Raylan Gilford was awarded Third Place in Memoir in the 2019 Prison Writing Contest.
Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. On September 18, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival, BREAK OUT: A 2019 PEN America Prison Writing Awards Celebration.
I landed at Danville Correctional Center in the winter of 2012. I placed all of my property into a rolling cart and headed toward Three House, B Wing, Upper Tier, Cell 71. When I made it to the unit, Officer Friendly slid me a key on top of a piece of paper with his index finger pointing to a specific section, and said, “Sign here.”
“What’s that for? You trying to set me up?” I respond, refusing to take the key.
Officer Friendly laughs in my face. And said, “No, I am not trying to set you up, sir; every inmate receives a key to his cell.”
“I ain’t going!”
He laughs even louder then tosses the key in my direction, forcing me to catch it midair.
“Now sign here please.”
I hesitantly sign the paper as Officer Friendly orally regurgitates what is written above the X mark for my signature.
“If you lose the key it is going to cost you $20 to replace it, NEXT!”
Unlike at Menard Correctional Center, when I stepped on B Wing there wasn’t any anger, malice, rage, or violence floating in the atmosphere. Not feeling the negative tension that I normally felt upon entering a new facility really scared the shit out of me. So much so, that my fight or flight mechanism got stuck on red alert and I couldn’t turn it off. My demeanor must have unmasked the anxiety, because every person I passed looked at me like I was crazier than two motherfuckers. And those suspicious stares only sent my fear levels into the stratosphere. It’s amazing what you’ll adapt to in prison and accept as normal when it is actually the apex of abnormality. I silently prayed.
Oh GOD, please protect me ’cause I don’t know what is about to happen.
Allah heard my prayer. I was blessed to be housed with this smooth young brother from Decatur named Fat Man, but he wasn’t fat at all. Go figure. As I laid in the top bunk, he walked back and forth in our little abode, sharing the particulars of this medium security prison. He moved with such style and grace, and spoke from a position of power like a commercialized Billy D. Williams who just finished off a tall can of Colt 45. I ain’t gonna’ stunt, he was cooler than two anorexic lovers in an air conditioned room with the ceiling fan on, and I admired his swag.
Every single time that I’ve been caged in with a new cellmate it takes about two or three weeks to pass before I get to see the “real him.” Eighteen years into a thirty-two and a half year bid, I finally ran into the exception to that rule. The way Fat Man introduced himself was the way he continued to be. And six months easily breezed by before he laid the KABOOM!
“Sheed, I’m finta’ move in the cell with one of my homies from D Town.”
“Come on man,” I joylessly let out.
“Me and him ran the streets together and I wanna hang out with him before I go to the crib.”
How could I argue with that? So I feebly took a swing at their brotherhood.
“Man you gonna’ go down there, get in trouble, and jag your out date.”
“You know I ain’t on that, and if he is then that’s on him, ’cause ain’t no nigga finta’ stop me from getting to my baby boy!”
I felt he truly meant that last statement because in the 183 days that we peacefully lived together, that was the first time that he had ever raised his voice.
Seven days later Fat Man moved out and like clockwork Mr. JD dragged right on in. JD was short, pudgy, with a bigass head like a retarded Rottweiler. And this nigga had the nerve to have a lil’ Kobe Bryant afro on the top of that worn-out medicine ball. Where do these niggas come from?
“What’s up man, my name Rasheed,” I said, as I helped him slide his property boxes into the cell.
“They call me JD,” he expressed with a smile.
I was about to relax but for some reason his smile looked fake, like he was forcing it upon his face. Right there was an immediate red flag because he was being weird for no reason at all.
BBBeeeeppp! Off sides, on the defense, 10 yard penalty, repeat first down.
But at the same time I had to pick up the flag because what if he was just as afraid of living in a cell with me, as I was of being trapped in a cage with him?
BBBeeeeppp! Bad call, the initial ruling on the field stands, still first down.
Anyway, he had all of his electronics, a box full of food, and he was from the Southside of Chicago. Check, check, and more positive checks. He was a taxi driver by trade, could hold a conversation, and think a little bit. JD caught me up on all the latest hood shit and even shared a few of those sexually-comedic taxi driving tall tales.
So I began to relax, thinking, I done’ came up again.
