The Journey

The term “Up North,” which refers to the state prisons in New York, contains a cruel irony. Slaves seeking freedom would attempt to escape up north. The modern day journey northward takes a black man back to the times of slavery: you will be shackled with chains around hands, waist and feet; your name will be changed to TOBY (a number that lets the c.o.’s, correctional overseers, Track Owned Bodies Yield).

If you truly want an ancestor-like experience, commit a felony offense and take the journey Up North. Be forewarned: getting stuck in the back of the bus, seated by the stench of the port-a-potty, will be the least of your concerns; throughout the ride you will feel the crushing disappointment of being the descendant of a lineage that risked everything to make it up north. The spirit of Harriet Tubman will mourn. The North Star will weep.

The photo and quote that accompanies this blog post was randomly selected by WordPress. Does the ocean pictured have a transatlantic slave trade history? If we could dive beneath its waves and travel to the bottom, would we find skeletons littering the seabed floor? The most important part of the bus ride Up North is “the count,” keeping a precise tally of how many bodies are being transported to the plantation, I mean prison. We’ll never know the precise count of how many bodies of enslaved African never completed the journey overseas, how many jumped ship or were thrown to the sharks that had adjusted their travel patterns to follow the free food.

Izaak Walton’s quote about having “good company” on a journey is good and true, but bittersweet if you’re chained to your good company. And as long as you’re in the company of transport c.o.’s, who are on the clock and trying to pad their overtime, NOTHING will make the journey seem shorter. They will drag that shit out as long as possible; if they can creatively add several hours to the trip, that translates to additional money for new fishing rods and the latest 60-inch flat-screen TV.

So, for what has been written here, Mr. Walton’s quote doesn’t make good company. The better fit would be words from the Wu-Tang Clan song “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me),” the words of the rapper Inspectah Deck:

Going upstate’s my destination

Handcuffed in back of a bus, forty of us

Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton


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