Melvin Monroe

My Growth And Prison’s Once Uncompromising Norm — By Melvin Monroe

“I awake daily, to a hell of my own making
and strangely, I am not tortured by it.”

I arrived at prison 22yrs 8mos ago, excited, and I rapped B.I.G. nd ‘pac (Tupac) all of the way. “Warning” , “Me and My Bitch”, “Pour out a ‘lil liquor”, “Soulja Story”, “Pain”, you name it. There were several of us youngins on our way. Each of us too foolish to be afraid… That is until I began being processed into prison.

I was talking with someone not long ago and she made mention of how I walk. I often joke that, “I walk like I’ll fuck an igga up because I’ll fuck an igga up.” But I didn’t always walk like that. I used to walk with what was commonly referred to as a, “pimp”. Basically, I walked with a bop. However, it was in an effort to disguise how I favor my right side when I walk. Over the yrs, as I became more confident in myself, the further I got away from the need for pretences. My walk was an natural evolution of that. However, my walk says more than what I’ve stated.

As I’ve written, I was too foolish to be afraid when heading to prison. I had no idea just how foolish. I came to prison at a time when the weak were still being raped. The so called strong were being challenged for that ranking. The predator and prey had very clear divisions. Dudes weren’t calling themselves, “Murder… Killer… Cut throat… unless you were likely to do it. Even then, no one was audacious enough to call themselves such names because even the toughest dude would make himself a “mark”.
Not today. These jokers have the toughest names ever. Straight out of a movie script; and in some cases, a comic strip.

I never found myself on the wrong end of the aggression of others. Not at 5’9″, 5’10” , 5’11” nor at 6ft. But that doesn’t mean that it could not have been me. Any man is built to be destroyed. The physical form is limited to the capacity of its mortality. That is reflected in my walk. I know what could have befallen me, but it was due to what I now recognize today as favor on my life that it didn’t. Crazy to think in such terms, but it has been just that. I was always apart of the strongest team. Even though I have yet to be the strongest one; and Im fine with that. Any praise that I have ever been given in here came as a result of the opportunity to prove myself. I have always had an opportunity to prove my “G”. Not everyone has had that privilege. A “privilege” because it enabled and empowered my growth as both a man and a human being. I was never forced to fail. Albeit, I was challenged to stand alone… and I did. Successfully. Not to say that I haven’t benefitted from others interceding on my behalf. But that came from the currency of past dues. I am equally grateful to those that stood with me as I am for those that stood for me during the toughest of times. Those times including life threatening events. Dudes knew how I once moved, so they had to prepare in kind. I was then, as I remain today, determined to leave here with both my dignity AND faculties intact. That caused some pretty volatile situations to occur. Particularly when I wasn’t as experienced or secure as I am today in my capability and incapability. At some point I have benefitted from knowing them both… and being HONEST with myself in relation to that truth.

I walk mostly alone today. My team is still out in maximum security institutions, or gone home. Though mostly, in higher security and maximum security institutions. Funny, but being at this lower level (level 2) has been of the most challenging and trying part of my bid. Here, the lines aren’t so clearly drawn as they are in higher levels. Here, anyone can portray himself as tough and it not go genuinely challenged. Or as it is most often, dudes here misunderstand the qualifications of real toughness, so they’re unintentionally disrespectful. Or in times of deliberate disrespect, have no real respect for the weight of repercussion or reprisal said behavior can incur. I sometimes see it as the older sibling that had things so strict during their up bringing only to now see the younger sibling get, and get away with, everything. And wonder how do they get away with that? It’s crazy. Whew. Were I ever able to get away with the things ppl get away with at this level, I don’t even care to imagine how I would have turned out. People are openly, unapologetically, in your business. They slander you namelessly and it will take root like crabgrass.

So, in some ways things have been more of a challenge. Restraint is paramount when you realise that your measure can no longer be evaluated based on your willingness and/or ability to move out on a dude. I have come to see it as a witness of anyone’s inability to cope when you find yourself having to put your hands on a person to garner some margin of respect. It’s difficult at times, as is life. Yet, it has been my past experiences, and seeing just how funky things can get, that gives me the confidence that I can handle situations without having to prove myself to anyone other than myself, because at this point my opinion of self takes precedent over the opinions and views of others but that goes back to my past experiences. Were the rod spared for me, I would not know what my capabilities were in the face of these new adversities. But that too, is a two edged sword. Still, I’m indebted to my past missteps and failings. From them I have harvested the ingredients to succeed; not just here, but in life.

