By Shannon Scott
No, this won’t be the usual Thanksgiving story. Not at all. Its not about foodstuff memories or family ones really, but crime. We hear a lot about crime don’t we? One of my favorite books is “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoesvsky. Its so brilliant and such a peek into “the criminal mind,” I think it should be standard reading for every police department in the world. If anything it shows how good people can do bad things and how human nature can be corrupted and free will has much to do with everything, even if one’s “environment” has an influence.
Dostoesvsky was also a criminal. Or at least in the eyes of the state. Condemned to die for “anti-government activities” in Russia in 1849. And talk about a close one and a “Thanksgiving,” — literally as he was bound to a post in front of a firing squad and after the words, “Ready” and “Aim” had been said? Before the word “Fire” could be shouted to forever dispatch him, he was suddenly reprieved. Can we say “WOW” enough here?
I mention this to make the reader curious about his life, but really because I too have had some very close brushes with mortality. And not through agents of the state motivated by political ends, but street level thugs with weapons in search of their next fix. Its also true that far worse stories can be told than my own. Mine are probably an average day in Chicago these days so apologies to them in advance. But with crime in the headlines all of the time, if just because it keeps the sheeple in a state of chaos for the media & government’s sake, I thought I would tell you my stories to show you that in spite of it all, I see crime as the exception to life and not the rule. I bear no grudges, do not live in a state of paranoia and fear. I live my life in spite of the headlines and all of the chatter about “crime.” I don’t walk around blind but I have common sense on my side and am not obsessed with the word “safety” like so much of our ridiculous society is. Safety is a tool of the social engineers to control society and good people have fallen into the trappings of this mentality. There are no guarantees in this life on a rock spinning around in space and NONE of the politicos and neo-cons can ever cure crime or make you 100% infallibly “Safe.” But you bet, they’re happy to take all of your freedoms and your income as they sell you on the idea. But I digress.
In 1991, Savannah had the highest murder rate per-capita in the USA. That too is somewhat of a convoluted idea to drive fear or create shock, but in general, a gang called The Jivens Gang had merited some of the atmosphere by making the rule of joining their gang, to kill a white person. You could cut the tension in town with a knife. Now, not all 59 people murdered that year were white for sure, but it was an alarming number of dead people considering the small size of the city and yes, was not an ordinary context of random killings, but many (some say 21 or more), were part of a club’s initiation as it were. Making things further difficult for the authorities was the fact that the gang’s leader? Was a 16 year old named Ricky Jivens, Jr and he had perfect attendance in school. He came from a well known Savannah family with a lot of good people inside of it, but he was without question, it’s blackest sheep. Small time compared to a bigger underworld operation, but relative to Savannah’s size, a true operator with the usual guns, drugs, boats, cars and all of the rest. Although unknown to me at the time, I was co-workers and friends with one of his captains, and through him I got the sense that Jivens was a born leader, his crew very loyal and he paid them well. He liked the fact that he could keep the authorities guessing with his “good guy” position, and surrounded himself with others who shared this appearance. It was great deception and at the same time, made it all more duplicitous and culpable. Its one thing if you’re a cold blooded killer and you wear it. Which Jivens could be depending on the situation. Its another thing if you play a kind of Hip Hop school boy, go to church, buy your momma nice things, and then use all of that to disguise the evils. I would say less the youth thing, Ricky Jivens knew what he was doing. He was cunning and he incited murder between gym class and Sophomore chemistry.
