Prison rap: Attempt to shine from the inside, out

caines | 6/6/2013, 5:30 a.m.

If you are one of those kind of people who were lucky enough to build healthy relationships with other people in the past, then youre probably familiar with the good feeling of crossing paths with old friends again after years and years have gone by. Some of those happy long-time-no-see moments have probably even served as valuable lessons in life. One of my lessons began in a prison chow hall, a building where inmates go to eat and sometimes mingle whenever officers assigned to supervise feeding are not aggressively enforcing the no-talking in the chow hall rule. On this particular morning, the chow hall was already full of inmates enjoying their morning meal when I arrived through the door in line with other inmates from my dormitory. The slow, inch by inch movement of the chow hall line gave me an opportunity to keep up an old habit that I had developed over the years, which is carefully survey surroundings before receiving my tray through the food flap and finally sitting down at one of the four-seated tables in the dining area. From a distance, I spotted a new face at the institution, but one that closely resembled one of my homeboys who I did time with at UCI back in the days named Jermaine. At first, I scoffed at the possibility of this person being him because, after 16 long years have gone by, I saw no apparent signs of aging. Even still, the closer I got to where he was at, the more I began to realize that he was indeed my homeboy, Jermaine, from South Miami. Jermaine!, I blurted out impulsively. He looked up from his tray almost immediately, squinting his eyes in an effort to register my face. After he was able to finally realize who I was, we both rushed to the juice machine to give each other dap, exchanged quick its-good-to-see-you-agains, then promised to meet on the recreation yard to do some catching up. Later on that day, as we chatted leisurely by the dip bars, I couldnt help but to notice that his two front teeth were missing. But before I could ask him about it, he took it upon himself to explain that he lost them playing chain gang football, then asked if it was possible to receive dental plates at the institution. My answer was affirmative but I couldnt resist the urge to fire back a question about the psychological impact of living without them. With the cool demeanor that Ive always known him to have, he responded, Naw man, its only a minor flaw in my outward appearance. As long as there are no flaws in my character, Im straight. He didnt have to stay anymore. As I nodded my head slowly in agreement, the weight of his words sunk in. Instead of being overly concerned about how well we look on the outside, more emphasis should be put on how radiant we are on the inside. Besides, the exterior of a man is merely for the eyes of other men to behold, minuscule in comparison to his deeds, personality and moral fiber. And just as God does not like ugly, if a man says or does repulsive things before his fellow man, he could easily become someone who we all know but never want to see no matter how good looking he think he is. By Arthur Lee Hall, Jr.