Because poverty is less a bottom line than it is a culture I can look at my inmate account balances – all under $100.00 – and still consider myself non-poor. I search daily for the real lines that separate rich and poor and whether there is a gap between them, a space pushing the lines apart, an area filled with fate, education or fraud.
There is a reason for the rich-poor gap and this is it: people in a culture of wealth save; even if they save a tiny bit from the small amount they may have at the time. A culture of poverty mints people who might be able to save but just don’t because they see money and possessions as ephemera; no matter what, nothing will last. This is no case of Easy Come, Easy Go. Rather it’s Rarely Come, Easy Go. This mindset makes disadvantaged persons greedy at times in order to keep what will loose itself from their grip momentarily. Other times, they so disconnect themselves from possessions that you would think all of them undertook a life of Buddhist asceticism. It’s like a material world doesn’t exist around them. Their grip on physical reality is so slack that they drop stuff and break it all the time. My stuff.
Of all my cellmates, those whose lives have been muscled by extreme need – the poorest – dropped and broke the most of my property. The only breakable items an inmate can own are “electronics”- TV’s, hairdryers, radios, CD players, booklights, fans – all higher end purchases on the commissary scale. Which means that people who have no money in their inmate accounts have no electronic equipment. So they use mine and break it. TV? Smash! Radio? Clatter clatter clatter! Headphones? Snap! Fan? Thung! Hairdryer? Crash! Other inmates who can afford electronics might need to borrow something from time to time but they take care of my bailments. I know that none of the breaking was intentional because my cellmates were as much beneficiaries of working equipment as I was. They’re careless because they conclude that nothing remains.
They also know that no one can force them to replace the broken parts because no inmate can purchase electronic equipment for another inmate.The prison prohibits anyone from buying two of anything electronic; anyone who saved sufficient funds to buy a Noah’s Ark of electronic equipment might be a target of others, the less fortunate inmates who will threaten, assault, annoy or pluck the heartstrings of women who can afford to buy two of something. Administrators would never know if multiple purchases were the product of prisoner persuasion or even payment for hired hits on another inmate. To remove all question, the rule remains one hairdryer, radio, etc., per customer, so anyone whose inmate account balance is in the black need not wear a black hat in declining to buy electronics for someone else. “You know I can’t do that,” we say and shrug.
It was probably one hundred degrees in our cell. Neither of us could sleep with my fan splitting the difference between us. Groggy, Taffy dropped my five dollar alarm clock from a six-foot-high shelf- crack!– while I was half asleep.
“Just put the parts on the counter. If it’s broken, I’ll get another one,” I said, half my mouth still frozen from the pillow’s pull on it. When I came down from my bunk to examine my fiver timer, the black and yellow hands both fell down to the “6” like the arms of a fatigued weightlifter no matter where I set them. 9:15? 6:30. Noon? 6:30. As the inmates say, that shit was broke.
To replace the clock, I needed to send the correction treatment officer or CTO a request form, await her summoning me to her office where she would complete the form to indicate I what I was unloading.
“One. I thought we couldn’t have two.”
The CTO looked at me.
“They sell only one kind,” I replied.
From the CTO, the form would travel to the property office and collide with my order of a new alarm clock. Seeing that I had properly surrendered my first alarm clock, the property officer could approve the purchase of a another alarm clock but not a second one.
Taffy cracked my clock on August 1. Because of the CTO’s unplanned absences, lockdowns and miscommunications, I filled out the form and surrendered the clock on October 22. Etched on the side of my new alarm clock – along with Bozelko, C# 330445 – is November 14, the date of sale. It took almost four months for me to spend $4.88 plus tax. That’s as frugal as it gets.
Between the clock’s breaking and its replacement were 106 days that I count among the worst of my 2275-day sentence. Many correctional realities conspired to make those 106 as bad as they were: depression, new housing in a racial menagerie with no air conditioning, my injured calf, a bed with a dent in it that went “whap!” whenever I moved. But it was really the lack of the alarm clock that was killing me.
