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Pod Corner: 'Uncuffed'

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

Do you remember the moment you saw your first love? Rodney Hines sure does. He was 13 years old, and it was the Fourth of July. His parents took him to their friend's house in Sacramento, and that's where he saw her.

RODNEY HINES: Her name was Shanay Browning. I called her Kegs. When I first made eye contact with her, I was like, wow. She kind of different, kind of - you know what I mean? I was feeling her off the dribble. You feel me? Like, even right now, I hear her voice in my head, you know what I'm saying? Like, she got a voice like that, real unique. She was Chinese Black, had that long jet black curly hair.

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KURTZLEBEN: That's Rodney Hines at Solano State Prison in north California, speaking to Anthony Ivy, a producer for KALW's Uncuffed podcast. Uncuffed is a show made by people behind bars in California prisons. Their stories are intimate and personal, like this one from Hines, who tells Ivy how his childhood crush turned into his star-crossed lover.

ANTHONY IVY, BYLINE: Tell me. Like, over the years, what kept y'all apart?

HINES: I'm going to just say life. I don't think we was able to really have a moment.

IVY: So what was that moment when y'all did have time?

HINES: I had just paroled from prison, so I popped up on my mom's at church. I'm sitting down. And you know how prison makes you. I'm super observant about everybody up in the church.

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IVY: Looking.

HINES: Just looking. And I happened to catch her in my peripheral, so I turn around and it's her.

IVY: Like, ooh.

HINES: I'm like, ooh. You know what I'm saying? And, you know, I'm still on some old penitentiary stuff. You feel me? So I write a kite right there.

IVY: You did not write a kite.

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HINES: I gave it to the usher and was like, can you blast to her right there? And I see, like, a big old Kool-Aid smile. So we get outside and, you know, we embrace.

IVY: And what happened after that?

HINES: What happened after that...

IVY: You got her number now. She got your number.

HINES: Bingo. Look. Right? She happened to call. She said, I want to - can I meet up with you when I get off work? I'm like, it's good. I met her right there on Florida Franklin. It's an old Rite Aid in that parking lot. I'm never going to forget. You know how they say your first impression is the last? So I timed it perfect. As soon as she hopped out, I hit play on this particular song, that Avant and KeKe Wyatt, "Nothing In This World" I wouldn't do for you. So as soon as she step out, I turn it up loud as loud as it go. Bam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING IN THIS WORLD")

KEKE WYATT: (Singing) In the living room by the mantelpiece.

HINES: I see them high heels, them fishnet stockings. Oh, my God. You know how we be about them walks.

IVY: For surely.

HINES: Yeah. So - put her arms around my neck and squeezed me, hugged me. And I'm like, oh, OK, here we go. And later on that night, she called again. She was like, I just want to know, can I come get a kiss before I go to bed? I'm like this. You know what I mean? You only get certain opportunities once in a lifetime. You know what I'm saying? I hop in the car and blast directly to her. I do about a hundred over here trying to get there. Oh, my God. Is this really happening? So it's like I'm in the middle of saying something. Next thing I know, her lips was on mine. I don't see nothing but fireworks - you know what I'm saying? - and bright lights. You know what I mean? this kiss was passionate. It was sensual. It was like from there, she put her stamp on my heart forever. Maybe a day or two after that, I ended up going on my way to prison.

IVY: I'm like, damn, after the kiss, you went to prison. How long did it take for you to, like, get back in touch?

HINES: I get a letter in the mail. I'm like, what the hell? I'm thinking I'm tripping. So I open up the letter. Lo and behold, it's from Shanay.

IVY: Could you read that first letter that she wrote you?

HINES: She said, I'm just really trying to work on my relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As Shanay) Relationship with God so he can make me into the woman that he has called. I've been into many other relationships that have failed. And when everyone left...

