Monday, August 8, 2022

Prison Narratives: ‘First Day of School’ by Vincent Young

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VOX Press‘ book, Prison Narratives, features personal stories written by prisoners at Parchman Farm. Here is a story from the book by Vincent Young. The book can be bought here.

Vincent Young was raised on a farm in New Albany, Mississippi. His father was an airplane mechanic and sometimes bare knuckles fighter. He is serving a life sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault.

VI. First Day of School, September 1971, age 9 – Registration

Vincent Young

Kids older than me went to an all black school until 1969. I’d be one of the first in our family to go to a black and white school. I was so afraid of the day.

My mother was with me on the first day because she had to register me into school. The first thing I noticed was a white kid, around my age, running down the hall, which was so long like a row of cotton, and it looked wet but it wasn’t. We went into this room that had a lot of people there already. Everyone in this room was black, except the four white women sitting behind a long table. Mommy took me to one of these women who asked my mommy a bunch of questions about me. The only question I recall was why I wasn’t registered already years ago. That started words between her and Mommy about me not being in school last year. I could tell Mommy was upset by the way she ran her hand over her face. I heard her say, “No one is going to tell me how to raise my children?” We started to leave but were stopped by another woman at the same table, so I got to register that day.

We left and walked back down the same hall. I noticed each room that we passed had a bunch of funny looking chairs in them. We also met a few white kids with their mothers, and they would always get as far away from us as they could. The little white kids and I would just stare at each other.

I had a thousand questions for Daddy and Mommy on the ride back home, but I had to tell my sister through sign language, so she could say my questions to them. I thought, “How will I make it through school next week without her?” My questions were mostly about the little white kids. Will I be in the same room with them? Can Mattie come with me?” Daddy told me that she could go with me next year, but this year I’d have to go by myself.

Going to my first day of school was made into a special event at our house. I got ice cream, cookies, and soda-pop. Mommy baked a cake and cooked my favorite meal: chicken, rice, biscuits and gravy. I made sure my sister got everything that I got to eat and drink. There were five days before I was to start school, and those were the fastest five days of my life. On the last night I went to sleep, and the next thing I knew Mommy was waking me up for school. I quickly ate breakfast and put on my new clothes. Everyone at home was there to see me off to school. My Daddy was even going into work late. Our entire family was at the bus stop to see me off. Even Legs was there!

All of the other neighborhood kids were also at the bus stop, and some of them had their family with them too. A few of the kids were crying along with their mothers. Daddy said, “Here comes the bus!” I could see it about a mile away, it still had three more hills to go before it made it to our stop. My stomach began to feel funny, like I was going to throw up. I knew I didn’t want to do that in front of my daddy and the other kids. The older kids seemed so happy to be going to school, but I wasn’t happy because I loved the world I was in. By now the bus was only one hill away from us. The time I’d dreaded the most had finally came. I hugged my sister and rubbed on Legs’ head. Mommy gave me a hug so tight that I could barely breathe. It felt like she gave me a hundred kisses all over my face. Daddy had to pull Mommy off of me because the bus driver began to blow the horn. I looked at Mommy and she was crying. So was my sister. Daddy rubbed my head and said, “I’ll be right here when you get out of school.”

I turned and walked onto the bus into a new world, a world that would change my life forever.

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