27 October 2014

Saving Face

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

 

prison clock

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.clock money

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.

The Prison iPod - designed 15 years ago by Sony for the prison population to prevent stashing of contraband.
The Prison iPod – designed 15 years ago by Sony for the prison population to prevent stashing of contraband.

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.minimalicon_clock-2

“Item?”

“Alarm Clock.”

“Quantity?”

“One. I thought we couldn’t have two.”

“Description?”

“Alarm Clock.”

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.

clocks behind barsTaffy 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.melting clock

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.

My regular delivery was absent when I picked up my commissary on November 14, but the supervisor asked:cartoon clock

“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.

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
20 October 2014

The Euthyphro Dilemma

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

stripper outline

“Do you think that these people would even try this stuff on the outside?” I asked as we folded clothes, dilemmacovering the laundry worker’s duties while she visited with her family.

“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.

Euthyphro, typical prosecutor
Euthyphro, typical prosecutor

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.gloves

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.

stripper bentThe 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.”vagas

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.

throwing bookThe 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.”

doc_v4_header_01

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
13 October 2014

The Cards You’re Dealt

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

cards

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.Card-Box-Deck-2

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 know.  I know your case with Webster Bank.”shredding

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.

Photos of the two deposits. Quality was terrible on both but you can see it is an african-american woman in the second/bottom picture.
Photos of the two deposits. Quality was terrible on both but you can see it is an African-American woman in the second/bottom picture. Her face is diagonally up and to the right from the white rectangle that contained the stolen check.

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.

Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue. Even the courthouse marshals hated him.
Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue. Even the courthouse marshals hated him.

“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.” 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.

coldcasecards

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (4)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
6 October 2014

Human Typos

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

“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.

P-E-L-L-E-G-R-I-N-O
P-E-L-L-E-G-R-I-N-O

“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.

filename-1 (7)

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.

photo (10)
The Motion for a New Trial that was really a Motion for Acquittal that ultimately moved for a continuance (see bottom). I didn’t see this until “eleven moths” later, after a “hearing had been had.”

“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.

When it came to my briefs, I was on top of it.
When it came to my briefs, I was on top of it.

“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.

WallyLamb06

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.

 

imageimage

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (1)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
29 September 2014

Good Eats

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

culinaryboner-thumb-250x240 (2)

Prison fare isn’t fair to anyone. People say it’s unidentifiable, but they’re wrong. I can identify all of it. It is mostly texturized vegetable protein (or ‘TVP’ to those in the know) either formed into soy-edified patties of various shapes and sizes or loose and sanguinous “slop,” which comes in different flavors and colors for each day of the week.

Dinner has been served
Dinner has been served

In prison, food is more than a pastime or a preoccupation; it is a passionate obsession for almost all of the inmates. I am not one of them. I do enjoy good food but I am not a picky eater. I have always seen food as nourishment, not a hobby, artistry or sport. Cereal for dinner or cold pizza for breakfast never left me dissatisfied.

This practical and measured approach to food distanced me from my immediate family for most of my life. They are foodies, live-to-eat people whose televisions are almost always tuned to the Food Network and who store Zagat’s guides to various regions next to  their yellow pages. A conversation like the following is not unusual with my family:

“Hi Daddy. What’s new?”

“Well, Mommy had the butternut squash risotto at Scozzi’s tonight. She said it was pretty good, maybe had too much chicken stock in it. I had the osso bucco, which was delicious. The meat was very tender, almost fell off the bone. I had that sparkling water and Mom had a glass of wine; they have a seasonal thing going on there with wines from Connecticut. And we just stopped at a new cupcake place in West Haven on the way home. Just opened up. They have strawberry cupcakes. Mine wasn’t great.”

“O.K., well, good. That’s good. Glad you enjoyed it. Anything else going on?”

“No, why would there be?”

Call an ambulance, quick. Chandra's been arrested.
Call an ambulance, quick. Chandra’s been arrested.

