FatherHoodlum Chronicle of a Prison Dad
Michael B. Jackson
This book is dedicated to
Sam Bradford Jackson (1919-1997) and
Kevin Lamont Jackson (1970-2001)
Copyright © 2014 by Michael B. Jackson
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 2014 (1.1)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014902164
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the
products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover Designed by M.B. Jackson
I give all praises and thanks to GOD, for his forgiveness and the blessings he has sent in my favor. I know HE has a plan for me.
I want to give a special shout out to my most lovely wife Susette Taylor Jackson, for her unconditional love, support, patience and belief in me throughout the years. She could have chosen any guy she wanted and she chose me. Thank you Lord!
Hello to daughters Stacey and Nicole, eight granddaughters, Atiya, Whitney, Rolanda, Alexis, Sanaa, Alona, Gabrielle and (on her way) Taylor and great-grand baby Alyana.
Respect and love to my mama Sarah J. Jackson, and all of my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles and family members, friends, and loved-ones much too numerous to list individually. Rest-in- Peace, baby brother, Jodie M. Jackson (1967-2014). To Brick City and my North Newark, NJ Homies - both here and departed, “What’s up?”
I look forward to discussing different aspects of Lamont’s story with you all.
Thanks to my editors, Mr. Guichard Cadet (LCN Publishing), Ms. Lurea McFadden (Author of “Female Traits” book series), and Ms. Cyntra Scott, for all of your help.
This story is about Lamont B. Moody, who grew up in a Newark, NJ housing project, during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Like many other boys from the projects, Lamont was lured into a life of crime and heroin addiction at an early age. At 18 years old, he made his first trip to prison, and for the next 10 years he was in and out of prison for parole violations and new offenses.
When he was paroled from prison in 1980 he decided not to return to his beloved hometown, Newark, New Jersey.
“Whenever Newark and I would get back together, we’d soon start doing all the things that tore us apart in the first place. Everything always ended up the same way, with me leaving the city a few months later in the back of a sheriff’s van headed back to the joint for parole violations or new bid...”
Lamont was 28 years old now, and determined that this time would be different. He knew his best chance of success would come with a change in residency. He decided to relocate and reinvent himself in the city of Trenton, New Jersey.
Lamont also knew the same drugs, crime, and street demons that had haunted him in Newark, were also alive in the streets of Trenton. He didn’t know anyone in Trenton, so that is what made it attractive to Lamont. He felt strong and focused and didn’t fear being distracted or drawn into the negative elements. Not long after parole, Lamont gains custody of his eight-year-old son, LJ, who was getting suspended from school and had also been arrested for burglary, back in Newark. He brings his son to live with him in Trenton. Lamont soon learns that his son was completely illiterate and could not read nor write. Lamont was determined that LJ would not become just another black boy being primed for the prison system. Lamont launched a mission to save his son from the jaws of the beast’, while pledging, “They (the prison system) may have gotten me, but they damn sure won’t get my son.”
Lamont and LJ were brought together at a time when they most needed one another to survive. This is Lamont’s journey to overcome a history of drug addiction and prison recidivism, and raise his son.
Lamont tells his story in his own words and often talks about how he drew on the experiences and lessons, both good and bad, that he learned from his own father. He felt it was a story he needed and wanted to share.
A Poem for Dad
It seems like we never talked, Dad. I wonder if you’ve noticed it too?
I remember times when I wanted to talk. Times I didn’t know what to do.
Somehow I never figured you for the answers, but don’t ask me why because I don’t know.
You just never seemed to be “down”, and “happening”, like all the dudes on the corner that I had come to know.
They seemed to know all the good stuff. I was into drugs and crime at fifteen.
I had my pick of the girl, just hanging out and staying clean.
Quit school, no responsibility, I wanted to move like the wind.
I was sure I had all the answers. “Street Life”, may it never end.
Suddenly things began to happen, and things weren’t going so smooth.
I was eighteen or nineteen, at the time, still trying to keep my groove.
Found I wasn’t getting much satisfaction. I was living to please the crowd.
Forcing myself to do things to protect my image. I was proud.
Then I remember something you once told me. You said, “Son, if nothing else, be your own man. You’ll never amount to anything, if on your own two feet you don’t stand.
Try it,” you told me. Well, I have and it’s not so bad.
Better late than never. I was surprised how it cleared my head.
Well Dad. I just want to say thanks. The value of a father I can now see.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is, Pop, I love you. You’re all right with me.
“Lamont! Lamont, wake up! Lamont, I said wake up!”
I heard my dad’s voice calling my name and I thought I was dreaming. Maybe I was hoping that it was a dream. When he pulled off the covers and started shaking me back and forth, reality set in.
“Wake up! What happen to my car, Lamont?”
I open my eyes to see the 6’4” physical frame of my father staring down on me lying there in bed.
“What happened to my car?” He was pissed and he had good reason to be. “What happen to my car, Lamont?”
”I don’t know,” I lied. “What are you talking about? What’s wrong with the car?” I attempted to appear confused and wounded that he would suspect me of doing something to his car.
My dad paused to look at me for a moment, “What are you doing in bed with your clothes on?”
I looked down saw I was in bed fully dressed, including my sneakers.
“What happen to your lip?”
My face suddenly started to ache like someone had hit me with a bat. I put my hand up to feel my lip. My lip and face were about the size of a watermelon.
“I don’t know," I said putting my hand up to feel my eye. “I had a fight.”
“Get up!” my dad said in his deepest baritone voice. “Get up and come outside.”
I bought as much time as I could with the sleepy confused act, but I wasn’t really acting. My head was still foggy from the drugs I had consumed the night before and I was having a hard time waking up. Actually, I was still high from the night before. Finally, he turned to walk out of the room.
“Get up I said and come outside,” he shouted over his shoulder. “I'm not going to tell you again!”
I had a headache, my face hurt, and inside my mouth felt dry and sore. I sat there on the side of the bed and replayed the events of the previous night.
What had happened was, my boys Cedric, Ray and I were walking to our home in the projects, at about midnight. It had been a long day of getting high and partying. It was May of 1970 and I was 17 years old. Earlier that day Kenneth A. Gibson had defeated Hugh J. Addonizio to become the first Black mayor of my hometown Newark, New Jersey. There was citywide dancing in the streets that night when Gibson was declared the winner. We were out partying like everybody else, and we had swallowed lots of prescription pills and swigged lots of cough syrup. The pills, mostly tranquilizers and sedatives, we copped from the neighborhood dealer. We also went to the A&P supermarket and drank bottles of cough syrup off the store shelves. We’d put the empty bottles back on the shelf. We were pretty wasted. Pills and syrup always made us hungry and that night was no different.
There were other hamburger joints within walking distance that had decent burgers, but we wanted White Castle burgers. The nearest White Castle was clear across town and buses were not running that late at night. We had given up the burgers and were heading home for the night when we rounded the corner and there stood the answer to our prayers. Parked at the curb, was my father’s shiny 1967, midnight blue, Pontiac Bonneville. It didn't take Ray and Cedric long to convince me on a plan. We would shoot to the castle in the Bonneville, grab some burgers and fries, and shoot back? It sounded so simple and brilliant.
Five minutes later, I was crawling across the floor of my father’s bedroom, on my stomach. My mission was to reach his key on the dresser without waking him. The only problem I anticipated was if the keys were not on the dresser when I got there. I’d have to crawl all the way across to the other side of the room and check his pants or his coat pocket. Luckily the keys were on the dresser.
I was in there at least 25 minutes because I was so high that several times I feel asleep on the floor. The only thing that woke me up was daddy’s snoring and the funk. When daddy came home from work and went to sleep, it was almost impossible to wake him. He snored and passed gas in his sleep like a 400 pounder. He ate a lot of greasy food that caused flatulence. He liked to pour fish grease on his food, like others might pour on some gravy. He would get that bedroom humming at night, farting and snoring. The funk was so thick you could see and feel it in the air. We still do not understand how momma survived in there at night with the door closed. Pushing my little brothers and sister into the room, and holding the door so they couldn't get out was a favorite game. When I got back outside, Cedric and Ray had sat down and nodded off on the curb. I woke them up. “Damn, where were you?" said Ray rubbing his eyes. "We thought you gone.”
“My dad almost busted me," I lied. "I had to hide under the bed until he went back to sleep.” I lied, with a straight face. I was not going to admit to falling asleep on the floor. “Come on, I got the keys.”
At first we pushed the car up the street before we started it so my dad couldn't hear. Everything was cool as I drove down the long driveway leading to Grafton Avenue, where I was going to make a right turn to get on McCarter Highway. Instead of the right turn, I remember making a left. I must have nodded off again. The next thing I remember is the loud crash of crumbling steel and breaking glass. Thrown forward, my face crashed into the steering wheel, and split open my lip. The impact dazed me for a few seconds, but I sobered up quickly as I realized what happened. I had crossed over to the other side of the street and crashed head on into a parked car. Ray was in the front seat and crashed into the dashboard on impact. He just sat staring straight ahead, as in shock. Cedric had laid down in the back seat as soon as we got into the car. The impact threw him into the back of the front seats, but he didn't get hurt. I panicked and opened my door to escape. “Where you going, muthafucka?" yelled Cedric. "Back up and get out of here."
I realized that the motor was still running and closed my door. I made a k-turn and drove back toward my building, and parked the car in the spot we found it as if nothing happened. I never even bothered to look at the damage. I crawled in and put my dad’s keys back where I had stolen them from and went to bed.
Now I sat there on the side of the bed trying to pull myself together before going outside. After washing my face, brushing my teeth, peeing, and wasting time in the bathroom, I went to face my father. On the way out, I passed the kitchen where my little brothers and sister were eating Corn Flakes. They knew better than to say anything, but the silent look of pity they gave me told me they knew I was in big trouble. Outside, daddy and three men who lived in the building were standing at the curb, with their backs to me, looking at the car. They were talking in an angry tone and shaking their heads a lot. A small crowd of spectators had also gathered to look. I walked towards my father and the car, trying to avoid eye contact with either. When I finally looked at the damaged car, I began to shake with fear. It was the first time I had seen the damage and it was much worse than I imagined.
“What happened?” I dared to ask innocently. “Where did you take my car last night?” “Nowhere. Maybe somebody hit it.”
That would have been a viable explanation, except there was no broken glass on the ground around the car. “Nobody hit it. There’s no glass or anything on the ground,” said my dad.
“Well, I don’t know. I didn’t do it.”
My dad just stood there looking down at me. His hands were at his sides balled into tight beefy fists. Veins in his neck stood out like pulsating jump ropes. There was fury in my dad’s eyes like I had never seen before. He was not buying my story. He knew I wrecked his car. I could tell he was considering what to do next. Regardless, I was not going to crack I might go down in flames, but I was sticking to my story. All the evidence was circumstantial. I would lie to the death.
All the men were quiet. The crowd was also quiet, and for a moment everyone else had disappeared and it was just my dad and I standing there. I tried my best to be steady, but the full effects of the pills had returned and I was high as hell again. I could hardly stand up straight. My feet danced a two-step shuffle, back and forth as I struggled to keep them under me. My dilated eyes darted around wildly trying to stay open and avoid eye contact with my father, the crowd, and the damaged car.
I had resigned and accepted the fact that my dad was going to knock the shit out of me, right there in front of everyone. In a way, I wished he would hit me. I felt terrible about his car, yet I was not man enough to own up to what I had done. When he noticed that I was high, my dad’s body relaxed. Not so much relaxed, but deflated. My dad was deflated, as his expression turned from anger, to disappointment and sadness. “Go in the house, and stay there until I talk to you later.” He said pointing towards the building entrance.
For a moment I felt relieved. I had gotten through this round unharmed, I thought. I turned and took two steps towards the building when I felt my stomach erupt and vomit gushed out of my mouth like a scene in a cartoon. That’s when the crowd reappeared and sang out in unison, “EWWWW”.
Stumbling into the house, I went into the bathroom to puke some more - partly from the drug’s effects - but mostly from the sickness of guilt. By the time I lifted my head out of the toilet, it had cleared and the seriousness of what I had done was fully upon me. I had fucked up like I had never fucked up before. How could I ever look my father in the face again, after stealing his car, wrecking it, and then lying about it? I also wondered how I was going to survive the ass kicking I assumed was coming when he got back upstairs. He had never used his fists against me before, but I had it coming.
It wasn’t like everything was going well before I stole the car. Like many teenage boys I had begun to feel my oats and my parent’s influence over me was getting thin. They had too many rules in their house, and as far as I was concerned they were cramping my style. My parents and I were always bumping heads lately, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be out of there anyway.
I looked out the window and saw that the police were outside talking to my dad and writing stuff down on a little pad. The sight of the cops almost made me puke again, but my stomach was empty from the last episode. All I could do was heave. It hurt like hell. I had not considered the police being involved. “Was my dad going to turn me in?” I asked myself,“Would my dad turn me in?”
I wasn’t sticking around to find out. No time seemed better than that moment for me to leave. Even before I wrecked the car I’d been spending most of my nights at my girlfriend, Carla’s place. Sometimes I wouldn’t go home for days at a time. Carla and our 4-month-old son, Lamont, Jr. (or “LJ” for short), lived with Carla’s mother 2 buildings away from my parents building. I threw a few of my meager belongings into a pillowcase, and escaped out the back window
My name is Lamont B. Moody. I was born in Newark, New Jersey - aka “Brick City”. I grew up in the Arch Bishop Walsh Homes housing projects. No one ever called it Arch Bishop Walsh Homes, except White people. The people who lived there referred to our project development as the McCarter Highway Projects, because of the section of McCarter Highway or Route 21 that borders the eastern side of the projects.
A "Village" atmosphere existed in the projects during the 50's and 60's. Most families knew one another, and all mothers were free to beat your ass, along with their own kids', if you were wrong.
Summers were extra special and fun. Nothing like playing Hide-N-Go- Seek and Tag around the projects on hot summer nights. Even white folks lived in the projects in the 50's and 60's. There were grass and trees, and nice park benches in front of all the buildings. Our moms would sit out there and socialize late into the night while the kids played. Then we would go in and take a bath before bed. I can never recall hearing a gunshot in the projects when I was a kid.
We lived as well as most other families in the projects. We were never on welfare, but we did qualify for and were happy to get that government cheese, powdered milk and, peanut butter they passed out every so often.
My parents were hard working people. They loved us and tried to raise us properly. On Sundays, the kids went to church with momma. Daddy didn’t go to church back then. He said he would go when he was ready to go.
My parents weren’t much on physical displays of affection like hugs and kisses. They showed their love by making sure we always had enough to eat and shoes on our feet. Even in the toughest times, we could always look forward to gifts under the tree on Christmas mornings and new clothes on Easter. I can’t recall a Christmas when we didn’t have a Christmas tree. Daddy usually brought a tree home on Christmas Eve, because they were cheaper. On Christmas Eve of 1962, I heard mama and daddy talking in the kitchen. They didn’t have money for a tree after buying presents. Daddy waited until midnight and drove big sister Rochelle and me to an abandoned lot were unsold trees had been abandoned by the seller. The trees left behind were mostly scrawny Charlie Brown looking shrubs, with broken branches. “Go get a tree,” daddy told us. Rochelle and I jumped out of the car like commandos, and ran to pick a tree off the ground. It was dark, cold, and scary out there. I expected us to get busted any second, so we weren’t choosy. We snatched up the nearest tree and ran back to the car, Rochelle holding the bottom and me holding the top of the tree. The trees pine needles were poking through my knit mittens and sticking into my hand, but I ignored the pain. Daddy was standing with the trunk open. We tossed the tree into the trunk and did a quick tie down to secure the tree. Then we stole away into the night and went home. It was past one o’clock in the morning, when we got back home. Mama made hot cocoa. Daddy put the Moms Mabley album on the record player and we cracked up while we decorated the tree.
The tree caper with daddy was memorable, but we were kids. All we cared about were toys and gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. We didn’t always get what we wanted, what kid ever does, but we always got something good. Finally, in 1963, mama was able to buy one of the new silver aluminum Christmas trees that had just come out. Electric lights couldn't go on the aluminum tree for the possibility of electrical shock. The tree came with a small color wheel, to illuminate the tree with different colors as the wheel, with four or five colored transparent sections, rotated past a light source. The branches were not strong enough to hold many ornaments, but it was beautiful. The first few years, we would stare as it turned from green, to red, to yellow, to blue, and back to green again. People from all over the building were coming up to see the aluminum tree changing colors. Those glory days of family and village community were long gone by 1970. The city of Newark and the projects had become different places. Life under Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio
had become downright oppressive in the city of Newark, especially after the Newark Riots in ’67. Crime and drugs, particularly heroin, had taken over the hoods, and quickly created dopefiend zombies out of those foolish enough to indulge. I was pretty much experimenting and getting high off anything that got me there. My parents didn’t know it yet, but I had also dropped out of high school so that I could get high and hangout all day and all night. Black folks of Newark had elected Kenneth A. Gibson, the first black mayor of a major city in the Northeast, with hopes of a savior. I was 17 years old, and like the city of my birth, my personal life was all fucked up and spiraling downward out of control.
Summer, 1970 Newark, New Jersey
“What the fuck you talking bout, Lamont? You’re the one that fucked up my transmission in the first place!”
That’s what my friend Pee Wee said when I told him I wasn’t feeling his plan to break into a car dealership for the purpose of stealing a transmission clutch for his ‘62 Bonneville Coupe. “You owe me, Nigga!”
It was true. Pee Wee owned a 64 Metallic Blue Pontiac Bonneville, with a 4-on-the-floor stick shift transmission. That was a sweet car. Pee Wee let me drive it one night. I had my driver’s license, but I had never driven a stick shift vehicle before. I stripped the shit out of the clutch in a day. When I was done all that was left was first gear and reverse. No second gear, third gear or fourth gears. I felt obligated to participate in getting it fixed. Plus, Pee Wee reminded me that there was surely going to be something leftover to get high with.
It was the fall of 1970, several months after I had wrecked my dad’s car and jumped out the window. It turns out that my dad didn’timplicate me to the police about his car. I still had not gone back home and I was sleeping at Carla’s some nights or just crashing wherever. I was using heroin on a regular basis, along with pills and syrup. Its effects were already beginning to show in my physical appearance.
“Okay Pee Wee, I’m down,” I said Begrudgingly. “But, you know that transmission was about to go any minute, before I got in there.”
“Well, it didn’t go on me all this time,” said Pee Wee. “And since you ain’t got no money to fix my shit, we need to do this.”
There were three of us in on the dealership caper, Cedric, Pee Wee and me.
Pee Wee was almost 20 years old, Cedric was 16 and I was 17 years old. Pee Wee always hung around with us younger guys. He loved cars and he was a gifted, natural born grease monkey, and I say that in a respectful way. He was real good at fixing cars. Pee Wee always wore dirty blue mechanics uniforms or coveralls with his real name ’Chester’ sewn on the pocket. He always looked like he just finished working on a greasy motor or something.
Pee Wee didn’t live in the projects. He lived with his mother up the hill on Broadway, in an apartment over a liquor store. He was from South Carolina and talked really countrified like. He got his nickname Pee Wee because he was only about 5 feet 3 inches tall, with a young-looking baby face. That is until he went face first through the windshield of a stolen car he was riding in when it hit a tree. It took 600 stitches just to piece Pee Wee’s face back together. The stitches left big fat shiny Frankenstein looking whelps crisscrossing his face.
We figured that was why he hung around with younger guys. He looked more like us and felt he blended in better. It didn’t make much of a difference though, because he was still shorter and even with the stitches, looked younger than all of us.
Like I said, Pee Wee was crazy about cars. He loved to drive and whenever he came down to the projects he had a car. I never knew anyone who could always find someone with an extra car they ended up giving him for nothing or at an extremely cheap price. He was an excellent driver and handled a car like he had been driving all his life. He was also a maniac with a daredevil mentality behind the wheel. He drove around Newark like he was running moonshine. He’d tailgate people at high speeds and turn corners on two wheels. He couldn't so much as pull out of a parking space without burning rubber.
This break in was an inside job. Pee Wee had a job working at the car dealership, as a lot attendant for about three weeks. He supposedly knew exactly where everything was inside.
That night about midnight we drove the Bonnie down McCarter Highway, in first gear, to the back lot of the dealership. We entered through a side gate that Pee Wee had left open when he left work that day. Pee Wee and Cedric climbed up on the roof and went into the dealership through a skylight that Pee Wee also left unlocked earlier.
My job was to drive the Bonneville, so I didn’t go inside the dealership. I sat outside in the dark for about 10 or 15 minutes that seemed like days waiting for them to come out. I was scared shitless. The front of the dealership was all glass and it faced a busy street, with several restaurants and bars and people. The neon lights from the street fully illuminated the inside of the showroom window and it would be easy for someone to see them inside if they were not careful. I was parked in a dark spot, but there were active parking lots with lights on both sides. I fully expected at any instant for the burglar alarms to start screaming, police cars coming up from all directions, lights flashing, sirens blasting, guns, rifles, teargas, German Shepherd dogs, helicopters, spotlights and loud speakers; the whole production.
Finally, after about 30-minutes, the garage doors went up and Pee Wee and Juan drove out in two brand new, off the showroom floor, 1970 Buick Electra cars, loaded with tools and stolen merchandise. I followed them out the gate and back to the projects, which was only a short distance away. I stayed behind them to hide the fact the Buicks didn't have license plates. When all was said and done, we still didn't have a clutch for the Bonnie, however. With all our wisdom it never occurred to us how unlikely it was that we would find a clutch for a ‘62 Pontiac Bonneville at a Buick dealership in 1968.
What we did have were blank purchase vouchers forms from the dealership. Pee Wee had been sent by the dealership to pick up parts a few times using a voucher. He said he knew how they worked. We could forge a purchase order and get the clutch from an auto parts supplier. It would be easy. That’s what we thought.
The problem came when we didn’t know the size or number, or any or the information one should have known for the parts. The guy at the parts store, who I think was on to us from the jump, picked up the phone to call the dealership. We were forced to make a hasty and empty-handed exit.
We didn’t sell the cars and we practically gave the tools away for drugs. We basically were mostly interested in getting enough money to get high, eat and have a good time at that point. We also forgot about the clutch for the Bonneville, being that we were sporting brand new Buicks. We drove the Buicks until the cops busted us a week later. We stood out like a sore thumb driving those shiny new cars around the projects. We caught cases for possession of stolen property, grand larceny and burglary. This was the third time I had been arrested since I wrecked the car and left home - once for trespassing and another time for drinking in public. Each time my mama came and got me at the police station. Each time she came and got me from the police station I’d cry and swear that I was going to change my ways. Each time, as soon as her back was turned, I would escape back to the streets and be gone.
I spent three weeks at the Essex County Youth Detention Center in Newark, and I got probation. Momma came and got me again, but I wasn’t going to straighten up. I was just getting started.
My dad never came with mama to court or to get me out of jail. He didn’t kick my ass or turn me into the police behind me wrecking his car, but he wasn’t coming to get me from jail.
“Every father should remember that one day his son [or daughter] will follow his example instead of his advice.” – Charles F. Kettering
My dad was born in Alabama, the second youngest boy of 10 brothers and sisters. He was tall (6’4”), lean (220 lbs.), dark, good looking, and cool as hell. He loved to smoke White Owl cigars. He kept a chewed up White Owl butt clinched between his teeth, whether lit or not. He was also really smart and did the crossword puzzles in the Star Ledger and New York Times newspapers everyday - in ink.
He preached to us and he would punish us for stealing and lying, and he rarely, if ever, cursed or used profanity. Not saying he never cussed in his life, I just can’t remember hearing him do it. I know he never cursed at his kids. He had a heart of gold and genuinely cared about other people. Many times he would stop on the streets and pick up pieces of furniture or appliances that someone had thrown on the curb. He always found someone that could use the item.
He’d wear dark sunglasses - even when he was driving at night. Daddy loved to drive and always had a car. Like most black men in those days he was proud of his car. He tried to get us out of the projects and into the “country” as much as possible. Whether it was a picnic, or just a long ride in the car on Sunday afternoons. Going to the Newark Drive-in Theatre was one of my favorites. A couple of times I remember daddy would sit me on the floor in back so the people at the ticket booth couldn’t see me. He didn’t go to church back then, but he always dropped mama and us off at church and picked us up after. Sometimes he went to church on Easter Sundays and after church he’d take us riding through Newark’s Branch Brook Park to look at the world-renowned Cherry Blossom trees in bloom. Then we’d go to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones.
Daddy especially liked riding through the suburban towns and neighborhoods that surrounded Newark, like South Orange, West Orange, Montclair, and Bloomfield to look at the beautiful houses. He would see one and pull over and just look at it. “I’m going to own a house like that one day,” daddy would say out loud. He would say the same thing whenever he saw a new Cadillac, “I’m going to own a car like that one day”. But daddy was not just talking. He not only had a dream, he had a plan. His dream was of getting his family out of the projects and into our own house someday. He loved to fish and we went fishing all the time. We’d fish in the reservoir or the lakes in the park, or other spots he knew about. Sometimes we’d catch some nice fish. Mostly we caught little sunfish that were sometimes no bigger than a silver dollar and usually thrown back by most other fisherman out there. They were all the same to my dad. He didn’t know anything about catch and release. He wasn’t out there for the sport of it, necessarily. Daddy expected a meal at the end of the day. If he caught a fish, it was getting fried and eaten. He’d have 30 of those little fish fried hard and stacked up on a plate. The fish would be so small that he couldn’t cut the heads off before cooking them, for fear of losing a third of the already sparse meat between the many tiny bones. To go along with his fish, he like rice or grits, drenched in fish grease, and several slices of bread.
My dad drove a delivery truck for a vending machine snack foods company in Belleville, NJ. He was the hardest working, most dependable man I had ever seen. His work ethic was impeccable. He never took a day off from work. I have seen him crawl out of bed and go to work so sick he could barely stand up straight. He worked Monday through Saturday driving his truck. He usually held down a part-time job at night of some kind at the same time. As hard and long as he worked daddy realized that he couldn't afford a house on the salary he was earning delivering snacks.
Almost every day he came home with candy bars, potato chips, snack cakes, and other treats. Not just a few items, but cases of shit that had apparently fallen off the back of a truck, as the gangsters often say. My 3:30pm shift and mama worked the 3pm – 11pm shift. Mama was bringing home snacks too.
I worked at the company for 6 months, when I first dropped out of high school, in 1969. It seemed everybody at the company was helping themselves to free merchandise. All day long people were making trips to the parking lot with packages to stow in the trunks of their cars. The guard at the front gate that everyone had to walk past to get in and out of the plant was so old he never got out of his seat in the guard booth to see what was going on.
There was always plenty of snack food in our apartment. We had so much candy and snack shit that we opened our own store. We became the “snacks house” and sold snacks out of our apartment. We could undercut the local candy stores and we were more convenient, so all the kids came to us with their nickels and dimes. Business was good.
Daddy was dependable, most of the time. Our first apartment in building #5 was on the eighth floor, overlooking the parking lot. As little kids, we would look out the window at the same time every day and wait for daddy’s car to pull into the lot. When he pulled in, we all yelled, “Daddy.” “Daddy.” “Daddy.” We couldn't climb on the window, so we had to wave from behind the heavy mesh safety screens that covered all the windows. Most times he would pull in right on time, and we would start yelling and waving. After a while, he wouldn't even look up, but just give a couple of waves in our direction to acknowledge us. We yelled until he was out of sight, and then we went to the elevator to wait for him. When he came off the elevator and saw us standing there, he would say, “HEY!” Then he would rub us each on top of our heads.
We were especially, anxious for him to get home on Fridays, but he was always late on Fridays. Friday was payday, and the day daddy got drunk. When he did get home drunk on Fridays, he would take us out for burgers, fries, and a milk shake. No seat belts, or air bags in those days. We didn’t have a clue, or concern about daddy being drunk and driving us around. That was back in the 50’s and 60’s when drunk driving was okay, and everyone was doing it.
Winter, November 20, 1970
Late Morning Newark, New Jersey
In the winter of 1970, I turned 18 years old, and I was well into my heroin addiction and the never-ending quest for my next fix. I left my parent’s home months earlier and had pretty much burned all my bridges in terms of being welcome back there. I stayed with my girlfriend Carla for a while, but for the past three months, I was living in an apartment in building #9, with a couple of get-high partners, Cedric and Juan.
The woman who used to live in the apartment with her four kids left it with her nephew, Cedric, because she said someone put a curse on the crib. She was into voodoo, big time. Three months ago, she just walked out and left everything in the apartment, including food, furniture, her clothes and all the kids’ stuff. She moved back to Mississippi. Cedric, Juan and I were living in the apartment since she split. We figured it would be at least a few months before the housing authority came to put us out for not paying the rent.
People rarely got evicted from the projects. Think about it, where would they go? People evicted from other places came to the projects. Folks had to be seriously trifling to get put out of the projects. All that evicting someone from the projects meant was that the city had to find a new place to relocate them. That probably meant moving them to another housing project across town.
We used the apartment as a shooting gallery. It was for the dopefiends to shoot up and chill out and enjoy their high. Of course, we charged everyone a fee to use the set. The dopefiends either paid with part of their dope, or with cash. It cost $5 per person, to come in and get off. Most of the dopefiends mainlined intravenously. If they didn’t have their own works or set, which consisted of syringe, hypodermic needle, and cooker (a spoon or bottle cap to cook the drugs in), we also rented works for $2 or drugs. The druggies could hang out and do the dopefiend head nod for a couple of hours, as long as they behaved. We also sold a little cocaine and heroin, very little. The problem was that the three of us shot up all of the merchandise before we could sell it.
Although it was early in my shooting-up days, I was already strung-out on heroin. I was able to keep up with my addiction with relative ease in those days, but I already developed my insatiable appetite for the drug. I shot it up as fast as I got it and as long as I had it. After splurging the night before, we were dry and clean out of drugs. We were sitting around trying to figure out how we could get money to buy some dope and get high. It was to getting late in the day, and we had not had anything all day.
“Damn,” Cedric said, his face twisted with frustration, “I’m starting to get sick. Ain't nobody got nothing' stashed to get high off’?”
Cedric was standing up looking out the living room window. The apartment was on the eighth floor. It faced the back of the building, overlooking the railroad tracks and the big playground. The recreational area was a big concrete covered area about the size of the average football field between the rear of the building and the railroad tracks. Broken glass was all over the place. From above, it looked like a giant jigsaw puzzle with fuzzy edges, from the grass growing through all the cracks.
“No, man,” I replied. “Do you think I would be here looking stupid if I had something left?”
