22-2

All in all though, the “stress level” in H-Mod was up again because we had eight people sleeping on the floor in the day room. That meant not enough time to shower or access to the phones. Overcrowding just compounded an already bad situation.

I did, however, use the fact that the food had gotten intolerable to take a close look at my diet. It actually helped me eat healthier. I began to rely heavily on apples and oranges and shyed away from things I could not recognize. As a result I began to lose some weight, particularly the excess fat that comes with aging and settles around the gut. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The following day, at the morning unlock, Corey was the first one into the day room. He was standing at the floor officer’s desk, apparently making his plea for whatever he needed at the moment, or at least believed he needed. He was amazing to watch. Once he grabbed onto an idea, it consumed him and would be his focus until it was resolved. Corey was not a multi-tasker. If he wanted coffee, he would approach everyone in the mod in succession until someone gave him coffee. If no one gave it up on his first pass, he would start over again, and ask each and everyone in the dayroom one more time, as if the first go around had never taken place. He was relentless and incredibly annoying.

No one took him seriously and so no one stayed mad at him for long, not even the guards. It was obvious that they too found in their hearts some tolerance for him.

At the end of his conversation with Officer Weary, he burst back through the door almost flying, “I’m going to NAPA,” he screamed, “I’m going to a better place.” Corey made no eye contact with anyone, and to be frank I had never seen him this animated before. There was a broad smile on his face and energy throughout his body as he returned to his cell to collect his bedroll.

A few of our colleagues offered their congratulations, but I’m afraid it fell on deaf ears. Corey was someplace else. He had been waiting for this for more than a year, and it consumed him. As he bounded back across the day room floor carrying his bedroll like a school lunch box, he just grinned and repeated, “I’m going to a better place. I’m going to a better place.”

I sincerely hoped that was true. Too many people in here need a better place. They need a place to work out issues and not be housed in cages to be discarded by a society that does not want them. Corey had walked out of a convenience store with a magazine, reading it at the time. He didn’t even know why the people from the store were stopping him. He needed a psychiatrist and a social worker, not a cage and a sheriff.

Nonetheless, it happened so quickly. In the next moment Corey was through the door. I watched as Officer Weary went through his things. Corey stood there smiling, bobbing back and forth, back and forth with the excitement of a kid on his way to Disneyland.

I watched as they put chains on him and handed him the brown paper bag containing all his possessions. I watched as another officer led him to the exit, and then he was gone.

The saddest part though is that there are more than enough applicants to take Corey’s place and they started being counted almost immediately. Although there are cell searches all the time, laundry day searches are particularly meticulous because your bed is stripped number one, but more importantly the guards are meticulous about getting all the dirty clothes. Apparently many of my colleagues flush articles of clothing down the toilet, so they make sure that if they give you two pairs of underwear you give them two pair back.

Later that night, during a routine laundry day, one of the guards calls from the top tier to Officer Stewart that he has hit the jackpot:  “PRUNO”.

Pruno, for the uninitiated, is jailhouse moonshine and it’s made from adding sugar and heat to fruit and fruit juices (apples and oranges) and allowing it time to ferment. It’s usually discovered by the horrible smell, but in this instance the guard merely stumbled upon it. “Stewart,” he shouted, “we’ve got pruno. You’re going to have to write this one up.”

“Who was it?” Stewart asked.

“It was me,” came the reply, and that in itself struck me as odd. I did not have a clue who “me” was, but it seemed “me” was way too accommodating; almost like he was quick to take responsibility in order to abort any further search, or perhaps to protect someone.

“You know, I’m going to have to write you up on this.”

“Yeah, I know. It was my fault. I’m sorry” again a further confession, but with no emotion behind it. Absolutely no remorse, very flat, but even more astonishing was that there was no disappointment at having been caught; it all seemed way too nonchalant. But, what the heck, what were they going to do, arrest him?

That having been said, it does bring me to a point. I know very well the criteria for alcoholism, and I am happy not to meet it, but if you are trying to brew alcohol from a cell in a county jail, you’ve got issues and it’s time for you to seriously consider stopping, like now.

That’s just frightening to think about.

Yet boys will be boys, and like I said, I considered him, whoever “me” was, a top candidate to replace Corey as” the village idiot”.

22-1

On Tuesday and Saturday evening “unlocks”, we, the inmates, get the opportunity to pay attention to a little personal grooming. And amazingly, even though, theoretically, there is nothing in here but men, it is infinitely important to these guys to “look good”. I didn’t quite understand it at first, but I reckon we cling to anything in order to feel some semblance of human.

There’s one pair of clippers – electric – and one electric razor that 14 guys have to use in the space of an hour. Needless to say there is one continuous line in front of the only mirror in the day room (and this really isn’t a mirror, it’s a shiny piece of metal tacked to the wall-who would put glass in here? It would be a weapon before the maintenance man got out of the module). Since my first attempt at using it, I have opted out because I developed a rash along my beard line. Once is enough for me. And, who knows what some of these people are carrying? It’s a wonder I haven’t been hospitalized with some flesh-eating bacterium. I guess the look will be the old man beard look for a while.

Smitty, who rides around in a wheelchair – which I am still convinced he doesn’t need, but affords him certain advantages, including speed –gets to the clippers before the rest of us are even out of our cell doors. So Smitty’s standing, that’s right standing, in front of the mirror giving himself a haircut. KC usually does it for him, but for some reason he is not around. (As the mod worker, KC is up at the oddest hours, even for here, and I suspect he was asleep in his cell.) Smitty is cutting away, just doing a fine job on himself when the unthinkable happens: the clipper guard snaps off and bounces around the floor. It happens so quickly though that Smitty continues cutting, resulting in a huge nick down to the scalp in the back of his head. There it sits in all its glory, a large bald spot, obvious to everyone in line behind him.

And worse yet, as luck would have it, standing directly behind Smitty, staring at this spectacle, is Corey. Smitty now has a dilemma: either he cuts all his hair off, or he spends the next two to three weeks with this nick in his hair. And while he is pondering this, Corey finally registers the issue, that is, he sees the huge bald spot in the center of the back of Smitty’s head.

Corey, endeavoring to be helpful, takes it as his duty to inform Smitty of his problem. Smitty already knows this and is already mad so he takes the opportunity to scream at Corey, “I know, Corey, just get away from me” he says.

Corey persists because… well… one he is a bit dense; and two, he is focused on this one issue and it is his posture, not to let it go until it is resolved. He can only hold in his head, much like a child, one idea at a time. He refuses to let it go until it has been addressed to his satisfaction. And so apologetically, Corey says, “Hey…hey Smitty…you got a bald spot there” all the while pointing it out for everyone to see.

Smitty is fuming.

I’m laughing hysterically because Corey keeps pointing to the bald spot and alerting Smitty to the fact that it is there.

This continues for about three or four takes and now Smitty, even madder than before, tears into him. “I told you to get the fuck away from me.”

Standing behind Corey is Joey, who is always ready for a confrontation and he says to Smitty, “Come on man, you know who he is. There’s no need to treat the guy like that.”

And that was all it took. Smitty turned his anger at having nicked his own head on Joey. “You keep the fuck out of it. It really ain’t none of your business.”

