Solano County can be peaceful too. The early mornings are particularly quiet, that is until breakfast arrives. We forgo the traditional prayer before a meal, the traditional prayer of thanksgiving. Our meals were usually preceded by a chorus throughout the module of “What the fuck is this?” None of it was even remotely recognizable.
Mealtime had created quite a bit of dissonance for me. Someone had obviously gone through a lot in order to make the food absolutely intolerable. Nothing could be this bad by accident.It required purpose. It seemed like such a waste. This morning, we were treated to cuisine which I could not identify. It consisted of white slop on the left – which I took to be hot (actually cold) cereal; brown slop on the right – which I took to be gravy; a large square of cornbread immersed in it and already wet; and almost fried potatoes in the center, along with a packet of sugar and a packet of honey.
The meals come in large red plastic trays that are stacked on top of each other. The meal began on its journey as hot and now it was cold, but worse there is condensation everywhere and food is wet. And just so we didn’t get too comfortable, unless you got the bottom tray, the underside of your tray had food on it from the tray just below. It was a waste because why spend any money feeding prisoners and inmates if what you deliver is inedible. Stop the charade and save the money.
An apple or a banana would have been healthier, and a whole lot cheaper for the County.
A few days later I learned that the old man’s name was Leonard. At this “unlock” Leonard apparently had decided to draw a line in the sand. Leonard had parked his things in a bag sitting on one of the stainless steel tables in the day room. At the end of our “unlock” time, as everyone began to return to their cells, he sat there defiantly. I actually found out his name was Leonard because the other guys pleaded with him to return to his cell before he got in trouble. It was of no use, and when finally the last door closed with its unmistakable clink, Leonard sat alone in the dayroom staring at the door. There was a long moment of silence. I watched from the slit in my door as Leonard sat there alone, defiantly, one man against the system.
The main door to the module clicked and then swung open as the floor guard walked through. “What’s the problem?” she asked, continuing to walk menacingly toward him. “You, sir, need to go to your cell right now.”
Leonard rose, picked up his bag and returned to his cell, a victory – he had forced her to acknowledge that he was there: a walking, talking, feeling human being.
But that’s not the end of the story, and Leonard was not as out of it as we all had originally thought. A few hours later there was a bit of commotion on E module and a lot of the jail brass, including Lt. Marsh, the warden if you will, appeared at our humble abode. With him was a short overweight Caucasian lady with sergeant stripes, and a large, and I mean very large, bald, clean-shaven black guy. The woman did most of the talking and to be perfectly frank, I couldn’t, at least from my cell, hear her clearly. She seemed to be clarifying procedure for Leonard. I know it wasn’t much of a conversation because it was completely one sided – and from my perspective that’s a lecture not a conversation, a conversation requires listening and communicating on the part of all parties involved – and as best as I could make out she never let Leonard get a word in edgewise. A few minutes later, Leonard was led away, this feeble little man, four guards, one sergeant, an administrator, and a lieutenant.
I felt sad for him and for us. He seemed so lost and helpless, but in this situation, the fact is, we all were helpless. Even that strong Boston accent with its hint of a leprechan couldn’t hide the loneliness and confusion, nor could it camouflage his predicament. Solano county Jail is a very hard place. There is no protection there for the feeble.
Worse yet, the military show of force on the part of our “inn keepers” was a potent reminder that separation from the herd meant disaster. Under those circumstances, we were all helpless. I chalked him up as just another casualty of the system, and resolved that I would never see him again. He was most likely transferred to one of the other modules, perhaps one where the staff recommends they send the troublemakers. I couldn’t help but feel concerned he would be eaten alive under those circumstances. I put Leonard out of my mind, and returned to thoughts of my own affairs.
Later that afternoon, I was summoned by the tower guard, “Adams, Nurse” was all she said and then there was the audible “click” indicating that my cell door had been unlocked.
The nurse in question was the pretty black woman who “was in charge”. I did not know her name because she never felt obliged to introduce herself. I knew she was in charge because, when I was on the medical module the first three weeks following my incarceration, I had heard her tell another inmate in no uncertain terms that she was in fact the nurse in charge, and he was going to have to deal with her.
She had come to inform me that my “request” to have my orthotics and shoes provided, was once again, denied by the custody division. That meant that once again a medical decision was being made by nonmedical personnel. She knew, as a healthcare provider, that I needed those things to complete my rehabilitation following my ankle fusion surgery. In reality though, she had really come to wash her hands of it. She wanted me to know that it wasn’t the decision of her or the doctor. It was “custody”.
My mother had called the nurse directly in response to a call she had received from the custody department at Solano County informing her, my mother that she needed to pick up the shoes and the orthotics she had brought in, along with the orders from my physician. The caller had informed my mother that the shoes did not meet facility specifications and therefore were being refused.
The problem for the caller, however, is that my mother is quite literal and concrete in her thinking and prior to bringing the orthotics and shoes – about five days previously I might add – she had sat with the intake people and gotten precisely the specifications of what she needed. In fact, it had taken her about eight trips to eight different stores in order to satisfy them. Needless to say it had been quite a frustrating undertaking for her too. M y mother had been in no mood to hear that it wasn’t right and certainly had conveyed this to the nurse, hence her arrival at E mod.
So in fact, the nurse was present to wash her hands of the issue, and now she had egg on her face, so to speak. You see, in dealing with inmates they get to treat people any way they want. If an issue arrives the staff takes the posture that: it’s a criminal, who cares what they want or why. No one’s going to believe them anyway. But now they had an outside source to deal with: a seventy-five year old, church-going black grandmother; and everybody on this planet knows “ain’t nobody’s grandmother – black grandmother – told no lie”.
This made our conversation all the more interesting. I allowed her to speak. I listened attentively, and when she was done I allowed for a momentary pause before I started to speak. On three occasions – that is three false starts – she interrupted me to make a point before I got a sentence out. Old habits die hard even when you’ve got egg on your face. She was use to talking down to inmates rather than holding a conversation and sharing information. The problem for her is we both knew I knew more than she did.
Finally I said to her what I was referring to when I mentioned overhearing Leonard’s fiasco, “Look,” I said, “I hear you and it’s greatly appreciated. But if this is going to be a conversation, it’s got to be two sided. I’m not trying to be confrontational. I’m going to listen to you, but I want you to also give me that same consideration.”
The bottom line is this: She wanted me to let my mother know that she had done her part – the shoes were cleared for admission by medical– and she wanted me to know that she was “washing her hands” of the ordeal.
I acknowledged both. I assured her that I would put in a call to my mother so that her – the nurse’s – conscience could be cleared. And I acknowledged that I would put in an Inmate Request slip to speak with Lt. Marsh to clear everything up. I then returned to my humble abode.