May 27, 2011
I got a letter from cousin the other day. He wrote it from the California State Penitentiary in Chino. Until I got the letter I thought he was still in San Quentin. I have no idea why the powers that be would send a man who was arrested in the Bay Area more than 400 miles away. I suppose they want to add to the mental torture and isolation that comes along with being in prison by separating him from all of his family. Or maybe the prison industry in Northern California was becoming more lucrative than the Southern California branch so they decided to ship them some business. I’ll never really know. All I know is what he said to me in hurried handwriting on that sheet of lined paper. He wondered why some people hadn’t returned his letters, he said he would be getting out in late August, he asked me how I was doing, he even apologized for not writing a longer letter because he had waited until the last minute and the County Officers were about to collect the mail, but nowhere did he mention why the hell he had to do his time in Chino. He didn’t even question it. It causes me great concern to know that my cousin is now taking a natural attitude toward not having any control over where his body is placed. It forces me to compare him with chattel or with a slave who has been shipped down the river to the Deep South. Although the latter reference is probably a bit disrespectful to my ancestors because after all my cousin did allow himself to be put in this situation. He wasn’t born into prison like blacks in the antebellum south were born into slavery; he did something stupid that put him there. It was a crime heinous enough to shock our family; however it was also a crime only worth a 2 year sentence. At times I feel just as helpless as he has now been rendered behind bars because all I want is for him to come out and be able to function in society as a man, and be able to stand on his own two feet and provide for his family. In an ideal world he would come out relatively unscathed and be able to move on with his life. In an ideal world he wouldn’t be in there in the first place. But as we know this country is not ideal for a black man. My cousin will inevitably come out traumatized and shell shocked. He’ll be paranoid and feel out of place in the real world. He’ll be upset when he notices that the world continued to move while he was away and perhaps most significantly for the first time in his life, he will be a convicted felon. He will have to go to job interviews with a giant CF carved onto his forehead. He will ultimately have to move in with his sister. They will argue, it will be chaos, and he will fall. I don’t want him to fall. I pray that he doesn’t but how can he stay upright with the world on his shoulders and memories of Chino and San Quentin weighing on his brain? I fear that the world, which wasn’t enough for him before he went in, will become way too much once he is released. I wish that I could step in and give him an honest job. I wish I could make the situation right but I can’t. I have to make my own situation right and I know that sounds shady but that is the truth. I don’t have the resources to guide my cousin down the right path and I don’t have the patience to allow him to live with me, all I have is my ability to write. I will return his letter sometime this weekend. I just needed to clear my head. Now my head is clear.