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Pensacola Power

The Pensacola Power team logo

If you’ve read any of my books, you’ve probably noticed my love for sports. Not that any story spotlights a specific athlete or team, but there are references in every novel. Breadcrumbs, as Amity Davenport would call them.

Consider the Dragonfly has a prosthetic leg baseball game that takes place in the terminal unit of a prison hospital where one of the characters, Smoke, is a diehard Atlanta Braves fan. The villain in With Arms Unbound, Lance Broxson, a brutal and corrupt guard at a Panhandle correctional facility, was a former small-town high school quarterback. Izzy, one of the protagonists in On the Shoulders of Giants, played basketball as a teenager before being sent to the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

There are other references in my other books as well. Some were intentional, others were Freudian slips that bubbled up out of my subconscious; a product of sitting in prison dayrooms watching Sunday NFL triple headers for most of my life. A major example of this is in my fourth novel, Sticks & Stones. It wasn’t until after the book was published that I realized the lead character shared his name with a middle linebacker for a professional football team. Oops.

Even the Miranda Rights series, which closely examines the female journey through the Florida Department of Corrections, is not immune. Miranda’s bipolar father, who is also a compulsive gambler, once worked on a pit crew at Pensacola’s own Snowball Derby auto race. The crafty character of Daphne “Throkkie” Throckmorton shares a similar name with a New Orleans Saints offensive lineman.

These are just a few examples. There are other nods, both subtle and overt, that I’ve forgotten over the last twelve years of my incarcerated writing life. But there is one in particular that stands out. It is in my latest novel, The Weight of Entanglement. It occurs in an exchange between Miranda McGuire and the character Tasha Pitts. It takes place in the caged dog-run that serves as the recreational area for the disciplinary confinement unit at Lowell Women’s Annex. This scene pays homage to one of the most dominateand most fascinating—Escambia County sports teams of all time: the Pensacola Power.


“Your name’s Miranda, ain’t it?”

She turned back to Tasha. “Mm hmm.”

“My old bunkie had a lot to say about you before she left.”

“She got out?”

“Yesterday,” said Tasha. “But I’m not surprised she didn’t stop by your flap to say goodbye.”

Miranda shrugged. “I think she was mad at me because I didn’t want to move into her cell.”

“I think she had a thing for you.”

“Gross.”

Tasha laughed. “Where are you from, girl?”

“Pensacola.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Tasha screamed.

The napping guard opened her eyes. “Hey Pitts. Watch your mouth. Unless you want to go back to your cell.”

“My bad.” She held up her hands. Then, low enough for only Miranda to hear, “I forgot we’re in preschool.”

Crazy Train passed again, mumbling to herself. It occurred to Miranda that the only difference between her own inner narrator and the rambling dialogue of the woman with sores on her face was the fact that she confined those conversations to her head and called it thinking. Crazy Train either lacked the ability or the desire to do the same.

“What side of town are you from?” said Tasha.

“Ferry Pass.” Miranda scratched her nose. “Olive Road.”

“I’m from Ensley!” She slapped the fence. “Born and raised. Tasha Prime Time Pitts? You ain’t ever heard of me?”

“Should I?” said Miranda.

“How old are you?”

“I just turned twenty last month.”

“Twenty? Shit, I got a son older than you.” 

“I have a son too,” Miranda said quietly.

“Well, way back in 2001, two years after I had Cedric, I heard on the radio that they were holding tryouts for an all-women’s football team. The Pensacola Power. Remember that?”

Miranda shook her head. “Flag football?”

“Hell nah! We were hittin’ out there. Shoulder pads, helmets, cleats. Just like on TV.”

“I’ve never heard of it. The Pensacola Power?”

“Yeah, they’re called the Riptide now, or some shit like that, but back when I was playing, it was the Power. And we ran shit. Our first season, we went to the championship after going undefeated. Thousands of people were showing up at our games. Dan Shugart was talkin’ about us on Channel 3 News. I can’t believe you don’t remember.”

“My dad might,” said Miranda.

If he’s still alive, said her inner narrator.

“I was only a baby in 2001.”

“Well, we were kickin’ ass all the way up to 2008, the year I came to prison. We didn’t even lose a regular season game until 2006. We just couldn’t win the big one, couldn’t get past Detroit. They beat us once in the semis and twice in the championship. Those were some tough bitches. I gotta give it to them. Mean as hell too. Every single one of them looked like Dixie.” She looked beyond Miranda and shouted, “Yeah, I’m talking about your big ass! You’re lucky we ain’t got a chessboard out here.”

“That’s strike two, Pitts,” said the guard.

“What’d I say? Ass?” Tasha was incredulous. “Ass ain’t no bad word. It’s in the Bible.”

“Keep on.”

Tasha rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I was starting left cornerback for all those teams. I had 37 interceptions in my career, 9 returned for touchdowns. Most in the NWFA. Those records probably still stand.”

For some reason she thought of Nebraska Jackson, her fellow news junkie from the county jail who peed standing up. She would have made a good football player. “What’s the NWFA? Northwest Florida . . .”

“Ain’t no Northwest Florida,” Tasha quickly corrected. “National . . . National Women’s Football Association.”

“Impressive,” said Miranda.

“Yeah, I was pretty good.” Her eyes went middle distance, somewhere over the razor wire. “But my son, Cedric? That boy is next level. Strong enough to jam wide receivers at the line, can flip his hips and bail as quick as any corner in college football, ball hawk instincts, perfect technique, and unlike his momma, he can hit. I was a lazy tackler. Ced has been layin’ wood since he played for the Salvation Army on Q Street. As a junior at Auburn, PFW’s draft guide ranked him as the number two corner in the nation. Mel Kiper called him a generational talent.”

“I have no idea what you just said.”

Tasha blinked, grinned, came back. “Huh? Oh, my bad. I always get carried away when I talk about my son.”

“I know how you feel.” Miranda thought of Cameron. She wondered what potential was waiting to be maximized in her little boy. The oak sleeps in the acorn. “And you should be proud. Auburn University. That’s a massive accomplishment.”

“Yeah, well, he’s fuckin’ up now. Back-to-back dirty urines for weed, then he punched a teammate in the face on the sideline during the spring game. Got kicked off the team. Now they talkin’ about cancelling the rest of the season because of Covid.”

“I’m sorry,” said Miranda.

She looked up at the white sky. “He’ll be all right. Ced’s a survivor. His agent said he could still go as high as the third round in next year’s draft. But he was gonna be a top twenty pick. Maybe top ten. His knucklehead decisions are costing us millions of dollars. The plan was for him to use his signing bonus to get me a real attorney.”

“You’ve got a lot of time?”

“Life.” Her face hardened. “For killing his no-good daddy. It should have been a stand your ground case. I got railroaded.”

It was strange how these conversations were now commonplace in her world. A year ago the idea of meeting a murderer would have been terrifying, but at this point every cellmate she had and most of the friends she made were lifers. She thought of Nebraska again, and the stories about her mother being abused.

