Level III approx 8,000 wds
Looks inside Texas prison from perspective of one who seen the transition from Jim Crow east Texas to modernization of the cellblocks. It conveys the beaurcratic struggle beneath the public surface as the agency learns to be keeper of prisoners after the change. Level III depicts a custody status within the system, the lowest levei of existence a human can exist in; even beneath "death row."
Level III Coats
I; e V7 e IL I II I
Reminiscing on second day...
I had always thought of going to prison as the "bottom of the barrel" of life, that one could not get more incarcerated than prision. But I have found that in Texas there is now a prison within prison; the underside of the barrel.
Prior to the dismantling of the pre—l980s era in the wake of Ruiz vs. Texas Dept. of Corrections, most of Texas‘ red brick prison units were named for Texans of Great Depression politics. Convicts also named the prisons. To mention a few of the 24 or so of the time, Eastham in Lovelady, Texas is
"The House of Pain." Clemens in Brazoria, "Burning Hell."
Ferguson at Midway, "Gladiator School." Coffield, the last of the red brick units, constructed by inmate labor in the early 70s, is the "Glass Castle,“ so called because metal framed glass panes were used as a cost saving design for a prison to house 4,500 souls.
The old days were serious times when "Building Tenders" and "Turn Keys"? ruled the bricks under the guards. Those were the days of slit-eyed convicts speaking from the corners of their mouths. Talking and any reckless eye-balling was painfully prohibited. It was a penitent era of doing time when fear and wisdom were the only rival gangs,
2 As title suggests, BTs and TKs had authority over other inmates.
Most kept the peace. There were bad apples.
.2 - Level III coats without which, things could happen to a convict's flesh.
Each unit (compound) was as unique as its official and unofficial namesake. A convict was worked like a horse, fed like a hog, whipped like a mule if he acted like one, but at the end of the day regarded as a man if he carried himself as one.
Things were were simpler then. Time did not tarry. Prisoners kept busy with work,knew his release date, or could calculate it since the governing laws were practical and simple. One could even understand how to shorten a prison stay through programs of good—conduct time credits. Or he could do the time the "hard way;" day for day without good behavior credits.
Not many convicts at the House of Pain or Burning Hell deliberately chose the longest route out. Liberty still had value then. However, sometimes circumstances demanded retribution which had the consequence of the hard way. And sometimes mean men from the streets, for the first time in their lives overwhelmed by superior power, the power of the State, learned humility was better than brutality and that civilization was indeed fragile and good, requiring a sense of virtuous restraint.
Those were deemed "reformable."
Fear is to a prisoner what a bridle is to a horse. Where there is no fear there is no respect. In prison worthless men crowed togather compare themselves. Each seek traces of righteousness within themselves relative to others, creating a hierarchical range of good criminals and bad criminals.
Whatever selfworth one perceived, on that they displayed their
3 -- Level III Coats character. Those without any discernable self worth rated themselves according to images of "cool" they aspired to be like, usually tagging themselves with a relevant nick—name.
One could be "Preacher" and another "Slasher," both equally respected if they could generate an aura of fearsomeness.
Many mama‘s—boy—wanna—be—bad—boys deliberately instigated circumstances where he could look the image he wanted to portray.
This is the bully category. Sinse respect was fostered from reputation, an unknown convict would get tried by someone still trying to establish his.
The convict's freeworld identity was the tangible man, the soul society sought to prosperously punish into penitence.
As an inmate they become something else, for without their true identity which the State took in place of a number, they had no real identity. Where there is no identity there is no worth. No worth, no respect. No respect, no civility. No civility, no reform. No reform, no breaking of the cycle of recidivism. Of course, there will always be those hard headed, slow to reality types whose blood had to ocassionally get smeared on the bricks before they could learn discipline and respect. Where there was fear and pain, something was getting done for civilization deterent—wise. P
Now, the old red brick units are relics, mutilated by attempts to reconstruct them to fit the new laws of penal theory; as the newly designed prisons. Such laws remove virtuous restraints in the spirit of the Constitution. The result is the abolition of fear of State authority. Wisdom died lonely. Now blood
4 — Level III runs thickly in vain over the new grey cinder block and concrete walls. Since legislation has.done away with the corporal handling of antiesocial idiots, the new prisons are modeled as warehouses.
In the place of hope of reform is pure incarceration. The cookie—cutter pre-fab prison units were tilted up like heavy houses of cards without the feeling of permanence. Built at a quicker rate than honorable statesmen were dying to provide names, corrupt politicians began naming the new prisons after one another. At one time State congressmen had resisted new prisons in the districts of their constituency. Now they scrap with one another to get a lucrative prison project in their realm, offering the State free land and utilities.
The first things pardoned and paroled in the new prison era were the convict codes of conduct. The new "Offender" code is snitch first, snitch frequently. Fine print Offender
Code; stealing, boisterous noise, gang association, homosexual atrocities, and general disregard for principles of moral integrity. Minding one's own business, doing one's own time, prohibition from drawing "heat" to others by one's nefarious actions are segments of the obsolete convict code.
A new wave of youthful offenders has restocked the system, displacing the old school convicts. Without the Building Tenders and Turn Keys who kept the peace on the cellblocks there is no longer any lawful form of physical redress between prisoners and guards. The cellbocks are now governed by bullies and
‘gangs. Fearing inmates instead of authority, inmates have only ito politic with those in positions over a group. Right
5 — Level III and wrong have become relative to circumstances. Whoever prevails in numbers is right. Thus it is herd mentality instead of old school individualism. One does not have to stand on one's own feet to "make it" in prison anymore. Consequently, everyone is treated the same by an administration blind to reform efforts of individuals.
Cleaved into the security of prison politics, a generation of conniving boys— the product of society's single parent households and treehouse clubs- roam the cellblocks like silent hyenas.
