Sneak Peek of Street Life

STREET LIFE: MY STORY UNCUT
by Jihad

It took a few strained efforts before I managed to get my bulk onto my springless steel slab of metal. My back hurt just thinking about sleeping on the one-inch blanket they called a mattress. In bed, developing back problems, contemplat¬ing sleep, I played the what-if game. What if I had taken off, leaving lying ass Derrick at the gas station the day we were ar¬rested? What if I had sent Mike? What if I had left my gun at home? My mind wandered from one what-if to another. I must have lay there feeling sorry for myself for an hour be¬fore Smithbay came in.
“I wanted to give you time to settle in and get yourself to¬gether before I came in, black man.”
“Good lookin’ out, dog. I’m just reminiscin’ about the streets, my bitches, them hoes, you know—shit a nigga don’t think about ’til too late.”
“Ho-hold on, li’l brother,” he said, waving. “Ninety-nine percent of our brothers, including yours truly, came into the system with the same contagious disease you have.”
“Bro, I’m clean as the Board of Health. I wraps my jimmy up like a mummy.”
“Nah, brutha. You don’t overstand.” He smiled, shaking his head.
“You mean understand.”
“No, I mean overstand.”
“Huh?” I replied.
“Our problem is that we are so busy trying to understand we never get it. We have to stop going under, taking short¬cuts. We have to go over the stand to understand.”
“Ooooo-kay,” I said, thinking this cat had gone coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.
“I, too, came to the prison-plantation behind, with little hope of ever catching up.”
“Catch up? Catch up to what?” I asked.
“You see, Brother Jackson, for over four hundred years we’ve been plagued with the gravest sickness ever known to man. The European injected a virus in us that passes down through generations, and it’s responsible for the condition that we find ourselves in today.”
Oh lord, one of them Malcolm X-Farrakhan cats. They say every¬body comes to prison and get muslimfied and shit, I thought.
“The worst part is the European has the cure, but instead of healing us, he sets up institutes, schools and universities designed to spread the virus.”
“What virus?” I asked.
“Perpetual ignorance, or better yet, mentacide. We have been misguided, misinformed, and miseducated. We’ve been missed all around the board. The only thing we didn’t miss were the boats that brought us to the Americas.”
I sat up with my back to the wall and my ear to the air.
“I mean, just look at us. We walk around in circles demor¬alizing one another.”
“Man, on the streets I stayed to myself. I ain’t demoralize nobody.”
“Just listen,” he said. “We playfully address one another not as gods, which is our true selves, but as the exact oppo¬site.”
Gods? Oh Lord, now the brotha thinks he’s God. What next?
“We walk around talkin’ ’bout ‘What up, dog.’ ‘You my dog.’ ‘Cat-daddy.’ ‘My cat.’ ‘That’s a cool cat.’ Even worse, we call our sistahs bitches and foxes.” He paused to ponder.
“All of these, animals. We’ve been so far removed from re¬ality, we don’t even know that we don’t know who we are. Since we’ve been told for so long that we’re not human, we unconsciously and subconsciously believe it, so we identify with the animal kingdom.”
Deep.
“And that word nigga. We call each other nigga in casual conversation so much, the White man no longer needs to.” “Yep.” I nodded.
“Carter G. Woodson said it best some fifty years ago. ‘We’ve been going to the back door for so long, no longer do we have to be told. We automatically go, and if there is no back door, we will carve one out.’ ”
“Man, that’s heavy.”
“We have been dehumanized and demoralized for so long, called nigga, and our women called whores, that is what and who we subconsciously think we are today. The seeds were planted, and they have grown and spread like weeds. We de¬humanize our mothers, sisters and wives, calling them bitches.”
I nodded.
“What is a bitch but a female dog in heat? If our women are bitches and whores, what does that make her children? Dog. Big dog. My dog.
“You see, Brother Jackson, the White man has implanted this virus in us to keep the Black race subservient to him and to keep us from ever rising black, not back, but black to our original state. We are the first, the original, no special recipe. No extra crunchy.” Sounds like KFC.
“We’ve had everything stolen from us. We don’t know the truth, our history, our religion—hell, we don’t even know our names. Take for instance, your name.”
“My name?”
“Yes, Lincoln Jackson, your slave name. That is what it is. You’re named after the same white man who tricked us into believing he freed the slaves. Abraham Lincoln said if there was any other way to preserve the Union, he would have never freed the slaves. He called us inferior, but your parents gave you that name to wear as a badge of honor.” He got up to take a leak.
This was a lot to comprehend. The White man was much worse than I ever thought. I ain’t never liked no cracka, but now I understood why the Muslims hated the White man so much.
He continued, “Yeah, you and all Mr. Jack’s slaves were called Jack’s boys or Jack’s sons. So at the time we were freed, your forefathers kept the slave name alive by calling them¬selves Jackson, identifying themselves with the plantation they came from.
“Everything I’m saying is written in books, but you know the saying, the best way to keep a secret from a black man is to put it in a book.”
“Huh?”
