Yet I Climb
A Play in One Act
Montel Cunningham is a true Harlem knight raised in the 1970s. He’s aspiring to become a musician but his past is troubled with nothing but violence, hate, pain, fear and low self-esteem. He also has a strong dislike for the man that taught him his talents, his father. His love for his mother is strong but he knows that she is still adjusting from her break down. Just when he feels like nothing else is working, he turns to his grandmother for help and guidance, but he doesn’t listen. He is trying to control his bottled up anger. One day a bad choice puts him in prison with all hope being lost. He was given 25 years in anticipation to change his thinking. Montel sees no hope in ever seeing his grandma, mother, wife and daughter again!
Voice of Wanda
Voice of Grandmother
Voice of Mother
Voice of Father
Group of Prisoners
THE BONE STRUCTURE
19 years old, 5’9”, 169 lbs.
Black curly hair, light brown eyes, caramel skin
Walks very erect – like a dancer, handsomely clean & neat with a full round face and lean muscled build — very athletic.
He has a warrior personality like his father, an angry young man
Upper lower class
Part time sales clerk, attends college full time
Had a strong Christian up bringing
Proud African American
Grew up fighting
Wants to help people with their problems by counseling
Struggles with a violent home situation (father has assaultive behavior)
Very optimistic! Somewhat of a dreamer, will not allow life to cheat him like it did his parents
Lost his virginity at 13 and found his first love during his last year of high school
Born and raised in Washington Heights (Sugar Hill)
Vast and extensive imagination, an old school gentleman from the south, very smart but in an eccentric way
YET, I CLIMB!
STAGE DIRECTION: [December 14. 1984 in the Manhattan Supreme Court House. Montel Cunningham is standing in the courtroom waiting to hear the judge’s decision on his fate. His pregnant girlfriend is there along with his family and friends. Montel is shaking and scared to death because he is only 19 years old and he has heard millions of stories about what happens to people in prison. He thinks to himself, “I may never come home again to eat my grandmother’s cooking again… Damn! Or see my child grow up.]
JUDGE: Mr. Cunningham, you have been convicted of a crime, and I now have the power to sentence you. But I must say this: You are nineteen years old and have completed high school. You also were attending college on a full scholarship. You have wasted people’s money and time on the poor choices you have made. So I hope these next twenty-five years I am about to give you will help make something out of you. Take him away!
MONTEL: What! Damn, that’s my whole damned life! I told you that it wasn’t my fault! Why can’t you give me a break?
JUDGE: You had your break – I just gave you twenty-five years and not life. Goodbye, Mr. Cunningham.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel is taken to the holding cell, waiting to be returned to the County Jail. Once there, Montel is very angry and wants to take it out on someone. He’s looking for a reason to attack.]
PRISONER ONE: Ay, yo, Montel. What happened in court?
PRISONER TWO: How much time did they give you? Couldn’t have been much ‘cause you a smart nigga.
MONTEL: Not now. I need to use the telephone to make a phone call to my peeps. Hook me up.
PRISONER ONE: That may take a while. That nigga Jude has all the phones on lockdown.
MONTEL: What! That’s it. I’m goin to smash him out! You brothers make sure y’all get all my flicks and take everything else for yourselves. Ay yo, Jude! Lemme holla at you my nigga.
JUDE: What nigga? …. Oh shit…. Yo, hold up. Hey, I got you son. Please stop!
STAGE DIRECTION: [You hear tussling, chairs being thrown and tables being turned over. Montel beats Jude so badly that he is admitted in the local hospital. They place Montel into a twenty-four hour lockdown unit. The next day, Montel is transferred to The New York State Department of Corrections.]
MONTEL: Damn! Fuck! This cell is smaller than a broom closet. How did I get here? Where did all of this start for me? Why didn’t I listen? Shit man!
The Voice of Grandma: Boy, what have you done? Didn’t I tell you to stay focused in school? You were supposed to be the first one to graduate college, and you was becoming a great musician. How many black boys make it from the ghetto into a full-paid scholarship? I hope I live long enough to see you come home. You know I ain’t getting no younger boy.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel’s emotions well up. Tears began to roll down his face, and he’s shaking as he lets out a soul wrenching cry.]