“I’m not saying it’s my business,” Joey countered, “it’s just that you know something’s wrong with the guy and you don’t have to treat him like that. But the real issue here is that I don’t have to take your shit either, so be careful who you think you’re screaming at.”

“I’m screaming at you,” Smitty said.

“Then do something,” Joey came back, “I’ll fuck you up in here.”

I was standing in the shower by this time with a clear view of the floor officer’s desk. (That’s right, the floor officer’s desk is about 10 feet from the shower and they can see you through the glass.) By now, Smitty and Joey have attracted the attention of the floor guards, both Thompson and Broadnax. So I say, “Smitty … Smitty … let’s drop it now.”

It’s not that I care one way or the other, because I don’t. I just don’t want Thompson or Broadnax to have to intervene because if they do somebody’s going to the cage. And who needs that. They each, both Smitty and Joey ignore me anyway and continue posturing and making disparaging comments about each other’s character.

I get them to separate by offering the shower to Joey.

As he steps in, he says to me, “When he gets to the hospital with me, I’m going to fuck him up.”

“That’s fine,” I reassure him, “but for now you need not to have any problems. The last thing you need during a period of when you’re here for evaluation is to be written up for a fight.”

He agreed and quietly went about the task of taking a shower. Smitty returned to the task of shaving off all his hair. The best solution was to start over again. He was never going to correct the nick, by shaving or cutting around it.

Later in the “unlock” I took the opportunity to call my mom – collect – and I waited as the operator announced that it was a call from “an inmate of Solano County Justice Center – Detention Facility” and then gave her the option to refuse the call.

As usual, her voice was upbeat. She had words of encouragement for me. (“She must actually be a headache for the devil” I thought. “I’m sure that when her feet hit the ground in the morning when she wakes, the Devil screams, “Ah shit, she’s up already.” He knows some good is about to happen.)

She wanted Corey’s birthdate and age in order to leave money on his books this week so he could buy coffee and some toiletries. I listened as she repeated that “If it were her or one of her kids, she hoped somebody would help.”

So I called Corey over to the phone to get that information. And of course, despite the fact that I got it and was done, Corey stood less than six inches away from me until I took the concerted effort to dismiss him.

After I hung up, Corey ran, literally ran, at me screaming, “You’re a good man, Adams, you’re a good man.”

I quieted him down and assured him that I was, in fact, a very bad man, but that nonetheless the money would be in his account on Friday morning.

Of course he still insisted on asking me if he could buy something with it now.

“Not now,” I said, “it won’t be in there until Friday” (it was Tuesday evening).

 

Niko has continued to study for his GED. He has this tremendous workbook that must be 800 pages long and has stuck to it diligently. For the first time in a while he actually took the opportunity to ask me a question about it. In it was the reproduction of a political cartoon from the early 1900s. It showed a cruise ship sinking and in the foreground was the scope from a submarine. The caption said something like “just when should we vote on it?” The task was to interpret the carton.

I told him it was a political statement suggesting the US should enter the war before it was too late. The Germans had taken to sinking luxury ships with their new U-boat and it was a cry for us to get involved. Luckily the author’s explanation agreed with me somewhat, so my status as a “scholar” remained intact.

He also took the opportunity to ask what was up with Smitty and Joey. I explained the issue but nonetheless his assessment was also on target. “From time to time you get these blowups in the day room that seem to erupt from nowhere.”  Since both he and I had been here though, one thing has remained constant: Smitty was always one of the parties.

I was more interested in his GED book. It seemed like fun to go through all the trivia. Of one thing I was certain, by the time he finished his studies, he was going to be a lot more informed than most Americans.

Niko had also been right about another thing – Smitty was a constant in the conflicts in the module and despite his always pushing the Bible, his behavior was less Christian than anybody else’s in here (especially, when he announced beforehand that he was going to be in one of his moods).

21-7

The fact is the Nazis haven’t cornered the market on hate, violence, or racism. It’s rampant in here in its purest form. You get a look at blind tribalism that would make any anthropologist jealous.

There are four to five, make that six, guys on H-mod who are Latin.

There is Moses, the new mod worker, who I see as a good guy, but I temper that with the fact that the best deal the DA could offer him was 25 to life. I can’t even begin to imagine what he did in order for that to be a “deal”. There’s Victor, a young guy who looks like a kid. He’s constantly pacing, singing spiritual songs in Spanish. There’s the new guy, whose name I don’t’ know. He’s got his left leg amputated – it appears to be above the knee – and rolls around in a wheelchair. I still can’t seem to grasp that a guy on one leg, in a wheel chair, committed a crime.

There is the gay guy, Francisco, who was discharged a few weeks ago; but who’s back less than a month on the outside. Apparently he was getting high, put a call in to 911 for some reason he can’t remember; so when the police got there and took his name, they discovered he was on probation and that his emergency constituted a probation violation. They brought him back to jail.

There’s Victor’s celly, who just looks crazy – and everyone in here believes him to be – because he spends his entire “unlock” at the microwave cooking and eating. And believe me, to be considered crazy amongst this band of misfits that is H-mod, you really have to have something wrong with you. One thing’s certain, he speaks only Spanish and he is not even remotely interested in holding a conversation with anyone except one of his compadres. The anger in his eyes takes racism to a whole new level. I am of the opinion that the Nazis could learn a thing or two from this psychotic.

And that’s what was disappointing to me. I didn’t want to see this group as prejudiced as the rest of us, and I was devastated – in a manner of speaking – to find they were.

And they are because my celly, Niko, confirmed it for me. Nike, as I pointed out earlier, is from Mexico, looks like what we racist in America would call a Mexican, and speaks Spanish; but, again,  he’s from an endemic tribe of Indians who retreated to the mountains with the arrival of the Spaniards. He has known racism, and although he is conscious of it, he wants no part of it.

That is why an astute officer like Stewart moved him into my cell. It was like, “Let’s put these two together; they’ll get along and it’ll be one less headache to deal with each shift.”

Niko and I can’t claim to be friends, but we can claim to have a “band of brothers” like commitment as far as Solano County goes. We’ll do what we must to pay whatever debt society believes is owed, but we have no interest in joining the culture of the disenfranchised.

And so it was Niko who originally brought up the notion that the congregating of my Spanish colleagues wasn’t merely a connection based on a shared language. It was a tactical meeting to discuss strategy on survival in a situation in which they were outnumbered.

I expected as much from the crazy guy, but I was surprised to realize that Victor was in fact a ring leader. It just confirms that a tribal mentality – the anti-conceptual manner of thinking – is not purely the arena of the guards. The inmates can be equally as stupid, whether they’re white, black, or Latin.

It has served, though, as a conversation point for Niko and me, and realistically for that I am grateful. Though we don’t, as I mentioned earlier, have a lot in common, it does make us kindred spirits.

Niko is studying for his GED and it – the conflict that is always under the surface here in H-mod – gives him an opportunity to discuss the things he is learning. It also gives me what I need: a way to help and thus feel useful in an environment which is designed to achieve just the opposite: to make you feel useless and discarded.

I have even suggested – which I now believe him to be taking seriously – that he returns home and takes some of the things he is learning back to his village to make life for the people there better.

