A kiss doesn’t begin with a lean in or the pressing of my lips against another’s. It doesn’t begin with eye contact or an understanding, nor is it initiated by the mere anticipation of what is to certainly come.
For me, a proper kiss begins with a firm hand on my throat – a firm but caring hand. A hand not only securing my attention and shifting my focus, but one which will remind me of where my devotion and trust lie. A hand from a man capable of protecting me, nurturing me, and guiding me. Contrary to the belief of the unknowing, the steady grip on my throat from a man who loves me as much as I love him is not something I fear, it is my desire.
And it’s what precedes a kiss.
Sexually speaking, Jack Shephard owns me. I am his to do with as he wishes, and I cannot imagine life any other way; nor do I care to try.
I trust him fully. He has never harmed me or treated me with disrespect, and I know he never will. He leads me through life, teaches me how to serve him with respect, and he protects me from harm. He holds me in his arms when I need comfort, and I am at his mercy when I make mistakes. Although he never expresses anger toward me, I have seen disappointment in his eyes.
Seeing him disappointed with something I have done crushes me, and although I always recover, it is difficult knowing I have let him down. I learn from my mistakes, and as time passes I am becoming a stronger, more aware, and a far more capable lover.
To label our relationship with a name or an acronym would be impossible. I am a unique woman with extraordinary sexual needs. Jack satisfies me completely and wholly, leaving a longing within me to do nothing but please him in an equal manner.
Our sex would be described by most as being aggressive, wild, and sometimes on the cusp of torturous, but it always begins with his hand wrapped firmly around my neck which is followed by a kiss.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
September 16, 2007
Do you have any regrets? Would you do anything differently if you could do it over? If you could turn back the clock Mr. Shephard, what, if anything…
Each time someone asked me one of those questions, they got the same response as the person before them. Regret wasn’t something I had ever known. I lived life by my own set of rules, and I had never been ashamed of anything I chose to do in living it. Not always were my choices in line with the law, society’s belief, or what most considered being moral or just; but that didn’t make my decisions – or me – wrong. Because of my personal opinions and my adherence to my own set of laws, I had always perceived myself as being a man of honor, and one with a purpose. It didn’t necessarily provide any assurance other people understood me or agreed with me, but changing my ways wasn’t an option.
I realized in living my life I had made mistakes, I was no different than any other man; but realizing when I made them set me apart from most men. Recognizing my errors and realizing just what series of circumstances allowed them to come into play paved the way for me to always improve, making the days in my future fractionally better than the ones in my past.
Each new day in my life was always better than the one which preceded it.
He crossed his arms in what I had learned to be the standard prison Peckerwood pose, leaning to the side and studying me from head to toe as he did so. Standing six foot two and weighing roughly 220 pounds of solid muscle, Deuce would be intimidating to most men. No one, however, intimidated me. As he studied me I gazed around the cell, admiring the cleanliness. His cell was spotless and smelled like a hospital – at least what I remembered them smelling like when I was a kid.
“You can’t just go knocking a motherfucker out in this joint, especially one of the blacks. You ever done federal time before?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, “Been in jail a few times. Never locked up like this, no.”
He lifted his chin slightly and looked down his nose at me as he narrowed his gaze. “You bother to notice there’s segregation here? Cops don’t put blacks and whites in the same cell. Don’t mix whites and Mexicans either – or blacks and Mexicans for that matter. You notice at chow the blacks are on one side and the whites are on another? Same thing at the phones. Hell, look out on the run, they’ve even got their own place to post up. You notice that? Pretty hard to fucking miss.”
I’d never considered myself to be a prejudiced man. As far as I was concerned, men were men, and placing one in a category of any kind prior to knowing who a man was or what he stood for was wrong. I understood prison was different, and would require adjustments on my part, but I didn’t have to agree with why it was the way it was. After a short glare for him having me redirected to his prison cell in the first place, I nodded my head once in affirmation.
“Yeah, I noticed. Just what’s the fucking problem, Deuce? It’s Deuce, right?” I paused and glanced over my shoulder toward the man who was slowly inching closer to where I was standing.
“The problem is this. A white bustin’ the head of a black, especially the one you busted, can pop off a riot in here. You need to ask permission before you go thumpin’ another black,” he explained.
As Deuce spoke, I noticed the man who shadowed him everywhere had moved half the distance between the cell door and where I stood. I immediately turned to face him and raised my hands into a defensive posture.
“You wanting to fuck me or something?” I asked as I shifted my eyes along his lean muscular frame.
He was of average height, a little smaller than average size, and covered in an overabundance of prison tat’s, primarily swastikas and other white pride tattoos, including a 14/88 over his left eyebrow. Dressed in white boxer shorts, white socks, no shirt, and his shower shoes, he looked like every other Peckerwood I’d seen, but the fact he was invading my bubble set him apart from the rest.
His eyes widened as he stammered to form a response, “I was just…”
“Well, you just better back the fuck up a few feet, little man. You rolling up on me like that is making me want to add you to the list of motherfuckers I’ve knocked out today,” I said through my teeth.
He leaned to the side and attempted to look around me – and toward Deuce – for answers.
“Stand outside, Junior,” Deuce chuckled from behind me.
“I’m not fucking around,” I said as I turned to face Deuce.
“You’re gonna have a tough life in here, Killer,” Deuce sighed, “You need to figure out how to do your time and keep your time from doing you.”
