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Elevators in My Mind

Copyright © 2018 by Jarray Davis and 4-U-Nique Publishing

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Table of Contents

Feel It in the Air

The Breakdown

The Reunion

Southampton Receiving

St. Brides


Sweet Brides


General Manager



Feel It in the Air

We all have the inner voice somewhere within us. You can call it whatever you’d like: intuition, the voice of ancestors, guardian angels… God… It’s all the same, and it’s always present. We just find ourselves thinking that we know better than that voice, or blatantly ignoring its unspoken advice. I’d felt it for some time; the presence of something other than myself. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling at all, but more so like a dark shadow that followed me around for the purpose of making me feel uneasy. In retrospect, there was something trying to alert me to the fact that my life was totally out of order and headed no certain direction.

My morning started strangely just like all of the others for those most recent couple of weeks. I would wake, but my eyes would still be closed, as there was no rush to get to my feet because I had no job to attend. The sunshine from the window would beat on my eyelids in an effort to make going back to sleep damn near impossible, and then I would hear it. It would always start in the front of my little one-bedroom apartment and slowly make its way to the bedroom—and to me. Heavy feet sliding against the carpet growing in loudness along with its proximity to where I was laying. Paranoia was normal for me in those days, so I always slept with my .45 caliber Ruger underneath the pillow—just in case. I would try to slide my hand under the pillow to get my hand around the gun, but my body wouldn’t budge—I was paralyzed. Even though this was occurring on a repeat basis, it made it no easier to accept.

In my mind, I was panicking, but my body didn’t reflect that frame of mind. I was lying as still as a corpse, and the sliding feet were slowly drawing closer and louder. It worked its way around the bed to the side that I was sleeping on. And at the very moment that it reached the side of my head, and I could physically feel the presence of someone else’s energy hovering over me, I broke free from my paralysis with extreme force. Grabbing the gun, I opened my eyes to see nothing there—like every other time. Just an empty room with bare walls and no curtains on the window.

I sauntered my way to the front room to see Jean sitting up on the couch with a blanket wrapped around him. We’d shopped at the same store for our facial expression apparently because he looked obviously shaken up. It was only later that I found out we were experiencing similar phenomena. But we were both too scared to tell the other about what we were experiencing for fear of being looked upon as a lunatic.

Jean was my girlfriend Natasha’s older brother. He’d come to live with us in Virginia after he had an altercation with a gentleman in his hometown that could’ve turned violent—with him on the receiving end. His presence in the household only served to help send my life in the wrong direction. Though he was older, he looked up to me because of my erratic behavior and stupidity that people, including myself, had confused with bravery. Today I was what people in the street would call being “a real nigga”—a term of honor. So in many cases, instead of questioning my actions, he applauded them. It was a match made in heaven and a recipe for disaster.

It was April 4th in the year 2000. After we’d shaken off the initial feeling of darkness that started off the morning, we began our daily ritual of searching for ways to escape reality—and possibly a robbery or two to fund those adventures. It took the entire day, but we’d managed to scrape up enough money for cheap beer and marijuana—but not enough. To remedy that we invited my closest friend, Marcus, over to the house to join in on the festivities, and also to help sponsor them. But we were still missing a few items that required a quick trip to the 7-11 up the street.

The first time we’d robbed someone together was probably the most embarrassing and awkward thing I’d ever done. I remember standing around the corner with our heavy coats zipped all the way up, masks on, and beanie caps pulled down tight over our heads. To anyone that witnessed, we probably looked like a pair of gangster Eskimos. We were passing the gun back and forth like a hot potato, arguing about who was going to lead the way. All in all, we probably spent more time arguing than it took to actually commit the robbery. Even the victim felt sorry for us... He sensed our inexperience and kind of coached us through it. But this night was different. I’d robbed enough that it’d become like a sickness; an addiction—and I needed to feed my vice.

As we were walking out of the store, laughing and making fun of each other like young guys did, my victim was making his way inside. The expensive leather jacket that he was wearing almost started to glow in my eyes. That voice on the inside was warning me to go about my business and leave this gentleman alone, but I was playing deaf. At the car I motioned for Natasha, who was driving, to roll down the window as Jean got inside. I dropped my bag onto the passenger seat and flashed her a smile. “I’ll meet you back at the house”

A look of worry immediately was cast over her face. She loved me enough to have the desire to steer me away from my decision, but she knew me well enough to make no attempt. “I’m coming too!” Jean said excitedly jumping out of the car. Her look of worry multiplied by two.

“I’ll see you at the house,” she said firmly. It was more of an affirmation than anything else.

This guy was obviously making groceries in a convenient store because time did not move—or at least that’s how it appeared. The chill was starting to set in as we stood behind the store out of the way of any revealing light. Finally, he came walking around the corner with his head hung holding two hands full of bags. Jean approached him like an old friend. “Hey man!” He put his arm around the guy and pulled him in close. “This is a nice jacket you have on.”

I stepped forward into the light. “Take it off.”

