20-1

Frankly, I hadn’t expected to see “the old man” back so soon. Oh, I fully expected him to return to jail, just not so soon after his departure. The proof was all over him when he left. He was angry that the paperwork had delayed his discharge, and his immediate plans at that time included going “directly from Solano County to the liquor store down the street” (his words).

So to see him sitting there in his wheelchair, gray beard to his chest, and his long stringy gray hair down his back, really wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was the ease at which he accepted his predicament, his being back in jail.

“What are you doing back here?” I asked.

“I missed you guys,” was his reply, followed by a large grin and then a hearty laugh. And, I suspect, part of that was true. “Hell, this is nothing,” he continued, “one time they re-arrested me within four hours of discharge. Brought me right back in; put me right back into my old cell. They didn’t even have time to put someone else in there.”

I shook my head, smiled, and walked away. This was very disturbing. He wanted to be there. He was probably, no certainly, homeless. But just from the way our brain works, I had expected him to be gone longer. Surely for a day or two he would be cognizant of his behavior. I had expected him to consider other alternatives-he had been so eager to get out-but obviously, he didn’t do anything differently.

Everyone here resolves at some point during incarceration that they’re never coming back, whatever it takes. The monotony of your day, the horrible horrible food, the being pushed around constantly by the guards, and just the act of constantly being told what to do, all take their toll on you. You realize there’s got to be a better way.

Unfortunately, though, our brains work a little bit like muscles. Just as exercise makes a muscle stronger, habitual neural patterns cause circuits to fire in a precise manner that with repetition strengthens itself ensuring and making it easier (and faster) for just that same neural excitation to be repeated. Conscious thought can override it, even change the neural pathways to healthier behaviors, but it takes work. And he obviously wasn’t interested in doing the work. And frankly, the system had made it too easy for him not to, all the while supporting him financially at this expensive game.

It made me look at myself, and then it made me look around the room at my colleagues. Statistics demonstrate that less than 30% of us are leaving for good. I fully intended to be one of them, but it was also obvious that Cowboy, an annoying young white kid who looked to young to be there in the first place, wouldn’t, and the reason for it was sitting right in front of me, page 3 of the Daily Republic.

In the newspaper I was reading was the story of a 54-year-old male and his 16-year-old son in a Motel 6 having sex with the son’s 16-year-old girlfriend. That 16 year old son however was not 16 (the papers never get it right) but actually 19, and that 19 year old was Cowboy. The father, Cowboy’s father, was in the module next door to us. Of course the question on the table is why a 19-year-old would tolerate his father having sex with his girlfriend; and worst yet, why a 54-year-old would take pictures of himself having sex with a minor and then leave them to be found by the authorities?

Of course the answer is not to be found in logic. That is part of the pathology and one cannot separate the two. But to really understand the pressure Cowboy must be facing to become a career criminal was frightening. What chance could he possibly have, being reared by a knucklehead who would even entertain the notion of sex with a minor? It’s just plain crazy. And so I watch this revolving door, thinking how on earth do we break the cycle?

The scary part is that in my heart of hearts I know that in every society there are going to be criminals. The world is full of people looking for something unearned. “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

The newspaper, however, does become a focal point in here for discussion of life. It’s not so much that anyone in here gives any credence to it; they don’t. Too many of us have watched as our stories were told incorrectly. The newspaper just functions as an introduction to conversation. And everyone in here has more than a few ideas about what is wrong with America. In here there is no shortage of victims.

Today we are discussing the Legislature of California and their mismanagement of the budget. Our views are completely selfish and many of us hope their incompetence translates into early release. Why, I’ll never know, because 70% will be coming back. But for now the conversations help pass the time. I am amazed at how clearly my colleagues see the issues and I am further amazed at their overwhelming support of Arnold. He is a folk hero in here and most of the inmates blame the legislature and their greed for California’s mess.

