By Arnie King
Tea was born at Cambridge City Hospital 44 years ago and lived his entire life in the Metro region. The early education experience began at home with his mother, a teacher for Cambridge Public Schools. Elementary classes were initiated through the Montessori curriculum, with the circular seating arrangement, at the Friends School in North Cambridge. This unique style created fewer barriers between classrooms and encouraged interaction and more communication amongst a very diverse group of students.
An older brother, by about one and a half years, was responsible for getting Tea around the city, coordinating household chores and disciplining his curious behavior. He was punished early and often because he expanded the lines, beyond the norm, in all aspects of life. It was very comforting to have his older brother around because, without a father figure at home, he sought approval from older guys in the neighborhood. The middle school years began at Lincoln until closure forced a transfer to Peabody, as opposed to Tobin, because his mother encouraged discipline and quality education. She required book reports on a regular basis with an emphasis on African History.
Her two sons were her priority, instead of personal relationships, as she was the primary adult figure of family relatives. She wanted them to attend college and tried to guide her boys toward Matignon High, which produced a high level of graduates in the City of Cambridge. But the neighborhood kids – who played sports at Hoyt’s Field, attended the Friday night dances at the community center, worked city jobs during the summer months, or walked around the Cambridgeside Galleria on Saturday afternoons – were students at Rindge and Latin.
Tea was determined to be with his friends, who were good kids with ambitions to be successful in business ventures, community programs and life skills. Therefore, he was allowed to go to his school of choice, with a warning attached of immediate transfer to Matignon, if troubles occur at Rindge and Latin. During this period, an interest in boxing techniques emerged as personal conflicts with other young males increased. He enlisted the services of a cousin and learned ways to defend himself against attack.
There was more learning at Rindge and Latin than academic fundamentals. In addition to a new high school, his family moved from North Cambridge to the coast, which introduced a broader worldview and a new cast of characters. Also a baby sister was welcomed to the household, requiring his attention on a regular basis, instead of hanging out in Central Square after school hours. Tea interacted with people from all parts of Cambridge as well as surrounding locales of Somerville, Arlington, and Beantown. Because of this exposure to different elements, he acquired a diverse lifestyle.
He began sipping on some wine and beer in the corner at house parties on the weekend and it quickly escalated into Tea contributing towards and often being responsible for the purchase of large quantities of alcohol. With the introduction of weed and coke into the mix, both students and other folks were attracted, as well as girls just wanting to have fun.
In his final year of high school, he began to learn more about masculinity and relationships with females. It is important to reference, as well, that early indicators of addiction and alcoholism were visible during this time. As with any learning experience, an individual can either acquire knowledge by observing others or simply by asking questions. Men prefer to ask few questions and Tea continued the journey as if he knew this destination.
After graduation he worked a few part-time jobs in the city. Still living at home with his mother, he was cognizant of her urging towards a college degree. But he was all set with personal goals in his life. The priority was to obtain meaningful employment, which provided regular income for living expenses and social activities. He knew a few neighborhood folks, who sold drugs to generate money to pay the bills. Such activity was unattractive because he didn’t want to embarrass or disappoint his mother with unsavory behavior. Though he knew that a college education might not be in the future, he never imagined prison confinement to be part of his experience.
He had two children: a daughter at 24, and another daughter at 27, each with different a woman. The mother of his youngest daughter had an infant son from a previous relationship, who Tea adopted, and they were married for ten years. Though he wanted to be a good husband and father, which included being faithful and present for his family, the priority in his life was consuming alcohol and drugs. The former spouse simply wanted him to stop drinking excessively, which he didn’t view as a problem. Substance abuse was the contributing factor, which led to a domestic assault charge, loss of employment, and the current incarceration.
Within the past two years he has completed a therapeutic community program, a commercial driver’s license course, attends weekly spiritual and substance abuse meetings, and maintains healthy relations with family members and friends. Though an early release date in late 2014 is possible, it’s highly unlikely to happen because of the reluctance of the current parole board to release individuals with a history of substance abuse and violence.
Whether next year or a few years afterwards, he will return to the Cambridge neighborhood to reside with his fiancée, family members, and friends. He knows the location of the AA and NA meetings and says he may even register for a college course, which should produce a warm heart as well as a smile on his mother’s face.
Arnie King writes from a Massachusetts prison, where he resides for the 1971 murder of another human being. For more information, visit www.arnoldking.org.
Editor: Andrew Haveron