Daily Life (In the County)

For the record, there is such a thing as “familiarity breeds contempt.” I have literally reached my limit with my bunky and I am afraid it’s all on my side. He has simply done nothing different, and the things I use to accept or tolerate, I can tolerate no longer.

Here’s a guy who sleeps 22 hours a day, shaking, snoring and gasping for air. There is a rhythm to it. The doctor in me worries about apnea, but I guess if all you have to look forward to is ten years in the pen, there’s not much incentive to do otherwise.

It’s been three days and he’s made no effort to see the doctor, and so I’m done. That doctor side of me that wants to appeal to the human side – to compassion – has had enough. I probably let it last longer than it should, and I fear that that is my way too. I’ve learned to be too tolerant. Very smart is the man who looks downboard, recognizes that conditions are not right, and gets out before the conflict.

I doubt if I’ll be able to move anytime soon. There are five guys sleeping on cots in the dayroom, and I wouldn’t change places with them for all the tea in China. They are completely at the whim of the guards. Thompson, who admitted them, dressed them down about their “unlock” being with the bottom tier. The next morning the bottom tier’s “unlock” was called. Naturally the guys on cots began to stir and to get ready to take showers. Officer Finnegan, the female guard, blasted them with a tirade about the rules for getting off their bunks. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and went on and on about them not being able to leave their cots until, get this, the upper tier came down. It actually pissed me off. I just have no patience for a system where people are expected to adhere to laws that they do not know about, and change with the whim of whoever’s enforcing them.

I actually went to Ofc Powell, the floor officer, and explained their dilemma. I explained to him that I’d been here a while; he’d had no problem with me; but if they expect us to adhere to laws we do not know about, or that have changed since the day before and expect me to take the verbal lashing like they just took from her, we’re going to have a problem. It was uncalled for. We’re here to do time, not take shit from people. He got my point. The ridiculous part about that is that he’s the guard who needs to hear it the least.

In a sense he’s the exception that blows the theory out of the water. In science you can never prove that a theory is correct: that a theory successfully describes or predicts an event, simply means it holds for that circumstance. And each time that remains true you get a bit more confidence in it, but it’s not conclusive proof that the next prediction won’t be wrong and thus invalidate the theory. But one wrong prediction and it’s back to the drawing board.

Nevertheless, Officer Powell is still very tribal – even in our conversation he was protecting Finnegan’s back, but I honestly can’t label him anit-conceptual, or just a plain asshole, like the rest. The conclusion: they aren’t all impossible. (Perhaps the change was happening in me.)

That afternoon, the guards moved a new colleague into H-mod. He had the distinction of being placed in a cell with Corey. This guy is a character. He’s six-four or so, about 190 lbs, and has horribly gray, straightened hair. He looks like something out of Superfly – the early 70’s. I can only imagine that downstairs in property is a plaid shirt, platform shoes, and a walking stick. He’s very dark-skinned and also has a goatee. I wouldn’t say he was scary because he’s paralyzed on his left side and drags his foot and arm behind him as he walks. I don’t have a clue as to how all that came about. I phantasize that he is a pimp, who was shot by his brother’s gay lover over money. I have to admit he looks like the criminals you see on TV on old cop shows, like Hill Street Blues or Starsky and Hutch. It’s hilarious.

He’s a manipulator and user too. He’s got the young guys in the module fascinated and uses that, along with stories of his triumphs in the streets, to get favors from them. He’s constantly shuffling around the room asking people how to do this, and how to do that. When they stop to help, he sits back and enjoys it.

I was getting out of the shower and he was sitting alone at an adjacent table looking sad and pathetic. “You’re good with paperwork.”

“What?” I asked.

“You’re good with paperwork, right?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you mean. Good with paperwork?”

“Well,” he says, “I have this problem. There is some kind of flu or something around this area; and the last time I was in I got it and some kind of meningitis.” Of course he had my full attention now: a medical issue “On the outside I had these pills and I haven’t taken them for three months…I mean…three weeks and I’m starting to feel symptoms like before. I need you to help me with some paperwork to get the doctor to get me out of here.”

“I’m for that,” I thought. “This is great, my biggest fears realized: I got a bunky who’s shitting himself every other day on the bunk above me, and I’m having to look at his sheets with brown streaks everywhere … man, when is laundry day going to get here … and now, now I got Superfly with some kind of respiratory infection in H- module, a closed space with twenty-seven other guys. Great, just great! I collected myself, “I’m not good at all with paperwork but you need to tell the guard this shit now, so he can get the doctor down here.”

