Despite my ability to control the focus of my mind, there were times when melancholy and a sense of sadness would overtake me. It generally occurred in the night. I could neither read nor write any longer because all the power had been shut off from the guard tower; no power, no lights; no lights, no reading.

My “view” of my garden with its well trimmed hedges and brightly colored flowers – roses, tulips, and irises in different shapes and generations of growth in the window of my mind had been hidden by the darkness. I could no longer see the rolling hills of green with cattle silently grazing in the distance.

It was generally brought on – my melancholy – by the mechanical sounds of the building at night when the cessation of activity allowed for the grunts and groans of the buildings’ interworkings to be heard over all the silence.

Nighttime brings a strange inhabitant to Solano County, one who unleashes the anger and pain inside each of the inhabitants. There are assorted grunts and coughing, and the occasional scream, as someone struggles to take in air; there are the screams and torrential banging of the mentally ill – those who would be best served by an asylum and not a jail, and there is the weeping of men who have simply given up. Their noises are the most unnerving. And when they can take it no longer, they are joined by a chorus of others – equally as pitiful – joining in like howling dogs in the night – howling at what, only their inner demons know.

This is the background that forces one into introspection – where one turns inside to take inventory. It is here that I am most concerned as my melancholy turns to anger. And I am angry at myself and my fellow man.

I am mad at each of us. I am mad at you for trying to force me, and I am mad at me for not having fought sooner. For in my delay, in the name of taking the loftier path, I have bottled up what I feel and now it is screaming to be free. My mind races to thoughts of where it feels I had been wronged. I fight not to engage in rationalization. I struggle to deal with the truth. For it is not me who is locked in here, I have chosen to lock you out.

I speak directly to relationships in my past, for it is the losses that haunt me now. It is not my crime, nor a blight on my character, that ten years after your divorce, your ex-husband and you cannot sit in the same room. I applaud him his successes, and I pray for yours. Rid yourself of your own baggage for I am over-loaded carrying mine. No longer direct your anger at me, it is not mine. I did not earn it.

If your ex- husband has wealth untold and hires hookers monthly to sleep in his bed, I grant you your pain. I accept your sorrow, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.

If you came to Hollywood to be an actress and I offer friendship and love – but Hollywood does not, I accept your frustration, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.

If you had surgery and your husband continues to cheat on you, I accept your sadness, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it. Your husband’s cheating is not malpractice, its selfishness, but it is not mine.

If you are in the same profession as your nephew and his star shines a little brighter, I accept your envy, but not your meanness. I understand it, but it is not mine. I did not earn it. I did not earn for you to appear on TV and demean me. For it was me you came to when your wife died. And it was me you came to for eye surgery.

If you are in a social club or a guild, and your club is forced to watch me, a nonmember, talk about your business each week. I accept your jealousy, but not your meanness. I understand your jealousy. But your meanness is not mine, I did not earn it.

If your aunt died as a result of negligence on the part of your nephew or cousin, I understand your need to lash out, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.

If you are a member of the press, and you wanted to own a story that could make your career but got it wrong, I accept your error, but not your meanness. It is not mine, because I did not earn it.

I accept your anger, pain, sadness, frustration, envy, jealousy, need, and ambition because I hope to get it all out. Use it up on me, all of it. I accept it. Reach inside; gather together all your hate, and all your pain. I accept it. Call your friends, your enemies, your relatives, your in-laws; put all your meanness in a bag, I accept it too.

I accept it because I want it all. I want it all until there is no more. I want it all to end. For if by accepting it all – even that which is not mine – gets us there, then so be it. If I am to experience meanness, I want the full experience.

And when it is all gone, perhaps then Israelis won’t have to fear Arabs, and Arabs won’t have to fear Israelis. Perhaps there will be peace in the Middle East, and the hatred, and the bombings, and the killing will stop.

Perhaps there will no longer be genocide in Rwanda, or Darfur.

Afghanistan and Iraq, along with Iran can pursue the interests of their people. Five thousand US soldiers won’t have to die, and neither will 250,000 Iraqis. Give me your meanness so that all that is left is kindness. I will accept it though it is not mine, I did not earn it. So understand that I will not be a victim, but I do recognize that your treatment of me is a scream for help. I offer what I have.

Those thoughts (and the people who know their meaning) were with me during my times of melancholy. They were there because I was tolerant, when perhaps I should have been dismissive.They were there because at night in this place misery always shows up.

A new guy, an older white gentleman, was brought in to E module two days ago. As was our way, my colleagues and I, would nod, or give a brief hello when we passed him in the day room during “unlock”. He seemed a lot sadder than the rest of us. His face carried lines and wrinkles that suggested a hard life.

Maybe it was because he was new. Fresh arrivals always have a hard time adjusting. The worst for me was to watch him stand alone at the door in front of the guard tower for the entire hour, waiting for whatever and who knows what to transpire.

The guards ignored him and we gave him his space. But after about 3 days of this, as I walked past him on my strolls around the room, I could take it no longer.  His ship had already sailed. “What are you waiting for? I asked.

He offered some garbled, disjointed lecture on the guards messing with him. That he was not supposed to be here and that they, the guards, knew it. They were holding him up.

So he stood there, day after day, for an hour, with his bedroll – consisting of a tee-shirt, underwear, socks, and a towel – waiting for some ship that apparently never came in. Periodically, a guard would come to the door, conduct some business with another inmate, and ignore him as he stood there. It seemed so mean to me, but I guess their priority was running a jail, not catering to the hallucinations of some old guy.

My talk with him must have served as some sort of invitation because a few days later I was sitting at a table alone, and he took the seat next to me.

“How are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I said reluctantly. Why I’ll never know, I wasn’t fine.  But neither was I in the mood to discuss it.

In that distinct Boston accent that I remembered from college, he began to tell me his story: he was born and raised in Marshfield, Mass, a town across the bay from Cape Code and Hyannisport. He had been married but his wife had died. He was now living clear across the country in Vallejo, CA. We did not talk about why he was here – or why I was here – and our conversation was interrupted by great periods of silence. He seemed to be struggling with details and I afforded him time to complete his thoughts.

Jason, another of our colleagues, walked by our table and my new friend was immediately distracted by him. “Is he a street dancer?” he asked me as he pointed to Jason. In order to demonstrate what he meant, he began to work his hands as if he were a robot. I called Jason over and although he was not the character to which the old man was referring, Jason knew exactly who he was talking about. He referred to the mystery dancer as Riddles – and knew exactly where it was that Riddles danced. I guess Vallejo isn’t that big of a place.

Jason though was a story himself. He was a younger kid, good-looking, and spent every unlock doing two things: shaving with an electric razor to reshape his beard, adjusting the length of his sideburns, mustache or no mustache, and taking a shower.

The shower, as I noted earlier, was in the corner of the day room across from the guard tower. It offered no privacy – but it really wasn’t privacy Jason was interested in. Jason was interested only in the fact that from the shower you could see into the shower area of the adjacent module, that is, if you were willing or inclined to look. Jason took that opportunity to communicate with his friend in F mod. Did I mention that Jason was obviously gay? He had apparently been arrested for drugs – along with a friend. Jason and his friend would signal to each other from the showers and from the look on Jason’s face it served as a joyful time. At the end of his sessions he would convene to a locked door between the modules and assure whoever was on the other side that he loved them and missed them.

At any rate, he was quite harmless and amusing and his antics helped pass the time. It was interesting to watch him enlist converts and hear them giggling in the showers.

When they, Jason and the old man, had finished discussing Riddles, Jason headed for the showers and the old man and I continued our conversation in silence. I guess he really didn’t need to be anywhere. He just needed someone to listen, and that is perhaps what we could all use: somebody to listen, or at the very least, what I gave the old man: someone to sit beside and listen or not, but just someone with whom to feel connected, if only for a better part of an hour of “unlock”.

Transfer: 2M to 2E (5)

On Thursday nights the chaplain visits and roughly 20 of the 28 members of the module attend a bible study program. I must confess that I do not attend formally, but because it takes place right outside my door, I have the advantage of attending without ever leaving the warmth of my bunk. I also put the blame for my posture squarely on my inability, intellectually, to go slumming. I know I shouldn’t but I can not help but question my colleagues’ motives. A great deal of the inmates become bible thumping, born again Christians, in jail. I’d like to believe they are somehow transformed, but you get the impression that is not the case. The most vocal advocates of religion are also the ones involved in the most conflict. If there is an altercation one of them is in the middle. If there is an argument, one of them has started it. And frighteningly, if news of someone’s crimes hit the wire because of the hideousness of the crime, one of them is the perpetrator.

It may be that because they know their crime is somehow more hideous they seek a mystical forgiveness. Unfortunately, it may also simply be that extra hour outside of a cell that motivates them.

The minister, or so I thought he was the minister, seemed to provide an overly simplistic and paternal message. Perhaps it was his audience that colored his presentation. He was also quick to point out that he was not a minister, but “ministering”. That meant that at some time in the not to distant past, he had been an inmate himself. It was through GOD that he had gotten his life together and that is what he was offering to my colleagues now.

The emphasis in his talk was on good and evil. All that was running through my mind was the notion that good and evil aren’t metaphysical terms; they are man-made. God would have no rational reason to think in those terms. Things are neither good nor bad to God; they simply are. Good and bad refers to value judgments used by man and generally mean I agree or disagree with you. Metaphysically I suppose one could argue that if it leads to man’s survival it is good, and if it leads to man’s demise it is bad. Nonetheless, to suggest that there are not rational reasons for man’s predicament and to take the solution for them out of the individual that created them was ludicrous to me.

