Daily Life (In the County)

Needless to say, we all hated the move to H mod, but any discussion of an inmate module must first begin with a discussion of the guards, because their personalities, interpretation of the rules, and managerial style determine the pervasive mood and the attitude with which the module functions.

It is here I met Officer Thompson. He is considerably more “chatty” than any of the other guards I have experienced. In fact, he is so much so that initially he appears not to be cut from the same mold. But do not be fooled for the guards are fiercely tribal.

The guards in E module went to extremes not to make eye contac, not to acknowledge us; but Thompson seeks inmates out to engage them in discussion. Initially, I thought this was an indication that he was a good guy, one who could be trusted, and therefore one in whom an inmate could confide. I was grossly mistaken.  The first day, and our first “unlock”, he returned inmates to their cells because their beds were not made to his satisfaction. Of course it resulted in a number of arguments between him and the “culprits, but unlike most people, he loved the attention that went with the argument. He smiled in approval. He was in charge and that was his message.

In a sense he needed a room full of Coreys – the village idiot. He needed inmates– not to pick on Corey – who weren’t going to challenge his edict with the reasonable question of “why”?  In fact, he and Corey were already well acquainted; they already had some type of relationship because Corey was ecstatic, almost giddy, to see him upon our arrival.

But Thompson’s “return to the cell because your bed was not made fiasco” back-fired when Rick, an older inmate with a bit of prison savvy, challenged this maneuver. According to Rick, Thompson didn’t have the authority to return anybody to their cell during an “unlock” for a violation like making your bed; that required the input and evaluation of a sergeant, and clearly Thompson was no sergeant.

Check!

Thompson responded by saying, “Oh, yes I do; look it up in the book”. Rick did, and a few minutes later, Thompson was forced to make some weak concession like, “Okay, I’ll go easy today, but I want beds made before you guys come out for your unlock”.

Checkmate! I started to see Thompson from that point on as just a loud bag of air; talking loud and saying nothing.

Mike resolved to spend more time out of bed because he expected to be transferred to the state penitentiary in four weeks after his parole hearing. I was happy with his decision because his constant sleeping and accompanying depression was starting to wear on me also. Apparently in the state prison system, inmates have to work each day and his feeling was he “might as well start now getting use to being up”. Nonetheless, while the resolution was there, the action was not. He continued to sleep most of the day often times continuing to sleep through “unlock”.

I am also concerned that Mike seems more disoriented and clumsy lately. Clearly some of it is his medications, but because he is awake so seldomly, it’s virtually impossible to tell. If he is asked, without warning to go to the floor officer’s desk for any reason, he’s helpless and disoriented for a few minutes.

During the pickup for dinner tonight, he dropped his drink in the doorway. That was not the problem. He informed the module workers immediately but nothing happened. Thompson, our illustrious C/O, informed him they would get to it. That was two hours ago.

I offered to do it myself, but that was nixed also. The result: an innocent spill that could have been resolved in seconds is now a dry sticky mess that extends from my cell out into the day room. To complicate matters, Thompson has now let the top tier out for their “unlock” which serves to confirm for me that all that chattiness is just a cover for incompetence. He forgot all about us, basically because he really didn’t give a shit, but more frighteningly, because, despite doing nothing, he forgot.

The problem for me, though, is time. With nothing to do but sit in a cage, you think, or rather overthink everything. There can be no reason for his ignoring the situation but meanness. Clearly three grown men – the guard and two mod workers can’t be that stupid. They could not have forgotten about us that fast. The only rational explanation is meanness. He didn’t care so he didn’t respond (and so, neither did they).

And for me, the conversation, and anger, I was having with myself escalated – internally. Mike had passed it off as simply that “Thompson forgets”. I felt offended by his rationalization. I hate when a group of grown men, try to explain off another grown man’s bad behavior. I hate the bending of reality to what someone feels, when in fact it should be the other way around. Why not change how you feel to deal with reality?

Yet a half-hour later at “unlock”, Thompson was looking in cells to make sure all the tenants had made their beds – all the while tracking sticky Jim Jones juice from cell to cell, all across the day room. You could hear his shoes squeeking. It’s a level of idiocy no rational man should have to live with. I was ecstatic when “unlock” was over. I needed solitude for a companion.

