I had also put in an inmate request slip for the work program that week. Despite the fact that I had done it before, my new status – clearance to work by the doctor – necessitated another filing.
It’s a good thing, too. I was finding it more difficult as of late to sleep well simply because my days were filled with nothingness.Nights were worse. Normally I can block out the screams and the banging of the crazies, or even the snoring of my own bunky, but lately the screams are coming from inside my own head.
There is an aloneness I feel, as if there is something left undone. I vacillate between sadness for the missed opportunities – especially for love – which I didn’t take; and the anger associated with the people of whom I feel – real or imagined –have done me a wrong.
The first category always takes me back to Harvard College. There will always be Laura, Laura Murphy, but today I can’t help but think of Celine Larkin.
Celine was biracial (Filipino and Caucasian) and was the most sophisticated and elegant woman I had yet to meet. After my sophomore year, I stayed in Cambridge and worked at the Fogg Museum. Celine worked there also. I was an idiot working as a guard who knew nothing about art, and she was an information guide, and knew it all.
The first time I saw her, she was sitting at a desk across a large room, reading and I was stunned by her features. Her face was soft but structured, serious but friendly, and when she looked up – and caught me staring – she smiled and that was all it took.
I was most amazed at her collection of friends: she would throw a party and Israelis would be breaking bread with Palestinians, black power radicals would be drinking wine with white separatists, gays would be laughing with religious fundamentalist, it was weird. But she had that effect on everyone. She was so warm and loving; she brought out your best behavior.
Those are the wonderful memories that come in the night, keeping me from sleep but reminding me of the joy of life. Memories do serve their purpose. The bad ones are filled with anger and hate, and I dread that that amount of rage is somewhere in me. I think of Harvey Levin on Larry King Live telling the Donda West story wrong, and I smile at the thought of some Islamic fundamentalist hacking his head off in a podcast on YouTube.
The amount of anger I have for my uncle – Dr. Pearlman Hicks, is worst. He went on Dr. Phil and when asked if he would let me do surgery on him, suggested that he had been put in a bad situation, but probably not. Six years earlier it was me he called to do his blepharoplasty, an eyelid surgery. I was the one he sought out to perform his procedure. He had had partners in Long Beach and in Beverly Hills, but he called me, the one with the aesthetic surgery training, to do his eyes. Yet he is so eaten with jealousy that he would go on TV and lie to make his nephew look bad. I don’t have much faith in my fellow man at this point, at least when they get to act in a mob devoid of individual responsibility.
That’s why I couldn’t join a group with any of those people, my distinguished surgical colleagues. In my mind they were all like that, insecure little fellows sitting in the background searching for an opportunity to elevate themselves by standing on someone else’s shoulders. Why would you surround yourself with maggots like that, people who show up to feed on a disaster, they are powerless to create. I’d much rather take my chances alone.
But those kinds of thoughts are rare, and getting more rare all the time. I often catch myself smiling – peacefully. I’ll be reading a book – something I’ve always loved – and will get so engrossed in the story that I’m taken there. I’m not so much reading as I am having a conversation. The prose will spark a memory and before you know it, I’m transferred there and no amount of steel and concrete and meanness can lock my spirit away. I smile because I’m freer than I’ve ever been. No one to approve – or disapprove – my actions; no one consistently demanding more than I have – or want – to give; and no one to take away from what’s good about life by focusing on the negative.
My bunky is off to court so I am alone in my suite. Thoreau said he’s “never met a companion as companionable as solitude” – or something to that effect. Truer words were never spoken. I am grateful for this time. I am thankful for this opportunity. I know that it won’t last forever, but I hope that when it’s over, I can take some of the peace with me. It’s worth repeating: I’m not locked in, I locked them out.
