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One night, I was approached by a smoker (crack user) who had only six dollars. He insisted that I sell to him, but I didn’t have anything. He became agitated and went to a guy who was waiting in a car. The guy handed him something rolled up inside of a pulled-off jacket. As the smoker re-approached me, I studied his hands to see what he was going to pull out. He never got the chance. Once he was within arm’s reach, I stabbed him with the full length of my pocket knife, and he collapsed. He didn’t know my real name, but he knew my gang name, and that was enough for police. Every officer from the San Diego Police Department’s Gang Detail Unit was familiar with Curt Dog. I was arrested a week later and charged with attempted murder. I was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. When the judge struck the gavel, my entire body went numb.

In 1993, I returned to prison a loner. The new generation had taken over, and it was a madhouse. I stayed clear of prison politics and stopped volunteering in racial conflicts. It was all a bunch of bullshit. I realized that I didn’t really have any racial issues. It wasn’t the Mexicans and whites that I disliked. I stayed clear of my own people, as well. It wasn’t about race. It was about ignorance. Ninety percent of inmates that are locked up for murder are there for killing one of their own. There are many Mexican, black, and white families in the community that have been victimized by the same ignorance that I was dealing with. Suddenly, when they get behind bars, they all want to show off their so-called “unity”? Crips or Bloods, Mexicans or Skinheads: they should all be here trying to better themselves. They should all pay for the senseless shit they did on the streets — to their own people — instead of taking it out on others.

All these things frustrated me, and after my first year, I refused to accept a cellmate. After being in isolation for so long, I couldn’t imagine having to share a small space for 15 years with another man. It made me paranoid. I couldn’t adjust. So I stopped trying altogether. I began a military workout regimen, and once I had gained all the muscle mass and stamina necessary to fight anyone, I took a stand: no more cellmates.

The prison administration refused to give in, sometimes sending me three to five cellmates a day. As soon as I got rid of one, they would send in another. It became an arena event to the prison guards. They made bets with one another as to how long the new guy would last in the cell with me. I was six feet, 225 pounds, and they were sending in fools who were six-five, 280 pounds.

Once, they sent in a founding member of the Los Angeles Bloods. Originally serving a five-year term for armed robbery, he was now doing life for killing an inmate at another prison. I tensed for battle. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one. However, after he realized what the guards were doing, he left on his own.

I spent a year standing guard at my cell door, after which the prison psychiatrist diagnosed me with anxiety disorder and officially documented me as a single-cell inmate. I went through hundreds of cellmates. Most of the encounters did not involve physical confrontations — it was mainly warnings and them being uncomfortable with my unwelcoming behavior that caused them to vacate. But if the message was not received well enough for them to exit on their own, it became personal.

I started to write about my past and associated with only a few inmates. One was a guy named Ghost, a former captain of the Consolidated Crips Organization. On the streets, he’d been a founding member of the Venice Shoreline Crips in Venice, California. We talked about how the prison structure had changed. We pitied the new generation.

I was a maximum-security inmate and served time in places like Salinas Valley, Tehachapi, and Lancaster Max. At Lancaster, I had only one regular associate, Michael “Harry O” Harris. He was a former drug kingpin and the original founder of Death Row Records. From prison, he signed over $1.5 million to his partner Suge Knight, to run the company. Harry O gave me lots of literature to read regarding the history of his record label, as well as other educational materials. We worked out together at least three days a week on the pull-up bars in the prison yard. He also reviewed my manuscripts, and I made changes based upon his advice. Although Michael Harris was “approachable,” he was discreet with his associations and spared little time for outsiders. Sometimes inmates would interrupt our workout to audition rap songs. It was hilarious. We were eventually separated when Harris transferred to San Quentin.


Between jail stints in 2003, the author worked a construction job at Lake Elsinore High School.

I received letters from family members, letters and pictures from my homeboys, Roc Miller and Bull, and even from long-lost ex-girlfriends. When I first got that time, I thought that it would never go by, but after the same day-in and day-out regimen, my release date finally came. In November of 2001, I was released after serving roughly ten years of my sentence with good-behavior credits. I did a lot better this time and held down jobs in construction. I even helped build Petco Park. I got a car, an apartment, and before you know it, I was off parole. I changed many bad habits and views of my past. I truly felt that I would never go back to jail again. However, this is when I learned the biggest lesson about giving up my past. Many people who get out of this life try to please both sides when transitioning. They please the law by not breaking it, and then they please their friends and homeboys with random visits or invitations. I learned about the risk of doing that.

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Comments

Hiyellared Nov. 7, 2012 @ 7:23 p.m.

Curtis is someone I knew of back in the day. As well as Kenny Davis and Alvin Smith "Capone", used to see them around the way and some of same people that he named.

Curtis although you been through the things (All on your accord/admittance) that you have. Glad to see that you have changed your life for the better, sometimes it takes some longer than others, but NO MATTER the length of time you did it/made it through.

Every day is a struggle, but without them you can't Move Forward. Keep your head up and keep pushing Forward.

Carolynn

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Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 7, 2012 @ 9:13 p.m.

Powerful and riveting story -- could be the Reader's best cover feature this year --

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jenjen Nov. 7, 2012 @ 10:42 p.m.

Should be required reading for high school kids. No glamor here.

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LosPlumasHombre Nov. 8, 2012 @ 9:39 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 8, 2012 @ 10:12 a.m.

Author has a story to tell, a good story, and tell it he did.

Should make this into a book, it would work.

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Elizabeth Salaam Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:36 p.m.

Wow, Curtis. What an amazing transformation. I'm inspired by your fortitude. I know it can't be easy out there. And your candid, self-reflective storytelling makes for a seriously compelling read. Nice work.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:57 p.m.

Excellent job, Curtis. Congratulations for taking control of your life and responsibility for your actions.

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maria52 Nov. 19, 2012 @ 11:13 a.m.

Curtis: glad you showed mainstream just exactly what phenomenol odds you were up against... and you made it! Wow! This story gripped me and did not let go...I even cried. I've seen many, many in your situation, and most don't make it. You told this story beautifully: sweet poingnancy coupled with pierciing reality. You should write a book. You've got talent up the ying-yang!

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curtis Nov. 30, 2012 @ 9 p.m.

Hi Maria, it's me Curtis! Glad you read the article with an open mind. I appreciate your review. I have in fact written four(4) books. I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 1, 2012 @ 3:57 p.m.

I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard

That's weird, I was thinking the exact same thing, expand the article into a book by adding in some more stories from the hood and/or the Joint. Great minds think alike.

I'll buy a copy too. As long as you don't jam me for more than a C-note.........

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MsSunshine Aug. 23, 2013 @ 10:59 a.m.

Hello Mr. Howard your story had me in tears to hear the struggle you went through to get to where you are today. I hope things has gotten even better for you. I have a 63 year old uncle who is going through similar situations out there in San Diego as your were in the beginning. I'm praying he surrenders and gives it all up. I am looking forward to reading the book. Blessing and Peace to You!

None

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