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WHITE vs BLACK



I stayed much to myself when I was locked up in the Federal Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. Though I was a state prisoner, I was incarcerated in a federal facility. The State of Alaska did not have a state prison.

I had been given a one-year sentence because I had purchased a six-pack of beer while attending a party in Nananna, Alaska. Little did I know there were several underage juveniles at that party.

While confined in the county jail in Fairbanks, I escaped twice and the court saw fit to add an additional two years onto my sentence. I was then sent to a federal prison.

I cannot say that being in prison bothered me very much. I mean almost every day of my childhood had been spent locked away in the Jacksonville, Florida orphanage. As I continually ran away from the orphanage, they saw fit to send me to the Florida School for Boys Reform School in Marianna, Florida, so sending me to prison was like sending me home. The only thing that made my life different from other people was the experiences I had while in these institutions.

I was not an overly brave person, yet I was not a wimp either. Having lived a prison-style life most of my days on this earth, I knew what was most important in that environment. And that was to mind one's own business, keep your mouth shut and see no evil.

I remember walking into the mess hall one morning and seeing there was not a place to sit down in the ‘white’ section. There were quite a few seats vacant in the ‘black’ section. In fact, there was one whole table vacant. I walked to the far end of the room and sat down at the one empty table. The entire black section stopped eating and they all began to stare at me. About that time, several large black men got up from their seats and walked to where I was sitting.

"I think you had best get your white ass back over into your own section, white boy," said one of the men.

"There's no seats there," I told them.

My heart was racing at 90 miles per hour. One of the men reached down and flipped my tray of food upside down onto the table. When I looked up, I saw both of them gritting their teeth. Their jaws were moving in and out as if their faces were about to explode.

"You know, I saw a white man do that to a black man in a restaurant one time in Georgia. I always thought it was a terrible thing to do to a man," I said.

"You ain't a man. You a boy," said one of the men. "Now get your pale ass back in your own section!" he demanded.

I got up from the table and walked toward the entrance leading out into the hallway. As I walked out, I noticed that every black person’s eyes were upon me.

"Well, I guess ‘whitey’ goes hungry today," I said as I walked out.

I stopped by the library, picked out a book to read, walked back to my cell and lied down on my bunk. I tried to read, but could not keep my mind off what had happened in the mess hall. About 20 minutes had passed when I heard a noise, looked up and saw three black men standing in my doorway.

"Excuse me," said one of the men standing out on the tier walkway. “Thought you might be hungry,” he said holding out two candy bars.

"Just a tad. Thanks."

I reached out and took the candy bars.

"Did you really see a white man turn a black man's food over in a restaurant?” asked one of the men.

"Sure did."

"Why didn't you do something about it?" he asked.

"Too scared at the time, I guess."

"Things ain't never gonna change if you stay scared all the time," he said.

"Then why didn't you stand up for me in the dining hall?” I asked.

"Too scared at the time, I guess," he said as he started laughing.

After that incident, I remained in my own ‘white’ section and they stayed in the ‘black’ section.

I have always wondered if things might have changed for the better and a lot sooner, if both sides were not afraid to be kind to one another.



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