Cell 11 really isn’t any warmer than cell 9, and the advantages of the move don’t seem as monumental as the instant I made the decision. There is indeed a better view of the TV, but then what’s on isn’t that interesting anyway so I wasn’t really missing that much. I’ll make the best of it though.
It’s early Friday morning, I’d say around two or three a.m-early in here means really early. Morning approaches fast because I spend a great deal of time asleep and even though I have no idea of exactly what time I went to bed, I’m already awake. The reality of it is that it’s difficult to get too comfortable because your mind realizes at any moment the door could open and you’d be forced to do something – stand here, move your bedding there, you’re changing cells – or the stranger just above you, the axe murderer, is stirring too much. Let’s face it, I really don’t know him, and that alone prevents me from falling too soundly asleep.
My mother is coming to visit in a few hours and as usual it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s wonderful to see her but I will never get comfortable with the sadness in her eyes.
I’ll do everything I can to alleviate her fears, but in the end it is up to her. I’m on the first unlock today and which means I’ll be out of the cell at 8:00 a.m. That’ll give me a half-hour – visiting starts at 8:30 a.m. – to get ready. I try to make sure I shower and put on clean clothes prior to sitting across from her. At the very least I can do that. I don’t want to look dirty or disheveled.
The module workers who pass out the laundry on Wednesdays have taken a liking to me and we speak regularly. They are young guys and are always trying to give me oversized clothing so I fit in but I’m just not feeling it. Who wears a 3X shirt anyway? I get an XL because that’s what I wear. I also don’t want to look like I’m losing too much weight when I see her. She’s fixed on how I’m eating – everyone knows the food is horrible – but I don’t want to sit across from her in a 3X shirt and look like I’m emaciated. So the ritual is they toss me the oversized clothes the younger guys sport and I force them to get me something that fits. They get a laugh and I get my conscience satisfied, a perfectly excellent example of free enterprise.
My mom wants to know about my new bunky, but she’s having a bit of a problem understanding what happened to the former one. I quickly explain that he was transferred to the penitentiary- unceremoniously, I might add – and that that will be his home for the next twelve years. “He reminds me of Charles” I tell her.
She frowns at that. I suspect that except for my sister and me, that’s a mistake that she would like to keep behind her.
“My new roomy is a short, round white guy in his early sixties.” She frowns at that too. “Just like Mike, he has full dentures”. I make a face like I’m trying to chew without teeth. We both laugh at that simply because it’s gross and you can’t make that up. “He makes odd grunting sounds with every movement as if it’s a chore simply to breathe.” We laugh at that too because it reaffirms her belief that older men, in general, are gross. Apparently the observation amongst older women is that they’d rather be alone than living with some farting, grunting, false teeth-wearing, disgusting older male. That’s hilarious to me; the future doesn’t have a lot to offer.
“I’ve finally gotten started on inputting your writings into the computer” she said. “It was difficult at first”.
I knew that she got depressed thinking of me in Solano County. I also knew she would find the stories absolutely fascinating. Her not being able to walk down to the module and look at the people was killing her and I knew letting her read about my experiences through inputting the data into the computer was therapeutic. Now she laughs at the stories and the people, and is in a hurry to get to the next page so she can find out what happens. I laugh. “Believe me,” I said “there are a lot of characters in here. Just wait until you get further in. Oh…by the way…there are books and papers in a brown paper bag that you need to pick up before leaving the facility.”
Most of the books I read, I donate to the Solano County Library, but the ones I’ve actually studied, the medical books I want to keep. Besides, if I don’t get rid of them somehow they won’t let new ones come in. We can’t have more than five at one time.
My mom is, as usual, ahead of me on that type of thing, “I‘ve already spoken to the intake lady at the reception desk. She has put things aside for me including the post-op boot.
“Wow” I think, “that seems like decades ago”.
Mom frowns, “they won’t let me pick those things up until 10:30 a.m. That means I’ll have to hang around here for two hours.”
Even my mother had loss some faith in the system. The woman at reception had offered to make an exception and get things for her when she was ready to go. Yet she reminded me that that was the same woman who approved the shoes and orthotics that I never got.