MONTEL: I know grandma, I’m so so sorry…. please don’t leave me…. I need you….
STAGE DIRECTION: [A dark eerie silence comes upon his cell and out of nowhere Montel hears…]
THE VOICE OF HIS WIFE: How are we going to do this time? 25 years is a long time, and I am only eighteen. I just gave birth to our child. Now I love you till death, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have married you. Just tell me what to do. Oh yeah, thanks for the money and the car. They will not last twenty-five years and me and your daughter cries everyday just thinking about your safety. I miss you so much baby please come back home.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel yells out and punches the wall.]
THE FATHER’S VOICE: Boy, I set you up real nice and you go on and destroy that. What the fuck is wrong with you? What was you thinking? Why did you have to kill that man? You threw your life away, and it’s over for you. I gave you everything I got, and this is how you show your honor for me, you selfish bastard!
MONTEL: Shut up, you selfish motherfucker! You ain’t do shit for me! All you ever showed was you could beat the shit out of my mother and us. You never cared for nobody but yourself. You’re the selfish bastard. Your own mother was ashamed of you cause she raised you better than that. Do you remember beating my mother so bad that she had a nervous breakdown, causing her to be put in a mental hospital for some three years? This caused our family to be broken up. You’re dead to me. Stay the fuck away from me! By the way, you will never see my daughter. She will only know that you are a monster.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Tears are flowing like Niagara Falls while he’s punching the walls causing his hands to look like bloody chopped meat…. It’s August 27th 1986. Montel is adjusting well to his prison life, until that fatal day in August when Montel is in a machine accident, causing his hand to be completely severed by another prisoner while he is cleaning a wood cutting machine.]
FUZZY: Ay yo Montel, I’m going to get a smoke bro, you cool?
MONTEL: Ok my brother.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Fuzzy returns and doesn’t check to see if Montel is still cleaning the wood cutting machine. So he turns it on while Montel’s hand is still in the machine. Montel yells, “Jesus”! He pulls his hand out of the machine and runs a quarter of a mile through the prison to the medical unit. After two weeks in an outside hospital, Montel is returned back to the prison. His left arm is wrapped up but his left hand is missing. Montel is still feeling drugged up.]
GROUP OF PRISONERS: Hey, there is Montel. Montel, wassup homie? How you feeling? If you need anything, just let us know bro. Stay strong lil homie, stay strong.
STAGE DIRECTION: [While in his cell, Montel lies back on his bunk and thinks to himself.]
MONTEL: What am I going to do? I’ve got twenty-five years, and I’m the only one in prison with one hand. How will I explain this to my Grandma or my wife? What about my mom who is in the hospital? I’ve got to learn how to defend myself. Damn! I could kill this dude for making me lose my hand. That’s alright, somebody’s gona pay for this. That’s alright, I’ma get rich.
STAGE DIRECTION: [June 1991. The front page of the New York Post reads, “Convicted Murderer Wins Lottery Millions.” It’s October 7th, 1986 and Montel’s mother has finally lost her battle with cancer. The prison officials know of this information but have not told Montel. They figure that it will be too much for him because he just recently lost his hand approximately 45 days ago. Montel finds out via a phone call he makes to a family member about his mother’s death. After receiving the news, Montel is numb and angry; he wants to cause pain to anybody.]
MONTEL: Excuse me, Sargent Smith, may I speak with you a moment?
SARGENT SMITH: Sure, what’s on your mind Cunningham?
Montel: So, you know who I am?
SARGENT SMITH: Sure, who doesn’t? What’s on your mind?
MONTEL: Last night while talking on the phone, I found out that my mother passed away, and what’s got me pissed the fuck off is that nobody in this facility said shit to me! My family has been calling up here for the last two days – now wait a minute I’m not done! I want to go down to my mother’s funeral, which is tomorrow.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel is crying and yelling and goes on to make knee-jerk responses and threats to Sargent Smith.]