“Do you know Nebraska Jackson?”

The smooth skin of her brow knotted as she searched Miranda’s face. “Yeah, I know Brass. Everybody in Pensacola knows that bull dagger. Poisonous ass.”

“Poisonous? What do you mean?”

“She’s jumping on all those people’s cases in the county. Bianca Bradshaw, Kim Robinson. Now they’re saying she’s gonna testify against that little girl on the sixth floor who killed her baby. What’s her name? She’s always in the newspaper. Amity something.”

“Davenport,” Miranda said softly.

“Yeah, that’s it.” Tasha shook her head in disgust. “Amity Davenport.”

Divine Intervention Part Two

Dad holding me as a newborn, January 1974.

“The plains of desolation are white with the bones of countless millions who, at the very dawn of victory, sat down to wait… and while waiting, died.”

Who penned this powerful adage on the importance of perseverance, on striking while the proverbial iron is hot, on resisting the temptation to rest on one’s laurels?

I forget the dude’s name. Shonda googled it for me recently but between the head injuries, the dope smoke, and standard mid-life brain recalibration, it’s getting more and more difficult to remember random trivia. The author of the quote is immaterial anyway, at least as he relates to the subject matter of this essay. In my mind it is eminent domain of my father, dead thirty years this coming September. He’s the only person I’ve ever heard recite it. I consider it one of Dad’s greatest hits, right up there with The Ballad of Samuel Hall, Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey (“See the tree, how big it’s grown?”), random lines from Birdman of Alcatraz, and timeworn maxims like “When you lose your temper, you lose” and “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.”

Dad talking to me as a teenager with his arm around my shoulders on a bridge in a park in Florida.

I can see him now, brow furrowed in contemplation, eyes finding mine in the rearview of our old brown Buick as endless rows of pine trees tick away outside the window, morphing into the familiar rivers and pastures and lonely county road overpasses on the stretch of I-10 between Mobile and Tallahassee.

“The plains of desolation are white with the bones of countless millions…”

What did it all mean? My seven-year-old brain could not grasp the concept. Perhaps neither of us did. But it sounded cool. And Dad’s tone and delivery lent a certain profundity to the phrase, earmarking it as important.

Turns out it was.

Me holding two of my novels in my lap, Consider the Dragonfly and On the Shoulders of Giants.

I sat down to write my first novel at age 37, a little over 18 years after the prison chaplain at Lake Butler summoned me to his office to notify me that my father had passed. 18 years… It went by in a blink. Or maybe blur is a more accurate word. Back then, my fellow prisoners were always pontificating about the heightened sense of awareness that is a byproduct of doing time, and how it makes navigating life outside the razor wire a cinch. Theoretically, multiple years of staying on one’s toes and sleeping with one eye open was supposed to give a man a decided advantage over those somnambulant suckers out there slogging away on autopilot. Not so, in my experience. During my brief vacation of freedom, just after the turn of the century, that mean ol’ world chewed me up and spit me out quicker than you can say 10-20-Life. I got hooked on crack cocaine, crashed three different cars, endured brain surgery, received 70 staples in my head, was mauled by police canines, indicted by the federal government, and tossed back in the Escambia County Jail before I could even get my bearings.

My return to the joint was a homecoming of sorts. After spending most of my youth in institutions, the prison landscape was more familiar to me than the free world, the characters more predictable. I picked up right where I left off—getting high, playing cards, working out, gambling on football. Cliché prison shit. Years passed. But with them came a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with the life I was living, with the man I had become. Similar to Izzy in On the Shoulders of Giants, I had grown sick of the yard with its dope and its gangs and its parlay tickets. I longed for something different, an identity other than failure-loser-career criminal. So, in 2011, I turned inward and lost myself in imagination and memory. What came out was Consider the Dragonfly.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, the family it is centered around closely resembles my own. This is especially true for the character of Chris McCallister who is Mac Collins note for note. From the messiah complex to the courtroom speech to the congestive heart failure at age 51. If you ever want to meet my father, his ghost still wanders the pages of that first book—smoking pot in Tampax wrappers and two-liter Pepsi bongs, having conversations with Peter Jennings through the television screen, blessing shoppers in a South Miami Publix. A grown child battling demons, a lost soul stumbling toward the light.

Dad in front of our Christmas tree in 1992, his last Christmas.

Despite this honest and, at times, unflattering characterization, I think Dad would’ve loved the book. I think he would’ve loved all of them. From Dragonfly to Giants to Entanglement and all points in between. He would’ve dug these essays too. Not necessarily for any riveting plot lines or liquid prose but for the achievements themselves. For the work. I know he would’ve been proud of the letter from President Obama, the Writer’s Digest Book Award, and the article in the Pensacola News Journal.

Dad's multiple stacks of self-improvement books.

My father was a lifelong fan of discipline and mastery. This may sound odd considering that he spent much of his adult life north of 300 pounds, smoked two packs of Camel non-filters a day, had a brutally low self-esteem, gambled recklessly, bought dope with grocery money, and was in every way about as undisciplined as a man could be. But maybe that was the point. Since self-discipline felt so unattainable to him, he coveted it the way others covet beauty or wealth or 4.3 speed.

His nightstand was usually littered with books by men like Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and Dr. Wayne Dyer. Masterworks on conquering the self, setting and exceeding personal goals, winning friends and influencing people… I’m certain the quote was lifted from the pages of one of these best-sellers. I can imagine him committing it to memory, repeating it over and over with all the desperation and fervor of a religious fanatic.

“The plains of desolation are white with the bones…”

This essay was supposed to have been written in October. At the checkered flag of my final year in state prison. It was supposed to be about finishing strong and doubling down on all the things that changed my life over the course of this decades-long journey. Unfortunately, I took my eyes off the road and ended up in a ditch.

If you read my last essay, TICKETMAN, then you know that I recently decided to let the old me—a lost soul who went by the name of CC—out of solitary confinement. Just to run Bond Money, my old football ticket. And perhaps participate in a little well-earned debauchery with some of my homeboys, many of whom I’ll never see again once I walk out the gate. No harm in that, right? I can be moderate. It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed a joint here and there over the last couple years, or drank a little buck. These things are part of the prison experience. How could I continue to write convincingly about this world that I’ll be leaving soon if I didn’t fully immerse myself in the culture from time to time? Consider it gonzo journalism.

Yeah, bad move, Hunter S. Thompson.

This delusional pursuit of moderation quickly devolved into nights burning stick after stick of a new and unfamiliar drug in a cell full of strangers, smoke-stained fingers singed and cracked from holding Brillo wire to batteries in order to light yet another, groping blindly on the floor in the dark for any dope I might have dropped during the day. Me, the great Malcolm Ivey, award-winning author of six novels, acclaimed essayist, beacon of mastery, spouter of platitudes, ejaculator of self-help advice… crawling around on the floor like a damned crackhead. Again. That was the scariest part—my response to this strange 2022 substance mirrored my response to crack cocaine in 2004, the drug that cost me 20 years in prison and almost cost me my life.

