“Bozelko, name and number.”
“Well, Bozelko’s name is Bozelko and her number is 330445,” I answered without even turning over. It was one of those 2 AM name and number counts, simulated emergencies.
“Savino, name and number…actually, know what? Both of you get up!”
Shit, did I piss her off with the name comment? Name and number counts in the middle of the night were not totally uncommon but pulling us both out of bed was.
“What the fuck?” Savino mumbled. I knew better than to delay so I jumped down. Savino crawled off her mattress so we could both stand at attention in our PJ’s. It was a female C/O, backed up by the gay guy from third shift.
“Savino, 123456. Why did you make us get up for a name and number?”
“Have to see your face,” the female C/O said and the third shift guy came forward with the three-ring notebook that holds all of our bed assignments along with our ID pictures. They only drag that binder out when they want to make sure everyone is here. The last time I saw one was when they emptied the dorms for the fire and they had to make sure everyone got over to the cafeteria safely. When the three-ring comes out, there’s a three-ring circus happening somewhere on the compound.
“Someone’s missing,” I told Savino. And the female C/O confirmed it by nodding.
“Again?” I asked and she nodded. Again. I was shocked, not that someone escaped but that someone who worked for the prison would admit it to us. Guards can jam themselves up pretty seriously if they divulge security secrets to the inmates. That’s undue familiarity right there.
We had an escape three months ago when two women walked away from the compound, caught a ride to Hartford where they smoked crack and dyed their hair before the cops nabbed them. It was the first escape in years and it happened when they new warden had been on the job for approximately a month. Now he had been on the job for four months and he had another escape, another occasion for the three-ring. People who live around the prison were pissed and scared last time. I can’t imagine the bitch fits they were going to throw at the second escape.
“Code Green!” I yelled back as I scaled the bunk bed.
The female C/O dipped back toward our cell.
“Bozelko, you’re not supposed to know that!”
“Did she not just tell us that someone escaped?” I asked Savino, who raised her voice: “You just told us!”
“Well, keep it to yourselves. And you’re not supposed to know what a Code Green is,” the C/O warned. Too late.
We can hear these emergencies announced on officers’ radios. Then we see them run to the crisis. But we’re never supposed to know that something’s going down. If we do figure out that something’s happening, we’re not supposed to know exactly what it is. But the emergency color chart is easy enough to figure out: Code Green is an escape, as in green light, go, get the hell out of Dodge; Code Blue is a fight between inmates (think black and blue); Code Red is a fire; Code Yellow is an inmate taking a staff member hostage (think yellow ribbons and the Iranian hostage crisis); Code Purple is an attempted suicide (think the color of a strangulated face); Code White is a medical emergency (think doctor’s lab coat); Code Orange is an assault on a staff member (I think of traffic cone orange, a line that separates us from them). It’s not like not knowing what a Code Orange is makes you less likely to clock a C/O.
They think they protect the safety and security of the facility when they don’t tell the inmate what’s going on but I think the whole fakery is actually bad for rehabilitation. For every lie an inmate has told, she has received three in return, bum checks written out to reality. Yeah, I paid the rent… I did file that motion for you…I love you, baby… I’m here to help…We’re coming to visit. Women keep lying to correct the negative balance in their trust accounts which only overdraws them even more.
Women – people – behave when they trust their environment. Part of trusting the environment is knowing what the hell is happening. Besides, in the absence of accurate bulletins, crazy rumors buzz around and people lose trust even more. That must be why the Town of East Lyme did reverse 911 calls to all residents in the area after each escape. The upright neighbors deserved the truth: that the new warden lost another one who might be in their backyards. No one warns these people when women walk out the front gate, unrehabilitated, even more dangerous than someone who’s lamming it. An inmate doesn’t need to escape to be a public threat. But the public isn’t supposed to know that.
That morning, I tried to go back to sleep, not knowing how long the prison would be locked down as they looked for the escapee. I could hear Savino cry softly. The last escape lockdown was hard for her because it caused her to miss a visit with her son who had traveled from Illinois to see her. He was turned away at the gate, his visit cancelled, because the two women who had escaped were still on the run. She hasn’t been able to see him since.
A few weeks after the second escape, another emergency popped up while we were working. Green Bay got up from the supervisors’ desk and pulled down the sliding garage door, one that stays open all the time. Something was up. Women who don’t trust don’t miss a thing; everyone noticed. Then it becomes a game to see who can squeeze the real story out of a staff member. Whenever this game unfolds it’s like we’re feeling around for something solid, that we can believe, that we can rely on.
Merc, my second-in-command, came to me to do her feeling for her.
“Chan, ask one of them what the fuck is going on. Steven’s bringing my son today. If we get locked….” Tears welled up in her eyes. Merc hadn’t seen her son in over a year and her ex wasn’t all that excited about bringing him up. Being turned away at the gate would give him too much of an excuse to keep the child away. Another way to make a promise that he would come and then renege.
“I can’t ask Giants; he’s a vault.”
I usually meander around the supervisors’ desk to see what I can overhear, but Merc’s anxiety called for a direct hit.
“What’s going on?” I asked Bengals.
“No idea,” Bengals said and tapped the cases of broccoli that were waiting to be opened.
“What did he say?” Merc asked.
“Nothing. He’s not saying. But we have to open the broccoli for the stir fry,” I said, snapping on plastic gloves.
“I already opened them,” Merc said.
“Well, does he know?” I wondered.
“Doesn’t really matter. They’re done. I just don’t…please don’t make me miss my visit,” she said to no one.
“I know, kid. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s nothing and you’ll get your visit,” I reassured her. And she knew I was lying as we pawed through broccoli that had started to smell with its thawing since it had been opened a day before. We then kept working like nothing was happening until Merc nudged me and pointed to Bengals.
“Nope,” Bengals said and knocked the broccoli cases again.
“Yeah, oh, those are open,” I informed him. He knocked them again.
“Oh, wait, are they not totally done? I’ll check them again right now,” I promised and started opening the cases when Merc came up.
“What did he say?” she asked, nervously picking at the broccoli. “We opened these.”
“He doesn’t know,” I told her. I could feel her anxiety.
“Bengals, please, if we’re going to be locked down…let her know because…”
“GREEN, GREEN, GREEN! I’ve been trying to tell you they think its an escape!” He had been knocking at the broccoli to clue us in to the color of the code all along. We’re so used to not being told the truth that neither of us had pieced it together.
“Another one?!? Again?!? Oh, we are fucked…” I despaired and Merc started to cry at the thought of her missed visit. As if on cue, Green Bay opened the sliding door, signifying that the emergency was over. Merc ended up seeing her son later that day as I reviewed every communication I could remember with anyone in the prison to see what other cryptic messages I had missed. Code Broccoli. Bengals’ telling me the truth in a way that wouldn’t get him in trouble made me trust myself even less. I should have caught that, I thought to myself like I have so many times in the past, only when I had been lied to.
As it turns out, someone was walking very close to the other side of the fence and the warden thought another escape was in the offing and he wanted to get a jump on it but it was just two idiots – law-abiding citizens – lost in the woods. But I’m not supposed to know that.
From newsweek.com: New Details Emerge in New York Prison Escape
Richard Matt and David Sweat are still on the run after escaping over one week ago from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.