Moses Prison, Upstate New York 1997
Joven is like night and day, left brain and right brain, yin and yang for all seven months. At times flashing his vintage intoxicating smile, where his dimples would highlight his baby face only to turn around and snarl up, raving mad man flipping his bed in the air and banging on the walls, only to come to his senses hours later.
His mind is congested with all he’d ever been, ever wanted to do, ever seen, ever failed to do, ever done, ever read and ever heard. Murders, rapes, plots, drug abuse, alcohol, shootouts, explosions, treachery, death, gunplay, millions of dollars, strokes, robberies, blood, lust.
In the night hours he looks at the mountains on the far side of Eagle Bay, wishing he could turn into a flying animal.
During the swealtering summer months, he thinks about the cool and dirty snow of New York Barrios and snow fights among killers and hoodlums who really weren’t such bad guys. As the cold air begins to reasonate, he thinks about kids in the waterplug and the hot waves on the pavement that seem to crawl downtown from uptown and back.
He pictures of Juanita, her face, her skin and her scent in all seasons. Jasmine scented spray mixed with lovely feminine sweat in the summer. Expensive perfume that warmed the cold night air in the winter.
He laughs hard and scream out loud violently, talking of revenge— against who, he never really knows. Oh yeah, Rafeal Batista but then again, who really?
The other prisoners, wayward accountants, former bookies and gangsters who couldn’t be caught for anything but tax evasion hear him during many a night. They know of his reputation and wonder what slip u landed him there with them. They figure he is coming apart at the seams as a man who could do the crime but not the time.
That not it at all.
Everyone he’d ever known, loved, broke bread with is dead both by his on doing and by the business they all chose.
Almost every night, he prays for what to whom and why, he dosen’t know, doesn’t care, doesn’t give a fuck . Seems like the right thing to aim for, redemption.
Thanksgiving Day, also his birthday, comes and goes. He can still taste the turkey. Not that prison Turkey but the turkey he scarfed when he was eight years old. He remembers the bitterness of the ice water they served at Batista’s mansion that fateful thanksgiving in Schenectady. Three-hundred guests. All senators, diginitaries, princes, executives and high-priced call girls.
These flashbacks, on yet another sleepless morning, derived from a sleepless night, are interrupted by a loud wrap on his iron door, which had a small slot through which to see.
It’s the prison launderer yelling out to him to get his fresh digs. Joven reachs outside the door without eye contact and grabs his standard denim top and Levi Jeans. As he puts the clothes on, he chuckles at the thought of incarcerated mafia bosses who are permitted to wear designer sweatsuits. It’s like a vacation getaway for them.
On the rare occasion that he goes to the day room, he listens to them with their cool ganster talk : “Get the fuck outta here,” “No shit you jag-ovv?” “Hey, what am I an asshole?”
They talk about the days in their neighborhoods and in the old country. They don’t care who was listening, they are used to hearing themselves talk, and acclamated to being listened to.
One in particular, Eddie Mancuso likes him, knew through old association. In the world he’s a car salesman not even a “made man.” in here he can front like a Don.
Jovens thoughts jump
When many people in Joven’s neighborhood joke with him that he would see the pen, they mean Attica, Sing-Sing, Comstock, not this.
Wood paneling on the dayroom walls, ping-pong tables and soft leather couches. A gym with a fuckin’ sauna?
Sometimes he says to himself, I have it better than anyone in the free world. He could have been fed to the sharks at a maximum security joint. But he knew the cases against him were weak and that they might be grooming him for a case against a bigger fish. That fish, he hoped, was Rafael Batista.
His hair is long and wooly as he scratchs it and watched CNN. No cut or shave in seven months. So on this day he is amused when he runs his fingers through his own hair as a sharp annoying knock vibrates his door. It’s one of the punk ass Co’s on site, Marshals guarding the prison, Ray Stokes, a tobacco chewing yahoo, who called himself a “red-blooded-one-hundred-percent-American. All the immigrants and minorities in the prison know just what he means when he calls himself that.
“FBI here to see you boy, your black ass is gonna frrrrrrrrrrrry,”
What a cliche, is what Joven is thinking but he says nothing.
All the talking he planned to do would happen in a few minutes.. He decided to break his silence.
He is scheduled to meet with Special Agent Ron C. Young, a ten-year veteran of the Special NARCO/RICO, who fucked with him down in Florida almost a year before everything went awry.
Joven remembers liking this guy, stopping the flow of poison to his people, what he’s always. He gave Stokes a fake smile and said, “He Billy Bob, my barber here yet? I need to get my wig fucked with my nigga.”
Joven loves the look on Stokes’ face, loves using the word nigga in the presence of people who use the word “nigger,” to make them uncomfortable. Ignorance fighting ignorance, winner Ignorance with a capital “I,” Ronaldo surmises.
