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Prison Narratives: ‘First Day of School – 1971’ by Vincent Young

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VOX Press‘ book, Prison Narratives, features personal stories written by prisoners at Parchman Farm. Here a couple stories 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.

VII. First Day of School, September 1971

Vincent Young

Once I was on the bus I found a seat right next to my girlfriend, Judy. She and I have been going together for about a month. Judy is a year older than me, and she’s been going to a mixed school for a year. The bus is so quiet except for a few sniffles. I dare not to look back, because I might cry too. So I grab Judy’s hand, and my thoughts went elsewhere. But deep down inside I feel my stomach shaking and my eyes watering. I’m so afraid right now, afraid because this is my very first time. I am alone. Then on top of that it’s my first day of school. I look down at my shoes. They are still tied. I pray they stay that way, because I don’t know how to tie my shoes. Mommy’s words play in my mind. That I’ll have to wake up my wife every morning before I go to work just to tie my shoes.

I look out the window to take my mind away. I see the Carson Farm coming up. Town isn’t that far away. A while later we cross a train track. The next turn we are in town.

Once we make it into town, I see so many things, such as stores with people standing in windows. There are lots of cars, and white people are walking in and out of stores. As the bus eases through town, it seems as if every white person is staring at our bus. Only two people waved, and they were black, the only two black people I saw in town.

Once we made it to school, I’d never seen so many black and white people together in my life. As we start getting off the bus the driver said to us, “Remember your bus number.” Our bus number is number eight. I didn’t know this at the time. But a few years later I would be introduced to the game of pool, and it will dawn on me that the eight ball is black. Did the school know of this, or was it a coincidence that our bus was eight, and in pool, the eight ball is black? Because every person on bus No. 8 is black, even the driver. I still wonder about this, even to this day.

Once inside the school, everyone is moving in different directions. It looks as if someone had kicked an ant hill, with kids everywhere you looked. Judy held my hand as we walked down the hall. Most of the time she was pulling me down the hall, ‘cause I was stopping and looking at the white kids. You must remember, I haven’t seen a white kid my age, until I started coming to school.

Once in the room that I was assigned to, I noticed that there were no black kids. My girlfriend Judy left me alone and said she’ll see me later. The teacher is white. Once everyone is seated, she explained that this is our home room. We were always to come here first. She started calling names and told them what room to go to. She finally called my name, and since I was the last one, she walked me to my class. Once there I was happy to see Linda, who stayed down the road from me. She used to be my girlfriend a long time ago. The teacher told me that her name is Ms. Ivy. She asked me my name. I took a deep breath and tried to say my name, but all that came out of my mouth was, “V… in..,” because at that moment I started stuttering, real bad. Linda stood up and told the teacher that I couldn’t talk. Ms. Ivy started doing sign language, but I couldn’t understand her signs. So I tried to say my name again, and the same thing happened, and this time I heard someone giggling. I turned to see a white kid with his hand over his mouth and laughing. Linda got up and told the teacher my name. The teacher told me where to sit, which was right behind the kid who laughed at me. I looked around the classroom, and saw how we were sitting in rows—white, black, white, black, white, black and so on. There were five rows of six kids each, with a total of 15 white kids and 15 black kids in the classroom. We looked like the keyboard on the organ that my sister got.

Another bell rang, and Ms. Ivy told us to go outside because it’s recess. Linda showed me how to get outside, but before we made it outside I saw kids standing in two different lines. One line is all black kids, but this line was for the water fountain. I found Judy outside standing in a crowd of black kids. Every kid from our area hung together at recess. Why, I don’t know, but I wanted to look around to see everything here. I also noticed that the white kids stood in groups too, just like the black kids.

The only difference between a white kid and me is our skin color, hair, smell, and the way we talk. They seemed to use a lot of words with “R” in them, and the word “by” a lot.

We didn’t do any school work. All we did was go to class, get our books, and meet our teachers. I noticed that all the classrooms are set up the same – black, white, black, white. I did get lucky with Linda and I having all the same classes.

Lunch finally came, and I was called to the office and given a card. The card has numbers 1 through 5 on it for each day of the week. I noticed that there were about fifty white kids and only ten black kids. The man that gave me the card said my lunch is paid for this month. I followed the other kids to the kitchen, and there I got the shock of my life! The kitchen was full of people eating. I’ve never seen so many people eating at the same time, but I couldn’t sit where I wanted to. The teacher told you where to sit after you got your plate. They are making the black kids sit between two white kids. The food isn’t good at all. I barely ate anything. No one is talking. I wanted to sit with Judy, but the teacher made me sit where she wanted me to sit. I didn’t understand what was going on. Why are the teachers treating us differently from the way they are treating the white kids? The white kids raise their hands to use the bathroom, and the teacher would let them go to the bathroom by themselves. But when the black kids raise their hands to go to the bathroom the teacher would ask who else needed to use the bathroom. The teacher would take a group of us to the bathroom, and stand at the door until all of us were finished. She would only do that to the black boys and girls. Why she did this I don’t know, but I do know she is treating the black kids differently from the white kids. I have so many questions for Daddy and Mommy. I still haven’t said but a few words because I’m so ashamed of my stuttering. My best friend isn’t with me and that’s my sister. I’ve always had someone in my family with me until today, but today I walk alone, trying to be that little man Mommy wants me to be.

I look down, and one of my shoes is untied. How did that happen? Linda sees it too. She came to my chair, kneeled down, and tied it for me. I don’t understand this new world I’m in. I don’t like it at all. I’m ready to go back to my world where everyone is the same color. The white kids seem to always be whispering, laughing, and pointing at us. I feel myself getting mad and ready to fight. I feel a hand grab my hand. I look and it’s Judy, my girlfriend. All my thoughts seem to become hers. I don’t know what it is. She always made my heart race and my stomach feel funny. But I still wanted to be with her forever. I can picture her tying my shoes every morning before I go to work.

The bell rang and school was finally over. The time I’ve waited for, which seemed like forever, was over. I go outside to find my bus. I turn to look back at the school. I see the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. There looks to be about 300 kids pouring out of the school. The colors of the kids’ clothing made it look as if the school was throwing up a box of coloring crayons. I found my bus No. 8. All I had to do was look for the black bus driver, because he is the only black man driving a school bus. I made eye contact with a few of them. The white men would spit, and the women would turn up their noses. I saw a group of white men standing around a truck, and one of them made like he was shooting a gun at us. All the other men started laughing. After about one and a half hours of riding, I finally made it home.

Everyone was there to greet me – Mommy, Daddy, my sister and Legs. I’m so happy to be back in my world! That’s where I’m not treated differently, and I’m loved by everyone.

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