When I was a little girl, about six or so, the movie Roots was released. I sat on the white carpet in front of the television and my sister, brothers, mother and step-father were spread out in the living room—silence. That is until the scene where Kunta Kinte is whipped.
I remember my palms sweating and my heart racing and praying that he would not say, “My name is Toby.” When he finally caved in I must have yelped and my mother asked, “You woulda let ‘em kill you wouldn’t you?” I nodded yes, and she responded, “That’s cause you crazy.”
The first time I was beat and forced to call myself something other than my name I was 13. My mother was pissed off at my older brother because he fell down the stairs and broke the wooden banister. Instead of arguing and fussing at him she said, “I can’t have nothin’ nice. You and yo’ sista just retarded.” Now I had nothing to do with this situation. I was in my room reading. However, since she chose to insert me, I chose to speak up. My brother slipped out of the house right after I walked up to my mother and said, “Me ‘n my brotha ain’t retarded.” This is when I still remembered how to speak my first language.
I went on (because I’ve never known when to stop when lies are spoken instead of truth), “On our birf certificate it say healthy boy and girl.” I had no idea what was on the birth certificates. I just knew that I was considered an ATP (Academically Talented Person) and my brother…well he struggled, but he was not and is not intellectually challenged. My mother beat my head up against the wall, bloodied my lips and demanded far too long for me to, “Say. It. Say it. Say you retarded.” I had forgotten how to cry five years earlier as well as how to feel pain. But when I began to see double, and there was blood on her and the walls, I knew I was in trouble and I whimpered, “I’m retarded.”
My fellow inmates called me crazy. “Hey Cray-Cray.” “She smart as shit but that bitch is Crazy.” “Just call her Crazy.” “Hey Crazy. What’up? I need yo’ help wif some legal stuff.” Rumors flew around that I had gotten people 10 years off their sentences—which was not true, I think five was the most—but I was still, “Crazy” “Cray-Cray.”
Then there was a horrible lieutenant named Oakes. Even in his boots I stood taller than him and he despised me because I successfully had one of the Correctional Officers (CO) reprimanded for mistreating me. One day in the dining hall at Alderson Federal Prison Camp (FPC Alderson) there was a shit show with a fellow inmate and me. Precisely she was calling me a snitch and some other unsavory things because the staff did not understand that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) also is designed to protect women from women.
Lieutenant Oakes stepped up to me and pointed and yelled, “Neville!” Now this jackass knew my name and so I said, “It’s Nuevelle. Like new plus veil.” Then he stepped closer and I couldn’t hear because I go deaf when I am shamed and there is background noise. He was standing too close and so I couldn’t use my coping skill of reading lips. According to Oakes I yelled, “Please take five steps back.” I do not recall yelling. I remember not being able to hear and he was standing too damn close for me to read his lips and thus understand his “direct order”. I was written up, accused of disobeying a direct order and insubordination and interfering with the smooth running of the facility. I unraveled, not quite sure how, but the next thing I knew I was in a turtle suit on suicide watch.
This same Lieutenant came to the suicide watch room and yelled and kicked the door and demanded that I say my name was, “Inmate.” He screamed and pounded on the door in front of a CO, “Say it. Say your name is Inmate. You’re just an Inmate.” I stopped eating instead. Which gave me power over the entire staff. The kitchen officers and chief psychologist jumped through hoops to figure out what to feed me. It was empowering, but a bad coping skill. If you miss nine meals in a row, the Bureau of Prison (BOP) has a right to force feed you with a tube. I got to meal eight and demanded fried chicken and cinnamon rolls.
On Tuesday, I had to check in with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA) as this is the organization that is the “Probation Department” for DC citizens who were formerly incarcerated and on “Papers”. I am on the lowest level of supervision. I have to go to “mass” check-in once every three months and sign a paper that says I am in compliance. I do not always see my Community Supervising Officer (CSO aka Probation Officer), because this is a mass check-in and there are approximately seven or eight CSO’s and our names are called based upon when we sign in and we see the officer seated at the row of tables who calls our name.
When I show up to CSOSA everyone is kind to me, the security officers, the receptionist, the other CSOs and my CSO’s face breaks into a huge smile when she spots me in the sea of others. In fact it feels to me as if they go out of their way to make me feel less shame.
But there is this paper I have to complete at each check in and the first line reads, “Offender Name”. From the time I walk in the building until I leave I see signs directing “Offenders” this way and that way. And it is so easy to fix, simply, “Name” or signs that read, “If you are here for check-in this way” or, “If you need to see your CSO please check in here.”
I want you to say my name: Taylar Nuevelle. I chose it when I was 19 and my social worker had my birth certificate changed and the original one sealed, because I am a survivor and deserved to name myself.
My name is Taylar Nuevelle. I refuse to answer to or acknowledge any other title that anyone puts upon me.