New Jersey is the Garden State. Second cousin to the more famous New York and stepbrother to the blue collar Philly. Sandwiched between these two, NJ boasts its own highlights. Brick City, home to the infamous hustler Akbar Pray, who's doing a life bid in the feds. Father-son NBA duo Milt and Dajuan Wagner also call NJ home – as do the Nets, who were the original ABA team that featured Dr. J, the MJ before MJ. Now they got the king of assists and world's best point guard – Jason Kidd, that is – holding court.
And NJ also has Stephine Stokes. Age 23 and known as Stephon, he's in West Virginia doing 102 months on a gun and crack charge. This kid, straight outta Camden and hailing from Polock, is not in the Garden State anymore. But he represents for Nedmac on the pound and on the basketball court. He got skills for real. In the NBA, they got Shawn "The Matrix" Marion. Here at FCI Gilmer, we got our own version of the Matrix. And he provides a thrill a minute on the court. Be it a slam dunk, a pronounced rejection or some mean board work. The kid can play.
"I consider myself a beast," Steph says. "I can pretty much do it all. I am an animal on the boards, offensive and defensive. I can score inside and out. Dunk, block shots and play D."
The kid ain't fronting. He is widely considered the best all-around player on the pound. He doesn't have the wicked handle or the rainbow three. Still he can do it all. He'll fill up the stat sheet quick. Double-doubles
"I've played three seasons here and got two championships," says Steph.
Dudes on the compound think he got mad game.
"A lot of people that can go with me say that I'm a beast. In their words, the Matrix. That says enough."
Although he's only 6-foot-2, he plays like he's 6-foot-6. A natural small forward. He's at his best on the break and like he says, "I got hops. Put the rock anywhere near the rim and I'ma go get it."
Steph is a straight highlight reel. In the last Winter league, he dunked the ball so hard and with such force that he took the wind out of the other team's sails by himself. With that one exclamation point on top of his team's already pronounced run, the opponent team just hung their heads and conceded defeat. This was in the championship game no less. He won MVP honors.
Steph played on the street too.
"Balling in leagues on the street are way different. I played in a lot of summer leagues. In Philly and in different parts of New Jersey. I've played alongside and against Dajuan Wagner and his pops Milt Wagner."
Then he talks about a SportsCenter moment he had in a Camden summer-league game.
"I was running the break off a steal and I saw dude under the basket. So I did a 360 and dunked on him. Everybody went crazy."
It was just a game, but basketball means more than a game to Steph.
"Basketball is about letting the opposing team know that you are the one. And whoever they put in front of you, you gonna give him the blues," he says. "Your game gets put on a higher level when you dawg what people call the best on the pound on offense and shut him down on D."
And prison ball is no joke. Things get hectic under the boards and dudes are laying wood. But Steph and his 200-pound chiseled frame can take the beating.
"Cats get in their feelings," he explains. "Mainly because they can't take a hard foul but they can give them out. Basketball's a physical sport, I just play through it."
For real, Steph plays tough. No surprise he's a true chairman of the boards.
"I'm a helluva offensive rebounder," he says. "I love the putbacks."
He might jam that rock in with an earth shattering slam. Can you say vicious? Brutal even? FCI Gilmer's Matrix is like that
"I had dreams of going to the league," he tells me. "But just like most prison ballers, the streets got in the way. I got caught in the vicious cycle and couldn't get out. Three-fourths of my life was spent in jail and hustling. I had no one to take me under his wing and motivate me. So all my time went to surviving in the streets of Nedmac."
And like all hustlers, he went from the streets to the penitentiary.
Another tale of lost lives and wasted potential. But still Steph makes the best of it. He balls, he does his time, and he puts on a show for his fellow prisoners with wicked blocks, crazy D, and mad dunks. On the pound, his game is well respected.
This Jersey native is gonna get his on the court. He's not afraid to bang in the paint or throw down that tomahawk jam in somebody’s grill. Like they say here, real recognizes real – and Steph ain't faking. He's going hard like the Sopranos and representing for Camden. The NBA got the Matrix, but so does FCI Gilmer.
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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