Interview with The Periphery contributor Darren Reese-Brown. We discussed his experience in the Michigan juvenile system from 2010 to 2012.
The Periphery: So, Darren, I met you two years ago when you were still locked up in Lincoln Residential Center. Can you talk a little bit about your experience there?
Darren: Yes, I was arrested. I was arrested for carjacking. Now, a life of a criminal — excuse me before I go on; some people get things messed up. A criminal is not a person who has done crimes. A criminal is a person with a criminal mindset who is continuing to do crimes and is going to continue to do crimes. So I was a criminal. But yeah, when I was locked up, the judge had told me that I had three months for my carjacking charge because it was my first charge — it was the first thing that I got caught for. Now for all the people who I don’t know, for the younger people who want to, who want to become warriors or whatever: when people get locked up, it’s not the first thing that they did. It’s just the first thing that you got caught for. So you got to keep that in mind.
So, yeah, I had three months. They told me three months at first, so I’m like okay, like, hell yeah, okay, three months for a carjacking charge. I’m about to get out and I’m about to do all this shit. I had a criminal mindset, like I said. Anyway, I was held at Don Bosco at first. Halfway through the program I go to court and the judge tells me there that I had to do another three months for my step-down because I was in a secure facility, so I had to do three more months for a nonsecure facility so I can get readmitted to the community. So, you know, that really, really pissed me off. You don’t tell somebody that you only got this amount of time and then halfway through you tell them that you got to go do another ninety days. I just felt like I was getting played by the system. They was just holding me because for every person that is in a lockdown facility, the government and the state is getting paid for that person, and I felt like they just trying to keep me because they want some more money.
So with that, my mindset went to a criminal mindset, I went to my step-down, and I was wild. I was real wild. I was fighting. I was in Wolverine up north, like, where a boot camp was at, and we was just fighting cabins — like, breaking windows, smoking while we was in placement, like, just like running in the woods. Girls would try to run over to our cabin; we would try to go over to they cabin. My mindset was messed up, like, still doing crime while you incarcerated, you know. My mindset was, like — excuse me — like, I’m the fucking man. Like, I’m locked up and I’m still doing this. When I get out I can get away with anything. So, going back, they told me I had three months for my step-down, but once again they hit me with the okeydoke. Probably, like, two and a half months down I went to court, and they told me that it’s no ninety day step-down, that I had to do six months. So my step-down changed from three months to six months, so that just made me go off the chain again.
But two weeks before I was about to be released for real, go into my SIL [Support Independent Living Review], and everything was set up. Now, another thing that made me mad is my worker. Everybody has a worker that’s over their case, and they is supposed to get them an SIL and different stuff like that. But my worker, you know, she was kinda lazy. I mean, I’m not gonna put all the blame on her, but she was kinda lazy. We had an interview. She came up there two weeks before I was about to get out and we was just talking, and I’m like, ‘Yeahhh, so, like, you ready for me to get out in two weeks?’ and she just like, ‘Ohhhh, like, you get out in two weeks? I didn’t know that you were set to get out. I still got to get your papers ready and everything.’ So that made me stay a little bit longer, and that actually build up the anxiety inside of me. Umm, so, like, when my emotions go they go, and so I was just holding all that down — I wasn’t showing no emotion. But now it’s like, okay, my worker don’t even know I’m getting out in two weeks, so that mean I got to stay another month because it does — it takes at least thirty days for someone to accept you in the SIL program and process your release. So yeah, I spent another month waiting on that.
And then, two weeks before I was about to get out, a new person came to the cabin. And for for those of y’all don’t know, when new inmates come around when you’re incarcerated, it’s a different vibe. It’s another attitude, it’s not the same feel. There’s already an alpha male established, and they come and want to be the alpha male. So somebody got into it. One of my boys supposed to have got into it with this new person. And we was on the basketball court, and I hit him a couple of times — trying to be slick — I hit him a couple of times and then he’s like, ‘Aww — you hit me, you hit me,’ and I’m like, ‘No no I no I no didn’t no I didn’t,’ and I’m just like, ‘Okay, like, if you tell on me I can't wait till we get back to the cabin.’ Cuz in the cabin ain’t no cameras. No guards. And so we had a little fight.