Obviously, food is paramount in my childhood home. So paramount that one night after my first arrest, my parents were convinced that a psychiatric evaluation would help me with my case. But rather than sitting their eldest daughter down and asking her to couch it with a shrink, my parents called 911, telling the dispatch operator that I wasn’t taking my psych medications.

Sometimes Lenny gets more attention than Chandra does
Sometimes Lenny gets more attention than Chandra does

They weren’t lying then; I was not taking psych medications because I had not been prescribed any. I learned exactly how this phony emergency transpired from an Emergency Room doctor after a fireman knocked down my door and drove me to Yale-New Haven Hospital. My parents weren’t there to tell me themselves. They had gone out to dinner at Lenny’s Indian Head in Branford after placing the 911 call. That night, their food-fix was more important than their first-born.

A similar isolation and resentment simmered in me when I met the culinary kookiness in prison. These women were more than die-hard foodies; they were die-for foodies. Abandoned by her husband at his drug dealer’s house as payment for some type of debt, one inmate had been beaten and raped days before she was arrested. She approached my cell door one day, her orbital socket fluorescent purple from bruising.

“I’m dying for something…. anything chocolate,” she whimpered at me.

It looked like she almost died from something else. “Is that all right?” I asked pointing to her eye.

“Oh, …yeah.”  She touched her eye gingerly. “But I haven’t had, like, anything chocolate in, like, six months.”

“Well, if you got through six months without it, you can wait until you get your own bag,” scolded my roommate Sally’s voice from behind me. ‘A bag’ means different things to disenfranchised women. It can mean a baggie of heroin; it is often the luggage you pack when you move shiftlessly from place to place, sponsor’s apartment to stranger’s floor. On the inside, ‘a bag’ means a purchase from the prison commissary that sells hygiene items and junk food. Although strikingly pretty, Sally had a Body Mass Index of about 45. She liked bags of Now & Later candies. She liked a lot of them in the past six months.

Purchases limited to five bags per week
Purchases limited to five bags per week

One of probably hundreds of death ransoms presented to me by women who wanted a snack, this type of incident always pissed me off.  It embarrassed me to see women behaving like this, so desperate and so desirous of such utter crap. Going out in search of food in such a debased way seemed so primitive, so carnal to me that I almost felt an evolutionary setback happening around me, putting homo sapiens back to times when the hypothalamus – the gland that controls one’s appetite – was so underdeveloped that it had to fire constantly to remind those cretins to keep eating in order to stay alive. They all couldn’t possibly be this hungry, I thought to myself, much like I thought at home.

I should have been more compassionate toward these women because the reasons for their behavior are multiple and sad. First, many women come to jail after prolonged “runs” – periods of occasional homelessness, probable substance abuse, definite chaotic behavior and absolute anorexia. They have, somewhat comfortably, not eaten a full or functional meal in months. Satiety is one of the few upsides of crack and heroin use and these women walk into prison after these runs with skinny, foal-like legs, drumstick arms and backs bumpy with ribs protruding.

This is what the commissary fuss is about: the ability to make a papa (crushed potato chips mixed with squeeze cheese and hot water, smeared into a paste and filled with tuna or chicken)
This is what the commissary fuss and fights are about: the ability to make a papa (crushed potato chips mixed with squeeze cheese and hot water, smeared into a paste and filled with tuna or chicken)

Second, because drug use usually ceases in the relative safety of incarceration, another addiction often takes its place – an addiction to food. Many of the same behaviors associated with substance abuse rear themselves on the day that commissary bags fall into the inmates’ anxious clutches: stealing, secretive bingeing, lying, bargaining, prostituting and eschewing one’s usual responsibilities, even if those responsibilities are only to brush one’s teeth, wash one’s face and make one’s bed every day.

