Fleming, Lance



Fleming/Dread/1 ESSAY DREADNOUGHT Being in prison is like swimming in shark infested waters; you might navigate safely back to shore, but, then again, you might not——you could get eaten alive before you reach the beach. The first time I laid eyes on Folsom Prison my heart nearly stopped beating“ Seeing that massive wall of solid granite rock felt like the closing of a concrete casket. As the prison bus slowly moved up the hill, what little hope that remained in my veins seemed to hem» orrhage right out of me. I guess my feelings were no different than the other convicted felons who were shackled with iron leg and wrist restraints. We all were scared, and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, gloom and doom. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but those massive granite walls damn sure were not it. They were huge! Imposing. Those pon- derous rocks may be composed of quartz, orthoclase and albite feldspars9 but the general effect they had on my psyche implied way more than dura- bility and hardness, they literally screamed out a Siren's song of de~ feat, desperation, depression and despair. My once free life was now resolutely over. J.» do J.. 1 \ I» I‘: As my heart began to beat again and the death rattle of the doomed sucked in some life sustaining air, I released a heavy sigh. Fleming/Dread/2 It takes emhikato get used to the concrete walls; razor—wire and iron bars that are the linchpins of incarceration. Those humbling elements are everpresent reminders that my tax—paying, car—riding, weed—smoking and womanizing days were being exchanged for something con- siderably less fun. As of this moment my former carefree lifestyle was now a level four sequesteredg spirit—robbing, soul—murdering mess. The first horror that confronted me was the physical and psycho~ logical adjustments I had to make living in a twowperson prison cell. Six~by~twelVe. Yes, that's how small my new home was, just wide enough to stretch out my arms and long enough to lay my body down in. Small. It was like living in a shoebox. Except my shoebox was being shared with ann other man. Sharing a bunkbed with my thumb-sucking baby brother was cool when I was ten-yearsmoldg not—so—cool when sharing it with a 200- pound grown ass man, who belched and snored and farted like there was a fire sale at Macy's. Added to tnat mix of unpleasant goodies shoebox sized abode were my cellie's body sweat, stinky feet, and his smelly shoes. Do you know what a grown ass man smells like after hours of buffing dumbbells and barbells out in a hot California sun? Nothing nice, I can tell you that. Additionally what made the concrete walled imprisonment utterly worse was the everpresent, stomach—turning stank of feces. Shit. Daily, weekly, yearly? the within arms reach presence of shit was as routine and commonplace as a horde of flys buzzing around dog shit. Imagine this: not only did I have to share my shoebox sized accommo- dations with a belching and farting miscreant, I also had to brush my Fleming/Dread/3 teeth, groom, change clothes, watch TV, snack canteen, piss, and shit in the exact same room. It was disgusting! In this thimble-size cell, as I endeavored to eat my lunch while watching "All My Children” my grown ass cellmate, not five yards away, sat on the toilet taking a dump. He would drop a turd and then flush. Drop another turd and then flush. The smell, the stench. It was enough to gag a maggot. It was all I could do to keep from barfing up my bag lunch. It's beyond disgust. Totally nauseating. Imagine if you will, dining in a restaurant, putting fork to your favorite meal as a man sits right next to you taking a shit! Revolting. It is odor ‘most foul. Bad enough to melt paint off the cell walls. And it only got worse from there The "Random House Unabridged Dictionary” defines violence as "swift and intense force; injurious physical force, action or treatment; unwarranted exertion of power." Horror number two. Violence. ‘Never before in my prior free life in society had such an unwanted thing been so ubiquitous. The potential for violence hangs in the air like the constant unyielding rays of the sun. On a daily basis, from hour—to—hour, morning, noon or night, with every breath that I breathed, with every step that I took, danger and violence stalked the prison yard. It could happen anyplace and at any time. I could be attacked while soaping my balls in the shower, I could be assaulted on the yard as I played a game of basketball, or I could be beaten up in the cell as I lay on my bunk sleeping; an inmate could stab me in the chowhall as I swilled that rot—gut coffee, or I could feel the unmistakable thrust of a shank in the back as I prayed while on my knees Fleming/Dread/4 at church services. Anyplace, anytime. The violence was usually swift, ferocious and merciless. A friend- ly game of basketball could suddenly erupt into a brutal free—swinging frenzy if a player was fouled too hard. An intense poker game might warrant a vicious stabbing iffing a gambler got caught cheating. And there is utterly no reprieve for child molesters, especially among white cons, they attack pedophiles with a savagery that's better suited for battlefields or gladiators in ancient Roman coliseums. Prison violence, brutal and bloody. The weapon of choice was usually a knife; hand-made cutting ins- truments usually fashioned from pieces of metal. The metal could come from anywhere: the metal off a clipboard, keys from manual typewriters, doorhandles, fan blades? metal spines from notebook binders~—T even saw a knife made from the metal of a bedspringf Truly ingenious. You name it and iffing it's made of metal you can bet your HIV medication money that a con can beat it down, hammer it. pound it; shape it and forge it into a knife. The motives for knife attacks are as varied and as diverse as the inmates whom perpetrate them. Disrespect is the most common reason; disrespect can get me stabbed quicker than screwing a convict's mama. For some reason the careless disregard we routinely mouth on the street to our family, friends, peers, neighbors and co—workers——who show little more than hurt feelings-—is somehow magnified in prison. Cons who show a lack of consideration or deferential regard for another con's feelings with unkind words are liable to get a sharpened piece of metal thrust in their chests. Bigots loose with the word “nigger” are likely to get a reply of a Fleming/Dread/5 requited knife thrust to the throat by an insulted black con. Racists beware! Of course convicts‘ egos are a fragile