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.         

Day 14

Sunday – September 3, 2006: At 8:45 last night, BD went “Man Down”. The institutional term for being found on the floor or unable to walk and calling for medical help. Maybe with the Gangster sleeping just above him, it was more of a premonition than actual medical condition. Gangster picked at BD with casual truculence when confined to the cell, which was 20 hours per day on average. He was remarkable in his creativity involving mental and emotional disassembling and battering of people, if the word can be used to describe a brand of cruel torture where the ultimate goal is provoking a swing, so he may then mercilessly pummel BD without a new charge; ‘Mutual Combat’ is the nomenclature for beating the shit out of each other. All the sleeping and dry heaving left Gangster invigorated and refreshed and incapable of keeping it to himself. With his newfound zest, he immediately put everything he had into draining the will to live from all around him.

Each cell in county jail, in addition to the pristine if not lavish metal furnishings and turbo-powered toilet, comes with the final antiquated vestige of the once admired and noble concept of ‘Presumed Innocence’; the cornerstone of the American Judicial System, which has been replaced by a bundle of cash. A speaker/intercom system built into the wall and covered by a nice metal plate which blends aesthetically with the metal stool and matching table.  It is an inside joke among the roll-callers and overeducated ticket punchers which is not funny if financially unable to make bail. You are guilty if you are still there and the wheels of justice now turn strictly in attempts to maximize the sub human’s worth to them, to keep the defendant in their gooey web, to feed the strongest union in the history of California; The C.C.P.O.A. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association. This politically active covert group influences everyone from judges’ sentences to State Assembly people when laws are being created or redesigned, or anyone who campaigns for office with their hand out. People who are ‘Presumed Innocent’ still have rights such as being able to ask for help in a medical emergency. Prison cells have no line out for emergencies, and ambulances less than a mile away on ground can take an hour to arrive. It is made abundantly clear to anyone who can take a hint: we are a commodity, not a human. They care enough not to let one escape, but it’s ok to die. Realizing I am siding with the “scum”, not just because I am in the group, but because hypocrisy for monetary gain is wrong when I did it, and it is profoundly worse when institutionalized and sanctioned by the State. Why is certain immoral behavior and corruption acceptable if it appears to be only hurting bad people? They are still stealing from the taxpayer and they are typically returning an angrier, more dangerous individual to the streets. The system as it is set up now, polishes the anger, refines the danger, and then redirects back into society more volatile than before.  I do not see how that helps anyone except those union members.

BD, in a new dramatic voice he must have held back for the occasion, screamed quasi hysterically into the holes of the metal plate as he held the button. As he pleaded, using his best life-and-death voice, Gangster stood behind him yelling equally loud and without the oscillation in tenor BD was so effectively injecting into his voice to give it more of a cry for help or wailing effect, Gangster’s barking was drowning him out.

“Don’t listen to this piece of shit, he’s fine. He just wants to get out cause he’s scared. He’s a dumpster diver. If he’s lying on the floor when you get up here, don’t put him on a stretcher, wipe your boots on him. He’s a piece of shit dumpster diver.” As long as BD tried to speak, Gangster went on behind him. After a half dozen tries or so, BD just started screaming, “HEART ATTACK! HEART ATTACK!” repeatedly till even the most uninspired county employee on the other end could not feign confusion. They both looked psychotic, and then it hit me: once BD was gone, I would be the lone depository for that 255 pounds of egregious psychosis until someone else shows up. One need not be a student of psychology or human nature to arrive at the conclusion, once BD left, Gangster was not suddenly going to undergo a personality change. All the venomous baiting and innuendo Gangster hurled about like well-aimed harpoons were going to continue to fly. I suddenly felt like Poland on August 31, 1939. What I could not help but be taken aback by – and everything from the cuisine to swastika tattoos on foreheads were constantly knocking me for a loop – was Gangster’s refusal to tone it down even when the staff entered the cell. As the medical crew scooped BD from the cement floor and uniformed county officers stood by at the doorway, he seemed to turn the volume down, and the venomous content up. “You’re a piece of shit and you always will be BD. Next time you dive into a dumpster why don’t you stay there!” The officers told him to tone it down. He did not seem to notice them. “Save everyone some time guys, just take him upstairs and toss him right into a dumpster. You hear that BD? They’re taking you home! You fuckin coward!”