I shook my head from side-to-side as I gazed down at the toilet blankly. After a moment of collecting my thoughts, I shifted my eyes toward Deuce and pursed my lips. As soon as he showed outward signs of being nervous, I relaxed, realizing he was no different than anyone else.
Shot caller, my ass.
“Doing time?” I said with a laugh, “I’m not doing time. I’ve got life in this place. Far as I’m concerned, this is my new home. I don’t let people disrespect me in my home, and I’m sure as fuck not going to let them do it here – and as far as I’m concerned the color of a man’s skin doesn’t protect him from shit.”
He nodded his head and turned his palms upward. “In here it does.”
“Got my own set of rules,” I seethed.
He raised his right hand and extended his index finger. “If he disrespected you or the race, that’s one thing. But you need to get permission. There’s always, what do you call it? Circumstances. God damn it I can’t think of it right now, but it’s a kind of circumstance that lets you, you know, kind of step away from what’s normally…”
“Extenuating circumstances,” I interrupted.
“Yep. Extenuating. Appreciate ya,” he nodded, “So I heard he called you a ‘Wood, and you started beatin’ on his black ass?”
I shook my head, “Don’t know where you get your information, but that’s not even close. Here’s what went down, and I’ll tell you in advance, I don’t like repeating myself, and I’ve never been one to go over things and second guess my actions. Where I’m living doesn’t change that, so pay attention.”
He widened his eyes as he knelt down and squatted, pressing his back to the wall as he did so. I’d seen many of the people relax like this in the five days I’d been in prison; it was almost as if they were sitting, but without the aid of a chair.
“Have a seat,” he said as he tossed his head toward the toilet.
The six foot by twelve foot cell was no different than the other 1800 cells in the prison. It had two steel beds on one wall, one over the other, a steel desk anchored to the wall, a one-piece steel toilet with a sink contoured into the top of it, a steel locker anchored to the wall, and a steel cell door with a hinged slot. After excluding the space taken by the beds, toilet, and desk, there wasn’t much room left. I glanced toward the toilet, shifted my eyes toward him, and shook my head.
“No disrespect, but I’ll stand. So we were in the kitchen, in the dish room. He told me to work the back of the machine, grabbing the dishes as they came off the washer. I’d been working on the front of it for four hours, and I just got the hang of it, you know, I was kind of in a rhythm. So I told him to fuck off. I said ‘unless you’re a cop, you got no fucking business telling me what to do’. The motherfucker sized me up, pointed to the rear of the machine, and told me to ‘get back there, you punk ass bitch,’” I paused and waited for his reaction.
“Those exact words? Called you a ‘punk as bitch’?” he asked as he slowly rose from his seated position.
I nodded my head. Calling someone a punk in prison, or a bitch for that matter, was about as disrespectful as one could be toward another man. Men will generally fight for honor, to protect those they love, or to support their system of beliefs. It really was no different in prison. Calling someone a punk was indicating he’d let another man fuck him – and become his bitch. For a heterosexual man, the thought is unthinkable. To simply allow another man to do something like that would suggest a he was weak and incapable of standing up for something he held sacred.
And I was far from a weak man.
“Those exact words. So, I busted the disrespectful fucker in the gut with all I had. When he was trying to figure out what planet he was on, I got his ass in a headlock and beat him until my arm got tired,” I paused and shrugged my shoulders, “That’s pretty much it.”
“Well, if that’s what he said, he deserved everything he got. I’ll go to the black shot caller and explain, so there’s no need to worry. But there’s one more thing,” he paused and stepped within a few feet of where I stood.
“He’s tellin’ all the blacks he beat your ass. Price you pay for not markin’ his ass up,” he said under his breath.
Deuce had been locked up for eight years, and was the shot caller for the Peckerwoods, a white prison gang. The prison had many white gangs, and they all stood for the same thing, the belief their race was superior to any other. From my quick inventory of the gangs in the five days I had been imprisoned, I placed the Peckerwoods on the lower position on the totem pole, the highest being the most violent. The Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Circle, Nazi Low Riders, Dirty White Boys, and Hammerskins seemed to be more violent – or at least more prone to it.
“My understanding was that I didn’t want to mark him up. If I did, I thought we’d both go to the hole. I looked at it like I did the disrespectful fuck a favor. So he’s saying he whipped my ass?” I asked as I raised my hand to my chin.
As I rubbed my jaw between my forefinger and thumb, he nodded his head.
“I suppose there’s a price you pay for making him look like he got his ass whipped, and a price you pay for leaving him looking like he ain’t even been in a fight. Depends on which one you’re most comfortable with,” he said.
“And you’re telling me I have to get permission to whip his ass?” I asked.
He nodded once.
“Well, when you go talk to the shot caller, tell him what happened, and tell him I’m going to beat that motherfucker again, for GP. If this is my new home, I’m sure as fuck not going to get off on the wrong foot,” I said through my teeth.
“You’re a hard case, Killer,” he chuckled.
“And that’s another thing. Don’t call me that. Tell all the ‘Woods, hell, tell everyone in this joint. My name’s Jack. Nothing else,” I said.
He clenched his fist and held it at arm’s length. I clenched mine and pounded it against his.
“Bet,” he said.
“Well, I’ll go tell Black what time it is,” he said as he peered through the cell door, “We got a half hour till lock down.”
“It’ll take me about sixty seconds to do what I gotta do,” I paused and narrowed my eyes slightly as I realized what he had said, “The black shot caller’s name is Black?”
He nodded his head, “Ironic, huh?”
