THE PENITENTIARY WARFARE SERIES: Turning Pain into Laughter: The Interview with Comedian Jerry Law

Every man or women that go to prison for long periods of time run the risk of becoming institutionalized and incapable of surviving in this society without assistance.
Even though those who run the prison industry claim that the institution is about reform rarely do you see any and if you look closely at the history of the institution, that has never been the case.
So, for our next interview in the penitentiary warfare series, we spoke with Bay area Comedian Jerry Law!! We spoke about his time in prison, what made him want to be a comedian, his overall view of the criminal justice system and much more….. 

Who were your role models growing up in the Bay Area?

Oddly enough, when you say role models I can’t really say that there were any. There was really nobody to look up to. My grandparents raised me. Every adult that was around at the time was on drugs. My aunties, uncles and even my mother were on crack.

What about your father you didn’t mention him. Was he around?

I never knew him. When my mom finally told me where he was, the man supposedly stayed around the corner from me. Now, at this point, I had been looking for this dude for over 10 years of my life. So, I eventually go around the corner to meet him and the man tell’s me I’m not his son, he told me this to my face. I said goddamn!(laughs) well alright then nigga, let me go find my real daddy(laughs).

Ok, so with your father not being in the picture. What male figure did you look to for guidance?

The street’s provided me with the guidance that I needed. At the time, I was staying with my grandparents who had migrated from the south and I’m the oldest of 9 children. So, the dudes around the corner on the block became my big brother’s. 

I first started selling weed when I was 14 years old. I wanted to get money so I can get the nice clothes and shit. I was getting tired of people talking about me. So, poverty along with peer pressure helped push me into the streets and the fact that me and my little brother’s had to eat. The dudes in the neighborhood sort of became the role models.  

Unfortunately, our communities are flooded with young men that had to grow up under the same conditions you did. Now, talk to us about the circumstances surrounding the time you spend in prison.

I went to jail at 22 years old for attempted murder. When I first went to jail they tried to offer me 27 years.  I was hella frustrated being in a situation where other men had control over my life and there was nothing I could do about it.

Once you find yourself in that situation, you realize this can’t be right. Who the fuck set this shit up?  I’m not an idiot. I’m very intelligent. I realized after looking at other brother’s situation as well as my own my, the public defender is not trying to get you out of jail. Their whole goal is to get you a deal because it’s a conviction.

You plead no contest, but it’s a conviction and you’re going to jail. So, no matter how they word it to make it sound better, your still not going home. A lot of people are idiots and fall by the wayside due to lack of knowledge. So I filed a motion to fire my attorney. They actually gave me a closed circuit courtroom to discuss my case.

When they asked me why I wanted to fire my attorney I told them I was filing a ineffective assistance of counsel claim because this public defender didn’t have my best interest in mind. The shit I asked him to do, he didn’t do it. I wanted him to fight my case at the prelim like a trial. If you don’t fight it then it makes it almost impossible to fight it correctly during the trial. My attorney told me if I had $75,000 I could have left that day.

I was sentenced to 15 years in prison because I was broke. I’m not the only one though, there are millions of black American especially men experiencing the same thing. The judge gave me 15 years with 85% time served. So, I got 10 years for the Gun 3 years for great bodily injury because the victim’s lung collapsed and 2 years for assault with a deadly weapon. 

Wow. It’s amazing how you’re treated in this country when you don’t have the necessary resources. Knowing that you had to be in prison for a while. what were some of the adjustments you had to make to survive? 

Well for me, I’m from Oakland. I’m from the hood 75th and Rudsdale st to be exact. A real street nigga. When I got the county jail I hooked up with this group called Kumi 415. They call them prison gangs but Kumi is more like a prison organization.

So, when I got to prison it was different for me. I didn’t really have to worry about problems like that. The main adjustments came from the fact that one moment I was free to do what I wanted and able to live my life and all of a sudden I’m locked in a cell and in prison now.

When I finally got to San Quentin State Prison it finally hit me. It’s all new to you. I wasn’t scared I just kept asking myself “damn nigga, what the fuck did you do?” The recording artist Akon has a song called locked up, on the beginning of the song you hear the echo from the bars when they shut. That’s real shit, that’s exactly how it felt. 

