Criminal (Pt. 3)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | August 1, 2018

The police can be mean, the jails can be cruel, and the court system can be extremely unjust and unfair. If you have money and representation, you’ll be alright. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you are screwed. In my case, my dad is a seasoned lawyer who was willing to represent me free of charge. I was a bit apprehensive when we arrived to the courthouse on Monday, July 16, 2013. This particular hearing wasn’t a big deal. I was simply there to acknowledge the charges and make a plea. “Not guilty” were the magic words and a court date was set for a bench trial in October. My dad and I were in and out of the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in 20 minutes.

As my bench trial date approached in October, my dad got in contact with the state prosecutor. He made his case and sent the prosecutor the video that I recorded. Unfortunately, he didn’t hear back from the prosecutor until the last minute. In the twelfth hour, we cut a deal— charges dismissed in lieu of 30 hours of community service or $300 fine and a “stay out of trouble” diversion. We still showed up to court on October 2, 2013 and sat through the other proceedings until my name was called. I guess the judge was not informed of the deal made by the prosecutor, so the judge was prepared for a bench trial. Once she was made aware, she and my dad had a good laugh and I was dismissed. That was it. I went to the court cashier, paid $300 and this whole stupid ordeal was over just like that. Case No: 13M15505X “The State of Nevada vs. Brandon Summers” was settled.

From an efficiency standpoint, I think that having prosecutors and defense attorneys cut deals outside of the courtroom is an incredible practice. This saves the courts, judges, defendants, and potential jurors lots of time. However, it also introduces an inherent inequity in terms of justice for poor, unrepresented clients. I didn’t have to go to court with a lawyer, but I did because my dad is one. I’m not sure if I would have paid a lawyer or contacted a public defender in an alternate reality because I may not have known any better– or maybe I would have been too broke to even consider it.

When I was a junior in college, I got caught with empty beer cans in my dorm room during a room inspection. It was a victim-less crime, I was 21 years old, but my school was a dry campus– so there were consequences. I showed up to court and took whatever the judge gave me. I was sentenced to 70 hours of community service. I never told my parents about it until after the fact because I didn’t want them to be upset or disappointed. In hindsight, the punishment was unfair and immoral, but I just wanted the situation to go away. I probably should have gotten an attorney.

Occasionally, I would look up the charges of other street performers I knew online. I was trying to look out for people because I realized it was easy to get caught up in the system. I saw a few performers who actually plead guilty to petty misdemeanor charges without even going to trial. It makes the situation go away, but now they have a criminal history. One of my mom’s biggest concerns for me was avoiding having a record, no matter how insignificant. She’s worked in government for twenty plus years and she understands the obstacles faced by people who have a criminal record, even if the crime was committed decades ago. She also knows that it’s another strike in addition to being a black male; and I believe she’s absolutely right. When I applied to become a Clark County School District (CCSD) Substitute teacher in 2015, my “criminal history” (even though I was never convicted) was an obstacle in the hiring process (well, CCSD is actually an obstacle in the hiring process… for another day).

When I hear stories about people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit (or a crime they could beat in court), I absolutely believe it.

Any decision made while incarcerated is a decision made under duress.
Any decision made while you’re broke is a decision made under duress.

If pleading guilty to a crime gets you out of jail, allows you to go home to your family and back to your job, I see why people do it. It’s a cheap and expedient fix in the moment, but a terrible decision down the line. Meanwhile, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys are insulated from how defendants feel; or how defendants are treated by the police and jails– the humiliation of being placed in handcuffs or the lump in the back of one’s throat as a judge decides their fate. All they see is a case number and stack of paperwork. I’m not suggesting that our society burn the courts to the ground, but they are inherently flawed and inequitable.

Criminal (Pt. 2)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | July 21, 2018

The ride from the Las Vegas Strip to the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) was quick. CCDC is in the downtown area, just footsteps away from The Fremont Street Experience. Once I was taken to processing, that would be the last time I’d ever see Officer Smith #9643. The handcuffs were taken off, and I sat on a bench until my name was called for fingerprints and a mugshot. I had to take off my shoes and put on slippers, but I didn’t have to don a jumpsuit. Next, I was moved to a holding cell. The entire process seemed surreal, but it started to sink in that I had been arrested.