Stokes can hardly hide his disgust. “Oh so you’ve decided to speak English now have you boy?”
Joven looks Stokes up and down and dies laughing, feeling a shove toward the infirmary where a makeshift barber chair is set up for him, he arranged to Tino’s cousin, Raul to come up from Boston road to fuck with his crop, for $400 plus travel expenses.
Within thirty minutes he is clean-shaven and as youthful has ever. Jet-black waves lay on his head. He now has a manicured goatee and the sinister slants in his brown eyes are red from lack of sleep. He walks with a bop to Interview Room #12 to meet Young. Young ain’t there yet. He puts his feet up and sighs o pening a package of cigarillos — flavored cigarettes that burn like cigars, his favorite smokes. He feels like “the man,” again as he waits for Young in the interview room, leaning back like he’s in the movies, noting that the place looked more like a lounge than anything else.
He’s in his right mind now, so he thought, his nose stuck above the threshold of self-hate and doubt.
“Damn,” said Young entering the room with a stack of files. “Do you think you’re George Burns off in here or something. What is that cherries? Put that shit out.”
But he defiantly blows more smoke in Young’s direction like this is an episode of Law and Order and not his life on the line.
The agent tries not to cough but couldn’t help it with his virgin lungs.
“Alright enough games,” he continues, fanning the smoke. “You’re facing hard, hard time if you don’t cooperate. I’m trying to help you out.”
“You, help me, how?” Joven retorted.
“I already helped you out Youngblood. First of all I put you up in this vacation spot so you could relax before the big dance. You see, I’ve seen a thousand Ronaldo’s come and go. I’m from the South Bronx, I came up with Expressway Espinosa and those cats, went to school with ‘em. Ain’t nothin knew under the sun man, you think others ain’t tried what you did. You’re not fooling anybody and you’re not special at all, just another dumbass, in over his head, locked the fuck up.”
Joven admires him, a fed who understands his background and comes from the same environment, even knows him and Chico’s first real girl and boy connection up in Mott Haven,, Expressway Eduardo Espinosa — nother story for another day. But there’s no way I’m gonna kiss his ass, Joven thinks silently, He’s tyring to come at me on this homie shit but he’s still the beast, he’s still Babylon in a suit.
Joven, does however, extinguish the bone and lean back with a smile.
“What do you know about me, Benson? The Bronx, that’s cool. My shit is international though. Originally I come from a place that makes the Bronx look like Beverly Hills. I contend with two piles of bullshit everday. Black, Immigrant get it. And no one’s ever done it like me. Nineteen year-old nigga with stock options and shit. Seventeen-year-old nigga takin’ trips overseas politickin’ with corporation niggas. You don’t scare me man. I could have gone underground or weaved my way out of the situation. Ya’ll ain’t great. You wouldn’t have even found me if I hadn’t voluntarily come back to the states. And I can decay in jail for all I care, who gonna come visit me, I ain’t got shit, I’ll live it up for the rest of my days as a legend.”
Young laughs like he’s in the front row of a comedy show.
“Oh you’re priceless, you really are. You’re wilder than I thought. They said you had an IQ of 180. I believed them but I didn’t figure you wanted to get into a pissing match with a federal agent. I’m the government stupid. The government don’t lose, we the house, we always when, we rig the dice, we set the game. This ain’t dragnet fool, you can get buried and personally I could give a fuck less.”
“Don’t you see, Sidney Poitier, I ain’t afraid to die. I ain’t scared time to serve time in prison which will be very little time cuz’ you mothafucka’s got no kind of case. DR, I can beat that with a stick. Didn’t know what was going on, Reno? Nigga please, my lawyer gonna eat that shit, you ain’t got matching ballistics, you got no witnesses, you let me come into the country without detaining me, just to catch me in the act and everyone ends up dead except me and you can’t find my pistol either. Wow, you mothafuckas suck. Come on, Young we both know what it is. You’re stalling for time and hoping to sweet talk me into a plea bargain by putting me in this vacation paradise. Sorry Uncle Tom, you don’t have the chips. I do.”
“Who do you think you are? I can look in your eyes and tell your’re a punk, only scared niggas walk around talkin’ bout how nothing scares them. How dare you assasinate my character by calling me a Tom, I role with a group with a code which is more than I can say for you baby killers. As a matter of fact all you dope dealers are a bunch of uncle toms, doing the establishments work for them. Making my job easy. Showing tax payers that there money is well spent to keep black and brown skin people out of there neighborhoods and immediate lives. Fine you can die up in here for all I care. But you know us goverment people, we can make up something and have you begging to die. We’re crafty that way especially against black people as all you conspiracy theorists know. Look, why am I even giving you this spiel? I don’t care about you. You know what I want man. You’re small change and you know it, you ain’t a legend you a peon, you ain’t even a thug, you’re an actor, puffin on cigarette like Al Pacino. Boy this is real. Man you’re wasting my time. I think you’ll love Sing, Sing, or maybe we let you go back to Nevada, They gonna take you to booty town whereever you go. You best fuck with me otherwise I’m wasting my time.”