He complied, setting the bags down so that he could slide himself out of the jacket. He didn’t seem like the type to resist, and that was good for him because there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who is unhappy with himself—which is exactly how I l felt at the time. After picking up the bags he readied himself to walk away toward the apartment complex that was behind the store—the same ones where we lived! “Hold on!” I said aggressively as I yanked the gun from my person. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

In a split second, he dropped the bags to the ground and ran faster than I’d ever seen a man run. So fast, in fact, that I knew his front door had to be a short distance from where we were standing. That didn’t leave us much time to go through the theatrics. We looked at each other and then took off running in the opposite direction. We started off with good speed, but the sedentary lifestyle, booze, and cigarettes got the best of us. It felt like I had spikes in my chest, and wet cement in my shoes. An eternity later, but a short distance after, we came bursting into the house, collapsing on the couch.

“What happened?” She prodded trying to get the details. Shaking my body she tried for a response again “What happened?” Between trying to catch our breaths and laughing neither one of us could supply an answer. “Tell me!”

A couple of hours later the party was well under way. Well, not a real party… Just junkies getting their daily fix. The alcohol and marijuana swimming through my veins had dulled the senses enough that I could ignore the dark cloud over me and enjoy the night. Marcus rocked back and forth to give himself the momentum to push his heavy body up from the chair he’d sunken into. Off he went to release all of the cheap beer we’d consumed, or so he said. Natasha made herself comfortable on my lap and gave me a look that a man doesn’t see often. It was a look of love and admiration; a humbling look to the receiver. And then there was a knock on the door, or rather a bang. Two bangs to be precise.

“It’s probably H.P.D.,” I said with a silly laugh. Jean got up from the couch and navigated his way through the fog of marijuana smoke. It had built up so much that you could see layers floating in the air like atmospheres. He looked through the peephole, and then slowly turned his head to look at me. “Well… Who is it?”


Playtime was over. “No seriously, stop playing. Who is it, man?”

“It’s H.P.D.”

I leaped from the couch dumping Natasha to the floor and ran to the bathroom. The door wasn’t locked so I pushed my way in. Marcus wasn’t using the bathroom but was instead snorting a line of cocaine off of the toilet tank. “Yo! The fuckin’ cops are here!”

“Oh shit!” He swept the cocaine into the toilet, went into his pocket and dumped marijuana into the bowl.

I ran to the bedroom and into the closet, trying to figure out what I was going to do with the gun burning my waist. With no time to think I put it in a plastic container full of Natasha’s makeup products that were on the top shelf. Jean was still standing at the door holding the handle while they banged again. I walked back into the room fixing my shirt and feeling more composed. “What should I do?” he asked with a lost look smeared on his face.

“Open it.”

He turned the deadbolt, then the door lock and pulled back the knob. In walked two detectives dressed in cheap suits with a couple of uniformed officers leaving the door gaping open. The lead detective handed me a search warrant with a smile. It was the cliché scene out of every crime drama. I actually took the time to read it as if it were going to make a difference. But it was real, and we were fucked.

They had all four of us sit on one couch together. We all looked like kids waiting to see the principal for a possible suspension. The television was still on so we made small talk about the program that was playing. We wanted to appear calm and normal, but we were also trying to convince ourselves that everything would be alright. The stolen leather jacket was laying on the floor in a pile of Jean’s clothes in plain sight. Neither he nor I made any look in that direction. It was definitely nerve-racking knowing that it was only a few feet from where we’re sitting.

The search dragged on for about twenty minutes. There were several items from past robberies sprinkled about the apartment. Even the empty pizza boxes from the robbery the night before were still on top of the stove. Geniuses… They were sniffing around for something specific and were having difficulty with the find. But leaving empty-handed was not on their menu.

“Whose clothes are these,” the fat black detective said standing close to Jean’s pile.

Jean looked at me as if I was supposed to take responsibility, and I stared right back at him with stubbornness in my eyes. There was no way in hell I was going to be the one to speak up. There were a few moments of silence and then he said, “They’re mine.”

“Take him out of here.”

Two uniformed cops pulled Jean from the couch and escorted him out of the apartment. I swear I saw a piece of Natasha’s soul leave her body at that moment. I, on the other hand, was feeling a bit relieved believing the worst to be over. The slim white detective emerged from the bedroom with nothing in his hand—nothing! A smile was growing inside of me as I reassured myself that I’d be sleeping in my own bed that night—or floor since I didn’t own a bed.

“Did you check the closet,” asked the fat cop.

“Yeah. Nothing”

“Check it again.”

Usually when a person performs a second search, whether it be for their keys, a remote, a phone, or perhaps even a gun, they follow the same path. That’s why it takes so many searches to find what you’re looking for because you have to break that path. So, I wasn’t a bit worried. A few short moments later he returned.


From his side, he raised his hand revealing the nickel plated .45. My stomach pushed its way up the esophagus and into my throat. But I was still holding on to the possibility that I could come out of the situation unscathed. The fat cop slowly looked over at me with a smirk. He enjoyed this shit.

“Arrest him too.”

There was nowhere to run, and this was not one of those Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid moments. I rose to my feet and let the uninformed cop place the steel bracelets on my wrists. As he walked me out of the door I stopped to look back. Even to this day, I’ve never seen devastation personified like I did that night. Natasha was nothing short of crushed; releasing the rest of her soul from her heart. In one fatal swoop, she’d lost her only sibling and the love of her young life.

