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Posted by on Jan 19, 2014 in Blackacre, crime, Criminal Justice, politics, Progressive policy, Public Policy | 6 comments

Death by Prison

“Saturday night in the joint was D’Vante’s regular time to swab the kitchen floor. Kitchen duty wasn’t the worst job in prison, so D’Vante didn’t complain. He was just about to finish his chores and head back to his cell when he saw a large figure turn the corner and enter the kitchen. D’Vante immediately recognized the man as Eric Quarles, a/k/a the “Monster,” looking at D’Vante like he was a slab of ribs.


“What the hell are you doing here,” the Monster barked. “I’m mopping the floor,” D’Vante responded, trying not to sound intimidated.


“Don’t get smart with me punk, I said what the hell are you doing here,” taking a step in D’Vante’s direction.


“I’m moping the floor man, can’t you see.”


“All I see is a little bitch. You’re one of those punks in protective custody ain’t you? Too much of a sissy to make it on the main line huh?”


“Naw man, I ain’t in protective custody,” D’Vante said defensively.


“Oh, I’m stupid now? I’m a fool, is that what you’re telling me? I know damn well that bitches like you are put on kitchen detail. I hate fags. “Now come here boy,” the monster demanded, taking another step towards his victim.


“Hey man what’s up,” D’Vante said as he began backing away? “We got beef or something? Why you bugging?”


“I told you to bring your punk ass over here, that’s why I’m pissed. Now get over here.”


“Hey man leave me alone, I don’t want no trouble.”


“There won’t be no trouble if you just do what I say,” edging ever closer to D’Vante. I turned that little sissy Tre last night and now I’m going to turn you. I’ve decided that you are going to be my woman. You are going to clean my clothes and keep my cell. And when I want to get my freak on, I’m coming your way. I’m going to make you my bitch boy.


“Naw man, I ain’t like Tre. I ain’t gay, D’Vante said, feeling the wall against his back. I ain’t no punk. I don’t roll like that. You don’t want me anyway. Why don’t you pick on “Dutches?” He’s gay. He likes men.


“Oh you’re a punk alright. You just haven’t been turned yet. Now get on your knees”, the monster said as he grabbed D’Vante’s throat and pushed his head against the wall, his face mere inches from D’Vante’s, his foul breath assailing D’Vante’s nostrils.


D’Vante was scared, more afraid than he had ever been in his life, so afraid that he was shaking uncontrollably; so frightened that he could not control his bladder. He felt himself pissing his pants. Even he could smell his fear. The monster looked down and saw the wet spot growing between D’Vantes legs, a sick twisted smile contorting his face. This is just how he liked it. His victim paralyzed by fear, to afraid to say no, to frighten to resist. It made the Monster feel big, strong, more in control, more like a man. There would be a feast tonight and D’Vante Jenkins was the main course, dessert and everything in between.


But as D’Vante saw the Monster’s obvious delight in his fear, something within him snapped. Without conscious thought, D’Vante’s fighting spirit took over. D’Vante Jenkins would not be someone’s bitch, turned out and made a punk like Tre. He would rather die first.


Foaming at the mouth like some feral beast, and possessed of a strength he never thought he had, D’Vante lunged at the Monster. His face twisted into a bizarre mask of fear and rage, D’Vante pummeled the Beast, in a whirlwind of violence, a dance of destruction that to D’Vante seemed like hours, days, years. In a guttural voice, more like a growl than spoken words, D’Vante screamed at the top of his voice, “get off of me, get the hell off me.”


Tables were overturned pots and pans were launched in multiple directions. Silverware clattered and clanged as it struck the floor. The sounds of violence permeated the room; a tempest of riotous noise that reverberated from corner to corner of the kitchen, while the two combatants whirled on a carpet of shattered glass.


Falling backwards, tripping over the mop and bucket D’Vante left on the floor, the Monster was momentarily stunned by the ferocity of D’Vante’s attack. Who knew that D’Vante had this kind of fight in him? D’Vante’s advantage however was short lived. A vicious hook to the kidney doubled D’Vante over. Yet, D’Vante pressed the attack. A right cross from the Monster shattered D’Vante’s jaw. And still D’Vante fought on.