I got to prison on the early morning of 30 January 96. I was seventeen years old. When I arrived at Greensville correctional center, which at the time was the toughest prison in the state, as well as the largest, I was offered a “gun”, or what is commonly referenced as a “shank”, and told to ” Be on point. These bammas don’t go for us out here.”
Geographics were king when I entered prison. There were no nationally recognized or syndicated gangs in Virginia prison(s) then. Hell, in the state for that matter. MS 13 were just fledglings. That was like the only gang taking root at the time of my incarceration. And before them it was the Vato Locos, or Little Locos. But they were all centralized back home in No Va. Aside from that, people were repping for their city or hood. So, with that in mind, when I came to prison, I repped for my city. The only city that I have ever claimed, that being Alexandria Va. Dudes from out my way were, and remain, the minority in the Va prison system. Dudes out here lump DC MD nd (northern) VA together. As do we all from those areas, amongst the masses to a degree, by happenstance.

So, when I was advised to, “Be on point” and offered a “gun”, I readily accepted the two. That had become my new norm. “Be on point… Don’t let these bammas get the drop on you because these dudes don’t go for us.” Mind you, I was sent to this region of Hampton roads, or the outskirts of it, sometime in 1990. By ’94 I had done a year in jail. Eight mos after release from that confinement, I was back on the 12th of January ’95. I haven’t been out since. [And] I have never felt that I have a claim on these cities. Culturally and socially, things are just different here. So I never felt any real connection. For that reason, and my love for a city that no longer recognizes me, I have always met adapting to this region and its customs with resistance, rightly or wrongly. That permeates my psyche to this day. However, I have ALWAYS repped for dudes from the town of Franklin Va. The city that I resided the longest in this part of Virginia. No matter what, I was always there for any dude of good standing from that town. I know some TRUE soldiers from there. I could do nothing less.

With that said, shortly before or after my 18th birthday, the homey that first advised me to get a gun and be on point, stabbed a dude mercilessly on the rec yard. It was, then, traumatizing. At this stage it is simply par for the course. It colored how I seen doing time from that day forward, however. Here’s how it occurred.

Greensville Correctional Center has three housing units. At that time they were A unit, B unit and C unit, along with a seg unit called, D unit or10 building. Each of those units have 3 numbered buildings. A unit has buildings 7,8,9. B unit had building numbers 1,2,3. C unit had building numbers 4,5 and 6. Today, those Units are S1, S2, S3 and, the seg unit is, S4.

How I came to witness my very first stabbing.

I was housed in A unit. Nine building. It was then an intake building for new arrivals, when on the rec yard of the softball field I stood at the fence adjacent to the one with the basketball court, waiting on a dude that I had met in receiving, and up to this point I was cool with, to throw me a “short” of a Newport over the fence. A nasty habit, I know. I long ago quit smoking. Over 20 yrs, now.

Anyway, he was posted there to give dudes on the court a heads up incase the softball was hit over the fence, to ensure that no one gets hit by it were they too involved in the game to notice it coming. Well, mistake number one that any aspiring public speaker or anyone who communicates in a public forum, is to not know your audience. That is what my man fail[ed] to do and it very nearly cost him his life.

So, there we were standing at other sides of the fence when he makes a joke that the softball is coming. His homeboys told him to stop playing. If the ball hits someone for real because they don’t believe him from playing it’ll be fucked up. He was flippant in his response stating simply, “I hope it does hit one of you niggas in the head.” That’s when my dude had had enuff, and said, ” I hope that ball does hit me in the head. I’ll punish your bitch ass.” And he meant it. Within just moments things went from a bad joke to a near homicide. The guy’s homeboy spoke up for him and the attack was immediate. My dude pulled a make shift knife from the zipper lining of his pants. Once dude seen it he took FLIGHT! But it only briefly delayed what my youngin had already absolutely determined. That was he was going to hit dude up. Meaning, he was going to stab dude. Which he did… repeatedly.

The guy ran to the corner of the basketball court, chased by my dude, nearly trapping himself in that corner, before evading the advance of his attacker. Getting by him for a moment before he was tripped from behind. Immediately, he turned over onto his back and kicked his feet to prevent the attack. It was futile. His left leg was grabbed and held against the hip of my homeboy rendering him both helpless and defenseless. He was hit up and down his leg, arm, chest and torso. I could hear the thud of the base of my homeboy’s fist striking dude from the force of the blade slamming into slim. All the guy could say was, “What’s up!? What’s up!?” He was is in absolute state of terror. And my dude? He was on autopilot. All he continued to say was, “Bitch niggas shouldn’t be faking!” Bitch nigga shouldn’t be faking!” Had another dude from out the way not come to pull him away he would have killed dude that day.