“I’m coming back right?” Call me an optimist.

It was at this point that the cop realized it wasn’t some hardened criminal that he was hauling off to jail but instead, a really dumb kid. “I… I uh… It’s possible.”


The first thing I noticed as I walked into the police station was the police sketches of Jean and me on the wall. This was not some fluke sparked by the guy at the 7-11—they’d been looking for us. A lot of the strange occurrences that had transpired days leading up to the arrest started to make sense. We’d been walking around taking our freedom for granted, not knowing that someone was looking to snatch that liberty away from us the entire time.

Of course, they separated Jean and I immediately to prevent the possibility of us coming up with an alibi together. I was placed in a closet like room by myself, handcuffed to a table—one of the only things in the room—and left there for hours. And when I say hours, I mean hours. Of course, this was some tactic to wear me down mentally. Any trace of a marijuana high or alcohol-induced euphoria was long gone and forgotten. In my mind, I rehearsed several times how this was going to play out once someone came to interrogate. I’d watched enough television to know that the good cop-bad cop routine was going to happen. The mere thought of that insult to my intelligence angered me.

Eventually, the two detectives entered the room together with arrogant looks on their faces. It was if they knew something special that I didn’t. Again, I expected the good cop-bad cop routine. I expected them to try and turn Jean and I against one another until one of us broke. But what they said to me… This was not a time to be gangster; a choice had to be made. The presence that’d been following me, hovering over my soul like a storm cloud, had been herding us toward this moment like cattle. In retrospect, I know that everything happened for a reason.


If you don’t make it out of questioning, you take a ride over to processing. After sitting in the bullpen with the criminals of the evening, my picture was taken and I was given my one phone call—just like on television. The call couldn’t be wasted so I reached out to the one person I could rely on in a situation like this one—my dad. There were only two times in my entire life that I can recall my dad crying: When I was a child a woman that was like a mother to him passed, and he cried. On the other end of that phone call was the second time. Reality hadn’t yet set in for me, so I was as calm as could be for a person behind bars.

I tried to console him with what I thought was the truth. “It’s going to be alright, dad.”

“No, it’s not,” he sobbed. Hearing him say that was the first step toward realization. “No, it’s not,” he repeated. I was starting to feel uneasy. “No, it’s not!”

The deputies placed me in a small cell where I was left to my own thoughts. In the hallway, there was a bright light that beamed inside preventing the thought of getting comfortable. Add that to the loud chatter of people who had been left to detox, and it made for a very unpleasant situation. Eventually, after covering my face with my arms I was able to get a little shut-eye. To this day I still do not know how long I was left in that cell. The spotlight in the hall, coupled with the factor of no windows made it very easy to lose your sense of time.

When it was my time, I was transported inside the actual jail. Before you go to your assigned block there are a couple of embarrassments they want you to experience. First, you’re placed in a cell with a bed of concrete to lay your head. At some point, they send the biggest guy in the building to come make you strip, squat, cough and lift up your balls to make sure you’re not hiding anything in your ass. If you pass that test, you receive your prize: the orange jumpsuit that lets everyone know, you no longer belong to yourself anymore. You’re the property of the city until further notice.

The steel door of the “pod” in which I was to be held, slowly, but loudly, creaked open. Pods are long, narrow, and rectangular in shape. They house four cells, that each contains two bunk beds and one stainless steel toilet without the lid—an important point I will revisit. Outside of the cells are steel tables that are bolted down to the concrete floor. In one corner of the pod is an extra toilet called the “silver bullet”, and in the other corner is the shower. Bars line the face of the pod, which in essence, creates one big animal cage.

I stood in the doorway holding the large green, plastic container that would become my dresser, linen closet, and kitchen cabinet all in one. The pod was completely empty—or so it appeared. The first cell that I passed was vacant; a ghost town. There were people’s personal belongings there, but no warm bodies. I kept moving, slowly and cautiously, as I had no clue what to expect. The second cell was the same scenario; used beds and dirty wash clothes, but no people. As I drew closer to the third cell I could feel the energy; the heat intensifying. Every one of the pod’s inmates was crowded into this one cell. Some were standing, some sitting on the beds together, and there was one sitting atop the sink resting his feet on the toilet rim. Like prairie dogs, they were all staring out in one direction—at me. That kind of unwanted attention elicited a heightened sense of awareness from me; a sense of alertness. Let’s not confuse this as fear… I was fresh off the street and did not yet have the appropriate knowledge or jailhouse wisdom to understand that sometimes fear can be healthy. Instead, I was a twenty-year-old pit bull, ready for action.

I sat with my back turned at an angle so that I could see the TV that hung outside of the pod, but also that I could see anyone from the cell if they attempted to come in my direction. I sat there for a while watching BET to let them know I wasn’t uncomfortable and would be no one’s pushover. The young guys loved to watch BET, and everyone else… Well…They watched BET too, but not because of their love for 106 & Park. More so because of their love of survival and drama-free living.

It didn’t take long for me to be approached by one of these knuckleheads. His name was Dale; a young guy such as myself—most of us were close in age. The questions that he asked me were typical of jail—especially if they could sense that you were new to the lifestyle. What’s your name? Where are you from? And that means what part of the city are you from because almost everyone in the city jail is local. How long have you been in? And then comes the most important question, but also the most private: What did you do to arrive in jail? That question puts on a pressure that almost makes you want to lie. The answer to this question could possibly make your time easier, or, make you a potential meal for a wolf.

“Armed robbery,” I would always say with the deepest voice I could muster.

That was the only detail I wanted to reveal. I’d done so many things prior to my incarceration that I’d never been arrested for, or even questioned about. Just my luck, I had to get locked up for the dumbest string of robberies ever known to man. Who wanted to say that they were in jail for robbing a guy of his coat, and taking a large pepperoni from the pizza man—no matter how delicious Pizza Hut can taste. So, I kept it simple; kept to myself, and most importantly, I kept it moving.

Like a mouse with cheese, Dale took the information back to the rest of the guys. After their little huddle, I met a couple more of the guys: Bobby, Moe, and Carlos. Bobby was real laid-back kind of guy that didn’t do anything in a hurry. He was also one of the only people in the pod that were not actually from the city of Hampton. His home was downtown Newport News, which was walking distance from Hampton, but to us was a totally different world. Moe was the exact opposite. He was ill-tempered with a lot of energy and a big mouth that ran constantly. The only thing he wanted to do was watch wrestling and fight anyone who had anything negative to say about his affinity for watching men in tights. And then there was Carlos…. Carlos was half white-half Puerto Rican—or at least that’s what he said. He used to run with a guy that I grew up with, someone I respected, which was the only reason I even talked to him. They were nothing alike, which lead me to believe that Carlos was just his gofer or flunky. Later, the stories he would tell me confirmed that assumption. If I had to describe Carlos in one word, it would be: soft.

After I’d passed their manhood test I was free to go about my business. Back in the cell, I made my bed, which was a thin plastic mattress, with my sheets and a blanket that felt more like sandpaper. I had the top bunk—of course. No new guy ever walked right into the coveted bottom bunk position. You had to earn that spot either by outlasting one of your bunkmates, by sheer intimidation, or lastly, by force. I’d seen them all happen… Sliding my plastic container under the bed, I made my way back out into the pod and to the phone. That day I think I set the record for collect calls. I had to call any and everyone I could think of to let them know I was in jail—mostly women. The reactions were almost always the same—utter shock. One of them actually cried, because no one saw this event occurring. All that they knew of me was that I was a nice guy who may have fought every now and then, but to their knowledge that was the totality of it all. I had to ruin their image of me with the truth to get their support because I knew that I would soon need it desperately.

Jail was a place filled with peculiarities. Take “gunning” for instance… Gunning is the sport of masturbation. I call it a sport because gunning is not done in private. You are pointing your penis at someone, usually a female deputy, hoping that you will shoot while she looks—hence the name. One guy in the pod was a self-proclaimed professional gunslinger. Every day, he would get in the shower at the same time when he knew the deputies would make their rounds. With the curtain pulled back ever so slightly he would lie in wait for his unsuspecting victim. Or, he would stand at the bars and engage the deputy or a nurse in conversation, with one hand inside of his jumper. Do I have to explain what that one hand was doing? He was just one in a long line of gunners that I would meet over the years.

Using the toilet—one of my favorite past times—had been tainted. There was no door you could close for privacy when it was your time to drop a load. A makeshift curtain was created with the sheet you slept with and two plastic spoons. The spoons would be used to anchor the corners of the sheet to the bunk beds in your cell. This worked well except for certain times. Take for instance, if you were suddenly struck with the urge to use the toilet at night when everyone was locked in the cell together. As long as you didn’t wake up while someone was doing so, there would be no reason to be offended by having to inhale their toxic fumes. But if one of those flushes just happened to shake you in any kind of way… Let’s just say that made it very hard to return to sleep.

There was also the ingenuity that I witnessed. What’s that saying? When life gives you lemons, you make a Tom Collins? One of the coolest things I saw was how the smokers got around the absence of lighters. Every now and then a guy would smuggle a cigarette or two back into the pod. Sometimes when they were feeling that itch, they would even create them from everyday ingredients. But that left you with the question of how to create fire for the ignition. Using the simple supplies of two small pieces of tape, one staple and two batteries a jailhouse lighter is created. Or, they would take pencil lead, twist it in paper and then stick into an outlet creating a flame. Now that’s some McGyver shit for you. I would often wonder: How did people that could be so intelligent at times end up in prison?

Though that question was simple, it brought about a myriad of answers. Everyone’s situation is different; the circumstances of their lives were varied. Some people are just bad people, and incarceration is an inevitability for them. I don’t feel bad for them, and being segregated from the rest of the world is the best thing. But a lot of the guys that I encountered behind the wall were inherently good people. I won’t say that they just made a mistake because that is not true. A mistake is something that you do unintentionally. Crime, on the other hand, is something that usually requires planning.

Many of these guys came from broken homes without any strong male influence. Couple that with the fact that they lived in low-income neighborhoods, and there is your cause. We all have the option of choice, but your choices can also be swayed when you are conditioned to reach for what is in sight, instead of reaching high. And once the cycle of incarceration starts, it is very difficult to stop.


