It’s the last set of alternative facts, Part Six of Six of “X”, a short story. It’s the tail end of the tale, so if you’re peeking into the diaries for the first time or haven’t been here in a while, you can start reading from the beginning here, or jump back to where you left off: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, or last week’s Part Five.
“Look, do you wanna like, talk to like, a captain? Would that make you feel better? You know, maybe he can send you to mental health or…” Stamper asked, pretending like her torment wasn’t real. He knew it was; he manufactured it.
“I don’t need mental health. I need clean food.”
“You get clean food.”
“No, I don’t. GET THE FUCKING CAPTAIN!” Larkin shrieked.
“OK. Right. You got it,” he assured her and waved the captain down to the housing tier. Ralston looked annoyed but made extended strides to reach Stamper quickly.
“What’s the problem, Stamp?”
“Captain, Ms. Larkin here wants to speak to you. She claims were poisoning her food.”
“I didn’t say you were poisoning me. I said you were spitting in my food or fucking with it,” she replied to Stamper while looking directly at his supervisor.
“Either way, Captain,” he broke in, matter of factly, “She won’t eat.”
“What’s the story Larkin? Why won’t you eat?”
“Because they’re doing something to my food,” she explained, pulling her loose curls into a twisted bun unaided by the sock scrunchie.
“You saw this?” Ralston queried.
“No, but all my trays are marked.”
Ralston turned to Stamper and asked: “Marked?”
“Some come from the kitchen with an “X” and sometimes she gets one.”
“You fucking liar! You told me they were marked because they were mine!”
“Larkin, calm down!” Ralston raised his voice. “Did you see anyone tamper with your meals?”
“No. …Well, I saw… someone saw him eat part of mine and then throw it out. Look at your cameras!”
“This true, Stamp?” Dave nodded.
“And he gave you the food from the garbage?”
“No,” Stamper interrupted. “In a completely foggy brain I threw out a meal and then replaced it as soon as my mistake was brought to my attention by a fellow officer. That will be clear on the cameras.”
Ralston queried. “When was this?” to Stamper. “Did he bring you an extra, another meal?” to Larkin.
“Yes but what?”
“I know he’s messing with my food. He did this to me!” she screamed and pointed to the back of her hand, elongated grape blisters still registering topography on her hand.
“Captain,” Stamper said softy and subtly put his chin in one hand and tapped his forehead with a forefinger. Ralston watched, waited and asked the door, refusing to look in the inmate’s eyes:
“Ms. Larkin, are you on any type of medication?” Ralston asked.
“Would you like to speak with someone about getting some?”
“No, I would like to speak with someone about getting this asshole away from my food. Actually…no…I want to speak with someone who can get me out of the SHU.” She leaned toward the door and, looking at no one, said: “I know things,” an implicit promise of more information, an empty one since Ralston already doubted her credibility because she wasn’t giving him enough to bust Caples and wasn’t closing the case for him either by denying a sexual relationship. Ralston now doubled-down on that doubt after witnessing Larkin’s erratic behavior.
“Well, Larkin, that’s me and that’s not happening. You and me, we already discussed why.” She had already turned to the sink to get another cup of water. She’s smart, Stamper admitted to himself. Keeping hydrated without the food.
“Well then, fuck you too,” she exhaled after sucking down another eight ounces of the only thing besides oxygen that was sustaining her life. Ralston rolled his eyes and walked away.
The next day, after the same Why the X? routine happened again over a tray containing two sealed bags of cornflakes and an apple, Stamper returned to his desk and looked up the maintenance officers’ extension number.
“Maintenance. Buon- rmmph – figlio.”
Why can’t this fucker ever swallow his snack before he answers? Always eating on the phone, Stamper mused. “Bonny, my boy, what’s up?”
“Who is this?”
“How’s the wife?” Stamper tried to warm him.
“She died a year ago.”
“Oh. Sorry. Well. Listen, I’m over here at the SHU and we got a real wild one in Room One. She blocked up her drain and sat on the pressure faucet button to flood her cell and the whole housing floor.”
“I didn’t hear anything about that.”
“Well, we cleaned it up because we know how busy you guys are.”
“Oh,” Buonfiglio said, semi-surprised since staff summarily shunted even minor malfunctions to his office.
“Yeah, so… can you send someone to turn off her water?”
“Turn off the water to her cell?’
“Yeah, so the cock-sucking bitch can’t do it again.”
“But she needs water. Even the cocksucker bitch needs to take a shit.”
“Oh, the toilet, the toilet stays. I would never do that to her. Just the sink.”
“Doesn’t she need to wash her hands after she pisses?” Buonfiglio asked.
“Yeah, and I can let her do that if you really want me to page you to wet-vac the basement floor of the SHU when she does it again. I mean it’s up to you. I’m leaving early today so…”
“Oh, alright. Culpepper’s free right now, ain’t ya?” he called away from the phone. “Just finished his ham and egg on a bagel. He’ll be there as soon as he can unplug his George Foreman grill.”