After the attack, the yard was in pure pandemonium. The yard I was on was immediately released. The yard the incident occurred on was restricted. Releasing only one person at a time after shaking each person down. The crazy thing. It was only when dudes called for the police once dude fell out in front of the gate we enter and exit the rec yard that they were aware that anything happened.

Fast forward…

When I was released from the rec yard to return to the building, I left with a bat down my pants. Clearly this predates this skinny jean era. Back then their were no cameras in the stairwells. Anything goes in the stairwells during those days. Hell, it was so crazy, A unit was the only unit, aside from seg, that we didn’t go pick up our own commissary. It was brought to our cells. That’s the best they could do to assist you in getting your canteen back safely.

Back to the point. I took the bat with me just in case I ran into any trouble. Fortunately, I didn’t.

Once my dude was let off of the yard, I watched him as he walked up the stairs towards me on the top tier… stuck. Terrified. He looked at me asking, “You aight?” concerned for me. I know. It made no sense to be afraid of him. He didn’t want to harm me. Still, I had never seen anything like what I’d seen this day. And I didn’t know if he felt I should have done something. What could I do? I know. Fear isn’t rational.

We went on lock that night, of course, and he was locked up the next day or so. I didn’t see him for several mos after that. He went on trial for, I believe, attempted murder. But the guy he stabbed was insanely belligerent on the stand and the judge dropped, or null processed, the charge. Because my dude had separations throughout the state prison system, he had to be released back onto the compound but not before signing paper work releasing the institution of responsibility if he went back on the yard and something happened to him after being advised not to due to the letters threatening his life.

Twenty one days after his reassignment back to population, he was involved in an incident where he came to the aide of a dude from back home, killing this guy. This time he was charged with manslaughter, I believe. But that is a whole other story.

The point I wanted to get to was that what I seen that day had an effect on me. So much so, that it had been nearly a year since the incident, when I seen him on the yard once he got out of seg and I was struck with the same fear. I walked around the yard lapping him twice when he finally said, “Intell. What’s up? Its me”, stating his name. I replied, “What’s good? I know who it is, young. I was allowing you to get your time with your man. Ima halla at you when you’re done. Good to see you out here.” We dapted up and I was on my way. I felt relief.

See, what I feared was that in some impossible way, he felt that I was to have done something when there was neither anything for me to have done nor was to do. But that’s fear. It isn’t a rational emotion. Now mind you, I’m the least relative to a punk. Still, what I saw that day I couldn’t shake. Today, I’m not moved by things like that. But I should be. I read once that when abuse becomes normal there is a sickness introduced in the people (I’m para phrasings). I equate what not only I have seen while in here, but what others of similar circumstances have seen or experienced, as an abuse of the senses. I’m effected by what I’ve seen insofar as it relates to the wellbeing of others but I, like many today, have become jaded with the propensity people have for dispatching abuse on any level, and sadly, per human nature, we adapt. Rightly or wrongly, we adapt. Unfortunately, I have been forced to adapt my senses to what is within my environment. For had I not, I would not have survived here.

There is an innocence in every man/woman once lost we long to have back. We may not articulate the feelings in those terms but that is essentially what we long for. “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” This is the question one asks when they are in wonder of their disconnect from their present condition. It comes about from longing for what has become clouded recollections of past stories or experiences. I long for the times when I had no reason to incorporate such a philosophy. However, the truth is, in order to not lose oneself to this place, you have to step aside, acquiescing the loss of others. If for that reason alone, one wonders of a place where happiness goes unmolested, without need for amendment and ,gladly, we’d work towards self atonement.

This has been my growth. The relinquishing of certain penitentiary’s norms and values. I have learned to appreciate my independence and self direction more than [the] acceptance and [the] philosophy of, “go along just to get along.”

It has been written by one considered to be of the most noblest of prophets that, “I am in the world. I am not of the world.” The same must hold true for prison. Not saying that in any way his distinguishing of the origins from which he derived and the world he, at the time, resided is in any way comparable to the circumstance of myself and others of the 2.2 million incarcerated U.S. citizenry, I am only noting the kinship of the circumstance(s) encapsulating [the] condition of mind once one recognises his/her, her/his, place in the greater scheme of ones existential self. Where he arrived knowing he was not of this world, it remained at the forefront of his thoughts. In my case, I had to grow into the realisation that I had become of this world of confinement, before awakening to the truth that I am not OF confinement. That being so, having been born free, I had to take on the task of shaking myself a loose, free as it were, of the obstructions to my path of “self-discovery” and “realization.” Today, I remain steadfast on that journey loaded with potholes, side roads, alternate routes and endless low fuel indicators, and still I press on.

This is the clift notes version of :

My Growth And Prison’s Once Uncompromising Norms.

Melvin Monroe
DOC #104053

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