Dad holding my hand on the first day of kindergarten in 1979.

In the span of a few short weeks, I found myself staring into the abyss. Every inch of ground I had gained over the last 12 years was suddenly crumbling beneath my feet. Dark clouds were gathering. Vultures circled overhead. Yet night after night as I lay in my bunk coming down—heart pounding, sweat pouring, the stench of failure all over me—a staticky and persistent voice kept repeating in my head like an AM radio broadcast circa 1981.

“The plains of desolation are white with the bones of countless millions who, at the very dawn of victory, sat down to wait… and while waiting, died.”

Dad. Those eyes in the rearview, clear as the morning sky. A seven-year-old boy in the back seat of a Buick. Interesting how the above quote could have so little impact 40 years ago but could prove to be so relevant in 2022. Those words saved my life.

Me holding my lunch box on the first day of kindergarten in 1979.

Possibly. Or perhaps this essay is a romantic oversimplification of my own near-death and bounce-back. After all, there were a myriad of reasons to get up off the mat: a solitary girl, some little people who need strength and stability in their lives, a mom pushing 80 who’s spent the last 30 years in prison visitation parks, my time-barred brothers and sisters who are counting on me in the long fight for a parole mechanism in the state of Florida, books to write, a world to see…

Still, there’s something about that quote; how it got lodged in my head like a splinter and refused to come out, how it played over and over like one of Dad’s old Everly Brothers 45s on the family RCA. Out of nowhere and at just the right time. The starry-eyed writer in me prefers the mystical explanation; that my father—or the combination of my father and a force more loving, more powerful, and more intelligent than my father could ever hope to be—stashed a life raft on Interstate 10 all those years ago. And that proved to be the difference. As Jason Isbell sings in New South Whales, “God bless the busted boat that brings us back.”

Either way, the whole experience was enough to make me take my ass to church, a place I haven’t been in a quarter century. If for nothing else than just to change up the energy and escape the hopelessness of my unit for an hour. I’ve been attending for a month now. But that’s another essay.

[The original Divine Intervention can be found on malcolmivey.com and was written about a night in March 2005]

TICKETMAN

Twelve years, six novels, and more than a hundred essays ago, I found myself living between a landfill and a shit plant at a Florida panhandle prison called Walton Correctional, commonly referred to as Wally World by the 1200 men toiling away inside its razor wire fences.

Fresh off lockdown after nine months of miniscule food portions, minimal sunlight, and three tepid showers a week, I hit this new compound at 132 pounds of malnourished skin and bone, white as the paper I’m writing this on. Dudes I’ve been doing time with since I was a teenager didn’t recognize me.

Since most of my property was either confiscated or stolen during the transfer, I was starting this next chapter of my incarcerated journey with very little—a stack of letters, a transistor radio, my address book. Even my sweet momma was banned indefinitely from coming to see me during that time, the spiteful aftermath of a prohibited relationship with a female staff member at a previous prison. But I had a little money in my inmate account, access to Danny Sheridan’s Vegas lines in the USA Today, and a reputation for having an iron word that preceded me. More than enough to survive.

After all, I had a pretty decent hustle.

Running a parlay ticket in prison can be a lucrative endeavor. Anyone who’s ever bet on a football game knows how difficult it is to pick four teams against the spread. In the joint, that’s what you have to do: Pick four. Usually at 10-1 odds, meaning that if you win, you’ll receive ten dollars for every dollar wagered. If you win. The advantage is definitely slanted in favor of the house, much more so than any casino on the strip. That was me, by the way. I was the house. Only instead of Caesar’s or Harrah’s, I was Bond Money. If you were on any prison yard in the Florida Panhandle between 2006 and 2011, chances are somebody passed you a highlighted Bond Money ticket with the weekend’s games and odds. For those of you who have never lived beneath the gun towers, here’s a brief explanation of how the ticket game works…

I had writers in every wing of every housing unit who passed out tickets, collected money, and jotted receipts that were then turned into me before the games. Writers make a quarter on every dollar they write. That may not sound like much but if you’re stuck in this place and you’re broke, it’s good money. Survival money. The average writer pulls anywhere from $100 to $200 worth of coffee, tuna, and other canteen items from his respective wing over a weekend. (Canteen is currency in a cashless prison system.) Sometimes they write more depending on the financial climate of their dormitory. Regardless, they get their 25% off the top. Then any hits are subtracted. The remainder is mine. And it’s usually substantial. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some brutal weekends, days where the stars aligned and I was forced to empty out multiple lockers. Occasionally, but not often. The key is to always sock it away, so when those bad weekends happen you can cash every ticket with a smile. Along with a flyer for the next weekend’s games and odds.

Within a month I had five lockers full of canteen. After two months I doubled that number. Soon, I began converting those bags of food and hygiene into real money, $100 at a time. All while making sure that every hit was immediately paid as well as running free pools here and there to keep my name ringing. A year passed. Football season bled into basketball season, and basketball to baseball to football again. Money flowed. Life was good. Or as good as it could be for a guy serving decades in prison. So why did I feel so empty?

I couldn’t see it at the time, but a storm was brewing inside of me. An existential crisis. I was 35 years old and all I had to my name was a bunch of lockers full of coffee and tuna and an inflated ego from people telling me what a brilliant ticketman I was. Never married, no kids, no employment skills, no retirement account. I had built nothing, made nothing, grown nothing, done nothing with my life except run a chaingang parlay ticket.

There’s a line in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It comes after the young Brahmin has left home and goes into the forest to become an ascetic, then a beggar, then a traveler where he meets Buddha in a grove but decides against following the master teacher. After his first encounter with the ferryman, after surrendering to the flesh with beautiful Kamala, after becoming a successful businessman and gambling large sums of money, after years go by and his face gradually assumes the expression so often found among the wealthy—the expression of discontent, displeasure, idleness, lovelessness—Siddhartha becomes disgusted with his life. “…But above all he was nauseated with himself, with his perfumed hair, with the smell of wine from his mouth, with the soft flabby appearance of his skin. Like one who has eaten and drunk too much and vomits painfully and then feels better, so did the restless man wish he could rid himself with one terrific heave of these pleasures, of these habits of his entirely senseless life.”

I was with Siddhartha on the one terrific heave thing. I was feeling nauseated myself. All this dissatisfaction timed up with mom being reinstated to my visitation list. She finally wore down the warden after almost two years of relentless phone calls and stakeouts in the prison parking lot. That sweet lady can be a force of nature when it comes to her boy. The fact that she was ever suspended in the first place is indicative of the FDC’s heartlessness and draconian modus operandi. Especially in that era. Mom is a taxpaying, law-abiding citizen. She’s never even had a traffic ticket. I remember walking laps with her in the grass around the pavilion that first weekend. I asked her a question that would change everything. “Hey mom, if I wrote a book, would you type it?”