Juan burst out laughing before falling off the couch onto the floor. He kept pointing his finger at me and held his stomach as he laughed and struggled to catch his breath. That was Juan. Everything was funny to him. Juan, who was seventeen going on eight years old, and thought everything I said, was especially funny. I just cracked him up for some reason. When we were growing up and in school, before we turned into dopefiends, Juan always said, “Go on, Lamont, tell a joke,”
Juan got on my nerves with that shit, mostly because it put me on the spot in front of women. Juan was about, 5 feet 1 inch tall and he was very self-conscious about his height. To break Juan out of putting me out there with people waiting for me to make them laugh, each time he did I said, “Is it true midgets have little dicks?” Everybody cracked up on that one — except Juan. He soon stopped asking me to tell jokes. Cedric, who didn’t think I was particularly funny, stood framed in the window looking at Juan. “Man, get your dumb ass up off the floor. That shit wasn’t that funny, nigga,” Cedric shouted at him in disgust, his face twisted in aggravation.
Cedric was 19 years old, and good looking before he got strung out on dope. His mother was Puerto Rican and his father black. He had caramel brown skin, gray eyes and thick curly black hair that he wore in a huge Afro. He liked to dress sharp, also until he got strung out on heroin. No one could tell that to Cedric. He still thought he was fine as hell. Why not, even then when he was strung out and looking a little raggedy, the women couldn't seem to get enough of him.
“We need to make some cash soon, or we’re gonna be some sick niggas up in here shortly,” Cedric said. “Lets stickup that store we talked about last week.”
We talked about several ways to get money in the last couple of weeks, all of them illegal, of course. Every time we ran out of dope, we planned to rob this small drug store nearby. We chose that store because we heard it had lots of money inside of it. Since the owners of the store were white, we just assumed that had to be true. As far as we knew, white people had money and wouldn't miss the small amount we were stealing from them. We also liked the location and the easy escape route we laid out. We could do it in less than five minutes.
We had never gone through with anything as serious as armed robbery. Something or someone regularly came through to get us high. Things were slow for us that day. We didn’t have any drugs, and the dopefiends were not coming to shoot up in the apartment. None of us ever pulled an armed robbery before, but how hard could it be. We’ve seen it on TV and in movies all the time. We just point the gun and say, “Give it up!” They pass along the cash to us, and we get out of there. Unfortunately, in real life things didn’t go so smoothly for us.
It was about 4:30pm when we got to the store. There were two customers inside the store at the cash register. The old woman, who was eyeing us from the moment we came in the store, worked the register. The old man, who was the pharmacist and owner of the store, was just walking out from a room in the back. He barely seemed to notice us. The drugstore was the small old-fashioned mom and pop joint with a soda fountain counter like in the old movies. A huge circular, spinning magazine and greeting card rack took up the limited space in the middle of the floor. All the shelves and cabinets were dark wood and built into the walls. There were big sliding glass doors up top and big pullout drawers on the lower parts. The pharmacy area, located at the front of the store near the door, sat high on a raised platform so the owner could see everything and everyone in the store at all times. There was also a counter and stools where they sold ice cream sodas and other snacks.
When we walked in, Juan sat at the counter near the cash register, which was sitting on the counter. Cedric and I browsed the magazine rack. Cedric had a small .25 caliber automatic pistol that he got from someone whose name I do not recall at this time. None of us had masks or disguises, just our bare faces. We waited until there were no customers in the store then we made our move. As soon as the last customer walked out the door we went into action. Cedric pulled out the gun and stuck it into the old dudes face and shouted, “Give it up, muthafucka!”
I was standing behind the storeowner dude who, seeing the gun, just flipped out. The dude’s face turned pale and he started doing a nervous jig dance with his feet. He was turning around in circles, flailing his arms in the air and moaning, “Oh... No... Oh... No... Oh... No...”
By this time, Juan was over the counter, fumbling around trying to open the cash register. The old woman who picked up on what was going down was standing behind Juan, beating him on his back with her fists screaming at the top of her lungs about how she told the old guy to sell this Goddamn store. Cedric was standing in front of the old guy shouting for him to open the cash register. I was still behind the old guy sandwiching him in so he couldn't run out the back or get a gun or something. Before I knew it, I was screaming at Cedric, “Shoot this motherfucker.”
“Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.” The old guy spun around faster. He looked like one of those little toy soldiers that run on batteries and when they run into something they bounce off in circles.
“I can't get this muthafucka open, man,” Juan shouted in frustration as he turned around and gave the old woman a little shove. “Damn, get out of my damn ear with that screaming bitch.”
Juan took a can of shaving cream off the shelf and started banging on the cash register as if that would open it. The old woman kept hitting Juan on the back and talking loud to no one in particular, “Now we are dead, Gabe. Now it is too late to sell the store. Now we are dead. Now maybe Gabe will listen to me. Now we are dead.”
I said, “Open the cash register nigga.”
“Give up the money before I bust a cap in your ass,” Cedric shouted.
“Fuck it, shoot this nigga, Cedric”. I encouraged, “Shoot him!”
The old dude was still dancing and spinning. He bleated, “Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no..."
The old woman pleaded with him, “Gabe, will you listen now?”
Juan interrupted, “Yo, somebody else come try and open this thing nigga.”
Pounding on that cash register with that can and having that old woman beating on him wore Juan out. The place was like a madhouse. There was chaos and confusion in there, for what seemed like forever. Suddenly the front door opened and a middle-aged man in a blue work uniform came walking into the store looking down. Everyone in the room was still and silent.
When the guy finally looked up and realized what was going down he also froze in his tracks. Without saying a word, he dropped the change he was counting in his palm, raised his hands up into the air and turned to face the wall. It was easy to see he didn’t want any part of this shit. For a moment, we were all a little stunned. We stood there looking at the new guy, waiting and wondering what to do next. It was as if somebody called a time out and stopped the action. Even the old woman quieted down. Cedric turned back to the old white guy and just hauled off and hit him upside the head with the automatic pistol he was holding. When the butt made contact with his skull it accidentally went off, “BANG!”
I was still standing behind the old guy, and I felt the bullet whiz past my face. It broke the glass door of the case behind me. The loud bang of the gun scared the shit out of everybody and started the panic and hysteria again. The old guy started spinning like a top again and shouting, “Oh no!”
The lady started yelling at her husband, Gabe, again. The new dude dropped down on his knees and started praying. Juan was now hitting the cash register with a small fire extinguisher. I was probably the most scared out of everybody when I felt that bullet fly past me.
Suddenly the reality, the finality, the seriousness of what we were doing was clear to me. What am I doing? I thought to myself. I just wanted to tell those people I was sorry and beg their forgiveness and go home. It was too late for that sorry shit by that time. At that point, I reached in, grabbed the old dude’s wallet out of his back pocket, and ran for the door. I saw that Cedric was right behind me. Juan was attempting to carry the unopened cash register with him out the door, but it appeared bigger than he was. It was too heavy, and he finally gave up and dropped it on the floor. We never got the register open, but Juan did manage to grab a small cash box and a carton of Kools cigarettes on the way out.
We ran into the street and across Broadway, down behind the barbed wire company, across the railroad tracks behind the projects, climbed over the fence into the playground and up into building #9. The escape went just as we planned. There was $43 in the old guy’s wallet and close to $600 in the cash box. We split the money three ways, changed clothes and went over to building #3 to find Virgin. It was time to oil up.
November 20, 1970
Late Afternoon Newark, New Jersey
Virgin was about 27 years old and was getting high for much longer than us. Normally, we didn't hang around with Virgin. He was older than us, and we didn't like him. Virgin would pretend like he was cool with everyone, but he was sneaky and slimy. He couldn't be trusted was the general consensus about Virgin. However, he knew where to score over in Harlem. Most of all, Virgin had a car, and he would shoot us right over to New York City to score if we paid for gas and tolls and got him high.
Virgin was about 6 foot 3 inches tall with a dark complexion and his eyes were always bloodshot. His face had big acne craters and knots, and his lips were pink around the inner edge. We thought that was from all the cheap liquor he drank. His arms were long with huge hands and long, thick fingers. Virgin was also legendary for having a large penis. The stories about the size of Virgin’s dick were legendary. Most of the girls were afraid to go near him. That is why they called him Virgin because he couldn't get any play from the females for a long time.
Before he became a dopefiend, Virgin played basketball like a god. He was probably the best player in the projects, or even in Newark, when he was in his prime. Virgin had a lot of style and flair on the court. He could shoot the jumper or take a chump to the basket, and throw the dunk down with authority, and dribble the ball from one end of the court to the other with blazing speed and unbelievable ball control. He could do all kinds of tricks with the basketball, like the Harlem Globetrotters. He was the first one I ever saw do the no-look pass and the reverse dunk with three people playing defense on him. He could do it all. No one noticed how ugly he was, when he was on the basketball court. Let me put it this way, nobody mentioned it when he was playing ball. If somebody did hike on him, it would be something positive like, “He sure is ugly looking, but that nigga can play some ball.”
On the drive to New York, Virgin seemed too interested in the robbery and kept asking questions. "How much did ya'll get?" "Who had the gun?" "Where is the gun now?" Juan told him every detail.
Cedric, Juan and I put in together $150 each and bought 2-quarter ounces of Nicky Barnes’ “Suicide” on 116th Street. We went to a shooting gallery that Virgin knew on 112th Street and got high. We gave the houseman some two dollars each for letting us shoot-up in his joint. We all had works, so we didn't have to buy or rent any. If we had not, we would have had to fork over another dollar each or more drugs.
On the ride from Harlem back to Newark, we were not even to the George Washington Bridge before Virgin started asking more questions. Only now he was not only asking about the stick up earlier that day, but he was fishing for information on other hustles we pulled off recently. That punk was trying to get us to flip on other people. It occurred to me that Virgin was much too interested in other people's business. “What are you, the cops?” I asked Virgin. “You sure are asking a lot of questions.”
Virgin tried to play it down. “Fuck you talking’ about, the cops?” he said with mock offense. “I just wanted to hear what went down. I ain’t got the heart to do that kind of shit”
Juan was more than willing to continue running his mouth. We came back to Newark and went to the voodoo apartment. We bagged up some dime bags to sell, and divided the remaining drugs three ways between Juan, Cedric and me for personal use. We figured if we sold these thirty dimes we could make enough go back to the City, re-up, and keep turning it over like that. We could get high and make some cash at the same time.
We gave Virgin two dimes as payment for taking us to New York. He was not happy about only getting two dimes and thought his cut should be more. “What the fuck is this, nigga? Two fuckin dimes for taking you three niggas to the City to buy dope in my car?”
Cedric countered vehemently, “Man we got your ass high in New York! We gave you the same shot we all had.”
“I didn’t ask ya’ll to get me high over there," Virgin protested. “And I sure didn’t agree that it was part of my money. Man, you young niggas are trying to play me. Ya’ll know the deal.”
I added my piece, “We filled up your empty- ass gas tank, that was twenty-six bucks; you probably only used half a tank to go over and back. We paid the tolls and bought your broke ass a three-piece meal at Gino’s Chicken. Sounds like you trying to play us!”
Virgin was standing in the middle of the floor pissed off. His was breathing hard and sweating. His beefy hands balled into fists. He wanted to fuck us up, but he had doubts about taking on all three of us at the same time. “Fuck you niggas. Ya’ll gonna need another ride and you can kiss my ass," Virgin said over his shoulder as he walked out of the apartment.
The clang of the metal apartment door reverberated throughout the apartment and the outer hallways as he slammed it hard behind him.
“Yeah, you better take your ass out of here. We ain't gonna need you and that raggedy-ass car. Your ride is so fucked up I'm surprised that the police didn't stop us” I yelled through the door at him. Juan cracked up.
We knew where to go back to score, so we didn't need Virgin’s ass anymore. As far as there was always the PATH Train out of Newark Penn Station to Penn Station in downtown Manhattan and the subway uptown to Harlem. There was also the option of taking a bus to NY Port Authority and a subway from there. Fuck, Virgin! Once Virgin was gone, we all looked at each other for a second and burst out laughing.
Of course, Juan took the joke too far and almost kicked over the coffee table with the dope we were cooking up on it as he rolled on the couch in fake hysteria.
“Juan, why do you always have to go overboard and shit?” Cedric was exasperated and angry that Juan almost spilled some of the drugs, "You're knocking shit over and about to get a beat-down.”
“Oh, fuck you Cedric." Juan said in defense. "You ain’t gonna beat nobody down over here.”
Cedric and Juan had gotten into it a couple of times before. Juan was game like a pit bull, but each time, Cedric kicked Juan’s little ass. If someone had not stopped the shit, Cedric would have killed Juan or still be beating his ass because Juan wouldn't quit while Juan was still conscious. I didn't think Cedric really wanted to start in with Juan again. Fortunately, at that point the dope was cooked, and it was time to get high. None of us spoke as we anxiously searched our arms for a good vein to insert the needle and inject the heroin. We sat back one at a time and enjoyed the rush of the drug making its way through our bodies and into our brains.
“Damn, this is some good shit,” I said in my slick-slurred dopefiend voice.
Juan agreed, “Yeah, it is. Man, now all I need is some pussy!”
For a moment, there was silence in the room except for the television.
Finally, I said, “I thought your sister was in rehab?”
Cedric, who was holding his laughter in, exploded. I tried to keep a straight face and not start laughing myself, but I couldn't hold it in either. I started cracking up too.
Juan looked hurt and said, “What you niggas laughing at? Fuck you niggas. Don’t be talking that shit about my sister, Lamont.
There was a strong rumor around the hood that the last shot of pussy Juan had was with his twin sister, Lisa. Their mother caught them doing the nasty with each other in in the bathroom of their apartment a few weeks earlier. She threw them both out. Lisa went to rehab, and Juan moved into the apartment with Cedric and me.
“I was high,” said Juan, all pissed-off and shit. “We were all fucked up off those pills. Man, Lamont, I’m telling you, you play too much. Don’t be talking that shit about me and my sister.”
We were laughing so hard we blew our highs, so we shot up again. We had money, plenty of heroin and a place to live. Life was good.
Friday, November 20, 1970
Early Evening Newark, New Jersey
Cedric, Juan and I walked to Belleville for a dozen cheeseburgers and an extra-large Coke. Later I went over to holler at my girl, Carla, but her brother said she had gone to Jersey City with her sister, and wouldn't return until after midnight. Carla was my four month old son LJ’s mother. LJ was with her.
It was about 10:30 at night when I headed over to the lobby of building #6. I wanted to check out the riffraff usually loitering there, and also try to sell some of the heroin I was holding. Cedric and Juan went their own ways. The entranceway or lobby of building #6 was where to find many of the neighborhood dopefiends hanging out at all times of the day or night. The entrance to the buildings was through two large steel doors with two big vertical Plexiglas windows on each of them. Inside was an area about the size of a large living room with walls of tan-painted cinderblocks and two recessed fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling. The floors were dark brown vinyl tile. On the left wall was a large steel grate covering a big radiator recessed into a space in the wall. The radiators were one of the attractions of hanging out in the lobby, especially during the winter. Not so much in the summertime. The heaters kicked out big heat, sometimes year-round. It could get so hot it seriously burned anyone that touched the grating. Hanging in one corner, was a red steel box with a glass front door that held a large fire extinguisher. The wall to the right immediately inside the lobby held sixty- four small bronze-colored mailboxes. Each box, one for each apartment in the building, was about the size of one of the red bricks that made up the outside walls. Thin slots cut into the mailboxes allowed the respective apartment’s occupants to see inside. On the first day of every month the building’s lobby would be crowded with women waiting for the mailman to bring them welfare checks. The mailboxes also served as a safe hiding place for drugs, in case the police ran down on us. Straight ahead from the entrance door, past the mailboxes and the radiator, was the elevator. There were passageways to the right and left of the elevator leading to doors for the stairways and to the first floor apartments. Building #6 was also the place to find drugs to buy. Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana were all available in the projects. White folks came from all the wealthy suburbs surrounding North Newark to buy drugs at building #6. They came from the Forest Hills and Silver Lake sections of North Newark and places like Belleville, Nutley and Bloomfield. Upstanding, respectable white folks even crossed the Passaic River from Kearny and Harrison to buy dope at building #6. The lobby of building #6 was a preferred hangout for us dealers and crooks because of its location and open view of the street. Building #6 was, usually, the best place to see the police coming and give us a chance to run up the stairs and escape. We either went up to someone’s apartment, or any other number of hiding places in the building before the cops could sneak up on us. If they didn’t get you in the lobby you were home free; the police were not running upstairs into the hallways looking for anybody.
Since the voodoo apartment where I was staying was there in building #6, it made it that much more convenient for me. The hangout spot migrated from building to building over the years, but #6 seemed to remain a mainstay. Buildings #6 and #7 sat on opposite sides of Grafton Avenue facing one another. Grafton Avenue was the main road cutting straight through the center of the project complex from Broadway to McCarter Highway where it ended. These were the easiest buildings to get in and out of without coming too deep into the complex. It was also a perfect place for a quick stop and curbside drug service. Customers purchased whatever they wanted without ever leaving the safety of their fancy cars.
When I got over to building #6 Wayne, T- Tom, Gremlin and Roz were already there. Wayne and T-Tom were dealing heroin, same as I was. Gremlin and Roz were junkies. T-Tom and Gremlin were over near the right stairway entrance talking. Roz, who should have been looking out the door for the cops, was standing against the wall in front of the radiators. Wayne was sitting on the short steps near the elevator looking at a comic book. T- Tom was leaning against the wall facing the door. Gremlin had his back to the door, talking to T-Tom. He didn’t see me come into the lobby. “Come on, T," Gremlin was whining. He held a watch close to T-Tom’s face as if to give him a good look at it, “You can do that for me, baby.”
“No, I don’t need that fuckin women’s Timex watch, Gremlin,” T-Tom said, exasperated by Gremlin’s begging and his juicy dialog. “I need cash.”
Apparently, Gremlin was trying to get three dimes for $21.78 cash and a used women’s Timex watch. T-Tom was not going for that deal. “Check out the watch,” Gremlin persisted. “It’s worth at least twenty or thirty dollars, nigga.”
“Grim, man, I told you!” Grim had pissed T- Tom off. “I can’t do anything with that damn watch. What do you think I’m going to do? I'm not going out on the street to sell a fuckin Timex watch. You sell the watch for thirty bucks and then you can come back to me right and have cash left over. I don’t want any watch!”
“Aw, T, you can help me out,” Gremlin mumbled.
He fumbled to put the watch into his coat pocket. They had probably stolen or found the watch somewhere. It was a long time since Roz and Gremlin sold the last of their personal jewelry and valuables. “Okay, fuck it then. Can I get two dimes for fifteen dollars?” Gremlin asked T-Tom. He was letting T-Tom know he may not have gotten over with the watch, but he was determined to get a bargain.
“Grim, you showed me you had twenty-one dollars,” T-Tom said, not believing Gremlin’s audacity to try and short change him on two dimes when he knew Gremlin had right money. “I didn’t want twenty-one bucks and change and a watch for three dimes! So why the fuck would I give you two dimes for fifteen bucks? Especially, since I know you have the correct money in your pocket?”
“Damn, baby,” Gremlin shot back at T-Tom. “Me and my wife have to get something to eat!”
T-Tom looked over at me standing there against the radiator with Roz, and rolled his eyes. We both laughed. Hearing my voice, Gremlin turned around and saw me there for the first time. “Yo, what’s up Lamont?” Gremlin seemed happy, even relieved, to see me.
“What’s up, Grim?” I was cautious because I knew what was coming.
“Lamont, I heard you were holding," he sprayed my way as he rushed over to me. “You holding, my brother?”
Gremlin, a black guy, was in his late forties. He spewed spit everywhere when he talked, so his conversations were very “juicy” - so to speak. He would say it and spray it. He couldn't help it. He sold or lost his dentures years before. Gremlin and Roz were once Junior High School teachers at the same school in Belleville Gremlin, and Roz never got married, but they once had a house together in the suburbs. Gremlin grew up right there in the projects and was originally one of the ones who had made it out. He waited until he had everything to lose before he chose to become a dopefiend. That was 5 years ago before they took on heroin and got caught stealing school resources to buy drugs. Now they both lived in building #4 with Gremlin’s mama. Roz, who was white, was a vice-principal at the school, at one time. Her father was a prominent big- time attorney in Newark, and he pretty much disowned her, especially when she hooked up with black ass Gremlin. I didn’t want Gremlin to come over and get in my face with that spitting shit. I was about to tell him to back off when the lobby door swung open and before any of us could react the police got the drop on us. “Everybody freeze!” The first dude in the door shouted at us. The man wore a baseball cap turned backwards, blue jeans, sneakers and a hoodie sweatshirt. “Everybody put your hands up and face the wall,” he repeated.
For a quick moment, because of the way the first cop was dressed, I thought it was some stickup men there to rip us off for the dope. I knew these were the cops. No doubt in my mind. Cops carry themselves differently and have more style than your average stickup dudes when they run down on a chump. Plus, three of the five guys who came in behind him, also with their guns drawn, wore trench coats and ties – like detectives.
The baseball-cap cop was standing in the crouched position holding his gun with both hands. He was swinging it back and forth. First pointed at Roz and me and then swung around to Wayne. Wayne made a movement as if ready to run up the stairs. There was not a cop in Newark that could catch us if we made it to the staircase. Not many would even come into the stairwell after us. “Don’t think about it, motherfucker,” he warned, like Dirty Harry. “Run and you’ll die right here.”
When the cops burst in, there were eight bags of heroin in my pocket. I dropped the gloves on the floor at my feet and attempted to kick them away from me. It was a futile attempt because three cops were looking right at me when I dropped it. T-Tom was holding three dimes and tried to drop his stuff on the floor and walk away from it. It didn’t do him any good either because they busted us all and took us to headquarters and charged everybody with joint possession.
Everybody except Roz, that is. The police let Roz go. They said she was clean. I wondered if the fact that Roz was a white woman, in there with all us Negroes, had anything to do with her going home? Especially since Wayne didn’t have anything on him either, and he didn’t have any outstanding warrants. They locked his ass up that night. It was more likely that the cops knew who Roz's father was. I’m just saying.
Gremlin had an outstanding warrant for failing to pay child support. Gremlin was especially pissed and didn’t stop letting us know about it.
“Yeah, you cheap ass nigga. I bet you wish you had sold me that shit now, huh?” Gremlin spat. “Now the police got everybody’s shit.”
Gremlin’s ranting was not the worst part of the bumpy ride in the back of the police wagon, with our hands handcuffed behind our backs and shackled together with leg irons. The worst part was that we were in such close quarters, and Gremlin tended to speak extra juicily when he was mad. Gremlin kept whining and spraying spit like a lawn sprinkler around the back of the police van.
“I was in there for a half hour talking with you, nigga,” he said to T-Tom. “If you would have just made the deal I would have gone long before the cops got there!”
Gremlin was really mad at T-Tom since T- Tom was in control of whether the deal went down or not. It turned out that T-Tom had three dime bags in the hallway, and that is exactly how many Gremlin wanted to get from him.
T-Tom and Wayne were brothers. T-Tom was twenty years old, a couple of years older than Wayne. T-Tom and I had been in many of the same classes, although he was a little older than me. T-Tom was an athlete and played baseball, basketball and football in school. He also did well in the classroom. He had college scholarship offers and prepared to go when his father stabbed his mother to death in a jealous, drunken rage. That was three years earlier. Their father went to prison, and T-Tom had to look after Wayne and their 13 year old little sister. He sold drugs to do it.
Wayne was more of a runner for T-Tom than a dealer. Wayne had Attention Deficit Disorder, A.D.D.; except in those days we just called him retarded. He liked to look at comic books and did so for hours. I think he would look at them because he couldn't read. Wayne went to school on the little yellow bus that we all made fun of.
“Man, Gremlin,” said T-Tom who was taking Gremlin’s watery verbal assault like a man, and had kept quiet to that point. “If Roz had been looking out for the cops, like she should have, they wouldn't have snuck up on us. Shit, plus it ain’t my fault you don’t pay your child support, nigga!”
Gremlin hesitated for a second as if speechless. He appeared offended. He also appeared to consider responding to T-Tom’s comment about Roz slacking up on the lookout tip and causing us to get busted. Maybe the child support crack T-Tom made had offended him. Perhaps Gremlin thought better of it because the shit was true; his girl should have been looking out for the cops, and he didn’t pay his child support.
Then he said, “Shit, the watch itself was worth thirty to forty dollars. Now the man got everything, fuck!”
T-Tom, Wayne nor I said another word to Gremlin the entire ride downtown, but he just kept going. With our hands handcuffed behind our backs, we couldn't cover our faces against the onslaught of spit. The only thing we could do was to turn as much as possible and let our backs take the drenching.
Friday, November 20, 1970
Late Evening Newark New Jersey
Newark Police Headquarters was in downtown Newark, behind City Hall on Broad Street. The entrances to Headquarters sat on Green Street, which was a small side street off Broad running alongside the buildings. Most Brick City folks know Newark Police Headquarters as “Green Street”. The city’s municipal courts and the main Police Headquarters shared the same building with other city administrative offices. Underground tunnels and a glass bridge connect the buildings. The marble stairs and floors in the buildings always shined like ice in stark contrast to the big holding cell in the basement, where they put all of us with twelve or fifteen other prisoners.
Like most other police lockups there was a lot of concrete and steel, a foul odor in the air and a lot of sorry souls inside. I had a gut feeling this was about much more than the small amount of drugs the police got out of that hallway. This was especially evident when they took us to Police Headquarters downtown, instead of to the Second Precinct Police Station on Orange Street where we usually went. I knew with certainty I was in big trouble when Smokey came to the holding cell looking for me. Smokey was a Robbery/ Homicide Detective and the meanest black man legally carrying a gun.
“Moody. Who is Moody?” he repeated. His voice roared off the steel walls as he scanned the bullpen like a hungry wolf stalking a chicken coop. His cold, squinting eyes looked angry and irritated. “Who is Moody?”
When I heard him call my name, and saw him standing there silhouetted by light coming from the single-bulb fixture outside the cell, I was scared shitless. My heart raced 100 miles an hour. I had cramps in my stomach, and I thought I was going to pee in my pants. I closed my eyes and prayed it was only a bad dream. When I opened my eyes I was still there, and so was Smokey and his crew. I had to accept the reality that this was a nightmare, but there was no waking up.
“Lamont Moody. Moody, front and center!”
I knew Smokey was going to ask me about the drugstore robbery. I knew that he already knew I was down with it. All he needed to do was get my name on a written confession.
“Moody, Lamont Moody!” He sounded pissed off. “Where the fuck you at, motherfucker?”
I had not even met the man yet he was already pissed off at me. I took a deep breath and meekly raised my hand.
“Oh, did you say 'Moody'?” I said trying to sound as though I just heard him for the first time. “Right here, I'm Moody.”
Smokey snapped his head around and focused his steely eyes my way. “What, you didn’t hear me calling you? Get the fuck up and get your sorry ass over here, boy. I ain’t got all day to be standing around in this funky-ass bullpen fucking with you sorry Niggas.”
As I stood up and walked toward the front of the cage Smokey reached behind his back and snatched his handcuffs out of the case. That meant one thing. I was going for the walk to the Green Room. Everything seemed like slow motion; everything except my heart, which was now out of control. “I want my mama,” I whined under my breath.
I’d heard a lot about the Green Room. There were stories about the blood splattered on the walls from the beat downs. Then there was the phonebook thing. The cops did things with a telephone book that Ma Bell never considered. They either put a phonebook on top of your head, or beat on it with nightstick, or they just swing the yellow pages like a bat and let your face do the walking. Scream and yell as loud as you wanted to, but no one in that building was likely to help you out. Not many guys came out of the room without confessing to something. Sometimes they confessed to things they didn’t even do. Jail was better than the beating the cops put on your unfortunate ass in the Green Room.
“Turn around and put your hands behind your back,” Smokey growled.
He grabbed both my wrists with his right hand – the same hand he was holding the cuffs. In the same motion, he grabbed the back of my head with his left hand and shoved my face hard up against the bars. The only reason I didn’t get a broken nose or knock out teeth is that my nose and mouth went between the spaces of the bars. The pain in my head was excruciating and shot through my body like an electric shock. My knees buckled, and I almost lost consciousness. I wanted to reach up and grab my head, but he already snapped the cuffs on with his right hand.
“Damn, man, what are you doing?” I was almost crying by then. “Why you knocking my head up on the bars and shit? You ain’t got to do all that.”
My face mashed against the bars so I couldn't move my mouth to speak. I swore that dude was trying to push my head between the cell bars. I needed to ease the pressure he was applying as he continued to push my head against the steel, but I struggled only slightly. I didn’t want to fight or struggle too much because I didn’t want him to think I was resisting. No sense making him angry. The pain in my head and face was something I never felt before in my life.
The other prisoners in the holding cell, including Gremlin, T -Tom and Wayne sat quietly looking away, trying to be oblivious to what was going on with me and this big, mean-ass cop. How could I blame them? There was not anything they could do except draw unwanted attention to themselves. They went about minding their own business and thanking the Lord they were not in my shoes.
“Shut up, sissy,” Smokey barked at me. “We’re going upstairs to talk.”
Smokey grabbed me by the handcuffs and pulled me behind him. I almost had to move backwards to keep up with him. We went up, down and through many stairways and hallways to a long narrow office. Several old metal desks lined the wall on both sides leaving a worn linoleum path down the center of the room that ended through another door. We entered the room and stopped there in the doorway for a moment. There were two detectives seated at desks, and there was an elderly white couple seated in chairs at one of the desks. I noticed the old guy had a big white bandage over the left side of his face and eye. When they looked up and saw me, the woman became visibly startled and let out an audible gasp. The couple clutched one another.
"That's fucked up," I remembered thinking with indignation at the time. "Whenever white folks see a black dude they act as though he’s going to rob them and shit.”
Right then, Smokey jerked me back out of the room, and we continued down the hall. Finally, we came to a small dimly lit room with drab lime green walls and windows painted over the same color. The room was almost empty except for a wooden chair and table sitting in the middle and an old gray filing cabinet over against one side. A light fixture, with a funnel shaped shade hung from the ceiling over the table, just like in all the cop shows I saw on television and in the movies. I was praying that my high-powered attorney would burst through the door in the nick of time to save me from the ass whopping I knew was coming. This was not a movie, and I damn sure didn’t have a high priced lawyer. I was busted like Nixon!
“Have a seat.” Smokey shoved me down into a wooden chair, his big black hand gripping the top of my head like a basketball. The diamond pinky ring and the two enormous gold nugget rings he had on left a deep groove on my forehead. Then he walked over to a black telephone on the wall near the door and dialed a few numbers.
“Alright, we’re ready. Tell Donley to come up too... okay, see you.”
Smokey was a big, mean-looking dude in his mid-forties. He was about six foot three inches tall and 245 pounds of muscle and black rage. He struck real fear in the hearts of those committing robberies and murder in the City of Newark because of his viciousness if he ran down on you.
Most people in Newark knew the Scott family. His family lived in the Columbus Homes projects on Seventh Avenue. That was where Smokey grew up. He was a star tailback at Barringer High School, back in his day. The story has it that he got a full scholarship to a big-time college in Florida. He broke his leg in his first year down there, and his career was done. With his career over he came back to Newark and taught at Barringer for a while before becoming a cop.
