25-3

I believe I’m actually less than a week away from my release date. At least that is the rumor though I’ve had no official indication as such. Inmates aren’t afforded a lot of information, and then only on a need to know basis. I am careful not to get my hopes up. At first I took it personally, but the fact of the matter is: the guards don’t know shit either. You can’t believe a word they say and right now, they are saying nothing. For me questions are continuing to pile up a lot faster than the answers. Uncertainty is torture. Not knowing is tremendous pressure. I try to focus on me and goal setting but the questions come too fast and much too hard and relentlessly. What am I going to do? Who can I trust? Where do I fit in in the scheme of things? Where exactly does success lie for me? What am I truly good at? What do I really enjoy doing? How do I get started?

In a sense it really is a new beginning for me. And in spite of it all the questions, I work diligently in my mind to convince myself that I am looking forward to it, this “new” beginning. After all, this is America. People come from all over the world, millions each year, to restart their lives in a better place.

I also met with the doctor today. We decided he would provide me a copy of my chart. We also decided on a few blood tests to be completed before I’m disharged. He was covering his butt. That’s okay I guess. His job sucks enough; no need for me to make it worse, or him more miserable.

At some time I’m expecting someone to come by and draw a PT/INR, digoxin level, and uric acid. That should cover it. I pray it’s not that fat phlebotomist with the perpetual bad mood.

It’s funny, the little things that you miss. All I can think about is mouthwash and dental floss. I’m tired of flossing with thread from my pants and gargling with hot soapy water. It just isn’t doing it for me.

My daydreaming was interrupted at around 3:30 p.m. There was a great deal of commotion in the day room and so Niko went to the window to take a look. “Guess whose back?” he said almost chuckling.

I searched my data banks. Who had been gone with enough time to violate parole or probation? I could think of no one in particular, but any of these guys were capable of walking around the block and coming right back into jail. “I give up,” I said.

“Primo,” he laughed. “Primo is back.”

“How could that be?” I asked. “They were transferring him. They took him this morning at 0400. That’s crazy.”

Turns out Primo just went on a long- make that very long- bus ride, about 12 hours long to be exact. I couldn’t believe it. How could this be?  I wanted to talk to him about it at “unlock” but before I could, we were sent back to our cells. There was a fight in G mod next door and the entire building was being locked down.

It was Elrod, decompensating again. He was mad about something – generally with him it’s a perceived assault on his manhood- and got into an altercation with his toilet. He apparently began flushing things down it that either wouldn’t go or weren’t designed to go: clothes, bags, etc.  That’s a frequent occurrence here. A lot of the more emotionally challenged inmates use it as a way to irritate the guards. The toilet of course responded by overflowing and the guards responded by carting him off to isolation. My experience is that Elrod gets himself into those kinds of situations often. Something’s just not right with him.

After he had been dragged off, we were allowed to resume our “unlock” and the Monday night football game between Dallas and Carolina.

There is also a young black kid on H mod that I find particularly amusing. He’s about 5’3”, 110 lbs. Looks like a little boy, but you know he is bad. Not vicious, just bad. And believe me; he’s way too skinny to be tuff, and so in here he’s opted to be funny.

After Elrod’s ordeal, the kid was telling me, and any of the rest of our colleagues who would listen, about his brother who was shot with a taser. He shook, made sounds, and rolled his bug eyes back in his head. I laughed ‘til I cried. Man, was he funny. It really makes me wonder exactly what it is that he did to get in here. Oh, he’s bad, make no doubt about it, but again there is no anger or maliciousness in him. He’s more of a comedian.

Tattooed on his left arm are the initials M.C. I asked him his name. “I have a number of names,” he said as he extended his arm. “I’m M.C. as you can see tattooed here, but some people call me Snoopy.”

“Well, Snoopy,” I said, “You are too funny.”

From that moment on, Snoopy sought me out during “unlock”. I think a great deal of it, of collecting friends in here, is to ground oneself in familiarity, to find some sense of normalcy. It helps to see that familiar face every once in a while if just for a moment. It also helps to make sure you have allies in the event of trouble.

