Road Trip: BOP Style
By Dan Grote
I've been locked up in the federal prison system since February of 2013. My addictions, for the second time in my life, got the best of me and, in a very misguided attempt to procure the funds I imagined I'd need to drink myself to death (also for the second time in my life) I robbed a bank. I was unarmed and, if it counts for anything, very polite.
The tale you are about to read is a product of the return leg of what turned into a six month odyssey from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, IL to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington and back again by way of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Grady County, Oklahoma and, of all places, Pahrump, Nevada in pursuit of a psychiatric evaluation as a result of an erroneous motion filed by a lawyer who was, upon the culmination of my trip, asked to take his less than stellar services elsewhere. This is but an excerpt, a brief illustration of the sheer absurdity that constitutes a road trip courtesy of the United States Marshals Service's Joint Prisoner/Alien Transport Service, better known as Con Air. Our story begins on August 22, 2014 as I'm leaving Grady County Jail en route back to Sweet Home Chicago and the open arms of the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Back to the day I left (sort of) -- I was informed at about 1:30am that I'd be leaving and they'd come get me around 3am or so. True to their word at 3am they came and got me and three other guys from the unit I was in. We were stripped out of our Grady County Jail clothes (orange scrub pants and orange T-shirt) and put back in the clothes we arrived in (in my case, orange paper pants and orange paper shirt, yes, paper). After that we were ushered to the gym along with several other guys from several other units who were scheduled to leave as well. We were given bologna and cheese sandwiches and a carton of Milk (not sure why I capitalized milk) for breakfast and left to sit around until the "transport crew" came to get us. I almost forgot: On the way to the gym area, we were ushered by the unit housing females, which had large windows in it. It gave the effect of looking into some sort of zoo exhibit. Being that it was shortly after 3am and every one of the gals were asleep, we saw nothing. In hindsight, it was kinda creepy or probably would have been from the female perspective. The whole thing had a very adolescent boys looking through a peephole into the women's locker room type feel to it. It was not the only time women were to appear in this story.
We were in the gym for maybe a few hours and then handcuffed, shackled and put in a van for the 45 minute drive to the airport. The van was nothing fancy, four rows of bench seats in the back and a partition between the prisoner area and the two guards driving us. This was not the only time this particular van was to appear in this story.
When we arrived at the airport, it was still dark out. Probably 5:30 or so. We sat in the van until about 6:30 when we were allowed to pull into the Con-Air hangar area. Two of the guys were taken from the van and were airborne shortly thereafter. After another hour and half or so, myself and the remaining few in the Van were loaded onto another plane. We were airborne roughly an hour later. While I knew I was going to Chicago, I knew it would not be the first stop. Historically, on the Oklahoma City-Chicago trip there are several stops. The thing about Con-Air, is they'll never tell you where you're headed. They do this for security reasons, that's their story anyway. As a result, the time in the air was spent speculating wildly about where we would land. Wild guesses were ventured as to our current location and future destination based on the identification (often erroneous) of various geographical landmarks and topographical features from 30,000 feet.
As it turns out, our first stop was Mid-American Airport, just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. No sweat, we're heading in the right direction, approximately. We unload some people and some people get on. It is at this point that I should describe the game that is played by all the people who've been on the plane. Whenever a new batch of prisoners board the plane, it is almost mandatory that you and the person sitting next to you play "Guess the Sex Offender." Is it in poor taste? Probably. "But Dan, you're a criminal just like everyone else on the plane. What gives you the right to judge?" Simple. The fact that my crime will not prevent me from living near a school or park. That's what gives me the right. Even the criminal society has a hierarchy or a caste system and a "toucher" (sex offender) is at the bottom. Also, anyone who has spent any time locked up will spot a sex offender with an astonishingly accurate percentage. 99.6% in my case. It is a fact of life, right or wrong, it's just the way it is. If your whole defense strategy consisted of you attempting to convince a jury of your peers or a judge that "it was not your hard drive," you will end up being an unaware but virtually important part of the game I've described. The game of GTSO concludes. By my tally we have accumulated a total of three. We shoot back into the air en route to....that, my friends is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. I gaze longingly out my window as Missouri disappears beneath us. I try to ignore the itching and burning of my wrists.
Yeah, I left that out. About an hour into my little adventure, my wrists started breaking out and itching. Seems I'm allergic to metal handcuffs. I'm positive it's the metal ones that are the issue. I can say this with some degree of certainty because in my younger days, courtesy of a mildly unattractive campus police officer at Northern Illinois University (think Kathy Bates from "Misery" in a cop uniform) I had occasion to be restrained with the fuzzy kind of cuffs and it did not result in any kind of discomfort. While I am fully aware I've given you more than too much information, I felt it was necessary to support my conclusion regarding the metal cuffs.