MONTEL: I just lost my fuckin hand, and now my mother, and the prison is going to deny me the right to see my mother, like hell! I’ma make somebody die if I don’t go cause you have taken everything from me, and I don’t give a fuck, I’m ready! This is my fuckin mother!
STAGE DIRECTION: [Still crying, Montel aggressively approaches Sargent Smith.]
SARGENT SMITH: Now wait a minute Cunningham. You know me, and I don’t bullshit people especially with stuff like this. So if you would go back to your cell, I will see what I can find out. Just calm down and go back… You got my word. I will come back with an answer.
MONTEL: Ok Sargent Smith. But if you don’t come back, I will do what got me here, you got my word.
STAGE DIRECTION: [The two men stare at each other for what seems like a lifetime. Montel didn’t want to hurt anyone, he just wants to go see his mom, so Montel breaks his stare and goes back to his cell with no problems. Some three and a half hours later, Sargent Smith returns to Montel’s cell with two other guards.]
SARGENT SMITH: EXPECT YOU TO KEEP YOUR WORD! CUNNINGHAM! CUNNINGHAM! GET UP, LETS GO. YOU HAVE A LONG TRIP AHEAD OF YOU. THESE TWO OFFICERS WILL TAKE YOU UP TO GET A SUIT, AND THEN THEY WILL TAKE YOU TO THE FUNERAL … OH, AND CUNNINGHAM, DON’T MAKE ME REGRET THIS, I —
MONTEL: You got that Sargent. Thanks so very much, thank you.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel and the two officers go off to the funeral. As Montel matures, he is developing into a model prisoner, until 1996 when this time it’s his grandmother’s funeral he will be attending. He takes her death extremely hard, because this is the woman that raised him up until the age of seven. He doesn’t cry when the news comes; he was once again numb.]
MONTEL: Damn! Everybody that was important to me is dying, and I am still in this fucking prison!The parole board has denied me four times already. They act like they want me to die in here, but it will not happen. I will not let them break me! (Pause) I have my daughter to live for and the promises I made to my mother and grandmother. I will show everybody who thinks I am going to fail. I will show them, I am going to make it… (Pause)
Montel lies back on his bunk and begins to think about what his mother used to say.
VOICE OF MOTHER: Montel, baby, you know that I love you, and I’ve done the best I can to try to raise you. I am just so sorry that I wasn’t there when you needed me the most, and I want you to always remember that no matter what people say about you, you will always be better than what they think. But you must also live better than they think. And always remember, never, never, ever do to women what your father did to me. You have a daughter. I never raised you to be that way and neither did your grandmother. Always strive to be a better man to them than he was to me.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel rolls over on his side, crying profusely. Hearing the voice of his mother, he regrets not taking heed to her wise words of wisdom. He is feeling guilty now for letting his mother and grandmother down by not completing college.]
MONTEL: I am sorry, Mom and Grandma. I promise you as long as I got breath, I will live to make you proud of me. Once I get out of this mess, I promise I will raise my daughter. I will love and cherish my wife, and become a strong role model, and give back to the community like I said I would when I was younger. I will continue to pursue my career as a musician. You know I love to beat those drums. I can remember, Ma and Grandma, looking at your faces, how happy you two were watching and hearing me play the drums. Those are some of the fondest memories of my life, and I will always cherish them. Thank you very much. I will miss you dearly.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel gets up from his bed, goes down on his knees and begins praying to God.]
MONTEL: Father, God,I was raised knowing you but I was a hardheaded kid. Why did you have to take two of the most important people in my life away from me? They didn’t deserve to go. How am I going to make it through these next six years of prison without them? What kind of father am I going to be for my daughter? I never thought I would need your help, but today I am in dire need of your help. If you are who they say you are, I need your help. I am ready to change my life. So, from this day on, I will promise to do the best I can to honor and serve you like my grandmother taught me. So, Lord, it’s all about you and me, amen. But, yet I climb!