Smokey had a younger brother and sister who were dopefiends. He was resentful and angry as hell about it. He took his frustration and anger out on every black junkie unfortunate enough to be busted by him. No one wants an ass whooping, but if given a choice, most brothers in Newark preferred to get whooped from a white cop as opposed to hooking up with Smokey. This is no disrespect to the white cops in the Brick City. They would stomp a hole in your ass too. Smokey just seemed to take it personal.
I sat with my hands cuffed behind my back, and had forgotten about the pain from my face smashing against the cell bars downstairs. The pain in my hands and wrists from the tightness of the handcuffs took over my entire body. It felt like the edges of the handcuffs were slowly slicing through my wrists. “Dag, man, could you loosen these handcuffs, please?” I pleaded, trying unsuccessfully to adjust my wrists and somehow relieve the pain.
Smokey ignored me. He coolly and calmly removed his suit jacket and gun holster and carefully hung them on a hook in the wall. Then he took off his cuff links and rolled up his shirtsleeves. It was obvious this man was in peak physical condition, and he knew it. He was also a very sharp dresser. I could tell he put a lot of thought into his wardrobe. Today he had worn to work a tight, three-piece, light gray sharkskin iridescent suit. When I say 'tight', I do not mean how nice it was. I mean the pants were so snug his butt cheek dimples were showing. He finished the outfit off with a black high-roll collar shirt, with white pin-dots that certainly had been pressed and starched at a professional Chinese laundry. His processed hairdo was as jet-black and shiny as his size thirteen, patent leather, with white stitching, biscuit toe shoes. He wore a well- groomed mustache and allowed traces of gray to frame the edges. Smokey also had a reputation for being a ladies' man, and it was easy to see why.
“Don’t worry about the handcuffs,” he whispered nonchalantly as he neatly rolled his shirtsleeves up over his biceps. “That’s the least of your problems. We got other things to talk about, and you won’t even feel the cuffs after a few minutes.”
I noticed his voice had changed. He was not booming when he talked. He spoke in a raspy and smooth whisper. For a moment, I swore he was trying to talk like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, or every other character Clint played, for that matter. I thought how ironic it was that I was admiring the fashion statement and sexual prowess of the man who, moments earlier, called his buddies to come up and take part in kicking my ass.
About then, the door opened, and three upset-looking, white, plainclothes detectives walked into the room. They were not as well- dressed and well-cologne sprayed as Smokey, but they were just as big and mean looking. I noticed their jackets were already off, and their sleeves already rolled.
“That him?” One of the white cops asked, pointing to me, as if there was someone else in the room that it could be. “Yeah, that’s him,” Smokey sneered. “That’s the stick-up man.”
Smokey came over and stood directly in front of me with his legs spread slightly apart. He was holding a telephone book in front of him with two hands. That book looked huge. It must have been the “Greater Newark Area” edition. He stood in front of me with his junk outlined in those tight-ass pants he had on. His cologne was extra potent and I remember thinking, "Damn, did this nigga take a bath in High Karate.” The two other cops stood on either side of me, and the third one stood in back. “I heard you, and your boys, Cedric and Juan, were the ones who stuck up that drugstore earlier today?” said Clint, I mean Smokey.
“I didn’t rob anybody. What robb...”
Wham! Smokey stepped up and swung the telephone book with two hands, He looked like Cedric Mays going for a home run, with my head. The book connected with the left side of my face and head with such force it knocked me clean out of the chair onto the floor. The next thing I knew, four cops were stomping and kicking me from all angles. I began to wonder when the other twenty-five cops came into the room and joined in the fun. I tried to curl up to protect my face with my knees, but there was little I could do with my hands cuffed behind me. After a few moments of kicking me on the floor, the cops picked me up by the elbows and threw me back into the chair.
“You like to rob old people motherfucker?”
"No, I didn't rob anybody. You got the wrong guy, officer.”
I knew what was coming and tried to lean forward and put my face in my lap, but the white goons held me up so Smokey could get a clean swing at my face with that telephone book. Wham! The book connected again.
“Oh yeah, you're sticking guns in people's faces.”
Wham! Each time he asked a question Smokey came around with a two handed swing of the phonebook and crashed it into the side of my head. When they got tired of me falling to the floor, they took turns holding me upright in the chair while the others beat my ass.
“Where’s the gun?”
“What gun? I don't have a gun.”
“You lying, bitch!”
"What did you do with the gun?”
“Where are Cedric and Juan?”
“I didn’t do anything’. I swear officer.”
All the time I heard them talking at me, but I figured it was all just rhetorical in nature since they didn’t give me an opportunity to answer. After a while, they stopped talking and asking questions.
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know about any robberies!”
“Oh, God, help me!”
“I didn’t do it.”
They beat me to the floor yet again, pounding, and kicking me to the point where my body went numb. I no longer even felt the blows or heard what they were saying. My nose, mouth, and left ear were bleeding, and my eyes were almost swollen shut. My front teeth were loose, and I had a massive headache. When they finally stopped and lifted me back into the chair, I was sure I was going to die in that room that night. I was ready to die too, if it stopped the pain.
I'm tempted to say that I took that working over like James Cagney and never said a word, but there is no sense in me lying - I sang like a canary. I told the cops about Cedric, Juan, the voodoo apartment we lived in, where the gun was and everything else. I was telling them things they didn’t even ask me about; stuff they didn’t know about including a couple of jobs that we planned to do. Smokey also had me pick a couple of unsolved robberies out of the unsolved crime book for myself, which I was more than happy to do at that point. After my “voluntary” verbal confession, I had to “voluntarily” sign a detailed written confession.
By the end of the night, I was looking forward to a nice safe jail cell and sleep. On the way back to the holding cells one of the white cops that just beat my ass, laughed and said, “Your boy Virgin gave you boys up tonight. What’s that about?”
"Ain’t that a bitch?" I thought. "Virgin had dropped a dime on us."
That is why he was asking us so many questions. We ran our mouths and told Virgin all he needed to know, and he went straight to the police.
I stayed in the holding cell at Headquarters overnight and went to the county jail the next morning with lots of lumps and bruises and a massive headache. That night while I reflected on what went down that day, it occurred to me whom the old white couple was that I saw sitting in the office. It was the couple from the drugstore; the people we robbed. Smokey brought me into that room for them to see and identify me. They obviously recognized me judging by their reactions. I couldn't believe it. Just hours earlier I terrorized and threatened the lives of those poor people, and I didn’t even recognize them sitting there in the police station. I felt shame and contriteness.
The cops busted Cedric and Juan later that night or the next day. They got the gun from the apartment, and the rest of the dope we had in there, too. I stayed at the Essex County jail in Newark for six weeks waiting for my court date. From there, they transferred me to the Jail Annex located at the Essex County Penitentiary in Caldwell, NJ to await trial. Bail was set at $50.000, but it may as well have been $50,000.000. I was not getting bailed out.
I eventually plead guilty to robbery, and in return they dismissed the charges for drug possession, gun possession. They also dismissed the extra robberies Smokey laid on me at Headquarters that night. After five months in county jail I was sentenced to seven years in prison. Juan and Cedric also received seven years each.
“A man can get used to anything, and I had grown used to Robben Island (Prison). I had lived there for almost two decades, and while it was never a home - my home was in Johannesburg - it had become a place where I felt comfortable. I have always found change difficult, and leaving Robben Island, however grim it had been at times, was no exception. I had no idea what to look forward to.” - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela said in his book “Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” (Back Bay Book, 1994).
‘Scared as hell and wishing that I had been a good boy and listened to my parents’. That’s what I tell people when they ask me how I felt the first time I was sent to prison. It was June of 1971 and five other prisoners and I sat chained and shackled together in back of a sheriff’s van headed south on the New Jersey Turnpike on our way to prison. A few days earlier I was hit with seven years for armed robbery. I was feeling big-time nervousness and anxiety about my immediate future. It was my first time going to the big house and I really had no solid idea what to expect when I got there. Sure, I’d spent time in the county jail before, and I could always take care of myself. But the prison was different. When it came to serious “jailing” the prison is where the shit is most likely to go down. If the county jails are the forest, state prison is the jungle. The most you might have to deal with in the forests are coyotes, bears and pumas. The jungle offers the full array of carnivorous predatory beasts. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs, wild dogs, leopards, man-eating snakes, jackals, crocodiles, blood sucking mosquitoes and leeches, vultures, baboons, chiggers and more all roam the prison jungles.
We’ve all heard about the filthy and unhealthy living conditions in prison, the rodent feces contaminated food, getting beat up by mean prisoners and even meaner guards, getting stabbed with a sharpened piece of metal stolen from the prison’s metal shop, being butt raped by some big greasy, muscle-bound, double-lifer named “Meat Man”. Next thing you know you’re braiding his hair several times a week. That’s some bullshit. I wasn’t braiding any muthafuckas hair.
The ride down the turnpike to prison in back of the sheriff’s van was quiet for the first several miles. It was the first time going down for each of us, except this dude named Reggie. Reggie was hooked up last on the chain and I, unfortunately, was next to last. That put me next to Reggie, and the object of his chatter during our bumpy ride.
“Damn, homie,” Reggie said to me after a few miles. “You looking like you all worried and shit.”
“Ain’t nothing to worry about,” he continued. “We ain’t going nowhere but Garden State. Ain’t like your ass was going to ‘The Dusty’ or the ‘The Dome’.”
Trenton State Prison (located in Trenton, NJ) and Rahway State Prison (located in Rahway, NJ) were New Jersey’s two hardcore, hard-time maximum-security prisons. Huge medieval stone fortresses of dungeons, despair and death, surrounded by 40-feet high, 10-feet thick stone, razor wire topped walls.
New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), a.k.a., Trenton State Prison, first opened in 1798. The ‘Fortress Penitentiary’, located in Trenton, NJ, was the first State Prison in New Jersey, and the third State Prison to open in the U.S. It is currently the oldest continually operating State Prison in the U.S. The hardest of the hard were locked up in Trenton State Prison. It also housed New Jersey's death row until the state banned capital punishment in 2007. They said it was called The Dusty because the huge dirt courtyard inside the walls where the prisoners got their exercise would get so hot from the sun that the dust and dirt would blow around like a desert sand storm, until you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face. The prison would hose the yard down with motor oil occasionally to keep down the dust.
In a lawsuit filed by inmates of NJSP in 2008, the suit points out that many prisoners are trapped in their cells for up to 23 hours a day with no exercise or recreational opportunities.
The prisoners charge that, except for electricity, conditions in the prison are either the same or even worse than they were 170 years ago. The cells have no hot water and no internal ventilation. They say they have no mirrors for shaving and no desks or chairs for sitting or writing. There are exposed light bulbs that hang from the low ceilings that often break from contact with head or hands. The prison also contains unsafe levels of heavy metals, as well as airborne asbestos, radon, PCBs and other carcinogens. Lastly, the prisoners complained that an untrained workforce, under rodent and insect infested conditions, prepared meals. Yes, The Dusty was, and still remains, a ‘rough camp’ as we used to say.
Rahway State Prison opened in 1901, as New Jersey’s first Reformatory in 1901. It originally housed male offenders between the ages of 16 and 30 who were first-time offenders. The large dome on top of the prison is a landmark that can be seen from far distances. The inmates’ day at Rahway consisted primarily of school and work. Those who had to attend school went to classes half the day and worked the other half. Vocational training and jobs were offered, including tailoring, cooking, shoemaking, printing, electrical work, farming/gardening, plumbing, and painting. The “reform” experiment at Rahway State Prison was scrapped many years ago and has for a long time just been “Hard time”.
“Yeah, I know that,” I said, trying to sound cool and confident.
“My name is Reggie, homie. This must be your first time going down, huh?”
“My name is Lamont,” I said. “And, yeah, it is”.
“Ain’t nothing to worry bout, nigga,” Reggie reassured me. “You from Newark, boy. Brick City owns that bitch. Ain’t nobody gone fuck wit you.”
Reggie went on to spend the rest of the 90- minute ride talking, mostly about himself. He was only two years older than me and was already on his third trip to the prison. He was a heroin addict, like me, and his crimes were mainly armed robberies. As a third timer he was probably going to do a big chunk of the 15 to 20 year sentence he was going down with this time. He didn’t seem the least bit concerned, and frankly behaved like he was looking forward to getting back there.
“Nigga, you gone have a good time," Reggie promised me. “Just don’t be dropping your soap and bending your naked ass over all willy-nilly in the showers and you’ll be okay.”
By the time we pulled up in front of Garden State Prison, we all had heard enough from and about Reggie. He was annoying as hell, but he was also a funny guy. Also, I did learn a lot from him about what to expect and how to handle myself when we got to where we were going. Reggie and I became good friends in the prison.
Garden State Prison was known as “GSP”. GSP opened in the late 1960’s. Its physical appearance was nothing like one would expect. GSP looked like anything but a prison, and more like a college campus building. The non- menacing, low profile, two story sandstone brick building spread out over several acres. A 10-foot double chain link fence stretched around the perimeter. The steel bars on the windows were not the typical prison bars, but steel molded into abstract shapes to soften their appearance. Inside, some “wings” or areas were dormitories, and others had 6x9 single rooms (didn’t call them cells), that looked like a college dorm room. Inside each room was a steel frame twin bed with springs a comfy 8-inch mattress, a stainless steel toilet and sink, a wall unit with a desktop and chair, and space for personal belongings/clothing.
Despite its non-threatening appearance, it was officially classified as medium security (due to the chain link fence as opposed to a stone wall surrounding it), it was still a prison and there were dangerous men doing time in there. Eight hundred men, ages 18-35 years old were locked up there for crimes ranging from anything to everything - like Joy-riding, Drugs, Burglary, Fraud, Extortion, Assaults, Robberies, Murder, and Rape. Sentences ranged from a few years to double-life.
It didn’t take me long to adjust to doing time at GSP. Reggie was right, being the largest urban city in New Jersey, and the number one contributor of black men into the state’s prison system, a lot of brothers from Newark were there. Also several dudes from my projects were there, whom I immediately hooked up with.
Reggie was also right about something else, I did have a good time at GSP. To be honest, it was more of an exciting adventure, than a prison sentence. It was more like being at a homecoming reunion. With all the Newark Homies in the house, we kept it rocking. Before I realized it, I had been there for a year- and-a-half, and I was getting paroled. I was 20 years old. Time does fly when you’re having fun. I did manage to get my GED and learn how to cut hair while there. My ambition was to get my barbering certification and open a barbershop back in Newark.
I was paroled from GSP in November 1972. My sister came to pick me up on the big day. When we pulled into the projects at about 3 PM, I told my sister I was going to the store for cigarettes and would meet her at my parents’ home. I went straight to the pusher and copped 3 bags of heroin and a set of works. Then I went and got high. I had been home 30 minutes. The next time I saw my sister was when she came to visit me at the county jail a month later. I was waiting to go back to GSP on parole violations. There were also three new burglary charges that I had managed to pick up during my brief stint on parole.
In the 10 years between that first stick-up that Cedric, Juan and I pulled in 1970, and my final parole from prison in 1980, I returned to GSP several times for parole violations and new sentences. I had also managed to squeeze in bids of 60 days, 90 days (two times) and 180 days at the Essex County Penitentiary, in Caldwell, NJ. I'd always return to the projects. I couldn't wait to get back to the projects, mostly in anticipation of getting high again.
When Newark and I would get back together, we’d soon start doing all the things that tore us apart in the first place. Everything always ended up the same way, with me leaving the city a few months later in the back of a sheriff’s van headed back to the joint for parole violations or new bid. In the short breaks between lockups, I was burning my bridges at home and feeding an insatiable heroin habit by any, mostly illegal, means.
After the first one or two bids it seems as if I became proficient at doing time. In fact, I was way too cozy in the joint. I never had to worry or want for anything when I was in there. Reggie would have a “care package” waiting for me before the Sheriff’s van finished unloading us at the prison sally port. I always had a homie to look out for me. Cigarettes, soap, deodorant, lotion, tittie magazines, new uniforms and shoes, crumb cakes, coffee, writing stationary & stamps and a couple sets of boxer shorts and T-shirts.
Getting back to my point, incarceration eventually became my world, and I couldn't even dig it at the time it was happening. “Jailing” had become my thing and why not? On the streets, I was a dope-fiend and dope- fiends live hard. When I was on the street every waking moment focused on my next heroin fix. I was dirty, smelly, hungry, and untrustworthy. I slept in abandoned buildings and alleyways, while surviving on 25-cent Little Debbie oatmeal raisin cakes and “Yoo- Hoo” chocolate drinks, when I could get them. Every person I came in contact with was a potential victim for me to rob or exploit. I knew I was pathetic and I felt ashamed, but I also loved the rush of shooting heroin into my veins with a syringe and hypodermic needle.
Looking back, I felt comfortable and evensafe in prison, believe it or not. I had enough jailhouse juice among the inmates and guards. I didn’t worry about anyone pushing up on me. I always did well in prison. I never used drugs, while in prison. Three square meals every day. Lodging was rent-free and a relatively clean. A place to shit (with toilet paper), take a shower, shave and sleep on sheets every night. Sure, we had to do all those things in the same small room, with several other guys present at all times. Still, everything is relative and it was better than doing it in an alley behind a dumpster. Throw in the free clothing and personal necessities, the free medical and dental plan, the college and vocational training opportunities, the regular recreational and socializing opportunities and it is easy to see how I, and many other men and women would sometimes become content in the prison system.
I never intentionally (not consciously, anyway) gotten myself busted. However, I would be lying if I said that there were not times when I was doing so badly on the street that getting arrested was more like a mercenary rescue of my sorry ass by the police. On most occasions, the prison seemed to be there just in time to rescue my dumb ass from the filth and squalor of drugs, the streets and sure death. I was caught up in the proverbial “revolving door of addiction and incarceration” for more than 10 years. Then something happened.
A self-evaluation of my prison history told me that I had never been arrested for a crime that didn’t involve possession of heroin, or a crime related to heroin addiction, so it was simple figure out. I had to quit heroin to stop going to prison.
Morning Essex County Jail Newark, New Jersey
It was a cold, damp, cloudy, winter morning in 1975 that found me locked up in the Essex County jail, again. There would be grand jury indictments coming for, robbery, escape and a bunch of other felony charges I picked up after being released on parole from GSP only 45 days earlier. Some charges were true, some not. That is the way they played the game. The police had no problem piling on as many charges as possible, when they had you busted. Some of them may be yours and some may not be yours. "It’s nothing personal," they would say.
The book of unsolved crimes in the city had to be cleared up somehow. “If you didn’t pull these cases,” cops often said. “You probably did other crimes that you didn't get caught for. It evens out!” They were right. I wreaked a lot of havoc in my heroin addiction charged days on the street and the surrounding suburbs, in the past 45-days.
I had just finished eating a breakfast of cold oatmeal, colder burnt toast, and lukewarm coffee in the dining room, and had returned to my cell for my morning poop. The wing officer on duty came to the front of my cell, “Lamont Moody, up, and out for court,” he barked in his loud ex-military man voice.
He started to walk away when he stopped and looked back into the cell at me sitting on the toilet. His face was frowned like he smelled something fowl. ”Strike a match or something, for Christ sakes,” he said. “Have respect for your neighbors. Make sure you wash your hands, too.”
Cramer was one of the cooler officers in the jail. He was an overweight, middle aged, white, divorced, father of three young daughters, and owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle that he talked about forever. He carried pictures of the four of them in his wallet, the girls and the bike. He usually worked there on the 8th floor in the south wing. He always went about doing his work in an efficient and professional manner. Cramer treated everyone with the same respect they treated him. He also had a good sense of humor and joked around a lot with people he liked. He seemed to like me. I had been on his floor at the county jail many times before. Having a good relationship with the guards can be a good thing for getting little perks, like cigarettes, extra food, or extra TV time. I liked Cramer, too.
“Fuck you, Cramer,” I shot back. “You punks need to put some curtains up in these cells so you won’t have to smell this shit”.
It was only a few months after getting paroled from GSP for the third time in four years. There I was, back in lockup again. I was a repeat offender, and I was sure this was the big one. I had not expected to start a trial for several months, so I was a little confused about why I was going to court that day. All my preliminary hearings were over, and I was waiting for Superior Court action. I didn’t expect to go back to court for at least 7- months to a year to start a trial. My bail was almost $50,000, so I knew I was not getting bailed out.
There was no such thing as the “Three Strikes Law” in New Jersey. That law called for a life sentence without parole for anyone convicted of three felony offenses. With my past convictions, though, the judge would probably throw the book at me. To coin a phrase, this time I had written a check my ass couldn't cash. I bit the big one. At least that is what I thought at that time. I was going to be gone away for a long, long time. How could things possibly get worse? I soon learned how.
When we got downstairs, the detectives led me to a isolated cell holding area. I asked where I was going, and why I was going there, but they simply replied, “You’ll see”
By the smug grins on their faces I knew they were getting great pleasure in taking me wherever I was going. The county jail and court building are next door to each other, in Newark. An underground tunnel system used to transport prisoners back and forth, connect the two high-rise structures. Usually they bring through all the prisoners going to court in groups shackled together. Detectives usually do not escort court cases, so the personal attention concerned me. I kept trying to think of what I could be suspected of doing to rate my own private escort. I sensed I was in big trouble, or these two cops wouldn't be so happy and pleased with themselves.
We exited the elevator and walked down a long, dimly lit tunnel. We went past the main holding cell, where they usually hold the prisoners waiting for court upstairs. It looked like the hull of a crowded slave ship in there, with so many black faces packed tightly together. It didn’t smell much better in there either.
Through the crowd, I saw Blackjack, a dude I knew from Belleville. Blackjack used to come down to the projects to buy drugs and get high. He was sitting on the bench on the far wall and jumped up to meet me at the gate, but the detectives rushed me past the big cell into a small single cell next door. I was just about to sit down, still confused, scared and pissed off, when I heard a voice calling me, “Lamont, what up Mont?”
It was Blackjack he was calling me from next-door. I went over to the front of the cell nearest the door “Yeah, what’s up, Jack?” I replied.
“What's up Lamont? What you up to? You jumping out of trees on bitches now or something?”
“What, jumping out of trees?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You must be doing something. What you down here for?”
“I don't know. Those 2 detectives came and got me this morning from the jail. They’re giving me the silent treatment and won't tell me what's up”
“Nigga, them is sex police," said Blackjack. I know them bitches man. Berman and Russo, that’s them muthafuckas, they tried to hem me up one time, but I beat that shit.
Blackjack treated women roughly sometimes, to put it lightly. On one or two occasions the cops had arrested him in the past for date rape. Well, one might not call it date rape. We all called it “Nod-rape.” A chick named Lizi who had been shooting up with Blackjack said she passed out, and he had sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious. He got picked up and charged with sexual assault. The sex assault charge was eventually dropped because Lizi never came to court. Also, since she was a heroin addict and prostitute nobody pressed the issue. There was also the fact that Lizi said it happened on 3 separate occasions. What she was saying is after the first time he got her high and “raped” her, she returned 2 more times for the same thing to happen again, and again. She also would never show up in court to have him prosecuted. In 1976, Blackjack copped out to a simple assault and got 2 years at GSP. That is where I got to know Blackjack. He got out before me, and I had not seen him since he got paroled “Sex police, what the did the sex police want with me?” They probably got me mixed up with your ass." I tried to make a joke, but now I was real concerned.
“Nigga, I got a girl," said Jack. I don't do that shit anymore.”
“Yeah your ass had a girl before," I mumbled out loud to myself.
“What you say, Nigga?” Said Jack, “I heard that shit”.
“Nothing. What case do you have this time, Blackjack?”
“Traffic tickets, nigga.”
“Traffic tickets? Why are you in the high court for a ticket?”
“I ran Lizi's ass over with a stolen car," he said matter-of-factly. “She’s alright and shit, though”.
I heard that Blackjack and Lizi had hooked up when he left Caldwell and a love story began. She kept getting high and “passing out” and he kept having his way with her while she was ‘unconscious’. Lord knows Lizi would never win any beauty contests, plus she lacked considerably when it came to what one would regard as a likable personality. To Blackjack she was the Queen of Sheba incapable of any misgiving or wrongdoing.
Blackjack stopped using heroin and got a job at one point. Everybody admired the fact he had cleaned up and kept a job for almost 6 months. He put in more overtime hours than most people put in during regular time. We figured he also wanted to stay clear of Lizi,
Michael B. Jackson
who was living in his rented room, turning tricks while he worked. Despite all of her bullshit, we assumed Lizi also cared a lot for Jack. That was why it was so difficult to believe he purposely did anything to harm a hair on her body. Running her over with a car was just difficult to understand. “Why did you do run her over, man?”
“I don’t know, Lamont," said Blackjack philosophically. “Love makes you do some crazy shit sometimes”.
Blackjack was still crazy as hell
Afternoon Essex County Jail Newark, New Jersey
After many hours of sitting in the holding cell, one of the cops came in and told me I was going to stand in a police line-up. I was still unaware of what was going on. What Blackjack had said about “Sex Police” was on my mind. I was there to stand in a rape suspect line-up. Since I was the only person kept separate from everyone else all morning, I figured I was the main suspect. Standing in the line-up we were able to see the clear silhouettes, including facial features, of two men and a woman standing on the other side of the glass looking at us. The faces were not clear, but I remember thinking that she appeared to be a young black woman. The two men were obviously Friday and Gannon.
The detectives switched us around to different spots in the line-up a couple of times, then Blackjack and the others went downstairs to the holding cells. They took me into a little room with a table and three chairs inside. The woman was nowhere in sight. Both cops had smug, shit-eating, “we-got-your- black-ass-now," grins on their faces. They took way too much pride and enjoyment in telling me that a woman had identified me as the man who had literally jumped from behind some bushes and raped her on the streets of Newark, back in February of that year. The woman in the silhouette said I raped her! I couldn't believe what I had heard.
Running through all the things that they might bring up, rape was never, ever, a consideration in my mind. I was a dopefiend, not a sex fiend. A dopefiend will steal a woman’s pocketbook and sell her television set, to get high but dopefiends do not jump out of bushes and rape women. There wasn’t a high in it.
I thought my situation couldn't get any worse, but suddenly it got worse. Not only was I going to be in prison for the rest of my life, I was going to go down labeled as sex-offender! A rapist! There are three things that cons do not like stool pigeons, child molesters and rapists. Rapists and child molesters share number one. Not even my long-standing reputation in the joint would protect me from the shame and disgrace of going down as a rapist — a guy who jumped out of bushes and violated women.
I remember to this day, sitting there not believing it was happening to me. Everything seemed surreal. Once again I found myself in a nightmare from which I couldn't awaken. I was innocent, but I thought my goose had been cooked. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had the perfect alibi, and I perked up. “Man, ya’ll got the wrong muthafucka this time. You said this shit happened last February; I was doing time at GSP last February. I was behind the wall.“
Both cops appeared to remain smug and confident. They exchanged knowing cop glances. Yeah, they had heard all the bullshit stories and alibis before. They were sure that I was lying to save my skin. Yet, I knew my alibi was iron clad and indisputable.
“Were you behind the wall the entire time?” one detective sneered. He seemed disgusted at the possibility of his rape bust slipping down the drain.
“Yeah, I was inside the whole time.” I eagerly and confidently responded.
“What about furloughs or work-release?” They were reaching for straws.
“No, I didn't get furloughs, or work-release, or anything. I was in lock-up the whole time. I didn’t get paroled until last July.”
“Why would she say you did it if you didn’t do it?” the other detective screamed at me in frustration.
“How the fuck would I know," I answered indignantly. I got pissed and offended by the whole thing. “I don’t even know that woman." I protested. "How did you decide to bring me down here in the first place? I'm not down with any sick-ass rape shit. How can you just pick me out of the crowd? Ya'll are going to have to put this shit on somebody else. My alibi is tight.”
I felt like the poor guy in the movies, interrogated by the police and giving his alibi and the cops responding by saying, “Yeah, right. Sure you were at home alone reading on a Saturday night.”
I was feeling in charge of the situation by then, knowing my alibi couldn't be disputed. “Hey, Pal, watch your mouth!” one detective snapped.
He was getting a little edgy and red in the face; probably starting to realize his rape bust was falling apart. “We didn’t choose you! The lady picked you! Are you sure you were in custody in February? No furloughs, or work release, or anything?”
“That’s right. Check it out for yourself. Give them a call. I was in the west block, second tier, cell number C213. On a normal night in the joint everyone locks inside his cell for the night, by 8:30 PM to 6:00 AM.
One detective picked up a folder off a table and began to read something inside. I’m sure it was my police jacket.
“Looks here like you been down plenty of times," he said, without looking up from the folder. “How many times have you been down south jersey?”
“Like you said, I’ve been down plenty,” I answered sarcastically.
By then, it was almost three in the afternoon. I felt tired and aggravated, and just wanted to go back to my jail cell.
He wrote something on a paper in the folder and placed it back onto the table. Then they took me back over to the jail via the same route that we came earlier. Neither cop said a word. “We’ll check your story out and get back to you,” said the big one, as he took the cuffs off and turned me over to the jail guards. They didn’t seem happy.
Although still shaken, I was confident that when they checked with the prison they would see I couldn't possibly have raped this woman, despite her insistence I was the guy. I thought about how ironic it was that the prison would be my savior in the form of an alibi against a rape charge. When I was running the streets, I wouldn’t have been able to remember where I had been, or what I had been doing the day before yesterday, let alone where I was nine months ago. That night while I lay in my cell, I thought about my alibi again and couldn't help but smile and feel good – even triumphant. I knew those detectives hated my guts and considered me just another dope-fiend junkie, but ironically, it was somehow important to me they didn’t go away thinking of me as a rapist.
It was scary to think what would have happened had I been on the street at the time this woman got assaulted. There was no way for a man to beat a rape charge when a woman points at him in court and saying he did it. The detectives must have confirmed my alibi because the detectives never came back, and I never heard any more about the rape charges.
Three months later I was able to plea bargain for a five to eight year sentence for robbery. The prosecutor dropped all the other pending charges against me. It was like a message from God for me. I had received another chance for a new life. I knew it was probably my last chance, and I knew then that I intended to take advantage of it. I knew that was the last time I was going to be in jail or prison. Never again! I went back to GSP and served 4 more years. I was paroled for the last time in September 1980. I was 29 years old and determined to make something positive out of my life.
Summer, 1980 Trenton, New Jersey
“Have a seat over there Mr. Moody” said the receptionist in the bright yellow sundress. She pointed to a row of semi-rusted metal folding chairs lined against a dirty, yellow, cinder block wall a few feet from her desk. “Mr. Koenig will want to speak to you.” One last curious glance over her shoulder at me and she disappeared down a nearby corridor.
In the summer of 1980, ninety days before my scheduled September parole date from GSP, I transferred to a halfway house, in Trenton, NJ. Men and women from prisons all over the state came to live at the old three- story Victorian style mansion, when they were six months or less from being paroled. Going to Clinton House wasn’t a guarantee for anyone, however. Everyone had to go through a screening and selection process and be accepted. With my past failures on parole, I was fortunate - and grateful - to have made it.