These think—they—are—men have no idea what their release date is except "long way." In fairness, that is not all the fault of their crackhead mental deficiencies. A mosiac of laws regulating time served have muddled good—time conduct incentives. Ambiguity fuels hopelessness which feeds chaos.
The prisons are spawning ground for racial conflict, rebellion against authority, a breakdown of personal discipline (drugs?), paranoia, and other things. The fruit of these are violent futures and perpetuation of recidivism. In fact, no longer are the majority of prisoners criminals in the original sense.
Most are behavioral problems. And since the States have abolished asylums and mingled their mentally disturbed into prison populations, what eventually return s to society are mean and remorseless criminals. And somehow they demand respect, playing roles gleaned from their criminal idols. (Mario Puzo's The Godfather produced a crop of mimics, practically using his novels as their bible.) Beneath the facade of respectabilty is a phony sort of quid pro quo. This pretense of a baseless. plastic
6 -— Level III version of mob respect works well with ignorant youth who have no wholesome role models. To them worthiness is irrelevant.
Indeed the more treacherous and ruthless the offender acts, the closer to actual respect he gets. It's hip to be stupid!
This flip—flopping of prison protocols has rendered the new cinder block prisons, painted mental ward white or dead brain matter grey drives simi—normal inmates nuts. And when blood is smeared on these wall, nothing is getting done but a precursor to vindiction. Glory starved misfits commit any sort of outrage in order to be deemed fit for the herd; these easily manipulated are called "crash dummies." To deal with these in the vacuum of hands on policies, the administration practices psychological disciplinarian tacticswhich only works on those who are conformists to begin with. Therefore the system has created a prison inside the prison. Administrative
Segregation, a.k.a., Ad.Seg. The bureaucratic response to
63.9 r ;C\o.:e ./9[—— federal mandate of physiealwfree discipline of warehoused inmates. A
In Ad.Seg. the State strips thgxpunishable or correctable identity the inmate has developed. What becomes the Ad.Seg. population are aimless minions who have become crash dummies,
_ kJ£.LrJY\"\»lQ«€x _ mean psychiatric out-pat1ents,Agangsters and their dupes, weapon keepers, and of course the rare escapee and sometimes administrative exiles called "writ writers." For 24 hours a day 4 days of the week these dwell in a single bunked 6
X 9 cell. An inmate in Ad.Seg may exorcise a rare choice of refusing recreation to remain in his cell, or dressing out
7 — Level III in iron restraints for the ten foot escorted shuffle to a
10 x 14 bared cage for an hour out of cell liberty. One hour out of cell per day is optional when one has earned Level
I status. Until then he is deprived of all sensory stimuli in Level III or II.
In Ad.Seg Level III the eyes are deprived of distance and color which would award the repentant mind. Part of the punishment and probably why most inmates in Ad.Seg. need corrective eye glasses after a few years.
Doors galore! One cannot travel more than twenty feet in any direction in the newly designed tilt—up prisons without passing through "security containment doors or barred "crash gates." Steel to steel joy all day every day. Electric solenoids release lock bolts as guards approach’passages, controlled by tracking guard inside a central control picket, who listens on an intercom system mounted in the ceiling above each row of cells.
Guards making a security round; Buzz (open)...Crash! (closed).
Lights on. Ping...ping...ping of the intercom. After they pass through...Crash! Lights out, pinging ceases when intercom is switched off. As the guards round the square pod the noise follows, growing fainter the farther away they get, or louder as they approach.
The mythical notion of silent penitentaries went the way of asylums. Ear ringing, mind jarring racket is the new era norm to go with odors of rust, urine, sewage, and guards‘
8 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
In prison for armed robbery (you can't get more American than the country's oldest enterprize), I made my way into the Level III dungeon as a consequence of attempting to exorcise the American legacy; liberty. It is the first day in mylevel 3 cell that has stamped my memory.
When the steel door- with vertical slits for viewing pleasure- slamed behind me, graffiti marred walls immediatley spoke out as a phantom chorus to the Buzzz-Crash—Lights-Ping—Ping of passing guards and shouting inmates. It was a solemn, haunting voice insistent for a reply. Very soon, and not to wear out the canine analogy, one finds that the Voices are actually ass—sniffers from neighboring cells calling through cracks and seams in the rickety new prison walls.
"Say,say,say 16 cell! Where you coming from?"
On the surface the question seemed like a hospitable gesture.
Breaking the welcome ice for new man on the block. But the tone said otherwise. It sounded like an intrusive inquiry, like, "Who the hell are you, who do you know, whatcha in Seg fuh?" And before one figures out from which crack the voices are coming, more questions come from different seams demanding response. Then there is my dilemma of how to answer a hostile voice asking a vague question, for one in Ad—seg does not come from far.
Buzzz—Crash...Buzzz-Crash...BUZZZ—CRASH! dubbed over the quizing inmates who seemed to grow irate as if feeling ignored.
An imposing urgency bordering on threats, though subtle enough
9 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats to smooth over with phoney respect if or when a reply comes. Ping-Ping—Ping...Lights on. A guard appears, a horizontal rectangle of face in the slit of the door.
"Name and number!"
One wonders if he is lost. Or lost some inmates. It was one of the guards who escorted me to the Seg cell only moments before. I perceived he would linger until I gave him information he already had in his hand. "Wesson,_Colby, 334584," I said, noting how quiet the section became. Ping...Ping... The walls had hushed, listening. And presto! The guard disappeared.
"Look out 16! 16 Cell! Look out Wood!" said a gruffy Voice.
"Seexteen cell. Go to da Vent!" sounded as if echoing from a can.
Tap-tap—taps reverting from everywhere.
