I was sentenced to life in prison at 18. It was almost a blessing in disguise

June 15, 2017

“I was born in Prichard and am known as Champ to my friends and family. That is my alter ego. It actually goes back to my dad and is one of my few connections to remember him. My dad loved Mohammed Ali and used to watch boxing. My cousin would hold me up and call me Champ. My dad was shot and killed before me and my family when I was three years old. He was only 24 or 25. I felt isolated and cold and my life went blank for a few years. It is a cold world that we live in and witnessing the death of my father caused a misdirected source of anger during most of my elementary years and I was put in jail at a young age. At that time there was no counseling because where I am from, we believed counseling is only what crazy people do. But when I wrote the book in prison and put my pain, thoughts, and anger on paper, it was therapy for me. It helped me understand why I was sentenced to life at the age of 18. It was almost a blessing in disguise.

I quit school at 15 and started selling drugs. I watched my whole community be demoralized and dehumanized by crack cocaine. I contributed to the madness and had a lot of self-destruction. It was do or die out there and I was trying to get rich in a hurry. I had no moral consciences or regard for human life, my only objective was to make money. I was a teenager making $2-3,000 per day. I lived fast and spent it all. I snorted cocaine sometimes, but the lifestyle was more addicting than the drugs. We would spend it at the mall. I was 17 and would slip the guy at the door $50 because I was too young to get in. All of my friends were doing the same things. That was our lifestyle.

I would make $10, $50, even $2.50 a sale. People came to me with anything for drugs. Someone pulled out their dentures to trade them for drugs because they had bartered and used everything else in their house. Crack is the most demoralizing and dehumanizing drug of the century. I wrote a chapter in the book about it. In my neighborhood, we couldn’t relate to superheroes and Spider-Man or Superman. The people we idolized were the drug dealers and the gangsters. They were the ones that had it made.

I shot and killed a man when a drug deal went bad. He didn’t give me the money he was supposed to give me and I picked up a pistol and shot him six times. It was first degree murder and distribution of crack cocaine. I was 18 and it was my first time to go to prison. It was horrible, the filth, the unwashed bodies. Prison is lonely and you are an isolated island and can’t trust anyone. It breeds violence. I had a few fights, but I grew up a lot while I was there. I realized all of my friends were in prison, on drugs or had been killed. In the second year, most of my friends and associates were in jail and I woke up to what drugs had done to our lives.”

“What did you feel when you heard the judge say ‘life in prison?'”

“I went blank after I heard the sentence. The handcuffs felt like 1,000 pounds. Racial slurs were going through my mind and I wanted to put my hands around his neck and make him feel the way I felt. I wanted to kick the judge and spit on the lawyer. How could I make them feel the way I feel? There was no remorse, just anger. They got me out of the old county jail at 3 in the morning, put me in handcuffs and shackled my feet. I thought this is how the brought us to America in chains. It was economic exploitation and I realized jails are big business.

Walking into prison, I had on Air Jordans. It was 1990, and a lot of them had been locked up and had never seen Air Jordans so they were all looking at my shoes. They were living like savages.

I thought I would die in prison. I decided to write my life story in case I didn’t get out alive. I would never let the system break or define me. being a rebellious person I kept that spirit. I was never going to be a ward of the state. I was in prison but psychologically I was free. There was nothing I liked about prison. When I was 8 years old. I visited my uncle in prison and he told me a story about Soldier who did 29 years in prison. He was released but turned himself in because he could not function in society. I didn’t want to be like Soldier. I saw a lot of people be institutionalized.

There were a few people I associated with in prison, but I didn’t trust anyone. My second week of prison, someone broke into my box and I realized it was one of my homeboys. One of the old timers told me homeboys are the most dangerous species.

We woke up at 4:30. Breakfast was at 5. Went back to the cell until 7 a.m. During the day we went to trade school or worked on the farm or at a prison job. It was hardcore slave activities. The state of Alabama had a contract for growing cucumbers and every inmate had to go out and pick cucumbers and got paid $1 a month. Slavery is legal in prison. The 13th Amendment says slavery is legal upon conviction of a crime. When I first went in 1990, they were paying $1 a month. Then they cut out that and coffee and free stamps. The system is designed to break a person.

