Unfortunately, I Come to Know My Enviornment and the People

There is a rhythm to life, and life at Solano County is no different. The past couple of weeks, perhaps four to five, have been relatively quiet. I could sense that we were due to have some excitement, if nothing but in the form of a confrontation between two inmates. The source of the friction as usual, to the untrained eye, would appear to be the television, at least, control of it. That would only be a smokescreen. Just underneath what you think you see is always a hidden message, a hidden motive, screaming to be set free, the purpose of which is to increase the entropy, the amount of chaos in the room.

Smitty, as you are aware, is the self-appointed leader of the module. He maneuvers around in a wheelchair – his exact ailment I still do not  have a clue – and he keeps a vigilant watch over who might be a threat to his leadership. As a result, he’s always watching, noting who picks up the remote, who’s looking at the theater section of the paper, and who’s soliciting the vote for their favorite program.

The new arrival to E module is a white male, about thirty-five years of age. I imagine Smitty to be about 35 also. The white guy is approximately 5 feet, 11 inches tall, 170 lbs, and quite heavily tatted-up. He clearly is no novice to the inside of a jail cell, and apparently is on a return trip due to a parole violation. Apparently, he was unceremoniously discharged from his rehab class for being disruptive, hence, his parole violation. Unfortunately, to believe that is not a stretch. He is loud, interrupts conversations to demand that he be heard, and worst of all, he wants everyone in the cell block to have listened – at least twice – to his story of how his parole officer and the system have unfairly singled him out to be screwed.

It’s Friday night, the “Aramark girl” has just delivered pizzas from a portable oven; the guard has just passed out our ration of toilet paper; and I’m in the corner of the room, naked, taking a shower (frankly because the shower is in the corner of the room and I’ve become accustomed to taking them without my clothes on).

I can hear the voices in the room escalating, but I think nothing of it. I figure my colleagues are just enjoying a spirited game of spades. One voice, rising above the other voices, is that of a black man, so I know it’s the tatted white guy. He’s “blacker” thanany one else in here-at least he thinks so. He has placed his vote for “House of Payne” but apparently – to his chagrin – has been overruled by – yes – Smitty.

To my surprise, Smitty is no longer in his wheelchair. Miraculously this confrontation has restored his ability to walk, and I witness my colleagues standing toe-to-toe screaming at the top of their lungs, something about “Bitch this…” and “Bitch that…” but I see no bitches, I only see guys and so I take the exchange to be derogatory.

Nonetheless, Officer Fong, a large Asian male, and Officer Martinez, a large Latina female, are on the scene in seconds.

My tatted-up, loud, “black”, white man ends up locked all alone in his cell. Smitty is wheeled out of the day room to the floor guard’s deck, and as near as I can tell they both are getting quite a talking to.

The tension in the room settles down and my attention returns to my Friday night shower. As I’m washing my hair I look through the glass window into the adjacent module. Standing there in F mod, I see a guy who I recognize, because – as luck would have it – he used to be in E mod. It seems the same people just keep rotating through.

In the meantime, I have been joined in the shower by Corey, the village idiot – who really ain’t that dumb, if you know what I mean – and I say to him, “What’s that guy doing over there?”

“Who?” he asks.

“There…F mod…the black guy with the gray hair that used to be on the upper tier.”

“Oh, Rick.”

“Yeah, OK… Rick.”

“He just came back from maximum. Him (sic) and Smitty got into it a while ago and they transferred him up there.” Corey then smiled a knowing half-grin, one that says lightly and slyly, I know something. “You don’t want to go up there,” he said, “it’s dangerous. There are some really bad cats up there.”

We both waved at Rick and smiled. “Aw, the rhythm of life,” I thought.


The next morning at “unlock” there was no Smitty to be found. It appears his antics had caught up with him. Smitty had been on Module E for more than a year – much longer than anyone else – and so, as elder statesman, had established a certain amount of repose with the staff – at least as much as one could establish with these people. Over the past few months – and certainly prior to my arrival – Smitty had been using that status to his advantage. Rick, looking through the window, was only one in a long line of colleagues with whom Smitty had gotten into a confrontation, and thus, like many before him had been exiled to the loneliness of the maximum security cells. This had been Smitty’s way of disposing of rivals: a challenge, a confrontation, and retreat to the comfort of the ear of one of the guards.

It had worked many times before apparently, but the arrested development of the guards, their anticonceptual mentalities, know no loyalty to ideas, only to their tribe – the other guards – and sooner or later it, his modum operandi, had to turn on him.

There is one good consolation though. The mood in the day room was cooperative and subdued with Smitty’s absence. My colleagues were extending the social graces to each other – at least for now – and I would suspect that this would continue until Smitty’s return, if and when that happened.

In the meantime, the topic of conversation was Corey, the village idiot. Corey, over the past year, had been awaiting transfer to the state mental hospital. The word was that his papers were floating around Solano County and on more than one occasion had been scheduled for transfer, only to be denied in the “eleventh hour”. This time it was supposedly going to happen, and not a moment too soon. But one learns not believe that anything is real here until after it happens and then only with the confirmation of another inmate.

The consensus, however, across the board, is exactly what I suspected: “ole Corey ain’t quite as dumb and ain’t quite as much an idiot as he would have us believe”.  I would only add that that may be true, but make no doubt he is overwhelmingly convincing and a lot of it is not his acting skills. A state hospital, and not a jail, is where Corey needed to be.

Also, there was an amazing level of distrust of the system on the part of my colleagues. Part of it was simply familiarity with it. Part of it was justified. Not much that bounces around the wire in a prison actually makes it to the physical world. Rumors that are unture spread constantly. But the mention of Corey’s transfer to the state hospital brought out a chorus of innuendoes concerning illegal testing of drugs on inmates – and it wasn’t just the two or three. It wasn’t just the guys who talked to themselves, or who shadow boxed with their amazing, imaginary friend (who by the way probably should have some meds tested on them), it was everybody. All my colleagues doubted the legality (and humanity) of what went on up there.

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