Lastly, as on the outside, food supplants boredom and feeds another addiction that has taken hold in many inmates’ lives: an addiction to excitement. Some people call this compulsion to look for drama in prison institutionalized behavior and I understand why. In a place where almost everything is rote, days get spiced by arguments and analysis about who’s eating what, with whom, how she got what she has and why she did/did not share her pile. The question of “What will I eat tonight?” could distract the most troubled inmate from her problems. Currency, banter, power plays and procrastination all spring from food in prison. It was so much like home I couldn’t stand it.

One in their collection
One in my parents’ collection

As expected, my mother was somewhat excited when she learned that I had been assigned to work in the prison kitchen with other inmates. “Are you learning something new about cooking at least?” she inquired hopefully. I burst her bubble when I told her that we only bake things off or boil bags of prepared food.

A prison kitchen is hardly a Mecca for culinary artists. It is a distribution center that the Department of Correction uses to meet its daily human rights obligation of feeding people who, at least for the lengths of their terms of confinement, are not going to enter a grocery store or restaurant. As you might guess, the impersonal and industrial tone of a prison kitchen does little to refine an inmate palate.

For example, “Chicken Sunday’s” offering, quartered chicken legs that swim and bob in grease, is a four-star favorite.

Chicken Sunday at York was greasier
Chicken Sunday at York was greasier

Another top pick meal, French toast, is bread sprayed with yellow and brown coatings to make it look like it was egg-battered and browned. These slices, served not with maple syrup but with “Pancake and Waffle Syrup” (the sticker on the bottle qualifies: “Assorted Syrups with Maple and Other Flavors”) draw big crowds, as do the ham “steaks” – chicken-based ham butchered one-quarter inch thick to reach “steak” status.

The yellow is not egg
French Toast: the yellow is not egg

When the inmate kitchen workers have the opportunity to cook for themselves in the prison kitchen, rather than just finishing off some other kitchen’s work, cereals, breads, diced chicken and beef are elevated to gourmet status by dumping melted margarine, brown sugar and/or processed cheese food on them.

Steakhouse
Steakhouse

Fresh fruits, surprise pans of salad greens, or a real peach cobbler appear from time to time in the kitchen, proving that working in the main dining room of a prison had its perks. I would see the kitchen supervisors treat the more experienced workers to special selections – hand-cut French fries, béchamel sauce for whole-wheat pasta. Not really tempted by this more upscale food and totally disgusted by the prostrate acts of begging I had seen, I never asked to join in. Seeing these other workers receive a special benefit didn’t exactly anger me but I did vow, after witnessing a few others’ furtive feasts, that I would never take any of those benefits reserved for only a few inmates. Selective treatment like this seemed unfair to me, but this promise was no noble sacrifice. I would have been embarrassed to take food I did not even want, knowing that other inmates, some of whom were actually hungry, and others merely caught in the desperate game ofprison snacks and hungry for another type of satisfaction, could not partake.

Eating in prison is like rush week - until your initiation, your starve
Eating in prison is like rush week – until your initiation, your starve

One Sunday morning, as other inmate workers sat in the dining hall eating cake and oatmeal, I went back to the kitchen area for some paper towels. Ms. Badlee, the supervisor who affectionately forgets my name, asked me if I wanted some chicken. I expected the usual “Chicken Sunday” chicken and started to shake my head when my eyes followed her hand. She pointed to a big, artfully seasoned, perfectly glistening breast of chicken that had never seen a day inside an institutional freezer. Even from a distance I could tell that this breast had reached that ‘juicy but not greasy’ apex of poultry. Pure white meat waited underneath thin, crispy skin. Meat like this had not graced my spork in over two years. There was enough for only me and, according to my ethics, eating it was not fair, but, boy, was this some fare. I broke my contract with inmate egalitarianism and bit it.

This was some fare...
This was some fare…

“No, you gotta eat that shit up in the closet,” Ms. Badlee said, meaning the dry good storage closet just feet away from me. Ms. Badlee knew that my treat was unfair too, and she did not want the other inmate workers to see the chicken that they would not eat that day.