Oh, how I was so fracking wrong. The very first day, later that evening, during the middle of one of our many conversations, he turned his back to me, took a piss in the toilet, wiped the metal seat with a rolled up wad of tissue paper, and flushed. But he didn’t wash his fucking hands, and he continued to talk like he didn’t just touch his man meat.
Relax. I wasn’t watching him while he was pissing. I caught all of that with my peripheral vision. I’m in a 7‘ by 10′ two-man cell, so his derriere was literally 3′ away from my face. Honestly, at that distance, if he were to fart, I would smell his ass before he would, and maybe even taste it a little.
Kids, stay out of prison if you don’t like the taste and smell of another man’s ass. And if you do, sign up, and you will never be disappointed at the variety of shit smells that the Prison Industrial Complex has in store for you.
Please let this be a mistake, I thought before I went into my verbal Judo mode.
“Hey JD, I’m not trying to be nosy or disrespectful but I noticed you took a piss, but you didn’t wash your hands.”
“Yeah you saw right,” he standoffishly responded.
“Why wouldn’t you wash your hands when you just touched your SWILLER?“
“I don’t touch my dick when I piss.”
I sort of chuckled, not because what he voiced was funny. I laughed because I couldn’t believe what he just said to me. This nigga talking like he got an autonomous fire-hose dick. How do you respond to something like that? “I don’t touch my dick when I piss.”
I decided to move past the dick touching and attack from the pissy tissue angle.
“What about when you wipe urine off the toilet seat with the tissue paper? Don’t you think you need to wash your hands then?”
“Naw, ’cause I don’t get no piss on the seat,” he answered with a smirk.
Is this nigga serious or is he fucking with me? Becoming annoyed, I retorted,
“So why wipe the toilet seat at all if you piss like a God?“
“That’s for the backlash of toilet water that pops out from the force of my piss,” he stated matter of factly.
“Well, why don’t you clean the toilet water from your hands then?“
“I use enough tissue when I wipe, so the toilet water never touch my fingers.”
He had me right there and it all made sense, especially in crazy language. I initially thought I had a Chi-town Fat Man in the cell with me, but he turned out to be just another nasty motherfucker. So I fell all the way back after that fruitful toiletry discussion.
Danville Correctional Center is a laid back medium security prison. I’m not advocating police’ism in any sense, but in the interest of truth, it’s safe to say that the abundance of good cop’ers in Danville far outweigh the totality of cranks.
Medium security prison means extra-extra privileges and even more time outside of your cell to move around and sniff some fresh air. In addition to yard and gym time, every day, we get two separate Dayroom Times, one in the AM and the other in the PM, lasting about an hour and a half, respectively.
The Dayroom is a 25‘ by 125′ space that has on the front end 6 strategically placed old school phone booths made of thinly meshed metal minus the front door with Plexiglas that Clark Kent would need to change into Superman. Furthermore, up front on the upper and lower tier in plain view of the observation pod, is a shower section with two individual shower heads. A plastic shower curtain hangs about 4‘ in the air and ends about 2′ from the ground. There is just enough plastic to cover your sex organs from the viewing observation officer. But most importantly, the height and length of the plastic hinders one behavior and equally keeps an inmate from being raped or sexually abused. On the back end of the wing are four spaciously placed tables, with four connecting backless McDonald’s seats, all of which are bolted to the floor. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this in-house recreational area is spacious enough for 50 men to use the phone, take showers, socialize, play card games, chess, dominoes, scrabble, or whatever.
What I love the most about Dayroom Time is the mere fact that I can take a shit now, in the cell, without the company of my roommate. He can pop out and go about his business. Then, I can sit butt naked on the commode with one dirty sock on and do the damn thang.
It‘s the little things baby, the little things.
Three weeks passed with Mr. Pissy Hands. So in order to stay healthy, rest my worrying mind, and keep the peace, I would soap up the sink, light switch, or any other communal area before usage. Yeah, I went through a lot of soap but at least I got to shower twice a day if I wanted, as opposed to showering only twice a week like at Menard maximum security prison. Fuck this nasty-ass creep; I ain’t trying to go backwards.
