This entry is part of a series from an upcoming book telling the real story of Talib’s life behind bars and his eventual return to society. By sharing his personal story, he hopes to shed light on the issues faced by many youth today, and the problems faced by juveniles sentenced as adults as they make their way through the prison system, rehabilitation, and reentry. All blog posts which are exerts from this forthcoming book are categorized under “Talib’s Story“.
after about a week in this miserable county jail the marshals came and took me to albany county jail,where i stayed for about a month before i was taken back to DC and had my first hearing for this offense. a lot took place during this time but i don’t want to go into the violent aspect of prison life more than what is necessary. prison and prison life is not to be glorifed and should be associated with shame. even the acts of violence that i have had to commit in order to survive are not acts that i would say define who i am and what i have become. it is ironic, and the ironies of prison is the point of this writing, that i am placed in prison for violent acts, told that in order to become a better person i have to live a life free of violence, yet i am sentenced to a place that is considered to be the most violent place in america ( any prison) where i have to protect myself and establish my “manhood” by using violence. look at the irony on that. that the only way that i am going to get out of here and be that person that you are talking about here means that i have to literally split the head of the first person that “disrespects” me so that it is understood that i am not going to be taken advantage of.
i came to prison 5’8 135 lbs so it is safe to say that i was light in the ass! i can say that i did have the heart of a lion and almost no fear. my biggest fear was that i had none. i learned that while i was in albany county jail, where i was the only guy from DC in the whole jail, at least to my knowledge and that was what i knew from what was on my wing. so i go from being in a jail where i and the only black guy to being the only DC guy. so it is safe to say that i learned to be a loner and a no shit taker early in the bit (prison term for time). there were times where i have had to go up against several guys at the same time and didn’t back down. here i am trying to wrap my head around all of the events that involve my case and the emotional suffering that i am going through as a result of that, and i am going at this as a 17 year kid and all alone, and i have to also think about survival. so what do you think i did? i gave in to the strongest emotion and that was anger! i have come to learn that anger is always a secondary emotion and that there is always something that provokes the outburst of anger. well i can think of more than several underlying emotions that contributed to the bursts of anger that i acted out on at that time. with that being said i fell into a “i don’t give a f…” attitude and as a result of that fear was not a option. fear was for cowards and if i had to do life in prison i wasn’t going to be a coward!
so i learned early that in order to survive you had to be violent and what made me different was during the time that i was arrested and extradited to DC i was alone. so i didn’t start this with a dependence of homeboys, crews click gangs or whatever you call it. no i had to stand on my own. i am glad that i went through that early as it gave me the strength to develop into a person that could over come obstacles and not care about how others felt. this was the catalysis that i used to change and become the man that i am today. i have never been the one to wallow in my own mess but i use the bad things that have happened to me as the drive that i need to be a better person.
it’s like when people ask me about how do i know that i have changed and will not go back to where i came from. to be honest i can say that i will never go back because of a desire to never inflict that type of harm on someone else again. it has nothing to do with me in the fact that i have learned this and that, rather after sitting down and thinking about how when murder, robbery and violence has affected my life and how i felt and feel, i say to myself “dam this does not feel good.” this is the only reason why, and there is no other reason. if i was one to make myself a victim of my past i don’t think that i would be able to empathize with the harms of those actions. in order to change there has to be an emotional connection to those events. Prison doesn’t offer that. rather it becomes counterproductive in that one becomes detached to those emotions that are needed to amend those wrongs.
case in point prison is a place where if a guy is being brutally raped, stabbed or killed the law of the joint is that you don’t hear, see or speak no evil. so you have to literally walk by a person that may be under the abuse of rape or being killed with a rusty piece of metal and to not do so means that you make yourself a target to the same abuse. so you have to detach yourself and those human emotions from this person and yourself. you have to tell yourself that whatever he is getting must be something that he deserve, even though that is the furthest thing from the truth but these are the things that one must tell himself so as the dehumanize others.
i remember the first prison that i saw and what it did to me. a guy was stabbed who just happened to be in the way of another stabbing that was taking place. the orders were for the followers to hit anybody that the leader hit. so when the tier gate was popped, because it was jammed for the hit to take place, and the guy ran off the tier there was a guy that was using the phone and happened to be in the line of the guys that he wanted to stab so he stabbed him just to make him move. well the other guys saw this and were on him like a swarm of ants at a picnic. the screams, pleas and sight of blood will never be forgotten in my mind. the worst part of this event is that all of this took place by a group of juveniles.
north 1 was the name of the block that held the juveniles at this time. there were two tiers that housed us, they were the two upper tiers. the other 2 lower tiers housed the adults. in this unit at this time it was not a protective custody unit so the adults that were there were there for displinary or because they had high profile cases. at this time some of the most dangerous guys in DC at that time were there. although this is not about them and i am not going to mention names i will say that being in the presence of these men made a difference in the way that the juveniles treated each other. it was as if we were all at some point and in some way trying to gain the attention of these known killers and drug kingpins, so whatever violence that we committed on each other was vicious. i have a lot of north 1 stories that shaped my idea of prison and although it was a rough experience i appreciate it as it gave me the mental fortitude and physical strength that i would need later in life, inside prison.
