I Was Thrown in Solitary at 14. My Jailers Added a Day Each Time I Fought Back.

Day 1 of 3

They strip me to my boxers and lock me in a dry cell. No mattress.

They call it a dry cell because it doesn’t have a toilet or sink. As solitary confinement goes, this ain’t shit because they have to regularly let me out to use the bathroom.

In front of my cell, a tier divides the dry cells from the boys’ dorm where 70 bunk beds and 140 green footlockers line a rectangle hall. Youth counselors monitor wards from a plexiglass and concrete station which divides the dorm into wings.

Standing at my cell window, I see O-Dog watching me. He raises his arms, fists together, to form an “O” over the wave cap on his head. It’s a symbol of solidarity that means, we’re from Oakland, fuck this world. A youth counselor tells him to stop talking to the dry cells.

“O-love, no love!” I shout through the crack under my door, earning another day in confinement.

Day 2 of 4

A pencil nub clatters under the door. I rush to my window, but whoever passed me the contraband is already ghost. The dorm is empty. A chest-high wall and plexiglass divide the dorm from the dayroom where kids shoot Eight Ball and play Connect Four.

I marked two lines on the wall because that’s what convicts do in the movies. I lie on the cool stone slab, determined to accustom myself to the hardship. Goals: That’s how to survive solitary confinement.

Day 3 of 4

I use the pencil sparingly, so it doesn’t run out on me.

I mark the days on one wall, write my age, 14, on the other. On the slab, I draw an eye. A counselor catches me and asks where I got the pencil.

“I found it.”

He smiles but doesn’t mean it.

Day 4 of 5

I glare at O-Dog through my window. He won’t look at me. Nobody will. The counselors threatened to lock up anyone caught communicating with me. I turn and kick my door a dozen times like a mule. A counselor rushes to my cell and tells me to stop. I shout the lyrics to an N.W.A. rap:

Fuck the police!

coming straight from the underground.

Young nigga got it

bad ‘cause I’m brown!

The counselor, square-jawed and buzz-cut, crowds my window. He looks like an angry cop irritated by the blood he’s gotten on his uniform. He says if I don’t stop shouting, he’ll send me to Inyo Hall: the real hole. I stop yelling but keep rapping. I dance because it feels good. I start with a Chuck D strut, throwing my knees high and side to side as I back away from the door, and then I transition center-cell into an in-your-face robot routine.

Fuck the police!

Fuck, fuck, fuck the police!

I make sound effects, as if I’m mixing a record, with my mouth.

Fuck, fuck, fuck the police!

Day 5 of 6

“I’ve gotta go to the bathroom,” I tell the counselor when he comes by for his hourly suicide check. He says he already took me to the bathroom.

“That was number one. I gotta go number two.”

The counselor’s shark-fin nose flares, but he unlocks the door.

***

“I gotta go to the bathroom, I drank too much, it’s hot.”

***

“I gotta go to the bathroom, I might have diarrhea.”

***

The counselor ignores me the next time I ask to use the bathroom. I don’t actually need to go, but what if I did? That would be child abuse — this motherfucker is trying to get away with child abuse!

“You gotta let me go to the bathroom,” I shout. Wards in the dorm find something to do that involves facing away from me: rustle through their lockers, write letters, swing hand-sized radios over their heads chasing better FM reception. O-Dog glances at me long enough to shake his head, no.

***

I’ve been mule-kicking the door for an hour. My sole throbs. I’m strong. Keep kicking.

***

I lie on my slab for three hours. They won’t let me out. I pee under the door. They call me an animal before they duct tape a blanket over my window, draping my cell in darkness.

I shit against the door, wipe my ass with my boxers. The stink grows a body in the dark that bites my skin. I take center-cell and fight it, shadow box it. I expel air through my nose with each punch, suck breath through my teeth dodging shadow punches. Hisses fill the dark.

Fight it, fight it, fight it.