Something To Live For

By: Ryan Williams French

Based on True Events

Dedicated to Jaylani Lewis

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Something To Live ForRyan Williams French
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Dear Jaylani,

 

I wanted to thank you for giving me something to live for. Yes young man I’m talking about you. I don’t know if you remember this, but one day during after school we all gathered around the lunch tables as usual for roll call. And because you have this honorable gifting of discernment you noticed that Mr. Ryan wasn’t at his best. You could sense that there something was wrong with my spirit. You being the smart and precocious student you are, made an attempt to cheer me up. “Mr. Ryan, don’t look like that man, you’re strong.”  We laughed and then you and some of your classmates dared me to flex my biceps in front of everyone. I did. I guess you guys wanted Mr. Ryan to remember that he is strong. As silly as it sounds, the memory of that moment is what gave me the strength to hold on little bit longer. Thank you for seeing Mr. Ryan as a man, in a place that all too often likes to remind us black men that we are really boys.

 

Red light Blue Light Red Light Blue

 

I completed a five-mile run at Griffith park.

Drenched in sweat, cold. Desiring more than anything to eat.

I decided to make a stop at Von’s for some grocery’s and as your friend Wally knows, Mr. Ryan likes his flowers, so yes I bought flowers, I loaded my car thinking I’d be home within minutes. I lived less than a mile away. I began driving. About four blocks away from my house I heard the familiar blare of the police siren.

 

Red light Blue Light Red Light Blue

 

It was cop car  

 

Fuck

I already suffer from trauma when it comes to cops

When I was 19, I returned home from college for spring break.

I reunited with a close group of friends from high school,

and we decided to spend a day at the beach.

We were pulled over by cops for no reason other than being black and brown.

We all knew that we were being racially profiled.

However, I’m not one to bite my tongue when I sense something is clearly wrong.

My outspoken temperament resulted in me being placed in handcuffs and locked in the back of a police car.

The thirty minutes I spent in that car were the scariest thirty minutes of my life.

 

After the cops searched my friend’s car they let us go.

Much to their disappointment, there was no incriminating evidence.

 

The memory of that day never left me.

It’s one of the many reasons I’m so careful around people when I first meet them.

 

Anyway, here I was again the same situation

only this time I was alone. My heart was pounding. My mind was racing.

Red light Blue Light Red Light Blue

 

A young White Hispanic officer approached my car and tapped his fingers on my window.

 

Officer Cortez: Excuse me sir, are you aware of the fact that you are driving 42 miles per an hour on a 35 miles per an hour road?

 

“No officer I was not aware. It’s dark outside so I had difficulty reading the speed limit”

 

Officer Cortez: Your registration is also expired”

 

Shit….

he’s right, my registration did expire last week.

 

“Sorry officer, that was an oversight. I’ve been working a lot of hours at my job and the thought renewing my registration slipped my mind. I promise it was not intentional. If you have to give me a ticket, I understand.”

 

In one ear and out the other

 

The officer was now scrutinizing my Driver’s License.

 

Officer Cortez: What are you doing in this area?

 

“I was grocery shopping and now I am on my way home. I live less than four blocks away.”

 

Officer Cortez: Oh yeah, what’s your address?”

 

I told him my address

 

Officer Cortez: That’s not what’s listed on your license.

 

“I moved here five months ago and it’s not uncommon for people to have a different address on their license.”

 

Officer Cortez: Excuse me are you getting testy with me?

 

“No, I’m not getting testy, you asked me a question and now…”

 

Officer Cortez: Hey watch your tone when you’re talking to me. You drunk?

 

He flashed his flashlight close to my face. Paged his walkie talkie.

 

This lying muthafucka

 

Officer Cortez: This is officer Cortez. We have a possible DUI suspect; he was driving above the speed limit. Registration is expired. His eyes are slightly red and  elevated heart rate.

 

“What?! I just finished a five-mile run at Griffith park. So yes, I’m sweaty. I was running outside, and I have allergies.”

 

I couldn’t believe this shit. It made no sense.

Funny thing is,

had this occurred a couple of years ago

there were plenty of times they could have caught me red handed

I was a recovering alcoholic.

But what made this instance so fucking bizarre is that I was completely sober.

In fact, for the first time in as long as I could remember I had gotten myself together.

I had a great job that I loved. My own apartment. A healthy mindset. On average I went to Griffith park 5 days a week and ran 6 miles.

 

Red light Blue Light Red Light Blue

 

In a desperate attempt to prove my case I pulled out my phone and showed the officer the app

that I use whenever I go running. It’s called Run Tracker.

It’s really cool, because it actually tracks the distance you run on a map in real time.

 

In one ear and out the other.

 

Officer Cortez: Unh huh. What’s your medical history?

 

“Excuse me, what does my medical history have to do with going a few miles above the speed limit?”

 

Officer Cortez: Answer the question!

 

"I work in healthcare as a recruiter, and I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my medical history to a cop who is clearly profiling me”

 

Officer Cortez: “No you don’t”

 

I pulled out my business card.

 

No use.

 

Three more cop cars arrived at the scene.

 

Officer Cortez: Would you happen to be taking any medication that would cause you to go above the speed limit?

 

“As I stated the first time, I just got finished doing a five mile run at Griffith park.

And I live less than four blocks away from here”

 

I failed the good citizen test.