I shrugged my shoulders and gazed out onto the cellblock as Deuce walked past me and made his way toward the other side of the run. A group of white men – all shirtless, covered in tattoos, and sporting shaved heads – stood against the handrail as they watched a group of Hispanic men assembled across the run fifty feet away. As they noticed Deuce walking along the run, one of them nodded his head in Deuce’s direction. I shifted my eyes to the right. A group of black men stood talking, studying the white men intently. Tension was just about what I expected – high at all times. The prison reeked of sweat, dirty clothes, and adrenaline. The salty smell of the sweat was so thick I could taste it.
I studied the group of black men as Deuce strutted past them, his chin high and his chest thrust forward. All eyes shifted to him as he walked past. I shifted my eyes to the Hispanics. One tossed his head toward Deuce as he stepped into the cell of who I expected was the black shot caller. As Deuce walked in, a thin black man emerged. Slowly, the group of Peckerwoods who were leaning against the handrail stepped away from it and backed against the wall.
Without a word spoken, it was clear what was happening. News in prison traveled primarily though body language – and it traveled fast.
After a matter of seconds, Deuce walked out, gazed my direction, and nodded his head once. I shifted my eyes around the cellblock. Batista, the man I had fought with earlier, stood against the wall with a group of four black men. As he noticed Deuce walking in my direction, his gaze shifted to where I stood.
Our eyes locked.
I grinned and raised my clenched fists.
“All clear, do what you gotta do, Killer,” Deuce said as he stepped between me and the open cell door.
“Jack, god damn it,” I growled.
He coughed a laugh and shook his head, “You’re a hard motherfucker, ain’t ya? Do what you gotta do, Jack.”
“How long they put us in segregation for fighting?” I asked.
“Thirty days in the SHU,” he nodded.
“See ya in thirty days,” I said as I turned away.
As I walked down the run, I heard a whistle from behind me, similar to a bird chirping. Immediately following the sound, the group of Peckerwoods began walking toward where Batista stood. My eyes shifted around the commons area. The group of Dirty White Boys who were surrounding the phones along the far wall began walking in the same direction, and as they did, one whistled a similar sound. Immediately, white men emerged from their cells like ants from a mound and assembled along the walls.
I’d always believed if a man couldn’t stand up for what he believed in, he must not believe in it with his heart. Fighting a man for suggesting I’d let another man fuck me might seem foolish to some, but as far as I was concerned, it was a matter of respect. If I was going to spend my life living in a place where only the strong survived, I needed to be strong, or be perceived as being strong. Allowing a man to treat me disrespectfully in my first week would only open the door for others to follow.
Although I may have been depicted differently by all who knew me, I doubt anyone ever described me as being weak. And, as far as I was concerned, thirty days in the hole, or Special Housing Unit, was a small price to pay for keeping my pride.
Taking my pride in this particular circumstance would require another man whipping my ass. I didn’t know Batista – and really I didn’t have to – fighting was something I did extremely well. I started at an early age, growing up in the orphanage. The loss of both parents before I was a teen angered me, and my release of the anger was fighting. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an angry adult, fighting was sometimes an evil necessity.
“Telling the fellas you whipped my ass, huh?” I grunted as I worked my way through the crowd.
He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet like he was training for a boxing match. My mouth curled into a shitty little smirk as he pulled his clenched fists toward his chest. From what I could see, this was going to be easy.
“Come and get it white boy,” he growled as he tucked his chin into his chest.
Hell, I didn’t need an invitation, but it was nice of him to give one. As I positioned my feet and raised my hands, he swung a wild left hook toward my chin. I leaned back, and as his fist swung past me, I hit him with a hard right jab. The punch more than stunned him, and although I could have ended it right then and there, I felt I needed to make a better showing for the crowd who was gathered around watching. If they saw me knock him out with two punches, there was no doubt some might call it blind luck. If they saw what I was capable of, I suspected respect would be in order when I was released from the SHU.
And respect was all I wanted to gain.
I allowed him to regain his wits and come at me again. As he pulled his right arm back in recoil, I swung a hard left hook into his ribcage. He gasped for breath as his hands fell to his sides. Now standing before me a human punching bag, I viewed him as nothing more than an opportunity to earn my much deserved respect.
A very well executed barrage of punches to his mid-section, followed by half a dozen more to his face – all in a matter of seconds – was all it took. As he fell to the concrete, bleeding profusely from his mouth and nose, one of the Peckerwoods behind me gasped his opinion of what he had seen.
“God damn, Killer’s got some hands on him.”
“Boxer. Heard he was a professional boxer,” I heard another respond.
The sound of jangling keys in the distance was unmistakable. In a matter of minutes, the equivalent of a SWAT team would be upon me. As one of the fast approaching officers screamed his command, bodies scattered like roaches.
“Lockdown! Get to your cells!” the officer bellowed as the group of officers rushed into the cell block.
“Inmate!” another screamed, “Get on the ground.”
I gazed down at Batista. If I was going to get a reputation, I needed to make sure my message was clear. As the officers worked their way toward me, shields raised, I glanced over my shoulder. Deuce stood across the cell block, beside his cell door. Many others stood outside their cell watching the commotion. As Batista attempted to raise himself onto his elbows, the entire cell block was focused on where I stood.
I swung my right leg back and kicked him in the face as hard as I could. More screaming and the clanking of keys from behind me reminded me I was soon going to be in worse shape than Batista if I didn’t stop.
But I had a point to make. If I was going to spend life in prison, I was going to do so being respected by all men. I really didn’t give two fucks if they liked me, but respect me they must.
“Don’t move, inmate!” an officer in front of me shouted.
