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Rec yard is 'coffin without a lid'

July 29, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

Vernell Pearson started serving his life sentence on Jan. 22, 1975.

For 32 years, he's lived in "an environment that you never feel safe in."

Pearson calls the recreation yard a "coffin without a lid on it" because so many people are stabbed there.

Living in prison will "strip you of all your dignity," said Pearson, 51.

His mother died in New York in March. Pearson last saw her three years ago, and dealing with her death has been difficult, he said.

If you're behind bars, "you don't get to say no last goodbye," he said.

He said he tries to live by a philosophy of, "If you show me respect, I'm gonna show you respect."

Pearson wouldn't discuss what crimes he committed, but a Division of Correction spokeswoman said he is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and other crimes.

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When he started serving his time, the old-timers, those locked up in the 1950s and 1960s, gave him advice: Go to school, try to work in a prison shop.

Pearson pursued his education, earned an associate degree and has worked in MCI's meat plant for 11 years. Education is the key to everything, he said.

Now, Pearson tries to give younger guys guidance. For the most part, "they don't want to hear it," he said.

"A lot of dudes I personally think of (as) salvageable, I associate with them," Pearson said.

He said he believes that lifers and other "long-term dudes" are the most well-behaved.

"Guys in here for a long haul are careful not to lose preferred housing and jobs," he said. "Most lifers try to be easygoing, gentle people."

Pearson wants more programs because more programs would make things a lot safer, he said.

Not all of the younger inmates cause problems. Pearson's cellmate is, as he describes him, "a 28-year-old Caucasian from Frederick."

Pearson and his cellmate look out for each other, he said. They also work together at the meat plant and try to accommodate each other. Pearson regularly lifts weights in the yard, giving his cellmate some time alone, he said.

Privacy is important because it's "hectic day to day, dealing with a lot of personalities in an enclosed environment," he said.

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