Walking into Receiving and Discharging on my first day in prison, I felt what seemed to be a million butterflies bouncing off the inside of my stomach. Here I was, an 18-year-old first-time offender carrying a 50-year sentence on my shoulders.
One of the officers called names from a piece of paper that she held in her hands. When she called, “Clark!” I stood on the wall just as the guys before me had been instructed to do.
My heart began to pick up its pace as I stood next to two older criminals who were having a conversation about all the prisons they’ve been to and all the violent acts they’d participated in and witnessed. Hearing these gruesome stories put a significant spike in my blood pressure. Still I kept a stern face while trying to hide how I really felt…petrified!
While listening to them, my mind began to drift. I started asking myself, “Am I suppose to be at this particular prison? Would these older convicts take advantage of me because of my age?”
“Clark!” I heard someone yell.
I snapped out of my nervous and scared thoughts before asking, “Did you call Clark”?
“About three times! When someone calls your name I suggest you answer, kid.”
The officer pointed to a door that was slightly open. Entering the room I noticed two officers sitting at a table covered with brown folders. One of the officers looked up from whatever he was reading before telling me to shut the door and have a seat. As soon as I sat down I looked at the two officers. One was fat and the other had a pair of brass glasses sitting on top of his bony nose.
The officer with the skinny face said, “It seems that you’ll be spending the rest of your days with us. They gave you a fifty-year sentence. Is that right, Mr. Clark?” I could feel the anger and the shame that my sentence placed on me.
“Yeah, they gave me fifty years.” I was still trying my best to come to grips with all that time.
“Well, I have a few questions I want to ask you before we place you into General Population, ok?”
I shook my head up and down indicating that I understood him.
“Do you know any reason that you cannot be placed in General Population?” I didn’t know what to say so I took a minute to rethink his question.
He saw my hesitant reaction and asked, “ Do you have any enemies? Are you a homosexual? Have you cooperated with law enforcement? Are you scared to go into General Population?”
I shook my head no to all his questions, but in all honesty I was scared. Who wouldn’t be scared of entering prison at such a young age? True enough I was now eighteen years old, but I had been incarcerated since 49 days after my fifteenth birthday.
“We are going to have to hear you verbally say no to the questions, young man,” the fat officer said.
“No,” slipped off my tongue before I had the chance to really think about my safety. I hope I didn’t let my false pride place me in a den full of lions.
“You know it’s rough out there. There’s people walking around with makeshift weapons. They have more time than you and could care less about how young you are… hell they might prey on the age factor,” the fat officer went on to say.
The butterflies in my stomach began to make my stomach turn and twist in knots. As I sat in the chair, I could feel my hands tighten around the armrest. The fat officer’s words had really gotten to me.
“All right, you can leave now,” the bony-faced officer said.
I got up and made my way to the door that would place me in another world.
“Pop the exit door for Receiving and Discharging,” the lady officer I’d seen earlier said into her walkie-talkie.
Once I heard the pop, my heart stopped. I held my breath, and realized that I was seconds away from passing out. The guy behind me in line gave me a slight shove causing me to come to my senses, take a deep breath, and make my way into another world.
Don’t Miss Part Two: A Teenager Describes His First Day in Prison
Jermon Clark is serving 50 years in federal prison. When he was 15 years old, he was involved, with two older friends, in the carjacking of an acquaintance’s car, a 16-year-old girl they ended up killing. Jermon is challenging his 600-month sentence for his role in the murder.
Jermon Clark #04709-078
FCI Beaumont Low Federal Correctional Institution
PO Box 26020
Beaumont, TX, 77720