I’d been there for a couple of months now, but still not settled. I was becoming increasingly more aware with each passing day that I may not be going home any time soon. Robbery is a serious charge, and they had me by the balls—of my own doing. The majority of my days were spent in the bed, only getting up to eat, shit and shower. This led to the gaining of a few extra pounds, but there were no real mirrors in jail. Their mirrors were made of a shiny metal instead of glass, I suppose to prevent you from doing harm to yourself or someone else. So as these changes were taking place, I could hardly tell.

Usually, co-defendants are kept separate, but for whatever reason, they put Jean and me together. What I assume is that they thought we'd beat each other’s brains out—or kill one another for a Ramen noodle. I'd outlasted some other people in my cell, which meant I was able to acquire the coveted bottom bunk position. Jean was the newbie, so he had to take the top rack above my bed. We coexisted peacefully for the most part, partially due to the fact that his family didn't send him money and I had a box full of snacks.

It was Saturday, which only meant two things: Univision and visitation. I know what you're thinking: why Univision? Well... none of us could understand Spanish, but we could definitely understand the bodies of super sexy Latin women. I mean, when you are watching a Latin dance show, do you really need to know what they're saying?

Saturday was the day that the atmosphere changed. People were excited at the possibility of a visit and reconnection with the outside world. Guys who looked like lumberjacks all week would clean themselves up to the point of almost being unrecognizable. Shoes would get clean; combs, brushes and hair gel would get broken out. And somehow, they also managed to make their orange jumpsuits look presentable. Some guys would lay them down under their mattress so that it would flatten out with an ironed look. After all of this, they would sit on the edge of the bed, figuratively and literally, waiting patiently for the big door to open and their name to be called. Sadly enough, many times visitation hour would end, and they would have to undo the extreme makeover to take the nap of shame. You know, that irresistible feeling of tiredness that comes over you when embarrassment is at your door. I'd seen this play out enough times that I made sure I wouldn't feel that sting. So, on Saturday when everyone dressed up, I instead, dressed down. If someone needed me I could easily be found on my bunk, in my boxers pretending like I had not a care in the world. And then, the pod door would open loudly.


“Which one!” I would bark back. Davis is a common name, you know.


And just like that, I was up like a fireman when the alarm sounds. Teeth brushed again, jumpsuit and boots on; strutting out of the door. The deputy would escort you downstairs to visitation, sticking as close to you as possible—not that there was anywhere for you to go. This was probably the only time that you forgot these were the same guys and women that had been talking shit to you the entire week. So, on your way downstairs you were grinning and cheesing all in their faces, and talking like old buddies.

Visitation at this jail was like what you see on television: You know, the setup with a payphone like handset to your ear with glass in between you and your “guests”. I walked down the long aisle taking a glance at each one. Being away from the world had made me very much interested in other people’s lives. I got a strange enjoyment from watching people interact in a natural setting. Watching inmates interact with inmates is not fun at all, because there is nothing natural about it. People put on acts and play roles, for many different reasons.

Each visit that I walked by was different in its own unique way. Different races, different family structures, different emotions. Sometimes the only thing being exchanged were displays of anger. I often questioned why some people came to visitation just to shout and argue with one another. Seems like something better done over a collect call, and much cheaper than the gas money it took to come down to the jail. Some guys sat across from their girlfriends speaking in code because everyone knows that the phones are being monitored. Not sure if that ever helped anyone beat a case—but I guess you have to try at least.

I finally reached my seat all of the way at the end. There on the other side of glass crammed into the cement cubicle as if they were about to take a group selfie was my mother, father, my brother Casey, Marcus, Natasha and my son. This was probably one of the last times that they were ever all together peacefully. Oh, and did I fail to mention that I had a child? He was only 3 months old when I went in, left to be raised by his mother, and my parents—who took on my responsibility. They had him sitting on a lip that protruded from underneath the glass. He was probably the happiest one there because he had no idea where he was, and no clue about the reason why I was behind the glass. It wasn’t until much later that he would become aware of where his father was housed.

We were about five minutes into the visit and all smiles. “You may be able to get out on probation being that this was your first offense,” my mom said optimistically. That’s the wrong thing to offer a person behind bars: hope.

“You think so?” I felt a slight ray of sunshine on my face behind the closed in walls.

“Davis!” shouted the deputy.

“Times up!”

I looked at the clock on the wall for confirmation as everyone else consulted their watches and pagers. We all looked confused. “It’s only been five minutes!”

“Let’s go, Davis!”

This was pure unadulterated bullshit. There were other inmates who I’d walked past on my way in that were still enjoying their petty conversations and arguments. “Man, fuck this,” I said as the flames of fire were fanned in my mind. “It’s only been five minutes!” I barked back at the deputy.

The deputy stepped aggressively into the doorway as another one stood at his back. “I’m not going to ask you again, Davis!”

I prepared myself physically for what was to come. If I had to be dragged out fighting that is what I was prepared to do. The visits meant a lot, especially during that time in my incarceration. Every face on the other side of the glass was worried—even my son. I suppose he could sense that something was wrong. “Just go, Jason,” my mom pleaded. “We can come back to see you again.” Everyone agreed with her. “If you don’t go then they probably won’t let us come back again. We need to see you just like you need to see us.”