The following week I shut down Bond Money and bought a stack of lined paper and Bic pens from the inmate canteen. Then I retreated to my bunk and began writing Consider the Dragonfly. I didn’t really know how to write at the time. I remember grabbing Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins off a table in the dayroom to see how she wrote dialogue. Did the comma go inside or outside the quotation marks? But day by day, week by week, chapter by chapter I began learning the craft. Soon, I was falling asleep reading Writer’s Digest magazines and waking up to jot down plot points that bubbled up from my subconscious in dreams. I disengaged from cliché prison conversations and activities. Conversations with the characters in my head were much more fascinating anyway. Gradually, I moved further and further away from my old life. Like a continental drift. Until one day I looked up, and what was once a tiny stream was suddenly the Atlantic Ocean.

For over a decade I wrote, read, meditated, exercised, disciplined myself, addressed every character defect I could find and yanked them out by the roots like weeds. Age 40 came and went. Then 45. Patches of white appeared in my beard. People started calling me Old School and Pops and Unc. My compound VIP status as ticketman diminished as time marched on and Bond Money faded into the past. Every once in a while I would cross paths with someone who knew me from back in the day and they would inevitable ask why I shut down the ticket. My stock answer was that a good year in the ticket game meant fifteen lockers and maybe a grand in my account. But if I wrote a bestselling novel???

I was so confident that success would come with Consider the Dragonfly. But the world looked at it and yawned. In 2013, I began writing With Arms Unbound. Surely this one would blow them away. (I doubt it sold 100 copies to date.) By the time I wrote the prologue to On the Shoulders of Giants—2015—I was beginning to grasp the concept of the long view. “Just keep writing man,” I told myself. “The world will catch on eventually. And when they do, there will be an entire backlog of novels awaiting them.” It was also around this time that it dawned on me that the work was its own reward. I was happiest when I was lost in a project. And miserable when I was idle. Three more novels would follow in rapid succession—Sticks & Stones, Year of the Firefly, and The Weight of Entanglement. Twelve years after I shut down the ticket and bought that first pack of paper and pen, the transformation felt complete. Worldly definition of success notwithstanding, I was a multi-published author. I am a multi-published author. Miles away from my old self.

But how far is too far? If we’re talking armed robberies and crack cocaine and momma crying in courtrooms, I don’t think a million miles is far enough. But that doesn’t apply across the board. A little balance and moderation can be a good thing in certain circumstances. This younger generation of prisoners only know me as the grumpy old boomer who spends all day scribbling in a notepad. They don’t know the old me. They don’t know CC the ticketman. They only know the writer, Malcolm Ivey. My past was calling.

This NFL season, my 18th and final in state prison, I’ve decided to resurrect Bond Money. As of this writing, I’m up to seven lockers and it’s only week 6! Why go back? For one, I could use the money. Two, because I don’t want to retreat so deep into myself to write these novels that I end up missing out on the real life happening all around me. I feel like this was a consequence of sequestering myself to my bunk all these years. Those real-life experiences, even if they’re heavy—especially if they’re heavy—are the very experiences that inform the stories I write. But mostly, I’m cranking back up because I want to leave a legacy. Not just as an incarcerated writer who once walked the yard… but as the legendary ticketman who ran it.

I realize that this is partly an ego thing. (Okay, mostly an ego thing.) Siddhartha would not approve. I’m still a big believer in humility. That hasn’t changed. And I’ll never stop writing. But as the great Steven Pressfield observed in his fantastic War of Art, sometimes you gotta throw down a 360 tomahawk jam to let the boys know you’re still in the building.

The Astral Pipeline Book Club

I was 126 pounds with bones sticking out of my face when I was removed from society in 2005. Barely a man, a broken pitiful thing, enslaved by addiction, financially destitute, I would’ve been homeless if I didn’t have such a sweet momma. As the saying goes, I didn’t get arrested… I got rescued. It took a minute to get the crack smoke from between my ears. There might still be a little swirling around in there to be honest. Lord knows I’ve made my share of questionable decisions over these last seventeen years. Many of you who have done time with me can attest to this. But if you know me, then you also know how focused I am on change. On maximizing my ability and efficiency… as a man, as a writer, as an inhabitant of Planet Earth.

The late great Bo Lozoff once observed that major life changes generally happen in the form of wide round curves as opposed to sharp turns. That has definitely been my experience. Change is a gradual thing. Still, there have been moments of truth along the journey, individual decision points that have contributed to the metamorphosis.

Quitting smoking in 2009 was massive for me. All my life I’ve been taught I was powerless over addiction. In juvenile programs, in twelve step meetings, by my father who was battling demons of his own. Cigarettes had me by the balls since elementary school. Kicking nicotine at age 35 made me realize that, contrary to popular belief, I was not powerless, I was powerful. After that, I started kicking all kinds of bad habits. Just because I could.

Another element is the workout. Will is definitely a muscle. I don’t know about you but if I don’t work mine, it’ll get soft and flabby. Just like a neglected bicep. Nobody grabs a pullup bar and automatically levitates. We have to tell our muscles “perform this task.” For most of us, it takes a while. But if we stick with it, and keep showing up, one rep becomes two, two become five, and five become ten. This process doesn’t just build muscle, it builds grit… and, inevitably, will.

Then there’s this writing thing which has taught me discipline and structure and how to delay gratification. Believe me: there is nothing instantly gratifying about the lonely journey of hammering out a novel. You spend years writing longhand on your bunk, pouring everything into your work—all your love, all your pain, all your hopes and fears and life experience, only to have it earn an Amazon ranking of 2,000,000 and go largely ignored by the literary world. Then you do it again. And again. Not because you’re a pain freak but because you believe in yourself and the importance of the stories you tell. Because you have a vision and refuse to give up. This has been both game-changer and soul-shaper for me.

Another milestone occurred when I realized that I had to be my own father. My dad was a good man who loved good music, good food, and a fat joint. He was a blast to be around. But he was never a father in the conventional sense. And he never got around to teaching me how to be a man. In many ways he was a child himself till the day he died. Twenty years after his death, it dawned on me that there was a little kid inside of me who never learned impulse control or what it meant to live honorably. That young man is now my responsibility. It may be a bit late, but I’m raising his little bad ass right.

Finally, there’s the books. Not my books. We’ve covered that already. I’m talking The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Focus by Daniel Goleman… Books by masters on the pursuit of self-mastery. Seekers, Philosophers, Holy men, Gurus, PhDs. In 2019, my friend Shonda and I began reading this select genre of books together from 2000 miles apart and messaging about their impact on our daily lives. A convict and a work-from-home mom. A year later we began calling ourselves the Astral Pipeline Book Club. This year we’re inviting our friends to read along. If you’re passionate about getting the most out of your time and energy, your relationships, your body, your brain, then look no further… You’ve found your people.

