Suddenly I had fifteen guys surrounding me as I stood in the middle of the kitchen. I would have stabbed anyone who tried to make a move on me, and they all knew it. Most of these guys were just acquaintances; none were good friends. I felt like an outsider among a well-established hostile group. I snapped into warrior mode and was ready to take on anyone who might get within striking distance. I didn’t take into consideration, or care for one second, how bad I might hurt someone. And it really never occurred to me that I could get hurt.
What I really needed at that moment was someone I trusted to come in and tell me, “Okay, Steven, that’s enough. C’mon. Let’s go.” Like Ryan had done the night before at Jackson’s house, and so many other times at previous parties. But on this night, Ryan was at a bar, and I was alone. I had no one to calm me down and soothe my anger. It manifested and spread inside me to the point that I was ready to kill.
As I stood surrounded by a mob of people, someone opened the back door. The circle of people broke and created a path to the door, like I was a rabid raccoon. I was persuaded to leave without further incident—at least for the moment.
I arrived at my apartment ten minutes later. I was too mad to unlock the door, so I kicked it open. Inside was just as cold and dark as the outside. I hadn’t paid my electric bill in four months, so they finally turned off the electricity. The only power I had was coming from my neighbor’s apartment through an orange extension cord plugged into a six way outlet. This powered a lamp, TV, VCR, and stereo.
As I walked in, I turned on the lamp and sat in the dimly-lit room. My mind reflected the darkness of the room; evil thoughts ripped my soul. I hated myself and hated that my life was headed nowhere.
I was constantly fighting with friends and family. My own brother wasn’t talking to me after, while in a drunken rage, I had kicked him in the face and smashed his guitar. I spent all my money on alcohol and weed. Rent was past due and I had no idea how it would get paid.
No one really understood how my mind was thinking then, not even myself. All I knew for sure was that I drank every day and I was losing control. I was becoming more aggressive and more violent. I needed help and I knew it. I didn’t like the person I was, and the more I grew into that person, the more I disliked myself. And if I didn’t even like myself, I naturally hated those around me. I was sick.
I knew I was failing life. That hurt. I had too much pride to accept reality. I didn’t have the skill or the maturity to change my reckless lifestyle, even though, in the brief moments I was sober, I constantly thought about how I had to change. I’d numb the pain by drinking, which only made things worse. I’d sober up and realize I had just sunk a little lower, remembering I had just beaten up another friend, or punched my brother, or trashed another party.
I would even trash my own mother’s house. When I lived with my mother, all she wanted was for me to respect the rules she implemented for her house, but of course I didn’t. I was constantly drinking in her home and bringing my friends over to drink with me. My drinking was out of control. I was out of control.
I was a ticking time bomb.
The more I fought, the bolder I got. I had no fear of dying, nor did I care if I killed someone.
Ask any addict or alcoholic who’s on a path to rock bottom, and most will tell you that they don’t care about life. They don’t care if they live or die. They don’t care who they hurt.
I loved to fight. It was like a drug. I was addicted to the chemicals my brain would release, the adrenaline rush fighting would give me. Alcohol just gave me the liquid courage to act out against the slightest provocation. Once I was sober, I would realize what I had done, and I would regret it.
I hated myself. I hated my life. I hated making my mother cry. I had pushed my brother away. Most of my friends weren’t really friends; they were only nice to me so I would leave them alone. They were afraid of me. I was a loser. I had no future. I felt helpless.
All these revelations hit me hard on that night in1994, sitting in my dimly-lit apartment after yet another piss-poor showing. But instead of resolving to change my ways, I decided I didn’t want to live anymore. And I couldn’t simply kill myself—I had too much anger and hate to spread around. I wanted to take out the people at the party who I thought had done me wrong.
My phone rang, snapping me out of my trance.
It was my friend Jeremy. I had never had any problems with Jeremy because he knew how to stroke my ego. He never argued with me or did things to piss me off. Instead, he would agree with me, laugh at my jokes, make sure I always had a full beer, and come find me when it was time to smoke a bowl.
That was the type of person I got along with: people who were nice to me because they feared me. If they didn’t fear me, I could sense it, and more times than not, I’d try and give them good reason to fear me.
Jeremy was calling to see what I was doing, because I usually had parties at my apartment. But with the power cut off, it was not exactly a place to host parties.
I told Jeremy I was about to crash because I intended to get up early and go target shooting in the morning. I asked if he had any 12 gauge shotgun shells. He said he had a few lying around and that I was welcome to come get them. I grabbed my 12 gauge, and off I went to Jeremy’s house.
He managed to scrounge up six shotgun shells by the time I got there. Once I closed my hand around them, I knew nothing was going to stop me. I handed him $70 in cash.
“What’s this for?” Jeremy asked as he followed me out.
“It’s for you. I won’t be needing it,” I said as I got into my car, setting the handful of shells on the passenger seat.
Jeremy’s voice grew concerned as he sensed something was wrong. “Steve, what are you about to do?”
“Nothing,” I said as I put the keys in the ignition. Jeremy stood in the way of the door, clearly nervous now. He asked again, more forcefully, “Where are you going?”
I replied, “You’ll read about me in the paper tomorrow.”
I wanted to convince these people they had messed with the wrong person. In my sick mind, everyone needed to acknowledge my superiority and treat me with respect. If they didn’t, it would cost them their lives.
Before I was stuffed into the cop car, I took my last breath of free air.
I was 21 years old and new to prison. I guess I was supposed to be at least a little scared. I wasn’t. I was new to prison, but I wasn’t new to violence. My sermon on the mount included the lesson that the violent shall inherit the earth. Inside my mind and body was a raging storm that I knew not many people could match.
I couldn’t wait to get into my first prison fight.
In prison, there’s no ref to stop the bout, and no ref to stop me from choking, biting, and gouging eyes out. Nor did my morals or ethics prevent me from using these tools. Alongside my high school coach’s wrestling techniques, I mixed in head-butting, hard-biting, elbows below the belt, eye-gouging, nut-grabbing, and anything else available. When you fought me, you were gonna get bit and have flesh torn off your body—preferably out of your face.
It was June of 1995 when I walked into the chow hall for the very first time. I looked around at all the people and I asked myself, “Alright motherfuckers, who’s first? Which one of you assholes am I going to have to make an example of?”
“Stone City…Life In The Penitentiary” by Steven Jennings