those same guards
that I had come to know while I was doing my last term and explain why I was
back so quickly. I thought about having to eat the sparse, horrible meals that are
served in prison. The foremost consideration on my mind about having to go
back to prison was the fact that I was getting ready to have a child and that the
baby would be born with its father absent. All of these things were weighing
heavily on my mind as they marched me out of the courtroom that day with a
fresh 46 month sentence to begin.

After 3 months of awaiting prison designation in the 20-man holding facility
that Judge Gibbons had the Marshals put me in during my trial, where everyone
else in there with me was facing either the death penalty, a life sentence, or a
gigantic amount of time, I was told that I would be returning to the same prison
that I’d gotten out from only 13 months earlier; The Federal Correctional
Institution of Beckley, West Virginia. Upon re-arrival at FCI Beckley, I got off of
the plane and was met by those same guards that I had gotten into the argument
with on the day I left last time. It was raining cats and dogs when I got off the
plane and the guards were out there in raincoats and galoshes doing the pat
searches and making sure the restraints were secure on the inmates getting on
and off the flight. The officer who had almost called me a nigger was out there,
and evidently they knew beforehand that I was to be on the planeload. When
the officers saw me come down the plane’s stairs, they jeered and cheered, and I
felt like the dumbest S.O.B to ever walk the earth. When it came my turn to be
searched and checked, they did it in a rougher than normal fashion and prolonged
it so that I had to stand out in the cold pouring rain for about 10 minutes with
nothing on but a t-shirt, pants, and those cloth slippers that prisoners have to
wear when traveling from prison to prison. After all of the prisoners who were on
the plane that were going to FCI Beckley had gotten off and those who were
leaving Beckley heading for prisons elsewhere had gotten on the plane, they
loaded us onto the buses and vans and took us to the prison, which is way up in
the mountains of West Virginia. I got off the bus at the exact same spot right in
front of the prison where I had gotten into the rented new Cadillac that my
mother and girlfriend had picked me up in. It seemed like it was just days ago
that I had come out of those wrought-iron gates and breathed the fresh air of
freedom for the first time in almost a decade, now here I was re-entering those
very same gates. Surprisingly those officers, even the one who had told me I
would be back, didn’t give me the hard time I thought they would once I got
back settled down in the prison. Regardless of that, it was the most hurtful
event of my life; even more hurtful than the lengthier sentence I had previously
served, and I got maybe 40 or 50 prematurely grey hairs in my head from the
experience. I spent months on end reminiscing about the thoughts that were
going through my head when I was released the first time, and how I didn’t get
a chance to fully realize my potential in my entrepreneurial aspirations and with
my personal relationships with my family and friends. I went on to serve the
entire 46 month sentence at that prison in Beckley, and was released once again
from there in November 2003. This time, the only things I carried out with me
through those gates were 4 notebook paper tablets on which I’d spent the majority
of that time there working on this book.

I chose to place this account of my personal experiences with and within the
criminal justice system at the beginning of this book because the subsequent
chapters are going to depersonalize everything that the reader gets from reading
this first chapter and put it on a “big picture” scale. There are many commonalities
between my personal experiences and the majority of the experiences of millions
of other Black men in America who are currently in prison or have been to
prison. Those commonalities that I speak of will be specifically outlined to the
reader in the following chapters, and because the characteristics of today’s many
situations involving Black men and the criminal justice system/law enforcement
are indeed so common, I felt that a descriptive and thorough first person account
of what is really going on with it was needed. The story of my own personal
experiences with the criminal justice system/law enforcement, when fully
understood, can definitely be seen as a real-life explanation of “why so many
Black men are in prison”.


1 Response to “WHY ARE SO MANY BLACK MEN IN PRISON?”


  1. June 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your website?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a
    little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or
    two images. Maybe you could space it out better?


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