For Nature understands our strengths and weaknesses. Man is given life, but he is not necessarily given the understanding – or the ability – to survive. He must learn it.

At any rate – and to my relief – the meeting broke up and I was able to focus on lighter things, like my mother’s arrival for a visit the following morning. It truly is a bitter-sweet fruit. I look to it with enthusiasm and delight because it replenishes my soul simply to see her face – her smile and her genuine warmth have always been a relief for me in any storm. Yet at the same time – I feel dread because I know that it must exhaust her soul to see me where I am, in Solano County Jail.

It has been one month and I must confess that the time has gone by quickly. There were so many things I wanted to read and so many more opportunities to write I wanted to get out of the way. (I have failed – up to this point – to get letters off to Nazz and Noel, two of my closest friends.) I have also taken to not shaving – either my head or my face – and I’m sure the change, the growth of hair, will signal a change and perhaps be interpreted that things are not fine… but they are. I merely saw this as an opportunity to let things go, to be lost in the moment, so that I might find my way; to listen to my soul and not just my mind.

You are never alone here and any moment of solitude is quickly shattered. The guard interrupted me this time, and I’m sure if they could hear themselves over the intercom, they wouldn’t use it. “Adams, can you walk up stairs?” was all he said. At first I wasn’t even sure. I asked Mike, my bunky, and he confirmed it for me. He has had much more experience communicating with these guys over this thing and frankly, without him here, I’d never know what they were saying.

“Yes,” I replied. That was in reference to my surgery, but I felt if he really cared he would have gotten my shoes and orthotics for me a month ago. In actuality, walking was a chore and hurt like hell. I had discussed it with the doctor; and he in turn had discussed it with the lieutenant but apparently my pleas fell on deaf ears. Again we had the administrators and guards making the medical decisions. I did not complain or make it an issue of it any more. Another thing you don’t want in jail is attention. You don’t want to be singled out for any reasons.Most importantly; you didn’t want any of these guys, the guards or the inmates harboring some kind of grudge because you embarrassed them. You learn very quickly around here also that extra attention means extra rules and regulations, which ultimately mean the delay of even the simplest tasks. I wanted my Mom to spend as little time here as was necessary, and I didn’t want to wait another hour while we found a wheelchair and an escort. So I hobbled up the stairs and Mom came through the door.  We greeted each other with smiles and I motioned for her to sit down at the center booth. We settled into chairs with the bulletproof glass between us and both reached for the phones.

“How are you doing?” she asked. She forced a smile, and so did I. It was great just to see her, but the pain in her heart was unmistakable. I hated witnessing her sadness. My whole purpose in life had been fashioned to make her proud. This was definitely a bummer.

“I’m fine,” I said.

“I see you are growing hair. It looks fine.”

It didn’t. It actually looked bad and made me look a lot older and disheveled. “It probably won’t stay” I said, “but for now it’s OK.” We sat quietly, for a few seconds and I started, “Make sure you call Barb Kohler on Monday. Let’s give her a list of people to send my book to: Larry King, Oprah, you know…that’s going to be the best advertisement. We should also get it to radio stations…Tom Joyner – people like that. Dilly will know.”

“Okay,” she said. “There are a few things I want to tell you and I wrote them down but they don’t let you bring your purse up…Oh I know… couldn’t buy the shoes, or they wouldn’t accept the shoes because they have black on them and they are too expensive…They have to be all white and they have to have a tag on them. They have to be new.”

“Well…whatever – don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.” I knew she would worry, but I had to try. My fear was that she would learn something that I didn’t want her to know: just how mean these people could be. I had nightmares thinking about this nice little old lady trying to get things done through a system based on force. It was a part of people and the system, I never wanted her to know.

“I did bring the orthotics though and gave it to Sharon.” She then showed me a number 7361 written on her palm in ink. “This is her number. She told me to call her if I needed anything. She just said they have a lot of rules around here: some of them make sense and some of them don’t. They are put in place for people’s protection.”

That was indeed a crock of shit. I didn’t know who Sharon was, and I certainly appreciated her kindness to my mother, but the fact of the matter was that nothing around here was done for protection, it was done for expediency. If things were done for protection there wouldn’t be 10 extra guys sleeping on cots in the day room. “That’s fine,” I said. “Whatever they need to do… There is one other thing. Call Nazz and Noel… their numbers are on my cell. Get their addresses and I’ll drop them a note.”

“Well, Dee Dee talked with Nazz and he’s sending you a letter,” she said.

“OK…I’ll get his address from that…But be sure to make those calls. I’ve been a little slow.”

Unfortunately the half hour went much too quickly. There was no gentle indication that the time was over though. It began with a nauseating buzz followed by ear-piercing clicking of the locks of the doors. That was followed by the phones being turned off abruptly. I told her through the glass that I loved her. She reciprocated and threw me a kiss. I watched as she headed for the door. She turned and waved.

As I descended the stairs from the visitors cubical, I took a quick look into the guard tower but the tinted glass made it almost impossible to see in. There were only shadows. That was fine though, I really just needed to get back to the solitude of my cell. I’m not sure what I expected to see anyway, maybe just something different. I wanted to see what went on there and why: why, in a jail, where every door was locked and men showered in the fishbowl that was the day room, did the guard tower need tinted windows in the first place? What on earth did they have to hide?

Transfer: 2M to 2E (4)

People watching became a treat for me. This place was overrun with characters and the group on the upper tier was extremely interesting. They were younger and wilder than us older guys on the bottom tier. Their “unlock” was alternated with ours each day. This was done to limit the number of guys in the day room at one time; but more importantly it was done to separate guys who might not get along. Nonetheless, I was able to observe them from my cell and they offered amusing entertainment. The shouting and horseplay that engulfed the common room when they were released was odd. They were more like children released to recess.

The first one I was to meet from the upper tier was Corey. Our first encounter occurred when I looked up from reading “Great Expectations”. I sensed someone standing at my cell door and when I looked up, there was this little head peering through the slit that was my cell door window. When our eyes met, he immediately smiled and nodded nervously, “You got any sugar?” he asked.

“What?” I asked.

He smiled again, nodded and was gone. Cory was a small black guy with a round clown face and an unkempt afro and beard. He seemed to always have a smile and a look in his eyes that demonstrated that he never quite got what you were saying. During the next hour after I had first caught him looking in, Cory paraded past my window five or six times. He would look in, avoid eye contact, and if I happened to look directly at him, he would nod and smile, and then take off like he had seen a ghost.

A few days later at his “unlock”, this clown face with the dull, smiling expression appeared again. “You got any sugar?” he asked.

“What was it with the sugar with this guy”, I wondered. This time I walked to the window. Cory stepped back, a bit startled though I was at a loss to understand why – there was a locked door between us. “If I give you sugar, what’s in it for me?” I asked. Cory just smiled and nodded. I slid two packets of sugar under the door and Cory was gone.

It turned out that Cory had been my bunky’s (Mike) cellmate before, in this very cell. Mike had wondered where he had gone.  When I told him the story, he just laughed. “That’s Corey” he chuckled. “He’s harmless. He’s just looking for sugar for his coffee, or to trade for something.”

Cory though wasn’t quite harmless. He was also relentless and annoying. He would badger you like a six year old and wouldn’t really quit until he got what he wanted. Corey made many more trips to my window after his first successful panhandle. And with time, his requests advanced from sugar to milk to envelopes. When I finally told him no, the visits became less frequent until they finally stopped. I never looked for Cory again. You don’t get attached here because people are shipped out – never to be heard from again – all the time.

Each of us dealt with being in Solano County differently. My approach was to control my environment and my schedule as best I could. My celly seemed to hope to sleep for the next eight to 10 years. Even the guards had their routines, but the one thing that was obvious was that they were even more miserable than the inmates. I’m sure, as part of their training, they were instructed to keep interaction to a minimum. And I’m sure they also realized that a great number of my colleagues were extremely dangerous. They had to be vigilant all the time. But I’m also sure the vast majority of the guards loved being in control, and so took the opportunity to shit on us all the time.

In the morning – and I’m talking 0400 – Officer Rodriguez would alert the cell block to the new day by banging doors and the portal slips to each room in succession, all the while screaming “wake-up – medications, wake-up medications.” I imagined that what he really liked was waking us up. He had to be up so why should we get to sleep. I began to listen for his entrance and anticipate his arrival at my door. I made sure my bed was made and I was dressed sitting, facing the window, so that when he peered in, I’d be looking at him. Our eyes would meet and he would be forced to swallow his scream – and his banging.

I also decided that I would never allow the guards to get away with grunting orders at me. If they grunted like I was wasting their time, I made them repeat their orders until it was an audible sentence. And if they persisted, I persisted in asking them what. “We are human beings,” I thought, “use the language if you want to communicate.”

Mike caught on to my game and would use that opportunity in the morning to enjoy a laugh. It was a good thing because it was really the only time we talked. His way of dealing with jail-time was to sleep. For the first three days the only time he was awake was during “unlock” and meals. He’d take a shower and then return immediately to the upper bunk first by stepping on the stool – then on to the desk and then his legs would disappear onto his bunk. I was amazed – and envious – how could he sleep so much. I was also interested to know who he was. What inklings of his personality I could grasp with so little data were few. He was easy going, almost passive in his demeanor, but he was articulate too – and probably – much like me –prone to long bouts of silence.