The holding cell was crowded. There were probably 15 people in this confined space. There were floating benches on either side of the narrow rectangular room as well as two free pay phones. It seemed like someone was always using one. The cell was mostly silent aside from the sporadic phone calls and the toilet flushing. Everyone’s mood was somber, resigned, and anxious. Nobody wanted to be there. Everybody wanted out— it was Saturday. Most of the individuals in the cell seemed to be there for a victimless crime– an unpaid traffic ticket, public intoxication, etc. I didn’t get the vibe that I was surrounded by hardened criminals, and thankfully nobody stunk.

Now that I was settled, I had to make that dreaded 2am phone call. My dad answered the phone.

“Are you okay?” my dad asked as he was clearly woken up.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I got arrested on a bench warrant. What do I do now?” I said calmly.

“I gotta bail you out. Call your mother in an hour while I work on this” my dad replied.

My dad is lawyer. He knows what to do, so I’m reassured that things will be fine (and I’m glad he’s not pissed). But in the meantime, I’m just stuck in cell with a bunch of strangers that I have no intention of talking to or befriending. The adrenaline begins to wear off and it becomes apparent that the cell is cold– like really cold. The previous occupants stuck toilet paper in the ceiling vent to restrict the airflow. Everybody was pinned to a wall and curled into the fetal position to conserve body heat. The lucky ones had secured a roll of toilet paper as a makeshift pillow. I found a spot in one corner of the room, curled into a ball, and pretended to sleep. But it was impossible to sleep. I was on a cement floor, the lights were always on, and it was probably 65 degrees in that room. It was dull and miserable. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to take a shit.

In addition to the cold, it became apparent was that there was no clock– no way to tell time. Some of the people in the cell would call a friend just to ask the time. And since there was no natural sunlight and the lights were always on, I became disoriented pretty quickly. I couldn’t discern between 15 minutes or an hour. What little “sleep” I got was interrupted by a phone call or the toilet flushing; and there was this annoying dude who kept whining about being locked up for 2-3 days. He was in search of a captive audience, but everyone was doing their best to ignore him. Occasionally the cell door would open. It was either to let someone out on bail or to serve a meal. I was hoping that my name would be called soon since my dad was on top of this situation. That wasn’t the case.

Bailed Out

Unfortunately, it takes time to process “inmates”. That process means that no one is getting out any sooner than 12 hours. Even though my dad was in contact with the bail bondsmen as soon as I called him, I didn’t appear in the system. The bondsmen situation was eventually worked out and I was told I would be out in a few hours. It was just a waiting game now. In the meantime, I was just doing my best to pretend to sleep and ignore the guy who wouldn’t stop talking. I believe I received two meals while I was in holding. The portions were small and I gave my milk away since I’m lactose intolerant. Eventually the cell door opened and my name was called. I pretended not to be excited, but my entire body wanted to race out the door. I was going home.

Of course it wouldn’t be that simple. I was taken to a different concrete room with one occupant, and I had to wait some more. I think 45 minutes passed before the door opened and an officer called my name. I signed some paperwork before being handed my possessions and the $190 I earned the night before. The only thing I wasn’t given back was my tip bucket. I guess it was mistaken for junk. When the final door opened, the sunlight was hot and blaring. I escaped the freezer just to be be put into an oven. I checked my phone and it was noon. I was free at last.

I called my dad to let him know I was out and he said he was on his way. We had to make one more stop. The bail bondsmen. When we got there, we were greeted by Byron Cadoc was a nice guy– a proud military veteran in his forties. Everything was sorted out in a few minutes. I had to sign some paperwork to consent to the cost of the bond and acknowledge that I would show up in court on Monday. My bail was set at $3,000— $1,000 for the initial charge, $1,000 for the warrant, and $1,000 for the bogus charge officer Smith #9643 threw on in retaliation for filming our encounter. My dad paid Byron $450 and we were on our way. I’m just glad that he and my mom were not upset with me. They were concerned more than anything else. I was just ready to take a shower. Sleeping on a concrete floor for 12 hours is an overrated experience.