Fast forward through an uneventful flight and we land again. In Illinois. Peoria to be exact. The reason for our stop is due to what is described by our flight crew as "severe weather." We are there to wait on the weather to clear in Chicago and that is it. We were even able to confirm this with the Marshalls. Or so we thought. We were served a bag lunch that required the assembly of a bologna and cheese sandwich while handcuffed. To save myself the frustration that would come when I undoubtedly dropped some component of the sandwich, I gave it to the lad in the seat next to me. After an hour or so we were back up in the air. After a time it dawned on me that we'd been in the air a lot longer than seemed necessary to go from Peoria to Chicago. I was right. We ended up landing in Rochester, Minnesota. Picked up some, dropped off some, no sweat. We're still in the Midwest and it's just a hop, skip and a jump from Minnesota to Chicago, right? Probably just came here first to give Chi-town's weather a little more time to mellow out. We took off again. The day was catching up to me so I decided to get some sleep. I have no idea how long we were in the air but I was halfway into a pretty good dream about not being in prison when the landing gear coming down pulled me back into the crap reality I've created for myself. I raised my window shade and...
I saw a body of water that did not belong where it was. A freeway that didn't look like it should. Roofs of houses that looked very familiar -- to the houses on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. You have got to be shitting me....I'm not sure if I said it or thought it. Probably both. We were on approach to Will Freakin' Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City. We landed. We taxied to the Transfer Center where the lucky ones would be housed. I spotted a van. A white van. A white van I rode to this very airport in many hours ago. A Grady county van. I knew I was not to be one of the lucky ones.
Myself and a few other guys who were supposed to get off in Chicago exited the plane and were loaded into the van. Three of us had already ridden in it once that day. If you will recall my previous description of this vehicle, the prisoner seating consists of four benches, Church Van style. We were placed in the rearmost two benches, two and two. As soon as we were seated, found more passengers/prisoners were seated two and two on the forward pair of bench seats. Women. Women from prison. Women we apparently picked up in Minnesota.
As you can imagine, when you put members of the opposite sex together and up to that point, they've had no face-to-face interaction with each other's gender outside of corrections staff, the atmosphere turns very high school dance-ish. Awkward small talk, subtle and not so subtle innuendo, dished out equally by the males and females by the way, and eventually everyone kind of pairs off into their own little conversations. To be clear, I was fairly passive in this whole endeavor. As a realist, I knew no fruits would grow from this tree. But it was refreshing to actually speak face to face with a female again. The one who chose me as her conversational better half was a woman who, in the face, was not at all unattractive. This is by prison standards. Just to give you a benchmark, being locked up can turn a five into a ten looks-wise. Kinda like beer goggles I guess. Her name is Carole. She's in her mid-fifties, kinda looks like a mid-fifties Tanya Harding. Anyway, Carole is telling me about her ranch in Wyoming and I'm telling her about how jacked up my day has been. Just BS small talk between two people whose only common thread is the handcuffs they're wearing. The conversation kind of peters out, as I am being polite and enjoying myself, but as I said before, nothing will come of this. And I'm perfectly ok with that. We fall into a silence. A silence which, to me anyway, is neither awkward nor uncomfortable, just the natural end to a random conversation. A silence which, after a minute or two, is broken by Carole saying how cute she thinks I am. She asks how old I am. I tell her I'll be 38 on the 29th. She nods her head as if to say I made a good choice being born on that day. She followed that up with what I believed she intended to be her best sultry look but it came across looking like a prelude to some sort of serious neurological event. While maintaining "the look," she let me know that she would love to bake me a cake, jump out of it and offer up a series of lewd acts gradually increasing in degrees of difficulty. I believe I was blushing when I thanked her for her offer but asked what her husband might think about it.
"Nothing." She said. "I killed him. That's why I'm doing 17 years. You married?" I shit you not, this is what she said. Word for freakin' word. My reply, after a long, horrified silence:
"I'm, um, happily married (divorced since April of 2013 and using the word "happy" to describe my marriage almost made me physically ill).
"Too bad. If I wasn't handcuffed, I'd flash you" said Carole.
"Thanks," said I. I tried my best not to look appalled by the way this whole interaction concluded.
"Hey, there's the jail. We're here."
Several hours later, I finished processing back into the Grady County Jail and was returned to the same housing unit I had left early that morning. I believe it was 9pm or so. After receiving more than adequate rations of shit from everyone who, thirteen hours earlier, had seen how happy I was to be leaving, I slept the sleep of a man who wanted desperately to wake up and find out the events I just related were nothing but a bad dream.
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