But tonight’s death, sleep that is, was slow in coming. I tossed and turned, fighting to find comfort not so much for my body but for my mind. I have unfortunately, been adequately socialized to the routine at Solano County. Since I could not sleep no longer, I lay awake in the darkness listening to the sounds of the building, waiting for the familiar buzz of the door to the day room unlocking, a noise that signaled the arrival of the medication nurse. I lay still listening to the sounds of the morning. I did not want my excitement to disturb Niko. He had indeed been a pleasure to bunk with. I could hear the nurse and the guard chatting as they ascended the stairs to the second tier. Then it began, the serial slamming of the hermetically sealed doors: swoosh, blam they screamed as they closed, one cell door after the next, their solid closure serving as a fitting end.
I was waiting at the door when Officer Powell peeked through. That too had become custom. It was the last attempt on my part to retain some control, and while it certainly was a small jesture it served to remind me that I won’t always be able to control my surroundings, but I can control how I respond to them.
Breakfast, on what was to be my last morning at Solano County, consisted of a peanut butter squeeze, corn bread, a muffin, milk, and jelly. True to form, before I, or anyone else, was finished, the power to the cells was cut and we were left in darkness. I waited for my eyes to adjust, and then washed my apple and peeled an orange I had saved from the day before. I sat and ate them in the black cell thinking “I’ll not have to do this again”. I’ll not have to finish breakfast in the dark because some asshole has control of the switch.
I could hear the “pat-slide-shuffle” of the slippers on one of the inmates pacing restlessly in the day room. I looked out my window. It was the serial rapist. He walked as far as the wall would allow him and then turned and walked back. He still looked a bit crazy and bobbled and weaved with nervous energy periodically licking his lips to apply moisture. “It must be the drugs,” I thought.
I returned to my bunk to escape the morning cold. When I was done with the fruit, I lay quietly listening to the sounds of the building some more. I had hoped for a few more hours of sleep but that was not to be. It was 0538 and I was too excited.
I was desperately trying to suppress my elation about the prospects of leaving Solano County, its just that…well…nothing happens here until it happens, and I didn’t want to get careless, or set up for disappointment. I also didn’t want the guards to to use that elation as an excuse for dragging their feet. I had learned to minimize the highs and the lows in here. I lay in the dark until 0645.
Niko and I had turned the stool bolted to the floor in the cell into a Stairmaster – so much for those who argue they can’t make it to the gym. It actaually turned out to be quite an aerobic workout. I did it for 22 minutes, and then slowly began to discard the things lying around the cell that I wouldn’t be taking with me: a pair of dilapidated shoes, old wash cloths, mail stored at the bottom of my blue plastic bin labeled 2H-11A, and bars of used soap.
At 0730, Officer Smith flashed his flashlight through our window on his morning rounds. It was fitting that Smith be the floor officer on the day I was to leave. He hated being here more than I did. Like In more ways than me, he was actually the prisoner being held here. He nodded “hello” and informed me that I would be checking out once he finished rounds. Oddly, I found him warm and genuine. In a few moments I would no longer be an inmate. I geuss for Smith that meant he no longer needed to rlate to me as an animal.
A few moments later, he called me to the floor desk via the intercom system. “Adams, it’s time to go.” And then there was the familiar click and grind of the door opening. Niko and I shook hands and that was all that was necessary. I knew unlike most of these fellows, I would one day see my friend on the outside. You purposely don’t form too many bonds in here, but occasionally it happens. It is the nature of things.
I carried my bed-roll and meager belongings across the day room floor to the dayroom door. My colleagues were all at their windows cheering. They were happy for me, and a part of me was sad to be leaving them behind. Some of them were funny; some of them crazy; a few of them were psychotic; and all of them were characters. I will miss them and think of them often. I owe them for the lessons they taught me about life. I owe them for the memories.
The door buzzed open and I stepped through to the foyer in front of the floor officer’s desk. Smith, with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of joy in his demeanor, placed my belongings in a large brown paper bag and stapled it shut. He asked me for the last time to stand next to the wall, and placed a chain around my waist and cuffed my hands to my side. He handed me two bags, one contained papers and the other contained a few books: the Cleveland Clinic Review of Internal Medicine, Schwartz review of Surgical Principals, and a few odds and ends.
A petite, plump, older female guard then escorted me through the maze that was the second floor, down one flight to registration, and put me in a holding cell. It seemed like I had sat here in this same place only yesterday. It was as if time stood still and all of this was just adream. A few minutes later a sergeant came over and had me sign a release for my property: a black suit, dress shirt, underwear, and one shoe.
I quickly changed clothes. My shirt was wrinkled and my suit was too big. I didn’t really care. I wore the canvas shoes I had purchased from the commissary and carried my one dress shoe along with my bags. I returned my prison stripes to the guards and was escorted to the door in a room at the back of the building. The guard looked at me and I looked at him. Neither of us said anything.
He motioned toward the door and I pushed it open.
The day was beautiful. The sun was bright, it was warm, and as I stepped out into the fresh air, the guard said simply, “Good luck…To get any money left on your books make three quick rights.” He closed the door. That was it.
I just stood there for a minute just soaking in the sun, took a very deep breath, and began walking toward the front of the building dragging my two bags and holding up my pants with my free hand. At first my legs were unsteady, but as I continued to walk I felt stronger. I hadn’t been able to just walk for quite a while.
After three quick rights, I walked to the doors at the front of the building, looked through the glass and there was my mother. She was reading the paper and I watched her for a few seconds. I was very lucky to have her in my life.
I didn’t go in the building. There was no need to. When I opened the door, she looked up and I waited for her at the entrance. We hugged quietly and turned to walk to the car. I left Solano County that morning. No fanfare. No drama. No ceremony.
My release, though, wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning. There were so many things yet to be done. I thought of the words of William Ernest Henley:
“…Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.”
I looked forward to rebuilding my life, but most importantly, I looked forward to making breakfast for my mother.