One day we got served some half-cooked baked chicken for lunch. My mind told me not to eat the shit. But my appetite got the better of me. Take note, I said it here first, the chicken stereotype is true: All black folks love chicken. Me even more so because I ate it at the risk of salmonella poisoning. In defense of my people, there ain’t nothing strange surrounding the reasons why “WE” love chicken so. On top of it being a delicious treat, we fancy yard-bird because we grew up eating it. And why are we orientated towards poultry? Chicken is one of the least expensive foods on the market. And any right-minded person will tell you that a nice percentage of African Americans are in bad shape financially. So, when you’re poor, the more bang that you can get out of your buck is always a plus. Hence, the climb in poultry sales. Now, why are “WE” as a people in such poor financial health? You can blame slavery, institutional racism, marginalization, or the white, capitalistic, patriarchal society (America) . . . Pick one.
Equally, white people love eating fried chicken just as much as black people. When I worked in Downtown Chicago I used to see white folks in those duel restaurants and food courts waiting for some Kentucky Fried Chicken. The KFC lines were always around the corner and out the door. A brother couldn’t get any chicken downtown with only an hour lunch break.
“Welcome to McDonalds! May I take your order please?”
“Ummm . . . Yeah . . . let me get a Big Mac and a . . .” You white motherfuckers love some chicken too, and rightly so; it’s inexpensive and delicious.
Well anyway, that half-cooked chicken gave me the bubble guts for real. So I was forced to shit on three different occasions with JD in the cell. It’s weird defecating in a pantry sized room with another man. Even though we’re allowed to hang a sheet for privacy, it still feels like I’m taking a dump in a grammar school restroom with a missing stall door, and my cellmate is sitting on the bathroom sink across from me, watching me shit. Yeah, that’s one way to describe it. After the third Black Hawk Down, I soaped my hands, and laid down in the fetal position because my stomach was still killing me.
“Rasheed, you good?” JD said.
“Naw man, that chicken fucked me up. The system ain’t shit.“
JD laughed and I followed suit because the system ain’t force me to eat that paleolithic chicken.
“They got me too,” JD shared as he jumped off the top bunk and hung his sheet to defecate.
About 15 minutes passed before JD‘s exorcism was complete. He got up, removed the sheet, and jumped straight in his bed without washing his motherfucking hands. OH HELL NO! Fuck verbal Judo, I went straight into attack mode.
“JD why you ain’t wash your hands and you just got through taking a shit?!”
“Cause my fingers don’t touch my asshole, the tissue do.”
“I’m 32 years old; I know how to wipe my ass without getting shit on my fingers!”
“What about when you stick your hand in the toilet to wipe? Don’t you think the impurities on the inside and the splashing toilet water needs to be washed off?!”
“Naw, I’m good on that too ’cause I lift my ass high enough to where my hand never lands inside the toilet.”
Now I was going crazy ’cause the shit he’s saying is starting to make sense to me. Then I heard my mom’s voice inside my head like the Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi would pop up in Luke Skywalker’s mind whenever he doubted himself.
You ain’t crazy, that nasty motherfucker CRAZY!
So I fought on.
“Why you scared to clean your hands?!”
“I ain’t scared. That’s just a waste of soap.”
“HERE!” I said, attempting to pass him a fresh bar of Irish Spring
“Naw, you can keep that. If I ain’t gonna’ waste mine then why would I waste yours?”
I had to take a seat, collect my thoughts, and critically analyze this whole shitty situation before I DDT’ed this motherfucker.
Anger is not working and I definitely can’t beat this nigga ass because he gone’ have shit residue everywhere. Then they gonna’ ship me out this sweet-ass joint faster than Usain Bolt running after an Olympic gold metal. I got a key to my cell . . . I got a key to my cell . . . I got a key to my cell . . . So what can I do? Hopefully my sense of humor can get me out of this one.
I stood up, looked him straight in his eyes and said,
“JD, I been locked up for 18 years straight and I have never indulged in any homosexual activities. Whether you get shit on your fingers or not, if you don’t wash your hands after you defecate then touch the water buttons or light switch, in my mind you’re smearing dookie everywhere. Then if I come behind you and press the same buttons or hit the light, I feel like my hand is touching the bitter sweet softness of your asshole. I been locked up a long time and I can only resist for so long. Please Don’t Make A Fag Out Of Me,” I said ending with my hands together in the prayer position.
JD fell out laughing and I kept going.
“Im’a need you to wash your hands after you piss too, ’cause if you don’t and I touch what you touch, I feel like I’m JAGGING YOUR DICK.” He laughed even louder and I kept chopping away at his insanity with my jokes.
