Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Monday - August 28, 2006: When the cell door unclicked and access to the dayroom granted, most everyone flooded out of their cells, then paused to look at each other, exchanging some bad vibrations in greeting before moving on to other matters. I had come to view the assembled collective as an obnoxious yet dangerous idiot. Maybe because the voices I heard first and foremost were the ones most desperate for attention. Quickly in this setting, one realizes the ability to differentiate between negative and positive attention has been lost on most everyone. Right and wrong takes a regular beating in this crowd too, but for me, it was expected. I assumed those were conscious neglects. My general assumption was this was a group of ignorant, incapable dolts, with a sense of entitlement and the common sense of a tree stump. Then the library cart showed up. Walking with the collective herd towards the cart I heard the strangest things: complete sentences; finished coherent thoughts; well-formed opinions on something other than drug use; all spoken in tones one might encounter, well, just about anywhere else but here. I wanted to select something to read off the big cart, but I could not concentrate. There were still arguments going on all around me, but no one was going full volume. Instead of mindless exchanges where the tone and volume overruled content, these were more challenging in context – almost as if debating. I remember looking at this shaved head covered in swastikas and other obscenities bending down to reach for a book on the lower shelf with his left hand – the hand with the word ‘Hate’ tattooed clearly on each finger just below the knuckles – and plucking some thick volume from it. “Mitchner! I fuckin love Mitchner.” It threw me off balance. ‘The Skinhead who was telling a tale involving car theft and guns yesterday loves Mitchner?’ I almost said it out loud to myself I was so stunned. All about, discussions about favorite authors and genre were taking place. It was surreal. I tried to focus on a book to select but the conversations were distracting in a way overhearing conversations about drug use and incorrigible behavior were not. A literary opinion on Stephen King was offered. “Don’t waste my fuckin time with all those descriptions. Fuck that. Just tell the fuckin story. I don’t give a shit how many petals are on some fuckin flower that’s got nothing to do with the story.” It was not the University of Iowa Master’s Program, but it was as unexpected as any other form of civility - deranged to suit the circumstances - would be to my mind under the conditions.