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Two hands extended, trading US postage stamps
Illustration by Teresa Tauchi

I already knew what D.K. wanted when I spotted him making his way over to my cell. Everybody watching him knew what he was coming to ask me. They were all probably thinking I was going to be his next victim. But I wasn’t going to let that happen.

After D.K. made his way past the inmates hanging out on the tier, he stopped at my door, just as I had predicted. I could not help but grin as we acknowledged each other. 

D.K. was a sight to see, as always, with his gray baseball cap turned to the back. To me, it indicated that he wanted to be seen as somebody cool, even if it meant standing out. But, hey, who am I to judge? 

A smile appeared on his face when he noticed me grinning. But it was quickly wiped away when I told him no, before he could even ask me a question.

“I can’t do it today, D.K.,” I said with a straight face, although I’m pretty sure he knew I was lying. 

He knew I had stamps, which are prison currency, because he had been watching me make my rounds when I came in from my kitchen job. If I was making rounds, that meant I had some food for sale. But that was my business, not his.

“Come on. Didn’t I pay you the last time?” D.K. pleaded.

D.K. was absolutely correct about paying me back. His credit was good with me, but the same could not be said for the multiple people to whom he was indebted. He had become famous for offering to pay back two flat books of stamps in exchange for one. If I had a penny for every time he used that line, I would be a few dollars richer.

But let’s rewind to how D.K. got to that point. 

When I first met D.K., he often tried to be too cool, instead of just being himself. As time went by, D.K. began running with the wrong crowd, which led to him developing an addiction he could not support. 

He not only started selling what few belongings he owned, but he constantly called home to beg his parents for money. It got so bad that his parents reached out to the administration to make sure their son was not being extorted.

In spite of knowing all that, I still played a role in his self-destructive behavior by lending him stamps because I had once been in his shoes. Or, maybe, I had just wanted to profit off of his misery. I may not have sold him the drugs myself, but that does not mean my hands are clean. I am just as guilty as the dope man. 

So, on that day in question, I took a stand and kept the stamps to myself. 

Eventually, this dilemma left my life. D.K. checked into protective custody out of fear that something would happen to him — at least that’s the word on the compound. 

He left our prison owing nearly everybody stamps, but I was glad to see him escape the environment that was bringing him down. I hope he can shake his habit and start over fresh at his next spot. And I wonder who should be blamed if he doesn’t succeed.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

B.W., who writes under a pseudonym, is a writer incarcerated in Kentucky.