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I’m not going to make it in prison. I don‘t think I’ll crack, I mean survive in general. When I give it some thought and consider my personality, it’s almost a guarantee I get stabbed.
I started life poor. My young mother crocheted doilies and held Avon parties. She did her best raising me and tending house. My dad worked as a salesman by day and pumped gas at night (yes, yes, pumping other people’s gas used to be a real job). These traits are why he and my mother climbed from the housing projects to upper-class in a steady rise throughout their lives.
I used to think I escaped the slums. Looking around, I’m not sure I did. I got into my first fight at age four. It took place in the Fifth-Ward Housing Projects in Houston. There were even ringside seats.
My mom has told this story often, so I know it well. We were one of two caucasian families in these projects, and despite having the same skin, it was Bubba (his Christian name), who gave me the most problems. He was a few years older than me, and his parents encouraged him to be dominant.
I came home one day holding my bleeding nose. My mom asked what happened. I said, “Bubba wanted my G.I. Joe, I told him no, so he pushed my face, and then tried to pass my face.”
“Pass your face?”
I stepped away and pantomimed a kick. I was learning soccer, but all I had absorbed was how to pass the ball.
This was the first and one of the only times, I saw my mom get angry. She marched me down to their house and demanded the return of my G.I. Joe.
The Bubba clan refused on grounds of Darwinism.
An argument ensued, escalated, and my father paused his changing of the oil to come drag my mom away.
That night, my parents made a decision. My dad had just completed four years in the Marines, and my mom had fought to escape a frightening past. They combined these strengths and taught me how to make a fist and punch.
My mother spent the next twenty years claiming it was the biggest mistake of their lives, but my anger issues, which started in my teenage years, had nothing to do with what they showed me.
After a training montage, the day came for me to retrieve my G.I. Joe. The sun was up, but past the blaze that Houston provides. I remember my dad doing push-ups and rolling a pack of cigarettes into his sleeve, revealing his much-loved tattoo of a bulldog wearing a Marine‘s shirt. My mom was fired up. She banged on the door and explained I was hear to fight Bubba and winner gets the G.I. Joe.
The Bubba‘s laughed. They brought out lawn chairs and called over neighbors. Bubba‘s dad had a beer belly. He eased into a chair with a six pack, offered my dad one, who refused, then kicked back. Bubba‘s skinny mother was so convinced of her son’s victory, she went around their apartment and gathered all of the toys Bubba had stolen from me.
Bubba and I were ushered into the center and everyone waited.
With a grin in place, Bubba pushed me.
I balled my little fists under my jaw and narrowed my eyes.
“Get ‘em boy,” Bubba‘s mom yelled. On his way in, I kicked him on the shin and popped him with a left jab, then a right hook that set him on his butt.
I approached like a robot. My upper body swaying with each step, my fists glued under my chin. I mounted his lap and landed a few methodical rights before my dad stepped in and lifted me off of Bubba, who curled up and wailed.
All of the spectators were riled up. Bubba‘s dad laughed and threw an empty beer can at his son.
My mom collected my toys and we did the walk of champions.
I don‘t recall fighting again until Junior High, when one event derailed my life.
I was a happy boy with loving parents. I loved to read Hardy Boys mysteries and my mother made sure I always had a new book. My dad encouraged my imagination by playing ninja with me or Conan the Barbarian. We built tree forts in the summer, rolled snow forts in the winter, and made them with blankets and couches on rainy nights.
By seventh grade, I was a popular kid, in advanced classes, ran track, and wrestled.
We’d elevated to lower-middle class. One day, an older boy gathered everyone at his house after school. We piled on and around the couch in his basement as he toyed with the VCR.
When the movie played, I was transfixed. I forgot I was surrounded by peers, or in a room, or on a rock called Earth.
I was watching my first porno.
Twenty seconds into it a boy darted from the couch and shut it off.
The host told us he had found the video in his parent’s closet.
We all hopped on our bikes and dispersed. We had homes to search!
For the next few days we would assemble at different homes and watch a minute clip. Looking back, anything longer would have been too awkward.
The day came for all of my friends to watch the one I had found. We took our spots and I played it. A second later, I hurried to shut it off.
It was homemade and of my parents. There was another couple. A woman filming and a naked man near my naked parents. We all freaked out and laughed. I was embarrassed, but not too much… these were my friends.
The next day at school one of the other popular kids, who was much larger and more developed than I, asked to see my hand. The gathering crowd had hungry eyes, which made me nervous. But no problem, me and this guy had done sleepovers, we hung in the same crowd. I was protected from pranks by the public school societal hierarchy.
He pinned my hand back in a manner his police officer father had shown him. The pain was so intense, I dropped to my knees and begged him to stop.
A few seconds later, he shoved me down (he’s a police officer now). From my rump, I massaged my wrist and searched the kids around me.
Why did he do that?
He said something about my mom being a whore and walked away.
At the next class break, I got more. But now it was my dad was a faggot and a pimp. They laughed at everything I said. I left school at lunch and went home to cry.
My world changed.
The following morning I had resolved to confront the kid who bent my wrist. He was a year older, double my size and had already shaved. I challenged him to a fight after school, where I held on, did not cry, but lost soundly.
Any bullying or whispers about me were countered with a challenge to fight. Most didn’t think the tradeoff fair. Some did. Soon I was fighting bullies at other schools. It carried into my twenties. All the while I researched the science of strikes and submissions.
I got older, found less bullies, and gradually relinquished my anger. In prison, however, there are multitudes of bullies and I feel the old juices flowing. I find myself stretching, visualizing a fight.
The guys in here may be tough, but they know nothing of hand-to-hand combat, grappling, or boxing. They think because they listen to certain music, have tattoos, use slang, force baritone, and one time sucker-punched a drunk cousin at a barbecue, that they can fight.
I want to show them that it‘s not nice to pick on people, but fights will add to my sentence. Besides, I want to grow, not regress. I want to read and write, learn who cares about me, and make new friends for my future life.
We‘ll see how it goes, but at what point does staying in-line become cowardly? When is punching a guy in the face because he’s an asshole and everyone else is too scared to do it, noble?
I’m not sure. I’ll try and lay low until I hear your thoughts. Please continue checking on me.
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