Culpepper arrived, the outside of his fingers still glossy from grease from his breakfast sandwich. Apparently maintenance doesn’t need running water to wash their hands either, Stamper guessed to himself silently as he intercepted the handyman in the SHU’s lobby.
“Just Room One?” Culpepper asked.
“Just Room One.”
With that, Culpepper walked into what was essentially a passageway, a special door leading to the SHU’s electrical and plumbing guts. Culpepper emerged seconds later.
“Thanks dude. Owe you one.” Stamper held up his fist in solidarity and Culpepper contorted his face in confusion and left Dave Stamper to wait for the next meal delivery.
“Larkin, Lunch. Chicken pattie.” The satiny finish of the Styrofoam depressed where a lame yellow highlighter had been pressed hard as it crossed one diagonal on the tray lid and then another.
“Where’s my water?” Alana Larkin asked, one toe pointed and one arm akimbo.
“What water? Milk for breakfast and lunch and juice for dinner. You know that.”
“Fuunnny!” she yelled and pounded several times in the pressure faucet button. Metallic reverberations sounded through pipes but not a drop fell into the porcelain shell of the sink.
“Did you try the other one?”
“The other sink? Even funnier.”
“No, the other button, you fucking wise ass. You’re only pressing cold. Press hot.”
BOOM. One hand descended with a thousand pounds of pressure on the engraved H in a circle on the faucet but produced no water.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Larkin.”
“I’ll die without water. Is that your plan?”
“Now I’m trying to kill you? Larkin, for real, you need help. You’re fucking paranoid.”
“I’m not paranoid. You fuck with my food, probably poisoned it but I outsmarted you and never ate it and that made you mad. Now I have no water. What does that look like to you?”
“It looks like a psycho who forgets that she’s in jail where shit breaks all the time. You didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, you know. I’ll put in a work order.”
Larkin began to cry, not surprise’s sobs, the ones she hiccupped on her way into the SHU, but a dog whistle of tears, her despair so deep it was silent yet changed the energy of the room.
“Look, I’m calling mental health to get you a consult,” he told her in false assurance and compassion but she was crying too hard to hear him. He knew she knew this so he continued: “Actually, you tell me when you want to talk to someone. You’re having a hard time right now so I’ll wait for you to tell me,” speaking directly into the crack of the doorjamb, so close he could have been kissing it.
“X” marked the three daily meals for the ensuing five days; Stamper was so committed to his plan of torture that he agreed to work overtime just to make sure than no one else inadvertently fed Alana Larkin. He knew she caught a few gulps during her thrice-weekly showers but she would still scream that she had no water, no food. Guards on other shifts disregarded her as the head-case she was becoming.
After working nine days straight in the SHU, the novelty remained intact but Stamper was just tiring out. Once he forgot to write the “X” on the tray so he just ended up scratching it in with his thumbnail. Thinking as quickly as he could for an explanation for the inkless “X,” he appeared at her door and noticed one leg stretched out behind her and one knee bent up close to the bowl of her toilet; her head seemed to hang into it, lifeless. At first, Stamper wondered if she had suffered a stroke, burst a blood vessel while vomiting but soon remembered she had nothing to vomit up.
Letting her face fall into the toilet water to drown? he wondered. It would be a method most extreme since all of the essential suicide supplies were left in the cell with all SHU inmates: sheets and a stable metal beam that once served as the arm of a TV stand back when SHU inmates were allowed to keep their property with them. If she wanted to die, Alana Larkin had everything she needed. Usually, when SHU-mates acted a little squirrelly, they were taken out of their cells for exactly that reason.
But then a curl twitched and a head bent back, exposing a chin slippery and wet after dunking itself into the toilet water. With eyelids closed so tight that they shook wrinkly convulsions, the head lowered itself back almost autonomically and Stamper could hear faint ripples of water again porcelain… wiiip…wiiip…wiiip. Alana Larkin had turned her commode into a dog’s dish, finding her only sustenance on her weak knees on cold, industrial linoleum tile. Stamper laughed but had to, grudgingly, grant her some respect. Alana Larkin was a survivor, tougher than all the scarred gang-bangers and 350-pound lesbians in the joint.
“Did you lose your collar?’ Stamper hooted through the door’s crack. He opened the trap door and dropped the thumbnail-marked tray to the floor. A sharp thwap sounded because the tray was full. Stamper knew it would stay that way.
He bounded off Larkin’s floor to the one above and found the cell directly above hers, used his key and flung open the door telling the two occupants: “Get out.”
“Why?” asked one.
“Gladly,” said the other.
“Wait, give me a shirt.”
“Why?” came again.
“Because I said so. Where’s your other… here. I got one,” he said, checking the size tag on the oversized green scrub shirt, the uniform for true incorrigibles, the inmates slated to stay in the SHU for their entire sentences because of non-stop disciplinary infractions. The shirt was an “L” even though it looked like a “XX” large.
