Time for another story. This one occurred on June 13, 2016, which happen to be a Friday. At this point in time I was still stationed at Brown Creek correctional institution. However, there were various types of rumors flying around that the state was getting ready to close down the camp. Of course this was just “inmate.com,” you never know how real or reliable the rumors we.
Which by the way… I don’t think I’ve ever explained what “inmate.com” is before. It’s just an expression we all use quite often. I actually find it pretty hysterical. Information is so very limited in here that it creates a rumor spreading frenzy within these walls, with the tiniest of intel, “Someone heard an officer say this and told this person, and he told my homeboy who told me.” type of thing.
Most all rumors that come around are untrue, or at most, incomplete. Surprisingly though, every once in a long while inmate.com will have it spot on, as is the case with the rumor that the prison I was currently at would be closing down.
No one factually knew this, though, until they started shipping 40 random inmates every Tuesday and Thursday to other camps throughout the state. Of a camp that housed up to 1000 inmates, you can do the math, it took a couple of months until everyone would be out of there.
It was during these couple of months that life was a hellish scene. Since my job at the time was a cook, I had one of the more important jobs – to feed the ever depleting body count. Our boss told us that if we stayed until the end that he would make sure that we would go to any prison camp in the state that we wanted to, so we took him up on it. Though I’m sure it was all a lie from the start. This meant I was there for the entirety of those last few months. Jokingly, I called this the “Last of the Brown Creekin’s.”
We saw in all.
Officers were quitting because their job was about to come to an end, so the staff was always short, which meant that order became a whisper of the past. The gangs took over. They would post up next to the canteen window waiting for victims to approach. They then pulled out a long shank and told the victim to empty their whole account and give them the goods or they would proceed to use you as a pincushion.
I got into a couple of close encounters myself, which I’ve written about before. I know I was being looked out for as Angels stood as sentinels to guard me. My small group of friends learned not to go anywhere alone, though, just in case.
The biggest problem was the drugs. They were flooding in like never before. It seemed like everyone was on them. Like I’ve mentioned before in other posts… I was literally living “The Walking Dead.” Crowds of guys would just walk around like zombies everywhere. They were so tweaked out of their minds. But when they came off, they wanted more. Especially when they would see guys overdose and get really messed up. I don’t know how many times I heard, “I want what he’s taking!” The more terrible the reaction, the more they wanted it. Hence why everyone was robbing everyone. They wanted to stay medicated.
The place was total chaos! Yet here I am cooking for the very guys threatening my life. Talk about hard knocks! It was a very difficult (and scary) time for me.
What made my life even more miserable was that the state was shipping more and more kitchen workers out, which meant that a couple of guys, including myself, had to pick up the slack. So not only was I a cook, but I was a pot washer, and a line server, and a baker, and a diet cook. We had to wake up at 1 AM, be at work until 1 PM, and then go brave the chaos back in the dorms while trying to get some Z’s with one eye open, only to do it all over again the next day – seven days a week. Shoot, I bet I looked like a zombie too, with the amount of work I did, and always on an empty tank of rest.
You now get a picture of the whole environment I’m in, and the pounding my body, mind and spirit were taking.
So back to that Friday the 13th day in the middle of the miserable North Carolina summer. It’s about 11 o’clock in the morning and we are serving lunch. It’s another one of those days when I am overworked and under rested. I backed off of the serving line to catch a break. The other cook whose name happens to be Levi, is standing next to me. He’s an older man that is in great shape. He’s been in and out of prison his whole life, so no doubt that is what has preserved him. He is covered in tattoos. Most of which are Looney Tunes characters doing unspeakable acts. This nails his personality on the head – a satanic jovial child.
He is always playing around and pulling pranks. Which if you know me, I enjoy myself a good prank or two as well, which I believe is how we could work so well together. We saw eye to eye in most cases, so there was really no hostility between us. The key quality of a group of pranksters is being able to laugh, even when you’re the victim – especially when you’re the victim. If you can’t take it then don’t dish it. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Cooking and pranks just go hand-in-hand. J
Levi and I understood this, which is why my guard was virtually down when I was around him. He knew I could take a joke, and I knew he could as well. That probably got me through a lot of the mess… being able to horse around and laugh.
So when I take my little breather from the serving line, Levi walks up to me and does an ongoing joke that all guys do, he fakes a punch to my arm to get me to react or get me to “flinch.” I’ve done that to him 100 times, he’s done it to me. No big deal.
