Thursday, August 28, 2014

Day 32

Thursday September 21, 2006: I woke up feeling more depressed than normal. Envy of the sleep eaters is growing within me. How they traverse the stairs, get their muck, eat it, and go back up to sleep is beyond me. All of the vital functions sustaining life have begun to abandon me. I never sleep more than an hour or so without waking up startled. Going to the bathroom has become a gut-wrenching chore, inducing sweat and cramps every time I park my ass on the Boeing. To top things off, it looks like our three man cell is really a three man cell now.

Just as dayroom was about to open Gangster began quizzing me about my visit the day before. He is intrigued by the still existing normal facets of my life; people from work, friends, etc. Just as he inquires about my letters and who I am writing each one to, he wants to know who drove all the way down here for a visit. There is no point resisting, he will not be ignored.

“So how do you know this guy?” Gangster does not meet many new people on the streets, this much is clear.

“He’s a friend of mine for years. I guess we met at the place where I worked.” He walked faster than I did when walking the perimeter with me. I am not sure what point he was trying to prove by doing so.

“So you worked with him?”

“No, he was a guy who came in there. I guess you could say he was a customer or something. It’s a weird business, when you work in it you meet a lot of people.”

“What is he to you?” Realizing Gangster had some social hurdles to get over was not surprising. Once I began to understand how high these hurdles were it staggered my mind.

“He’s a friend.” It seemed obvious, but he misses those on the streets.

“Don’t get wise with me, Gilly. I’ll stick your head through the wall. I mean, what is he to you that he drives all the way the fuck down here to talk to you through glass on a telephone? You can call him and talk on a phone from right there.” He gestured at the bank of phones.

“Well, my friend Tommy is more of a prop comic, and he can’t get the laughs he needs over the phone, it’s very visual what he does.” To this day, I do not know what I was thinking. Gangster let several seconds go by with no response. I suppose he realized how unsettling I found it.

“Every step we take Gilly, there’s a wall right there on your right for me to stick your head through, and yet you still give me an answer like that? What’s the matter with you? You feeling suicidal or something?” If he only knew. Gangster was the kind of guy who opposed suicide and would kill you for thinking about it.

“What I meant was, he’s a good friend, and he’s probably worried about me, how I’m holding up and things like that.” He smiled, and gradually began shaking his head, as if he understood or now it made sense.

“What did he have to say?”

“Well, he didn’t have much to say, just small talk about how people we know are doing, and stuff like that. Nothing of note or interesting really.” He was so satisfied to hear this, it confused me at the time.

“Man Gilly, that’s nice. He married?”

“Yeah, wife, kids, the whole nine yards. A regular guy.”

“You know them? The family, you ever meet them?”

“Yeah, it’s hard to avoid them really. They live at his house, so….” Before I could make another sarcastic mistake, he cut me off.

“They like you?”

“Well, I can’t really say. I’m not so sure anyone really likes me. I’m a bit of an obnoxious jerk.”

“Yeah, no shit, I’m dealing with it, I noticed. Do they mind you coming over and hanging out with him?”

“I don’t think so, but I can’t be certain about what anyone else is feeling or thinking. It’s all conjecture on my part.”

“Yeah Gilly, I’m sure it’s all that. Do you realize, when you get out of here, if you do any significant amount of time, they ain’t gonna look at you the same. And most people you know won’t want anything to do with you. Things change.”

“How’s that?” Gangster did not fish around for reasons to make me feel bad, like he knew it was unnecessary.

“Gilly, whether you’re guilty or not makes no difference, you’re in here. That’s all that matters in the end. People might believe you now, or when you were on the streets, but the longer you stay in here, the guiltier you become in everyone’s mind.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m not a fucking psychiatrist Gilly, I can’t explain why it works that way. I’m just telling you it does.” I remember feeling sick to my stomach, even more so than before.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Day 31

Wednesday September 20, 2006: Today I had my first visitor as a detained suspect of violent crime. Being 40 miles away, in the furthest jail possible from where I lived might just turn out to be a positive thing. The visit itself with my friend Tommy was nice. He tried to keep the conversation lighthearted and joke, but Sisyphus had an easier task. The fact our conversation was conducted through a pane of thick protective glass, and spoken through telephone, did nothing to lend normalcy to our chat. There was so much wrong with having to speak to someone in this manner, I hoped never to have a visit again. Leaving the visiting area, to begin the series of hand-offs taking me back to my cell, I felt an oppressive sadness come over me. Running over the things Tommy said, the comings and goings of daily life as a human being rather than a societal miscreant, seemed so far away and removed from my life. The urge to cry was felt as strong as it had been since my arrest. Already my mind was taking me through future projections, of where I might be, and who I’ll never see again, and who I might see again. Always the thoughts went to my children, with whom I already I had missed so much. Calculating their ages – in a worst case scenario - the next time I might see them made me simmer with anger as much as induce sadness. Even if one is not a criminal deserving incarceration, certainly life has been misguided at best, and immoral in scattered but consistent patches at the worst times to be in such a mess. All I could think about in the wake of my visit were the people gone from my life. The sense most were gone for good overwhelmed me. I could not exhibit the least sign outwardly of my crushing sadness, lest the jackals who feed on other’s pain would rise on their haunches at the scent of weakness – as a shark detects blood droplets in the ocean from great distance - never passing on an opportunity to derive joy from someone else’s pain. I knew letting someone read my state of mind could lead to trouble, because in my entire life, I never experienced the urge to simply beat someone senseless as I was experiencing when I could pull my mind from sadness. I fluctuated between rage searching for an outlet and sadness seeking a deeper hole inside me in which to hide. Never seeing anyone I cared about again was a real possibility, and the circumstances, regardless of my role and responsibility to them was held apart from my newborn desire to hurt someone, anyone I could perceive as deserving. Right after the visit, nearly everyone was deserving. I began to reason to myself, ‘If I’m going to prison for being a violent thug, why not get my money’s worth.’ It was natural to rationalize violence in this setting, but under no condition did I think I might succumb to the notion violence would help. Now I did not care if it helped.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Day 30

Tuesday September 19, 2006: Lenny and his cellie Bandit were moved to the ‘White Rep’ cell, number 1. Three guys from each of the races which make up the vast majority of occuppants – Hispanics, Blacks and Whites – occupy the first three cells. They are allowed out of their cell from breakfast till the end of the last dayroom when everyone is locked up for final count. They are charged with cleaning the dayroom, showers, serving meals, and running errands for the guys who are locked in the cells 21 hours a day. Boone – the white rep who was here when I arrived - is the third man in the cell with Lenny and Bandit. He goes to court Friday to be sentenced, and if the rotation holds true, I would be next to go down there. It’s hard to understand how much moving to another cell providing the opportunity to clean toilets after 75 maniacs fouls them, appeals to me. Life is taking turns I just could never believe possible. Whoever said “everything is relative” might have been in such a situation as myself.

Jeff bothers me. He constantly offers me advice out of the clear blue with no encouragement from me. He operates under the assumption he is some type of wise man. He is a 39 year old dope fiend who inherited enough money once to travel to Australia and China then return to live in his van. The trip was over 15 years ago, yet I heard about it within five minutes of meeting Jeff, and he spoke about it as if he returned yesterday. He has been in and out of jail so often, he cannot remember exactly how many times he has been arrested. When he told me again, after I insisted he must know, he shook his head and laughed. “I don’t know, cause I don’t care!” This made me wonder if this was how my lawyer viewed me; did he think I could not remember my arrests and legal entanglements, like Jeff? Half his teeth are gone, he was a 10th grade dropout and has not worked regular – ever! How does someone make it to nearly 40 years of age without ever having to be on time for work? Without ever paying a utility bill? Or had a bank account or driver’s license, and yet still view himself as a beacon to turn to in times of troubles? How does one reach that point of self-delusion? I would really like to know, because on some level, I envied Jeff. He was not stressed out by his predicament, in fact, he did not even see this as a predicament. It was a place to get some sleep, eat three meals a day, put on some weight and get healthy. While I was producing something with my insides rivaling the worst sewer odors any third world slum ever emitted, stressing over what to do with a lawyer I was fairly certain was working against me, Jeff slept. While I waited in the line at the phones to call the attorney, Jeff filled out forms to go to the dentist. “Think I’ll get this tooth that’s been bothering me pulled while I’m here,” he said to in passing as I stood in the phone line, forcing bile back down my throat. It was like a day spa for those mentally relieved from the ability to engage reality. When conversations around Jeff circled back to the inevitable topic, ‘What I am going to do first when I get out’, Jeff never hesitated to respond. “I’m gonna get high,” he would say time and again with nonchalance. Then the conversation would veer into everyone talking at once about their drug of choice, and how it was second thing they were going to do. Jeff was not a liar. There were no false airs trying to impress other cesspool dwellers, when he was on the streets he was doing big things. Jeff was not doing anything, did not intend to do anything – except the aforementioned ‘getting high’ – and did not want to do anything. As the other guys struggled to come up with the word ‘Broker’ or otherwise explain their vast wealth and holdings which must be tended to before they get high; or the supermodel girlfriend who is suffering through a painful celibate period in their absence and must be carnally satisfied before they can think about a dalliance with dope, Jeff just threw his plans out there without regard for the collective think tank and their responses. When myself or someone else could not or would not eat an unidentified object on our meal tray, Jeff gladly accepted it and scarfed it down greedily. He never complained, never used the phone, or expressed worry in any way detectable. He really bothered me.