The scene was the receptionist’s area at Koenig Plastics, a fiberglass and plastics recycling company, in Trenton. Finding full- time work was mandatory to stay at the halfway house. Clinton House referred most of the men in the program to Koenig to find work. Several guys were already working there, and they assured me I would get hired if I put in an application. I had just turned in a job application, and prayed that I got the job.
Five minutes later the lady in the yellow sundress returned, followed by a man wearing dark slacks, a white short sleeve dress shirt with the top button open, and a blue and green tie that hung loosely around his neck. He was about five feet tall, and the top of his head was bald, but he needed a haircut in the sides and back. He looked like former Mayor of New York, Ed Koch.
He walked over to me and extended his hand. “Mr. Moody, how are you?” I’m Ed Koenig.”
I stood up and shook his hand. “I’m fine, Mr. Koenig. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m good” he responded. “Thanks for asking.”
Mr. Koenig’s handshake was firm, but he didn’t attempt to over-power me. He held onto my hand for a few ticks longer than customary, while he visually checked me out. “Mr. Moody, why do you want to work here at Koenig?“
I didn't understand the question, and didn't know how to answer. I thought it might be a trick question. I needed a job. To be honest, I was willing to work at any legitimate job that paid.
“Well sir, I need a job,” I finally answered.
“Mr. Moody, we’re not accustomed to people such as you applying for work here.” Said Koenig, obviously seeing the confusion on my face. "Not accustom to people such as me?", I thought to myself. I was beginning to become a bit offended, until he explained.
Koenig went on to compliment me on my penmanship, and my ability to legibly and competently complete the form.
Man, this is some racist ass bullshit up in here. I thought to myself.
Koenig was so impressed with me he hired me on the spot as a foreman at $3.55 an hour. That was twenty-five cents more than minimum wage. It was also twenty cents more than he was paying most everyone else. I was happy to get it. Who says a GED diploma doesn’t pay. The boss took me on a walking tour of the factory. The site was the bottom of the pit. It was one large open space warehouse about the size of two football fields placed in an “L” shape. The walls were made from thin sheets of corrugated steel. Ragged sheets of plastic cover the broken windows and missing doors. Outside it was warm, but it could get very cold in there during the winter. A heater would have been useless. The walls wouldn't hold the heat. The place was full of drunks, drug addicts and transient men. I began to see what he meant.
Two minutes into the tour a forklift, hauling a huge steel bin filled with scrap plastics, came around a corner very fast, nearly hitting the boss and me. The driver was moving so fast that the load shifted causing the full load to crash to the floor. We literally had to jump out the way or be killed. Koenig fell to the floor trying to escape. The forklift kept rolling for several feet and crashed into a stack of boxes. The driver, a black guy in his 50's climbed down the back of the lift, and stood there with a confused look on his face scratching his head. The driver appeared injured, stumbling slightly on unstable legs.
"Mr. Koenig, Suh...” The driver snapped to attention when he finally noticed us standing there. "I didn't see ya'll over there..."
Mr. Koenig and I walked closer to the lift driver, and from 10 feet away the smell of cheap wine washed over us. It was obvious that this dude was drunk as a skunk.
"You almost killed us there, Jesse." Koenig said, sounding a bit annoyed, but not angry like someone who had just escaped death or serious injury.
"Sorry, Mr. Koenig." Jesse had picked up his Yankees baseball cap off the floor where it had fallen off in the crash, and was wringing it nervously in his hands. "I guess she got away from me."
"You're driving too fast, Jesse..." Koenig scolded, "and you've been drinking again."
"I ain't had but a taste this morn’n, Mr. Koenig." Jesse's head was bowed, and he did a nervous two-step back and forth with his feet I thought he was going to tear that hat in half, the way he was wringing it in his fists. "I can't go all morn’n with noth’n, Suh."
"Clean this stuff up and go home," said Koenig. "Come see me in two days"
I felt embarrassed and ashamed for Jesse, and the rest of the men that seemed to have nothing to look forward to but that factory every day.
“It’s going to be your job to handle things like that," Koch, nonchalantly said to me as we continued the tour.
Summer, 1980 Trenton, New Jersey
Shortly after getting to Clinton House, I gave Boop a call. Boop’s real name was Barbara. She reminded me of Betty Boop, the curvaceous cartoon character from back in the day. She had a blazing body; a pretty face with big round eyes, and she wore a short jet-black wave curl hairdo that she kept tight and fresh. She lived in Morrisville, a small working class town in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River from Trenton, NJ.
Boop and I met when I worked at the state psychiatric hospital, as part of the work release program from GSP. The work release program allowed select low security status inmates to work at locations outside the prison. Work release job sites varied greatly and included blue collar and white-collar positions in the public and private sectors. We did everything from, clerking, data management, and accounting to counseling kids and adults in the detention centers and psychiatric hospitals. I was working as a counseling assistant in the juvenile ward. Work release only paid us two or three dollars a day, but there were other perks and incentives that made up for the low pay. First and foremost, we got to be out of the prison six days a week. We wore regular street civilian clothing when we went out. We changed back into prison uniforms when we returned to prison that night.
On the worksite, we were pretty much on the honor system, with no supervision from the prison. We were free to come and go as regular staff. Management and supervisors were usually aware of the inmates’ presence. How many line staff knew they were working alongside convicted felons varied from place to place. We were also free to mingle with woman. That is how I met Boop. Barbara was a local girl, about 26 years old, who grew up in a large family in Trenton. She was a social worker at the hospital. She appeared to be on the straight and narrow and trying to make it. The flirting began immediately between Boop and I soon after I literally bumped into her in the staff dining room one morning. It happened one morning, after I had arrived at the hospital, and was rushing to get to the men’s room to pee. Rounding a blind corner too fast, I collided with Boop, who was coming the other way. “Oh, excuse me, sister.” I instinctively grabbed her by her waist and pulled her close to me, to keep her from falling.
“Wow, where are you going in such a rush?” she said.
She looked up saw it was me and, she seemed to mellow a little. That was the first time I had contact with her, and I didn’t know her name yet. I had only seen her around the hospital. We had exchanged mildly flirtatious hellos a few times in passing. I certainly noticed that she was fine as hell. She seemed like a cheery and happy person. She routinely stopped and talked with the patients she came across in the hospital. She was a little annoyed at me.
“I sincerely apologize to you, ma’am," I said in my most sincere and gentlemanly manner. “Are you alright?”
Boop was the essence of the "Brick House" female body made famous in the Commodores "Brick House" song. "Thirty-six, Twenty-four, Thirty-six, what a winning hand."
I had my hands around her waist holding her against my body for what some may have considered an inappropriate length of time. I had not held a woman that closely in a long time. She felt soft and smelled like cinnamon and coconuts. She didn’t immediately pull away from me. Pausing, with my body against her body just long enough to remain lady-like. She gracefully stepped back, and tilted her head to look at up at me. “Yes, I’m alright. Thanks for saving me. You can’t be rushing to get this food down here."
“No, I’m trying to get to the men’s room." I felt a bit embarrassed coming off so clumsily. "Again, I’m apologizing. Glad you're okay."
She stood there for a moment, with her hands on ample hips, and looked me up and down. "They don't let you use the bathroom at that place you're at?" She had crossed her arms, and they rested just beneath her also ample breasts. She smiled at me.
"What place?" I asked, feigning ignorance. "You know what place," she said. “The Department of Corrections.”
"How do you know I come from the prison?” “Who can miss ya’ll getting out of that big
white prison van out front in the morning?” She asked with a tease. “I also see you getting back into the van every evening to go back."
“Aren’t you making an assumption about where I come from and go every day?” I asked her, semi-indignantly. “How do you know that van is from the prison?”
“How do I know?” She exclaimed in mock surprise. “How do I know? Well mostly I know because of the giant emblem on the doors with ‘DOC, NJ Department of Corrections’ printed on it”.
She was right, of course. The van we rode in had a big emblem with DOC taking up the front doors on both sides. We had asked for an unmarked vehicle to be transported in, but the prison pretty much told us we were fortunate to be going out at all. We agreed and soon stopped complaining. We would slouch low in the seats when riding through populated areas. Also, it would be hard to have missed us getting in and out of that DOC branded van every day.
“Is that a fact," I said maintaining my cool and made a quick recovery. “Well, my name is Lamont. I’m happy to meet you.”
I put my hand out to shake her hand. She extended her hand to mine.
“My name is Barbara. I’m pleased to meet you too.”
We both stood there for an awkward moment not saying anything.
“It's nice talking to you, but I was trying to get to the men’s room. I still need to do that." I said breaking the silence. "I hope I get to bump into you again soon.”
“I’m sure you will.” She said.
Barbara and I became friends and often had lunch together at the hospital. The work at the hospital ended when I left GSP for the Clinton halfway house. Boop had given me her telephone number before I left, and I called her shortly after arriving at Clinton House. She was happy to hear from me, and we made a date for me to come to her apartment in Morrisville that night.
Now, there I was, in lying on a satin bed in Boop’s bedroom. She looked like a sex goddess. The tiny beads of perspiration slowly rolling over the curves and crevices of her voluptuous body, sparkling like tiny diamonds in the flickering candlelight. Her breathing was heavy, and the olive sized nipples atop her firm, round breasts rose and fell like tiny ships navigating giant ocean waves. The sweet, familiar scent of cinnamon-coconut, filled the room. “What are you waiting for?” She purred. "I waited a long time for this."
My fantasy quickly turned into every man’s nightmare. It had been almost 5 years since I had sex, or even touched, a real live woman. So the instant my penis touched the lips of her hot, wet vagina, it was a better feeling than anything I remembered. Mix with the sweet scent of coconut and cinnamon oils she used in her apartment, I could feel myself losing control. I tried thinking about baseball. They say think of something boring to calm and relax your mind. That trick didn’t work for me.
“NO! NO! NOT YET, PLEASE, GOD, NOT YET”, I screamed out in my head.
However, my pleas and mind tricks were ineffective. I quickly exploded with orgasmic bliss into the condom I was wearing. “NO! NO! NO! NO! NOT YET!” “NOOOOOOOO!” I yelled, once again in silence.
My once powerful erection immediately went limp. I knew it would be dead, at least for the next 20 - 30 minutes or so, but I didn’t have that much time. Boop quickly realized what had happened. “Oh no, you didn’t do that!” She yelled out in disgust” while pushing me off of her. “Get the fuck off me.”
There was not much I could think to say or do but roll off. She jumped up and stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door and uttering those stabbing words, “All a bitch ask for is a nigga to keep a stiff dick!”
This happens to teenage boys all the time. An adolescent boy will ejaculate in his pants slow-dancing with a girl. The difference is the girl does not know about it.
It was not clear to me what I should do. Was there anything to say? "I was sorry for not keeping a stiff dick?" I wondered. Perhaps I will tell her the truth. The truth was that it had been a long time since I had made it with a real, live woman. The past 4 years (in prison) I was masturbating to pictures of naked women in nasty magazines, like Penthouse, Hustler and Players. That’s what I should tell her, I thought. Let her know how her beauty and sexiness had excited me. Maybe if she understood she would be willing to let me try again. I knew I could do better. What if I begged like Spike Lee's, Mars Blackmon,''Please, please, baby please! Please, please, baby please'.
Truthfully, I was not sure if the same thing wouldn't happen again. I was not feeling very virile and masculine that night. My confidence and self-esteem was as limp as my penis.
Boop stayed in the bathroom with the door closed for 20 minutes, without saying anything. No water running. No toilet flushing. Silence. I went over and gently knocked on the bathroom door. Her voice exploded from the other side of the bathroom door. “Who is it?" She said, sounding very annoyed.
“It's me, Lamont," I whispered meekly. Are you coming out of the bathroom?"
"If you don't have a hard dick out there, you may as well go home!”
"Oh no, she didn’t say that shit." I thought to myself. Since I didn’t have a hard dick out there, and wasn’t feeling like I would have one anytime soon, I put my clothes on and left her apartment in silent humiliation.
Boop had picked me up in Trenton and driven me to her apartment, but I knew I needed to find my own way back to Trenton that night. Morrisville, PA, as I said earlier, is directly across the Delaware River from Trenton, NJ. Two narrow, two-lane bridges, less than 1⁄2 mile apart, connect the 2 states. Traffic backs up for miles weekdays at 4:00 PM, with NJ state government employees leaving the NJ capital city for their Pennsylvania homes.
The walk from Boop's apartment in Morrisville to the halfway house in Trenton was about 5 miles, or so. It was about 9:30 PM and dark outside, when I began walking. My mind was still replaying the humiliating scene that had taken place. I wondered if she would put me on blast and tell everyone what happened.
A Morrisville police car slowed down to check me out before it cruised past. That moment snapped me back to the horror of reality. I had violated one of the most severe and unconditional rules of hallway house policy. I had left that state of New Jersey without permission. I was technically an escapee. It was even worse than that. I signed out that afternoon to work the 6-11 PM shift at the plastic company, but the factory shutdown early, due to a busted water pipe. Everyone went home or back to Clinton House, except me. I called Boop and told her I was off early and she came and got me. Which brought me to that current situation.
I was not doing anything to get arrested, but if I get stopped and the police find out that I was, technically, still a prison inmate doing time in a halfway house, I would be headed straight back to lock-up in chains. With pussy on my mind, it never occurred to me that I was leaving New Jersey. I had committed a serious violation.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the police car finally went on its way. It was close to my midnight curfew, when I finally got to the halfway house. I signed in, went upstairs for a shower and went to bed. That was one of the worse days of my life and I was glad it was over.
Clinton Halfway House Trenton, New Jersey
The Boop thing, or ‘Booper’ was still on my mind when I got back to the halfway house that night. After my shower, I found a neatly folded sheet of paper on my pillow. It was a note from Derek, the night attendant working the desk downstairs. The note said: “Robert wants to see you first thing in the morning.”
Robert was Robert Clark, the Director of the halfway house. “Damn," I wondered out loud.“What did he want to see me about?” Although I had a good idea.
The entire night I laid awake wondering about Robert wanting to see me. He’d probably found out that I didn’t go to work tonight. Of course, that had to be it. When the other guys came back from work, they were probably looking for me the whole time. How could I have been so irresponsible and shortsighted? I expected any second for the prison van to show up and put me in shackles for my trip back inside.
Early the next morning I was still lying there awake when I heard Robert’s booming voice downstairs. Robert was a large, middle-aged, black man who wore sports jackets with leather arm patches. Robert also taught African American History at LaSalle University, in Philadelphia. His voice was a deep baritone voice, like James Earl Jones. When he spoke, even at a normal tone, it echoed throughout the house. “Is Moody upstairs?” I heard him ask the desk attendant. “Go up and tell him that I want him in my office, in half an hour.”
The big clock hanging over the door said 6:58 AM. I was already out of bed when the attendant got up the top of the stairs. With a toothbrush and washcloth in hand, I headed to the bathroom. “Yeah, I know." I said to her. "I heard him.”
Robert sat at his desk when I got to his office at 7:28 AM. “Come on in Lamont and sit down.” He pointed to a straight back wooden chair in front of his desk.
Before I could sit down, he tore into me. “So what the hell happened to you last night?”
I had done plenty of tossing, turning, and stressing out before meeting with Robert, trying to come up with a good story to save my ass. “What do you mean?” I asked Robert, in an attempt to buy time.
“Come on man, don’t bullshit me,” His booming voice echoed off the walls and ceiling. “You left here at 4:30 for work. Did you go to work yesterday?”
There was no good story. No good lie I could tell that wouldn't do anything but make the situation worse. If I were going to have any chance of coming out of this on my feet, I had to come clean.
“No, I didn’t go to work yesterday," I said trying to sound humble and repentant.
“Well, I did go, but they sent us home after about an hour.”
“Yeah, see I know that. The other two guys returned to the house. Why didn’t you come back to the house? Where were you for six hours?” Robert said.
“I was hanging out with a girl I know and lost track of time."
So far I had told the truth. I prayed that he wouldn't ask me the next question that I knew he was surely going to ask - he did. “Where does she live?”
“She lives in Ewing, but I don’t know the street," I lied.
There was no way in hell I could tell him that I was in Morrisville last night. I sensed that there was a chance that I might survive this thing and not get a violation. It all would depend on whether or not Robert had already called the prison. Ewing is a small suburb of Trenton close to the halfway house and well within the New Jersey borders.
“Lamont, do you understand that I'm required, by law, to contact the prison when someone in this program is missing for more than two hours? You were missing for six hours. I put my goddamn job on the line for you. Do you understand that? Do you? Do you understand by not calling you in I jeopardized my family’s future? Do you understand that shit, Moody?”
He was very angry and upset. I just sat there and listening to him, and the severity of the potential consequences for what I had done truly began to come clear to me. Robert paused to take a breath, and take a sip from a “#1 Dad” coffee mug.
“Brother Moody, do you realize you should be back at GSP in segregation right now, on escape charges? Do you understand that you could have flushed your life down the toilet for some ass? Those folks in the prison didn’t even want to let you come to this program. Do you remember that? They wanted to keep you in until your parole date, but I stepped up for you, remember? I stuck my neck out there and it’s still out there. Folks are sitting back waiting for you to fail again You have a short time left before you get out of here. Are you that stupid or just selfish?” Robert spoke slowly, steadily, and deliberately. He struggled to control his temper.
I felt like a child sitting there being yelled at and lectured at by my father. No, it went farther than that. The pain and disappointment, that a father would have in his son was evident in his voice and on his face. It was true that he had to pull some strings to get them to approve me to come there. I had forgotten all about that. I felt that I had let Robert down. It was a terrible feeling.
Robert suddenly stopped talking, picked up his mug and leaned back in his chair. His eyes were like lasers burning right through me. His posture told me that he was not ready to hear from me yet. I sat silently. He took a couple of sips from his mug and just looked at me. I could smell the French almond coffee, but I didn’t have a clue what he was thinking.
“I’m going to be straight up with you, Moody.” His voice was calmer now. “I have a lot of men coming through here from the prisons. I can look at most, and tell who is going to have a chance to make it, and who will be back before the ink on their parole papers dries. I’m usually not far off in my assessments of people. Unfortunately, I don’t see many brothers coming through here that I can see being successful. You have been jailing for a while. I think you might have a chance this time. The only way you are going to do that is if you stop letting your Jim Johnson make your decisions for you”.
Robert and I stayed in his office talking for over an hour about many things, life, personal dreams, and personal fears. I never got to say much. He did most of the talking. He shared a lot about himself with me. We laughed, and we even shared a tear or two. There was no weeping, just a few random tears. It turns out his son, who was the same age as me (28), was serving Life, for murder, in New York State. He was struggling with a lot of pain and guilt about it.
That incident and talk with Robert was just the eye-opening jolt I needed to snap me back into reality and get me refocused on what was important. One bad decision led to another worse decision that nearly cost me everything.
It was also that one event that taught me the responsibility that comes with the trust people give you.
When he finished, he restricted me to the house when I was not working for 30 days. I also had dish washing and bathroom cleaning duty every night until I went home. I felt I was getting off very softly, and I appreciated it. Robert was an angel from God in my life. I owe him a lot.
The whole “stiff dick” incident with Boop was the last thing on my mind when I got up to leave Robert’s office that morning. I recall feeling positive and inspired walking out of his office.
“One more thing, Moody.” Robert said, smiling. "Was she worth it?”
“No. Not at all," I answered without hesitation as I closed his office door behind me. “Not at all”.
Trenton, New Jersey Koenig Plastics Company
Fistfights, knife fights, and near death experiences were every day occurrences at my new job at Koenig plastics. Koenig plastic was my first job when I went to Clinton Halfway House, prior to parole in 1980. I was hired as a foreman at slightly, very slightly, above minimum wage. I was happy to have the job.
By 10:30 in the morning, most people in the factory looked smelled and behaved drunkenly, high, crazy or all three. The same people, Jesse, for example, would get fired and get rehired the next week. It was difficult find anyone willing to work there. Some of the men had been working there for years and still earned minimum wage. There was more sadness, hopelessness, and misery on the faces of the people in there than in any prison I knew. The work was nasty, dirty and miserable too. Assorting and shredding recycled plastic and fiberglass items. At the end of the day, billions of tiny, invisible slivers of fiberglass would be embedded in my clothes and skin like little pins. When I walked or moved million tiny pins poked into my skin.
Never the less, through it all I kept in my mind that it was not as miserable as being in prison. They say that everything is relative, and compared with prison, Koenig Plastics was cake. I reminded myself every day that prison was hell 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. At least with this hell I could go home at 4:30 and I was a free man.
Koenig Plastics was merely a stepping-stone for me to get to where I want to ultimately be in my new life after prison. I knew I would do better in the future. That got me through it all. As tough as that job was, it paid the rent, and it was honest work. Most importantly a job was key to achieving my goal of staying out of prison forever and building a future. I envisioned five years from that point when I could look back and laugh about that whole situation. I couldn't afford to have foolish pride and become self-destructive. I saw a better future ahead for me.
Many of the men had arrest records, and served time in jail or prison. They came to the job through the same halfway house where I lived. They were staying out of prison, but they were not particularly living well. They were surviving daily and the lack of ambition or aspirations on some of them was apparent.
There were also many men working at Koenig Plastic who had never been arrested or broken the law in their lives. They also didn’t drink or get high at work. Most grew up in the Trenton area and were trying to make a living to take care of their families. Their lack of education, and skills, and their questionable work habits made Koenig's the only work many of them could get. Many of those men were looking to advance and make a better life for themselves and their families. They also viewed that job as a means or bridge to something better. That is what helped to motivate us all to get up each morning to go there. I used the experience to motivate myself to do better. Never wanted to forget from where I had come.
One day I went searching the factory to find a forklift. There were only 2 or 3 working forklifts available in the entire plant. Instead of sharing, people hid good lifts behind boxes or whatever so others couldn't find them. I found a lift hidden behind some stacked up wooden pallets, and was backing it out.
“Hey, Nigga. Where you taking that lift, muthafucka?”
The loud voice caught me off guard and scared me a little, and I jumped. When I turned around and looked I saw that it was Teddy, the foreman in that section of the factory. Rumor had it that Teddy had been working at that factory for 23 years and was still only making minimum wage. Teddy was making 10-cents less than me. Teddy knew about that dime difference in pay, and he seemed to hate me because of it. Teddy was an old Chuck Berry looking dude, probably in his 50s. He was a lanky, 6’4’, with skin black as coal. He had a jet black processed hairdo and wore a greasy paisley do-rag on his head while he worked. He kept a mouth full of chewing tobacco juice that he would spit everywhere. He seriously needed a dental plan as most of his top and bottom teeth had rotted down to brown stumps. Teddy smelled like cheap wine and beer every day. That was because he drank cheap wine and beer every day.
Teddy was also mean as hell. I didn't know him personally because as I mentioned, “he hated me”. I tried to avoid him as much as possible. Rumor also had it that Teddy always carried an 8-inch switchblade knife that he enjoyed using. When I saw him stand behind me, I knew the potential for trouble was great. I immediately began scanning the area for a nearby weapon - and an escape route - I could get quickly if this country muthafucka started some shit.
"I'm borrowing it for a minute," I said hoping to keep him calm. “I’ll bring it right back”
“You ain’t borrowing shit, young muthafucka!” He spit out a load of tobacco juice against the side of the lift, just inches from the seat where I was sitting.
Damn, this man is just looking for a fight over here. I remember thinking to myself as I climbed down off the lift. I needed to place myself in a position to grab the 2x4 that was leaning 10 feet away against the wall.
“I need to move some pallets. I’ll bring it right back,” I said.
Teddy stood only a few feet away from me. He took a step closer to me. “You ain’t taking my lift, nigga!”
“Your lift?” I asked in amazement. “This shit belongs to that white man upstairs.”
“It belong to me right now, and you ain’t taking it...”
I noticed Teddy was holding his right hand behind his right thigh. He was hiding what he was holding, but I guessed it was that 8-inch switchblade he kept on him. He had me hemmed into a corner back there, and no one could see us. I figured my best chance was to grab that board and start swinging.
“Hey, what are you guys doing back here?” It was the boss, Mr. Koenig. He had been walking around the factory as he often did, and happened to walk up on Teddy and me. I was never so glad to see a white man in my life.
“I just came back to borrow this lift” I said.
Teddy and I, still staring each other down when Mr. Koenig, who was standing behind Teddy, looked down and saw the knife in Teddy’s hand. “Teddy, what’s that knife for?” He asked.
Teddy brought the knife to his front while closing it against his leg at the same time. He put it into his front pocket.
“I had to open some sacks.” Teddy lied. He gave me a last menacing look and went about his business.
I took the lift and moved my pallets. I put the lift back into Teddy’s area after I finished with it, but I didn't go back in that corner behind those pallets again. I left it where he could get it. All the years in the joint and I never came close this kind of drama. Now I have to worry about getting shanked on my street job. I knew I had to get out of there fast.
Trenton, New Jersey
During my last prison bid I spent many hours thinking and planning how I was never going back to prison again. In the process, I had convinced myself that if I ever went back to Newark to live, or stay for any significant time, it would certainly be the beginning of my end. I had associated only one way of life in Newark for me. Drug addiction and being a pathetic mess was the way it always ended up for me in the city I loved. I began to fear Newark and had to get out, or I would die. Not only did I fear falling back into my old habit, but also now that I was a law-abiding citizen I was paranoid and feared being victimized.
I loved my hometown of Newark, New Jersey, and I know it had love for me. We had been through so much together. Now, we were unable to trust and depend on one another. We had exploited and disappointed one another too many times in recent years. Like so many relationships with family members and loved ones - Newark and I love one another - we just cannot live together.
So when I was paroled from GSP in 1980, I didn’t go back to Newark. I relocated to Trenton, NJ. I left prison with a plan for success and a commitment to succeed, and I felt my best opportunity for success was to remove as many negative distractions from my daily life as possible. Heroin, negative friends and family members, and general familiarity were three primary negatives I needed to avoid. All were present in Newark. In Trenton, there was heroin, but no negative associates or familiarity for me there. I could start a new life and create the person I wanted to be in a new environment. I figured as long as I didn’t go out making negative friends or looking for heroin I could concentrate on moving forward. I had also made contacts with good people in Trenton and also had job opportunities there when I got out.
In the beginning, it was tough finding an apartment in Trenton that I could afford working at Koenig Plastics recycling factory. I had faith and stuck it through because I knew that eventually something better would come along. It was important to me to have a place to call my own. I wanted to avoid moving in with anyone, if I could help it. I knew that would be a huge mistake. I knew I needed a place of my own. Of course, if push came to shove I couldn't turn down help if that is all I had. I just wanted to get my own place, if possible. Four walls, a floor, a ceiling and maybe a window, as long as it was mine.
Less than a week before my release date, in late 1979, God blessed me with my first apartment. It was a two-room, efficiency apartment, in a three-story brownstone building, in West Trenton. It had a living bedroom, a kitchen, a full bathroom and three windows. There was a window in the bedroom, one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen. It was perfect. It was in a decent neighborhood, and there was a park right across the street. It was located about three blocks away from the strip where all the drugs and thugs hung out, but that didn’t matter because I didn’t expect it to affect what I had to do. Most importantly I could afford the rent on my minimum wage pay at the plastics factory. After putting down the first and last month rent deposit and utilities and whatever, I had $87 left in my bank account. That was my beginning stake, 87 bucks.
Even now I remember the pride I felt when I signed the lease and the landlord handed me the key. It was my first real transaction I had accomplished a main goal in my plan - get an apartment. All I had in there my first few days was a second-hand mattress on the floor and a chair the last tenants left behind. It badly needed paint and that night the roaches almost carried me away when I turned the lights out. It was not the Taj Mahal, but it was not jail either. I could deal with it until things got better. I slept with the lights on all night. That slowed the roaches down, a little.
Nelson Mandela once said, “But any house in which a man is free is a castle when compared to the plushest prison.” I was king of my two- room castle and proud of it.
Winter 1980 Trenton, New Jersey
Sheila was the first woman that I entertained in my new bachelor apartment. I met Sheila while I was still at GSP in 1978. I was working at the state hospital on work release. There were also several inmates attending the college during the day. Every morning a van from the prison would drop us off in the morning and pick us up at night. In the evenings, we usually had to wait for the guys still in class. The van driver, who was usually another inmate, allowed us to hang out in the cafeteria and student center. We made sure we scheduled every opportunity to be out there on campus.
Most of the guys hooked up with coeds on campus. Others had wives and girlfriends meet them for romantic interludes. We spent a lot of time on campus. In street clothes, we didn’t stand out so much in public. Still many on campus knew we were “the inmates” when we pulled up in the white van. I didn’t seem to bother anyone. Especially after, four other inmates and I participated in a poetry reading in the college auditorium one afternoon and were instant celebrities.
Sheila was a sophomore, and the editor of a black on-campus publication. She approached me about publishing some of my poetry and short stories in her magazine. We became friends, and before long we were writing and meeting in the student center whenever possible. One day as I was about to leave the student center to get on the van, Sheila called me into a nearby stairwell and without warning laid a big, long, wet, much tongue involved kiss on me. She took me by surprise, but I enjoyed every second of it. It had been a long since a woman had kissed me like that. The huge smile on my face told the whole story of just how long it had been. Instantly, I was in love. Fortunately, I was wearing a coat to conceal my emotions that were bulging in my pants.
Sheila and I had played pen pal prison off and on until I made parole. By that time she had dropped out of school and was living with her mother in south jersey again. She had a job as a secretary.
Shortly after I moved to Trenton, Sheila began visiting on weekends. The first weekend that she visited I took great pains to make everything perfect. Champagne (Cold Duck), chilled shrimp (medium), sandalwood incense and black light that highlighted the velvet Pam Grier art on the walls. When it was over, I was confident I had knocked it out the box – so to speak. I was confident that this would be no Boop repeat. This time I had worked it like my boy Duke Anderson, smooth and intense. I had no doubt in my mind. All of a sudden Sheila bursts out crying. She was lying there with her hands covering her face bawling like an infant.
I was wondering what the hell is going on. ‘Why is she crying? I had just hit that poontang, like Shafts Big Score. Like Billy Bob Thornton hit Halle Berry in that movie “Monster’s Ball,” I had just laid down an Oscar winning performance. One of my best performances ever, and she was lying there crying. “Why are you crying?” I didn’t care that my frustration and annoyance was thick in my tone.
“I don’t know," she said through sobs without removing her hands from her face.
“Well, are you okay? Is there anything I can do?”
She pulled away when I touched her shoulder. “No. I’m all right. Just leave me alone for a minute," she said, now sounding a bit annoyed.
Now I’m getting worried. Have I hooked up with some kind of psycho? She seemed to be having a good time. She seemed to be having a very good time as I recalled. There were only two rooms, plus the bathroom so I was not sure where I could go to leave her alone. “How long do I have to leave you alone?” I asked timidly, hoping she was not suggesting that I leave the apartment. “There aren’t many places to go in this apartment.”
She didn’t answer. All she did was curl up on her side in a fetal position; pull the sheet over her head and start rocking back and forth whimpering. I swore that I saw her put her thumb in her mouth and start sucking on it just before her head disappeared under the sheet. At least she had stopped crying.
