TALES FROM THE PEN

This is an excerpt of the cursive handwriting on lined paper from which the article is transcribed.

The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters by our correspondent “Leather,” who is currently serving a sentence because of charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general. Leather was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison but has recently been transferred to a facility in Ferriday.


Just A Good Ole’ Boy

How many of y’all have heard that term? Do you know what it means? I’m 55 years-old and I’ve heard it all my life, and I’m just learning what it really means. You see, growing up in New Orleans I’ve always dealt with racism. But it wasn’t until I went to prison in Ferriday, LA did I really learn what it meant—well, all of the hidden meanings. I always thought that white people who didn’t care for other races such as blacks were evil and did really bad things to people they didn’t care for. But that’s not true.

You see, they’re really smart, at least the ones in prison are. In prison they’ve learned to adapt to their surroundings. They understand there’s power in numbers. And in most of the jails I’ve been in, blacks are the majority, so it would be impossible for them to win if a riot broke out. So what they do is they tolerate us. But there are all kinds of signs to let you know when you’re around them, certain things they say and do to let you know they’re racist, such as their tattoos like skulls, lightning bolts, dogs, rebel flags, etc. You can even tell by how they congregate even with something as simple as church call (that’s where Christians pray at night right before lights out). It’s funny because usually there’s 10 or 15 people in church call but when a black guy [is there] there’s only about 6 or 7. That’s crazy, because even in prayer there’s racism. How can there be hate in church call? Let’s not say hate, let’s say dislike.

And it’s so obvious in this town. On this unit, there’s bias. For example, just about a week ago a black inmate passed out on the basketball court. We all started calling for deputies, “Man down, man down!” For a good 7 minutes, nobody came. Then a white guy who was smoking mojo passed out. Now here comes the medical staff and an army of deputies to the yard. They went straight to the white inmate even though we called for the black inmate first. Now all the blacks are yelling “Black Lives Matter!”

Now I don’t want y’all to think I’m being biased because I’m not. I try my best to judge every situation as fair as I can. To better prove my point, the very next day two black inmates got into a fight. One pulled out a knife and stabbed the other guy repeatedly. Now in this prison there’s cameras on every dorm, three to be exact, and an officer in the control room whose job is solely to constantly monitor the cameras. But for some reason this fight went on for maybe 15 minutes. Might not seem like a long time, but you have to realize a heavyweight boxing match only lasts around 3 minutes, so imagine being stabbed with a homemade knife for 10 minutes. Man, blood everywhere. It took deputies and med staff almost 15 minutes to respond. As a result, a young man died that day, what a shame. Now I’m not saying that was because the guy was black, but because they took so long to respond. That just shows me how much human life means in prison here in Concordia Parish, LA.

As I reminisce about the phrase “Just a Good Ole’ Boy,” I can remember shows like the Dukes of Hazzard’s theme song: “Just a good ole’ boy, never meaning no harm.” Ha, living in a small town with only white folks, no blacks, with their rebel flag on their car. I loved that show. I never thought it had any hidden meaning.

And if you’re wondering how I came to this conclusion and what made me write this article, I was lying in my rack one night, and I overheard two white guys talking. One said to the other one, “I’m sure glad we still have some good ole’ boys around here” or these black guys would take over. Of course, you know he used the N word instead of black guys, and automatically something clicked in my head. It hit me like a ton of bricks exactly what he meant, as if I’ve known all my life. I didn’t want to assume what they meant, so I started asking the white guys I knew around the dorm if what I was wondering was true. And I was amazed at how honest some of these white guys were. You can tell by the way they act, by their tattoos and names such as Bobcat, Wrongturn, Moondog, Billy Bob, Critter, and John Boy.

If you’re not aware of what’s going on around you in jail, you could find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time. And if that happens it could easily cost you your life. You gotta watch how you move, because there is no manual on jailhouse etiquette, but there are unwritten rules that you must learn, and if you don’t know them the best way to learn is to observe. Things like: when you go to the restroom to do a number two, always take one pants leg completely off. This is in case someone tries to attack you when you’re using the bathroom, a time when you’re vulnerable. There’s only one other time an inmate is vulnerable and that’s when he’s lying in bed sleeping, but only a wuss would hit a man while he’s asleep. Not that it doesn’t happen, because it does.

But as far as the Good Ole’ Boys, they don’t bother anyone. They mostly stick to themselves in their own circle. But if you aggravate them, make no mistake: they will fight and the difference between blacks and whites is that the white guys train every day for combat, exercising, kicking, and punching, getting themselves ready for war. Because in their minds they don’t know when, but they know that sooner or later they’ll have to go into battle, so physically they’re getting their bodies ready.

I used to think that being a racist meant that you hate all other races. That’s not all true. What I’ve figured out is that they just want their own space and have a strong sense of pride for their race just like me. Is that a crime? I don’t think so, but I do think some of them go too far. Those are to me extremist, these are the ones you have to worry about. These extremists are very dangerous, and given the opportunity would do serious harm to anybody who wasn’t like them, anybody with different views. These are the ones who commit serious hate crimes such as burning down churches, bombings, mass shootings. A lot of these Good Ole’ Boys live in small towns all across America with people who share their views, people who own their own land. A lot of them come from money, old money, where they pretty much live in isolated areas where they don’t have to deal with other people outside their own race.

A lot of these Good Ole’ Boys make a living by cooking meth, growing weed, or making good old fashion moonshine, where they make money in the dry counties somewhere in the Deep South, like Huck-A-Buck Louisiana, where times haven’t changed much since the 1800s, where blacks and whites lived separately, blacks in the bottoms or across the tracks, and white folks lived uptown with their yale manners, fancy cars, and big houses, and they have no problems with blacks cleaning their homes or raising little Bobby Jr. And it’s amazing to me that there’s still people who are living in the past, after all that America has been through. Me, I’m proud to be American, and I don’t care what color you are. But some people want to own that title as Americans.

So if you are one of these Good Ole’ Boys please stop and take a minute of your time, to get to know some ways of other races. Learn about different cultures, different traditions. Take time to learn about your fellow man. This country has a lot of problems: poverty, homelessness, disease, coronavirus. These are problems that affect everybody and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what color you are. We fight for this beautiful country, side by side, because we are all God’s children. Just think: if you needed a heart transplant would you really care who it came from? So if you’re one of the Good Ole’ Boy do me a favor, just try being a Good Boy. Love is the answer, it doesn’t matter what the question is!


 

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