Criminal (Pt. 1)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | July 13, 2018

I never imagined I would find myself in the back of a patrol car in handcuffs– Nor imagine having my mugshot taken, being fingerprinted, and eventually placed in an icy, crowded holding cell with a bunch of strangers. This outcome is only reserved for deserving criminals– thieves, murders, rapists, pedophiles, and drunk drivers. But 5 years ago, I was in this predicament. How did I get here?

The circumstances leading up to this moment were largely out of my control. Casinos, local politicians, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) had been devising ways to purge the Las Vegas Strip of street performers for years (more on that later). I have some responsibility in this situation, but it is minimal. I got a ticket in April 2013 while street performing. I unwittingly missed my court date (June 13, 2013), and ended up with a warrant for my arrest. After going months without significant interaction with police, I assumed my ticket was dropped. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Friday, July 13, 2013 was hot as usual. The summer heat in Las Vegas is merciless, so I played during the evening to avoid the sun. I started performing around 8pm and wrapped up my set around midnight. I was setup about 30 feet away from a McDonald’s near the intersection of Harmon and Las Vegas Blvd; and by that time the police were running their evening foot patrol, I was completely packed up– ready to go home. My friend “Nas”, a big dude from Philly who hung out with me most nights, was sitting to my right. He acted as defacto security and helped pass the time by making jokes and talking shit. I appreciated his presence and It was nice that we could look out for one another. What I didn’t know was that he had previous run-ins with the cops when I wasn’t around. He sold weed (allegedly), but I wasn’t aware of that considering he never did it in front of me. Once LVMPD’s foot patrol came in contact with us, an officer recognized “Nas” immediately. Rather than focus his efforts on him, the officer zeroed in on me. I assume that counting the night’s earnings in my bucket aroused the officer’s suspicion.

Once I realized a confrontation was imminent, I pulled out my phone and began recording. I had experience with police encounters, and I knew that capturing cellphone video was the only way to tell the whole story. I politely asked for the officer’s name, badge number, and the reason for the stop. He explained to me that “Nas” was a guy known to have narcotics and we looked suspicious. By then, he had already grabbed my tip bucket and was running his hands through the pile of bills. I was irritated, nervous, and defiant– ready to stand my ground; but I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking and the officer noticed.

“Why you shaking man? [Are] you nervous?” asked officer Smith #9643.

“Yeah, because you guys have guns, pepper spray, and tasers” I replied.

The rest of the stop was routine. One of Officer Smith’s wing-men ran my ID while he had me stand, and extend my arms to conduct a pat down for weapons. Officer Smith #9643 asked me a series of leading questions to see if I would self-incriminate. Once he realized that he didn’t have any evidence to continue his investigation, he tried to lighten the mood. I wasn’t amused. The whole experience was humiliating as usual, but it was over in less than four minutes. Smith #9643 made mention of an ordinance that he could have ticketed me for, but said he was going to cut me a break and let me go home. How benevolent.

Just as he was getting ready to move on, Officer Smith #9643 had me stand up once more for a pat down. That’s when he placed me in handcuffs and informed me of my bench warrant. I was going to jail– on the weekend. As Officer Smith escorted me to his patrol car he made the following remark:

“That’s what you get for fucking recording!”

I wasn’t expecting that, but I knew that police officers don’t like their authority being challenged; and in return are capable of retaliation— verbal and physical. I’d seen the YouTube videos (we all have) and experienced it in person during my time as a busker. Tonight my number was up. I sat in the patrol car with my hands and feet shackled for about 20 minutes until the vehicle lurched forward en route to the Clark County Detention Center.

Officer Smith #9643 / July 14, 2015
Las Vegas Blvd./Harmon Ave.

I’m Graduating!

The Journey

by Brandon Summers | May 1, 2017

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally going to happen. I’m sure the number one question friends and relatives are going to ask me this week is “how does it feel?” or “how do you feel?”. Well, it feels unreal; but it also feels like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I’m also the type of person who doesn’t get excited about things until they’re right in front of my face– so it’s likely that I will reserve any emotion for the moment after I walk across the stage. That’s when it will sink in.

