225 | Cornrows for Christopher

May 20, 2012
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #225: Cornrows for Christopher


Dear Family,

Yo! What’s shakin’, my homies? I hope you dig my pics, showin’ you how I’ve changed in prison!  🙂  I figured that I’d better show you pictures of my recent hair transformation; otherwise, you may not fully understand the prison lifestyle and how I’ve adapted (or at least I’ve given you one more compelling reason to pray).

So, some of you long-time Dear Family Letter readers will recall that three years ago, while at Salinas Valley State Prison, I got permission from my building officers and the visitation officers to get a fake tattoo in order to shock my mom at visiting. First, I had a prison-script Mommy put on my neck. (The process is the same as when a pattern is applied for an actual tattoo: The desired design is drawn with heavy pen ink onto a piece of paper. You rub a lot of underarm deodorant on clean skin and then rub on the drawing, like an iron-on transfer. This creates a template for the tattoo artist to follow.)

Well, with my neck imprinted, I went to visit—but only my dad came to see me that week. He was sworn to secrecy, and I had an even better one made for the next weekend, for the visit with my mom: a big heart with Mommy through the middle of it. Well, she saw it and cried, moved that I’d put her name on me.

She was even more grateful to find out that it wasn’t real.  🙂

Three years later, I felt like I had to do something even more unexpected, in order to really shock her. I’m fairly particular about my hair always looking nice, so I figured that messing with my hair would make for a good Mother’s Day gift for my mom. Thus, I began the long process of growing my hair out, starting three months ago. I got expert opinions from my black friends, who assured me that (1) braiding my hair was possible, (2) it would take a while to grow it to the minimum length necessary, and (3) they thought the idea of me with braided “cornrows” on top was hilarious.

I had moderately long hair by the time my parents came to visit me last month. I’d had Phillip trim the sides short, so it didn’t look too bad, but everyone here began to comment when, as soon as my folks left, I began growing a beard. I don’t particularly like shaving without an electric razor (to me, personal hygiene shouldn’t have to include unnecessary bloodshed), but I do go clean-shaven at least twice every week. I’ve never before in my entire life, however, grown a beard.

Until now.

My sweet mother loves me very much. I have changed clothes, hairstyles, and the way I drive—just to make her happy. I knew that nothing could change her unwavering love and support for me, but I wondered if a beard and cornrows could at least make her wonder why she still loved me.

Day after day I endured the constant comments about my growing beard and slicked-back, 50s-style hair. And every day I had to look in the mirror and greatly dislike what I saw looking back at me—YUCK! I kept telling myself it would all be worth it to shatter my mom’s perception of how well I’m doing here. (“I’ve joined the Crips, Mommy …”)

The night before her visit, I got permission to go into an adjoining pod to get my hair braided. Oh. My. Gosh. I’m not a huge fan of having my hair pulled (we’ve all had some baby latch on and not let go, right?), much less having my hair pulled by a large black man with vise-grip fingers.

Sitting in a chair with my head tilted back, the involuntarily shed tears rolled down my face from both eye sockets and found their way to the floor. Four cornrows later, I wasn’t done. I finished off the new look with a specially designed haircut to highlight them.

It took a couple of hours to get everything right (or wrong, depending on your viewpoint) with my hair, but it was so worth it. I wore it to visit for two days, then let my mom take out the braids and spike it up. Not quite visible in the picture are the four individual spikes I carefully crafted using a bar of soap the next morning. No worries—I’ve gone back to simply combing it back now.

I liked the attention from the inmates, and the staff had great reactions too, from officers to counselors to a sergeant, with even a captain weighing in. My mom? Priceless. She eventually let me give her a hug, which was generous of her.

Now I just have to plan my next surprise. For the sake of her heart, I’ll wait another few years.


Christopher (aka “C-Dog”)