I Come to Know My Enviornment (and the People)

There comes a time in the evolution of any experience when the novelty wears off, and the drudgery sets in. I’m not quite there yet. I haven’t felt or verbalized that I simply have to get out of here, but it is approaching at the speed of light. Lately, I’ve begun to dream, always of being trapped or chased and I awaken with a feeling of dread. Getting back to sleep is virtually impossible; I get about one chance per night – then the room is too small, the mattress too hard, the blanket too scratchy, or the TV’s too loud. In reality it’s just my brain “raving”, but it’s been a bit more disturbing as of late because my thoughts now come with such vivid visuals. Perhaps my mind is screaming for stimulation. Perhaps I am losing it. I just know that at night, when I close my eyes, I start to see faces, people I miss, people I don’t – fading in and out in my mind’s eye. They appear for a short time, make no attempt to communicate, and then morph, slowly into another visual or simply fade into black.

I saw Kevin, Kevin Armstrong, the other night. I miss him a lot. Kevin was an orthopedic surgeon, and part of our crew. I liked  him immediately, mainly for his disposition. No angry black man there, just a wonderful spirit, always smiling, Kevin’s family had a history of severe hypertension and heart disease – his father died late thirties, early forties and about a year and a half ago, maybe two, Kevin was found in his bed, dead at 39 years of age.

I was simply sick for months. Could not, would not, and did not talk about it. The amazing thing was about a month after my patient died and I was drowning in the media frenzy, I got a call from a woman from Australia, who Kevinhad dated; I don’t even remember her name at this point. “Jan,” she said, “I have something to say to you, and I don’t want you to think I’m weird or crazy. Kevin came to me last night and he wanted me to tell you everything is going to be all right.”

It was particularly strange because I didn’t really know her.  I meant to ask how she got my cell, but I never did.

Another of the faces reminded me of the picture you always see of Charles Darwin. Perhaps he and Kevin were having lunch. I hope so.

Yet more disturbing than dreaming, or visualizing my thoughts at night, are the images I get every day. I grow tired of seeing the turnover of inmates, of wasted lives going nowhere. I’ve become frustrated with all the waste. Though me, my bunky, and Smitty have been regular fixtures on E mod, the turnover rate is astounding. Today I counted eight new arrivals in the last two days, and none of them are over the age of twenty-five. Four of them are openly gay and represent overflow from the adjacent F module but one kid, certainly not more than 19, was particularly disturbing.

He sat at the table with my bunky and me during “unlock” and remarked, completely out of the blue, “I’ve got to get out of here… you know…you know how sometimes you’re just floating, out there spinning like a top and you feel like you’re going to crash  into the planet and explode?”

I simply stared at him and there was a long period of silence. Mike looked at me. “No, I can’t…I can’t say that I do,” I offered.

“Well, that’s how I feel right now,” he said. He then got up, grabbed a broom and began sweeping the day room floor.

My bunky simply offered, “I want to go back to my cell, and be locked in.”

I understood his point, but I was more concerned. Who was this kid; and why wasn’t he in school, or out having passion for some activity? That is what worries me most about my colleagues: no one seems to be going anywhere. We’re obviously not going anywhere unless we are all breaking out of jail. But it’s the end of April, and TNT is showing 40 games in 40 nights and not one of the 12 young men in the day room are interested in the basketball game. Statistically that’s got to be impossible.

And yet maybe that’s why we are all here: rather than pursuing a passion, following some goal, we were out breaking laws out of boredom. I just wanted to grab this kid and scream, “Find something productive that you love to do and never look back; go for it.” But if I grabbed him, I’d be off to maximum – locked away alone, and who needs that?


My day-to-day interactions are defined by the brief encounters I have with the guards. My greatest frustration is with the irrationality of it all. I recognize each of them as an individual, but it’s beyond frustrating to watch each of them expect me and my colleagues to adhere to some unknowable, unseeable, irrational, inconsistent code of conduct, that they keep in their heads. And that’s a microcosm of our world today. The individual, the country, and the world are playing a game where the rules have yet to be clearly delineated, and they change at the whim of whoever is enforcing them at the moment.

So let me paint this full picture of E mod so you can truly understand it, and its inhabitants. E mod is really dedicated to those inmates in protective custody, PC. That includes informants, child molesters, sex offenders, ex-gang members in order to separate them from their colleagues, the infirmed not requiring nursing care, the insane, and celebrities, who need to be separated from the general population to avoid gang “shakedowns”. Down the hall is the medical unit, and adjacent to it is what can only be described as the “gay ward”. These are the two other places from where E mod receives overflow.

In cell 9, is an older white guy, 65-ish, who at first glance you believe to be mental. He looks disheveled and is always pacing beside the wall between E and F modules talking. Turns out, it’s not himself to whom he is talking, he’s communicating with someone on the other side who is slipping him contraband under the door. And after he licks or snorts a white piece of paper, he talks even more to himself.