What the hell kind of response could I have to that? The flames were still there, but not raging as violently. I looked down toward the door at the deputy who was wearing a scowl and tense stance. Standing up I placed the phone back on the receiver and took one last look at my family. I’d already made enough bad decisions that had affected them negatively, so there was no need to compound the damage I’d caused. Reluctantly, and with defiance in my heart, I complied with the deputy’s command and left the visitation area giving him the deadliest look I could muster.

Back at the pod, I made the walk of shame back to my cell. Everyone was giving me the “why the hell are you back so soon” look, and some of them actually asked. I just kept walking, because some of these guys thrived off of other people’s misery. They didn’t have any family that cared, so it pissed them off that the next person did. I sat down on my bunk and immediately started to feel the depressed fatigue come over me, and I wasn’t going to fight it. Perhaps when I woke up I would feel rejuvenated and less anger. Perhaps all would be right in the world again. Perhaps even, the whole entire ordeal was just one long bad dream, and I would wake to the paralyzing feeling that I was used to, with the “presence” stalking my bedroom.

A short while later I came to consciousness with no feeling of anger. No, it had been substituted by depression and helplessness. I opened my eyes, and instead of seeing the grass outside of my bedroom window, I saw Jean’s foot dangling from his bunk. I was back in the hell that’d become my reality. And then it hit me like a sack of bricks: Why the hell was I putting other people through this? Or more specifically, Natasha. She deserved something better than what I could offer from behind the steel and concrete. Her life needed to be taken off of pause, and relinquishing her from the duty of being my girlfriend seemed like the noble thing to do.

I jumped up from my bunk and took off to the phone. I’d been sleep long enough for her to make it back home, so it was the opportune time to call. She picked up quickly accepting the charges of the collect call, almost as if she’d been waiting by the phone. “Hey, baby,” she said with the most angelic New Jersey tone. “I was wondering when you would call. Don’t you let those people in there get to you. They’re doing it on purpose, you know?”

“Yeah, look, listen… We need to talk.”

“Okay… Talk about what?”

“Listen… You need to move on.” That was as direct as could be.

“What do you mean move on?” Her tone was far from angelic at this point. “What are you saying?”

Emotion was coming over me. “I don’t think we should be together anymore, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Jason, please tell me what you’re talking about?”

I rubbed my forehead feeling as if we were having this conversation face to face. “We should break up. There isn’t shit I can do for you in here. You just need to move on. We can still be friends”

Right then I accidentally noticed that I was being watched. It was Moe and some new guy I didn’t recognize. He was either brought in while I was on my visit or during my depression nap. I could tell from the looks on their faces that I was the topic of their discussion. But, it didn’t seem like anything noteworthy.

“Friends? FRIENDS?” She was obviously annoyed by my suggestion. “How the hell am I supposed to be your friend, Jason? We’ve never been friends; we’ve always been a couple.”

“Well, I just—“

“Did I say I couldn’t handle this?”


There they were again—Moe and this new guy. But now they were smiling, which was a clear sign that whatever they had to say about me was entertaining. Too fucking entertaining if you asked me. “Then why would you make that suggestion,” Natasha continued.

“I just wanted to do what I thought was best for you. There ain’t shit that I can do for you in here besides call collect.”

“Listen, I’m going to be there for you no matter what. I love you!” She sounded so confident that I started to feel a boost of positive energy come over my mind—something that had eluded me for the previous few weeks. “Nothing is going to come between us. And when you get out, I’ll be right there waiting to give you the biggest hug and kiss… I love you.”

That was just what the doctor ordered. The day had been pretty shitty, but that lifted my spirits to the high heavens. And for a brief second, I didn’t feel like some douche bag in an orange jumpsuit. I felt like someone that was free; someone that was loved. And that would make doing the time a hell of a lot easier. “I love you too,” I said grinning.

“Well listen, I was about to get in the shower. Call me back later, okay?”

“Alright, baby.”

I hung up the phone and almost floated right out of the damn pod. But there was an anchor that was holding me down. It was the conversation between Moe and the new guy in the cell across from where I was sitting. This shit was still going on, but my temporary escape was gone. And so, it was time to address the reality that was in front of me, because situations behind bars that were left unchecked never lead to anything good.

When I stepped into the cell entryway they both looked up at me with the silliest smiles. But there was not a smile, grin or smirk on my face. “So, you’re J. Nast?” the new guy asked.

If looks could kill… I turned my attention to Moe. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Let me take a step back and explain the significance of this question: J. Nast was a nickname that Marcus had given me a few years prior to my incarceration. The meaning of the name is not what was relevant, but what event they associated with it. Back on New Year’s Eve 1999, there was a shootout that I was involved with, in which I shot a well-known local tough guy named Antonio after a verbal altercation at a restaurant. The consequence of shooting a well-known tough guy is that after it happens, you also become a well-known tough guy. That was all fine and dandy on the street, but in Hampton City Jail it was a negative. You see, I was the only person from my neighborhood behind bars, whereas there were plenty of people from this guy’s ‘hood behind the steel and concrete. Plenty of people loved him and hated me for penetrating the reputation of their hero.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“I was just telling him—“

“What the fuck were you telling him? You don’t know this muthafucka!”