While everyone knows that if you are trying to make someone flinch, you can’t touch them or your attempt is null and void. That is common knowledge in the game of “flinch,” right? So when Levi tried to get me to flinch, I did, but he lightly touched my arm. But even though I did flinch, which would concede to him the win, he touched me so therefore he was disqualified and I win. Therefore, I was obligated to point this out. So with absolutely no anger or any malice whatsoever. I pointed out that he lightly got my arm. Because, c’mon, it’s just a child’s game, right? So why should there be any ill feelings involved?
I realize I just tried to explain this to you with a few words, but it really is just a simple matter. But nope, out of nowhere, BAM!! Levi right hooks me with all his might, and I block it with my upper lip. My head goes back and I see Tweety bird that was tattooed on his arm, doing a dance my around my head. My head comes back forward and I see Levi with fuming hate in his eyes, and he’s in a fighting stance with both fists in the air – ready to go.
All I can blurt out was “What are you doing!?” before I get tackled backwards by an inmate. I see a few other inmates grab Levi and take him the opposite way. The guy that has me is a close acquaintance and knows I don’t cause any problems, so he just wanted me to get out of their before the officers showed up. And, I saw that gray uniform closing in quick. He told me that my lip was gushing out blood. I went to feel it, and my hand was covered with red when I pulled it away to look. He led me to the back sink to wash it up.
I was still pretty dizzy. I tried to clean it out as best I could, while all I could think about was getting fired and getting a write-up, which meant that my release date would have a couple months added to it. I did not want that happening!!
The more I tried to clean it, though, the more I realized how bad it really was. I have a jagged tooth that sticks out that no one can see. Levi happened to clock me right on it, which caused my whole lip to literally tear open, it was ugly! There would be no way I could hide it from the officers. It was over for me. Looking back, though, it was already over for me from the very start.
The officers all flooded in and walk straight for me. They asked what happened. I quickly replied that, “I bit my lip really hard on accident.” Keeping in mind the number one rule in prison, “Never snitch on anybody, or you might not live to see tomorrow.”
They kept asking. I stuck with my story. You would think by now they would know that by asking me these questions is putting me more in harm’s way, than it is helping me – dummies! They realized I wasn’t going to tell them, so they then checked on my lip and decided it was bad enough that I would need to go to the hospital. Oh gosh. Not the hospital.
I pleaded with the head officer not to go because I’ve been in prison long enough to know that if the state is going to fork over the bill to a hospital trip there will be even more severe consequences. Technically we inmates are “state property” and the fact that I am injured means that I have been convicted of “destruction of state property.” This could go sour really quick. I feared the worst!
But hey, wait a second. Whatever happened to Levi? And why in the world did he punch me like that!? Did I say something to upset him? Is his hand Okay? “I’ll have more time to think about that later, though,” I thought. “Right now I have my freedom to worry about.”
Despite all my pleadings, they were forcing me to go to the hospital. The only exception was that they weren’t calling an ambulance. It wasn’t that bad. I would be driven over by two officers. They commenced to lock me in shackles, which were actually designed by an inmate, “Thanks bud.” I then wobble over like a penguin and get shoved into the back of a DPS vehicle. The only thing covering my leaking lip is a melting bag of ice water, and blood is dripping all over me. I’m kind enough not to get it on the seats.
The officer gets in and we start to make our way out of the prison. At this point I’m not even thinking about my lip or anything of the future. My mind is totally preoccupied with the fact that I was about to make my way outside of the fences that have kept me caged in for over a year. The feeling was exhilarating! My eyes were glued to the window and the outside world that I have missed for far too long. Our first stop was the Armory. To come outside the prison, I would need to have a gun pointed at me at all times. If it wasn’t for the freedom-high that I was on, this would have stressed me out. I justified it as a worthy price to pay to be able to come out of my cage. Not like I was going anywhere, though, the shackles restricted all movement – and I mean ALL movement.
Once the gun was acquired. We then pulled away from the prison, and assumed our way off to the hospital. That trip was the most amazing journey I have ever had! I tell you, if you get into a car after years of not being in one, it’s like you are riding the best roller coaster of the century! It was euphoric! I saw a deer in the woods! We got onto the highway and got about 60 miles an hour! I never expected to be so excited about hitting such a landmark speed. I saw other people in their vehicles! I saw other people walking on the streets! I saw a gas station full of people, normal people without gray shirts on! Never before had I been so awake, but thought I was in a dream at the same time.
It was maybe a five minute drive though, we pulled into the back of the hospital. It was a tiny little thing. I guess that is all a small back country needs. Part of me was glad, though. I took a quick inventory of myself and quickly fell in shame. I don’t think it has ever really settled in that I am an inmate. I realized I haven’t accepted the fact that I had fallen from grace and was in fact a despised degenerate in the eyes of the world.
