Very Much Like a Death

A life-shatteringly long prison bid is very much like a death: Something terrible happens and suddenly someone's not around and everyone struggles to know what to say. But in letters from prison Forté has refused to cry. In late September he wrote, "I was shown love from the moment I walked in here, Exeter's 'art of diplomacy' course did me well. Hah! . . . One good thing about Houston is the weather has been decent—from what I can tell. But I am in need of some outdoor time. This detention center is just that—a holding facility where we are detained until we can get to the 'joint.' It's small and repetitious. I am told it gets better than this. Shit, it has to."

In late October he wrote, "All is well in exile. . . . We are treated like junior high school science projects—open the cage, and the mouse awakens. Turn off the lights, and the mouse grows weary. Scream about 'chow' and the mouse comes running. . . . My 'cellie' is a real good guy. He's recently found Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. . . . He's trying to get medical treatment for his snoring, but until then I deal with the earth-shattering noise. I've never had a problem sleeping through din. But reading and writing become increasingly difficult when someone snores so loud and awkward it gives you the chills; like when the kids in elementary school would run their nails on the chalkboard! Eeek!! . . . I've met some brilliant minds behind these walls. . . . The best thing I can do now is prepare myself for the long haul. I cannot allow myself to think about the likelihood and chances of coming home on appeal."

Just before Thanksgiving, Forté was sentenced to 14 years. Federal guidelines mandate he serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. He won't drink champagne before 2013.

It would be easier if he was a bad person who'd done numerous crimes, a menace who deserved a long bid. Or someone who had little to offer society. But to think of an artist with something to offer, to think of a boy from the ghetto who made it to the most prestigious prep school in America and then came back to hiphop to share what he'd gleaned, to think of a man who dug his own grave, that is to think of a cry for which there aren't enough tears.

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