Hiding in a closet to eat something smacked too much of a bulimic binge, of the desperate and maladaptive behaviors associated with illicit ingestion. Even though every salt grain and pepper flake danced into position to highlight the pure chicken-y goodness of my snack, this was only chicken after all.

“In da clovet?” I asked incredulously, my mouth full.

“Yeah. I ain’t getting up to open no motherfuckin’ cooler” she replied, speaking of the only other viable hiding spot in the kitchen.

Desperate. Primitive. Primal. Carnal. I opened the closet door and stepped in.

I felt like Pee Wee Herman in a darkened theater: Just finish before they see you, I kept repeating in my mind. I didn’t close the door all the way so that it locked; that would have been a solid tip to any inmate that undetected food was afoot. Then, through the partial opening, came another worker’s voice.

“Because I need more brown sugar,” she defied one of the cooks who probably wanted to know why she was entering the closet. She opened the door halfway because she had paused, her stillness and stance a tacit question to the cook: “And what are you going to do about it?”sauerkraut

I weighed my options. I could put the chicken down – but where? – and offer to help my kitchen colleague retrieve the sugar, ushering her out so I could continue with my hidden pleasure. My presence in a darkened closet would trip serious silent alarms and other inmates would interrogate me ruthlessly for days as to what I ate and where I got it. So I jumped up on some uneven bags of Wheatena, quite skillfully I might add, one hand holding my chicken, the other placing light pressure on the door so it would not swing all the way back, my right butt cheek creased by a case of Sysco Imperial Sauerkraut. I held this painful position and never dropped the bird. My co-worker slipped out of the closet with her sugar and without seeing or smelling me.

CO-DEFENDANT
CO-DEFENDANT

They say it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up that trips up perps, and I have quite a few friends and neighbors here in the prison who can attest to this canon of criminal enterprise. After I finished, I knew had to bury the bones. I could have abandoned them somewhere in the closet only to be found days later by some inmate nosing around the closet in an archeological expedition to find something to steal from the kitchen or a place to stash what had already been stolen. The same round of questions would pop up then and besides, it’s a totally institutionalized deed to leave detritus like that for someone else to clean up. Simply walking out with the bones hidden in my hand wouldn’t work either. How would I explain having to wash the grease off my hands? I spied a bottle of fruit punch concentrate. Grabbing a large plastic food cover (we call them ‘body bags’ here in the prison), I drizzled the sticky red liquid on to the plastic tarp and dragged my hands through the puddle.

“Who did this?” I demanded as I exited the closet, pinching the plastic bag between two fingers of my right hand and holding the sticky mess away from me. “You spilled juice and didn’t even clean it up? Who does that?” I shouted to no one. I looked over to Ms. Badlee’s desk to catch either a shared smile of complicity or a disappointed shake of her head. She was asleep.Out-damned-spot

‘Fine, I’ll take it outside,” I sighed and left for the dumpster, chicken bones hidden in my three clenched right fingers. I flung all of my evidence into the dumpster and held my soiled hands away from my even-more soiled shirt. Out! Out damn better-than-Sunday-Chicken grease covered with toxic juice syrup, I thought to myself at the small stainless steel sink. Lady Macbeth never scoured or scolded herself like I did because she was never institutionalized. What the hell has become of me?

 

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (3)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (1)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
22 September 2014

Covering the Spread

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

hot sauce

 

I was reading the New York Times, a hand-me-down copy that arrives to its first reader about a week after publication because of mail-room processing. The section with their blurby stories contained a prison ditty: a warden and a guard at Sampson Correctional Institute in North Carolina forced inmates to simulate sex acts and to rub hot sauce on their own genitals. They’ve been suspended. The staff members, not the genitals.

