On Thursday nights the chaplain visits and roughly 20 of the 28 members of the module attend a bible study program. I must confess that I do not attend formally, but because it takes place right outside my door, I have the advantage of attending without ever leaving the warmth of my bunk. I also put the blame for my posture squarely on my inability, intellectually, to go slumming. I know I shouldn’t but I can not help but question my colleagues’ motives. A great deal of the inmates become bible thumping, born again Christians, in jail. I’d like to believe they are somehow transformed, but you get the impression that is not the case. The most vocal advocates of religion are also the ones involved in the most conflict. If there is an altercation one of them is in the middle. If there is an argument, one of them has started it. And frighteningly, if news of someone’s crimes hit the wire because of the hideousness of the crime, one of them is the perpetrator.
It may be that because they know their crime is somehow more hideous they seek a mystical forgiveness. Unfortunately, it may also simply be that extra hour outside of a cell that motivates them.
The minister, or so I thought he was the minister, seemed to provide an overly simplistic and paternal message. Perhaps it was his audience that colored his presentation. He was also quick to point out that he was not a minister, but “ministering”. That meant that at some time in the not to distant past, he had been an inmate himself. It was through GOD that he had gotten his life together and that is what he was offering to my colleagues now.
The emphasis in his talk was on good and evil. All that was running through my mind was the notion that good and evil aren’t metaphysical terms; they are man-made. God would have no rational reason to think in those terms. Things are neither good nor bad to God; they simply are. Good and bad refers to value judgments used by man and generally mean I agree or disagree with you. Metaphysically I suppose one could argue that if it leads to man’s survival it is good, and if it leads to man’s demise it is bad. Nonetheless, to suggest that there are not rational reasons for man’s predicament and to take the solution for them out of the individual that created them was ludicrous to me.
For Nature understands our strengths and weaknesses. Man is given life, but he is not necessarily given the understanding – or the ability – to survive. He must learn it.
At any rate – and to my relief – the meeting broke up and I was able to focus on lighter things, like my mother’s arrival for a visit the following morning. It truly is a bitter-sweet fruit. I look to it with enthusiasm and delight because it replenishes my soul simply to see her face – her smile and her genuine warmth have always been a relief for me in any storm. Yet at the same time – I feel dread because I know that it must exhaust her soul to see me where I am, in Solano County Jail.
It has been one month and I must confess that the time has gone by quickly. There were so many things I wanted to read and so many more opportunities to write I wanted to get out of the way. (I have failed – up to this point – to get letters off to Nazz and Noel, two of my closest friends.) I have also taken to not shaving – either my head or my face – and I’m sure the change, the growth of hair, will signal a change and perhaps be interpreted that things are not fine… but they are. I merely saw this as an opportunity to let things go, to be lost in the moment, so that I might find my way; to listen to my soul and not just my mind.
You are never alone here and any moment of solitude is quickly shattered. The guard interrupted me this time, and I’m sure if they could hear themselves over the intercom, they wouldn’t use it. “Adams, can you walk up stairs?” was all he said. At first I wasn’t even sure. I asked Mike, my bunky, and he confirmed it for me. He has had much more experience communicating with these guys over this thing and frankly, without him here, I’d never know what they were saying.
“Yes,” I replied. That was in reference to my surgery, but I felt if he really cared he would have gotten my shoes and orthotics for me a month ago. In actuality, walking was a chore and hurt like hell. I had discussed it with the doctor; and he in turn had discussed it with the lieutenant but apparently my pleas fell on deaf ears. Again we had the administrators and guards making the medical decisions. I did not complain or make it an issue of it any more. Another thing you don’t want in jail is attention. You don’t want to be singled out for any reasons.Most importantly; you didn’t want any of these guys, the guards or the inmates harboring some kind of grudge because you embarrassed them. You learn very quickly around here also that extra attention means extra rules and regulations, which ultimately mean the delay of even the simplest tasks. I wanted my Mom to spend as little time here as was necessary, and I didn’t want to wait another hour while we found a wheelchair and an escort. So I hobbled up the stairs and Mom came through the door. We greeted each other with smiles and I motioned for her to sit down at the center booth. We settled into chairs with the bulletproof glass between us and both reached for the phones.
“How are you doing?” she asked. She forced a smile, and so did I. It was great just to see her, but the pain in her heart was unmistakable. I hated witnessing her sadness. My whole purpose in life had been fashioned to make her proud. This was definitely a bummer.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“I see you are growing hair. It looks fine.”
It didn’t. It actually looked bad and made me look a lot older and disheveled. “It probably won’t stay” I said, “but for now it’s OK.” We sat quietly, for a few seconds and I started, “Make sure you call Barb Kohler on Monday. Let’s give her a list of people to send my book to: Larry King, Oprah, you know…that’s going to be the best advertisement. We should also get it to radio stations…Tom Joyner – people like that. Dilly will know.”
“Okay,” she said. “There are a few things I want to tell you and I wrote them down but they don’t let you bring your purse up…Oh I know… couldn’t buy the shoes, or they wouldn’t accept the shoes because they have black on them and they are too expensive…They have to be all white and they have to have a tag on them. They have to be new.”
“Well…whatever – don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.” I knew she would worry, but I had to try. My fear was that she would learn something that I didn’t want her to know: just how mean these people could be. I had nightmares thinking about this nice little old lady trying to get things done through a system based on force. It was a part of people and the system, I never wanted her to know.
“I did bring the orthotics though and gave it to Sharon.” She then showed me a number 7361 written on her palm in ink. “This is her number. She told me to call her if I needed anything. She just said they have a lot of rules around here: some of them make sense and some of them don’t. They are put in place for people’s protection.”
That was indeed a crock of shit. I didn’t know who Sharon was, and I certainly appreciated her kindness to my mother, but the fact of the matter was that nothing around here was done for protection, it was done for expediency. If things were done for protection there wouldn’t be 10 extra guys sleeping on cots in the day room. “That’s fine,” I said. “Whatever they need to do… There is one other thing. Call Nazz and Noel… their numbers are on my cell. Get their addresses and I’ll drop them a note.”
“Well, Dee Dee talked with Nazz and he’s sending you a letter,” she said.
“OK…I’ll get his address from that…But be sure to make those calls. I’ve been a little slow.”
Unfortunately the half hour went much too quickly. There was no gentle indication that the time was over though. It began with a nauseating buzz followed by ear-piercing clicking of the locks of the doors. That was followed by the phones being turned off abruptly. I told her through the glass that I loved her. She reciprocated and threw me a kiss. I watched as she headed for the door. She turned and waved.
As I descended the stairs from the visitors cubical, I took a quick look into the guard tower but the tinted glass made it almost impossible to see in. There were only shadows. That was fine though, I really just needed to get back to the solitude of my cell. I’m not sure what I expected to see anyway, maybe just something different. I wanted to see what went on there and why: why, in a jail, where every door was locked and men showered in the fishbowl that was the day room, did the guard tower need tinted windows in the first place? What on earth did they have to hide?