Mixed Race Family | Dennis Cockerham

Mixed Family | Dennis Cockerham

Small town Nebraska raised, I was not taught to distinguish people by their race or color of their skin. I could not even tell you the general consensus on the topic. It simply did not come up.

But I remember when it did.

It was 1987. I had recently been released from my 1st term at the Youth Development Center located in Kearny, Nebraska. A second chance at my mother’s house. Or should I say, with my mother at her new boyfriend’s house.

His name was Dean. Dean had long hair and rode a chopper motorcycle. It was rumored that he had once been part of one biker club or another. Looking back, I don’t know if there was any truth to that. His chopper ended up being powered by a Honda, not a Harley Engine.

Since this time and through my own experiences, I have learned that this does not usually fall under the accepted protocol for most clubs. That being said, it may also explain the deeper push Dean had to fit what he thought was the values and the image of a “real” biker.

Everything was going well that summer.

We had a nice house, awesome stereo, and mom had a large pull behind camper. Most of all, I seemed to fit right in, that is until I met my best friend. His name was Corey. He was funny, he was cool, and he was black.

Corey had some stories, like where he was from and all of the things that he had done. The stories might even overlap one another or change completely from one day to the next. Nobody cared. He made us laugh.

Everywhere Corey went, so did I. We got the girls, hit the parties, and lived the life. Of course, it was a life not in accordance with the rules at home. I was sneaking out, not coming home, and I was stealing from Dean’s weed stash!

My friend Corey claimed to be part of a particular black gang. If you were to go through my mother’s photo albums, you would most definitely see me with Corey and a bunch of other white guys. All of us throwing up the gang signs that Corey had taught us. It was 1987. It was Norfolk, Nebraska.

At parties, we even had our own entrance music. We would show up, stop whatever was playing, and start the rap song ” Colors,” by Ice T. All of this just to let people know that we were on the scene.

If that does not do enough to show you just how close we were; One of us, allegedly, climbed the Norfolk Water Tower and spray painted the name of his/our gang on it, in bright red. That ended up on the front page of the local paper. They never did catch that guy.

Then one night it happened. On the corner of 1st and Main Street at the 7 Eleven. Dean caught up to me in the parking lot. Living up to my own image of a gangster, the police had been to the house questioning about some burglaries. Mom was worried and Dean was mad.

Everything changed in one moment.

Dean was yelling and threatening me. He was placing the blame on my friend Corey, but it was not Corey’s name that he used as he was shouting.

After the first racial slur came out of his mouth you could feel that the atmosphere had changed. Not just my friends had heard this, but others that just happened to be hanging at the spot. They were all now headed in our direction asking me if I was in need of assistance.

Dean was in trouble and he recognized this. He got in his car and he left. As for me, I never again returned to his home.

On May 4, 1991, I was arrested for 1st-degree robbery in DesMoines, Iowa. I took this case to trial to prove my innocence.

At the trial, the victim, Anthony Bozeman took the stand. Anthony told the jury that I had turned around with a small silver revolver and said, ” Give Me Your Fucking Money N*****!” Anthony was black. Anthony lied.

My whole family was at the trial. All of them believed that it was possible, that I just might have robbed somebody. Or that is, they believed it right up until Anthony claimed that I had said that word. My family knew something that Anthony and the Court would never know. Something that we could never prove. Those words would NEVER have come out of my mouth.

Regardless, I was found guilty of the lesser charge of 2nd-degree robbery and I was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The first stop for all inmates entering the Iowa Department Of Corrections, I.M.C.C.,( Iowa Medical & Classification Center,) Oakdale, Iowa. I was placed in a cell by myself on Unit ‘E’. It could not have been 20 minutes after my initial intake when my cell door suddenly opened. One officer stood there surrounded by six others. They were caring shields and fully dressed in riot gear.

Stunned, it took a while for my senses to recognize what he was saying and the message behind it. I had just been labeled by the system. The Sergeant doing the talking was black, as were all of the rest of the officers present. He was here to let me know that this was his prison. That racism and prejudice were not going to be tolerated. If I had a problem with that, we could handle it now.

Entering prison everything that you think identified you, is taken away; Your job title, your possessions, and even your families. Individuality is stripped.

In fear, confusion, and emptiness, we seek to fill that void as fast as we can.

The first thing found is race.

Black with blacks, whites with whites, and so on. This is found in the weight yard, chow hall, and living arraignments. Even televisions are controlled and divided by race. This is the prison experience, then and now.

In 1999 I was released from prison in Iowa. I was granted an Out Of State Parole. This basically means that the State Of South Dakota had agreed to supervise me for the remaining time that I was on parole. If I was to violate, I would be returned to Iowa.

I remember the first time that I saw her. I was sitting next door with her cousin, Jesse. She came over to chat with him briefly and then walked away. I looked at Jesse and said, ” I would like to get that on the back of my bike.”

Mixed Race Family | Dennis Cockerham

I ended up doing just that. In 2003 we were married. This year we will have been together for 21 years. We will be celebrating our 17th Wedding Anniversary.

My wife’s mother was white. My wife’s father had a heritage of Indian and Black. My wife was graced with her father’s complexion. She is beautiful. We share a family of 5 children.

In our family, we have had disagreements, fights, and even what I would call injustice done to each of us. This from within as much as from without. Each time we re-learn a valuable lesson in a new way.

Unity is never found in separation.

Today the world has found a new label that is currently accepted by the system. They call our family ‘Mixed.’

We simply call them loved. 

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Racism…In and Out of Prison | Noah Bergland

Love, Addiction, and Incarceration | Dennis Cockerham

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