Like any other prisoner who caught this news tidbit, I felt strongly about victimization of persons similarly situated so I decided to take action, proactive steps toward protecting myself. I bought only non-caustic condiments by bubbling in the circles next to ketchup and ranch dressing on my commissary form and avoided a Louisiana hot sauce purchase. I won’t let my supplies meet the guards’ demands.

I doubt that abuse’s presence in prisons would shock anyone on the outside if the prison guard stereotype has taken hold in their heads. The traditional cinematic depiction of a correction officer is male, a dick (untouched by Tabasco) discompassionate at best, outwardly cruel at worst. The stereotype didn’t come from nowhere; no prisoner leaves custody without a taste of abuse by guards, be it verbal, emotional, sexual or physical. The abuse may not be directed at one person but rather the whole prison population, but it’s still there.

My commissary order...
My commissary order…

From what I have witnessed, I conclude that the prison guard occupation attracts two types of people. First, the vocation calls the LSE crowd (low self-esteem), those who have been bullied and abused themselves. They have allowed their own victimization to contour their character and ambition. These qualities found expression in jobs were they could wield power over others whom they would perceive as weaker than they. When I watch these guards interact with prisoners, spewing utter disgust, incessant degradation and put-downs, filled with rage up to the razor wire, I want to ask them: “When you decided to become a guard you did know that you might come into occasional contact with a prisoner, no?” Some correction officers act like they were working on Wall Street and the warden plucked them off the trading floor to baby-sit women in prison when, in fact, theirs are positions they sought, that they covet, because they can mistreat the less powerful.

The other correction contingent comprises itself of true public servants. They choose to spend eight to sixteen hours every day sitting with the people whom no one in society wants around. They expose themselves to sundry hazards- namely us- because they believe that, regardless of what someone might have done, abuse is never part of a prison sentence.

Prisoners live out most of their days between these two extremes of supervision. Sometimes the two types of guards cancel out the others’ effects; sometimes they just temper each other so that any inhumanity or lack thereof loses its impact. But the worst type of abuse that spins out of the ying and yang of the prison guard corps is indifference. The indifference, though not explicit, is not subtle either. The staff here often make sure that inmates know that they don’t matter.

In the precipitory prelude to Blizzard Charlotte’s dumping twelve-plus of the wet, packed stuff on the state, a woman in the prison cafeteria began to seize. When a guard saw her convulsion start, he followed protocol and asked her “Ma’am, are you all right?” when he knew that she was not. Then he announced a “code white”- a medical emergency- on the prison compound’s radio waves. Nurses, lieutenants and other guards ran into the dining hall as they have been trained to do.

... with nothing hot ordered
… with nothing hot ordered

As medical personnel tended to the prisoner, one lieutenant- a female with the face of Karl Malden – blasted the guard right in front of the inmates as we ate breakfast. Public castigation of staff is a rare and rightfully so because it starts rumors and marks the guard as a soft target for false complaints, but the lieutenant still yelled at the guard that he should not have declared an emergency like that, not in a way that would make prison employees run in slippery weather to care for an inmate, ill or not.

“They can fall and she will survive a seizure!” the lieutenant shrieked at the guard, her implication clear to her inmate audience: You don’t matter. She would have allowed the inmate to seize the whole day long as long as none of the non-inmates remained safe. I wanted to remind her that it was possible – even obligatory – to keep everyone on the compound healthy. She didn’t really have to choose.

If harm had actually come to the prisoner from unintentionally slamming her head on the linoleum during her spell, I don’t doubt this lieutenant would have twisted the language in any incident reports to defend a guard’s inaction or blame delayed response on the snow. I guess there’s no harm in foul weather.

Learning that you do not matter is probably the most devastating abuse that a prisoner endures and it’s totally contrary to rehabilitation. A woman’s knowing that she has a positive value in others’ eyes enables good behavior; she trusts the environment that assigned her this importance and acts accordingly. She knows that she will lose her value through bad behavior but if she works to maintain others’ estimation of her, she will keep her position and increase her own value.