I didn’t really mind the solitude; my existence at Solano County was taking place in my head anyway. That was the advantage I had in being there as compared to the guards. I’m sure they found me frustrating because while they were stuck at a desk babysitting, I was in Paris, Monaco, Greece, Indonesia, Australia, New York and Japan. I had the opportunity to do something I would have never done on the outside – take the time to be with me. And I am sure that my gratitude at the opportunity was confusing to my keepers. I’m sure I seemed to be having a lot more fun than they were sure I deserved.

My fourth morning on E-mod started pretty much as the previous mornings had started: I would awaken at 3:45 a.m., consider my predicament slowly and then focus on the best of it, brush my teeth and await the deliverance of my medications. Breakfast was served shortly thereafter and Mike would descend from his perch to eat. He had no sooner climbed back to his bunk when the shrill, scratchy female voice tore through the speaker. “Cuvson: Court in 15 minutes. Let’s go.” And that seemed to be – at least from my perspective – all the notice Mike got that he was on his way to court that day.

But it wasn’t his going that was of concern, it was his return. As I shared earlier, inmates never discussed the crimes of which anyone was accused; we only discussed the process, the amount of time you had to serve, and the destination where that all would take place.

On this day, Mike returned visibly shaken and agitated and immediately went to his stash of food. He retrieved three of four crackers and began to pace in our small and sparsely furnished “apartment.” “You won’t believe this,” he began. “The DA made a mockery of the court system today and the judge didn’t say a world. Just took it?”

“What happened?” I asked, taking care to be inquisitive but again not too personal.

“They added on 21 more counts,” he said. “21 new counts were added to my charges. I’m looking at life in prison. As it is they got me for 8 years at 85% time. With that I won’t be out until I’m 60.”

“What’d your lawyer say?”

“Nothing. Sat there and took it.”

“What is he, a public defender?”


“Well I see what’s going on here. That’s the system and the DA is saying take the deal.”

“No, I get that” he said.  “It’s just a mockery of the system though… 21 new counts… c’mon!” He then retreated to his bunk and the safety of his covers.

While I had no way of knowing what he had done and why, there was a sense of sadness. I lay on the bottom bunk staring out with no particular thought in my mind whatsoever. One thing for sure, I was now on the other side and it was pretty humbling. Some people, perhaps even most people, live there lives from day to day helpless, feeling like they are not being heard. That was part of Mike’s problem: no one was listening to him. I felt bad for Mike; just hearing about it made me mad. I’d probably strangle someone if I felt like they were ignoring me. My life, up to this point, demanded that I be heard.

I was also concerned for the Constitution and individual rights. Jail makes you focus on the rules. Each successive abuse of these guys who were well entrenched in the system seemed to chip away at what America was supposed to stand for – and ultimately at the freedoms of those people who were not in here – you.

His dilemma highlighted what is perhaps the most difficult part about being in jail: dealing with the inn keepers. It is not – repeat not – the threat of the other inmates. It’s the threat of the guards and staff that– somehow feeling you are less than they are- always approach you confrontationally and with belittling disdain. A politeness, so much as a simple hello, arouses a challenge from them. I remembered being in court myself and having the judge carry on a conversation with the attorneys as if I wasn’t there, and never once looking up from his papers to look at me. I felt for Mike. I hated that feeling immediately.

An example of what I mean is best demonstrated by my interaction with the nurse phlebotomist that same day. When I was summoned later by the tower guard to see the nurse, I walked across the day room with a great deal of anticipation. I cherished the idea of a normal, decent human interaction. I had no such luck. She was equally as nasty as any of the guards. I asked how she was doing and innocently – so I thought – what tests are we running today? She ignored me at first, and continued to re-arrange the chairs in the foyer. After finishing the rearrangement, she asked that I sit down, cordially enough but without ever looking up to acknowledge my presence. When I attempted to sit, she decided that the location of the chair was in fact not optimal, and asked me to put the chair essentially back the way it was when I arrived. I was okay with it, but it seemed a bit strange.  Anyway, the object was to put my left arm in a direction that would make access easy for her to draw blood, so I didn’t press the issue. I got the impression she was mad at somebody, or perhaps just not having the best of days.

“So what test are we drawing?” I asked.

“A PT, INR,” she said.

“OK,” I said. She continued to gather her equipment for the blood draw and I continued, “By the way, I saw the doctor yesterday and he said…”

She cut me off. “Look, if you don’t want to do it, just say so.”

“What?…I’m not saying I don’t want to do it, I’m just sharing with you the nurse, what the doc…”

“Look” she interrupted again, “I don’t care what the doctor said to you; I wasn’t there. I’m going by what’s written on my sheet, you either want it or you don’t.”

To be frank, I was flabbergasted. I’d never encountered a nurse this rude to a patient. My mistake: I wasn’t a patient, I was an inmate. I was less than a patient; I was nothing. The guard witnessed the entire process but said nothing. He put a great deal of effort into ignoring us, at least me. He avoided any eye contact as I desperately sought help to understand what was really going on. “Well, I guess I don’t want it” I said. “I want to speak with the doctor.”

As I got up to leave she asked, “Well, are you going to sign a release or not?”

“A release?… Why would I need to sign a release?… No. I think I’ll just speak with the doctor.”

Now this is a woman, who, a few days earlier, was demanding to be seen as a “healthcare professional” – her words, not mine. I had witnessed her assault on another inmate. I had dismissed it as her having a bad day then, but the fact of the matter is: this was her, this is who she was. The real answer, however, was exactly what she had said before – she just didn’t care. She was just there to draw the blood. But surely a healthcare professional isn’t there just to draw the blood. A healthcare professional is also there to offer advice and guidance. So no matter how you slice it; the answer to what test are we going to draw today, is not, do you want the test or not?

In any medical office she would have been fired by now. She wasn’t and in itself, it spoke volumes about the posture of the staff at Solano County. This is the level of antagonism that you deal with on a daily basis when you are an inmate. You are in a state of constant psychological warfare. You spend approximately 22 hours a day in the cell. The temperature is kept at about 55º. The guards take the opportunity to turn the TV up so loud that any idea of concentration is gone. It’s a tactic that you see the FBI use in hostage situations and make no doubt about it, as an inmate you are in a hostage situation. I just question the rationality of this level of meanness. Nontheless, I did not sign her waiver or release and returned triumphantly to my cell.

Transfer2M to 2E (3)

Later that evening, after I had dozed off, I was awakened by the sound of keys jingling as the night shift guard was unlocking the door. “Adams,” he said, “the nurse is here to see you.”

It was the supervising nurse on the night shift, an RN with a lot of energy and confidence. “The doctor just wanted me to let you know that the INR from the blood they took earlier today was 2.9.” I thanked her and returned to bed and that would have been that except before she exited she repeated herself, “The doctor wanted to make sure you got that value.”

It was no longer an innocent comment. It was now a dagger. She obviously meant a whole lot more than she was saying. I am sure the doctor relayed to her that I mentioned to him earlier that the previously reported value of 4.3 was dangerously high and that for five days I asked the nurses what the INR was and nobody knew. The problem with not knowing is that the dose they were to give was dependent on that value: if it was greater then 3.0, I was to get 8 mg of Coumadin; if it was less then continue with the 10 mg. If you didn’t know the INR value, how on earth were you to determine the dosage?

Yet for five days the only value they had was 4.3. I was complaining of nosebleeds but still none of the medical staff – that’s including the doctor – bothered to look at it. So her remark was meant to suggest that they were. It was an “in your face” remark that she was use to directing at inmates, but the fact was, she was the boss and they had dropped the ball.

But here’s the catch. A value of 2.9 five days later, on a different sample, does not invalidate the previous result and their previous actions. The fact remains that the original 4.3 should have created red flags all over the place. The lab should have reconfirmed the value on the sample they already had, and the nurses should have held the medication and notified the doctor..

During my consultation earlier that day, Kadevari had suggested that he believed the value was spurious and should be repeated. Yet if that’s the case, he should have reevaluated the original sample, five days earlier.

What’s even more alarming is that he offered that he “didn’t trust the lab”.

My point was this: if you didn’t trust the 4.3, why would you trust the 2.9? If her making a special trip to my cell was to say this is the legitimate value, which is in actuality 33% off the previous value, who’s to say 2.9 isn’t 33% off? The only real evaluation of the validity of the INR would be to have two different people in two different labs run the test. If not, then you have to believe all the values, not just the ones you agree with.

I did not press the issue though, a discussion with her would have only been interpreted as confrontational, not a quest for answers. While I am amazed at our – people’s – level of irrationality and failure to think, I have come to believe that challenging people who harbor an anti-conceptual mentality, people who simply refuse to think, only worsens the matter. They cannot argue ideas because it becomes personal for them. It’s not about ideas, it’s about their whole belief structure and way of thinking.

Incidentally as a test, I presented that argument about the validity of the labs once again to the doctor the following day just to see if any learning had taken place on his part. I premised my presentation by saying, “I believe him to be a good doctor.” Unfortunately, he probably was not. It was not his training or expertise however that I objected to, it was his bastardization of his own convictions that bothered me. He knew the right thing to do, but buried that in an effort not to rock the boat. His response was merely to shake his head in agreement but his eyes stared off in the distance lost, like a deer in headlights, with no comprehension whatsoever of the gravity of the situation. I suspect he was dreaming of a time when he once gave a shit about his patients. His care was diminishing in quality not because of his training, but because people with no training were making decisions for him.