We said our goodbyes – always a sad time – and I returned to my cell to find my celly packing his bedroll. He had been released in the half-hour since I left and was wasting no time getting out of H- module and Solano County Jail. I shook his hand and wished him the best and in an instant he was gone. I called to him to remind him that he had left some personal items – soap, a toothbrush and the like – but he was having none of it. Understandably, all he wanted was the door. “You keep it,” he said.
I took a long, deep breath… “Alone at last”. I was going to enjoy this immensely. In the words once again of Thoreau, “I have never found a companion as companionable as solitude.”
The first thing I did was to clean up. I sat back and listened to the silence: nothing; no snoring, no grunting, and no farting. It was marvelous. I spent the rest of the day studying French. My goal is still to read Victor Hugo in his native language.
Even dinner that evening seemed more pleasant. Despite the Mexican theme – beans and rice along with tortilla chips – the food was presentable and reasonably tasty for in here. There was even cheese – which we never get – and I took the opportunity to dream. “Man,” I thought, “I would kill for a fat juicy hamburger, or a fried chicken breast.” (Again, I don’t mean that literally; kill is not a word you want to use in here; first it’ll probably get you put in isolation and secondly, it’ll put your colleagues on the defensive; and to some of these cats a good offense is the best defense.)
It had to be around 9 p.m. when I went to sleep. I was up again at around 11:30. I guess the silence was deafening. Perhaps it wasn’t the snoring that kept waking me in the middle of the night. Perhaps it was my own mind and the snoring only served to keep me awake, and to give me a reason for it.
Officer Stewart was making his rounds at the time, and seeing me alone, and with everybody else asleep and locked down, decided to open the cell and chat – that’s talk, not French for cat.
“How is the move treating you?” he asked. “This cell is certainly better isn’t it?”
“Oh, no, it’s great; thank you,” I replied.
“Where’s your cellmate?”
“He got discharged this morning.”
“Oh…well just as a heads-up. You might want to think about who you want to bunk with down here. I can move people now, but if we start getting people in, it’s the luck of the draw…I recognize you’re different than these other guys, certainly a lot smarter… so you might think about getting somebody in here you can talk to. There is a guy in I mod who works in some kind of laboratory; I thought I could get him over here for you, but his classification won’t allow it…For what he’s done, I’m not sure you want to be around him anyway.”
To be honest, the entire conversation was making me uncomfortable. Granted I had been at Solano County for more than four months which was more than ample time to get to know the guards, but it seemed to me his kindness was a risk for both of us. Altruism is not a virtue in my morality, but I didn’t want him put on the spot with the other guards (and certainly not me with the other inmates). None of them really knew who I was and I was getting to like it that way. It was actually funny to hear them comment on people on TV and think “I know him” and “I dated her.”
“Thanks for thinking about me,” I said. “I’ll give it some thought.” With that, he closed the door to the cell and was gone. I did give it some thought but could think of none of my colleagues I would want to bunk with. Perhaps it was better, certainly more interesting to leave it to the luck of the draw. Besides, by what criteria would I use to choose?
The next day, however, represented a sad time in the neighborhood. It was not the arrival of some malcontent, but the departure of one of our more colorful colleagues. No more would he be seen dragging his left leg around the day room. No more would that “half sincere-half I’m getting over on you smile” bless us at medication call. His smile today was real. “One of the ‘hos” had bailed out Superfly.”
“I’m leaving after dinner,” he announced to us all. From his cell, he pulled out a rumpled brown paper bag full of “goodies” which he donated to the collective. Superfly was the man once again and was heading for the streets.
I was extremely happy for him (and for me). Every sign of progress, every indication that life is moving forward is an indication I’m getting closer to release. How much closer, I do not know, but certainly closer than I was a moment ago.
I’m still without a bunkmate which for now is great. It offers an opportunity to be a little more relaxed. I can enjoy writing and reading even more because of the solitude. I know it’s not going to last and frankly it shouldn’t, but it is good for now.