“Ya’ll woman sure do know how to fuck around with a suckers head.” I mumbled under my breath, loud enough for her to hear. I went into the bathroom and peed. This woman had me dazed and confused. I didn’t understand what was going on with her. I knew how I had messed up with Boop. What now?
I was in the bathroom for about 10 minutes wondering what to do. Sheila planned to spend the weekend, but I was not sure she would be out there when I come out of the bathroom. It had been real quiet out there all the time that I was in the bathroom. Maybe she was hiding outside the door with an ax waiting to chop me up. I’m just saying she was acting weird.
I came out of the bathroom, and Sheila was sitting up in bed with her legs crossed Indian style, smoking a cigarette. There was a big, happy, satisfied, ‘Hey, Sailor’ smile on her face. “I thought you had climbed out the window in there," she purred like a sex kitten. “I was getting lonely.”
Yeah, well your crazy ass was in here crying for nothing. What did you expect me to do? That is what I wanted to say.
What I said out loud was, “Glad, you’re feeling better. I was beginning to worry about you.”
Sheila ignored what I said and went into the bathroom. She was in there about 10 minutes, doing whatever. I was sitting on the bed drinking a beer and watching television. Wearing nothing but a great big smile, she walked over, took the beer out of my hand, and placed it on the floor beside the bed. She turned off the television, before jumping onto the bed, and pulled me on top of her. We went another two and a half rounds before she finally tired late into the night. By then, I was crying. First thing the next morning she was ready to go again. Luckily for me, I was out of rubbers.
I asked her repeatedly over the next two days why she had cried and she would say “I don’t know why”. "It's not something to worry about." She kept reassuring me.
Before getting into her taxi, on Sunday night, Sheila turned and gave me a big hug. "I cried because it was nice," she whispered in my ear. "Everything was very nice.”
She planted a wet kiss on me and climbed into the cab and disappeared into the night. I had a big smile on my face, and an extra dip in my step walking back inside, "Yeah," I said out loud. "You damn right it was nice.”
When I went to prison for the first time back in 1970, my son LJ was only a few months old. When I got paroled in 1973, he was two. Carla, LJ’s mother, was only 15 years old when she got pregnant with him. She was too young, too fine, and much too sassy, to be a mother. Like most sassy fifteen year olds girls, she wanted to party and hang out with her girlfriends. None of her girlfriends had kids then. Carla lived there in the same apartment with her mother and LJ, but Pricilla did most of LJ’s mothering.
I had just turned 17 when LJ was born. I was using drugs and semi-homeless. Raising a kid was the last thing on my mind. I would go see him, and he knew me, but that was it. As teenage parents, Carla and I were a sorry mess.
LJ was the apple of Pricilla’s eye. She loved him to death. She would coddle and spoil him rotten. She was getting up in age, and her health was not good. Plus she had already raised eight children of her own, and chasing a two year old around was too much for her. LJ’s mother was the next to last of eight children that Pricilla had raised. She was old and tired. LJ was becoming a little more than she was able to handle.
I remember back in 73, the first time I made parole from GSP, Carla’s younger sister told me that Pricilla wanted to see me. I had been home on parole for two weeks then, but I had not yet made it over to visit my son. I expected Pricilla to give me hell about not visiting LJ, but when I got to her apartment she went right to the point. “I’m putting LJ up for adoption,” Pricilla said bluntly. “You and Carla ain’t doing shit to help me and I can’t do it anymore.”
Pricilla told me there was a woman who lived downstairs in Pricilla’s building, Mrs. Lincoln, who wanted to adopt. LJ.
I was speechless, but in all honesty there was nothing I could legitimately say. To that point I had never done anything significant toward raising or caring for him, since most of his life I had been locked up. LJ's grandmother, Pricilla, and aunts raised LJ his first two years of life. I had not paid for any of his mother’s prenatal care. I didn't have to pay the hospital or doctor bill for his birth. I didn't have to pay for any of his postnatal care. Welfare did all that. I guess I expected things to keep going the way they were.
I had recently been paroled from prison and Carla and I had not been together since he was two months old. We had not spoken since I left for GSP in 70’ and had been doing her thing in New York City for the past 18-months.
Mrs. Lincoln was an older woman who had raised two adult children. She lived alone in her 4th floor apartment. I went to speak with Mrs. Lincoln. She was a very kind woman. She was very convincing in her argument that LJ would be better off with her as his mother. She made a lot of sense, as she pointed out details of Carla’s and my lifestyle, in surprisingly blunt, yet accurate detail.
When I left Mrs. Lincoln's apartment, I knew she may have been right about Carla and me, but I also knew I didn't want to give my son away for adoption. Nothing ever felt more wrong to me. I would never allow it to happen. I didn't know how I was going to stop it, but no one was getting my son. I felt desperate and completely helpless. I was sick to the stomach from the moment Pricilla first mentioned it. I knew I couldn't take care of LJ as I was barely taking care of myself. But, I also knew I was not going to give away my son. I couldn’t imagine LJ not being my son.
I went to my parents and pleaded with them to take custody of LJ. I swore I would get my life together and take care of him. Initially they were reluctant. There were already five of my younger siblings in the house. Eventually, they said yes and took LJ into the family.
Soon after that, the snacks business paid off and my parents bought a house in the suburbs where we used to drive through. LJ stayed with my family for around two years. Meanwhile, my plunge into drug addiction, incarceration, and self-destruction continued to escalate. Soon after that, I was arrested again and sent back to prison.
LJ lived with my parents for about four years, before his mother brought him back to the projects in 1977. Carla returned to NY shortly afterwards and LJ was once again left with his grandmother and aunts.
When I was paroled and moved to Trenton in 1980, LJ was 7 years old and still living in Newark with his aunts. His grandmother, Pricilla, had passed away a few months earlier.
In those 12-months, LJ had gotten himself suspended from school four times. He was on the verge of another suspension. LJ was fighting all the time and wouldn't listen to the teachers or his aunts. No one could tell him what to do. He was pretty much doing what he wanted to do and dared anyone to try and stop him. Carla, LJ’s mother was living in NYC and had no contact with them.
The principal wanted a meeting with his parents or guardian about his behavior and his aunts felt it was time for me to get involved with him. They called and told me what was going on with LJ. I agreed to attend the meeting with the principal. We also decided that LJ would be going to live with me in Trenton.
When I arrived at the school around noon, I headed for the Main Office as the little sign on the wall directed me to do. I was familiar with Broadway Elementary School because it was the same school I had attended for Kindergarten through 9th grade. Broadway School was built in the early 1950’s; about the same time they constructed my Walsh Homes Housing projects. There were two sides to the school. One side was the elementary school that went from K through sixth grades. The other side is the Junior High School for grades seventh through ninth. Aside from everything seeming a little smaller inside, everything still looked the same to me. The smell of books and paste was the same and brought back a lot of good memories. Broadway was a great school with great teachers who made sure we learned and behaved.
When I came off the stairway on the second floor, I heard a female voice. “Everyone stay in line against the wall, please," she said. “We have to wait until the class in front of us exits the cafeteria, before we go inside”.
There was a group of about twenty children walking double file down the hallway towards me. There was a woman, whom I figured was their teacher and the voice that I had heard talking to the children. The teacher was walking behind the line of children. Next I heard the teacher say, “Lamont Sanford, where are you going? Get back into line, right now!”
The teacher called him Lamont Sanford, instead of Lamont Moody” because LJ had his mother’s last name at the time. It wasn’t until he came to live with me that I had his last name legally changed to Moody. I noticed a little boy had broken ranks in line and was walking towards me. I didn't recognize right away, but his walk was strangely familiar. I knew that stride. Chin up, chest out, and his arms swinging behind him from side to side. He looked like a little George Jefferson, of “The Jefferson’s” television show. That was my son LJ. LJ must have seen me and decided to walk out of line. The teacher called out to the child. “Lamont, get back into line, right now”.
All the other kids were obediently standing against the wall in silence. They were waiting to see how this was going to play out. I was also curious, yet silent. LJ ignored the teacher and kept walking. When he got over to where I was standing, he turned to face the teacher and his classmates. His arms crossed over his pumped up chest, and his nose in the air in proud defiance. He was king of the hill and dared anyone to say differently. The teacher said nothing. She appeared lost as to what to do next. The other children said nothing and also seemed lost as to what to do next. It was clear to me who was in charge in that classroom. I grabbed LJ by the back of his shirt collar. “What are you doing?” I asked him and gave him a little shove. “Get back in that line like the teacher told you to”.
LJ seemed surprised at my reaction. He studied me for a few seconds to be sure I was serious. Apparently, his authority had never been challenged in such a way in the past. He saw that I was serious and proceeded to walk back into the line and stood there looking straight ahead. The wind had flown out of his sails. His cheeks were puffed up and his mouth poked out the way they do when he is angry. He was super pissed at me. I felt a bit of sympathy for him, but tough love is tough, and he needed to be humbled.
The teacher started to walk towards me. As she came closer, I couldn't help but notice that she was a very attractive woman. The way she walked also looked familiar. She appeared to be in her mid to late 40s, with long black hair. Her black skirt came just below her knees. She also wore a white silk blouse, with sleeves that came down to her wrists. White lace trimmed the collar and cuffs on the blouse. Her four inch wide black patent leather belt, with the big white buckle in front matched her comfortable - yet sexy, black and white patent leather pumps. She complimented her outfit that day with a white three string pearl necklace, with matching bracelet and earrings.
When she was closer, I caught the scent of her perfume. Like a magic potion, it all came rushing back to me. It was Mrs. Solano, my 4th grade teacher. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Solano, Lamont’s teacher.” She said with her hand extended. “Are you Mr. Sanford, Lamont’s father?”
I shook her hand. “Well, yes, I’m Lamont’s father but my name is Moody, Lamont Moody.” She hesitated and stared at me for a
moment as I guess the name and maybe my face was beginning to ring a bell for her. She said, “You look familiar.”
“You were my 3rd and 4th grade teacher” I shared proudly with her.
“Lamont Moody?” she said with a big smile. “Mr. Grumpy?”
Mrs. Solano’s pet name for me was “Mr. Grumpy”. That was probably because I was always moody and stubborn. I say pet name, but it may have been more like her opinion of me. Whatever it was, I felt honored and special because she didn't have a name for any of the other kids and I was in love with her.
It turned out that the principal had not come in that day and “someone should have called” to tell me not to come that day. Mrs. Solano took the class into the cafeteria and seated them. LJ refused to look up at me as he passed by. He tilted his head away slightly to make sure I knew he was ignoring me.
Mrs. Solano asked another teacher to watch the class while they ate their lunch. She and I went back to her classroom to talk. To make a long story short, LJ was out of control and causing problems in her classroom, and throughout the school. She, of course, pointed to his behavior in the hallway a little earlier as an example. LJ found trouble at school even when school closed. A few weeks earlier he and his cousins got arrested for breaking into the school on a Saturday night.
I told Mrs. Solano about my plan to take LJ to live and go to school in Trenton. The look of relief that came over her face looked comical.
She looked like someone who had just been told the courts had commuted her death sentence. It seemed all she could do not to stand up and click her heels in the air.
We spent a few minutes talking about old times and how schools and being a teacher had changed over the years. She made it a point to let me know that today she could not put her hand on kids, or give them nicknames, like in my day because she would get arrested – or assaulted.
She gave me a big hug, and told me how good it was to see me again. She told me that I was one of her favorite students ever. “I’m happy that you are taking control of Lamont," she said. “I know you will be a good father.”
Stevie Wonder could read the writing on the wall. If no one stepped in to protect and save LJ he was headed for the system. Once he got into the juvenile justice system he might never get out until he graduated into the adult prison system. Who else will save my son? It was my responsibility. There was never a doubt in my mind what I had to do. The streets had gotten me, but I would be damned if they were going to get him. I had to save my son from the jaws of the beast.
On my drive back to Trenton from my meeting at LJ’s school, I kept thinking about how good it was to see Mrs. Solano again after all these years. Back in those days, elementary kids remained in the same classroom with the same teacher for two years. Mrs. Solano was my 3rd and 4th grade teacher and my most favorite teacher of all-times.
I thought Mrs. Solano was the most beautiful white woman that I had ever seen in my entire life, back then. Her long black hair, the gray eyes, red lipstick, and perfume that overwhelmed the classroom every day, was too much for my young mind. She was very silk and lacy, also. She was always blowing into a white lace hanky that she kept tucked under the left silk lace embroidered cuff of the silky blouse she wore – always accented with a silky scarf tied around her slender neck.
Mrs. Solano’s nose was always red, and she sniffed and blew it a lot. She seemed to have a year round head cold. The redness was a result of squeezing when she blew her nose.
In those days, she knew how to deal with children who, let’s just say, needed more attention than other children. Her patented punishment was to pop your knuckles with a ruler. That shit would hurt! She also had a patented (and effective, I must say) move where she would grab your face in a GI Joe Kung Fu grip and squeeze until your cheeks touched together inside your mouth. That shit hurt too. Once she got a grip, there was no escape. It was like your face was in a vise, with intense and paralyzing pain. Moving or pulling away was impossible. Your mouth and lips would be pucker up like a fish on a hook.
I felt her wrath many times. With teeth clenched, and a firm grip, she would bring her face down close to mine and say something like, “Mr. Grumpy, why must you continue to talk when I have asked you twice in the last hour to stop?”
“Mmmph fwiff moowee uufumph...” That is how I sounded trying to speak with the insides of my mouth squeezed together. Try it. Squeeze your cheeks together and try to talk. Not only was it painful, it was extremely humiliating too. All the other kids would laugh.
Mrs. Solano is my favorite teacher of all times. It was good to have seen her again.
“I’m gone ask you one more time. Said my friend Reggie. He was sitting in the passenger seat of my 74’ Chevrolet Monte Carlo that I had recently bought with a two thousand dollar loan, from Household Finance Company. “Why you bringing that boy to Trenton nigga? What the fuck do you know about raising a kid?”
We had just taken Newark exit #14, off the New Jersey Turnpike, heading to South Broad Street, via Highway #21. We had traveled from Trenton, where I had been living since my parole in late 1980. My objective for returning to Newark that day was to get my son, LJ. He was going to live in Trenton with me. Reggie was also living in Trenton, since his parole from prison a month earlier. I was giving him a ride to his mother’s house in Newark. He didn't have much confidence in my plan to raise a son. “What the fuck is there to know?” I responded, annoyed in his inference. “How fuckin hard can it be?
“Man, you’re a convicted felon. Felons don't raise kids. Shit, your ass is going to be back at GSP before six months”. Reggie predicted, followed by his loud annoying laugh. I really regretted bring this muthafucka with me.
Stomach butterflies would attack me whenever I returned to my hometown, Newark, especially coming off the NJ Turnpike. I had feelings of excitement and anxiety at the same time in the pit of my stomach. Usually in the past when I returned to Newark after being away, it was after a prison bid. I would get butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of my first heroin fix. It was like that every time I returned to my hometown after an absence.
I drove north on South Broad Street. The area had come a long way forward, but back in the day South Broad Street drew only the brave and daring. In the seventies, South Broad Street was like a little 116th St. and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem - only rougher, deadlier and more ignorant. The dopefiends, drug dealers, hustlers, winos, pimps, prostitutes, brothers selling bean pies and newspapers and anything found in New York was there on South Broad. South Broad had cleaned up a lot since the seventies, but Newark in general was worse off than ever.
Mayor elect, Kenneth Gibson called then Mayor Addonizio, "a crook," in 1970. A jury agreed and found Addonizio guilty of extortion and conspiracy, within months of losing the election back then. Gibson promised to bring the city back to glory. However, the real deal was that the city’s unemployment rate was up nearly 50 percent. Newark’s population count continued to drop rapidly, as white folks and black folks who had it like that, moved out of the city, to places like East Orange, Irvington and Montclair. Newark had no movie theaters, and only one supermarket still in the city. Plus, only two-thirds of the high school students in Newark were graduating.
Flash forward; following his defeat by Sharpe James, in 1986, Gibson had also been indicted for corruption. In 2002, the Feds eventually convicted him of tax fraud. Just for the record.
Flash forward, again; Mayor Sharpe James, the man who proceeded Gibson in 1986, served five terms (20 years) as the second black mayor of Newark. James, like those before him, left office (in 2006) facing corruption charges. The Feds got him for federal fraud charges, in 2007.
Back to my drive down Broad Street that fine day in 1982, and another red light at Thomas St. and Lincoln Park. The once upscale Essex House is not what it used to be. People just didn't go on South Street without knowing whom, what, or where. There was a high risk of assault. I locked my doors. We passed Newark Symphony Hall, a gloriously grand building that was the only major entertainment venue in Newark, back in the day. When the greats came to perform in Newark it was at Symphony Hall. My favorite Symphony Hall memory was the James Brown “Black & Proud” tour in the early seventies.
Green Street, home of Newark City Hall and Police Headquarters, and another red light. I glanced over at the buildings, and thought to myself how there still was no obvious sign from the outside of police headquarters that told of the massive ass whippings that go on in there. I was glad when the light changed to green.
I continued driving about a mile and a half further north on Broad Street we stopped again at Broad and Market Streets - the “Times Square” of Newark. Broad and Market Streets are the busiest four-way crosswalks in the state of New Jersey. Big buses, people, cars, cabs, delivery trucks, police, fire, ambulance sirens, and major hustle and bustle going on at Broad and Market. I was first in line at the light. I sat watching the crowds of people, from the opposing sides of the street dash off the curbs towards one another. Like warring gladiators in battle, the two sides clashed into a single mass of strangers passing one another in the afternoon. People shopping, working, commuting, hustling, stealing, scheming and living in the city, crisscrossing and weaving in and out avoiding collisions, with as little eye contact as possible. Like being in a drive- through wildlife safari ride, only with people. Somehow my mind reverted back to my days as a predator in that jungle, and instinctively began looking for the weak and most vulnerable among the herds.
“I’m telling you Mont, you need to leave that boy right where he is.” Reggie’s voice snapped me out of my daydream. I had almost forgotten that he was in the car and he startled me at first. That was typical Reggie, Mr. Pessimism. Reggie and I had been friends for ten years since we shared the same iron shackles in the Sheriff's van headed to GSP, in 1971.
Reggie ended up doing 10 years on a murder rap. I had seven years and was out 18-months later. Reggie was still at GSP each time I left and came back to GSP. Reggie was my boy, but he was not the most positive and supportive friend a person could have. Criticize, condemn and complain is what my boy was about. I had harnessed his negativity as motivation in the past. Our first year at GSP in 71’ is a good example. I smoked Kools cigarettes, as did every other black person in the hood. I mainly liked to smoke a cigarette when high. Like some folks light up after they have sex, smoking a Kools right after shooting up was standard routine. Kools cost thirty- five cents, and the prison paid twenty-five cents a day ($15 a month) to cut hair. Once I had purchased necessities such as soap, deodorant, stamps, and a few snacks from the prison canteen there was not much money left.
Cigarettes became a habit I couldn't afford. Decided to quit smoking, and proudly told my boy, Reggie. Without looking up from his magazine, he said, “I give you a week to start back.”
There was a half pack of cigarettes in my room at the time. I went in and got them and threw them into the toilet and flushed it. I quit on the spot and never smoked another cigarette. I always thanked him for the motivation.
When I wrote him after I got out the last time and told him I was going to finance a car. He wrote back, “Who gone give you credit, nigga?”
The next day I went to Household Finance and talked them into giving me a $2000 loan to buy a car. I guess what Reggie’s attitude revealed, besides the fact that he was always going to be a pessimistic, uptight, asshole, was that he was still talking and thinking like a convict, a loser. I had to be real and couldn't get mad at Reggie this time. He was not lying. He watched me go in and out of GSP for 10 years. What would convince him this time would be different? It was going to be different because I said it would be different. I planned and prayed for four years my last bid at GSP, to make sure it would be different. I prepared for my life to be different this time, even before I made the decision to become a single dad.
I got a car loan because I planned to be on the street and doing well enough to pay back the loan. This plan included being around to raise him, never going back to prison. I held no doubts I could accomplish this. He would surely follow my footsteps, should I fail and return to prison. Anyone could see the signs and the main reasons I was going to get him in the first place. It would be different this time.
“Nigga, you’re only making three dollars and twenty-five cents an hour in that raggedy ass factory.”
“How you gone feed him? How is you gone buy clothes for the little nigga? Is both of ya’ll gone be living in that tiny ass apartment? How is you gone get any pussy with all ya’ll in the same damn bed?”
With Reggie, everything always eventually came down to getting pussy. He went on and on and on with his negativity, but I had pretty much tuned him out by that time. My mind was on my odyssey down Broad Street. Plus, we had this conversation before.
At Bloomfield Avenue, I made a detour and went up past Barringer High School. I wish I had not taken advantage and enjoyed high school. I realize that it was not as unbearable as I had made out to be when I quit high school in my senior year, four months before graduation. I didn't want to take an extra class required for graduation. It was a class that would have added an extra 45 minutes to my school day. I had already started getting high and making bad decisions. I was barely able to come to school and sit through the classes I already had. So I quit school weeks before graduation. Just thinking about that dumb move ticked me off.
“We’ll be alright!” I said. “He’ll live where I live. He’ll eat what I eat, and he can wear my damn clothes. Don't worry about where I get my pussy?”
We drove over Park Avenue and cut through Branch Brook Park to get across Grove Street where Reggie’s mom lived and stopped in front of her house. Reggie got out grabbed his backpack from the back seat.
“Don’t do it Mont,” Reggie advised me as he slammed close the door. “Leave that boy alone.”
I was glad Reggie was not going back to Trenton with LJ and me that day. I stopped at another red light at the intersection of Grafton Avenue and Broadway, right up the hill from the projects. The drugstore that Cedric, Juan, and I had robbed was on the corner to my right. Some Columbians sold pizza out of there now. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The light turned green, and I went ahead to get my son.
I was still in the two-room efficiency apartment when LJ came down. I had managed to get some new furnishings and a kitchen table set. The walls began to close in on us, after a couple of months. We needed to get a larger apartment fast.
One afternoon, I happened to have gotten home from work early, before LJ had come from school. Usually I was still at work when LJ got home from school. He had a key to get into the apartment, to fix him a snack and start his homework. That day I was home from work early, standing at the kitchen sink, when LJ burst through the door in a big hurry. He ran past me and grabbed a butcher knife from the sink. “I’m gonna kill that muthafucka," he said.
He was not talking to me. He didn't seem to notice I was standing there. He was talking to himself and crying. I came out just as he started back out the door with the knife. “I’m gonna kill that muthafucka...”
I reached out and grabbed him by his coat hood with my left hand, and grabbing the hand with the knife with my other hand. “Whoa, where are you going with that knife, boy?”
“That muthafucka hit me. I’m gonna kill his ass," he was crying.
“Who hit you?”
“This boy in my class snuck me in the face.”
LJ began to cry so violently that he gasped for air. He was at that moment angry enough to kill. “He can’t just sneak somebody.”
My heart was pounding a mile a minute. The images in my head of what may have happened were terrifying and overwhelming. Tears began to pour out of my eyes. I took the knife from him and hugged him close to me. The hug was as much for me as it was to calm my son.
The kids in Trenton were not scrubs, but they were not yet as aggressive and well armed as Newark. Most kids in Trenton were still fighting with fists.
After hugging him and thanking God that I had gotten there when I did, I sat and explained to LJ different ways that he should look to deal with those kinds of conflicts with other people. It’s not as simple as one might imagine, explaining to a child why he should not murder another child who had just punched him in the face without warning. It is okay to protect and defend himself, but never stab another child with a knife.
I tried to make him understand what the consequences of his actions could have been. I made him consider how he would have felt after he hurt someone with a knife. It was that moment I clearly understood my importance in my son’s life, and how he would develop physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, spiritually and creatively. I understood how vital it was for me to be there for him.
Flashback: 1962 Newark, New Jersey
“Stay here in the car,” my father, told me as he slid out the driver’s seat to get out of the car. "I'll be right back." It was a Friday night, in the early 60’s, about 8:30 PM at Ting-a Ling’s Pizza and Italian Water Ice, on Bloomfield Avenue in North Newark. I was about 11 years old. The particular section of Bloomfield Avenue where we were had a large Italian American population. They tolerated Blacks and Hispanics around to spend money in the stores and shops that lined both sides of Bloomfield Avenue. It had to be in and out for us though, no loitering what so ever. As kids, we knew minorities were taking their lives in their hands going on Bloomfield Avenue, especially after dark. Ting-a-Lings had the best pizza and frozen water ice, in Newark. It was worth the risk.
Daddy had just gotten back into the car after picking up the pizza, and he was backing out of the parking space, when another pulling into the lot too fast ran into the rear bumper of my dad’s car. Daddy got out to check for damage to the car.
It was not a hard bump, and there was no damage to either vehicle. Daddy gave a wave to the white man in the other car, to say, “It’s okay, no problem.”
Daddy started to get back into the car. Meanwhile, I had turned around, and was looking out of the back window at the white man struggling to get out of his car. It was clear by the looking that the dude was drunk. Too drunk to stand up, let alone to drive. When the man saw Daddy getting back into the car, he yelled, “Hey nigger, where the fuck you going?”
Daddy had his right leg inside the car, and was beginning to bend down to get the rest of his 6'4' frame inside. He stopped in mid- motion and froze there for a couple of second, before getting all the way into the car. He was about to close the door, when the old mans hatred again filled the air again. “Nigger! Hey nigger. I said get your black ass back here, nigger.”
The white man still had not managed to get out of his car. I could see an elderly white lady sitting in the passenger seat pulling the white man back into their car by his shirttail. She looked scared, and was begging him not to get out. “Let me go. I’ll kick that nigger’s ass. ” The drunk white man told the woman who was pulling him back. Every time he tried to get up, she pulled him back down into the car by his shirttails and he would plop back down.
Daddy sat there quiet for a few moments, as if he were contemplating whether he was going to go back there or not. Having grown up in the south, I was sure my father had been called nigger in his lifetime. It was the first time I had been there to hear and experience it. At one point he reached his left hand down between his seat and door and brought out “the stick”.
The stick was a thirty inches long section of an ax handle that he kept on the floor of his car, in the space between his seat and the driver side door. We just called it “The Stick.”Daddy said he kept it there just in case he"needed it". I had never seen him use it, but I heard it had come in handy one night when three young Italian dudes tried to jump my dad in that same neighborhood a couple of years ago. He said they scattered when he brought “the stick” out that time, so he didn’t actually have to use it.
I got excited when he brought out “the stick”. I knew I was going to see that racist bastard get worn out by my dad. He wouldn’t be called a nigger by anyone else anytime soon, I thought. I was also worried that daddy might get a homicide, or at least an assault with a deadly weapon case that night. Daddy put “the stick” back in back on the floor and we pulled away, headed home with the pizza.
As we drove home, the car was silent. I began to process what had just happened my emotions changed from fear to anger. Angry because, the white man had come along and imposed his hatred on us, for no good reason. Anger and disappointed that my dad allowed that man to disrespect him and call him those names, without saying a word. Call a man a nigger; expect to get your ass busted. If anybody deserved a beat down with “the stick”, it was that guy.
Daddy and I rode a few blocks without saying anything. Fats Domino was singing "Blueberry Hill" on the car radio. Daddy turned down the volume a little, and reached over with his right hand and rubbed the top of my head. That is how he expressed his love, by rubbing the tops of our heads. "Are you alright, son?"
"I don't know." I said. "Why did you let him call you a nigger?"
"Do you think I should have gotten into a fight with that man?”
"Hell yeah, I think you should have kicked his old drunken ass." That’s what I wanted to say. What I said out loud was, “I don’t know?”
“Well, If I fought every time somebody said something to me that I didn’t like, I'd probably get beat up a lot” said daddy. “What do you think would have happened if I went back and fought that old man?” I didn’t say anything.
“Did you feel like coming to get me out of jail tonight?” He asked, jokingly. “You have money to bail me out tonight?”
“No," I mumbled.
Well, as long as he didn’t put his hands on me, or try to hurt me in some way, I should just be smart enough to walk away and go about my business.” His voice was calm and soothing with no trace of anger or hatred for anyone. It was like he had just let it go that quickly.
He was right, but I was not ready to concede at the time. The version of this story I would tell people for years afterwards, ended with daddy beating three young Italian thugs to the ground with the stick, before speeding away from the scene. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was good advice my father gave me that night. It was also a rare moment for my father because I had never heard him being verbal with life lessons. I always think about that night and my father's words when I encounter situations where people display racism and hatred. I also think about that night because although I know in my heart that my dad did the best thing that night by just driving away I still think that would have been an ideal opportunity for me, just that once, to have seen “the stick” in action.
Trenton, New Jersey
“One of the best things a father can do for his children is to respect their mother”. I don’t know who said it, but I tried living by those words, when it came to LJ's mother, Carla. I respected her and never spoke negatively about her, in his presence.
When LJ graduated from the fifth grade, he invited his mother Carla to attend. He also invited her to stay with us in our two-room efficiency apartment, while she was in town.
He had not seen nor talked to her for years. They said she had been in New York City. She’d sent messages to LJ, via her sisters, promising to come and take him with her over the weekend. He was always so excited about going to visit his mother. When school was out on Friday, he was home sitting in the window with his bags packed. It would break my heart to see him sitting there waiting for her to pull up in a cab. Sometimes he would have his coat and hat on already. Most times she didn't show up. He wouldn't hear from her again for months. She would send another promise that she would break. He would never lose faith, and I had never heard him utter an angry word about his mom.
The situation was dubious for me. I hated that he was being hurt and disappointed when she failed to come and take him to NY to visit with her. On the other hand, I could only imagine what her living situation was over there, and I feared for his safety. I was happy when she came to his graduation, though, because it made LJ happy.
LJ and I went to the train station to pick her up the day before the graduation. If LJ had not seen her, I would never have recognized Carla standing in front of the station. I couldn't tell for sure whether she was using drugs at the time, but the years of use had taken its toll on her. She was far from the diva that burned up the projects in the 70's. She was young, but she looked old and sad. It was all the same to LJ. He was elated to see his mother. She seemed genuinely happy to see him.
Before going back to the apartment, we picked up KFC chicken. LJ never stopped talking, telling his mom about all the things he had been doing since he last saw her. He did stop long enough to eat, but only briefly. Besides hello when she got into the car, Carla and I barely made eye contact of spoke to each other. I was glad LJ dominated the conversation. The only thing Carla and I had in common was LJ. There was no other connection. In the back of my mind, I worried Carla would get angry and try to complicate the custody, and name change applications that were pending. Or that she would attempt to take him out of there with her. If I didn't want him to go with her before, I certainly was not going to let her take him after seeing her condition.
We were still living the efficiency apartment. There was only one bedroom and one queen size pullout bed. I had my regular side of the bed, and LJ had his side close to the television, and he was not surrendering it. That placed Carla in the middle between the two of us in the bed. LJ didn't watch much television that night due to nonstop talking to his mom. She and I had still avoided each other. She was once the love of my life. Now she represented memories I wanted to forget. She was the girl I once laid in my prison cell and fantasized about for years. That woman was lying next to me at that moment. I wished she were not. I didn't want her leg to touch mine under the cover. I tried not to be rude, but she had to pick up on my attitude.