Even though my daily 3:30 AM wake-up had warped my circadian rhythms enough that I could wake myself for work without an alarm, I woke up at all hours thinking it was 3:30 AM because I didn’t have the clock. Once, so convinced that it was my regular hour, I rose, donned my work uniform and waited for the guard to open my cell door remotely – typically a four minute wait. I sat in the dark, awake, like an asshole, but ready to go. If I had Little Larmie (I named my clock at its wake) on my TV stand, I would have known I was climbing down from my bunk at 1:30 AM and waiting in the dark for two and a half hours, convinced it was only minutes.
Besides that, without Little Larmie, my sleep became even more fitful. I became increasingly despondent and anxious because time matters when you’re doing it. There’s a phenomenon unique to prisoner’s mind that holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel wrote about in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: months and weeks strobe through while hours and days seem practically interminable. To remain minimally sane, an incarcerated person needs to know the time just to reassure herself that it is passing.
In a life confined, certain things happen at certain hours to denote an ordinary day. Doors unlock for rec at 8:30AM, then 1PM, then 6:30PM. When we don’t hear the clank of an unlocked door at our entryways as the clock hands slide into place, we know that something is afoot, maybe a fight, a lockdown or an impending search. When I look at the clock and it reads 9:01AM, 1:27PM, or 6:55PM, I know something’s up if my cell door has not opened up and I need to stay alert.
Not knowing what time it was left me assailable, unprepared, bad statuses in a maximum security prison. Without Little Larmie, I was really lost and my confusion ticked its way into everything I did. I misplaced papers, broke an irreplaceable comb (no longer in the commissary’s offerings), kept forgetting to order a new toothbrush so I had to brush with bristles that went every way except toward my teeth. I asked other inmates and staff what time it was but everyone here stays a miser with their up-to-date information; they refuse to divest themselves of even the pittance of what’s on their watches. They’re so impoverished and cheap in here they won’t give you the time, even if they broke your booklight. Time was the one thing I watched them take care of.
I longed for Little Larmie. When he was around, I would listen to the Patriots play on the radio (TV broken by another cellmate – the Smash!) and watch Larmie’s red second hand pulse around and around. I watched the consistent jerkiness of Larmie’s minute hand as it pushed or tugged the hour hand along with it while I edited briefs. Larmie was my most reliable companion in here.
Supposedly we perceive time as moving more slowly through traumatic stretches in our lives. I believe it; I did a year in seg between May 2 and May 30. To that extent, every prison sentence should feel like it takes forever but sometimes time goes too fast and we need clocks to keep us grounded. To do time means you twist it in your mind until you totally deform it, puzzling yourself to the point that you can’t live without an imposed daily regimen.
“Bozelko, you got electronics here. You want ‘em?”
So excited about my impending reunion with Larmie (well, at least his sequel), I said breathlessly: “Yes!” I waited as the inmate behind the commissary counter ground my name and the date with the etcher into Larmie the Sequel’s side like I was about to be handed Powerball winnings.
Since Larmie the Sequel began sitting on my shelf, things are better. I’m writing more, I’m in a better mood, less anxious as his hands circle his face at various speeds. It’s almost as if I can’t feel better in here unless I count up all the time I couldn’t save.
“Course not. He had a nurse in the room with him. They’re complicit. They cover up for each other in here,” Charity answered.
“Do you think they’re attracted to places like this?” I returned. She nodded glumly. I was a bit sickened, too. I usually like it when I see something I’ve studied in school turn up in reality but now that I saw the Euthyphro Dilemma from one of my philosophy classes in a real-life application, I practically needed a doctor.
The Euthyphro Dilemma is a philosophy lesson from the classical philosopher Socrates who asked a prosecutor in Greece 2500 years ago this question: Are people pious because God loves them or does God love people because they are pious? It’s the ancient world’s version of “Who’s zoomin’ who?” The dilemma pops up daily in modern criminal justice – and not because Euthyphro was a prosecutor – because a new form of his dilemma has developed: Do guards/correctional personnel abuse offenders because they’re lawbreakers or do offenders break the laws because their keepers abuse them? Or, in larger focus, do perps make victims or do victims make perps?
