6 February 2017

X – Part Four

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Sick of #alternativefacts yet? Good, here’s Part Four of the fictional “X.” Find out what comes before Part Four (One, Two and Three) by reading the sections of the story that lead up to this. Start at the beginning here. Part Two is here.  If you missed last week’s installment, Part Three, click over here.


Squeak. Thud. Thudthudthuth.

“Here’s your French toast,” he said before the Styrofoam could whimper. “What’s going on? You look upset. Do I need to call crisis for you? I don’t wanna tour and find you swinging from a green sheet,” he told her, referencing the prison’s sherbet-colored linens.

“Get the fuck away from me you motherfucking rent-a-cop!” she shrieked. Still crying, she was heaving now. She had pulled the elastic cuff off of one of her socks and used it like a cheap ponytail scrunchie; thin white thread protruded off the elastic at wiry angles.

“Rent-a-cop” was an oft-used insult that inmates lobbed at guards that they laughed right off. “Mall security doesn’t get my pension, have their kids’ tuitions paid for or full comp when you respond to one of these whores’ fights,” his partner told Stamper years ago, when he was a new buck and still on probation, lacking the guards’ flimsy fabric badge.

“Oh, I see you got a slick mouth. C’mere. Give me that hair-tie thing you have, that thing that you think no one can tell you ripped off your sock.”

“Nooooooo! Fuck youuuuuuu!” she shrieked again.

“That’s destruction of state property right there.”

“Whaaat?” she sobbed.

“Those socks. They’re not yours. The state loans them to you while you’re here. Ripping them is like… like… ripping out someone’s mailbox.”

“Heeeerreee!” she cried at high pitch and pulled the socks off each foot, rather easily too because, the cheap shit they were, they ballooned around her feet. She threw the socks at the door with all of her strength as if that mattered when tossing a sock.

“Nah. Too late. State property’s already destroyed,” he said flipping her French toast tray onto the floor inside the cell door. “That’s a Class A ticket. Seven more days in here after your …ah… Uncle Rick finishes with you,” he said to her, testing her to see how much undue familiarity she would admit to. He closed the trap door and dragged the cart so as to avoid the squeak but still make noise loud enough to rattle and rouse inmates who had nothing else to do but sleep.  He heard low tone from down the hall, a mouth close to the space under the door in its attempt to soothe Alana Larkin.

“Don’t worry baby girl, it ain’t no Class A ticket. They gonna know you ain’t got no case of socks. It’s Class B for the hair thing, no seg time. You all right. You gonna be fine.”

“Hey!” Stamper screamed. “I decide what the offense is, OK? Mind your business! Worrying about what someone else is doing is probably what got your dirty ass here in the first place!” he continued to no response. “I know how to do my job, thank you!” he screamed again as he marched up the stairs and into the in-house control room. His skin, fiery with anger, shone in the blue-gray light of the monitor screens. One hand brushed against the wheeling, curling cord of the phone in the bubble which made him think of how much the prison resisted wireless technology, almost like a punishment for the employees and the inmates alike. He didn’t care. Just the concept of wireless made him shiver, remembering that November night that the little Napoleonesque Murray Caples flipped out his smartphone. He grabbed the receiver and looked around for the extension list. He would call the warden’s office and find out what post Caples would be assigned and confront him at the door, in front of inmates and staff alike. He no longer cared.

“I’m the one being blackmailed?! You fuck with complete impunity – scrape between the legs of the most barrel-bottomed skanks. You’re sick to make me the slave of your sex! I fucking hate you. I hate these women. I hate myself so profoundly right now that my brain feels like pudding sloshing behind my eyes. My head…

But his eyes crossed visual path with the extension number of the property office. He dialed.

“Property. Milano.”

“Milano, you got an invoice there for a case of socks?”

“Why? Who needs it?”

“I do.”

“Why do you need an invoice for socks?”

“For a ticket.”

“A ticket?”

“Yeah, a ticket, a disciplinary report,” Stamper continued, stepping up the tone of his voice to professional guile. “I was here, ah, writing a DR for an inmate who stole a case of socks and I need to know what the box is worth, you know, to see if I’m looking at a Class A or not.”

