23-5

It was impossible to sleep that night. I had a project and it was all I could think of.  Purpose is everything. My intention was not to free Gene; on the contrary, there was something foul about the whole deal – beginning with the death of an innocent man. What I wanted was what I have always wanted: to help people think so that we make informed decisions. The goal is not to teach people what to think, but how to think. Regardless of my distaste for Gene or his crime; this wasn’t an animal. It was a man who made a series of very bad decisions. It is important to understand that any man is capable (and the operative word is capable) of the same mistakes. I couldn’t suppress the feeling that Gene’s story, as it was being told by the press so far, was not generating the impression that this was a human being. His past was one of a long line of failures. Where he was now was just the culmination of a life that began bad, and proceeded downhill from there. Gene wasn’t a likable character, but he was no animal either.

There were other questions which I hadn’t thought about, that came out of our initial conversation. No wonder journalists always got it wrong. Their’s is a rush to be first, not right or fair. A conversation lasting an hour over lunch was never going to get at the nuances that really told the story. The facts might be there, but not the flavor.

This thing was really going to come down to the drug buy and the very strange bedfellows that it made. I needed to understand Gene’s drug use. Was it recreational or did Gene spend the greater part of his day trying to satisfy his habit? Obviously, the lessons taught in rehab didn’t stick, at least not for Gene, (but it sounds as if they did for his wife).

I also wondered if Gene’s drug use was responsible for his breakup with his wife. And if so, at what point did she say, “I’ve had enough.”

At the evening unlock two days later, Gene appeared at my cell door. He was actually a little more upbeat than I had ever remembered seeing him. He was carrying a brown paper bag which he put on the floor. He said that he had a few questions that he wanted to ask me.

It turns out that his case had been delayed because the professor researching venue changes had become ill – apparently requiring a coronary artery bypass grafting. With the delay Gene had had the opportunity to think a little bit more about our “project”. Right off the top he wanted to know what I got out of it. That is a constant in here because no one does anything without some type of compensation. I thought that was a particularly fair question. Turns out Gene had discussed our previous conversation with his celly, Mario, who I didn’t really know that much about. I had interacted with him on E mod, and found him reasonable and harmless.

Their apprehension, or at least Gene’s question, was certainly appropriate in this environment. Although the classification officer had her reasons for putting me in the protective custody unit (celebrity), a large number of these guys were informants. They had worked out deals with the District Attorney and thus were separated from the general population to keep from being killed. Gene and Mario just wanted to be sure they weren’t being “sold up the river”. It was more than fair for Gene to inquire.

“I don’t’ get anything from Solano County, if that’s what you’re asking,” I said. “My sentence is done in about three weeks, no probation, and no parole, done. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want anything from any of these people. I chose the maximum sentence; I intend to complete it; and I plan to be left alone when I’m done…There is a lot of secondary gain for me, though. First and foremost, I recently got killed in the press and as far as I’m concerned none of the press got it right and worst yet, none of them cared to: all they were concerned with was getting it exclusively and getting it first. Not one cared about the truth. So I guess that’s my main motivation: to demonstrate to the Daily Republic and reporters in general that they always get the story wrong, but more importantly, it’s because deep down they really don’t care.”

“Yeah, I know…I used to save stories written by the reporter and I quit because he never got it right.”

“Well, look at Iraq,” I said. “The Bush administration was able to get us in a war because the press was reporting to the people of the United States that Saddam Husein was stockpiling WMDs. Now people, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, are dead and there were no weapons. That’s my point. They say things that have an impact on people’s lives, but don’t care enough to get it right.”

“I didn’t get to talk with my lawyer today. I had originally asked him about going to the press with the truth, but he says it makes no sense because they are not going to be sympathetic to me.”

“They won’t.”

“But I thought you said that’s what you wanted to do?”

“It is, but I’m not you. If I go on TV, for instance, and say how great I am, no one cares; but they might listen if someone else says I’m great. Look…my point is I don’t know how this is going to go for you, but I would like for people to get the true story. I’m not going to tell you that I would not relish pushing it in some reporter’s face; I would. I think they write things that aren’t true and destroy people’s lives. And worse, they couldn’t give a shit; they’re on to the next story. I’m not sure whether your story should go to TV people or the papers; it seems to me this is a local story, though.”

“So what is it you do?” Gene asked. “I know you were in here on some kind of DUI thing. I’m not trying to get into your business…”

“No, that’s OK. I’m a doctor that’s what I do. I also do a TV show and try to write. To be honest, I’m working on a book about my experience at Solano County and this might make a great addition to that. Actually it might be a great way to introduce the book. Who knows, somebody with a little passion might read it and say ‘Hey, this guy is getting screwed’ and start a campaign to help you…I don’t know”.

Gene seemed to like that. My motives were now making sense to him. I suspect not many of my colleagues have had anybody do much of anything for them without expecting, perhaps demanding, something in return.

Unfortunately, we had come to the end of Gene’s unlock. We said our goodbyes and he offered to get back to me. I know this was hard for him, particularly not knowing who or what to trust. If you are not accustomed to the media coming at you in a feeding frenzy, this process is too much. Again, I felt bad for him. I thought simply having someone listen to his side, truly listen, might make his day better. It’s rough sitting in a 6×10 foot room for 22 hours a day with nothing but your thoughts. I was sure he must be running that night through his head over and over and over again. He certainly read the newspaper like that was all he did: remember that night.

I watched Gene over the next week or so and he seemed a man lost, a man overwhelmed with indecision. He seemed to misplace things and then wander around the day room retrieving his belongings. At one point I thought how comical this guy looks, sort of out of step with the rest of humanity, almost screaming, “Please, don’t anyone pick me out of the crowd.”

It was difficult, no, almost impossible, to pick him out as being involved in a murder, but I guess that’s really the point. The press paints all these guys as monsters, but they never really are. They’re just people like you and me. Quite ordinary in their appearance and in Gene’s case, quite passive in his mannerisms.

23-4

I wanted to ask him how that made him feel, but I resisted. The object here was still to find out his story, not psychoanalyze him, at least not yet.

“I didn’t hear you mention anything about sports or hobbies in Y.A. What do you like to do?”

“Echo Glen was great. It was beautiful. There were nice cottages and we got to ski and things, but I never did anything like play sports really.”

“So how did you get to California?” I asked.

“After I got out of Y.A., my mom remarried and her husband was moving his business. We moved first to Sacramento and then to Fremont.”

“So how did you meet your wife?”

“We met in rehab.”

“Rehab… How long you been taking drugs?”

“I started when I was 16 or 17 years of age.”

“Why?”

“My cousins and friends were doing it.”

“But it was you who made the decision,” I said, without being too confrontational. Our conversation was beginning to get easier and I didn’t’ want my judgments to get in the way. “You have any kids?”

“Yeah, I’ve got two boys. One fourteen and the other…the other is about to turn 13.”

“And they live with your wife, right?” He nodded. “By the way,” I continued. “How’s she doing with all this?”

“OK, I guess.”

“What is she doing now?”

“She’s professional…works for the city.”

“Let me interrupt you here, I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want your wife brought into this. I think she’s important to where your head was at, but I’d really like to protect her privacy. I wouldn’t want her having any problems at work or whatever. “My real reason for asking was just to get a feel for where and how you were living. You know… what kind of neighborhood.”

“We lived in Berkeley in a very good neighborhood with manicured lawns in a great house.”