Groundhog Day

One desperate afternoon in 2005, a skinny and addicted version of myself was scanning the lawn care equipment and power tools in mom’s garage for something I could pawn for dope money when suddenly I was struck by a bolt of inspiration: Why deprive mom of her weed whacker when I can easily rob a neighbor? There was far more honor in that, right? I went in through the bathroom window.

First thing I found was a loaded 9mm. Fate crackled in the barrel. I tucked it into the waist of my jeans then made a quick check for jewelry and money before slinking off into the March afternoon to do what the broken people do. (Legal note—Since I armed myself in the commission of a crime, this simple burglary became an armed burglary. A first-degree felony punishable by life in prison.)

Over the next 36 hours in a dope-fueled tailspin, I used this weapon to jack various area drug dealers as well as two convenience stores. In the parlance of Narcotics Anonymous, this phenomenon is referred to as “a case of the fuck its.” Luckily no one was harmed in my unraveling. I never even fired the gun. And because I spared the State the expense of a jury trial, the State spared me the misery of a life sentence. (Legal note—According to Florida’s 10-20-Life law, brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony carries a mandatory ten years, firing the weapon carries twenty, shooting someone triggers a life sentence. There is no parole.)

I ended up with twenty years in the department of corrections along with more than a quarter century in the federal system. For a more detailed account of the night of my arrest, check out the Divine Intervention essay at malcolmivey.com. But please do not mistake my tone as flippant or unremorseful. This could not be further from the truth. I am deeply humiliated by the weak and pathetic actions of that miserable little crackhead. It’s just that all this occurred almost two decades ago and when you spend so many years pacing cells, alone in your head, relentlessly scrutinizing your life and the moment things went south, over and over and over again, it all becomes a little mechanical. Like a movie you’ve seen a million times. Groundhog Day.

I am a gun criminal. Embarrassing to admit this with all the recent ugliness on the evening news, but my record speaks for itself. No getting around it. I was actually classified as an Armed Career Criminal by the United States government until a 2016 Supreme Court ruling resulted in my federal sentence being overturned.

Although the above debacle was my first taste of armed robbery, it was not my first rodeo. I’ve been sleeping on hard institutional bunks and eating cold food on dirty trays since I was a pre-teen in juvenile detention. I don’t pretend to know a lot about the outside world because I’ve been removed from it for so many years, but if there’s one subject I’m fluent in, it’s the criminal justice system. I’ve written six books and over 100 essays on life behind the razor wire.

With this recent spike of violent crime—not just the tragic and headline-dominating mass shootings but also gangland drive-bys, ambushed police, and robbery homicides—many old guard politicians are already dusting off their tough-on-crime speeches from the ‘90s. And the public will predictably respond at the polls. For good reason: something has to be done. But I would argue that the solution will not be found in tougher laws. How much tougher can you get than consecutive life-without-parole sentences? The death penalty? We’ve got that too. And the robberies and car-jackings and murders continue to surge. Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Another approach might save us from where we are headed.

All across this great nation, impoverished young people with mothers and fathers either in early graves or serving lengthy prison sentences are walking the same lonely roads as their parents. Why would anyone choose such a miserable existence? Maybe it’s not a choice. I know they’re not getting much help from their countrymen. Especially not our nation’s two political parties. The liberal message which blames systemic racism for every bad break and poor decision provides zero viable solutions and runs counter to American ideals of self-sufficiency and accountability. The conservative pull yourself up by the bootstraps narrative is unrealistic as well. When you’ve never met your incarcerated father and your mother alternates between violent dopesickness and being slumped on the couch, when your world is confined to the project buildings and trailer parks where you were born, when most of your neighbors supplement their government assistance income with some form of hustling, when your normal consists of scrapping and stealing just to survive, when this is all you’ve ever known, you don’t just wake up one day, crack your knuckles, and decide to go to vocational school. It may happen occasionally. But as the exception, never the rule. So what? you’re probably thinking. Why should the average American care? Why should you care? I mean, we’re talking about a bunch of criminals and slum dwellers, right?

Well…

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s how interconnected we all are. Conspiracy theories aside, a virus from Wuhan China has circled the globe and killed millions of people. An incident in a laboratory on the other side of the world has wreaked that much havoc. And we’re still dealing with the aftermath—supply chain issues, factory shutdowns, inflation, mutations, political unrest. The shockwaves are inescapable. Even the remote Panhandle prison where I sit and type this essay is not immune. Outside my cell door is a beleaguered workforce, rising canteen prices, diminishing food portions, rampant drug abuse… But our interconnectedness is not limited to global pandemics. Look how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected the price of fuel, and how the price of fuel has affected world markets, and how plummeting markets have affected people’s 401(k)s. Like it or not, we are all in this together.

So it follows that if events in Asia and eastern Europe can have an impact of this magnitude on Bible Belt America, then what about that other section of your very own hometown? What about fentanyl, what about meth, what about gangs, what about an ideology and culture that places no value on human life? It doesn’t take an epidemiologist to recognize that violent crime is spreading exponentially. And it is no longer confined to those neighborhoods across the tracks. A generation of unraised and unloved children are coming of age. You see their faces every night on the local news. And on their way to life sentences in prison and fatal gunshot wounds, they’re making babies who will also grow up fatherless, motherless, hopeless… America has extremely broad shoulders. But at some point she will collapse beneath the staggering weight of her broken citizens. And the world’s longest running democracy will finally come to an end. That is, unless we do something. But what can we do?

I have two suggestions.

The first is so simple that it seems inarguable. We need to love our kids. And by “our kids” I mean America’s kids. We need to teach them the value of honest work, discipline, and respect. All of them. No child among the 330,000,000 of us should grow up without a rock-solid support system, without consistent direction, without love… Imagine a coalition of teachers, athletes, business professionals, community leaders, neighbors, moms, dads, police officers, even reformed ex-prisoners committed to stepping up and assuring the abandoned and forgotten that there is love in the world. Not by throwing money at the problem or writing preachy and long-winded disquisitions like this one 🙂 but by rolling up our sleeves and investing our time and our hearts and our energy in the coming generation—and doing this with the same sense of urgency and conviction that Christian missionaries carry on their voyages to foreign continents every day. If we don’t, then the only ones who will suffer the consequences is us.

You will disagree with this second suggestion. And I totally understand. But I can only tell you the truth as I see it. And what I’ve seen every day for decades in prison is young unaffiliated men stepping off county vans, wide-eyed and green to prison life, ready to do their time and get home. Only to exit the system years later as full-fledged gang members with the requisite crowns, stars, and swastikas tattooed on their heads and necks. Why? First of all, prison is a dangerous place and there is always safety in numbers, but there is also the allure of dope, money, cell phones, respect, and brotherhood. Five years ago I wrote about this emerging crisis in a series of essays called Fixing a Broken Prison System. At the time, gang members made up about 10% of my dorm. Today it’s closer to 25%. Again, who cares about a bunch of prisoners and low-income trash, right? But these same hardened young men are returning to their neighborhoods as heroes home from war, and many are indoctrinating the young people in their communities. That’s not just a problem. That’s systemic failure.