“What do you call a hand that’s on your Swiller that you don’t know?“
“A hand job!” he barked out in the midst of his laughter.
“Naw, that’s called a sneaky motherfucker. Nigga, I don’t want to know you intimately and I definitely don’t wanna receive a sneaky motherfucker, so wash your HANDS!”
I laughed along with him because I finally got through to this crazy motherfucker. Some people may say that JD is just trifling, but not crazy, and I get that. In defense of my position, you got to be crazy if you think you can take a shit, and not wash your hands, smearing fecal matter everywhere. Even the teachers of Socrates, the pre-Socratics from ancient Kemet and Kush say, and I’m paraphrasing, “If you don’t wash your hands after releasing body waste than you are a crazy motherfucker.” And I tend to agree.
Real talk, by us being creatures of habit, I believe he only washed his hands when I was in his presence. I bet you, whenever I would leave the cell, he would take a 40oz malt liquor piss or a Macho Man Randy Savage shit and purposely abstain from washing his hands to spite me. Then he’d touch my TV buttons, fan, tape player, and pillow case just because he could. PRISON SUCKS!!!
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE ME?
When you’re on the precarious road of life, whether you’re in the free world or in prison, you pick up real friends along the way and discard the rest.
One of my homeboyz told me, “Sheed you got to be careful in them lil’ camps ’cause the lower level you go, the more creeped-out them niggas be.”
I laughed, but in time I learned that it wasn’t anything funny to be taken from his forewarning.
Around the end of September 2015 at Danville, during the second week in Ramadan, I received a new cellmate. He was a special delivery from Lawrenceville Correctional Center. My prior roomie got a job with the Dietary Department so he happily moved to the workers’ deck. All the things that I had encountered during my extensive incarceration could never have prepared me for this moment. A 5′ 11″, mid-40s, Black man with an angry demeanor, beer belly, and short ass arms stood in the doorway.
“How you doing, Bra’, my name Rasheed,” I said sticking out my fist.
“Yea, I’m K-Dub,” he aggressively replied, refusing to give me some dap.
I didn’t take his response personally. He could have been having a bad day. Plus, I was in the thick of Ramadan, so my emotions could have been at an all-time high. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Around this time of the year Muslims all over the world abstain from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. In addition, we also refrain from lying, cursing, backbiting, lusting, or anything else displeasing to Allah. Twenty-nine to thirty days of this abstinence has you “Open” mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, sexually, and intellectually in ways you could never have imagined. This “Openness” is hard to explain. So Im’a just leave it there and say, fast during the month of Ramadan a day or two, maybe more, and you’ll see first hand what I’m talking about.
“You want me to help you with your stuff?“
So I slid on the bunk and kept reading my Holy Quran. Several hours of uncomfortable silence passed before we spoke again.
“Rasheed, can I get these three pegs over here? ‘Cause I don’t want my stuff all by the door.”
“Yea, just switch’em around.”
“Naw, I don’t want to touch your shit. I’ll just wait till you move it.”
“Man gone’ move that stuff.”
“I can wait until you get a chance to move it.”
Drilled into the wall, in every cell, next to the door about eye level, is a wooden coat rack with six reasonably spaced four-inch timber pegs extending out to hang clothing. His willingness to wait on me was a total farce because he stood in the middle staring at the coat rack. And the tone he used was prison lingo for, was “Nigga, hurry up and move your shit so I can get situated.”
So I jumped on up and shifted my clothing to the far end of the rack.
What did you get out of that little conversation that K-Dub and I just had? Go ahead. Take a moment, and think about it. Read it again if you have to, because there is a lot being said about his character with that little back and forth.
K-Dub just told me in so many words that he’s paranoid and extremely territorial. Moreover, he clearly stated in no uncertain terms that while we‘re living together, he ain’t gonna’ touch my “shit” and I better not touch his “shit.” Understand?
The more we converse, the more I’ll be able to figure him out, and move accordingly so we can coexist within this little space. I‘ve had plenty of angry and territorial cellmates. The initial formula for survival is the same minus a few underlying personality adjustments here and there:
#1) I’ll never engage or start a conversation with him. Angry people say angry shit and I’m hanging onto my happiness by a thread. I don’t need his words pulling at that string.
#2) I’ll never touch his property, unless given permission, which is extremely hard to do when you have two grown men crammed into a custom made panic room for a malnourished midget.