I am grateful for all those who I have met along the way, and especially those who have been in my corner. I couldn’t have done it without you. Shout-outs:

Mom & Dad, and *Dad
My Brothers & my best friend
My family
Kondace
Denee
Elizabeth
Cullen and his family
Michail
Christina
Fort Valley friends
Fort Valley instructors
Dr. Asadian – my favorite professor. RIP
Dr. Dubriel
Dr. Abbera
Dr. Pitts
Ms. Burell
Ms. Pollard
Moore Hall // Rat Hole
Josh Reagan (UNLV)
ClearWaters Family Guidance and Wellness Center
CTM
UNLV Library
Facebook fam
Darling Nikki & Esperanza
Hudson Jeans, DJ MK, Nordstrom
Street Performing & everybody who dropped money in my tip jar.
J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Thundercat – the soundtrack through this journey

Fuck Depression

6 Weeks as a Middle School Instructional Aide

MISC

by Brandon Summers | October 11, 2016

Intro

After dropping Linear Algebra II in Fall 2015 after my dad had a stroke, I began considering my options for jobs that do not require a college degree. Being a full-time musician for the last five years, I had grown tired of the rigor, inconsistency– and quite frankly, I was over doing weddings and corporate events (but that’s where the money is). Substitute teaching seemed like the next logical step, and I had a few friends who were already in the game.

I started the application process to be a Clark County School District (CCSD) sub in November. However, the process of being hired/put in the system took several months. One would think that the process of hiring new substitute teachers would be quick, considering there’s a huge shortage and demand for instructors, but no. CCSD has a bad rap for being slow and inefficient when it comes to subs. By the time I was nearing the finish line for being on the substitute teacher roster, I had an offer to be a full-time middle school Instructional Aide at 100 Academy of Excellence (charter school). Yay! (The principal and my mom were friends. The principal used to babysit my brother and I. Thanks mom.)

School Begins

August arrived along with the two weeks of professional development. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by energetic teenagers for seven hours a day, five days a week. Initially I was situated to be with the math teacher, who was coincidentally a graduate of FVSU, the entire day. After two weeks of frequent, unannounced schedule changes, I was placed in the computer lab next door to be the Study Skills instructor. I’m sure you’re wondering what Study Skills is– I was wondering the same thing! Basically, the school needed to compensate for the shortage of middle school teachers, so they created a study hall period. There was little classwork and no homework for several weeks (due to the schedule changes), so it was a free period for students. It was teenage babysitting for me.

Students

I got a crash-course in classroom management and I learned over one hundred names in a few weeks. I also doubled as a hall monitor. I had the students trust and they respected me as a teacher. I genuinely liked the students, even the disruptive ones. I did the best I could, but it was utterly exhausting. I had to raise my voice often and yell way too much. Things got better as time went on, but at the end of each day, all I could do was go home and pass out.

Unfortunately, the disruptive students got way more attention from me than the well-behaved students. I always had to consciously remind myself to thank the quiet students for paying attention and staying focused. This is not to say that all the disruptive students were bad, but many had issues with self control and self awareness. I had to remind a lot of students that it is possible talk to your friends without yelling across the room. I also had to remind students that they are not to chit-chat while one of their peers has the floor or I’m talking.

Overall, most of the 6th and 7th graders were cool individuals. 8th graders were a whole ‘nother story. I did get a lot friction from students once the homework started rolling in and free time was over. Many wanted to argue that homework should be done at home, instead of during Study Skills. Their STAR test scores would suggest otherwise. Most of my students were a grade level or two behind in reading and math, and just seemed to not have good study habits. It was frustrating. I wondered how these students made it this far without intervention from a teacher, school, or parent. I had a few students break down and cry.