I guess I still harbored a lot of hard feelings about what happened when I was at GSP in 1971. About how I found out she had hooked up with another dude while still coming to visit me at GSP. Convicts, who didn't even know her, or me, knew things before I did. Guys would come in from the neighborhood with the gossip about the streets and my girlfriend
Carla and I had had a wild and unstable relationship all the time. She was 15, and I was 17. We would argue and fight like two dudes. Carla fought back hard, and no one was going to tell her what to do. It was not uncommon for her to sucker punch me in the face and run. She was sneaking around taking prescription pills. I was getting high too, but I thought I could stop her. When I got locked up there was no one to stop her. I blamed myself for going to jail and leaving her out there. The real deal is that it was probably only a matter of time before she, like many of us had, would have succumbed to addiction, whether I had been on the street, or not. I admit that she was probably the worse girlfriend that I ever had, but I loved her more than any other. She broke my heart. Carla hurt me worse than any woman had ever done before. While she and LJ were talking, I rolled over and went to sleep.
The next morning we got up and went to LJ’s school for his graduation. It was as nice as fifth grade graduations go. We posed for pictures and had a good time. I was glad LJ was making progress and doing well in school. I was always happy when LJ spent time with his mother. Afterwards, we took her to the train station for her trip back to New York.
When we got to the station I got out to get her bag out of the trunk. She gave LJ a hug, and he got back into the car. When she came to the back of the car, her eyes were welling with tears. I wanted to say something to her, but I swear I couldn't think of anything. We stood there and looked at one another for a moment before I stepped forward and gave her a hug. It was as if we both somehow knew that was the last time we would see each other.
When we finally released she picked up her bag and began to turn away, but stopped. “You know you hurt my feelings," she said with a calm, but sad smile on her face. “I was looking forward to being in your bed last night. I didn't think I would sleep in bed next to youand you never touching me. That’s cool. You look good. So does LJ. Good job...”
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if waiting for me to respond. I didn't. I still couldn't find words to say. Maybe I felt that if I began talking to her I would say the wrong thing. I did manage to whisper, “Thanks”.
She gave LJ a last wave and walked into the train station. As I watched her walk away, I felt the years of anger and resentment draining from my body. Not only concerning Carla, but all of the negative connections, associations, grudges, and vendettas from my past didn't matter anymore. I had to forgive myself and I had to forgive her, as well as our past errors in judgment and behavior. Carla is my son’s mother. No matter what went down in the past, I will always love and respect her for that reason. We equally shared any blame and guilt there was to go around.
I only felt sadness for her and hoped she would be okay. The next time I saw Carla was at her funeral not too long after.
1982 Trenton, New Jersey
When LJ came to Trenton in 1982, he was in fourth grade. He’d stayed back in the third grade in Newark, because he was far behind in his reading and writing skills. I knew that. I didn't know the severity the problem until I attended a conference with the school's child study team in Trenton.
When I walked out of that meeting I was feeling as depressed and heartbroken as I had ever been in my life. Testing revealed that LJ was on a primary level. He couldn't read at all. He was illiterate. The child study team suggested that LJ be tested for possible learning disabilities and possible classification into a special education program.
I was extremely upset and depressed about the sorry state of LJ’s reading and writing skills. I was angry as hell at the Newark school system. How could a child make it to the fourth grade and he cannot write his name? I had been monitoring his report card when he was in Newark, and he was consistently getting passing grades, albeit, they were average. I had no idea he couldn't read. His school in Newark never mentioned that he couldn't read. I should have been angry with myself for not being there, and paying more attention to him.
Later in my work with delinquent juveniles, I would see the same circumstances with the kids that I would work with on a daily basis in the Juvenile Justice System. The average reading level of adult inmates is 4.5. Kids who cannot read sometimes act out in class to draw attention away from their disabilities. That was probably the reason why LJ was acting out in class the way he had been.
I was very skeptical about having my son evaluated and classified in such a manner. I know how indiscriminately African American children are branded with special education classifications that follow them the rest of their lives. Teenagers seventeen and nineteen years old still carrying learning impaired, perceptually impaired, or emotionally impaired labels, diagnosed when they were third graders. A classification can follow and hinder a child for the rest of his or her life.
Parents of children with special education classifications have the right to have their children reevaluated in the future, to determine if that classification remains valid. If that classification is no longer appropriate, for whatever reasons, that child should be unclassified, and all record of the classification should be removed from the child’s files. Parents have the right to make that happen, but they usually do not.
I do not believe that my son has a learning disability. I told the child study committee. I believe that LJ has simply never had been taught to read. LJ was extremely bright and was on grade level, or above, in the other areas of his education, such as math, and science. I also didn't want my son stuck into some classroom in the basement of the school and forgotten, like so many other children. I told them this. That comment seemed to offend at least one of them. “I assure you, Mr. Moody,” said the lady with blue hair. “Our children are not placed in basements and forgotten.”
The committee insisted classification was a requirement for LJ, to receive remedial help from the school. The committee advised me that the Trenton School System had special programs for the gifted and talented students and the learning disabled students. However, there were no programs or resources for a child such as LJ, who needed a simple remedial reading program.
I found this information hard to understand and threatened to go to the District Board of Education for an explanation. Suddenly the school was willing to work something out. Working closely with the school over the next several weeks, we designed a split curriculum for LJ that would allow him to get remedial help in reading while maintaining his proper class level. He was doing well in his other academic areas, especially math where he excelled. I wanted to make sure that his other subjects didn't suffer while we worked to improve his reading.
1982 Trenton, New Jersey
Early one Sunday morning, shortly after the knife incident with LJ, we were in bed sleeping like two babies when we awoke to loud knocking at the door. Bam... Bam... Bam...!
“Lamont, Lamont Moody!” There was a loud muffled voice from the hallway outside the door.
The sudden noise scared me straight up in the bed. I heard someone calling my name out. I immediately reached for the aluminum baseball bat I kept beside the bed. I always kept an aluminum bat beside the bed for protection. Something I picked up from my daddy, who also kept an ax handle in his car for the same reasons. I still was not completely comfortable in the apartment yet either. I sat there still half asleep and confused for a moment, gripping the bat. I looked over at LJ who was still fast asleep.
I smiled and thought to myself, he would never made it a week in the joint. He sleeps way too hard.
Bam... Bam... Bam...!
“Joe... Joe Prison!”
“Who is that daddy?” LJ was awake now. “It’s someone at the door. Go back to sleep.” “Well, who is it?” LJ asked, rubbing her eyes and rising up to onto his elbows. “Only people who knock on your door that loud are the police.”
“Just go back to sleep," I said getting up to go to the door.
”What in the world are you doing with that?” He asked when saw the bat in my hand.
“Nothing!” I mumbled under my breath and went to the door, “Go back to sleep. I’ll get the door.”
I threw the covers back and swung my legs over the side of the bed into my slippers. I grabbed my bathrobe, and fumbled to put it on as I started through the little hall into the kitchen to answer the door.
“Yeah, who is it?" I said.
My voice echoed off the walls and nine foot ceiling of the sparsely furnished kitchen. I didn't go right up and stand directly in front of the door. I stood to the side. It was an old habit from the old days when people were likely to shoot through the door.
"State Parole Officer BD Mann to see Lamont Moody.”
I recognized the voice now and rolled my eyes as I opened the door. There, sure enough, looking like a Marine on his way to war was my parole officer, BD Mann. BD always dressed the same way; green, or sometimes tan or gray army camouflage fatigues, always tightly pressed and creased. His pant legs were tucked into the tops of spit shined Doc Martin boots. A black tee shirt, two sizes too small to accent his biceps, had ‘PAROLE’ printed in bright orange fluorescent letters on the front and back.
He wore multiple thick black leather belts and holsters crisscrossing his waist, shoulders, and chest, with guns, walkie- talkies, handcuffs, pepper spray, bullets, a flashlight, flares, things that looked like hand grenades, water canteen, screw drivers, wrenches, hammers, and God knows what other stuff hanging from them. He topped it all off with a NY Yankees’ baseball cap turned backward.
"Lamont Moody, how are you doing?”
“Did I wake you?” He asked, and brushed past me into the apartment, before being invited.
I stuck my head out the door to look into the hallway for any of my neighbors, before I closed the door. I paused a moment to close my eyes and take a slow deep breath.
“You probably woke up the whole damn neighborhood!” That is what I wanted to say. Instead, I put up a polite, obviously forced smile.
“I wasn’t expecting you today, BD. What brings you here this morning?”
“Well, I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop up and see you. We’ll count this as one of your random home checks,” said BD. His eyes like lasers constantly scanning the room wall to wall, floor to ceiling.
BD walked across the kitchen, and looked into the bedroom, “You know we have to have at least one unannounced home visit every...”
BD stopped in mid-sentence when he saw LJ sitting on the side of the bed with his arms folded tightly across his chest. His eyes met mine and Ray Charles could see he was afraid, confused and angry. He had a look on his face that said, “Here we go again”.
Growing up in the projects, he had seen the police kicking down people’s doors. He had seen his grandmother's apartment raided by cops looking for his uncles. That was then, and this was now. Now, it was supposed to be different. Our home was supposed to be a haven for my son and I. This shit was not supposed to be happening.
BD was not a bad guy. In fact, I thought he was decent as parole officers go. He was a pain-in-the-ass, and minus-zero-tolerant. He didn't let a guy have many transgressions before violating. He wouldn't hesitate to lock your butt up if he caught a parolee doing wrong. I’d heard BD was in the Marines for many years, most recently as a reserve. He just returned from a 7-month stint that turned into 18 months. BD knew everyone thought he was crazy, but he didn't care what people thought about him. He did everything by the book and quoted the parole codes like saying his name. When BD started with the ‘routine’ questions at my weekly parole office visits they became anything but routine. BD left no stone unturned. I later began keeping a calendar to record my daily activities and contacts.
“Who’s this kid?”
“My son, Lamont," I said mostly to break the tension. “LJ, this is Officer Mann, my parole officer,”
“Your son? I didn’t know you had a kid?”
“Yeah, he was staying in Newark with his aunt”.
"Is he here for the weekend?”
“No, he lives with me now. I brought him down last month”.
“What’s his name? What’s your name kid?” BD looked directly at LJ.
“His name is Lamont," I said. I didn't want BD talking to LJ.
“What’s his last name? What’s your last name kid?” BD looked directly at LJ again.
"His last name is Stanley," I said.
Stanley? I thought you said he was your kid. How come he doesn't have the same name?”
“He has his mother’s last name”.
“How long will he be staying with you?”
“I’m planning to get full custody of him”. “How you going to do that on parole?”
“There are no rules that says a parolee can’t
get legal custody of his child, is there?” I said, a bit indignantly. BD was beginning to sound like Reggie.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to check it out. I am sure that a parolee is supposed to let his parole officer know about it”.
“Yeah, you’re probably right, it didn’t occur to me to call you. "I planned to tell you next week in your office.” I had toned down my 'tude a little. Not a wise decision to instigate a confrontation with your parole officer.
“Does his mother know he’s here? Where is his mother? Does she know you’re filing for custody?”
LJ kept his armed folded tight and kept a death stare bouncing from BD back to me. I could tell he was not happy about this loud, obnoxious white man in the crib. BD picked it up also. He quickly turned around and went right to his business with me.
“So Lamont, how’s it going? Any problems, or contact with the police, since I last saw you? Did you make that appointment for a drug evaluation? You ready to start your new job tomorrow?
“No, no problems. Yes, appointment made. I start work tomorrow morning. Everything is good with me.”
BD continued to check out the rooms and I found myself looking around nervously for anything out of order. BD walked over and looked at four open soda cans sitting on the kitchen table. He lifted them up to his nose, one at a time and smelled the contents. Then he flipped open the lid of a pizza box on the table. “Have a party last night, Lamont” BD asked, with suspicion in his tone.
"I had a couple of friends over last night playing cards,” I responded.
It was no big deal, but I heard my voice crack and I stuttered like a scared child.
"Were you drinking?” BD asked. “You're restricted from drinking alcoholic beverages or using illegal drugs, you know?”
BD was getting on my last nerve, and I wanted him to get the fuck out of my apartment. I had been doing the right things since getting out. Still my stomach muscles were tight, and my mind was racing. I had made all my parole officer reporting. I was to start a new job in the morning, and I had not been high, drank alcohol, or committed any crimes. I had done everything required of me, this time.
I felt frustrated, humiliated, helpless, powerless, ashamed and mad as hell, all at the same time. It was one thing to deal with this scrutiny inside the prison and completely another while standing in my own kitchen in front of my kid. I also understood the big picture. My immediate future depended on me getting along with my parole officer. I had two years of parole ahead of me. I could earn early release from parole if I did well. As long as I was under parole supervision I intended to do well.
"Yeah BD, I know.... I know all that,” I said dryly through my intentionally fake looking smile.
“Listen, BD, do you think we could have done this at another time? It's Sunday." I said, not hiding my annoyance anymore.
“Well like I said Lamont, I was in the area. We got to make four face-to-face home visits a month, so... oh, by the way...”
BD reached into one of the oversized cargo pockets on the leg of his combat fatigues and pulled out a black plastic bag. He ripped the bag open, and took out a small clear plastic jar with a yellow screw-on cap. “While I’m here," he said, handing me the plastic jar. "I might as well get a urine sample from you.”
I looked down at the little plastic bottle, and something snapped in my mind. "Listen, you little weasel, first, you bust up in my crib like I got Osama bin Laden up in here, wake up my family and probably all the neighbors, you humiliate and disrespect me in front of my child and then you think I’m going to piss in a bottle? Get the hell out of here before I kick your ass.”
That is what I wanted to say. In real life, I politely took the little bottle, went into the bathroom, and peed into it. That was my first pee of the morning causing the pee to come out with such pressure it spilled over the rim of the jar. Spite and pettiness told me not to do it, but after putting on the cap, I washed the jar and wrapped it in a paper towel to hand to BD.
"Do you go to school?” I came out of the bathroom just in time to hear BD ask LJ. “So, what grade you in?”
“Fourth grade,” said LJ.
I handed the prize to BD. He had put on latex gloves and a paper mask covering his nose and mouth. He held the plastic bag open for me to drop the urine sample. Once he had the urine sample safely sealed inside the bag, BD pulled down the facemask. He wore the gloves to handle the bag for transfer to his vehicle outside.
"Okay, I’m going to be going. I'll see you in the office next Tuesday. Stay outta trouble.”
I was already had the door open. “Yeah, I’ll be there Tuesday. By the way, my telephone should be hooked up tomorrow. Maybe you can call next time? I can open the door for you, and we won’t have to wake up the building.”
“Call ahead, huh?” BD said, stopping to make one last scan of the kitchen. “That would defeat the purpose of the random and unannounced visit, but I’ll see what I can do.”
I closed the door behind BD. The loud crackle of BD switching on his two-way radio bounced off the walls in the hallway. “Senior Parole Officer, BD Mann leaving parole subject, Lamont Moody, residence at 1056 Stuyvesant Avenue, Trenton, Apartment number 111. Complete home check, Ten- Four.”
I started for the bedroom feeling encouraged. A wave of commitment and determination lifted my spirits. That whole scene with the parole officer only reinforced my resolve to do better. I needed to reassure LJ that things were not going to be the same as they were in Newark. Instead of going to the bedroom, I popped some frozen waffles into the toaster. What could be better than waffles with my son, on Sunday morning? Not even parole could ruin that moment.
The Clinton House was great pre-parolee situation for me. It gave me opportunity for a gradual transition from prison to freedom. The traumas that came from years in prison are not as severe. There was time to adapt and adjust gradually. It gave me the chance to save money, practice budgeting, establish banking accounts.
I had spent my last four years incarcerated formulating a plan of success for myself. My approach to life after parole was going to be completely different from in the past. I had become an expert at doing time in prison, but doing time in prison doesn’t require special skills or courage. Any loser off the street can do time in jail. It takes a special man or woman to make it – legitimately –– on the outside after prison. I was willing to work hard and made a personal commitment to do the right things to stay out of prison. I also planned to learn from my many past mistakes.
Staying focused was important. It had proven difficult for me to stay focused in Newark. There was too much familiarity and too many distractions, for this brother to handle.
My decision not to return to Newark and create new life, in a new environment, played a major role in my success. In the end, I did understand that I was not as much a product of my environment in Newark as I was the product of the bad choices and decisions I had made. The decisions I made, day to day, that would directly affect whether I made it or not. In the past I also had the power and opportunity to make the best decisions and didn’t do it. I became devoted to raising my son. Avoiding the bar and club scenes, and never staying out all night while he was home alone.
In my worse years as a drug addict I was living in the streets. It was easy for me to learn how to appreciate the pleasures of being at home - instead of in the streets. There was nothing I wanted in the streets worth jeopardizing my life, freedom and son over. The same nonsense that owned the streets when I went to prison in 1970 still owned them in the 1980, when I came out.
I refused to live my life like a scared runaway slave, worrying about the master catching up with me. I lived my life like I expected to be out there forever. I took out loans, established credit, started a business, and, eventually I even I got custody of my son.
I had lost 10 prime years of my life on drugs and incarceration, but I knew I couldn't make up for those lost years, or get them back. I had to live in the present while planning for my future.
Parole was unquestionably my biggest responsibility. Nine previous attempts and I had never successfully completed parole to the end. If I screwed up on parole nothing else mattered. I had always found parole
supervision to be inconvenient, restrictive, annoying, invasive, debilitating, undignified, and highly unforgiving for me. On the other hand, I had never worked very hard to comply with my parole responsibilities. There were times I would be busted again before I had even met my parole officer.
It was important for me to remember that parole was conditional liberty, with many conditions attached. Parole is an extension of incarceration. Parole does not mean freedom. Technically a parolee is still doing time – only on the outside. As a parolee, I had no more rights than if I were still inside the prison.
As long as I was under parole supervision the parole officer had the authority to enter and search my apartment at any time. He wouldn't need a warrant. The police cannot even come into a home without a warrant. It was one thing to have the prison guards trash my cell at their whim. It was something altogether different to have a BD Mann rummaging around my apartment sniffing soda cans early Sunday morning.
BD, my parole officer, came through and put in for an early release for me. I got off parole in only 15 months. Another obstacle checked off my list.
1982 Trenton, New Jersey
LJ and I lived in the efficiency for over a year and it was getting tight in there. Sheila would come to visit on the weekends, when LJ was spending the weekend in Newark or with my family. Sheila and I talked about finding a larger apartment. We planned to move in together and live as a happy family.
I found a two-bedroom apartment on Parkside Avenue, close to where we already were living. LJ would finally have his own room, and he didn't have to change schools, or leave the friends he had made. I thought everything was going well. I had my son, and my woman with me. What more could a man ask for? Things didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped.
LJ and Sheila never adjusted to one another and clashed from the jump. There was only a little over 14 years age difference between Sheila (22), and LJ (8). They both behaved like five year olds. They battled constantly. She had a bossy character, and tried too hard to establish her position as his superior in the household. I think Sheila was more aware of the closeness of their ages, and always over- compensated by trying to dominate him. I was close to 29 years old, so there was also a seven years age gap between Sheila and I, which I believe contributed to the ultimate break up.
LJ has a very strong willed character and can “out stubborn” the best of them. He rebelled against everything she represented and accused her of trying to be his mother. It got to be a nightmare for me real fast. Every day they met me at the door with more drama.
At work, I would have one on the telephone talking and the other on hold. I was in the middle, and I didn't know how to deal with it. If I showed the slightest favoritism toward LJ, Sheila would get jealous, if I leaned even slightly toward Sheila, LJ would have his feeling hurt. I tried my best to be diplomatic until it got to the point where I was reluctant to go home after work. There was always something stupid for me to referee between my two loved ones. Sometime I would shut them both down immediately. "I don't want to hear about anything from anyone," I would tell them. "I'm tired."
The pouting sessions turned into shouting matches and name-calling. Then the bumping and shoving started, I knew something had to be done.
He had the potential to wild out if he set out to do so. He pretty much kept his fight with Sheila within boundaries, and respected the fact that she was my woman. He would drive her up the wall by not turning the television off exactly when she told him to, or not cleaning up behind himself after spilling milk on the kitchen counter.
In time, Sheila became more spiteful and petty in her territorial feud with LJ. She would do things like fix food for me and not for him, or wash my clothes and not LJ’s. She admonished and criticized LJ at every opportunity, whether he deserved it, or not. At the same time, she was in my ear condemning my parenting skills. Four months into the family experiment, conflicts between Sheila and LJ were becoming more frequent and more intense. Matters reached a significant level one morning, when I had to step in to prevent them from coming to blows. Something, or someone, had to give.
I was lying in bed about 8:30 on a Sunday morning, recovering from morning sex with Sheila. Apparently, I had knocked it out the box because Sheila was in the kitchen cooking eggs and sausages for breakfast. The loud crash of breaking glass came from the kitchen.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, boy?” I heard Sheila yell out.
“It was your fault. You pushed me on purpose.” I heard LJ say. “'I’m telling my dad on you.”
“I don’t care what you tell him,” said Sheila. “Your daddy doesn’t scare me.”
I jumped out of bed when I heard the bowl break and ran towards the kitchen. When I got to the kitchen, they were standing face-to-face in a stare down. Both had their hands down at their sides in tightly clenched fists. Milk, frosted flakes, and broken bits of a ceramic cereal bowl on the floor, the walls, and the two of them. “What’s going on in here?” I asked.
They were standing close to the kitchen doorway. I was able to reach in and gently pushed them apart with my hand. “Be careful of the glass.” I said. “Come into the living room.”
What happened?” I repeated, when we got to the living room.
“She knocked my cereal out of my hand on purpose.” said LJ staring Sheila down.
“He needs to look where he’s walking.” Sheila didn't divert her glare from LJ, either. “Plus, he knew I was cooking breakfast for everyone.”
“I don’t want your breakfast,” said LJ. “I want cereal.”
A frequent weapon Sheila would deploy in her war with LJ was cooking meals for me, and not for LJ. He would counter that by not eating the food when she did cook for him. That was always efficient in driving her nuts.
“You’re not eating my food on purpose.” Sheila screamed. “You always do that.”
“Okay, everybody calm down.” I told them. “LJ, clean up that mess in the kitchen and get more cereal, if you want to.”
“Why are you letting him get cereal?” Sheila screamed at me. “I cooked eggs and sausages for us. You’re always taking up for him? Why don’t you ever take my side?”
“Because he’s my daddy, and not yours.” LJ shot back at Sheila. “That’s what you said.”
“I wish you would go back to the projects where you came from.” said Sheila to LJ.
“Go clean the floor!” I ordered LJ before he could say anything back to Sheila. “Never mind, there’s glass in there. Go to your room and get dressed.”
“I wish you would go back to wherever you came from, too.” LJ managed to slip in under his breath as he turned to leave the scene.
Sheila stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door closed. I cleaned up the mess in the kitchen, and went to get LJ from his room to eat eggs and sausages with me. We didn't talk about what happened earlier that morning. We didn't talk about anything. We just ate the eggs and sausages in silence.
After breakfast, I read the Sunday newspaper in the living room, for about 90 minutes. I enjoy reading the Sunday newspaper in bed, and had usually done that until that morning. That morning Sheila lurked in the bedroom, like a hungry black widow spider, waiting for me to step into her webbed lair.
“You’re a terrible father.” Sheila declared, when I finally went into the bedroom. “You let him do whatever he wants to do. He needs his little ass whipped.”
“Your problem is that LJ does things that Sheila doesn’t want him to do.” I said. “
“Hummph!” She snorted and flipped her head.
“Also, you have a lot of nerve judging me as a father.” I said. “Your father walked out and never told ya’ll where he was for 20 years.”
“Fuck you!” Said Sheila.
“No, fuck you!” I shot back.
“Well, one of us has to go, that’s all I know.”
“I told you before, LJ is with me.” I reminded
her. “He goes where I go.”
“Well, we’ll see.” she said.
LJ and I got dressed and went to the African
American Museum, in Philly. We had a good time.
Adjusting to my role as parent didn't come as smoothly as I had hoped, when I decided to get custody of LJ. It was not so much the day- to-day aspects of parenting, such as feeding, clothing, and sheltering him, rather, it was more the emotional, spiritual and nurturing duties that needed developing. My emotional considerations for the needs of others suffered greatly, from years of incarceration and drug abuse. I was not totally ready to open myself to LJ or anyone else. I was dealing with years of post-incarceration demons.
The years of incarceration and drugs caused me to spend years at a time without contact with my family and loved ones. That meant family, friends, everybody and everything. I wanted it that way. I especially didn't want visits on Sunday. A few times my mother came to visit me in the county jail, in Newark. GSP was 70 miles down the New Jersey Turnpike. I didn't want her to drive 140 mile round trip, only to be subjected to the undignified visitors’ screening process at the prison. It was my burden to bear.
Alone in my cell was where I found a semblance of privacy, ownership and peace. That is how I got through. Emotional detachment and lack of commitment served me well in prison, but didn't transfer to parenting. I was also struggling personally to adjust to normal post-prison trials and tribulations. That alone could be overwhelming. The fear of failing stayed in the back of my mind. I hadn’t remained on the street for more that 4 months in a stretch, without getting arrested in the past 10 years. I talked a good game, but I still had a lot to prove.
For years after leaving prison in 1980, I dealt with the world by not dealing with it. I went to work, my parole reports, and the grocery store. Tuning out was simple when I was alone. Not so good when there was an 8 year old in the house depending on me for everything. Fortunately, LJ was very independent and self- sufficient when he was eight. He was also moody, and very comfortable entertaining himself and spending time with himself.
1981 Trenton, New Jersey
Part of LJ’s remedial reading plan was tutoring. He would have a reading tutor. I figured I could do the job as well as anyone. Our first session went something like this:
I pointed to a word on the work sheet, and asked, “What’s this word?”
He was like, “Ummmmm.”
I said, “The word starts with an Arrrrrr. What is the Arrrrrr sound?
He was like, “Arrrrrr?”
I said, “No, Arrrrrr is the name of the first letter in the word. How does Arrrrrr sound when you say an Arrrrrr?”
He said, “It sounds like Arrrrrr, when I say Arrrrrr.”
Then I said, “What I meant was, how does it sound in a word?”
He was like, “Uh, Puh?”
I was like, “No, Puh is Pee. What is Arrrrrr?” He got all agitated and was all like, “Arrrrrr.
Arrrrrr is Arrrrrr.”
I was trying not to get all irritated and went,
“No LJ, the Arrrrrr sound is Ruh.”
He went, “Puh.”
I was like, “No, Puh is Pee. This word starts
with an Arrrrrr sound. Can you think of a word that starts with Arrrrrr?”
All proud and everything he said, “Orange.”
(Even I had to take a pause to laugh at that one.)
I said, “’Orange starts with an ‘Oh’.”
He said, “That would be OH-ringe.”
I said, “Okay, forget the Oh. This is an
(I was pointing to a letter ‘R’ that I had drawn on a piece of paper.)
Then I said, “This is also an Arrrrrr.”
(I pointed to the first letter of the word on the work sheet.)
Then I said, “Okay, look at the word. The word is ‘Read’. R-E-A-D. The word ‘read’ starts with an Arrrrrr.”
He said, “I thought you said Arrrrrr words start with Oh, like Orange?”
Finally I said, “No, son. Arrrrrr is not Oh is Oh, except in Orange... Never mind, go watch television.”
He said, “Okay.”
It was clear that I was not the best tutor for my own son. I had lost control in the first session. I was a terrible tutor, and I knew it. I was too impatient, and I had horrible technique. I was confusing him so badly he couldn't think straight. We needed to call in someone who knew what they were doing. On the recommendation of his school, we found a retired teacher who lived within walking distance. Mrs. Bristol was LJ's reading tutor for two years before she became ill and died. She liked LJ, and he liked her. In those two years, LJ's reading level went up almost three grades. She was a great educator and a great person.
I encouraged LJ to become involved in extracurricular school programs and activities. I limited his television time during the week to two hours a day, after homework and chores. There was a 90 minute, minimum study period, seven days a week, whether the teacher gave homework or not. The time would be spent reading, or constructing model airplanes and cars, which required reading and following instructions. He learned to do crossword puzzles and liked comic books. The deal was that he would get his education, and I would take care of everything else. It is important to have fun along the way, but get that education. Once he had achieved that goal he could do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life.
High school to college was the norm I put into his mind from the start. High school to college would be a nonnegotiable, natural progression in his life. He had the heart to stick it out and worked hard to improve himself.
LJ was in the 4th grade when he came to Trenton. He was classified as a ‘non-reader’. They defined a ’non-reader’ as someone who cannot, or does not read; especially a child who takes a long time learning to read.
The child-study team, which was following his progress, couldn't believe his rapid improvement. There never was any doubt in my mind of what LJ was capable of doing. However, even I was a bit awed by what he was able to do in such a short time. He just kept achieving from there. I involved myself in all aspects of LJ’s education. I made regular visits to talk to his teachers, and I joined the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) at the school. My first year in PTA they awarded me “Parent of the Year”. I was especially proud of that.
1983 Trenton, New Jersey
The whole time in the apartment, Sheila and I were constantly arguing with one another. I never truly felt that she was serious about our relationship. I didn't think she was serious about us getting married. In hindsight, I had never given her an engagement ring, either. That may have something to do with how she felt. Almost every weekend she was going up to her mother’s house in Vineland to solve one problem or another. Sheila had eight brothers and one sister with the youngest being 16 years old. Sheila was the forth from the youngest child. Her father ran out on them when they were babies. He would come back home just long enough to make another baby, and then split. They never knew where he went, when he left home. I never got along with her mother. However, we were cordial enough towards each other when we were in the same room together.
When Sheila told her mom that I had recently gotten out of prison, her entire attitude changed towards me. I was suddenly not good enough for Sheila. She warned her daughter that she was making a mistake with me. Her mom's attitude pissed me off, I must admit. It was also confusing, considering, although they had avoided prison time to that point, her three sons were the most dysfunctional, drunken, idiots I had ever met.
Sheila’s three younger brothers were Alfred, Cory and Freddie. Alfred was sixteen and in high school. He was black as coal, weighed about 250 pounds and seemed to love white girls. They appeared to like him back. A young white girl was always with him at his mother’s house, the three times I visited.
Cory was nineteen and in the Marines. He often wrote letters to Sheila confessing the feminine urges he was struggling with around naked marines in the showers. Everyone in the family knew Cory was gay, and had known since he was five. He was the only one acting as if his sexuality was a big secret. He kept trying to find a way to come out of the closet to everyone.