Best positioned to answer me was Dr. Staley, the prison’s head physician, but he was out of paging range since the facility had canned him for sexually inappropriate contact with inmates disguised as physical examinations. The good doctor required my neighbor, whose chronic shoulder injury needed checking, to remove completely her bra and uniform T-shirt so he could see her upper arm.
Then he zinged my cellmate with a rectal exam when she complained of heart palpitations. Not only did the good doctor violate his patient, he also committed an act of malpractice because digital rectal examinations engage the vagus nerve which innervates the lower abdomen as well as the thoracic area, meaning where her palpitating heart was. The doctor’s sexy rectal exam could have triggered hypertensive effects that might have complicated or worsened the symptoms that slid the inmate into his medical melee in the first place. Remember doc: what happens to the vagus nerve does not stay on the vagus nerve.
Days after learning of the medical professional’s departure, I heard that one of the prison chaplains had a near-rectal exam when the warden booted his ass for throwing a book at an inmate, misconduct I personally found redundant given the fact that the Book of Law chases every prisoner inside these walls.
The Euthyphro dilemma weighed on me heavily post-Sandy Hook. Because rampage killers are obviously nuts in ways we either won’t understand or can’t predict, Adam Lanza put everyone on an unfair and misplaced high alert about people with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illnesses; we think anyone with psychiatric problems is about to victimize someone. The stigma that follows from these unreasonable precautions does nothing to stop crime, to stop victimization. Actually, it reverses the perp and the victim. By that I mean that people diagnosed with mental illness are statistically predispositioned to be victims of crime, not purveyors of it. The truth is that a person burdened with sub-par mental health is much more likely found at the short end of crime’s stick than carrying a big one and mumbling softly. When one considers that an untold percentage of prisoners suffer from mental illness, a prison becomes a rich reservoir of potential victims. So plentiful is a prison’s confines with easy marks that I think word circulates in creep coteries and they log on to the Department of Correction’s website, find the Employment page and click “Apply.”
The reason for this phenomenon is obvious: the victim’s diminished credibility (at least in society’s estimation), bad judgment and lack of social supports suture themselves together to create the 21st century’s version of Frankenstein’s miscreation: the person to whom you can do anything and get away with it. For instance, the prison’s own Trapper John would not have done to a patient in the free world what he did in here to a woman complaining of kidney pain, namely a pelvic examination of her while standing and leaning against a wall, legs spread and undies undone. He never ordered a blood draw or palpated her back, he only did this stripper move with her as clinical inquiry. Doc, you are so Vegas!
It’s possible that working with herds of manipulative women turns people who work behind bars into predators. Exhaustion and depletion arrive after long exposure to incarcerated chicks and would cause a halfway normal guard to quit, transfer, or change his post so as not to turn into an animal. If it’s true that victims make perps, i.e. exposure to certain disenfranchised populations drives their keepers so mad that they end up harming the people they are supposed to protect, then the process of rehabilitation is not one of improvement but of institutionalization for anyone with any affiliation with the institution. In short, if prisons can ruin guards in this way, imagine what it does to the prisoners.
The warden terminated Dr. Feelgood and the Pitching Pastor but neither has been charged with a crime. That malady we call an arrest should fit into the doctor’s occupational prognosis but he has the antidote: power. Even though the physician is obviously mental, his medical license and education mask (sort of) his insanity. At the very least, they mitigate his lunacy. And the chaplain who works with prisoners? Everyone sees him as unblemished because he wades into the muck of mental illness and criminality for forty hours each week.