I spent my time helping Brothers out in there though. I wrote letters for them and everything, that’s why I know that poverty is a motherfucker, but really it’s the lack of education mixed with poverty that creates a concoction for death. 

That’s true. Keeping us uneducated help continue this vicious cycle.  Now that you have spent time in prison and you have that first-hand experience. Whats your overall opinion of the criminal justice system?

My overall perspective of the criminal justice system is this: Maybe at one time it may have been about crime and Punishment but today the criminal justice system is nothing more than a money-making machine.  I will explain it to you in detail. The California state prison system today gets $75,000 to house one inmate per year.

Well, in the privatized prisons out-of-state you can house four inmates for that same price. So, for the price of one inmate out here in California you can build a prison somewhere else and feel that bitch up real quick. My last four years in prison I spent in Oklahoma, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor then, he said that there was a state of emergency that overcrowded prisons have become a problem and the inmates were dying due to overcrowding and the lack of Medical Care.

That’s just the game he used to send us to different states. He sent brothers to Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona. It was very dangerous, a lot of dudes lost their lives out there. So, it’s not about crime and punishment. When that three strikes law was still in effect, I knew people who were doing life in prison for stealing a piece of pizza or even stealing some batteries. How are you going to give a man life in prison for stealing some batteries?  The prison guards are apart of it too.

Most of them are ex-military or ex-police officers and they get their families members hired as well. All it takes is a GED to become a correctional officer. Most of the people who are getting these jobs were bullied when they were younger or they’re racist. Once they come up in there and they find the who guy who has the demeanor or the persona of a bully, that’s the one that they’re going to target.

Also, the privately owned prisons have a quota. They have to keep a certain number of bodies in there at all times if they don’t, they might lose there contract. Police officers even have a quota that they have to reach every quarter too, They have to have a certain number of arrest and citations. When you put that type of pressure on somebody they have no choice but too put that type of pressure on the people.

In my opinion, that’s why the police are out here shooting and killing people, they can’t make the quota. The CDC stands for the Department of Corrections in California but there is no correction going on, all they’re doing is warehousing people. They don’t teach you anything either. I wanted to become a paralegal before I got out of prison. When I went to get my books they tried to administer my books out to me and I had to fill out all this paperwork that made it impossible for me to get them. It’s not made for you to learn in there and to make matters worse they only give you $200 when you’re released.


So, going through all those different experiences in prison. What made you want to become a comedian? Did you formulate that passion while you were locked up or is that something you always want to do?

It came to me. I have always been funny. People would always tell me I should be a comedian. Growing up, I just knew how to cap real good. But really the start of me doing it comes from my abusive family. My granddaddy used to beat the whole house ass. He used to hit my grandmother and after he would hit her I would want to make her feel better so I would do funny shit to make her laugh.

The crazy thing about that is I became a protector and a provider for my family but my younger brother’s, they became abusers like my grandfather. Even though we all saw the same thing growing up.  When I was in prison I would just be Clowning alot, making everybody laugh. They eventually would start telling me that I needed to be a comedian.

There was this guy in their name Kill Kill who was a Crip. One day while we were walking around the yard going to chow he says to me “Why you think I got you walking to chat with me lucky? Man, you make my day with yo jokes. I am going to die in this bitch, I’ve been here 30 years man” He grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around and said “Cuz when you get out, go be a comedian. I have been watching you since you came in here. Dude you funny as a muthafucka, It’s not just about what you say, but its how you say it too. He believed in me. Also when I was sent to Oklahoma and I saw I had the ability to cheer up my homeboy who was going through alot, I said ok I know if I do this thing, I got the people. 


It’s great that you been able to take such a negative situation and turn it into something positive. Ok, last question. What advice would you have for a young man from our community who is tempted by street life?

I would tell him to be careful. Crime is about money man. Because of crime, you have the DEA, FBI, DA, ATF as well as the public Pretenders and the judge. All of them have jobs based on crime. During the process of getting arrested, you have to see most of those people and all of them are making money off you. They changed things up, the preponderance is on the defendant now. The prosecutor used to have to come up with all the evidence in the world to convict you, not anymore. Now, they book you and you have to come up with a defense instead of them proving you’re guilty. It’s a cold game and you don’t want to get involved with that system.         


 Thank you for allowing Melanated Fathers of America to tell your story!!!

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