#3) I’ll never take his angry demeanor or territoriality personal. He got a right to be mad; he was judicially kidnapped from his loved ones and snatched away from all the sweet-old liberties of American life. You’d be pissed too.
Moreover, his territorial issues could have stemmed from cellmates that came before me. Any one of them could have broken an electronic of his or stole some of his property. So if he wants to put police tape around his penitentiary possessions for protection, so be it. I understand.
The few times that he spoke to me after the coat rack incident were all negative, laden with expletives, and he often highlighted the fact that he had 15 more years of incarceration to complete before being released. His energy-draining rants were a slick way of saying, “I’m a Mad, Bad, Motherfucker and I ain’t got shit to lose.”
I heard him loud and clear. Normally, to put someone like this in their place, I would fight fire with fire and share my penitentiary pedigree with something like, “Nigga that ain’t shit, I done’ over 15 years, and a large percentage of that time was spent in THE PIT.”
The Pit is what we call Menard’s Maximum Security Prison for short. Why? Someone took a heap of dynamite and blew a 90-foot hole into the ground the size of a small town and built a penal institution inside that space. Then they filled the joint with 3,000 of Illinois’s convicted and extremely dangerous gang chiefs, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and all around low life bastards, like The Pit of Hell/Hades spoke of so freely in the Holy Bible for unrepentant sinners.
For the first time in a long time I chose not to share my incarcerated background. I was too busy enjoying the blessed month of Ramadan to engage in any psychological cell games. My unwillingness to utilize a successful negative formula to combat his negativity and turn this whole situation semi-positive would come back later on and bite me in the ass.
My penitentiary super-jerk meter is top shelf. So whenever I come in contact with a hateful motherfucker, I can just feel the loathing radiating up off of his presence. And the tension in the cell with this crank reeked of such vileness for three days straight, but it felt more like three weeks.
Day four, dinner tray in hand, I came back to the cell cute as a button after indulging in engaging conversations and Congregational Salat. I hadn’t eaten in about 15 hours. So you know I was more than ready to wolf down a double burger with fries, and fat-boyish’ly enjoy a big chunk of white cake with chocolate icing heavily smeared on top. Black on white baby!
One of the many joys of Ramadan is the breaking of the fast. I’ve never known food to smell or taste so good. After fasting, you could be eating a plain Saltine cracker and get to smacking your lips like, “Is this paprika I taste?”
Anyway, I opened the cell door and was immediately smacked in the face with the smell of diesel fuel, like I just Trolloped into an overbooked diesel-automotive mechanics shop. What The Fuck Is That?! sounds off in my mind. Instantly my head began to hurt as I looked for the cause of such foulness. I found nothing, so I’m forced to violate one of my rules of survival with an angry nigga.
“K-Dub, what’s that smell?”
“Come on man.”
“Oh, that’s my fan.”
“Why it’s blowing out that smell?”
“It needed some oil. I ain’t have none so I used hair grease!” he angrily retorted as if he was done with my line of questioning.
At that point I didn’t care how he felt ’cause he done fucked up my whole meal and he got my head hurting.
“Why would you use hair grease? Better yet, why do you think your fan needs any oil at all? Did you read the instructions when you brought it?“
His silence revealed his stupidity and lack of concern for my questions.
“You got the whole cell stanking. You plan on cleaning your fan anytime soon?“
K-Dub exhales loud and hard like I’m the problem, then says, “It ain’t bothering me!”
I think to myself, ain’t that a bitch, I know that smell fucking with him but he know it’s affecting me more because I’m fasting. And just when I was about to go HAM my Taqwa steps in. Rasheed, it’s Ramadan, be the bigger man, and wash the fan.
“You mind if I wash it then, ’cause that smell got my head hurting?”
“If you break my fan, you gone’ buy me a new one!” he threateningly declared.
I almost said, “Nigga, I’m a break your ass in here if you keep talking tuff!”
But it was Ramadan, Ramadan, Ramadan. So I humbled myself further.
“If I break it while cleaning, I’ll pay for a new one.”
“Go head then, nigga,” he Scarface’ly answered.
I laughed and shook my head because I was starting to think that this creep’s taking my meekness for weakness. Meekness is never weakness; it’s strength under control, and I’m as strong as they come.
When I finished cleaning his fan I plugged it up, turned it on, and K-Dub smiled like an evil villain. Then sarcastically said, “You did a good job, its blowing better than the first day I brought it.”
