The Place I Call Home

Shortly after lunch on Monday, 30 March, 2009, the throne, the toilet/sink combination on the upper tier, in Suite 3, flooded. As a result, the water tracked three cells down toward the center of the module, and then down to the lower tier between cells 12 and 13, my cell.

I put in a call to the guard tower to inform them that the floor in my cell was filling up with water; the voices at the other end of the call assured me that they “were aware” and “are” working on it. I also might add that the tower guard suggested that “we don’t use the intercom anymore”. They hate for us to contact them that way, though I am at a lost to know how else we might go about it.

Water continued to pour in to the cell creating a puddle that covered 80% of the floor, about an inch deep. Approximately twenty minutes later the water was shut off, but the dripping continued.

Approximately fifteen minutes later, the upper tier was evacuated.  The task of cleaning up the water in the day room was begun by the mod workers, with inhabitants from the upper tier in the day room watching. (In the meantime, the water continued to drain down into the cells on the lower tier – 12 and 13 – but the inhabitants in those suites – me and my bunky – were still locked in the cell.

I placed another call to the tower, and the same voice, a male, assured me that they would be getting to it. I explained that there was something in the water that was causing our eyes to be irritated, and perhaps it would be wise for us to get out of this closed space too. The officer in the tower hung up during my explanation.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of tolerance. I have a tremendous amount of patience but not a lot of tolerance. I just can’t seem to tolerate people who refuse to think. What sense does it make to evacuate where it’s running from and lock people in where it’s flowing to? That’s where the water is rising. What sense does it make to keep people locked in a closed space with harmful fumes while you clean an open day room?

I placed another call to ask about their logic in the matter. The corrections officer, this time a woman, offered that she couldn’t let both tiers out at the same time. I assured her I understood that; my point was simply what seems to make the most sense to protect lives. No reply.

Some time later, she opened our cell door and saw the flood, she screamed, “Wow, why didn’t you guys let us know?”

I assured her that I had made more than enough calls to the tower. I think she interpreted my demeanor as anger – though it wasn’t – because after avoiding our cell for the duration of the cleanup, she returned with a grievance form. I assured her that I wasn’t mad at her and didn’t need a grievance form. (She recognized that they had made a mistake and was offering the form as some type of truce.) I saw no reason to complain to a group of people who didn’t care in the first place. Nothing different was going to happen.

I was merely throwing out food for thought so that next time, or when we have a procedural meeting, people think these things through and think rationally about solving them.

My bunky chuckled, “I’m sure she never had that happen before!”

“What’s that?”

“Have somebody offer a suggestion without being confrontational. Did you see how happy she was when she skipped out of here?”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I’m not mad at her. She didn’t cause the flood, or make the rules. I just hope she thinks about what she’s doing next time. I don’t’ have any beef with her. Hell, if I’m mad at your brother, I’m not going to take it out on you. What sense does that make?”

Mike sort of sighed, readjusted his position in bed and went back to sleep.

I’m not sure what I thought; I just let it all go and cleared my mind.

There was a new C/O (corrections officer) with the medication nurse this morning. I believe his name was Zimmer. He was about 5’6” tall and weighed about 250 pounds. In fact, he was a lot more round than he was tall, had a shaved head, and a thin mustache. He stood out to me for his lack of social graces; he was even more rude and condescending than his predesessors. He went out of his way to make sure he and I made no eye contact. I’m not really sure if they are taught that in corrections officer school, but it does appear to be a learned trait.

The nurse brings an automatic sphygmometer with her to record my heart rate prior to administering digoxin. The physician’s parameters are that my heart rate is above 60 BPM. The machine takes about a minute to calibrate and record blood pressure and pulse. So for about 60 seconds, at four in the morning when there is no one else but me and Zimmer in the day room, he’s looking at the ceiling. I mean looking everywhere he can to prevent himself from having to make eye contact.

Now I, on the other hand, am staring at him. I’m having no success though. I suspect that if he doesn’t make eye contact – admit that there is another human being in the room – then he can rationalize and then justify his attitude and the process of locking another human being in a cage.

Luckily the device registered a heart rate of 63, the nurse gave me my medication and they were on their way. I hope he comes with her tomorrow.

He probably won’t in spite of the fact that – or perhaps because of the fact that – things change around here quickly and without much – or rather any – fanfare. No sooner have I gotten used to one neighbor, than he had been replaced by another. After all – except for me and a few others – this place is really just a triage station with “the really bad guys” being shipped off to the various California penitentiaries before they can cause a heap of trouble.

The occupant of 2E-9, a single room reserved for special cases, is a young black guy, not more than 21 or 22, and he is very disturbing to me. He looks so sad, so lost, and so mentally ill. I can’t help but believe that there has to be some hospital, somewhere, willing to help this kid.

During our unlocks, he stands in the corner of the room – much like the elderly chimpanzee who has been kicked out of one family group by a younger strong male and is trying to assimilate into another group but clearly not as the dominant male – he gets up the nerve after much internal deliberation to softly ask someone a question (which usually they didn’t hear because he speaks so softly) and then quickly retreats back to the corner of the room whether he’s gotten a response or not.

He was staring at the TV, so I handed him the remote and told him to turn it to something he wanted to watch. He simply stared at the remote with an occasional glance at the TV and placed it back (the remote) on the table.

I learned my lesson.

There is also a young white guy, 30 or 31, who arrived, but he is clearly a veteran, and clearly comfortable in this environment. He quickly made friends and renewed some relationships from two years ago. Bluntly, he let everyone know he’s a parole violation, and was on his way back to San Quentin.

You wouldn’t think it, but it’s not all bad here. My colleagues are actually quite funny. Last Friday we had to decide on the evening’s TV viewing, and decided to explore the intricacies of the democratic process in choosing a program to watch. The entire module was queried, and I am pleased to report that only three people required hospitalization following the vote.

Our meals in themselves are an adventure also. It has taken me quite a while to get accustomed to things like the premeal blessing. Instead of your traditional prayer of thanksgiving, our meals are usually preceded by a chorus of “What the f$#%@k is this?”

I’m sure the cook is doing the best with what he – or she – has to work with, but I’m not sure every slice of mystery meat deserves mystery gravy. My sight though has improved considerably because of the serving of some form of carrot with every meal.

By the way, the winner in our “vote” on Friday night’s entertainment was… drum-roll please…“Cops”. Some people just can’t resist looking at themselves on TV (and I’m really not kidding).

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