Without warning the tower officer appeared on the overhead announcing the end of their “unlock”. I had gotten lost in his story. I suggested to Gene that it might be easier for him to write down the next phase of the interview since it would deal exclusively with what happened that night. Yet he did not take the opportunity to end our conversation. He commented– once again –on how “the papers had gotten things all wrong”.

I felt bad for him. It was easy to see the direct path his life had taken to get him here, but it was equally easy to see that this guy was not the heinous murderer we reading about in the papers. I also knew just how very difficult it was to be in his position; it is worse to be persecuted on inaccurate information.

That meeting told me two things – one, that I had been successful in establishing some connection, and two, that Gene desperately wanted to tell his side. That I could certainly understand. At having watched in horror the media frenzy surrounding the death of one of my patients, and the fact that the press had gotten it all wrong, I knew quite well what he was talking about.

“We are going to have to end now,” I said, “at least the first portion of it” (and again I proposed my suggestion). “So why don’t you just write down your thoughts. Hell, neither of us is going anywhere.”

“Well…” he began. “I’ve had that conversation with my lawyer, and I’m just not comfortable doing that. He doesn’t want me writing things down for anybody.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “We’ll talk at your next unlock.” (He couldn’t talk at mine because I was housed on the bottom tier of the module and strictly forbidden to take the flight of stairs to the upper tier.)

Gene left my door to collect his things before returning to his cell. I went about tidying things up in my cell. A few seconds later there was a knock at my cell window and it was Gene. “You know,” he said. “You could write down some questions and I could answer them. That might be okay.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do that and get them to you somehow.” With that, Gene walked away. I felt good about getting his story. I simply reveled in the opportunity to get his story straight from him, without the slanted view by some aging editor who was never going to take the opportunity to talk with Gene personally.

I went straight at it. I pulled out my notes, looked at what I thought needed to be asked to keep the conversation and the story going, added a few questions, changed the tone of others, and got the final result to Gene through what can only be called “the prison underground mail system,” the mod workers.

23-3

Those were the first group of questions racing through my head. They were the questions that I wanted answered immediately, but more importantly, they were the questions, at least the type of questions, that never get answered about the accused. No murderer is just a murderer. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The interesting part for me, at least the one the press never answers is how the murderer got there. Oh, not the silly psyco-babble about his mpo0ther or his upbringing, but how and why his brain and his mind led him to just this place at this particularlar time.

But clearly, processing the events that took place that day take time and a lot of introspection, I wasn’t sure he had gotten there yet. What I really wanted to know is Gene Combs’ feelings then, versus Gene Combs’ feelings now.

Those were the type of questions, I thought, people on the outside would want answered. I wanted to also ask him questions that those of us on the inside have, and those are frighteningly different. People on the outside want to know how they protect themselves. People on the inside want to find out the triggers so they can act accordingly.

An interesting phenomenon occurs to, or rather affects a lot of inmates. Maybe it is the time locked in a cage, maybe it is simply time alone, or maybe in a search for forgiveness for what they’ve done, a lot of guys in here turn to religion, almost to a fanatical level. I hear scripture invoked in conversations all the time. Some of it is pure bullshit, some is legitimate transformation. I was really curious to gauge where Gene was along this continuum.

I wish that I could tell you Gene got back to me immediately, or at least at his next “unlock”. He didn’t. I do not believe that his delay was because of apprehension or unwillingness on his part. It’s just that not much happens “now” in Solano County. There is no sense of urgency on anyone’s part.

I did not speak to him until more than a week later.

At the time he arrived at my cell door, so did the newspaper and he asked to see it when I was done. I suggested he keep it, but I asked that he hold on while I retrieved my notes.

I knew he was dying to tell his side, but I also knew he had a lawyer and that they invariably tell you not to talk to anybody. My first task then was to reassure him. I didn’t spare any punches. “Look,” I said, “this is probably going to take two or three sessions; I want you to be comfortable and I want you to bear with me. I know you want to tell your side but first I think we need to establish who you are so for right now; I want to ask you background stuff.”

He positioned himself better at the window so he could see my eyes and nodded. I’m sure that was just as much for reassurance as it was to convey that he agreed.

“Who are you?” I asked. “And here’s what I mean: if I was sitting in the congregation at your funeral and your best friend was talking about you, what would he say?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Gene answered, “I have a friend Joyce who I hang around with – nothing sexual – we’ll have a drink and talk – she has three daughters about my age, and I work on their cars too. She’d say I was nice and kind, and that I give freely.

“Even my wife says that I’m too nice. That I don’t charge enough for the work I do on cars.

I think they’d say that I’m nonjudgmental also.”

“So you have a wife?”

“Yeah.”

The problem for me, though, was that Gene’s ‘yeah’ was a bit unconvincing. “How long you been married?”

“We’ve been married about eight years. We’ve been together about 13 years or so,” he was quick to add. I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that until he added, “We’re separated now, but we were working on it.” (All I could think was “Dude, ‘separated now’ youv’ve got to be kidding. That chick’s gone. You’re never getting out of here.”)

The pain was evident in his eyes, and frankly I didn’t want him going there. I wanted to know who this guy was before we got into how all this was affecting him, and after a brief pause, I took the opportunity to change the subject. “How old are you, Gene?” I asked.

“I’m 46.”

“Forty-six, huh… I know that seems irrelevant but I want to paint a picture of you as a person. The papers and the DA are already working on creating a monster, but no one’s all good or all bad. That’s my point for talking to you. The DA wants you not to be a person. He wants you guys to be seen as animals.”

“That’s what my lawyer says, too.”

“Your lawyer’s right. And now that the press has done its thing, you have to know the DA’s going to be coming at you with all he’s got. He can’t look soft on crime. He’ll be protecting his job and if that means frying you, then that’s what he’ll do.”

“Wow, my lawyer said that, too.”

“Good,” I said. “You lawyer’s at least being honest. But remember this, at the end of the day, win or lose, your lawyer goes home to his family. This is your life on the line.” He appreciated that. My directness was creating a bond, and I felt like Gene and I might actually accomplish our goal. “So you’re 46. So where are you from?”

“I grew up in Washington State. Olympia, Washington.”

“What was that like?”

Gene looked at me a bit confused. The question had been too vague. I thought about it for awhile, and then said, “What was it like for you growing up? Tell me about family life. What about your mom and dad?”

“My dad died when I was fourteen. He was an alcoholic. He was pretty out there.”

“Out there…What do you mean?”

“He was violent, beat me and my mom.”

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“I have one brother. He was mentally retarded. He’s a year younger, 45, and has lived his entire life in an institution.”

“Do you have any contact with him?”

“No, not really…. My sister and I are pretty close, though. She’s in Australia now with her boyfriend… but she’s been following the case…the incident…on the internet. She wrote my wife about it. She told her she knew I was not a murderer… that she knew I didn’t do this.”

“What about high school, how was that for you?”

“I didn’t really go to high school. I was Y.A.”

“Y.A.?”

“Yeah… Youth Authority. I got sentenced to Echo Glen when I was thirteen for stealing my friend’s motorbike. I didn’t really steal it, I was riding it and when he came home from school it was gone. I brought it back but the cops made his mom press charges even though she didn’t want to.”

“So did you graduate from high school? I mean, as a kid, what did you want to be?”

“I got me GED,” he offered, “but I could always fix things and what I wanted to be was a machinist. That’s what I am, a machinist-equipment operator, but I mostly work on cars.”

“Did you study it, go to college, anything like that?”