 

The following Monday my mother came for a visit. It’s great to see her, but it’s difficult to see the sadness in her eyes. Understandably, she wants her child – regardless of his age or his situation – out of here. She did, however, relay a wonderful story – not really – that is worth sharing.

I had called her to get copies of some documents that I needed to review. I’m telling you this because I want you to comprehend the extent of the meanness that goes on. The document was eight pages. The Solano County mail room interrupted the documents and held them back. They issued a paper to me saying the item was refused because “you are only allowed up to 5 xerox pages at a time.” The message was really ha-ha, we’re in control and you are not getting this – so there.

But my mother is a bit concrete – probably as most mothers’ are- and she wanted to know why five?  Why not four or six? The woman – whose name she did not get – told her it was to “prevent the inmates from starting fires.” I kid you not, that was a direct quote. Now I’m sitting in my cell and I’m thinking well, “there’s the newspaper…there are brown paper bags everywhere, and the list of paper goods just goes on and on. Does anyone believe that by limiting a document to five pages, they are preventing “inmates from starting fires”?

 Just the silliness of that concept is mind boggling. But that’s not the punch line. The woman goes on to tell this 75-year-old church-going lady, “If you copy the pages in handwriting – that is, if they are no longer xeroxed copies, but handwritten copies – we’ll take as many as come through in the envelope.”

So the issue isn’t the number of pages – or the inmates starting fires for that matter – it’s the process of copying that they fear. It is still paper. What else am I to conclude?  That is the level of irrationality that I, as an inmate, am subjected to each day. There is just this hodge-podge of rules, that don’t make sense, that the people around here spend their entire day enforcing that is scary. And it is scary because no one involved questions what they are doing, or why?

 

Last night was laundry night, the most disruptive day of the week. I get disoriented from being awakened every two hours. While it’s murder on me – the lack of sleep making migraine headaches more frequent – it’s horrific on those guys who are mentally challenged. While we joke about Corey and his antics, there is also a childish sadness about him. At times he seems so innocent and vulnerable.

He has been unable, because of his antics (talking, sometimes even arguing with himself; constantly begging; and remaining unkempt) to keep a bunkmate. As a result, he has been placed in the end room, cell 8, next to ours. It’s a single.

At the conclusion of laundry change, he, like the rest of us, was having difficulty getting back to sleep. The younger guys on the upper tier spent the next 90 minutes to two hours screaming obscenities at each other. I could hear the clapping of Corey’s rubber, prison-issue slippers on the cement floor. The sound is unmistakable: clap, clap, and clap as he paced.

After I had tossed and turned for a while, I could hear Corey pleading with the guards in the tower. He had called them about four or five times with vague complaints, and then, without warning, he blurted it out, “I’m scared,” he said. “There is something in my cell.” There was sadness in his voice that pulled at my heart. This was not the idle complaint of a man scheming to get out of his cell, a buying of a little time for conversation. It was real. It was sad. And it carried with it an honesty that only a child could convey. “I’m scared,” was all he kept repeating as he cried like a toddler.

To his credit the guard demonstrated some compassion too, by simply not hanging up on him. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“My light is out” – all the cells have night lights so that the guards can see in during their evening checks- “and there’s something in here.”

“All right, Corey,” the guard said, “someone will be there shortly.”

With that the pacing resumed, clap, clap, clap, and I worried for him. Corey was waiting on a transfer to the state hospital, and despite the fact he had been manic about the move to H module, I guess the change was too much. He just couldn’t get his bearings. A guard arrived soon afterwards and through the door I could hear him ask again, “What’s the problem?”

“There’s a cat in here,” Corey said.

“Corey, there’s no cat there…I want you to get some rest.” With that he turned and walked away. Corey went back to pacing, clap, clap, and clap.

I lay there thinking just how “young” people really are. Not in years, mind you, but in development. All of us arrest in some ways at some point in our childhood, and unless we are very diligent, our reactions as adults are really just manifestations of childhood.

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