my time on the juvenile tier was one that was the most heartbreaking when i look back at it. here it is a tier of juveniles, or 16 and 17 year old kids, having been charged with some of the most serious crimes that one can commit. see that was the purpose of us being there. we were all title 16, that is when a juvenile has committed a serious crime and is charged, tried, convicted and sentenced as an adult. that being said everybody on those tiers were killers or kids who tried to kill someone, or raped and robbed someone. so there were no kids there in the sense of there being youthful offenders there. we were there and knew why. in that setting where there are no adults or even seasoned convicts there to show us how to do time we figured it out along the way. sad to say that we reenacted what we saw on TV, movies or some story that someone told us about how they did time in prison. so there was a real low tolerance for anything.
another negative set back of being on that tier was that there was no one there to guide us in all of the legal ramifications that we going on with our individual cases. i mean here we were sitting in this tier facing sentences starting from 15 years to life without parole. out of all the guys that were on my tier i got the least amount of time and that was 20 years to life. there was a guy that got less time than i did but he later went to Lorton and killed another inmate and got 20 more years. his original sentence was 5 years and within that time he killed a guy and got 20 additional years. maybe you are reading this in a state of disbelief but sad to say that this is how easy it is to get caught up in stuff that goes on in prison. the worst part of this situation is that he killed a guy that had just made parole and was waiting to go to the halfway house. he stabbed the guy in the neck and the guy panicked and ran to medical. when he got to the door of medical he fell out, he was bled out. the panic and running literally caused him to bled out. he died as he grabbed the door to medical.
anyway here we are trying to play grown up without really understanding what is about to happen to our lives. now let me clear something up here. i am not justifying the actions of these guys nor myself i am merely shining light on an issue that most of the public has no knowledge about. we sometimes put our faith in our criminal justice system and really never question it or even know why it is that way. we get caught up in the CNN trend of polls and stats and this is the extent of our knowledge of how the criminal justice system works. what is worse is that we are bombarded with all these movies and shows that depict prison as this world unto its own and the evil and vileness that we see is suppose to make us feel better about locking these guys up and keeping them there. but what they don’t tell you and show you is that 95% of federal inmates at some point will be released. guess who is left to deal with the mess that is made? that’s right you are! see these are the guys that become your neighbors. so how do you want them to come back? back to what i was saying.
so here it is a group of kids trying to be men without any idea of what that means. so what did we do we acted as animals and convicts, as that was the fate that we had been reduced to. i mean why act like a man when i am about to go to prison for dam near ever. to me being a man is surviving this stuff. so i can’t be compassionate, loving and caring here. i am not going to last long in Lorton (the name of DC’s prison before closing) being a sucker. it is bad enough that i am young and they are not going to respect me and i am going to have to f someone up so that they respect me. this is what we thought and how we carried it. one of the mental side effects of this is that up until today i hate for people to know my age. i never want to be seen as a “youngster” in fact most of the fall outs that i had were as a result of letting the older offenders know that i was not a kid and that they are not going to treat me like one.
but imagine the negative mental effects of this whole ordeal. this is what i want you to see and understand so that you will have a better understanding of the dynamics of charging juveniles as adults and just leaving them to fend for themselves yet expect them to get it together, come home and be productive. it is not going to work. a good reason why is the mental capacity of these guys and the emotional insecurities are issues that have to be dealt with. it is next to impossible for one to expect that a teenager make the adjustments that are needed to overcome this in a positive light when there are adults that can not make the adjustments, some even commit suicide.
how do you expect someone who was totally free to being in a box with no human contact overnight to adjust. there were many nights where it was unbearable. where i could not get out the bed and no one ever came to check on me. there were never any psychology staff on hand to come and inquire about our mental state. nothing! it got so bad that i requested to be given sleep aid just to sleep at night. little did i know that i was going to be given a psychotropic drug called Sinequan. they would come and give that to me around 6 at night and i would sleep until 3 the next afternoon. it wasn’t until about a month later that a guy hipped me to what that stuff was and that they gave it to mental health patients to knock them out. so all of that time this is how i was treated, as a mental health patient and not as a teenager that was suffering from other issues. issues such as depression, confusion and guilt.
this is how we were dealt with and how many juveniles charged as adults are being treated right now as they go through this process of transformation! the least that they could have had is someone come and at least talk to us and see what our mental state was. what is ironic is that before a person goes to trial they have to declare that the person is mentally sane. how do you do that with a child when often during the interrogation of children the investigator has to determine what is fact from fiction. there have been many cases overturned due to the creative imaginations of kids and teenagers. so how do you mentally declare this kid able to stand trial.
i understood little of what was going on in my case during the initial stages and had i went to trial from the juvenile tier i would have really been done in. i just so happened to turn 18 before i actually went to trial, and on the adult block i learned more of the law. enough that i took back a plea offer to 30 years to life, a plea that i took as a juvenile. this is how it was presented to me by my lawyer. 1. i could not beat the case because someone was going to testify 2. that it was going to be hard to pick a jury because of the media attention and 3. you are young enough to do 30 (mandatory) years. that means that i would have been 47 at the time of my released. when i got to the adult block and told some of the old guys what i had done they scolded me and hurried in getting me in contact with my lawyer to take that plea back. that is what i did and my lawyer was pissed off because i had to tell the judge that i was not fully aware of what i was doing and that made my lawyer look incompetent. that is what she was worried about. i didn’t know that i was signing my rights away. i went to trial and got 20 years to life and was able to defend myself and maintain my appeal rights!