the BLOG of stuart mcdonald


The King Outside His Kingdom
August 30, 2009, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Stories | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m normally not a narrative, fiction based writer. I actually find that it can be difficult sometimes. Since I started school, we had to write a paper for my English 1101 class based on the idea that we were having coffee with a rock star. Well, I’ve always wanted to sit down with this particular gentleman for a while, so I jumped at the “opportunity.” Enjoy the story.

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T.I. after a 2003 arrest
T.I. after a 2003 arrest

It felt like my mind was spinning just as fast as the engine in my rental car as I sped down Interstate 40 about 20 miles outside of Memphis, Tennessee, on my way to meet with a man that no one, outside of his family had spoken to in nearly eight months. I personally wanted to know how this time away had affected him, but did others? What should I say? Would anything be off limits? What can I learn from him? Would he give good answers? Would I ask good questions? Should I just focus on having a good conversation instead of giving him some automated survey type of interview? I had not a clue.

Veering off on exit 241, I headed south on US 1 through the small Arkansas town of Forrest City. My heart began to beat faster. A left. Then a right, and I saw the Forrest City Federal Correctional Complex appear on the horizon, off my driver’s side. The last left turn down Dale Bumpers Drive and the one mile that lead into the FCC felt like it lasted the majority of the 30 minute drive.

As I walked into the sterile, white room where inmates had the chance to, for a brief moment, connect with their family and friends, I felt a serenity I wish had accompanied me sooner. This was an interview that most journalists would have given an appendage for, and somehow, I was asked to do it. I kept reminding myself that he was a man, just like me, who puts on his pants one leg at a time. Or perhaps he somehow jumped with both feet at the same time.

Clifford Harris Jr, better known to many as the raper, producer, actor, and entrepreneur T.I., stood at five feet, nine inches, but carried himself like he was at least a foot taller. The two-time Grammy Award winning artist was wearing the standard, government issued orange jumpsuit as he strolled through the door. I was glad to see he wasn’t in shackles; he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. He is, after all, a king of sorts, isn’t he? Maybe not in traditional the sense of a monarch, but his self-given title, “King of South” seemed to hold true every time I’d seen him. Except for this one. It was humbling to see a man with this much money and reputation to blend in, as much as he could, with the thousands of other prisoners.

The king was outside his kingdom, away from his home, and you could tell. It was, not surprisingly, intimidating to be sized up by someone 6 inches shorter than myself. Yet what he lacked in physical height, he more than made up for in confidence, character, charisma, and that all too often overused word: swag. He definitely had it. And it was no secret he knew how to use all of it to get what he wanted. Not wanting to mince words or waste his time, because I figured he could do that himself, I asked what would probably be the most stereotypical interview question for someone currently incarcerated.

“What do you miss the most?”

The corners of his mouth rose slightly as he thought about them. “No doubt, man, it’s my family,” he replied. “I miss my lil girls, my boys, my finance. Bruh, they’re the most important people in my life. I would die for them in a without question. Knowing they’re not available right now is hard. I can’t think of the last day that went by and I didn’t think about them. It’s hard, man.”

“Do you think they’ll have changed since the last time you saw them?”

“I know they will. That’s the thing about kids: they’re always changing, growing developing, and turning into little versions of you every day,” T.I. continued. “I know they’ll have changed, but there’s no doubt I’ll still recognize them. They’re your kids, your blood. How could you not, you know?”

Not having kids, I didn’t know quite what he was talking about, but I could imagine. I wanted to know more, “How has your time away from your family changed you, personally?”

He pondered his response for a minute before speaking.

“I don’t think I would have had such a great appreciation and love for them without this time away. They always say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? That’s become real real to me lately. You have to love your kids, your family, your friends, each day you see them because it could be their, or your, last. I’ve lost enough folk close to me to know that. It’s not that you want to think about death all the time, but you know life is short. You have to know where you stand with those who love you and make sure they know the same. Don’t take it for granted that you think you have tomorrow. You might not. They might not. That’s real talk.”

Indeed it was. And at the heart of it all, he was a family man. He wasn’t a thug or hoodlum that most would portray him to be. While he hadn’t lost sight of the culture he had grown up in, in the Bankhead area of Atlanta, you could tell he had grown into a loving and caring father. That was something that most in his old neighborhood would never know. But he had never been one to follow the crowds. He was setting an example in the best way he knew how; by being one.

“It’s hard, to be here, locked up, away from the world, but, you know, I have to accept the choices I made and take responsibility for the consequences behind them. It ain’t easy, but it’s part of being a man, you know? Taking responsibility for your actions. I don’t think folks should take the things that I’ve gone through, the negative parts of my life, and admire me for that. If anything, they should look up to me for how I’ve accepted responsibility for the part I played in placing myself in these situations, and what I’ve done to recover from it.”

“Have you been praying more during your time here?”

“Honestly, man, no, I haven’t. I’ve always known that God was watching out for me so why would I want to pray more now that things are going ‘wrong’? God is still God even when things in our lives aren’t going like we expected.”

Unexpected wisdom.

I couldn’t have picked his brain for hours. While I wanted to ask him so much more, I only had time for only one more question. Being a food lover, and knowing the food in this place surely wasn’t the quality and taste he was used to, I asked, “What’s the meal you’re most looking forward to when you get out?”

With little hesitation, he said, “I hate to fall into a stereotype, but I want some good fried chicken, man. With the skin that’s super crispy, but not too hard, then the inside is juicy. Yeah man. I’d definitely get some Roscoe’s chicken and waffles too. And I need some good biscuits and gravy too, just like my grandma used to make ‘em. You know the kind that just melt in your mouth?”

“Like M&M’s?” I joked.

He chuckled.

“Just like that. Nothing better than sharing a good meal with folk you love.”

I couldn’t agree more.

As we finished and dapped each other, I told him I’d be praying for him. He looked a bit surprised. Not that he didn’t think folks were praying for him, but I don’t think he expected it from me. I saw his eyes, though, and I could see the unspoken gratitude in them as he turned.

“‘Preciate it bruh. Be easy,” he said, as he walked away, back into the crowd, the sea of prisoners, to blend in, as much as he did, for a few more months. Then the king could return to what he cherished most: his kingdom, his kids and his soon-to-be queen. And his fried chicken.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

God forbid you are ever in an accident and become disfigured. I pray your “attractive” saved woman still can stand to look at you when she wakes up.
Peace

Comment by fawn

That was a really good paper. Hope you received an A on it. The descriptions and everything were on point.

Comment by Cali




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