As many know, I grew up in rural Illinois. I’m still thankful that I knew a time when you could leave doors unlocked and walk your streets unmolested. I pray that is still true in places. Yet, I realize today that it made me naive. Moving to Savannah was criminal culture shock but I didn’t know it yet. When my parents and I first visited this town to explore The Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), I remember we stayed at The DeSoto Hilton downtown. It was Spring, balmy, azaleas everywhere. I’ve always been a voyeur, day dreamer and excitement of new places usually transfers to my legs needing to go places. So one night while they slept, I awoke and not even bothering to put my contact lenses in, I started walking in a direction. In today’s city, I’d be on Savannah’s Westside in the “burgeoning” or “revitalization” areas, i.e, the hood of recent past. But in 1988? It was still very much Da’Hood. I’m sure I got a lot of looksies from the locals but I wasn’t thinking. I was just “feeling” my way around and mixing it up with the night. I’m pretty sure I thought I was invisible and yes, its a wonder I wasn’t hurt or killed. Eventually a very confused policeman drove up to me as to make matters worse, I was walking in the street and he said, “What are you doing here?” I told him I was just out for a walk and why was he asking? He said, “Well there was a robbery nearby and you kind of matched the description…anyway, you shouldn’t be on this side of town.” I took the hint, I was unconscious human bait so headed back to the hotel, parents none-the-wiser. Little did I know that in a year’s time, this was the very same area someone would take a good stab at me.
To present date in Savannah, I’ve had 6 bikes stolen and have been mugged twice by gunpoint. I’ve also foiled a criminal plot or two but more on that later. Thankfully most of my victim hours are past me by 15 years or more and less a bullet from a 9MM coming through my bedroom window a month or so back, life has been pretty peaceful. I can say with some earned legitimacy, yeah, I’ve been “lucky.” Not special, just lucky.
My first year of SCAD, student of fine arts, I was living the Bohemian dream. I lived in a building called Drayton Towers which today is sold as a hipster condo palace, but then was half SCAD dorm and half Georgia Regional Outlet Patient Program Housing. So yes, the newly arrived suburban insane meets the recently released regulars. We all rode the same elevator and did our laundry together in the laundry room. It was perfect.
I lived in apartment 500 looking off to the East towards Colonial Park Cemetery and the turret dome of the 1860’s Old City Jail. The sunsets were incredible. Eventually I met Theresa at the C&S bank machine in the atrium of the DeSoto Hotel. She lived in Drayton Towers as well and was a Pittsburgh girl who looked more like a Coppertone model than art student. I wasn’t fooled by her supposed love for The Grateful Dead. But I wasn’t complaining. Our courtship started with her doing nude modeling in my dorm room for Life Drawing class and she’d be my off and on gal for the next few years.
At the time, surrounding downtown in a kind of horseshoe shape on a map, was Section 8 and other HUD housing. Crack cocaine was at a fever pitch, the Jivens Gang was on the move to make social pell-mell. That was the reality of downtown and here Theresa and I were like so many art students, “We’re at art school — Weeeee!” So gullible just minding our own business enjoying hazy youth and college life. A few cares but not many. We still thought we had forever and that time was at our beckon call.
Art students are prone to get the munchies. We were no different. One night it was decided that the Daybreak Cafe at The Day’s Inn was too far to walk and Theresa liked Burger King. God knows why. I didn’t care for fast food at all but she was determined and so we started walking there around 11PM. They closed at 1AM on MLK, Jr. Blvd. Even though a stone’s throw from the Historic District, to get there you had to walk by abandoned buildings, cross Jefferson St or “Happy Hooker Blvd”, and then mosey over a large dimly lit lot before reaching MLK. Some part of me instinctively didn’t like it but Theresa’s bravado exceeded my own at times and in spite of my misgivings, we went there without much thought to the time of night or surroundings. I remember it like it was last night. We had some laughs and maybe an hour later began to amble back home. People think downtown is “quiet” now for the most part. But it was REAL quiet in the late 1980s and early 1990s on a weeknight. As Theresa and I walked around The Thrifty Hardware store through the dimly lit lot and crossed Montgomery St to W. Charlton and made our way into the middle of the intersection at Charlton and Tattnall, I remember it being incredibly dark there. It was like light couldn’t reach this intersection. Or sound. This spot had us. Our light feet suddenly leadened and we were dead in the middle where the dark hole was the darkest and street lights looked far away. Something startled us. That’s when the figure started moving towards us. It was like a shadow darting out of the shadows and we were in its way.