Then we all walkin’ away, and then the staff came, and they grabbed my friend, and they put his arm behind his back, and he was just like, ‘Let me go, let me go!’ and then they picked him up and slammed him real hard. Now, being incarcerated and living with a person for six months, you tend to get a relationship with that person, you know, you, you tend to get close — like a brotherly relationship. And me seeing them, like, slam my brother, it heated me so bad — like, okay, restrainin’ is another thing, but, like, when you, like, when you wrestling with a little 16-year-old, then it’s different. So, they slammed him, and I run over there, and I push the staff off of him. You know, bad, bad idea. Number one bad idea. Why would I put my hands on the staff? Criminal mindset. I didn’t care. I just did what I wanted to do not thinking about the consequences. So I pushed the staff, and then my other friend comes over. His name was Juan. I knew him for years, and it’s crazy how you can see a person in the lockup system for years. That was, like, my little brother — I did everything for him. He ran over there, and he so little — like, real little — and the staff pushed him, like, real rough. And them pushing Juan was something totally different than them slamming that other guy. So I just snatched one of the guards off of Juan, and I kinda picked him up and I threw him. And then the other big staff, he came rushing at me, and I just — I was swinging my fists, and I just hit him in the face, and I was hitting him in his face and then he pinned me down.
So that night I was arrested again. Escalated from my nonsecure to the Scola County Jail. I was in the county jail for a couple of weeks, and actually, you know, it’s not like people say. It’s not like you get in there and people just looking at you like, ‘Aww yeah, fresh meat.’ It’s not like that. So I went in there, and I chilled, and I did what I had to do, whatever — I stayed to myself.
The Periphery: What was it like in county jail?
Darren: It’s just okay. But even in county jail people do what they gotta do. Like me, I have an adopted mom, and when I was in county jail ain’t nobody didn’t send me any money for commissary. No clothes, no soap, no hygiene, no nothing. So I did what I had to do when I was in county like anybody. Anyone who is thrown in that environment should be able to adapt, and if you can’t adapt to an environment you in, then you will not survive in this world. You will not, because the world is changing every single day, and people need to change with it. But so, I was diagnosed with mood disorder, that was my diagnosis. So I took the pills, and I would cheat my pills. I would sell my pills for whatever I needed. So, you know, I need commissary, okay boom.
The Periphery: What’s commissary?
Darren: Commissary is stuff from the store. Stuff besides what they serve. In the cafeteria they’ll give you a peanut butter and jelly. Okay, they give you peanut butter and jelly, but it’s not like no peanut butter jelly you’ve had, okay. They throw the bread down, they put a glob of peanut butter and glob of jelly on the bread, and they throw it in the little refrigerator/freezer. And so when it’s time for lunch they bring it out, and the bread is cold, the bread is breaking up, the peanut butter is stuck on there, the jelly is stuck on there. You can’t spread nothing out. The milk that they serve you with the cereal — the cereal was straight — but the milk that they serve you is just, like — it’s yellow. You know what I mean? Yeah, like, seriously. It’s not even white milk.
The Periphery: So you get some better food at commissary?
Darren: Yeah at commissary you can get noodles, you can get chips, you can get coffee. Coffee will get you rich while you are locked up. Coffee will get you rich.
The Periphery: And county jail, for the record, this is all people waiting to be placed somewhere else? Or have some people been there for months or years at a time?
Darren: It’s some people doing months. Some people will do two years at the max at the county jail. Some people will do two years, but it’s mostly people waiting to be placed somewhere else. And it’s amazing: a lotta people are in county jail for child support. Like, fifty thousand, a hundred fifty thousand dollars — it get up there, and they go do some years for child support.
But I didn’t tell y’all about quarantine, when you first roll in and do booking. After booking you go in a little cell with everybody. It’s a block. It’s a block of concrete right there. It’s a real concrete small bench. That’s where you stay for your first 24 hours. No shower, no nothing. So if you was hiding in the garbage can prior to your arrest, congratulations, you not taking a shower for 24 hours. All type of people come in quarantine — drunk people pee on theyself. And so I was the first person in there. I was all alone. And I was crying. I was just, like, banging my head against the wall. Two weeks before you get out, two weeks before you see freedom — after a year — and you just... I was just fucked up. I was just — I was just so hurt. I was so hurt. So, I fell asleep, whatever, and when I woke up, it was somebody lying on the floor. So, you know, it’s just like I was in here by myself, and now there’s somebody lying on the floor. I thought he was drunk. And he just snoring and shit. Like, he stink, and just got dirty socks on. And I’m not a dirty person myself, so, like, when I see that, and just think — I’m just like, ahh shit. And eventually he wake up. And once a person in the room, I’m not going back to sleep. I might look like I’m asleep. Even though county not like that, I’m still in jail — he could try to go in my pockets, you know. He was a Caucasian dude, kinda tattooed, little buzz cut, and he was just talking like he was drunk. I’m just, like, mug on my face looks like: okay, nobody fuck with me. But he’s not taking the hint, and he was talking to me just like, ‘Oh yeah, they got me in here, bro. I was selling that dog food.’ And for y’all that don’t know, dog food is crack or heroine. So he was just talking to me, and I’m going through my head, like, why is he talking to me? You know what I mean, I don’t want to hear nothing he got to say. This bad shit just happened to me, I just fucked up, I don’t want to hear about your problems.