Reflections

I do not for one second regret the experience. I learned a lot in the eight short weeks I was employed by Imagine Schools/100 Academy of Excellence, and I would probably work there again– as a sub. Being a teacher is helluva job! IF YOU KNOW OR MEET A TEACHER, HUG THEM! They are probably stressed out. Teachers have to take on a great deal of responsibility, and all of the middle school teachers at 100 Academy took on more than they were compensated for. The middle school team was tight and everybody had each other’s back. It was we against the world, and unfortunately our greatest adversary was often administration– rather the decisions that administration made. I had a heart-to-heart with my younger brother, who is a middle school teacher in Minneapolis, about my decision to leave the school. He ultimately told me

“Administration is the reason that teachers leave schools, not the kids.”

I have to agree. My biggest gripe with the job was that myself and the other teachers were put in situations that were not conducive to the success of students or our sanity. From showing up to school with no middle school schedule, to frequent and announced schedule changes, impromptu after-school meetings, class room sizes of 30+ students, short lunches, no prep period (for the first two weeks), unrealistic deadlines, etc., it was too much. In my opinion, most of the issues I had with students were due to large classroom sizes. After I had an AWFUL day at school the day after my 29th birthday, I decided it was time to move on. I wrote a cordial letter to the Principal and Assistant Principal stating my grievances and put in my two weeks. I left 100 Academy of Excellence on good terms, and was told that the door is always open.

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Part 5: The End / What’s Next? Will I Ever Go Back to School?

The Journey

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

What’s Next?

Well, this is the end. I intend to contact FVSU and see what they can do for me. Maybe they can award me a lesser degree so I don’t walk away from this situation completely empty handed. That’s something I will look into towards in the near future. As of March 2016, it’s not urgent.

Otherwise, I’m gonna to keep on keepin’ on. Currently, I have a weekly lounge gig at the Cromwell. This is the first but hopefully not the last of it’s kind. I’m hoping that more opportunities like this will open up. I also have wedding gigs lined up later in the year. I will continue to busk as well.

Long term

I know that the this music thing will not last forever. I never intended it to. I’m always interested in new challenges. In the fall, I will look into substitute teaching, tutoring, and all things 9-5. However, if things pick up musically around this time, I’ll postpone the job hunt.

Will I Ever Go Back to School?

God, I hope not. Maybe I’ll be stupid enough to take Adv. Matrix Theory next Spring at UNLV. I will fight this urge unless I have assurance that my outcome will be different on a sixth attempt.

If down the line I find great difficulty in securing employment or promotion because of my lack of education, I may consider going back to school for a different degree. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Update: June 2016

I am a regularly scheduled performer at The Park. I believe this gig will last through the summer.

Now that I have my time back, I can put more effort into elevating my brand and visibility. I can also make time to work on collaborative music projects. I’m going to work towards getting some outstanding bills paid. I also plan on watching a lot of Netflix (yeah). I may even take a vacation (“what are those?!”). I’m going to live my life.

Update: October 2016

I took a position as a middle school Instructional Aide at 100 Academy of Excellence, a charter school. I worked there for six weeks before leaving. The job was incredibly mentally exhausting, and thus was not in line with my personal goals. However, I am grateful for the experience and I may continue to work in the education field in the future.

Update: Late November 2016

I got in contact with Fort Valley State University regarding the possibility of earning an alternative degree. They gave me the option of earning a Liberal Studies degree, but that option is contingent upon a lot of factors. The waiting game continues.

I also registered for MATH 463 Advanced Matrix Theory for the Spring 2017 semester at UNLV. This is to be a last resort if the option of earning a Liberal Studies degree falls through. This is madness, but at least the professor has taught the class before and he has a 3.5 rating on RateMyProfessors.com.

I am also at the finish line for substitute teaching through CCSD. I completed the required training and I’m waiting for another background check before I am finally approved.

Part 1: I Went to School on a Full-ride Scholarship for Mathematics

The Journey

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

The plan was to become an engineer. Georgia Tech was the end game. In 2006, I accepted a full ride Presidential Scholarship to Fort Valley State University. I would major in math there, and transition into the CDEP-Georgia Tech Engineering partnership upon completion of my math degree. This is something I truly wanted. My dream as a kid was to become an engineer. I was curious about how electronics worked so I took apart speakers, VCRs, vacuum cleaners, etc. I liked problem solving. I was good at math and my favorite class in high school was Physics.