He works on cars. I suggested that he buy four or five trucks and return to help during the harvest. Apparently the people are scattered amongst the mountains and have long treks to come together in September each year. He could set up a transportation network, charge a fee and create jobs and a business. It wouldn’t hurt to introduce a school for the children either. Education is potential power.

He’s now started to get that far away look which suggests he’s at least considering it.

I for one have committed myself to keeping him juiced about doing it; after all – the secret to life is purpose. For the time being it gives both of us that and makes Solano County a bit more bearable.

That too has been my secret to surviving here. I find that I spend less and less of my days at Solano County – at least as far as my thoughts go. I am tenacious about my routine and engaging in goal-directed behavior takes me mentally and spiritually away from here.

My colleagues, particularly Joey, find me quite funny. Because Joey is looking at life in a mental hospital, his posture has become to accept reality. I believe we create reality.

He was making the point to me the other day at “unlock” that he knows he will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital. I said to him that that was too bad, because “right now, I’m sitting at an outdoor café in Cabo San Lucas. I have on a white linen suit, blue shirt open at the collar – made by Brioni by the way – the sun is on my face and a cool breeze has made me feel quite comfortable. I just ordered the lobster and crab cakes as my entrée; a very beautiful woman has emerged from the water in a breathtaking bikini and is making her way toward the chair opposite me. Kids are playing within earshot and their laughter and giggles make it all worthwhile.

As she gets closer, I am literally amazed at the perfection of her facial features. I take a sip from an ice cold Heineken, things are all right.

Of course, Joey interrupts my scene with the comment that “you should maybe go over to the state hospital with me.”

“I should, Joey,” I think, “but not for the reasons you think. The fact is I know things are better on the other side of the fire; that’s where I’m headed. These people in here will never change me. They’re not going to make me angry and resentful. I’ll stick with the facts and turn the page when it’s appropriate and simply move on.”

That’s the task here. You can come to the conclusion that I’m in control and I can make the choices that make my life better. Or you can let a system that ismean and indifferent label you the way it wants to. I choose the former.

There is comedy in each inmate’s story. While Francisco called 911 to bring him in, to arrest himself; Victor, who I have empathy for, has a story that is equally as ridiculous. While on probation, Victor decides to flee. He’s going to get out of California. For what crime, I do not know. He gets on a bus to Utah with the intent of heading to Philadelphia, and then home to Mexico. There is a layover in Salt Lake City and so he decides to make a call home. Before he hangs up the phone, an officer is waiting to bring him back to California…Don’t these guys watch television? Don’t they know their family phone is being tapped and if they dial their number the authorities will be listening? Don’t any of these guys watch ‘Law and Order’?”

What’s funnier, though, is that my Latin colleagues discuss all these matters, out loud, only in Spanish, as if no one else in the room understands Spanish. Hell, California is Mexico.

The “crazy Mexican” has taken it even further. He has adopted the idea that Anthony – a kid of Latin descent whose family is from Mexico, although as compared to the crazy looks Caucasian –is “mad-dogging” him. Anthony, in disbelief of this guy’s antics, has taken to staring at him and he takes offense to it. His conclusion is that he may have to fight. But again he’s saying it out loud, only again in Spanish, because he believes no one understands him. Now Anthony too is on the defensive, and the potential for serious problems lies in the fact that Anthony is a young kid, 20 to 22 years of age, and because of some sense of false machismo is more than willing to oblige him

. That’s the reality around here. If you are looking for a confrontation, there are more than enough really angry guys, more than willing to oblige you. Put that together with the frustrations of a system that doesn’t run well, and you realize it’s only a matter of time.

21-6

I received a letter from Sean today. Sean, if you remember, is the young White Supremacist with a long history of trouble with the law – at least for his age. Sean is a good kid, with the opportunity for a bright future. Sean is experiencing the first, and possibly the most important aspect of getting himself together, and it is something of which we all should take note: self -awareness. Sean is experiencing it for the first time, and you can feel it in his letter to me:

“Adams!

Yo…What’s up dude? I swear to God, stupidity follows me everywhere I go! It’s like my fuckin’ shadow or something. I’ve had 3 roommates already! One was really dumb and dirty, the other was and (sic) old dope fiend, and another seamed (sic) cool until I figured out he had A.D.D. like a sonofabitch!”

Further along he continues:

“Oh dude, I’m at court, right, well this 20 year old kid was trippin cuz it was his first time being locked up. He robbed a house. I told him he might get released on ‘O.R.’, that’s where you promise to go to court. But anyways I had gotten O.R. out here when I first got in trouble out here for an assault and battery with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, so I thought he had a chance. But when we all went to court (in a chain gang) I heird (sic) all his shit. The judge was like, ‘Count one, first degree burglary, Count two, possession of a fire arm, Count three, possession of a fire arm, Count four, possession of a fire arm, Count 5, possession of a fire arm, Count 6, possion (sic) of fire arms for intent for sale’ – then the public defender asked the judge for ‘O.R.’ and the D.A. said that the kid told police he sawed off the barral (sic) of one of the shot guns so it would fit in his car! – I looked over at the kid with fuckin’ wide eyes. I couldn’t believe it, who says that? When we got back to the holding tank I asked the kid why he told the cops that & he said, ‘The cops fucked me’ (like they fucked him over) but I said back with a snap, ‘They fucked you too? Damn your just not having any luck now are you?’ Ha ha! I don’t know Adams, that was yesterday, and it just blew my mind – Oh, ya, he didn’t get O.R. J hahaha. Who would have guessed that. You should have seen the judge’s face when the Public Defender asked for O.R.  It was classic. It was the ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look. Dude, I wouldn’t have even O.R.’d the little bastard.”

I wrote Sean back by sending a letter through his mom. From conversations I have had with him, she sounds like a wonderful lady who is really working hard to help him get back on track. In my letter I congratulated Sean on recognizing bad behavior in other people, and warned that the real secret is to recognize it in yourself – before it happens, at the thought stage. Then you can do the kind of things you need to do to head it off. The object here is to stop your own bad behavior at the thought stage, so that it never makes it to the level of an action in the physical world. Nonetheless, so far so good, and like I said, I think Sean’s well on his way to making huge changes in his life.

I certainly intend to keep him focused on his goals and what it takes to get there. If you want to change the world, you’ve got to start with yourself.

I also got a letter from Tyler through my mom. We do that because sometimes the system won’t allow mail between inmates. Rather than go through a hassle, we just use the “underground mail route.” While I understand the concerns, most of it is just giving a little support to a guy who’s trying to be better. In that regard, Tyler is way more along in his spiritual development than I. I envy his peace.

Tyler writes:

“The good thing about rebuilding is that you start from nothing. Now what can we lose? It’s all gain from here on out. Plus, it gives that drive that pushes us to show folks that, ‘hey, we’ll be ayte.’ I am anxious for my chance, and like you said, we’ll all sit around one day and laugh at the stories we lived to tell.”

In my return letter, I pointed out that “we, all of us, weren’t starting from nothing. We now had the benefit of experience.”

That was about all deepness I had to add. Tyler’s pretty much on his way, anyhow. He just needs the system to get out of the way and to get on with college. He’ll do well, of that I am sure.