In fact, I dread my bunky’s return. He’s looking at a great deal of jail time – again, for what, I do not know; I just know he confesses to them, which is the DA and the system, having him good. They got him. I tried to engage him to talk about it. I told him to beware of the prosecutor, they’re all trying to make mayor and don’t’ care who they have to step on to get there. He smiled at that but remained tight-lipped. He seems sad and alone. I don’t’ think anyone’s visited him since I’ve been here. But, who knows, perhaps he’s as lucky as me to have solitude as a companion.
Mike returned from the courthouse at approximately 1:00 pm. His arrival was heralded by the audible click of the door being opened from the guard tower. I watched as he slowly crossed the day room toward our cell. As he opened the door, he acknowledged our colleagues in the cell next door. As he came through the door, he nodded. He collected his thoughts – still staring at the sandwich bag of peanut butter sitting on the table. “You know how guys here talk with each other through the vents?” He asked.
I nodded yes. I knew this was an introduction to more conversation.
“Well, that’s the wire; but in the penitentiary they call it the ‘line.’” He shook his head solemnly a few times. “It’s dangerous there. You can go to the ‘pen,’ man, and never come out. Murder is nothing to some of those guys.” He shook his head a few more times. “I’m through with this….I’m through with this.” And with that, he put the sandwich down, climbed from the stool, to the table, to his bunk and was gone, under the covers. A few minutes later he was snoring.
That night it was particularly difficult to get to sleep. I lay there – my mind racing – thinking how truly lucky I was. I guess taken in one lump sum – 12 years – seemed an eternity, especially if you were in your fifties. I had read in the papers where Bernard Madoff might get 150 years. But he is seventy and whether you like it or not, had lived a wonderful life over the past fifty years: houses, beautiful houses around the world, yachts, society, all of it. But thinking of spending your fifties and sixties in jail – never to have experienced any of those things was frightening. I felt Mike’s pain even though neither of us acknowledged it.
Over the next two days, Mike slept more – if that was possible – and then, one day, out of the blue – he rose for morning unlock. He never made those morning unlocks and even more stunning he sat with ‘Wayne’ at the ‘head’ table. It was stunning because neither Mike nor I really liked Wayne. He was too…institutionalized…and his mannerisms were always shifty and disingenuous. But there Mike was getting counsel from Wayne – who had more than enough information on life in the penitentiary, having spent some twenty years there himself – and although he did not appear eager to be sitting there, Mike was attentive.
Wayne, on the other hand, was in his glory. He was talking loud – not so much for Mike as for everyone else – so all the youngsters in the module would know he was, once again, the elder statesman, dispensing advice on life in the pen. Yet you could tell he would never share enough to make a man independent of him. This it seemed was only enough to get someone to trust – so that he could manipulate them at his whim. I tuned him out. It seemed it ought to be a private conversation; but Wayne had no idea about that: I suspect his entire adult life had been conducted with someone else watching. I suspect that’s why he grated on me so much. His lack of manners and decorum were the antithesis of how I was used to conducting business. I saw patients and discretion was everything. Discretion is part of the unhappiness that got me here.
During the conversation – or perhaps the lecture – Mike looked at me and shrugged. I knew he was uncomfortable but it was probably better he was getting it out. His pill-roll, Parkinsonian tremor seemed to be getting worse too. Perhaps when he “went up” they would get him to a better medical ward. I sincerely hoped so.
As for Wayne, I was becoming increasingly intolerant of even being around him. In the real world, you avoid people like him – that is if you ever see people like him in the real world – but here it wasn’t your decision. You didn’t make the rules, you didn’t vote on them either.
According to my bunky, Wayne was what you call – in the prison system – a “shot caller.” He had to call the shots. So he would rush out of his cell during “unlock” to be first to the shower, the first to the remote, the first to the hair clippers, whatever. The point was that all decisions about TV and what the module would watch, who got at the showers when – went through him. It wasn’t really confrontational – very few things are in this environment – but it was passive-aggressive. And that can be particularly tricky because despite the mundaneness of the day to day life, one could be bullied into a false sense of security. Despite the fact that nothing seemed to happen just under the surface was always that powder keg – looking to blow. And the pressure driving it was always something remote, something distant.