I couldn’t believe my mom was right. Here I was, 25 years old and I was headed to prison.
I got my sentence and my mind immediately began to wander. I started thinking about everything I had seen about prison on TV. I started thinking about how many fights I would get into, because I ain’t no punk, I knew I was gonna fight. I thought about the “Don’t drop the soap” jokes. I talked to other inmates to hear what they said prison was like. I tried not to show them the fear I was feeling as I asked my questions, but I needed to know what it was going to be like.
With shackles on my arms and legs, the TDC guards loaded us up on the “Blue Bird.” That chicken fence you see on TV, that’s the real deal. I tried to mask my nervousness and fear– you could see the fear in other people’s eyes. It was easy to tell the difference between those like me and those who had been before.
We got to the prison diagnostics unit, the unit where all the prisoners go to get labelled, numbered and assigned a unit. The diagnostic unit is kind of like herding cattle, but for prisoners. There are men everywhere.
At the diagnostic unit, you learn the rules. You learn about the hallways and which side of the yellow line to walk on.
“There won’t be no troubles, there won’t be no problems, it’s just y’all inability to do one simple thing. You gonna get up off that head runnin’ in my hallways.”
I busted out laughing. This man was black and he sounded country as hell. It was the first time I knew I was in trouble, he chewed my a**.
I was assigned my 6 digit number– 51- – – – . I wish I could remember the whole number but all I remember is that it started with 51. After I got my number, I became “Inmate 51 – – – -,” I was no longer Timothy Parker and they let me know it.
My first unit was the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont, TX. I was sent there because it was my first time. There were a lot of other first or second time non-violent offenders trying to do what they need to get home.
In prison, everybody is whatever they want to be. No one tells the truth about why they are really there. I wasn’t going to tell them I was a dope fene walking the streets and stealing inspection stickers to support my drug habit. Nobody there was what they said they were. To the other inmates, I was “Fast Black.”
Back then, one month served was equal to one year served. I learned quickly if I did everything I was supposed to do, I could be home in six months.
The Mark Stiles unit wasn’t what I thought prison would be like. The blacks and whites mixed, people weren’t fighting, and everyone there was just doing what they needed to get home.
This was my first exposure to prison and I was out free in less than a year. I was home so fast it was pitiful. I think I did more time in county jail than I did in prison. Needless to say, I didn’t really learn the lesson the Judge thought I would learn.
As I neared the end of my sentence, I prepared to be released. They tell you to have a plan. My plan was to go to day labor to make enough money for a bus ticket then go stay at the shelter.
I went back to the diagnostic unit to book out, got my $200, and walked through the “Golden Gates.”
I had gone over a year without any dope or alcohol and they handed me $200!
It was so hard to fight the urges that filed me instantly as I walked through the Golden Gates. I managed to resist the urges and got on the bus but the whole way back to Dallas all I could think about was getting high. The urges got stronger and stronger as I got closer. I went to report to my parole officer and made it to the halfway house still sober. The next day, I went and checked in with my parole officer then walked away to go get high.
The entire time I was in prison I never worked on what caused me to be there. I never thought about it, it was never a conversation I had.
“I had only been out of prison for 4 days before I was back in jail.”
This time, the sentence was 10 years. I was headed to prison for the second time but I still didn’t think the problem was me.
Those white folks were racist. That woman lied on me. The system is messed up. I was full of excuses but I had no idea it was the drugs.
This time around, I was one of the guys in the “Blue Bird” that didn’t have fear in his eyes. I knew what to expect. I had been here before. This ain’t sh**!
The second time around, they sent me to the Beto Unit. Beto was nothing like the dorm that I was in before. Beto was a walls unit. There were bars. You could hear the doors shutting– it was totally different.
I immediately started getting into it with the guards. I quickly learned the term “14 and 1.” It was in closed custody that I realized I was a damn fool. Not just a fool, a DAMN FOOL. I had heard people say “You’ve crossed the line from being a boy to a man,” and I always wondered where that line was. It was at the Beto unit where I finally understood what they meant.
