I watched from the cell door and saw the brass come into the building. There was a dark black man over 50 years old who looked like he was the Warden, another black man with lighter skin who looked like he was the head counselor, known as the CCII, and a round table of three other lower level Prison
Administrators. They all went into an office under the building’s gun tower. Heart stripped me out for security. I knew the drill and dropped the white state boxer shorts and
lifted my testicles, then turned, then squatted and coughed, then lifted each foot and waited for the metal detector wand. Heart waved it by my butt cheeks and said, “I have to handcuff you but I’ll do it with your hands in front of you.” I walked down the stairs and saw the usual suspects behind cell doors
watching. L’il Bird was always perched.
The office was a 14' by 14' room. There was a 6' by 3' wood table that my criminal history was spread out on. The brass was already positioned by rank. At the end of the table the Warden sported a name plate – Jackson. Next to him was the CCII, Allen. On the other side of the table the three lower ranking prison guards. Heart stood behind me waiting
for me to be seated at the end of the table where the brass could study me like an insect.
Everyone stared at the warden waiting for him to start. He had his head bent down while he scrutinized the papers in my file. His big black bald wrinkled head finally looked up at me. He studied me through bifocals for far too long, then said, “Benny Johnson…Sit down.”
I sat with my handcuffed hands resting on the table in front of me staring at the Warden, and waited…and waited…I broke the staring contest and looked at CCII Allen’s face. A little nicer, some smile lines, some laugh lines, compassionate eyes… Warden Jackson said, “What are you doing here?”
I stared back at the warden wondering if I could create any smile lines…”I’m looking for Club Med. I must have made the wrong turn.”
The warden’s forehead creased in anger and it pulled his bifocals higher up his bulbous nose. I
looked at CCII Allen. He was trying not to laugh but his eyes were crinkled. I had to assume the warden meant, how did I get out of the last prison and make it to his so I said, “I didn’t make the arrangements, you’re going to have to talk to the travel agent.”
The warden still didn’t look like he liked my answers. His voice growing more irritated as he said,
“This file says you are an inch away from an indeterminate SHU.” That meant for the rest of my prison
sentence I’d do my time in the isolated Pelican Bay SHU. I stayed quiet though my soul raged; I don’t
have a single tattoo and have never claimed a gang! Yes, I have been involved in violence in prison but
how else do you survive?
The warden began with the questions…”What’s your AKA, what do they call you?”
“What gangs are you affiliated with?”
“Which ever ones you house me with, or put me in a cell with.”
The warden was getting pissed. The bifocals were straining higher. The wrinkles in the forehead
deepened. In an angrier voice he asked, “What neighborhood do you run with?”
“I run solo, but sometimes circle the YMCA.”
The warden shouted at me, “Where are you from?”
I felt the anger rising in my soul like fire. This man just wanted to write down that I was a gang member or shot caller and put that in my file to discard me like trash, all with these questions to label me. I didn’t bother telling him I’m from my momma, and said, “I don’t have a tattoo, I’ve never
claimed a gang, I’m just a drug addict who struggles with impulse control and finances…” I shut my anger off by ending with, “But I’m saved by the blood of Jesus.”
The warden seemed to calm down and in a softer tone said, “You’ve got four counts of battery on
police officers, and a pile of violence in prison.”
He had it wrong, or at least the perspective. The sheriffs in Orange County jumped me in the county jail after I was a witness to police brutality and interviewed on the news.
As far as the in prison violence, it is a predatory environ and if you don’t lead you either get pressured or led. I wasn’t going to try to explain myself. Nobody listened anyway.
The warden said, “I’m clearing you for yard but at this prison we shoot people like you. I’m going to post a memo for all the gun tower guards to keep an eye on you with a hair trigger.”