I must confess that at this moment in my life I do not see a return to medicine. In fact, I see no return to anything that requires interacting with people. Needless to say, solitude and this time alone, has contributed to that. I do not miss them, people. I do not miss trying to make people happy who are determined to be unhappy. Let them have their way without including me. And let us be done with it.
The voice over the intercom interrupted my descent into melancholy and informed me that the sergeant would like to see me, and of course, it was now. After three requests to the medical staff and five inmate requests to the custody staff, over the past month – actually 25 days – the sergeant on duty during the afternoon shift was prepared to discuss my requests. I might add that I had also complained to Officer Dianisio, the floor officer that medical had cleared my heel lifts and therefore the custody department was now walking on shaky ground. Threats are the only thing that gets things done around here.
I was now experiencing pain in my left hip when I walked. The unevenness of my lower extremities as a result of the ankle fusion was causing my spine to tilt. I threatened that if I needed further surgery, it was going to be the result of their negligence. I also pointed out that I did not really think that “Lieutenant Marsh, the warden, really wanted to defend a $10 million lawsuit because I required back surgery over a $1.69 foam rubber heel lift?” The CO got my point.
Sergeant Hill was imposingly tall, at least 6’6” tall. He was an older white man with gray-white hair and a pleasant demeaner. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I have some heel lifts in the postoperative boot I wore in on admission” I began…”About two months before I surrendered I had ankle fusion surgery…the doctor shaves off the bone on the top of the foot, and shaves off the bone on the bottom of the leg and secures the raw surfaces together with screws so it can heal.” He nodded his understanding. “It makes the leg shorter, which causes your hip and back to rotate, and then to hurt when you walk… I bought some canvas shoes and I tried to put cardboard in the heel to balance my legs but it doesn’t work. If I can get the lifts out of the boot, they might solve the problem.”
“Is the boot made out of metal?” he asked, “because if it is it won’t be approved.”
“The boot is made of metal” I said, “but I don’t need the boot.”
“Well, we’re not going to let you take the boot apart.”
“Oh, it’s not part of the boot; it’s just the foam rubber heel lift that the doctor put in to start the process of balancing my legs. I understand the requirement for metal, but what I’m trying to get is the foam rubber starter lift. It fits right under the heel….”
“Oh I have an idea what you’re talking about,” said Sergeant Hill. “My father had the same kind of deal. He had a shoe made where the heel of one shoe was thicker.”
“Yes, it’s something like that, only it’s a piece of foam rubber.”
“I’m going to be honest with you.” (I’m not sure why he needed to preface his next statement with that. I was under the assumption we were being honest from the start.) “It’s after hours, and I can’t speak with the higher-ups, the lieutenant right now, but I’ll check on it tomorrow.”
“Can’t ask for more than that,” I said. And with that I returned to my suite.
The following day, my bunky, Mike, got his first visitor since I had been rooming with him and frankly, I was more excited than he was. He was caught off guard and had no idea of who it might be, but a chance to be out of this cage is always a treat. “Perhaps it’s your lawyer, letting you know your case has been dropped, and you’re free to go home,” I joked.
He giggled and in his slow, distant manner said, “I don’t know who it could be.” Nonetheless, he began the process of getting fully dressed – you never leave the suite without socks or a tee shirt under your prison stripes – and once it was completed, he exited the door.
In Mike’s absence I fantasized about a lot of things: visitors, going home, life, a second alone, and God. God gets a lot of play in here. Time, and circumstance, provide the opportunity to think spiritually. My concern today is that my mind keeps going back and forth on the issue of a spiritual life. I can not be sure if my life has been in tune with “the greater purposes of life and to the Author of those purposes”. I believe I have resolved the primacy of existence over consciousness, any consciousness, but from time to time I still find myself resorting to mysticism. Sometimes I need God just to not feel alone.
Michael returned about thirty minutes later. He announced that his visitor had been his brother. He then prepared his sandwich that had been sitting there since lunch, quietly ate it, and returned to bed.
I learned to enjoy an apple today! I didn’t say eat an apple, I said enjoy an apple, and although that can seem like a small thing, a small step, in actuality it’s a giant leap for me.
Everyone here at Solano County has his, or her, own demons and they handle them in the manner that they have not only become accustomed to, but that fits their personality: my bunky sleeps – literally all the time; Corey – the village idiot – goes from cell to cell begging and bartering; a new arrival, an older white guy with a thick gray beard and a distant scowl paces, spends his entire unlock walking, acknowledging no one and making no eye contact; and Mark, a young white guy, spends the entire time on the phone with his girlfriend making promises that are impossible to keep.
The interesting thing, though not surprising, is that each behavior is a pattern driven by fear: Mike, my bunky, fears having to confront the next 12 years in a penitentiary; Corey fears being without; the older white guy fears being alone in a cage; and the young white guys fears losing his girlfriend.
It made me start to wonder: what do I fear most? What am I afraid of losing? The scary answer is nothing. I have become so detached, from every thing and every body, that fears are no longer part of my emotional make-up. I simply don’t care.
Over the past week, I have become increasingly frustrated and introverted, which – in a sense – has caused me to be less tolerant of the guards. The sergeant has yet to get back to me – it’s been a week – on the status of something as simple as the heel lifts. The property room is one floor below, one short elevator ride down. He spent an hour and a half talking with Dianisio, the floor officer, after he had called me out to discuss the lift, even offered the anecdote about his father, and still wasn’t motivated to act.
Twice the books I have been waiting for have been refused entry because the computer says I’ve already have five in my possession – which I don’t. But until someone – who is in no particular hurry – gets around to it, nothing is going to happen. I sent the books that I had finished home, but until their computer says it, it hasn’t happened. So by far, the worst thing for me is the inability to take action, to get the simple things done.
So why is enjoying that apple so satisfying? Well, the food here is absolutely dreadful, and prior to coming here most meals served only to refuel my body. I ate because I was hungry, or tired but even while that was going on, I generally thought about whatever else there was to accomplish that day. What do I have to do next?
That apple changed all that for me. For approximately eight minutes, these walls, those guards and the world were gone. It was just me and this apple. And believe me, it was no ordinary apple. It was a gem of an apple that had mistakenly been placed in a box marked for delivery to the jail. I know it was a mistake because I have witnessed previous apples delivered here. None have been this exquisite. This apple was full, firm and brightly red with no external marks or bruises whatsoever to diminish its complexion. I rinsed it off with cool water, dried it gently, and placed it on the corner of the desk/table. It sparkled from the reflection of the artificial light. I introduced myself to it and it merely smiled back seductively at me. There was energy and excitement throughout the rom. I picked it up gently with my left hand and then caressed it in both in anticipation of my first bite.
I gripped the ends with my right thumb and middle finger; I spread my jaws wide as I brought it to my mouth, and felt the firm, cool meat of the apple separate as my incisors separated the tissue to a chorus of sweet refreshing juices splashing around my mouth. Each chew delivered more of the sweet juices and the sensation lingered even after my first swallow. It was magnificent. I repeated the process a few more times, and each time the sensation was more intense and more satisfying. I realized that I had encircled the entire apple, even though from my perspective it seemed like I had just started. And yet, I was completely satisfied. It had been exactly enough. I leaned back, took a deep breath, and sighed. That was wonderful.
I knew in a second that that was how an apple was meant to be enjoyed. I filed that away. It was something that, in the past, I had taken for granted. I resolved to bring that passion to every meal, every interaction, every relationship I experience from here on out. That is how food was meant to be eaten, and that is how life was meant to be lived.