At this point in my life I started thinking about God. I was still carrying a lot of anger and I was mad at God but I wanted to understand why everyone had a belief in something and I didn’t. I learned about Judism, Hidnuism, and the Nation of Islam. I decided to follow the Nation of Islam because they were saying the stuff I wanted to hear. The Nation of Islam had a lot of rules. I didn’t understand all the rules and why I had to follow them. I started questioning the rules and that led me to following Islam. I started reading the Quran and really got into it but I felt burdened again by my inability to do what was expected. Once again, I wandered off of the spiritual journey.
Two years. That’s how much time I did on my second trip to prison. This time, I was prepared to go through those Golden Gates. I knew I had to have a plan. I wanted to do right. I couldn’t afford to mess up again. The plan was for me and two other guys to get on the bus and go straight to Dallas. We were there to support each other and that was going to be difference this time. But TDC had other plans. They threw us a curve ball. I went to get my papers and my $200 and they said “You’re going to Fort Worth.”
Fort Worth? Why was this happening? I had a plan for Dallas. I knew how I could make the $200 last me for a month in Dallas and I was going to follow that. At least, that’s what I believed. I didn’t know anything about Fort Worth. I was scared, nervous, and had nothing to fall on.
It wasn’t long before I found myself in county jail… again. I hadn’t talked to my mom in years but for some reason, she was the one I wanted to talk to. We cried together on the phone and I told her I was tired– the drugs were doing me in and I was sick of it.
“Baby, you gotta pray and tell God how you feel, from the bottom of your gut. God will relieve that craving that you have. You gotta believe in the power of prayer.”
So I prayed, “God, I need you to help me remove this craving of crack cocaine. I do not want to live like this no more, I mean it.”
I started to see some signs that God was real. My dad… I don’t know how… found my parole officer and helped me get back to Dallas. I was staying with my Aunt, working construction and life was getting so much better. I thought, “Wow, God’s really doing His thing.”
“But the devil was working too and he got me again.”
I was driving down the highway with my cousin and the urge to use was so strong. I needed to get out of the car right then. I needed to get high.
That was November 12, 1992.
For the next 2 and ½ months, my life spiraled completely out of control.
After a few months of being homeless and living on the streets without a shower, people could smell me before they could see me. My hair was knotted, and my clothes were dirty and ripped. I was sweating dirt. If you looked at my feet you would have looked away. The sores were so bad I could barely walk.
I remember seeing my reflection in a window and thinking to myself, “Wow, you actually look the way you feel on the inside.”
One time, I ran into this guy on the street who knew me and when he said hi, I pretended I didn’t know him.
“I denied who I was because I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.”
Do you know what it’s like to be so embarrassed by your life that you deny who you are?
Talk about rock bottom. I was there.
I was desperate.
This dope dealer kid would taunt me and tell me he had a present for me. He had crack crumbs in his hand and as he dropped them to the ground I raced to get the little bits of crack I could gather.
“At one point in my life, I was doing hundreds of dollars of crack, and now I was begging for the drug dealers crumbs.”
I was so angry with God.
“God, what happened? I said I didn’t want to do this anymore. You ain’t real!”
I remember walking through the streets, hitting the crack pipe and screaming at God, cursing him out.
“The devil’s gonna get you with what you do. He got me with crack.”
January 28, 1993 – I never thought I would be so grateful to be arrested.
Back in county jail, again, I was standing next to the trash can asking for the vegetables the inmates were throwing away when this white kid walked up to me. I could see the bible in his hand. Steve, this skinny little white guy, says to me, “I’ve got something to tell you, it’s important. The Lord told me to tell you that you don’t have to be mad at him anymore.”
His words messed me up.
No one knew I was just cursing God out. No one knew! Why would he say that? I ran to my bunk that night and cried myself to sleep. This skinny little white kid might as well have been the biggest black guy in the jail cell because I was scared straight. The next day, I asked him why he said that and he said, “I don’t know, I just felt God nudging me to say that to you. God is going to keep you where you are closest to Him.”
I had no idea what he meant, I thought God was getting even with me for getting high in church. What did he mean, “God is going to keep you where you are closes to Him.”
“You have been found guilty and I sentence you to 30 years in the penitentiary.”
That’s when it hit me.
This is what the white boy meant!
(This blog is Part Two of a three part story. To read parts ne and three, follow the links below.)