Two phone calls to my attorney were unsuccessful in making contact. His secretary did not know his schedule for the remainder of the week. That is what she told me. I am sure Jeff would believe her, but I am just a bit more skeptical. Not that it’s doing me any good.    

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Day 29

Monday September 18, 2006: As soon as the dayroom opened, I went over to the phone bank and got in line. There were four phones, and some of the guys spent nearly the entire time allotted for dayroom yelling at their estranged subordinates on collect calls that had to add up to quite a tally. One thing I quickly came to understand, I was in the societal VIP lounge from another’s perspective, not the cesspool. It was perplexing how many of the fella’s seemed to think without them out there to tend to things, the world might spin off its axis. When the guy in front of me completed the thorough verbal flogging of whoever was unwilling to hang up on him, it was my turn. I only had 20 minutes, but knew it was plenty of time if I could get the Officer of the Court on the phone. I waited on hold for five minutes before he picked up. Following as brief a greeting as possible, he asked what was on my mind.

“It’s that arrest that was supposed to have occurred in May of 1996. What does it say I was charged with? Cause I got to thinking, it’s not so much the fictional arrest that worries me, but the fictional charge.” As I spoke, I struggled to maintain a calm voice and speak at a slow enough pace not to tip off how worked up I was over this bureaucratic liable. Later, I realized how hopeless my situation had become when considering I did not want the man hired to defend my rights to realize I was upset with his negligent and nefarious attitude.

“Damn, when you began speaking, I thought you were going to tell me you remembered the arrest after all. I don’t have your paperwork right in front of me. I’ll dig it out. Can you call back in 15 minutes?” I looked up at the clock.

“No, I doubt it. I probably wouldn’t be able to call till this evening and I know that’s too late. How about tomorrow?” Hate for this man was evolving from dislike within me as I had never known. How far could the papers have been from his desk? How big was this office? He knew my situation and accessibility to a phone. In hindsight, I think he withheld information so no specific action could be requested on my behalf.

“Well, tomorrow I’m scheduled to be in court all day, but you can try. Court gets cancelled all the time.” We said good-bye and I just knew I would never get the information on the phone from him. I returned to the cell as the announcement dayroom time had come to an end rang over the speakers. As I walked slowly along, my name was called from a cell. I looked over and saw Lenny’s and the ‘Big Drink’ Bandit’s faces crowded into the small window of their cell, calling me over. I walked close enough to speak through the door crack without screaming.

“Where are you from out there? Where did you live?” Lenny and young Bandit had actually bet on the response I found out later. So I told them the name of the city I had spent the prior 15 years living in. Lenny recognized the town right away. “Oh yeah! I know that area real well. We used to go up there all the time to steal cars.”

I almost laughed at our connection. “Hey, that’s interesting. I had a car stolen from me there!” My head was spinning all the time now.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Day 28

Sunday September 17, 2006: The religious service from crazy-land lost some appeal this week. Nothing makes me feel hopeful or see light, nothing brings a smile to my mind or distracts me from the oncoming ruin. It feels inevitable now, as if there is no use in trying, or even asking the attorney to do his job. My thoughts are so one-sided it is hard for me to do much besides walk in circles, read, and write letter after letter making derision of my plight. In the morning, as most everyone sat watching the NFL pregame shows, Gangster circled the room with me. Certain tidbits of my court appearance Friday were omitted from details shared with Gangster earlier, mainly because I wanted to spare myself his response. But those very details were eating me alive, and I had to tell someone just to see if anyone else ever experienced or heard of such a thing.

“On Friday, I saw my previous arrests sheet, my lawyer had it. There was an arrest on there which – I am telling you – never happened. I’m not mostly sure, I am absolutely, 100%, sure.” I sprung this out of nowhere, till then the conversation focused on food.

“What the fuck are you talking about, Gilly?”

“On Friday, I saw this piece of paper saying I was arrested in May of 1996. I am telling you it did not happen. I was never arrested in my life at that point. I think I could remember the first time I was in that sort of trouble.” Just talking about it I could feel an anger ruminating through me like a simmering demon with horrific potential, and that was new.

“So you’re telling me on your list of priors, there’s a mistake, right? That happens, someone enters a date wrong in the computer.” He was not getting it, perhaps because he had a rap sheet with as many pages as a novella.

“No, no, this is not a wrong date. Understand, I was not arrested on a regular basis; as in never until March 12th 1998, and that was for missing two days of community service on the DUI I got in August of 1996.”

“Then you were arrested in August of 1996! Get your fucking story straight Gilly! The DA is gonna love you the way you tell your bullshit.”

“No, I was not arrested. I rolled an old pick-up into an avocado field, crawled out from under it, walked two miles to a phone, then the police showed up while I was waiting for a ride to the emergency room. I broke some ribs and hurt my shoulder. They put me in an ambulance and followed me to the hospital. They wanted blood from me since I passed the seven Breathalyzer tests they gave me, I refused and got a DUI.”

“Why’d you refuse Gilly?”

“Pot stays in the system a long time. And I smoked it a lot, so they were going to get me on that anyhow, so I refused. But the point is, after six hours or so I was released from the hospital and never arrested officially, never taken into custody. I would not forget the first time someone looked up my ass while coughing.” He did not respond, he was listening, which meant I should continue. I was getting good at reading maniacs. “So I was never arrested or charged with anything then, or even questioned about something.”

“What does it say you were arrested for?” Gangster thought pragmatically on these matters even if his final conclusions would often end in savage beat downs, the decision to administer the savage beating was arrived at pragmatically.

“I don’t even know. I was so flustered by the appearance of an arrest, I didn’t get around to asking. I just figured, if it says I was arrested, and I wasn’t, the charge is a moot point.” Gangster shook his head at my naiveté on the particulars.

“Gilly, if it says you were passing bad checks back then, it’s gonna make no difference. If they’re claiming it’s any kind of violence charge, they’re gonna use that to run your sentence up. Just like they do with the three strike law.” I voted for the three strike law. On a purely superficial basis, it seemed to make sense, until understanding its implementation, at which point it imploded logically. “I never heard of someone having some phantom charge appear on their jacket before, Gilly. Mistakes regarding actual arrests – sure. But this is some other bullshit altogether. Better call that lawyer first thing tomorrow. So he can tell you you’re wrong and don’t remember your own life as well as the police papers do.” Gangster never stopped driving home his point unless to punch someone in the face, driving his point home via the alternate route. I welcomed his verbal belligerence.

“Yeah, I guess I better.” I knew he was right though. That lawyer – the heir apparent to the barrister who must have inspired Shakespeare – was not even going to try and rectify something working to his benefit. It was a screwed up situation, and I put it together, I was in the middle of it, screaming inside for the truth.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Day 27

Saturday September 16, 2006: I did not sleep well last night. I met the latest lower bunk occupant, whose name is either Jeff or Jim, then spent the rest of the night trying not to answer Gangster’s inquiries. He was not content to be right, he wanted to take over my case. In hindsight, I probably should have done everything he recommended. Logic as I knew it – and granted I was no Socrates – dictated people with life size tattoos of Jesus being shot-up by the devil on their bodies cannot be taken seriously as counsel in what I viewed as a life and death matter. He was not hostile with me, or angry. He exhibited more hostility in order to clear space for junk food. I answered every question he asked me, except one; “So what are you gonna do Gilly?” I just did not have an answer, there was no money for another lawyer and I heard nightmares about the appointed attorneys.

The day room was on full weekend schedule, so everyone was out at the same time. During the 6 hours of time out of the cell, I must have walked 5 or 600 laps. Walking and counting, trying not to let the doom I felt welling within me take control. There’s a lot of mind games in county jail. The guys have one objective; receive as little time as possible. Everywhere the lap walking took me, I would drift in and out of the same conversations. Someone telling his story, another guy offering his opinion, both exuding superficial optimism that was paper thin along with confidence which was a complete pretense. The guys want to be lied to, and I wished Gangster would lie to me. Maybe I would be able to sleep then. My mind entertained options on how to deal with my problem ranging from firing the lawyer to killing myself. The place was designed to make killing oneself a difficult task requiring much effort, but I saw a way or two it could have been done. I could not sit down at the table and watch college football when asked to join the football fans. I could not stop writing letters in the cell. It was growing increasingly tense in my head and I was feeling myself slipping away, or at least slipping into something I did not recognize.

Simple things, like paper to write on, or pencils sharp enough to write with, began to take on such significance. We were not allowed to have pens because they too much resembled knives, and we were expected to stab each other with them, instead of writing. Gangster walked a couple dozen laps with me, to follow-up on my case.

“Ya know Gilly, I’ve been thinking, running through my mind if I can remember anyone ever having the initial offer raised and I can’t. You know what this is like? It’s like you walk onto a car lot, the sticker says ten thousand. So you offer the salesman nine. But instead of bargaining with you, kind of meet you in the middle, your salesman’s is saying 12 thousand. He’s going above the sticker on the car, and it don’t make sense. The DA starts high so he can come down. They started high with you, and went up further. I can’t explain it.”

“I thought you stole cars, you didn’t buy them. What do you know about haggling over price on a car lot?” I tried to smirk, but those facial muscles were not working properly.

“Gilly, I used that example because I’m trying to speak your language. What do you think, I don’t know anyone who has ever bought a car? You’re a funny fuckin guy and all, but you better fire that clown you hired as a lawyer. I don’t think you’re taking this serious enough.” I said nothing, but it did not matter.

“I know what you think about the court appointed shit, and you’re right. You might have to request new counsel a few times then too, till you find the right one. But that won’t cost you anything.”

“Maybe it doesn’t show, but I am taking this as serious as I am capable of taking anything. If I joke or seem hesitant to fire him, it’s because joking keeps my head from exploding and I just can’t believe this guy isn’t going to make the proper effort. I just can’t believe that.”

“You’re a stubborn motherfucker, Gilly, anyone ever tell you that? I know you ain’t stupid, but if you’re going to be this stubborn, shit, it doesn’t matter if you’re smart. You’d be better off being stupid; stupid people can at least listen to reason when their life is on the line. You’re gonna fuck yourself!”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Day 26

Friday September 15, 2006: Holding cells – the accused, randomly selected by the calendar of the court – are loaded with variables and potential problems. It stems from the shocking number of enemies people in jail have. Every time someone is moved to a new facility, part of the intake process, or screening, is asking the question; “Do you have any enemies?” which I found odd. They keep a list of everyone’s enemies? I guess I found it depressing too; gang members with enemies’ lists’, just like Nixon. The first time I was asked, it so caught me off-guard I responded sarcastically, a reflex I soon lost. “Well, JJ Murphy used to look for me in the 6th grade to beat me up, but he’s got to be dead by now.” County employees take their job very serious when someone tries to be funny. He looked at me without so much as a smirk, “So no enemies then, correct?” It did not take long to stop going for laughs in an environment where everyone wants to beat your ass. It is one big tough room.

As each miscreant is fed into the holding cell, they search the faces for the familiar. Being with a world-class weasel was preferable to being alone. But no one ever seemed to be alone – except me. Everyone else coming through the door needed two seconds to find someone they knew. It was like a reunion, or me going into a bar, except with bizarre-world nicknames; “Hey Worm! Yo, my dog Vermin, how you been?” and so forth. The camaraderie often looked forced, motivated by fear. I never spoke to anyone first – except once, which I’ll explain later – in a holding cell. For the most part, these are people who go to jail for a living, forced temporarily together, then tossed and tossed. There are at least two holding cells before boarding the bus to court. Once there, three or four more is typical before court, then at least two more while waiting for your ride back. Another one back at the home facility, so they can look up your ass, then back to the 5.5 x 11.5 foot three man cell. As bad as the cell was, when I arrived back each time from court, I was genuinely comforted by its confines.

Before going into court, in the last holding cell, I was permitted to speak with my attorney. The conversation was conducted through a 3” x 12” slot in the door, located about two feet from the floor. Standing there, bent over and screaming so he would hear me, my seven newest best friends in the world hung on our every utterance. He tried to explain to me what this day’s hearing was addressing, but I could not understand him, and did not feel comfortable enough to ask him to repeat something I most likely would not have understood had I heard every word. I quickly grow tired of screaming “What’s that mean?” when trapped and surrounded by genius. But it was there, bent at the waist with my ear as close to the slot as I could get it, I learned the five years at either 80 or 85% had been removed as an offer and replaced by an offer of seven years at whatever the correct percentage was, which my lawyer did not care enough to determine. I had been bargained up. I am sure it happens, initial offers going up; it just was so rare I could not find another example of it in the coming six years. My case had quite a few of those infrequent peculiarities, beginning with being arrested twice, and ending with a little known and seldom seen parole surprise.

In the courtroom, the man who would become the poster boy for spurious legal representation and gluttonous bottom feeding sat next to me in the villains section, dressed in a suit clearly distinguishing him as a visitor and master of disguise. My best effort to read and comprehend the paperwork he shuffled before me was futile. At best I could pull out snippets of data.

"Hey, what's this here? Says my first arrest was May 17th, 1996?! I was never arrested in May of 1996. That's wrong." Now, at this juncture, I really hoped for some supportive response, this was cut and dry matter-of-fact stuff. Instead, he focused in on the page and rebutted me.

"Yes you were, it says right here . . ." he proceeded to read the "facts" pertaining to the arrest that never happened, as if my problem were illiteracy. Momentary out of body experiences gripped me. When I reiterated the date of my first arrest, as in actually taken into custody, just as I was then, he dismissed me, sure that, simpleton which I was, had the dates mixed up. As soon as he felt I was properly defused he started to resell me on the idea of accepting the seven year offer, "Before they raise it again." I wondered if I refused deals long enough, could this grow into life sentence. When he paused from retelling me bad news about rescinded offers and other assorted tragedies relating to how screwed I was, I asked a question. “Can you file a Pitchess motion on my behalf regarding the way the stories changed?” I saw the expression on his face do something. Until then, he mindlessly spoke nothing specific enough to require thought, only heaping discouragement upon me, hoping to suffocate me, so I would succumb. He remained a scumbag even when he gave his words thought.

“Where did you hear of that?” Spoken in a voice reserved for the preposterous.

“I went to the law library at the jail and looked some stuff up.” No way was I going to let him tell me what an idiot Gangster was, or I was for listening to him. I thought each jail was required to have a law library available, but then, I also believed innocent until proven guilty. He simply switched targets, telling me the books are outdated and the application . . .blah blah blah. He was not going to file the motion. So I asked more questions. “I looked up mayhem and I do not see how they can charge me with that, what are the grounds?

“There’s retina damage to the right eye, that requires surgery, otherwise it’s a permanent injury.” I sat still, trying to stay focused as rage gathered momentum within me. It took a while, but calmness still controlled the surface.

“That retina damage is 17 years old. It occurred when an older sister flipped a car over while driving drunk. There was already surgery scheduled for September, this month, before this happened. If someone is in chemo and something like this happens, would I be charged with causing the cancer? Can’t we get ahold of medical records to prove this? How hard can that be?” He never answered any of my questions directly which I did not realize at the time.

“Can you come up with $3,500?” Lawyers never ask questions unless they have the answer. “If you can, then I strongly suggest you hire a detective to get started on this.” Words to that effect anyway, I went into a state then, where I do not hear or comprehend my surroundings, something I imagine people must experience on an airplane that is going down.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Day 25

Thursday September 14, 2006: After spending much of the morning yesterday listening to Tom’s bravado fueled ego spout off, insisting he was not going to move just because Gangster told him to, 10 minutes after the dayroom opened he was laying prone on the floor, injured apparently, in the throes of the ‘Man Down’ procedure. Medical was called and they carried him off on a stretcher, the only malady plaguing him; a bruised ego and delusional sense of self. I felt pretty certain the medical staff would not be able to treat what ailed him. Gangster congratulated me on seeing to it that Tom was gone when he returned from legal proceedings. I insisted I had nothing to do with it. Then Gangster once again showed me how well he understood this dungeon.

“Gilly, you gonna try and tell me that asshole didn’t try and get you to take his side and have me moved instead of him?” It had not occurred to me yesterday this could have been Tom’s motive. Whatever his motive was, he was bad at practical application of action to attain a specific goal, because he came across as nothing other than delusional and crazy, like so many others in the herd. “He probably didn’t want to move without an ass beating.”

I found that perplexing. “You mean he wanted an ass beating?”

“No Gilly, stop acting stupid.” It was no act. “I mean he wouldn’t go unless he got he ass beat.” The whole thing was nuts, which was perfectly normal now.

Thursday around 11 A.M. or newest cellie arrived. A blond haired surfer looking guy named Denny, who showed up pre-rattled. As Gangster began the interrogation, he seemed uncertain Denny was hearing him, or understanding him, or capable of understanding him. He displayed his typical sensitivity by looking over at me and either laughing at Denny’s responses or making facial expressions as if puzzled beyond his ability to comprehend Denny’s often excessively obtuse replies. Denny’s voice was a stolid monotone which seemed generated by a brain fully pre-occupied with other matters. He could not even force himself to recognize what a potentially harmful interrogator he was being questioned by, or just did not care. His answers were brief and soft spoken, and not fully on point. Gangster looked his paperwork over.

