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.