Friday, October 24, 2014

Monday #8-Scared Straight

                      "Sometimes I give myself the creeps
                       Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
                       It all keeps adding up
                       I think I'm cracking up
                      Am I just paranoid?
                      Am I just stoned?"

                     "Basket Case" by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day

It was a really bad week mentally. I have felt like giving up, which is incredibly pathetic.  It is like saying you are going to run a marathon, then deciding to quit after your first five feet.  But, truthfully I have wondered if I can really do this.  

Losing one hundred pounds is a big goal and these first few pounds have played with my mind.  I have been engaging in bad comfort food habits for years and doing something different has been difficult.  And by that I mean I have not really changed anything yet.  I took the batteries out of my scale because I am so embarrassed that my weight is creeping back up. 

I think about things I say to my kids and I feel like a hypocrite.  I don't let them use the word "can't" around me and I tell them that just because you are not good at something at first does not mean you should just give up.  I tell them to keep trying and keep pushing.  I tell them that they can be great and they just have to give their best.  I tell them these things because I believe they are true..for them.  

My problem has been believing that all of this good advice is universal and actually applies to me as well.  I walk around with my mental hangups and intellectual road blocks and convince myself that the trying itself is a wasted effort.  Failure is definite so give up before you embarrass yourself--is a song that plays in my head at different volumes constantly.  I read about successful people all the time--it is one of my favorite past times.  The constant theme is that they are just as scared or more scared than most people, but they act despite their fears.  They push to greater heights even when their mind is screaming the "you-are-not-good-enough" mantra.  

I read this and understand this, but knowing it to be true for me has been the barrier.  I do not really know how to overcome that. 

Growing up as a teenager in North Carolina was fascinating.  At the time all of my insecurity and uncertainty about life pressed upon me, but looking back I could see how my environment was positively shaping who I was.  I used to attend church regularly and my mother encouraged me to go out for the Church Basketball Team.  

Now I do not know the exact rules for how you select players for Church League Basketball, but I am pretty sure it is something like, "If the kid's family goes to Church, then they are automatically accepted onto the team."  I am sure that the selection process for the choir was much, much tougher and if you could not sing the Choir Director would say something like: "You are terrible!  We are making a joyful noise unto the Lord and we will not have your non-singing self participate!  Use your other holy gifts that the Lord has bestowed upon thee like...umm...sitting quietly and listening to us sing!"-and then the Choir Director would put the lollipop back in his mouth.

So I was a part of the "team".  My first coach was a man who if I saw him today would probably still make me a little nervous.  Let us call him "Lil' Debo".  Lil' Debo, much like his name sake, was tough as nails and I think even his eyebrows were made of muscle.  I don't think I ever actually understood a word he said except for an occasional "RUHN!"  "JUMPHH!"  "PLAY BETTA!!"  He also had the strongest handshake of any person on Earth.  

When he shook your hand his goal was to try and get your pointer finger knuckle and pinky finger knuckle to touch in a warm embrace--otherwise known as breaking your hand.  He would not stop there as his second goal was to get them to do a seductive rhythmic samba as you literally cried in pain.  I am pretty sure he punished his kids by making them shake his hands.

 Someone not me playing basketball:

Looking back I am glad Lil' Debo was my coach.  I was so terrified of him, and I think my teammates were as well, that I ran when I didn't want to and PLAYED BETTA out of fear that he would whoop my tail.  I learned to push myself a little bit, which was an important lesson for me.  I also learned that being a little scared of your coach is good for discipline and motivation.  Having respect for his authority as coach helped shaped my character.  Plus if I didn't show him respect he would have made me shake his hand.

                                      Coach Lil' Debo:

Now my formative teenage years were during the 1990's so I was subject to the phenomena of the day.  At that time there was a focus on young Black men going to prison at ever increasing rates.  Someone decided the solution to this problem was to take youth who were going down the "wrong path" to the place they were headed; specifically prison.  This program affectionately known as "Scared Straight" was en vogue back then.  If you don't understand the concept it is like taking a young man who smokes a little marijuana to a crack house and yelling at him the whole time.  

Lil' Debo decided that what we needed to increase our discipline was a visit to the local jail so we could be Scared Straight.  I was too scared of Lil' Debo to raise any objections, and my mother probably assumed this made sense because she had a young Black boy who would face all kinds of pressures in life as he became a man.  Plus I don't think my protest would have succeeded anyway.

Me: "Listen, I get it..but I really don't need to do this.  I am a good guy, I don't do any drugs.  I am not having sex, (even though if I knew how I could have some sex I would do that immediately!).  I am playing Church basketball people, the key word is Church.  I am straight, I promise!  You don't need to scare me."

Prison Guard: "Well the form here says you are a teenager and you are Black so you are definitely going to jail. GET ON THE BUS MAGGOT!!"

So I was headed to jail along with my teammates.  I have no clue what I expected when I was on my way, but I just knew I was scared.  Movies and television shows were made about prison and they were never nice stories about people acting kind to one another, praying together and getting on the court for a friendly game of b-ball.  The movies usually involved a knife and someone using it not to cut food, someone being beat up by a group of other people, and the violent assault upon one man's out passage by another man's dual function lever. 

