The blistering hot sun hung high in the mid-day sky of early June (1977) as we drove through the streets of Detroit. As I gazed through the window, I noticed parents watching their children playing and running under an opened fire hydrant, relieving themselves from the 90-degree heat. I shifted in my seat as we pulled into an intersection. The sound of music broke the silence, as a little red convertible pulled alongside of us with four beautiful women inside, rocking their heads to the beat. When they noticed us staring at them, their faces saddened and, hunching their shoulders with upturned hands, showed they understood our collective plights. At that moment, I wondered when I would ever have the opportunity to touch another woman.
The pain in my wrist snapped me out of my daydream as we drove off. I readjusted the handcuffs and focused my attention on the State Prison Bus that contained myself and nineteen other men.
“What do you think it’s going to be like?”, the man chained next to me asked.
“I have no idea”, I responded, hoping that my mannerism and tone of voice showed that I didn’t want to talk. I took my last look at the city and closed my eyes as the prison bus headed down the I-75 service ramp … destination, The State Prison of Southern Michigan (Jackson).
“Wake up bro., wake up! We’re here.” I had dozed off, thinking about all the horror stories I’d heard about Jackson’s State Penitentiary. For the first time since boarding the bus, I really took notice of the man sitting next to me. He was probably a couple years younger than I; light skinned, with an Afro hair style. I could see the fear in his eyes. I looked out the window at what was billed “The tallest walled prison in the world.” The barred windows and red, four- storied brick structure made my stomach turn, I hoped I was doing a better job at hiding my fear than the man next to me.
“When I call your name and County Jail I.D. number, step off the bus, keep your mouths shut, and stand in a single file outside. Newsome, 900761!” Fighting the urge to complain about the belly-chains & leg-irons being too tight, I silently arose, and made my way off the bus. Once outside, the prison looked like a giant, window barred, apartment complex. That’s when it started. Slowly at first, then it picked up until a torrent of voices poured from the barred windows facing the bus.
“Welcome to hell motherf*@kers …” one man shouted.
“”Fresh meat”, shouted another.
“I see my new girlfriend, the light-skinned bitch with the Afro, yeah you!” one shouted. And I stood there, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. As the rest of the men lined up behind me, I looked back and saw the petrified look of fear on many of their faces (especially ole ‘light-skin) and hoped again that I was better at dissimulation.
The guard who called off the names led the way to a door marked “Processing.” Once inside, we were all un- chained, and I rubbed my wrist until the feelings came back. Processing consisted of having your first name officially changed to a number [149982, Newsome], being stripped naked, sprayed with a fire hose, and doused with a white powder. After we were cleaned, dressed in prison blues, given a bedroll, we were led down a short tunnel, up a small flight of stairs to what was called: “7-Block, Quarantine.”
We entered on the base-level, where looking up, I saw four galleries of barred cells on either side of the building. The noise of hundreds of men yelling and moving about, rushed my ears like a shot-gun blast. My heart pounded in my chess as I was given a door-card that read,149982, Newsome /55 forth, and told to take the stair to forth gallery. By this time the noise level had dropped, and all the attention was focused on the new “Fish” on base, which added to the uneasiness I felt.
As I walked up the steel steps, I felt as if I would fall through their hollowed checkered frames. “Where you from Young Blood?”, a voice questioned as I reached 4th gallery. I looked up at an Older brother, with what I would learn later, was a doo-rag tied around his head.
“Detroit”, I replied. I paused, then asked, “Why!?”
He looked at me, sized me up and stated: “Easy Young Blood. and lose the attitude. This yo’ first day, don’t get off on the wrong foot. How much time you got?”
I didn’t detect a threat, so I eased up. “Two life bits. Murder I & Armed Robbery”, I added as if I was proud of it.
As we reached my cell, he asked: “What they call you Young Blood, and what side of the city you from?”
“My name is Sput-Nick and I’m off the Westside, 12th & Pingree.” This information seemed to impress him more than my crimes. Then a somber look appeared on his face.
“I’m off Blain & 12th, and I ain’t seen the ‘hood in 26 years.”
Twenty-six years! My mind couldn’t even process the thought. I looked at him again, closer this time, trying to see what 26 years of time looked like on a man. I couldn’t see it. I was 19 years old, and he looked to be in better shape than I was.
“ATTENTION! ATTENTON! IT IS NOW COUNT TIME! ALL PRISONERS REPORT TO YOUR CELLS AND LOCK DOWN, NOW!” The booming voice over the P.A. took me off guard, the speaker was directly in front of my cell.
The cell door opened and I stepped inside. “Dig little homie” …
“Sput-Nick”, I interjected.
“Okay, Sput-Nick, my name is Mo Mo, and I’ll see you after count clears.” With that he walked to his cell, and the doors closed. I looked around; a worn-out mattress lay folded on a poorly spring bed frame; a sink mounted next to a toilet, both stained with caked up orange rust; and the roaches were everywhere. I smashed a few before making my bunk and laying down. My thoughts drifted from My Last Day of freedom, to My First Day of incarceration, and the day was still young.
“The closest thing to making up for lost time, is using wisely the time you have now.” (D. Newsome El #49982)