I had a change of heart in prison and realized the good we do outweighs the bad. I got my GED and began to tutor and encourage young inmates. I never gave up and kept a positive mental attitude and encouraged others to do better. The positivity came from the spirit of my ancestors and Nat Turner and Malcolm X. Even when I was hustling, I wanted a better way of life. Righteousness was always there even during my darkest times.

When I went to prison, I was functionally illiterate. Words like dear or deer were confusing. I sent my mother a mother’s day card and didn’t know how to spell it correctly so a friend in prison gave me a dictionary. I read and started building up my vocabulary. The first sentences that I wrote in the book were a dedication to my grandmother. She died nine months into my prison sentence. I wrote ‘I wrote this book for the purpose of physical and mental freedom while serving time in the prison system.’

I went up for parole three times and the fourth time I made it. You never get your hopes up, I had no expectations. I didn’t believe it until I got out. They don’t give you reason for denial. An officer had been watching me from a distance and considered me to be the one model inmate in the Alabama prison system. He recommended me for parole and he is the reason I am out.

For parole, they interview you and submit the paperwork. My family went to a parole hearing in Montgomery. They told them I would be released in two to three weeks. I counted it down, but didn’t tell anyone I made parole. I had heard about people who got parole and prisoners jumped on them and stabbed them before they got out or people would call the parole board to get them to change their mind.

My family brought me clothes for the day I left prison and I walked out in a charcoal gray linen suit and black shoes. It was finally happening. For seven or eight years, I had told people how they should live when they got out of prison, now I was going to get to be an example of my own words. The first thing I did when I got out was to go pray. There is nothing better than to be praying on carpet than dirt or concrete. The 14 years and 8 months in prison was a blessing in disguise. I regret what I did and that I had to do that much time, but I wasn’t bitter.

There were challenges to getting readjusted and technology and the world changed. Mobile had changed. I took my time and learned things the right way. I learned how to use a cell phone and fill out a job application. I had to connect with a whole new group of people. I couldn’t go back to who and where I was. I have a few people now that I trust. I trust a lot of people about 5%, If I trust you at 6%, you may be too close.

It is hard to get a job even when you have been pardoned. The Mobile County Personnel Board is an enemy of employment in Mobile. They have denied me a job twice to be a detention officer at Strickland Youth Center. People in authority are going to keep our people in bondage and they know I am trying to work to get kids out trouble and out of the juvenile system. Pardon means everything has been wiped clean including the felony, but I have to tell people anyway. I have to press forward.

I finished the book before I got out of prison, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be a statistic returning to prison and after five years I started moving forward with getting it published the first time. I didn’t have much support in Mobile but was encouraged by AJ Cooper and John Woods from Fairhope. The second edition comes out today on Amazon and Kindle and everywhere with an additional chapter about the first ten years of me being out.

I do a lot of speaking and working with kids and they use me as a reference. I am unemployed right now but I am in a place where I can help other people get a job. I want to be a counselor, mentor or community advocate and help other people making transitions in life. I may have to start my own foundation one day because my passion is to help people, not a paycheck.

I met my wife because she got lucky. I had just got out and was working for minimum wage, going to Bishop State and selling purses and clothes out of the trunk of my car. I sold a purse to a lady at the laundromat and the girl who was going to become my wife came out to see. We started talking and she got lucky and met me. My wife is an educator with a life totally different than mine. I am sure there was some negativity about why she was involved with me but I know my value and worth and I am not going to be belittled. You have to be a man or people will walk over you.

My first job out of prison was cleaning Ben May Library. Tonight I am going back there for a book signing for ‘Poverty and Prison’ and the showing of the documentary, ‘Redemption Beyond My Past’ to clean up the misconceptions about people getting out of prison. Society dictates that we aren’t worth anything, but that is not true.

I want to continue to live a quality life where I can educate and inspire others that change is possible. I want to see all people have the same opportunity that I have. You may have challenges shortcomings and you may fall but you can always pull yourself up. Don’t let your challenge define you.”

1 Comment

  1. SDW Case

    I am impressed by your spirit and determination. See you at your book signing and the documentary tonight.


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