When I was in Corcoran (a “level 4” maximum security prison), strict racial politics existed on the prison yard. Races were divided into different sections of the prison during yard time. The division between correctional officers (C/Os) and incarcerated men were even stricter. One day, for camaraderie purposes, the men inside decided to have a basketball challenge with each other. It was five African American men versus five “others” (Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, etc.). Both of these are segregated racial groups. The game was intense, there was a lot of physical play, and it gathered a lot of viewers, mainly for security purposes. The African American men gathered on one side of the court, and the “other” men gathered on the other side of the court in case a riot erupted. The third group who gathered up were the C/Os. They too were preparing for a potential race riot, watching intently, gun tower, radios, batons and pepper spray present. Basketball games in prison can get physical and competitive which can create potential for violence in a hyper-masculine environment.
As the physical, close game went on, I did my part scoring, rebounding and playing defense. I had the opportunity to win the game with a wide open three pointer, but I missed. The ball was rebounded and returned to the other side for their game winning point. After the game, I sat down on the side of the court, upset about my missed shot when a C/O came towards me. He approached me saying, “Man, that was a good game, you played really well man!” As he said that, he reached out his fist for a supportive fist bump in front of the whole yard. On the maximum security prison I was at, it was not normal for a C/O and an incarcerated person to shake hands, dap, or touch when it came to some form of respect or support. The only touch between us was for restraint or search. As this officer sticks his arm down towards me, I felt like every thing on the yard slowed down. It felt like all eyes were on me and the entire yard stopped what they were doing to see what I was going to do. I turned to the C/O who was eagerly waiting for his dap, then turned back to the entire yard, and when I looked back at the C/O, I reluctantly told him, “Uh, it’s not cool man” refusing his fist bump. He pulled back his arm, and walked away. I hung my head down, genuinely feeling bad.
I look back at that incident today and I feel bad that I did that to him. The truth is, if it wasn't for the environment that I was in, I would have accepted his support. I was afraid of one, being labeled a snitch because to have that type of interaction with a C/O can be considered too friendly with the enemy. Two, there could have been physical harm done to me. Because of fear and reputation in that environment and the culture of division between incarcerated men and C/Os, I refused the officer’s humanity.
[For more on this story by Adnan Khan, go to https://restorecal.org/a-dap-ting-to-humanity/]