Depending on your mission, the jungle can be a passing experience or a brutal graveyard. My senior year I was back at Ellender Memorial High School after an expedited exit from California. My football team had a game against Amite High, who would then go on to win the state championship in 3A. (They should have, because nobody on the team was under 25.)
Standing on the field with these grown men, every player had full mustaches and Rick Ross beards. Plus, these was some country boys--I'm talking about cornbread-fed. So it was no surprise when we found ourselves down 35 to 0 in the 4th quarter and the offense could hardly move the ball. I caught a 15-yard pass, but then we ended up losing 15 or 20 yards during the next play. Defense played okay, but they were definitely overpowered. In other words, I'm surprised the game wasn't 70 to nothing. For some reason, though, I still felt like my team wasn't giving it their all.
I walked up and down the sidelines, looking at all the so-called stars of the team, who were all-district, all-regional, and, on the defensive end, all-stater players. It was a Thursday night, so I asked how they were going to hold their heads up at school tomorrow after they’d said we were coming up here to beat these people at the pep rally. They told me I was getting beat ,too. I agreed, but I said the only difference was that I could at least say I had scored a touchdown. They laughed at me. Our offense crossed the 50-yard line once, and on the next offensive drive, I took the punt. I headed for the touchdown, but before I could make it to the sidelines, somebody hit me so hard I flew almost all the way to the track. Instead of being intimidated, I was extremely excited because this was the longest play of the game. I must have sparked something in my offense, because my running backs were actually hitting the hole. I caught another 15-yard post, and we were close to the end zone. Coach called my play--a waggle--and I took the post corner.
When I stepped into my post, the cornerback was all over me. I had caught 3 posts on him in the game, and he wasn't going to let me catch another one. But this wasn't a post, so when he and the free safety jumped the post, Kenny my quarterback threw the corner. When they looked, I wasn't in the post but racing to the corner. When I caught the ball, I was in the end zone. I ran out the back of the end zone and did my dance. My running back wasn't going to let me shine on my own, so he ran a 60-yarder. If we had had another quarter, we could have won, but instead we lost the game 35-14, though we did manage to that show everybody that we had a team to reckon with.
That year we were ranked 6th in 4A in the state. I had one goal, and that was to do my dance. I could only do my dance, however, if I crossed the goal line with the football.
We were undefeated going into the game against our Catholic rivals across town. They were ranked in 3A that year and threatened to give us our first loss. The score kept going back and forth, and in the 4th quarter we were tied. Kenny threw me a post, but the free safety read it and intercepted the ball in the end zone. The cornerback flipped me in the air, and I looked up to see the ball going the other way.
As I sat in the end zone, I heard somebody calling my name. When I looked up, another rival was standing outside the fence yelling, “don't worry, you'll beat 'em next year,” and then said, “my bad, this your last year.” I got off the ground and watched as the defense let them score. For some strange reason they went for two, and the defense stopped them, which meant we got the ball back. I tell everybody we would not lose this game, and we started to move the ball. The running back caught a few passes out the back field, yet time was running out and it was the fourth down. If they stopped us, we would get our first loss.
Coach called the waggle play, and I knew it was now or never.
I ran my route and the free safety read the play again. He jumped the post route, yet when he did the cornerback went to hit me, and I moved into the corner. Kenny really threw the ball. Actually, he overthrew it, and all I could think about was running all the way to the line and just stretching for the ball. As my tip toes stopped a corner of the end zone, I pulled the ball in. When I looked up the same rival was still there. I showed him the ball before I started to do my dance. Our kicker sealed the deal, and we won.
I was player of the week in that game, gave my first newspaper interview, and adopted the nickname Prime Time, which I did not like at first because it was already somebody else's name, but then it grew on me.
Never think in the jungle that just because all is clear ahead that everything is alright. Cliffs, crags, or bluffs could suddenly appear and you could plummet to your death. This sudden drop came when the coach from the school I should’ve been attending called my coach and told him that I was living out of district. He said that if I transferred schools and came to play for him, he wouldn't report me. My coach ask if I wanted to fight this, and I told him to scrap up. We fought and we lost. Since my grandmother had been my guardian, when I transferred schools I used my auntie's address. I lost my eligibility, and we ended up forfeiting all of our wins, but the team had still won enough games in the district to make the playoffs.
The playoff game was against the Capitol team from Baton Rouge. My replacement dropped too many passes and a game-winning touchdown. Everybody looked at me when he dropped that pass like it was my fault. In a way it was because if I would have played, we would have won and the game wouldn't have been so close. This is what it’s like to choose to live and die in LA-- not the city of angels, but the state where the oppressive is impressive. You may be able to erase my stats from a book, but you can't erase my action on films, and colleges still wanted the fast little kid that did his dance.
This is the sixth contribution to our new, bi-weekly blog post featuring creative content made by currently or formerly incarcerated people! If you or someone you know is a currently or formerly incarcerated person with creative content to offer, please submit your materials to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be in touch! We'll share the content on social media and always give credit to the artist(s) involved. Any type of submission--whether stories, poems, illustrations, music, videos or something else--are welcome! This is the last part in a multi-part story written by Eyba Brown, who is currently incarcerated at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center.