STAGE DIRECTION: [Montel goes another ten years before his final release from prison. Sitting in his cell, the now mature Montel writes in his journal, a journal he has been with the last ten years. He writes, talking out loud to himself.]
MONTEL: 24/6 is how long it took me to enjoy and appreciate the small beautiful things in life
24/6 is how long it took for me to grow into the man you see before you
24/6 is how long it took for me to enjoy holidays like Thanks giving, Christmas and New years
24/6 is how long it took me to fully understand the importance of obtaining an education
24/6 is how long God has been has been protecting and guarding me along this journey
24/6 is how long it’s taken me to begin to live my life
24/6 has cost me a wife and my child
24/6 has been joy, pain, fear, worry and manhood
Though 24/6 is still a bit of a mystery to you! But it’s an ever present reality to me!
24/6 could very well be a part of what many of you could be living today, what is your 24/6? That has hindered you from maximizing your fullest potential. When you find it out what will you do about it? Will you stand up to it as the boy David did and overcame the giant? Or will you allow the 24/6 to consume you thus destroying your very existence. I don’t know about you, but as for my 24/6 I’m happy to confess that its’ all a part of my past long behind me and to quench you quizzical curiosity as to what is my 24/6 fret no more my for, my 24/6 was the time I’ve spent in prison!
SARGENT SMITH: Hey Cunningham, come on! It’s time to go! I’ve been waiting for this day to come for a long time and had some concerns at first, but it turns out that you made it. Now get the hell out and become that husband and father you always spoke about, and fulfill all those promises.
STAGE DIRECTION: [Sargent Smith reaches his hand out and gives a stem manly handshake. Sargent Smith pats Cunningham on the back and ushers him out through the front prison door.]
MONTEL: Wow! Wow! Looks like I made it, Grandma. I finally made it. Sorry you’re not here to see me. I promise I won’t let you and Mommy down this time!
STAGE DIRECTION: [A tear is running down Montel’s face. After a moment of silence, Montel looks up and sees his wife get out of a limo and start walking towards him. Montel begins running towards her. The two embrace for what seem like an eternity. Montel breaks the silence first.]
MONTEL: Hey, sweetheart, I am so glad to see you. I thank God you finally made it. Now before you say anything, let me just say that I am not mad anymore that you have moved on with your life. I didn’t expect you to wait all those years. I am really proud of you. Why couldn’t my daughter come?
WANDA: She in school taking her state and city wide exams. You know she is about to graduate high school
MONTEL: High school! Already? She was just in sixth grade not long ago, damn! I have missed her whole life… wow!
WANDA: Yes, high school Montel. Now come and get in the car so I can take you home.
MONTEL: Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here and never return again! They thought they had me when they first put me here, but yet I climb!
STAGE DIRECTION: [The date is May 23, 2013. Montel hears his name being called to receive his first ever college degree. He rises and begins walking slowly across the stage, then more gingerly. Once the degree is in his hand, he pauses a moment looks up into the sky and says…]
MONTEL: Grandma I have done just what you said. I would wish you could be here. Mommy, thanks for giving me life and even though I have done it Yet I Climb! Yet I Climb! Yet I Climb!
STAGE DIRECTION: [Tears roll down his face as he looks out into the audience and sees his daughter smiling proudly. He whispers to himself…]
MONTEL: I will teach you how to climb too, princess!
Alfred Brown Jr., born in the Washington Heights’ section of Harlem, New York on February 25, 1964 to Alfred and Elizabeth Brown. He’s the second oldest of five siblings. He attended P.S. 28, I.S 195 and Julia Richmond High School where he graduated in 1982. He went on to win a four year music scholarship from Long Island University in the same year of graduation. A year later (1983), unfortunately, he found himself on the wrong side of the law and was sent off to prison. Having completed his full prison term, he enrolled in Westchester Community College in September of 2012, where he is presently and in his last semester. His degree of study is in Social Sciences and Chemical Dependency. When he finishes his course of study and obtains his degree, he hopes to one day be presented with the opportunity to make a difference by being a drug counselor. He also hopes to one day pursue a career in writing.