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Prison Narratives: ‘My Most Memorable Childhood Memories’ by Seriehel Belton

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VOX Press‘ book, Prison Narratives, features personal stories written by prisoners at Parchman Farm. One of Serihel Belton’s recollections of his childhood is featured in this article. The book can be bought here.

Seriehel Belton was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on December 27, 1978. He grew up in extreme poverty in the rural countryside of south Mississippi. He dropped out of school in the 6th grade. He is currently serving a 30-year sentence for cocaine distribution.

(Part 1)

Seriehel Belton

I was four or five years old when I had one of my most memorable childhood memories. I was attending my first school classes at the Children’s Head Start Center in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. My mother was a teacher there, along with two other teachers, Ms. Virgil and Ms. Bogan. I felt privileged that my mother was my teacher.

My days at the Center weren’t always as glowing as I could hope for, however. I recall having my first girlfriend there. I thought I was an amazing piece of work until I was caught in action getting my first kiss from my new girlfriend. I’d no idea what to say about it, nor could I even create a lie to tell my mother, or my teachers, that would be good enough to escape what I knew was sure to come. I did know that my only option to avoid a severe punishment was for me to be on my best behavior. That included doing all of my daily chores without being reminded or told to do them. That was my best way to not be punished. I went for it!

As soon as I came home from school, I changed out of my good school clothes and shoes and began to practice reciting my numbers. I fell sleepy after a bit of that, but before I went to sleep I was sure to take my bath and brush my teeth. With the first day of worrying behind me, and with many countless days to go, I knew that I had to make my mother proud of me in everything I did. Only with that achieved could I hope to avert my punishment. I knew that it would be harsh, because I’d been raised to not ever bring embarrassment to my mom, especially not to do so in public. With that in mind, my goal was to be the best student at the Learning Center. As well as my mother, I knew that I had to find favor with my other two teachers, Ms. Virgil and Ms. Bogan, in hopes that they would tell my mother how good I’d been. I needed all the help I could get.

Every day was a worry for me. I was even praying to God to save me from the expected severe whipping I was due. The only problem I had with praying was that I didn’t know my bedtime prayers. I only knew how to say Grace, so I said Grace in place of any other prayers, hoping that God would understand and help me out.

Nearly five days had passed, which seemed like forever to me, and I’d started to think that maybe my consistent good behavior had caused my mother to forget about the whipping that she’d promised me. As the days went by I relaxed more and more. Maybe she really had forgotten or forgave me since I’d been so good for a whole week, so I eased back into my usual self at home and in school. That came quite easy for me, not to mention that it was fun too. However, after just a single day of being my old self at school my mother calmly reminded me on the way home that, “You were very grown up today. Even still, you know that I still owe you a whipping for last week, don’t you?”

That sank my heart and dashed all my hopes, so all I could do now was wait for my punishment and hope that I lived through it. I was ready for it when we arrived at our house. I went inside, changed out of my school clothes, and studied my color words until I got thirsty. I decided to ask for some soda. I was on my way with it back to my room when I fell down, spilling the soda all over my clothes, the carpet, and everything else. It was just my bad luck.

Immediately my mother came to the scene in a fiery rage, questioning me about how it happened. I tried to explain to her that it was a mistake and that I fell. She responded immediately, saying, “Didn’t I tell you not to eat or drink in you room?!” All I could do was shake my head no, and then came the whipping that I’d dreaded for days. It seemed like it would never end. I must’ve said I’m sorry a hundred times, but finally it came to a stop. Just minutes later I realized that my nightmare was over.

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