And then a couple other people just start coming in. And finally I was so tired that I just fell asleep. And when I woke up, it was just noise — everybody in the cell, we all stuffed, it’s hot, you know what I mean. So it’s just like — I’m laying, I finally, like, took over the bench. Like, I felt so confident, I just took over the whole bench, and just laid down like nobody else getting on it. But, dumb me, you know what I mean, I lay my head by the toilet. So, you know, I woke up, and somebody was peeing in the toilet, where my head was at. So I woke up, like, what the fuck, you know? But I’m a 17-year-old kid, and it’s this big-ass person is peeing, and I’m just like, damn. And I just scoot down.
The Periphery: How long have you been there at this point?
Darren: I been in the bullpen — that’s what they call it, the bullpen, or the quarantine — for at least 24 hours now. I been there the longest. All the people in there with me done came in and left out already. I don’t know if they trying to make an example out of me or anything, you know what I mean? So nighttime come again, and I’m just like, ‘Hello? Can I take a shower? Like, I’m tired of being here.’ And so the guards yell at me. ‘Shut up, you! Shut up!’ They really real harsh, like, real harsh. So finally I got out a couple hours later. They fingerprinted me, let me take a shower, and put me in a four-man cell, back to the four man cell. So, like I said, I sold my pills and I did what I had to do.
Now, the first night I was there — now, in juvenile you get a snack every night cuz you a kid, so they give you snacks. So I’m in the county, and — true story, true story — I’m in the county first night, and the guards come around to pass out medicine and stuff. And the guard’s just walking past, and I’m just like, ‘Hey can I get my snack?’ and he’s like, ‘You don’t get no damn snack!’ And I’m just like...damn, like, you where grown men are.
And so then, next they moved me into a pod. Now a pod is a big room - it’s probably about — I don’t know, 20, 25 beds in there. It’s, like, all open. All the bunks against the walls. And if it get crowded, then they bring in roll-up beds. So we got, like, 25 people in that pod with, like, four roll-up beds in the corner. It was real crowded. I had a top bunk.
The Periphery: Was it better or worse to be in the pod?
Darren: Pros to a pod: you can make more money because it’s more people there. So it’s like, you can get different stuff because everybody has commissary. Like, money — I mean stuff. You can get more stuff. So, on the pod, they play cards. And some people play cards in penitentiary, and play cards for commissary — you play cards for dessert, for breakfast, and, you know, different stuff like that. So you know, I’m busting ass. You know, cut those spades, woo woo woo! Now, don’t me wrong, I lost a couple times, and I did go hungry. But I did what I had to do at a time of turmoil.
The Periphery: What’s the worst part about County?
Darren: Showers and bathrooms. Now, on TV, when they show jail, it look like: no curtain, showers just all open, and no tissue rack by the toilet, and, you know what I mean. It’s true. It is exactly like that. Like, the shower doesn’t have no curtain. It's just in the open. It’s the tallest, and it’s in the open, and it’s just like, if somebody walk over, it’s just like, they walk over there, so you gotta deal with that. So me, I was skeptical about taking a shower, but after being in the bullpen for so long, I was like, I need to get this off of me. So I did go in the shower, but I took, like, a kinda sheet, like, kinda made a little curtain or whatever, and I took my shower. Now, bathroom is totally different. Like, I felt so uncomfortable when I had a bowel movement. When I had to go shit. I’m just, like, sitting down, looking at everybody, making sure they don’t look at me. I’m looking, like, turn your head if you look over here. And then what you do when you gotta pull up your pants and wipe? I’m just like, mannnn! So yeah, I was in there at county for, I believe, three weeks —
The Periphery: At this point, how long were you locked up?
Darren: At this point I was …. almost a year.
The Periphery: Where’d you go after County?
Darren: Wayne County came and picked me up. Every juvenile in Detroit goes to Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility — better known as JDF — and I was back in there now. That’s where they sent me the first time; I was there at first for my carjacking charge. Now, this is my second time because I got escalated from my little up-north cabin. So this my second time, and everybody just like, ‘Aww, you here, you back. I thought the judge only gave you three months, woo woo woo.’ And I got to hear this shit, and explain the situation. But really, it was good to see familiar faces, people I knew from before. For me — like I said, I come from a broken home, so the people that I meet really are my family. So the people that I met there, they was family. I’m not trying to say, like, I was happy to go back, but I was happy to see the people who I missed, you know what I mean.