I then asked him about clearance to obtain a job while in jail. Dr. Kadevari informed me that I did not qualify because I had medical issues – oral NSAIDs, left foot orthotics, S/P ankle fusion – and certain medical issues prevented one from entering the program. He pointedly noted that the problem was the NSAID’s (which I’ll clarify to mean the alleve-whih by the way is an over-the-counter medication and is sold directly to inmates through Aramax). Dr. “K” went on to say, “While on the outside, doctors can suggest light duty, the prison has no such program.”

Then I said, “doesn’t it seem unfair that some inmates through no fault of their own are treated unfairly? Shouldn’t the law work equally for everybody?  Shouldn’t all the inmates be able to work off time? No one chooses to be sick. No one says, “when I grow up I want to be a doctor, I want to have a family, and, by the way, I also want to have diabetes”.

The deer returned to the headlights. He had come to a dead end because of the irrationality of his argument, and now had created a problem for both of us. Don’t misunderstand me, my morality would argue in favor of the facilities’ and the doctors’ rationalizations: Why risk the added headache of employing those who might be a safety risk? No one wants someone to crash in an environment where they can’t get help, or are surrounded by people who can’t help them. I get it.

My question however was directed to his rationalization of the rule, not the rule itself. He had opened a can of worms and I suspect I was still harboring some anger over him allowing Metzger to make a “medical” decision.

The doctor, in order to justify his argument, had brought up the rules of outside world. He had also brought into our conversation a rationale he could not justify. We have developed federal laws protecting the feeble. Thus his statement for not granting those on NSAID’s the ability to work off time is in fact violating federal law – regardless of whether it is company, or jail policy. The rules were being applied unevenly.

Here’s the ludicrousness of the entire thing: the doctor allowed a guard who was having a bad day make a medical decision. He allowed her to force him to discharge a patient – me – from the medical ward over removing my left ankle boot to shower, when in fact; the issue had been an INR of 4.3. And now two days late, he uses a policy issue – people on NSAID’s can’t work off time – to make a medical decision.

I shook my head and let it go. I returned to my cell feeling unsatisfied.

On E module there were two “unlocks”, one in the morning and the other in the evening. This would be my first opportunity to get a look at my module mates. There were twelve of us in total on “the lower tier” and we were quite a lot. Everyone acknowledged my presence as the new guy on the block, but no one approached. They nodded but no one made any advances. After about twenty minutes an older black guy, bald and with a salt and pepper beard, approached me. “Hello brother,” he said and shook my hand. He then continued his prowl around the room acknowledging the other men in the module. There was an older white man with a long white beard and tattoos everywhere in a wheelchair. He was moving through the tables and at one point seemed to get stuck. I offered assistance; he smiled and shook it off. “Thanks anyway,” he said and continued on past without a word.

Three younger white guys, all with goatees and tattoos, sat at the table with him and began playing cards.

At the table next to them was an older white guy who was at least 70 years old to the eyes, but may have been younger, just weathered from years of hard living. He looked tired.

I later learned that he would be paroled in less than two weeks. “March 6,” he said, “March 6.” He had lived a tough life, in and out of jail mostly for his inability to “think before he acted”. At least that’s how he characterized it. He sat with the older black man, Wayne, who had introduced himself first, and who now controlled the remote to the TV. Wayne spent a great amount of his “unlock” time talking to the guys in the upper tier, who were still locked down in their cells. He had himself been in and out of prison most of his life, his longest stint being 16 years. He was 52.

No one spoke about their reasons for being in jail. It is sort of the equivalent of the conversations at fancy dinner parties – where middle-aged men stand around talking about their children or their golf game. “Do not ask about me specifically,” they are all thinking. “For I do not want to admit that I am not doing as well as I should be doing. And I certainly don’t want to confront the issue that I am not doing as well as I hoped” – or worse yet, and much more depressing – “I am doing what I hoped and I am miserable still. I do not want my profession and frankly, it does not want me either. So do not ask me about it, and I will allow you the same.”

The conversations here are dominated by how much time I have left to serve, and where do I go from here. Particularly interesting is what I like to call the mentoring program. SCJC/DF   is really just a way-station, a halfway house as many of the inmates are merely waiting to be processed before being shipped out to places like Folsom or San Quentin. Those with a history of having been housed in those places spend a great deal of time counseling the younger inmates on survival techniques. It is a strange combination of perverted Christian doctrine and violence, “The Lord said turn the other cheek, but understand if someone comes at you in Quentin they’re going to be carrying a knife. Keep your hands free, try to back away and keep them in front of you. Most importantly, use your fists – use these.” There would then be a chorus of shadow boxing techniques demonstrated and then the conversation would return to scripture.

Transfer:2M to 2E (2)

As I lay there lost in my moment of introspection, I could not deny a strange sense of fear, my world was shrinking. The sounds in the module, a blaring TV and the smells of the room: the old food, the soaps, the mustiness, and the gloominess of the dull light, seemed to take on a physical presence. Everything in the room seemed to swell, taking up more and more space as I lay there. The walls crowded closer and closer in on me, taking up the space where air used to be. It was like being in the grip of a boa constrictor, which each exhalation, the space, my space, became more confining and constricted. Finally I had to hold my breath and change the focus of my mind in order to find relief.

My thoughts quickly turned to my interaction with Metzger and the doctor earlier that morning. The emotion that followed was anger. Metzger was easily dismissed. I simply classified her for what she was: an anti-conceptual mentality who had found comfort in tribalism. She was never going to get it. My problem with her was solved the moment I stepped away and no longer challenged her to do what she dreaded most in life of doing: thinking.

The doctor though was more of a dilemma. He, as a physician and scientist, had forfeited his authority in the matter to Metzger. That was scary. She couldn’t possibly have understood the ramifications of an INR of 4.3. But the doctor did know. He knew quite well the dangers involved and yet he let this layman make decisions concerning his patient. He was cowering in a corner while the guard was discharging patients from the medical ward.

No wonder medicine had and was continuing to go to hell. I know his posture confirmed my shame in being a physician – in being part of a group where men refused to stand up for what was right. And right is for the people with the knowledge to stand up and take control of their business. While I am sure that there have not been many people who have died because of doctors trying to reclaim control of medicine, I am sure countless numbers have died because doctors haven’t.

I was brought back to the present when, in the bed above me, the inhabitant began to stir. He stepped down from the upper bunk, first to the table/desk secured to the wall, then to the stool, and finally to the floor. He was easily six foot tall, grey beard, dressed in a white T-shirt, white boxers, and white tube socks. A large black man, yet oddly passive, he looked at me with a great deal more surprise than I thought possible. Had he not really heard me come into the cell? If that were true he was a lot more comfortable here than anybody ought to be, for he was indeed a heavy sleeper, “Wow”, he said, “I’ve got a new bunky”. He took a piss, flushed the toilet, and climbed back the way he had come down. After he had reached the bed and settled back under the covers he said, “My name is Mike”.

“My name is Jan,” I said clearly but not with a great deal of conviction. There was no response and the conversation continued no further. The sound of his snoring engulfed the room once again.

Time stood still and shortly thereafter-at least I felt like it was shortly thereafter though in retrospect it could have been hours- I was summoned by the watch officer, Officer Herndon, who was sitting just outside the glass wall at the desk where earlier the black female had checked me into E mod, “Adams,” he said through the intercom, “the nurse is here to see you.” Then there was that buzzer sound, that harsh grinding followed by an audible click that signaled the opening of the door. Unfortunately by the time I got from the bed to the door, it had relocked itself and I did what I was soon to learn was the unthinkable; I pushed the intercom button. There was no voice this time only the clicking of the door opening. I walked along the outer wall of the “day room” to the door across from the officer’s desk. The glass door separating us clicked open as I arrived. Officer Herndon pointed to the woman standing next to his desk; she had already prepared a place for me to sit.

Angela was her name and I had met her before because she was the phlebotomy nurse. Angela was a big girl, approximately 5’10”, 280 lbs., very pretty with long hair and just above her shirt line at her neck was the beginning – or possibly the end – of a large tattoo on her chest that looked like flames.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi,” I returned. “I’ve got to tell you I’m a bit concerned.” She looked at me apprehensively, but cocky at the same time, prepared to defend some idea that I had not yet expressed. It was a defensive posture but I found it offensive. I really didn’t think she had anything to be defensive about. But that’s the way it is, only amplified in here. Everyone is wound tight, ready to deflect or defend whatever might come at them. “I want to see the doctor if I can. I didn’t finish with him this morning, and I am a little concerned because my INR was 4.3. I had asked the nurses dispensing meds what it was for the past five days and nobody said anything, yet they continued to feed me Coumadin each night.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know about that. I’m just a worker bee and what I need to know is if you want this blood drawn.”

“You are not just a worker bee,” I said. “You’re also a healthcare professional. And as such I’d think you’d be interested in what you’re doing, not just doing it.”

“Well, I’ll be sure and get you an appointment with the doctor.” She then drew one purple top tube of blood from my left antecubital fossa. As I waited to place pressure on the withdrawal site, she cautioned me, “Don’t put your hand in my way.” I let her withdraw the needle and place a cotton ball over the site. I applied pressure as she turned to complete her work. She placed a piece of tape over the cotton.