Snoopy also attempted to ask me for advice. He wanted to tell me about his case, but I would have none of it. I told him I didn’t need the details, but my advice to him was to take whatever deal he could get. “Do whatever it takes to get the system out of your life”.

His reason for being in Solano County this time was much too familiar. He too, like 80% to 90% of our colleagues, was here on a “parole violation”. That just meant that his incarceration was at the discretion of the authorities. More disturbing was that Snoopy only had three months left on his parole. It seemed to me that that was more than a coincidence. Over the past six months, I’d seen countless numbers of inmates brought in, and resentenced, guaranteeing their “participation” in the system for two or three more years for some perceived violation. The system, that is the criminal justice system, was supplying itself with more than enough work. They were ensuring that their numbers stayed high and that public was kept adequately afraid. The legislature was not going to make any cuts from their budget.

Nonetheless, I’m on short time. Over the past few days it has been difficult to suppress my excitement. It has also been hard to think about anything else but getting out. I am formulating to-do lists to arrange my schedule once again, and the lists are getting exhaustive and quite formidable. That is precisely the pitfall I wanted to avoid: the mistake of doing, or rather trying to do, too much. I guess it’s only natural under the circumstances. There is so much that I have missed over the past few months

Today is commissary day and today as usual we don’t receive an “unlock”. Commisary overrides everything. Thus we remained on “lockdown” the entire day.

On theTV news is a story of “The Newark School” in Oakland. The campus had been locked down because of a shooting involving several teens? There is an array of angry parents being held off by barricades from storming the school to retrieve their kids. I guess we’re not the only ones being locked down. They do it to school kids too.

A serial rapist was transferred to H mod today. His reason: he “needed to get away from his celly” that is “fifty-one fifty”. It refers to one’s mental status, but that begs the question, who’s crazier than a serial rapist? And to be honest, he looks like it. He’s an older black man, big guy, 6’3”, 280 lbs (or more) with gray hair and glasses. On the outside he looks like someone’s grandfather, a fair skinned black man who is more than willing to offer the advice that he has accumulated over the years. But his eyes, his eyes give him away. They’re darting and unclear. He appears to always be focusing on something that is not in the room.

Justice in here is quick. I suspect he needed to get away from his celly before he, the celly, killed him, the rapist. For now he has been banished to sit alone. In time, he’ll probably be sent to the infirmary. He won’t be killed, but he’ll probably be beaten up, serially.

Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

25-2

And so more than 200 pages of reading – and napping – and 8 hours later, Officer Thompson arrived for the second shift. In his usual loud manner of announcing his arrival at “his kingdom,” he began over the intercom by offering, “You guys are really going to have a boring day with no unlock and no television.”

I smiled. To the untrained ear that was a weak, almost pathetic attempt at empathy. In reality it was his usual act of distancing himself from the decision (and more importantly, the responsibility of it) while simultaneously implementing the program with a slight smirk on his face.

Of course my colleagues let Thompson know their feelings immediately through a chorus of door banging, ethnic slurs, and requests for grievance forms. Then Thompson said something that disturbed me. He said exactly, word for word, what Officer Davis had said earlier, “This is not a ‘grievable’ offense.”

I suspect the word “grievable” is not in the dictionary. Perhaps each meant to say grievous. But in a system where the rules change depending on who is implementing them at the time, the exact same use, or “misuse”, of the same word on the part of the guards meant it was definitely coming from a higher source. Neither of those guys are independent thinkers and the fact that independently they would arrive at the same misusage speaks volumes.

But here is the problem and another reason for the layer of distrust: the power shortage and the reduction in meals was no ones fault; but how the authorities orchestrated and planned, right down to “what do we say to the inmates when they complain” speaks volumes. This is a very strange place. The only strict rule amongst the inmates is your word. If you say something, you better follow through on it and it better be the truth or you got problems. Lie to  your lawyer, lie to yourself, but don’t lie to another inmate. That’ll get you killed quicker than anything. But nothing creates an atmosphere of tension and potential violence than when the inmates know the guards are lying. There is nothing the inmates can do about it anyway. The sad point is any complaint on the part of the inmates could have been alleviated with the truth. “Gentleman, the economy is a mess, California is broke, and we cannot afford to run things as we had before. We can’t cut funding to schools and feed you guys like kings.”

