Fighting the COVID-19 Fight:“Mamba Mentality” Edition

By Alysha Conner | LA Black Post

Millions of people are involuntarily embracing altered realities. The entire world has been forced to undergo new social regularities to survive ongoing battles caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Mandated global “shelter in place” orders have led to abrupt lifestyle changes. Across the nation, there has been an influx of job displacements, sicknesses, loss of loved ones, toilet paper shortages, food and water scarcities, lack of health supplies, and amongst other things. Parents have taken on the role as homeschool teachers, and Hollywood productions have been paused.

Amid the mass outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the United States, people around the world were grieving over the unexpected loss of former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant back in January. Bryant managed to leave behind his “mamba mentality” legacy, which encourages people to strive to a higher level of personal greatness. Following NBA player Gordon Hayward’s injury in 2017, Bryant shared his #MambaMentality wisdom on Instagram, stating,“Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back, THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you.”

For the first time since 1918, the playing field has become somewhat leveled. CEOs to janitors and fortune 500 companies to shelters, in one way or another, everyone has been affected by the virus. Citizens of Los Angeles continue to face struggles of survival and induced life changes due to COVID-19. In the intention of cultivating Bryant’s “mamba mentality” during and before the pandemic, here are the realities of a LA County deputy probation officer and wrongfully convicted man fighting for his freedom.

“The First Responder”: Meet Chad Todd

(Courtesy Of / Chad Todd)

Tell me a little about yourself and your upbringing. 

“I was born in South Central, LA. I went to private school most of my life. Although I went to a private school, I still grew up in the so-called hood. So, I had friends that went to public school. My 8th-grade year, I went to Henry Clay. That was my first experience at a public school. I graduated from Southwest College, where I got my high school diploma and AA degree. I got accepted into Grambling and was going to go, but then Hurricane Katrina hit. So, I ended up going to Cal State Dominguez Hills.

I got my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I was fascinated by learning why people think the way they think and picking people’s brains. Graduating from college wasn’t normal from where I from. Most of all my friends I grew up with were either gangbanging or working a nine to five after we finished high school. We didn’t even think about college like that growing up. It was something I wanted to do because I didn’t want to be another statistic, either dead or in jail.”

What made you decide to become a probation officer? 

“I graduated from college in 2009, and that’s when the recession kind of hit. So, it was like no jobs. I was in between working temporary jobs and looking for a permanent position. One of my friends worked for a probation department, and she emailed a job listing for probation. I had just applied to the LAPD Police Academy and was disqualified. My polygraph test proctor guy failed me because he said I smoked marijuana in the past.

I told him I hadn’t smoked marijuana since high school, and even when I did, I just experimented with it, it wasn’t like I smoked it every day. That was the only reason he failed me, and I really couldn’t understand why he did it. So, I was just done with LAPD. My friend encouraged me to still apply for the probation job, so I did. I got like a 90 on the test. When it came time for the lie detector test, I passed. It’s been eight years since I’ve been a PO.”

(Courtesy Of / Chad Todd)

How has the sigma of police brutality against Blacks affected your work? 

“It’s hard every day. I just try to do what I can do as law enforcement. I try to be fair and firm because, at the end of the day, I’m still Black. I try to get all the African Americans who work in probation together to try to get more people in this field because we’re very limited. Every time I see an LAPD officer or a group of LAPD officers, I point out that there’s no Black officer. None. So, I don’t know if we’re not applying, we’re getting disqualified, or what’s going on.”

Chad Todd pictured with fellow LA County probabtion officers.
(Courtesy Of / Chad Todd)

How has your life at work been affected during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

“We’re the first on the line. We’re first responders. We can’t take days off. We have to work through the pandemic, and just pray that we stay safe. I work in a position called AB 109. We provide transitional housing for people who were recently released from prison. What they’re doing now because of COVID-19 is we’re getting deployed into the jails. Every week there’s a master list that comes out to let us know if we have to work at either juvenile halls or camps. I guess they’re doing this to prevent the layoffs because I just heard that the city is doing furloughs.