I gazed over my shoulder. Behind me, a wall of federal officers with riot gear stood at the ready.
I turned toward my right. Another line of officers with riot shields and helmets stood in front of me. For lack of a more accurate term, I was surrounded. I sighed and gazed down at Batista.
“Inmate…do not move…get on the ground!” the officer demanded.
I swung my leg to the rear and kicked him with all my might one more time. Cheers erupted from the entire cell block. I did it again. More cheering erupted. I fully realized the majority of the men witnessing the beating viewed it as a racial incident. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I beat Batista because he was disrespectful to me in a manner that was contrary to my survival in prison – and for no other reason. I gazed around the cellblock and raised my hands in the air as if I had just won the World Championship Heavyweight fight. Screaming, cheering, and beating on the steel cell doors echoed throughout the cellblock.
Although I received a beating from the guards much worse than the one I gave Batista, I did win something on that day, and it wasn’t the championship fight.
It was respect.
And that was all I needed to survive.
June 6, 2015
The adjustments a man’s mind goes through in prison, adapting to the differences between being free and being confined can’t be forced. Naturally, over time, the mind makes adjustments, eventually accepting confinement as being a way of life. I suspect no differently than animals adjusting to their surroundings in the wild, man adjusts to his surroundings in prison. The adaptation, at least for me, took roughly a year.
I had accepted prison as being my home, realizing there was no way I could change the situation to be something it wasn’t. Accepting it, however, didn’t change my mind’s inability to process the change. Living in a room the size of a child’s bedroom closet with another man, and never having so much as a moment’s privacy isn’t easy to adapt to. Initially, the days seemed as if they were hundreds of hours long. The weeks seemed like months, and each year resembled living a complete lifetime. I convinced myself with the slow passage of time I was destined to live the equivalent of many lives in prison, watching the clock spin at a rate much slower than it did in the free world.
After a year, something within me changed. In hindsight, I believe although I had become comfortable with being incarcerated, my mind had not. After a year’s time, my surroundings had not changed one bit, but my mind accepted my new home as being the only option.
Although many men find God in prison, often praying for change, acceptance, or protection from harm, I was not one of them. God had been in my life, my way of living, and my heart since I was a child. I doubt many people looked at me and categorized me as Christian, but I was and had always been.
When I was free, my family consisted of my younger sister Sydney and the men in the motorcycle club I rode with. Although I had written off the club early in my incarceration as being nothing more than a group of men who like to drink beer and fight, casting my sister aside was a difficult decision.
I loved Sydney in a manner differently than most brothers would love their sisters. Growing up, I acted as her best friend, brother, father, and family. We had very little as children, and went from foster family to foster family after the death of our parents. Eventually landing in a foster home where we remained until adulthood, I did my best to protect her from any and all things that would possibly cause her harm. Sydney was the world to me, and losing her had proven to be far more difficult than I could have ever imagined.
As much as I loved her I felt the need to cut all ties to her. I was spending the remaining portion of my life in prison, and from what I could imagine life would be like for her, allowing her to become part of the living hell I was in would be selfish of me. Separating myself from her and allowing her to live life without the attachment to me would force her to accept the loss of me from her life – no differently than if I was dead – and proceed living life without the day to day sorrow from having her only remaining family in prison.
“Step out of the cell, Shephard,” the officer barked.
I folded the letter, slid it into the envelope, and carefully placed the envelope in the shoe box of letters. After positioning the shoe box under the bottom bunk, I walked out of the cell and turned to face the guard.
“Another fucking shakedown?” I asked as I stepped out onto the run.
“Cell inspection. The new AW wants shit tightened up around here. He thinks your houses look like shit,” Officer Turner responded.
The new Associate Warden was an anal retentive prick. He had been relocated from a minimum security prison camp to the maximum security prison I was housed in. Immediately, he changed rules and regulations regarding paint, floor polish, cleaning supplies, and cleaning procedures. As much as he tried, he couldn’t change the fact he was in an actual prison and not in a prison camp that resembled a college dorm. I was quite certain his mind was adapting to the changes no differently than mine did.
“You’re going to need to get your shoeboxes of letters put up or toss them in the trash, Shephard. Same thing for your cellie. If it won’t fit in your locker, it’s trash,” Officer Matting said as he emerged from the cell.
“You know good and god damned well those boxes won’t fit in my fucking locker. Shit, I can’t fit my fucking clothes in the little fucker,” I paused and gazed past him at the two boxes of letters Sydney had written me, “Sorry boss, but I’m not tossing my letters, they’re all I’ve got.”
“Having a surprise cell inspection on Monday. Your cell can’t have anything on the floor. That’s the AW’s new rule,” Matting said.
I turned around and placed my hands behind my back. “Cuff me and take my ass to the SHU now. I’ll take my letters with me. Fuck the AW.”
“I’m not taking you anywhere, Shephard. Just get all your shit off the floor,” Matting said.
I turned around and focused on Turner. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. I shifted my eyes to Matting. He shrugged and tossed his head toward the next cell.
“Step out of the cell, Newman,” Matting said as he leaned into the cell beside me.
I glanced down at the boxes of letters. They were all I had to remind me that there was a world outside of prison, and my only means of communicating with my sister – even if my communication was limited to reading letters I had never responded to. To toss them in the trash would be to walk out on what little life I had left. The letters kept me sane and provided me hope that Sydney would continue living the life I would never be able to. In some respects, I lived vicariously through her. And, although I hadn’t written her in over four years, the letters continued to come, one every other week, for eight years.
