Daily Life (In the County)

As I sat there on my bunk frustrated and steaming, I was blessed with a devine moment: an epiphany. I needed to be less selfish, plain and simple. I am not talking about selfishness in the way we normally think about it, the selfishness of a child. I’m talking about a more insidious form of selfishness that is, nonetheless, equally as harmful. I am talking about the selfishness I harbor that it, whatever it is at the time, must be done my way.

From the outside, I looked perfectly giving and gracious, but the reality of it was that a major character flaw for me was that if it wasn’t “my way, it was the highway”. I had concealed it in the intellectualism of Thoreau and Rand, but it really came down to “plain ole” selfishness. That’s why I wanted nothing to do with the AMA or ASPRS. I wasn’t so much an individual as I just didn’t want to participate because they wouldn’t do it my way and my way was better. My own selfishness had been the cause of my resentments, my whole life. And it is the resentments in life that eat at you and tear you down.

Unlock was interesting that day but not so much because of Mike, as for the absence of Corey. During the night he had requested and received a transfer. He had told the guards he was seeing things and was afraid – which were probably true – but a part of me wanted to believe that Corey realized he had exhausted all he was going to get from those of us in H module, and simply had moved on. No one mentioned Mike or even looked in his direction.

Mr. Superfly, who in reality is not a bad fellow, but does have a very low opinion of his fellow man, was still here. I suspect his opinion of his fellow man is related to his chosen profession. It is clear he believes everybody has a price.

At his first commissary he went all out buying candy and coffee, and has been supplying it to all of our colleagues who might need it – for a favor of course. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at him, I think it represents ingenuity on his part. Smitty uses religion. The guards use force. Everyone uses something to get the upper hand, some advantage.

I use reason, but let’s face it: I doubt seriously I’ll see any of these people again once I leave here. For now they are my world, and so I intend to learn from them what I can.

In the group of inmates who were brought in during the parole sweep is a guy I couldn’t help but stare at. It was bothering me that I couldn’t place him – not that I should be able to; I’ve never known, nor have I met any of my colleagues before – but this guy reminded me of someone. I stared at him for almost the entire hour. It’s a wonder it didn’t escalate into a confrontation, but who was it? Who was this guy?

And then, there it was. This guy was the spitting image of Peter Lorre, the actor in all the Humphrey Bogart movies. Right now I can see this guy as saying, “Rick, Rick, you’ve got to hide me, you’ve got to hide me.”

His mannerisms are shy and he’s relatively quiet; that is until he engages you. He has a high-pitched voice and swears constantly. What’s interesting is he is a career criminal and makes no bones about it – no excuses. Tha’s pretty common in here: most guys don’t look like what they are, and none of them apologize for being that way.

Two cells down is the cleanest cut, young white kid you’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk, yet he’s the most dangerous one in the module. Forget the thugs arrested for drug distribution, and the tattooed gang members; they have nothing on this kid. And I know because his bunky is facing a murder charge and he’s afraid of him.

That evening, precisely as I started to sleep soundly, my bunky began his nightly ritual of deafening, room vibrating snores. Just as I awakened him to tell him to roll over, I found that that simple maneuver alleviated a lot of the respiratory distress; I could hear the jingle of keys approaching. A door, not ours, opened then shut quickly, and the keys jingled again. I figured it was the guard, along with the nurse delivering morning medications, so I changed from rapping on the upper bunk to stir my bunky and stop his snoring before he suffocated, to putting on my pants, so as not to offend the nurse.

The keys entered the lock quickly and when the door swung open it was Officer Stewart alone. He was carrying brown paper bags. What was interesting though was he actually entered the cell this time, and so it was obvious this was not a medicine call. “Cousins, Cousins,” he barked, “The bus is leaving in five minutes. Get dressed; put your things in this bag with your name on it.” And then he was gone.

That evening, in anticipation I had asked my bunky if he was leaving the next day; he didn’t know. He had mumbled something about being given a day’s warning, but if this was any indication, it surely didn’t occur.

Mike was visibly annoyed at this form of treatment. He clumsily got out of bed and then simply sat down and began fixing himself a sandwich from the contraband he had accumulated over the past few months. “This is a damn shame,” he mumbled.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“To treat somebody like this.”

“Well, the fact is they got us”, I said, “they can treat us any way they want.”

Mike rose from his stool and began to fumble with his bed. There were a number of false starts as again he seemed to freeze as his brain refused to tell him what to do. It was actually quite sad to watch him, and yet the whole process gave me a needed psychological boost. I was happy to see him go because it represented progress. I knew he hated the notion of going to the penitentiary, but I couldn’t help but feel happy for me that things were moving forward. Time was indeed passing.

“Cousins, Cousins,” the voice screamed over the intercom, “get your roll; the bus is ready to go.” Though his movements were now more deliberate, his Parkinsonian clumsiness had him repeating each step two or three times as, on each occasion, he would drop a sock, then a pair of underwear, then the sock again. Yet in a flash he was out the door. “I want to read that book” is all he said, and he was gone.

A few moments later, the nurse was peering through the window. I got out of bed and filled a cup with water as the door opened. I looked out into the day room and everything and everyone was gone. It was if the warden snapped his fingers and they all disappeared, not a parole violator to be found, all on their way to San Quentin by now. That was indeed fast, and efficient. After taking my meds, I returned to bed and lay there in the silence. It was wonderful. I was not going to miss Mike at all. I guess that’s why the inmates, my colleagues, don’t ask too many questions of each other.

At breakfast the line was much shorter. But more importantly, for those of us staying, it meant cell 11 was open. It was prime real estate. It was centrally located and more importantly, it was the only cell in which you could see the TV, which was on form 9:00 am until lights out, which was at the discretion of the nightshift floor guard. Officer Stewart approached and asked if I wanted it. He and I had never talked, and although I found him to be by the book, I also found him to be fair.

Gratefully, I changed from cell 9 to cell 11. I was “movin’ on up”.

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