“No, I’m self-taught.”

“What about religious training growing up…Your family Protestants, Jewish, Catholic, what?”

“Not really anything. I think my mom goes to church, but I really couldn’t say.”

“You didn’t have much contact with her?” I asked.

“No…not really.”

“Why not?”

“Uh…I don’t know. Just didn’t.”

23-2

I do not know why, maybe it was the boredom, there was no revelation or epiphany, I simply decided to ask him his side of the story, and tell it. Being no “virgin” to the attention of the press, I knew they were getting the story wrong – they always do. I also knew any reporter would die to have his story first and exclusively. Why not beat them to it? The best revenge is success.

Besides, one thing was for sure. Any reporter telling his story was going to be telling it from an angle already decided by an editor. I was going to propose to him that we tell his story, from his angle.

However, the opportunity to speak to “the guy” did not arise for about four days. Like I said, nothing happens immediately in here. Fortunately for me, my cell is directly in front of the TV in the day room. At some point, everyone passes it. “He’s here,” Nike said.

“Who’s here?” I asked.

“The guy…Combs.”

I step to the door to take a look out. He’s literally standing right next to me, except of course for the locked cell door in between us. I tap gently on the glass; “Hey… Hey…” I say.

I startle him a bit and he moves away from the window apologizing, “I’m sorry… didn’t mean to block your view.”

I moved quickly to alleviate his fear or apprehension. “Oh, no…you’re cool. I do want to ask you a question, though.”

He leaned in close to the door, along the border where the door meets the foundation, and with his head slightly bowed he said, “Uh…. OK.”

“You can tell me to fuck off if you want. I don’t want to be in your business, but I was wondering if you would want to talk to me about your story. I’m reading the papers and the one thing that’s obvious is that their goal, the press that is, is to make you guys look like animals. While what happened is completely fucked up, no one’s completely good while someone else is completely bad. By the time your trial gets here, you’re already guilty, and understand its being done by design.”

“I know,” he said. “They’re not even getting it right. I walked into the station about a week after the incident and told the story to the detectives…”

“Trust me,” I interrupted, “I know a lot about the press getting it or not getting it right. I just wanted to know if you’d like to tell your side through me. Not that I am anybody mind you, but I can try to help get your version out there.You and I can take two or three unlocks, I’ll interview you through the door just like we’re talking now. I don’t know the entire story, and frankly I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, but as it stands, there’s no way you guys are getting a fair trial around here. The press has already seen to that.”

“It’s funny you should say that. My lawyer has already asked for a change of venue.”

As he said that, I waited until we made eye contact and I grimaced. “That’s a hard one. Judges don’t seem to like to do that.”

“Yeah, I know.” He then mentioned the name of some researcher in that area whose name I didn’t catch, “he is a college professor who writes about this kind of stuff, you know, change of venues and all that, and he says his preliminary evaluation shows about a 90% chance that I won’t get a fair trial, normally it’s around 40%, and so the judge has alotted money… I think it is $15,000 so far, for him to study it. I guess he needs around $30,000.”

“That’s good,” I said, “but my understanding is that that almost never happens. At any rate, I was just wondering if you wanted to talk about it.”

“You know,” he said. “I might like to do that. We can do that. Like I said, I went in and told the detectives everything. I’m just worried the press keeps getting it all wrong.” He thought for a few seconds, “What’s your name?”

“Adams,” I said.

“Well Adams, my name’s Gene Combs.”

I smiled at him. “I know.”

Gene Combs obviously had other things to do and began to look around the room. I surely understood that. Unlock time is precious time. “Look,” he said, “I’m going to sit down and play some cards with these guys.”

“OK,” I said. “We don’t have to do anything this minute. I’ll come up with some questions and when you’re ready, we’ll do it.”

“OK,” he said. There was another pause, and then Gene said, “I’m going to go over here now and play pinochle, but we’ll do it.”

“OK,” I said again.

Gene walked away from my cell door and I retreated to my bunk. I actually felt very good about having something to look forward to, something to do to break the monotony of each day in here. I know that if I didn’t change the focus of my mind, I was going to drive myself “nuts” in here.

I immediately began to formulate in my head the questions I wanted to ask him. They were going to be the tough questions, the ones that everyone wanted answered, but more importantly, they were going to bring out the real story and not some editor’s angle.

I spent the better part of the evening writing out questions. My mind was spinning so fast I had needed to slow it down by writing them out. “This is a story”, I imagined “that could launch a career in journalism”.  And here I was in here, getting it. Surely this was a bit egocentric on my part, but I convinced myself that a story by “the little man” was the story worth being told. The papers were never going to treat Gene Combs as a human being.

At first I thought about the introduction. This needed to take the format of a story, not your typical news piece where the editor assumes the reader is only going to see the opening paragraph and so tries to “crunch” the story into a sentence. We needed to find out about Gene Combs.

I knew I was overthinking it. “Relax”, I kept telling myself; “have a conversation, a real conversation with Gene and let the story tell itself.”

With that I decided on bullet points:

  • Who are you, Gene? I mean, if it were you who had died, and not Matt Garcia, what would your best friend be saying at your eulogy?
  • What would your worst enemy be saying?
  • Why is that?
  • How old are you? When is your birthday?
  • Where were you born?
  • What was it like growing up?
  • What was your family like?
    • Mother?
    • Father?
    • Brothers?
    • Sisters?
  • Where did you go to high school?
  • What was that like?
  • What activities were you involved in?
  • What did you want to be when you were 12? 16?
  • What were your dreams for the future?
  • Did you go to college?  Where?  Why not?
  • What did you study?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • How’d you get into that?
  • Are you married? Girlfriend? Significant other?
  • Any children?
  • Tell me about them.
  • What are your dreams/hopes for their future?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Where do you live (in what kind of community, what type of neighborhood)?
  • Drug use? How long? When did you start?
  • Why did you start?
  • Any therapy/rehab?
  • How often do you use drugs?
  • How do you put that together in your mind raising children or having a family?
  • Think back to that night – now, what was going on the day before? What was your day like? What did you do?
  • The papers “pen” this as a drug deal gone bad. What was really going on?
  • Why’d you go there?
  • What was your goal? Money back? Drugs? Revenge?
  • Who were the people with you? Why were they with you? It seems to me three people for one guy was looking for trouble.
  • I’m confused; none of them knew the guy you were looking for? Why did you think Garcia was the guy?
  • Did you guys talk with him, or just go in shooting? Why? Again, what was the goal?
  • How do you feel about that decision now?
  • I see you reading the papers from time to time. How do you feel when you read the stories? The family’s sadness? The tributes to Garcia?
  • What do you want to say to the DA?
  • What do you expect form the DA?
  • Now I read you turned yourself in, but do you have anything you’d like to say to the family?
  • Matt Garcia is never coming home. What do you say to them?
  • How do you make this up to Matt Garcia?
  • What do you want the average citizen reading this article to know about you?

23-1

My mind continues to work overtime in anticipation of my future. I worry and obsess… and not in a good way. It is not about details, I’m not in that frame of mind; I’m more in a panic mode than anywhere near the clarity one needs to get into specifics. I’m not sleeping well and I’m dreaming a lot more than I ever remember dreaming in the past. In fact to call them dreams is to minimize the issue. They are nightmares, pure and simple.

In the epidode this evening, I found myself in some kind of classroom. I don’t know where, or why, and I can’t really make out the faces of the ten or so other students. The subject, though, is advanced math. The one person I do recognize in the group is Mark Triffon, a friend of mine from medical school, but I can’t really tell you why Mark is there. We did not attend the same college and he is not the main focus of the dream; he is only someone I do happen to recognize.

The main focus is a male who I can not see and remains unidentified.

The instructor of the course is David Smith, who was the Chairman of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Michigan, when I trained there as a resident. I can’t for the life of me even begin to explain why Smith would be teaching math, or why math is the subject. I suspect my mind chose math because it was my favorite and because of the finiteness associated with it.

In this particular instance, Smith has “zeroed in” on Mark. In typical Smith fashion he has asked what appears to be a “no win” scenario. I’m watching Mark squirm to provide the answer Smith is looking for; but worst,  as I’m watching my friend struggle with the puzzle, I am confronyed with the reality that I, myself, don’t even understand the question. What is Smith asking? What is he getting at? I’m in way over my head here. The course might as well be in Hebrew.

That’s when another of the unidentified males in the class stands and begins to take over. He is literally lecturing. He has effectively dissected the nature of the question, and is in complete control of the information. He’s also looking directly at me with a diabolical smile of superiority, but the voice is all wrong. It is way too condescending. I have yet to speak and so his degradating posture seems wasted on me.

At the completion of his monologue, he sits down and glares at the rest of the class after making it perfectly clear that, compared to him, we are all deficient slackers, bordering on the stupid, who shouldn’t even be in the same room with him.

Smith then takes over and begins to explain to all of us what he expects in this class. I simply get up from my chair, walk directly over to my unidentified colleague and berate him, shamelessly, for his tirade. Smith looks on but oddly does not interrupt. “What’s wrong with you?” I scream to my colleague. “What’s up with the attitude?”

I get no reaction from him except the continuance of that diabolical smile, and silence. Sitting next to him is the most “tight-ass,” arrogant, entitled woman I have ever seen – and I’ve seen more than my share of them – who appears to be taking delight in the whole spectacle. I never see her face but I realize my unidentified friend’s antics have all been for her.

The tension continues to escalate, and predictably, I become more and more aggressive. There is anger beyond what the circumstance deserves, and yet I cannot control it. In a sense, I empty years of frustration on this character. I have now encroached upon my unidentified friend’s personal space, but his expression has not changed.

Smith intervenes. He understands the competition (and my insanity) but he insists we are a tight-knit group, solving the same, common problem.

My unidentified colleague takes that opportunity to apologize. For what, I am not sure. Am I upset with his command of the subject, or my lack of it?

As consolation, much like a team that has worked out its internal problems, we all consent to dinner together.As we exit the building, I am walking with Mark who, being his usual self, takes the opportunity to lighten the mood. He explains the shortcomings of the car he drove in that day. He laughs unapologetically at himself.

We decide to take the subway into the center of town. My unidentified colleague continues to be apologetic. He and I become involved in conversation, and there is a flash of bright light. He screams for me to move, I turn and there is an oncoming train. I wake up, startled and afraid…

And that’s how it’s been the past few nights. I get up from my bunk and look across the empty day room floor for the clock that sits out above the floor officer’s desk. The chair is empty; it’s 3:53 in the morning. I suspect the guard has retired to the safety of the tower, a place where he, or she, can sleep uninterrupted. I return to the warmth of the covers and stare at the bottom of the bunk above me.

I have no idea why I am dreaming, or what the dreams mean. I do know my release date is coming up and I’ve been worrying more and more about what to do. Maybe I should call Smith. Maybe I should just forget about it. I lay there in silence, in the dark; until I hear the medication nurse and the guard come through the day room door.  “Man…are they loud. They are certainly not trying to sneak up on anyone.” I grab a cup and fill it with water in anticipation of their arrival.

 

Today the upper tier has “unlock” first, and so I’m making my bed in preparation for my one hour out of the cell. Niko, my celly, is wiping off the sink and pauses to look out the cell window and then calls me over. “See that guy there?” he says.

“What guy?” I ask.

“The one reading the paper.”

“Yeah?…”

“That’s Combs.”

“O…K…, I’ll bite,” I say. “Who’s Combs again?”

“He’s the guy involved in the murder of the councilman.”

“Oh yeah.” I said, “I remember”. Then I watched as “the guy” meticulously went through each section of the paper, clearly a lot more thoroughly than most people.

At first glance, I got to tell you, he didn’t look menacing, or particularly vicious, to me. In fact, even after my third or fourth take, I was convinced that Niko must be wrong. That couldn’t be him. The man I was now staring at across the day room floor, at least from this vantage point, was no tough guy. He actually looked pretty passive and dimwitted. For this place, he struck me as pretty close to the bottom of the food chain. I’d run into quite a few killers in here and this guy wasn’t one of them. “What’s he doing?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Niko offered. “I guess he’s reading about himself.”

“If he is,” I said, “It’s a horror story… he and his buddies are going to fry. The reporters are telling this warm fuzzy story about Councilman Garcia, his family, his grandmother… By the time they get to court, Combs and his friends are going to look like animals, if they don’t already.”

“He does it every day now,” Niko said. “He gets the paper and goes to a table by himself.”

“It must be ‘hell’ to read. I’m sure the press has him sprouting horns by now…. I wonder what he thinks about all of it. He must really be feeling like shit about now.”

22-7

Over the last few days I have found it difficult to read or to sleep. I alluded earlier to my own fears, but in the name of intellectual precision I might better characterize them as the fear of the uncertainties that lie ahead. I lack purpose.

I have spent my life being overprepared for the task ahead, and right now I’m at a loss to know what to do. My release is supposedly less than a month away, and I’m not sure who’s going to step out of that door. I’ve made several attempts at clarity, goal setting, and the like, but nothing concrete seems to come. The notion of taking life as it comes simply adds to my fear.

I have trained myself to set goals and take action to get there. I have trained myself to learn from mistakes and simply turn the page and get on with life. But frankly, right now I’m lost. I have no purpose. I don’t know what to do.

It is, however, Labor Day weekend, and I suspect the floor of the day room will become overwhelmed with the overflow of prisoners admitted to the county jail. We received our first one on Friday afternoon which means the Latino Victors (two guys, same name) in cell 8 will return to the day room floor. The toilet in that cell will be used for the eight to 10 people we get to meet over the weekend.

According to Niko, who is looking out the “window” the Taliban has arrived. This I had to see and sure enough, a guy of what can only be described from this vantage point as Middle Eastern with a very full beard is making his bed. The other alternative, though, may just be that he’s homeless. We’ll see, discreetly.

Yep, on closer inspection, it’s definitely the Taliban.

I guess that makes our little group complete. Everyone is represented right down to the non-gay transgender queens, one black, Beef, and one white, Christina. Beef should change her name.

I should pay attention to the matter at hand: clarifying my goals and devising plans to get there. I’m sure my delay has something to do with a touch of depression. I’m sure it also has to do with the magnitude of the opportunity too. Part of me wants to walk away from it all and go live the life I intended to live, the one of a quiet existence with my high school sweetheart. The problem is that she’s married and a nurse down at Duke – at least I think so. I’m not even sure though that she knows I considered her my high school sweetheart.

Maybe I should return to my hometown. That has always been the plan. Yet the plan was to transfer businesses there so as to create jobs for my neighbors. Those businesses aren’t really there anymore either. So I guess the task right now is to find some clarity.

I must admit, though, that I am getting a lot of help from my colleagues. At one level I want to understand the human condition and the choices and decisions that got us all here, but at another level they absolutely disgust me.

It is Labor Day weekend in America. It’s the first football Saturday in the college season, and I’m locked in a room, four feet from a remote control while being subjected to Sarah Jessica Parker – who I like, by the way – in “Failure to Launch.”

Are these people – the inmates – so out of it that they have never participated in Americana? Earlier I alluded to the fact that I believed the failure of any outside interests, particularly sports, could explain why most of us were here, but this is too much.

Their families disgust me because obviously they were taught it’s more appropriate to pick up a crack pipe than a baseball glove. I am not talking about decrepit old men like me; I’m talking about young men in their early 20s shunning sports. No wonder no one exercises and America loses billions of dollars each year because its citizen’s are fat.

Don’t get me wrong – that’s a wonderful segue, by the way, even though some smartass attorney would ask why would I get you wrong – it’s not about just sports. It’s about activity and passion for something. Granted most of these guys have not been to college – though I would argue that not being involved in sports at a younger age is what caused them not to be interested in school or college and that’s why they aren’t particularly drawn to college football – but there it is, the lack of passion for anything that is the problem. Frankly locking them up with stiffer and stiffer sentences isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to reestablish passion for something in every one of these guys, and all children.

That’s the place for me to begin. As I think about getting out of here, the task isn’t to decide what I want to do, or how do I get my life back. The challenge is to remember the things I have passion for: helping people, pushing medicine forward, enjoying time with friends and encouraging their pursuits. I love helping people. I love life.

I’m not going to allow a jaded world to rob me of the passion for life. I intend to experience and love it all.

 

22-6

I’ve been waking up at about 0330 for the last couple of weeks with the same recurring nightmare. I don’t normally dream – I don’t think – but in this particular instance I’m always in a car. It’s a very stressful situation; I’m the driver and I’m alone. I’m particularly conscious of the driving laws so I’m painfully careful as I drive along.

In every variation of the dream, I’m entering the flow of traffic. I pause appropriately, gauge the oncoming traffic and then safely merge with the other vehicles. Yet everytime I do, I pull in directly in front of a police cruiser. I then always do something incredibly stupid like run a stop sign or a red light directly in front of him.

I then flash to the interior of the police cruiser where the officer turns on his emergency lights, and that is “where I wake up”.

I don’t’ have a clue what this means – if it means anything – but I keep thinking that’s my ticket back to a place like Solano County. I can’t tell if it’s what I want or what I fear. Freud argued that dreams were wish fulfillments but I can’t imagine ever wanting to return to this place or these circumstances. Perhaps though neither did Elrod, though you do get the impression that he prefers the comforts of Solano County to “pleasant society”. I can’t even begin to imagine preferring this to being free.

There is a lot of uncertainty about what I’m going to do when I’m released. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s what the dream is all about. Lately I’ve been worried about what life to create and what I need to do better going forward. I feel haunted by lack of self-confidence; I know all too well that things can go drastically wrong without much input from me. I guess I fear the variables that I’ve come to realize I can’t control. Doing your best and sticking to it doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Somewhere down the line you have to be in tune with the music, the flow of life. That is what Solano county reminds me that I lack. In retrospect everything seems to have been so hard.

I was sick in college, worse in medical school, and the obstacles kept just getting bigger in my professional life.

Mom in her wisdom admonishes me to talk with God. I feel I always have. My entire life has been in preparation to help others, and maybe that’s just it. It’s time to stop preparing and get to the doing. It’s time to stop trying to make myself perfect and just get on with life. At some level I have to learn to trust people and get going.

I guess that’s what the dream and all this is about: fear.

I see fear in the eyes of all my colleagues. It escalates as their trials get closer and closer, and they realize that judgment day is really approaching, and there is nothing they can do to control it. That is clearly Danny V’s biggest problem. He is scared to death.

Another guy with much the same problem is named Coombs. There is a lot of publicity in Solano County about a young councilman who was murdered a year ago. His name was Garcia and it’s actually an absolutely horrible story. Turns out three people were involved in a drug deal – methamphetamines – that went bad. The seller apparently made off with the drugs and the money. Coombs and his accomplices scoured the neighborhood looking for the guy. They spotted him trying to drive away – or so they thought. They fired shots, killing him, but it turned out it wasn’t him. It was the young Fairfield city councilman visiting friends. Just a horrible story, but most of the stories in here are.

Danny V, on the other hand, has become crazy. He’s constantly hasseling the guard about legal forms, he’s trying to fire his lawyer and worse yet, he’s now trying to get the judge removed. Apparently Danny V feels he’s getting railroaded. What he doesn’t seem to get is that his own insanity is the engine driving it. He’s screaming into the phone, crying like a four-year-old in the day room, and all the while, the guards are documenting it.

No amount of advice will help him because he doesn’t hear you or care what you have to say. I do so badly though want to witness this trial.

I’m continuing to wait on a reply from the classification officer. He’s the one who assigns housing. I’m not looking to change or question his or her decision. I’m just looking for answers. I have my beliefs on why I’m in H mod; I just want to hear his. Besides, I’ve watched four or five people get opportunities to work off time and I haven’t even gotten an answer, any kind of reply in six months.

We are entering another of what I call a “negative emotional cycle”. At unlock this morning, Smitty – as usual – and Danny V – quite amazingly – got into a physical altercation. Danny V began by asking what exactly, the program was, that Smitty was watching on TV. It was the early morning “unlock” and frankly none of us were quite awake yet. There is usually a lot of stirring on the part of guards prior to the actual opening of cell doors, but this morning they had simply announced it and popped the doors.

Smitty began a long dissertation lecture on why it was inappropriate for Danny V to ask that question. I’ll spare you the rambling details of what he had to say – frankly I found it too crazy and too disjointed to follow – but essentially he was explaining to Danny V as much the way an adult would instruct a child that had he sat and watched quietly for a few minutes, rather than interrupting, he would know.

Danny V, scared to death by the prospect of a 77-year sentence for three counts of rape, was nonetheless not in the mood for Smitty’s sarcasm, or perhaps sardonism. He suggested that a simple answer would have been sufficient and also offered the opinion– and probably everyone else’s in the room –that Smitty’s most salient personality trait, was that of being “an asshole”.

Well Smitty, not to be dishonored, rolled his wheelchair right up to Danny V’s lap and began his verbal assault.

Danny V, not to be put off, didn’t budge an inch. That, in itself, elevated the level of the confrontation and Smitty, forgetting his alleged injured right knee, as he has so many, many, many times before this, rose from the chair to square off at Danny V.

There was rage in Danny V’s eyes and for the first time since I’ve known him, he did not back down.

Bruce Lee (my new buddy, and yes that is his real name and he has heard all the jokes) attempted to intervene from his wheelchair. (Bruce has his left leg amputated just below the knee.) The combatants, though, would have none of it.

Danny V stood up in defiance. They glared at each other. The anger in their voices escalated. The tension in the room became thicker. Riley, the deaf-mute, now living as Smitty’s bunky, called out to Smitty in an effort to defuse things. I was actually amazed at his effort. Riley is creepy and quiet. He enjoys watching Maury and the Kardashians; the fact that he was mentally in the same room at the time is in itself a victory for the penal system. I have often concluded – at least in my own mind – that Riley must molest children or something, though I have no information to support that claim. More, he is simply a victim of harsh assessment because he is frankly weird. His effort was useless, though, and Danny V stepped closer to square off at Smitty.

Smitty lunged out to push Danny V; Danny V held his ground and scratched back.

I stepped between them and lightly touched Danny V on the shoulder and asked him to step to the other side of the room.

I turned to Smitty, whose look of obvious relief said it all, and asked him to sit back in his wheelchair.

This was an altercation that again didn’t require the scrutiny of the guards. Neither one of these knuckleheads could take a judge being aware of this little stunt. The DA was already trying to paint them both as angry little predators – which by the way he should have no problem doing. I just don’t think they should buy the rope that hangs them.

Besides, I couldn’t help but believe that the negativity that permeated the entire module that morning wasn’t responsible for their little cat fight. I couldn’t escape that from a social standpoint my own negativity was contributing to the mood of the room.

22-5

We made sure to say hello at the next unlock, exchanged niceties, and although I wanted to ask him about his leg, or rather the absence of it, I refrained; doctors will be doctors, and all things in their time. That’s one of the first things you learn in here, patience. Believe me; nothing’s going to happen until it happens.

In the cell next door, cell 12, they’ve moved an older white male in. He appears to have a long history of alcohol abuse but seems like a decent fellow. I am particularly concerned about him for a number of reasons, first and foremost physically and secondly because it all appears to be psychologically driven. He just looks to be so very, very miserable. He slept a lot the first few days here which generally translates into coming down from some alcohol or drug high. But since then the medical staff has made frequent visits to his cell, and they’ve been there three times already today.

The last time was because he had somehow hit his head and was bleeding. To be honest, it makes me personally feel helpless because I can’t shake the feeling that I should be helping him, I’m not doubting the genuineness of the medical staff, or the notion that I could do it better – though I can – but from the outside they seem more interested in surviving their shift than the patient surviving.

Needless to say, he’s not much of a participant either. At “unlock” I asked him what happened. He hung his head low and in a whisper confessed that he had been dizzy and either passed out and hit his head, or hit his head and passed out. He couldn’t tell me whether the room was spinning or he was spinning, he couldn’t tell me his blood pressure when the nurse took it, nor could he remember what his pulse was.

Thompson, the guard, had prescribed bed rest. I personally thought it was a bad idea to lock him in a cell alone and then ignore him. I had no say in the matter and so I said nothing.

I did notice that his lips were blue. He also relayed that he had had a heart attack 3 months earlier. I told him that was important to share with the nurse and medical staff.

He seemed more interested in simply disappearing, and that was the part that was difficult to watch. A lot of my colleagues have just given up on life. It’s actually horrifying to witness the waste. It’s senseless to worry, though. Nothing is going to happen here today, or probably tomorrow either. It’s almost as if I’m just a witness to a fire that has finally burned itself out. Nothing’s left but the smell and the doubt of what it was all for in the first place.

Danny V had a court appearance today, and from his demeanor on his return, it was obvious, it hadn’t gone well. He stormed into the day room, eyes angry and fixed forward, and hurriedly made his way across the room to his cell door which he ceremoniously slammed. He ignored the catcalls and slurs that serve as a greeting from our colleagues. It reminds me of the primate habitat at the zoo: the gorillas and chimpanzees lining up to look at the people looking at them.

At “unlock” that evening Danny V approached me as I was heating food from lunch. “How’s it going?” I asked. A mistake I knew before I started, but what are you going to do. The guy was standing right there loking pitiful.

“Not well at all. My lawyer, my own lawyer, is sabotaging me. He doesn’t ask any of the questions I ask him to ask, and he’s still mad I called the head of the public defender’s office to complain about him.”

“Well, Dan, exactly what did you expect?” I asked.

His eyes started to well up, and he began to get a far off look signaling the arrival of an emotional breakdown that would only end in sobbing and so I attempted to head it off. “Turn your back to the room,” I said, “Look out the window. The last thing you need at this point is for these guys to see you crying…take a deep breath…relax…nothing’s going to happen at this moment on your case so you have time to think and plan.”

“It’s my life! My lawyer isn’t helping me, and my life will be over if someone doesn’t help me.”

Even though I don’t believe that to be totally accurate, in his simplicity Danny V makes a very compelling argument. Though his life won’t be over if he’s convicted – and even if he doesn’t get convicted – the life he knew is gone. That is for sure. No one will ever look at him the same. He’ll probably go to prison for twenty or so years and then as a sex offender be confined to a state mental facility for the rest of his life as a serial sex offender.

Through the tears he repeated, “I didn’t do this crime. I’m innocent.”

Sadly, I’m not sure – even if it’s true – that he has any chance of convincing 12 of his peers of that. Danny V looks like a guy who is about to fry. He’s desperate and it appears no one in the preliminary hearings believes a word he has to say, even the judge, but especially his lawyer. “Today my lawyer said,” he continued, “that he’s going to defend the case the way he sees fit, and if I don’t like it, I can call his boss again or defend myself.”

“Then maybe, Dan, you should let the judge know that. In a letter, no more than three lines, tell him that you and your lawyer disagree; he’s not committed to defending you and that as a result you need a different lawyer. Just like that. Don’t write him a rambling 30-page letter, just three lines.”

I knew immediately that was futile. Danny V had proven time and time again that he couldn’t get to the point. Rambling and disorganized was his way. At any rate he assured me that that is what he would do and that he would certainly not let the rest of the guys see him crying. With that he collected his things and returned to his cell.

Niko and I were enjoying the football game, Minnesota versus Texas, through the slit in our door, the one that serves as a window, when Moses appeared. “Señor Adams,” he said almost apologetically, “Dan says he has a letter he wants you to look at.”

The problem was I didn’t want to look at it. Danny V was making his pitch to drag me into his world again– a world defined by chaos.

I frowned at Moses who returned the favor. He wanted no part of it either. Mainly to get Moses off the hook, I asked him to pass it down. To my horror and to the realization of my worst fears was a legal pad completely covered from the top of the page to the bottom with no margins at the side of Daniel’s letter to the judge, along with a blank sheet for me to rewrite the letter?

The letter began by accusing the judge of saying things on specific dates – but never said what exactly the judge was to supposedly have said – and then concluded its ramblings about his girlfriend, his lawyer and who said what. It was a disaster. Nonetheless, I wasn’t about to take responsibility for Dan and his problems.

I blocked out three sentences and sent it back to him. He ignored it all.

Danny V really is a sociopath. He didn’t want help, he wanted attention, and by ignoring what I had suggested, he was demonstrating that his lawyer’s worst fears were in fact correct. Danny V is a very, very weird guy who was making it impossible to defend him.

I made a mental note to come and watch the proceedings once his trial started. In a way I felt bad for him. I also felt bad that I could see this train wreck moving slowly toward disaster and was helpless to do anything about it. As I said before, I believe the district attorney is going to have the jury believing Danny V is Ted Bundy before the trial begins.

 

The next morning Niko made an announcement, “Elrod is back. He’s sleeping on the floor in the day room.”

Elrod is the loud, obnoxious white guy who was placed in maximum after a fight with Smitty, and an ill-advised screaming match with Officer Broadnax.

Elrod actually isn’t a bad guy. That is, he is not vicious or mean. In fact, he’s overly pleasant. He’s just a jackass. This time he was “allegedly” arrested for a probation violation that consisted of a refusal to wear an ankle bracelet – which, of course, he denies. “I was living in a house and I was supposed to start a job as a dispatcher for the cab company…and Aram, my parole officer, had me picked up. The funny thing is I saw him the day before and he didn’t say anything about no bracelet.”

