This is not a coming-of-age post, not exactly, but maybe, just maybe, in some neighborhoods, getting arrested and going to prison qualify as rites of passage. Perhaps they qualify because it’s all we have. I do remember the first time I legally purchased a pack of cigarettes, it was at a prison canteen in Belle Glades, Florida. And I remember the first time I shaved, it was in Orange County Jail. Those times were the closest I’d come to any form of initiation into adulthood. I bought some cigarettes, so, in the legal sense, yeah, I was an adult, but there’s the problem, I was only an adult in the legal sense, not in actuality, not in deeds, not realistically.
I never participated in an official ceremony designed to instill within me the notion that I was finally an adult. I never crossed a bridge that lead me to a place where I suddenly felt wiser and more mature. I did not experience that loosening of the reins, that explosion of conceptual freedom which says, “go and make your mark in this world.” What does that even mean? In the Bronx, phrases like that aren’t part of the normal instruction. The marks we left were on other people, usually physical, manifested as bruises and scars, and they were proof that we paid attention, learned our lessons. We majored in survival.