I do not know exactly how young men grow up now, but when I was a teenager one of the major rules was: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN NOT TO BE RAPED WHILE IN PRISON! (this is found in Section 32B of the "Growing Up" handbook which of course is available on Amazon).  

Up until that point in life I never even thought about that rule, since I was not planning on going to prison anytime soon and I was doing everything I could not to ever go.  But now, on this bus I was headed to a place where the "while in prison" part of the rule was going into effect.  I was nervous, on guard and irrationally scared as crap.

Looking back there are only a few things that spring to my mind about my Scared Straight experience.  The jail itself was a compilation of rooms with bars that could automatically open and close, and lots and lots of cots.  It looked like every movie scene of military barracks I had ever seen and I guess that made sense when you think about it.  These men were told where to go, when to sleep, and when to eat at every point of the day which was similar to a soldier's life.  The only difference was they were not being paid for their time and when they got out there were not going to be any "benefits".

I remember most of the men were Black.  At the time I don't think I thought much about it, but looking back we were not in the majority in my city, region or state.  And yet in that jail at that time, I was seeing men who looked like they could be my cousin everywhere I turned.  My whole basketball team was Black, so I am sure my teammates were feeling some strange feeling just like I was.

So we were walking through the jail, seeing different rooms there and having prisoners talk to us and stand really close to us and brush up against us every now and then.  I don't remember any of us "acting tough" because we were all young, good kids who just wanted to be the hell up out of there.  Everything was going as well as I guess it could have when it happened.....

I looked up from the room and about ten feet away there was this opening in a wall that was covered in glass.  I assume about ten feet behind that wall was where the showers were.  The opening was obviously there so a guard could look into the showers and make sure there were no shenanigans going on.  But the thing about windows is that they have two faces...

A man walked into the area of the glass opening with a wide smile.  He had a shaggy almost afro and started drying himself off in front of us.  He was completely naked and to this day had the largest penis I have ever seen in my life.  Let us name him "Killa".  

Here is another fun fact about Killa, he was way, way, way too comfortable talking to 11, 12 and 13 year old boys, while naked and drying himself off, while in prison.  I don't remember much of what he said, but I am sure my eyes and my teammates' eyes were bugging.  I do remember one thing he said, "What y'all ain't never seen a GROWN man before?  Move a little closer!"  I did not however, "move a little closer".  I was frozen in place, wishing to God this man would not KEEP TALKING TO ME AND TRYING TO STARE INTENTLY INTO MY EYES.  My greatest fear was that his d*ck was going to bust through the glass somehow and touch me from ten feet away.  I was also probably wondering how his penis was hitting the side of his ankle while he was standing straight up like he was tapping out a beat.  At least that is what I wondered in my nightmares later.

                                       Killa if he were albino:

Looking back I would have asked him some questions (while maintaining constant eye contact with his face...just his face).

Me: Sir what is your name?

Killa: Well "sugar buns" they call me Killa.

Me: Please don't call me that.

Killa: Ok "honey tail".

Me: Sir what are you in for?

Killa: fraudulense?

Me: you have any problems in here?

Killa: Yes I most definitely do!

Me: What are they?

Killa: Well "sweet throat" I have an ass problem!  See...

Me: No further questions...  

Seeing Killa was incredibly unpleasant, because he vividly reminded us that we were in a prison with grown men.  If we ever came to the prison we would be forced to be around other men, eat together, shower together and sleep together (on cots, please just on the cots!!)  When I left that prison I was changed.  I was a good kid before, but now I had a little extra motivation not to be an idiot.  What is that?  You want to hang out after school?  MY MOMMY SAID I HAVE HOMEWORK!!  MY MOMMY SAID I HAVE HOMEWORK!!!

I imagined getting arrested and convicted and going back to that prison except this time the conversation with Killa would be different.  First someone would push me into a room and there would be Killa with a wide smile.

(While Holding his finger to my lips) Killa: "Don't talk "sugar".  They call me Killa and from now on they will call you "my bitch".  Let me show you how this works, just get on your knees (unziiipppp)."

Yeah, that was not happening because I was scared completely straight.  In a way that weird social experiment worked, since I stayed away from activities that could put me in a cot next to Killa.  I think if I saw Coach Lil' Debo again I would thank him for being so tough and for taking us to jail that one time.  But I would definitely give him a fist bump though...

Catch you next week.

P.S.--The mind can be a terrible machine sometimes.  The one thing I can not remember about that moment with Killa is the towel.  I CAN NOT REMEMBER THE TOWEL!  Out of all the horribleness of seeing Killa play the original ADAM I can not remember the towel.  It is like I just remember him making all the hand motions of drying, but doing it while only holding air.  YOU HAD ONE JOB PART OF MY MIND THAT SUPPRESSES HORRIBLE MEMORIES!!   
P.S.S.--Special shout out to my wife and best friend who convinced me to be honest and keep this up.  I can do this because you are here to support me.  Special shout out also goes to the smartest seven footer I personally know who told me I need to get on this blog post because the people are waiting for it!  Thanks for the extra motivation bro...


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