I was impressed that the warden fired the doctor and the chaplain; usually misconduct by staff never takes a collar because the inmates who report witnessing misconduct are discredited by the fact that they are inmates who witnessed the misconduct. Then I discovered that the warden had “objective evidence” of their misdeeds: a report from a nurse in the examining room with the doctor and a video of the chaplain’s pitching practice. Apparently, no one had covered up for the doc when his check-ups no longer had any checks on them. Maybe the book the chaplain threw was the Bible and he pissed off a God-fearing guard who reported him. But the saddest part of Dr. Staley’s service was the fact that no inmates, fearing investigators would not believe them, reported either the doctor or the chaplain because they did not know that what they were experiencing was against the law.
“My mother never took me to a doctor! How was I supposed to know?” one woman in the kitchen confided in her friend, a bit too loudly, when she described how Dr. Staley asked her to take off her shirt to examine her thyroid, an assessment that takes place above the collar.
I wondered how many other stripper-style exams and deflected shots happened that only the inmate witnessed. Those will remain unreported. Did only reported incidents ever happen or did incidents that are not reported never happen? Another correctional daily dilemma.
Hopefully with us non-credible women out of the way as witnesses, the warden has a clean line of sight to throw the book back at both men and lock them up, making them ready to be pounced upon by other predators. Letting them roam free with stethoscope and crucifix would only prove that I’m right; they will never pull this crap with women outside the prison, women who are not inmates.
“You’re right, Charity. Perps make only certain people their victims.”
I could tell she was trying to ear-hustle my phone call and knew I was about to hang up. S.T. had been eyeing me for the second half of the call.
“I’m broke and I’m hungry,” she announced as she slapped down her last card and got up from the four-man table. Her Three-Five-Nine game was over. Her opponents remained seated, reading the backs of their cards.
Everyone played cards at York. The Department of Correction had printed and distributed decks of cards to all inmates at no cost; the back of each card displayed the picture of a murder victim in an unsolved case along with the phone number of a toll-free tip line that inmates could use to drop a dime even if we didn’t have a penny.
Prison does more than just punish crime; it can solve it. I would advise anyone who wants to crack a case to stop going to cops and hitting ‘em where they ain’t; interview inmates instead. Prisons contain a bevy of witnesses. Most people who engage in serious criminal activity rarely run with a mainstream, law-abiding crowd; they hang with others doing the same dirt. That’s why RICO was born.
Inmates were always wondering if someone was tipping off the “poe-lice” when she used the phones, puncturing the balloon of criminal intelligence and letting out all the solutions inside. S.T. spied me finally hang up the phone and head to my cell door. I knew something was about to go down so I hurried. But it still went down.
“Do you have a soup?” – a 25¢ Ramen noodle and powder broth combination that costs sedentary inmates 400 calories of their daily energy expenditure. I avoided the soups because the expanding sizes of other inmates’ behinds showed them clearly in the red and owing these soups for their ample asses. I also avoided the inmates who wanted them. My prison patience with inmate eating patterns had already grown slim.
“Sure,” I said and handed it to her with no other conversation. I did not know her name, didn’t want to.
“I’m S.T.,” she offered.
“Yeah, nice to meet you. I’m Chandra.” I muttered without even turning to her as I closed my cell door behind me.
I shot at the door’s handle to keep it from locking. She must have seen the newspaper coverage, I thought until I remembered that the Webster Bank arrest never made the papers. Then panic flashed down my intestines as I thought I might have left my file in the inmates’ TV area until relief reminded me that a lesbian-looking lieutenant fed my incoming file on Webster Bank to a shredder in the lieutenants’ office (those jokers put on the shredder a label that read “Fax Machine to Wethersfield” – the location of Department of Correction headquarters – so unsuspecting new hires would shred what they meant to send). She ground all the paperwork into wavy ribbons of justice denied; the file contained photos of the woman who ripped me off and somehow left me charged.
“We can’t let you have this because it’s photos associated with criminal behavior,” the lieutenant told me. She said it didn’t matter than it was legal materials. I didn’t know that this rule never existed until captains handed me the deck of cards with victims’ photos on them.