“The doctor knows,” he said. “He told me that we’ll have to watch me and the make a decision. I don’t want to do that.”

“Shit,” I thought. “I don’t want to do that either.” This is great, just great. I’m going to die in here confused and shitting on myself. I collected my thoughts again. “Well, let’s just put in another request. The doctor’s got to do something. He can’t let all those guys get sick.”

Superfly just shook his head. I continued getting dressed and moved as quickly to the other side of the room as I could. “Man, what a mess,” I thought.

Corey, the village idiot on the other hand, was just as happy as can be with his new roomy. Ignorance is bliss. To be honest though, I guess I’d like to be a fly on the wall listening to the dialogue going on in that cell between these two:

“Man, I got to tell you I think I got meningitis.”

“You got some coffee?”

“I put a request in for the doctor, but he’s moving slow.”

“How about some milk, can I borrow some milk?”

“Shit, I’ve got to get out of here.”

Corey singing, “My name’s Corey, and that’s my story.”


You just can’t make this up. I’ll keep you informed. In the meantime, I’m continuing to brainstorm about the things I want, and ranking them according to importance and urgency. When you actually get it all down there, the first thing you realize is that it’s all doable. That’s good.

What I’m battling now is changing my mind. One moment I’m sure one thing is the right thing to do; the next moment I’m considering something else. Part of it is being in here, and not being able to get started, to use momentum to keep it going. Part of it is simply doubt and insecurity. There are just so many questions marks in front of me.

That evening after dinner – it wouldn’t be appropriate to say during dinner because we never get a “during” dinner. The mod workers pass out the trays and, before the last are passed out, the other mod workers start collecting them. It happens so fast you never really have time to taste the food and that’s probably a good thing. Besides, when dinner is over they can return to loafing. Tonight though, the guard intends to change the procedure. The tower guard comes on the intercom and informs us that “we’re picking up the trays; I want only one of you guys to come out of the cell, so bring your cellmate’s tray.”

“Why would he say that?” I thought. “I’m not my bunky’s keeper,” let him bring his own tray out when he finishes.

The fact of the matter is that I haven’t quite resolved the guys on the floor issue from earlier– you know when they should be allowed to get off their cots for their “unlock”. Every guard says something different, and this latest brainstorm is just an extension of that.  Since I see Thompson out there, I offer to take the trays because, unfortunately, I’m determined – and I don’t know why – to say something to him about it.

His companion is Officer Broadnaux, a large black fellow who is constantly looking down his nose at me and my colleagues; he’s big, but not that big and frankly I have no fear of him whatsoever. When I get out into the day room I say to Thompson, “When you going to get that chick in the tower under control? She’s still telling everybody different things than you.”

“Well, she’s day shift,” he said, another consistently stupid answer that really doesn’t address the question.

“She told them something different again today. I think it’s crazy you guys treat people like that.”

Broadnaux now has his opening. “Maybe,” he says, “It’s not about what you think. Maybe you should mind your own business. Let them handle themselves.”

These guys are so mindless, and so predictable it’s almost hilarious. I turn directly to Broadnaux, “If you wanted me to mind my own business,” I say, “Then why’d you guys have me bring out my bunky’s tray?”

Mr. Broadnaux went blank. He didn’t have an answer and so he terminated the conversation. All my colleagues within hearing distance, however, took a great deal of joy in the interchange.

But here’s what I want you to get. I have no beef with Mr. Broadnaux. He may in fact be a good fellow – though I doubt he and I will ever share a conversation over an ice-cold Heineken. Nonetheless, that interchange for me marked a moment of clarity. What Mr. Broadnaux never got was it had absolutely nothing to do with my colleagues. I wasn’t interfering on their behalf, nor was I fighting their battle. That kind of self-sacrifice – certainly in this environment where the guards hold all the advantages – is not a virtue in my morality. I won’t defend my colleagues; not in the least. I said something to Thompson because I was personally not going to tolerate, not going to sit on my hands, while another human being was being humiliated for no other reason than the whim of some concrete thinking, anticonceptual, tribalistic guard in a bad mood had started her menses. And I would hope that that is the reason anyone gets involved with anything: because they personally find the state of affairs unacceptable to their own personal morality.

But some people just don’t have any morality because they don’t have the ability to reason and think which makes them less than human. That is how I saw the guards, as less than human.

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