We’ve had officers who’ve caught it. If you see now, it’s heavy in jails. Inmates are catching it, but you still have to have staff there. When I leave the house, I pray every day, ‘Lord just give me the strength to make it through this day and keep my health.’ At first, they didn’t supply us with supplies like masks, Lysol, and hand sanitizer. Then when word got around to the union, and people started catching COVID-19, they began providing us with masks and gloves.

The kids are nervous because they’re without their families, and there are no visitors right now. They’re not having school either, so we’re with them all day. You know you have to entertain kids, or they’ll get to fighting and do things they have no business doing. So, the POs that work in the facilities try to have a good rapport with the kids. Some staff will bring them different books to read, different games to play, or music to listen to.”

How do you maintain a “mamba mentality” as a first responder?

“First and foremost, rest in peace Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a big influence, especially in the city of LA. He influenced me as a kid to keep striving for my goals and never giving up even in the face of adversity. You’re going to face turmoil in life, but you have to keep moving. That’s the whole “mamba mentality.” In terms of probation, I’m striving to reach the highest promotion I can receive. I don’t like to be stagnant.

When I got deployed my first time, I felt kind of rusty because I haven’t worked with juveniles in a while. It’s almost like going to a school as a substitute teacher and trying to get the kids’ attention. I can relate to some of these kids. It’s only been about 12 to 13 years since I’ve been in their shoes. I try to let them know it’s not the end of the world for them because they’re here. We’ve all made mistakes and bumped our heads a couple of times, but you just don’t want to do it too many times. Learn from your mistakes, and never put yourself in this position again.”

“The Wrongfully Convicted”: Meet Marvin Wayne Pegues Jr.

Marvin Pegues Jr. with his dad, mother, and sister at his Palisades High School graudation.
(Courtesy Of / Marvin Pegues Jr.)

Tell me a little about yourself and your upbringing. 

“I’m from Los Angeles, CA. I grew up in West LA borderline Culver City. I went to Baldwin Hills Elementary, Audubon Middle School, Dorsey High School, then graduated from Palisades High School. I’ve been an athlete all my life. I played basketball, football, and baseball. I played varsity basketball for Dorsey. I went to Dorsey my freshman and sophomore year and transferred to Palisades towards the end of my sophomore year. Dorsey just wasn’t a good fit for me, even though it was my homeschool, and I grew up in the neighborhood.

I never even thought about going to Palisades. My dad decided to send me to Palisades, which is where he went too. He thought it would be a better fit for me, and in reality, it was. I graduated high school on the national honor roll. I had academic scholarships to four different colleges. After high school, I started working at Raytheon full time, and I was going to go to Clark Atlanta University in the Winter. However,on December 7, 2005, two weeks before I was supposed to leave for college, I got arrested.”

How did you end up in Lancaster State Prison?

“I’m here for a crime I didn’t commit. A guy got shot on the corner of Crenshaw and 28th street. Because of my reputation around the neighborhood, my name somehow got involved with the case. At first, my name wasn’t even brought up in the case because, of course, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I ended up getting caught with a gun sometime after that, and somehow that got traced back to this case. From there, they entered my information, and through the records, you’ll see that they basically just made the case fit. I spent nine to ten months fighting the case. I was 18 years old when I went to trial. I was found guilty on the day of my 19th birthday. I got sentenced to life in prison.”

Demonstrators chant during “Free Marvin Pegues Jr. Rally” in 2016.
(Courtesy Of / Free Marvin Pegues Jr. Campaign)

What was your initial reaction when you received your sentencing?

“When they read it off, I just had a blank stare. It was like my life flashed before my eyes. I looked around and saw all the people in the courtroom crying. At the moment, I saw so much destruction that, in a way, I felt guilty. Even though I didn’t do the crime, I felt like look what my choices did to everybody who loved me. Like, look at all these tears and destruction. I felt like they were crying around a dead body, and I was just sitting there watching it.

