BY JERMON CLARK
Read Part One of “My First Day In Prison As A Teenager”
Everyone in the group began to ask the guard, “What unit am I going to?”
He answered some and, with others, he acted as if he hadn’t heard a single word they’d said. His nonchalant behavior added to the nervousness I felt about asking him the same question.
I didn’t want it to seem as if I was lacking in the confidence department in the eyes of the older inmates, so before I knew it I heard myself asking, “What unit am I going to?”
The officer looked at me for what seemed like an eternity before asking, “What’s your last name, Youngsta?” in a Louisiana Cajun accent.
His emphasis on the word “Youngsta” caused the group to grow quiet. I instantly felt what seemed like a million eyes on me.
“Um… Clark,” I said nervously.
While he looked for my name, I heard someone behind me say, “Damn. These muthafuckas are locking up kids now. He doesn’t look any older than 15.”
I felt my defensive mechanisms begin to activate. Air filled my chest cavity, I stood up straight, and my kid-like face turned into a menacing frown.
I didn’t want to seem vulnerable amongst the pack of wolves, but as I continued to listen to their comments, I heard that they were filled with compassion and concern. I started to release the air from my chest when I felt comfortable that they weren’t licking their chops in preparation to pounce on me.
“Clark, you’re going to Allen Two,” the CO said. “It’s better known as “The Ghetto,” the CO said.
The man covered in tattoos seemed genuinely surprised.“Damn. They got the youngster going to the ghetto?!”
His question had me on edge. “Where is Allen Two at?” I asked.
As soon as I asked, everyone’s head swiveled to the CO. The officer’s eyes landed on a red brick building. I was trying to make sense of all that was going on at the moment … and the site of the building didn’t help.
Here it was close to 11 PM at night and while all the other units seemed to be in a “sleep or preparation for the next day” mode, Allen Two was wide awake. All the lights were on and I could hear noise seeping out of the open windows, along with the loud hum of constant movement by people inside.
“That’s why they call it the ‘ghetto’,” I thought to myself.
Before long the group started to break off into smaller groups in preparation to go to our designated units.
As the group I was in approached my new home, the noise grew louder. I noticed someone looking out of the windows as if he was waiting to sound an alarm if he spotted the cops.
Pausing at the unit door, I took a deep breath before stepping foot inside “The Ghetto.”
As soon as I entered, my nostrils lost the scent of fresh winter air and was replaced by the strong aroma of homemade alcohol and the overwhelming stint of stale cigarette smoke.
As I walked into the dayroom I felt so many eyes on me that I began to feel uneasy again. Just as I was about to go into a panic attack, I heard someone calling me by my nickname, “Giz!”
I looked around without trying to catch too much eye contact with the other inmates.
“Giz!” I heard again.
Instead of continuing to look around, I let my ears do the work.
Before I knew it, I saw a familiar face standing right in front of me.
“I didn’t know that they were going to send you here!” Papa said.
Papa was a kid from Texarkana, Texas who was in the federal juvenile prison with me at the beginning of my 50-year sentence.
“Yeah, they sent me here!” I said not letting on about how happy I was to see him.
I wanted to gauge my chances of survival, so I quickly began to assess my “will to survive” in comparison to Papa’s. He was less observant than I was and more prone to make crucial mistakes. I started to feel at ease. If he’d survived thus far, I felt confident that I could too.
“Come on, you have to find your own cell, but don’t worry about that because I got just the spot for you until a better cell comes available,” Papa said before leading me up a flight of stairs.
As soon as I entered the cell, Papa was introducing me to this guy named Earl who looked to be a few years older than me. It wasn’t long before Papa was leading me all over the unit introducing me to people.
I was puzzled that everyone kept offering me things and seemed happy to see me.
“Do you need some food or hygiene products?” An older guy named scrap iron asked.
“No, I am good,” I said, thinking back to all the stories I’d heard about people offering things in prison, only to want what it back later with other things attached.
It wasn’t long before I began to feel the effects of my day and longed to get some much needed rest.
