Acid Song: A Novel
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He was trying to understand why black folks lived the way they lived. And the social problems he identified — poverty, crime, illiteracy, white discrimination — are the exact same things you talk about years later.
That was my life coming up, so it was normal. You said you were on the honor roll?
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I used to be, until, like, third grade. There was another book I got in prison, about black kids — the fourth grade, things go wrong and grades start to decline. That was my life. Mine was because I moved to a different neighborhood, rougher than the one I came from. Yeah, but I never believed that. I used to say I was going to be a normal story of the ghetto. Was school easy for you? Pretty easy. Even if I ran the hallways, I would still be fairly good.
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Later on, when I really stopped trying, I was put in disciplinary schools. It was like a jail. You get strip-searched before you go in, fingerprinted every day. One day I just climbed over the gate and left.
It was a public school organized like a jail? In other words, it was early conditioning for what everybody assumed your future was going to be. When I finally went to jail, I already knew everybody. Everybody I went to school with was in the jail. What were you put in that school for? Fighting and acting up. I said in one of my raps, I was acting up in school because I thought it was cool, but really I was hurt. What type of motivation do you get if your mom is on drugs?
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Your self-esteem is automatically just low. Some people have the determination to shoot to the top. I always say anger is an easier emotion to deal with than pain. They hurt, they torn, they scarred.
Michelle Alexander. I went to public school. The books were falling apart. They probably still got the same books from when I was in school. I read a lot as a child, mostly because I was grounded all the time. Then we had a black-studies course in high school, and I became obsessed with black history because it felt like, for the first time, the world made sense. You would see your community and how people lived, and they would tell you we just did not want better. But I could see how hard people worked, and they still could not get ahead.
Studying history calmed me.
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The most I ever read was in prison. Reading made me process the system. Because I am already a conspiracy theorist. People locked in the basement for 23 hours a day, being beat by the officers. Yes, the 13th. So you were first arrested — for the original charge — at 19? My first arrest was actually going to school. In sixth or seventh grade. I got caught and went to jail for trespassing. My mom had to come get me. Selling crack.
When I got back, I had to get back in the street and start really selling weed to get me a lawyer, because everyone who had a public defender got crucified. My mug shot has my face swollen, both sides of my face beat up.
You know how his hand got fractured? Yeah, punching you. He charged me for him punching my face. They said I pointed a gun at them. That always stuck with me. But if you were on probation and began smoking weed? I barely sleep from so much trauma. Sometimes you just want to smoke and go to sleep. This is your dad right here.
My mom was a probation officer. In a place with no public transit, they would drive to work and get violated. That makes no sense. If you gave me three months, that is not lenient. In prison, you were and-1, right? Isolated all but one hour a day? Nobody can. I kept blacking out in the middle of the day — not passing out, but like falling asleep.
Twenty-three and a half hours a day. Come out to take a shower, back to your cell. When did you realize that you had a platform, and that you should use it to advocate for more than yourself? When I saw the support people gave me. He keeps going to jail.