“Time for store,” Newman said as he stepped beside my cell door.
I nodded my head as I grabbed my mesh laundry bag from on top of my bunk.
“Big order this week, soap and Batteries,” I said as I buttoned up my shirt.
Earning $0.23 an hour wasn’t the wages I suspected I’d retire on, but there was no changing the work system in prison. Working 6 hours a day in prison earned me $6.90 a week to spend. With a bar of Dial soap costing $1.00, and a granola bar costing $3.00, my priorities quickly became the necessities, and nothing more. I treated myself once a month to a treat of some sort from the store, typically a candy bar. The order from the Commissary went in by filling out a request several days in advance, checking the appropriate box beside the item requested. The inmate placed his prison ID number on the request, and signed his name. The order was then waiting for him at the Commissary, and the money was removed from his ‘books’ or account to pay for the items purchased.
As Newman and I stepped into our place in line, I gazed down the ranks of men. In my time at Big Sandy, I’d seen men come in, leave, be transferred, and get killed. Although one would suspect someone like me would have no worries after doing eight years, the opposite was true. In prison, a man must always be on guard and attentive to his surroundings at all times. A new inmate attempting to make a name for himself, or someone trying to get his patch with one of the gangs was always a threat. As I studied the men, their movements, and listened to the faint whispers, I relaxed slightly, feeling minimal tension amongst the crowd.
“No talking during movements,” the guard bellowed.
After being escorted to the store and waiting in line for my turn, I stepped up to the window and held my ID up for the officer to see.
“Shephard,” I said.
“Double A’s and Dial?” he asked.
I nodded my head, “Sounds about right.”
He handed me the items and printed a receipt. As he handed me the receipt, he nodded his head toward the piece of paper. I glanced down to see my balance, but based on his gesture, I figured my funds had diminished beyond my previous calculations.
I gazed down at the paper for a moment, wadded it up, and placed it into my pocket.
“You saying that’s what I got on my books?” I asked.
He nodded his head once.
“Next!” he bellowed as he peered past me.
I slapped my hand against the counter. “Gimme a jar of motherfucking peanut butter.”
“Shephard, you know there’s no substitutions. Get it next week. Next!” he hollered.
“Where’s my order sheet?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “In the trash by now, why?”
“Had a peanut butter on it. All I got was batteries and soap. Need that peanut butter, boss,” I responded.
He shook his head and grinned.
“Missed a jar of peanut butter for Shephard,” he barked over his shoulder.
The inmate working in the commissary walked up and handed the officer a jar of peanut butter. The officer printed a new ticket and handed me the jar.
“Next!” he hollered.
I stepped aside, peered down the ranks of men toward the guard, and twisted the lid from the jar. As I studied the guard, I shoved two fingers into the jar of peanut butter and slid them into my mouth.
I found it odd something as simple as a jar of peanut butter was able to provide tremendous satisfaction to an inmate in federal prison, and be nothing more than a snack to someone in the free world. All of the things I had taken for granted on the outside were now viewed as luxuries.
Being touched affectionately. Listening to a bird chirping. Turning a door knob and opening a door. Deciding what to wear. Petting a dog. Sitting at a stoplight. Deciding what to eat.
Taking a shit without an audience.
These were simple things I would never do again.
I dropped the peanut butter into my laundry bag and reached into my pocket. After stepping to the side and away from the watchful eyes of the other inmates, I removed the wadded receipt and stared down at the balance.
Many people over the years had made a promise to place money on my books, but very few ever delivered. Most deposits into my account were in the first few years, and after that, nothing ever came. I had no idea who sent the money, but whoever had just changed my way of living, and for that I was grateful.
“You must have long money on your books, buying peanut butter and shit,” Newman said as he tilted his head toward my bag.
“Living the dream,” I responded.
And for now, the statement was true.
I was living the dream.
One scoop at a time.
July 1, 2015
After almost a decade of incarceration, a person loses all hope for any change to take place. During the first several months, everyone tells themselves they were wrongfully convicted, they hope for an appeal, or they believe someone or something can or will eventually save them from the unthinkable – remaining in prison.
But the appeal never comes, and no one ever emerges to save them from anything. Acceptance of life in prison is difficult, but necessary. Hope, to a prisoner, is like a cancer. Hope eats at your ability to accept life as being what it is. Hope will make a strong man weak, and a weak man dead.
In prison, there is no hope.
“Mailcall!” the officer barked form the end of the run.
I stood at the cell door and watched the men gather around the officer. As he pulled the mail from the basket, he shouted the names of the respective inmates. After a few minutes, my gaze became more of a blank stare, and my mind faded to thoughts of Sydney and me as children.
Newman hollered at me, snapping me out of the shallow daydream.
“Mail,” he shouted.
“Last call, legal mail, Shephard, Jackson!” the guard shouted.
“Shephard, right here,” I hollered as I walked toward the guard.
He handed me the letter over his shoulder. I gazed down at the envelope and studied the addresses to make certain it was mine. I glanced around the cellblock and turned toward my cell. After walking into the cell, I opened the envelope carefully and removed the letter. After unfolding it, I began to read the typed words.
You don’t know me, but my name is Avery. I’m a friend of your sister, Sydney. I work for a law firm in Wichita, and I was initially intrigued by your case when hearing of the ATF and their persistent requests for you to admit to wanting to kill a member of a rival club. After having my first two letters I had written to you rejected and returned, I decided to write you an official legal letter, as this matter is now officially official (sorry, but I laughed when I wrote that).