Before returning to my cell I got an inmate request slip from Officer Herndon, and returned to 2E12 to complete it. Prior to my transfer, Officer Paretta, the classification officer, had suggested I fill one out to secure a job within the facility as I moved forward. He pointed out two advantages: one, it gets you out of the cell for a few more hours during the day, and two, it reduced your stay by one day for each day you worked. Herndon concurred and pointed out it was important to do because nothing got done without a request slip, period.

Dinner arrived a short time later with a chorus of shuffling and banging as the horizontal slit in the door was flung open and the orange plastic trays were shoved through containing an assortment of unidentifiable dishes. I retrieved both trays from the slit and placed them on the table.

Mike arose quickly, pulled on his prison pants, climbed down from his bunk, and sat on the stool. “Did you come from ‘I’ mod?” he asked.

I sat on my bunk and ate from the tray placed at the end of the table. “No,” I said. “I came from medical.” We both ate fast so as to get something down before it got cold or you recognized what it was, or wasn’t. Mike was done quickly and retreated back to the safety of his bunk and covers. I waited for the slit to open once again. Just as quickly as it had arrived, dinner was over.

The immediate difference here, amongst the general population, as compared to the medical unit was the level of noise.


The TV was on at full blast all the time, at least from 8:00 am until 11:00 pm, and immediately my thoughts turned to why? Clearly the guards had control of it and it was apparent that they were motivated to do only what they pleased at any particular time. I couldn’t help but think that I was witnessing another one of their psychological games – much like the coldness, or the obvious lengths to which they went in order to prevent you from knowing the time or the schedule, or to allow you to devise any other schedule but their schedule.

At any rate, I announced to my “bunky” my desire to use the bathroom (a common decency I had learned from Shariff), he appreciatively gave his consent. I turned out the light, created a seat cover with toilet paper, and strained through a hard, small, tar black stool. Since I had been here at Solano County my bowel movements had been few and far between. This had been a source of concern, but on this occasion a bowel movement was quite satisfying, both physically and psychologically.  After the first movement, I courtesy flushed the toilet, and then silently completed my business. I flushed once again, then turned back on the light, washed my hands, and headed to my bunk to read.

Transfer:2M to 2E, The Big House

At the urging of Officer Metzger, in what can only be termed her ultimate medical wisdom- and the absence of a backbone on the part of Dr Kalevari- I was transferred from the medical unit, room 2M3, to E-module, cell 2E12, less than an hour later. The first “2” in 2E12, meant I was on the second floor; E referred to the module or rooming group; and 12 represented the cell number.

My days had become quite routine and comfortable on the medical ward and in a sense, I resented the change. New surroundings meant new people.That meant rule changes and new dangers. I especially resented the fact that the doctor had been bullied by a guard into making a negligent medical decision.The INR is a guage of someone’s bleeding tendency and an INR of 4.3 meant my bleeding time was 4.3 times normal. A sratch or a bruise could result in life-threatening bleeding. Out in the real world, under those circumstances, any doctor would have demanded hospitalization, not transfer to a less hospitable environment.

Officer Metzger appeared at the cell door and barked, “Mr. Adams, get your roll ready; they’re waiting for you at the end of the hall.” I wasn’t sure who they were, but I complied by quickly collecting my things and making as little eye contact with Metzger as possible.

Shariff sat on his bunk taking it all in, “At least she’s calling you Mister” he observed. I smiled. I knew her new posture represented more pathology, than apology. One could make the argument that she developed remorse for her earlier outburst, but only a fool would have counted on it. Metzger saw us as animals; any display of humaneness was for her colleagues, not the inmates. It was a display that she was in control. Deep inside, she knew she wasn’t. None of the guards are, and for all their bravado and frank meanness, they all knew it. The inmates run the asylum, make no mistake about that.

Officer Bottoms waited at the end of the hall. He was to escort me to the new module from the medical unit, and he presented himself as more than fair. As we walked toward E mod, he offered condolences and apologized for Metzger. I cut him off. The attitude of the guards was incredibly “tribal” and I didn’t want his sense of fairness to be overheard, misunderstood by members of his tribe or mine, and used against him, or me, at a later date. Nor, after a number of conversations with Shariff, did I want others to see Bottoms and I as chummy. He was the guard and I was the inmate; same game, different teams.

Because of my operation, my left leg was now considerably shorter -more than half an inch- than my right. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I found, very quickly, that if I wore only my left shoe, my body was balanced and I could walk. I didn’t put on the right shoe in order to balance my gait.

We continued down the hallway in silence – me carrying my bed roll and a brown paper bag containing a few books and toiletries. After approximately 50 feet, we made a right turn, walked another 50 feet or so, and made another right down another hall into E module. Again, I couldn’t help but feel we had taken an elaborate trip merely to disorient me. E-module had to be just next to the medical unit.

In the foyer of E-module, a female guard, an attractive older Black woman sat at a desk. She got up when we entered the room. I did not get her name and we were denied the opportunity to exchange pleasantries as they both got right to it. Corrections Officer Bottoms had me place my items on the floor and face the wall across from her desk with my back to them. Bottoms removed the chains and cuffs, exchanged some pleasantries with the female officer, and disappeared.

The female officer reviewed the papers on her desk and in a monotone devoid of any emotion, feeling or humanity whatsoever said, “You’ll go to cell twelve.” She pointed toward a glass wall, which served as the fourth wall of a large room. The room was very well lit, open, with seven stainless steel round tables and four stools secured to the underside of each table. Adjacent to the wall on the left was a stairway which led to the second level, much like the stairs to rooms you see in cheap roadside motels along the interstate freeways.

At the top of the stairs were seven doors which faced the glass wall numbered one through seven, and underneath these, on the ground floor were another set of doors numbered eight through 14. Each of the doors was painted dark green, which contrasted it with the lighter green walls, and had a vertical slit window measuring 24 inches in height and 5-6 inches in width. There were no bars.

The female officer reached for the handle of the glass door, a soft buzzer chimed, and she opened the door. She also had me get one of the plastic mattresses (in actuality it was more like the gray mats you see in gym classes) in the corner of the foyer, and stood at the doorway as I walked through the door toward cell 12. She did not follow. She shut the door once I was halfway across the room.

As I made my way toward cell12, I noticed a younger inmate, dressed exactly as me sweeping the floor. I walked by, our eyes met, but neither of us acknowledged the other. He kept sweeping, and I kept walking. I paused outside of door number 12, a soft buzzer sounded and the door swung open.

I stepped into the dimly lit, small room, which measured approximately six feet by 12 feet, and was 10 feet high. This was much smaller than the room I had vacated on the medical ward. The left wall was barren – a green cinder block cement wall, except for two metal covers: one was three by five inches in its dimensions, which was the light fixture, and the other was six inches square with a black knob in the upper left hand corner, the intercom.

Directly across from the door were bunk beds stacked on top of each other. The top bunk was occupied. The inhabitant didn’t move as the door slammed shut.

As most of the inmates do constantly, he was sleeping to help pass the time. You learn quickly to relax and forget where you are. With your eyes closed and your mind lost in a wonderful dream you can be anywhere you choose.

On the right wall was a two inch thick metal table. It was fastened to the wall and was without legs. It measured one foot wide by three feet in length. A stool, embedded in the floor in front of it, served as the chair for this combination table and desk. It also was filthy. Names and initials had been scratched into it. On top of the table sat a roll of toilet paper – an important commodity in jail – empty Styrofoam cups, an untouched, full cup of “Jim Jones” juice – the name given to the imitation fruit drink by the inmates which was dispensed at the jail for lunch and dinner, a bologna sandwich and two cookies in a clear plastic sandwich bag – more cups, toiletries, a bowl with a plastic lid, and a commissary slip.

In the corner of the room, adjacent to the right wall at the front of the cell sat the combination toilet, sink, and drinking fountain in all its stainless steel glory – the throne.

I walked to the bottom bunk, laid out my bedroll and sat my brown paper bag on the floor next to the bed. I inspected the metal slab that soon would be my bed. There was dust everywhere. I wiped it clear with toilet paper, laid out my plastic mattress, retrieved my bed sheet, tied knots at each end and around the mattress to make the sheet fitted again and then spread out the top sheet and blankets. I rolled my change of clothes – T-shirt, socks, underwear- into a ball to be used as a pillow.

With that done, I removed my shoes and the sock from my right foot only. Since my operation my left foot always seemed cold. I placed both shoes in front of my bed, and settled in to consider my predicament. As of right now, I was no longer on the medical ward, I was officially in jail.

Solano County (Cont-5)

At night we could still hear him through the walls. Grunting and humming with every breath, talking with an imaginary friend, explosive bouts of gas, and then silence as the sequence repeated itself.

Gerald was replaced by a chubby white guy about 5’10”, 210 lbs. His right arm was in a sling from rotator cuff surgery, and he believed he was only going to be in jail a few days before being transferred. He didn’t really talk much and although we were all cordial, he was given his space. That’s sort of an unwritten law too. Guys in jail give you room if it looks like you need it. A lot of these guys have severe emotional problems, and much like the rules of the jungle, you give a predator a wide berth, plenty of room to roam around.

A few days later, right after we had been given our morning medications, Officer Bottoms came to our cell to let me know the doctor wanted to see me. Like most things that happen in jail, there was no warning and no schedule. What was to happen that day was out of your hands, and you were only informed of it when it occurred. I had spoken with the doctor before about my medications and hoped to share some of my concerns with him. I was taken to the common room where Dr. Kadevari was standing over a portable desk on wheels, writing in a chart. Dr. Kadevari was an internal medicine doctor of eastern Indian descent. I found him pleasant and knowledgeable. He asked me to take a seat while he finished his thought on a previous patient.