By the way, Elrod had a huge black eye on the left, the kind you only see in old episodes of the Little Rascals. Apparently he also got into a fight and that’s what prompted his interaction with the police. Elrod has a lot of confrontations and just doesn’t understand “why that dude picked me to fight.”

Unfortunately I do, and so does everyone else on H mod. Elrod’s just a jackass!

22-4

As a result Christina’s presence, there was more activity than usual in H-mod. Testosterone was flowing. The inmates were louder and that evening there was more joking, more laughter, more interacting. I am not sure it was constructive, but whatever it was, there was more of it than usual, until finally lights out arrived at 11:00.

By day 2, I had come to look at the situation and Christina more as a physician than as a male inmate. The first conclusion I arrived at was a critical distinction: Christina was not gay, she was transgender. She was not a man attracted to other men, she saw herself and had obviously been living as a woman for some time now. Only the harshness of the system had failed to recognize that.

I wanted to discuss it with her, her feelings and the like; but as a doctor, I felt in this would create a great deal more harm, than good. I surely didn’t want her, or any of the guys, to get the wrong impression.

On a personal note, my colleagues didn’t really need to know who I was either. The presence of this transgender created a flash back to my training days at Michigan.  Dr. Smith had had an idea for a transgender surgery department. He saw a great opportunity to be at the forefront of developing those techniques and offering solutions to some pretty troubled human beings. In retrospect, I felt now that I should have listened more closely to him than I did.

I was also troubled at the posturing of my colleagues in H mod. They had created separate groups that were in fierce competition for Christina’s attention. The Latino guys discussed it in Spanish amongst themselves, though the stigma of homosexuality kept them in check, and suspicious of each other. Any mention of her resulted in comments and stares from the other Latinos, and the message was clearly one of condemnation.

There were three young white guys, though, who made no secret that they were each, in his own way, interested in her.

I had heard about modules in Solano County where inmates looking at long periods of incarceration had in fact taken “girlfriends” but in actuality I was unprepared to witness it. My belief was simply that if you displayed homosexual behavior in here, it was because it was already in you. And an alarming number of my colleagues here in H mod were demonstrating behavior that at least until now they had managed to suppress.

 

Dallas, my new BFF from the upper tier, got around to my door during his unlock. The conversation began by him asking what movie I wanted to watch this evening. Ultimately, he got around to what he really wanted to talk about. Do to more overcrowding, I was informed that Christina wasn’t the only transvestite in the module. Upstairs was another, a black “female” who had also arrived as a woman. He too was obviously pretty far along in his hormone therapy to complete the transition. He was much taller than Christina, about six feet tall, maybe a little less, but equally as convincing.

To hear Dallas tell it, her name was Michael, but she preferred to be called “Beef.” Actually, in telling the story, Dallas dropped his voice about three octaves.  “Beef” had a long ponytail that hung down to the middle of her back. According to Dallas, Josh, his celly, who by the way has serious issues, went straight to “Beef.” “Girl,” said Josh, “Is that your hair?”

Dallas then dropped his voice a few more octaves and said, “It’s a clip-on,” apparently in an effort to mimic “Beef.”

So I asked the obvious question: Why does she call herself “Beef,” why not Michelle or Beatrice.

Dallas thought Beatrice was a hilarious name, and so we all laughed for awhile. I suggested Dallas should ask her, but he stated frankly, that he was “afraid to ask”.

“In fact,” he offered, he calls him she, because that’s what she wants.

Niko lay on his bed laughing and it was obvious he had something to add. He merely asked if we had looked at “Beef.” His eyes were wide open in amazement and all that came out was “He looks like more of a woman, more feminine than the other one.” Dallas and I laughed at that too.

The saving grace in this entire scene was the arrival of the medication nurse. It was the morning girl, obviously working overtime. I suggested to Broadax, the floor guard that” I’d like to get my girlfriend a suite in here too”.

He laughed and merely pointed out what we all believed, “If you told someone this story… they wouldn’t believe you”.

Nonetheless, unlock for the upper tier was over, and for now, so was our conversation about “Beef.”

I try not to think about discharge or release but its difficult not to be frustrated, and a little sad as you see people come and go. Big Joey is gone and it has certainly left a hole in “unlock”. I miss his frightening logic and the stories that accompany it. The only consolation is there are always more than enough applicants to fill the void.

Danny V’s court date is getting closer and he’s becoming more of a pain. He had Moses, the mod worker, come down to my suite and ask me to read something for him. I told Moses not to take any papers from Dan but that I would talk with him at the “unlock”. Moses was particularly happy with that because the last thing he needs as a mod worker is to have one of the guards noticing him passing things from cell to cell. It could be the end of his employment. He merely said, “Thank you, Señor Adams,” and I knew by the relief in his eyes, it felt good for him to be out of that.

At unlock Dan (by now he had lost another bunky and had been moved once again to the lower tier) sat across from me with a lot of papers, all completely filled with writing beyond the margins.

“My release date was the 23rd of March, right,” he said.

“I don’t know, Dan,” I began. “I don’t know when your release date was.” (Dan has a nasty habit of holding conversations in his head, and then inviting you in somewhere in the middle.)

“It was the 23rd”, he continued. “Now she, my accuser, was seen on the 26th, but there was some redness as stated by the examiner, and no bruising. I was picked up on the 29th. Shouldn’t she have been bruising if I had attacked her?”

“I don’t know, Dan. The bruises would be the result of a number of factors, including, I guess, how she clots, how hard she was grabbed.”

“Yeah, but she couldn’t get bruising just from my grabbing her. I tried it on myself.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t trying to pull away. Look… in my experience it takes maybe 3-5 days for bruising to reach maximum and maybe 14-21 days to resolve. But that’s not the issue here. You need to get your best white boy haircut; your best white boy suit, something like a blue blazer and a blue oxford button down shirt, and make the jury believe you couldn’t have possibly done what she’s saying. Because I can guarantee you one thing – her lawyer’s going to have her sitting there with ribbons in her hair. She’s going to look like she’s 10 years old and your ass is going to fry…If I were you – God, what an awful thought – I’d look at her like who the hell are you. What happened to the hooker in spandex? I don’t even know this woman in the courtroom here today, your honor.

The point is, Dan… it’s going to be he said/she said, and you better make the jury like and believe you. If not, you’re going to prison for a very long time, and frankly, I don’t think you can make it.”

With that, Dan began to stare off in the distance and get all teary-eyed-again. The fact is he’s a lot more fragile than I care to recognize; but what’s worse is he really isn’t getting what’s going on here. Worse yet, he’s getting bogged down in minutia that’s never going to get to a courtroom.

And that’s when Joey’s replacement stepped up, figuratively. “Who are you?” he asked.

I turned, and at the table adjacent to me and Dan, sitting in a wheelchair, was an older Latino guy.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, it’s obvious you don’t belong here. You’re certainly a lot smarter than the rest of us, so why are you here?”

“I’m a political prisoner,” I offered, and we both laughed.

I spent the rest of the unlock talking with Lee. He had done me a favor. He had scared Danny V off and relieved me of the obligation to listen to Danny V’s shit. True to form, we discussed nothing personal and nothing about Solano County, just reaffirming that we were about the same age and had pretty much the same perspective on things. His first laugh was that Christina, the transvestite, looked like his ex-wife. He was also pretty fond of the TV show 2 and a 1/2 men.