Freddie was a thirty-five year old drunken, unemployed bum. He had four kids by a Puerto Rican woman whom he beat up all the time. He was an alcoholic always in and out of jail for doing something while he was drunk, like beating his wife or peeing in the street. He still would come over to his mother’s house and try to molest his grown sisters while they slept. All three sons were always either drunk, high, or both. They were likely to break out into a brawl in the middle of the living room over the television channel at any moment. I had just left prison, but I would be nervous as hell at Sheila’s mother’s house, when those three were there at the same time. Next to those three, I felt pretty good about my situation.
Sheila stayed at her mother's home, more than she stayed in Trenton. A big clue I ignored was she never brought her clothes, or other personal belongings to Trenton. You know what they say, ‘love is blind’, and always the last one to know. Sheila told her friends she was moving out long before I knew. I knew things were not going well for us, and probably wouldn't improve. I just didn't know that she was actively planning her getaway. We were going to relationship counseling for four weeks while she was planning to leave. I thought we were working things out.
Sheila and I were chilling out in bed after having sex on Christmas morning, 1980, watching television. Suddenly, she sat up on the side of the bed, and said "I'm moving back to my mother's house today."
She walked out of the room and went into the bathroom, before I could pick my bottom jaw off the floor.
Sheila returned from the bathroom, fully, dressed, with additional news for me, a few minutes later. “Oh,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to San Diego on New Year’s Eve to see Stephen.”
Stephen, was a guy she dated while they were both in college. She had mentioned his name several times. He was a senior when she was a freshman. When he graduated he moved to San Diego. Early on in our relationship she told me that she and Stephen had “unfinished business”. They had not explored the full potential of their relationship before he left, and she said she would have a hard time choosing if it came down to Stephen, or me in the future. Like I said, I wasn’t picking up on the signs very well.
I’d be lying if I said my feelings were not crushed. How could she be so cold as to tell me something like that right after having sex with me in my bed? It was like she just used me for my body. “Who does this kind of wild shit,” I was thinking.
Then it came to me, “a man”. This is the kind of shit a man does to a woman, all the time - “fuck-em and chuck-em”. I had been fucked and chucked, on Christmas.
Before she left she stated that Stephen didn't know she was coming. She hadn’t spoken to him in the two years since he left school. “Happy New Year to an unsuspecting Stephen”, I thought to myself.
Flashback: ‘round about 1956 - 57 Newark, New Jersey
My dad liked the ladies, and the women liked daddy back. Mama knew about daddy’s womanizing and dealt with it in her own ways. She will proudly tell us stories to this day, about all the whore butts she kicked over daddy. When I was a little boy, daddy would take me with him to his girlfriend’s house. She was kind to me and always had ice cream, so I looked forward to going there. I sat in the living room with a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream, watching cartoons on her television. Meanwhile, she and daddy were in her bedroom perpetrating a mid-day booty call. When mama asked me where we had been I told her we went to get ice cream. I was telling the truth. I was also telling mama what daddy told me to say if she asked me. Mama never asked the next question, “Where?”
I was a little boy, and didn’t have a clue what was going on with daddy and Juanita. I was in it for the unlimited supply of vanilla ice cream. I was not aware of my involvement in complicity to bullshit my mother.
I also have one clear recollection of her, in pajamas under her overcoat, hair curlers and headscarf, putting my sister Rochelle, little brother ‘Brotha’, and me into the back of the car one cold winter night. There were only us three kids at the time. I didn’t know it then, but we were going to Juanita’s house for a surprise visit.
On the ride to Juanita’s place, the car was quiet. Mama wanted complete silence up in there. All we heard was the sound of the engine’s roar and tires’ screeching when she accelerated, and the squeal of the tires when she barely stopped at red lights.
My older sister, Rochelle, was in the front seat next to mama. “Where are we going, mama?” Mama kept driving without saying a word, or giving any indication she had heard Rochelle.
Rochelle made the mistake of reaching to turn on the radio. The look mama gave her was that of Satan himself. I expected mama to spit fire out of her eyes and roast Rochelle’s ass like a cartoon dragon. Mama wanted quiet, and she got it the rest of the way. It was like being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with the streetlights and shadows flashing through the car as we drove on in suspenseful silent. When we got to where we were going, mama pulled the car into the driveway. I was in the back seat. When I saw it was Juanita's house, my mind flashed to vanilla ice cream. Daddy and I were there that afternoon, so I knew there was plenty of vanilla in the freezer.
"Stay here,” mama commanded over her shoulder before opening her door, “I’m leaving the car running with the heater. Don’t touch anything! Don’t touch that radio! Just sit here. I'll be right back.”
She gave a last glance at my little brother Louis, whom we called Brotha (as in little brother), who was asleep on the back seat.
“Pull Brotha’s coat hood over his head," mama said. “I’ll be right back”.
Mama got out the car and slammed the door closed. She walked up to the front door before pausing to tighten the belt around her coat. She knocked on the door. All the lights were out in the house. The living room light came on just before the door opened. Juanita was wearing her nightgown and wiping the sleep from her eyes.
Mama must not have had much to talk about with Juanita. Before the door was open all the way, mama had pounced on Juanita like a leopard on an antelope. Juanita was several inches taller than mama, so she had to reach up and pull her down by her hair. Hair rollers went flying everywhere. Mama held onto Juanita's hair with her right hand, and pounded her face with her left until Juanita slumped to the floor.
It was all over in seconds, but it was like watching slow motion. Juanita never had a chance and didn’t fight back. When mama got tired of whooping on her she stood over her and said something to Juanita, who was lying in a heap on the floor just inside the doorway. Rochelle and I looked at each other in shock. We could not believe what we were seeing. Mama got back into the car and gave a glance back at little Brotha and me. She reached up and turned on the radio. She was breathing a little hard, but she didn’t say a word. Mama slowly backed out of the driveway into the dark, deserted street. I could see Juanita pulling herself up off the floor, just inside the house. Mama never turned her head to look. She stared straight ahead, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to Little Richard singing ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’. Brotha was still asleep.
When we got home, at about midnight, mama made us some hot chocolate, and we went to bed. Mama always made us hot chocolate before bedtime after a stressful day, or event. It was her way of letting us know everything was okay. After cocoa, we’d go to bed.
Rochelle and I have never spoken or mentioned the incident to one another again. It was as we both had the same dream. I never saw mama thug out like that again, although she has many tales of "beating some hussy's butt, bout Moody." Mama called daddy "Moody"
Daddy was in bed snoring through this entire episode. I don’t know when, or if, he found out about Juanita's beat down. I also don’t know if daddy stopped hitting it with Juanita. What I know is he never took me there again. It probably would not have been the same.
He wasn’t my husband, he was my father, and so I will leave judging his infidelity to my mama. She knew that he like the ladies. She also knew that he came home every night. They stayed married and together for 50 years. All I know is that when it came to us, his children, he was faithful beyond reproach. He never cheated on his kids. He taught us that a father takes care of his kids first, no matter what else he has going on. My dad was all right with me.
1993 Trenton, New Jersey
Like my daddy, I too liked the ladies. I liked them a lot I like everything about women. I like everything about women a lot. The walk, the talk, the movement, the aroma, the way they won’t stop talking until they prove their point, everything! Unlike my dad, however, when in a committed relationship with a woman, I stay focused on that. That’s all the drama I can stand at a time.
When Sheila left and went back to her mother’s house, I was a free man, free to like all the ladies I could handle. I also had my personal guidelines that I practiced when dating women. My goal was to avoid as much drama as possible. First they had to be single. I could never see myself mustering enough energy to win a fistfight over some other man’s woman. It also had to be understood that we were dealing on a strictly “booty call” basis. No strings, as they say.
I admit that it took me some time and grief to get over Sheila. Although I was positive that her leaving was the best for us all, I had invested a lot of emotions and energy into the six months we were together. I tried to be prison hard, and act like it was no big deal. In the back of my mind, I didn't know how I was going to make it without her. It wasn’t the companionship aspect that had me worried. I was probably never really in love, and neither was Sheila. I missed the sex. We had never let fights get in the way of nooky-time. But, I worried about money and paying bills. Sheila and I had been sharing the rent and other bills since we moved into the two-bedroom apartment. I knew that I couldn't afford to maintain the apartment on my current salary alone. She promised to help me pay the rent for three months, but I knew I couldn't depend on that. I also didn't want her to think I couldn't take care of my son and myself, without her help.
At the time, I was working with the non- profit organization. I knew the directors from attending their theater based therapy workshop groups at GSP. They were not affiliated with the state or the prison. It was a private, non-profit program the prison allowed to come in and conduct workshops with inmates, geared towards self-improvement.
I was involved for two years while at GSP, and continued with the group after I got paroled. When a job became available they rescued me from Koenig Plastic and the fiberglass torture in 1980. I only had to stay at Koenig three months, without getting shanked. I was grateful for the opportunity at Koenig's, but I was grateful to be out of there.
My work as a post-release counselor was to track and try to assist guys who had participated and attended workshops inside after their releases. I was earning $7500 a year, plus limited medical and dental insurance. It was a lot better than what I was making at Koenig Plastic barely enough to pay the $375.00 a month rent and everything else. I had to find a part-time job to supplement my income if LJ and I were going to make it.
When I heard that the owner of the building was looking to replace the building superintendent that was my chance. There were of 33 apartments in the building, and I knew I could do the work. I also knew that the superintendent lived rent-free, plus other perks, so I jumped at the chance. I could have called him, but I decided to write a letter the landlord, Normal. My penmanship and ability to write a basic, coherent sentence had gotten me my first job. Maybe it would work again. I called Normal on the telephone and made my pitch for the job.
A landlord living 80 miles away, as Normal did, needed most not to have to travel to Trenton. A superintendent would want the rents to keep coming every month, and not want to hear tenants’ problems. Tenants mailed rent checks directly to Normal each month, so I didn't get involved in that. I told Normal I would do all those other things, and run his building for him. I offered to perform the work for 90 days on a probationary basis. If unsatisfied after 90 days, he could get someone else. Ninety days later, I had the job.
1982 Trenton, New Jersey
LJ’s reading and schoolwork had already begun to show rapid improvement, but the Child Study Team's solution to his reading problem was to put him in Special Education classes. I was adamant that I didn't intend to let LJ get lost in the shuffle, and get buried in a special education classroom. The study team psychologist, whom I remember resembling televisions “Dr. Frasier Crane," assured me that no such thing would happen. He said there was a great special education teacher at the school. He suggested we visit the classroom. He led me to a classroom isolated in the basement of the school. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the classroom was the bright and cheerful images and colors all around. There were also pictures and schoolwork on the walls. There was energy in the classroom atmosphere.
I counted about 28 students seated at desks. All the students had their heads down working on an assignment. They all were working diligently; letting out loud audible sighs and groans of frustration as they turned pencils around to erase a mistake on their papers. It seemed like they all needed help at the same time, raising their hands and calling for “Ms. Knowles," to come to their rescue.
That’s when I first saw her. Ms. Knowles, the special education teacher. She was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen in my life - outside a magazine. She was like an angel rushing from desk to desk answering the demands of her young students. She no sooner finished helping one, when another would be calling for her, “Ms. Knowles, over here...” “Ms. Knowles, over here...”
"Damn, that is a fine woman!” I thought out loud to myself.
The psychologist, whom I had forgotten was standing next to me confirmed it, “Yes. Yes she is”. We were both a bit embarrassed at our momentary lapse of professionalism and stood there blushing like two naughty little boys for a second.
I noticed that the teacher was limping heavily when she walked. She had a large cast-like bandage on her left foot. She was struggling to hobble around that room, but it appeared that she loved every minute of it. After a few moments the kids settled into their assignments, and she began limping to the back of the classroom where the psychologist and I were standing. I pulled my tongue back into my mouth just in time, and the psychologist introduced me to her.
I immediately expressed gentlemanly concern, and asked her what had happened to her foot. She said she cut her foot on the bed frame at home. It needed several stitches. She explained a little about the classroom and told me that she would be happy to answer any questions that I may have later. We exchanged phone numbers, (for purely professional reasons, to talk about my son, of course), and I left so that she could get back to her class.
The psychologist and I went back to his office and talked a while longer. When I left his office, all the children had gone home. Ms. Knowles was getting into her car, in front of the school when I came out. She smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back.
"Damn, that is a fine woman!” I said out loud to myself again, and didn’t care who heard it.
Later that night, which happened to be a Friday, I was in the shower when the telephone rang. Sheila had moved out a couple of months earlier, but she continued to visit and stay the weekend. She was there that night, and before I could get there and before the answering machine could get it, Sheila picked it up.
“Hello,” I heard her say as if she still paid the phone bill. "Who is calling?” “He's in the shower”. “Can I take a number, Ms. Knowles?" After a brief silence to write down a number, she hung the phone up. No “Goodbye," no nothing.
I came out of the bath just as she had hung up the phone. "Who was on the phone?" I asked Sheila.
“Some woman named Ms. Knowles.”
“Who?” I said, still annoyed as hell that she had answered my phone. Women do not answer a Player's telephone. I was a Player again, in my mind.
“Ms. Knowles,” Sheila said, “She says she is a teacher and wants to talk about LJ. Here's the number”
Evidently, Sheila had a problem with this woman calling me, teacher or not. She didn't like it, and she had a huge attitude. Maybe she sensed that she was talking to the woman that would eventually take her place. Maybe she knew that she would never again be in my apartment, to answer my phone or anything else. Sheila was also very suspicious of a teacher calling me at 8:30 on a Friday night.
I called Ms. Knowles back. Ms. Knowles told me all the things about the special education program that she couldn't tell me while the psychologist was present. The main things she pointed out is the over-crowded classroom populations, the lack of needed resources, the mixing of children of widely varying ages and classifications into the same open space classroom and the lack of a teacher's aide in the classroom. There were all the usual ailments plaguing schools in the black community. She also explained my rights as a parent, and discouraged me from allowing LJ to be placed in special education. We talked for about 30 minutes, with Sheila huffing, puffing and rolling her eyes the entire time. I thanked Ms. Knowles. She promised to keep me informed on LJ.
“My father was frightened of his father, I was frightened of my father, and I'm damn well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me”.King George V. (1865-1936)
I wasn’t afraid of my father, and I didn't want my son to fear me. When I was 16 years old and high on prescription pills I challenged my father to a fight. I was in front of one of the buildings with my boys nodding off and chilling. My dad came over and got on me for not coming home for several days. In my intoxicated state of mind, I jumped up and began wolfing and cussing at my dad. I was talking shit like, "Fuck you, man” and "I ain’t scared of you" and "You can't tell me what to do". All the time that I was wolfing off, I made sure to move to where he couldn't reach out and grab my ass. I mentioned earlier that my dad was 6’4," 220 (or about). I wasn’t that high.
My dad just stood looking at me carry on. As intoxicated as I was, I could see disappointment and anger on his face. I kept talking shit. “You need to take your ass in the house. Old man!” and “I don’t live in your fuckin house anymore”. I was putting on a good show for my boys, who were standing there with their mouths open in shock at how I was cussing my dad. They couldn't believe that I was showing out on my father out there in the street like that. They also knew what my dad would do if he were to get ahold of me.
Suddenly, he made a quick movement as if he was going to chase me. I turned to make a break for it, and fell flat on my face in the dirt. Everybody fell out laughing. All screwed up on pills it appeared to be 1000 people out there watching and laughing at me. Even daddy stopped and started cracking up. He just turned and went into the house.
When the drugs weren’t influencing my judgment, I respected my father. I never had to fear him. He had never given me any cause to fear him.
I didn’t want my son to fear me. I only wanted him to respect me and do everything that I told him to do. Since “doing everything I told him to do” was not likely, disciplinary measures would surely be called for on occasion. I believe that discipline should be an opportunity to teach and guide a child. Not as an excuse to terrorize and hurt them.
In terms of strict control, LJ had it pretty much his way up to the point when he came to live with me. In the beginning, it was a war of wills with LJ and me. I was feeling my way around, and so was he. It would get a little rocky every now and then. He would walk right up to the line, but he never stepped over.
LJ thought his situation with me was just another temporary stop, like every other in the past. He had been abandoned and bounced around all his life. He also missed his mother a lot. His ultimate wish was to live and be with her. He would threaten to call his mother to come get him almost weekly. We both knew it was not happening, but he kept playing that card until I got sick of it. The next time he told me that he was calling his mother to come get him I handed him the phone and told him “Go ahead and call your mom to come get you”.
I knew that he didn't even have a telephone number for his mother at the time. No one did. “I’m going to call her tomorrow," he said.
Finally, after about a year of that I had to sit him down and let him know the deal.
“This is it, son," I told him. “You’re not going to live with your mother. You’re not going to live with your aunts. You‘re going to live here with me! It’s going to be you and me, together, forever. I’m not going to leave you and I am not going to let you leave me. Get used to it, son!”
That brought a little smile to his face, despite his best efforts to maintain the brick city mean mug face he was wearing. Since that talk, LJ settled down.
LJ was a good kid, but he did get into things and test his strength. I can say that he has never disrespected or challenged me outright. He had alpha dog aspirations, like most boys. I expected him to rise against me at any moment. It never happened. He never challenged me, defied me or showed disrespect towards his father.
I usually tried to explain to LJ why I would do the things I did and why I was disciplining him. Other times it was “Do it because I said so”.
“I pay the costs to be the boss," is what I would tell LJ. Those eight little words ended all debates. I’m paying the bills, so I call the shots. He understood and respected the chain of command in the house.
Deciding on the proper disciplinary style was one of the greater challenges to my parenting skills. My parents beat us with a leather belt. Their parents beat them, and their parents’ parents beat them. It goes all the way back to slavery, when white slave masters were whipping black asses. I beat LJ with a leather belt once and it was a disaster, on my part. I had the worst feeling I had ever had in my life afterwards. It was clear to me that I was taking my personal angers and frustrations out on my son. With all the whippings that I had gotten growing up, I cannot remember one that changed my attitude for the better. They only made me more bitter and resentful toward my parents. From that point on, I approached it with a calm head, and less violence.
I did my best to talk to him and not order him around. I also did my best to explain my actions and why I was telling him to do things a certain way. However, "Because I said so," was my reason many times. I wanted him to understand that I didn't want to control his life. My goal was to get him to the point where he could take care of himself and make his own decisions in the world. Of course, I would blow up and cuss him out every so often. I’m only human. When the conversation was over, I would give him a hug.
It was important to me to be a good father and a good dad to my son. I wanted to be a nurturing father to support and guide my son's growth and development into a man who treats himself and others with respect and dignity. My father didn't tell me many things, not in so many words, anyway. We didn't have many father to son talks, per se. My father didn't say a lot, but he was around for me to watch and learn.
I began helping LJ build a positive self- worth. Positive self-worth is important for treating others with respect and having others respect you. He never lacked confidence and could sometimes be downright arrogant, but those were good traits. He just needed to refine himself to make those things work for him and not against him. When I felt the need to control my son, I tried to come up with things that I thought would benefit him in the long run. Learning should be fun. I would give him writing and oral assignments, such as book reports and essays as part of his discipline.
One incident in particular occurred when he was in the eighth grade of junior high school. I received a call from the school to come pick him up. LJ and two other boys had gotten kicked out of school for lifting up a girl's skirt, and touching her butt. A teacher standing in the hallway saw what happened and grabbed the boys. The school suspended all three boys, indefinitely. It was not clear whether criminal charges were going to be brought against them.
LJ admitted that he had touched the girl, but he vehemently denied that he or the other boys had lifted up her skirt. According to him, the girl lifted her own dress to show her underwear. “She always showed her underwear in school, and the boys always touched her butt in school," is what he said.
My first instinct was to go off and start screaming at him. Also, I considered whopping him with a belt. That was anger talking to me. LJ was extremely contrite and couldn't eat dinner that night. You could see that this experience was troubling to him. So instead, I talked calmly. I made it clear that I was not angry, but I was disappointed in him. I wanted to make him feel better about himself and come away from this a better person. Afterwards, I gave him an assignment (not punishment) to think and write an essay about what happened, and what he had learned.
The following is LJ’s unedited essay:
“Lamont Moody. The way I felt after the girl said that we had tried to rape her. I felt like a person with a pane in his gut. That weekend I felt a little sick. I want to tell somebody but I didn't know who to tell. I was like a nerve wreck my hands was shaking. I tried to take my mind off of it but no matter wat what I did I couldn't do it for long. Then when I though about it I asked myself why did I go over there and why didn't I just go away from it. When I ask myself that I come out with the same
answer. The answer is that I jest didn't don't no, and now that I have it over with I still can’t take my mind of it. It is not over but it is out of hide. And but some of the time the pain still come some of the time. At night I can’t sleep all that good. I will wake up in the morn midnight and can’t sleep. When I would be talking to some of my friends I would hope that it was on of them. I don't want one of them into trouble but I just wish that, I wasn’t in this trouble. It this point and time I am a little relax. Every now and then I get a little nerves. I couldn’t control my hands. My legs was a little shaky to. I couldn’t eat all that good I would try to eat fast so that, I could get it over. At this point and time I wish that this hall thing never wouldn't have had happen. Wright know I am trying to put it out of my mind.”
From reading his essay, I could see that LJ had grown in many ways since he had come to live with me. I was proud he had given so much thought to the situation with the girl. It was also encouraging to see the hard work he had put into improving his literacy was paying off. It had only been four years since he couldn't read or write his name.
The suspended boys went back to class after four days. The matter concerning the girl never materialized into anything, and we heard no more about it. The experience taught LJ about himself, and about life in general. When you know right from wrong, your first instincts are usually the right choice. LJ’s instincts told him it was wrong, and he should not have participated. Peer pressure is a bitch. I saw a significant growth of maturity in him after that incident. It helped to make him a better person.
The mid 80’s Trenton, New Jersey
I thought one of my main jobs as a father was to be a role model for LJ, but I was not going to try and convince myself that I had to be perfect. I would do my best, as did my father. When he 12 or 13 years old, I thought it might be time for me to have that father son discussion with LJ about drugs, and life in general. At the time, there was a big new blitz about kids using pot in the schools and encouraging parents to talk to their kids. Coming from the projects of Newark he had grown up around the drug culture. Several members of his family - his mother, aunts and uncles had died from and had on-going substance abuse problems. His uncle was one of the first people to die from AIDS. No one even knew what AIDS was at the time. They only knew that he kept getting sick, lost tons of weight and couldn't get well. He was an intravenous heroin user. His uncle’s death broke LJ’s heart. He took it very hard.
Of course, there was my own history of heroin addiction – although he had never experienced or witnesses my addiction or use. He was too young, and I had not spent much time around him when I was out there running. Having not had much experience with father to son talks with my father, I was
not sure how to approach the topic with LJ. LJ had not given me any cause to believe he was using drugs. I felt it was my obligation to let him know I was interested.
He and I went to Wendy's for dinner one night, and after a bit of small talk and dancing around the subject, I asked straight up. “Do you smoke reefer?”
LJ and I usually spoke straight up man-to- man, but I must have caught him off guard because he stopped chewing in mid chomp, and just stared at me in disbelief. He finished chewing the mouthful of burger, “What?”
“Do you smoke reefer?” I repeated.
“No, but I know you do?” he said without hesitation.
Like I said, we usually speak straight up man-to-man, but I didn't see that one coming. LJ's comeback surely caught me off guard. I stopped chewing in mid chomp, and just stared at him in disbelief. I slowly finished chewing my mouthful of burger while I tried to come up with a response. It was like he was just waiting for the opportunity to have the drug talk with me. Shorty had flipped the script on me, just like that.
“What do you mean?” I said, knowing full well what he meant.
“I know you smoke reefer," he repeated matter -of-factly, just before taking another manly self-satisfying bite out of his double cheeseburger.
It was true. I did smoke weed. I’d never smoked around him, but like any other smoker, I’m sure I left plenty of hints. The irony is that as big a drug addict as I had been in Newark, I never touched marijuana, back then. For that matter, I never liked cocaine, acid, speed or any of the other popular hard drugs out there at the time. The only thing pot was good for to me was to sell or trade for heroin. However, it was true, I had started smoking marijuana. I didn't drink alcohol or use other drugs, but weed had become my evening martini to relax, at the end of the day. I was not ashamed of the fact that I smoked weed. Personally, I believe that marijuana is safer and less harmful than alcohol. It certainly is no worse than liquor. Still sitting there with LJ I somehow I felt a little uneasy that he knew and was being so matter-of-fact about it. It is certainly not what one expects when giving their kid the do-not-do-drugs talk.
“Well," I finally said, “When you're grown, and paying your own way, you can decide what you want to do. We’re not talking about me right now. I was asking you about what you do.”
“Don’t worry, dad," LJ said, with a chuckle. "I’m not smoking or planning on using drugs, or drinking.”
He turned back to his burger and mercifully let me off the hook.
Flashback: ‘round about 1963 Newark, New Jersey
I began shoe shining when I was 12 or 13- years old. Growing up in North Newark, NJ, I had a regular route that spanned over 20- miles from North Newark to Belleville, Nutley and Lyndhurst, across the Passaic River to North Arlington, Kearny and Harrison, then back across the river to Belleville and back home to North Newark. I would hit all the bars, clubs, offices, bowling alleys and any other venue along the way that I thought I could get a 50-cent shine. Initially, I had to walk, carrying my shine box strapped on my shoulder. It took me anywhere from four to five hours to complete the route, depending on how business was that day. It would take me about five minutes to do a pair of shoes. Actually I could do it in three minutes, but if you get done too quickly some people think you didn’t do a good job.
I soon made enough money to buy myself a bicycle, which allowed me to cover more ground in a shorter period of time, thus more business opportunities. I was mobile.
My fondest memory is the double Italian hotdog and grape soda that I would always treat myself to when I got back to North Newark. I liked mine with lots of potatoes, peppers and onions, mustard on the bottom of the roll and ketchup on the top. Sometimes, on a good day, I would upgrade to the double Italian sausage sandwich. Ummmmmm! Unfortunately you just can’t get a good Italian hotdog anymore.
Thursday and Friday nights were always good days, because it was payday for many people. The bars would be full of people getting off from work and hitting the bars. On a good Friday I would make $25 to $30 in three hours. That was nice cash for a black kid from the projects in the sixties.
I ran into many different types of people on a shoe shine route, especially in the bars and drinking clubs where people were drinking. The vast majority of the business that we solicited business from were in white communities, and the people in them were white men.
Once we had identified that the guy was wearing shine ready shoes, we would approach each person with the same pitch line, “Shine, sir? Most folks were decent about it. They would usually respond by saying, “Yes” or “No”. If “yes," I drop my box and shine. If “no," I would move on.
One Friday, I was out shining shoes with my friend Dutch, Dutch was 15, two years older than me. He lived in the same building I lived in, with his mother and sister. He was only two years older than me, but he was much more mature and experienced than me at that time. I looked up to Dutch because it seemed like he knew so much about life and everything in general. I was extremely impressed when he told us about playing stinky finger with girls who had pubic hairs. At that time it was my fantasy to just see a girl with “hair”, let alone touch it. Dutch was my hero.
Dutch had been shining for over two years. I had been going out for about six months at the time. Dutch taught me how to shine shoes and work the route. Dutch was the best shiner out there. He’d pop his shine rag so loud, it sounded like a gunshot. He’d play tunes with the rag and make beat-box sounds with his mouth in rhythm. People loved Dutch. At the end of the day we could have shined the same amount of shoes and charged the same 50 cents, but Dutch would have double the money. He killed it on tips. I became pretty good with a shine rag myself after a while, but when Dutch was in the house he reigned supreme. He would mercifully tone his act down when we went together so I could make some money too.
Anyway, like I was saying, I was out with Dutch one Friday and things were going well until we got to a social drinking club in North Arlington. It was a regular stop, but it had changed management and we had not been there in a while. In the past we did well in there.
It was about 7:00 pm when we walked in and, as we would usually do when entering lowly lit establishments, stood at the door for a moment to let our eyes adjust from the bright sunlight outside to the darkened barroom. We didn’t want to rush in blind and start stumbling and bumping into those white folks with those hard wooden shoeshine boxes. That was a good way to get thrown out before you start.
Moments after we’d walked in, just before our eyes had fully adjusted, someone inside yelled, “Hey, Shoeshine! Shoeshine, over here!” Assuming the man was referring to us, Dutch and I squinted our eyes to see who the “Yeller” was. Through the darkness and smoke, I could barely make out the figure of a man sitting at the end of the bar waving his arms, and waving for us to come over. “Shoeshine!” he called. “Shoeshine, over here!”
Dutch and I walked over to the man, who was sitting on bar stools with three other men. All of them were white men, in their 40’s, wearing short sleeve white shirts, open ties and dark slacks. It looked like a fast food store manager’s convention up in there. There were maybe seven or eight others, all men, sitting at the bar and scattered tables. Most importantly, they all wore leather dress shoes.
“Come here, kid," said the Yeller, lowering his voice a little, but not much. “We want a shine.” He pointed to the other three men sitting with him as he talked. He was also a little drunk and slurred his words a bit. The other men just kind of sat there, as if they were being included in something they didn’t know about. They were facing the bar, with their backs to us. Drinking their beers without even acknowledging Dutch and me. The Yeller had his stool spun around facing us, with his back to the bar. “Come, on. Get to work. We want a shine.” he demanded, waving his arms and gesturing for us to get down on the floor.
Dutch and I just stood there with our boxes slung over our shoulders, looking at this dude. I think we both sensed that this would not end well and we needed to get out of there. Dutch was older and had been doing this longer than I had and I was waiting for him to make the next move.
“What the fuck," said the Yeller in frustration. “You two scumbags gonna get to work on our shoes, or stand there playing with yourselves?”
“Scumbag?” I thought to myself.
All of a sudden the guy next to the Yeller, turned his stool around to face the Yeller and put his hand on his shoulder, “Whoa, take it easy, Anthony” he told his friend, while gangster eyeing Dutch and me. “Come on," finally he spun his stool completely around and said with a smile. “I’ll take a shine.” The other two men remained unattached.
Dutch gave me a nudge with his arm to go do the Yeller’s friends’ shoes. He would take the Yeller, which was fine with me. I put my box down and began taking out my supplies and tool to do the shine. When Dutch put his box down, the Yeller jumped up from the stool and said, “Hold up, kid. I’ll be right back.” Then he rushed out the front door without saying another word and disappeared.
I had finished doing the Yeller’s friends’ shoes and was on one knee putting my stuff away, when the front door opened and in came the Yeller. He walked straight past us over to his stool and sat down, “Okay, you,” he said pointing to Dutch. “I’m ready now. Clean my fucking shoes, asshole.”
Like I said, when the Yeller walked past me I was down on one knee putting my stuff away. I could have sworn that when he walked past me I smelled fresh shit. Fresh dog shit to be exact.
The Yeller was Dutch’s customer and he specifically pointed to Dutch, so I backed away. Obviously Dutch wasn’t moving quickly enough for the Yeller, so he got off the bench and walked over to where Dutch was sitting. He grabbed Dutch’s shine box and walked back over to the stool with it. He put it on the box on the floor in front of his stool, sat back on the stool and put his foot on the box. “Let’s go, nigger.” He screamed at Dutch. “Clean this shit off.”