As I walked out of the courtroom and walked to the back, it was like life left my body. I just collapsed. I collapsed into one of my homeboys, someone who I’ve come to know over some time. I cried that day and told him like, ‘Man, I turned 19 today, and they just took my life away.’ That’s how I felt. Like I was dead basically. Then I walked out of the court tank, and I was pretty much silent.

I got back to my dorm at about one o’clock in the morning. Somebody had made me some food, but I didn’t eat it. I told everybody I lost the trial, and people were like dang that’s messed up. I went and laid under my blanket, cried for like five minutes, then I sucked it up and went to sleep. The next morning I jumped up and called home with a good attitude. I was like, ‘What’s up with y’all, y’all good?’ My brother was like, “Yeah, everybody was just waiting to hear from you. How are you doing?” My exact words were, ‘I’m cool. I’m not about to spend the rest of my life in prison for this. We about to make it home. We about to fight.’ That’s been my attitude ever since.”

Demonstrators chant during “Free Marvin Pegues Jr. Rally” in 2016.
(Courtesy Of / Free Marvin Pegues Jr. Campaign)

What are living conditions like during the COVID-19 outbreak? 

“I don’t know anyone who personally has it in here, but I know within the prison there are all these reported cases. All the guys that have it are confined to one building. We’re not allowed to leave without putting masks and gloves on. Right now, we’re under the constant threat of getting sick and knowing they’re not going to provide the proper aid if we do get sick. Like if it does spread in here, a lot of us will die. For one, a lot of people have pre-existing medical conditions. For two, there is no proper healthcare system in prison.

I feel like the administration didn’t take it seriously at first. The CO’s weren’t wearing masks or anything. They do not know that they have it, then they’re passing out our food, opening our doors, and searching cells. I think recently, because all these cases started happening, the administration started trying to do something, but it’s still not enough. They just started handing out masks, but they won’t give us disinfectant to clean our cells every day. They won’t provide us with disinfectant to clean the showers. They don’t pass out gloves, so if you don’t have any, you just don’t have any.”

How has life in prison changed for you because of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

“I don’t get to go to work as much now. I work in the education department. Most of the people in the class are going home in a year and under. So, we help them transition back into the streets. We teach them stuff like credit, business, how to know what gratuity is for restaurants, a lot of things people just don’t know because they’ve been in jail too long.

Our visitation has been shut down for the past two months. We go to the yard every few days. We’re kind of just confined to our cells now. Which studies have shown can drive you crazy. You got people who are stressed out and having anxiety attacks because we’re locked in our cages most of the time. Depression has become higher. Everybody is worried about their people on the outside, while just sitting in their cells. It’s survival of the fittest. You got to be mentally strong.”

Marvin Pegues Jr. graduating from Defy Ventures’s Entreprenurial Program.
(Courtesy Of / Marvin Pegues Jr.)

How do you maintain a “mamba mentality” while being institutionalized? 

“I have Kobe Bryant’s The Mamba Mentality booksitting right on my desk and the ESPN Kobe Bryant An ExtraordinaryLife magazine. So, I’ve followed his mentality for a long time. It’s about never giving up. The only way that I die in here is if I give up. The only way that I’m defeated is when I give up and say I’m just going to sit in this cell and be a product of this prison environment.

I have my family and people who love me that aren’t going to let me stop fighting. When I look in the mirror, I think about who I’m fighting for. My father, my mother, my sister, and a lot of other people have supported me along the way. My family has been instrumental in me staying positive. I think without them, I would’ve been a nutcase and gone crazy. My dad, unfortunately, died on April 15, 2016. He was my biggest fan and supporter.

I try to dig deep and figure out what I want out of life. I figured let me strive for what I want in life now, so that way, this time won’t be a waste. I feel like if I sit here feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to be wasting time. I’d be wasting valuable time when I could be learning and striving for different things. I can’t just yell at the top of my lungs and say that I’m innocent. The only way I can beat them is with success. Anybody can be mediocre and do small things to make small accomplishments. Some people are satisfied with that. I’m not. Even though my life took a detour, I refuse to be mediocre.”

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