"Hey, say 16!" came a softer voice, familiar in a hard prison.
But the vent call offered direction. I knelt to the wire mesh square about a foot off the floor next to the toilet.
"What they call you seexteen?"
"Yeah. 16," I say.
"No, no. I mean, what they call you? They call me Sticky
Fingers. Where you coming from?"
There it was again. The singular question demanding multiple answers. "General population. I was a trustee."
"What they Seg you for, you anybody?"
10- Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"No. I'm nobody. Just me and my brave, bare feet. They took my shoes."
"Escape. They Seged me for escape. Took my tennis shoes."
"Oh. Theese Level III. You can have no sneakers, 16."
"Makes sense. In general pop I can have shoes to run fast and jump high. Locked in a dungeon I can't have any."
"Sometimes you can git state shoes if they gots 'em. I got a extra pair if you want to buy them. I want 9 stamps."
"What size, how can I get them?"
"Size seex. I might can get a boss to--"
"Say, say, say 16!"
"Look out Wood."
Both summons came from back wall. "Hold on Sticky," I say.
"Right. Hold on." My knees were protesting the rough concrete.
"Look out, Wood!"
"Say, say, say 16!"
Being louder and persistent, "Say, say, say 16!" demands a response before subtle, "Look out, Wood." I hommed in on the Voice at left corner of back wall. "Yeah?"
"Say, what dey calls you, ma'n?"
Speaking into corner I said, "My name is Wesson. Colby
"At what dey calls ya?"
"Sometimes." ll — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"Dey calls me Triple 6. Wheres you from, man?"
A frequent question in Seg. "Here, earth."
"Whu-? Oh. I hear ya fool! Ha—ha! Me too."
"Homey. I got my time at Ft. Worth."
"Fote' Wuth! Funky-Town? I mean is you coming from GP?
Whut they Seg ya fuh?"
"Let's see. Yes, yes, and leaving the premises."
"Crazy fool, ha! What you do dat fuh? Tryin'a git somewhere?"
"Look out Wood! 16 cell!"
"Excuse me a minute, Mr. Six. My other wall is calling."
Sliding across the steel bunk, I aim my mouth to the right corner. "What's up, 15 cell?"
Buzzz—Crash...Buzzz-Crash! Lights. BUZZZ-CRASH...Ping—
Rap-Rap-Rap! "Wesson! Shower?" snarls a guard's rectangular face through the rectangle slit as if the offer should be declined.
"Yes, sir." I was about to ask about a mattress and sheets and towel.
"Be ready, you're next!" Poof! Gone. BUZZ—CRASH!...Buzz—
My attention redrawn; "Look out Wood, y'ear me? You anybody?"
"No," I reconfirm. "Nobody."
"What they call you, Wood? You get food loaf? I'll buy it if you do."
"Wesson. What's food loaf? I don't get it whatever it is "
12 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"It's food loaf, y'ear me? What ever is on the trays that day all mixed up and baked into a loaf. You get on it for
'ﬁacking" or "chunkin'".
"Jacking or chunkin?"
"Yeah. Look out,Wood. Wesson, y'ear me? They call me Hexter, huh. You get any medications? Dan-Dans, Elavil, Bezelbubs,
I buy 'em. I was getting Big Blues but they took me off, y'ear me?" '
"Yeah, I hear ya. What'd they do that for? Sounds crazy."
"Man, these psyche doctors don't know shit, y'ear me?
I'm CompulsiVe—impulsive Disorder. Not a psyche patient, huh.
There's a lot of out—patients back here in Seg. They ain't got to treat 'em this way. Just hidin' us out, y'ear me?
"Yeah. I hear ya."
"I buy pills to make me sleep. I ain't no psyche patient, huh. But they want me to go off on these punk ass guards, u that's why they took me off my medication, y'ear me? I m with RK. Radical Knights. I'm a Captain, huh."
"Well, maybe that ain't why they took you off your medication.
"Hell it ain't! I done smashed the shit out of one of them psyches!"
"They might be putting you on something else," I suggest, thinking strychnine inducedsleep, imagining he might be hooked on stupid pills.
"They already did. Lithium and some shit called Something- zine, but I refused it, y'ear me? I don't like it. Keeps me
13- Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats up and fucks with my thinking."
"Say, Say, say Colt 45! Colby Wesson!"
"Hold on a second, Hector, 17's hollering at me."
"Hex, y'ear me? H-e—x. Hexter, huh? And screw that bonehead over there. That's a pure piece of shit, y'ear me? All he does is jack-off on these guards. Perverted mother f-"
"Say Colt 45! Colby Wesson!"
"Let me see what he wants lest he start calling me other things." Sliding ahxg the bunk, switching corners: "What's up, Six?"
"Dat go'n be yo new name. Tell ev'body Triple 6 give it to ya. Colt 45!"
Flattered, I have nonetheless avoided ducking behind nick names so far, though I did not mention it.
"Let me ax you sumptin. Yous a ma'n, 'rat? My nayba in
18, Killa Tom, say I'm wrong. Let me ax you a question. Whut wrong wid a man makin' love to anuda ma'n?
Now, wary as I was, I appreciated the strength of steel for once. A quiz question, no doubt. Or a test. Or proposal.
I decide to play it by ear. "Gee, Six. What's wrong with it?"
"Yeah. What wrong wid it?"
Now, I was convinced he wanted a positive opinion. Justification.
I thought I ought not.mention that none of us would be here if nothing was wrong "wid" it. If I mentioned it being just a liberal perk- for some— in a secure, civil society, I was afraid I would have to follow up with other explanations which
14 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats might be difficult to convey to a 40 I.Q. as much noise as there was. Hesitation niggled him.
