Too much cleavage, not enough clothes.
The issue was pinups. The Department of Corrections called them pornography. The young guys I taught in the county penitentiary called them "just some pictures of girls." It wasn't my battle. This one was between the DOC and the hormone-crazed teenage boys the courts locked up. But in jail everything spills into everything else and so inevitably, the great debate made it into my classroom.
The arguments were worthy of the Supreme Court. Or so my students thought. Angel, for example.
"But, Mr. C., what if my mother sent me them pictures. They can't call that porn," Angel said, and blushed. Which he should have. I knew his mother. She worked days in food services at the VA hospital. At night and on weekends she was pastor of a storefront church, "Eternal Believers in Jesus," and took the bus across four towns twice a week to see her youngest offspring.
"They're only pictures of my girl, my girl." Angel insisted, as though he'd get the photos back. "I mean, it ain't like I ain't seen it all before."
And now, of course, everybody else had "seen it all" too. Once an envelope is opened and checked for contraband, what is in it that shouldn't be is county property. Including butt naked 17-year-old Natania. At least Angel assumed it was her. Some of those photographs were so up-close it would be impossible to attach those body parts to any particular human being.
"She's my friken girl, and it's my friken business, nobody else's," Angel whined, not willing to let it go.
But not all the other guys were as ingenuous as Angel. They smuggled in Playboy and Penthouse, contraband for minors. Pictures were torn out and taped to the inside of sneakers or pressed between sheets of rolled toilet [End Page 131] paper. The jail's periodic shakedowns found them all, and new hiding places had to be invented.
Most guys, though, were satisfied to have a pinup collection of Brandy or Funky MaMa from Source or Vibe along with girlfriend pictures. Everybody, that was, but Wade. Wade had his own set of pinups. But unlike most of his cellmates who taped their pictures to their lockers, he carried a dozen or so photographs rubber-banded together in his pants pocket.
Wade was 18 and facing some serious state time. He had stabbed another 18-year-old in the eye in a Bronx movie theater. It was the final act in a long predator-prey series of events: A gunshot wound that shattered Wade's collarbone, three ribs of the other kid broken with a baseball bat, Wade's sister's apartment trashed, and then, that final evening, a knife in the Bronx. Unfortunately for Wade, the police suddenly got involved. It was the third stabbing in that theater in a month, and the manager had had it. So Wade and his deck of photos were on their way upstate.
I had known Wade before he came to jail when he was 15 and going to the alternative high school where I taught. Unlike many of the other students who were exiled to the alternative program, Wade didn't come to school to cause trouble. He didn't miss a day, and he didn't miss a class. I'd like to say that he didn't miss an assignment but that wasn't true. For Wade school was the one place he felt safe and loved. And Wade was loved. With honey-colored skin, the girls buzzed around him. His almond-shaped eyes seemed blind to beauty. Every girl, black or white, swore that she was his special shorty. This jealousy could have erupted, but the girls knew better. Wade was a peacemaker, at least at school.
Maybe that was why he also got along with the other guys. He'd as soon turn out his pockets for you than get into a stare-down match. Which never happened. Wade was an exotic. He had been places and done things the rest of the boys couldn...