My primary thought at his taunting . . . did he do this on purpose, knowing I was fasting so I would have to clean his fan or feel sick? Affirmative, because his grease-laden fan was full of dust.
Like when the turtle raced the hare, six more days crawled by before we spoke again. It was lunchtime and I popped out to holler at Big Trav before he left for chow. In the middle of our conversation K-Dub rudely interrupted,
“Rasheed, Dump The Garbage!”
Quick side note: In prison, there’s penitentiary etiquette about everything. For example, if two people are talking and you need to holler at one of them, you must say “excuse me” before you interrupt their conversation. You just can’t bust in and start talking like what you have to say is more important than their discussion. Actions like that are considered disrespectful and a quick way to get your ass kicked.
Me and Big Trav glanced K-Dub’s way and went right back to talking like he never existed. While kicking the boboes, I happened to notice with my peripheral vision that K-Dub went in and out of the cell two more times before the line left for chow.
Every cell has a small 1′ by 1′ by 1′ plastic rectangular garbage receptacle. When I came into the cell and looked into the trash can, it was less than halfway full. Thinking out loud, “This nigga trippin’. Ain’t no garbage even in there. And why he ain’t dump it himself?”
I went back to my favorite episode of Seinfeld, the one where they all bet money to see who could go the longest without masturbating, and I laughed away until the lunch line returned.
“Rasheed, why you ain’t dump that garbage?”
“What’s wrong with your hands?” I shoot-back and K-Dub snatched up the trash can and dumped it into a larger wastebasket outside the cell.
“I don’t like a full garbage can ’cause that’s gone bring bugs!” K-Dub yelled as he slammed the empty can to the floor.
“Man it wasn’t hardly no garbage in there!” I expressed with a mug on my face.
“It’s still gonna’ bring bugs!”
“Look here man, you walked in and out this cell on two different occasions after you rudely interrupted my conversation. Why you ain’t dump the garbage then, since you’re so concerned about bugs?”
“Ummm . . . Ahhh . . . I—”
“Hold on, Saturday when I soaped up the walls and cleaned the floor I didn’t ask you to help me. Did I?” Not waiting for an answer I continued,
“So why you need me to help you dump some garbage?”
He just found out that I’m intense with common sense.
“I’m just trying to keep bugs out our cell,” he rightfully put forth.
“Where is all these bugs you keep talking about anyway? Man you trippin’. Don’t involve me in that!”
Right then I realized I was angry. I quickly turned down so I wouldn’t knowingly violate my fast. About 30 minutes passed and K-Dub jumped out of the bunk and did something that caught me totally off guard.
“Rasheed, I apologize about the garbage. You right I was trippin’ ’cause you ain’t ask me to clean up nothing around here.”
“It’s cool man. Ain’t no big thang.”
His apology felt sincere as he looked me in the eyes for the very first time. Honestly, I thought we’d be alright after that incident.
Four more days passed before our next confrontation. I popped out the cell to empty a full wastebasket like any normal minded person would do. I left the cell door open because the communal trash can is literally five pistol dueling paces away. When I returned moments later I was greeted by that old familiar K-Dub scowl.
“Rasheed, why you keep leaving that door open?!”
“What’s wrong now?”
“You keep leaving the door open! What if somebody ran up in here on me while I was getting dressed?!”
“Run in on you? Man, ain’t nobody finta’ run in on you, you in Danville not Statesville!”
“That don’t mean shit. I’m still in prison!”
Feeling my anger boil during the blessed month of Ramadan, I chose to go into a 402 Conference.
“So what you want me to do? Lock the door whenever I leave the cell even if I’m taking a few steps to the garbage?”
“Alright, it won’t happen again.” Alhamdulillah, I bowed out gracefully.
This nigga acting like he some supreme hood serial killer that everybody’s trying to murder to earn their stripes. I bet you this mark was a scary ass crack-head or a sneaky ass dope-fiend in the world, and after being drug-free for a while because of incarceration, all of a sudden he’s a lean mean killing machine. Lucky number 13 is what I said in my head as I counted the number of days that I’ve been housed with this crank. Lucky #13.
The sun rose and set two more times, drama free, before we bumped heads again. It was afternoon Dayroom Time. I patiently waited for K-Dub to pop out then I began making the proper preparations to take a nice dump. First, I slid a piece of paper in the door. This piece of paper is the universal penitentiary sign that says to all those around, I’m Busy, Do Not Disturb!