In that moment, what I held onto though, was that I was still just a normal guy trying to live a good life; that I was far from who those guys back at the prison were like. With all my heart I wanted to be in no relation to them, and that image. I was really hurt, but at the very same time I laughed at myself: prison attire covered in kitchen splashing’s and blood, shackled like a terrorist, a gun pointed at me, and a bloodied up face to complete the picture.
It was in this moment that my internal identity of myself took a plunge. I was full of embarrassment and I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. All of a sudden I dreaded entering that hospital again. The euphoric feeling was gone.
We parked and I was yanked out of the backseat. The 50 foot walk to the entrance took well on 10 minutes as I wobbled my way as fast as I could go. The cuffs on my ankles were rubbing the skin off. It was very painful. What made it worse was when I looked around and observed that I was literally walking without a single fence to be seen. It might sound backwards, but I got very claustrophobic and it became hard to breathe. There was just too much open space for me to process. I picked up my pace and tried to get inside as quick as possible.
Once I was inside I was happy to report that it was pretty much empty except for a couple of nurses. They couldn’t take their eyes off me, though. I can only imagine what was running through their minds when they saw this tattered up criminal come into their midst.
We were told that there was a room off to the side that had been prepared for us. We entered in and I tried to jump up on the bed. It was done with as little grace as possible, but I managed. Then walked in an angel, in the disguise of a doctor, with two trailing cohorts that she was training. They quickly look me over and the doctor silenced all of my fears with one quick sarcastic sentence, “Don’t worry sweetie, this won’t affect your modeling career at all.” And gave me a very motherly comforting smile.
From the moment she walked in to the moment she left she treated me like just another person. I will forever be thankful to her for that! A couple of months later I actually found out that a good friend of mine that I met at the YSA Ward here in Charlotte, NC is an acquaintance of that doctor. Always, Heavenly Father is looking out! It never ceases to amaze me.
The doctor put six stitches in my lip, but I respectfully asked her to put one more since after all it was Friday the 13th and six to me has always been a symbol of evil. It was just too much for me, she laughed and complied. I was grateful. All in all it was pretty painless and I expressed my gratitude with no shortage of thank you’s.
After she was finished she then paused and asked me my story since she noticed that I’m not like other inmates that periodically make trips to the hospital. I humbly related to her, even with the two officers and her two trainees in the room. After I get done I felt this huge tension being lifted. Not from me, but from everyone else in the room. They realized I’m just a normal guy trying to live a good life. I was actually quite grateful for the opportunity to be able to tell my story, and be listened to – really listened to. In that moment I learned that I must do the same for others.
It was just an amazing experience from start to finish. The doctor left me with parting words that I must get away from that lifestyle as soon and as far as I can. I promised her that I want nothing more!
Next, we then made the trip back to the prison. It was a little more pleasant, now that the officers weren’t so cautious. My heart did fall for having to enter the prison again but I knew it was inevitable, so it was easier to accept. Honestly, I was just in worshipful gratitude toward God for having let me take that little vacation. I experienced a lot and learned even more.
The tail doesn’t end there though. It just began.
We finally get into the prison, and I am politely helped out of the back of the car (notice how I didn’t say yanked!) I finally get my shackles taken off and console my ankles and wrists. I then get led to the captain’s office. He gets straight to business.
He divulged just to me that they caught the whole ordeal on video camera, so they know that Levi had punched me. A piece of paper and a pen slide over to me. The captain orders me to write a statement of what happened. Well, this is where I pause. I think back to the moment Levi punched me and I tried to replay it second by second in my memory. I keep staring at the empty paper.
How does he expect me to explain it when I have no idea what happened myself!? “Start writing!” The captain yelled at me. I understand that I had come to a crossroad – I could either explain it in a negative light or a positive light. In a split second I said to myself, “What would Jesus do?”
I picked up the pen and began to write. My statement contained a confession that Levi and I were horsing around. That when he tried to make me flinch that I had flinched in the wrong direction, and his fist accidentally collided with my upper lip. The only reason it looks as bad as it does is because my jagged tooth ended up cutting my skin.
Once I wrote it all up I handed it back to the captain to read. He then looks at me and doubtingly asks if this is really what happened. I nodded my head that it was. “Well then son, that is a mighty big thing for you to do for that man. We were about to send him to closed custody for the rest of his time and also give you the option to press charges, which would only keep him here longer. But since you say it was a mutual misunderstanding, we’re going to have to fire you both and charge you both with a“C-4” fighting write-up. Do you plead guilty?” I nodded yes again, and signed some more paperwork. He then told me that since this is the first write-up that I’ve ever had that they would suspend all the consequences, which I think he thought he was doing me a favor. I guess he was, and I’m thankful for that, because I could have gotten a lot of my privileges taken away – like talking on the phone with my family.
Once all that was taken care of, the captain escorted me to medical to pick up some meds. When I get in there, I see Levi sitting in the chair. He looks distraught and his whole right hand is bandaged up tightly. He looks up at me and doesn’t say anything, so I break the silence and ask him how his hand is. He doesn’t even answer, all that he can get out is that he is sorry.
The captain then takes him out and that is that. After I get my meds, which I won’t even take, I make my way back to the block to try to figure out what the heck just happened. I climb onto my bunk and voice a silent prayer to my Father in Heaven for help. I replay the events of the day – Levi had only what I can describe as some kind of psychotic outburst. He did in fact punch me for no reason. My lip gets busted, and I am taken to the hospital for it. I then plead guilty for being in a fight I wasn’t even in. I get fired from my job, which now meant I would be shipped out to some terrible gang-ridden-prison somewhere far away because I lost the promise of going to a prison of my choosing. All for what?
That is just it. For months after this whole incident, while my lip was healing, without fail, the first thing anyone would ask me is, “Well, did you hit him back??” As if that is the most important object to accomplish when someone hits you. Above all else, when something bad happens to you, you have to retaliate, right? Isn’t that a law somewhere? Or part of some man code?
Well you know what? No! I did not punch him back. That isn’t who I am. This whole entire experience was a huge eye-opener to me, helping me realize my true identity. It helped solidify the man that I am. It was divinely fabricated to help me fall into a deep understanding of what exactly I am made of and how far I can be pushed. It was more than a lesson on mercy or forgiveness, though. Though they both play a major part into who I am. It was a development of God creating a masterpiece.
You see, right now, almost a year later I have a tiny little’s scar on my upper lip when I look into the mirror it is all I see. To me, it sticks out pretty badly. I could be so bitter about it and curse the world until I turn blue. Or I can affiliate that tiny scar with who I am, who I really, really am, the man Christ is molding me into.
I’m sure you are like me in that you have been taught your whole life that when you die and go to heaven that you will automatically become the best version of yourself when you’re resurrected. I often thought that means older people will grow all their hair back out and their stomachs will flatten and they will just look like their perfect selves. Is that close to your same beliefs?
But then, I take that same train of thought and apply it to what I know about Jesus Christ. He was crucified, nailed to the cross. He died and three days later was resurrected. Thus, in our train of thought He would be the best version of Himself in His resurrected form, right? But then every subsequent time, any child of God comes into Christ’s presence (including you and I), He offers them to be able to approach Him and touch His scars and handle the prints in His hands, feet and sides. Have you ever wondered why that is? Why does Jesus Christ’s resurrected body have mortal scars? I may not have the entire answer to this inquiry, but in my personal belief, because of the experiences I have had, our identity of our best selves can only be whole and perfect, if our scars are included. Why? Because it is those very scars that have crystalized into our identity. A true recognition of our best selves.
I often wonder: would Christ still be Christ without His scars? What I be me without my scars? I invite you to ponder your scars or even current moments of your life going on right now that might become scars. Do you accept them into your identity? And more importantly, and probably even harder to pull off, are you thankful for them?
I learned many things on this Friday the 13th day. But the thing I think I learned the most is that I really like who I am. I was very proud of myself, for what I did, and how I behaved. Subsequently, I am just thankful to my Heavenly Father for guiding me along every step of the way. I am the product of His love.
Sadly, yes, you can go online and look up my prison record and it will show you that I have been charged with getting into a fight. I think it is funny since I got charged with being in a fight and I’ve never even been in one.
A couple days later, after the incident, Levi had to be taken to the same hospital because his hand got badly infected. I remember thinking when I first heard this of the Scripture that the Lord says He will fight our battles (D&C 105: 14). But then I also heard that while he was at the hospital, they did some tests and also found that he had cancer. I quickly turned away from feeling recompensed and feeling sorry for the guy, but also happy that yet again, through my mysterious tapestry of the Lord, I could be the means of someone getting the help they needed, even if initially the circumstances were ugly, or stacked against me.
My old boss in the kitchen saw how big of a blow it was for his kitchen to lose me, when I got fired, that he rehired me a couple of days later. An officer came up to me after this happened and revealed to me that I had been the only person in all of Brown Creek history that has ever gotten fired from the kitchen and then rehired.
I’ve long since moved from that camp with an entirely different job. My lip is healed, for the most part. But I will never forget the punch that changed my life. The only advice I have is to truly live how Christ lived. Turn the other cheek. Love those that use you and hate you. Forgive everyone. By doing so, I can promise you that you will be taken care of in the end. Even more so, you will be exalted!
Oh, and don’t horse around with crazy people. Just FYI.