That, however, is not something I can say for a lot of my colleagues. I fear that for most of them, this “hell hole” is about as good as it’s going to get. And the reason is one of the greatest crimes in America: education. It’s never going to be any better for some of these guys because literally, in America in the year 2009, they can’t read or write. That is a shame. We’ve failed them; we failed ourselves.

That was astounding to me: to find out that the mass of guys in here are illiterate. Some can’t even read the legal documents that the guards thrust at them. No education means no job; and no job puts them right back in here.

In a sense, those, I guess, are the lucky ones. The real sad cases are those who simply will never learn; the sociopaths who have been developed by a society and a system that didn’t care and now has to decide what to do with them. It’s not a matter of education or smarts; it’s simply that they are out of step with humanity. Danny V, my former celly, is one of those. No mater how much you counsel him, he’s not going to get it. His distant drummer is very far off and the damage done to him as a child will never be healed.

He readily admits to never having had any friends, and as a sexual predator in here, he’s not going to make any. But despite that Danny V seems to be able to alienate himself even further – if that’s possible – from anyone he meets.

He has already been moved up and down the tiers at least three times since I’ve been here. No one wants to bunk with him, and yet, he still refuses to get the message. The rules in here aren’t difficult. Basically, all one has to do is keep his mouth shut; and stay out of other people’s business. Danny V can’t seem to do either. He is even having issues with the “Christians”.

The prison Bible freaks, as near as I can tell, are the angriest group of people in jail. Do not confuse them with Christians on the outside. Their hellos aren’t requests, they are confrontational demands. They are also involved more often in confrontations with the guards.

For some reason, and the reason probably is that no one knows, our module has three Bible study events each week, two on Thursdays. For those genuinely interested in discussing the word of God, it is an opportunity for communion. For some it is simply another opportunity for “unlock”.  And time out of the cell is something that is guarded carefully.

Innocently enough, but stupid nonetheless, at an afternoon Bible study, Danny V asks the chaplain, “Why do we get two classes and I-mod gets none?”

The chaplain was unaware of that, as were the guards and the other ministers that visited Solano County. The inmates on the other hand were quite aware.  Needless to say, the chaplain set about changing his schedule immediately. As a result, H-mod got one less unlock and Dan made a lot of enemies – that frankly, he really didn’t need. Worse of all, the most offended group was the white supremists. And in here, if you can’t count on members of your own race, then you are “shit out of luck”.

It began with Casey grilling Dan on how could he be so stupid, but it very quickly progressed to the Nazis threatening him when he got off the bus at San Quentin.

Apparently Danny V’s celly wasn’t feeling well. As a result, Danny V was forced to wait in the day room while the nurse attended to him. So as Danny V is sitting out in the open, the chaplain walks in and announces he won’t be coming by on Thursday afternoon.

That was the signal for the Nazis to go on the attack. From the upper tier it began, “Hey Daniel, see how you fucked it up for everybody?”

Well, Daniel lacks the social skills – and despite more people than me trying to offer him advice like just shutting up, he offers, “I didn’t know. You can’t blame me. Besides, if you guys were so Christian, you’d have a little forgiveness so don’t blame me.”

I don’t know if you have ever been to an animal shelter, but I volunteered at one in L.A. When a human walks down a corridor the dogs run to the front of their cages and begin barking and the noise level is deafening.

Well, after the chaplain’s announcement, the dogs in H-mod began to attack Dan. “See what you’ve done, you stupid fuck.”

But Dan continued to make his argument. Only rather than apologize, he challenged the Nazis’ genuineness (in terms of religion, and then it turned personal. “You know,” one of them said, “we all take the same bus to San Quentin. When you get off, there’s going to be a welcoming committee. You’re gonna get fucked like a little girl.” That was it. Danny V’s worst nightmare come true. The crazies were targeting him for rape.

Luckily for Dan, they would be shipping out soon. His trial may not even get started for another year, hopefully. Unfortunately for Dan, there’s nothing to do here and so memories are long.

21-5

There are no secrets in Solano County Jail, no matter how well they are guarded, and the next morning, a new arrival, a black guy who I had yet to have a conversation with, sat down at a table beside mine. “Excuse me, brother,” he said. “Can I ask you something?”

I nodded but was sure to keep my distance.

“Do you think,” He continued, “that you could have your people call my Mom and see if she and my girlfriend, actually my fiancée, can come out and visit me? I had to leave my bike parked when they picked me up – they wouldn’t even let me move it- and I want them to come down so everything can get taken care of.”

I just stared for a few moments. The sharks were smelling blood in the water and they were out for any “favor” they could get. People like this need to get something unearned because that’s how they get through life – through unearned favors – and not so much because they really need something done. They just need to use other people. Besides, this fool was as queer as they get and there was no way he was going to convince me he had a fiancée… please. “I’ll see,” I said. “I’ll be making a call later and I’ll check to make sure it can be done.”

My Mom was more than happy – once again – to do it, but I suspect there is a lot of secondary gain. She enjoys examining what kind of people we have in jail. Curiosity had gotten the best of her. I can assure you that she doesn’t run into “these kind of people every day” and the gossip factor for her and her crew is just too much to pass up. At any rate, she readily agreed to pass on the message. Her argument was simply that if I ever needed help, she hoped someone would do it for me.

I got the particulars from him, though I really couldn’t tell you what came of it. The following morning he was transferred to San Quentin. I relayed this to my Mom, but alas, she already knew. She had made the call to this guy’s mother and got the particulars herself. I just laughed quietly, the irony of it all.

 

Mr. M is back! I saw him limping through, dragging his left leg, long before he saw me. I could hear the commotion outside my cell and I watched as he attempted to drag his bedroll to his cell. It took him a couple of trips and the guards offered him no assistance. He had his game face on.

That’s the first thing you bring with you: your game face. It’s somewhere between a growl to demonstrate to all watching that you’re no punk and will not be taken advantage of and a smirk that says I’ve been here before and I understand the ground rules. It’s a defense mechanism.

It was certainly not the grin, and the associated mania, with which he left here a few months ago. At that time he was king of the mountain. Time had reduced that mountain to a molehill and it was written all across his face.

Our first interaction was at the breakfast line. He smiled a wide-open grin and offered his right hand. I suspect a familiar face is something that you need. We all need the reassurance of that familiar face that, somehow, I will be safe here. I shook it, his hand, and asked how he was doing. I also offered a brief message of encouragement, “Hang in there.”

He nodded. “Everything is cool,” he said. The pimp was back in the house.

In a sense, I’ve also made a new friend, a white guy, and I’ve yet to precisely get his name, but he is approximately 5’8”, 250 lbs., and I picked him as a friend because he knew how to put the guards back on their heels…with information.

He obviously had been in the system for a long time. And through over-hearing a few of his conversations, it was evident that most of that time had been spent in mental hospitals.  At this juncture, they – whoever they are; I assume that they are the courts –were trying to put him away for life.

Officer Moffett, the floor officer of the day, who is harmless enough, had entered the day room and announced that it was time for us all to return to our cells. My new friend got up to return to his cell, and then a light must have turned on in his head because he turned to the officer and said, “I’m civil, not criminal; I’m here for evaluation. I shouldn’t be housed in here with people with criminal charges…and that’s by state law…so you really need to stop bossing me around.”