It was just about that time when the Yeller’s friends must have also began smelling shit and were looking around to find the source. When the Yeller put his foot up on Dutch’s box, it was plain to see where the shit smell came from. It was smeared all over the top of the Yeller’s shoes, fresh dog shit. This racist, lowlife bastard must have gone outside and found fresh dog shit to smear on his own shoes so Dutch and I could clean it off.
The bartender, whose name must have been“Bennett," because he definitely didn’t want to get “in it," had been paying little attention to what had been going on, got a whiff of what was going on and came over. “Who, tracked in the dog crap?”
“I stepped in some dog crap," said the Yeller. “This kid is going to clean it off.”
“I’m not cleaning shit off your shoes," said Dutch. He was looking at the Yeller with eyes that could kill. He was angry and he was fighting mad.
Dutch was 15, but he had a grown man’s body. He wasn’t very tall, maybe 5’7” at the time, but he was naturally muscular and strong as an ox. When he was 15, Dutch looked just like former heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson, in his prime. Dutch was mellow and mild mannered most of the time, but when you pushed that button, it was hard to shut him down
I’d seen what he was capable of a year earlier, when Dutch got into a fight with an older kid who was bullying him. The other dude was a much better boxer and Dutch took a lot of punches in the beginning. But when Dutch got that chump in a bear hug, and started pounding him about the head and face, it got ugly. Dutch never said a word or uttered a sound the whole time. He just kicked ass. Took two school crossing guards, two teachers, and a custodian to pull Dutch’s giant hands from around the kid’s neck.
“Well, one of you are gonna do it," said the Yeller. Now he was looking at me.
“He ain’t doing it either," said Dutch. “Take your foot off my box.”
Everyone in the place was tuned in now and they all just stared, waiting to see what happened next. “Okay, that’s enough," said the bartender. “Give the kid his box and you go outside and clean your feet.” He told the Yeller, “You’re stinking up the whole place.”
“Fucking niggers shouldn’t be in North Arlington.” The Yeller cursed as he got up and stormed out of the bar’s front door, leaving an odor trail of fresh dog shit behind him. “Take your black asses back to that sewer in Newark”
The bartender looked at Dutch and me, “You kids get out and don’t come back in here again.”
We got our boxes and hurried out the door. When we got outside it had gotten dark out. We went to the parking lot on the side of the bar to get our bicycles that were chained to a post in there. We saw the Yeller in back of the lot dragging his shoes on a patch of weeds, trying to get the dog shit off.
“There goes that muthafucka back there," said Dutch, when he spotted the Yeller. “We should go back there and fuck his ass up.” Dutch began taking off his shirt and started towards the back of the parking lot where the Yeller was standing. He always took off his shirt to fight. It was usually enough to intimidate and back off the opposition.
The Yeller had his back to us and did not see us behind him. It even appeared that he had begun vomiting back there and was leaning over trying not to get puke on his shoes. The irony that those were the same shoes he had intentionally smeared dog shit on just 10 minutes ago, did not escape me. “No, Dutch," I said, grabbing him by the arm. “You crazy, boy? These crackers will kill us up here."
“Man...” said Dutch. “That muthafucka tried to make us clean shit off his shoes.” His eyes were fixed on the Yeller’s back across the lot.
Yeller turned around and froze in his tracks when he saw me, and a shirtless Mike Tyson staring him down. At that moment I hated that white man as much as Dutch did. I believe I’d have gladly let Dutch loose on his ass, if I thought for one minute that we wouldn’t get caught.
But I was more scared, than mad. I was also thankful that we had gotten out of there as quietly as we did. I just wanted to get as far away from there, as possible, as quickly as possible. “Fuck him, Dutch” I said, still holding Dutch back by the arm. “He didn’t put his hands on us. We ain’t hurt, are we? Come on, man, we made enough for today. Let’s get a double sausage and go home.”
“Yeah, cool.” Dutch said, seemingly snapping out of a trance. He didn’t bother to put his shirt back on. It was warm out, so it was cool. We got on our bikes and rode back to the projects with our Italian sausage sandwiches and grape sodas.
We never spoke of the fresh dog shit thing and the Yeller again. However, Dutch never forgot or got over it. About 10 years later Dutch went on to become a decorated police detective in North Arlington where he bought a nice home and lived with his wife and three kids. I understand that he had a reputation of getting a little intense at the slightest provocation, when dealing with drunken, white male suspects wearing white shirts and dirty shoes. I’m not saying it was right for him to show such bias, but I understand. Dutch is still cool.
The 80's Trenton, New Jersey
When LJ was in high school, I gave him a leather 8-ball jacket for his birthday. ‘Eight- Ball’ jackets were nice looking and expensive jackets. Maybe it was too nice and too expensive for him to have been wearing around Trenton at the time. There were a rash of incidents in the area of kids jumping kids for their coats, sneakers, and boom boxes.
When I gave LJ the jacket, I sat him down I told him that if someone ever pointed a gun at him and tried to jack him for the jacket he should give the coat up. I understood how humiliating it would be to be forced to give away your stuff without a fight. I had experienced both sides of that coin, in my time. I had taken, and I had been took before. It wasn’t worth getting hurt over a coat or other material possessions. Coats are replaceable.
This was not a new conversation. He had heard this speech from me several times in the past referring to new sneakers; new boom box, jewelry, money and any other item thugs might be after. He always assured me he knew the drill.
A few weeks later I received a call at work from his school nurse telling me that a group of boys had jumped LJ for his jacket. When I got to the school and went to the nurse’s office he was laying on a cot in a back room. He was holding an ice pack on his lip with his left hand, and holding another ice pack over a big knot on the right side of his forehead with his right hand. He was quiet and seemed to thinking hard about something. LJ began talking, as soon as I came into the room.
“They didn’t give me a chance dad!”
I could tell he was pumped up, and ready to go a few more rounds.
“They didn't ask me for my coat," LJ insisted. "They snuck me in the head,"
He hardly kept still telling me the story. His face twisted in a gangster scowl, and when he spoke he pointed his finger at an imaginary person in the room a lot.
“ I know what you told me, but I didn’t have a chance!”
“Whoa, slow down, son," I said trying to soothe my son’s anxiety and calm him down. “You okay?”
“I have a cut lip, and a knot on my head. It doesn’t hurt me. I’m okay”
I took it that the “again down here” part was referring to his experience with the sucker- puncher in grade school when he first came to Trenton.
I notice an 8-Ball jacket exactly like LJ's lying on the cot.
“Is that your coat?” I asked, feeling a bit confused.
“Yeah," he said turning and looking at the jacket.
“They didn’t get the coat?” I asked in confusion,
“Hell No! I told you they didn’t give me a chance to give them my coat," LJ shouted at me with genuine indignation that I would even consider the idea that they had actually gotten the coat after not giving him a chance.
Yeah, I know he was all up in my grill yelling and cussing up in there. He was hyped. I let the brother vent.
"They knocked me down, and I had to fight them. You said I could fight if somebody put their hands on me.”
“How many boys were there? I asked him. “Did they have a gun or knife or anything?”
“It was 2 teenage boys. They knocked down and kept hitting me. They tried to pull the coat over my head." LJ said, reliving the scene in his head. "I fought back, and they ran away.”
“Do you know them?” I asked him.
“No, I never saw them before”. LJ stated as went over picked up his jacket. “Can I go home now?”
“Yes, you can go home," chimed in the nurse who had been standing in the doorway all the time listening.
She said that LJ had not said two words and just sat there staring in space before I had gotten there. The nurse wanted to be sure there was no concussion or trauma.
“Obviously he is okay," she said with a smile.
LJ declined a nurse’s pass to stay home from school, but the nurse insisted. She gave us the usual instructions for recognizing a concussion and recommended that I take LJ to the emergency room to be safe.
LJ walked over and stood in front of me with a little swollen smirk on his swollen lips. He looked up at me and then he looked down at the front of his jacket that he had put on as to admire it. He took his hands brushed down the front of the jacket as if brushing off imaginary dust and wrinkles. He looked back up at me, shrugged his shoulders.
“You said I could fight,” He repeated. “They put their hands on me.”
He was right. That was what I had told him.
I stood there for a second trying to think of a response. There is nothing else to be said. The only thing left was the hug. “I'm glad you’re okay, son”.
1982 Trenton, New Jersey
Shortly after I met Ms. Knowles a couple of my friends were at my apartment playing cards. I couldn’t stop talking about the super fine, magazine model looking, teacher I had met. I didn't even know her first name or anything about her yet, but I knew she was the real deal. Right there that night; in the tradition of my daddy, I declared that Ms. Knowles was someday going to be my wife. Of course, they all laughed. My boy Reggie was there with his negative bullshit.
“Nigga” (he loved to call everybody Nigga), "You know you ain't the marrying kind, as much as you like pussy,” Reggie began in his usual non-encouraging manner. “You can't get no pussy when you married."
Why not? They were right to laugh. It was all true. I loved being a single man. I also liked the ladies. I especially hated people ordering me around (remember, Ornery-Uppity Blood, OUB). Now all of a sudden out of the clear I was talking about marrying a woman I had just met.
“I would give you six months before you be out of there," Reggie declared, before getting up and going to the bathroom.
Loretta and I went out a few times, and we soon began to see one another on a regular basis.
Three dates later, I still had not told Loretta about my past. It was time for me to introduce myself to her.
It was obvious to me that Loretta knew nothing about the lifestyle and people I had grown up around. She was an elementary school teacher, for goodness sakes. It was a tough decision for me to tell her because I knew there was a possibility that she would become afraid of me. She was a nice person, the kind who would have clutched her pocketbook close to her when I showed up in the old days. I was real insecure for the first time in a long time, but I knew that I had to do what I had to do. A prison history is not something to hide from the woman I was planning to marry. Not something I can say, “Oh, didn’t I tell you?” The longer I went without telling her the worse it would be if she found out some other way. I gave her a copy of a scrapbook of my poems, news clippings and reviews from my TWB performances.
She took the literature home and called me the next night. She had finished reading. "So, am I to understand that you have been to prison?” She asked inquisitively.
"Yes." I closed my eyes and held my breath, bracing for the rejection I knew was coming.
"Call me tomorrow." She said. "Okay."
MID 80s Trenton, New Jersey
“LJ, come in here.”
LJ walked slowly out of his bedroom with his head hung down, like a man on his way to the gallows. He was carrying a school textbook; undoubtedly a prop to signal to me that he had been in his room doing his homework. “Yeah, dad?”
I was standing just inside the door of our apartment staring with disbelief at the empty space against the wall where my brand new, Schwin Traveler Xtra Lite Aluminum bicycle had been sitting when I left for work that morning at 7 AM.
It was 5:30 PM and I had just gotten in from work, and my bike was not there anymore. I’d bought that bike three days earlier and when I brought it home I gave LJ one specific directive, “DON’T TOUCH MY BIKE!”
I wasn’t being selfish or mean to my son. I just knew that as sure as the sun comes up in the morning he would trash my bike if he got the chance. LJ had destroyed four brand new bikes in the four years he’d been living in Trenton. I couldn’t understand how he rode bicycles into the ground the way he did, in such short periods. His bikes resembled something from an extreme motocross event, after 90 days with him. None lasted a full year.
He was the same way with shoes and sneakers. He’d literally wear out shoes, like he wore out bikes. There was no choice whether to replace his shoes when necessary, but I drew the line with bicycles. After the forth one I refused to buy him another; he was going through them too fast and often.
“Where’s my bike?” I asked, pointing to the empty space.
“Well, dad,” he said, looking me directly in the eyes. “I know you told me not to take your bike out, but I did. I had to go to the library after school, so I rode your bike and somebody stole it.”
I was angry enough to explode, as I felt my muscles tense and the veins in my neck pulsate so hard that I could hear the blood flowing. My hands were balled into fists and I was breathing hard. I didn’t know what I might do. LJ kept his eyes focused on mine and I could see that he was scared to death. He was waiting for me to explode all over him. I could also see that he deeply regretted what he had done.
It was at the moment my mind flashed back to 1970, when I was 17 years old, and stole and wrecked my father's Bonneville, then lied to him about it. It had been 15 years and I still had not manned-up and told my father the truth about his car. I was still carrying that lie and it had been a burden that I had carried in my mind for all those years.
LJ didn’t lie or try to hide the fact that he had taken the bike out. He was terrified, but he looked me in the eyes and took responsibility for what he had done, and was prepared to face the consequences. Suddenly I wasn’t angry anymore. I admired LJ and I was proud of him. “Go finish your homework,” I told him.
After taking off my coat, I picked up the telephone and called my father.
“Hi Dad,” I said when I heard his voice on the phone. My voice was cracking and shaking, as I tried to hold back my emotions. “How you doing?”
“Well,” he said, “I’m making out all right it. How you doing”
I figured the easiest way to say it was just to say it; “Dad, I was the one who wrecked your Bonneville in the projects. I’m so sorry that I did it and I’m sorry that I lied to you all this time about it.”
I had no idea of what his reaction would be, but I was prepared to accept it.
“Don’t worry son,” he said in the most forgiving fatherly tone I had ever heard him use. “I did things to my father too.”
That was it. We talked for another 30 minutes and he never mentioned the car again.
Later that night, LJ came to my bedroom where I was lying in bed watching television. “Can I talk to you a minute, dad?”
“Yeah. What’s up?” I answered.
He walked over and sat at the foot of my bed, and took a deep breath. “Dad, I know I was wrong for taking your bike out, and I’m sorry,” he said. I noticed that he was still holding the same textbook from three hours earlier. I will pay you back.”
Having had the same conversation with my own father, just a couple of hours earlier, I knew exactly how to respond. I sat up in the bed and sat next to LJ. His eyes got a little wide and he flinched nervously as I moved towards him. He still wasn’t sure of my intentions. I sat next to him and put my arm around his shoulder. “That’s all right, son.” I assured him. “I did stuff to my father too.”
I released my hug and moved back up on the bed to finish watching my show. LJ just sat quiet for a moment trying to process what had just transpired. After a moment he shrugged his shoulders and got up to leave. “Okay. Thanks dad,” he said. He started out of the room.
“Oh, LJ!” I called before he could close to door behind him.
“Yeah, dad?” He stuck his head back into the room.
“You still owe me $400, brother.” I told him.
“Okay,” he responded, closing my bedroom door. We both knew he would never pay up, and I would never try to collect.
My dad probably knew al the time that it was me who crashed his car in 1970. However, I was extremely grateful that I’d owed up and apologized to him. If I had not told him while he was alive, it would have haunted me for the rest of my life. I may not have ever done it if not for the example of courage and character that LJ showed in facing me eye-to-eye and admitting straight up that he was responsible for my bike being stolen. My son was my hero.
1986 Trenton, New Jersey
In the spring of 1986 I was in serious need of a real job. My only job was as superintendent of the apartment building in Trenton, NJ. My counseling job had shut down due to lack of funding. I collected unemployment benefits and received $50 a month in food stamps. The superintendent job didn't pay a salary. LJ and I were living rent- free in the two-bedroom apartment, as manager of the building. I had been superintendent for a few years performing duties such as general maintenance and small repairs. I earned extra money consulting and conducting workshops and speaking gigs, but that income was sporadic.
LJ and I didn't have medical or dental coverage, either. I constantly worried about LJ getting sick. We were going to the Henry Austin Clinic in Trenton, for medical and dental needs. There were great, caring doctors at HAC, and I appreciated having access to them.
I wanted something better, though. The rigors of managing the apartment building were becoming a pain in the butt. I honestly didn't know how long I would last before I got fired, or quit. Either way, if I were not the superintendent I would have to pay rent. Whether it was in that apartment, or another location.
In addition, LJ was close to entering high school. I wanted to send him to a school that would give him the best education. I wanted to send him to a private high school. He had made great strides since coming to Trenton, but he still needed to work hard on his reading and writing skills. I wanted him in an environment that challenged and pushed him to his full potential. I found that he rarely pushed himself beyond the expectations placed on him. When the expectations were low he performed at a low level. When expectations were high he would rise to meet the challenge. I felt he would have a better opportunity to get that push in a private or parochial school outside of the city. The yearly tuition for the school was $1700.00. I had to build a more secure and reliable foundation, with a steady income.
My first move was to write down what my job options were. One of the biggest regrets I have in life is not getting my college degree. I have managed to accrue over 90 credit hours over the years, before, during, and after prison. I picked them up wherever I could get them, but I had never pulled them together into a diploma.
I learned to barber at GSP, and I was a pretty good barber. However, building a barbering business would take time I didn't have.
There were opportunities and offers, but nothing that paid enough to send my son to school. I was earning more with my consulting business than the jobs I was seeing. Pay was not the only consideration. There were no employee benefits, like medical and dental insurance. I needed to provide security and an education for my son. Unless it was an upgrade, I was content to keep looking.
Later that year, I ran into Tim at the Mall. Tim was the Warden of the prison at GSP, where I did my bids in the early 1970’s. He began as a teacher and climbed the ranks. That day, he was Director of the New Jersey Juvenile Prison Services.
Tim was a white dude, in his fifties, at the time. He was a good dude, who wore his heart on his sleeve. Some called him a bleeding heart type, when it came to disadvantaged kids. He was one who sincerely cared about helping and improving the lives of the juvenile delinquents in his custody. He was also innovative and bold. He thought outside the box when it came to working with juveniles. The programs and procedures he put into place in New Jersey are recognized worldwide.
Tim also taught a class at New Jersey State University in the evenings. He had called on me at the last minute to cover his classroom for him many times. I enjoyed doing it. It gave me an audience of young impressionable ears to spew my radical views and opinions.
I had once been offered a job with the New Jersey Adult Corrections a few years earlier. It was only a part-time position, but I turned it down. The work would have required me to go into the prison every day. I was not ready to go back into prison every day as "Johnny Law". It was almost inconceivable for me to think of doing that. I had to put that aside and explored all my options. I needed to do what I had to do. Plus, state jobs paid well and had a great family benefits program.
I told Tim that I was looking for a job, and asked if he had any opening in the Juvenile Prison Services. Tim gave me his number, and said I should call his office soon. I called the next day, and Tim came through for me. In the spring of 1986, I was hired by the NJJPS. I was earning over $19,000 a year, and more importantly, LJ and I had full medical benefits. I was also able to afford the tuition to send him to school. God had looked upon us again.
Loretta graduated from NJSU. She was a senior when Sheila was a freshman. They were not friends by any means, but apparently they knew of one another. They were in rival black sororities on campus. They were both so sweet and lady-like.
“You mean the whore with the big ass?” That is what Sheila said when I told her that I was seeing Loretta.
“You mean that bitch that tried to screw all her frat brothers?” That was Loretta said when she found out I was once engaged to Sheila.
When Sheila left I was actively living the single dad, bachelor life. LJ was adjusting well, and life was good for us both. When Loretta and I began to get serious, I burned my little black book. I told you I had declared to all that Loretta would someday be my wife. I meant that. I kicked all other females to the curb. It got messy trying to end it with a couple of them, but fortunately there was no fatal attraction action. They were all gone. Except, Sheila. I was still hitting it with Sheila.
One day I began to feel pain when I peed and I noticed a puss-like discharge coming from my penis. I knew immediately what it was. I had a case of gonorrhea as a teenager. I quickly began to recount my recent sexual activity.
It was pretty easy to narrow it down because I had only had sex with two women in the past four months, Loretta and Sheila. The part that complicated things was that I hadn’t used a condom with either. I always used condoms when I was with other woman, whether they claimed to be on birth control or not. I stopped using condoms with Sheila when she moved to Trenton. She was also on birth control pills. Loretta was also on birth control, and I had not worn condoms with her for a long time.
It can take from two to 10 days for gonorrhea symptoms to show. Sheila and I had been together a week earlier. I had spent the night with Loretta two days ago. “Damn, who burned me” I wondered, while I braced for the sting of the burning sensation I was anticipating as I stood in the bathroom trying to pee.
I had no choice to call and tell them both the situation. Who I called first was crucial. It could reveal who the “hot honey” was between the two. Sheila was out there a single woman who was free to see whomever she pleased. We understood that there were no strings attached. It was strictly booty-call.
I was confident that I was the only man in Loretta’s life at that time. She didn't have to tell me. That’s how she made me feel. Loretta was a lady. She was a good girl. She was not the kind of woman who would be sexually involved with two men at once. I knew all those things about her the moment I laid eyes on her in that classroom. That is the reason I wanted to marry her.
I decided to call Sheila first. I told her that I had contracted an STD and asked if she knew anything about it. I expected her to try and shift the blame to Loretta, but she didn't. Sheila confessed straight up. She nonchalantly told me a story about having a one-night affair with some dude she met at a club. She said she ran into him a few days after, and he told her he had gonorrhea. She claims she hadn’t seen symptoms, so she didn't rush to see a doctor. Her tests confirmed that Sheila had the Clap. "I just thought you should know," she said and hung up the phone. I never knocked boots with Sheila again.
I hung up with Sheila both upset and relieved at the same time. Upset that Sheila had burned me and relieved that Loretta had not. It was not over, however. I still had to tell Loretta that I might have given her a sexually transmitted disease.
How humiliating and degrading it must be for a woman to have to walk into her doctor’s office and say she may have contracted a venereal disease from her boyfriend? I’ve already said that she was a lady. I knew going in that there would be a lot of drama when I told Loretta, but I knew I had to go to her apartment and tell her face to face. She deserved that much. I thought that she would be furious that I had gone out and brought this street filth back to her. That didn't really turn out to be the case.
Loretta cried as if she had lost her best friend, when I told her the story. There were times when I thought she would choke or suffocate. She didn't seem to be upset about the disease. I realized that she was not mad at all about that. My girl was broken hearted because I had betrayed her. “You gave her pleasure with your body.” She cried. “You are supposed to be mine. You are supposed to be mine."
I had never felt lower in my life than at that moment. Loretta was lying on the couch holding a pillow to her face. She stopped crying briefly, and looked up at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen, “Why did you do that to me, Lamont?" She whispered. "I love you.”
With all my talk about marrying Loretta, I had not considered whether I loved her. It was at that moment that I was more positive than ever that I did love her. I didn't realize what I had. She said she loved me. I begged, cried and apologized to her like James Brown that night. “Baby, please, please, please, give me one more chance.” I swore that if she gave me another chance I would never betray her again.
Loretta went to the doctor the next day. A week later she received a clean bill of health. I was grateful I had not given her a disease. She still wouldn't speak to me for a month afterwards. I sent her flowers every day for two weeks. Roses are expensive, and I was not Tom Cruise. Sometimes I would send a dozen, or sometimes a half dozen. When I was broke, would send a single rose, or a less expensive arrangement of tulips or something. I would try to deliver them myself to avoid delivery charges. It worked! She took me back, but it was not easy for me. She made me wait two more months before she would have sex, or sleep in the same bed as me. Fortunately, I had prison experience and could survive on baby lotion and nasty magazines, when necessary.
She and LJ bonded quickly. Loretta was four years older than Sheila. She was a college graduate and a special education schoolteacher. Loretta was also the mother of a two-year -old little girl, named Ebony. She didn't have the need to dominate him. LJ came to love Loretta and Ebony as his step-mom and little sister. Loretta and I got married in 1992, and soon moved into a house in the suburbs.
“You want me to give you a ride on my bike when I get back?”
That was LJ and I, standing in the kitchen of
Loretta’s and my house. LJ was there that morning to collect his three little girls. They had spent the past week with Loretta and me. Loretta, and I looked forward to the week the grandkids came to visit each summer. We were usually just as glad to see them go home at the end of the week. LJ appeared happy and feeling good. He was not even complaining about things, as usual. He was riding his motorcycle to a Bikers Convention in D.C., the next morning on Saturday. He had little riding experience, but this was his first road trip with his friends. He seemed excited.
I could tell I had hurt his feelings, when I turned down his ride offer so vehemently. I was not comfortable with motorcycles under normal circumstances. He didn't have long enough experience for me to ride behind him. Truth is, I didn't have the courage, or desire to ride a motorcycle. There were no haunting motorcycle incidents in my past, or anything like that. I didn't want to ride motorcycles.
When LJ told me that he was going to buy a motorcycle, I didn't give it much thought. LJ loved to talk trash. I only took it as more trash talk. There was not much I could have done about it, anyway. He was 30 years old, and the “pay the costs, to be the boss” rule was working in his favor. He had paid the costs to be his own boss.
LJ was no longer the tough, eight year old kid, who couldn't read or write well enough to spell his own name. He worked hard to overcome his challenges, and developed a strong desire to learn and expand his mind. In 1985, he won a full scholarship as an exchange student to Panama. He spent a month with a Panamanian family in Panama City. It was a life changing opportunity for him to experience how people of another culture and country live day to day.
LJ went on to earn a BA degree in Business Administration, in 1996. He returned to school for another 18-months to get his Masters degree in Marketing. Life was good for LJ.
Like his father, and his father’s father, LJ liked the ladies, and the ladies liked him back. Throughout his teenage years and through college, he enjoyed the ladies a lot. He’d bring them to the house and I would remember the pretty faces, but stopped trying to remember their names, for fear of calling them someone else. “How you doing, sweetheart?” is what I’d say.
That was until he met Ruby, in 1997. Ruby was different. She wasn’t just a young pretty face. She was an educated woman, a professor of economics at the college LJ was attending. She was in control of her life and she adored LJ. Soon after they met, they fell in love and got married.
In 2001, Ruby was still teaching at the same college, and LJ was managing a small advertising firm. They had purchased a house in the Trenton area, where they were living with their three beautiful daughters – four- year-old twins and a four-month-old infant.
LJ was a devoted father, who was adored by his girls. Fatherhood seemed to come quickly to him. He was always talking to the girls and teaching them. He believed in the values of positive self-esteem, self-sufficiency and helping others. He coached youth sports in the community, and also mentored teenage boys and young men with problems. His personal experiences had given him an appreciation of having an education. He frequently took kids to visit college campuses, and encouraged them to strive to go to college. Throughout his life, LJ had gotten recognition for his character and generosity. He was generous with his time, that is. LJ was tight with the dollars.
He seemed on the right path to success and a good long life. He once told me he wanted to make me proud of him. He couldn't have made me prouder.
It was warm outside, but the sun was behind the clouds. I remember waking with a queasy, nervous, feeling my stomach. There was nothing planned, but I had a strong urge to get out of the house and move around. It was about 11 AM when I left the house. Ten minutes later I was walking around the Home Depot store. I was not looking for anything in particular. I left the Home Depot without buying anything.
I just had to keep moving for some reason. I walked around and rode around aimlessly for a while and finally ended up at the Moorestown Mall (Moorestown, NJ). I walked around for a while and ended up in Radio Shack. After milling around aimlessly I bought a battery charger that I didn't need. It was about 1 PM. Standing in front of Radio Shack, trying to decide where to go next. I had to keep moving. I was on the run from some unknown pursuer. I reached into my pocket at took out my cell phone. It had not rung all morning. My phone was off, so I turned it on, and it rang immediately. It was Loretta. “Where were you?” She said, “Didn’t you get my calls and messages?”
Her voice was shaking. She sounded very upset and annoyed that she was not able to get in touch with me.
“No, my phone was off, I’m sorry”.
“You have to come home right now,” she said. She started crying.
From the sound of Loretta's voice, I knew something terrible had happened. The faces of my loved ones flashed through my mind. The butterflies in my stomach turned to vampire bats eating me from the inside.
“What is it?” I asked her. “What happened?”
“LJ had an accident." She said. "He's badly injured”
“Where is he now?”
I had not asked if he was dead. I thought that if I asked her where he was it would give me a clue. The morgue meant certain death. The hospital, in my mind, meant there was a chance he was alive.
"He's at the hospital in Trenton." Said Loretta. "Ruby called me."
"Ruby is at the hospital waiting for us," said Loretta.
She said LJ was in the “hospital,” but denial was becoming increasingly difficult. My heart knew the truth. My heart was telling me something when I woke me up that morning and felt the need to escape.
During my 20-minute ride home from the mall, I maintained hope that LJ was still alive, but I knew better. The way Loretta was crying was not for someone hurt.
Loretta was sitting in the living room, when I got to the house. She looked worn and tired. It had been over two hours since Ruby had called her. I felt terrible guilt, and remorse, for leaving her to deal with this tragedy alone.
I went and hugged her. She just broke down and cried uncontrollably into my shoulder for what seemed like forever. I could feel the front of my shirt getting wet with her tears. We stood holding each other tight. We both sensed that when we let go we would have to deal with the reality. Loretta finally calmed down and stepped back.
“Okay, come on, we have to go," she said.
I still had not asked that question. I was clinging to my denial.
“Was it the motorcycle?” I asked her.
“Yeah," she whispered with her head bowed. “How bad is it?" I had finally said it. I closed
my eyes and held my breath, bracing for what I knew was coming.
“Honey, we don’t have LJ anymore.” Again she broke down in tears.
I fell to my knees there in the doorway. I thought for a moment that I was going to breakdown also, but I didn't. From somewhere, a sudden burst of strength and calmness washed over me. I took a deep breath, stood up, and grabbed Loretta by the hand. “Come on Baby, let's go see about our son”.
LJ was in Trenton. It seemed as the half-hour ride up interstate 295 from home took forever, that day. We didn't say anything to one another in the car. Loretta cried the whole time.
When we got to the hospital in Trenton we went to the trauma ward. Ruby was sitting in the waiting area. A nurse was standing there talking to her about something. When Loretta and I walked up, Ruby told the nurse, “These are his parents.”
“Oh, you’re the parents?” said the nurse. “I was just telling Ruby that your son is on the table in the trauma room. He still has some of the tubes coming out of him so don’t be alarmed.
“Still has tubes attached to him," I thought silently. "He must still be alive if they still have tubes attached to him.” I was grasping for anything to hang on to the slightest glimmer of hope. Hope that LJ would still be breathing when we got back there where he was.
The nurse led us back to the room, with several hospital gurneys lined against one wall. That was my first confirmation. There was no doubt we didn't have LJ anymore. The clear plastic tubes protruding from his nose and mouth were detached from the machines. They hung from his face. His pants were torn and tattered, partly from the accident and partly from the doctors trying to save his life. He was shirtless, and heavy scrapes and cuts on his arms and legs revealed where he had slid on the pavement, when he fell off his bike.
I stood there for what seemed like forever, just looking at him lying there motionless. I kept trying to process the moment, but it was all hazy and surreal. He didn't resemble the scared, bullheaded little boy I had brought to Trenton 23 years before. He badly needed a haircut and a shave.
I finally went over in a corner of the room and called mama. "Hello," she said.
Mama's voice was calm and peaceful. I hated to ruin her peace with the bad news I was bearing. “Mama, LJ is dead.”
MORE BOOKS BY MBJ
HOW TO DO GOOD AFTER PRISON: A HANDBOOK FOR SUCCESSFUL REENTRY
HOW TO LOVE AND INSPIRE YOUR MANAFTER PRISONISBN: 978-0-9707436-2-6
COMO CUMPLIR CON TUS OGLIGACIONES ALSALIR DE LA PRISION: GUIA PRACTICA PARA UNA VIDA MEJORISBN: 9 780970 7436-4-0.