After a few minutes, he smiled. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing fine,” I said, “but I’d really like to get out of this brace and start rehabbing. The nurse entered the room and whispered in the doctor’s ear.

They had a short conversation in private, and then he turned to me. “We need to discuss your Coumadin,” he said.

“I know,” I offered. “If I can get out of this boot and start ambulating, I’d like to reduce it. I think you’re right; the INR should be less than three. There’s certainly going to be some question when I first start to walk on it. I don’t want to bleed into the joint.”

“Well,” he said, pretty much ignoring me. “That’s what we need to talk about. Your INR is too high, it’s 4.3.”

I had been complaining to him that I was getting blood on the tissue when I blew my nose. Because I had developed a blood clot in my leg while on Coumadin, my personal physician had opted to keep the therapeutic value of my INR at 3.0 to 3.5. In Kadevari’s mind that was already frightenly high because of the risk of spontaneous bleeding-a worry, I might add that was always with me too. Kadevari had already lowered my dose and we had been waiting for the result. In fact I had been asking the medication nurse what the value was for the past five days, but no one seemed to know. A value of 4.3 would certainly explain the nosebleeds.  “I’m not sure that’s accurate. So we are going to repeat it stat”.

“OK,” I said. “But let’s face it. Its 5-6 days later. The half life of Coumadin is only about 3 days. We should have repeated it when the value came back high, and abnormal.”

He scribbled in the chart, again ignoring my concerns. “What about the brace?” he asked.

I recognized that this was an attempt to change the subject. I was now pissed-off because I had been asking people every time they gave me a dose of Coumadin, what was the last value? They had ignored me for a week. Basically, no one had cared to check it. Hell, I was in jail and no one cared about me. Worst yet, the doctor now had egg on his face, because let’s face it: I’m a doctor too. To have a patient running around with an INR of 4.3 is criminal on his part, and he knew it and so did his nurse. That’s what she was whispering about. Kadevari though had worked at Solano County for a while and had become adept at putting people off. He asked again about my brace.

“I brought two braces with me that don’t have any metal in them,” I said, “but one laces up and I’m not sure that’s appropriate because of the strings. Bottoms here”, I pointed to the guard, “would be able to help us out with that.”

I turn to the guard who had brought me down the hall to the doctor, and he shakes his head from side to side “No, that won’t work. The shoe strings violate regulations.”

“I have another one,” I said. “It’s completely Velcro. It should be ok. But that’s not the complete issue. With the ankle fusion, my left leg is shorter and I need to wear shoes rather than slippers, so I need to get that cleared. If I don’t wear the orthotics my hips and spine will rotate and I don’t want back problems. I can make the call during my “unlock” and get all that here tomorrow.”

“Well, we might want you to see our podiatrist,” Kadevari said.

“Why?” I countered. “It’s all done. The orthotics was made special; they’re ready to go.”

“We just want to make sure there is not a conflict of interest,” the doctor said.

“Conflict of interest… What does that mean?” I asked.

From behind me, Officer Metzger who had now entered the room chimed in. She was obviously annoyed and disturbed though none of us knew why. “Is he done,” she said directly to Kadevari, “We’ve got more people to see.”

Dr. Kadevari was startled. He looked at me, then back at Officer Metzger. He was as confused as me about her outburst. She was red-faced and breathing hard, panting pretty much like an angry dog. “What?” he asked.

“Is he cleared to be out of the boot? He was out of it yesterday. Is he cleared to be out of the boot? If he is, we can get him out of here.”

There was that huge lesson in her statement that I had mentioned with Spencer’s case: someone is always watching. And the reason that they are watching is never about something beneficial for you, the inmate. It’s always to exact some pound of flesh: a chance for some guard to intimidate you; or an opportunity to invoke some rule (generally only in the mind of the guard) that strips you of some privilege.

The boot is a post-operative shoe that is secured with Velcro. I had taken it off to shower the day before, as I had done every day since my arrival) and in order to put it back on I had limped down the hall to a chair in the common room. That was why she was suggesting that I had been out of the boot-though her suggestion was somehow much more sinister. “That’s fine,” I said, “but it’s just not about the boot. It’s about the orthotics and the Coumadin.”

Kadevari says, “Yes, we can get him out of the boot.”

Metzger says to me, “Let’s go; you’re out of here.”

Now even Officer Bottoms is a bit confused as to Metzger’s behavior. He’s looking at me for some kind of indication as to what is going on. I’m his responsibility not hers. He’s the one who has escorted me from my cage. Unfortunately I have no way to help him. I don’t know what’s wrong with this obviously crazy woman. I stand and turn to Metzger and say, “What’s going on with you today? Where is all this anger coming from?”

She starts toward me and screams, “Sit down!”

“You just said let’s go. Which is it?” I said. “You want me to sit or to go. What I do know is that I’ve shown you nothing but respect and frankly I don’t know who you are mad at, but I’ve done nothing but treat you with respect.” I then turn to Kadevari. “Why can’t I just have the doctor send it in with his orders, it’s all done.”

Metzger then screams at the top of her lungs, “Because you are in jail, and I’m in charge.”

“I know that” I said. “Even Ray Charles could see that… But I was sentenced to 120 days, not death, and I’m not going to let you guys kill me. My INR was 4.3 and nobody did a thing. It’s a wonder I’m not bleeding from some orifice right now. You guys didn’t even know the value and I asked every day.”

I turned to Kadevari. “Wait a minute”, I said, “Are you saying to me that the conflict of interest means that you are challenging the integrity of another doctor? Why would he do that? He fit me for orthotics to balance my hips. You ought to be ashamed of yourself to suggest that he would do something improper though I can’t imagine what that would be. That’s just crazy.”

Metzger then shouts from behind me. “Let’s go. We are getting him out of here. There are other people who need to see the doctor.”

When I got back to the room, Shariff asked what all the screaming was about. I told him I honestly didn’t know. Metzger had lost it but I don’t know why it was directed at me. I haven’t done anything to her and up to that point hadn’t had any problem with her.

I do know the doctor let her make a medical decision. I do know that the INR I’d been asking them about all week was sky high and nobody did anything about it. They kept giving me Coumadin and now the doctor just got bullied by Metzger into a transfer, which takes me to my second lesson: the state of California is having trouble with the Feds about the condition of inmate medical treatment not because of money; it’s because the guards are making medical decisions not the doctors and nurses.

About one hour later, I met with the transfer specialist, Officer Paretta (sic). He asked if I had any problems going to any particular floor. I told him no.

Solano County (Cont-4)

Over breakfast our new celly apologized for his evening. He apparently already knew it was going to be like that, but was powerless to do anything about it. He assured us though that he would sleep through the day. I however was comfortable with my routine and was not interested in having my sleep pattern interrupted. Besides, my fears were of a more medical nature. This guy was in very bad shape. He was worse than Castro. I couldn’t help it, I bit, and asked him, “What exactly is the problem; you’re very ‘air hungry’ and frankly I’m scared for you.”

Shariff concurred, though his fear was more practical. He knew how the system worked. The thought of this man dying in our cell, and the horror of two inmates having to explain how and why, was more than he was willing to swallow.

“I have asbestosis” the older man told me. “You know what that means?” I nodded yes. He continued, “I worked on the docks, cleaning aircraft carriers for the Navy for 30 years. I knew I had asthma, but about a year ago they told me I had asbestosis too.”

“Wow,” I thought. “It’s no wonder his breathing is so labored. Not only does he have obstructive disease and can’t get air down into his lungs; he has interstitial disease and can’t get the oxygen into his bloodstream once it’s there. This is worse than I thought.”

He was a talker too and took this opportunity to tell us his life story: His name was Gerald, and Gerald was an old country boy from Texas. He was 62 years old and his plan at this point was to start a limousine company in San Francisco. He’d start with three cars and have all women drivers. Gerald fashioned himself a ladies’ man and indicated that he would “get some of his ladies to drive for him”. His goal was to buy a small house on 12 acres, east of the city. “When I caught this case,” he said, “I was selling barbecue at the carwash. This ol’ boy walks up on me and offers me some crack for a slab, so I take him up on it. And don’t you know the poooh-leeece are right across the street watching us.”

Shariff looked at me and winked. He didn’t say a word, just let Gerald continue talking. Shariff reads people very well and it was obvious he found Gerald amusing. I, on the other hand, just didn’t like him. He seemed so shiftless and dishonest. The trouble around him was palpable and for the first time since my arrival at Solano County, I felt like I was really in jail.

Gerald fit the mold classically of what you expected to find in a criminal. He was devoid of any rationality. Oh, he had his code, his philosophy, but it was a junk heap, a conflict of ideas and slogans that absolutely made no sense. And, the fact of the matter- if indeed I was honest with myself- was that I found him embarrassing. I hated seeing what I saw in him in a Black man. I was ashamed of him, and for him. He signified what I believed the un-empowered Black men of slavery must have been like. He was philosophically bankrupt and I was sure he had never heard of Kant, or Hegel, or William James.

Every interaction that he had with the nurses was an opportunity to call one of them a bitch or a whore. He cursed constantly in their presence for no reason whatsoever, and quoted scripture to Shariff and me in their absence. “I believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ,” he would say. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lord, Jesus Christ, believed in him?

