I could tell there was a tremendous problem brewing from the look on his face. The sad “whipped dog” expression was unmistakeable. As a defense I positioned myself and remained on the opposite side of the day room. I wanted to be as far away from Danny V as I could get. I could feel him searching me out with his eyes, following my every move, desperately trying to make eye contact. Danny V had returned from his “day in court”, and any moron could have predicted the outcome was not going to be pretty.
I felt bad for him, I wanted to be of some, any, support, but I was in no mood to listen to some convoluted, disjointed story that I had already heard a thousand times – and that is no exaggeration – before.
Bruce Lee, his celly, alerted me first; “Are your ears burning?” he asked. “Just get ready for this one.” Unfortunately, there was no way to prepare oneself. Danny V was a study all to himself. This much pathology, in one individual, had not been presented in any psychiatry book I had ever read.
In a sense Bruce was a lot like me. Neither one of us wanted to allow Dan to suck us into his world; and yet, at the same time, it was painful to watch him circling the drain in slow motion. I wanted to help but it was impossible to get through to him. Each minor courtroom defeat, each added stress in his multiple rape case just pushed him closer to his impending suicide.
Danny V is a soft, immature, little white kid and he can survive neither prison nor the thought of incarceration for the next sixty or seventy years – life.
In his most recent act of insanity, he had attempted to impeach the judge. This occurred after he was denied the opportunity to fire his public defender. The judge, now angry himself, had labeled him a nut and was proceeding with a psyche-evaluation to determine if Danny V was competent to stand trial.
He isn’t. Even Ray Charles could see that. Danny V is very sick, and despite the efforts of a number of people to help him, he kept digging when he should have stopped. To be perfectly honest I’m sure the judge was setting him up: giving him enough leeway to make a mistake that would allow him the authority to jail him for the rest of his life either way. If he is deemed “psychiatric” they can hold him indefinitely in a hospital, and if not, they’ll put him in San Quentin for life (which by the way won’t be long).
And so Danny V wasn’t far behind Bruce Lee, and he approached my table with the saddest look he could muster before sitting down. He was carrying a book on learning to speak Japanese and an empty Dove soap bar box which contained makeshift flash cards. “You won’t believe what happened today,” he began.
“Oh, I’ll believe it,” I countered. “What I don’t believe is you went into court and did exactly what I thought you and I agreed you wouldn’t do. What did you expect was going to happen if you tried to fire the judge? Now you are really fucked because now they get to put you away forever without the inconvenience of a trial. There’ll be no due process from here on out…They’re going to have two psychiatrists label you as unfit for trial and then lock you away at the state hospital…gone…done…throw away the key.”
I knew that was a bit harsh, but Danny V had exhausted his chances to get it sugar-coated. And in this case, reality deserved no sugar coating; Danny V had truly “fucked-up”. The system now had him where you never want the system to have you. If Danny V thought he wasn’t being listened to by the court system before, wait until they certify him as incompetent. They were now going to decide his fate in the third person, with him sitting there- only as if he wasn’t. He was now about to be labeled crazy and then the authorities didn’t even have to pretend that his opinion meant anything. And yet he still refused to see it. Maybe that is the mind of the sociopath. Maybe, just maybe, his inability to see it is exactly his problem.
My problem right now was the level of meanness that persists in here, and the absolute ignorance that feeds it. How could Danny V not see all this coming? I needed to get away from him before I said or did anymore damage. “I need to clean my cell” I said, and got up from the table. Bruce Lee just nodded.
I collected the cleaning cart. However, just to add insult to injury, the broom was broken- the stick had been separated from the head of the mop. It was a horrible broom anyway but in two pieces, it was useless.
The meanness I am talking about is the floor officer and their benign neglect. He knew the broom was broken when he pushed the cart into the dayroom. It would have taken nothing just to get one from the “yard” next door, but I guess that would have been asking him to do something. And God knows that’s not going to happen.
I respectfully asked him for another broom. Actually I said, “You’re trying to tell me that in this entire structure there are no more brooms?” (Probably not the best way to start theconversation.)
He answered with the affirmative grunt they all use and added, “Use that or don’t sweep your cell. It’s up to you.”
“Nice!” I thought. “What an asshole.”
Now I know my problem with the broom is much less than the issues that the rest of these guys have to deal with on a daily basis, but right now, the broom is my problem. I can’t believe the guard’s attitude toward it (and probably, nor can he understand my obsession with cleanliness).
I resolved to write someone a very, very nasty note. I’m just not sure to whom to address it; and basically that seems, now that I think about it, most of my colleagues’ problem too. We don’t know who to complain to, or exactly what to complain about. In here, everything’s kind of screwed up (probably because I’m not in charge) and although you don’t expect things to be right, it would be reassuring to know that somebody at least cared they were trying to be right. “Oh well!” I think. “I’ll endure another day, but it’s certainly not starting off well. I guess I should be happy it got me away from Danny V.
I couldn’t be happy though because the day just kept getting worse. The floor officer this morning was Officer Davis. In my opinion, and certainly as a result of my experience and observation, he seems to take more enjoyment in what he can take away than what he gives; and today he was in the process of locking the units down, all of them. That meant no “unlock”, no showers, and no telephone calls. It meant the rest of the day, 24 hours/day, in a cell.
His explanation was that “the power was off in the building”. Of course the generator was working and he was busy at the computer at his desk. The feeling of my colleagues was that this was simply another example on the part of a growing bureaucracy to abuse power. They were right of course. The interesting thing in here is that everybody pretty much accepts that they need to be here. What they object to is the guards going out of their way to make it worse than it has to be (and it is already pretty bad).
I looked at it, as I have come to see my time here, as merely an opportunity to read and relax – though I would miss the solitude of a public shower in the day room. I have come to accept the dishonesty of the system. Davis just happened to be the messenger that day. I had wanted to offer some empathy for his position until his explanation to one of my colleagues’ two cells down demonstrated his hypocrisy: Carlos, who is wheelchair bound, had asked that Davis come over to his cell so that he could ask a question. He had his concerns about being locked down all day and was particularly concerned that he would not be able to speak with his attorney. He made it clear by repeating a number of times that he wasn’t challenging Davis’ authority only that locking the place down prevented him from exercising certain rights, like placing a call to his attorney that day.
Davis’ replied, “Actually you’re only entitled by regulation to three hours a week outside your cell. So even with today, you’ve had more than we have to give you each week by law.” That was his, and many of his colleagues’ answers to any problem. Don’t make me think about what I’m doing or the moral implications of it. What I am doing is coming from on high and I don’t want, nor can I, think for myself. Frankly, I find it pathetic to witness in human beings. In here, you want, you need so badly to have evidence that human beings, gifted with volitional consciousness, can rise above the dirt and muck and evil and indifference to save the world. And at every turn you watch as human beings relish, actually thrive on the meanness. “It’s not enough that I succeed” they seem to say. “You also have to fail”.