Following the evening unlock, as everyone was returning to their suites, there was a great deal of commotion about three cells down at the “single” suites. These were reserved for someone particularly “squirrely” and served to isolate – and protect – some inmates from the general population. In our module the two single rooms were occupied by gentlemen who at best were mentally challenged. (Now don’t get me wrong, the entire bunch – probably myself included – were devoid of some of the basic coping skills usually mastered by eight to 10 years of age. A social challenge – any social challenge – presented an opportunity where predicting the outcome was a crap shoot. You just didn’t know when and what was going to set one of these guys off.)
One of the guards we called “Mr. Midget Man”. I never got his name because he was present seldomly, and when there, made it a habit to ignore any of the inmates, for his entire shift. He would not respond to questions nor approach the day room. In short he hated us all. He was a weightlifting, overcompensating shaved head black man, who was simply mean.
“Mr. Really Squirrely”, an inmate of Middle Eastern heritage – probably an Arab or Persian – was a little slow getting back to his cell. It was not unusual for him, and let’s face it, how much could you expect from a guy who walked around the module wrapped in a sheet fashioned to look like a toga? The Midget Man took particular offense to his delay and rushed him. He unnecessarily manhandled him and physically pushed him into the cell – berating him verbally the entire time with how he would “whip his ass” if didn’t move faster.
Well, to his credit – and to the degree that I thought I might have to change my assessment of him – Wayne spoke up:
“Hey man, what you doing? Everybody here knows that guy is crazy. You don’t have to treat him like that. Hell, everybody knows he’s crazy!”
True to form – and true to his short man complex – Mr. Midget Man goes nuts. “Fuck you!” he says to Wayne – through the door of course – “I run this unit and when I tell people to lock down, I mean now.”
“Aw man, that’s bullshit. Everybody knows that man is crazy. That’s your little man with the bald head bullshit. If you didn’t have that uniform on you wouldn’t be shit…Bitch!”
“Fuck you! What’s the uniform got to do with it? You ain’t shit. You are in here PC. You are the bitch.”
“Yeah, I’m a bitch, I’m a punk, and I’m PC. But I’ll whip your little bitch ass,” Wayne returned.
“We can find out about that, you PC bitch. Trying to act all tough and you ain’t shit.”
“That’s right, I ain’t shit, you bald black man bitch. I’m PC – I see you’ve read my file. But you certainly ain’t shit but a bitch.”
Their exchange continued for what seemed like an eternity, though I was sure it couldn’t have been more than two minutes. The corrections officer began pacing in front of cells, looking in, walking to the next trying to dissipate some of this pent-up anger. It wasn’t working.
Wayne, on the other hand, was unrelenting and could be heard in an absolute rage screaming at the top of his lungs. “You bitch; you open this door and I will ‘wup’ your little bald head black ass; punk!” Over and over again he repeated his challenge.
With time – and the exit of the guard – the emotion and the screaming began to subside. Periodically you could hear Wayne screaming “bitch” in longer and longer intervals. He was not going to be silenced or denied this night. It was as if a lifetime of anger had been focused on this one instance.
The guard was wrong and a bit heavy-handed – but that was his reputation. He is an idiot and everyone knew it. But you had to give Wayne his props for standing up for the other guy.
But even simple emotions like anger are not what they seem. Although we experience them as immediate, as primary, they are, in actuality very complex processes. While Wayne’s anger directed at the guard was understandable – and justified – the shear magnitude of it all was also being driven by his impending transfer to the state penitentiary – a place no one wants to go, not even a shot caller.
“What just happened there?” I asked Mike, as he lay in the upper bunk – possibly sleeping, but no one could have slept through that.
“Oh…the little short guard the one who is the asshole with the short man complex; Wayne called him on it.”
“Yeah…he did,” I said. “…Let me ask you a question; what’s PC?”
“Is that what we all are?”
“Could be…it depends. There are lots of reasons to be PC: homosexuals, medical problems, informants, gang members trying to get out…lots of reasons.”
“I guess I could be PC” I thought. I came here from the medical ward. “I’m on Coumadin” I said to Mike. “I could bleed to death just from being pushed.”
“My mother’s on that,” Mike offered. I could then hear him adjusting himself as he settled back down to sleep. The man was amazing. He could just turn off: amazing!
I lay in bed staring at the underside of the metal slab of the bunk above me. Scratched in the paint, chipping it off was “Jazzy-N-Mac Shawn.” I thought about how little of this world I really knew…PC?
As the night began to settle down, I cleared my mind and focused on the sounds of Solano County. The fan blew a one-directional breeze from a vent under my bed toward the door. I could hear the fan blowing, and the mechanical gliding of its power source. Michael’s breathing, as it did from time to time, became more labored. Occasionally there was a soft whistle from him gently pursing his lips. Internally there was a soft ringing in my ears. I blocked it out. There was the occasional loud mechanical pop of a toilet flush followed by the roar of moving water. In the distance there was the muffled roar of an engine. It could have been an airplane but it really sounded like part of the building. On the floor above, I heard the strange mechanical clunk followed by two wooden clicks, almost as if some enormous machine was walking across the floor.
At 3:00 a.m. I was awakened by commotion right outside my door. Through the vertical slit that was the window, I could see Wayne, his bedroll and belongings in hand. He made a number of trips back to his cell – to check for anything left I imagine – but he did not return with any more items. He was buzzed through the module door and exited to the alcove where the floor officer, Rodriguez, was sitting. His belongings – which were few – were placed in a brown paper bag, and then sealed by stapling. Wayne threw his mattress on a stack of others. He was instructed to face the wall and then was placed in chains. Rodriguez spoke through a microphone attached to his left shoulder, apparently to the guard in the tower, and a few moments later…Wayne was gone.
That morning at “unlock” no one even mentioned Wayne. He was simply gone. Smitty, his rival in the wheelchair, made a point to request the newspaper when everyone was done.
I headed for the showers. It was a new day!