S.T. never found my file and read it on the low because I never had the file with me inside the prison. She knew about my case because she conspired in it. She was the wheel, she drove the perp woman in the photo to the bank to pick up bank customers’ account information from one of the bank’s employees who was selling it and setting her up for the eventual transactions. He, as the bank, made it easy for S.T. and her accomplice to steal.
“Her name’s D.M. She did you…” S.T. told me, meaning that D.M. had perpetrated the fraud for which I had been arrested. The details that rolled off S.T.’s tongue showed up any suspicion that she might be a bullshitter. S.T. was real. I needed her and she knew it.
“Need anything else? How about some iced tea?” I inquired of S.T., trying to hide my smile. My patience had returned because I didn’t have to shuffle vindication fantasies anymore. I has just been dealt a straight flush: the name of the bitch who did me.
The way D.M. did me went like this. Flashback to a Christmas season, when I attempted to use my Webster Bank debit card to buy a Gatorade, Twizzlers and candy canes at CVS Pharmacy. The card-slider thing on the customer’s side of the cashier’s counter kept reading “DECLINED” in its little green-blue dot matrix letters even though the purchase totaled slightly over six dollars.
I threw cash on the counter and ran outside to call Webster Bank’s toll-free customer service line to hear an automated woman announce that my checking account was overdrawn, holding a balance of “negative seventeen thousand, two hundred fifty one dollars and forty-seven cents. To speak with a customer service representative, please press Zero now.” I pressed “Zero” so hard and so often, I thought I would push the button straight through the phone.
The Zero Lady serviced this customer by informing me that, within eleven days in November, someone had deposited $20,000.00 of fraudulent checks into my account and spent it, even conning someone in the Zero Lady’s office to increase the single purchase limit from $2K to $3,500 on the cloned debit card the thief was using; she needed the limit raised to drain the account fast. It was Christmas and all legitimate funds in the account were gone. I felt like Donner and Blitzen ran over my lungs with what this vixen had done.
I sped over to my hometown bank branch and completed fraud paperwork with the manager who told me that the bank would contact me soon. When I heard nothing from these moneychangers, I called the Zero Lady and she referred me to New Haven Police who casually mentioned a warrant for my arrest, charging me with two counts of forgery and one count of larceny in the first degree.
“Who the hell is she?” I asked each attorney when the prosecutor provided two photos of the alleged me – a black woman – negotiating the stolen checks on my account. None of them knew who she was or cared to find out. Right after my attorney and I got the the perp’s photos in discovery, Webster Bank mailed my welcome package: my new account number and starter checks. “Thank you for your patience with us during the time you were the victim of identity theft,” the letter read.
“What the hell is wrong with these people?” I asked my each attorney. None of them knew or cared to find out. The case had been pending for five years when I met S.T. Flashback over.
“Mouth, listen. I know who the black woman in the picture is,” I reported to my attorney over the phone in an elevated whisper. She moved to dismiss the charges, not because the photo wasn’t me but on the grounds that the case was too old and violated my rights to a speedy trial because it had collected dust in the prosecutor’s office for five years. Identifying the woman in the picture should have held off a trial for me on the charges. Instead, it cheered the trial on. At the hearing on dismissing the case, Judge Jon C. Blue announced: “You want a trial quickly; you will get it. We start picking a jury tomorrow. Adjourned,” he said, banging his gavel. A new, higher-stakes game had begun.
Scrambling in preparation for a trial she thought would never happen, Attorney Mouth collected D.M.’s probation photo – she had been convicted of criminal impersonation and larceny – and it matched Webster Bank’s photos of the African-American woman. The bank still swore she was me, a theory seconded by the prosecutor – Webster Bank’s dildo, because he was bald, long and the bank was using him to screw me. The dildo actually had the balls to suggest that the photos were me, just wearing “black-face makeup and a prosthetic nose.”