“Denny! It says here you’re a woman beater! Not good Denny, not after O.J. They’re gonna come after you. Hot issue right now.” He continued reading the paperwork. After another minute, he handed it to Denny. “You’re fucked.”

He looked up at me where I was sitting in my regular spot against the back wall on my bunk. “You got some kind of preliminary hearing tomorrow, right Gilly?” Great, Denny was proving to be no fun to play with and he was back to me. I guess it’s true about ‘playing dead’ if a bear attacks you.

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is or what’s going to be dealt with. It’s very confusing in there to me. Everyone talks very fast and in a language that sounds like English, but it’s not.” I put my pencil down, giving Gangster my full attention.

“You gonna fire that lawyer like I told you to?” This was such a mind field. Not doing what Gangster said, even if the potential ramifications had absolutely no bearing on him, still rubbed him the wrong way.

“Not yet,” I was evolving into quite a time-buyer, “I want to see how things go a bit more. We haven’t done anything in court really yet.” He responded with an incredulous forced laugh, designed to make me feel unqualified to question him. I can read a lot into a laugh.

“Alright Gilly, it’s your ass on the line. Remember what I told you, he’s gonna sell you up the river to get some Mexican drug dealer off.” Gangster spoke as if he had never been proven wrong in his life. “What you need to tell this guy, since you’re not gonna fire him, is to file a ‘Pitchess Motion’. If they changed the police reports, if the story changed, that needs to be entered into the case as evidence for the judge to consider. He’ll tell you no, because he’s a piece of shit and he knows you’re an idiot, so he’ll try to shut you down. You must insist.”

“Why wouldn’t he do it if I ask him?” I just could not believe things could be that convoluted in there.

“Gilly! He’s working with the DA’s office! When he fucks you over and gets the Mexican dope dealer off, it’s all prearranged with the DA. By filing this, he’d be fucking up his deal. Slowing things down and raising questions about your case. He is not interested in raising doubt about you. He wants you to look like you’re the worst piece of shit they’ve ever seen in there. If he won’t file this, that should tell you all you need to know.” I could not be certain if I was gradually going insane, allowing me to better fit my surroundings, like a chameleon, or Gangster was making more sense.



Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day 24

Wednesday – September 13, 2006: Gangster had to go to court today, meaning right after our 4 A.M. delectable breakfast menu was consumed, he was quickly called to sit in the waiting cell for about three hours. It is unnecessary to call people for court at 4 A.M. but every step of the process has the misery maximized to encourage the squeezed to take a deal and move along to the next shelf. Back in the cell Tom felt liberated by the absence and relief from the tension Gangster was so skilled at producing. He was emboldened by the lack of an imminent punch in the face, this had a strange effect on many of the guys, and I could literally see Tom reverting into his more idiotic former self. Fear does keep people from acting as much the fool here. I thought for sure he would rush to get back to bed before I was asleep in direct violation of Gangster’s order, so I tried to eliminate the concern.

“If you want to go back to sleep don’t worry about me. I can’t go back to sleep after going downstairs and being frightened by breakfast like that.” It was a joke, and the type of joke I would be making less and less of in this milieu. Self-deprecating remarks or jokes in any form, under any circumstances were not recognized by 99% of the population. What was heard was an expression of weakness. That was the interpretation, and like running from a dog or wild animal it was perceived as a sign to charge and give chase.  

“I’m not tired,” Tom paced as Gangster usually did, “wanna play cards or something?” I had yet to play cards, dominoes, chess, or any of the house gaming options. There was always a lot of screaming, especially for a chess game. I was amazed by the Muhammad Ali trickle-down effect on all competition. As Ali would taunt and tease his opponents while he methodically beat the daylights out of them, these guys would produce vein bulging screams deriding their opponents worth, ability and often sexual prowess based on moving a pawn two spaces in the second move of the game. It was disturbing to observe at first, such gross exaggeration of ability and importance, and I was in the group.

But a game of 500 rummy on the cell floor, where no one would be around to impress with delusional Muhammad Ali fantasies, somehow seemed more stable, or at least less risky. There’s no way to produce a ‘Look-at-me’ moment when no one is there to look. So I agreed to play. During the first hand, I scooped up about 16 cards to lay down three sevens, and Tom assessed my play as that of a “card whore” and he violently kicked the bunk in a display of displeasure. He was also probably thinking he was intimidating me because I said nothing in return to being labeled a “card whore”. Days earlier a DA referred to me as a “violent thug” and “threat to the community” in court, and after that “card whore” lost a lot of its sting for me. My silence and contentment to seemingly pick up every card Tom discarded to turn into points, did something I simply cannot explain through any rational prism of thought to Tom’s behavior. He began to say things vaguely at first; “card whores should have their asses beaten”, to eventually, “I ought a kick your card whorin ass for playing like that”, and other threats, which at best could only be described as myopic. Tom might have been younger than me by a few years, but time had not been kind to him. And while not a street fighter or brawler by any stretch, I wasted a lot of time lifting weights at the gym. Tom had fragility in his appearance of someone who’s liver might break if he were hit.

At the conclusion of the hand I slid the cards to him after adding my points up and said, “Your  deal.” Hardly what I considered fighting words. As best he could, Tom sprang to his feet. He walked to the back wall and turned around to face me. His arms were extended out from his body as if toothpicks were uncomfortably placed in his armpits preventing them from resting at his sides. His chest was puffed out indicating he was clearly doing the “jailhouse peacock” thing, and maybe what is called for in the wild if a coyote or some other smaller predator is spotted; he was trying to make himself look bigger. And he did; he looked like a bigger, shot-out, idiot with a deconditioned body, which might fool a bobcat, but from the floor of the cell it looked pathetic. Then he asked a question which made no sense on the surface, but I realized it was a threat soon after.

“So what we gonna do about it, Holmes?” Never good to be addressed as ‘Holmes’, and I never did come to understand that either. I had no clue what the “it” was in that glue-sniffing cranium of Tom’s, but I knew what he wanted. I felt my heart racing, not due to fear necessarily, but because I just did not want to fight anyone over reasons so abstract Socrates could not pin pointed the issue exactly. Very quietly, after I realized he was not going to sit back down and deal without a retort, I ventured forth.

“If I get up off this floor, I promise you, it’s going to go real bad for you Tom.” I spoke these words with the intensity of someone ordering a venti latte at Starbucks. During my life, if I had been moved to threaten someone, I was usually so upset by then, I was screaming. And probably drunk too. I never said anything like this so calmly in my life, with a clear head, never. He sat back down and dealt.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 23

Tuesday – September 12, 2006: When Tom woke up Tuesday morning he was not as funny or entertaining as he was when he went to bed Monday night. Tom suffered from snoring which might qualify as sleep apnea. Up on top the bunk it was vibrating with each sudden and violent reverberation. He was really making a racket, but I was willing to overlook it, being as I had some stress induced gas worse than anything I ever dealt with. Gangster did not have to request twice for me to climb down and get on the Boeing next time. He told me if I do it again without climbing down he would have to assume I don’t respect him. I answered him, “Oh, let’s not even say that, ok?”

“It’s as simple as that, just so you know.”

I laughed nervously, instinctively stalling for time and trying to think of ‘Valium Words’ since he was indicating a punch in the face might be on the agenda. “I’m an up-and-down-getting motherfucker. I would have done it the first time but I didn’t want to shake the bunk and disturb anyone’s slumber. I’m stinky considerate. My lawyer’s not going to negotiate any time off for me, but he got me nominated for most considerate ‘Cellie’ and most considerate newcomer for August. Two new deals he has working for me.” There was silence.

“Just get the fuck up and on the toilet. That was the worst thing I ever smelled. If you do it again, I’m gonna punch you in the face before I throw up.” Great. The toilet did work. If I sat on it and flushed, it vacuumed the air in its wind stream and removed the stench. Everything in the place reeked of 19th century thinking, except the toilet which was from the future. I am not sure if there was a message in that or not. I was looking for messages and reading between the lines everywhere. My mind was having cramps.

An hour or so later I’m climbing down to sit on the toilet. Perched on the Boeing, the relatively pristine silence was shaken by a jolt of sound and energy erupting from the bottom bunk. I braced, anticipating a second, third, and on into infinity. But it could have just been the one, an aberration; maybe he swallowed his tongue. No, a second roaring nasal belch two feet from Gangster’s head sounded. I was already wondering what snoring’s effect would register on the respect meter. The third hacking sinus struggle stirred Gangster, and before one or two more fleshy skids erupt, I hear “Are you fucking kidding me!” This was no joke. He smacks the bottom of my bunk above him and shouts; “Gilly, you hear this?”

I answered from where I sat on the Boeing being vacuumed. “I’m trying to time the flush of the toilet for between outbursts. If they both go off at the same time, I'm afraid I’ll be torn in half.” He rolled onto his right side and reached down, grabbing Tom and shaking him back to consciousness. Before Tom knew he was awake, Gangster had the floor. “Fuckhead! Did you know how loud you snore?”