HINES: When everyone left, he remained with me. If I was presented the opportunity to be with her, I would have never left her. Her letters was uplifting and encouraging. We started off as friends first, and as time progressed, our feelings, our love and our respect, it grew more and more for each other. And I know that my letters meant something to her. She wrote me this letter back in January 2015. She say, greetings and invisible kisses...

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As Shanay) Invisible kisses and thoughts right back at you. I just received your letter, and as always, it brought a smile to my face and thoughts to my head. I look forward to your letters. I haven't been feeling good, back-and-forth to the hospital. It's been taking a toll on me. They found a hole in my heart. And they said when my heart is stressed, the blood and oxygen is not getting into my muscles. But then he says, well, even though I have a clogged artery, I don't function like I do because I can take a shower on my own and fix my bed. So it's not on top of his to-do list to do anything. They say i can't run or do anything to stress my heart out, but thank God my life is in his hands and not theirs.

HINES: My life is in his hands and not theirs.

IVY: Man, that's deep. How did that hit you when you got that letter, bro?

HINES: Like a mountain fell on me, man. Because, you know, that's one of the worst things, man - especially with us being in prison - is for somebody close to us to have some type of condition that could affect your life or possibly take your life. You know what I'm saying? And you're not able to be there with them. So it hurt. It hurt deep.

IVY: What kind of relationship did y'all have?

HINES: She stayed writing, sending me bundles of pictures. And the way we engaged with each other was as if we had, like, our own little thing. It was like special.

IVY: And it wasn't matched.

HINES: This was the only time that, you know, me and her kind of made a left-hand turn. And this kind of hurt me too. It hurt me bad. Man, one morning, I meet up with one of my partners. And, you know, this dude, you know, he was one of them wanna (ph) be Mr. Big Shot type dude, you know what I mean? He like, ay (ph), Seb, he like, yeah, man, you remember you girl Cakes? He like, yeah, man, I knocked her on Facebook.

IVY: When you said knocking, what do you mean by knocking for people that don't know?

HINES: As if he got her. So without letting him see me sweat, you know, I kept my poker face on. I'm like, is that right? And when I got back to my cell, I wrote her a letter. And I don't feel good about the things that I said to her at all to this day. It come back and it haunt me. And it hurts me that I said such terrible things to such a beautiful person who didn't deserve that. She cried so bad. She told my mom about it. And my mom got at me, was like - told me how wrong I was for things that were said. It was a while before me and her even communicated again. You know, she was a very forgiving woman. She's like, you've been on me me since we were kids. I would never disrespect you like that. And it made me reflect back. I was like, damn, you know, this dude, he always had been a snake. He got a reputation for doing this kind of stuff. So once she told me that and she allowed me back into her life and, you know, our communication, we was back on. You know what I mean? She was always on me about bettering myself. It's like - not savage, but I knew she cared. And she loved Rodney.

But I was on the phone one night with my mom. I'm like, Mom, hold on. So I click over, and it's Cakes. She said, what's you doing, baby? Let me finish this up with my mom. And I'm going to holler right back at you. I finished my conversation with my mom. I dial her numbers. Phone's ringing. No answer. Call her again - just ringing. You know, next morning I wake up, and, I mean, I call my mom, man, and she tell me, like, Rodney, Shanay died. And, like, when she said that, it was like everything, like, froze for a minute. And I just replayed back everything from last night.

And I remember, like, before I told her I was going to call her back, she told me, she said, baby, make sure you call me back 'cause I got to tell you something. So at that moment, I'm like, damn. Like, everything, it just crumbled at that very instant. And that moment, I felt alive, but I felt dead. What was that she was going to tell me? What is she going to talk to me about? And when they found her, and when they picked up her phone, my number was the last number in her phone. My voice was the last voice that she heard.

KURTZLEBEN: That was Rodney Hines speaking to Uncuffed producer Anthony Ivy about his first love, who passed away from a congenital heart defect. Uncuffed doesn't divulge crimes even if the information is available publicly. It's a show about spotlighting people's humanity and not focusing on their mistakes. To listen to the full story and episode, check out weareuncuffed.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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