Starang Wondah from OGC's, Fab 5 and BCC has always been a fan favorite. I frequently get questions from the public about where he's been and what he's been up to. As few may know, Starang has been serving an 18-month prison sentence in upstate PA for illegal drug possession. So, more importantly than when he will be releasing new music is when he will be released. While I won't dive into the specifics of his case, Starang maintains his innocence and looks forward to appealing the charges when he comes home in mid August. At his request, we've managed to keep the situation under the radar for sometime. However, as he's nearing the end of his sentence he's agreed to let everyone know he's doing ok.

I've always liked Starang. Not only as an artist, with his witty word play, clever punch lines and easy going flow, but equally for his friendship. Over the years we've spent countless nights in the studio, at hotels, or on tour busses having intense Madden battles, talking sports and girls, cracking jokes and just hanging out. For that, I genuinely have missed him and despite where I was headed, I was looking forward to my visit.

Starang has a verse in Boot Camp Clik's song "Here We Come" which candidly states "Dru Ha is my favorite White Boy…" While it's a line he borrowed from 50 referencing EM, I've always felt the words were sincere from him. It never was black and white for Starang. He knows and accepts my background (suburbs of NY, White Plains) as I do his (Brownsville, Brooklyn). Aside from a visit to Rikers Island juvenile ward for a BCC jailhouse sponsored performance, my experience with jails and jail visits has been limited. I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

My visit was pre-cleared with the prison for 9AM Sunday morning, so I decided to head out on Saturday afternoon and make a night out of it. I drove west on route 80 for the 2.5-hour trip from NYC to just outside Hunlock Creek, PA. While driving and listening to rough mixes of Pete Rock and Smif N Wessun's Monumental album, I took in the beauty of the landscape and found myself actually enjoying the ride. My mind drifted to Starang and how he must have felt when he was bussed to the facility. I would later learn that his transfer from county jail to state prison was in the midst of a winter blizzard. He was uncertain of where he was going or if they would even make it safely, quite a nerve-racking experience. The thought alone made me value my simple car ride to see him.

I researched a hotel I could find in the area with the shortest driving distance to the prison. The hotel room, while renovated, was small and smelled more like a nursing home than a 4-Star resort. Hard for me to justify complaining when what was now going through my mind was the jail where Starang was sleeping, just a short 15-minutes away.




On Sunday morning I grabbed a quick breakfast and started my drive to the prison. The route to the penitentiary was surrounded with plush grass fields and trees budding their spring leaves in an array of colors. It was quite peaceful, I thought about the contrast of Starang's concrete Pitken Avenue block where he grew up in Brooklyn to the beauty and tranquility of the Pennsylvania Mountains he was now living amongst. Unfair that he never had the chance to experience this setting in a different way as I had. Fearing I was lost, I pulled into a local gas station for directions. I told the attendant I just drove by the SCI Retreat. I asked if I was close, apparently I had just passed it. Retreat, really?

Off a back Highway, Route 11, a long eerie metal bridge leads you to the heavily barb-wired red brick building. Not quite the fortress I pictured, though the 2 heavy iron gates I was buzzed through felt unmovable. The locking sound of the gate behind me would turn out to be the only "movie like" stereotype I imagined. I handed over ID to the guard and went through standard metal detectors, which opened to a small sitting room. Simultaneously, Starang was being led from his dorm style barracks to be searched. About 45-minutes later I was escorted to the visiting area which was spacious and furnished with rubbery style couches and outfitted with numerous vending machines. Prisoners of various ages were dispersed throughout the room, huddled with their families, wives and some with children.




Starang and I greeted each other with a natural smile and laugh. It was just simply nice to see him. When I last saw Starang a year and some months ago his face and eyes were weathered and showed the toll his life (style) was taking on him. I was pleasantly surprised to see that here he looked remarkably healthy. By no means was this a place he wanted to be, but the positives were that his daily routine was reduced to rest, exercise and steady meals in a smoke free environment. Maybe he didn’t want to burden me with worrying about him further but all things considered, he was in relatively good spirits. Inside he had access to the gym, basketball and even flag football. However, he’s chosen to refrain from those activities, as he explained that if you're injured while in prison you need to remain there until fully recovered. With only 3.5 months to go until his potential release, I think I'd make the same decision.

We joked, reminisced and talked for hours. I was curious to understand more about his life in prison. So, like an overly eager child wanting answers, I bombarded him with questions. I learned that the food wasn’t terrible. Through commissary (store inmates can shop at) prisoners could actually buy chicken breast and some knew how to cook it properly by dropping electrical wires into toilet tanks to boil the water. Vending machines were stacked with hamburgers, sandwiches and wraps. Computer classes were offered and jobs such as working in a kitchen and laundry were sought after as they helped pass time. Starang, as I’ve known him for a short temper, managed to stay out of any major fights and dispelled myths of bullying phone checks. For the most part, his biggest understandable complaint was boredom. Of course, I had to ask the question that would be any guy’s worst nightmare, “do you have to be careful about dropping the soap?” While he was clear that he couldn’t speak on other jail experiences, here he joked that type of action only took place between two consenting adults. Phew!

With my four-hour visit coming to an end, Starang walked me to the guard station and told them I was ready to leave. To my shock the guard announced that nobody in the prison could move as they were conducting “count”. It was an instant reality reminder about where we were and how very real the situation was. I clowned with Starang that suddenly I was on lock down with him, but the truth was, the thought of not being able to leave on my own terms for even 20-minutes was frightening.

 
My visit with Starang was personal and unconditional. I wasn’t there for his publicity or to discuss an awaiting recording contract. While I know fans want to know about his Artist career plans, he only briefly mentioned that he'd been writing and had several ideas to record when released. Driving back to NYC, I spoke with one of his group mates, Louieville, to give him an update. I let him know that Starang fondly said, “what’s up” to him as well as his BCC family. Of course we will support him in whatever he decides to do. Hopefully a new Boot Camp album, a solo project, who knows maybe even an OGC album. For now honestly it’s the furthest thought from my mind. I drove back hoping that he’d be able to figure something better out for his life. He is a friend first.
 


Fans can write to Starang:

SCI Retreat
Jack McNair #JG9303
660 State Route 11
Hunlock Creek, PA 18621


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