We all waited with abated breath as the judge prepared to render his sentence. After a three-day trial, I had been found guilty of Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill by a jury of my peers. At just 21 years old, I was surely on my way to prison. The only question was the amount of time I would be spending there. Would the judge be merciful? Would he think about my 2-year-old son? Would he care about my sick mother, or my beautiful fiancé in college at FAMU. Would he take into consideration the tour of duty I had just completed in Bosnia just a year prior, as I served my country with distinction in the U.S. Army? Would he allow me to continue my active duty Army career? Most importantly, would he believe the truth; that the shooting was in self-defense?
I received the answer to my questions soon enough. The judge cast aside the brilliant letter my Company Commander had written on my behalf imploring the court to be as lenient as possible, looked down at me from the bench, and cleared his throat. “Mr. Sinclair,” he said. My heart chilled over in my chest, and seemed to stop as if frozen in time. An ominous chill slithered through my body. The huge room, so alive with energy just seconds before, was now quiet like a tomb. “I sentence you to the South Carolina Department of Corrections for a period of fifteen years.” Before the words could register, I heard a lady scream, and saw my sister crumble to the floor in shock. My knees buckled a bit, and seconds later, I was dragged from the courtroom in shackles. I knew then, my life would forever be changed. I just couldn’t fathom the journey that awaited me on the other side of the fence.
I started my journey at a Level 3 prison named Kershaw County, a real gladiator school with over 1,500 of South Carolina’s worst criminals, ranging from drug kingpins to murderers, to every derelict in between. (It also seemed like all the racist people in town worked at the prison too.) Once I found myself trapped inside, I quickly formed three goals: to stay alive, get my case overturned, and never let anyone take my manhood.
Staying alive in prison is often taken for granted by people on the outside, but it is easier said than done. I was reminded of this cruel fact on my first night inside, as I saw a routine card game erupt into a bloodbath over a bar of soap. A big guy tried to punch a small guy in the face, and missed. I blinked, and in the next instant, the big guy was laid out on his back with blood leaking from the back of his head. That was the first act of violence I saw in prison, but it would not be the last. It would become so common that I quickly became desensitized to the beatings, stabbings, and lynching’s over petty squabbles. I adopted a personal policy that if something didn’t coincide with my goals, I would reject its existence. You think I talk too proper? Okay. You think I think I’m smarter than everyone else? I’m not responsible for your insecurities. You resent the fact I go on visit every weekend. Not my problem.
Visitation was my only escape from the numbing monotony of prison life. However, even visitation was bittersweet. On one hand, I was allowed to interact with the people I loved most for nearly eight hours, every Saturday and Sunday. On the other hand, it always tore chunks from my heart when it was time for them to leave. Still, I made the most of those times with my family and friends. During visitation, I escaped my prison sentence and lived vicariously through them. My younger sister would weave crazy tales for me as she kept me abreast of everything going on outside the walls. My older sister and brother-in-law would bring me resilience and courage with every visit, as they exhorted me to stay strong, and never give up. My lady brought me all the love that she could muster, in the form of hugs, kisses, and cards. For hours, we would discuss everything from religion to fashion. Her ambition and drive to succeed further propelled me to persevere in my time of darkness. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed visitation, the longer I remained incarcerated, the more infrequent the visits became. Ironically, by the time the visits dried up, I was strong enough not to rely on them as much (or so I thought.)
There are so many hidden forces inside prison, vying for your mind, body, and soul that its imperative to remain cautious about everything and everyone you encounter. Living under this type of constant pressure can whittle the toughest human down, and I was no different. The explosive environment of prison life, coupled with a poor diet, inept (or apathetic) medical staff, blissful ignorance, and the uncertainty of my case eventually got the best of me.
By Shaun Sinclair
Shaun Sinclair is the author of “Forbidden”. A native of Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, the Army veteran has also worked as a Law Clerk for six years. He is called the Underground Sensation due to the sizeable following he had amassed without a book publishing contract. Now he is ready to make his impact on the literary world and show why he is the “next big thing.” Book coming 2013.
Connect with Shaun on FaceBook, Twitter and on his website: