I have also become increasingly concerned, almost wary of, a colleague of mine here at Solano County.  He boasts that his heritage is black, Indian (American), Portuguese, and white. With that, ‘hybrid vigor” has indeed produced an attractive kid, but his incarceration has increasingly challenged his personality and his mental health. He spends his entire “unlock” on the phone. His conversations have escalated to screaming, swearing episodes where he challenges the integrity of his God, and the honor of the powers that be in Solano County. He appears to hate them both. He has become noticeable because his calls always continue pass the time when the guards have called for a return to our cells, the end of “unlock”. As a result, a confrontation with the guards is how all of his, and therefore, all of our, “unlocks” end.

Yesterday, through the phone to someone, a girlfriend perhaps, he was “mad dogging” that he had previously survived San Quentin, tier 4, where they apparently house murderers. Yet less than two minutes after that declaration, he was crying into the phone like a 16-year-old girl who couldn’t get the correct dress to wear to the prom. I suspect soon he will have engaged in another altercation with an inmate or one of the guards.

Speaking of the guards, the search is on: The newspaper given to the inmates yesterday was censored, a story had been cut out, and the word around the campfire was that one of the guards was arrested in Fairfield. I can only imagine Officer Thompson walking through the door in stripes carrying his bedroll. At any rate, the other guards are completely mum on who it might be. Thompson, though, is due back today from his “weekend off”, so we will see.

I have become quite attached to my “celly”, and I find in him a simple elegance that could serve as a model for all of us. We could not be more different, and frankly, we talk but little, each finding pleasure in the solitude of reading, him the bible, and me anything I can get my hands on.

As I mentioned before, Niko is a descendent of the Aztecs – and sports a tattoo of the Aztec calendar which covers his entire back (must have taken a year to finish that thing) – and although to the ignorant like me, he is a Mexican living in the U.S., in reality, he is so much more.

He took the opportunity the other day to tell me of his life before he came here to Northern California, in particular the North Bay. It began by my asking him where exactly he was from, and then being amazed as he stammered to arrive at a suitable answer (that is one to his liking). He, in fact, is from no town or village because his tribe is somewhat nomadic. Though they live in the central mountains, the seasons dictate exactly where. During the summers they build dwellings higher up the mountain, and during the harvest they – all the members of the tribe – which is in September as near as I can tell – convene to share and trade. In winter they move down the mountain somewhat.

Niko has a brother and as a kid they used to climb the tall pine trees and “ride” them as the grownups cut them down for fuel and building materials. Apparently it was important to understand which way the tree was going to fall because it was important to be on top of it when it landed; otherwise, you got crushed by the weight of the falling tree.

He happened to be sitting at our cell door window watching a documentary on Russia and the landscape reminded him of home.

Another game he and his brother seemed to enjoy was swimming. They’d tie a rope to a tree and then swing out over the cliffs to see who could go out the farthest. I was actually scared to death just hearing about it – I grew up in the flatlands of Ohio and heights, any heights, make me a bit nervous.

What’s been most interesting is the simplicity of his ideas and his thirst for knowledge, particularly the knowledge that I, and we, take for granted.

He is really interested in people and although in his broken English it takes some time to narrow down who he is talking about, we both seem to find it rewarding when we agree on whom it is. I often forget that he is neither Mexican nor American, and that both English and Spanish are third languages for him.

I’ve come to recognize that when Niko says the guy “with all the hair” – described as what can only be concluded as an Afro – he is really talking about Albert Einstein; and that “ the man in the Da Vinci Code” is not really Tom Hanks but Leonardo Da Vinci himself.

I was particularly amazed he wanted to know about Shakespeare – not so much that he had that interest, but amazed at the fact that I completely enjoyed talking about it.  This discovering that I was really a closet teacher and finding the incredible secondary gain that comes with seeing a person discover something that previously they didn’t grasp, was wonderful for me. It was like a light bulb coming on, and I was really happy to be a part of it.

I also suggested he read Dickens and Jane Austen. Perhaps that is where I should head after Solano County – to some college to teach. I’ve entertained it from time to time, though I’m not sure what subject I would teach.

I am also beginning to form a friendship with Sean in the cell next door. It began as “what the fuck am I doing here with this crew” to a real look at choices and one’s own behavior.

Sean was a lost soul. He is a very smart kid, and only 21. He has had no direction whatsoever, but the hunger for knowledge is there.

At twelve he was an alcoholic. At fourteen he was into meth and stealing cars. At 16, he was into the White Supremacy movement. And right now he has come to the conclusion that it’s leading nowhere, and it’s not what he wants. He readily admits to not a lot of education, but understands that that is the place to begin. I suggested he begin with the classics, but I emphasized he’s got to read about the things that interest him.

It was actually a wonderful opportunity for me to give him my why speech: the notion that the why behind what we do is the only thing that will sustain a certain behavior; that if you know why you’re doing something, and have a strong enough why behind it, you’re more likely to follow through.

I think he was disarmed by my acceptance of him. The notion that a black guy would take time to listen to him, without judging, made it easier for him to be open. Mainly we marveled at our colleagues, but with time, he shared more of his experiences in the White Supremacy movement. I simply told him that if he was doing it for his own reasons and not someone else’s, I wasn’t going to judge him. If someone has their own reasons for what they do, then we can explore whether those reasons are valid.

I suspect he is leaning more toward something in psychology, though it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up. The whole world is open to him and I made sure he knew that.He’s about to be transferred to another facility and felt motivated to shoot me a letter. He announced that he wanted to keep in touch.

I was open to it because frankly this experience, this Solano County, is just another facet of my life. I don’t particularly view it as good or bad; it simply is, and it will impact my day-to-day life in the future, I’m sure.

Also, both Officers Broadnax and Thompson are off the hook. It turns out neither one is the sexual offender of whom the papers spoke. I did enjoy the laugh we got when I suggested to them both that I was concerned they were the culprit.

The Solano County Corrections Officer arrested was named James and his crime – allegedly – was insurance fraud. Turns out Officer James hurt himself away from the job, and then filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging that he had hurt himself while wrestling with an inmate. Apparently one of his colleagues turned him in. Nonetheless it’s interesting that he would point the finger at someone unable to defend themselves, the inmates. I guess that explains why when white women murder their children; they blame it on black guys.

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