But the reality is worse. Lying on the part of the guards demonstrates that morally the system is bankrupt and that fuels some pretty weird rationalizations on the part of my colleagues. “No politician is dealing with the truth, it’s all bullshit” they rationalize, and that’s just fodder for more distrust, dishonesty, and crime in an audience who can now rationalize – the worst of human tools – that if the authorities are dishonest, why should I be honest.

The system is destroying itself with its own hypocrisy. Expediency trumps virtue. And it is more apparent here than anywhere else because no one tries to hide it. No one cares what the inmates see or believe. Who’s going to believe them anyway, and more importantly who cares?

I have grown weary today and as a result I am tired. Not physically tired per se, but spiritually. I continue to search my mind for some purpose to hold on to. I fantasize about going away, anywhere, once I leave here, but that’ll never happen. I’ll continue onward despite that voice in the back of my head that says “run.” I’m not running though. I’m returning to the battle. I’m going to shed the negativity and doubt and keep on. That’s what you do, you keep on. You embrace what is yours and you own it. You correct the mistakes; you cherish the triumphs, and you march on.

I have not found this experience, this time in Solano County, to be totally a waste of time on my part. I have made some headway. But there is no denying that in here there is too much waste of human currency. I look around at all the able- bodied people doing nothing constructive and I am saddened.

Primo, “the Mexican” who speaks only Spanish, despite being in the US for twenty years, was transferred this morning at 0400. I was actually a little sad to see him go. I have grown fond of watching him manipulate the system. I also worry about a guy his age, maybe 25, already with complete kidney failure requiring dialysis every other day.

Bret got transferred to a drug program today also. Rather than jail time, he’ll spend a year at a recovery or halfway-house, sitting in group sessions telling lies. He was very happy with that turn of events. As a former white supremacist and gang member, I’m sure he appreciates missing the “politics” that accompany incarceration at a state facility like San Quentin. Being former, he’d have threats coming at him from both sides. It has to be devastating to realize that your brothers would just as soon stab you as “the brothers”.

Danny V’s trial begins in a few weeks but today he was carted away for a psych evaluation. Frankly, he’s not doing well at all. He’s becoming a lot more inappropriate – screaming from his cell, rattling the door – and a lot more angry. At any opportunity he engages in a diatribe on how the police are monsters, his public defender is out to get him, and the judge has called him a goofball. Of course we’ve all heard it before, but it does not seem to ever stop him from repeating it.

He asked me for money; that is, he asked me to loan his mother money, so she could hire him a lawyer – two weeks before the start of his trial. Clearly he has to know the judge won’t allow that. Fortunately, I don’t have it to give, and even more importantly I’ve come to realize that I can’t save Danny V, nor can I save the world. The world’s got to do a little saving of itself.

That was a hard one for me to get.

I’ve also made the not so startling discovery that I am a bit depressed; and I’m afraid that depression has been my constant companion for quite some time. You wouldn’t know it to look at me – I guess my mask has been quite good – but in those moments of quiet reflection, it is a conclusion that is unmistakeable. As we say in medicine: “when it’s that obvious, even the elevator operator could have made that diagnosis”.

A few of my newer, younger black colleagues in H mod have commented on the fact that I’m always smiling. “It’s so inspirational to meet an “OG” in here who’s not nuts’ they say. I really hope no one ever calls me “OG” again. But they are correct; the majority of older inmates all have some mental illness. I can’t save them either.

Danny V is fixated on the fact that his public defender isn’t interested in defending him. Being a slave to the truth, my response to Danny V was “Why should he?”

My colleagues seem to think – quite erroneously – that the public defender’s office is there to defend them.