I’m the Ol’ Lady of the President of the Selected Sinners, a Kansas based 1% club. The club is thirty strong in Wichita, and has chapters in Oklahoma and Texas as well. Overall, they’re a tight knit bunch of brothers who would do anything for each other, or for the cause.
I’m far too excited to go very long without just getting to the point I would like to make, but for the sake of safety, I’ll request you take the time to sit if you aren’t already sitting.
Now, I’ll assume you’re sitting and I will continue with my announcement.
I paused, peered over my shoulder, and into the cellblock. After reassuring myself no one was watching, I sat at the desk and continued.
I filed an appeal on your case based on you being provided an attorney who wasn’t sufficiently defending you, and secondly on your being entrapped by the ATF to commit the crime. The appellate court accepted the appeal, and has responded.
I really hope you’re sitting down right now.
Jackson, they’ve accepted your appeal. You’re going to have a new trial, and if they find you were entrapped, you’ll go free. For what it’s worth, the attorney taking your case will be my boss, and he has never (yes, I said never, as in NEVER) lost a federal case.
The cost of the trial, the fees, and the paying of the attorney has all been done in advance, and will be of no cost to you.
Mr. Shephard, breathe easily. Your life is in very capable hands.
I can’t pretend to understand what you’ve gone through, or what you go through on a daily basis, but I have a favor to ask of you. The club placed some money in your account, so I know you can afford to do it. I’ve done a lot for you, and I want something in return. It will cost less than a dollar, and will take only an hour’s time.
Write your sister a letter.
She loves you dearly, and would love to hear from you.
Well, I can’t wait to meet you in court, and Sydney’s looking forward to seeing you as well. She’s the Ol’ Lady of the club’s SAA, Toad. All of the fellas send their best, and Axton (my Ol’ Man) made it mandatory for the club to attend the trial, so you’ll have the support of the club and you won’t go through this alone.
I know it’s been a long time, but do your best to recall everything that happened through the course of the investigation. We’ll have almost no time to prepare, so anything you can remember will be used in your favor.
All my best.
Avery (the bad-ass bitch who got you a new fucking trial)
I dropped the letter onto the desk and gazed down at the neatly typed pages. As my mind swirled into a whirlwind of emotion, the unthinkable happened.
My heart filled with hope.
I felt odd sitting in the courtroom. My memories of my initial trial were not good ones, and I believed at the time that I was railroaded through the system and sent to prison on a bullshit charge. Although I accepted it as being part of life, and realized I wasn’t capable of changing it, I didn’t like it then and I didn’t like it now.
The attorney appointed to my case was an extremely aggressive man, and was much better prepared than my original attorney. As he asked the questions, I did my best to answer in a manner I expected he wanted me to.
“Did you know agent Blackburn was an ATF agent at this time?”
I leaned toward the microphone and spoke clearly, “No, Sir.”
“Did you view the members of your club as brothers?” he asked.
I nodded my head. “Yes, Sir, I sure did.”
“Family?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir, I did. They were my family.”
“Mr. Shephard, where is your mother today?” he asked.
I hoped he knew the answer, and it seemed odd he would ask even if he didn’t know, but as much as I was offended by the question, I suspected somehow it must have had merit.
“She’s dead, Sir. She passed away when I was a very young boy,” I responded.
“I’m sorry to hear that. And your father?” he asked.
“The same, Sir. He passed at the same time. I grew up in orphanages and eventually in a foster home with my only sibling, my sister,” I responded.
“I’m sorry for your losses,” he responded as he turned toward the jury and appeared to be wiping tears from his eyes.
Oh, this motherfucker’s good.
“Would it suffice to say the club and your MC Brothers were the only family you had?” he asked.
I nodded my head toward Sydney and responded, “Yes, Sir, them and my sister.”
“And you perceived agent Blackburn as a brother?” he asked.
I glanced toward the prosecuting attorney’s table. Blackburn sat at the table with a shitty grin on his face. The cocksucker had infiltrated our club, and became a fully patched in member. To me, he was a brother, and I would do anything for him. In all actuality, he was an undercover ATF agent, and was attempting to arrest as many of the members of the club as possible. In the end, he arrested me and charged me with conspiracy to commit murder. In my eyes, he was rotten and marked for death. If not from me, he’d no doubt get it from someone.
“Yes, Sir, I did,” I responded.
“To the best of your knowledge, were the Shovelheads MC a 1%er club?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir, they were,” I responded.
My attorney walked away from his post and slowly approached the witness stand. He looked confused. As he rubbed his jaw in his hand and glanced toward the jury, he spoke, “And Hell’s Fury was also a 1%er club?”
“Yes, Sir, we were,” I responded.
“When a 1% club who has claimed territory – for this sake I’ll call them the parent club -has another club ride into the territory without permission, wearing their colors including a lower rocker claiming the same territory, how does the parent club perceive this trespass?”
“As disrespectful, it’s considered a threat,” I responded.
He widened his eyes as his mouth fell open comically, “A threat?”
I nodded my head and leaned toward the microphone, “Yes, Sir.”
“And when a 1% club makes a threat, what might that threat include, generally speaking?”
Oh, I see where you’re going…
“Violence,” I responded.
“Violence. I see. Let me back up a little bit, to where we were before. This club, the Hell’s Fury, these fellas were your family, is that correct?”
“Yes, Sir,” I responded.
“I see. And when agent Blackburn asked you what you’d do if they came into your territory, wearing a lower rocker claiming Texas as if it their own, what was your fear, if any?”