The Florida Department of Corrections cites public safety as a top priority. This is emphasized in their mission statement, core principles, and pretty much every press release regarding prisons and prisoners. Yet on this, they are failing the public on a scale so spectacular that it boggles the mind. There’s a relatively easy fix for it, but it flies in the face of every stump speech being made by every tough-on-crime politician on the Florida Panhandle right now. Be tough on crime. Hell yeah. Be merciless on crime. But bring back parole.

Aww Malcolm… you’re just trying to get your buddies home.

This is true. And if you knew some of my friends (and their mommas) you would see why. Good people. Men who changed their lives decades ago and are now just hanging around, waiting to die. Many of the guards who work here would attest to this. But allowing men and women to earn their way home would have ripple effects far beyond my circle of friends.

Imagine a prison system where every person arriving at the reception centers—barring pedophiles and clinically diagnosed sociopaths—would be given a series of diagnostic tests to gauge IQ, reading and math levels, vocational skills, emotional intelligence, etc… Once their history and aptitude are established, a team of psychologists, educators, and trained classification officers would set a number of almost impossibly high benchmarks to be reached over time. A final meeting with the incoming offender would sound something like this: “Okay, young man, you’ve been sentenced to life in prison. Life means life in the state of Florida. This means you will die behind these fences. But that will probably be 70 or 80 years from now since you’re only 18 years old. During that time everything you love will be taken away. However… there is a faint possibility that you might be able to one day earn your way home. But only if you accomplish the following. Get your GED, get your bachelor’s degree, complete these 50 courses, log in 10,000 hours of anger management, keep a clean disciplinary record… And, by the way, if you join a gang you are automatically eliminated from the program.”

Something like that. If this idea were implemented, prisons would be safer, guards would have a legitimate management tool, and gang affiliation numbers in Florida would plummet within a decade. Amazing what a little hope can do. Of course, there will be some who try to game the system, but over time I think even those men and women would be converted. I know from my own experience that a strange thing happens on the road to education: the more learned you become, the less likely you are to do harm to your fellow man.

I mentioned all this to a teacher at the prison where I’m doing my time. Really cool guy—an Army Ranger with a bachelor’s in political science. He identifies as a fiscal conservative but leans slightly left on matters of social justice. His response: These are not kitchen table issues for the average American. People are worried about inflation, the price of gas, illegal immigration. Not the plight of inner-city kids or criminal justice reform.

He’s probably right. The human brain is not wired for distant threats. This is why things like rising sea levels, ballooning national debt, and evaporating social security are such a hard sell to so many. In his spectacular book, Focus, Daniel Goleman illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. “We are finely tuned to a rustling in the leaves that may signal a stalking tiger. But we have no perceptual apparatus that can sense the thinning of the ozone layer, nor the carcinogens in the particulates we breathe on a smoggy day…”

Ditto the long-term effects of the school-to-prison pipeline and the broken criminal justice system it feeds.

I’m guessing many of you disagree with all this. I probably would too if I hadn’t lived in here for so many years. But I can’t unsee these problems and potential solutions. Aside from writing books and enjoying the people I love, the rest of my life will be dedicated to improving this social condition. Maybe I can pay my proverbial debt to society in this way. A few years ago these concepts might have found more traction. There was an empty Supreme Court seat, bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform, and conservative politicians like Jeff Brandes roaming the Capitol halls. That time has passed. Violent crime is soaring and hardliner rhetoric is the message of the day. The pendulum has officially swung. But popular or not, I will continue to bang this drum until someone hears me. Groundhog Day.

Where Is The Love

“What’s wrong with the world, momma? People acting like they ain’t got no mommas.” Remember this lyric? Black Eyed Peas “Where Is The Love?” I’m not a big fan of the song or the group or the genre but it’s been on auto-loop in my head since last Sunday.

That morning, exactly one week after Mother’s Day, I took up my customary seat in the day room, instant black coffee sloshing in my cup, ready for some George Stephanopoulos. Like many Americans turning on their TVs that day, I was expecting the latest on Ukraine, the obligatory Congressional interviews, Covid updates, inflation outlooks, primary election predictions, maybe a little partisan back and forth between Chris Christie and Donna Brazile…

What I got instead was Tops Supermarket. Buffalo, New York. Where the day before, an 18-year-old white kid strapped up with Teflon and tactical gear and drove 200 miles to live-stream his massacre of a black community.

When the final shell casing hit the pavement and he dropped his assault weapon in surrender to the police, the official body count was ten. Ten moms and dads, ten sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents… Ten Americans, grocery shopping on what they thought was just another day. One story in particular hit me hard. A father went in to pick up a birthday cake for his three-year-old son. He never made it out. His kid is probably still asking “what happened to daddy?”

Brutal.

Moments like this—where we can all agree on the atrocious nature of a thing—are few and far between in these hyperpartisan times. But this is not a political issue. This is an American tragedy that is occurring with more and more frequency. Charlottesville, Charleston, the Pittsburgh Synagogue, the Walmart in El Paso…

One year ago, in his rebuttal to Biden’s address to Congress, Tim Scott—the lone black republican senator from South Carolina—famously announced “America is not a racist nation.” If you’re like me (white and middle aged) this was music to your ears. Not rap music either. I’m talking Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Michael Bublé… Finally, a person of color gave America express consent to move on from its ugly past and validated our progress as a nation. Thank God. Unfortunately, my brothers and sisters on the left didn’t see it that way. ”Uncle Tim,” they called him, dismissing his speech as right-wing propaganda and dismissing him as someone handpicked by the GOP to make white folks feel comfortable. Damn. He did actually make me feel comfortable. Or at least hopeful.

All this emphasis on race. Democrats seem hellbent on wringing every drop of distrust from past and present injustices and converting this into political capitol. Critical Race Theory immediately comes to mind. Across the aisle, more and more Republicans are coming to embrace divisive philosophies as well. Case in point: Replacement theory, the ideology espoused by the Buffalo shooter in his manifesto. Anyone who watches Fox News has probably heard host, Tucker Carlson, promote this same doctrine. According to the Washington Post he’s mentioned it more than 400 times on his top-rated show.

Here’s an alternate theory: We’re not all that different. And this relentless focus on race and identity politics has much farther-reaching consequences than the next election cycle or the culture wars being fought on social media. America’s children are being indoctrinated. Loners and misfits are being lured into shadowy corners of the web, places where their confirmed kills on Call of Duty are lauded and the promise of brotherhood is offered. Places where grown men whisper dark ideologies into the hearts of teens. Although the rhetoric smacks of far-right nativism, there is nothing patriotic about these groups. I have my doubts that they’re even based in the U.S. Our elections aren’t the only things our enemies are meddling in these days.

