Skip to content

Magical number 9

I’ve always had a thing for the number 9. When I was a kid, there was a local graffiti artist who used to tag it all over South Miami. I remember riding in the back of our family car and seeing it spray-painted on bus stops and the sides of businesses. Once I was conditioned to look for it, the number began popping up everywhere. Highlighted on taxicabs, gas station price signs, and math homework assignments.

When I was 18 (1+8=9), I came to prison and discovered Coast to Coast with Art Bell on AM radio. One of his guests was a numerologist who spent an entire segment on the number 9, pointing out its unique properties, relating it to the Mayans and ancient mathematicians. It was like he was talking about a childhood friend.

My life is full of 9’s. My mom had me when she was 27 (2+7=9). Her mom had her when she was 18 (1+8=9). When the universe blesses me with a love interest and I find out her birthday, my mind instantly begins its calculations (“7/5/1984: 7+5+1+9+8+4=34 and 3+4=7. Damn. Almost. If only she’d been born in September.”). When my nieces and nephews turn 9, they get a long, rambling card pointing out the magic of the age and encouraging them to make the most of it. Many of the cell numbers and dates that appear in Consider the Dragonfly and With Arms Unbound are nods to 9. There’s a full-blown tribute to the number via the character Scarlett McGhee in On the Shoulders of Giants.

So, of course, 2016 was destined to be a gigantic year (2+0+1+6=9) and after a sluggish start, it is now surpassing expectations. My third novel is in the pipeline, the Miami Dolphins drafted Laremy Tunsil, With Arms Unbound received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a recent Supreme Court ruling may reduce my release date from 2032 (don’t bother, it’s 7) to 2025 (2+0+2+5=9) and it’s only May!

Good old 9. What’s your favorite number?

The universe has a sense of humor

Besides my books, the crowning achievement of my middle-age years is the fact that I haven’t received a disciplinary report (DR) since 2009. A major feat, considering that my prison history is littered with rule infractions — contraband, fighting, multiple positive drug urinalyses, disrespect. I’ve probably been to the hole 50 times (my last stay was for more than eight months). I’ve lost all my gain time, been sprayed with gas, roughed up, cased up, stripped, shipped, and — most painfully — had my visitation privileges yanked. It’s been a long journey.

And even when I started focusing on changing my thought patterns and behaviors, even when I committed to reinventing myself, there was still no guarantee that I could remain DR-free. The wrong guard in the wrong mood on the wrong day could result in a 30-day trip to the hole. There’s no such thing as innocence here. Every inmate is guilty “based on an officer’s statement.” This is not some injustice I’m lamenting. This is just part of the prison experience. This is life.

So it was a minor miracle that I made it seven years without incident. Unfortunately, that streak came to an end last month.

There’s this new rule designating the showers “off limits” from 7:45 to 8 p.m. for everyone except transgender inmates. Whether enacted from genuine kindness or some future lawsuit paranoia, I’m not sure. But even if it is a heavy-handed reaction to what’s going on out there in the real world, it’s probably a good rule. I mean, if it stops even one person from being assaulted or gives them a few minutes of peace and security in this hostile and violent place, it’s a good rule, right?

The reason I violated it is simple: I forgot. As I said, the rule is brand new and anyway, there were no transgender inmates living in the dorm. So at 7:55, fully soaped and mentally entrenched in the epilogue of my latest novel, I was confronted by a guard and informed that I was being written a DR for entering the shower during the transgender-specified time frame. How did he know I didn’t identify as transgender? Training? Expert analysis? He had a lip full of tobacco and a Confederate flag tat. I’m pretty sure he’s no expert on the subject.

But that’s not the story. Neither is the story my historic run of years coming to an end. The interesting thing about all of this is that the DR raised my custody level, which changed my housing level, which means I am now in a new dorm. My neighbors went from those with release dates within the next 15 to 20 years to mostly lifers. There’s an amputee to my left doing a mandatory 40, a blind man to my right who’s been in since 1986, and the dude across the aisle is fresh off death row. Ironic because the book I just finished writing includes an amputee, a blind man, and a death row subplot. Either the universe has a sense of humor, or its satellites are delayed. Where were these guys while I was researching On the Shoulders of Giants?

Over the next few months, I want to tell you about some of the faces and the stories on my block.

Don’t get it twisted

Two years ago I read an article in ESPN Magazine about a student athlete from New Jersey. Beautiful girl, soccer player, loving family, on scholarship to one of the east coast Ivy League schools.

Iโ€™m going from memory here so my facts may not be spot-on. For instance, she may have actually been from Connecticut or on scholarship for track. The one thing I do remember clearly about the story is that one day, this beautiful, intelligent young girl took a running start from the top level of a parking garage and leapt to her death.

Although no one knows for sure why she chose to end her life, the general consensus among her friends and family is that she fell into a dark place comparing and measuring herself against the airbrushed lives and Photoshopped pics of her Facebook friends โ€ฆ and found herself lacking.

How tragic.

It made me think about my own online presence. All the motivational quotes and do-gooder posts. All this sanctimonious talk of conquering self and soul evolution. All these books.

Donโ€™t get it twisted. Iโ€™ve spent three-quarters of my life in prisons and juvenile facilities. Iโ€™ve been locked up eleven years this time. Last time I did ten. I can barely remember my brief vacation of freedom in between, because I was so faded on dope and pills. Iโ€™ve let down everyone whoโ€™s ever loved me. Most are long gone. Now, at age 42, thereโ€™s white in my beard, lines on my face, and ugly scars everywhere. No airbrushing here.

If youโ€™re feeling imperfect, flawed, lacking, congratulations! Youโ€™re a part of the human race. We are seven billion strong. Some of us are just more adept at concealing, disguising, and revising than others.

Keep your head up.