“This one looks like a Dos Equis to me,” he announced to no one and snickered, twisting the stiff cotton like he was making a noose. One of the inmates outside the cell’s door noticed the apparatus he was fashioning, went bug-eyed and stepped back.
“It’s not for you,” he assured her and pushed the shirt down into the toilet’s nether hole and pressed the recessed flush button above the toilet on the cell’s cinderblock wall. Inexperienced vandals would expect for water to rise and the shirt to lodge itself in the toilet’s chute leaving a balloony-end of the shirt waving around the swirling water but Stamper, versed in correctional reality, knew that all prison toilets had such superior suction that they would swallow even this tent of a shirt. The shirt slunk out of sight, down the shit sluice and a muffled thump sounded behind the concrete bricks of the wall, followed by the trickling hiss of the shirt and water crashing into a wet mass of feces and toilet paper.
“Excellent,” he said as he watched it work on the first try. Then he turned to the two women he had displaced, one of whom had just stared at him incredulously and the other was attempting an unauthorized phone call now that she had been loosed from her cell. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you two moved.”
“Andressen, move those two. Their shitter just shit the bed,” he told the rookie behind the panel and headed back to his inside control post, out of which his breathless laughter could be heard all over the SHU until dinnertime.
When the dinner cart arrived that afternoon, Stamper dipped into Captain Sasmogino’s office. “Do you have a pink marker?” he threw out nonchalantly.
“A pink marker?” Sasmogino asked and poked through her pen cup and came up with a lone Crayola marker, the white ones painted to look like a crayon with the squiggle decorations and handed it to him. Stamper stepped out of her office, cap in teeth again, and drew a big heart on the top of a tray containing that day’s last meal, turkey a la king, and re-capped the marker.
“No problem darlin.’ Just don’t tell me why you needed that.”
Stamper laughed a lightheaded, manic laugh. For a while he had forgotten Caples, the reason for this plan. He derived such pleasure from these games that he lost his goal, forgot his endgame. Before he even reached Alana Larkin’s cell, the putrid fecal scent hit him. Looking through her cell door’s window, he saw a mélange of stool – yellow, black and a Pantone-worthy collection of browns – all swimming in an orangey syrup on her toilet’s seat and around its base, a mess made by the excrement burp that emerged from her toilet when he flushed the green shirt into the pipes of the cell above hers.
“Now was it worth it to lie like that, Larkin? Really,” he castigated her and threw the tray, filled with gelatinous gravy across her floor, the tray’s leaving withered peas, red peppers hard like trapezoidal rubies and jagged-edged carrot cubes in a milky sauce where it slid. Stamper closed the door, surprised at how severely Larkin’s lips had chapped without water in such a short time. She had gone, what, only six hours without it?
But it was all she was living on. Small pieces of white vellum curled up in small triangles on her lips, her pallor was simultaneously yellow and gray and she sat with her back leaned against the wall next to her bunk, eyes no longer registering despair but succumbing to strength’s vacation. She tried to lick her lips but her mouth was so dry that her tongue’s only accomplishment was to tug at one corner of the feathery skin so that a small red slash of blood rose up on her lips, both she and Stamper knowing that she would think twice before using them to kiss – or tell – again.
Real prison life returns next Monday, February 27, 2017.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 13 – 19, 2017
Well, at least one felon has a high-paying job. Jeremy Meeks, the “Hot Felon” whose mug shot everyone oohed and aahed over in 2014 when he was arrested on gun charges, walked in the Philipp Plein show during New York Fashion Week for Fall 2017. It resurrected a debate of style over substance, the substance being the bad character assumed of anyone who’s “justice-involved.” Why should he get that opportunity just because he’s good looking? people have asked me, like anyone else besides good-looking people land modeling gigs. What the “Hot Felon” story shows is that the pool of qualified and talented people for any job will contain some members with criminal histories. Are we willing to ignore talent and qualification in the name of some Puritanical falsehood that no imperfect person should be able to earn a living? As far as I’m concerned, if you have what it takes to do a certain job, you should be allowed to do it without concern for your past.
The first “Dreamer” was arrested. I.C.E. arrested a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant in Seattle who was granted temporary permission to live and work in America under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) program. I.C.E. says the man is gang-affiliated but he has no criminal record. I was suspected once of being gang-affiliated when I was in prison so I know how inaccurate these gang labels can be. I have been around the dangerous in society for some years now and I wonder if this guy is who we really need to round up. I am aware of some U.S. citizens here in Connecticut who would make better targets. Just sayin’.
Here’s an idea: “Make a commitment to real accountability for violence in a way that is more meaningful and more effective than incarceration.” That’s what Danielle Sered, director of Common Justice, an organization that operates an alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program for serious and violent felonies, wants to do. She wrote a report for the Vera Institute of Justice that came out last week that devised a way to honor the wishes of victims of violent crime while still looking for alternatives to incarceration for the perpetrators of those acts. The only problem? Common Justice doesn’t work with the crimes of murder or rape. The biggies have been left out of the conversation…and the solution.