“We don’t read. At least we don’t read it if massa ain’t gave it to us in a schoolbook or advertised it in the media or told us about it. In slavery, we weren’t permitted to read, and still today we have mental barriers that stop us from picking up a book. For so long we’ve been forced to do and think a certain way, that now it has became engraved in our subconsciousness to do these things, believe in these ways. We’re trained to loathe one another as well, until whatever sem¬blance of self-esteem and unity we possessed is no longer ex¬istent.
“You have to excuse me, little brother, I don’t mean to be going this deep on your first night in the belly of the beast, but I just can’t remain passive while I see and hear the self-hate manifest in one of my own.”
I was awestruck. What was this brother doing in prison? This cat—I mean this brother had a mean game. Reverend Ike couldn’t shine this brother’s shoes. If I had game like that, ain’t no way I’d be in no prison. I ain’t never heard any¬one break it down like that. Even though I didn’t quite un¬derstand all he was laying down, I still felt a surge of pride and hope unlike anything I’d felt before.
“Mr. Smithbay? That was, that was heavy, man. I mean, I felt that right here.” I touched my chest.
Speaking to him made me think of Akbar. If I’d listened to Akbar, I just wonder where I’d be now. That night we stayed up talking. I found out that he was Muslim. He called himself a Moor, and he told me that Islam was the word used for greeting others. It simply meant peace.
James Smithbay was serving a 47-year sentence for con¬spiracy to traffic two kilos of crack cocaine. Unlike my case, no physical evidence was found. His conviction was solely a result of testimony given by two convicted drug dealers al¬ready doing time. They told the DEA and the grand jury that some five years back they both purchased large quantities of crack cocaine from then James Smith, who, at the time those statements were being made, was a successful stockbroker, real estate investor, husband, and father of two.
Despite his excellent standing in the community and lack of physical evidence, James Smith was indicted under a law called conspiracy, where physical evidence wasn’t needed to convict. The only thing the courts needed was testimony from two or more people alleging a past or continuing crim¬inal activity. Anyone could ruin the lives of someone else just by testifying to their criminal involvement.
The DEA, FBI, and ATF had no qualms about accepting coerced or false testimony. So long as two people conspired to ruin one man, it was fine in the government’s eyes. After all, the government, whenever drug cases were concerned, seized the convicted one’s assets. They were ruining not only that person, but that person’s whole family structure.
After that first night, I wrote to Akbar, apologizing for not keeping in touch with him when I was in the free world. I told him all about Smithbay and our conversation. I ex¬plained how I wanted to learn everything I could about the plight of Black people.
I had to get a rap down like Smithbay’s. That shit was so heavy it was hypnotizing. I ain’t never read, nor ever wanted to read a book. If it wasn’t comin’ on TV or to a theater, it would remain a mystery to me. I surprised myself. I had a new hunger for knowledge that had to be fed.
I started reading Visions for Black Men by Na’im Akbar. I couldn’t get into it. Next, I grabbed another one of Smith-bay’s books, Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust by John Henrik Clarke. Didn’t feel that one either.
“Black man, check this out.” Smithbay handed me another book.
“Man, I don’t know. This reading stuff ain’t me.” “Here. Just try this one,” he prodded. Pimp, Story of My Life. Iceberg Slim.
I sat down on his bunk, and I didn’t get off until count time. Before I knew it, I was twenty pages from the end.
“Yo, dog, this book is the bomb. Iceberg was a mothafucka for ya. This nigga was pimpin’ to the highest of pimptivity,” I told Smithbay.
The pimptation to read gangsta pimp shit was staggering. Next, I went through the Donald Goines series in less than two weeks. I loved reading. I loved this gangsta shit. This was my world. This was my reality. I went into the common area where Smithbay was playin’ chess with one of the Klansmen.
“Black man, glad to see you came out for air,” Smithbay joked.
“What’s next? I’m finished.”
“Excuse me, Jim,” he said, getting up from the table.
I followed him back to the room where he gave me the book Visions for Black Men.
“Man, I done already tried this. It wasn’t me. Where’s that gangsta shit?”
“Black man, this is as gangsta as it gets. This book is so gangsta, it’s real. This is the book they, the ones who are in power, hide from you. They don’t want you to wake up. They fear that if you do, you may wake up everybody and free the slaves.”
“Free the slaves?” I questioned.
“Yes. We are still in bondage. As long as we let the powers that be, who happen to be Whites, control what we learn and read, we are still slaves. When interviewed, Harriet Tubman, the mother of the Underground Railroad said it best when she explained, ‘If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I would have freed thousands more.’ ”
After he walked out, I gave it another try. I finished it in a day. It was the deepest revelation I’ve ever read. Na’im Akbar was serious. From there I devoured the few books about the African and African-American experience that Smithbay had. The more I read, the more I realized that black folks were sick and in trouble.

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