Fort Valley was in interesting choice. It was in the South— a region I’d never visited. It was a Historically Black College (HBCU). No one in my family had been to an HBCU— hell, none of my biological relatives had gone to or finished college. My great-grandmother Octavia Tolefree graduated from Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in the 1920’s, however no one on the family tree had followed suit in almost 100 years. My stepfather graduated from law school in Iowa the year I was born, and his family too did not have a legacy of college graduates. Going to college was exciting not only for me, but for my the family.

After overcoming the culture shock, homesickness, aging dorms, the cafeteria food, and the lack of internet connectivity, Fort Valley grew on me. This tiny, rural town in the heart of middle Georgia had a unique charm that wasn’t possible in a large metropolitan city. The slow pace, “yes mams” and “no sirs”, and the isolation was a departure from the life I knew— but it gave me a fresh start and identity of my own making. I met some incredible people, made good friends, and enjoyed the autonomy of being away from home. To many, I was the smart guy, the violin guy, the guy who made beats, and the guy from Vegas. I had a job as a math tutor, I played bass in Jazz Band, and I went on a recruitment tour with the president of the school (twice!). I belonged and that was everything.

The first two years at FVSU were really nice. There were plenty of things to complain about, but overall I had peace and joy. Everything was going according to plan. I had no idea that things would fall apart.

Continue Reading / Part 2: I Got an A in Calculus III !…and Then Theory of Numbers Happened

Part 2: I Got an A in Calculus III!… and then Theory of Numbers Happened

The Journey

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

Math is hard. That is a universally accepted truth. But I like hard, and I like solving problems. Calculus is definitely is the epitome of hard, yet I got an A in Calculus III during the second semester of my sophomore year. I performed well in most lower level math courses (and in school in general). Irregardless of the difficulty, I enjoyed the courses and I had a lot of confidence. I had momentum moving into my junior year of college.

Junior Year

That all changed when I took Theory of Numbers my junior year at Fort Valley (Fall 2008). I’m okay with being out of my comfort zone, but this class was altogether foreign, difficult, and uninteresting. I could barely stay awake during lecture or stay focused while doing homework. I managed to pass with a C. I was under the impression that this course was just an outlier. My confidence remained intact. But when I took Advanced Calculus the next semester, it was apparent that this stuff was not going away. It was a disaster— a kidney shot. My confidence began to erode and then shatter. I got an F in this course, my first ever. Ironically, I passed the other three courses I was taking with an A. I was now a senior in college— a depressed, disillusioned, and apathetic senior.

I still had an opportunity to graduate on time. At this point, I told myself that I could just muscle through the last year of my major. All I had left was Chemistry I, Chemistry II, Linear Algebra I, Linear Algebra II, Advanced Calculus (again), Complex Variables, and Abstract Algebra.

Summer 2009

I took Linear Algebra I and Chemistry I at UNLV. I barely passed Linear Algebra I, but failed Chemistry. I was hobbled with depression the entire time.

Senior Year

When I arrived back on campus Fall 2009, I was a mess. I was emotionally detached from myself and reality. I still had my scholarship and was in good academic standing, so I just went through the motions. I passed Chemistry II and Circuits I, but failed Complex Variables and Abstract Algebra. At this point it was impossible to graduate on time; and fortunately, that didn’t bother me much, honestly. Coincidentally, my core circle of friends slowly evaporated around this time. This was punctuated by an unexpected breakup— It was a rough time.

With the pressure of graduating lifted, the second half of my senior year wasn’t so bad emotionally. I still struggled with depression, but I had enough going on socially that it didn’t stop me from enjoying what I believed to be my last semester at Fort Valley. I still struggled academically and only passed two of the five math courses I attempted.  I ended up leaving Fort Valley just four classes shy of graduation. All I had left was Advanced Calculus, Abstract Algebra, Linear Algebra II, and Chemistry I. It seemed totally manageable at the time. I was upset, but held my chin high.

Continue Reading / Part 3: State of Limbo – UNLV, FVSU (again), UNR, Street Performing…