When women feel devalued wantonly, they distrust their environments and start believing that continued proper behavior will not protect them in the long run. The flip side to this distrust is that they convince themselves that proportional punishment will not follow bad deeds; somehow feeling devalued makes women think that they can get away with anything, so they bust rules, break the law and end up in prison at the mercy of guards undergoing the same phenomenon because they were somehow devalued when they were young.

Two days after the seizure in the chow hall, I learned my precise value to a group of guards. Charlotte had coated the prison buildings and the ground with a thick, glittery enamel in white.  A co-worker in food prep and I walked back to our respective housing units after our shift. Five guards packed snowballs and threw them at our backs when we passed, betting which guard could hit one of us ‘mates.

snowballs

 

“More points for the little one. She’s harder to hit,” one called out. I was the “little one.”

“The big one’s hard to hit. She’s not walking a straight line,” another guard yelled about my co-worker, who is not big.

“Do these people know that there are criminals up in this motherfucker?” she asked me, referring to the inmates in the prison and expressing her understandable desire for revenge. Her message was clear: We may not matter to you but we outnumber you and many of us have no consciences at all.

Icy ball after icy ball detonated on gritty pavement around us and we scrunched our necks down each time like the scaredy-cat shoulder move would protect us. We had no choice but to keep walking as they bombed us – it would be misconduct even to turn around. Yet not one snowball hit either of us and I doubted that these were intentional misses. They didn’t become guards because they were good athletes.

“I’d love to force them to rub hot sauce on their balls,” I said referencing the Times’ blurb I had read. I forgot that my co-worker had not been exposed to the news tidbit about the warden and guard in North Carolina.

“Wow. You’ve never even been in a fight, right? I didn’t know you were that gangsta,” she said, nodding her head, half-impressed and half-assessing just how crazy I was after the spontaneous hot sauce plan.

“Well,” I said, “I’m learning.”

crochet gangster
I like to write about what happens inside prisons and sh*t, too.

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (4)
  • Interesting (3)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (1)
  • Sucks (0)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
15 September 2014

The Next Fire

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

Lillian often drew pictures for the guards, the lieutenants. They were actually pretty gracious about accepting her colored-pencil renderings of houses, flowers and Willie the Wonder Pig because they knew she suffered from physical, mental and neurological disabilities.

I assumed that her constellation of conditions was the reason why they placed Lillian in a cell with me. Whatever animosity lingered between me and the staff did not matter; they knew that I would never exploit another inmate, particularly one with her abilities. When she moved in, she said she would be going to court soon – as she was still unsentenced – and hopefully go home that day, sentenced to time served, a total of one year.

“What exactly is your charge?” I inquired, typical intro cellmate crap.

“Arson One. I burned down a mill in Norwich,” she said, a little too brightly. She had lit aflame a historical landmark, an empty mill.

The Capeheart Mill as it burned
The Capeheart Mill as it burned

“Oh, okay,” I said. What else could I say?

On a Thursday morning she packed her property to go to court but left me a note and two of her drawings in case she never returned. One, a drawing of a correction officer dubbed “DIKHED,” was placed atop another with the cipherous title “My Next Fire,” which I can best describe as a contemporary landscape, an entire village being eaten by flames. The stick figure populace was doing various things: dying, falling out of windows of burning buildings, lying on the ground with broken necks, driving ambulances and hearses, digging graves, fleeing structures ready to collapse from fire.

“Oh, okay,” was all I could say about it. Until two days later when an overnight guard asked me about her as I left the building for breakfast.

“So ya miss your roommate, Bozelko?” He knew her from before York, when he worked security at a hospital where she was a patient.

I shrugged. Telling the truth would make me speak ill of other inmates to the correction officers which I don’t like to do because it fuels their fire.

“Can you believe that judge have her a year for the mill?” he huffed.

“Yes. Yeah, I can believe that.”