After everyone was gone and the cell door locked, Gangster got up and started pacing. I never looked up from the letter I was writing. “You hear those fuckin cops tellin me to shut up?” It was only the two of us, so he had to be talking to me. “Yeah, I did.” The awkward silence prompted me to fill it. “How come you didn’t just do it, make it easier on yourself, aren’t you worried about retaliation?” He stopped pacing directly in front of me forcing me to look up into the eyes of the predator. “What are they gonna fuckin do? Arrest me? Fuck them.”

It was not as long or bad of a night as the potential suggested. Gangster was behaving like someone who lived for food just leaving an all-you-can-eat buffet. He was temporarily satiated I hoped, long enough for them to get someone else in here, which I knew, due to the overcrowding, would not take long.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 13

Saturday – September 2, 2006:  The ‘Gangster’, despite his obvious mixed feelings regarding religion, rose from the dead today. After about 40 hours of decomposing from within, a radical paradigm shift, as abrupt and nerve wracking as an earthquake was underway in cell 24, which, not coincidently, suddenly felt even smaller than its 5.5 X 11.5 feet. As the geographically designated Gangster resumed living, those in his immediate vicinity felt a little closer to death. I know I did, and BD would fake a heart attack by lights out in order to escape any further familiarization with our Lazarus-like cohabitant. As color returned to the Gangster’s face, venomous words followed, almost entirely focused on BD. BD suffered from an inability to do nothing and say nothing, or recognizing such a path of behavior as an alternative route to survival. Gangster tormented him about dumpster diving and asked why he didn’t take a second job as a doormat. He wanted to suggest a third job.

“Why don’t you, you know, rent yourself out as one of those things. Ah goddammit, what are those things called? Hey, what do they call those things people spit in.”

Without looking up from the letter I was writing, I knew he was talking to me so I answered. “A spittoon.”

“Yeah, that’s it. You could be a spittoon too!”

Gangster passed his time like that. Some people read books. Some abused easy and convenient targets to amuse themselves. Others waited their turn to read one of the three newspapers which were delivered to the dayroom – one for the blacks, one for the Hispanics, and one for the whites. The newspapers were segregated. So were the dayroom tables. Not only couldn’t a white sit at the designated ‘Black’ tables under any circumstances, but he had better not walk between them either. I discovered this while standing in line at the observation desk where the county officials sat watching us behind a very thick, difficult to see through, pane of something I’m sure was not regular glass. I was waiting to return the razor I was given to shave with, as was required by the overseers. Supposedly the guys like to keep them, break them apart, and fasten the blade to a toothbrush in a way that allows the toothbrush to slice flesh instead of brush teeth. As soon as the official said he marked me as ‘returned’, I bolted for the TV set where the last pre-season game by the local team was about to kick off. Unfortunately, the shortest distance took me directly between the black’s tables and it never even crossed my mind I was committing an offense. I sat down and watched the kickoff. Before it was 2nd down, ‘Boone’, an amicable enough Skinhead and white rep was sliding down beside me.

“Did you see what you just did?”

“Me? What?” I did not have to fake ignorance. As time went by, the preposterous nature of the  local customs wore off and I accepted and took for granted behaviors I find hard to explain, but at this point, I still did not know if he was kidding me or not.

“Dude, you walked right through the black’s tables.” I still was not sure what he meant, and good rep that he was, he read my face. “Not only can’t you sit over there, you can’t walk between their tables either.”

It had not been two weeks since I joined the other side, and habits from my prior life, like impulsively reacting with questions to things I found silly, had not left me yet. “Is that their idea or ours?” I could see the swastika on Boone’s head move as he narrowed his eyebrows and his forehead furrowed, pondering my inquiry, or maybe whether he might bust me across the head when I was not looking. “Does that really matter to you?”