Next, I lined the cold, hard metal seat with toilet tissue, got butt ass naked, put on my lucky sock, and jumped on the motorcycle. I was smack dab in the middle of shitting like a dog when I hear K-Dub screaming my name at the top of his lungs from the Dayroom.
“Rasheed! Rasheed!! Rasheed!!! You Through Yet?!!!!?”
I think out loud, “Is this nigga crazy? I know he see the sign in the door. Why he hollering my name like that?”
I looked at my timepiece. Ain’t nothing but five minutes then went by. Fuck him, he can holler until his throat box burst for all I care. And holler he did, over and over again.
“Rasheed!! What’s taking so long?!!!”
About five more minutes passed before I was done. As I calmly reached back to wipe my ass, I saw this nigga’s face in the chuckhole, staring at me.
A chuckhole is like an institutional key hole that can be utilized from both sides of the door. It’s an eye level, semi-grated metal square that’s used by the correctional officers to count and observe an inmate’s behavior.
When our eyes locked, he mugged up then walked away like I done fucked up his day. I screamed in my head, Is this nigga a fag?! I’m checking this creep as soon as I get through.
I wiped my ass, washed my hands, got dressed, removed the sign then pushed the door all the way open. The month of Ramadan had ended the day before so I was more than ready to beat his ass for today’s stunt and for his attitude in times gone by.
He came in and slammed the door behind him. BOOM! His back was all hunched up, like a silverback gorilla with some little ass arms. I wasn’t impressed or scared in the least.
“Man why you hollering my name like you crazy while I’m on the shitter?!“
“My bad, I thought you had the sign in the door for no reason.”
“Naw, fuck My bad. Why you hollering my name like you crazy?!“
By that being the first time he ever heard me drop an “F bomb,” his eyes got big, posture straighten up, and his demeanor and tone softened.
“I done had cellies that keep the sign in the door for hours and when I looked in, they ain’t doing nothing but watching TV.”
“Hours! Nigga the sign was in the door about five minutes before you started acting crazy!”
He just stood there looking stupid.
Real talk, right then and there I wanted to steal on his ass. But the Holy Month had just ended and the same humility I displayed during Ramadan should be held throughout the entire year. So I turned down and decided to use my charisma to open his eyes.
“K-Dub, have I ever done anything in this cell that would lead you to believe that I would purposely keep the sign in the door?”
“So why did you think I’d be on something like that?”
“You might of forgot it.”
“You didn’t give me a chance to forget, it was only in there five minutes!”
He was still trying to justify this creep shit. So it was clear that my charisma wasn’t working. Inspired by my favorite Seinfeld episode I warped into comedy mode.
“Look at it like this bra’. What if I was in here masturbating and about to buss the best nut ever then you get to calling my name? I know you don’t want me thinking about you at the POINT-OF-NO-RETURN,” I said emphasizing the last four words.
He smiled for the first time, started laughing then said,
“Alright Rasheed you win, as long as that sign is in the door, you ain’t gonna’ hear nothing from me.”
“That’s all I ask.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why was you naked on the toilet with one sock on?”
“Why was you looking at me? You wasn’t even supposed to see that!”
And we laughed some more.
Two dog days later, I was knocked out asleep on the left side of my body, facing the wall with a sheet pulled completely over my head.
I was slightly awakened by the sensation of something tugging at the sheet down by my boxer shorts. I lay still, fully awake, not sure if I was dreaming or if somebody had actually touched me. A few moments later I feel someone pulling at my boxer shorts again. I quickly removed the sheet from over my head and sat up. I saw K-Dub arm move to the top bunk as if he was reaching for something upon his bed. Although I was in my full right to go berserk without question, all I wanted to know was, why? No anger, no malice, only WHY?
“Man, why was you tugging on my sheet down by my boxer shorts?”
“Oh, my bad. My knee must of hit you when I was reaching for my ID.”
“Man, I know the difference between a push and a pull, why was you touching me while I was sleep?”
“Motherfucker, I told you that was my knee! Wasn’t nobody touching you!!!” he said screaming loud as ever.
“I don’t know what you getting loud fo’. I’m just trying to get some clarity about this situation.”
“Fuck clarity. You accusing me of something I ain’t do!”