"Whut wrong wid it? Whut difference...why it wrong to make love to a man but not a woman tha same way? Whut I mean is, why it not wrong to have sex wid hur but not him tha same way?"
I had other things to think about. But I tried to come up with an answer for the wretched man, wallowing in guilt or lust, that would not tag me as a redneck. I figure he already had the answer he wanted. I imagined a hairy, hard ass bent and spread before me balls-a—swinging. I did not know about
Mr. Six's past, but the idea was unappealing and I decided a neutral answer would beg for more philisophical inquiries.
Eontrary morals are already a wedge between cultures. "Oh,"
I said, "Men fart, women don't." ,
"Whut? You damn fool, Colt 45! Yous a crazy fool! Ha- ha!"
"A little old fashion, too."
"Seexteen cell. Theese Stickey Fingers. Go to vent!"
"Pardon me, Six." Crouching before Vent, "Yeah, Sticky
Fingers?" My feet hurt from skittering over the concrete floor. A caffine withdrawal headachewas coming on.
"Check theese out, Wesson. You read? You wanna buy some magazines? I got 2000 October Maximum, 1998 April Hussy, and
TIMES. Two stamps each one."
Something to read sounded alright for when I got settled in. I did not have any property yet. The guards relieved me
15 - Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats of all of it on the way to Seg, saying it would be searched and inventoried. "What's the date on the TIMES?" I did not have any stamps, but he might let me read it anyway.
"Which one?" I say. He says, "Uh, '99." I say,"History.
I'll pass, Sticky. I probably read it already. I have some novels in my property. I'm waiting on the guards to bring it."
"What property? Theese Level III. You don't get no property, mon."
It could have been vent reception. Or Sticky's English.
Or a sales pitch. I thought I heard him say I was not going to receive my property. "Sticky Fingers, the guard told me on the way down the corridors that he would bring my stuff later, when he got time."
"Hey Mon, he ain' goin t'git no time. Dey bring you only
Level III property. Chower shoes, toot brush,~legal work, that's eet. I got chots of coffee, one stamp. You want?"
I was too nervous to fanagle a deal for a shot of coffee.
No radio, mirror, typewriter, hygiene supplies, T-shirt, cup to drink o "chot" of coffee. "No<xﬂDraipencils, night lamp, commissary?"
"No—no. You got ta be Level II or Level I."
I smack my mouth tasting day long crocodile breath. "How're we supposed to brush?",
"Friday the supply come. You get toot—powder. My bro's, day send me toot—paste, coffee, deodorant, meent stick. You l6 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats get stamps, I sell you toot-paste; 9 stamps."
"Nine? It only costs $2 in commissary. And this is Monday. A long way from Friday. Transportation inflation. Entrepreneurial price gouging. "Sticky—"
"Look out, Wood! Say, Wood, y'ear me?"
"Hold on Sticky Fingers. My neighbor..."
"What's up, Hector?"
"I want to let you know we got shit chunkers over here, y'ear me?"
"No shit? Who does that?"
"Your neighbor, huh. A real psyche patient."
"Wow. Is everyone back here crazy?"
"Not everyone, but I know who is and who ain't. Like I said, y'ear me? I'm only popping game on them. But I'm just telling you so when you fall out with that fool to watch out
'cause he'll chunk on you when you go out for shower or recreation."
"Ok . Thanks . "
"No problem, just whenever you get any medications, sell it too me, huh."
I had to agree. And could not help thinking that Hector and Sticky ought to be online in the vent. Commerce made in heaven. "Ok, Hec——HeXster——"
"Colt 45! Colt 45 Cowboy!"
"Hold on, Hexter." Sliding across the bunk, "Yeah, Triple
"Colt 45! Say, say, say, you eat everything on deem trays?
Let me have whut you doan wont. I send my line under yo doe'."
17- Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"Sure, Trip. Now, first let me ask you about this Level
III buisness. I hear we can't have our personal property on
Level III. How long do I have to wait like this, with nothing?"
"Hell, three to six months Level 3, then three to six months Level 2, then you make Level I and get your property.
I can't go dat long wid'at tellin' 'em fu—"
"A year! That's insane!"
"Dat is if you go wid'at a disciplinary case. Git one, den you stawt over. Deez people done be playin. Dey is fo real. You git a disciplinary write-up stawts ova at day one?"
"What's the difference between Level III and Level II?"
"Level II you can get yo cosmetics."
"You mean hygiene?"
"Yeah. But a case, you stawt ova. Dey's fools dat been back hur fo' 18-22 months."
"You're shitting me? Figuratively speaking.”
"Hell, naw! I ony chunk on mudda fukkas dat fuk wid me!"
"Trip, I meant, pulling my leg about dudes that been back here living like this 18-22 months. That only happens in China, not in Texas."
"You'a think yo in China, den, you'a see—"
"Wesson, shower time!" said a feminine voice with masculine assertion. An awful clang of steel resisting steel jolted brain neurons out of place. She had stabbed the forked ‘bean
18 ~ Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous bar‘ into the spring loaded latch on door to open the trey slot, a.k.a 'bean shoot‘. Without stooping she flipped it down, dribbling it on its stops with noise enough to obstruct radio waves; Blam!—bam-bam—bam! reverberated in the cell.
I knew I had to be hand cuffed in Ad-seg. The guards were deft and showy with the rachety things, whipping them out of cuff cases at back of gear belts just like Prime Time dicks.
With my rear against the door I bent forward to extend my hands through the slot but the guards did not cuff me. After retaining that awkward position for a few minutes I stood straight and turned to face the guards, who merely stared at me as if I had cuffs dangling from my nose.
"How long have you been in Seg?" she says. "Pro-see—ger!"
I did not know "pro—ce—dure" for going to shower. Thankfully, the perceptive male read my ignorance and coached me.