“They were a rival club, always causing problems and talking…” I paused and turned toward the judge.
I knew what I wanted to say, but had no idea if I would be allowed to.
“Can I cuss?” I whispered to the judge.
“Yes, son, you can,” he responded.
I leaned toward the microphone and continued, “Talking shit. Saying they were going to do this, and do that. If they rode in wearing their colors, I guess my fear was that they’d probably kill us, or at least try.”
“So, your eventual response to ATF agent Blackburn was one more of protection than of aggression, was it not?”
“Objection, your honor. He’s leading the witness,” the prosecuting attorney complained.
“Granted. Rephrase your question,” the judge instructed my attorney.
“Why did you eventually respond in the manner you did to the ATF agent? Agreeing that you’d kill members of the Shovelheads if they came to town?”
I’m trying to stay with you, brother. You’re shocking the shit out of me. See what you think of this.
“I didn’t realize he was an agent. At the time, he was a brother, you know, part of my family. My fear was that the Shovelheads MC might hurt him or some of my other brothers. My thoughts at the time were that I needed to protect my family,” I responded.
“Your only family?”
“Yes, Sir, my only family,” I responded.
“No further questions for this witness, your honor,” Kurt said flatly.
I left the witness stand feeling good about my case and the new trial. Win or lose, at least I was being allowed to have my sister, her new friends, and the jury hear the truth. In my first trial I was not asked many questions, and the information projected to the jury was one-sided and left me feeling as if I did something wrong, all the while knowing all I did was respond to a question in a half-drunken stupor.
After a short recess, my attorney began questioning the ATF agent. The questioning was difficult for me to listen to, as his responses reminded me of the ‘lost recordings’ and what I expected to be bullshit answers – primarily lies – prepared to insure my case was lost and I went back to prison.
I really didn’t expect anything less.
I leaned back, gazed toward the witness stand, and studied agent Blackburn.
If I get out of here, I’m going to hunt you down and make you pay, you cock sucker.
“How long was your investigation of the Hell’s Fury?”
“Two years and one month,” Blackburn responded.
“And in that time, twenty-five months, how many arrests were made?”
One, you piece of shit…
“One,” Blackburn responded.
“One? A twenty-five month long investigation of an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, and it only produced one arrest?”
“Yes,” Blackburn snapped back.
“Did the ATF make a decision not to prosecute the other cases?”
“There were no other cases,” Blackburn responded.
“Let me get this straight. You successfully infiltrated an outlaw gang of motorcycle thugs for twenty-five months, and produced this as your only case? Seems more like they were a group of good old boys, not an OMG…” my attorney stated.
“Your honor, I object. It appears the defense counsel has chosen to provide his own testimony,” the prosecutor howled.
The judge turned toward the jury and raised his index finger in the air, “I’ll ask the jury to strike the last statement made by the prosecutor. Counsel, you have been warned.”
“In discovery, I requested the voice recording of the conversation on the night of the instant offence. I was advised it did not exist in legible format. Are you aware of the lack of availability of said recording?”
“Yes, Sir, I am. Unfortunately, the recording device did not work properly on that evening, and background noise made the recording worthless,” Blackburn responded.
“I was provided recorded conversations before and after the date in question. In fact, I have a few hundred hours of recorded conversations. Almost four hundred hours if memory serves me correctly. Now, my question to you is as follows…” Kurt paused and turned toward the jury.
“Agent Blackburn, how many conversations through the course of the investigation were unintelligible, to the best of your knowledge, that is?” he asked as he continued to face the jury.
“One,” Blackburn breathed in response.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your response. Can you speak into the microphone?”
Fuck yes, make him repeat it ten times.
Blackburn leaned forward and resonded, “One.”
“Only one missing, and it just so happens it’s the critical one,” my attorney seethed.
“Strike that last statement. So, agent Blackburn, I’m curious. During your infiltration of the group of outlaw bikers, did you give them your actual name?” he asked.
“No,” Blackburn laughed.
Sure as fuck didn’t, you chicken-shit.
“Did you make one up?”
“Yes, I did,” Blackburn responded.
“Did you give them an accurate history of who you were?”
“No Sir, I provided fictitious information. Information believed to be more acceptable to the type of people I was investigating,” Blackburn responded.
“So you lied. You told lies to the bikers to get them to either like you or accept you, is that correct?”
God damned right, he lied.
“I object!” the prosecutor yelled.
“Your honor, the witness stated he provided inaccurate information to the group during his investigation. I’m simply…” he paused and shook his head, “I’ll rephrase the question.”
“Was the information you provided the bikers regarding your background and your name the truth?” he asked.
“No,” Blackburn snapped.
“Was it a lie?” he asked.
“Objection, your honor,” the prosecutor hollered.
“I’ll allow it, but you shall make your point in a timely manner, counsel,” the judge stated.
“Yes,” Blackburn said through his teeth.
“Explain your thought process to me on lying to these men during the investigation. Why would you feel compelled to tell them lies?”
“To preserve the investigation, we are taught to give either limited information, or false information. It provides protection to the bureau and to the agent,” Blackburn responded.
“You’re taught to lie during your investigations?” Kurt asked.
Blackburn glanced toward the judge. The judge nodded his head.
“Yes,” Blackburn muttered.
“So, through the course of your work, you may tell a lie, but it’s not necessarily a lie in a conventional sense, because you’re working, correct?”
“Objection, your honor, asked and answered,” the prosecutor hollered.
“I’ll allow it,” the judge said.