Next to him is the crazy Arab. He’s about 5’4”, 120 lbs, Middle Eastern looking for sure, but is on complete lockdown because he’s combative and frankly gross. He screams and beats on the door the entire day and night, and the guards have resorted to pleading with him like he’s a three-year-old. “Now Paul, are you going to take your meds if I open the door?” Simply put, they are afraid to be in his line of sight because he throws stool – that’s right, stool – at them.

Next to him is Grandma. That’s right too, Grandma. He is an older blatant homosexual – I suspect awaiting transfer next door – who is the mother hen of the group. The younger “girls” spend their entire unlock telling Grandma their personal problems. He’s been threatening to get to the showers for the past three days, but is too involved with dispensing advice to his flock to ever get around to it. He always heads toward the shower, and has to abort his mission because the guard informs us there is only five minutes of unlock left.

Next is my bunky and me. I’m this older black man, 6’2”, 220 lbs., with a shaved head, a graying beard, and a physique which makes me look 10-15 years younger than my stated age – already suggesting my sense of self indulgence. I generally sit alone near my cell door and am accommodating – and perhaps warm – to everybody which really isn’t’ friendliness, but aloofness and a sense of entitlement. My air of being above it all is particularly annoying to the guards, but suggests an air of power – which I really don’t have – to my colleagues.

My bunky is simply passive. He never makes morning unlock, preferring to sleep his entire time in custody. He is on a shitload of meds – that’s a lot – and thus suffers from the untoward effects: at 52 he has a severe Parkinsonian tremor; he suffers from chronic explosive diarrhea resulting in him soiling himself every other day – requiring a mad dash to be the first to the shower in the evening unlock, and most humorously, he is quite bright and witty and so offers amusing insights to the activities of E module. The problem is his comments are about 5 minutes after the conversation, point, or activity has moved on. His passivity makes him pleasant though, and so his snoring becomes at least tolerable.

Next to us is the angry young white guy in the wheelchair. He has a lower leg injury and is just beside himself that he is actually here, as if he had no hand in it whatsoever.

He has the misfortune of having roomed with Corey, the village idiot, who is awaiting transfer to the state hospital. Though ridiculed at some level by us all, Corey is probably the smartest one here. He looks the part of the clown. He wears a watch cap, has a long untrimmed beard, his teeth are in need of repair, he’s always smiling and laughing and giving people a thumbs up; and he’s always trying to rap – which is make up rhymes about jail life. Corey spends his entire unlock bartering: an envelope for coffee, a piece of candy for fruit, or a cup of soup on the lay-away plan.

Next to them is a younger black guy who just appears out of place. He’s brown-skinned, but not light, has a shaved head and a goatee. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and so looks studious. He’s about 5’9, 160 lbs, not very big but smiles warmly and is always polite. The contrast is that he knows all the players and is extremely knowledgeable of the system which suggests he has been here before.

His bunky – as far as I am concerned – is the most disturbing member of our community. He’s about 5’10”, 250-260 lbs, all of which appears a recent weight gain. He’s on a truckload of psych meds and stares at people the entire unlock. He claims 32 years of age but his affect is 16 or 17. There is an uneasiness about him that suggests a powder keg waiting to blow just under the surface. He constantly turns to me with a one-liner he obviously feels is funny, but makes no sense to me. You get the feeling he thinks I’m privy to his thoughts. I worry about him and for the rest of us should he snap.

Further down is another queen, and this young man, about 6’4” and quite thin is the spitting image of a friend of mine who is a woman. When I first saw him I could swear he was Nina Curtis’s brother. And Nina Curtis is good lookin’! This guy, though, is more feminine and more affected than any woman I have ever known. He spends a lot of time during unlock with Grandma. There is a sadness about him.

His bunky is the youngest member of the community. You may remember him as the space-cadet sweeper. He’s obviously biracial, about 6’3”, very thin also – he’s a kid – and should probably avoid any more “raves”.

The last cell is occupied by Smitty. I learned from him today that he has been in – and I would assume out – over the past six years fighting – get this – a sexual assault rap. Now Smitty’s in a wheelchair and he runs the bible study classes. It’s not hard to imagine him in the sexual predator role.

Well that’s it! Those are the players from the bottom tier. There is an equal number of characters on the upper tier, but as I have no interaction with them whatsoever – except them looking in my window during their “unlock” – I have no information, nor any opinions on them.

But even without them I think it’s fair to say that we have become so ridiculous as a group that even my bunky now refuses to go out for his evening unlock – preferring to sleep that one more hour of the day. I have, unfortunately, come to the point of where I even refuse to talk to myself. You’d think that at least I would have checked on my discharge date, but I have yet to do that either. It’ll happen when it happens, and like I’ve suggested many times before, the less interaction with the guards, the better.

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