Shade and Freud, Part Four of Four
To read last week’s section, click here.
After I did the five-minute shuffle back to seg in dawn’s cold, I crunched up on my bed for hours, even slept a little through the next night, with no sheet still, like a bum.
That new C/O came around for count. He’s been here only a few months and he’s already looking women up when they get out, at least that’s what people are saying. I believe it. He asked:
“Ma, don’t you want to put that sheet down? Might be here for a minute.”
Only in prison would the word “minute” come to mean a long time. He wasn’t being nice.
In a York minute I found out I wasn’t going to be there long when another C/O, Reeger, came downstairs. Supposedly he asks the inmates to flash him.
“Let’s go, Bozelko. You’re moving,” Reeger told me, muffled through the glass in the door. I stopped caring about whether he’s a pervert or not.
“It’s count time, isn’t it?” This was confusing.
“What? You wanna stay?”
“Nope, no, here I am,” as I jumped from the top bunk to the floor.
The move to the medical unit – also the ‘overflow’ unit when they don’t know where to put you – was too fast, occurring during the last count of the first shift of the last day of the workweek. Wardens and captains wouldn’t be in for the next two days. Something else was happening.
They let me go to work from the medical unit which usually wasn’t allowed. I didn’t mind. Gino was working and he’s always serving up some levity. When I walked in without a uniform, Gino asked:
“You alright?” He heard what had happened. I wonder what he believed.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a mush.”
The next few days were busy and buzzy. I worked doubles to avoid the medical unit where I was stationed. There was more activity than usual. Many captains walking around, even plainclothes investigators going into Building 6, the administration’s site. Rumors kept seeping into the kitchen. Keisha’s telling people that I had told her I had sexual contact with the C/O we were allegedly supposed to kill in her cockamamie fantasy. Reports like that get you thrown in seg, too. So I went to Gino and told him. I needed preventive help.
“Geen, I don’t want to go back to seg,” I was pleading with him to intervene.
“Don’t worry. You’re the least of her problems,” he advised.
“Well, yeah, true, but I’d rather pose low risk to her from out here, not in there,” I explained to him, pointing to the restricted housing unit which was just across the walkway.
“Don’t worry, you’re never gonna see her on this compound again.”
“Unless she comes through the line and threatens to kill me over an extra egg,” I pointed out.
“Don’t worry. It’s covered. Go about your business.”
Which I did, lugging garbage to the dumpster in the back of the kitchen as my friend, Monica, walked past on her way to a medical appointment.
Monica is the personification of the War on Drugs’ failure. Her surgeon mother and professor father (Yale School of Public Health – he helped found Connecticut’s hospice) couldn’t save their daughter from an opiate addiction. She worked as a news camerawoman in New York, shooting on location with the likes of Dan Rather. She had enough money to fill a suitcase with heroin for a vacation on the Connecticut shoreline – all for personal use – before she boarded Metro North. Where she got busted. That was in the 90’s. She’s been cycling in and out since and always felt it was her responsibility to bring me up to date on the language and the ways of the streets, since she knew neither one of us ever inhabited them. Monica is one of the few true inmate mentors I’ve had.*
“Oh my God, are you alright? I heard all about it on the news,” she said as she passed the kitchen.
“The news?” Is this what they’re calling inmate.com now?
“NPR,” and then she went into announcer mode. “Keisha D, an inmate at the York Correctional Institution for Women is facing two charges of sexually assaulting fellow inmates.”**
“When the hell was this?” I asked. I thought she relapsed.
“I dunno. Couple days ago? When you were in seg.” Everyone knew. Inmate.com operates on high-speed internet.
As she continued down the walkway, Monica turned back, just in case the lesson had been lost:
“You know that was meant for you?”
“Yeah. But all I got was a mush. That’s what they call it, right?” I checked.
“Yes, it is,” she called back as I rushed inside for confirmation. I didn’t know if I believed what I just heard.
“Geen, did you say [Keisha] won’t be on the compound because she’ll be classified to seg because she sexually assaulted two inmates?”
“So you’re telling me that these guys were so anxious to get Keisha to rape or kill me that they set this whole thing up and it backfired on them? She attacked other women instead of me?” I had to get this straight.
“Is that why everyone’s all in a frenzy and captains and state cops are walking around? They’re investigating what she did to these other women?”
“Yes.” Gino jokes around a lot. When he’s serious he has to stop and be still. Eliminate his smile. Which he did.