“What’s the bastard gonna say when she does it again?” he wondered out loud.

My Next Fire.

“B, can I show you something?” I asked him and read sudden anxiety on his face. I believe he thought when I asked to show him something it was some kind of sexual overture or, even worse, an attempt at friendship and camaraderie between two equals who were clearly not.

“No. Not like that,” I told him, swinging my hands in the universal You’re way off sign. “It’s something she left for me. I didn’t know if I should report it or not.”

“What the hell is it?”

“A picture of a fire.”

“Get it.”

I ran to my cell, grabbed the ‘DIKHED’ and ‘My Next Fire’ and ran downstairs. B scanned and paused. Picked up the phone receiver.

“I’m calling a lieutenant. Will you tell whoever comes over what happened?”

“Yeah, but…it’s all there. She went to court and left me the note and the drawings. That’s it.”

“OK. I’ll let you know if someone wants to talk to you.”

Apparently no one wanted to talk to me because I heard nothing until I saw B on the walkway a few weeks later.

“Whatever happened with that picture?”

“Fucking lieutenant. She wouldn’t do shit about it. She said because the picture wasn’t signed by her, by the “artist.” She even said ‘how do we know Bozelko didn’t draw it to set her up?’”

I laughed because that would be so like me, torching shit and then cartooning it.

“Yeah that’s what I said,” B agreed. “The handwriting and the people drawing match all the scribbles she hands out to staff but the LT wouldn’t do shit about it.” I knew the lieutenant he named. She’s a royal bitch and, if the next fire proved anything, a work-shy bitch, too.

“So she didn’t file a police report or anything?” I asked B who was muttering something about lazy cunts.

“No.”

“Then what’d she do with it?”

“Threw it away,” he announced.

“You’re kidding me.”

“Nope.”

“Oh, okay,” I told him. What else could I say?

I almost forgot about My Next Fire until my next encounter with B when his rotation schedule brought him back into my housing unit about six months later.

“Bozelko, you know your cellie’s back.”

“Of course she is,” I conceded. York’s recidivism rate close to 90%, so I hear that all the time. “Which one? Who exactly are we talking about?” He told me it was Lillian.

“My Next Fire?”

“Yep. Burned down the facility where she was living. It’s like a bunch of small buildings.”

A village.

“Was anyone hurt?” I asked, shocked, a little.

“No, but a bunch of the other residents living with her lost their housing. Almost a million in damages.” B informed me as he took the three o’clock headcount.

“And that lieutenant never told the police anything about the drawing, did she?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“No, but I did. I called a buddy of mine who’s a State Trooper and told him. They picked her up two days ago.”

Now Lillian sits here and will likely serve fifteen years. Like mine, her parents are elderly and they will probably pass before she leaves. People have little sympathy for her but feel for her parents. Their pain, like the fire, was totally preventable. If only the lieutenant made a report, maybe someone would have kept better watch on Lillian and she never would have found that lighter. Maybe Lillian would have been unable to force people into homelessness, would have been unable to burden arson investigators with more work, would have kept an insurance adjuster from cutting a big check. Maybe with a bit more supervision before her next fire -once the lieutenant had reported it – Lillian would be OK right now. Instead, she’s here. Again. And all of it could have been stopped because she telegraphed her next offense and everyone with the power to prevent was too unconcerned to do anything about it.

Again
Again

I rarely see Lillian but when I do, she has a drawing in hand, approaching a guard, thinking everything is going to be fine and she will be out soon. She won’t. I don’t know if anyone told her but she’s as destroyed as the village.

“Chandra! I wanna be your roommate again! I’m gonna talk to a lieutenant about it!” she shouted and waved to me as I passed her on the walkway returning from work.

“Oh, okay. We’ll see,” I assured her. I think I’ll be gone before the lieutenant can arrange it.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (37)
  • Interesting (59)
  • Useful (19)
  • Boring (19)
  • Sucks (20)
SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page