thang (most are illit- erate, uneducated, inarticulate, intolerant of cons’ beliefs and opin- ions differing from their own, and are survivors of domestic abuse, broken homes and dysfunctional families) that they easily take offense to damn near anything. A partial list: stepped on shoes, changing the dayroom TV channel, loud playing music, taking too long on the phone, cutting in line at the canteen, not paying your drug debts in a timely manner, I even saw a con get attacked because he looked like somebody else. Ain't that a bitch. Of course, stealing can get you stabbed quicker than snow melting .in a sand storm. And of course child molesters get no love at all—-they have a very short shelf life. On the yard pedophiles get eaten up quicker than hungry fat boys masticating buckets of fried chicken. The one-onnone violence is bad enough, but the prison violence that stops my breathing are the group attacks. The Horror number three. Without a doubt thee most hazardous, nerve~tingling, sphincter tightening, perilous violence occurring in prison is the race riot. With knee~knocking certainty, guaranteed to loosen your bladder and shit your pants, nothing on planet earth compares to a race riot. There's not a single act happening in prison that'll give you a coronary thrombosis quicker than a race riot. Nothing's more frightening. J. .Y.. J,» 4». 4 \ I\ There is a pall that falls over the yard when a riot is about to happen, It is a gloom that is eerily quiet. One minute the yard is alive with inmate activity: board games of chess, cards and dominoes, lively conversations and shit-talking, the thump, thump, thump of balls Fleming/Dread/6 bouncing in competitive sports play. And then everything stops. Like the plugs have been pulled on electric machines. Everything stops. Birds have stopped chirping, grasshoppers have stopped hopping, even the bees have stopped buzzing. Its as if Nature has taken a time~out to warn her denizens that doom is approaching. It's like walking through a cemetery. Dead quiet. And then all Hell breaks loose. The perpetrators spring into action. With the suddeness of a light» ning strike, Mexican cons attack the black cons. Knives have appeared from nowhere; brown hands that were empty now are holding handmade weapm ons, and those hands are slashing, cutting and stabbing black inmates. There's a flurry of activity as the put upon blacks attempt to defend themselves. There are surprised yells, hollers, grunts, even screams as hands and feet, bodies and legs twist and turn in a violent ballet of shiv thrusts, parries, deflections and frenzied efforts to at ack and ward off blows. "Down on the yard! Down on the yard!” yell the guards from the gun towers. But their warnings go unanswered as the fighting continues. It's a dance of chaotic rhythm as some blacks run and flee——their brown brothers in hot pursuit, knives clutched tightly in their fists. First the gas canisters appear. The cylinders hiss and fizzle through the sky and then drop to the ground, their breath—taking contents polluting the air with its gagging, noxious vapors. But it had little effect on the warring cons. Nonetheless the gas did cause my eyes to tear up and blink as I huddled under a yard table, my heart palpitating, Then came the live rounds. Fleming/Dread/7 Pow! Pow! Pow! As the spent tear gas wafted up off the ground like ghostly rib- bons of vapors, the guards fired live ammunition at the melee. Fearing mortal wounding, some of the rioters stopped fighting and dropped down on the ground. Arms splayed, hands out. Others ignored the shooting and continued their pitched battle. Pow! Pow! Pow! the guards continued shooting. From my huddled, terrified, crouched position under the table, I chanced a look; the yard looked like a scene from one of Dante's levels of Hell. Remnants of gas vapors were everywhere, rising off mother earth like steam from a pressure cooker; all around the yard lay inmates of all colors—-facedown, arms splayed, some bruised, some bleeding, a few covered in blood. I could hear moaning and groaning, some cursing and a few hurled racist expletives. The rapid stomping and thudding of hard heels was heard as baton armed guards—-dressed in helmets and car— rying protective anti~riot shieldsnmrushed into the yard to contain the violence. I saw a few prisoners still engaged in a fierce battle, they were met by energetic baton clubbings from the guards. One convict lay completely still. In a puddle of blood he lay motionless as he conitnued to bleed from a gaping head wound. Later, I discovered that he had died, he was the only fatality of the riot. As the sulfur-like vapors hung in the air from the guards spent cartridges—-biting into my nose like a horde of nitrate covered mosquitos-—I took a deep breath and accessed the sit- uation. It was a mess. Shit. Not for the first time, I thought, Itm living in»a dangerous place. This place is like living in shark infested waters! Fuck this shit. Fleming/Dread/8 Ten casualties and one fatality, and a gang of cons headed to the hole. The ensuing lockdown lasted a full four months. -No movement whatsoever: no visits, no jobs, no programs, nothing. As I chewed on my tasteless bag lunch a realization struck me: like dawn stretching its arms across a dark horizon, it occurred to me that I had been lucky. I had been neither hurt nor wounded, neither had a rioter's knife nor a guard's stray bullet injured me. But I had been scared, frightened down to my toes. And iffing I was to survive the next riot (and there will be more riots), if I was to endure unscathed and unharmed, I needed to depend on something other than luck. To outlast these bloodwthirsty criminals, I needed to be better prepared, I will need to count on some- thing other than chance and good fortune. I was gonna have to learn how to go to war! Not only will I have to become more military minded and train myself in the arts of self~defense, I will also have to learn how to make handw made weapons, and be ready to fight at a moment's notice, I must be better prepared to swim in these shark infested waters. I must become a dreadnought. To survive in this manmade hellhole, to outlive and outlast these twowlegged sharks——at any moment, in the blink of an eye—«I must, and at all cost, be ready to fight, be ready to kill these blue denim clad wretched hammerheads. Like a dreadnought! The End

Author: Fleming, Lance

Author Location: California

Date: October 21, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 8 pages

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