Young springs out of his chair acting as if he was leaving, gathering his files, which are really just a collection of doodlings and an unfiinished screenplay about life in the Bureau. He has nothing and he knows it but he knows Ronaldo don’t know it. He gets up to bounce, it’s obvioulsy an attempt to shake Ronaldo.
Joven grabs a new cigar and fires it up.
“You know your’re a slave right?”
Young darts back to the table slamming the file down, snatching the cigar away.
“You’re really starting to piss me off. You have a chance to put away someone who put you here and you’re protecting him rattling off mindless bullshit!”
Ronaldo smirks, lights up another one, blows the smoke out. “Testy, testy, Bill Cosby. Maybe I needed that because I feel great, can you please slap me again. Sit down. Let’s rap a taste.
“Is this going anywhere? I have an investigation to pursue.”
“Just listen, man.”
“No you listen, you know why you’re here I know why you’re here, you know why I’m here cutie. La Hoya. You’re small fucking change. Rafael Batista is who I’ve been after all along. Don’t you know that my superiors want you though, a black face, latin at that, that’s a double word score. He’s sippin’ Pina Coladas plottin on your life as we speak. You need to help me convince them who the real boss is so we can shut down this guy. Otherwise the mean black face on the news is what they’ll get and we will hang you. There I go again, listen the truth is, I want a promotion and I don’t care what you do, I’m tired of pinching middle men who don’t know didley and watching the whales swim away. You ain’t shit but a guest at the table. Help yourself out.”
“I know that, I’m trying to eat like them, just want my piece of the dream. I’m a street kid with a little bit of smarts. You think I don’t know that. Look, let me tell you what I know and what you know. Okay let me redirect, Steppin Fetchit. You know and I both know this federal shit ain’t gonna stick, you got no case. Who you got to turn on me? And Reno, again, circumstancial at best. That shit that was in the news on the Island. Man, I didn’t even know the house was rigged to blow the fuck up. I was on my way to the annual meeting and you have no proof that I wasn’t in route to the annual meeting with no knowledge of plots on my life. No proof that I as you guys say, hired Chico or Ceasar old friends as they may have been, to kill anyone. Oh but wait maybe you can ask Chico and Ceasar, oh wait, them niggas is dead. Yo got bubkus Nat King Cole. So since we know this, I need to wet my beak Benson. So if you can kindly bring me a piece of paper right now that says..what’s the word I’m looking for professor?”
Joven scratches his head sardonically, as if in deep thought.
Young grimaces, “Immunity, huh, you’re a piece of fuckin’ work you know that.”
“Damn you read my mind, see we brothas after all right? Okay so you see about that and you get back to me. Go on, now Chicken George. You do that and……”
“And, yeah, yeah I get it slickster. Then you only have the state charges, which you think stick less than ours and you walk away free and reclaim the streets.”
“Naw, man fuck the streets. I’m through with the bullshit. I thought I’d lay low for a little while and go into politics. Them the real gangstas there. It’s all the same anyway you know.”
“We’ll see, I’m not convinced you can give us anything so I ain’t makin’ no promises, but if something could be worked out, you’re gonna have to go all out.”
“Trust me Popye, if you can pull this off cats ain’t gonna be able to get me to stop talkin.’ I’ll be up in court tellin’ on everybody they gone have to say Joven shut the fuck up. I’ll be a snitchin’ ass broad, a pigeon on a stool, a rat with chesse, a fat lady singing…..a”
“Cut that shit out! You facin’ life boy. The cases ain’t as weak as you think neither. Damn, you’re awfully smug for someone in your position. I’ll tell you what, I’ll see what I can do. Alright, alright but look remember, no one ever really gets off free, remember that. And I swear on my grandmother if you renege, we’ll burn you worse than you could have ever imagined.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Brian Gumbel get the cats to draw up the papers man, my word is bond.”
Young is gonna give it a shot, maybe he could actually fill those files with something real after all, maybe this would be the break he’s looking for, one that gets him in the papers and out of paperwork. He knows he doesn’t have to deliver anyway but he likes the kids style, they both know that if the government doesn’t like what it hears, no deal. That goes for both sides of the law. That’s why they were on giggling terms now. Young gathers up his non-files and walks out, turning around for one last jibe.
“It’s Bryant Gumbel you dumbass, it’s pronounced Bryant Gumbel. It’s Bryant Gumbel, Nigga.”
“You would know, Uncle Ben, no go get a brotha some rice and a mothafuckin plea slash immunity deal,” Joven chuckles, blowing out more smoke.
They smile at each other like long lost brothers. Their faces seem to be saying to each other, “ahhhh fuck it, it’s worth a try.”
TO BE CONTINUED!