Incarceration was presented to me as a child of 4 or 5 years old as I laid on the living room floor with my cousins on Saturday afternoons watching cowboy movies (like the rifle man, gunsmoke or the long ranger) then my daddy would begin reminiscing on his days as a cowboy. We would sit captivated as he strapped on his gun holster & pulled out his silver guns with the pearl handles, then he would begin to flip & spin them doing all kinds of tricks and stunts to prove that he was the fastest gun in the west (My Hero). Then he would regale us with stories of how he and his posse would rob stage coaches or trains for the GOLD and banks for the money, Then he would show how well he and my brother could crack a safe and he told funny stories like how my brother was caught and they attempted to break him out by tying a rope with a horse to the jail bars but it didn't work so he had to cut a hole in the ceiling
And other times how even though he got caught he got off because he was a Mason, and his father was a grand Mason. Except for the time that he shot and killed a gas station attendant a white man for calling him a Black Nigger, (I was told by my sister, That was the cause of my grandfather's death. That when his father heard the news he was on a wagon saying “I can't help him” and had a heart attack or stroke and fell off and died.)
My father's energy would change to a very somber one and he would say you don't ever wanna go to jail it is like hell in jail!
My mama died when I was seven. I went to live at my grandmother's house with my aunties and my cousins on Downing Street half a block down from the juvenile detention center which became the threat of my future home with every little unapproved deed that I or my cousins did.
I must admit we were really some little rascals, and my cousin Rocky was the ringleader of our gang. He masterminded every game we played every prank we did and everything we did & we begin stealing candy from Frank's corner store across the street from the detention center.
And we thought it hilarious when the Chinese man yelled obscenities at us with his thick accent (until he called and told our grandmother before we made it home, and we were greeted by our aunt Milly with a wop on the head by her wooden spatula). And Granny's tears along with the threat (they're going to lock you up across the street over there and they never gonna let you out if you keep doing this kind of things). And that was enough to keep me scared & make me stop stealing for a while.
But not my cousin Rocky.
He discovered Mr. Frank's shed. He beckoned us, his little brothers and I, to come. “Let me show you something.” So we all climbed up the bars on the window to the roof. His brother told him to stop. Then my other cousin and I got scared and ran home. He tore a hole in the roof of the shed, climbed in and took a lot of candy. He ended up opening a lot of boxes of food and a lot of things were ruined, causing a debt that my grandma and aunties cannot pay so the police took him away so eventually we went in to the juvenile detention center to visit him once or twice.
After my daddy died when I was at the age of eight I went to live in Minnesota with my sister and she began to raise me but not really wanting the chore she sent me to stay with her best friend who I called aunt Anna Lee. Now Auntie Anna Lee had two sons in Prison they had been in and out since their early teens, and at this point I believe one was in for life. But finally getting a chance to go and see her sons was a big deal to her.
So we all got dressed up my cousin Kysha and I wore new mini skirts turtlenecks and clogs and I even got to wear a half Afro (still the 70s). And my cousin he wore basically our boys parochial school uniform black slacks and black tie and a white shirt, and aunt Ann with her pretty dark chocolate colored skin resembled the portraits of Cleopatra's embroidered in black velvet on her living room wall. With long eyelashes, thick full lips, and a figure that could kill, as usual she always looked BEAUTIFUL…
Well we left our home in the projects early that Sunday morning. I can't remember who drove but I remember that it was a very long ride maybe over two hours we were going to the Stillwater prison and us kids fell asleep on the way. I remember walking into Stillwater cold cement walls dark grayish brown corridors the pissy death stench old park buildings have & the loud sound of our shoes on the floors as we walked slowly
into the visiting room. One of aunt Ann's sons sat with his back to her elbow on the table leaning in a cool kind of posture but he didn't turn around maybe he glanced over his left shoulder, but the other son immediately became Furious and begin whisper yelling at her saying “Why did you come here and why did you bring them here you don't know what they will do they will use you guys to try to hurt us or threaten to hurt you guys to get us to do whatever they want us to do y'all need to go.”
Aunt Ann looked like she wanted to cry but held her composure and tried to explain her side. I turned away but as I was looking across the room I saw my brother Sonny's son, Butch, (from what I know he was the first of the third generation of Jordan men to be incarcerated And he would have two or three more brothers to follow him). I had never met him I only saw pictures once or twice but I somehow knew that was him he look just like my brother (tall broad and very comely) so I walked over and asked him his name and told him who I was. He asked a few questions about the family and asked me what I was doing there and then said OK go away and you shouldn't come back here. but if you do next time act like you don't know me!
Five or 10 minutes later when I got back by my aunt we had to go and when we got back in the car Aunt Ann Did cry! I think we all did a little just to see her so brokenhearted.
Painting by Gwynne Duncan