Ultimately though, it was neither me nor Shariff, who could tolerate him no longer; it was the guards. Gilligan arrived one afternoon two or three days later and simply moved him further down the hall. “You’re keeping everyone awake,” was his explanation. I guess Gerald’s constant coughing, moaning, and groaning was too much for them too. They simply moved him further away from the guard tower so they didn’t have to listen to him. In one regard, Shariff missed Gerald when he was gone, and frankly, so did I.  He had served as entertainment and a void was left with his departure. Perhaps, in here, even the opportunity to complain about a colleague, no matter how difficult it is to live with him, is a welcome change to the monotony that is everyday.

The funny thing is that by the time he was ready to go, we had found him tolerable. He had even suggested that upon release, we stop by the carwash for barbecue.

Shariff found that hilarious. “As if that would ever happen” he said. It turns out that one of the conditions of parole was that you did not “hang” with known criminals. Shariff was more than sure he would never see Gerald again; he was resolved never to commit a parole violation, because he wasn’t coming back here.

Solano County (Cont-3)

To my delight Shariff was returned that afternoon. It turned out that the surgery had not been as extensive as the doctor had first thought. He was, however, placed in a splint that extended from the mid-upper arm to his wrist, and it was that cast that served as his ticket back to the medical ward.

I was delighted because just as quickly as Spencer was gone, Shariff had returned. Breaking in new cellmates was a pain because you never knew what you were going to get, and let’s face it; most of these guys were crazy and a whole lot scary.

Shariff and I spent the next three days alone and he educated me as to the intricacies of jail life: your cellmate wasn’t your cellmate; he was your “bunky” or “celly”. The air vent wasn’t an air vent, it was the wire. At night the inmates would use the ducts as a two-way radio to converse with other inmates in remote parts of the same module. The clarity was astounding, and I found it funny to hear other people’s conversations. They were mostly about exchanging goods in a barter system to secure the things you needed: soap, combs, and toothpaste. Occasionally you would hear a beef about one of the guards and their insensitivity to the stress of prison life.

I loved Shariff’s stories about life on the floors, and the humor that came with them. They probably weren’t intended that way, to be funny, but the irony in them was hilarious. Perhaps that was just his take on them. He always stressed that it was dangerous down there in the modules, but his logic behind stressing that and always remaining conscious of it was flawless. His thinking always was two to three moves down-board. Take for instance the guards: “The one thing you don’t want”, he would say, “is for one of the guards to be nice to you. If the guard was nice that meant you were giving him information about the other inmates, and that would get you killed.” So Shariff’s posture was not to talk with any of them. I learned quickly to say as little to any of them as I could, no conversation, only what was absolutely necessary.

That evening I received a letter from my mother. The stamp had been torn away from the envelope. “What’d they do that for?” I asked.

“Do what?” Shariff returned.

“Take the stamp.”

“Oh, because some guys will take the stamp, wash the ink marks off, and reuse it by sticking it on an envelope with toothpaste.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s pretty amazing.”

“That’s nothing,” Shariff said. “Have you noticed the paper never has no(sic) ads in it? We get the front section and the sports section, but no Sunday advertisements. There are guys downstairs who will take the ink from the newspaper and use it to make tattoos. If you noticed, there are no electrical sockets in these rooms either. They are all covered up. You give one of those guys a socket and a paper clip and he’ll make a cigarette lighter. It’s amazing.”

I shook my head in agreement. I said nothing, but my mind was imagining the things some of these people could accomplish if they applied themselves. “What a waste?” I thought.

Tuesday night was laundry night. That is a simple declaration but it encompasses a great deal of the psychological warfare that the system, rightly or wrongly, imposes on the inmates. One could argue that the State is under no obligation to provide clean bedding and clothing to inmates; they are after all convicted criminals. One could also argue that the threat of disease creeping over the walls to the surrounding communities is more than the State could bear, and cleanliness within the institution is a small price to pay. Regardless of your take on it though, no one can deny that it is a bit absurd for the process to take place at 0100. That’s right, one in the morning. Why? There is no reason for it except to further punish inmates. No one is going anywhere. Your days are filled with nothing. So why does changing your bed linen have to take place two to three hours after lights out? Why does it have to take place at 0100?

Here’s how it works: The module workers are in charge of exchanging the linen. They roll in a long cart – actually two – with prison garb, underwear, sheets, and towels. You exchange one for one. Two tee-shirts get you two tee-shirts; a pair of socks gets you a pair of socks. And being slow gets you a whole lot of nastiness from the guard. You strip your bed of its dirty linens, and remake it with the clean. That is, of course, after you have been awakened to get out of bed in the first place.

The guard then comes in and strips the newly made bed, searching the cell to make certain you don’t have any extra clothes, linens, or other “contraband”, and, more importantly to make certain you understand you are not in control. In a flash it’s over, but the feeling of having been raped lingers on, and you are now left to lie awake until breakfast arrives. Getting back to sleep is not an option.

Wednesday is canteen day, and it’s more comical than even laundry day. A few years ago I volunteered at the West L.A. Animal Shelter. When a person walked through the corridors, the dogs would run to the door of their cages, barking and frolicking “pick me, pick me”. The rise in the noise level due to the barking was amazing, and deafening. This experience was exactly the same: the inmates crowed at their cell doors barking and frolicking yelling “pick me, pick me”.

The canteen service is run by the Aramark, Inc. They provide, for a fee of course, the necessities of everyday life; things like toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and assorted snacks. This service is a big part of prison life, and for the more discriminating tastes-that is those who simply cannot tolerate the prison food- the items that Aramark supplies serve as a source of nourishment and survival. From the start you know something’s not quite right. There is this “air” of arrogance that permeates the transaction. They are there, as a vendor, to take your money, but clearly there is no effort on the part of the Aramark employees to burden themselves with the notion of customer satisfaction. You’re part of a “captive audience”.  They compete with no one for the privilege of your business, and because of that, you, as a prisoner, have absolutely no rights to question what you are getting for your money. Take it or leave it; it is of no concern to the person completing the sale. For they will be leaving the facility following the transaction, you are the one stuck behind the bars. And make no mistake that that is the message, for a guard accompanies them on their rounds to enforce that idea. Needless to say, the notion of customer service is nonexistent.

The process actually begins on Sunday night when a guard slides a computer form under your cell door. The form is exactly one of those answer sheets you get when you take standardized tests. At the top of a column are six boxes to be filled in with handwritten numbers delineating your choice of items? You write in the number at the top of a column that corresponds to the article you would like to purchase; then you blacken the corresponding circle underneath which corresponds to the number you wrote. (A menu is past around from cell to cell with the list of available items and their corresponding item number.) This is to authenticate your order.

Comically, however, it doesn’t matter. The orders are never correct. The Aramark employee that delivers the goods takes no responsibility for it if your order is wrong. I say that because if they are wrong filling your order, the little old man – who has been doing this for 28 years – takes no blame for it. “The inmates packed it” (take it or leave it). And, he really does mean leave it; one discrepancy in your order means it all goes back. If you refuse the Snickers bar that you did not order, your deodorant, soap, and everything else goes back with it. “Take it or leave it” (all).

I ordered one deodorant roll-on at $2.25 with $0.17 tax; one lotion skin care at $1.25 with $0.09 tax; one toothbrush at $1.05 with $0.08 tax, one toothpaste, Colgate, at $2.20 with $0.16 tax; one container of 100 vitamins at $6.42 with $0.47 tax; one soap, Dove, at $2.29 with $0.17 tax; one legal tablet 8-1/2 x 14 at $1.60 with $0.12 tax; and one washcloth at $0.60 with $0.04 tax. The subtotal was $17.66 with a sales tax of $1.30 for a total of $18.96. Receipt of the items required my signature. If any item in that set was wrong, the entire package had to go back, and once you took an item into your cell, you bought it.

Most of the inmates bought chips, cookies, candy bars, dehydrated soups, and coffee. As I really didn’t use any of those items, I didn’t see the need for them. That was my first mistake. I consider those items unhealthy and frivolous, but the fact is, in here, they are currency and are used to buy favors, or whatever else one might need.

After our stashes had been secured, Shariff and I could hear Gilligan and his keys approaching our door, but there were also the sound chains clinking, which also signaled the arrival of a new bunky. The fact is with the monotony that quickly settles in, and because of the shear dangerousness of the place, you become hyper-vigilant as to changes in routine, and noises and voices.  When the door swung open, there stood, in all his glory, a well manicured black man in his sixties, probably athletic in his youth, but now sporting a large gut. His hair was noticeable because it was short on the top and sides, and long in the back. He was breathing with a good deal of effort and actually grunted or hummed with every inspiration and expiration. Gilligan removed his chains at the doorway and as he stepped into the cell, he placed his bedroll on the cot vacated by Castro and plopped down with a thud. “Whew,” he said loudly to no one in particular.

Shariff and I didn’t say a word. We just watched him breathe, occasionally taking the opportunity to make eye contact with each other, really saying in silence, “What do we have here now?”

Our new celly continued to grunt and hum with every breath; it seemed too much work and I was convinced he couldn’t keep this up for long. However, the longer he sat there, the louder they got. Oddly enough there is not a lot of dialogue amongst inmates. A great deal of your time is spent in silence lost in your own head. “Whew,” he said again to break the silence, but neither of us bit. We just continued to watch him in silence. “Man,” he said again to no one in particular, “How you guys doing?”

Shariff said, “Fine”.

I continued to watch him struggle to breathe. “This guy’s not going to make it,” I thought. “Either he dies from lack of air or we kill him for keeping us awake with his grunting and humming.”

