I took the opportunity to tidy up the cell. Mostly I wanted whatever was not mine to be gone. Larry, though, was not like the others; he took everything. He could use those things back at his abode on the tracks.
I settled back into the life of a solitary dweller. I had been offered that status upon my arrival, a solitary cell, due to my “celebrity”. I had refused it because it meant a longer stay at Solano County. I was willing to pay my debt to society, but not willing to overpay.
Besides, the ability to get along with one’s peers is one of the criterions of rehabilitation. My patience, at least as it applied to my colleagues, was being tried daily, and one got the impression – at least I got the impression – it was more by design than anything else. A part of me always suspected that the assortment of guests to my suite was somehow a cruel joke on the part of the guards; a sort of let’s see how much he can take before he loses his air of superiority.
That is why my next bunky came as no surprise to me. And for those of us who were wondering: “deaf-mutes snore also”. My new bunky, Mr. M, was a hardened, mean looking older black guy of approximately 50 years of age. He was medium build and somewhat muscular but clearly not the result of a fancy gym. His abdominal pouch betrayed the notion that any sit-ups had been in his recent past.
Mr. M was indeed a deaf mute. His arrival and his name were announced by the guard, who quickly retreated. Mr. M. of course said nothing and I watched as he pulled his mat from the upper bunk to the floor and went about the meticulous task of making his bed. He tied the sheet around the mat at the ends to fashion a fitted sheet. He then rolled one of the blankets into a neat roll, rolling it inside his second sheet to create a pillow. He then unfolded his second blanket and ascended to the upper bunk. “Mr. M. had done this before.”
I lay there thinking, “What now? Why would they bring him here? What am I supposed to do with this guy?” I quickly resolved, “Nothing.” He wasn’t my responsibility; he was theirs.
Outside my “window” I could see the mod workers going about their evening cleaning, and apparently Mr. M. saw them too. He must have recognized KC, the mod worker, because he descended from the upper bunk, first to the desk, then to the stool, and finally to the floor. He began to tap on the window until he got KC’s attention. Then it started, the most animated display of nonverbal attempted communication I had ever seen: there was clapping of the hands, cradling of the arms, extension of the arms behind the back as if being handcuffed. There were grunts, and sighs, and more slapping of the hands and cradling of the arms. There was more taps on the window and more grunts and posturing.
I watched as KC quietly and calmly watched it all. Then, without warning it was over. Mr. M. gestured to the window and simply turned and climbed back into his bunk.
“What the fuck was that?” I thought. “I’m not sure what he was saying but he certainly seemed to mean it.” I lay there, listening to him above me. It was a disgusting array of deep breaths, followed by smacking of his lips as if he were eating a sandwich without teeth, and then a chorus of gasps for air and more smacks and grunting. I suspected after a while – unfortunately – that these sounds were tics he was unaware of, some kind of nervous twitch endemic to his state of which he consciously was unaware. That made the prospect even worse. If you are unaware that you are doing something, it must be that much harder to stop. “My God,” I thought, “This is going to be absolute torture. How was I going to live with this?”
Soon the noises gave way to the snoring, and believe me the two previous guests had nothing on this guy. I got out of bed and turned on the lights. He was lying on his back with the covers over his face. I spoke in an audible tone. “Hello.” There was no response. I spoke louder, “Hey,” again no response. I screamed, “Hey,” he rolled over with his back to me and the snoring stopped.
I turned off the light and returned to bed.
By morning I had resolved to make it, my rooming arrangement, work, but it was extremely stupid on my part. I was ill-equipped. I didn’t speak sign language and frankly I found Mr. M. disagreeable. He didn’t really want to meet me, or anyone else, halfway. He refused the pad I offered him to communicate by writing. He made no attempt to communicate that way at all. He loved the advantage of making people uncomfortable as he struggled to communicate and they struggled to inderstand.
So there we were, in a room six feet by ten feet, no windows, no other distractions, ignoring each other. The guards were of no help. Ms. “Rude Guard”, the voice on the intercom, began by yelling through the electronic system for us to “shut the door”. What she didn’t see apparently was that it was Officer Powell holding the door open desperately trying to communicate with Mr. M. It was wonderful to hear that abrasive voice apologizing to Powell, and I commented to him, “We get that from her all day long”.