But I was pissed. I had real mixed-up emotions. So I stay there for a while, then they place me at Lincoln Center. Lincoln Center is maximum security. Locked doors. I guess it’s real structured. It’s real rough. It’s rough. You can really mess up in there, even though it’s a juvenile facility. My mindset was just, still just so fucked up. I was just trying to be the next drug cartel. That’s how I felt. I just wanted to be — I wanted to be that man. Now, the only thing about penitentiary and lockups is, if a person don’t really take in what that place has to offer — their programs — then they become worse prisoners cuz they meet other people who done other things. And they can get together and say, ‘Okay, let’s do this, woo woo woo, you did this, you know how to do this well, I know how to do that, and I know this person, I got this connect,’ and actually set up crimes on the outside. So when I was in there I did meet a couple people, and I did set up a couple things for, like — okay, when I get out I got this gun coming, I got this money coming, he owe me a couple dollars because of this. I met people who was willing to, to sit in a trap house for me. For those who don’t know what a trap house is, it’s just a setting where they sell weed and dope. So I met people who wanted to open up an establishment with me, to actually work for me and to work under me. So I had, I had, if you would say, I had soldiers.
One day I got into trouble. I did get into some trouble. I — I smacked a kid. And then that actually held my time up more. Our therapist, he was a good therapist, don’t get me wrong, but he just didn’t do the best that he could. He was too old to keep up. And he had our lives in his hands, and he was just — he was playing with us. So that’s what really messed me up. And again, it was a cycle because I felt like the system was playing me. So I started messing up.
The Periphery: Lincoln Center is also a rehabilitation center, right?
Darren: Right. So in Lincoln Center, also, there’s group therapy. So everybody sit in a circle, and you talk about your life. And so everybody knows every little personal detail about you, so it’s easier for people to hurt you, when they know everything about you. So this person, he was just throwing this shit at me one day, like, ‘That’s why your adopted momma don’t want you, and that’s why your baby died, and that’s why you fucked up.’ And I’m just like, crying. Like, ‘Shut up, shut up!’ And I end up smacking him, so I got in trouble and they kept me locked in my room. Like, no school. No nothing. I’m just locked in there. And I was just banging on the doors acting like an animal, if you want to say it like that. I was just really messing up and, ummm, what actually changed — what changed me is really the creative writing. You know what I mean. With the creative writing. Y’all came in with the creative writing and that changed my mindset up a little. Cuz I was writing poems, but I wasn’t really sharing it with anybody, and I wasn’t excelling at what I was doing. I was just kinda putting words on paper. That was a sense of expression for me to get out different types of stuff. It was more of, like, letting out emotions or confession, or just different stuff like that. And so, but long story short: I did three years for that first little three-month carjacking charge.
The Periphery: And you think if you weren’t caught on that carjacking charge, you would’ve went in on something else?
Darren: No doubt. Look: I was in high school, and was on my way to varsity. I was playing JV when I was a freshman, and the coach...just, like, it — it hurt me so bad because I switched so fast to the streets. I switched so fast. And it happened over a girl. It happened over a girl. She’s just, like, come over to my house today, woo woo woo. And I go to the store, buy a condom, and I skipped practice...I skipped practice that day. I went over to her house, and come to find out her parents were there, and it’s like, her sister was there and it’s, man, what the fuck? She called me over here for this bullshit? So I stormed off. I should’ve went back to the school, back to practice, but I didn’t. I just went with my friend Dante, childhood friend, and we actually — we did crimes together, you know, starting that night. We robbed a couple people that night. And actually it made me feel — I guess you can say it made me feel good. It made me feel in power. For you to be feared — it just made me feel good. So that was my mentality. And most of that changed, I guess you can say.
The Periphery: How did it feel to get released after three years?
Darren: It was — it felt like — it felt like a dream. It just — it didn’t feel real. And really, just, you know, just sitting here on this balcony, just looking at everything, it still don’t feel real. Looking back on my lock-up, it don’t seem like nothing, even though when I was going through it it just seemed like so much hell. And, some advice for the people, uhh, doing crimes: I hope you stop, but if not, I hope you ready to do the time, because time stops for no man. And, like, even in the three little years that I was locked up the world has changed sooo much, you know what I mean? Like, so much. Like, when I was sixteen I’d seen touch screen phones, but now it’s just like, I’m looking at them, like, what the fuck? Like a old-ass person even though I’m only twenty years old. But, I guess that’s all I got to say for that.