A Pollyana in the Penitentiary by Danny Cherry
As I sat reading Executive Regional Director Michael Osburn's response, I just shook my head and chuckled. I was way beyond the point of disgust given all that had happened up until that point. Writing the commissioner had always proven itself to be an exercise in futility, however, my conscious reasoning would never allow me to rest unless I dissented from the recidivistic conditioning of the Indiana State Reformatory. Initially, I became discouraged by my cruel oppressors' corruption, by their violent perversion of justice regarding Indiana Department of Correction policies and by their inhumane and unethical medical and mental health practices, but over time I was able to perceive their insidious objective -- keep prison beds full.
My heart broke when I receive my essay -- Mexico: LaSongre de Mi Vida -- back from Mr. King. He never obliged my request that he confirm receipt of my submission for the Mexican Independence Day Celebration - Competition being held on September fifteenth. I was uncertain if I would be able to attend because we were on lockdown in H-Cellhouse, but I still elected to submit an entry for the competition. After two weeks had passed without any reply from Mr. King, I wrote Commissioner Robert E. Carter Jr. in hopes of gaining assistance from central office. I never imagined that my essay would be rejected and sent back to me the day before the competition.
We had been on lockdown almost four weeks without the slightest idea of when we might come off. I spent the majority of my time studying lexicons and practicing my irregular Spanish verb conjugations during that period. Various mental health staff as well as the chaplain would walk the ranges once per week. I stopped Chaplain Peterson one day as he passed my cell.
"Excuse me sir? I was wondering had you received my petition to you several months ago requesting that you reestablish the foreign languages countletter and allow me to teach the Spanish class?"
He rolled his eyes and responded discourteously, "Mm-hmm."
I disregarded his usual temperament and continued, "Forgive me if my writing the request in Spanish relayed arrogance, please rest assured that wasn't my intention. I only sought to demonstrate my linguistic abilities. Allow me to bridge the gap between Latino and non-Spanish speaking prisoners confined here. This will create more tolerance, acceptance and solidarity which equates to less violence."
Chaplain Peterson just rolled his eyes again and walked off.
I fell to my knees when I saw that my CL-20 headphones were gone. Sergeant Hubbard had reopened my cell after I had left for the barbershop at 8:00 am. I returned at 9:25 am to find my cell wide open.
"Check your stuff cuz your cell been open since we got back from rec," said my drug-addicted, white supremacist neighbor with a diabolical grin.
I covered my mouth with my hands to contain the wail percolating deep inside my gut as I prostrated myself on the floor of my cell. My tears' incessant flow provided relief slowly diminishing my intense sorrow. Once I felt better, I rose, blew my nose and washed my face. Afterwards, I called out for Sergeant Hubbard. My cell door opened and I proceeded to the front of the range.
"May I ask what happened after I left for the barbershop?"
"I guess I rolled your door when the rec line came in."
"Shouldn't my door switch had been tagged in compliance with policy prior to my departure?"
"Are you taking a goddamn shower or what?"
"I'm sorry. I wasn't aware that was why you rolled me out. I thought it was to discuss what happened. My headphones were stolen."
"Then file a fucking grievance!"
"Couldn't you or the lieutenant review the camera to see who stole my stuff?"
"We not reviewing shit! Now get your ass in your cell before I write you up!"
"Yes sir. Sorry to have bothered you sir."
I returned to my cell, lay down and cried myself to sleep.
I was torn from my grief-induced slumber by commotion coming from B-side. They had just returned from picking up their dinner sacks. When A-side's time had arrived to pick our sacks up no buzzer was rung. As hours passed offenders began cursing, banging and demanding to be fed. Finally, our dinner sacks were brought after shift change. We were informed that we were on lockdown because some offenders savagely attacked Sergeant Hubbard, Lieutenant Bynum and Officer Richie. I just sat down on my mat and ate my bologna sandwich while all the other offenders celebrated by setting fires and trashing the range.
I watched as they rolled the offender's lifeless body past me. Neither medical nor custody staff had the decency to cover him up. The offender had been stabbed in the neck and had bled out. When the signal was called I was returning from cassette ministries. The yard crew cuffed me and escorted me back to H-Cellhouse only to witness the victim being brought out of B-side. Once I was secured in my cell, I listened to the gossip over the range.
"Dat nigga wuz a tru G... He didn't even go to the pigs... he just went in his cell and thug'd dat shit my nigga..." one offender shouted.
"Straight up nigga... Straight up!" Another replied.
Every offender romanticized the dead offender for choosing to go in his cell and die instead of going to custody staff for help. Sergeant Ernest joked about the victim's failed attempt to stop the bleeding with socks he tied together. Sergeant Ernest had let an offender from A-side break security by going to B-side where he killed another offender. Sergeant Ernest had always allowed offenders to loiter all day long in H-Cellhouse while all the doors were unsecured. I put my ear plugs in, lay down and went to sleep when he came to my cell and asked me how I felt.
Coming off of our fourth lockdown in just under three months was underwhelming, since history had proven that everyone working and confined inside Pendleton were uncivilized. As soon as I turned on my television, I had an immediate and visceral response. The prison was advertising a Popeye's chicken sale two weeks after an offender was murdered. I literally became sick on my stomach and made it to the toilet right as the vomit reached my lips. Suddenly, I began laughing hysterically -- my head still stuck in the bowl -- as I weighed the matter in my mind. All prison staff were rancorous misanthropes stewing in their own bile which was the catalyst that purged me of mine.
I watched excitingly as President Enrique Pena Nieto rang the bell and began El Grito from the National Palace in Zocalo. Plaza Mayor was packed full of proud Mexicans shouting "Viva!", in response to the President's declarations. I was profoundly moved by President Pena Nieto's words and enraptured by everyone's patriotism. I wished that I could have lived in that moment forever. I took my Spanish essay and mailed it to the Mexican Consulate General in Indianapolis. That night I slept more peacefully than a newborn baby.
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