True to form, he ignored it. He simply acknowledged to my bunky that he (my bunky) would have to give things time – for what, I do not know – and my bunky, frustrated, performed another one of his emphatic pantomimes to no avail. “Yep, this was worse than the previous three.”
After his dance had ended, Mr. M. retreated to his bed, grunting, moaning, and exhaling with exasperation which could only be heard by me (and I wasn’t feeling it). You see, M., like everyone else, had learned to use his disability to his advantage. In his dealings with the guards, who were desperately trying to communicate with him but being unsuccessful because of obvious deficits within their own communication skills, he made it emphatically clear that he didn’t want to communicate by writing. So one of the guards asked him if he could read – this is after four or five attempts – and his response was no. But earlier, in the day room, he was reading the sports section. More telling had been him writing a letter: if you can’t read, you can’t write.
Our Mr. M. was much slicker than he had been given credit for, and it was actually quite comical to watch him work the guards. They are all a group of assholes, who couldn’t give a shit about anybody, but yet, they were going to go the extra mile – which they were ill-equipped to handle – to help this deaf mute, so they thought. He saw them for what they were, and hated them more than any other inmate in the place.
When I confronted him about it, he smiled and gestured for me to “shush” with his finger in front of his pursed lips and we both just laughed. Nonetheless, I was going to be watching Mr. M. closely. That was hysterically funny. I truly felt like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when the big Indian says “Juicy Fruit” and Nicholson realizes the Chief could speak, all along.
Life with “M” though can be very difficult. It must be very lonely in his completely quiet world, and when he has my attention he monopolizes it. He’ll pantomime the same story over and over; his only audible responses are grunts and they get old very fast; and worst of all it makes me feel guilty that I don’t know sign language. So a lot of the time we make eye contact and just shrug.
A major mistake on my part was bringing him the newspaper to read. He sat at the stool near my bunk grunting and hissing his way through the entire front section. That was bad enough, but then he insisted on sharing each line of print with me and then waiting for my reaction. After a while we both gave up. I’ve got to figure out a way to make it better but for now we’ll have to leave it where it is.
He was particularly intrigued, however, about an article to rescind some rules on medical marijuana. Apparently he never drank, but smokes weed all the time – which is probably why he’s in here: a parole violation. I’m sure I’ll get more from him as time passes, but for now I’ll take only what he’s willing to give.
I just ate a Grandma’s Homestyle Oatmeal Raisin cookie from the commissary and I’ve got to admit it was a treat. Solano County helps you to appreciate the little things.
In fact there are times when I’m reading or writing that I actually forget I’m here. My mind is active, busy working on a problem or an idea and pretty soon my surroundings just melt away. I could be anywhere but here. It’s a good feeling because it reminds me they only have my body. The better part of me, my soul and my mind, are freer than they’ve been for decades. I’m not going to say it’s a good experience, but I have to admit I’m pretty relaxed, and my worries, for now, are few.
Not so for “M.” We just got the message over the intercom that he’ll be leaving this morning for San Quentin, and a parole violation hearing. I say “we” because the loud, obnoxious voice from the guard tower needs me in this instance. Without me to convey the message, an officer has to come down from the tower and convey it. They don’t want to take the walk so they, in actuality, call me and politely ask me to relay the message. I don’t mind being the ears for “M” but I hate relaying bad news to him because his responses are so animated. His frustration is so up front and out there.
Apparently the guard had mentioned it to him before, and although he knew it was coming, he was visibly upset. He simply got down from his bunk, rolled the bed up, and collected his glasses and an envelope I had given him, turned, and left. He didn’t even try to say goodbye.
A little while later, the guard from the floor, Officer Stewart, came by.
“You OK?” he said.
“Oh, I’m fine,” I returned.
“I know it was hard, your last bunky, but it’s the luck of the draw. Hopefully your next will be better than the last three or four.”
“Hopefully,” I said, and he was gone.
I’m sure the guards were frustrated with “M”. He couldn’t hear, he had no way to gauge how loud he was, and his animated barking at you was really too much. I think Stewart realized it was bad for them, but for me, to be locked in a cell 22 hours a day with it, had to be murder. After all, I was doing time, not torture.