The trial ended with a hung jury but not after Webster Bank’s attorney flung himself around the courthouse doing whatever he could, saying whatever he thought would work to keep S.T., D.M. and Webster Bank’s manager off the witness stand. The jury should have acquitted me but neither the African-American woman’s identity nor S.T.’s testimony was ever presented to them. None of them knew or cared to find out. Even though inmates had essentially solved this crime in prison, the solution was never leaked, no one ever connected the truth from the inside to the outside world through toll-free call or testimony.
The statute of limitations left S.T. and D.M. and the bank employee beyond its reach; none of them were ever arrested for, much less convicted of, many of these identity-theft doings. Still, solving crime in prison appears to be in the cards for us because the Department of Correction printed another deck for distribution with the word “solved” stamped across several murder victims’ faces. Someone’s story escaped to the proper ears even if my Webster Bank case was never completely solved. My story is so American-justice, though: I never could have attempted to solve one case if I hadn’t been jailed for another.
When I watch inmates’ hands playing cards, slapping down those state-issued, cold-case cards with their questions that remain, I know that mine were at least answered even if they were never avenged. That’s the hand I was dealt.
“They spelled AP’s name wrong. I would never spell his name wrong. And instead of property room officer they put ‘Priority Room Officer.’ What the hell is a priority room?” I yelled to my father over the phone. The name of the person to whom I dedicated my book was misspelled and editors had created an entirely new job assignment in the prison by creating a priority room.
“Calm down! I will call the publisher…”
“The book is already published. What can he do now?”
“Well, he just needs to proofread…”
“Precisely my point,” I interrupted. “He needed to proofread it before he published thousands of copies. If someone had proofread it, it wouldn’t have all of these typos.” It was then that I realized that no one in my family read my book, otherwise someone would have caught the whopping typos. They would have found them after publication of course but before I would have happened upon them since I wasn’t allowed to read the book I wrote for four months after it was published. Of all the people I know, I was the last person to read my own book.
I was also the last person to know it had been published, too.
“Is someone going to send me galley proofs soon?” I asked my editor over the phone between electronic beeps.
“The book is already out,” she told me, almost offhandedly. “Been out since last month.”
“Oh… okay.” No one had yelled upstream to tell me that Up the River was already selling on amazon.com. Only eleven copies remained of an unknown starting stock, most likely twelve.
Prison is not a lesson but a practice in insignificance. You cease to matter, even to loved ones, when you’re penned. It’s not that no one cares about incarcerated family members or friends but you downshift into an afterthought, a footnote to their lives, one with a typo that needs to be corrected at that.
To write a short-lived column for the online newspaper, The New Haven Independent, I had to hand-write drafts, re-copy them legibly and mail them out to be typed and uploaded. I actually started to feel a little bit important to my family and the newspapers’ editors: conferring daily, typing, sending manuscripts back and forth. But when the column had to be cancelled because it didn’t match the New Haven Independent’s non-profit mission (to cover only hard news and nothing outside of New Haven) I dispatched my father to retrieve all of the handwritten columns that had not been published.
“Oh, I threw all the rest out,” the editor told my father like it was nothing, like I was just a typo in the scripts other people’s lives. This time I wasn’t corrected. Just deleted.
The type of humility that slaps your face is not an entirely bad thing because no one – inside or out – is that important. Neither are you. Of course, human rights scream that everyone is important. However, I am not so significant that I can push my way to the head of the line in others’ daily thoughts; when I arrived in prison, humility told me to take a number.
Humility’s answers to human values deafen every prisoner to the point that her self-esteem is no longer low, but fluctuating. So many times I should have demanded better treatment but I clammed up. At times when I had no right or cause to complain, I strided up to people and issued demands. Looking back, I can see the times when I should have spoken but remained silent were times that I was fully convinced of my insignificance. The times when I should have shut up but did my Leona Hemsley-meets-Mariah Carey-meets-Al Sharpton schtick, I forgot that I didn’t matter to a lot of people. The result? I am inconsistent, one of the worst adjectives a prisoner can pull on herself because it signals untrustworthiness and being “sometimey.” It’s best either to embrace your insignificance or to chuck it. You can’t do both in prison.