“A whole fuckin’ case of socks? Musta had someone in A & D help them. Anyone search Spanzanno’s cell? She’ll lift anything. Nobody ever has the balls to stop her.”

“Tell me about it,” Stamper huffed to Milano, realizing now that Inmate Giulia Spanzanno was one of the inmates who had taught him by example that arrogance is the backbone of any misconduct, but bravado is its legs, sauntering past him with a bucket of peanut butter stolen from the kitchen. Some would walk down the prison walkway with eighty pounds of cubed chicken stolen from the kitchen without any attempt at hiding their spoils, look Stamper right in the face and say hello. He never stopped these women or asked what he was really thinking: What’s the deal with all the chicken you’re carrying? because their brazen nonchalance said any question he posed would meet with a legitimate-sounding answer that was a lie but would still make him look foolish. The ones who downcast their eyes, fidgeted and walked unadroitly because of the steel wool they stole from the supply truck? Those women Stamper pounced upon. If fortune ever favored the bold, then it was because no one confronted them.

“I think I have one. A gross is like… wait; it’s in here… ha! $102.58 after state and municipal discounts. Looks like we’re looking at a Class A, Stamp. Good job, brother.”

“Milano, I could kiss you,” Stamper laughed over the phone.

“You tried, remember? At Pocatello’s retirement,” she let him down.

“Oh. Yeah. Right,” he mumbled as he fumbled and felt over the files on the desk until he found one with typewritten-typed label “DICSINPLARY REPPORT S” and pulled out an empty form that would keep Alana Larkin for at least seven additional days in the SHU regardless of what the investigation revealed. He couldn’t even wait for the ticket to be processed. He hung up on Officer Milano without even saying goodbye. With more vigor in his step than he had employed in some time, Stamper stepped across the SHU’s main lobby with the kind of confident spring in his pace that usually comes from those terrycloth insoles on the inside of new running shoes. He bounded down the stairs to Alana Larkin’s floor found her cell and twisted the disciplinary report in the door’s small window.

“See, I can write the tickets I want to. You didn’t just rip the elastic off one sock. You stole a whole case. See? It says it right here.”

“I didn’t,” Larkin protested.

“Rule Number One of being an inmate is that nothing you say matters. If I say you killed Orenthal James’ wife, then you did.”

“If I killed or what someone’s wife?” Larkin asked, totally confounded. It was the mark of youth nowadays. No knowledge of the trial of the century, of Lance Ito and why guards laughed when they fought with their wives and joked ‘Go and get the Bronco out.’ OJ and his trial were so pivotal to criminal justice that it changed the lexicon and the perception of reasonable doubt for anyone born before 1981. For people born after that date or in the 90’s – Millenials, Stamper had heard them described on Dateline or Nightline, some nightly line of news – People v. Simpson was like the 1929 stock market crash for Gen X’ers; they had a fuzzy grasp of the historical facts but never applied the event’s lessons to their daily lives.

“OJ Simpson, you idiot bitch,” he glowered at her. “That means power stays with people who have it even when they don’t behave.”

“People like you, huh? I know Deja from home,” Larkin smugly referred to the living skeleton from Stamper’s closet with her arms crossed against her chest, head jutting from side to side in that inner-city indignation bob that says I know about your indiscretions and that gives me power.

“Who’s Deja?” He tried to feign ignorance but his anger flattened his intonation and he sounded guiltier for his half-assed attempt at evasion.  Deja told someone? She wouldn’t tell. Could she tell? he wondered, panic fluttering inside him as he calculated the amount of time and money – that flurry of bills – he had divested from himself as part of his housekeeping duties for Murray Caples to keep a secret that had already slipped out the flip side.  Deja Dyson had been out on parole for only about six weeks at that point and Larkin had been in for about a month, leaving only two weeks for Deja to tip out the tale of their liaison. Stamper might have expected her to tell someone years from now, only when Deja felt completely comfortable that the person in whom she invested this secret would protect it as much as it needed to be protected. The thought of ‘How well do these two know each other?’ converted itself into ‘What did she do?’ Tell fucking everybody?

“Some girls kiss and tell, some kiss and don’t tell but you, you don’t kiss but you still tell, huh? Wanna be a wise ass? I’ll bring you to the Unit Manager. We’ll see how wise you are in front of Sasmogino,” he threatened and ordered her to put her hands through the trap door, signaling that he was about to cuff her to take her out of her cell.