Moffett immediately took him outside to the floor officer’s desk. A few minutes later my new friend crossed the day room smiling, with Officer Moffett trailing being considerably more apologetic. Turns out, my new friend was correct. A call to the lieutenant’s office confirmed everything he had said.

Nonetheless, that little victory doesn’t negate the fact that my friend has big problems: he’s looking at a life sentence (for a crime, I might add, he committed 25 years ago; a crime in which he had served time and had been paroled)  because the legislature was retro-actively changing his status.

He described himself to me as the person willing to get in anybody’s face who “throws out bullshit.” I believe that to be true and I believe that because he does not present himself as a particularly likable fellow, it keeps him in trouble. What he doesn’t seem to get is that in court, it’s not the facts that are debated, but the police’s interpretation of the facts. It’s the police report, regardless of its accuracy, that sets the tone for the debate.

He cells with Anthony – a young Latino who is a very likable character – and one morning I asked him why Anthony seemed so angry today.

His reply, “He doesn’t know how to do time.” And that’s what got our conversation going. I wanted to explore that issue because I have a theory and that notion, “knowing how to do time,” is what separates those who remain reasonably sane during this process from those who succeed in making themselves miserable.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“Well…” he said, “…some people come in here and they worry about what’s going on out there. Those guys will never make it. Anthony’s mad with his girlfriend, but there isn’t anything he can do about it… I have, or rather had a girlfriend,” he said, “but I told her when this shit happened with me: Look, I’m going in; I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I love you but you need to move on with your life. You can write if you want; I’ll write back. And if you’re free when I get out and you want to get together, then we’ll deal with it then… That’s it.”

His explanation, though not as eloquent as my beliefs, did, however, agree with my theory. My belief is that in order to deal with this, this being locked in a cage, the first thing you do is decide that there is no future or past, only this moment. Don’t worry about when you’re getting out or how long you’ve been here. It doesn’t matter. In a sense, there is only now.

In spite of having absolutely no control over it, you have to continue to plan your day. You have to make a schedule, and that is precisely what I did. I got medications at 0430, and breakfast at 0500. I returned to bed until 0800, and then exercised in the cell. At morning “unlock” I showered and made phone calls. Lunch takes place at 10 and from 1030 on I read and studied medicine and plastic surgery. At 1600 I ate dinner and directly after that there was another “unlock” where I watched the news. I read trashy novels after that, or watched the TV along with my colleagues. At 8 p.m. it was time for bed.

As far as I was concerned, I arrived here yesterday and I leave here tomorrow.

I’ve also learned not to take much of this personally, and I keep my interactions with the guards to a minimum. They control, much like that police report, what goes into the computer. I don’t give them the opportunity to defame me by editorializing. That’s it. That’s my secret to making it through here alive.

Corey, on the other hand, had taken another strategy. He just came back to H mod and already he’s trying to get transferred out. His strategy is to keep moving. Despite his efforts to pose as a moving target, he is not making a lot of friends. The begging is too much. My new friend hates him and hates what he stands for. Perhaps it’s the idea of being housed in a state mental facility with Corey for the rest of his life that he objects to.

21-4

Nexter Sebilla was killed in Solano County Jail just the other day. There was a brief notice in the Fairfield newspaper. I didn’t know Nexter Sebilla, but the end of his life highlights just how dangerous it is in here, and that’s something you can’t ever forget. If you allow yourself to relax, even for a moment, it could be you. Guys in here get furious over some of the most ridiculous things…I guess that’s all they got, but what a waste.

Apparently Nexter and his bunky had a fight. Rather than separate them, the guards put them back in the same cell overnight. The following morning Nexter could not be aroused for breakfast, and was pronounced dead at the scene. His bunky has not been formally charged with his death, but apparently everyone else in the room did the math.

I still marvel at the simple elegance of my bunky. I am also fascinated by his exploration of things American, things unfortunately I have come to take for granted. Today, in the newspaper was a picture of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor being sworn-in. “Why is she swearing on the Bible?” Niko asked.

I was at first confused. “What do you mean?”

“The other day,” he began, “there was this young girl in school saying she wanted to thank God for her award, and the people told her she couldn’t do that… that you cannot pray in school? So why is this judge swearing on a bible?

Now I understood him quite well. The question wasn’t really about Sotomayor and the Bible. The question was really about hypocrisy.

“Well,” I said, “America is really a Christian country…that’s what the founding fathers intended. But in order to guarantee the citizens religious freedom, a reason many of them had come here, the constitution sort of forbids religious persecution. The separation of church and state, allows for all types of religions to function freely in America. But we’ve become a little bit two-faced or dishonest on the matter. Liberals arguethe state shouldn’t engage in any of that, but tradition necessitates the ‘swearing in of judegs, and therefore the presence of the bible. Theoretically, you’re correct. Sotomayor shouldn’t be swearing on the Bible. It represents a commitment in the eyes of God, but I guess, it could just as easily have been a Koran, though most of America would have gone crazy over that.

Suffice it to say that America, perhaps should declare Christianity the ‘official’ religion, with tolerance, or stop using the bible altogether.”

He sort of shook his head. I understood why, my explanation didn’t make much sense to me either. Nevertheless, he just let it go.

 

I have also been doing a lot of soul searching lately myself. It is long over-do. The other day, Corey, said to me, “Adams, can you do me a favor?”

I immediately began to pull back and in a sense, become confrontational. “What, Corey?” I asked.

Almost apologetically he asked, “Can you have your people call my mom and have her put some money on my books?”

Frankly, I felt imposed upon. Ididn’t want to do it; but there also was really no reason for my posture except that Corey was constantly asking for favors all day long. But the fact is this was meanness on my part. I was becoming like my surroundings: angry and tired of people. I don’t want them asking me for shit. There are times when people are too much and I just don’t want to be bothered. In the past I had completely suppressed those types of feelings. They are an antithesis to whom I want to be and certainly contrary to my decision to become a doctor. Maybe I’m just tired. I’m done with people (and that can happen easily in here) make no doubt about it, but I recognize it as wrong. I’ve got to be aware of it and head it off before my emotions escalate.

Corey is perhaps retarded, or mentally challenged if you will, and somewhat of a pest, but he has a great heart. What I’m really feeling is my own stress. I guess on the outside you go the gym, or hang out with friends, but in here you deal with it, and maybe that’s good. The revelation is simply that you can’t do it all, so put things in perspective.

Besides, I was planning to make a call to my mother and sister that day at ‘unlock” anyway. And when I did get them on the phone, I felt embarrassed. My response highlighted just how angry and crazy I must have become. Not only was it not a big deal for them, my mom considered it an honor to do so. Why would you not help Corey out? My sister sort of chuckled and said, “Maybe we’ll let Mom do it, she likes that sort of thing,” and my Mom was happy to do it. She just wanted the particulars. It never remotely ever crossed their minds, either of them that this was an imposition or something they wouldn’t do.

I was ashamed of myself. Was that who I had become? Why would I resist the opportunity to help somebody, and worse yet, be mad over it? And all of that didn’t happen in here.