But no subject receives an in depth analysis, the potential for conflict is too high, and conflict is better avoided in a group with the “conflict resolution” skills that my colleagues possess. Of interest is the news about banks refusing IOUs from government employees. In an Associated Press article out of New York, Stephen Bernard noted that some of the nation’s biggest banks, including Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase warned that after Friday, July 10th, 2009, they wouldn’t accept IOUs issued by the State of California. This of course was after taking multibillion dollar bailouts from the Federal government. The argument, at least by government officials and consumer advocates, was that the banks should be more sympathetic.

What I’m amazed at is exactly how naïve that is. And what I find amazing is how clearly my colleagues saw it coming. Bankers loaned money to consumers at the “urging” of Congress in order to fulfill the American dream: to own a home. Needless to say, they took a beating on that one. President Obama and his administration then stepped in to save banks because “they were too big to fail.”

So now the banks get “their” money back. Who on earth believes they are going to give it away again, that is, bet on anything but a sure thing. “No booky would extend more credit to a gambler who hadn’t paid his previous debts. He would send his goons to break his legs.” I got my colleagues point.

 

My day was interrupted by a voice, a male voice over the intercom, “Adams…Adams!’

“What?”

“You have a visitor.”

“A visitor?” I thought. “Who in the hell could that be? My mom wasn’t due to be here.” Panic, extreme panic, with my breathing and my heart rate racing almost instantaneously, took over me. I was consumed by dread. Anything unexpected that happened in here was not good. In the past seven months I had made it clear to my mother that I would only see her. I had spoken with her the night before. We had agreed on no visit. Who on earth could this possibly be? I thought. The taste in my mouth became increasingly sour. “Suppose I don’t want to see them,” I said.

“Then you tell them that when you get there.”

Again a stupid answer on the part of one of the guards is what I received. I merely shook my head in disgust. “If I tell them that, stupid,” I thought… “then I’ll already be seeing them and it’ll be too late.”

“OK,” I said.

The communication ended and I went about the task of putting on my shoes and a shirt. With that done, I pushed the intercom button and the door buzzed open. It wasn’t necessary for either of us to say anything.

As I walked across the day room floor toward the module exit, my apprehension continued to build. I could only think that something had gone wrong, drastically wrong, and that was the reason my mom was making an unannounced visit. As if things weren’t bad enough, all I could think was my worst nightmare had come true: something had happened to my sister.

As I approached the module door, it buzzed open and I looked up to see Dallas, from my mod, and another young black male, dark skinned and thin, very thin, ascending the stairs. The door to “visiting” buzzed open and there we were: three guys in a small cubicle with three chairs placed between dividers, like stalls in a men’s restroom, separating us. The chairs faced windows where on the other side was a doorway and a hall and a single chair opposite our chairs. On the wall hung a black simple phone with no buttons or a cylinder to dial out.

Dallas and the other young black kid, from another module, were engaged in conversation. They knew each other.

Dallas interrupted their conversation to acknowledge me as I came into the cubicle. “What’s up, old man?” he asked.

I just looked at him, and then motioned to the other kid with a head nod. “Funny guy” I said. The kid just smiled. With that the door on the other side of the hallway swung open and a man and a woman with a young child came through, followed by another black woman who sat across from Dallas.

“It’s my mom,” Dallas said as he took a seat.

The young black kid with us took a seat across from the older black male and they began to talk.

No one else came through the door, so there I was locked in the room with them. I turned to look for the guard in the tower, but he was flapping around like “a chicken with his head cut off”, apparently overwhelmed by having more than one thing to do and so,  just for fun, I pushed the intercom button and watched his head jerk around to the console in the tower. He then turned toward me, I shrugged and he shrugged back.

I tried desperately not to listen to the conversation, but periodically I could pick up bits and pieces:

The young black guy was talking to the child now and was explaining that he – the child on the outside- shouldn’t worry. He’d be home in two or three years and not 25 years like the kid had heard.

Dallas’ conversation seemed a bit more disturbing. It was not that I could make out the conversation – I fought desperately to block it out. It was more that I could hear his tone and choice of words. He wasn’t disrespectful. He was just a bit too hip to be talking with his mother. He kept repeating, “You feel me” and the word “fuck.” I cringed every time because no one should speak that way in front of their mom, period.

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