MY FIRST DAY WAS NOT MY WORST DAY. That title would go to the day I was sentenced to 35 years, and the day I was captured after my prison break comes second. My first day was a dejecting experience, but my emotions and lack of productivity will not be what defines it.
The day began with a dream, an illusionary one that many young black men too often pursue. I had the dream of getting paid by snatching cheese from a trap. In pursuit of that dream, I hopped into a rental car with two Mexican nationals, and drove to a truck stop in Southern Illinois. It was there that I was given a key to the ignition of a disabled van that had marijuana secured in its caged cargo compartment. I departed the truck stop unwillingly, under the escort of a dozen federal agents, without even seeing the pot and wearing handcuffs and shackles. It was a reverse sting. A trap. My illusionary dream was cut short with my being caught trying to snatch the cheese from this trap.
This was my first day, and yet it was not, for it was not my first time. Like many 28-year-old black men, I had several first days in jail.
This first day happened to have a lot in common with the other first days, in particular my very first day, which was 18 years earlier, when I was only 10 years old. On that first day, three other little black boys and I were treading through a predominately white neighborhood in Long Beach, California. A cop had placed a bicycle on the sidewalk half a mile ahead of us. When we stumbled upon it, sitting there with no apparent owner, I hopped on it and tried to pedal away. But – just like the van filled with marijuana –, the bicycle was disabled. The chain was broken. It was bait– cheese on a trap. It was part of a sting to entrap little black boys walking through the wrong neighborhood.
That was my first, first day. This next one is my last first day. Just like on that very first day, I found myself in a jail cell. But this time, there was no getting out.
No calling Momma, Auntie, or Grandma to come get me. This time, I was not charged with attempting to pedal away on a disabled bicycle. I was charged with attempting to possess a natural plant that is now exchanged in the open market. One that many states now collect taxes from. This was a big deal, one that would certainly ensure that this first day would be my last first day.
Unlike 18 years ago, this last first day in jail was more of a wake-up call.