I have taken – more out of necessity than contrariness – to corresponding less and less with my friends on the outside. It is not so much that I do not miss them – for I most certainly do – but rather as a protection against the psychological warfare inflicted by the Guards. They control the flow of mail, and it is clear that any interaction with them (the guards) takes the form of some kind of beat down. A great portion of the ill-temper and bad manners displayed by the staff is by design. Clearly no sensible person could be that disagreeable.
Yet here is the dichotomy: the admission packet contains a rule book, a soft pen, two sheets of writing paper, and an envelope. I took that to mean that they encourage inmates to write loved ones. The question I became fixated on – in light of their behavior – was why? Why would the jailers encourage you to correspond with the outside world, and then make the process so difficult and dreadful?
My answer was twofold: first to impress upon us that – for whatever reason – that right has been taken from you, and secondly, to provide them with a tool to punish us – by taking it away – should your behavior in here not conform to some halfwit’s whim. As such, I have found with much satisfaction that if there is nothing I need from the staff, there is nothing they have to use against me through denying it, withholding it, monitoring it, or having the excuse to talk about it. It is an arrangement that works quite well for me.
Thus, when I receive a letter from a friend I am overjoyed, and yet, I find, despite my best intentions, I am slow in responding. I assure you it is not for lack of appreciation or concern on my part for their welfare. I delight daily in believing that: Jodi is smiling; Dee is happy; N’Gai is intellectualizing about the market; Bill is playing golf; Wynn is socializing; Noel is performing a procedure; Nazz is telling a joke; and everyone else is fine.
In my mind, where is where I have taken to live, I am with my mother and my sister, every moment of every day and I am thankful for it. So in a sense, I forgive me my procrastinations. My failure to get on with writing is really a way to protect those relationships I love, and need, from the contamination of the ill-temper and bad manners of the jailer. And so there is joy in my soul when I look the guard squarely in the eye and he realizes there is a part of me that he’ll never touch. That there is an upbringing and temperament to me, the likes of which he can only imagine. Such are the little joys of Solano County; such are the realities that I hold on to dearly.
Nonetheless, though it is definitely true that by my nature, I might never own to “being affected by the weather” – as my English friends say. “Everybody feels a North-East wind.” On the anniversary of my third month at Solano County, both boredom and melancholy had overcome me. I needed a change; I resolved to leave the confines of E-module during my “unlock” and visit “the yard”. I would venture out. I would say hello to the Sun and the rest of nature.
To be honest, it is something that I would have done much earlier in my stay here, but as is the situation with all privileges here, you are not afforded them unless you ask, and the jailer never informs you that that option is available, so you know to ask. It is a privilege that you learn like all the others, from a colleague, who – much more than you – has had the opportunity to spend a number of tours with the authorities and therefore knows the ropes.
If you are one with an affinity for prison movies, I am afraid you will be quite disappointed here. The yard is not a yard at all. The yard at Solano County is a room – with concrete floors and concrete walls – adjacent to the day room.
I, along with two of my colleagues, exited the E module and walked the four or five steps to another door adjacent to the floor officer’s desk; in actuality it was simply another room, much like our day room in that the wall facing the guard’s desk was glass.
As you enter the yard the room expands to the dimensions of approximately 40 by 75 feet. The ceiling of the first third is approximately 10 feet high; the second third of the ceiling is approximately 20 feet high and consists not of tile, but of cement from the underside of the outside of the building from the floor above. The outer third of the room is actually an alcove that is outside. This area, though opened, is fenced in both at its edges and its ceiling, with a green wire-mesh fence. No one will be climbing out of here.
To the right are lockers. I had originally thought they represented space for the corrections officers but in reality they represented storage. Across the top border, written in succession were mops, small bags, 44 ounce bags, empty boxes, buckets, and more boxes.
Further along on the right wall – along the floor – were a mattress for the cots, which must have been used as a mat, and a metal structure that could be used for pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips, and a bench for sit-ups.
There was nothing along the wall opposite the entrance. It consisted of the cylinder blocks approximately 20 feet high, and the top and roof were composed of the aforementioned fence.
The left wall was busy in that the toilet and sink were there, but much more interesting was the fact that there were three green doors spaced evenly along the wall. One can only imagine where they lead; I suspected into F module, or to a stairway leading out of the building.
The room was cool – actually cold – and quite dusty. The sun was up but it had yet to bless this room as it was too early in the day. My colleagues began to exercise by walking around the perimeter of the room, and so as not to seem uninformed, I fell in behind them. After a few minutes we were joined by Joe, a colleague waiting to be extradited back to Guam. He apparently had been released by the judge, but the conditions of his release required that he be shipped back home, and that process had been delayed while his family put together the money for the ticket.
So for the next 35 to 40 minutes we all walked around the perimeter of the “yard” my three colleagues involved in a conversation about bands and what actress was hot, and me content to marvel at the direction of their conversation. I was struck by really how young they all were. They mentioned a lot of young Hollywood who I did not know. I for one did agree with their assessment that Teri Hatcher is hot; I just couldn’t swallow the notion that she was “older”.
“Older than what”? I thought. I was however impressed with their taste.
Suddenly there was a loud click at the door – signifying that the lock was open. My time in the yard was over and it had passed so quickly. At that moment, I doubted seriously if I shall ever be so inclined as to visit again, for it did not offer much more than the day room. There was always the chin-up bar though; it did offer a chance at a different exercise. I filed that thought away in my brain.