Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I am a 54-year-old Black male. As a child I was often the joke. I was a slow learner, and I could not read. I had ADHD, and I believe somewhere in my upbringing, I suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, led by the Four Ds (deviance, distress, dysfunction and danger) as referred to in the mental health field. After taking an abnormal psychology course and speaking with my psych Ms. S, I was able to change a lot of my ways.

I have repeated and obsessive thoughts about germs. People who believe in aliens believe they live in space. But I think the real aliens are too small for the human eye to see, and they come in the form of germs. I also believe there is a collective of people who enjoy spreading germs on purpose. This theory has proven to be true here at San Quentin State Prison.

The reason I realize I’ve been haunted by the Four Ds all my life goes back to when I was a child. I am the seventh of eight children. I have six sisters and one brother, who I was not close to at all. My mother became a devout Christian when I was about 7 years old, and my normal child upbringing had a drastic change. I was not allowed to do most of the things that kids my age did, and I became a joke among my peers who I used to play with.

I also refused to eat certain foods because I was obsessed with the perfect texture of food. The fact that my mother ruled with an iron first made my eating habit dangerous as well. I would not eat anything with skin or peels. I would not eat anything I perceived as fatty: oranges, peas, steak, polish sausage, pie or strawberry ice cream. It was something about the extra chewing that bothered me and still does today. Also, foods that were too soft such as mashed potatoes, oysters or liver were gross to me. I didn’t understand textures that needed extra chewing or no chewing at all. 

Everybody knew I would hide my food wherever I could — my pockets, my drink, my hands and my mouth were closely watched, so I hid food in flower pots, under rugs and behind dressers. I would even hide my food in the tank of the toilet because I was not allowed to flush the toilet until it was inspected.

My mother set a new rule in the house after she realized that I would rather be stabbed or shot before I ate corn. I would give in from time to time with some foods, but not even the iron fist of Jesus could get me to eat corn. Corn had the skin that popped open with a soft, snotty texture that made me throw up. They did not understand why I could eat popcorn but not corn, but I got along with crunchy pretty well.

At ages 14, 15 and 16, the Four Ds made me obsessed with being the man of the house. I was the protector. By this time, I was a member of the neighborhood tribe. I won a couple of surprising fights, and after that, the fellas began to come to my window and call out, “Church Boy, you walking to school with us?” I went from Church Boy and Black Jesus to Boss Ross. 

Unbeknownst to me, my mother planned a move out of the neighborhood and closer to the church. Unbeknown to her, she moved me right into a rival gang neighborhood. 

I did not find out we were moving until the day of the move. I was about 17 or 18 years old, and I had a job, and I had a car since I was 16 years old. I was back and forth with good and evil, and I was obsessed with protecting the family so much that my mother ordered my sisters to stop telling me when there was a problem. 

My deviant and dysfunctional paranoia became really dangerous because the distress of living in a rival gang neighborhood caused me to stay up all night in the back yard with a gun in my hand. I idolized Kung Fu, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. They did not start trouble, but they finished trouble, so I became violent and still thought I was the good guy.

I memorized every sound in the night, and I moved silently like a black cat. If the crackle of a leaf sounded odd, I would rush to find out why. I stood in the bushes and watched the guys sell drugs, argue and fight. I slept in the garage, and I learned how to lay in bed and listen to the night.

Drugs came into my life after my first daughter’s mother broke my heart, and my world turned upside down. 

Sometime around 2003, maybe I was about 37 years old by then, I sat in the Hole in Folsom State Prison because of a riot. I got really sick, and I contracted a stomach virus. I felt like I was poisoned. A new type of paranoia set in after that: OCD. I began to watch what I ate or drank. I still don’t trust other people’s food. 

Living in a closed cell with complete strangers is a prison norm. But for me, it is a daily nightmare. Especially after the first time that there is a disagreement or a misunderstanding, I feel a serious intense urge to wash my bowls, spoons and cups each time I enter the cell and before I use them. I cannot use open condiments, such as hot sauce, peanut butter and any other item that does not come in a single package.

When I have a cellmate, I keep my toothbrush and toothpaste with me, and I throw out lots of lotion, medication and nasal spray that I cannot monitor. I know for a fact that some sickos get off on putting their body fluids on other people’s stuff, and I put out three cellmates for those very reasons. My anxiety is easily triggered when it comes to germs and trying to change only makes my anxiety worse. 

Before COVID-19, I was accused of being crazy for always spraying and wiping things down, but now the whole world is on the same page as me. Who is crazy now?

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Alex Ross

Alex Ross is a writer and a Patton College student incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in California. He describes himself as an “11th grade dropout who could not read, spell or write very well.”