"Back away from door and hand me those dirty-30s. Full monte. That's right. Now, turn around...show me the love, spread the bacon...that's right. OK. Whatdya think partner?
Hard to tell sometimes, idn't it? OK. Now, feet... uh—huh.
Turn around, lift those little nutties. Can't hide much there."
The female asked a profound, deeply ponderous question.
"They didn't take these shorts from you coming in? This is considered a weapon."
Again, the other guard cued me, no doubt understanding perplexities of newly Seg'ed inmates on my face.
"Elastic. Offenders use it for sling shots. Can't have elastic boxers in Seg. Just doing our job. Necessities are
19 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous
2nd shift." The she—guard tossed my shorts toward the crash gate.
"When can I get some underwear I'm gonna need some shorts and a towel."
"Whatcha in Seg for, Wesson?" the perceptive one needed to know, as if about to connect some relavance to the request.
"Doing MY job." I echo.
"A comedian. Good. Too many coming back here with no sense of humor. Whatcha back for, gang affiliation?"
"I'm nobody. Escape." I correct.
"Haw! One of those. Where was ya goin'? Was it worth it, didn't like it here, huh? Hands behind ya, all the way out the slot."
Complying, stooping to accommodate the female's rigid spine, cuffs racheted- Zzzzzit—ZzzzEit;»quicker than I expected.
Tighter, too. I tried not to be intimidated and my hands barely cleared the slot when it Clang—Whopped! chipping coats of dingy paint at my finger tips. My ears cringed at the sound, ringing from the assault.
Stupid thing to do, Wesson. You always get caught— Roll
A whine, clitty-clat—hum—wang, and my door sprang open.
A hand reached in for me as if I would run away, and steered me like a horse the ten feet to the 3 X 7 feet shower stall next to end cell. "American thing, run—" Rrrr-WHAM! the tracked door slammed, cutting off my words. Someone whistled. Probably
Triple 6, sensing a bare butt. Sighing, I repeated in vain,
20 - Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"I need soap. And a towel. My shower shoes are in my propert-"
"You just got here, Wesson. Are you gonna be one of the problem offenders?" says the nice lady, getting over her amnesia.
"Do I look like I am carrying that with me? Necessities come around after 6:30 p.m. Soap on Supply day."
"But I'm showering now. I ne—" The door shut behind me, pressure popping my offended ears.
"You can refuse shower...”
"Just asking about soap and towel. I need a shower. I guess I can rince and air dry.”
"What you do in shower is your buisness as long as I don't see it," she said, whopping! the slot closed. I suddenly realized the shifty dispositions of Ad—seg guards. It was as if they merely reacted to inmates they made contact with, their passing sarcasms and indifference disguised as a kind of kindness.
They seemed at their most cordial when an inmate was out of his secured cell. Minute mentalities. All the talk was, to put it in proper slang, "head running."
Orange film fungus tinted the shower walls. Black mold lined the base. I imagined fungi troops marching to my feet like picnic ants. Standing aside, I pressed the stainless button on the back wall and a stream of cold water began pouring out, splashing on the floor like a cow pissing on a flat rock.
It shut off after about 8 seconds. By third press the water warmed.
As water massaged my back, I experienced a surge of panic.
I did not know what caused it as it was fleeting, but then
21 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats it turned around and came back. Seeing it head on I recognized claustrophobia. I could touch elbows to the walls. To keep my mind from cruel images while rubbing the hard water into my oily skin, I pretended interest in gang logos scratched all over the door and plastic View pane where inmates stood waiting for the guards to return them to cells.
I could hear inmates cell warring. Triple 6 and the moral minority, Killer Tom. One called the other an "ignant mudda fukka." I wondered what would happen if all the doors were to come open. I felt enveloped in a black cloud, a biaaare, wonderland world. Three to six months on Level III, then again on Level II, which don't sound any different than III.
I stopped pressing the button and stood at the door dripping dry, still feeling dirty. I had been in shower about twenty minutes and the walls had inched in, narrowing the 3 feet width to 2 foot 10 inches. Then I heard distant doors; Buzzz-
Crash...BUZZZ—CRASH!... The pair were pulling out others from showers.
My BUZZZ—CRASH! came. Ping-Ping-Ping. Blam!—bam-bam-bam.
Hands out, cuffed. The guard chopped a hand over head and the shower door popped open. The woman walked ahead and yelled,
Stepping out of shower, the floor was slick. Wet, naked, air polluted with noise, I paused.seeing haunted, dead eyed faces pressed into View slits on doors. Hexter looked me over, calculating any threat, but seeing more than expecting, feigned indignation. My driver jerked me to a halt as if I was a mule
22 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats on a leash. The female had disappeared into my cell.
"Cell search," he declares, steering my mug to the wall. "Anytime you come out, you get cell searched for contraband."
"I don't have anything to search. When will I get a mattress and sheets?"
"Don't mean you ain't got nothin' to hide. I'll check on a mattress."
I hoped previous occupant didn't leave any contraband to restart my 3-6 months my first day. "It'd be nice if she found some tooth paste..."
"All clean," she says, coming out looking haggard, as if she had searched a mine shaft, making notesoon her clip board.
The man guided me inside, extended his arm beyond the door jam as if I might get away. He let go, yanked arm out and she shoved the door- Rrrrr Slam!
Trey slot. CLANG! Blam!-blam—blam—blam—blam. Cuffs off,
I turn and thank them for shower and stroll, not meaning it sincerely, yet they joined ' banter effortlessly, flip-flopping so that I could not tell if they were serious or sarcastic.
"No problem, Wesson. We'll be passing out chow here in a bit. I'll check on you a mattress soon as I get a minute."
Whop! went the slot shut.