Semi-consciously, Tom responded. “Yeah, I snore.”

“You should have said something. Listen, your not allowed to go back to sleep until you make sure me and Gilly are both sound asleep.” If I hear you snoring before I get back to sleep, then I’m gonna wake you up and knock you out, got it?”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Tom was catching a stutter I thought.

It was quiet for awhile and twice I saw Tom get up to see if I was sleeping. He went over and stood at the door, looking out the window. He would have to move out, by faking an injury or illness; or fight Gangster. To remain in a cell like this or a dorm which might have 90 societal failures in one big room, you would have to be very popular and well liked not to get moved.

Day 22

Monday – September 11, 2006: When football was on, it was the first time I really sat still in the dayroom for more than a few minutes. Usually if the cell doors were open, I was in the dayroom walking laps around the perimeter. I must have had too much time to think, or I was trying to avoid thinking too much about the worst case scenarios, but whatever it was, I found myself obsessing over the sort of things I never did before. As I walked the perimeter I started counting my strides, to see how many strides a lap required. Then five laps, to get an average number, figuring that would be more accurate for reasons I can’t explain. I tried to maintain a steady stride, right around three feet. Eventually this would lead to me figuring out it was about 42.5 laps around to reach a mile. Then I began seeing how many laps I could walk each dayroom, and trying to top it next time. So when the football games came on yesterday, it might have been just in the nick of time, because I’m not sure where that was going if I did not get interrupted.

It was a weekend when both tiers were let out together and I met some of the guys who were down stairs. I only knew them from seeing their figures moping in the dayroom when I looked out the little cell door window. I did not do much of that since window monitor was Gangsters position, and I did not want to be blocking his pacing path. There was only one cell with white guys downstairs, and two upstairs; nine of us out of 90. Two of the guys sat and watched for six hours straight, as I did. Lenny was a large guy, two years younger than myself and looking at his fourth term. My first cellie, Tim, referred to Lenny as the “Silverback”, not to his face of course. The other white guy joining the football watchers was named Darren. A 23 year old, fair skinned freckled faced kid charged with 14 armed robberies. Lenny called him “Honey Bun” because he bought more and more honey bun pastries on Tuesday’s and could not make them last a week, so he upped his order each week until he was at about 35 now and still done with them before Sunday’s games. Darren was also known as “The Big [drink] Bandit” due to his inclusion of a big soft drink cup in his hand at every heist. He would drive his pick-up with his bike in the rear bed to a preselected location about two blocks from his intended target. He liked video stores and subway sub shops and pizza huts. He would ride his bike from where he parked to the store, empty cup in hand. Walk in, and if at a food place, order something to eat. When the food would arrive and it was time to square up he would calmly put the cup on the counter, open his jacket or lift his shirt to show the cashier his gun and say; “put all the bills in the register into the cup”. They would accommodate him, and out the door with his meatball sub in one hand and a 42 ounce soda cup stuffed with bills in the other he would go. A quick bike ride to the getaway truck and 14 times it worked without a hitch. Eventually he made the evening newscasts and someone he went to high school with recognized him and notified the authorities. As he finished the story, Lenny added; “That’s why you gotta drop out of school by 9th grade, so not that many people know what you look like,” which I thought showed incredible foresight on his part.

Monday morning brought with it another cellie for us in cell 24. A 39 year old fella who said he drove a tow truck, and apparently, housed and sold stolen property much of which was acquired on the first job. We were all dumber than we thought we were, or at least not as smart as we were certain we were. Either way, this new guy, Tom, was going for the number one ranking. Gangster took about a minute to feel the guy out before he started throwing mental haymakers at him, asking question after question. He was using his false sincerity voice, feigning interest in anything Tom wished to expound on. Tom sat on his lowest bunk and Gangster paced as he shot the questions. Tom was unable to say “I don’t know” and Gangster liked that he had a fountain of information, a veritable authority on any chosen subject from which to gain wisdom. Every so often, either Gangster’s question (done deliberately) or Tom’s answer (done in Zen-idiot fashion) was so preposterous, Gangster would glance up at me with a big grin to make sure I was following the proceedings, as if ignoring this was a possibility. This ended only when the cell doors clicked open and as I walked out with Gangster he said; “I’m gonna let this guy stay Gilly. This kind of stupid doesn’t come along every day.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 21

Sunday – September 10, 2006: Sunday mornings continued with its recognizable routine, underway with the unlocking of cell doors, the self-righteous and the serendipitous vied for slots to scream at the captive congregation. Among the fella’s with a desire for creating “look at me” moments – never in short supply – jailhouse preacher and religious fanatic provided superb opportunities. As best as I could tell, perhaps the only time some of the guys ever dabbled in the arena of patience was waiting their turn to place the assemblage under their thrall. Incarceration guarantees a dearth of significance or purpose, so the illusion of meaningful behavior while espousing one’s newfound belief system at the top of the lungs was attractive by contrast. At least, that’s how it looked. There was not a guy at the “service” I could envision in church on the streets. It had been a few years since I last attended Sunday service regularly, so maybe the churches were full of people with head and face tattoos now, I can’t say either way with certainty.

While the preachers preached, football fans went about organizing a gambling pool for the NFL season openers. It was a two Top Ramen soup buy-in. Top Ramen are the gambling chips of prison and jailhouse casinos, their value adjusted to match the gouging rate of the facility. Gangster insisted on paying my way into the pool with such adamancy it might have sparked something detrimental to my already diminished well-being to disagree. I won fortunately, and was able to repay the loan by the kick-off of the Sunday night game. I did not know if he was setting traps for me or attempting in his own way to be, well, less than anti-social. He seemed sincere and genuine, but he probably seemed sincere to the missing paperwork guy when he pinned him against the wall too. I had yet to see him hit anyone, but I was 100% certain if it came time, he would not hold back.

By approximately 8 P.M. all shaving razors acquired at the window during the day must be returned. They make an announcement or two demanding the razors return. If this goes unheeded, the tone of voice on the second announcement indicates ignoring this responsibility will have negative consequences. In another races cell (It is worth noting it was not a caucasion error, because Gangster considered this an egregious act, to be misinterpreted by other races as disrespectful, and could result in real problems. To insure white awareness on the issue, in Gangster’s introduction anti-pep talk each new arrival received, a crystal clear threat was made as prevention.), someone mistakenly placed the razor at the sinks edge hovering above the Boeing toilet. Someone else flushed the toilet and in a flash the razor vanished at 200 MPH down into the vortex of the turbo toilet. Tonight was the night I learned what happens when a disposable Bic razor disappears.

By 8:30 everyone was marched cell by cell to a big room with wooden floors which some called “the gym”. I had not seen the room in three weeks, and never saw it used in a “gym” capacity during my stay. Around the room perimeter, 90 of us were told to face the wall, remove all our clothing, and kneel. I almost whispered 'I hope this isn't some weird dating ritual County employees have' to Gangster, but if I made him laugh and got him in trouble, I'm sure it would have been time to punch someone in the face.While the vast majority of County employees, many from other “tanks”, gathered in our evacuated area with the intention of ripping each cell to bits, a smaller group – which overcompensated for their lack of numbers with raging hostility the likes of which I had not yet experienced in my life. -  methodically went around searching the clothing and naked bodies for a razor blade. I knelt facing the wall when I could have sworn I heard a County employee say; “Lift your ball sack.” I did not turn as my reflexes beckoned to satisfy my curiosity and check my hearing. Whatever I thought I heard, it would be repeated 89 more times. Before it was repeated however, I heard “bend over, spread your cheeks and cough three times.” A request synonymous with having a gander up someone’s ass, and something they liked to do an awful lot in there. My mind scurried for understanding as I clearly heard the “ball sack” line again. Gradually, I came to realize they were checking under testicles and up rectums for razors. If they were doing this because there was precedent, then I had underestimated the level of mental illness kneeling facing the wall. If it was done just to deter future razor disappearances, further degrade and accelerate dehumanization, then there was a level of mental illness among the County employees I had underestimated. Judging strictly by the behavior each group was exhibiting at the time, I lean toward the latter.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 20

Saturday – September 9, 2006: The weekends were only different if the County employee’s followed the rules and gave us the “extra” dayroom time the schedule called for us to have. No guarantee. We would spend the weekend without a third member in cell 24 I was informed, because Gangster ran yesterday’s addition off  without much effort. The guy arrived with no paperwork; a serious faux pas by the current standard. Gangster explained he pressed the guy up against the wall and told him he had 30 seconds once the doors opened for dayroom to get busy producing paperwork or he’d “beat the ever-loving shit outta him”. To look at him one needn’t be prodigiously intuitive to think he meant it. It would appear he yearned for such opportunity. He had shown me his right hands knuckles with great pride, and they were indeed well chewed and used for pounding objects which only reluctantly gave way to make room for those invading knuckles. The hand itself looked disfigured; warped by time and effort spent in the endless pursuit of those who preyed upon children – to hear him tell it. But anyone, I suspect, who did not respect the savage pecking order of their new environs was likely to feel those knuckles. It kept crossing my mind how stupid someone had to be to attempt establishing their own beliefs in such a soulless, lawless place as the one assembled  and designed by the Law itself. Time and again a new arrival with an ego for the ages would be dumped into our desperate midst, telling us he was the new sheriff in town, only to have the gumption abruptly stomped out of him in vivid living color. It was never anything but ugly, and though it got gradually easier to look at with each passing behavioral correction, it remained unsettling to the point I had to look away before the rearranging of priorities concluded. Before they were through with me though, I would be waiting for the corrective action and welcoming the change it would produce in the asshole in question. Some people cannot learn any other way.