I know in my heart that it was also the result of having had to deal with plastic surgery patients. Corey had triggered a response in me of something I had yet to resolve about cosmetic surgery patients. I had grown to hate the fact that no matter what you did for them, no matter how far out of your way you went to help them; it was never enough because they, perhaps the majority of them, were ungrateful, period. They had gotten to me insidiously, but I had allowed it to build raher than resolving how I felt, and that was a problem. If that’s where they’ve got me, I need to walk away from being a doctor, or at least the unreasonableness of cosmetic surgery patients. I don’t want to resent people. I want to be like my mother and sister, happy for the opportunity to help, but I guess the opportunity to help had become an obligation, and it was at that point that it ceased to be fun.

The needs of other people had taken over my life. That is never healthy. I had experienced it as a surgical resident on call every other day, every other weekend for five years. I’m not complaining about the time, I loved being a resident, life was simple then: You went to work and you read about medicine.

The problem is that while you’re in the OR or the hospital – which is always – life, is passing you by.

After my conversation with my mother and sister, I resolved that I would do better. So I pulled Corey aside and asked for the particulars of what he wanted done. He asked that we – meaning someone on the outside – call his aunt and relay the message that he needed money. I got the particulars from him and with him standing next to me at the phone; I relayed them to my Mom. They included his aunt’s name and number and the fact that he wanted her to put money on his books for the commissary.

After we had hung up, Corey thanked me, and went about his usual day of borrowing whatever foodstuffs he could: a shot of coffee, here, a dry soup, there.

I talked with my Mom the following day and it turned out Corey had given us an incorrect phone number… imagine that.

Of course her solution was to put twenty dollars herself on Corey’s books until he could reach his family. I reminded her that Corey had been here for more than a year and that this was an ongoing thing. At any rate, we agreed it was the “Christian” thing to do.

And just to complicatematters I made the mistake of relaying to Corey that we couldn’t get through, he needed to check the number – and that, when she came to visit, my Mom would put 20 bucks on his books. Corey gave me his traditional thank you and pat on the back that he reserves for his intimate “barterers” and reserved a wide grin for me each time he walked past during the remainder of the unlock. With five minutes remaining in the unlock, the tower guard announced it was time to return to our cells; before I could get the door closed Corey stuck his head in and whispered, “Hey, Adams, you think she can do that today so I can make commissary tomorrow?”

I had just spoken to Corey less than 30 minutes earlier. He saw me relay the message through the phone. Corey is dense, but he is quite adept at knowing what he wants. “I don’t think it’s going to happen today, Corey,” I said, “Maybe not even tomorrow, but it will happen the next time she comes out here.”

21-3

At approximately 9:30 a.m. on the 1st of August, the tower guard appeared on the intercom. “Adams, you have a visitor.” Turned out it was a former patient of mine who in every sense of the word, except etiquette, had become a friend. Iris, Iris Seigel, was someone who I grew to like because I appreciated her candor. You might say she had too much of it, but I accepted it as part of her.

Iris is an Israeli and her opening declaration was “I like you and because I was worried about you, I had to see for myself that you were OK.”

I appreciated her concern, but was surprised, and not pleasantly, that she had driven to Solano County. Over the past 8 years that I had known her, we had had many interesting conversations about life, family, Judaism, being a single parent, and of course, plastic surgery. Iris is a tall woman in that she is 5’11” to 6’0” feet. Under no stretch of the imagination is she overweight, though, she is physically big. I believe her stature has had a profound effect on her psyche. She often asks me if she should have this or that done, and a lot of my input has been to discourage procedures that she did not need.

Perhaps that is the basis of our friendship, honesty. Iris, because of her cultural heritage, can seem a bit harsh, but underneath, in actuality, is quite a lady.

Her parents live in Israel and I have had the opportunity to remove a skin cancer from her mother, in one instance helping her to avoid a big operation, including skin grafts. Her doctors in Israel had recommended a much larger procedure. The fact that I was able to completely excise the cancer and fashion a flap to cover the wound in one operation had endeared me to her mother, and her mother’s doctors. I was happy to just have solved the problem with a local flap.

Much of our visit was conducted staring through glass trying to decide what to say to each other. She brought me up to date on her mother, and her daughter, and I reassured her I was fine. She wanted me to know the things that were being said on the internet and in the press. I begged her not to allow people who don’t know me and have never had a conversation with me to make her worry.

Sadly, for the lack of any other way to look at it, that is the price of celebrity or fame, or infamy. I suggested she join in the conversations on the net, admit that she knows me, and give whatever input she deems appropriate. I also suggested she take her daughter to the Wharf in San Francisco and go sightseeing. The take home message: I was fine.

After saying our awkward goodbyes, I returned to 2H 11A and though shaken, I appreciated the love. “When this is over,” I thought, “I’ll call Iris and invite her to dinner and let her vent about what’s going on inside her.” I felt like I didn’t spend enough time really letting her talk about her mom and how she was doing. That has to be a strain on her.

My mom though saved the day – as usual. She met Iris on their way sightseeing and offered to let them stay at her house. It saved them money but more importantly, it offered a warmness that both Iris and her daughter could use.

It appears there may also be a changing of the guard here on H-mod. For the past two to three months Office Powell has run H-mod Monday through Thursday on day shift. Powell has been replaced it would seem by an Officer Lombardo, who is an athletic looking Italian guy in his early 50s. I have no opinion on Officer Lombardo in that I have had no interaction with him.

My colleagues, who are regulars and have had many contacts with him, offered their assessments. It ranged from “he was cool” to “he’s an asshole”. It cancelled out; not that I would trust the judgments of my colleagues anyway. I’d have to arrive at a conclusion for myself.

My experience is that all of the guards are cut from relatively the same cloth. The least interaction you have with them the better; as soon as you think you can trust him, or her, they screw you, so I avoid them altogether.

It seems to me that Officer Lombardo is not interested in interacting anyway, and you get those all the time. They’re doing their eight hours and that’s the extent of it. Nonetheless, by the end of the hour, everyone’s recollection had kicked in and the votes for asshole had completely overshadowed the cool. In fact, the original vote for cool had become an adamant vote for asshole as he remembered Lombardo having turned on him “for nothing.”

I personally didn’t have to wait long to find out. The days we normally have access to the “yard” are Monday and Tuesday. After having cleaned my cell, I approached the mod door to ask the floor officer for access to the yard. There’s a glass door between you and the floor officer and he sits approximately ten feet away so you have to scream through the door. A few of the officers have the tower guard open the door so you can walk across to their desk and have a normal conversation. Most attempt to ignore you and leave you standing there – because they can.

Lombardo is one of the latter. He picked up the phone, looked at his computer – incidentally he said nothing through the phone, simply picked it up, put the receiver to his ear and then set it down. And this was merely a nonverbal communication that he was in charge. My argument is that if you have to feign being busy in order to be rude, you’re not really in charge, you’re an idiot.

By now two colleagues are in line behind me so when he looks directly at me I scream through the door, “We’d like to go to the yard.” It’s the only place where you can use a pull-up bar and get some semblance of real exercise.

He shakes his head no and says, “I mod.”

I again say through the door, “Our days have been Monday and Tuesday for the last couple of months.” My colleagues rally in agreement.

Lombardo immediately changes facial expression and screams, “I’m reading the memo and don’t get loud with me.”

So I say, “No one’s challenging you, I’m just asking.”