“Alright man, I’m gone from the situation; PLEASE stop talking to me.”
K-Dub never lowered his tone and he kept cussing and fussing like he was checking me. I looked at my watch; it was 4:16am. I put my gym shorts on stepped into my shower shoes and washed my face. K-Dub was fully dressed because he had an early morning call pass to the Health Care Unit. The more I thought about what just took place, the more my blood boiled, and the loudness of his voice faded into the background.
Was this nigga just feeling on me like I was a bitch or something !?
Then flashbacks of all of our run-ins rapidly shot through my mind like a sexual assault victim on a Lifetime Channel movie special: the coat rack and garbage can incident, me washing his fan, his predatory eyes upon my ass while I was defecating, and now him touching on me.
The cell door popped open as I put my face towel away. K-Dub walked out and slammed the room door hard as hell. BOOM!!!!
That was it; I couldn’t hold back any longer. Fuck waiting until the 7:00am shift change to holler at a lieutenant to get moved. Fuck this sweet-ass joint. Fuck everything. It’s time for me to speak in a language that I know he would understand, VIOLENCE!
So I moved swiftly to the chuckhole and hollered out, “What that supposed to mean?!”
K-Dub yelled back, “Pop the door and I’ll show you!!!!”
I pushed the cell door button but it did not open. Right then and there time slowed down even though it was moving hella-fast. I looked down and realized that I didn’t have my gym shoes on as K-Dub slid his key into the keyhole.
Fuck! No time to slide’ em on now, I gotta go barefoot, I thought in my head as I kicked my shower shoes off and to the side.
When K-Dub turned his key, the door popped, and he snatched it open with his left hand then cocked his right hand back in an attempt to punch me in my eye.
K-Dub had an evil ass look on his face similar to Freddy Kruger from The Nightmare on Elm Street when his razor-sharp-knifed-glove is up in the air and he’s about to swing down upon a cornered teenage victim.
Quick side note: I wrestled for Chicago Vocational High School and I went Down-State my Junior year. Also, over the years of my incarceration I’ve learned how to properly defend myself. Yes, I am a practitioner of “The Sweet Science.” Then, when you sprinkle on top of that my hood/penitentiary rage, I’m kind of like Liam Neeson from the movie Taken, “I have a particular set of skills.” No bullshit! Smile.
Anyway, his right hand was cocked back and I went straight up the middle with an upper cut. BAM!! His evil ass demeanor was quickly replaced by one of surprise and his knifed-gloved/right hand disappeared from sight. After that everything else was textbook. Like Coach Howell would say, “Throw punches with a purpose.“ And that I did.
I went straight to his head; jab, right hand, left uppercut, right hook, hook, and hook. I landed about 11 blows of an 18-punch combination, and this nigga ain’t drop yet. He recovered and caught me with a one-two, but there wasn’t much on it. The first one landed over my right eye and I semi-slipped the second punch because it only grazed the top of my head. I stepped back on an angle and K-Dub smiled as if to say, “Yea nigga, I’m still here!”
I doubled up the jab and when he backed into a dayroom table I threw the right hand. It landed on his chest, from there I grabbed his neck and used my other hand to grab his outer right thigh and slammed him to the floor. BOOM! Single leg takedown, Coach Howell would have been proud.
When we hit the floor my hood/penitentiary rage took over and I slammed about four Donkey Kong hammer fists upon his face, before K-Dub finally broke and started screaming for mercy.
“Alright Rasheed, that’s enough!!!!”
“I’m a man. Fuck you touching me for while I’m sleep? YOU CREEP!!!” I yelled as a correctional officer football tackled me up off of him.
After being blindsided, I turned straight off as if a fighting bell had ended the round.
“Hey, officer, can I get dressed?”
“Sure,” he responded with a strange look on his face, as we both rose from the ground.
I can only assume that he was trying to figure out how I went from Spartacus to Mr. Rogers all within a blink of an eye. I wanted to tell him that’s just one difference between being trained and untrained; you tense when you throw and relax when you ain’t.
I was cuffed up, taken to the Health Care Unit, then segregation.
The only good thing about this whole situation of being housed with a creep is that as long as I’m in Danville Correctional Center I’ll never have to fight again. Why? My reputation will precede me. Between me and you, I don’t like being violent. I’m only brave when I have to be, but some niggas in prison, all they seem to understand is brutality.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE ME?