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I met Mr.Brown at the RJ Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. He was a correctional officer. He turned out to be one of the most positively influential male figures in my life. Mr. Brown was my work supervisor at the prison clinic. He was an older African American with a deep southern drawl from Texas.

Somehow, he’d held onto that accent even after over 30 years in California. He was a charming, funny, inviting person who always smiled warmly for staff and the incarcerated alike. Still, he especially had a soft spot for the young female nurses. He was a huge flirt. For the first few months after meeting him, we had a cordial and professional relationship, talking mostly as a courtesy and to get work done.

One night, he worked overtime in my housing unit. As he was doing the inmate count to make sure no one had escaped, he stopped in front of my door, looking into my tiny cell through the glass window in the door, and listened to me playing guitar and singing a song. He tapped on my window, catching my attention, and asked what song I was singing. I answered that it was something I had written.

The next day at work, Mr Brown initiated a more personal conversation than usual. We started talking about music we liked. He expressed that he enjoyed hearing me sing and was surprised that an Asian loved R&B and soul music. (Apparently, he thought Asians only listened to bamboo flute music from a kung fu movie.) It turned out that despite differences in race and being on different sides of the wall, an officer and a prisoner, we both loved Al Green, Albert King (the best King) and, of course, Marvin Gaye!

Over the next few years, he shared about his life with me. I learned that he grew up in Texas, joined the Navy, and about his wife, Gail, and his kids. I shared with him my experiences of growing up in a domestically violent home, my mother abandoning me when I was 8, joining a gang to have a place to sleep, as well as the irrational reasons I had for attempting to take another young man’s life when I was 22 years old.

Mr Brown never judged me. He encouraged and guided me by sharing his experiences of the good and bad choices he’d made as a young man and songs and lyrics he felt were relevant to how I was feeling. I looked forward to talking and laughing every day with this Ol’Man. I eventually dropped enough points to get transferred to a lower-level security prison. Mr Brown retired shortly after.

Whenever I hear Bobby Blue Bland, Mr Brown’s favorite singer, or a Marvin Gaye song, I think about Mr Brown. I am still surprised and eternally grateful for music opening the door to this unlikely friendship that influenced my maturity during one of the most difficult times of my life. 

Side note: The name of the song Mr. Brown heard me sing that night was Wish You Knew. I also wrote another song, Brutal Love, about Mr. Brown and his wife. Both songs can be found on my album titled I’ll Write Myself a Love Song, which is available on SoundCloud or Spotify. My other Album, Over The Phone, is also available on both platforms.

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