by: Jamila T. Davis
In the late summer of 2008, when I entered the gates of the Danbury Federal Prison in Danbury, Connecticut, I was a nervous wreck. As I stared intensely at some not so friendly faces, I had no clue what to expect. Realizing I couldn't allow myself to be anybody's punk, I put on my best "mean-mug" grill as I checked out my new surroundings.
Luckily, I ran into some girls I had met in the county jail where I was housed before the U.S. Marshals came and got me. They quickly embraced me and showed me around. The scene I witnessed was nothing like I'd ever expected. The FCI was filled with over 1100 women from all over the world. Every state was represented by the population, and even foreign countries I never heard of.
As I walked around the compound that resembled an old housing project setting in the South, filled with a series of low, 3-story cement buildings, which were aligned in a rectangular pattern with a a large lawn in the middle. Staring at the scenery I experienced culture shock! Dressed in a khaki uniform and black steal toe boats, I was stripped of all the worldly possessions I once used to define myself. No longer a glittery stand out, I was now just one of the girls. Literally, I traded in my million dollar condo for a small 5 1/2 x 9 cell, which I had to share with my cell mate. At that very moment, in my mind things couldn't be worse!
In attempt to cheer me up, my friend Chermaine, a brown skin girl from Harlem who I met in Hudson County Jail, in New Jersey, walked me over to the hair care center on the compound. As I entered into what appeared to be an over-sized closet, with a sink, three small stations and two larger dryers, I recognized a familiar face.
"Oh my goodness, Jamila! Is that you?" A stocky brown skin girl with chinky eyes, of Guyanese decent questioned.
"Yes girl it's me!" I said with excitement recognizing Dawn, my former hair dresser from the streets. I couldn't help but wonder what she had done to come to prison. I knew she was missing in action for several years, but now I had an understanding why.
Dawn and I quickly embraced one another and caught up on old times. She reminisced on how I used to call her up for last minute appointments for both myself and my boyfriend, sending a car service to pick her up from her house in Brooklyn. She would travel over an hour to come to my house in Northern, New Jersey. Dawn's braids and weaves were amazing, so I was happy to have her on speed dial in my phone!
"You was my best client, girl! I loved the tips you gave me." Dawn said to me and turned to address the girls in the shop. "I told ya'll about the guy's hair I use to braid who played for the New York Giants. This is his girlfriend." The women in the packed salon began to stare at me, clearly checking me out.
"Yeah girls Jamila is rich! She lives in a gated community and her house has an elevator in it! It's like one of them houses you see on MTV cribs! And honey, she ain't cheap. The tips I use to get from her sometimes were more than I charged." Dawn bragged as the women listened intensely.
"I told ya'll this is what I do in the streets. I didn't just come up in prison like most of these chicks around here. Now y'all get to meet one of my rich clients." Dawn boasted. After she finished speaking the tension was so thick in the room you would need a large knife to cut through it.
I tried to brush off my discomfort, but the sharp stares I received gave me an unction that I wasn't safe. I didn't know if I should laugh or smile in attempt to change the mood. Before I could make a move, the woman who worked in the station next to Dawn begin to snap.
"Who the f&%$ do you think you are? You got numbers just like me b#$^%!" A tall, brown skin women with short stacked curls, who the women addressed as Re-Re, shouted.
In a matter of minutes the situation escalated and got quite intense. I had been on the compound for less than 24 hours and I was in the middle of a nasty confrontation. Re-Re's friends begin to surround Dawn and it was clear it was about to be on! At that moment I wished I wasn't in prison. I desperately wished there was a door I could exit, but I was trapped! So many thoughts flooded my mind. I had two choices: Do I stand up and fight with my old friend? Or, do I try to make a break for it?...