It’s about noon on the following day, and my bunky has returned to the safety of his bed and his covers. I, unfortunately, have taken to reading trashy novels because my servants continue to obstruct my flow of literature from Amazon.com. Books, soft cover only, must be sent directly from the publisher/vender, and there is a limit of five. I’m not sure if that means five at a time, or a total of five throughout one’s stay. Approximately eight days ago, I put an inmate request slip to answer that question, but as of yet I have received no reply. I am reasonably okay with the delay because I realize my servant does not have the ability to read. I know that’s a bit harsh, but if it were not true why then would he take it away in order to arrive at a decision. He wants to be seen as incharge and yet at the same time is incapable of making a simple decision. It takes time to filter up to the chief caretaker before a decision can be rendered.
And so I am forced to read the trashy novels that I see lying around, and although I am grateful to “kill a bit of time,” at the end it all feels so empty. There is no message to take with you that makes any of the stories or any of the characters memorable. Dickens – I suspect – would commit suicide if subjected to this stuff.
“Adams,” the voice interrupted over the intercom.
“Yes,” I said.
“The doctor will see you next, so make sure you are dressed and ready.”
“OK,” I said; but to be honest that was news to me. I hadn’t requested to see the doctor. Nonetheless, there was no reason to be confrontational, so I put on my prison stripes and waited by my cell door. A few minutes later there was a buzz and I pushed the door open, closed it securely behind me, and walked across the “day” room to the doorway leading to the guard tower.
When I got there an older female guard with brunette hair pulled the door open. I thanked her and gave her a letter to mail for me. I also gave her my commissary “standardized test” form. She graciously took them both and directed me up a flight of stairs to the conference room where the doctor, Dr. Kadevari, was waiting.
As I pushed open the door, he looked up from his papers and greeted me with a warm “Hello Jan.”
“Wow,” I thought. “We’re on a first name basis now; that must mean some kind of progress.” “How are you doing?” I responded in my friendliest tone.
“Have a seat,” he said.
We began our discussion talking about the shoes that were approved and then not approved – along with my left foot orthotics – by the custody division. “Let me tell you,” he said. “The decisions here are made by the legal system, not me; that’s just the way it is.”
“Well, it shouldn’t be,” I countered. “I don’t know if you read the paper, but the reason the California penal system is in receivership is that one inmate a week is killed by the system. In my opinion it is precisely because cops and administrators are making the decisions for the doctors.”
“Well, you have to understand, I work in the system and I have to work within the guidelines of what they give me.”
“I understand that,” I said, “and I’m not going to put you on the spot; what’s the point in that? But you do understand that regardless, the doctor ought to be making the medical decision. This still is America, isn’t it?”
“Actually, it’s not,” he countered. And I knew well where he was heading but I interrupted him.
“I know you have to work with the system, and let’s not get you in trouble by making comments that might get you in trouble. You don’t know who is listening.”
He appreciated that statement. I informed him that what I would like to do would be to bring the canvas shoes sold at the commissary and stuff the heel myself.
He thought that was an excellent idea and under those circumstances he felt comfortable recommending me for a work release program so that I might get discharged sooner.
“Let’s just get you out of here and back to your life,” he said.
I was under the impression this was part of my life. My life is all of it, the good and the bad. At any rate, I thanked him for his consideration, and returned to my suite.
At the bottom of the stairs, I spoke with the guards about the heel pads and they suggested I put a request in to the sergeant, which is what I did on the spot.
A few days later, I’m not sure if it was two or three; I got the opportunity to formally meet the dark-haired guard. That is to say I got a good look at her even though I didn’t get her name. I mention it only because a new face, regardless of that face is a treat in the monotony of Solano County. She was a petite woman with coarse features and weathered skin. I’m quite sure she looked older than she actually was but, how much, that is without staring I couldn’t say. And you didn’t want to stare at these people because they were operating at the level of monkeys and any stare would more than likely be interpreted as a challenge. And it had become apparent to me from watching other people’s interactions with the guards that it was, in fact, the smaller more vulnerable ones who were the most aggressive.