Confused, I hated it when they spoke civil to me. Makes one feel like a bad person for being treated decently; less of a dangerous criminal, naked or not, yet one for shameful sympathy. "Thanks, " I say, noting the disclaimer on the mattress,
23 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats nothing on the sheets; 'Soon as I get a minute.' "I feel right at home, now." I seen they appreciated tit—for tat wit.
Walking off they said in reciprocating unison, "Just do what you're supposed to do back here and you'll be alright.
Don't give my officers any trouble."
I knew he was serious! And the woman took opportunity to use a classic threat. She said, "That's right. We wear these thrust Vests, carry this pepper gas canister and riot baton. After applying those, you get hit with an ink pen.
So just go along with the program, ya hear?" BUZZZ—CRASH!...Lights out.
"Yes, ma'am," I say to myself. The inmates resumed ehaUs5V*Cw%1o~y as if king of beastshad passed. Say, say, say, Colt 45!" And
"Look out, Wood." Not to ignore, ”SeeXteen cell. Go to Vent!"
Despite thickness of concrete walls and expense of steel doors, naked, I felt cold and vulnerable. No solitude.
"Say, say, say, Colt 45!"- "Seexteen cell!"— "Look out,
Letting my carnal senses decide which to answer first;
Triple 6. He hogged the floor. "Watch those ho's there. They's dirty. I refuses my shawwa when dem ho's is wukin' da pawd."
At Triple 6's corner I said, "Have you any contraband to hide? Where would I hide anything in here?"
"Hell, naw, but I doan' lak deem ho's ﬂookin' up my ass.
Dey do @at ho ass shit so's a mudda fukka won't want to come out fo shawwa or rec."
24 ~— Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous I Coats
The ploy must work. Not many come out of their cells.
"But say, Triple 6. What's the deal on the boxers? They took my underwear calling them weapons."
"Cain't have no 'lastic on Level 3, so we get deez, Daisy
Dukes I call 'em. One size fit evaboty and you ties 'em on sides wid a strang. Say, say, Colt 45. Stop dat pill nuss when she come by. "Ax huh fo Tylenol."
"Got a headeache?"
"Hell, naw. Just stop huh and talk. I's gonna stretch out on hur.”
"You're gonna what?"
"Knock hur off, fool!"
"Oh! I get it. You want to masterbate. And you want me to participate. Sorry Trip. You're on your own. What are you in for, if you don't mind me asking."
"You crazy, damn fool! Pawticipate. Ha! You wild, Colt
45. Naw, you ain't gone‘ hep me jack my slack, it ain't lak dat. I hur fuh possession of- hur she come!"
"Look out, Wood!"
Sliding down the steel bunk, I say, "What's up Hector?"
"HEX-ter. I thought you said you didn't get no medication?
I just heard you telling the bonehead something about the pill nurse. Look out, Wood, y'ear me? All you gatta do is say you don't want to sell to me. You ain't gotta lie."
"Whoa! Hexter. Hexter?" He does not respond and I hear a feminine Voice.
25 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"Fifteen cell. What's your name and number?" I hear a mumbled reply, then a blurr past my door. Triple 6 stops her at his cell for Tylenol.
After a moment of silence as she pokes the packet through the wire mesh, she sqeals, "Stop that! Animal! Officer, this inmate in 17 cell don't have any cloths on and he's..."
Captain Save-a—Nurse steps up to 17. "You gotta a diciplinary case!"
Crap! I'm buck naked and nowehere to hide. I hope she don't look in and think I was doing the same thing and start my 3 to 6 over on first day.
"16! Wheres your drawers?" the officer said.
"What I got a case fuh?" Triple 6 interposes.
"Put you Dukes back on 17," the officer sayscwer a shoulder walking down the cell block run with nurse to the sound of
"Seexteen cell, Colby! Go to the vent!"
Kneeling, it felt awkward talking to men while naked, my butt jacked up like an hot rod with slicks— 'Whut wrong wid it'. "What's up Sticky Fingers?"
"Oh, mon, you gunslinger, too?"
A noble phrase in prison. "No, no Sticky. I don't do that. I mean, not when a lady is-"
"You neighbor, hees a gunsling—ger. He gets a case every day. He don't giff a damn. He won't never git off Level 3.
He don't care. Me, I got five monts to goood. Maybe next mont
I get Level 2, I done know. Say, Seexteen, I got 3 stamp
25"*Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous . Coats chots of coffee leff til my bro send me some. You want some?"
I did. But, "Sticky Fingers. I don't have underwear, a stamp, cup, spoon, or shoes or sheets or tooth powder."
"Ok. Well, you git stamps maybe I have some more. Ok.
Chow time next door. I will talk later, ok?"
Wondering how he knew where chow was, I changed frequencies and tuned into distant sounds. Beyond the boisterous yakity- yakk about me, I was beginning to discern consistent metal to metal noise. Trey slots dribbling one after another; Pavlov's chow time.
Eventually the steel driving guards brought racket to my cellblock section, the male pushing a shaky steel food cart. He parked it at an electrical receptacle, then opened a door and consulted the insides as if searching for contraband.
He then finger scrolled a sheet of paper taped to the compartment door. "16, you vegetarian or pork free?" Ping—Ping—Ping...
"I pok' free! Sebenteen cell!"
Using more ‘assertive training' bass in his voice than
I remembered him having, Lhe guard informed, "You ain't on the list 17."Snatching an aluminam box from top of cart; SCREECH!
KRAANNG! the he guard consulted the list again before he started reaching inside the food warmer cart for plastic trays of mottled lunch. When my eyes stopped vibrating.from the metal box meeting concrete with a scrape, I seen that it was a slotted tray carrier. He commenced to shove treys into slots, banging them at back, sloshing and slamming whatever was loose or remained hydrated to back side of tray carrier. The female
27 - Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats went along dropping open tray slots on the cell doors. Blam!— blam-blam-blaml...‘
"Call da kitchen, I pok free! You know I is!"
