FCI Fairton is a medium to high security prison in South Jersey – about 45 minutes northwest of Atlantic City, the East Coast gambling mecca. For real, the prisoners would like to take a little jaunt down south to try their luck but ain't nobody walking out the prison's front gates – until their release date, that is. And in the feds that might be 10 to 20 years away with the war on drugs, mandatory minimums, and the like.
But still that don't stop cats from betting. Dudes are going hard on sports on the pound. They going hard on the NBA. ESPN, Comcast TNT, ABC. They watching all the games and betting crazy chedder. And most prisoners are betting on Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers.
"AI never give. He got that diehard," says Catch-me-if-you-can, a B-More native and baller extraordinaire. And it don't matter if he's injured, Iverson still gets big props from America's prisoners. It's his determination and will that endears Iverson to the thugs that dominate the Bureau of Prisons.
Not only does he portray the gangsta image prisoners claim, but he backs his shit up by walking the walk and talking the talk. He ain't no studio gangsta like a lot of rappers. He's the real thing.
Polo, a convict from North Philly and best player on the pound at FCI Fairton says, "Shorty ain't backing down none, it's whatever with him, he got mad heart." And dudes respect that because in here you ain't got nada but your word and your balls. That Lexus, dime piece girlfriend, and bling-bling lifestyle are long gone. All you got is what's inside of you and that braveheart can help you survive inside the belly of the beast.
At FCI Fairton, dudes go hard on Philly games. But that is to be expected. Fairton is only an hour away from Philly and regional and geographical affiliations are strong. But Iverson transcends those regional and geographical barriers. Like they say, real recognizes real and Iverson personifies the street image and thuglife that many prisoners adhere to. The cornrows, the tattoos, the headbands and bandanas, the baggy sweatsuits, Timberlands and sneaks, the backward baseball caps – that's how a lot of these prisoners rocked it on the street.
"Iverson keeps it real," says Pelu, a boricua hailing from the Badlands section of Philly, an area notorious for crack dens and AK-47's blasting. "He represents us. Cats from the hood. He ain't no fake muthafucka. He straight ghetto."
There ain't nothing corporate about AI. He's pure street and the real thugs and gangstas on lockdown respect that. Mustafa, who's down with the infamous Jr. Black Mafia street gang from Philly says, "Iverson represents his people. He from the hood. He ain't gonna change it up just cuz he got the league. He true to the game."
Ain't no faking and fronting to AI. Shorty's real as real can get. Street certified, just like the outlaw's bible, Don Diva magazine. He's thugged out, ghetto fabulous and all that. And inside these walls, dudes recognize and relate to that. They share an identity with Iverson. And they don't see him as an NBA superstar, but as a peer, a brother that made good, came up and got his.
"AI holds his own," says Wild Bill. "He even got a tattoo that say that shit. Plus he was in jail and he prevailed. He came up from the gutter like Tupac, you know."
And to dudes in here that counts for a lot. Iverson came to the league on his terms and didn't betray any of his principles or ideals. He lives by the same street code that cats in the game of thuglife live by. So dudes in here relate to him. The drama, the life, lockdown – it ain't all rap videos, it's real. Especially if you got that 20-year mandatory minimum drug sentence for crack conspiracy.
All of that is good but for real if AI didn't have mad skills and wicked ability we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Iverson is the epitome of a streetballer. He went from the playgrounds to the NBA on his terms and succeeded. He didn't change his game up or adapt, he made the league adjust to him. Like the Abuser, a prison basketball legend says, "Skip to My Lou and Hot Sauce don't got shit on AI."
Iverson is a superstar, MVP, scoring leader, and Olympian. But his style resembles the game played on the streets and playgrounds nationwide. He's got the crossover, the between-the-legs, and behind-the-back handle of the ABA greats and Rucker park legends. Like Charles Barkley said, AI is the best playground-style player in the NBA.
Plus he's a little dude also. He ain't no giant man-child like Shaq or long and sublime like MJ and Kobe, and he doesn't possess the shooting touch of a Bird or Peja. And as a 6-foot, 165-pound guy, he resembles a lot of dudes in here. Iverson is someone normal people can look in the eye. He could be just another brother balling around your way on the blacktop. Prisoners recognize this fact and identify with it. They claim Iverson as their own. And see him as one of them, a verified member of the thuglife clique.
Like my man Joe Black says, "Shorty vicious, he a soldier. He came up, got his and even after all that he still keeps it real."
Scotty, another boricua from Philly with a life sentence, sums it up.
"This kid came from the streets," he says. "A straight thug, you know. And now he's representing. Making millions off his ability. And he plays for my mob, the Sixers, you know. He scores, he plays hurt, he goes hard, he plays to win, carries it like dudes from the hood, and he's got the And1 moves. I love this guy. I mean, what's not to love?"
Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003
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