The “Monster” easily lifted D’Vante off the floor, only to drive him against the far wall moments later. D’Vante felt the air abandon his body. Out of breath and the rush of adrenalin nearly spent, D”Vante began to lose steam. His blows were having less of an affect on the “Monster.” His struggles grew more feeble. It was not that D’Vante’s will was broken. Rather fatigue makes cowards of us all.


The Monster wrestled D’Vante to the ground, straddling him, crushing him against the concrete floor with his massive 285 lb. frame. And still D’Vante struggled. He continued to yell and scream, fuss and fight.


The “Monster” struck D’Vante in the face with pile driver fist, once, twice, three times, a rain of blows that rendered him senseless. But D’Vante never gave up. He twisted, bucked and kicked his legs. Through a fractured jaw he screamed no, no, no until his throat grew raw.


Well practiced in the art of “prison seduction” the “Monster” grew tired of D’Vantes struggles. As far as he was concerned an unconscious victim was as good as a conscious one. He would take it anyway he could get it. Determined to render D’Vante insensate, the Monster lifted D’Vante’s head and slammed it against the concrete floor causing ribbons of crimson to stain the ground. And for D’Vante Jenkins the world went black.”


The above story is fiction, a yarn from an admittedly twisted mind, i.e., mine (see “The Cotton Chronicles, American Apartheid, Prisons and the 21st Century Cotton Gin”, L. Barron Hicks Publishers, 2008, at Yet, this and other acts of death by prison whether suicide, gang violence, physical and mental illness, inadequate medical care, slave labor, drug abuse or prison murder, is no secret. It exists in our male and female prisons, juvenile and adult centers as well as local, state and federal facilities.


Still, we remain largely unmoved. If the fact of prison rape and other acts of prison violence weren’t bad enough our collective reaction to it is worse.  “Don’t do the time if you can’t do the time” a once popular TV show admonished. “They deserve what they get including prison murder and gang rape”, we gleefully reason. “They should have thought about the consequences of their actions before breaking the law”, we rationalize.  We even mock the brutality of prison life with jokes like, “if you go to prison, don’t bend over to pick up the soap”.


This indifference is predictable. Criminals are indeed an unpleasant, unsympathetic lot, especially career and violent ones. They injure our friends and family, damage our property and create chaos. Why then should we care what the hell happens to them in prison?


Because while counterintuitive, caring what happens in our prisons is in our best interest, that’s why. The very people we write off, those we warehouse in our prisons eventually return to the communities from whence they came. They marry our sons, daughters and neighbors. They sire and raise children who interact with ours. They walk our neighborhoods, shop in our stores and work in our factories. They mingle with society in ways too numerous to count.


If we are lucky the formerly incarcerated find jobs, raise families and comport themselves in a law abiding manner. If however we are unlucky, if we insist upon using prison to break people, even those who should be incarcerated; if we act vindictively to wound offenders, even though they deserve to be punished, we only add to our agony.


Those who experience death by prison are among us. They occupy the dark spaces we choose to ignore. They wallow beneath our bridges and our viaducts. They sleep under dirty blankets, on filthy cots, on trash strewn floors. They squat on the porches of abandoned buildings and beg for handouts on our streets and at our intersections. They are so distraught, so institutionalized by prison that they end up not only as ex offenders, but as the homeless, the addled, the unemployed, the chemically addicted and the emotionally unstable. They contribute not one iota to our society and cost us millions. More often than not they reoffend.


Blackacre does not argue that bad people shouldn’t be punished. They should. We do not contend that society shouldn’t protect itself from criminals. It must. Nor should incarceration be pleasant. It shouldn’t. Like the Monster above, some people belong in jail.


Nonetheless, where our prisons are concerned, we cannot afford to look the other way. We shall not arrest criminal and destructive behavior by warehousing people in institution of higher criminal learning otherwise known as prisons. Merely because we can’t see what happens in our prisons doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us.


Violence breeds violence, inhumanity furthers inhumanity and messed up people produce messed up people. It is therefore wise to remember that the pain inflicted in our prisons cannot help but return to us.


Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO of the Blackacre Policy Forum



    • Thanks

  1. Hi Leo. I once sent a 19 year old black man to prison for 14 years for armed robbery at age 17. I lived in Dallas County at the time, about 10 years ago. I know the kid’s name, and wonder if he is still in prison? Judge told us we had to agree 100%, the whole jury. I voted not guilty, others voted guilty. Judge said they would make it very hard on any juror who held up the trial and did not vote along the same lines as everyone else. Judge did not want another trial. And they did make it hard on me. The other jurors harassed me. They don’t provide a security person or other observer in the juror room where we discuss the testimony. They don’t provide a drawing board or even a pad of paper and pen. All the jurors have to go on is from memory during testimony. I stood up and waved once during the trial to get the judges attention to stop testimony because I wanted the court reporter to read back something a police officer said because it conflicted with testimony of another officer. Judge told me I could not speak and to sit down. After the trial and sentencing (jury did the sentencing) the judge and defense attorney asked me what it was I wanted during testimony. I told them it wasn’t important, so I told them nothing. Didn’t matter now since verdict and sentencing was a done deal. Story goes that at closing the defendant came into a liquor store with another suspect and held up the store manager, taking all the cash and, checks and coin bags in the safe. Another store worker was in the bathroom and did not come out. No other witnesses. The store video camera was not working. The police did not dust for fingerprints. Only police officer testimony was that they had seen the defendant walk away from the getaway vehicle a few miles away where the car was abandoned. It was a stolen car. One police officer testified that a gun was found in the car below a pile of clothes used in the robbery, and the other officer testified that the gun was found on top of those clothes. That was what I waved my hands to the judge about during testimony. Anyway, the defendant did not take the stand.

    Couple more details. The witness hiding in the bathroom never came out at the time, nor did he testify, just the store Asian store manager. Store manager had been in trouble with police before for selling alcohol to minors. And the store was being sold soon by an out of state owner. The checks were recovered, but not the thousands of dollars in the safe. Makes me wonder if this was a setup by police and the store manager together, so that the police get cash, the store manager (in trouble for selling to minors gets cash – store closing soon – him out of a job) and they have a young black man to frame it on. The gun in the car was never presented as evidence nor did police now know where it was? Defense attorney argued that the defendant’s worse offense was possession of Marijuana, and that it is not normal to see someone progress to armed robbery without intermediate unlawful activity from Marijuana to armed robbery. After the trial I told the judge and jurors that I thought the police were corrupt in this trial. The jurors laughed at me in front of the judge. Then the judge said, “I don’t see any problem with that. Police are people to like you and me. They are capable of doing just as bad things as anyone else. The room got silent. You see, people in general think that police are God. Perfect. Incapable of wrong doing. That is one reason why I feel there are lots of folks in prison that are innocent. I wonder if this is a bogus trial though too just for the judge to see how jurors might react in this scenario of a testimony. I once was tricked by my college professor into believing that I was radio telemetry tracking white-tailed deer, when in fact some of the radio collars I tracked were attached to trees. The coordinates I picked up on a daily basis moved around like a real deer because the radio waves bounced off the trees in the dense east texas forest survey area.

    • Eric:

      I really appreciate your comment. Not only because it is so through, but because it provides yet another reason to care about what happens in our prisons, i.e., the absolute moral and ethical bankruptcy of the criminal justice system.

      Thanks for setting the record straight.

    • Thanks Leo. I like your fictional story about life in prison. Sad thing is that it happens in real life.
      One more thing to mention about the armed robbery trial was that the judge gave the jury the task of sentencing after the trial. The jurors decided that 14 years was a good number because the 19 year old would be 33 when he got out. They did not want him getting back into trouble too soon and felt by age 33 he would be past the age of being highly influenced by his peers, and thus less likely to get back into trouble. Makes me mad however when I see adults that do crimes that actually involve shooting someone get less time in prison than this lad did. No one was shot or beat up in this alleged crime at the liquor store. His sentencing was biased based on his current young age 19 (17 at the time of crime). Does that seem right to you all out there?

    • Once again, your story gives voice to the corruption of the criminal justice system. Whether the defendant received 4 or 14 years, the point is that he is permanently stained by a system that is seriously flawed.

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