Letter From PrisonnCORRESPONDENCEnwanted to know him. To this day I won­ until the police came. For the next sixnder how I might have turned out if I had months I was in and out of foster homes,nknown him. He would come by my and often the homes were no better thanngrandmother’s house and give me mon­ being with my mother, if not worse. SonThe following is an autobiographical ey, but he and 1 never spent much time Lran away. I was caught and placed innaccount of a young black man impris­ together. I don’t even know what kind of another foster home, and 1 ran awaynoned in Illinois. I met him in 1985, when work he did or even if he worked at all. again. This went on for the next fewnI was teaching high school classes at a I’ve heard that he was murdered during months.ncounty jail, and we have kept in close con­ a dmg deal in St. Louis, but I don’t knowntact ever since. He first came to my atten­ for sure.nThen one day my caseworker told menthat I was going to a group home inntion because of his cocky intransigence, but One day in the summer of 1969, when Rockford, and I thought this would bengiven another chance, he quickly distin­ I was two and a half, I was following like all the foster homes I had been in andnguished himself in memorable ways: his my brother across the street when I was that 1 would hate it, but was 1 ever wrong.nreading was superb, he earned his high hit by a, car. I don’t remember much I was the youngest kid there, at ten yearsnschool diploma in record time, and he even about the accident, other than my grand­ and eight months. 1 stayed for 18 months.nbecame my personal aide in tutoring the mother bringing balloons and candy to 1 loved being there, and the people whonmany illiterate inmates. I make no excus­ the hospital. It wasn’t until I was four worked there really cared. They took menes for the crimes the young man has com­ years old that I went home. It was hard camping, fishing, and helped all of usnmitted, and neither he nor I have any delu­ at first because 1 could not understand with our homework. I felt like I was finalsionsnabout the difficult road he now much of what had happened. 1 was very ly growing up, and 1 was getting goodntravels and will have to travel for years to shy. At the age of five, my mother came grades in school, until one day my case­ncome.nand got me from my grandmother. She worker came and said 1 had to go back ton1 was a character witness for him at his wanted to move away from St. Louisnsentencing hearing and was asked to tes­ and start her life over. We moved tontify as to his classroom accomplishments Rockford, Illinois, and on the day wenover the year I had known him. The state ^ moved we had a car accident. No onenprosecutor asked for a sentence of 30 years was hurt, but this just added to all of ournin prison, but the sentence was for 15. fears about moving. Once I started school,nBefore concluding the hearing, the judge things got a little better, until my moth­nreminded the young man that convicts er began drinking. My oldest brother hadnleave prison in one of three forms: as bet­ to take care of us. He did the cooking,nter men, as bitter men, or as dead men. He washing, and everything else that had tonmight have added that the first are rare, be done. He was eight years old. Fornthe second quite common, and the third— the next three years 1 tried everything tonas the following account makes clear—a get away from my mother and her drink­nreal and ever-present possibility.ning. 1 told my grandmother about hownshe was treating us, 1 told the people atn—Theodore Pappasnschool, but no one would believe me. 1n* * #nbegan breaking the law.nI was bom in St. Louis on October 30,ncourt. I didn’t know why, and I nevernthought they would kick me out of thenplace 1 loved. The morning I went toncourt I can still remember the staff tellingnme “no matter what happens, just keepnup the good work.” When I found outnwhat the court was doing, I cried, becausenfor the first time in my life I was happynand now even this was being taken awaynfrom me. I told the court I didn’t wantnto go, but it did no good. TTiey said 1 hadnbeen there too long and had to leave.nBeing that I felt strong about not goingnback to my mother, the court sent me tonmy grandmother, who had moved tonRockford. I was then 12 years old.nMy mother was still getting drunk.n1966, the youngest of three boys. I was By the time I was eight years old, 1 had She would call me over to her housenreally raised by my grandmother, and I’ve been arrested fifteen or twenty times, for and yell at me and make me feel guiltynalways called her momma. She has always stealing candy and other little things out for telling people about her drinking andnbeen the one person in the family who of stores. They made me a ward of the would make me cry by saying things likeneveryone could count on, and all of the court when 1 was nine and told me and “you don’t love me” and “why did you tellnkids always wanted to stay at her house. my mother that if 1 did anything else all those lies about me.” 1 told my grand­nWhile we were growing up she would go wrong they would take me away from her. mother about this and she said that mynwithout things to make sure we had food, This was exactly what I had wanted. One mother didn’t mean the things she saidnclothes, and whatever else we needed. She day in August 1976,1 told my mother 1 when she had been drinking and to ignorenis a very strong and sweet lady. She has was going across the street to see a friend. her. But I couldn’t deal with this. I toon18 kids and I can’t even count the num­ 1 think if she had known that this would began drinking. I also began stealingnber of grandkids. My brother and I are the be the last time she would see me for the again, and the courts took me away fromnonly two that have gone astray. He’s next three years, she would not have my grandmother. ‘nserved six and a half years of a 12-yearnsentence for murder. I really don’t knownmuch about my father, but I’ve alwaysnlet me leave. I walked across the streetnand broke into a house. The people whonlived there caught me inside and held men1 was sent to a group home innFreeport, Illinois, but I soon ran away.nWhen they retumed me to the home andnnnMAY 1992/39n