Raiford State Prison

Raiford State Prison

I took my first piss in a urinal at the age of 6 in 1977 at the Raiford state prison in Florida under the supervision of my father.
There were just certain things Mom couldn’t do and this was one of them.
I took my pants down and faced the urinal and began to urinate.
I looked over at him to see if I was doing it right and caught a backhand to the side of the head.
“Never look at another man at the pisser boy!”
“Yes sir.”
My father was doing a life sentence for the murder of a registered nurse, Janet O’Dell.
Janet lived across the street from my mother and fathers’ house and was my fathers’ mistress.
Once I remember he got pissed with my mother for cooking hotdogs and beans for dinner
and grabbed her by the hair smashing her face in the plate,
wiping it from side to side, telling her to eat the slop and left the house slamming the door to go be consoled by Janet across the street.
On one of these occasions, my father was met at Janet’s door by Janet’s boyfriend.
He and Janet were in a fight and he was on his way out of the house and pushed by my father in doing so.
Janet tried to run after her boyfriend and was stopped by my father at the door with his hands on both sides of the door frame.
She was frantic and slapped him across his face.

My father gave her the look that my mother would later describe as pure evil.

“OH MY GOD!”,were Janets’ last words according to the final police report.
He would later on in life give me a cross he made out sheet metal in the prison workshop with the exact same words on it.
My father beat Janet O’Dell to death,leaving her head concave and speckling the ceiling with blood spatter.
After his sentencing my mother and I would make the trek from our small,
one bedroom apartment in Jacksonville Florida to Raiford once a week for the next some odd years.
The one thing that always stood out to me about my father was the long scar running just between his bottom and chin.
He had gotten it while lifting weights in prison and another inmate tried to break his neck by
slamming the bar down clipping his chin instead.
“Hey dad…”
“Yeah boy?”
“What happened right here?”, running my finger along the same spot on my face.
“A tiger bit me in the jungle.”
I remember being wowed by this and somewhat jealous.
On every car ride to Raiford after that I would pin my bottom lip between my upper and lower teeth biting
down as hard as I could in hopes of getting the same line as him by the time we arrived at the prison.
I would do this while looking out my window so my mother wouldn’t see what I was doing and tell me to stop.
I would secretly keep the clamp on my lip through the hour long process of paperwork and metal detectors.
The closer we got to seeing my father the harder I would bite.
He never noticed my swollen lip tiger bite.
He did always take the time to take me on a short walk to the prisoner concession stand leaving my
mother to wait at the lunch table.
I was overjoyed.
They had an array of candy on the wall behind the inmate cashier to choose from.
I’d always point to the Mr.Goodbar in that bright yellow wrapping.
I felt proud standing next to my father.
His all white prison issued clothing would gleam in the sun.
They seemed so bright and majestic as if they were solely for royalty.
I remember sitting across the table from my mother and father in the prison lunchroom one day.
I tapped my fathers’ arm,
“Dad….Dad…….hey Dad!”
He looked at me with that look for the first and last time in my life.
He stood up,slammed his hand down on wrist lifting me by my arm out of my seat and held me high above the table as he was busy unbuckling his belt.
I remember hanging by one arm and slightly swaying back and forth.
I remember feeling my face flush with embarrassment as I scanned all the faces of the other prisoner’s and their families.
The beating was over before it began because of a guard’s intervention.
For years and years I wondered about that beating.
Beating myself up along the way.
It wasn’t until I was 21 or so that I brought it up to my mother and she became flustered and shy exclaiming,
“I was giving your father a hand job under the table and I guess you interrupted.”
All at once I felt a peace and an understanding that I had never felt before.
It was all starting to make sense to me now.
I was free to leave the jungle in search of tigers that bit.
I said goodbye to the guards that searched purses and pockets.
The plastic trays and metal detectors.
I was free to leave the muddy, fenced in prison grounds where all the boot prints were the same.
I said farewell to the prisoners with no visitors that spent their days feeding birds at the edge of the yard with breadcrumbs.
Finally I waved goodbye and smiled at the boy sitting at the table
with the Mr.Goodbar and the fat lip.
My mother confused by my sudden smile asked,
“Why are you smiling son?”
“No reason ma…no reason.”

Ray Mitchell Strickland jr. 4/24/2010

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