If I know I do not matter to someone or to a system, it is nearly impossible for me to trust my environment, even if people in it have been good to me in the past. Now I don’t trust editors even though, quite frankly, the editors of my book and at the Independent gave me chances that no one else gave or would ever give me. But I am an afterthought to them clearly, insignificant enough not to proofread my book or pop my unpublished work into an envelope.
Insignificance pervades the entire justice system which is why no one in the system trusts it, I think. As a defendant, you are trained in insignificance. Criminal defense attorneys generally think of their clients as of no consequence as they face the consequences of their (alleged) actions. The lawyers will deny it, but their collective representation of us proves it: they don’t give a shit about us. Any defendant in a criminal case can attest to this fact. I knew how much my lawyers cared about what happened to me from their minimal written submissions to the court and how I had to correct and edit them. If I didn’t merit running a spell check, then how much could I believe in the substance of their representation?
“There’s no Q in Ecuador,” (an expert witness had traveled there) I wrote to one lawyer.
“It’s HIPAA, not HIPPA. Health Information Portability and Accountability Act,” I penned to another.
And to Attorney Mouth’s rambling, varied-fonts treatise on why I should receive a new trial “You think you’re [James] Joyce? That you can use stream of consciousness writing in a legal brief?” To which she replied “I don’t even know who she is.”
As I chewed my way through Connecticut’s criminal defense bar, I would cry out every time a written brief was due because each one ever submitted on my behalf was wrought with typos and complete gaffes.
“Oh no. No, no, no. You’re not writing it. I will write it. Did you really think I was going to let you write it? No. Nope. No way. You’re not writing anything.” I would tell each one of them and then proceed to spend hours drafting the paperwork, correcting myself along the way.
Sometimes they filed what I wrote, sometimes not, like when I wrote a lengthy constitutional brief for the lawyer whom I retained to argue that my sentence was imposed illegally. The judge had requested analysis of two cases and explanation of how those cases applied to mine. In my handwritten pages – always written in pencil so I could correct myself – I covered every possible argument for both cases. Instead of using what I wrote, Attorney Eagle ignored it entirely and tapped out his own version, analyzing only one of the cases and ignoring the other. Oops. “Omission typo,” he explained over the phone and asked what the hell was going on.
“You can’t trust that guy!” I explained to my mother across the visiting room’s brown formica a few days later.
“Oh, you’re paranoid,” my mother dismissed me. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” I doubt that my lawyers were out to get me because that would require planning a course of action with an intended goal and then actually implementing that course of action. Each one of them was – and remains – too disorganized and lazy to pull off any plots against me. No one conspired against me; they just forgot, really. But they still got me because they can get you when they forget you.
None of my lawyers ever corrected their mistakes. I was insignificant to them so they neglected their duties as counsel and short-shrifted me on zeal. It’s easy to neglect and disappoint someone whom no one will believe, for whom no one will fret if her life is adversely impacted by counsel’s failings, who herself will fail to fight meritorious interpersonal battles but charge right into the dumb ones. With my lawyers, the men and women who had ethical and legal duties to protect me, my interests went into the trash with my essays at the Independent because the only priority I have is that is that typo in about the Priority Room Officer in my book.
I planned to read this essay on feeling like an uncorrected error, too unimportant to fix, in Wally Lamb’s writing class. Wally is a true friend to the inmates at York and we matter to him, even feel safe with him. Aside from traveling every other week to sit with us for hours, he has defended defendants, pursued pardons and comforted the criminals. And he advises us. Wally taught me that reading aloud helps the editing process. When I sat down in class that Thursday with this pencil essay, erasure rub splotches dotting the grey, flimsy prison writing paper, Wally delivered me a lovely thank you note on fine stationery for a review I had written about his most recent novel, We Are Water.
And he addressed it to me on the front: To Shondra.