But I burst out laughing. That two women had to suffer even four minutes of Keisha’s deafening presence because they were caught in the crosshairs of the Bozelko Beef was unthinkable. The fact that they underwent God-knows-what violation of their will or bodily integrity is serious and a total abdication of the facility’s responsibility to keep its wards safe. It’s incomprehensibly irresponsible and totally traumatizing to these poor women. It was a horrible situation that, quite frankly, thrilled me. Not because two women were hurt.
The fact that Booz et al. were feeling heat for it was hilarious. Even Gino could see how I got some getback without even knowing what happened. He started laughing, too. I need to be clear here; neither I nor Gino thought that it was funny that women were assaulted. We recognize how devastating it is. We were laughing because the seriousness of the matter was falling at the feet of the proper sinners and they deserved it for being this callous and craven with the human bodies they get paid to protect. And the fact that they missed their target was even richer.
“Listen, c’mere,” he waved me toward his desk. “They told Booz he better leave you alone, too!” and he pointed toward the back of the dining hall. On the other side of that wall, the administrative offices of captains and deputy wardens hummed above industrial carpet and around intentionally bland décor, now facing the proof in a local courthouse that they’re incompetent.
“She’s gonna kill someone some day!” Gino laughed.
“I heard she already has!” I squealed.
“I heard you were gonna help her with the next one!” Gino screamed.
And our heads were thrown back in guffaw, laughing in a time when correctional staff actually devoted their workhours to gerrymandering the general population for the sole purpose of harming me. I hadn’t realized before this how important I am to these people and how pathetic this proposition is. Do people in here know that their lives are in danger over imagined personal conflict with me?
Days after I learned about this, I saw Booz on the walkway when I was walking back after work. Before this mess, he used to give me the stink-eye but now, nothing. He wouldn’t even look at me. I could be wrong, but I think he quickened his pace. And I swear, I swear he saw me smile.
When people get nervous and ask me what prison is really like – the marshals at court have asked, lawyers, newbies in lockup – I need to tell them what it is: a see-saw of schadenfreude. Whenever someone in the facility faces a personal problem, there’s someone nearby who delights at their predicament. At least until her fortunes take a dive. Then someone’s laughing at her.
It’s why inmate.com thrives so vibrantly with such sad – and even false – stories. That web of judgment and ridicule supplies us with the bad news about others that keeps us going.
We could, if we chose to do so, level ourselves out with empathy since everyone in here, every member of the staff included, is suffering in some way. I heard through the grapevine that one of the good C/O’s has a severely disabled son and she does this work for its stability and benefits. Booz was losing his house and that can’t be fun. Inmates are separated from their children. They get news that I dread: that one of their parents has passed.
Instead of empathy, though, there’s always someone smug with satisfaction at that suffering… until it’s her turn. If we were empathetic then it wouldn’t be prison anymore. Everyone on the same, elevated moral plane? Nah. Not here. What do you think this is? A government facility dedicated to rehabilitating people?
I started to laugh again. Out loud. By myself. Walking to my housing unit on the walkway.
As I reached the double doors, I realized how humbling this epiphany was. I am a sick fuck. Just like everyone else here.
*Monica passed away from pancreatic cancer in May 2015 in the hospice founded by and named after her father.
**I’ve never been able to verify that these events appeared in the news, nor have I been able to ascertain that they were never reported in the media. I did verify that Keisha D. was charged with two counts of sexual assault on February 23, 2010 in Geographical Area 10 of the Judicial District of New London. On July 28, 2010, after she had been released from York CI, she pleaded guilty to one count of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree for whatever happened to those two women and was sentenced to three months back at York CI, the scene of the crime.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM AUGUST 28 – SEPTEMBER 3, 2017
The State of Nevada announced that it will use fentanyl – the opiate that dealers have been using to cut their heroin to make kill bags – in its lethal injection protocol. Because it’s a first, no one really knows how effective it will be, even though it proves quite effective in the streets every day. If that isn’t a statement on where opioid addiction will land you, I don’t know what is.
The next time someone tries to look merciful by suggesting that a defendant should “just get probation” should read the report released Monday Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Researchers found that probation contributes to mass incarceration contributes as much as incarceration itself. Wondering how that’s possible? For-profit probation.
At the publication devoted to covering gun violence, The Trace, reporters found that two-thirds of gunshot wound victims aren’t insured. Medicaid, hospitals cover much of the costs, but the most is paid by victims themselves. Either this is a fact unacceptable in a country that claims to be concerned about crime victims or it shows how much drug gangs make if they can afford to self-pay for the bullets their members take – at least $20K per hospital stay for a gunshot wound.