But then one day, the unthinkable happened. The cops came back, but this time they took me.
By Gerard Booker
When I was eight growing up in the late 70s, one of the most important black men in my life was Mr. Charles. He lived next door in a house built just like the one I stayed in with Mama.
There were a lot of homes in our neighborhood. But there were also a lot of one and two bedroom apartments that families with four and five children were crammed into. And like me, most of them only had a mother to depend on. Our fathers? They were like aliens. They may have visited, but there was never any proof of their existence. At least not in my life.
So, I ran the streets in search of the one who would teach me the ropes. There were a few good role models around. People like Mr. Palmer worked five days a week, spent time with his kids and took them to church every Sunday. But as you can imagine, his spare time was limited.
Then we had those in the hood who were determined to make their way by hook or crook. They were always close-at-hand ready to paint me a picture of how the world was seen through their eyes. Now, I won’t say they painted a Picasso, but I still listened. I learned all they knew then mixed it up and created my own style. These were the types of people I spent my time around. I loved and appreciated my mother to the utmost, but I just didn’t feel like she could teach me how to be a man. Which brings me to Mr. Charles.
Mr. Charles was a big-time dope dealer that seemed to be respected by everyone in the hood, including the preacher. He bought me things, talked to me like a grown up and gave me a job as his personal errand boy, which put five dollars a week in my pocket. This was Bill Gates money to me. The only time Mama bought me new clothes was when I outgrew the old ones. And even those were secondhand. So, you know I appreciated Mr. Charles. He was the coolest nigga in the hood as far as I was concerned. But one day, the unthinkable happened.
I was in my yard playing when white men wearing army fatigues and black t-shirts kicked in Mr. Charles’s front door. I’ll never forget it. He was wrestled outside wearing nothing except handcuffs and a pair of unbuttoned brown pants.
I cried that night. Of course I knew the man I’d claimed as a surrogate father was a criminal. But I hated those cops for taking him away from me, and I didn’t give a fuck that they were only doing their sworn duty. Not one of them ever gave me shit when I was starving. Mr. Charles did that and more. But now he was gone.
The years went by. When Mr. Charles was finally released from prison I was a full-fledged drug dealer and a few other things. I wasn’t poor anymore. But being poor wasn’t the driving force behind the decision to become all that I became. That honor belongs to the man I idolized.
Now I was Mr. Charles and the little kids growing up in the hood were me. I’d break bread with ‘em. When they saw me, they screamed with joy. But then one day, the unthinkable happened. The cops came back, but this time they took me.
So, now I lay in my tiny cell, where I am sentenced to die, wondering if any of those little kids followed in my footsteps. I’ve learned a bitter truth. Innocent babies will continue to grow up in black neighborhoods where some of them will turn into cold-blooded killers or some other bane of society. These kids will never have the chance to flourish. They will just continue the cycle of destruction. Until honest black people realize that the influence of those like Mr. Charles, and myself, must be completely removed from the equation.
Gerard Booker is an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution serving a life sentence. He is part of the Exchange for Change program and has graciously allowed us to publish his story.