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.