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On Tuesday and Saturday evening “unlocks”, we, the inmates, get the opportunity to pay attention to a little personal grooming. And amazingly, even though, theoretically, there is nothing in here but men, it is infinitely important to these guys to “look good”. I didn’t quite understand it at first, but I reckon we cling to anything in order to feel some semblance of human.

There’s one pair of clippers – electric – and one electric razor that 14 guys have to use in the space of an hour. Needless to say there is one continuous line in front of the only mirror in the day room (and this really isn’t a mirror, it’s a shiny piece of metal tacked to the wall-who would put glass in here? It would be a weapon before the maintenance man got out of the module). Since my first attempt at using it, I have opted out because I developed a rash along my beard line. Once is enough for me. And, who knows what some of these people are carrying? It’s a wonder I haven’t been hospitalized with some flesh-eating bacterium. I guess the look will be the old man beard look for a while.

Smitty, who rides around in a wheelchair – which I am still convinced he doesn’t need, but affords him certain advantages, including speed –gets to the clippers before the rest of us are even out of our cell doors. So Smitty’s standing, that’s right standing, in front of the mirror giving himself a haircut. KC usually does it for him, but for some reason he is not around. (As the mod worker, KC is up at the oddest hours, even for here, and I suspect he was asleep in his cell.) Smitty is cutting away, just doing a fine job on himself when the unthinkable happens: the clipper guard snaps off and bounces around the floor. It happens so quickly though that Smitty continues cutting, resulting in a huge nick down to the scalp in the back of his head. There it sits in all its glory, a large bald spot, obvious to everyone in line behind him.

And worse yet, as luck would have it, standing directly behind Smitty, staring at this spectacle, is Corey. Smitty now has a dilemma: either he cuts all his hair off, or he spends the next two to three weeks with this nick in his hair. And while he is pondering this, Corey finally registers the issue, that is, he sees the huge bald spot in the center of the back of Smitty’s head.

Corey, endeavoring to be helpful, takes it as his duty to inform Smitty of his problem. Smitty already knows this and is already mad so he takes the opportunity to scream at Corey, “I know, Corey, just get away from me” he says.

Corey persists because… well… one he is a bit dense; and two, he is focused on this one issue and it is his posture, not to let it go until it is resolved. He can only hold in his head, much like a child, one idea at a time. He refuses to let it go until it has been addressed to his satisfaction. And so apologetically, Corey says, “Hey…hey Smitty…you got a bald spot there” all the while pointing it out for everyone to see.

Smitty is fuming.

I’m laughing hysterically because Corey keeps pointing to the bald spot and alerting Smitty to the fact that it is there.

This continues for about three or four takes and now Smitty, even madder than before, tears into him. “I told you to get the fuck away from me.”

Standing behind Corey is Joey, who is always ready for a confrontation and he says to Smitty, “Come on man, you know who he is. There’s no need to treat the guy like that.”

And that was all it took. Smitty turned his anger at having nicked his own head on Joey. “You keep the fuck out of it. It really ain’t none of your business.”

“I’m not saying it’s my business,” Joey countered, “it’s just that you know something’s wrong with the guy and you don’t have to treat him like that. But the real issue here is that I don’t have to take your shit either, so be careful who you think you’re screaming at.”

“I’m screaming at you,” Smitty said.

“Then do something,” Joey came back, “I’ll fuck you up in here.”

I was standing in the shower by this time with a clear view of the floor officer’s desk. (That’s right, the floor officer’s desk is about 10 feet from the shower and they can see you through the glass.) By now, Smitty and Joey have attracted the attention of the floor guards, both Thompson and Broadnax. So I say, “Smitty … Smitty … let’s drop it now.”

It’s not that I care one way or the other, because I don’t. I just don’t want Thompson or Broadnax to have to intervene because if they do somebody’s going to the cage. And who needs that. They each, both Smitty and Joey ignore me anyway and continue posturing and making disparaging comments about each other’s character.

I get them to separate by offering the shower to Joey.

As he steps in, he says to me, “When he gets to the hospital with me, I’m going to fuck him up.”

“That’s fine,” I reassure him, “but for now you need not to have any problems. The last thing you need during a period of when you’re here for evaluation is to be written up for a fight.”

He agreed and quietly went about the task of taking a shower. Smitty returned to the task of shaving off all his hair. The best solution was to start over again. He was never going to correct the nick, by shaving or cutting around it.

Later in the “unlock” I took the opportunity to call my mom – collect – and I waited as the operator announced that it was a call from “an inmate of Solano County Justice Center – Detention Facility” and then gave her the option to refuse the call.

As usual, her voice was upbeat. She had words of encouragement for me. (“She must actually be a headache for the devil” I thought. “I’m sure that when her feet hit the ground in the morning when she wakes, the Devil screams, “Ah shit, she’s up already.” He knows some good is about to happen.)

She wanted Corey’s birthdate and age in order to leave money on his books this week so he could buy coffee and some toiletries. I listened as she repeated that “If it were her or one of her kids, she hoped somebody would help.”

So I called Corey over to the phone to get that information. And of course, despite the fact that I got it and was done, Corey stood less than six inches away from me until I took the concerted effort to dismiss him.

After I hung up, Corey ran, literally ran, at me screaming, “You’re a good man, Adams, you’re a good man.”

I quieted him down and assured him that I was, in fact, a very bad man, but that nonetheless the money would be in his account on Friday morning.

Of course he still insisted on asking me if he could buy something with it now.

“Not now,” I said, “it won’t be in there until Friday” (it was Tuesday evening).

 

Niko has continued to study for his GED. He has this tremendous workbook that must be 800 pages long and has stuck to it diligently. For the first time in a while he actually took the opportunity to ask me a question about it. In it was the reproduction of a political cartoon from the early 1900s. It showed a cruise ship sinking and in the foreground was the scope from a submarine. The caption said something like “just when should we vote on it?” The task was to interpret the carton.

I told him it was a political statement suggesting the US should enter the war before it was too late. The Germans had taken to sinking luxury ships with their new U-boat and it was a cry for us to get involved. Luckily the author’s explanation agreed with me somewhat, so my status as a “scholar” remained intact.

He also took the opportunity to ask what was up with Smitty and Joey. I explained the issue but nonetheless his assessment was also on target. “From time to time you get these blowups in the day room that seem to erupt from nowhere.”  Since both he and I had been here though, one thing has remained constant: Smitty was always one of the parties.

I was more interested in his GED book. It seemed like fun to go through all the trivia. Of one thing I was certain, by the time he finished his studies, he was going to be a lot more informed than most Americans.

Niko had also been right about another thing – Smitty was a constant in the conflicts in the module and despite his always pushing the Bible, his behavior was less Christian than anybody else’s in here (especially, when he announced beforehand that he was going to be in one of his moods).

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