Return to Shelton

Date01 May 2022
Published date01 May 2022
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(2) 188 –191
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096718
Return to Shelton
By Demetrius Morgan
with David Lovell
Being moved from place to place began when I was little. I was living with my Dad in
Seattle, and I give him credit for trying, but he didn’t know how to raise me. He didn’t
just whip me; he’d hit me anywhere, with anything. It was after one particularly brutal
beating that he told me, I’m sending you to live with your grandmother in Newark. I
wish he’d had the foresight to tell me he’d been laid off and couldn’t take care of me;
I thought he’d sent me away because I was bad. Everywhere around me in Newark was
poverty and violence, broken people imposing their brokenness on those around them:
a dead body in the alley, gunfire and cruiser lights flashing at night. Out in the court-
yard, as a light-skinned biracial kid in the early 80s, I learned I had to fight, as
Grandmother explained: this is Newark. She was old school, I got the belt, I got the
cord; but in her project apartment crowded with aunts and uncles, she would see me
looking lost and take me down the hall to talk in private about God, life, and family. I
missed her terribly when I had to leave. My Mom had found out where I was and made
my Dad send for me. After my return, on a scheduled visitation, my Mom was giving
me a bath and saw how badly my Dad had been beating me. She called CPS, and next
I was standing in a hospital room in my underpants, people taking pictures of bruises
and welts all over my body. I was placed in foster care and that’s how I first arrived at
Shelton, out on the Olympic Peninsula. This is the story of how I came back to Shelton,
fifteen years later, on a chain bus to the state prison there.
In the blink of an eye, I’d been transformed from the only white kid in Newark to
the only Black kid in Shelton. My foster Dad, Marco, and his friends were loving
people, and there were books everywhere, even in the bathroom. I called him Dad.
Marco praised me enthusiastically when I was able to remember all seven continents,
and there was something I liked about being made to drill on spelling after school,
even when I wanted to go out and play. Shelton offered endless trails for riding my
bike and hours of swimming and catching tadpoles. But outside the home circle, things
were different; kids teased and shoved me on the playground, but I also couldn’t be
sure which adults were safe for me, with my nappy hair. One day a teacher called me
an “African Native with a bone through your nose.” Marco went to the school and
confronted the teacher. Later, the teacher called me into his office and explained that
I’d been horsing around and not doing my work, so I was being lazy like an African
Native. At that time, I was befuddled; something didn’t seem right. Looking back,
1096718CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096718Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMorgan and Lovell

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