“Hey, man…” the new guy said in an attempt to interject.

Paying him no attention I continued my tirade, “You don’t know what he’ll do!”

“You’re right…”

“If he tries to kill me in my sleep, are you going to stop him?”

“Listen, man,” the new guy said in a humble tone, “I know Antonio, and we’re cool, but that’s as far as it goes.”

“That better be as far as it goes. Because if I’m not sleep…” I shook my head and walked off. There had been enough excitement for one Saturday. It was time to withdraw myself from the world, put on my headphones, and drift off into the land of imagination and memories. The idea of a better tomorrow was far better than the reality of the day.

The weekends were good for a couple of reasons: One being the visits from familiar faces, and the other was the food. Saturdays and Sundays were the only time they didn’t try to feed you dog food. I was lying in my bed awake, but not present. Good sleep was hard to come by as they kept the lights on 24 hours a day. It didn’t seem to bother some people, which was evident in the sound of snores echoing throughout the entire jail. That also made it difficult to sleep.

The smell of pancakes hit the air. “Trays up!” Translation: breakfast is served. The gate to each cell rolled back giving us fifty more feet of freedom. Everyone slowly started to rise from their bunks to join one another for a little carb comfort. Pancakes made me happy, but only for a couple of minutes. I’m not sure what they used as batter, but whatever it was sent me flying to the toilet every time. Clearing out the cell I strung my bedsheet from bunk to bunk and took a seat on the toilet paper laced rim. Though my skin wasn’t touching the steel directly, I could still feel the coolness on my legs.

For whatever reason, I suppose a lack of fiber, I never had a “clean” poop while behind bars. It was always dry, messy, and took a long time to wipe clean. This day was turning out to be no different—though it was the wrong time. The pod door creaked open and in walked the new inmate. I didn’t know this at the time, but what I found out was that this guy had just been released after doing 30 years. Apparently, his re-incarceration was not something that he planned, and so suffice it to say: he was pissed. He told the guard at the door that he wanted to be placed in solitary confinement, to which the guard replied, “The only way we can place you in seg(segregation) is if you do something first. Sorry.”

Who the hell in their right mind says something like that to a man who was just released from prison after thirty years? The guy came in, set his stuff down, and then immediately went to work on achieving his goal to be alone. Bobby and the gang were standing at the bars watching BET and telling lies about all the shit they were going to do once released. Apparently, the new guy asked the other people who shared a cell with Bobby to whom the bottom bunk belonged. They didn’t hesitate to make rat him out one bit.

The older, new guy approached Bobby and interrupted his conversation. “That bottom bunk belong to you?

Bobby stopped his conversation and then looked the man up and down. “Yeah, it’s mine”

“I want it.”

This was one of those defining moments in a man’s life. All movement in the pod came to a halt. The youngns stopped watching BET; the old heads stopped playing chess and I stopped dropping bombs in the toilet. Everyone was staring at Bobby awaiting his reaction to the challenge that had just been laid at his feet. Bobby did not want to fight this guy, which was made obvious by his hesitation. The proper response would have been loud and tough, or quick and violent.

Bobby looked around at the unwanted attention he’d won, and pride took over. “Man… Who are you talking to?”

Whop! Bobby was socked in the face before he knew what hit him. The punch was so hard that it knocked him out of his shower shoes. I hurried quickly to wipe my butt, not wanting to get caught with my pants down—literally. With every wipe, the toilet paper was more shitty, but I was still scrambling to finish and get the hell up.

“I’ll knock you out,” the old convict shouted.

I pulled down my privacy sheet. The old convict had backed Bobby up all the way to my cell, threatening him with only one hand. He just kept shaking that hand and repeating that he would knock him out. Bobby’s mouth was bloody like when you buy those vampire capsules for Halloween. And his lips were even bigger than normal. In an act of desperation, he picked up a stray boot that was on the floor near the shower and held it up in defense. I remember wondering to myself, what the hell he planned to do with a boot? This was a grown-ass man and not a roach scurrying across the kitchen floor. Bobby’s back hit the wall leaving him no place to run.

As all of this was taking place, the deputies had gathered outside of the pod spectating. They eventually ran in and grabbed the old convict before he did any real damage to Bobby. This is when I realized that they really didn’t give a shit about us. That guy could have killed Bobby, but they wanted to see what would take place without intervention—like watching an ant farm. In fact, they were the ones that instigated the whole situation. The old convict just wanted to be alone to his own thoughts after having been placed back behind bars following a 30-year sentence. Instead of just accommodating him, they basically forced him to commit an act of violence against a total stranger. Just the thought of it angered me.

I think it was this moment that really put things into perspective. A few days prior my lawyer told me that he was confident I could do the time if convicted—a statement that pissed me off. But after watching the deputies stand there waiting in anticipation to see someone get the shit beat out of them, I wasn’t so sure his confidence in me could be substantiated. They put us in cages and treated us like animals, so why would they expect us to not be savage.