It was not chit—chat time, it was chow time, but Hector sounded serious, his tone urgent. "Wood! Look out! Wood, year me?" Maybe there was something important I needed to know about Seg food. "Regular tray, officer," I managed to get in, replying to the inquiry, then went to back wall just as my bean hole fell. Clang! Blam—bam—bam!. "What is it Hector?"
"I's pok free!" shouted Triple 6.
It was hard to hear, the guards were making the necessary sounds to suggest hard work at sinecure employment. Heaving breath, sweaty, red faces needed noisy justification unnecessary racket offered, as if silence denies labor.
Cla-chunk-cla-chunk...Seven trays in carrier.
"Give me whatever you don't eat. I'll shoot my line down when they leave."
"Doan' gimme no pok tray, I pok free!"
"Hecter, I already told Triple 6 I'd give him what I don't eat."
"Look out, Wood! That's a shit chunking, cock pulling, bonehead, y'ear me?"
"Well, he asked first. I don't even know what were have—"
"Same shit everyday! huh! Stewed carrots, bug bit beans, peas and chicken—ala-something. Same crap every day. I'm loosing weight so I need all I can get. I got a plastic bag to put it in. I'll shoot my rat line down."
28 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
A Styrofoam cup appeared on my open slot. "One cup only today," the she guard announced, pouring red chemical prison punch. I sip a taste of the warm stuff. Terrible; artificial color, artificial flavor, artificial sweetener, inducing real prostate inflamation. The he guard walks along inserting trays into bean holes she has opened all at once, swapping security for efficiency while no supervisors were about.
At 17 cell, Triple 6 extended arms out the slot, taking it hostage. "Doan gimme pok. I pok free, I dune tol' ya!"
"You jacking my slot?" the he guard said, holding trey
Triple 6 blocked from entering through slot.
"Get me some rank. I doan eat swine, I'm on da liss."
"You ain't on the list. You jacking my slot? Picket! Call
Sergeant. Got one jacking my slot."
The she guard mosied down the row; Chlang-Whop!...Chlang—
Whop!... closing the other slots. "What about my tray?" I protest. The male took the food back to cart. "Hey, I didn't get a tray!" I was getting upset. I was hungry.
"When I get my slot back," he said. The two officers suddenly became pert and professional, applying policy detail; hair nets, eye protection, firm and indifferent manners.
"This is 15 cell. I didn't get my tray, either!"
"Not til I get the slot from 17."
"That don't concern me," I say. "You could have handed me my tray."
"Gotta secure this section," the male said, unplugging
29 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats the cart and rolling it towards next section. BUZZZ! went the solenoid.
Inmates on second tier became alarmed at the sound of growling bellies and food departure. Doors rattled in tracks and voices rose.
The she guard approached 17 cell for an informal attempt to"securé'her tray slot. "I'm giving you a di-rect order to remove your body from tray slot and back away from door!"
"Fukk you, ho. I pok free."
"Excuse me officer," I said nicely, having to raise my voice above the din, which defeated my intent of presenting a rational, calm argument. Two row raised the ceiling, sending insults every direction. "Officer! Officer!" I failed to gain her attention and she walked away, apparently satisfied that every effort had been made to resolve pork/slot crisis.
Brass is on the way.
"Look out Triple 6!" Inmates hollered down. "Give up the slot til we get fed, then jack! You do that to screw us and get food loaf!“
"Fukk you, mudda fukka! I staying' down fo' mine. I doan eat pok!"
"You ignorant bonehead, suck my—"
"Give up the slot, bitch ass nigga!"
Blam—bam—bam—bam! Triple 6 responded by dribbling heavy steel slot flap. Noise rose to deafening level, echoing within cellblock section walls. I could not hear anything but a ghoulosh of sound ringing my ears, the noise concerting into a symphony
30 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats of madness pulsing in my brain. I should have stopped her for Tylenol, but I would have been accused of... Then, as when Jesus permitted peace during a storm, the cellblock calmed.
A BUZZZ!...Ping—Ping—Ping...CRASHJ A sergeant came, wearing-Con- federate grem.&wggetu@bas stiff as marching carcass, his correctional aims as stiffly starched as his shirt. As if the collar would out, he twisted upper torso to look and see side to side.
Obviously an official of such prominent dignity, a trifling jacked slot twelve foot before him was unworthy of spontaneous attention. Or he just missed it. He seamed to be expecting someone to explain his long walk down the main corridor. Triple
"Sarge! Sarge! I pok free!"
At that moment the Sergeant noticed the two black tree limbs growing out of slot 17 directly before him. And to bolster the sight, the two guards came in from containment door also reading situation. No doubt an experienced negotiator, the ranking official maintained distance out of feces range, not wasting dignity of authority on asking questions. The he guard combined verbal and hand gestures to sum situation for his supervisor, who gazed ahead at babbling Triple 6 as if looking out a window. No clues were apparent of his judgment of the guard's presentation.
"Say, say, Sergeant, I need to holler at ya, right here,
"Sarge! 15 cell. Can I speak to you a minute, sir?"
31w-Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
The poker faced official appeared to have made a decision as to which side he would favor in the dispute. Moving closer to 17 he ordered, "Take your arm out of the slot and stand up," unexcited, textbook assertion applied gracefully.
"Look out, Wood! Look out 16, y'ear me? Tell the Sarge
I need to talk to him!"
I did not know what Hector was thinking. An acting ggrgeant would never act on an imnate's command. I did not want to miss anything, so I yelled, "I'm not telling that man anything!"
Hungry. Hot. Ears hurting. Head hurting, aggravated, exhausted, I may havereplied a bit roughly to Hector. But before I could smooth it over came a WHOOSH!
