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.