 

From then on, the officer was determined to throw my black ass in jail.

 

An additional police car and van arrived at the scene making a total of six vehicles.

 

Fully convinced that these were possibly my final moments

I FaceTimed my younger brother who is currently a third year student at U.C. Merced.

He could see the flashing of lights. I tell him that I have no idea what the hell was going on.

I beg him to remain on the phone in case the officers tried to do anything stupid.

He was worried. He added my mother and stepfather to the call.

 

Blue light Red Light Blue Light Red

 

By this point I was standing outside surrounded by a gang of cops. The officer who stopped me was shouting indecipherable instructions at me. There was so much going on. Flashing of lights, Crowds watching from afar. Guns that were clutched. Yes my heart was pounding. Yes I was sweating.

 

Jaylani, it’s difficult for Mr. Ryan to describe to you in words how this type of an encounter can make a man feel. Remember that time I allowed you to come to my class during homework period so you could study with your friends? But y’all was actin up, making a bunch of noise and filming videos instead of doing your homework? Remember that? And then I yelled at y’all. And you guys were laughing at me.

 

Students: “Mr. Ryan, stop being so serious. We study all day. Can’t we just have some fun?”

 

Yes, I guess I was serious. But for a reason. It’s funny now but what did I tell you guys? I told you all for us there is always a time and place for fun. Unfortunately, we live in a Country that has different expectations for boys and men and who look like us.

 

In many ways, I felt like a little boy.

Like a frightened, isolated little boy.

Even though I was intelligent and well-traveled.

Even though I’ve visited schools to teach young children,

even though I was working a full-time job in a medical company in the middle of a fucking pandemic. These officers wanted to remind me that in this country, I was a boy.

It was emasculating. Humiliating, oh so public and right by where I live.

I was riding on a tidal wave of emotions, everything from fear, to rage, to shame, and disgust.

I’ve never felt so small in my life. Never felt so degraded.

 

As all of this is happening, my car is being turned inside out. A police dog is sniffing my car. The officers are displeased to only find groceries and a bouquet of flowers.

 

Red light Blue Light Red Light Blue

 

Officer Cortez: Even though we didn’t find anything in your car may be under the influence of marijuana or some type of stimulant. So we’re taking you back to the station to stay overnight. It’s your choice whether or not you want to give us a blood test.

 

“But you guys didn’t do a breathalyzer”

 

Officer Cortez: Hey don’t tell us how to do our job. You’ll do the breathalyzer at the station.

 

My wrists were locked in handcuffs. I was thrown in the back of a police van.

 

Drifting in Space

 

When you’re caged behind a cell

You start thinking about silly things

You start thinking about the absence of time.

you realize that there is power in time.

Time can be a roadmap for freedom.

How you decide to use your time in and of itself is a form of freedom,

even if you decide to waste it. But when there is no clock you don’t have the luxury of wasting time.

Without a clock or sense of the hour a mind is a vessel of thoughts drifting aimlessly in an expansive universe. Reality is confined to a 6x8 foot room behind bars.

3 minutes feel like an hour and an hour feels like 15 minutes.

 

If you’ve never been arrested before it’s all to easy to imagine yourself longing for freedom

But imagined circumstances are usually more romantic than reality

In reality more than anything

I desired to hold someone.

When you’re caught in the net of a bizarre circumstance you long for intimacy

And behind those bars the only thing that seemed normal was the embrace of another person.

But there was no one else there.

You want to scream

But you don’t

You want to make love to somebody

But you cant

You want a…

No

I

I want

I Wanted

 

I wanted to bash my head against the bars hard enough to make my brains implode forcing racist pigs to get on their knees and clean up the bloody mess they made scrubbing the ground of the pulpy detritus meanwhile my beautiful bodacious bold black dreams would begin dancing, dancing, dancing up to the atmosphere clinging on to melodious gospel phrases pleasing enough to persuade these men that yes I was indeed innocent. I WANTED I wanted like the woman who bled for twelve years to push my way through the crowd as everyone looked at me in pity and called me names behind my back just so I could touch the hem of Jesus’s garment. I WANTED, I wanted to build a spaceship that could fly 10 thousand times faster than the speed of light so I could get to the center of the Bootes Void and scream at the top of my lungs until I lost my voice so the remainder of my life would be a walking silent protest. I Wanted… I wanted to drive a caravan filled with gorgeous beautiful luscious white roses, I would embark on the great American road trip visiting the doorstep of every black mother who lost her baby to a bullet and just stand there. I’d gift her roses and we’d sit in her kitchen quietly observing one another.

 

 

Yes This Nigga is Present.

 

No words, phrases, or gestures can quell the pain of a grieving mother. I wanted to know why you are not here Jaylani. You were smart, gifted, charming, and wise, we all knew you going to be somebody, and you were going to go somewhere. I wanted to be strong because I remember that day after school my mind was not in the right place and I was not feeling too well and you looked at me and you said "come on Mr. Ryan don’t look like that man be strong." I’m ashamed to say that there were many days this year that I was not strong. Some nights Mr. Ryan didn’t think he’d be awake the next morning. And during those dark nights, while my mind was drifting to those desolate dark places, I could hear your voice far off in the universe echoing "be strong."

 

I wanted to thank you young man for giving me something to live for.