He grabbed her arm. The standing order to all guards about to move inmates in the SHU remained the same: cuff them through the trap door. Never, ever open the entire cell door. An open cell door was an open invitation for the confined to throw feces, punches, epithets punctuated with huge wads of spit. SHU inmates were of the ‘bad to the bone’ breed, even when they were powerless.

One cuff would and should close around the inmate’s wrist but the trick, should it be employed, was to angle the cuff and close it around the back of the hand, so that wine-colored blisters would rise immediately and the pinch would hurt, at least as far as Stamper could tell when he did it occasionally. He clicked blisters into the slightly sun-burnished skin on the back of Alana Larkin’s hand.

“OWWW! What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck away from me!” she screamed.

“Don’t worry. I am,” he told her as he took the cuffs off just as quickly and roughly as he had put them on to let her know that the sole purpose of the exercise of cuffing her in the first place was to cause her pain, not to transport her out of her cell anywhere.  Not that bringing her to Ria Sasmogino, the SHU’s ball-busting unit manager, would have mattered because he could tell that Alana Larkin knew that part of the deal in confessing someone else’s sins is putting one’s own on the table; it was probably the first time Stamper knew that an inmate was not going to press the issue and retort: “OK, yeah, let’s go talk to the Unit Manager!” He closed her trap door and headed to exit the floor only to hear the shout of his name muffled by prison acoustics.

“Who called me?” he called out.

Click here for the next installment, Part Five. 


delaware prison
Preparing to enter James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware.

They call it a “Code Yellow” in Connecticut – inmates’ taking a staff member hostage. We used to laugh about it because, unlike so many other offenses – hitting a C/O, starting a fire, getting into a fight, escaping from the facility – a Code Yellow was so outer-limit that it wasn’t even considered by the worst inmates. Who would even get away with that for 15 seconds? I would ask other inmates and we would laugh. Impossible!

Until Wednesday, February 1, 2017 that is, when Sergeant Steven Floyd, Sr. lost his life in a hostage-taking standoff at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, Delaware.

I would never have expected that the prisoners in a state like Delaware – not rife with gangs, not on the Mexican border – could pull off a hostage situation…and then be so goddamned foolish as to take the life of a sergeant. I am disgusted at the actions of the inmates responsible for this tragedy – which, I should remind everyone is a very small group and most prisoners are just as upset about this as I am. If you know of someone who is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated who justifies this homicide by claiming that prison conditions are deplorable, then get the hell away from that person ASAP. They’re dangerous. No amount of shitty food, neglect or abuse excuses this.

I have three ideas that people need to consider seriously in the aftermath of this event:

  1. To the justice-involved population: We need to support measures that pay corrections officers more. This idea is especially unpalatable with inmates and formerly incarcerated people but we must face the fact that attracting talented and honest men and women to work inside prisons is the only way to keep ourselves safe. Because the pay is so bad, Delaware saw such attrition in the ranks of its officers that the prison was understaffed. I believe the understaffing contributed to this disaster.
  2. To the correctional staff population: When corrections officers are paid more, you must agree to higher accountability. The fact of this tragedy in Delaware does not justify inhumane treatment of any inmate anywhere. Sometimes the biggest opponents of a higher paycheck for corrections staff are the officers themselves with their folly and hate toward people who are in the worst living situation – having lost their freedom. You can’t expect a mere high school degree and leaving yourself on “bullying” mode every day to bring you a salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet that’s what many of you are going for. You want big bucks? Cut the shit – the insults, the assaults, the denial of medical care, the teasing, the disdain. If it’s that important to you to abuse other people – so important that you work for less than $20.00 per hour – you shouldn’t be employed anywhere. Get it together or get out.
  3. To both of these groups: The only people who can really reform prisons are the ones inside – staff and inmates. The constant bickering and violence between these warring factions is just plain fucking stupid, at least as I saw during my time at York Correctional Institution. Now that stupidity has turned deadly for at least two people, since whomever is charged with this officer’s death will face the death penalty. No one wins in these situations. Stop playing losing games.


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Posted February 6, 2017 by chandra in category "Fiction by Chandra Bozelko

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