He screams, “You are yelling and I’m not going to have it.”

I counter with, “What’s wrong with you? Who are you mad at?” And of course I’m screaming, “There’s a door here.”

He advises me to shut up and walk away from the door.

I again pose the question, “Who you mad at? Nothing’s happened here to merit your response.”

He advises that I need to walk away from the door or risk lock down.

I oblige, but all he’s served to do is elevate my stature amongst my peers. They knew there was no reason for his condemnation, but they also saw it as another demonstration that while Adams doesn’t talk much, he will not be bullied. It’s easy though, they see the guards as the enemy. I just see a group of angry guys who need to figure out their own emotional state. I’m here to do time, but it doesn’t mean I have to be abused by some guard who didn’t want to come to work today.

Besides, if the access days changed, I didn’t get a memo and neither did any of my colleagues, so I don’t know why they, the guards, insist on trying to degrade you every time you need one of them to do their jobs, or to answer a simple question. It’s abusive and it’s mean.

That isn’t to say that I cannot empathize with the guard’s predicament. I can, but I’m not going to be the misguided target of their frustrations just because they can. Their job sucks, but they chose it, so don’t take it out on me.

That also isn’t to say that it’s all negativity on the part of the guards. This is not false sense of fairness on my part; some, perhaps even a great deal of my colleagues, are despicable and I wouldn’t trust them either. Some are murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and child molesters. There are no words to describe just how completely repulsive they are. So I get it.

During unlock I get the privilege to overhear the logic that runs through their minds and I am sickened. There is the child molester who has a series of legal papers explaining why it is unfair for him to be housed in the general population – and he uses those statutes to browbeat the guards who, while they are here to enforce certain statutes, don’t know crap about what they say. Yet lost in his dialogue is the fact that he sexually abused an eleven-year-old boy and what about his fairness.

21-2

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.

21-1

On Saturday, July 25, 2009, at 4:37 p.m., Officer Thompson, during my “frightening anticipatory walk” to collect my dinner tray -and God knows what food- issued a warning, camouflaged as an announcement. “Tomorrow,” he said, “and I’m glad I won’t be here, there are going to be some changes and none of you are going to like them.” That was all he said.

His statement was particularly disturbing to me, because as nearly as I could tell, at least over the past six or seven months, Lieutenant Marsh, and his entire staff, had not seen fit to announce any changes they implemented. “So why the “announcement” now”, was my obvious question?  “Changes” took place every shift because each floor guard “ran things his way”. As an inmate, you had no say in what was going on anyway- which served as a sort of perverted pleasure for the individual guards. So why did Thompson feel the obligation to give the inmates a heads-up? It must be catastrophic!

Thompson’s announcement therefore loomed large; not because of what he said; in fact, he had said nothing. But because it signaled a change even he was uncomfortable with implementing. That was the message (along with his inferred disclaimer: don’t blame me for this change; I had nothing to do with it).

Thirty minutes later, during his “unlock” Dallas knocked on my cell door to announce that tomorrow (Sunday), July 26, 2009; Solano County would no longer be serving hot meals.

Information travels fast in here and that was another reason why Thomson’s announcement was a waste of energy. Dallas also made a particular effort to also share his belief that at 18 years of age, he was going to “die in here.”

I took the food announcement with a little less drama. It made no difference to me. I had just been served a wet, cold, gummy, rubbery, unidentifiable meat sauce over rice, and over steamed carrots, and over 2 cookies, and over a lettuce salad. From my perspective, it couldn’t get any worse than that. It was cold already, so what difference did it make that they were now announcing that it was cold.  That was certainly not news. I actually welcomed a meal not processed, contaminated, served nor prepared by a murderous gang member, or multiple sex offenders. Perhaps it might actually be simple and nutritious, something like more raw fruits and vegetables, more fiber and less fat and carbohydrates. I know it was wishful thinking, but nonetheless that was my hope.

Besides, it emphasized a belief I’d had for the longest – particularly as a physician- and I was eager to see it in practice. For the poor among us, it has always been my contention that it was cheaper to eat healthier than it was to contaminate your body with fat and processed food; a breakfast of an apple and yogurt seemed much more healthy than bacon, or sausage, eggs, and fried potatoes. And a whole lot cheaper.

Furthermore, the State of California was in the midst of a 27 billion dollar budget deficit, had been issuing IOUs while they searched to find solutions; and it only seemed reasonable to suspect that the cut in services would begin with the disenfranchised. I for one had suggested to the guards that eight to 10 jobs might be saved along with millions of dollars a year if they just turned down the air conditioning going into cells. While I understood that the idea was to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the inmates, it could equally be achieved cheaper at 62ºF as well as 58.

Besides, no politician was going to justify feeding “criminals” while simultaneously cutting services to the poor. To be frank, they could have solved much of the prison problem by finding these guys work and sending them home. Despite what politicians and the corrections lobby say, that is their insistence on keeping America in a state of fear in order to keep their correction’s jobs, a good 40% of the inmates, as far as I could tell, were like Corey; they had been housed at Solana County for more than a year for walking out of a convenience store with a magazine. I doubt Corey even remembered he was in a convenience store, or had the magazine with him. It is precisely that state of affairs which earned him the moniker, “the village idiot.” He is not a threat to society. He is a threat to no one.

I, for one, though had bigger problems. The process of being “locked down” exacts its toll. That evening, after my customary three to four hours of sleep, I awoke with my mind racing, concerned with everything that I believed had gone wrong in my life. A feeling of anxiety made it difficult – at least in my mind – to breathe. These “attacks” began with the belief that I had been wronged, progressed to an inability to do anything about it, and culminated with a feeling that the walls were closing in and that the supply of oxygen was getting thinner. The catch-22 was that you couldn’t walk outside and clear your head, and you certainly weren’t going to get any empathy from the guard sitting alone at a desk at 2:47 in the morning.

It’s no wonder that such a feeling ultimately directed me toward a feeling of resentment and a desire for revenge. That’s what happens in here. You can get to a place where you take responsibility and plan to do better, but being in here prevents any positive action on your revelations. And so with time, negative thoughts creep back in, no matter how vigilant you are. I saw the state’s fiscal crisis as the price for their meanness. I saw government as having lost its moral commitment, a commitment to protect individual rights and its fiscal collapse as part of the same disease. My shortness of breath was merely the symptom of a world imploding upon itself and I was helpless to help them.

It reminded me of a vacation I once took – if you can call it that – to Telluride, CO. The altitude was so high and the air was so thin that with my heart disease I spent five days literally gasping for air, constantly air hungry and feeling that I would suffocate at any moment. Perhaps this was the desired effect the state was trying to achieve in order to make jail a deterrent. It wasn’t working. It only served to make me acknowledge man’s cruelty to each other. It also caused me to acknowledge that it wasn’t going to get better. History had offered no lessons. We were still spiraling down, out of control, hate bringing on more hate, injustice bringing on more injustice, meanness spawning more meanness.

The new “cold” breakfast the next morning consisted of two slices of bread, a packet of peanut butter, two smaller packets of jelly, a brown rectangle of what I believed to be some type of granola square – it was soft with a grey tinge but not crunchy; there were no nuts in it – an apple and a carton of milk. Visually, not the most appealing of breakfasts I will admit, but breakfast nonetheless.