A few years ago I heard an interesting story about Tommy Davidson—one of the original cast members of the hit 90s show In Living Color and a hilarious standup comic in his own right. Apparently, he was stuffed in a garbage can by his biological mother when he was a baby, and a white woman who happened to be passing by heard him crying. She ended up taking him home, adopting him, and raising him with her own children in Colorado. For much of his young life he was oblivious to fact that he was any different than his siblings. His dark skin was a non-issue. Like the horses on the ranch where they lived, he just assumed some people came out black, some came out white, some had spots. No big deal.

Kids aren’t born with hate in their hearts. Hatred is a learned behavior. Racial prejudice is a learned behavior. The question is, who are they learning it from?

There is no them. Only us.

Bobby and the Supremes

A prison visitation park is not a park at all. Just a cinder block room packed with folding tables and chairs. Maybe a box of dirty and well-used toys in the corner, a couple of 80s-era microwaves. But it’s the place to be on the weekends. Who wouldn’t want to hug their momma or steal kisses from their old lady or play with their kids? These connections are vital. They remind us that we are human in an increasingly savage world. Plus it’s nice to get away from the fights and stabbings and squawking PA system and just be with family, mask off.

Unfortunately, not many people in here get visits. Some are too far from home and the trip is too expensive or they burned too many bridges on the way in. Others had the years whittle away their remaining loved ones until they found themselves alone. There are roughly 900 inmates in the gated community where I reside and maybe ten are in the visitation park with any regularity. Twenty on Christmas. Some of them I know from other prisons. Their mommas and wives have stood in line with my momma and braved the weather, the pat searches, and the ever-changing rules of the Department of Corrections for close to three decades.

This is how I met Bobby.

He used to come and visit his son J, who is serving a natural life sentence for felony murder. J didn’t kill anyone, but he was party to a crime where shit went bad and a codefendant snapped and did the unthinkable. By 2008, Bobby and his wife had sold their home and pretty much everything else they owned to pay attorney fees. J had exhausted all of his post-conviction remedies. Natural life. He accepted his fate but his family would not. They remain vocal opponents of the felony murder law. Both parents have spent a few afternoons rallying for change on the Capitol steps.

Bobby is a good old boy who lived on the Blackwater River and claimed to have done time himself at Raiford back in the day. His narrow views on race and religion and the world are consistent with the views of other rural white Southerners his age. I don’t hold this against him. People are more than their fears and insecurities. Bobby was a product of his times. I still remember his face when I tried to convince him and his wife to vote for Obama. “I ain’t voting for that socialist…” He may have used a couple other descriptive words as well. This led to a vigorous debate on presidential politics and who represented who.

My position, then and now, is that the only power a president wields that directly effects state prisoners is the ability to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court and judges to the lower appellate courts. That’s it. And for prisoners and their loved ones, whose hopes rest on future rulings of this court, it’s all that matters. It transcends race, supersedes party affiliation, and nullifies petty grievances. A couple years ago, my Christian nieces didn’t understand when I spoke out against Trump’s SCOTUS appointees. For them, abortion is a major issue. For my second amendment buddies, it’s guns. I get it. And I respect their conviction. Climate change, affirmative action, a robust military, national debt, nuclear nonproliferation, transgender bathroom laws… These are all complex issues that voters must grapple with, but they’re not my issue. I’m trying to get my friends home.

I once read a case where conservative Justices Scalia and Thomas said that a prisoner in Louisiana who got his teeth kicked out by guards in a confinement unit at Angola could not seek punitive damages. This is not the exception; this is the tradition. The conservative wing of the court is extremely consistent when it comes to ruling against prisoners, while liberal justices tend to have a more human rights-oriented monocle through which they read and decide cases. If you ever get the chance, read Justice Sotomayor’s masterful dissenting opinion in Jones v. Mississippi, where the conservative majority shot down the possibility of parole for a young man who was 15 when he committed his crime.

I was thinking about Bobby in 2016 when there was an empty seat on the Supreme Court (because the senate majority refused to hold confirmation hearings on Obama’s pick until after the election). During this time there was bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform. Crime was at a record low and the war on drugs was in a death spiral. For all her warts, if Hillary wins that election she gets to fill not only that opening but also two more during her term. Plus hundreds of open federal seats across the nation. Instead, the biggest upset in the history of American politics occurs and Donald Trump goes on to stock the courts with a record number of young conservative judges who will shape the landscape of the judicial system for years to come. His appointees were former prosecutors by a whopping 10:1 ratio over former defense attorneys. This was obviously horrible for prisoners.

Equally depressing is the fact that violent crime is once again rearing its ugly head. It was a matter of time. Between the opioid epidemic, extreme poverty, and the merging of gang culture with the entertainment industry, no one I know is really surprised. Tough-on-crime politicians are already dusting off their old speeches. Prison profiteers are salivating over the financial possibilities. Here’s what you should know: America is already tough as nails on crime. We are the world’s leading incarcerator. I’m sure you’ve heard the numbers. We make up 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of the world’s prisoners are caged right here in the land of the free. Getting tougher on crime will only spend more tax dollars to build more prisons that teach people how to be professional criminals. What America needs is a mechanism in the penal system where men and women can earn their way home. Back into the communities that need these reformed mothers and fathers to take up their places in the families they left behind. If their kids are already lost, maybe they can reach their grandkids. The bleeding has to stop somewhere.

Enter Biden. During his first year in the White House, the world watched as desperate Afghans hung from American planes in the botched pullout of our twenty-year war. I think even his most staunch supporters would agree that he gets a triple F minus on his handling of that situation. No other way to spin it. Same goes for the lack of a coherent policy on the southern border. And inflation. And gas prices… Little fires everywhere. He’s had his successes too. Infrastructure, plummeting unemployment, keeping his promise to lower the national temperature. But I’ve got to give it to the old man. He knocked it out the proverbial park with his Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The fact that she’s the first black female appointed to the highest court in the land is obviously monumental. Volumes will be written about this. But the honorable Judge Jackson is also a Miami native with relatives in prison and in law enforcement. She has a firm grasp of the state of Florida and its broken criminal justice system. For prisoners and the families of prisoners, this is astroseismic. More importantly, she’s a former public defender. This means she’s actually been inside jails and prisons to meet with clients who could not afford counsel. A life sentence is not some abstract idea to her. And by the way, she’s not just any public defender—she’s the first public defender nominated to the Supreme Court. Ever.