“Papa, I am about to go up to the cell and lay it down for the night,” I said.
“Alright. I’m going to get up early to show you around and take you to the laundry to pick up your clothes,” Papa said.
When I made my way back to my “new” cell, I noticed my cellmate was asleep. That made me feel at ease because I didn’t feel like talking.
I quietly made my bunk up with the blankets and sheets I was given, jumped into it, and thought about my new life in prison before sleep took over.
“Wake up youngster!” I heard someone say, along with the rocking of my bunk.
I jumped up from under the covers and went straight into a defensive stance. I didn’t have any idea of what was going on, so I felt protecting myself was my first and only priority.
As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes and was able to focus on the person in front of me, I noticed that it was a man standing in from of me and he wore a dress suit.
“Calm down Youngsta! I’m your unit manager, Mr. Clark.”
My body began to relax a bit, knowing that I wasn’t in harm’s way.
We’ve been waiting on you to arrive for about three weeks now. I read your file and was shocked to see a kid with 50 years coming in to my unit. Where are you coming from… the federal juvenile system?” Mr. Clark asked.
“Yes.” I answered.
“Well,” he started to say, before he saw my focus leave him and dial in on the three big guys behind him. He turned around to face them.
“What’s going on Lampkin?” Mr. Clark asked one of the guys in the group.
The biggest one with muscles everywhere but in his eyes said, “We just coming to make sure our young homeboy is good.”
“Alright, you guys make sure nothing happens to him. He’s 18 years old but looks closer to being 15. Youngster, if you need anything don’t hesitate to come find me.” Mr. Clark said.
As soon as Mr. Clark left the room the guy who seemed to be the oldest said, “We’re going to go to the store later on in the day to get you some food, hygiene, clothes, and shoes. What size you wear in shoes? By the way my name is Papa Dee,” The older guy said.
My mind was racing a million miles per second and they must have sensed it because the older guy who went by the name Papa Dee said, “We aren’t trying to take advantage of you. You’re our homeboy from California and we take care of our own.”
He looked to be sincere, but just as I was about to give him my shoe size the prison announced over the PA system that it was “time for work call!”
“We’ll be back during out lunch break so let us know what you want us to do.” Papa Dee said.
After they left, I grabbed the toothbrush, toothpaste and the washcloth that was inside of the survival bag the officers gave me in receiving and discharging and got my hygiene in order.
As soon as I finished, I immediately went to Papa’s cell to get his take on what happened earlier.
Arriving at this cell, I noticed that he was inside his bunk asleep.
“Papa! Wake up!” I said.
He turned over faster than a cat falling off of a house roof before asking, “What’s up? Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good. I just wanted to get your opinion about something,” I said before replaying everything to him.
“I understand exactly how you’re feeling because I felt the same damn way when I first got here, but that’s how it goes. People hang with the people from what state they’re from and the ones that were here before the new ones came make sure they’re taken care of. But I’m not telling you to trust anyone because this is ‘PRISON!’”
I felt where he was coming from, so later on when Lampkin and Papa Dee came back, I accepted their offer for a little assistance.
Over the next few weeks, I began to get into the flow of how prison moved on a daily basis.
However, I didn’t get comfortable or trust anyone because I wasn’t going to let my environment “Rock-me-to-sleep” and cause me to make a mistake that could cost me my life. Even while serving a horrendous 50-year sentence, I cannot allow myself to lose focus on my ultimate goal.
And that’s to make it home one day, as intact as I came in.
Until that day comes, I will remain observant of my surroundings and learn as much as I can do so that I can fulfill that goal.
Jermon Clark is serving 50 years in federal prison. When he was 15 years old, he was involved with two older kids in a carjacking murder. Jermon is challenging his 600-month sentence for his role in the murder.
We send comments to our readers but if you’d like to contact Jermon directly, please write to:
Jermon Clark #04709-078
Federal Corr’l Institution
PO Box 4050
Pollack, Louisiana 71467