There are no secrets in Solano County Jail, no matter how well they are guarded, and the next morning, a new arrival, a black guy who I had yet to have a conversation with, sat down at a table beside mine. “Excuse me, brother,” he said. “Can I ask you something?”
I nodded but was sure to keep my distance.
“Do you think,” He continued, “that you could have your people call my Mom and see if she and my girlfriend, actually my fiancée, can come out and visit me? I had to leave my bike parked when they picked me up – they wouldn’t even let me move it- and I want them to come down so everything can get taken care of.”
I just stared for a few moments. The sharks were smelling blood in the water and they were out for any “favor” they could get. People like this need to get something unearned because that’s how they get through life – through unearned favors – and not so much because they really need something done. They just need to use other people. Besides, this fool was as queer as they get and there was no way he was going to convince me he had a fiancée… please. “I’ll see,” I said. “I’ll be making a call later and I’ll check to make sure it can be done.”
My Mom was more than happy – once again – to do it, but I suspect there is a lot of secondary gain. She enjoys examining what kind of people we have in jail. Curiosity had gotten the best of her. I can assure you that she doesn’t run into “these kind of people every day” and the gossip factor for her and her crew is just too much to pass up. At any rate, she readily agreed to pass on the message. Her argument was simply that if I ever needed help, she hoped someone would do it for me.
I got the particulars from him, though I really couldn’t tell you what came of it. The following morning he was transferred to San Quentin. I relayed this to my Mom, but alas, she already knew. She had made the call to this guy’s mother and got the particulars herself. I just laughed quietly, the irony of it all.
Mr. M is back! I saw him limping through, dragging his left leg, long before he saw me. I could hear the commotion outside my cell and I watched as he attempted to drag his bedroll to his cell. It took him a couple of trips and the guards offered him no assistance. He had his game face on.
That’s the first thing you bring with you: your game face. It’s somewhere between a growl to demonstrate to all watching that you’re no punk and will not be taken advantage of and a smirk that says I’ve been here before and I understand the ground rules. It’s a defense mechanism.
It was certainly not the grin, and the associated mania, with which he left here a few months ago. At that time he was king of the mountain. Time had reduced that mountain to a molehill and it was written all across his face.
Our first interaction was at the breakfast line. He smiled a wide-open grin and offered his right hand. I suspect a familiar face is something that you need. We all need the reassurance of that familiar face that, somehow, I will be safe here. I shook it, his hand, and asked how he was doing. I also offered a brief message of encouragement, “Hang in there.”
He nodded. “Everything is cool,” he said. The pimp was back in the house.
In a sense, I’ve also made a new friend, a white guy, and I’ve yet to precisely get his name, but he is approximately 5’8”, 250 lbs., and I picked him as a friend because he knew how to put the guards back on their heels…with information.
He obviously had been in the system for a long time. And through over-hearing a few of his conversations, it was evident that most of that time had been spent in mental hospitals. At this juncture, they – whoever they are; I assume that they are the courts –were trying to put him away for life.
Officer Moffett, the floor officer of the day, who is harmless enough, had entered the day room and announced that it was time for us all to return to our cells. My new friend got up to return to his cell, and then a light must have turned on in his head because he turned to the officer and said, “I’m civil, not criminal; I’m here for evaluation. I shouldn’t be housed in here with people with criminal charges…and that’s by state law…so you really need to stop bossing me around.”
Moffett immediately took him outside to the floor officer’s desk. A few minutes later my new friend crossed the day room smiling, with Officer Moffett trailing being considerably more apologetic. Turns out, my new friend was correct. A call to the lieutenant’s office confirmed everything he had said.
Nonetheless, that little victory doesn’t negate the fact that my friend has big problems: he’s looking at a life sentence (for a crime, I might add, he committed 25 years ago; a crime in which he had served time and had been paroled) because the legislature was retro-actively changing his status.
He described himself to me as the person willing to get in anybody’s face who “throws out bullshit.” I believe that to be true and I believe that because he does not present himself as a particularly likable fellow, it keeps him in trouble. What he doesn’t seem to get is that in court, it’s not the facts that are debated, but the police’s interpretation of the facts. It’s the police report, regardless of its accuracy, that sets the tone for the debate.
He cells with Anthony – a young Latino who is a very likable character – and one morning I asked him why Anthony seemed so angry today.
His reply, “He doesn’t know how to do time.” And that’s what got our conversation going. I wanted to explore that issue because I have a theory and that notion, “knowing how to do time,” is what separates those who remain reasonably sane during this process from those who succeed in making themselves miserable.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Well…” he said, “…some people come in here and they worry about what’s going on out there. Those guys will never make it. Anthony’s mad with his girlfriend, but there isn’t anything he can do about it… I have, or rather had a girlfriend,” he said, “but I told her when this shit happened with me: Look, I’m going in; I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I love you but you need to move on with your life. You can write if you want; I’ll write back. And if you’re free when I get out and you want to get together, then we’ll deal with it then… That’s it.”
His explanation, though not as eloquent as my beliefs, did, however, agree with my theory. My belief is that in order to deal with this, this being locked in a cage, the first thing you do is decide that there is no future or past, only this moment. Don’t worry about when you’re getting out or how long you’ve been here. It doesn’t matter. In a sense, there is only now.
In spite of having absolutely no control over it, you have to continue to plan your day. You have to make a schedule, and that is precisely what I did. I got medications at 0430, and breakfast at 0500. I returned to bed until 0800, and then exercised in the cell. At morning “unlock” I showered and made phone calls. Lunch takes place at 10 and from 1030 on I read and studied medicine and plastic surgery. At 1600 I ate dinner and directly after that there was another “unlock” where I watched the news. I read trashy novels after that, or watched the TV along with my colleagues. At 8 p.m. it was time for bed.
As far as I was concerned, I arrived here yesterday and I leave here tomorrow.
I’ve also learned not to take much of this personally, and I keep my interactions with the guards to a minimum. They control, much like that police report, what goes into the computer. I don’t give them the opportunity to defame me by editorializing. That’s it. That’s my secret to making it through here alive.
Corey, on the other hand, had taken another strategy. He just came back to H mod and already he’s trying to get transferred out. His strategy is to keep moving. Despite his efforts to pose as a moving target, he is not making a lot of friends. The begging is too much. My new friend hates him and hates what he stands for. Perhaps it’s the idea of being housed in a state mental facility with Corey for the rest of his life that he objects to.