That display – I soon learned – was nothing. After sharing the niceties of an awkward hello, we all settled in to the solitude of our own bunks, with our new “celly” sitting at the side of his bed deep in thought.  I guess he dozed off, because he began talking to himself. “Take it baby, that’s right,” followed by more grunting and humming and gasping for air. His conversation with himself was both crazy and disturbing. Shariff and I again made eye contact but said nothing. We both knew what the other was thinking: “tonight is going to be a nightmare”.

His torso rolled backward and then his head snapped forward, he was awake again. He tried to lie down but after a few minutes, he was just too air hungry and miserable to tolerate it. He got up from the bed and paced for a few minutes, and then went back to the side of the bed and sat. This went on for the remainder of the night: trips to the toilet followed by explosions of gas, intermittent bouts of dozing off followed by unintelligible conversation with some imaginary guest, paroxysms of swearing, followed by grunting and humming, and then the entire process would start again: a trip to the toilet, explosive bouts of gas, dozing with talking in his sleep, grunting and humming with each breath, swearing at some imaginary companion, a failed attempt to lie down, gasping for air, and then snoring some more. By the time breakfast arrived, I was exhausted. Even the guard looked tired when the mod workers delivered the food.

Solano County (Cont-2)

Jails are local phenomena. I was visiting. The majority of the people were either from Vallejo or Fairfield, California, and either knew or knew of each other. Spencer and a woman on the other side of the wall knew the same people. That was a windfall for him. The connection helped to settle him down.

In one of his first trans-wall conversations, he apologized to the women for a major faux pas. Apparently on one of our trips from the day room, he had looked through their window. The young pregnant woman had immediately told on him, and he had been reprimanded by the guards.

As his energy level increased, so did Spencer’s activity level and one day – out of the blue- he performed a “split” – or rather “the splits” – in the middle of the cell. I was amazed at the flexibility of this huge man, and he showed that he could also do back flips and all kinds of somersaults.

“Were you some kind of cheerleader?” I asked.

He giggled and said, “No,” but went on to explain that it all began in childhood: flipping off the house and such, and that he had continued to do it all the time, almost daily, and so it stuck with him. He giggled again at the notion of being a cheerleader. The take home message though was clear: continue to use and practice a particular skill and it will stay with you forever. It was amazing to see this huge man so flexible and light on his feet-no pun intended. He was also not gay. I had been way too quick to judge.

That evening, the door opened, after the familiar sound of chains rattling and keys tinkling, and in walked an elderly man, a Mexican-American, shuffling slowly, looking disheveled and completely out of it. There were two vacant cots in the room, and although both Spencer and I had secretly hoped that they would remain uninhabited, that we would have the space to ourselves, it was just too good to be true.

I stared as he walked across the room. Oblivious to our presence, he just stared for a few moments at what I thought was the toilet but later proved just to be staring. He was disoriented and lost. Something wasn’t right with him, something in his head and his thinking. It was as if he was unsure of who he was, where he was, and what he should do next.

The fact of the matter was simply this: Castro, at 65, was a mess. He stood about 5’5” and weighed 130 lbs. His skin was weathered, his hair bald on the top with long bushy sides that made him look like a homeless Bozo-the-Clown. I told him so but he had no idea of exactly who or what Bozo was. I was impressed with his English because to be honest with you, it was something I didn’t expect. I expected that he was a first generation laborer without a grasp of the language or the culture. I was completely wrong.

Mr. Castro also wasn’t Mexican-American. He was a Puerto Rican American and had grown up on the East Coast. He had moved to California with his wife more than 40 years ago and worked as a gardener. Castro had been arrested for growing marijuana on two vacant lots in Vallejo, CA. At the time of his processing at the county jail, Castro was discovered to have high blood pressure (and apparently EKG changes suggesting a myocardial infarction, a heart attack). He had been admitted to the local hospital and had under gone a coronary artery bypass grafting of two blood vessels in his heart. It was now only six days later (according to him) and he had already been transferred back to SCJC/DT.

He made no eye contact with Spencer and me that first night, and also made no effort to make his bed. He allowed his bedding to lie where he had dropped it on the cot nearest the door and merely crawled onto the mattress.

Castro was worse off than both he and the staff knew. Upon lying flat, he began a paroxysm of coughing that he could not control and it made Spencer and me uncomfortable, (me more so because I knew the danger and the possible complications of what he had just been through). He began a ritual of lying flat and then sitting up abruptly to produce a slimy productive cough suggesting that his lungs were full of fluid, only to lie down again and repeat the cycle. After a while even Officer Gilligan could take it no longer. He arrived at our door with a nurse. She offered that the doctor had ordered oxygen for him, and I suggested she get him another mattress so we could elevate the head of his bed approximately 30º to help him breathe better. She ignored me – quite frankly as I expected – but once they had left Spencer and I took the mattress from the adjacent vacant cot and rolled it up under him at the head of his cot. That night none of us slept well, but we did get through it.

Castro was lost in his own world, oblivious to the rest of us, and over the next two days became more and more quiet, and more and more self-absorbed. He hardly ate and remained in the cell during our “unlock”, which to my dismay also meant he wasn’t showering. When he did talk, it was to complain about his experience at the hospital. The food had been horrible and the people had been less than accommodating. By day two, he had stopped even talking about that.

Castro was a bullshitter too, and comically, it served to haunt him. Things in Solano County happen as a result of routine, not thought-at least no rational thought from my vantage point. Castro, whom I learned was no novice to the system, had heard that if you were diabetic the staff was obliged to bring you a snack at night. And so, he had hinted to the nurse during processing that diabetes was one of his medical problems. He was getting his extra meal, but he was also receiving finger sticks four times a day to test his blood sugar. The problem was that he hated the sticks because they hurt, and worse yet, his sugars were running normal: 87, 121, and 107. But for those instances in which his sugar was greater than 100, he was getting additional needle sticks and 1-2 units of insulin. The problem was he had no history of diabetes-at least that is what he laughed about as he ate his snack each evening. I worried that if he didn’t tell them the truth, one day his sugar was going to be high and they were going to kill him with an overdose of insulin. I suggested that, but it didn’t seem to bother him. In a sense, he had resolved to die, and even admitted that death is what he wanted. I asked him about his family, hoping to stimulate a sense of wanting to go on, but he really didn’t bite. He continued complaining of the sticks and continued to get 1-2 insulin shots a day.

Then, on one occasion, his sugar came back 349, and he began to panic. I offered him a book to read in order to calm him down but he refused it admitting that he had only gone to the 8th grade, and didn’t like to read. On that night, the guard, Officer Gilligan, appeared at the cell window, his keys jingling, all the way. The door opened, Gilligan announced that Castro was going to Class B – whatever that was – and moments later he and his bed roll were gone.

Spencer and I supposed his transfer had been the result of his admission that he wanted to die. That had become the focus of a lot of his dialogue. He simply was tired and was prepared to quit. That is something not to take lightly for I imagine we will all get there some day. I do know that a statement like that was the biggest red flag for the jail staff. No one wanted a dead inmate on their watch. We almost expected to hear Castro later, beating at the door of the padded cell, but it never happened. Perhaps Class B was not the suicide watch, but a transfer to the hospital. We never found out what happened to him. He was simply gone.

No sooner had Castro left, than Shariff appeared. He had been stabbed in an altercation about 6 months earlier. He had lost a lot of feeling in his left arm, and was now getting prepped to go to U.C. Davis for radial nerve repair.

In actuality, Shariff was looking forward to it. I must admit Shariff had a much healthier take on life than any of the rest of us. From his perspective, it provided him with three to four days out of the jail, better food, a more comfortable bed, and his own television. Shariff was no stranger to the penal system either. He had a matter-of-factness about him that made me like him immediately.

Gregg “Shariff” Brannon was originally from Philadelphia. He was married with three sons 18, 14 and 11 and a wife who lived in Sacramento. They had been together since they were 18, and at 38 he was looking to turn his life around.

The process of change had begun by him convincing his wife to move their family out of Vallejo. He didn’t want his sons in the environment he had come to know and I applauded his decision to seek a new beginning. He was in the process of getting his parole/probation transferred to the Sacramento area. However, due to overcrowding, he had been unable to do that and was now living alone in Vallejo because of it, working during the day, and seeing his family on the weekends.

Shariff was in jail now on a parole violation and had resolved that his next trip would be to San Quentin for a hearing. A hearing is the systems wave at due process, though I don’t know why they call it a hearing if no one listens. Shariff just accepted it as a signal the process was moving forward. The operation, though talked about but never addressed in the past, had come up all of a sudden and so he was taking advantage of it. He didn’t sleep much that night and precisely at 0400 he was awake, getting dressed to go. I know because with three strangers sleeping in a room, all potentially dangerous, you learn to sleep light and you respond to every noise. At 0415 the door opened, breakfast was served, and Shariff, without eating his, left with the guard for the hospital. We wished him luck with a nod of our heads and after a nod back, he was gone.

As I mentioned earlier, Spencer was wearing his body cast a lot less lately and one thing you quickly learned from what happened next is that someone is always watching you, always. The guard, nonchalantly, informed him that he would be seeing the doctor that day. The doctor noted that the guards had seen him out of his cast and he had called his private physician who thought he really didn’t need it anyway; four weeks had been more than enough time for the vertebrae to heal. In most circumstances that would have been good news, but for Spencer it meant transfer to the floor.

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