Gangster jumped ugly on me over the weekend too, but as I came to expect from him, without the malicious intent. Intent however did not predicate malice from entering into his tone or words anyhow, it just was not deliberate, and with Gangster, this was a formidable difference for which I was grateful. He asked about my meeting with the lawyer, interrupting me at his choosing when he needed more information than was forthcoming. “What’s your lawyer’s name?”

“David G.[Hispanic surname], you ever hear of him?” Whether I deliberately left this detail out to spare myself a racial lecture – as everything in this world was broken down along racial lines – I am not sure. Maybe so.

“Gilly, for someone who seems smart you make incredibly stupid decisions! How the fuck can you hire a Mexican lawyer?” I did not try to answer. There was no answer, I was smart enough still to know that. “This guy isn’t going to help you. He’s going to trade you off, use you as collateral with the DA to get one of his own off, or less time. You’re fucked if you stay with him.” I did not follow. I had no idea what he was even talking about. This guy went to law school in America, not Mexico, I could not understand his statement. Not yet anyway. I actually thought Gangster was reacting typically for someone as institutionalized as himself. It was a mistake I made repeatedly during the first months; dismissing good advice from people who knew the system and all of its absolute corruption, so much better than I did. I still mistakenly thought the truth, and justice mattered then. I could not have been more wrong.

I actually argued with Gangster over this, which was odd, since if he put forth the idea the earth was flat I would have agreed on point. He explained how the DA has quotas, time which must be meted out each day, week, to make the monthly numbers. Lots of jobs - high paying unskilled jobs, as well as over educated figures reigning terror over the scum – count on the system being overstocked. It’s as simple a method of job security ever devised, and even the U.S. Supreme Court cannot bring change to the corrupt ways. It is well documented now the C.C.P.O.A. has given the finger to the High Court, and instructed them too, to go fuck themselves, just as they have every other entity which tried to pull back on their terroristic approach to juris prudence. Nothing can stop power which feeds off public ignorance and fear except a well-educated populace. That will never happen in America, California, or anywhere else under plutocratic control.

The point Gangster was making, was my attorney would allow for me to be given excessive time, in a trade or deal which allowed another of his clients – an Hispanic one perhaps, who paid a higher fee (drug dealers, I quickly learned, have money to spend on proper representation, and are categorized as non-violent offenders, therefore subject to only 50% of sentence.) and would certainly result in countless referrals after word of his great service spread among his clients contemporaries. So for someone to walk away with probation and a program, the five years they should have received must be accounted for some place else. It sounded crazy to me, and given the source, I found it easy to dismissed.

 I am a fool, what else can I say.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 19

Friday – September 8, 2006: I got the call over the intercom around 9AM to get dressed. I’d be going down to meet with my new lawyer. Being absent at that point meant I’d miss the arrival of our cellie de jour and the reception he would receive by cell 24’s very own, one-man unwelcome wagon, which suited me just fine. It was not yet comfortable for me to watch another human, being emotionally flogged and mentally disemboweled in the name of creating space for junk food. Over time, I fully would come to understand, even welcome such logic, but at this early stage of the journey through the societal cesspool, I still had more than mere remnants of my former self floating through my worldview.

The guy I went down to meet handed me a business card with one hand while shaking my hand with the other, as a method of expediency I suppose, because he was in a hurry and had two other clients to meet with after me. No point wasting too much of his time; it was my life after all that was at stake, not his. The card said he was the same guy I had spoken to on the phone. Everything else associated with the phone conversation had changed. He spoke to the DA, and afterwards, came away working for them. “They have a really tough case against you here.” I said nothing in response. Not a single word, and if my facial expression changed, well, then I guess corpses can change facial expressions. He was waiting for something from me, to rebuke and shove back down my throat. He had already been paid. He did have a few questions for me, which, as I reviewed them later in my head, did not really pertain to the case. He wanted to find out if I could raise any more money; borrow from a relative, sell a car or some other possession. Then, in retrospect, he asked me the strangest question of all; “What’s [the “victim’s”] cell phone number?” I didn’t hesitate, I just gave it to him. Later it dawned on me; ‘why didn’t he ask the DA for that number?’ Probably because the DA knows my attorney is not supposed to be entering into a personal relationship with someone in that position too. Not being familiar with the inner workings of the system, I could not quite explain my uneasiness after meeting face to face with this man other than to say intrinsically I knew he was not on my side. I just did not understand the corrupt, but completely legal, back room dealings which go on between defense attorneys and the DA’s office. All I knew for certain at this juncture was the man I spoke to on the phone was completely different in every way from the guy who sat before me then. He reiterated the deal for five years at 85%, offered to me on my visit to court by the public defender, except he stated the five years at 80%.  Later, much later, I realized he was so uninterested in my case except for bartering purposes regarding reduced time for other clients, that he simply did not care enough to get that detail correct. Having refused such a deal then, it was even more deplorable coming from a guy who just accepted $5,000 to negotiate on my behalf.

“As your attorney,” and he delivered this line in believable fashion, with a straight face, “I highly recommend you take this deal.” I could not believe the gall, but I had read a little Shakespeare. In Henry VI the line, “the first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers”, relates to the common man’s frustration, I believe, with the power the law has, through its ‘officers of the court’, to wreck someone’s life. I understood the play just a bit better than when I woke that morning. My mind was both blank and racing at the same time. Nothing came out of my mouth, I could not formulate words yet. The only word coming to mind – and it came over and over – I kept to myself; scumbag.

I returned to the cell a little after 3PM. Though it was probably less than 200 feet each way, moving the miscreants about is low on the priority list. And while not leaving the building, strip searches complete with a quick peek up my ass were still conducted. After seeing the cell full of food Gangster pulled from his ass, the County employee’s penchant for looking up there made a little more sense to me. Gangster was alone in the cell when I got back. “Why the long face, Gilly?” One thing I quickly realized about Gangster, he had this surprisingly astute ability to read people. Climbing back up onto my bunk, I began to explain how things went with the lawyer. Before I really got started, he interrupted me. “Hey Gilly, I really do wanna hear how it went down there, but before you tell me, I have another thing I wanna ask you about.” I could hear my brain say, “uh oh”, and my stomach knot up. He paced back and forth with his hands behind his back, looking down at the floor. “You’re up there writing all the time, what the fuck are you writing?”

I felt myself pause, hesitant to answer even though the truth should not result in a pseudo-heart attack, nervous breakdown or even a permanent stutter. “I’m writing letters.”

“Duh Gilly, what the fuck else would you be writing? I didn’t think you were up there rewriting the Constitution, I mean who are you writing the letters to?” ‘Where the hell is our new cellie?’ This was occurring to me then, ‘why isn’t he here yet?’

“Friends, and some of the people I worked with.” I heard my voice apologizing in tone, at least, if I could not figure out why I would apologize yet.  

“What are you writing about? I mean, you’re up there all fuckin day writing these letters, what the fuck is so interesting that you have to tell them? Why are you doing that?” He was not looking at me as he paced and interrogated, different than his tactics with BD and the guy I think was Glenn.

“No one I know was ever in jail, and I just write about stuff, you know, that's here, that I think they might find interesting, or funny.” I was acutely aware I was discussing Gangster’s home, even if he was not, and I was treading very carefully not to insult the guy who was essentially my host by suggesting the place was absurd or ludicrous to the uninitiated.

“So you write funny stuff, huh? Why don’t you read me something that’s funny? Ya know, I could use a good laugh too. C’mon Gilly, read something funny to me.” He looked up finally at the conclusion of his request. He did not have his regular war-face on, but I had no indication what this new face meant. So I scrambled through the six page letter I was working on and tried to find something funny, and I read it to him when I did. It was immediately rejected.

He made a brief snarky sound followed by, “Yeah, that’s real funny Gilly, read something else.” The way he said it, so quickly and so curtly, was different. So I read something else I thought might be funny.

Then he answered, “Yeah, that’s real good too, but that’s not it either. Read something else.” I heard the word either, and I saw the devious smirk on his face he attempted to hide by keeping his head down while he paced, and I knew what he wanted. I cleared my throat and began.