We reminisced about sixties Motown songs and then our “unlock” came to an end. It had been successful, though. I had made a friend.

22-3

H mod was now being run – again – with eight guys sleeping on cots on the floor in the day room. If that wasn’t bad enough, Officer Weary then attempted to add one more to the mix: the mod workers carried in a plastic bed and she…yes she…walked beside them, supervising the move. I wasn’t the first one to see her. Niko, who had heard the commotion outside, said to me, “Come here. You need to take a look at this.”

I did, and there “she” was in all her glory. “She” was approximately 5’10” to 6’0’ tall, slim with very dark smooth skin. Her posture was perfect.  Her chest was raised and her shoulders pulled back. Her hair was immaculate, not a strand out of place and the “bun” on the top sat like a rose with every petal open to receive the sun.

She surveyed the room, looking for the optimum place to put down her belongings. Every eye in the place was on her.

The problem of course: she was not a she; she was a he; and it took the animals of H mod less than 10 seconds to size him up and tear into him from the nickel seats, otherwise known as the upper tier.

“Hey, Weary,” it began, “Wrong mod; that one needs to go to I mod.”

“He can’t stay here, Weary,” came another scream.

“Get him out of here.”

It was brutal and it was mean. It was also to be expected and you would have thought Weary would have known that. She lasted thirty seconds and the catcalls from the lower tier and floor were even meaner. Weary ended up taking him to G mod, to administration segregation. The inmates had won out.

Now I understand you have to be who you are, but it haunted me that this guy would show up to jail with his hair styled like that. It was like screaming, “abuse me.”

There is no political correctness in here. There is only hatred, meanness, stupidity, fake pride, and violence. I actually felt bad for her, but not that bad. I wouldn’t go to a Ku Klux Klan rally – that is unless I was keynote speaker and given free leeway to make my point – but that’s beside the point. You just have to ask yourself, that having seen this guy, what were he and the jailers thinking?

I thought a lot about Corey for the remainder of theday too. Perhaps there is no one really to take Corey’s place. He is an individual, and what we know of him, good and bad, endearing and annoying, is just him. I truly hope NAPA state Hospital is a better place for him. I hope he finds himself some peace.

Somewhere in this facility is a most tortured soul. I can not exactly pinpoint his location, but I hear him screaming almost every night. I’m certain it is the same person; I just can’t pinpoint his location. Everyone else hears him also. I pray that life is not like that for Corey.

It reminds me of the noise that woke me the morning of the Northridge earthquake in Southern California some years ago. I woke to the sound of an oncoming train that seemed to be coming directly at me. As it got louder, I could feel its intensity but the closer it got the more difficult it became to ascertain from what direction it was coming. And then, in a flash, it was all around me. I was engulfed by the roar, and consumed by the shaking.

His screams are much like that, consuming. It is impossible to block him out. Not so much because of the loudness of his screams – in fact, they are considerably muffled – it’s more the desperation. The recognition of a soul that is lost and somehow trying to find its way back to something, anything that is familiar, is haunting.

Perhaps it is that his screams represent a part of all of us that makes his cries so haunting. I know my soul screams in silence for some direction. Where does life go from here? How do I pick back up on the dreams that once used to drive me? In the cynicism that grips me now, how do I find purpose?

A guard, who I had never seen before, accompanied the medication nurse this morning. She carried so much anger with her. It was palpable. Officer Bruno, I think, is her name, and her rounds this morning were defined by her barking at everyone she passed, including the eight guys, or especially the eight guys she passed sleeping on the day room floor. It was 3:30 in the morning and she seemed to enjoy waking them all up.

I noticed her in particular, because I have some empathy for a woman working in a man’s world, particularly this man’s world. The guards are pigs, plain and simple. I suspect she is harassed by her coworkers, and the male locker room mentality, every day. That explains a great deal of her overcompensation. But this morning she seemed especially gnarly, and it was after she left that I, and the others in the module, began to notice our colleague’s screams.

I’m convinced the guards set the tone of the module, but once done, it’s infectious and the inmates take over. It’ll be interesting to see if unlock is colored with nasty attitudes. At last, a prospective study!

In the meantime, I think I’ll go back to bed and see if I can restart the day on a better note. Sooner or later, my colleague has to get tired of screaming.

Because of the bricks and cement and steel and air conditioning, it’s always so cold in the cell. I’ve learned to sleep with my entire body covered, including my head with only a small opening in the sheets for my nostrils to poke out and pull in air. Necessity is the mother of invention.

There is some solace under there too. The entire world is shut out, the noise settles. There is some peace even for an inmate, at least some peace for an inmate from Solano County. Unfortunately, though, much like the screamer, we carry our worst enemies inside us, and there are periods when it is quite difficult to turn him off.

To be honest, there must be something in the air, and the facility must be incredibly overcrowded. Not only are there inmates sleeping on the floor, but another transvestite was now being housed in H mod. I hadn’t seen “her” come in, there had not been as much fanfare, but this one created even more of a stir, and frankly, I didn’t know why until dinner call.

Standing directly behind me was a woman; a petite brunette with pouty lips.

The complete impact of her presence wasn’t felt however, until “unlock”. The most effected initially were the Latino guys sleeping in the day room. More than cultural she challenged their machismo because frankly, this was a woman. She was attractive and it was not because we have all been in here too long. At any bar, in any city, without any alcohol on board, the alpha male present would have approached this woman. That is what haunted my Latino brothers. Unlike what you see in most transgenders, this person had eliminated all maleness. Even Niko, who is relatively quiet anyway, commented on “her” look. “My goodness” he said, “she’s prettier than my wife”.

Everyone stared at “her” without trying to stare. You could see them all analyzing her features. It was uncanny. This was a woman. It was also true that “she” loved all the attention as “she” knowingly, but desperately tried to ignore all the eyes undressing “her”, so to speak.

“She” also knew Joey well, which spoke of previous incarcerations or a stent at the state hospital (though I guess it’s fair to say that Joey most certainly had a life before all this). Joey smiled his hello and sat down at the table with “her” immediately. I let them be alone and sat at an adjacent table to watch TV.

I was glad Joey took the initiative to diffuse the whole thing. His familiarity with “her” calmed a lot of the “predators. People went about doing the things they would normally do at “unlock”. That’s the dichotomy with most of these guys. They’re all fucked up; and all have issues and yet, there is that touch of humanity that always reminds you the world just might be OK.

“She” survived the unlock with Joey’s help, but she was bunking with Danny V and I was taking bets that after two hours of this arrangement, Danny V, (at least after he got over his initial fear) would declare he was gay and start the transformation process into becoming a woman.

“She” called herself Christina. I learned that as one of the younger studs introduced himself to “her”, and then high-fived the Latino guy in the bunk next to him. Christina had to know she was an oddity. In jail, survival was dependent upon your manhood. If you didn’t demonstrate that you would be willing to fight, these guys would eat you alive. Here he was embracing, no declaring and flaunting, his feminine side. Frankly I feared for “her”safety. Gang rape was certainly in her future.

What was interesting though was the posturing that took place around “her”. Christina was maneuvering to get herself a “man”. “She knew the ropes and was looking for that “relationship”, hopefully with an alpha male, which would stop the remaining “suitors” from victimizing her. Despite the fact that she represented everything each of us was trying to conceal, weakness, as an oddity she was accepted into the fold. Guys would desert the shower area to give “her” privacy. It was weird.

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