He had a point, that’s why he was the rep. He said he already apologized to them on my behalf, so I did not have to bother. What I did have to do was 123 ‘burpies’. Burpies are a name given to a full body and cardio workout designed to be done is confined settings. The fella’s would like to believe it is an exercise regimen devised by Navy Seals or some other heroic unit in case they are taken prisoner of war; which is quite different than being taken prisoner of peace. The number, 123, had some kind of added significance to it also, and it was explained to me but it has escaped my mind. It might have been the number one arrived at if you added up all the digits in Hitler’s phone number or something along those lines. The Third Reich was getting a lot of references among the guys I was to be aligned with in the event of a fracas. They were like ‘Bizzarro World” historians, and I could not help but wonder how so many people could come to see and interpret historical events so incorrectly. He spent most of the 1st half with me up in my cell going burpie for burpie with me until we were both sweating profusely, even though no one was permitted to take a shower for about six hours.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 12

Friday – September 1, 2006: I did not sleep well anywhere: A condition irritated by being relocated to worst class and bunking a few feet above a guy named ‘Gangster’ who’s shadow was big enough to park a car in. The fact he was in a foul mood when up – to walk three feet and bend over the toilet to wretch – did nothing to quell my insomnia. In time, I would come to recognize heroin withdrawal for what it was, but back then, I was under the impression I would soon have the flu. The only time he spoke to me in 24 hours was indirectly when he yelled at whoever was tossing and turning so much and shaking the bunk. On one trip to the toilet I glanced down to where he was bent over in nothing but his boxers, barking inhumanly and uncontrollably into the stainless steel turbo-powered commode Boeing would have been proud to engineer. There, on the back of his right shoulder, spreading under his arm onto his right ribcage and across the whole of his back, then disappearing under the boxers momentarily before continuing onto his left thigh, was one enormous tattoo. I tilted my head to gain better perspective, confirming my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, and once the image came clear, it became very clear: there was the Devil, holding Jesus in a kind of headlock with his left arm, positioned behind him. Satan held clutched in his right hand a syringe of a hypodermic needle with his thumb pressing down on the plunger as he drove the needle into the right side of Jesus’ neck, clearly against his will, judging by facial expressions. It was chilling, not due to any firmly held religious beliefs instilled during my nine year term under the menacing hand of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’, but because I suddenly realized I was trapped in a cement box with someone willing to adorn himself in such profound blasphemy which on some level, he had to be thinking was a good idea. Before he raised to an upright position, I looked away and down at the letter I was writing in my lap. It might have been residue from the nine years of suffocating intimidation pressed upon me by the ‘Sisters of Mercy’, but not making eye contact with a predator was instinctive to me. Eye contact opens a subtle door in the mind of the predator, and invites them to create perceptions about the prey. The perceived reality never ends well for the limping wildebeest at the watering hole, and the predators among humans I encountered did not maim or kill merely as a result of hunger. Things began to dawn on me, unnerving the primitive part of my brain and its reflexive functions. It took time for me to become aware, but my heart would race without me moving; my eyes would blink rapidly; I could not go to the bathroom or sleep; my Medulla oblongata was misfiring from sensory overload, triggering the flight instinct while the cerebral cortex dealt with the reality that there was nowhere to run, and fighting without rules or scoreboards never held much appeal for me. This attitude placed me in a quiet, though distinct minority. On this night, in one unmistakable moment of clarity, I realized how differently I thought compared to my new cohabitants. About 50 of us sat surrounding the lone TV in the dayroom that evening. I was down, sitting on the floor in front of the six or so tables - divided up evenly between the races – watching the movie ‘Casino’ with Robert De niro and Joe Pesci. At one point, someone is caught counting cards or cheating the house in some way, and results in the patron being taken to a back room. As part of the lesson the cheater is taught, some Casino goon abruptly and shockingly – at least to me – thrusts a knife into the back of his hand as it is held down on a table. The imagery caused me to reflexively turn away. In doing so I found myself suddenly looking into the faces of the crowd around me. To say no one else found the scene unsettling is too understated. I saw smiles and expressions of pure unmitigated joy and pleasure in response to the stabbing; a complete lack of anything which could be construed as appalled or even mildly disturbed. It rattled me, and I soon got up and walked in circles around the dayroom’s perimeter alone.