I opted to have the milk and the apple immediately. The granola bar wasn’t particularly tasty, but it wasn’t foul either. It seemed to me an acquired taste that was easily overcome, and I planned to accomplish that. You have to eat in here. If you focus too much on what it is or how it tastes, you’ll find yourself hungry all the time. I ate it reluctantly. I saved the peanut butter to snack on later.

What was disturbingto me was that the breakfast was being supplied by Aramark, the commissary people. I have no particular aversion to Aramark; I have an aversion to a government sponsored monopoly. The fact that they were now supplying all the food signaled a lack of choice, which ultimately translates into a lack of competition. That meant the taxpayer was not going to get the biggest bang for his or her buck. Aramark could charge what they wanted (and probably did).

Needless to say, over the next three days – in spite of my aggressive attempt toward optimism – the meals provided by Aramark, the commissary people, got incredibly, almost unbelievably, worse. Last night’s meal included beans that contained foreign particles, not just one but in all 28 meals on the mod, water with a few mixed vegetables in it, and bread sticks (that, by now were wet). Most disappointing of all was that the beans had spilled over to contaminate the whole tray. Beans were on the vegetables, and all over the bread.

Again, I would reiterate that the state is under no obligation to feed inmates, but if they do, that makes it even more important that we, and they, the state, don’t waste money. But if what you’re presenting is impossible to swallow, all it is is wasting taxpayer dollars.

Yet it’s impossible for me to let go of the fact that the people supplying the meals also supply the commissary. If they continue to make the meals inedible, inmates are forced to purchase commissary items and in a sense Aramark controls both supply, demand and price and thus can influence the “market”. It’s as if no one on the administrative side thought this thing through.

20-4

The next morning at “unlock,” Sean, my colleague from the cell next door, sat down at the table in front of my door facing the television. In a whisper he began, “Dude,” he said to me, “Did you hear that last night?”

Did I hear it? Who could not?  It began as a single thump that shook the walls. The pounding was initially paced so far apart that they would be mistaken for the normal pongs and wants of the building. “Yeah, I did,” I said. “What was up with that? I thought it was coming from the cell next to me but there’s no one there. The restroom is being used as a community facility.”

“I thought it was you,” he said. “I thought, oh fuck, Adams has let me down and lost it like the rest of these knuckleheads. I was standing in the dark feeling the walls trying to figure out where it was coming from.”

“Me, too; I thought it was coming from above us, but not from this module.”

“No,” he said, “I think it’s coming from downstairs.”

Downstairs,” I thought. “There’s nothing directly below us but admission and holding cells.” Though that is what might explain it. Cats are very angry when they first come in, but this one, “Harvey Wallbanger”, as I’ve come to call him, was amongst the all-time greats. Throughout the night, both the intensity and the rate increased until it was a crescendo where you could imagine someone trying to dig out of here.

At any rate, we were both pleased to discover that it was neither of us who had lost it. There still, at least in our minds, was some semblance of sanity here on H-mod. Although on the TV Sean’s celly, Lewis was watching Maury, smiling with a satisfaction that could only be described as disturbing. Sean just shook his head. “If you think that’s bad,” he offered, “try sleeping in the same room with the guy.”

Checkmate! Point well made and we both just let it go. Harvey Wallbanger was more than enough insanity for one day. You had to be here, in a sense, but you didn’t have to accept it. I know I didn’t.

That night, or perhaps I should say, the next morning, it was approximately 0400, Harvey Wallbanger returned; only this time he added vocals to his repertoire. It was most disturbing because this level of frustration and agony sets a horrible tone in which to start the day.

At medication rounds, I asked Officer Stewart about it. He had heard it too, though only recently, and not all night like the rest of us. His concern was that if it was coming from downstairs, it was coming from minimum – housing for the less criminally inclined – and that meant someone had, in a sense, slipped through the system. Screamers and bangers weren’t offered that status. At any rate he vowed to look into it, and over the months I’ve found Stewart to be true to his word.

I’ve also actually started to allow myself to think about being released. It’s coming up on eight months and that has to mean that I’m on the back nine. I will admit that I use to force it out of my mind, leaving Solano County. Counting the days makes slow time move even more slowly. I have learned to busy my mind with reading and planning and allowing the day to pass as quickly as possible.

I’m really not sure how I feel about it. My mom has begun to prepare for all the things we can do together – she’s already RSVP’d a friend of hers that both my sister and I would attend her friend’s daughter’s wedding. That’s all fine. I cancertainly do that for her. We are closer now – and honestly it’s a really good feeling – but I think I want my life back. There are still a lot of things that I want to do in my life. I will not leave them undone.

I do plan to spend more time, weekends and holidays, with friends and family. I should see both Nazz and Noel at least three or four times a year. I hardly know their children, and I desperately want to know them. I also want to know my own, though I’m starting to realize that the dream I had of a wife and family, was just that, a dream. It perhaps was never right for me. I’ve come to believe it’s the result of a wall I’ve put around myself. There was never the inclination to celebrate a victory; there was always that next mountain to climb. It’s left a lot of things unsaid and a lot of things undone.

Marcus Aurelius said, “Do not live your life as if you had a thousand years to live,” or something like that. I’ve never done that, at least I’d like to think so, but perhaps I have put a lot of things on the shelf that needed my attention most. I’m resolving here and now not to do that.

I haven’t talked to Steve Crisman in a while. I miss him. Steve introduced me originally to Thom who produced “Plastic Surgery: Before and After” on Discovery Health. They had some kind of falling out. I think Steve felt he should have had a piece of the show because of the introduction. It didn’t happen and we all seemed to drift apart. It all seems so silly and trivial now. I know Steve was sick and I’ve tried a number of times to contact him, but the truth of the matter is I need to try harder.

I also put in an inmate request form to classification to see if I was eligible to work off some of my time, again. I’ve already been refused twice – supposedly as a result of medical issues – but who knows the third time may be the charm. One thing for sure, nothing happens here unless you keep on asking. Nothing takes the first time in here.

Besides, if I get a chance to see more of Solano County, it’ll give me an opportunity to tell you more about the goings on here. It’s really a win-win situation for me; more to do, which seems to make the time pass quicker, and the stay, shorter.

A while back the sergeant took my request to retrieve my heel lifts. I’m pleased to inform you that nothing’s happened since. It’s been about a month.

It’s strange to be thinking (and talking) about work, any kind of work. It’s a subject I started thinking about a number of times over the last few months. What am I going to do when I get out of here? I’m determined to summon up the courage to do something I could be happy at. One thing’s for sure – I’m never going to allow things to go back to the way they were. I want to help people but not at the expense of losing myself. That cost is much too high.

I’ve certainly done my share of work with medical school, residency, and trying to build a practice. The sad part is that it never really got anywhere, no matter what people think. I was chasing bills like everybody else. I guess working all the time is what made it tolerable. I believed I was right. I believed that if I did this one last thing it would all come together. I’ve pretty much lived my life telling myself that all I had to do was get through next month or next year. But time sneaks up on you and now I’m desperate to get there with what can only be described as the little time I have left. Marcus Aurelius was right: “life has to be lived with a little sense of urgency”.

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