I returned to my cell, and before I could get settled I could hear keys jingling, getting louder with every step, and then the lock turning and the door swinging open; “step out of the cell, gentlemen,” she said. “You’re the lucky ones today. You get the random search.” Though it was my first, my bunky had been randomly searched for the three weeks in a row.
She was looking for “contraband”, and to be honest, I had no idea whatsoever what would qualify as contraband. “I need you out of here, now” she barked as obviously we moving too slow for her. So my bunky and I got fully dressed – a requirement when being out of our suite – and took seats at a table in the day room.
“These bags can’t be here,” she called from inside the cell. “And these oranges have to go, you are not supposed to have them.”
“But you guys gave them to us for lunch,” I countered, “that’s less than two hours ago.”
“Well, you either eat them immediately or throw them out.”
“Throw them out; that makes no sense.” And it didn’t. For lunch each day we got either a bologna sandwich or peanut butter, and an apple, orange, or tortilla chips, along with a Jim Jones (the deadly drink – rumored to be used to clean the floors). Dinner was served at four (4:00 p.m.) and so it only made sense to save the fruit for a snack later. The reason I found it odd was because you were able to keep things you had purchased from the canteen in your cell, so what, really, was the difference?
“That’s the rule,” she said.
And for the second time since I had been here, I felt again, like I was in jail. She began to disassembled the beds, looked behind the toilet, and at the light fixture in the ceiling. Under the mattress she found extra underwear. “Let’s see,” she said. “You have on one pair so this is extra.” And she took them with her.
I had learned from week one to keep my clothes folded under the mattress. You put the clean clothes at the head of the bed and the dirty ones at the foot. On laundry day – which is today – you exchange them. Last week when we were awakened at 1:00 a.m. to exchange linen, I had kept the ones I was sleeping in, which accounted for the extra pair. No matter, today was laundry day and all that could be rectified. Nonetheless, she took them anyway, along with my oranges.
“That’s it, gentlemen,” she said as she left.
That experience didn’t sit well with me at all. I felt violated and it made me angry. My initial impulse was to attack her verbally, but I didn’t. What was the point? No amount of reasoning was going to get through to her. I resolved to analyze what I was feeling and why I was feeling it, and to just leave her out of it.
It was clearly anger and all I could think was that that sort of thing shouldn’t happen in America. But maybe the doctor was right: This isn’t America. It did put Officer Metzger’s statement at the time of my transfer to the floor in perspective. (“You’re in jail, and I’m in charge.”) But the doctor was wrong. They were all wrong. This was America and the Constitution should apply here more than anywhere. It is here that the values that the founding fathers thought important must be observed, or they never will on the outside.
I was feeling anger because I felt violated and it seemed to me she enjoyed tossing the things around just a little too much. And it bothered me that I knew she was doing the same thing somewhere else, to somebody else, where those things may have been all they had in the world.
At any rate, she threw away my oranges the act of which is a waste of taxpayer money. Maybe it should be taken out of her salary. I let it go. When I examined what I was feeling and why I was feeling it, it all seemed so trivial and thus just melted away. The secret, philosophically, is to understand that emotions, like anger, are not primary. Emotions are actually the result of a long sequence of thoughts. When you go through the sequence you find numerous places to head it off and let it go.
And with that I then made the conscious decision to solve my problem in getting my orthotics. There was absolutely no doubt these people didn’t care and were not going to help solve it. So I bought a pair of canvas shoes from the commissary for about $8.50. I then took the back cardboard plate off of a legal tablet. Using the heel of the shoe I traced the outline of the heel onto the cardboard. Since there was no way I was going to get scissors from them, I began by drawing the outline of the heel deep into the cardboard on both sides. I then used a trick we all learned in grade school. I folded the cardboard back and forth until I interrupted the integrity of its construction. I made sure to stay right on the heel lines and then simply tore the cardboard along the heel outlines. I repeated the process eleven more times – let’s face it, when you are in jail you have a great deal of time on your hands – until I had a total of 12 cardboard heels. I then filled my left shoe with the heels, one at a time until my legs were balanced and I felt like my hips were straight, and my spine felt straight also.
The final task was to put a dab of toothpaste between the individual cardboard heels to hold them together – like glue. I put on the shoe for approximately thirty minutes to compress the heels together, and – believe it or not – I was done.