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Something’s In The Air


Tehachapi State Prison, 2012 — Prison is a hustler's paradise where only the strong survive. It's full of buyers and sellers and everyone is a con-artist. Hence the term con-artist. The weak are susceptible to the game early and are easy to spot. You can tell when it's someone's first rodeo, as they say around here. Their title here is “first-timer” and they might as well have it tattooed on their face. Their fear or lack thereof is easy to spot. They're still wet behind the ears and a little green, if you know what I mean. Although their ages may vary their demeanor doesn't. They either have wide eyes and are walking on eggshells, or they carry themselves like they don't have a worry in the world because they still have no idea what's in store for them.

Think of your first term as something like your freshman year in high school. Its going to be an experience. I don't care if you are the biggest guy in class or the smallest. Your surroundings are new and so are the people. You will be tested. Crash course. Your little world just got much bigger and whatever you thought you were just became much smaller.

I think it's pretty safe to say once you make it through your first term you're a man. What kind of a man depends on the type of people you rolled with. You could parole with newfound skills that could exceed your criminal expectations, from extracting Excedrin in your microwave to being gone in 60 seconds. The choice is all yours. The professionals are all here only too eager to tutor some new pupils. I promise you we do breed killers, along with any other felonious titles you can think of. We do not discriminate and are accepting all applications. No matter what brought you here to this war zone known as the California Prison System — green you may enter, but only educated you may leave.

A criminal mind is a terrible thing to waste. I tell you from direct experience that all the world's best artists, poets, rappers and even athletes are all locked up. I tell you Little Wayne would slap himself for saying he is the best rapper alive if he could hear some of these cats spit a few bars of what I've been privileged enough to hear while I've been down. The artists, the rappers, the ballers. They're all here.

I swear to you the next Michael Jordan is locked up. Forget the NBA draft, check San Quentin. As for the artwork, it's almost worth coming to prison to see — and I'm not just talking about prison tattoos either, although that's so true that it should go without even saying. The portraits, collages and other artworks I've seen would blow your mind. Where else does someone find the time to perfect their craft? I'm talking about spending ten hours on an eyebrow, three weeks on a hook, and six years on an album! It kind of makes you forget about that kid's jump shot in San Quentin, doesn't it?

I happen to live next door to one of the most talented artists/songwriters the world has never seen. I kid you not. What I'm witnessing daily has to feel something like watching John Lennon and Paul McCartney discover themselves before they become legends. His style in general would have to be labeled as pop or R&B, but with a twist and flavor no one's ever seen outside the prison walls. He's got a California drawl and a swagger that is all his own. He could chew up any rapper alive and serenade your girl out of her panties at the same time. To say dollar signs are in his future would be an understatement and no one even knows he exists. He's never even seen a studio, but vocally he's on top of his game and lyrically he's off the charts. Still, with all his talent, will you ever know his name? Will he ever be discovered? You will never see a convict on American Idol. If America's Got Talent, then Prison's Got Professionals — or at least it breeds masters of their professions.

How many Michael Vicks got busted before Virginia Tech? Before changing the quarterback position as we know it. What if he was mopping floors at Leavenworth for 12¢ an hour before we ever knew his name? What if the only NFL action he ever saw was in a prison dayroom on a Sunday afternoon?

Look at Mike Tyson. Once upon a time the baddest man on the planet. Heavyweight Champion of the World. Also a convicted felon who had a long fall from grace and went to prison at the peak of his career.

Imagine if that fall from grace wasn't as far. What if they never reached the top of their profession? What if they were sentenced to prison before they became household names? Would that have made them any less remarkably talented athletically? In short, the answer is no. I tell you this for a fact. I'm surrounded by more talented individuals then all the outsider stars combined.

The sky is a deep purple and a warm night is falling over the mountains that surround this prison yard. My favorite song is being sung by an individual most people don't even know exists. As he beats on his chest to a soundtrack you've never heard he has our full attention and, as a crowd, we react at all the right moments.

I sit on the edge of my seat so I can keep my forward attitude. I continuously soak in my surroundings. In prison the critical subtext of every situation is animal. Never let your guard down. Even in silence everything is territory and dominance. A battle for advantage.

There's something in the air. I can sense it. A disturbing silence envelops the whole yard. The hushed conversations, the sounds of boots on the pavement, even the crickets are silent. As I scan my surroundings in search of all this tension, a buzzer sounds. That's followed by a voice over the public address system screening, “Down on the yard!”

The song has been cut short but the soundtrack continues playing out around me. I prone out on my stomach with the other 300 inmates on the yard. We were just trying to enjoy a warm evening out of our cells and now some kid is bleeding all over the grass some 50 yards away from me. He's trying to hold his face together having just been sliced with a razor. Soon cops and guards and medics are all over the situation. They cuff anyone within 10 feet of the bleeder in the grass. The medics are rushing the bleeder in a wheelchair across the yard to the clinic. All that remains is a black shadow in the grass, staining the area where the boy had bled. Another five minutes of deathly silence is finally broken by that familiar voice over the public address system: “Resume program!”

Slowly I rise to my feet along with the rest of the yard. Boots scrape the pavement, conversations continue and groups re-converge. Now from the top, California picks up the beat on his chest in tune with the soundtrack around us. As the song continues I realize with certainty that this is truly a song I'll never forget by an artist the world may never know.

To be continued. Submitted and all that mumbo-jumbo as the saga continues. I just thought I'd shoot this to the AVA readers and see what they think. Cheddar Bob still continues to work on his story as the editors very well know. Sometimes it's worth printing and still other times it's worth forgetting.

Ronald Rhea


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