The Breakdown

There’s not much access to drugs and alcohol in the city jail—at least there wasn’t in my pod. I was starting to lose my taste for anything mind-altering as the months went by. Unless you are a stone-cold junkie, feelings of euphoria are associated with good times, social gatherings, and most of all freedom. I’d smoked weed a few times, and it always started off great, but also always ended with me feeling depressed upon realizing I couldn’t just walk out of that steel door. So now, with the constant barrage of intoxicants in my system, the process of detoxification had begun. Instead of spending all of my time in the bed I would work out in the pod. Pull-ups on the shower bar, push-ups, and curls with bags of water or the ice cooler helped to whip me back in shape—and also to get my mind off of the current situation for a few minutes.

A lot of guys were transitioning in and out of the pod, but I was still there. There were two new guys staying in the cell with me and Jean. There was Big Judd, who was a very tall, very big man. It was obvious this was not his first rodeo, but just another out of many. He always thought that people were talking about him, so he would wear headphones plugged into a radio that was never on—and probably didn’t even have any batteries. He figured that if people thought he couldn’t hear, they would eventually try to talk shit about him behind his back. It never worked because he would always give himself away by reacting with body language any time he heard anything interesting. His daughters stayed down the street from my house where I grew up, but I’d never met him before—probably because he was in prison. They spoke well of me when questioned so he took a liking to me. He loved to write poetry but did not know how to spell the simplest of words. At first, I thought he was just messing with me to see how I would react, but I soon realized that he was dead serious.

The other guy’s name escapes my memory because he was only there for a brief period of time. He thought he was such a smooth player, but only because he preyed on the weak and unsuspecting. He was once bragging to me about a girl named Shay, which the description sounded too familiar. When I probed a little more a couple of disturbing things were revealed. The first and most disturbing fact was that this girl was about thirteen years old—he was thirty. I didn’t waste any time jumping into his ass about it, though he tried to clean it up and pretend like he didn’t know she was so young. What I really wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it, had to be held back. Reason being, the second disturbing fact was that Shay was one of Big Judd’s daughters. Though it would’ve served him right, I really didn’t want to see what would have happened if he’d caught any of our conversations. The best advice I could give the guy was to never repeat that story again. Not to me; not to Jean or anyone else ever in life. Needless to say, he removed himself from the pod shortly after that conversation.

When the child molester moved out, Big Mook moved into the pod. He was a big, black, menacing looking heavyweight. Despite his appearance, Big Mook rarely disturbed the peace in the pod. He stayed to himself, and no one really messed with him because they were uncertain of the outcome. I was still in my feisty stage and wasn’t really worried about being bullied by this guy. There was a mutual unspoken respect between us.

One day we were all sitting out in the pod torturing ourselves by watching rap videos—just like every other day. Mook stood up from the ice cooler to raise the volume, and like a snake, Jean slid in and took his spot. The look on Mook’s face when he turned around, having only been away from the seat for five seconds, was priceless.

“C’mon, man. Stop playing,” Mook said motioning with his hand for Jean to stand up.

“What?” Jean asked without a smile. “You got up.”

“Yeah… for two seconds. Now c’mon.”

“You shouldn’t have got up, yo.” The New Jersey accent probably made the situation worse.

“Jean… If you don’t get the fuck up…” The mood had shifted, and not ever so slightly. This was real tension coming from Mook.

Jean sensed it too. He sat there for a few more seconds as everyone awaited his response. “Here!” he said hopping up angrily. “Take the shit!”

Mook took his place back on the ice cube filled throne. “Thank you.”

“Fuckin’ crying and shit,” Jean mumbled loudly as he went back into the cell.

Mook didn’t respond with any snappy comeback. He just sat there reveling in his victory. I’d had enough of the bullshit lies of rappers and their videos, so I made my way back to my bunk. Big Judd was laying in the bed pretending to read his Bible but was really looking at the pictures of naked women he’d stashed between the pages of scripture. Sly dog…

I suppose it hit Mook late… Or maybe he was worried about image, having not responded to Jean in a violent manner. In any event, he came bursting into the cell furiously and went straight to Jean, who was sitting on the edge of the bunk with his legs dangling. “You bitch-ass nigga!”

Mook quickly remembered that I was on the bunk right underneath Jean. Everyone knew that we were co-defendants—which gave him some credibility. Though we had that mutual respect, he wasn’t sure if I would step in and take Jean’s defense. Under normal circumstances, I would have, but I was tired. My whole life I was that guy that would step in and defend people—some who weren’t even willing to defend themselves. I’d done it for Jean several times before we got locked up. But I’d had several moments of clarity since I’d been in jail, and one of them was realizing that I needed to let people handle their own beef. Because frankly, none of the people that I’d stood up for would do the same for me if put in the position. The only people I could rely on was family.

Looking up at Mook, I casually said, “Don’t look at me. That’s between y’all.”

That was the green light that he was looking for. Mook tore into Jean with every combination of derogatory terms that could be attached to the word nigga. All of this while pointing his finger about a half an inch from Jean’s face. This was blatant disrespect at its finest. He obviously wanted to fight Jean but did not want to throw the first blow. Instead, he was trying to provoke him into doing something. His plan didn’t work. Jean just sat there in silence taking it like a champ. Big Judd looked over at me, and without words attempted to guilt me into stepping-in on Jean’s behalf. It just wasn’t happening. I just nestled myself further into my bunk and pulled out a magazine to read. When Mook tired he walked out of the cell taking Jean’s dignity with him.

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