And so more than 200 pages of reading – and napping – and 8 hours later, Officer Thompson arrived for the second shift. In his usual loud manner of announcing his arrival at “his kingdom,” he began over the intercom by offering, “You guys are really going to have a boring day with no unlock and no television.”
I smiled. To the untrained ear that was a weak, almost pathetic attempt at empathy. In reality it was his usual act of distancing himself from the decision (and more importantly, the responsibility of it) while simultaneously implementing the program with a slight smirk on his face.
Of course my colleagues let Thompson know their feelings immediately through a chorus of door banging, ethnic slurs, and requests for grievance forms. Then Thompson said something that disturbed me. He said exactly, word for word, what Officer Davis had said earlier, “This is not a ‘grievable’ offense.”
I suspect the word “grievable” is not in the dictionary. Perhaps each meant to say grievous. But in a system where the rules change depending on who is implementing them at the time, the exact same use, or “misuse”, of the same word on the part of the guards meant it was definitely coming from a higher source. Neither of those guys are independent thinkers and the fact that independently they would arrive at the same misusage speaks volumes.
But here is the problem and another reason for the layer of distrust: the power shortage and the reduction in meals was no ones fault; but how the authorities orchestrated and planned, right down to “what do we say to the inmates when they complain” speaks volumes. This is a very strange place. The only strict rule amongst the inmates is your word. If you say something, you better follow through on it and it better be the truth or you got problems. Lie to your lawyer, lie to yourself, but don’t lie to another inmate. That’ll get you killed quicker than anything. But nothing creates an atmosphere of tension and potential violence than when the inmates know the guards are lying. There is nothing the inmates can do about it anyway. The sad point is any complaint on the part of the inmates could have been alleviated with the truth. “Gentleman, the economy is a mess, California is broke, and we cannot afford to run things as we had before. We can’t cut funding to schools and feed you guys like kings.”
But the reality is worse. Lying on the part of the guards demonstrates that morally the system is bankrupt and that fuels some pretty weird rationalizations on the part of my colleagues. “No politician is dealing with the truth, it’s all bullshit” they rationalize, and that’s just fodder for more distrust, dishonesty, and crime in an audience who can now rationalize – the worst of human tools – that if the authorities are dishonest, why should I be honest.
The system is destroying itself with its own hypocrisy. Expediency trumps virtue. And it is more apparent here than anywhere else because no one tries to hide it. No one cares what the inmates see or believe. Who’s going to believe them anyway, and more importantly who cares?
I have grown weary today and as a result I am tired. Not physically tired per se, but spiritually. I continue to search my mind for some purpose to hold on to. I fantasize about going away, anywhere, once I leave here, but that’ll never happen. I’ll continue onward despite that voice in the back of my head that says “run.” I’m not running though. I’m returning to the battle. I’m going to shed the negativity and doubt and keep on. That’s what you do, you keep on. You embrace what is yours and you own it. You correct the mistakes; you cherish the triumphs, and you march on.
I have not found this experience, this time in Solano County, to be totally a waste of time on my part. I have made some headway. But there is no denying that in here there is too much waste of human currency. I look around at all the able- bodied people doing nothing constructive and I am saddened.
Primo, “the Mexican” who speaks only Spanish, despite being in the US for twenty years, was transferred this morning at 0400. I was actually a little sad to see him go. I have grown fond of watching him manipulate the system. I also worry about a guy his age, maybe 25, already with complete kidney failure requiring dialysis every other day.
Bret got transferred to a drug program today also. Rather than jail time, he’ll spend a year at a recovery or halfway-house, sitting in group sessions telling lies. He was very happy with that turn of events. As a former white supremacist and gang member, I’m sure he appreciates missing the “politics” that accompany incarceration at a state facility like San Quentin. Being former, he’d have threats coming at him from both sides. It has to be devastating to realize that your brothers would just as soon stab you as “the brothers”.
Danny V’s trial begins in a few weeks but today he was carted away for a psych evaluation. Frankly, he’s not doing well at all. He’s becoming a lot more inappropriate – screaming from his cell, rattling the door – and a lot more angry. At any opportunity he engages in a diatribe on how the police are monsters, his public defender is out to get him, and the judge has called him a goofball. Of course we’ve all heard it before, but it does not seem to ever stop him from repeating it.
He asked me for money; that is, he asked me to loan his mother money, so she could hire him a lawyer – two weeks before the start of his trial. Clearly he has to know the judge won’t allow that. Fortunately, I don’t have it to give, and even more importantly I’ve come to realize that I can’t save Danny V, nor can I save the world. The world’s got to do a little saving of itself.
That was a hard one for me to get.
I’ve also made the not so startling discovery that I am a bit depressed; and I’m afraid that depression has been my constant companion for quite some time. You wouldn’t know it to look at me – I guess my mask has been quite good – but in those moments of quiet reflection, it is a conclusion that is unmistakeable. As we say in medicine: “when it’s that obvious, even the elevator operator could have made that diagnosis”.
A few of my newer, younger black colleagues in H mod have commented on the fact that I’m always smiling. “It’s so inspirational to meet an “OG” in here who’s not nuts’ they say. I really hope no one ever calls me “OG” again. But they are correct; the majority of older inmates all have some mental illness. I can’t save them either.
Danny V is fixated on the fact that his public defender isn’t interested in defending him. Being a slave to the truth, my response to Danny V was “Why should he?”
My colleagues seem to think – quite erroneously – that the public defender’s office is there to defend them.
I explained to Danny V – to his horror – that his court-appointed attorney is really there to protect the system. His job is to make sure the DA follows the appropriate steps – hence, due process – in arriving at his conviction. Kind of like the words of Judge Roy Bean, “We are going to have us a trial and then we’re going to have us a hangin’…all legal like.”
The public defender is there to protect the system, not the inmate. He’s paid by the same people who pay the DA. “Why do you think they call them public defenders”, I asked “and not inmate or defendant defenders?
I’m afraid, that I was no help to Danny V with that revelation. In fact, I may have pushed him over the edge. One thing for sure, his psych eval is designed to incarcerate him without “due process.” And yes, his feeling that the public defender didn’t have his best interest at hand is right on target. He just didn’t understand why it was on target. He wanted to point to the public defender as someone who didn’t care. I didn’t think that was fair. In fact I think a lot of them really do care. His particular lawyer may not care, but his job isn’t to defend Danny V. His job is to defend the system, to make sure the DA follows all the rules of due process so that convictions stick, and are not overturned by a higher court.