I explained to Danny V – to his horror – that his court-appointed attorney is really there to protect the system. His job is to make sure the DA follows the appropriate steps – hence, due process – in arriving at his conviction. Kind of like the words of Judge Roy Bean, “We are going to have us a trial and then we’re going to have us a hangin’…all legal like.”

The public defender is there to protect the system, not the inmate. He’s paid by the same people who pay the DA. “Why do you think they call them public defenders”, I asked “and not inmate or defendant defenders?

I’m afraid, that I was no help to Danny V with that revelation. In fact, I may have pushed him over the edge. One thing for sure, his psych eval is designed to incarcerate him without “due process.” And yes, his feeling that the public defender didn’t have his best interest at hand is right on target. He just didn’t understand why it was on target. He wanted to point to the public defender as someone who didn’t care. I didn’t think that was fair. In fact I think a lot of them really do care. His particular lawyer may not care, but his job isn’t to defend Danny V. His job is to defend the system, to make sure the DA follows all the rules of due process so that convictions stick, and are not overturned by a higher court.

Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

25-1

I could tell there was a tremendous problem brewing from the look on his face. The sad “whipped dog” expression was unmistakeable. As a defense I positioned myself and remained on the opposite side of the day room. I wanted to be as far away from Danny V as I could get. I could feel him searching me out with his eyes, following my every move, desperately trying to make eye contact. Danny V had returned from his “day in court”, and any moron could have predicted the outcome was not going to be pretty.

I felt bad for him, I wanted to be of some, any, support, but I was in no mood to listen to some convoluted, disjointed story that I had already heard a thousand times – and that is no exaggeration – before.

Bruce Lee, his celly, alerted me first; “Are your ears burning?” he asked. “Just get ready for this one.” Unfortunately, there was no way to prepare oneself. Danny V was a study all to himself. This much pathology, in one individual, had not been presented in any psychiatry book I had ever read.

In a sense Bruce was a lot like me. Neither one of us wanted to allow Dan to suck us into his world; and yet, at the same time, it was painful to watch him circling the drain in slow motion. I wanted to help but it was impossible to get through to him. Each minor courtroom defeat, each added stress in his multiple rape case just pushed him closer to his impending suicide.

Danny V is a soft, immature, little white kid and he can survive neither prison nor the thought of incarceration for the next sixty or seventy years – life.

In his most recent act of insanity, he had attempted to impeach the judge. This occurred after he was denied the opportunity to fire his public defender. The judge, now angry himself, had labeled him a nut and was proceeding with a psyche-evaluation to determine if Danny V was competent to stand trial.

He isn’t. Even Ray Charles could see that. Danny V is very sick, and despite the efforts of a number of people to help him, he kept digging when he should have stopped. To be perfectly honest I’m sure the judge was setting him up: giving him enough leeway to make a mistake that would allow him the authority to jail him for the rest of his life either way. If he is deemed “psychiatric” they can hold him indefinitely in a hospital, and if not, they’ll put him in San Quentin for life (which by the way won’t be long).

And so Danny V wasn’t far behind Bruce Lee, and he approached my table with the saddest look he could muster before sitting down. He was carrying a book on learning to speak Japanese and an empty Dove soap bar box which contained makeshift flash cards. “You won’t believe what happened today,” he began.

“Oh, I’ll believe it,” I countered. “What I don’t believe is you went into court and did exactly what I thought you and I agreed you wouldn’t do. What did you expect was going to happen if you tried to fire the judge? Now you are really fucked because now they get to put you away forever without the inconvenience of a trial. There’ll be no due process from here on out…They’re going to have two psychiatrists label you as unfit for trial and then lock you away at the state hospital…gone…done…throw away the key.”

I knew that was a bit harsh, but Danny V had exhausted his chances to get it sugar-coated. And in this case, reality deserved no sugar coating; Danny V had truly “fucked-up”. The system now had him where you never want the system to have you. If Danny V thought he wasn’t being listened to by the court system before, wait until they certify him as incompetent. They were now going to decide his fate in the third person, with him sitting there- only as if he wasn’t. He was now about to be labeled crazy and then the authorities didn’t even have to pretend that his opinion meant anything. And yet he still refused to see it. Maybe that is the mind of the sociopath. Maybe, just maybe, his inability to see it is exactly his problem.