I smelt it before I comprehended it. Three gray smudges scattered as second shower sought them. Triple 6 tossed the half-pint milk carton behind the feces mousse. Sour, rotten, putrid sewage- as if it had been brewing for days- fouled the air in the cellblock.
"Fukyoumuddafukka! I tol you 'bout fukkin wid my food!"
"Look out Wood! 16, Wood!"
Hungry as I was, my hopes of eating were dashed,f the do- - do on the guards. Triple 6 pounded out dialogue with slot flap. "Ho—Blam-ass—Blam!-mudda—Blam!—fukka—Blam!—Brang-Blam!- me—Blam!—my-Blam!—pok-Blam!—free—blam!-tray..Blam-Blam!"
Hector again. "Wood!" I rush to back wall, not wanting to leave door. "What, Hecter?"
"Hexter! I told ya!"
32 - Level lII/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
"Look out, Wood, y'ear me? Tell that Serge—"
"I'm not telling that sergeantshit, dude, accept bring me aspirin!"
"Who you disrespecting, punk ass catch—out bitch? I'll bust you up!"
"You're scaring the shit out of me."
"Fuck you, y'ear me? You cain't never go back to population!
"Let me tell you the truth, Little Red Riding Hector.
YOU are the catch-out who won't ever go to population. Tattooing your ass so everyone in showers will know you are in a gang.
Now you're a killer behind an $800 door?"
"You're dead, huh! Year me? Disrespect my ride like that.
BUZZZ!.....CRASH! I dash to door. A fresh sergunﬁzescorted a team of goons suited up in riot gear. Helmets with shields, vests, knee pads, gas masks. The stinky sergeant counseled with fresh one before leading smelly comrads out. A gas mask wearing female came in with a video recorder.
The fresh Sgt. gave orders from a safe distance. "Give up the tray slot!" He wiggled three fingers and the camerawoman handed over a can of arosol pepper spray 'Napalm' according to inmate parlance. He and she pulled down masks. Gestures sent goon into positions, flanking cell 17. For the record the sergeant raised his voice under mask, speaking to camera.
"Mum-mum-mum—mum-mum-back way from door."
33 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous Coats
Apparently Triple 6 was out of ammo and was shooting blank curses. "Fukk you hoeass-muddafukka. I tol you 'bout fukkin wid my food, bitch!"
Quiet. Ping-Ping—Ping...Goons against my door, croching, camera moving in for unobstructed angle. Sergeant aiming canister.
I looked on, askance and ignorant. Then wisdom reared its sensible head and I stumbled back from my door the Very instant
Sergeant Smell Good released a stream of orange pain.
Fumes sailed into my cell. My face ignited, especially around moist orifices. My throat immediately constricted against chemicals assaulting my lungs. I choke, gasp, wretch as if to puke but have not eaten anything to throw up. I had no cloth to cover my face with. I didn't consider pork freak in 17 taking a direct spout. "ROLL—IT!" I heard, and the electric whine of door followed. The goonslnmhed in.Grunts, bump, scuffles, thumps; "Stop resisting inmate!"
I tried to imagine what Triple 6 was resisting, but pain shortened my attention span. The commotion seemed to last longer than necessary for five Goliaths dressed like Ninja
Turtles to subdue a pork free who probably weighed less than half of any of them. It sounded like Triple 6 was contracting a severe case of Knotted Spider Leg Syndrome. Gassed and assed for a pork free slop tray. No way to cover my face, I was suffering over that Very same pork, and I love pork!"
I heard Triple 6's door SLAM! Then CLANG—WHOP! of tray slot. Cupping a useless hand over burning, drizzling nose and mouth, I blinked peeks out of my door slits. BUZZZ!...The
34 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous victorious guards were trooping out of the section, high- fiving brutality well done. ‘Miller time.‘
"What about our food?" Hexter whinned, one lone
Voice chimming from two row tier. But the guards ignored the hapless plea. One must jack a slot for certain attention.
The pepper gas continued suppressing dissent long after
Trip abdicated his reign over the tray slot. I thought of hollering at him to find out if they killed him.
"Seexteen. Colby. Go to Vent!"
Eager to get anothers't2&e on the incident, I knelt.
"You see muchacha wit camera? She good! She like to see it."
Exhaust fans suddenly kicked on to draw out the lingering chemical fog, taking with it the relative quiet.
"I didn't see much, Sticky Fingers. The gas burned my-
BUZZZZZ!—CRASH! Lights. Ping—Ping—Ping...Clang—Blam—bam! A guard shoved a blue tray through the slot as if attempting to stab me with it. No spoon. I was about to ask for one when CLANG—Plop! changed my mind. The guards‘did not seem to be in the mood for eating utensils.
The tray was room temperature cold. Forlorn stewed carrots next to a mottled mount of black—eyed peas. Lumpy mashed potato peelings (hiding rot spots) added weight to the meal. Two slices of white bread looked like coral reef submerged in broth of turnip greens. And the main
35 — Level III/ Punctilious Hypocritous event, a processed chicken patty, shook and baked. No pork whatsoever.
"Look out, Wood! Send what you don't eat. I'll shoot down my rat line, huh."
I had told Triple 6 he could have what I did not want. With ass and gas in the atmosphere my appetite had waned. I was amazed that Hector was willing to eat off my tray after his threats. Triple 6 did not get anything for dinner.
I dumped my tray in the toilet. My first day on
Level III. Later, lying on a bare, lumpy mattress in some tied on Daisy Dukes, I'm thinking about my second day, hoping to get some sheets to separate my skin from the smooth, cold plastic cover, in the back of my mind wondering what kind of prison we were creating for our granchildren to do time in.....
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