The typical path to a judgeship is to be a prosecutor or work for some big law firm. Then with a little luck and the right connections, you might get tapped. Public defenders and civil rights lawyers are generally left out in the cold for these positions. Of the 880 federal appeals court judges in the US, a whopping 318 are former prosecutors. More than a third. As opposed to the 58 former public defenders who make up 7% of all judges. When PDs do get nominated, they are usually grilled about their ability to be impartial. As if their prosecutorial counterparts are beacons of truth and light who put justice ahead of their coveted conviction rates. No need to inquire into their impartiality. Right. For those keeping score at home, three of the nine current Supreme Court justices are former prosecutors: Alito, Gorsuch, and Sotomayor. The Biden administration appears determined to address this disproportion as he continues to nominate more public defenders than prosecutors for all federal judgeships for the first time in history. Time will tell.

I heard Bobby died a few years ago but I haven’t been able to substantiate the rumor. I hope not. I would love to be able to talk smack to him when none other than Ketanji Brown Jackson authors some future majority opinion that renders his boy’s life sentence unconstitutional and sends him home.

It’s not as far-fetched as it was a couple years ago. A glimmer of hope has arrived. Her name is Ketanji Brown Jackson. And it’s official—she’s Supreme.

Aqua and Orange

You will never meet a more diehard Miami Dolphins fan than me. I bleed aqua and orange. Some of y’all have had the misfortune of sitting next to me on the dayroom bench while I roar at the television like a belligerent drunk. I’m ashamed to say that I once even went Oscar Night Will Smith on a vocal Carolina fan after Cam Newton engineered a game winning drive against us in 2013. Not one of my finest moments. But what can I say? I’m passionate. I love my squad.

So a few months ago when Head Coach Brian Flores was fired and he alleged that his ouster was somehow racially motivated, my kneejerk reaction was “bullshit!” Maybe you saw the post. I have since learned that it was the entire league he was accusing of systemic racism. Not the Dolphins specifically. Although he did accuse owner Stephen Ross of offering him money to tank for higher draft picks on the way out the door.

Is the NFL racist? I’m not naive enough to believe that there are not small pockets of bigotry remaining. If not of salivating hate, then of some unconscious tribalism. But even that is dying out. Twenty years ago, the league took steps to eradicate this with what is known as the Rooney Rule, named after the late Steelers owner, Dan Rooney. The rule states that teams must interview a minimum of two minority candidates when searching for a head coach.

After Flores got canned by the Dolphins, he interviewed for the opening with his hometown New York Giants but did not get the job. It later came out that the Giants had already decided on Brian Daboll, a white offensive coordinator from Buffalo, before the interview took place. Flores cried foul and claimed racism, even called his plight “The Audacity of Hope” in a press release before filing a lawsuit against the league. I’m as big of fan of the 44th president as there is, but the brutal truth is that the Giants DID already have their sights set on Daboll. Not because he was white, but because Buffalo’s offense was creative and thrilling and spectacular last year. They wanted some of that magic in the Meadowlands.

So maybe Coach Flores is right to call the Rooney Rule a sham. Not because the NFL is racist, but simply because the rule has outlived its usefulness. In 2017 eight of the league’s 32 head coaches were black dudes. Last year there were more black coordinators roaming the sidelines than ever before. All of these men are potential head coaches. Based on merit and scheme and success. Not on the color of their skin. The league is not racist. And calling it that weakens legit movements deserving attention elsewhere. For the most part, I think owners want a competitive product, an energized fanbase, asses in seats, championship rings…

The Miami Dolphins took massive strides in that direction this off season by parting ways with defensive-minded Flores and hiring offensive strategist Mike McDaniel, then franchising emerging TE Mike Gesicki, re-signing pass rush specialist Emmanuel Ogbah, and luring Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and RB Raheem Mostert to Miami in free agency. But the coup de grace, the stroke of brilliance, the all-in chip heave was acquiring Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs. Can you say Lamborghini offense? Nobody in the league saw that one coming.

Our GM, Chris Grier—a black guy who shot up the organizational ladder after beginning as a college scout—clearly had a vision for the direction of the team after yet another mediocre campaign. If we make a deep playoff run this year, it’ll be because of his masterful off-season moves. Including the one that sent Brian Flores packing. Not because of the color of his skin. But because he didn’t fit that vision.

Already looking forward to training camp. Go Dolphins.

Cosmic balance

My liberal friends accuse me of being a closet neocon because I think cancel culture is a joke and scoff at this new era of national hypersensitivity.

My conservative friends think I’m a flaming snowflake because I refuse to pledge allegiance to a bully like Donald Trump and I admire Obama’s pragmatic swag.

My fellow prisoners often assume I’m a white supremacist based on appearance: clean shaven head with a beard, numerous tattoos and scars. Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows this is not the case.

You’re probably drawing your own conclusions right now.

All these blanket judgements.

But don’t think I’m over here whining about being misunderstood. I judge too. We all do. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Our brains have developed over millennia to categorize, compare, assess. It’s what keeps us out of lions’ mouths, dark alleys, bad relationships, and bad conversations. Rarely do we see the actual person in front of us though, just the story we’re telling ourselves about them.

One of the most influential people I’ve ever met is a pacifist with a horrible temper, a punk rock anarchist who loves listening to the soothing voices of tea-sipping NPR hosts, a vegan who sometimes eats chicken. I once told her she was a walking contradiction. Her response: “…what you call contradiction I prefer to view as cosmically balanced.”

In her weird and wonderful way, she was telling me that life is more complicated than the binary ones and zeros of the judgemental mind.

Another Malcolm—one who’s sold far more books than the author of this essay—wrote about this in his bestseller The Tipping Point. In it, Mr. Gladwell referred to the phenomenon as “fundamental attribution error”, a filtering system in the brain that sorts people into categories based on isolated instances and small sample sizes. But it’s called a fundamental error for a reason: it’s flawed.

Are you a Second Amendment gun aficionado who still sees no justification for fully automatic street sweepers? A climate science believer who abhors the idea of late-term abortion based on embryonic science? Maybe you’re a Fox News watcher but your gut tells you that Joe and Jill Biden are not inherently evil socialists. Or you’re a black man who cringes every time you see Al Sharpton reach for a bullhorn.

If so, then I invite you to the rebellion.

Life is far more complex than the ideological slots we try to jam each other into. Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, said there were so many sides to him that he defied geometry. This is probably true for all of us. For our handful of years in this world of great wealth and crushing poverty, of hope and fear, love and indifference, the best we can do is seek the truth.

The brilliant David Mitchell summed it up beautifully in his novel Utopia Avenue—“Labels. I stuck them on everything. Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Square. Hip. Queer. Normal. Friend. Enemy. Success. Failure. They’re easy to use. They save you the bother of thinking. Those labels stay stuck. They proliferate. They become a habit. Soon, they’re covering everything, and everybody, up. You start thinking reality IS the labels. Simple labels, written in permanent marker. The trouble is, reality’s the opposite. Reality is nuanced, paradoxical, shifting. It’s difficult. It’s many things at once. That’s why we’re so crummy at it. People harp on about freedom. ALL the time. It’s everywhere. There are riots and wars about what freedom is and who it’s for. But the Queen of Freedoms is this: to be free of labels.”

Stay cosmically balanced, my friends.

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