Prison Life | Dennis Cockerham

prison life, inmates having fun and taking pictures while incarcerated, glamour head shot | Dennis Cockerham | Resilience2Reform

Having been previously convicted of a Felony sometime, anytime, in my past it was now illegal for me to own or be within proximity of a gun.

On January 24, 2005, a jury of what was said to be my peers, (although I do not ever remember seeing any of them in any of the trailer parks I lived,) concluded that I had done just that.

Therefore, I was sentenced to 70 months to be served in the custody of The Federal Bureau of Prisons, and designated to the Medium Security Federal Correctional Institution located in Pekin, Illinois.

All of that, led to this very moment. I was scared but not allowed to show it. Matter of fact, it was quite the opposite. All the white guys in my Housing Unit, Indiana 1, were counting on me and looking to me for direction. But only 5 out of the 40 living here were out on the tier ready to back up my play.

My play. Although it was my involvement that had gotten us to this very moment, none of this originally had anything to do with me.

It was the very first season of UFC’s Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV with Stephen Bonner and Forest Griffin.

I was not normally found watching TV. There were four televisions in what was called our Day Area. One was always on the sports channel in order to keep the gambling operations live and current with the rest of the world. The other 3 were divided by race.

The TV’s were the most controversial spot in the prison. It seemed as if 80% of all fights started right there. All of them over what was going to be watched next. The other 20% was in the weight yard. One crew or another defending their disillusioned ownership of a time slot or a particular weight. I pretty much stayed away from each, but this night was different. This night related closely to the image that I had managed to create here at the prison.

The Ultimate Fighting Championships
The original introduction of mixed martial arts.., Hoyce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan ‘The Beast” Sevren, and The Hunnington Beach Bad Boy Tito Ortiz.

The organization had been purchased and completely restructured by the Zuffa Brothers from Las Vegas, Nevada. They had created a reality show based series and it was being shown on basic cable all around the world.

I was here and ready to fight. To defend this program, this time slot, and the image I had created in resemblance to it.

I was the mixed martial artist on the compound. I trained every morning in my cell at 9 a.m. In the beginning, passing inmates would make sarcastic comments:

“He is in there play fighting again.”
“He thinks he knows that shit.”
“I oughta go in there and show him.”

Most of this ended as I would come out of the cell and invite them in, “I can’t play fight,” one of them said, “I fuck around and get mad!” To which I politely replied, “Nobody in here is scared of your anger.”
That ended most of it. Although I did end up having some challengers, inmates that came over with their crew in order to call my bluff. That, we will save for another time.

For now, I believe that I have well enough described my image and the reasoning behind the fact that I was always going to be out of my cell, in the TV Area, on this day and time every week.

And this is where I was when my cellmate John came running down to me. His face was flush and he was out of breath. I could tell that he was scared. John explained to me that he had just been jumped in our cell by the Vice Lords. The Vice Lords were a large dominant black gang, and we had a lot of them on our unit.

A group of them had waited for me to leave then went in and pulled him down from the top bunk. They had accused him of stealing $1000.00 worth of hidden tobacco from them. The beat down was for general purposes, with the impeding threat of worse should he not pay them back the money value of their loss.

Now everybody on the whole compound knew that John did not steal, nor did he need too. John was the money man. He was Italian, ran with the ‘old crew,’ and had that ‘old money.’ The problem was that the gang considered John an easy mark. The rumor was that before I reached this facility, this same type of thing happened and John had paid.

So, when the Vice Lord Soldiers had used up all the heroin that they were supposed to sell, they seen John as the solution to their financial issues.

I ended up being the wild card. The crazy white boy that trains every day and just might be tough. Collectively, of course, they knew that they could win, but there was enough question about me to make them wonder…,if somebody or some bodies were to come in at me too…who would it be? The chances of actual injury becoming much more real.

This fact coming to life as I immediately went up to my cell, took my acoustic guitar, which I had on loan from the music program here, and smashed it up against the wall. In doing so, I pulled a steel rod over 12 inches long out of the neck of the guitar, and I headed out on the tier.

I need to explain something to you. It was NOT ‘Our Cell.’ It was NOT ‘John’s Cell.’ I had been in the cell first, I had the bottom bunk, and I allowed John to move in. IT WAS MY CELL !

And being my cell, prison code states that ANYTHING that happens, gets sold, or goes down in MY CELL…It goes through me first. This code had been violated, and if I just let it happen, I would be viewed in the same category as John. I was not going to let that happen.

Almost immediately I was met by 5 members of the gang. They asked if they could chat with me for a moment.

I walked into my cell with the steel rod in my hand and invited them in. Two entered. One sat down in my chair and the other stood closer to the doorway. The last 3 remained on the tier, a visual threat to the other inmates, and a look out for the guards. They didn’t want me involved, it had nothing to do with me, and they meant me no disrespect.

I stood my ground. I did not want to have ‘beef’ with them, and I could not win this battle, but I had to continue to live right here for the next 2 years. So, I figured, win, lose, or draw…I had to take the fight to them.

“My Cell !” “My House…Not Allowed, Or we could just get started Right Now !”

I was aware, I told them that I was going to get hurt, but it was not going to happen without some of them going with me. Showing a courage that I did not feel, I asked them to decide which ones were coming in first.

The decision was made. They still wanted John and I could not defend or disprove anything that they were saying. John would have to make his stand—or pay, but it none of it would happen in ‘My House.’

So here I am, the doorman to the mop closet. John and their soldier had entered. It was my job to keep everybody else out and from interfering, as long as I could.

It all happened so fast, but I dare not turn my head. As soon as I heard the action start, the ‘brotha’ standing in front of me made the motion to move in. Fight or flight focused, my left hand gently touches his chest, as my right hand reveals the steel rod from the guitar. I had spent a lot of time sharpening my weapon into a dangerous point.

In a voice I meant to be commanding and masculine, but came out soft as a whisper, I looked him in the eye and said, ” One on one brother, one on one.”

Next thing I know, I am getting soaked with water and the crowd outside the doorway is dispersing. Guards are running our way. Quickly I spin around. There was John holding their guy on the ground with one hand and hitting him with the other. Apparently, during the struggle the faucet had been broken off the wall and water was spraying everywhere. It all looked like the final fight scene from the movie Lethal Weapon.

There were differences, that is for sure. This was a mop closet not a front yard and this was a water faucet not a fire hydrant.

But most of all…THIS WAS NOT A MOVIE ! This just did happen and it happened for real. I had survived and I don’t exactly know how…for now, another day of



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