“The new guy I have for a ‘Cellie’, who goes by the monicker ‘[name of town] Gangster’, might just be the scariest person I’ve ever met. Whoever has week four in the ‘When will Frankie die in jail’ pool, your money is looking good.” At which point he spun around and exploded towards me. I did not know what was about to happen, and my first reflex was to raise my arms to shag incoming blows. But his right hand which began whirling in my direction as he spun stopped a foot in front of my face and had a finger extended, pointing to my nose. “Whoever’s got week four should double down,” he yelled in as gregarious a tone of voice as I had heard from him yet. It spooked me. Then I watched him laughing hard at my reaction and shaking his head. “Gilly, don’t leave your personal letters and shit laying around on your bunk when you go out like that. Fold ‘em up and tuck ‘em under your bedroll or something. People don’t care around here, they’ll pick your shit up and read it.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 18

Thursday – September 7, 2006: Our new ‘Cellie’ - I believe his name was Glenn - did not make it till lights out. He hit the button screaming “nervous breakdown!” semi-hysterically even by the tough asylum grading. Gangster did not try to yell over him. I could feel the bunk shaking from his laughter below me. I am certain I was not as happy on the streets as Gangster now appeared, his heroin hangover over. His mood was also buoyed by the wad of illicit contraband he pulled from his rectum, which he used to perform his of version of the loaves and fishes, resulting in a stockpile of edible garbage. He probably did not operate as efficiently on the streets as here. It’s hard to pull something out of your ass and produce enough food for a month on the outside.

The same crew as the night before arrived to pick a nervous and stuttering Glenn up from where he sat on the toilet. He walked into the cell Wednesday morning with his chest cartoonishly puffed out. The pose was so strenuous to hold, he could not breathe and got dizzy. He did not have both feet inside number 24 yet when Gangster greeted him.

“What the fuck are you supposed to be, huh?” I assumed it was a rhetorical question or I would have buzzed in, that’s how ridiculously obvious he looked. “A fuckin orange peacock?” Our new cellie was off to a bad start, and the look on his face had no comeback in it. In one minute, Gangster literally and figuratively deflated him. Then he went about picking him apart the way I have seen lawyers pick apart witnesses in the movies, except with a much cruder and vulgar vocabulary and maybe an indication or two of psychopathic behavior. The bottom line was, with all the groceries Gangster accumulated, there wasn’t enough room in there for another guy; 300 Top Ramen soups, while nutritionally empty, still covers a lot of cubic square feet.

Glenn’s stutter amused Gangster in an interesting way to me: he wanted to take credit for it. After Glenn left, or rather, was escorted out sobbing with a blanket over his head, Gangster got up and stood facing me. “Did you hear the blubbering and stuttering coming out of the Peacock’s mouth? He had snot all over his shirt and pants. That’s not so easy to produce Gilly! He turned into a crying, stuttering, little bitch after I let the air out of him, huh!” Glenn – if that was in fact his name – was not a small guy, nor was he old. On the streets, without knowing either of them, one would have thought it a fair fight. I did not get an opportunity, nor did I seek one, to speak to Glenn directly. He seemed confused, of course Gangster’s rapid fire style of questioning in order to defeather the Peacock might have had something to do with it. But anyone stupid enough to walk into a County jail, with, pound for pound, some of the sickest people in the world, believing yourself capable of being a one man ‘Shock and Awe’ repellant force simply underscores his fuzzy relationship with reality. Still, Gangster was taking mental illness where I never saw it go before.

“That stutter wasn’t there when he came strutting in. You see how he was walking Gilly? Wonder what song he had playing in his head for the soundtrack to go with that puffy-walk. I hope that stutter he had by the end of the day, stays as bad as it was when he left. Fuck him,” he said as he gave the back of the cell door the finger.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Day 17

Wednesday – September 6, 2006: The life I led prior to being arrested was vague and ambiguous, at best; a desultory existence devoid of any real goal other than changing how I felt each day. No planned steps were ever followed up upon, because nothing was ever planned. Nothing about my life defined who I was because I never figured out who I was. Now, this methodical behemoth which was operating broken and crippled from overwork and unable to perform the task of its original intent, was set to define who I am for me. I stood on the highway and waited for a truck to run me over because something scared me on the side of the road, now, it was too late to get to the curb. Much time was spent pondering how I nurtured this dilemma. I went through life in a self-manufactured haze; judgment impaired and my cognizance addled intentionally. I placed the ‘kick me’ sign on my back. All this made it hard to blame someone else for kicking me. My demeanor could not be described as benign, not by a longshot. Being a New Jersey native living in California, much of my behavior – behavior I was oblivious to, having soaked in it for 24 years growing up – was misinterpreted at first by the natives; an asshole New Yorker. Maybe, but not with malicious intent. As I reflected back, I saw who I once was as unwittingly obnoxious, and more than a little misguided and sick. Not a violent thug, though the tag was about to be attached to the rest of my life. The truth would never matter again if it did not matter now. Looking like someone who could bust someone’s head if prone to punching heads, does not mean people are being hit. But wounded people will reach for any weapon of convenience I have learned, regardless of who is responsible for the seminal injury against them. I lived so recklessly, so careless with how I behaved and the things I said, if the tumblers lined up wrong, the target I placed on myself would be too big to miss, making me the perfect place to dump such emotional pain. An underachieving, semi-conscious, aimless oaf.

So I took the money intended for bail and gave it all to a lawyer. During my first visit to court with the court appointed attorney, I felt uneasy watching her shuffle piles of papers and repeatedly asking me my name. She dealt with those she represented the way someone doling out free samples at a fair deals with the endless stream of moochers; she never looked anyone in the face, and said the same things over and over. I was offered a deal that day for five years at 85% time, meaning I would do roughly four years, three months. An outrageous miscarriage of justice. From what I know about laws and courts now, if the truth mattered and facts were taken into account, this belonged in civil court. Since I had no money to sue for, and the State of California now pays people for being “victims”, this was the most lucrative avenue to pursue. The money was sent to a man who claimed to be an amateur boxer before he went to college and law school. This appealed to me because a boxer would know a right handed person would mark the left side of someone’s head. He also should have an understand that such a blow cannot be delivered without marking the hand, and the difference between a blow from a fist and a blunt object, like say a door. I thought he would be on my side. That is how I thought it worked. I would discover as the weeks went by, I was wrong on every preconceived idea I had regarding this attorney, and how it worked.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 16

Tuesday – September 5, 2006: The guys who excelled at being incarcerated, grizzled veterans of society’s seamy underside, were good at odd skills which rarely translated to any purposeful function on the streets. Sleep-eating at breakfast was one of those skills. Guys would come out of the cells resembling zombies with concealed weapons – in case someone woke them – and lifelessly traverse stairways and other vertical mobile sleepers without bumping, as if possessing the same innate sonar bats have. They would eat breakfast asleep, a chore simplified since none of the food required chewing. Everything I ate for six years seemed to have the consistency of thick cream of wheat; even the soy burgers. If meals were served on a paper plate instead of a tray, I would have rolled the contents into a funnel and poured them down my gullet. That would have saved time, especially at lunch and dinner when the grizzled veterans are wide awake and lecturing simultaneously. There is an unusually high percentage of loud speakers in there; Sunday morning religious ceremonies aren’t the only place reserved for screaming. There is often thunderous woofing in the bathroom and shower due to the acoustic echoes which the guys would then attempt to shout over by raising their voice even more. There are few things as bewildering as being on a toilet or in a shower while someone holds you hostage by attempting to scream over himself three feet away from you. Whether standing in the shower naked or sitting on the toilet, it's a no-win situation; a yell-a-thon where everyone wants to win. How does one determine the winner? Apparently volume is the pivotal factor, because often I would struggle to make sense of what was being said, especially in the shower, but the spit and wind flying out of the lecturer’s mouth would indicate importance. Also, it helped to recognize changes in the shades of the face barking out brilliance and spot bulging veins as tells. I almost never understood what a guy who had his face stuck in a can of paint for nine months before arriving was trying to express to me, but during the nine year term I did at St. James elementary school at the hands of the so-called “Sisters of Mercy” (a bigger lie than calling prison guards “Peace Officers”) I developed a survival mechanism which allows me to appear completely zeroed in on what’s being said to me, nodding on cue instinctively when needed, and live to walk away. None the wiser.