I studied Blackburn. This was an interesting approach, making him out to be a liar.
“I’ll ask the question again. Through the course of your work, you may tell a lie, but it’s not necessarily a lie in a conventional sense, because you’re working, correct?”
“Correct, we’re often required to lie, as you say, to preserve the investigation,” Blackburn responded.
“Do you only lie during the course of work?”
“Yes, during the course of my work, and when required for my work,” Blackburn responded.
“Are you being paid for your testimony today, agent Blackburn?”
I locked eyes with him and waited for him to respond. He sat motionless with his lips pursed.
“You must not have heard me. You testified that you told lies through the course of your work to preserve the investigation. My question was this: Are you being paid for your testimony today? Are you working?”
“Yes, I am,” Blackburn murmured.
My attorney raised his finger in the air and spoke. “No further questions, your honor.”
Fuck yes, you lying son-of-a-bitch.
After the prosecution rested, both attorneys gave their closing arguments and we were released while the jury went to deliberate. Having no idea whether it was going to take hours, days, or a week, I was thrilled to be taken to the county jail and not back to the USP at Big Sandy – at least not yet. The new scenery and different living quarters might have been temporary, but it was a welcomed change. As the US Marshall loaded me onto the elevator, he received a call on his radio.
“Looks like you’re going back to court,” he said as he pressed the button to open the door.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Jury reached a decision,” he said as the elevator doors opened.
“In ten minutes? What’s that mean?” I asked.
He shook his head, “Hard saying. Might be good, might be bad.”
In a slight state of shock, I followed him into the courtroom. After finding my seat beside my attorney, I gazed around the courtroom and eventually fixed my eyes on Sydney and her friends. Win, lose, or draw, I appreciated all they had done for me, and if nothing else, Avery had secured Sydney a spot in my life as a pen pal forever.
“Counsel, please stand,” the judge said into the microphone.
My attorney and I stood. He turned his head to face me and whispered.
“No matter what the outcome, hold your head high,” he said.
I swallowed heavily and nodded my head once, “I will.”
The judge cleared his throat and gazed out into the courtroom as he spoke, “I want it understood there will be no outbursts in my courtroom, regardless of the verdict.”
The judge turned toward the jury.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?” the judge asked.
The foreman nodded his head, “Yes, your honor, we have.”
“In the matter of Jackson Shephard versus the United States of America, what say you?” the judge asked.
I gazed down at the floor.
Your will, not mine.
“In the matter of Jackson Shephard versus the United States, we the jury, find him not guilty; as he was entrapped by the ATF to commit the crime listed in the indictment, your honor,” the foreperson responded.
I glanced over my left shoulder. Sydney sat between a man and a woman with her hands covering her mouth, crying. I shifted my eyes toward my attorney.
“So now what? Back to Big Sandy for a bit? Another appeal on their part?” I asked.
He shook his head and grinned as he patted me on the shoulder.
“You’re a free man,” he responded.
A lump rose in my throat unlike anything I had ever experienced. My eyes welled with tears. I gazed down at the floor and stared for a few seconds. Finally, I swallowed heavily and shifted my eyes upward.
“Free?” I asked, “It’s over? That’s it?”
“Free to do whatever you want. Congratulations,” he said.
“Can I go hug my sis?” I asked.
“You can do whatever you want, Mr. Shephard, you’re a free man,” he responded.
I was overwhelmed. I turned and attempted to stay standing on my shaking legs. Although I fully expected to be tackled and handcuffed if I continued, I took a few steps toward Sydney. She stood beside a man crying. He stood an easy six foot six, and seemed to be solid muscle. I wondered if he was her boyfriend, and looked forward to meeting him I f he was. Slowly, I began walking in her direction, peering over my shoulder as I approached, expecting a guard to stop me before I got to where she stood. I bit my lower lip, and continued until I had walked across the courtroom.
This can’t be happening.
I released my quivering lip, opened my arms, and grinned. Somehow, I managed to speak.
“Gimme a hug, sis,” I said.
She vaulted herself over the handrail and onto the floor beside me, almost tackling me as she did so. As she held me in her arms, she blubbered into my shoulder. After a few minutes of sobbing, she collected herself and looked up into my eyes.
“We’ve got a place for you to stay for as long as you want. You’ll have your own room. And Cambio’s got a bike you can ride. His old Softail, he said you can have it. He said you won’t be truly free until you can ride,” she said excitedly, wiping tears from her face as she spoke.
I glanced to her left. A man wearing a cut with the Sergeant-At-Arms ribbon stood at her side. His patch read Toad.
“You Syd’s man?” I asked.
He nodded his head as he extended his hand, “Toad.”
“Jack,” I said as I shook his hand.
“Well, you ready to get out of this shit-hole?” he asked.
I glanced around the courtroom. With the exception of us, the room was empty. As hard as it was to believe, it appeared I truly was a free man. The thought of not going back to prison still hadn’t quite sank in. I turned toward Toad and nodded my head once.
“You up for a ride?” he asked.
“Right now, nothing sounds better,” I responded.
The man standing behind him raised his hand in the air. “Saddle up,” he said.
I never thought I’d hear those words again.
Sydney stood beside me, grinning and crying softly. I glanced around the courtroom as men began walking toward the door. Normally, hearing my little sis cry would cause me pain, but now it was music to my ears.
I still didn’t feel free, and as awkward as it seemed as I walked out of the courtroom, a certain comfort washed over me.
I now had a second chance to live my life.
And I intended to do just that.
Live my life.