Bring it on

Tooker, Charles

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1/4 "Bring It On" "Yo! Check those clouds!", someone yelled from behind me. Struggling against my shackles, I rubbernecked over the guy beside me for a better view out the barred windows. A storm loomed in the foothills, somewhere between San Quentin + Soledad, CA, our destination for the day. Next I knew I was silently imploring (of no one in particular), "Please let those clouds upend this bus, either killing me instantly or abetting my escape." After 2 years of incarceration, including a lengthy jury trial, I'd just finally accepted my fate, albeit far from contented or hopelessly defeated. Not fearful, I was mentally exhausted + desperate for relief by whatever means the universe deemed most appropriate. A child of the Rust Belt, I was born in Detroit + spent my formative years in Northwest Ohio. Here, I'd learned early that such poached orange-green clouds, while handsome, were wont to maim or kill you - or so I was conditioned to think. Tornado sirens + emergency weather bulletins, rudely interrupting radio + T.V. programming, were not unusual. And not unlike Pavlov's famous dogs, I'd be sent scampering toward the nearest window, a senseless automation oblivious to my mother shouting me down in a panic. My irresponsible curiosity satisfied, I'd join my brothers + parents in the laundry room, safe amid their shared embrace + mountains of dirty clothes. As odd to me then as obvious now, we all relished the drama of those occasions. Over the years + in kind, my brothers + I'd unwittingly continue to entertain our parents with much more frightening dramas; indeed, I reluctantly chewing up the scenery since my 2016 arrest. As we neared the prison, I saw its razor-wire fencing, gunner towers, + obnoxious lighting. Otherwise, the low, uniform buildings, saddled between... 2/4 modest yet fetching mountains, were more reminiscent of a suburban business park. Two years prior, I'd have thought this scenario impossible, no less than the worst circumstance that I could conceive. But after 22 months in Marin County Jail (+2 months at San Quentin), locked down 23 1/2 hours/day, the prospect of settling at a state prison, with real opportunities for self-betterment, was profound relief...in a masochistic sense, I suppose. I was about to script Act 1, Scene 1 of a new life, ripe for much-needed rehabilitation + invaluable education through extraordinarily candid, immersive introduction to the human condition. In fact, I was right where I needed to be + I knew it. A neuropsychological mess + critically astray upon arrest, + racked by debilitating uncertainty pre-sentencing, I was resigned to be redesigned. Unlike many of my "brothers in solidarity", beaten down much longer + harder than I, many more deprived of loving families + friends, or relatively safe, conducive environs, I still had to trust that I wasn't a lost cause. I had to believe that. Any other possibility was, well...not possible. Bring on the hard times, the inevitable means to a foreseeable end. My courage, my fortitude laid bare to be challenged - bring it on. As psychologically blind + deaf as I'd become, I'd seen the storm strengthening + heard the alarm bells for years - +2,000 miles from the sanctity of that laundry room. But, I was (+ am) the same good-natured, promising boy onto whom my family had naturally + caringly centered those protective huddles + whispered encouraging words. Sure, I'm now conditioned to suppress such sentiment, self-preservation in this volatile, heretofore-alien world that I now call home. All the while reminded that the same robust will that landed me here in the first place is also that which will guide me to, through, + beyond my release. 3/4 By current CDCR estimates, I can expect to be roughly 50 years old upon release; freed from punitive, physical confinement anyway. The stigma + overt discrimination will certainly, instantly manifest with reentry, my violent felony conviction to forever dog me. At the same time, I can realistically anticipate the opportunity to devote the following years to positively affecting ill-informed hearts + minds. Not only those misconceptions about me personally (some well justified, of course), but also the millions of similarly remorseful, accountable, hopeful convicts nationwide, fallible errants we. There's a familiar superstition among prisoners that warns of bad luck to those who look back on the prison as they leave, ensuring their eventual return. But alas, I intend to turn hard + stare down that gate, committing it to memory along with the myriad long- + short-term residencies I've held throughout my life, domestic + abroad. Sure, it won't be like the hopeful superstition that had me tossing coins into Rome's Trevi Fountain, but no less powerful or, better yet, empowering. Now living, + in many way thriving, as the protagonist in what just 3 years ago still seemed a surreal nightmare, I no longer fear imprisonment or any other imaginable hardship - for better for worse. I hope that my brother will meet me outside that gate. A decorated, well-respected American soldier, he'll be wearing mirrored sunglasses + a black hoodie, strategically subdued + nondescript...to all but me. He'll give a solid hug, jarring back pats, + a swift jab to my chest before tossing his arm over my shoulder + leading to his car; ritualistic reunion that I'll understand + appreciate with ambivalence. As my dear friend, he's giddy, ... 4/4 excited to see me but circumspect. As an honorable citizen, he condemns the heinous acts that brought me there. As my big brother, he loves me unconditionally. As we drive, my brother will speak of his loving wife + his wonderful son. An eternally humble, exemplary serviceman, he'll deflect my sincerer, typical interrogations about his military-related whatnots +soforths. I'll soon relent + instead brief him on my practical, ideal, + then fantastically implausible plans: at once fulfilling my obligations to the State of CA, divesting my defunct businesses, + ardently working to affect criminal justice reform. We'll share a comfortable silence as I stare instinctively at people in passing cars, they talking, singing, laughing - models of contentment. My attention will then be drawn inevitably to the horizon, fixated expecting to see gathering those ominous clouds + what they portend. Now also, in my own unique way, battle-hardened, world-weary, + deeply scarred, I turn a smile to my brother in solidarity - bring it on. -Charles Tooker, 2019

Author: Tooker, Charles

Author Location: California

Date: 2019

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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