After breakfast the professionals lay immediately in their bunk and there’s no way of knowing if they have any recall of breakfast or not, it is rarely discussed. I would stay awake either reading or writing letters. Gangster had not fallen into any discernable pattern of sleep yet since ending the dry heaves and fade ways.  This morning he was up and pacing by nine. Every few trips, he would pause by the cell door and glance out through the tiny window, eclipsing it from my view with his head. He talked to me and asked less provocative questions than he did to BD, not trying to incite me, but just to control the air in the cell. Finally, he stopped and stayed planted by the door. “Well alright,” he said in a tone I long ago associated with pep talks before readying to charge onto the field of play. “Gilly, it looks like my new chew toy is about to be delivered.” He turned around rubbing the palms of his hands together, a typically maniacal look covered his face. He always looked as if he might be thinking something devious and evil, and on some level, he probably was too. To this point, I had heard nothing make me think otherwise. “I am gonna make this sonofabith wish he had more respect for the laws of our society, Gilly!” Another new feeling crept over me; I was feeling sorry for someone unseen and unspoken to in my life, that I knew was walking into an ambush, and I never gave thought to trying to prevent it from happening; not a remote consideration. Jungle rules were in effect.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 15

Labor Day Monday – September 4, 2006: Holidays were marked by the hollow feelings brought on by highlighting what was missing from my life, and an extra piece of fruit on the breakfast tray, still served promptly before 4 A.M. The fruit was nice, the excessive reflection playing on a loop in my head was maddening. Thank God I had Gangster to drag me back to earth. Well, maybe his intent was to drag people another level down from there, but for now at least, he was content to stop at earth with me. No one was transferred to our cell on Sunday, which I came to learn was a day set aside for maniacal religious observances and very little movement of the societal miscreants. To my relief, Gangster was seemingly giving me a pass to some degree, and after an entire day together in the cell I emerged with nothing more than a nickname he and he alone would call me for the rest of our relatively brief time together: ‘Gilly’. It was short for ‘Gilligan’, which spoke more to his assessment of me after spending most of Sunday grilling me and searching for points of weakness or vulnerability to exploit. To both my relief and surprise what seemed to interest him most about me, was the same thing that did with BD. When he asked, “what do you do on the streets?’ Instead of replying “dumpster diving” as BD had, I told him where I had been working. It did not take long to realize Gangster did not know many 9 to 5 types. At least, he did not have routine interaction with them, unless one considers beating someone up and taking their car routine. He wanted a full rundown on my case; details so he could properly assess the situation for me. I was coming to understand the guys who get arrested and go to jail for a living, were very good at predicting outcomes. At least guys like Gangster were, because they were not afraid to deliver bad news. Discussing cases is topic one and nothing else comes close. Guys like BD were always telling people they would get off, charges would be dismissed, and that they had “nothing on them”, which I would find interesting when I could not avoid hearing him. He would tell a guy caught on video, with DNA evidence at the scene and marked bills in his possession, “they got nothing on you”. Then he would ask the guy for a piece of fruit, or tea bag, or something else he wanted. In time, I came to appreciate Gangster’s approach of giving the bad news to you straight and taking from you what he wanted. It was simpler and less manipulative. My anxiety and stress levels were too maxed out for games and Gangster was not much for game playing, tough he was fairly skilled at inducing stress and anxiety without them. Although a case could be made mentally unravelling BD was sort of a game. He also wanted to know about what I liked, meaning what were my drugs of choice. When I told him, “I drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of pot” he refused to believe me. I admitted, of course, there were other things too, but beer and pot made up probably 98% of my life’s excessive indulgence, and I had often gone years without anything else. He insisted I had to have shot dope at some point and inspected my arms for needle marks. Junkies can locate the tracks I would come to learn, and after a thorough going over, he was satisfied I was not an intravenous drug user. He was; for that fact, seemed to think everyone was too, and the majority of guys in there were quite comfortable with the notion of sticking a needle into their arm, or anywhere else they could find a vein if the arms were shot out. Over the coming weeks, as I began to lose weight while the other ‘Woods’ (short for ‘woodpecker’, and the term used for non-skinhead white guys) were fattening up, he speculated as obnoxiously as possible about what a lush I must have been out there to be losing weight so fast. He was fairly accurate in his assessment, as usual.

Late Sunday night, something happened which I never even considered possible. If I had considered this event in advance, I would have to be very worried about my thoughts, so I am glad it shocked me as much as it did. I sat up on the top bunk, face down writing a letter. Gangster sat on the powerful commode and without even looking directly towards him, I could see he was sitting in somewhat of an unorthodox manner, given that seats intention. He was tilted off to one side, his head appeared down between his knees, one hand reached between the legs and the other around and underneath the side which was tilted up. He was emitting an odor which was beyond offensive and something he would not tolerate from someone else. This odor would have long ago prompted him to scream “Flush!” The toilet, much like a jet engine, sucked air through its formidable mechanism along with whatever else came its way, and gaseous emissions could be minimalized. If properly sealed when sitting, it created a “pop” when standing from the suction. I saw a bed sheet flushed down it once. If a small dog were to be walking by and someone flushed it, the dog would be sucked from the floor and disappear into its maw. But the stench coming from whatever was going on over there caused me to pull my shirt up over my nose. For the first time since being there, I truly regretted not having a pillow (a pillow is a luxury item, “this ain’t a fuckin hotel” I was told), because if I did, I would be suffocating myself with it at this moment. “Got it!” Gangster proclaimed down to the floor, then he popped up to his feet, his right hand in the air shaking a filthy looking baggie the way a victorious athlete might wave a championship trophy after a grueling contest. I lost control of myself and asked a question. I am not certain, but it might have been my first unforced verbiage with Gangster.

“What’s that?” It was a reflex really, speaking at that point. He explained we go to the store Tuesday, which was – as was almost everything at this juncture of my life – news to me. Once a week in County, and once per month in prison, if there is money placed on your “books” by an outside party, a commissary slip is provided and you can order Top Ramen soups for 67 cents apiece, or some other edible atrocity at an extreme markup. Going to the store, I would come to learn, was a big deal. The slip is turned in by 10 A.M. and around 3-4 P.M. trustee inmates who feel they deserve a tip from you for delivering the goods, show up with your order in paper bags.

“This,” Gangster said, shaking the bag in my direction, “is going to fill this cell with food by the end of the week.” It invited a follow up question, but for the first time in my life which I could recall, I felt restraint and patiently waited for more details. He turned his back to the cell door in case a rare or ambitious public servant might walk by and peeked in. He unraveled the baggie to produce two more baggies, thankfully each much cleaner. He tossed the outer covering into the jet toilet. One bag was much bigger than the other and appeared to be high grade marijuana which I am certain I would smell had the confined area not been doused with Gangster’s odiferous colon. The other contained a smaller amount of something I could not identify, but would soon find out was heroin. He held the two bags up, one in each hand. “This one is for them, and this one is for us. You watch me trade a couple needle thin joints that’ll burn like fuses for sacks of groceries on Tuesday. But right after lights out tonight, we can do this,” he indicated the hand holding the heroin. I had never done heroin. Somehow, at that age, 45, under those circumstances, it did not seem like the right time. Had I been with Mick and Keith at Altamont I am sure I might have gone the other way, but I just could not see the point here. “I don’t want any, thanks though.” He smiled but did not verbally address my response immediately. I thought later that it might have been a test, and if I took it, I would have failed some obscure demarcation limits he had imposed on me in his head. The use of the words “us” and “we” by him were troubling in a way too, though at first I could not say why. But it was clearly preferable to “dumpster diving piece of shit”. Things were rolling in randomly to my thought processor. After I gave him the mini-bible I had accepted from the jailhouse pastor rather than explain my objection to organized religion, I had to watch how he was going to combine heroin and religion in cell 24. He tore a page out of the mini-bible, rolled it up nice and tight, then used it to snort a line of heroin from the stainless steel tabletop. He stood, turned and looked at me before exhaling. “You don’t know what you’re missing Gilly”, he said with the release of his breath. No argument there. He sat on the metal stool and began tearing out several more pages with diamond-cutter precision. He tweaked each loose page of religiosity a few times to his liking, then proceeded to carefully place weed into them and roll joints for the marketplace, and it was a sellers’ market I would come to see. The first one he rolled he held up to me, I thought so I could examine his craftsman-like skill, so I nodded affirmatively and said, “Nicely done.” He was very mellow which had me wishing he could be rigged to some type of heroin-drip device for the duration of our time together. He laughed at my evaluation. “I don’t give a fuck what you think,” he said with a grin (thank God), “take it, it’s yours. You’re the pothead.” I reached for it the way a cowboy in an old movie reaches for the gun that’s been slid across the floor to him, so the guy who is about to kill him can say he did not shoot an unarmed man. I held it nervously in my hand for a few minutes. Then while he was busy producing one after another pausing only to snort more heroin, I tore an opening in the stitching of my bed roll and slipped it in there. “Gilly, by Tuesday night, we are going to have bags of food lined up and stacked to the ceiling along that wall.” He pointed to the only stretch of wall accessible. Again he said “we”, and maybe because he used it in conjunction with “Gilly” it occurred to me: he’s the ‘Skipper’, that’s his perception; I am the proverbial ‘Little Buddy’. Oh well, it was still better and much safer than “piece of shit dumpster diver”. Labor Day was spent making deals and placing orders. He worked the dayroom with the aplomb of a powerful politician working the crowd on his home turf where he knew he was loved and admired. I spent the day walking in circles around the perimeter of it.