My problem right now was the level of meanness that persists in here, and the absolute ignorance that feeds it. How could Danny V not see all this coming? I needed to get away from him before I said or did anymore damage. “I need to clean my cell” I said, and got up from the table. Bruce Lee just nodded.

I collected the cleaning cart. However, just to add insult to injury, the broom was broken- the stick had been separated from the head of the mop. It was a horrible broom anyway but in two pieces, it was useless.

The meanness I am talking about is the floor officer and their benign neglect. He knew the broom was broken when he pushed the cart into the dayroom. It would have taken nothing just to get one from the “yard” next door, but I guess that would have been asking him to do something. And God knows that’s not going to happen.

I respectfully asked him for another broom. Actually I said, “You’re trying to tell me that in this entire structure there are no more brooms?” (Probably not the best way to start theconversation.)

He answered with the affirmative grunt they all use and added, “Use that or don’t sweep your cell. It’s up to you.”

“Nice!” I thought. “What an asshole.”

Now I know my problem with the broom is much less than the issues that the rest of these guys have to deal with on a daily basis, but right now, the broom is my problem. I can’t believe the guard’s attitude toward it (and probably, nor can he understand my obsession with cleanliness).

I resolved to write someone a very, very nasty note. I’m just not sure to whom to address it; and basically that seems, now that I think about it, most of my colleagues’ problem too. We don’t know who to complain to, or exactly what to complain about. In here, everything’s kind of screwed up (probably because I’m not in charge) and although you don’t expect things to be right, it would be reassuring to know that somebody at least cared they were trying to be right. “Oh well!”  I think. “I’ll endure another day, but it’s certainly not starting off well. I guess I should be happy it got me away from Danny V.

I couldn’t be happy though because the day just kept getting worse. The floor officer this morning was Officer Davis. In my opinion, and certainly as a result of my experience and observation, he seems to take more enjoyment in what he can take away than what he gives; and today he was in the process of locking the units down, all of them. That meant no “unlock”, no showers, and no telephone calls. It meant the rest of the day, 24 hours/day, in a cell.

His explanation was that “the power was off in the building”. Of course the generator was working and he was busy at the computer at his desk. The feeling of my colleagues was that this was simply another example on the part of a growing bureaucracy to abuse power. They were right of course. The interesting thing in here is that everybody pretty much accepts that they need to be here. What they object to is the guards going out of their way to make it worse than it has to be (and it is already pretty bad).

I looked at it, as I have come to see my time here, as merely an opportunity to read and relax – though I would miss the solitude of a public shower in the day room. I have come to accept the dishonesty of the system. Davis just happened to be the messenger that day. I had wanted to offer some empathy for his position until his explanation to one of my colleagues’ two cells down demonstrated his hypocrisy: Carlos, who is wheelchair bound, had asked that Davis come over to his cell so that he could ask a question. He had his concerns about being locked down all day and was particularly concerned that he would not be able to speak with his attorney. He made it clear by repeating a number of times that he wasn’t challenging Davis’ authority only that locking the place down prevented him from exercising certain rights, like placing a call to his attorney that day.

Davis’ replied, “Actually you’re only entitled by regulation to three hours a week outside your cell. So even with today, you’ve had more than we have to give you each week by law.” That was his, and many of his colleagues’ answers to any problem. Don’t make me think about what I’m doing or the moral implications of it. What I am doing is coming from on high and I don’t want, nor can I, think for myself. Frankly, I find it pathetic to witness in human beings. In here, you want, you need so badly to have evidence that human beings, gifted with volitional consciousness, can rise above the dirt and muck and evil and indifference to save the world. And at every turn you watch as human beings relish, actually thrive on the meanness. “It’s not enough that I succeed” they seem to say. “You also have to fail”.

Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment