The infirmary is a “cushy” and much coveted job, with short hours and relatively light work loads most of the time. morning. On my first day, I met my new co-worker and trainer, a lifer named Freddy Glen AKA Siyani Masamba.
Siyani was a 6’4” 250 pound black man with finely toned muscles from daily sessions on the weight pile. He wears his long hair relaxed and straightened, and always immaculately neat, with every hair in place.
After a number of weeks of working together we became friends and would talk at length in the evenings. I was treated with a new respect and friendliness; once people saw that I was kicking it with Siyani
I don’t know if people thought that I was his “bitch” or what, but I didn’t care. Siyani’s black friends would ask him “What you kicking it with that crazy ass white boy for?” but would rarely push it beyond that. If they didn’t like it, there wasn’t much they could do about it. Siyani was respected, and feared, with a reputation he’d built since coming into the system as an angry nineteen year old murder convict. Now, at the age of forty he had no need to fight, and no interest in doing so, but he lamented at times that the new “Young Guns” in from off the street, with reputations of their own to build, would feel the need to test him, to see what he was about. At those times, he wished that he did not have his formidable physique and almost legendary prowess as a fighter.
Siyani liked to watch pro wrestling on TV. When I asked him why, and pointed out how obviously choreographed and planned the wrestler’s moves were, he pointed out that their performances still required great strength and agility, and were not without danger. He said for me think of it in terms of “Men as big as Braxton (6’8” 300 lbs, by far the largest man in the prison) slamming into each other and falling down on those mats.”
Siyani was a convicted killer in a high profile case. He readily admitted his complicity to me, but maintained steadfastly that he did not cut the victims throat, and that the killer had fingered him to save himself.. Eventually I was to hear his side of the story in detail.
Siyani Masamba (Freddy Glenn) was one of four men convicted in a high profile murder. Their victim was Karen Grammer, sister of actor Kelsey Grammer, of “Cheers’ and “Frazier” fame.
Siyani and his associates were depicted as “psychopathic soldiers from Ft. Carson” (1) The same “Crime library” article details the religious conversion and 1st parole hearing of one of his co-defendants, Michael Corbett AKA “Hasani”. Detective Lou Smit (Now Captain Lou Smit) of the1 Colorado State Police is quoted in the same article, as saying “Corbett was a man completely without a conscience...”
The article’s author, Seamus McGraw characterized Siyani as Corbett’s #1 disciple.
Though he lacked Corbett's force of personality, and didn't share his almost psychopathic detachment, he was Corbett's devoted disciple.
The story of Karen Grammer’s murder, and numerous others committed by Corbett, Glenn, and a cooperative witness named Larry Dunn, who was granted immunity from prosecution, (although the story, even as he tells it incriminates him as much as any of the others involved)is a matter of public record and has been retold in detail many times. All those interested in the blood and gore of it, or the other crimes attributed to the co-defendants need only to look to the internet.
What is not widely known is the person I knew as “Siyani” some 21 years after the murder had been committed. His prison reputation was certainly fearsome, but unlike many who commanded that type of respect, he for the most part was admired as an honest, peaceful, and honorable old-school convict. I don’t know what might have become of me, had I not had the good fortune to get hired as his protégé in the prison infirmary.
He was a good and patient instructor, who cared about the job getting done, not just to pass Sergeant Margaret Storm’s daily inspections, but also for the benefit of the patients themselves. After a few days, I got the rhythm and technique of this assignment down and would show up at 7:00 AM each day and work ‘til 11:00, go to chow, lock down in my cell for count, and return to work shortly after 1:00 PM. On most days, Sgt. Storm dismissed us by 2:30 PM. I learned little bits of prison lore, and the names of notorious outlaws and convicts he knew in his youth, who were all starting to mellow with age too.
He spoke of his days as an enforcer and collector for a prison gang, and also told me how young and ignorant he’d been.
He learned to respect gays, “I didn’t like fags you know, but these fags will cut an M.F.’s throat before they knew what hit ‘em!” and had his first encounters with heroin, cocaine, and LSD in prison.
Things weren’t quite so mellow behind the walls during the 70s, in fact they averaged about 1 stabbing per week, and Siyani recounted that back when the cells only had bars instead of an inmate-controlled locking door as they do now. Sometimes people were set on fire with a flammable liquid, perhaps some gasoline from one of the many gas-powered grounds maintenance machines, or lighter fluid that an absent minded guard kept around for his Zippo, but left unattended, which would be thrown through the bars, dousing the intended victim. This would be followed by a well-aimed torch, usually a rag soaked in the same liquid. There was no way out of the cell, and the only recourse available was the toilet which in those days each cell had. Siyani recalls watching a man and hearing his screams, as he stood in his toilet making a futile effort to put out the liquid fueled flames.
Siyani denied giving in to the temptation of a warm mouth offered by a sexually ambivalent inmate, although he admitted that many of the drag queens were convincing enough to make him lust after them as females. He still denied ever having had sexual contact with another male.
He smoked cigarettes, but not all that many of them, and worked out on the weight-pile to maintain the formidable musculature on his tall and slim frame. At this point he was not trying to “bulk up,” or “get buff,” as the weightlifters called it. He was just trying to stay healthy, and maintain the strength that he had with him.
When he got around to telling me his version of the Karen Grammer case, I heard a sad story not all that different than the published accounts, except for one thing. He said that one of the other men in the car actually cut her throat although he didn’t name a name (I’m guessing Dunn) and that he had refused to testify against any of his comrades, holding onto the belief that no matter how despicable a crime has been committed, it is still more despicable to give up your supposed friends to save your own ass. Freddy Glenn wouldn’t snitch. Subsequently he was fingered by one of his co defendants as the man who murdered Karen Grammer. As he went on with the story, I saw tears forming in his eyes.
Sure, what he told me could have been self serving and self-justifying, but what possible reason in the world could he have for trying to deceive me. I was just some crazy-ass white boy whose opinion didn’t meant shit, and even if he’d told me, flat out that he had cut her throat, and felt nothing, the man I knew in the present moment inspired nothing but respect and admiration in me. My instinct at the time was to believe him, and even though he left out important parts of the story, like the alleged gang-rape described by Dunn, I still believe that what he told me was the truth.
He recalls the brave and indomitable, but foolish Karen Grammer sealing her fate by telling her captors that she had all their descriptions memorized as well as the car’s license number, and how much trouble they would all be when she turned them in. Siyani remembers begging her “Shut up girl, please, just shut up!” hoping ‘til the last minute that somehow their original plan, which was to cut her loose, alive, would still be carried out. He said that the only way he could have saved her life would have been to shoot one of his companions, and faced with this dilemma, he watched as Karen Grammer’s throat was cut.
I have never been able to determine from his words, whether he wishes now that his actions had been different at that late point in the chain of events; his regrets are for setting out with his friends that night for a little adventure, including an armed robbery. But his remorse, his heartbreak over the death of Karen Grammer was unmistakable. Certainly a parole board member, looking at the facts of the case and Siyani’s role in it might have cause to doubt his sincerity. But I, having no power over whether Siyani ever sees the outside again, have no reason to doubt him. Again, why should he lie to me?
During that early period in my own term of incarceration, CDOC had a fairly unique “Hospice” program for terminally ill inmates who weren’t likely candidates for a “compassionate release.”
The man I met, known as “P.J.” or “Gimme” was one of the hospice patients lodged at territorial.
He had terminal, severely metastasized cancer spread throughout his body, and was continually being offered morphine by the facility’s doctor, but at least when I knew him, he was limiting himself to an occasional, single tablet of Percodan, saying that he wanted to be as close to fully conscious as possible for his own death. Sometimes the old doctor would get angry with him, exhorting him to take his morphine and get on with the business of dying. I saw pictures on the wall of the room of a seemingly different man, a tall, long-haired, slim young biker with his arm around a stunning Chicana. Only the tattoos were the same.
The disease had broken him down into a shriveled, formless, bloated and atrophied old man, but his tattoos told the truth of the matter. I would talk to him when he would go out for the occasional cigarette break (the man’s dying anyway, why not let him smoke?) and gradually got to know his story, of his service in Vietnam, and a criminal record that started in Vietnam (“They sent me over there to kill Gooks, and then they tried to charge me with killing Gooks!”)which I did not press for the details of.
“Terry Bad News,” another inmate who served with him in ‘nam told me “Gimme? That motherfucker’s crazy! He tried to run me over with a tank!” When I told PJ this story he just chuckled and said “Damn near got him too!”
We talked of war and religion. Unlike many members of the “biker trash” faction behind the walls, he didn’t sympathize with the Neo-Nazi groups. He was the one who suggested that I read Mila 18 by Leon Uris. “Those Jews kicked some ass!” he said with admiration in his voice.
Upstairs from the chow hall, there’s a large auditorium and recreation center. There are chess sets and jigsaw puzzles, Nintendo video games with strict half-hour time limits of them and long waiting lists. There are guitars, acoustic and electric.
I ask Sgt. Williams, a gruff, foul mouthed and somewhat anti-social person, redeemed by his readily available sense of humor, if I could check out an electric guitar.
He says, “Yeah, after we see that you can play, and can be responsible for taking care of an instrument.”
He asks an inmate to bring him an acoustic guitar.
“Well, let’s see what you can do”
I pick up the guitar, sit down with it, and plunk out a few rudimentary blues notes and changes.
“What’s that, blues?”
“What’s the song’s name?”
“Oh I don’t know, it’s just some blues thing I do.”
“You wrote it?”
“Yes, a very long time ago,” I said, and I remember discovering and plunking out those same notes at the age of fifteen.
The audition ends and I have acoustic guitar privileges. I hang out in the auditorium when not working and try to jam with anyone who's around playing a guitar. There are a couple of sound-insulated rehearsal studios behind the stage.
Sometimes walking by outside of the auditorium, I hear the energetic and defiant sounds of loud electric guitars, bass, and drums, finding their way through the insulation, seeking cracks in windows and walls and finding my ears. I think about how it would be fun to be in a band again, even in prison. I also think it’s unlikely that I will ever play in one. Guitarists are a dime a dozen, everywhere, even in the joint. Im was sure that there are many more accomplished players around.
I keep practicing on the acoustic guitars, and have a little fun here and there, as I progress, from dish-room, to school, to janitorial school, and to my “cushy” infirmary job.
Jesse is one of the people I play a little blues with. He’s in one of the rock bands, playing keyboards mostly. A large, heavy, older ex-marine, with his gray hair grown long into a slightly rebellious pony tail, Jesse’s brilliant, easy-going and just downright weird. We become good friends. Jesse decides that his rock band needs my guitar skills, mostly for bass playing, and he eventually persuades Sgt. Williams to give me my “electric” privileges.
Video games and rock-bands in prison are issues that right-wing demagogues use to get people to listen to their drivel. The prison guard’s unions, organizations not know for their liberalism, nonetheless favor various “perks” and “privileges” for inmates. To be in a rock band, or even to hang out in the auditorium and do various “arts and crafts” projects, (etched mirrors being the most popular, for their high resale value) a prisoner must be “Report Free” for some arbitrary number of days, usually around ninety or so. The same goes for the weight-pile and the gym.
These little behavioral rewards go a long way to making a guard’s life easier. Not only are there less actual infractions, but inmates who have learned to enjoy and depend on these perks to pass the time will be generally more polite and respectful, knowing that this further reduces the odds of a write-up, which can happen at any given time, for little or no reason.
Playing electric guitar, in a band in prison seems too good to be true.
“Be careful,” warns Mr. Goode, “They will torture you by learning what you love, and taking it away from you.”
I earn my privileges, enjoy them, come to depend on them. Still in the first two years (not even two years, more like 21 months) of incarceration, nonetheless I understand that things are indeed “good”. One night, while walking the track and talking with Jesse, we reach the conclusion the “these are the good old days.”
I go to band practice 5 or 6 nights out of the week. On my days off, I stay up to the wee hours of the morning watching old martial-arts movies and drinking Folgers instant. D I almost have myself believing in the correctional cliché’s like “rehabilitation,” and “turning your life around.”
I’m even “making the break with drugs,” or so it seemed. My Mellaril was discontinued early on in my stay with no ill effect, and a marked improvement in my energy level. My few months of working in the steaming purgatory of the penitentiary dish-room sweated and purged the persistent traces of methadone withdrawal from my body.
Working in the infirmary and playing music at night helps me lose the body fat I’d picked up in the county jail.
The first concert I play is in Christmas of ’96. I’m in 1 rock band and one R&B band, which was interracial in its makeup. I also do a brief, opening/warm-up set with a little heavy metal power trio I put together, to do a couple of old songs that I’d written in my 20s. After one false start, we manage to get through both pieces without any further difficulties, and the audience responds with warm applause.
Next up is the rock-band, led and fronted by Mark I play bass on most of the songs. I switch to guitar to do another original, an odd jazz piece that I wrote at the age of sixteen and still feel compelled to play when I pick up a guitar. As a guitar player, my skills are limited and amateurish, and I am not a “well rounded” player. I can’t read music, but can follow chord progressions, and don’t need to have things explained to me too many times, so people like having me in their bands. When practice is over I’m just another old guy pathetically clinging to teenage rock dreams.
Of course, in my teens, I’d wanted to be a “guitar hero,” a heavy metal and fusion jazz improviser. While other areas of my guitar skills went neglected, I learned to play scales really fast, and then to scramble them up and improvise them and finally got to the point where if I wanted a certain melody to come out of the guitar, I didn’t have to think about it anymore, it just happened. The quarter-semesters of music school in an obscure, avant-garde jazz setting also helped me a little. The jazz piece I was playing made me remember those days, before knives, needles, guns, craziness and disease helped me murder those innocent dreams of a young man.
When the time comes for it, I rip into for my guitar solo with everything I’ve got. I receive a standing ovation eight bars into it.
That was a once in a lifetime event. I’d been in a band on the outside, back in DC in my late teens and early twenties, a “punk-jazz” band that was in the wrong town and just a bit ahead of its time, under the direction of a maniacal musical anarchist with an alto sax named Eric Ziarko.
We did nothing but get bad reviews, lose money, and since I was the guy with the van, I was usually physically exhausted after our gigs from loading, driving, and unloading equipment. When the patrons in the club who remained for more than the first minute or two started getting into what we were playing, they would get up and dance. Some of Eric’s artless but sincere political speeches seemed to get through to people at times.
At one of our more memorable gigs, playing in the “Columbia Station” bar and restaurant in the summer of 81, I spotted a young woman I had known in “high school” (it was only high school in the sense that it was called a school and we were all high) with her date, a healthy ,young, corn-fed linebacker from the University of Maryland. I saw this as rather odd, because Susan was quite obviously still the “Hippie Chick,” but I had always admired her open- mindedness. I sat down briefly at their table during intermission (we just played two long sets that night). I told Susan that it was good to see her again after all this time, and I introduced myself to the football player. Then I walked down to the corner, with my crime partner Ellen, a stripper, and dealer in various disreputable substances. I had some crystal meth and we snorted a little of that, then she pulled out a fat joint of Angel Dust, and we smoked it right there on the corner. You could still do that then; it was just so crowded, and the cops had other things to worry about . Reagan hadn’t even been elected just yet.
I went back in to play the second set twisted out of my mind, and when it came time for my big guitar solo, I managed to get through it, with feeling even, and lightning fast chemically inspired licks.
A little later in the set, Eric went into his “World Hunger” speech, which like his sax solos, was improvised for the most part. This time he threw in something about “what if you went to McDonald’s and they didn’t have a Big Mac for you, not even a cheeseburger...”
At the end of the gig, I sat down briefly with Susan and her date again. The young man was moved to tears. Eric had reached him. “I never thought of it that way, going to MacDonald’s and not being able to get a Big Mac...”
Even being in an unknown band that drove half the patrons out of the club within two minutes of starting the first set attracted groupies, and would impress the strippers and the angel dust smoking, “lude” eatin’, coke shooting women I would encounter while “making the rounds” as a young suburban drug dealer. It was good fun for a long time, and when it stopped being fun, I stopped doing it. But never once was there a standing ovation.
The ego boost is brief. I realize where I am and that even if someone had made an audio tape of the show, getting a copy of it, and then managing not to lose it in a shakedown would be impossible. But ironically I’d just enjoyed more success as a musician in prison than I ever had on the outside. Many people don’t know my name, and call out “hey, little wolf dude!” I look forward to the next concert.
People started being a little nicer, and many people gave me encouragement to keep playing. I now had new friends; members of the bands I played in.
The time comes to go see the dermatologist; a couple of guards from a private security company chain me up and take me to University Hospital. The dermatologist examines the tumor.
It’s an adenocarcinoma, a tiny gland gone haywire; it has the potential to spread over my whole body. About a week after my initial examination, they take me back to the doctor, who numbs the area and starts slicing. They remove every last fragment of cancerous tissue from my finger using a new surgery that involves removing the tumor in really thin layers, and examining each one under a microscope, until finally a layer of tissue with no visible cancer cells can be found. It’s all done within an hour, and the guy is nice enough to prescribe some T3s for afterwards too.
At the infirmary, “vacation” continues; for five days, I can just push a button and say,
“Can I get my pain meds now?”
A gay male nurse encourages me to take care of my personal grooming more carefully.
Who am I trying to look pretty for?” I ask him.
“Look, I try to look my best when I come in here, and you should have the same attitude;
you look like a homeless person right now!”
“Well I have been homeless before.”
“But you’re not homeless now.”
The guy seems to be OK ; I make an effort, but not much of one.
1995, perhaps the longest and most hellish year of my entire life was finally is ending. While I’m still resting in the infirmary, the County of Boulder calls me in to court, and sent a pleasant mannered female deputy, a country girl in her forties, to come get me for my day in court. She frisks me before letting me climb up into the van, chains shackles and all. She ends the frisk with a couple of little pats on my balls. This was a much intimacy as I‘d had with a woman for a very long time now, and in my deluded fantasy, I see those two little pats as a sign of affection (in reality, the crotch area is fair game for officers of either sex, although many officers would just as soon leave that part out of their search routine). As a result of the minimal pat-downs that the crotch area generally receives, it is in fact a favorite place for contraband, at least when a strip-search seems unlikely.
The lady-deputy helps me into the van, and on the ride up, she asked if I was comfortable, if the heat was working properly. Her apparent concern for my well being seems strange.
I appear in court in Boulder. I’m informed of the charges against me. I accept a plea agreement for four sentences of twelve years run concurrently. I’m allowed to enter a plea of guilty and receive my sentencing in the same session.
One of my victims is there. She asks me, via the DA “why?”
I choose to answer, saying that I’d been shooting a lot of coke and wasn’t really thinking right when I did the robberies.
I apologize, “for any additional stress,” I’ve caused her. On the way back to the holding cell, a guard lets me know that she said to tell me “thank you,” for explaining and apologizing.
Christmas, then New Year’s Eve and Day pass unceremoniously. The only indication of the Holidays is Christmas dinner; some halfway decent real turkey, with all the trimmings, and a little cup of ice cream for dessert.
I take the bus back to the joint; spending another couple of days with a cell to myself in Cellhouse three, before being ordered to return to Cellhouse Seven.
Roommates are chosen on an informal basis; this one guy named Red said ‘Yeah, I know —-, he’d be a good cellie.” I’ve been exchanging small talk with this guy since DRDC, and I got the feeling that he was all-right too.
“That OK with you —-?” he asked. I nod and the guard, Sgt. Holden, gives us the go-ahead. I move in with Red, and we get along. He’s got TV, I still have no appliances. Mainly we both just like to read; we don’t really talk much.
Red’s job is graveyard shift in the boiler room and I still don’t have an assignment. I’m not going out of my way to find a gig.
Sometime in march of ’96, Red moves on to a single cell, and this younger white dude, who I’ll just call Chris, (If I wanted to use his real name I couldn’t anyway, it’s been long forgotten) moves in.
At that time, I call a friend who’s been holding some of the money from mom ‘n dad for me, and I ask him to send it to me. I order at small, 99.00 color TV that the prison sells for 215, and a 80.00 typewriter for 140.
I type out a few letters to friends and relatives, and when the urge hits, I take my first stab at some creative writing, just a poem or two.
Yet again my tranquility is disrupted, and I have to go to the Denver county jail, to enter a plea on a dope case. The charge was possession of two tenths of one gram of cocaine, in powdered form. I get five years. The judge also orders that the five years are to be served concurrently with my other sentences. I enter my plea of guilty and accept the symbolic punishment. I’ve seen child molesters get less than five years.
The system has me, in terms of sentencing, somewhere between Joel Steinberg (basehead mob lawyer who beat his stepdaughter to death, and got twelve years on manslaughter one) and Manuel Noriega (He “just said no” to George Bush Sr.; they had to invade a country to arrest him, and American boys died in this “police action”). Yeah, they gave him more time than me, but the guy who killed the little girl got less time than “The BB Gun Bandit”. “Go figure” as they say here in the weird new west.
When I get back, I’m assigned to the dish-room, and ordered to cell with Mr. Edwardrunningfox Goode (actual spelling). I already know him. After finally finding a reserved spot in the chowhall, I know Mr. Goode as one of my table-mates.
He’s a black man in his late fifties who claims to be part Native American, hence his name. He practiced his own version of Orthodox Judaism fanatically. His personal hygiene isn’t the greatest, and he snores loudly at night. He’s got some serious PTSD symptoms; he would get a glazed look in his eyes if we watched a moderately realistic war movie set in Vietnam on my TV. His snoring sometimes makes it impossible for me to sleep;I had to devise schemes to make him stop. None of them work very well.
We become friends anyway, and walk the yard together and talk about things. One day he asks me, “What’s up?
I answer as vaguely as possible. “Well the moon she goes around the earth and the earth she goes around the sun.”
“Who told you that? That’s a lie!” Mr. Goode responds, in defense of the geocentric model of the universe. I choose not to argue this point.
He asks me not to smoke in the cell, and I an entirely reasonable request, so I go smoke in other people’s cells, or outside when possible. Sometimes that’s not good enough. I can’t return to the cell too soon after smoking.If I do he starts going off about:
“I can smell the smoke on you, that’s just as bad as if you smoked it in here!
I tell him that he’s welcome to watch my TV whenever he wants, while I’m out at work or on the yard. I get an hour and a half long break in the mid afternoon from the dish room; I take advantage of this free time by napping, or at least laying on my bunk and doing some relaxation techniques.
He insists on standing next to the bunk and watching TV while I do this. He keeps the little earphone plugged in, but this bothers me too, his movements and the flashing of the TV make it difficult to really rest. I insist on turning off the TV He grumbles a little, but lets it go after that.
At night, when his snoring sets in, first I try moving around on the top bunk and making some small bumping noises. Sometimes these noises half-wake him and change his breathing pattern.
When that doesn’t work, I raise the whole center of my body up and let it crash down. That works most of the time, but on some occasions I have to simply bring my fist down on the bare metal of the bunk, where my mattress ended, with a loud “Bam!”
One night this works a bit too well, and he wakes up in a Vietnam flashback. When he finally figures what’s happening, he’s angry. He tells me that I just need to be patient, that when he’s sleeping deeply enough, the snoring stops. We’re never able to reach an agreement on this issue, and realistically, you can’t tell someone to stop snoring.
I use the time to fantasize and masturbate. (The prison shrink discontinued my Mellaril, and at least I can wack off again). It’s bad form to masturbate in your cell while anyone else is in there. I don’t think he noticed; I’m sure I would have heard about it from him otherwise. Mr. Goode’s vehemently opposed to all forms of “perversion” as he calls it. Worst of all, he hates the homosexuals, both the overtly gay and effeminate ones, and the “real men” who take a gay lover while in prison. I debate this with him too, and then I give up. I just tell him I have no interest in other people’s sex lives, period. He cites examples of such indifference and tolerance bringing down divine retribution in the Old Testament.
It’s impossible to constructively debate anything with a religious fanatic. I learn to steer clear of controversy with Mr. Goode. He always angry, at me, at the system, at the other inmates for being gay, for not standing up to the man, for smoking, for being Moslems and not following all the rules. I learn that watching someone else’s anger is tiresome, and realize how many people had probably found my own anger tiresome at different times in my life.
I read Mr. Goode’s court documents, and it seems to me he’s been fucked over by the system badly. He’s got a good lawyer, or at least it seems so from his pleadings. I’m not too happy with “the system” either, but I’m fucking tired, feeling the last vestiges of youth drain from my body and soul. I often tell Mr. Goode that he’s preaching to the choir, but nothing stops his endless diatribes.
One day, Mr. Goode is stricken with some violent gastro-intestinal disturbance. He saves the strange green liquid he’s puking in a plastic bag, for purposes of proving that it’s a medical emergency to the guards. We walked all over the prison as he tries to get someone to send him to the infirmary.
We walked, from cellhouse, to guard-shack, to the Captain’s office. I’m just there to vouch for him later if someone tries to accuse him of snitching .By the time arrive at the captain’s offices, I’m hearing “oh no, it’s Goode and his bag of puke!” before we even make it to the door.
Finally he’s sent to the infirmary, and promptly discharged again for refusing treatment. He says they refused to tell him what medicine they wanted him to drink.
One day, I return from work in the evening. He’s watching my TV.
“Sorry, I’ve seen this one already,” I tell him and change the channel. “
“You have a very rude behavior!” He tells me in a stern and threatening tone of voice.
I tell him that he’s not the politest person in the world either, and he grumbles again about what would happen in “real prison.”
After a month with Mr. Goode, and working hard in the penitentiary dish-room, my name gets to the top of the waiting list for single-bunked cells. I make the move promptly, and for a day or two I was in heaven. Finally, I have “my own place!”
No one seems concerned about my rehabilitation here, in spite of all the “diagnostic” mumbo-jumbo that had taken place at DRDC. I actually start wanting to be “corrected”
‘Yes, I can use this time to ‘get my life turned around’ and to ‘start being positive!’
The shrink in the county jail had also told me that it was my chance to finally make the break with drugs. That’s not on my list of things to do however. I’m doing much in the way of drugs, but it’s only because as a newcomer I’m not privy to the dope channels, or trusted by the people who are.
However as April moves to May, I decide to make a break with the dish room. I ask me case manager, to enroll me in “Drug and Alcohol Class.”
He’s more than willing to do this for me (many people need to be coerced into attending these classes).
The class is not without its interesting moments. The amount of what I consider to be propaganda and disinformation being dispensed is very offensive and irritating, but I know where the line is. I question, argue, and bring up issues that the class seems to be sidestepping, but I always let the instructor have the last word, giving some monosyllabic response like “oh,” to let him know that he’s succeeded in sharing his insight with me.
“Mr. Buzzard,” as we call him (which is very close to his real name) is a blowhard; he tolerates little or nothing in the way of tardiness, missed classes, or failure to complete assignments. The class-work is simple and boring, and most of the homework is easy; I have no problems meeting these basic requirements.
Mr. Buzzard’s intelligent, opinionated, well educated, and his odd, right-wing libertarian views in his own words are “bordering on antisocial.” The class actually addresses the issue of arrestable versus unarrestable antisocial behavior, and although Mr. Buzzard’s got a “tough on crime” stance with regard to violent offenses. He also repeatedly makes the point that antisocial behavior by the powerful in society goes unpunished or is treated with excessive leniency and that this in his opinion is unfair.
He favors legalization of drugs. He also says strange things like “I think there should be factories where addicts can work and be paid in drugs and whenever one of them dies, their body should be processed into food for the other addicts.” He details this morbid sci-fi fantasy almost with a straight face. To this day, I’m not sure how serious he was about it.
We watch a movie a about a problem child, a little girl who’s been the victim of torture and sexual abuse during the first three years of her life. She’s adopted by a kindly couple, with a young son of their own.
The damage has already been done; she tortures and sexually assaults her new little step brother, and tortures the house pets too. As she grows older and stronger, she becomes increasingly dangerous.
Professional intervention becomes necessary, and she’s was taught to say “When I hurt others, I hurt my good self.”
She talks candidly on camera about her past behaviors, and seems to be genuinely concerned about her own “change process.”
The guy sitting on my right writes on his folder “When I hurt others, I feel good about myself.”
The guy on my left, a tall skinny speed freak named Shakey with a punk-rock Mohawk draws a wobbly, warped, and bubbly syringe on his folder, falls asleep and gets expelled from the class shortly thereafter.
Every Friday we watch a full length movie in class. We’re expected to write a review of it over the weekend, usually with three or four questions about the motives and morality of the characters that need to be answered in the review. It’s a good idea to take notes.
The selection of films is eclectic. We watch “Parenthood,” with Steve Martin and “Clean and Sober,” with Michael Keaton.
There are many other movies, usually with a theme of interpersonal dynamics within a family, or of sobering up and relapse. One especially poignant film with Robert DeNiro starring in it, has to do with the discovery of L-Dopa, and its seemingly miraculous initial effects, followed by the discovery of its horrible and debilitating side effects. I write about the individual vs. institution conflict in the movie, and also tie it in with another film, shown in the afternoon “personal relations” class, having to do with paralyzed junkies who shot up a bad batch of some street Demerol containing the compound MPTP. It left the addicts alive, but unable to move. The substantia nigra, the group of dopamine producing cells in their brains was destroyed by the MPTP, much as this same group of cells dies off in Parkinson’s patients. Mr. Buzzard gives me an “A” on the review.
The concept of how criminals function in a kind of denial, never believing they’ll get caught comes up in a discussion. I remark that I’d been counting on either getting shot or overdosing before they could catch me. The “hail of bullets” from police revolvers was my favorite death fantasy.
A morose, pale white man in his twenties with little round glasses and some kind of hillbilly accent says in a low, threatening tone, just loud enough for the whole room to hear “If this were a real prison, you would be dead.”
Maybe he’s right, but not for the reason he’s implying. He believes the “rat” rumor. Having no snappy comeback, I ignore him. Mr. Buzzard says “See, go to a state where they have real prisons next time.”
Much later, in an episode of repartee after the fact I come up with “If you were real person I’d give a fuck about what you had to say.”
The class is over all too soon. I’m given an “Award of Merit for Outstanding Achievement,” by Mr. Buzzard. I’ve graduated from drug and alcohol class with honors.
Not wanting to start working again right away, I sign up for janitorial school, a two hour long class in the morning, supplemented with various little “hands on” work study assignments at different times.
I get my basic, and then my advanced certificates, with an “A” average. The teacher, Jerry Canterbury, tells the infirmary sergeant that I’ve been doing good work cleaning the halls and the restrooms down there at the school every day and I’m promptly hired by the infirmary upon my graduation.
I’m certain that I deserved to go to prison. I was not the innocent man, or the peaceful drug offender. I was among the lowest of street scum, a small time junky hood who would deal, con, rob and steal, often more out of sheer boredom than any genuine need for drugs. In that sense, I can say I was a success; that was who I’d set out to become, consciously, with premeditation after my own unarrestable but despicable behavior showed me once and for all who I really was. So why not be what others see, and do my best to live up to their fantasies? I was living in my own trashy and surrealistic novel, an ongoing narrative of actions and sensations streaming through my mind, as if I was already writing the script for the movie based on those days. All that is in fact a “whole other story,” but the result was that I ended up in prison, more or less convinced that it was where I belonged and what I deserved.
Remember that lame old ad that showed a forlorn-looking panhandler holding a paper cup receiving a coin from someone passing by with the voiceover stating with certainty that “nobody wants to grow up to be a junky?” Well I wanted to. I knew it was just a question of time before I found the needle. I didn’t want to grow up to go to prison at the age of 35, but I knew at least on a subconscious level that it was coming. I had nightmares about it years before my first felony conviction.
I felt that perhaps the sentence I received was too harsh for my actual crimes, but that I deserved it for other things that could not be defined within the Colorado Revised Statutes. Could I be charged with being “one cold motherfucker” or a “crazy desperate asshole” or in the final analysis, just a “dumbass?” What I had done to my first wife and child by repeatedly choosing to inject myself with sacred poisons was horrific even in my own eyes, yet not something anyone chose to formally charge me with. What I had done to my lovers both male and female, falling in love with them, winning their love, and then systematically killing the relationship so I could do the whole thing over again is as common as it is depraved, but not a crime.
Some fucked up credit card/Santa Claus western notion of karma named the sentencing judge as its agent in my mind, but by the time I was in the state prison system, I had shed many burdens, and lessened my demands from life. Things can always get worse, but given time, patience, and willingness to alter one’s own perceptions, they usually get better. From the concrete floor of the City Jail holding area to the stinky little one man cells with two or three men packed in, things change. Even if you end up sleeping with your feet next to the toilet, or under the bunk, things have improved, because you have a mattress. You might even get a blanket. By the time you get to your county jail cell, you have sheets, a blanket, and a mattress with a built-in pillow-like hump at one end. Things seem to get better until the withdrawal sets in.
“In the East B.F. Egypt Adult Detention Facility, I went into methadone withdrawal while incarcerated for the fourth time. My nerves turned to white hot barbed wire, my flesh turned to scalding red jello.”*
Martinez is snoring. He’s not a bad guy really, just a Chicano methamphetamine dealer unlucky enough to get caught with a shotgun, but lucky enough to have no meth with him, except in his bloodstream. Now he’s catching up on some sleep. It’s not like I can sleep anyway, I feel like there are hundreds of tiny fishhooks being dragged through my flesh while tiny worms eat the muscles of my extremities. Every couple of hours it feels like someone kicks me in the gut one time, but good. This is methadone withdrawal,. I send a kite to the infirmary, seeing if I can get something to take the edge off.
It was January 15th 1995 when that last, horribly bungled robbery put me in that shit-hole of a suburban Jail, the Adams County Detention Facility. This is my first time in Adams County, and in Boulder and Denver they at least give you something, like clonidine, Tranxene, or Phenergan, to get you through that agonizing first few days. The kite comes back with the following written on it:
“We are sorry sir; we don’t treat withdrawal from drugs.” It’s Tylenol and water from then on. I toy with the idea of suicide, but some perverse aspect of my personality rejects it at an option.
I was at fault in even creating the smallest chance that this could happen, and the fact was that it almost had to happen; but I also decided that in time someone would pay for making me suffer in this way.
People are not denied medications for migraines, depression, upset stomachs, constipation, and a host of other non-lethal ailments that seem to be endemic to county jails, but withdrawal is viewed as deserved suffering that is unworthy of treatment. In most cases, people survive withdrawal from heroin, morphine and methadone, although I still insist that methadone is the worst of the three. Unlike alcohol withdrawal, withdrawal from narcotics is generally not considered to be life-threatening, however, the pain and misery of the experience has driven people to suicide, and lethal seizures can result from severe withdrawal. As I write this today, only Denver County out of all the county jails I’ve been held in has started an experimental program of providing inmates with methadone at the country’s expense. Early results of this and other experiments seem to indicate that inmates treated with methadone in jail, are less likely to re-offend when released. It’s just common sense. Boulder County, the wealthiest county I have ever served time in, let me suffer through withdrawal with only the mildest of medications to take the edge off, although they did not cut off my Xanax prescription. Now, I hear you can get methadone in Boulder too, but it will cost you 25.00 dollars per day. I am sure that all who can afford it, fork over the 25 bucks gladly.
Martinez is still snoring. I read the graffiti that has been painstakingly scratched into the paint, with some contraband piece of metal that an inmate can always find; a staple, the clip from an ID badge, maybe even a “shiv.” Too many gang names to keep track of but the West Side Ballerz, and the GKI are prominent. Someone else has carved their own commentary into the discussion “Fucking gang-banging pussies grow up fuckheads!” County time is always the hardest time, unless one enters the prison system with delusions of being “a real man,” a sure ticket to supermax.
Suffering grows familiar and banal, the concept that there is any alternative to it fades. Lack of distraction from the withdrawal becomes my nemesis. I don’t really sleep for about a month. To endure the suffering was no act of strength and bravery; there simply wasn’t any other choice. Complaining would not have yielded any positive result.
People tell me that I should spend a little time outside of the cell, and walk around a little, maybe use the exercise machines. Most days I just stay in bed, getting up only for meals which I usually give away, the medication nurse, and the occasional chess game. I have no money for commissary at first, and from time to time someone offers me a cup of black, foul-tasting instant coffee made with hot tap water. I accept this brew gratefully, and sometimes it elevates my mood enough to play chess or board games.
After a sleepless month I put in a request form or “kite” as they are called asking to see the shrink. I also get up the nerve to ask my parents for some money for commissary. I feel horrible, guilty as hell for what I’ve done to them this time; there is no need to feign remorse.
I ask for more money than I really need. At this point I’m starting to face the reality of a substantial prison sentence.
More than anything, I just want to sleep. The doctor gives me Sinequan, an odd antidepressant with heavily sedating side-effects that decrease rapidly as the body adjusts to the drug. When the Sinequan stops working, he prescribes imipramine. The imipramine works better. I’m able to make a few trips to the Boulder county jail on the basis of some foolish confessions I had made, thinking that this would help my cause and possibly get me transferred to Boulder for the rest of my pre-sentence confinement.
All I get are extra felonies on my record, with shorter sentences run concurrently with the longest one. However there are a few blessed weeks in Boulder with Tranxene, a long lasting benzodiazepine drug, that a kindly female psychiatrist in Boulder prescribes to me through the jail infirmary (most jails don’t allow such things). This makes the accursed worms beneath my skin to stop crawling, so that I cam actually stand to be awake.
My pre-sentence confinement lasts 265 days. The jail-shrink prescribes another heavily sedating psych med, in this case the “antipsychotic” Mellaril. Between that and the imipramine, I I’m to avoid being awake more than six or seven hours a day. Eventually I can eat again. I develop an extreme sugar habit, buying cookies, candy bars, and junk food from canteen, along with the almost obligatory ramen noodle soups.
I read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and a Steven King anthology. I read Sartre’s The Age of Reason and much in the way of obscure, escapist science fiction. I listen to jailhouse preachers in impromptu bible study and rap-sessions but fail to see the light. My weight goes up to 170 pounds from its junky-slim 130 lbs.
I don’t care that my physique is like that of “The Penguin,” I just sleep more and eat more sugar. A pre-sentence investigator tells me she’s recommending a halfway house or treatment program. All I can think of is just how long it would take me to get out the door, down to the dope-zone, and start speedballing.
Some crack finds its way in. I trade my headphone radio for a couple of hits, these two young white dudes get a piece and we smoke it through a chicken bone, making torches with yellow legal pad paper ignited by an arc using wire, pencil lead, and the light switch. We smoke up the cell, and all of the rock, but for some reason the guards don’t to notice a thing.
On another occasion some methamphetamine comes in with a meth-cook who I’d met in the Denver county jail a while back. I don’t even like that stuff very much, but it’s an opportunity to do drugs in jail. It’s always hard to say exactly how contraband gets in to a facility. In a non-smoking county jail, the occasional appearance of a full pack of “Cadillacs” (complete, regular cigarettes) would seem to point to really lax security or even staff complicity. But sometimes, after going through the facility’s screening procedure, it becomes obvious that certain drugs could only have come from one place, out of someone’s asshole. “Keestering it” or “putting it in the safe” are a couple of the euphemisms used.
Cavity searches are almost unheard of because now the law requires that they be done by qualified medical personnel. In Denver County I once heard a guard say “if it’s in your ass, it’s yours, we don’t want it.”
The days move, slow befouled, constipated time, unlike my intestines that continue to go into spasms at random times, when something would come up and kick me yet again. The term “writhing in peristalsis” appears repeatedly in the narratives and “cut ups” of William S. Burroughs, but one can only understand exactly why after going through untreated withdrawal a few times. For a long time I simply can’t stand to be awake at all, because the nightmare of being conscious could only stop if I awakened from it into sleep.
I hear about Oklahoma City, and I think “Good, someone finally hit back,” as the reality of a senseless war crime by a half-witted white supremacist hasn’t yet sunk in. I get a crude tattoo of a bomb on my left arm using a sharpened staple.
Towards the end of the summer, I enter a plea of guilty while heavily medicated, somehow convincing the judge that I understand the full ramifications of my plea, although I don’t. In September, I appear before another judge, Michael Ensor. I tell him that I did it, there is no excuse and that I deserve whatever I get. The judge agrees and gives me 16 years, the maximum possible sentence under the plea agreement. I thank the judge and my attorney as I leave the courtroom.
My existence is improving again. I have nothing left to worry about. The shrink tells me “Now don’t catastrophise,” and while it is hard to define a 16 year sentence as anything less than a catastrophe, I know what he means. I continued to prepare myself mentally for the state prison, talking to more experienced inmates about life “behind the walls” and trying to imagine just how I would fit in to that society. By now I’m just “crazy”. Heavily medicated and clearly not caring what I look like, the label comes to me naturally. In prison culture, there are many worse things to be than crazy.
One of our fellows is Iranian. The white boys harass him mercilessly until he begs the guard to move him, at which point they all start calling him a rat. The guards move him to another pod. There’s a kid they call “Rubberhead,” and his shaven skull with a little Hare Krishna style tail in the back looks like rubber, for sure. I’m coming to accept my fate more as each day passes, but can’t not summon up the bravado and humor that some of the repeat offenders display. For a while, I eat with the “brothers” at their table, which was the ping pong table with the net removed. The other whites seem to want nothing to do with me but the six or seven some odd black guys in the pod –the number changed as people came and went- don’t seem to mind my presence. I usually give away a substantial portion of my tray to someone or other. Even though I can eat again, the jail food remains nauseating.
One day at lunch, an older white convict with a shaved head invites me to sit at his table, sayins “you don’t have to sit with them.,” I accept his invitation. I figure that I won’t really be missed by the blacks, but if I turn down this invitation, it will be an insult to one of my elders, the kind of people who in time will tell me what I need to know to survive, not just physically, but psychically too. In prison I would get to know some of the black lifers too, but race wasn’t the issue, what I needed was the wisdom of experience, knowledge that only comes over time, and at a high price. In the prison, the madhouse, the halfway house and treatment programs, or for that matter concentration camps, this type of simple but vital knowledge is the most valuable gift that one could hope to receive from another inmate.
I buy another headphone radio to replace the first one that I’d traded for a couple of crack hits; it turns out to be a SONY, a lot better than last one. I start going out to the “yard.” Yard time consists of being allowed outside for an hour in the afternoon or evening. “Outside” is a small triangle of concrete surrounded by the walls of the jail itself, and covered with a heavy wire grid. If I look up, the sky can be seen through the grating.
I go to night yard and pace around with the radio on, listening to a Denver hard-rock station, and trying hard to find something acceptable in the whole scenario. I see my first glimpse of a different kind of freedom, a feeling that some prisoners eventually find they can’t live without. It is the freedom to not give a shit about anything, to go crazy, to forget.
Three weeks after sentencing I’m transferred into the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The guard up in the glass cage calla my name, mispronouncing it so badly that I don’t know who he’s calling at first. When I finally figure it out and leave my cell, he tells me to “pack it up”. A crowd of people gather around my door. They know I can’t take any of my canteen food with me. Greedy and vulture-like, hovering with their hands out, most get what they came for as I keep giving stuff away, until finally the guard comes down and runs them all off. As I leave the pod with what is left of my life stuffed into one large clear plastic trash bag, little bits of parting advice find my ears,
“Don’t let ‘em get to you!”
“Don’t take no shit from anyone,”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, just do your own time mind your own business, don’t bother no one they won’t bother you.”
One of the guards offers his own trite attempt at humor:
“Don’t bend over to pick up the soap…”
I have one fruit pie left and I eat it in the holding cell while waiting for the van.
We make the short trip to the Denver Diagnostic and Reception Center (DRDC) from Adams County, there are two other guys in the van. They take away my county jail uniform and replace it with an orange jumpsuit. They give me a pair of state-issue shoes, heavy, black “Plainsman” work boots, with carefully notched soles to ensure good footprints. They take away my headphone radio and give me the option of donating it to Goodwill Industries, which I do. Ordinary dry-cell batteries are contraband in CDOC. They say you can make explosives out of them.
We have lunch; the food is much better than anything the county had ever serves, but they don’t give us enough time to eat it all. Fifteen minutes after the first to be served sat down, they march us back to our cells, so the folks toward the end of the line are just out of luck. I only get to have a couple of bites of the delicious chocolate pudding and processed “whipped topping” pie.
As we enter the huge three tiered housing unit, I hear a guard yelling at someone making some noise up on the third tier.
“Shut the fuck up. Just where do you think you are the county jail?”
The guard, a thin middle aged black man looks at us, saying quietly, “Oh, that just makes me so mad.” I silently thank the guard. I have no desire for any more jail noise either.
Until we can be “diagnosed” and classified, we are all considered to be maximum security inmates. We are housed in separate cells, and only allowed out for meals, showers, and the various components of the intake procedure.
One afternoon as filled with standardized I.Q. and psychological testing, with the familiar #2 pencils and answer sheet covered with rows of little boxes to fill. That little smear of pencil lead will become a piece of binary code in a computer that eventually will become some minuscule part of a report, to be glanced at by a bored case-manager, filed, and forgotten.
Medical looks at a small tumor on my finger that’s been bleeding on and off ever since the county jail. The Dr. in Adams County had said it was a wart, and offered to look at it again in 90 days. At DRDC, a young PA decides to cut it off and send it for a biopsy. I tell him that at one point it had been removed, diagnosed as a basal cell carcinoma, and grown back, which he take a bit more seriously than the county jail doctor. He even prescribes about five days worth of Tylenol/codeine #3 for me, for which I am most grateful.
Codeine, quietude, a few readable books with a religious theme, novels of Jews escaping the Nazis from Poland, and heading for Palestine, better food than I’d had for a long time, and, after a few days, tobacco. It’s as close to paradise as I’ve been for a long time. CDOC has not yet banned smoking throughout the system. Only the tier porters, guys who’ve gotten hung up at DRDC for one reason or another, and taken janitorial jobs to get a little more time out of the cells, have lighters. The guards make sure that the tier porters make the rounds with the lighters at least four times a day. I haven’t ordered any canteen yet, but I trade a bottle of shampoo for a decent little sack of bugler and some papers. When I light that first smoke, I feel, for the first time in a long time, that life is good again.
My hair gets filthy and greasy from lack of shampoo; if I take my little blue stocking cap off, (a valuable item that DOC issues to all incoming prisoners), my hair sticks out in all directions in sharp angular tufts and clumps. A drug counselor comes to see me; he asks me many questions which I answer honestly. He asks me about my hair, and I just shrug. Why should I care? I have no one to be pretty for. He asks me to try to have my hair clean when he came back. I don’t.
He’s got some intake form for something called the “Crossroads to Freedom House,” a prison Therapeutic Community (TC) for serious drug offenders and violent offenders with drug problems. I refuse to sign it or have anything to do with it, telling him that I just don’t think I’d fit in, in a TC. I stop shaving for the time being. I try washing my hair with state issued lye-soap, but that just makes it worse. Finally, a fellow prisoner takes pity on me and tosses me his shampoo bottle.
We have individual showers out on the tier, with no curtains. No need to worry about bending over here; the worst that can happen is some perverted guard behind the tinted glass in the cage looking at your asshole.
We’re shuffled from one building to the next, after one week. After the second week is done, we we’re shuffled to a third building. By that time we have been diagnosed and classified. I meet with a case manager who simply advises me to avoid hot UAs and “refusal to work” write-ups, if I ever want tpmake parole. A mental health woman lectures a group of us about the treatments available, including a couple of “therapeutic communities” within the prison system for drug offenders and sex offenders respectively. She says that successful participation in a TC could significantly shorten a sentence, and that even inmates with very long sentences and life sentences can benefit, in terms of the type of time they will end up serving. She asks us to tell someone if we’re thinking about suicide. She also advises against it.
“You’ll go out of here in a body bag, and you’ll be forgotten pretty quickly, that’s all you’ll accomplish.”
On 1st of 2005, the main office of the info-matrix moved to larger quarters.During the last week of December, a second, brand new, faster, and more powerful computer was added to the array. Not only am I alive but things are going much better than anyone could have expected. Additionally, a woman from my distant past (23 years ago!) reappeared in my life, resulting in (among other things) the creation of a women’s studies sub-domain within the site. A marriage of corporate fortunes may be the result of this rebirth of an old tactical alliance against an unforgiving world.Additionally I would like to go on record to express my gratitude to one Ms. Melinda Buzas, MA, CAC III, for convincing both myself and the powers that be that I don’t necessarily need to be thrown in jail for my own good and the safety of society in general.All predictions that I would come out of retirement and return to my former career, something I’m clearly in no condition to do, have proven to be without merit. Yes boys and girls, the wages of sin is death (although they usually throw in a little cash too).
Past Updates now Archived in “The Blog!
Visit the blog often and say whatever is on your mind!Click Here for Frenetic Blog-Down
I somehow stayed out of jail for an entire year since my last arrest,(Correction, it will be one year as of August 18th) described below. Just how this affects my standing as a corporate criminal I don’t know.But my fears, which led to my plans for expanding the Frenetic Staff have been
unfounded to date. Still, the liberal republican mayor of the great city of Denver, John Hickenlooper, has publicly refered to the Denver County Jail as a “disgrace” and “unworthy of our city,” and although my loyalties remain with the libertarian party, I have to agree with His Honor on this one. Other than that, I became gravely Ill on July 7th of this year, and my life was saved only because I recognized that something didn’t feel right, and got to the Denver Health main hospital (formerly Denver General) in time for a team of brilliant and dedicated surgeons, both American and middle eastern to save my life. Even these learned men placed my odds of survival at 50% initially. By July 17th, I was released from the hospital after having a long and dangerous operation on my left lung, followed by a couple of unconscious days on a respirator. Much in he way of liquid was drained from this lung; what I had was a bad pnuemonia with complications, but a portion of dead lung was removed too! Also rumored to have been removed from my lung was a portion of a crack pipe, a few small fragments of “Chore Boy” abrasive that had been exposed to high temperatures, and a partially smoked pack of Camel Turkish Royals. Needless to say, to my younger readers I warn against the pleasures of excess, immediate gratification, and the pseudo-religion of addiction they lead to. You will end up feeling like you are 90 years old when you hit about 45. To you old farts out there for whom all hope is lost anyway, do what the hell you want, you may be dying soon but that still doesn’t make your private behavior the business of a government that was somehow granted parental authority over an infantile adult public!
Entry for September 4, 2007
Total Terror,” “…substitutes for the boundaries of communication between individual men a band of iron which holds them so tightly together that it is as though their plurality had disappeared into One Man of gigantic dimensions.” (Arendt 1976: 465, 466)
The totalitarian nature of the Dederichist TC is acknowledged by researchers, and is usually justified by attributing uniquely manipulative and amoral characteristics to addicts. Maxwell Jones, an advocate of “Democratic TCs” states that “…the label “totalitarism” [sic] may be directed at [authoritarian, Dederichist] PTCs…”(1986:22) Sugarman states openly that “Privacy is a negative value within the TC.” (1986:70) and that “The hierarchical model emphasizes the self-destructiveness, impulsiveness, and irresponsibility of the addict…” (1986:71) It is not in my opinion excessive to use Dr. Arendt’s term “Total Terror” when describing the initial objectives of the Dederichist TC. The following description of some standard practices exemplifies the psychological terrorism that the Dederichist TC deals in::
“The unfamiliar and intimidating experience of staff and peers shouting
obscenities, etc., at the client for failure to comply to some mandatory behavior can
contribute to ‘splitting’ at an early stage. Other forms of bullying and threatening can be used by the group.(Jones 1986:22)
To be certain, the option of “splitting” exists for all TC clients, except for those of prison TCs. For incarcerated TC clients, there is the option of returning to the general prison population, usually at a higher level of security. But for the majority of non prison-based TC clients, the program has been ordered as the only alternative to a prison sentence. Often, the 18 months of TC treatment seems to be the logical alternative to a long (15-30 years) sentence. With substantial prison time as the only alternative to compliance with the TCs totalitarian micro-state, the psychological brutality and terrorism of the TC is backed by the concrete and physical threat of prison, and all the brutality implicit in that threat. The culture of universal (or at least its supposed to be) informing and fanatically enforced group participation paradoxically is one in which only the more ruthless, self-serving and ultra-individualistic participants can triumph.
“TCs, like other total institutions, are encompassing. They direct the lives of residents while in residence. Conventional friendships, sexual contact, introspection, and association with the outside world are all forbidden.” (Hawkins, Wacker, 1986:153).
I have found that in spite of a kind of equality of rights through removal of rights and an apparent universality of oppression, in this highly regimented micro-state the “Law of the Jungle” is the dominant factor. The boundaries that have been coercively established, and the consequences of negative attention from staff authority are merely treacherous ground that must be navigated, and powerful weapons to use and defend against. In spite of all the written materials available (some of them even written by this author) proclaiming that the pullup system (universal surveillance/informing) is benevolent in intent, when emphasized excessively with aggressive participation demanded of all, “kill or be killed” becomes the essence of day to day existence. One cannot afford friendships in the conventional sense, indeed. The degree to which I myself have avoided, or succumbed to this depersonalization and corruption has in the past directly related to my opinion of those in control. The intentions, mental stability, ability to think, religious prejudices or lack thereof, and political sentiments of staff authority figure heavily in the workings of a traditional TC, and due the rigidity of its structure, dictate not only the rules but the overall morale and atmosphere of the program. De Leon describes in the following what he believes to be inherent to the functioning PTC:
“The TC is managed as an autocracy, with staff serving as rational authorities. Their psychological relationship with the residents is as role models and parental surrogates, who foster the self-help, developmental process through managerial and clinical means. They monitor and evaluate client status, supervise resident groups, assign and supervise resident job functions and oversee house operations. Clinically, staff conduct all therapeutic groups, provide individual counseling, organize social and recreational projects and confer with significant others. They decide matters of resident status, discipline, promotion, transfers, discharges, furloughs, and treatment planning.” (1986:10)
This all-encompassing power is often applied more aggressively by TC staff than the similar power wielded prison staff. The power of the TC is intrusive and at times petty and nitpicking to the point of absurdity. The concept of “Parental Authority,” in these times questionable even when applied to children, can break down into simple brutality, whether psychological or physical just as easily when applied to adults .De Leon defines the legitimate (in his eyes) function of the autocracy:
“TC clients often have had difficulties with authorities, who have not been trusted or perceived as guides and teachers. Thus, they need a successful experience with a rational authority who is credible (recovered), supportive, correcting and protecting, in order to gain authority over themselves. (personal autonomy). Implicit in their role as
rational authorities, staff provide reasons for their decisions and the meaning of consequences. They exercise their powers to train and guide, facilitate and correct, rather than punish, control or exploit.”(1986:12) (emphasis mine)
Unfortunately my personal experiences with this subject, as well as the statements of many other TC survivors indicate to me that the behavior of most TC staff members, if they have been thoroughly indoctrinated in Dederichist ideology, falls far short of De Leon’s standards. A seemingly endless litany of deceptive behaviors, manipulations, broken commitments, words spoken and then forgotten, points to questionable moral character of individual staff members. During my stint as Peer Advocate at ACC-TC I told other clients of staff statements and commitments: “If you don’t have it in writing, it don’t mean shit.” I even demanded written verification of statements and directives given to me in private by the predominantly trustworthy Tania, due to her tendency to forget what she said, and later contradict herself. There is also a mean-spirited refusal by such staff members to help people in measurable, practical ways (job training, renewal of driver’s licenses, college level education, to name a few). One staff member reportedly told a hapless supplicant “We’re here to give you treatment, not to make your life easier when you get out.”
Statements such as the above seem to be based on a belief that “treatment” (itself a very poorly defined term) is an end in itself. The same staff member had told another client that he had “not earned anything,” for all his long hours of participation in the TC. The underlying belief is that treatment in and of itself is a reward. When the TC is examined from the inside, mysticism, not healing or science is visible. What I have seen is primitive, superstitious religiosity, an unwarranted faith that the rituals of “Games” (encounter groups) and endless self-critical writing assignments, when combined with the controlled existence of TC life will bring salvation. Jones when tracing the movement’s pre-Dederich origins to Frank Buckman’s Oxford Movement in the nineteen thirties states that “There seems to be an astonishing continuity of this evangelism from the intense religiosity of the Middle Ages to the present secular ideologies of which the PTC is one example.” (1986:22)
The tendency of Dederichist PTCs to point to rule-following clean-cut sociopaths as
examples of effective treatment which I addressed in part one, seems to have been detected by some researchers:
“Even a successful result may not have eliminated the personality disorder leaving a treatment need”[O’ Brien and Biase, 1981] (Jones 1986:23)
Staff, and high-ranking clients who rise to a position of centralized, entrenched authority, are often shielded from the misery that some of their less humane policies create. The staff are not bound by the rules they make, and do not have to live within the program twenty-four hours a day. Client “leaders” are similarly insulated from the consequences of their decisions by a staff-mandated exercise of authority that remains unchecked due to a generalized lack of due process, or accountability to subordinate peers. From this relative invulnerability, the psychopathology of authoritarianism grows. Through the conformity and subordination of the less aggressive, and the weak, the powerful find a kind of freedom. It is not a tragic and deplorable deviation for this kind of mindset, and its concomitant behaviors to develop. It is in fact the logical result of Dederichism, Dederich himself providing the most dramatic example.
“…Dederich was able to free himself so that he could engage in any irresponsible and illicit behavior. Dederich arbitrarily and abruptly changed the rules of the game in a way in which Nietzsche would have approved. Nietzsche (1844-1900) anticipated a new generation of “supermen” who would be sufficiently powerful to free themselves from the petty and moral restraints which a weak and effete culture has created to stymie the strong.. Nietzsche believed “superman” would rid the culture of the decadence and weakness. Superman would create a culture of strength and power which would rule those who would be unable to transcend their slave mentality. Dederich became vindictive and vituperative in any effort to discourage any over or covert challenge to his assumed power by those he considered to be his moral inferiors. Some, who occupied top managerial positions and formed the inner sanctum of Synanon, agree that Dederich’s downfall started when he refused to permit anyone either to confront him or to challenge his decision. It is possible, in retrospect, to document precisely when the empire of Synanon began to falter, i.e., when the founder became so consumed by power that he elevated himself to the Supreme ruler. Subtly, perhaps, almost imperceptibly initially, Dederich decided he no longer needed to abide by the existing rule and regulations. Dederich issued the ultimatum that no one could confront him about anything he said or did. As soon as Dederich eliminated the checks and balances, his charisma was changed into grandiosity and finally disintegrated into delusional thinking when he believed he, in fact, had aspired to become the “Supreme Being” of Synanon who possessed the power to decide what was right and wrong for his empire.” (Bratter, Bratter, Heimberg 1986:206)
Dederich’s downfall resulting from his own power-psychosis is a relatively extreme example, a road sign saying “This way to Jonestown.” The majority of research materials I have seen downplay this potential, but it’s fairly obvious to anyone who bothers to look:
“The Guyana Mass Suicide was orchestrated by a demonic spiritual leader who demanded to be adulated and obeyed by all…How different are the circumstances, the personalities, the psychopathology between Jonestown and Synanon and Matrix House [a failed prison TC]? The only difference, perhaps, may be the degree of absolute corruption of a malignantly proliferating personal quest for power and the refusal to be accountable to anyone. All the ingredients which produced a mass suicide of staggering proportions in all probability are incubating in every therapeutic community that can be ignited upon the emergence of the autocratic-demonic leader.” (Bratter, Bratter Heimberg 1986:202)
The autocratic leader is the by-product of the authoritarian structure; it is an inherent, systemic design flaw in the Dederichist (traditional, programmatic, “American Self Help”) TC. Bizarre staff behavior is what I have come to expect
INTERNAL POLITICS AND BIZARRE BEHAVIOR
Ms. D. had complete control of the program when I arrived. Barry and Ron had some power with which they could impose restrictions on Ms. D.’s authority but they were part-timers who came all the way up from Pueblo, a drive of nearly two hours. Barry technically outranked Ms. D., and his directives usually remained in effect for twenty-four hours or less after he left the premises. Ms. D. loved to point out that she was in control, that Barry and Ron were not really staff there (untrue) and that when Mr. Clean recovered enough from his most recent heart attack to return to work, that he would be doing administrative duties only. She would also express her displeasure with Barry by interrupting his groups. Barry, regardless of his various faults, conducted interesting groups, allowing a wide range of opinions and lively discussion on whatever the subject was, in essence, the exact opposite of Ms. D.’s narrow, didactic approach and heavily censored discussions. She would at times take center stage in one of Barry’s groups and by her sheer size alone (Barry was only about 5’4, while Ms. D. was both very tall and heavy) take complete control. At least once she threw in a carefully qualified insult, saying:
“Now if I were to say something like ‘Barry’s a complete idiot. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” She followed this with a lecture on crossing personal boundaries, trying to use this insult as an example, but clearly she had crossed Barry’s personal boundaries. A few days later he retaliated by hiding her car keys from her, shortly before it was time for her to leave for the night. Joe Girardin aggravated the situation by saying “You better go look. I can’t remember if I saw it in the parking lot when I came up.” Of course she went and looked, and was relieved to find that her dirty and battered Japanese compact car was still there. She then turned her wrath on the group, accusing everyone except Barry of somehow being responsible for this. She was clearly distressed, seemingly “having a fit.” When Barry finally confessed to this sadistic prank, she apologized to the group, and Barry publicly apologized to her. What had transpired between them shortly before, behind closed doors, remains a mystery to this day.
Barry’s other power trips displayed a fairly sophisticated understanding of group dynamics, applied to group manipulations. He was a master liar and “mindfucker,” specializing in disinformation. He would give out pacifying information, saying that he was working on our behalf to make some positive changes in the program. He would also make threats against the group indirectly. Strange rumors that never amounted to anything in most cases would suddenly appear. I actually watched Barry plant a rumor once. He came out of his office, whispering in the ear of Tim, a senior program member. Tim immediately spoke to Richard, a known loudmouth and gossipmonger. The word was quickly spread that since the threat of mere restriction to the building was not affecting the community in the positive manner he had hoped it would, Barry was now threatening to confiscate all our electronic devices including fans. At that time, some time in April, it was starting to get hot. Worse than that to me was the possibility of losing my typewriter for some unspecified period of time. I went as far as devising a legal strategy of some kind to combat this threat that included my going back to prison if necessary. I still believe there are some kinds of crap one doesn’t take, except maybe under the threat of death, from authority. Many who have been subjected to lots of TC treatment do not share this belief with me. Probably, many never did, before or after treatment. The overall level of agitation and discomfort in the community rose markedly. All of my peers at that time were prepared to accept this. This threat was made in response to a low pullup count. After I attempted to confront him about this several times, Barry admitted that this threat had been made mostly for effect, and that punishment involving a long period of discomfort and deprivation for the entire house would only be imposed in response to considerably more extreme non-compliance. I still had a hard time seeing any humor in his actions. In yet another conversation behind closed doors, Barry admitted to “dropping lugs,” i.e. the planting of rumors, or making vague accusations with little or no evidentiary grounds for suspicion, just to see how people would react. Sometimes people would confess to infractions that had remained unknown until Barry dropped a lug. Others would protest innocence, making themselves suspects, although Barry didn’t have any real clue as to what people were doing. He created an image of omniscience for himself, or at least he tried to. His lies and manipulations were too complex, overlapping and contradictory, and eventually, holes appeared in the pictures he painted of our reality. Still, one never knew exactly how much he knew, which maintained, as intended, a constant tension in the community’s dynamic.
Ron’s power trips were somewhat less sophisticated. When angered, he usually resorted to crude and thuggish threats of reincarceration and hard time. He would often tell tales of what became of those who had defied him before. Both Ron and Barry would use the tactic of naming some notoriously dangerous prison within CDOC as a possible destination for malcontents, but only Barry would use the threat of arranged celling with a prison rapist. Although he claimed he was “just joking,” when I confronted him about this scare tactic, it sounded genuinely mean-spirited when he said it. It is still my opinion that his words were consciously selected for the explicit purpose of placing the listener in fear of sexual assault
The garbage in the back room of the trailer forms a knee-high pool around the filthy mattress. Only the chest of drawers in the built in to the back wall is free of debris. Bill wades in behind me and I apologize for the garbage half-heartedly.
“Oh it’s OK, it’s been like that every time I’ve been here; it’s always like that.”
He’s right; it has in fact been like that for a long time. I hand him the little bundle of ‘caine tied off in a plastic bag that I picked up down at the projects with his money. He thanks me, and kicks me down a hit, I pull two sterile syringes from a ten pack, from a hundred-box, get a glass of water from the bathroom sink, a spoon from one of the drawers and we silently do our hits. It’s the same, it’s the taste on the tongue, the loudness, the brightness, the craving for more; it’s all routine. We toss the syringes in a large red sharps box on the counter top, he takes what remains of the product and leaves, and I beat the cottons for another taste.
It’s cold out, overcast, west wind from the foothills making the trailer rock back and forth like a boxcar. In fact the thing still has wheels on it, and even though it’s larger than some apartments I’ve lived in, it could in theory be hauled away down the road. I briefly wish I could, but it would in fact take a semi-truck tractor to do it. I don’t own one, and wouldn’t have a clue how to drive the damn thing if I did. It’s time to chill out again and wait for the next client. I feel like total shit and on some level realize that’s what I am; it’s still no big deal, I can handle it. This place however blighted in appearance is my domain. I own the damn thing, and if I could afford to have it towed to some other place I would be completely within my rights if I did. I have no intention of doing so, or selling it anytime soon. There’s really nothing wrong with this location.
Some people don’t get it but it’s a question of preference, of choice, of not actually wanting anything else, except perhaps a one-way ticket to a place where the dope is legal, or at least a lot cheaper. The traffic here can support a 100-700.00 a day habit on most days.
Sometimes I look at a growing track on my left arm, with a red, scorpion-shaped abscess forming on it and wonder how much the damn thing has cost me already, or if I should get the infection treated. I wonder what else the money might have bought, but aside from the hypothetical ticket out I can’t think of anything that I should have spent the money on. The thing is my “gold chain” I decide. I also make a mental note to see a doctor about the abscess sometime soon, or not so soon, or just “eventually.”
In the middle of the 80s I went to school to be a writer. It was what I wanted to be. It was what I believed I was. The year is 1991 and for some reason I decide to try to write again. Someone gives me an obsolete computer that lights up and makes noises when I plug it in. I ask the only computer expert I know; a client. He’s a well-paid worker at an IT firm and a weekend heroin user. He refers to the computer derisively as a “coal burning model” while making a noble attempt to get the operating system up and running. Eventually he gives up, and I give up on the stupid machine too. I give it to my next-door neighbor who wants to try his luck with it, and never hear anything about the damn thing again.
My fortunes improve when an IBM Selectric typewriter is discarded by the same source from which the useless computer came. There is nothing wrong with it except some minor damage to the ball, resulting in just a couple of letters being inoperative. I determine that the ball can be replaced at a cost of thirty dollars, and in spite of how high some of my daily expenses have become, I promptly purchase one. I set the typewriter up next to the front window to start.
“Let’s see, is this thing working now?Asdfghjkl;’qwertyuiop1234567890-=zxcvbnm,./ well all thekeys do seem to be working.”
The problem of not having anything to write about wasn’t something I was thinking about when I bought the ball, and there’s a brief moment of regret at not having spent the 30.00 on some dope instead. I realize that if I sit at the typewriter long enough and keep typing, something will happen.
Something happens. There’s a knock on the front door. I look out the window and see Big J., the de facto mayor of the trailer park outside. He has a small, very young, pretty, and drunk woman with him. I let them in. The girl is crying a little and she has a bruise on her face. J. starts telling me what it’s about:
“This is Ellen, her drunk-ass boyfriend just beat her up. Can you look after her tonight?”
I look at her, and at him. He’s huge; she’s maybe about my own size if that big. She seems awfully young, but she doesn’t seem like she’ll be any trouble.
I’m trying to type again; Ellen turns on the radio to a rock station and starts to dance around in the living room. I tell J. “Feel free to come by and check on her if you like.”
“Nah, I trust you,” he says, then leaves.
“Oh well, at least she seems to be cheering up a bit” I‘m thinking, turn my attention back to the typewriter, gaining some ill-defined sense of purpose from its sporadic staccato clicking.
They said they’d have a war on drugs
Seems like the start of a poem. I look back and the teenager is still dancing around the room, but she’s removed her shirt and her bra and her spherical fist-sized breasts with erect nipples are moving with her body, showing the inimitable resilience of youth. “God, I hope she’s 18, oh well, she seems to be having a good time, what the hell, she’s not hurting anything.”
Smile and turn my attention back to the typewriter, another line appearing worm-like out of the sand of the blank paper. Looking down, watching, hit the return key and another line comes, stopping, reading what’s there:
“They said they’d have a war on drugs,
A drug war, easy to ignore,
We responded with shrugs”
Trying to come up with the next line there’s a warm beer and cigarette scent suddenly enveloping the chair, the typewriter and my brain, pale skin above the hips of tight dirty jeans, then there’s a tit in my face.
She stands there for a second. She backs off a little, smirking down at me defiantly; suddenly she knows she has power. I take a deep breath, her smell doesn’t bother me; beer and tobacco evoke the sexual experiences of my late teens, if anything it’s an aphrodisiac effect. The lame line comes out of my mouth next.
“uh….I’m really a whole lot older than you.”
“So? I’m 18. What the fuck is wrong with you anyway? Are you scared? Are you gay?”
She shows me the ID that she says is her real one. It does indeed have her age at 18. Then she shows me the fake one that says she’s 21, and points out to me that she’s been working as a stripper since the age of 16 using that one. The ethical questions that arise in my mind last only a fraction of a second, then I’m up on my feet, and we’re headed for the back room. I somehow manage to find one clean fitted sheet to cover the bare matter and we’re down on it, I’m down on her and it’s happening.
“Oh my God this is actually happening….”
The illusion that my luck has actually improved is present.
“OK, let’s fuck now,” she’s saying, and while I’m puzzling over what angle to approach that task from, she again saves me the trouble of having to think.
“Hands and knees,” she commands, and she promptly takes her position, presenting me with a posterior entry, something I’m always fond of regardless of the orifice involved in the actual act. I quickly put on a condom and enter her vaginally, briefly thankful that it’s late enough in the evening for me to be capable of sex, perhaps even reaching orgasm as the methadone level in my blood drops. Indeed this is what happens, I’m not sure how long it takes, I can’t tell if she likes it or if she’s feeling anything at all, meaning the answer is no on both counts. For my own part I’m briefly tempted to write poems, beg her to move in, “fall in love,” or some other such idiocy…but after all I’m the one who’s over 30 here and she’s barely legal. She was in control. We both fall asleep and I take some pleasure still in the proximity of her very soft and smooth body, the warmth helping me fall into the fitful sleep before the dawn trip to the methadone clinic.
In the morning she’s gone. She doesn’t give a fuck if I write poetry to her, and even though I wouldn’t beat on her I’m a bad fuck and a pathetic old man as far as she’s concerned; of this much I’m certain. The malaise and tiniest stirrings of craving, nowhere near withdrawal drive me into the dawn, eastbound on the ridiculously long round trip into the city to get my dose.
My brain rejects the tedium of daily life. Life is defined by my only religion, the one I absolutely have to practice every day, except Sunday. My alcoholic friends have to deal with this too; the closing of the church on Sundays. . Alcoholism even sounds like a religion, like Buddhism, or Catholicism. Alcohol-ism. daily devotions, rituals, if not to a higher power at least for a higher purpose; of course there is no “ism” for my religion/disease. It does involve a daily pilgrimage to a temple, where I take the sacraments and leave, feeling my soul come back into my body, starting about ten minutes later. This shit owns me, body and soul, and if I ever had to do without it for more than a day or two, I think I would burst into flames, (well not literally) and then I’d feel obligated to hang myself.
Thirty minutes later staring south and east through a tinted window of a regional bus into a pink and gray sunrise, I’m relaxed again because I’ll be entirely well for the better part of another day. The feeling will start sometime in the next hour or two, exactly how far into the future that is depends on timing, vagaries of local Denver buses.
You really don’t get it do you? This much is obvious to me watching you from somewhere behind these generic unfiltered fumes, seven and a half minutes after the candy-bar and several dollars after the bus. The black guy next to you asks me if I’m OK and I gasp a little.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be alright.”
I need to nod back at him in confirmation; to let him know that I’m not in fact unfriendly, and in fact I know he’s speaks the truth. Yeah I’ll be alright, not all that long from now, therefore I’m more or less alright at the present moment. Another drag on the generic non-filtered, a pleasant toxicity of burning liquid down into my chest, seemingly filling the hole and backing the hunger off for a few more minutes, flashing back on young Ellen for a second and feeling an entirely pointless mixture of vertigo and crotch-area frustration, banished as quickly back to where it belongs, in the past, sex is a waste of time, and there really is only one point to all of this effort.
One bus is pulling up it’s the right one, 52 down Bannock service to the front door and it’s a good thing because I feel uncomfortably close to that next yawning and drooling stage, remembering that I shot coke the day before, really not that different than on any other day but that’s why my dose wears off faster, shit they warned me about when I started on the methadone.
I’m off the bus and headed for a squat brown 2-story building, entering, approaching one of two windows, handing over five bucks for a small paper cup with a couple of ounces of a pink liquid at the bottom, slam it like a shot of JD and rinse the cup, chase the bitter synthetic cherry syrup with the water getting every last drop in the process. It’s another ten minutes or so before it starts working.
“It’s so peaceful,” it speaks to me quieting something in the back of my brain it was there, then it was missing and now it is back where it should be, warming and spreading like the bitter colors of the summer dawn over east Denver. I consider hitching a ride back and saving my last little handful of change for something unknown, maybe another candy bar and a pack of rolling tobacco, then I decide against it.
There’s always another hustle, in fact “Uh hey, sorry to bother you but I just got back from the methadone clinic in Denver and I really haven’t had anything to eat yet today, spent the last of my change for bus fare, I really hate to ask but…” is usually effective especially when it is a statement of pure fact, then people can simply sense the truth of it. Who in their right mind would make up something like that anyway? It’s not exactly calculated to gain the sympathy of conservatives or for that matter the SUV and health food crowd, liberal fascists that they are who don’t want a methadone clinic anywhere near their town, thinking it will attract junkies; they are in total denial anyway because there’s no need to attract junkies from elsewhere. There are already plenty of them in town.
So it’s back on the 52 bus after digging an empty coffee cup still colored with traces of opaque low-grade coffee diluted with creamer our of the trash, and taking it up to the counter at the hospital McDonalds, demanding a refill, sugar packets and creamers. I always get them; the kids behind the counter are cool, they know what’s up, but what do they care about their slave-driving low-wage employer, who certainly doesn’t seem to care about them all that much; market street station 2.00 with discount and I’m westbound.
Morning nod coming on in transport there’s also the comforting drone of the engine and overall quietude and relative darkness behind the tinted windows, the arrogance insults and violence of this day or perhaps the next still at bay, at a comfortable purely conceptual level, life is getting better as the methadone gets into my system. Something dull and leaden in color and weight beneath the spreading light and warmth in my body, but that’s the actual drug’s nature too; no part of it came from a poppy or anything that grows out of God’s earth. Some fucking Nazis came up with this shit, some say to support the habit of der Fuhrer himself as Germany’s opium supply dwindled, and lines of supply were gradually cut of by enemies on all sides. But here it is and I’m behind it, under it, on it, it’s in me and I’m none the worse for it, Nazi Dope from Hell though it may be.
A song to a strummed guitar inside my head, tuneful and acoustic, some singer with a clear tenor (couldn’t be me) singing lyrics “She wanted straight inner union, she wanted clear inner union…” maybe I’ll figure it out as the nod wears off and I look up from my chest and open slow-to-respond eyelids.
Coming up the Boulder turnpike looking out at one the lower paying “factories,” Neodata where they start people shuffling little pieces of paper around and entering data found on them, all for 6.00 an hour. Wonderful, Meredith had worked there for a while, so did Zeta and most of those deadhead girls, I referred to it as “Neoplasma” when speaking with them and it stuck. The factory drifts by on the right and there’s that one low hill to climb before the City of Boulder and the lower green reaches of the foothills.
Wishing-wanting to be back in Denver with cocaine, in a clean and economical room like at the Broadway Plaza with the satellite dish on the roof, excellent quality on the nice TV Medium size flat screened and at least two hookers from East Colfax, just to party do coke and maybe some junk.
Someday perhaps, like after the big SSI check finally comes, or the one of the little welfare checks that just keep coming once a month. Vitally fantasizing with statistical distortions all around the concretes of product and price; money for me and in the willing mouth grip of a harlot I will spend my frustration and the ten dollars as well; and with nothing left to deliver back to this Egypt we live in, nothing can really be taken away from me either. Mid-Morning around 9:00 and I am actually off the bus at the main terminal, a short walk reveals an yet still-cool and clear, blessed by light gold and green motion in the sound of the unfalling leaves.
Back on the IBM in the trailer and trying to finish the stupid poem, I’m yet again taking some comfort in the clicking of the ball against ribbon and paper. There’s no real point to this but it’s something to do, and besides, now I’m a “poet” again.
“They said they’d have a war on drugs
A drug war, easy to ignore,
We responded with shrugs
A lot of dopers went to jail when they fucked aroun’
Still the price kept going down
They declared a government war on sin
Wrong! ‘cause all along they was the ones
Who was bringing it in
So my friend let me make this plain,
Go and get that cocaine And when you get that eight-ball
Don’t stall just bring it round my place
And we’ll play syringe darts on a poster of Nancy Reagan’s face.”
O…K…and that’s a wrap, a fucking poem what do you know, and it’s getting boring around here, not boring enough to go out and try to hustle someone into going and getting some coke down at the projects, but bad enough to wish someone would show up again with that very idea in mind. I click a couple of letters out on the IBM just to hear the noise, sigh, get up and turn on the radio, walk to the kitchen and start making some oatmeal. At least I can do that much. This one kid from New Mexico who came up here to cook meth in the storage shed couldn’t even make a pot of soup or cereal for himself.
“Uh could you make me some oatmeal?” he’d ask, during his infrequent breaks from the lab. I wanted to give him a load of crap about knowing how to cook dope but not oatmeal, but I figured there was no point to it. Besides, I don’t know how to cook meth; I could learn the recipe I doubt I would have the patience for it. I’d probably end up blowing myself up
Trying to remember what day it is, concluding that it must be Friday and that I really need to remember to get up early to go to the clinic tomorrow. It closes at 9:30 AM on Saturdays, and I need to bring one of the little brown glass bottles in with me to get my Sunday take-home dose. Friday means cash-flow and free highs, people being annoying but that’s OK as long as they’re spending.
I’m hearing Harley pipes in the parking lot, growing louder closer, tires on gravel, the engine suddenly cutting off, and the approach of boots over the gravel. I know who it is before he knocks.
I let Jake in and he asks for a clean syringe, and hands me a used one with its cap on. I dispose of it properly in the health-department issued sharps box in the back room, it’s my job, I even got paid for it for a while. The health department provides the syringes and the sharps box, and I do the exchanging with the quirky and suspicious local IV drug users. It’s in the name of public health, HIV prevention. My parents would be proud of me.
Jake has followed me into the back room and he’s right there behind me when I turn to hand him a fresh syringe. He seems a little shaky, which makes sense; he probably hasn’t had his morning hit. He asks permission to do a hit in the house, which I give him, not even demanding the usual “kick one down for the house” surcharge, as I already know that he’s just doing heroin, something I won’t even feel this early in the day with the amount of methadone I have in my system. I just get him a black-bottomed spoon and some fresh water from the bathroom sink. He seems cold, maybe from the Harley-ride down from his place in the foothills, protected only by a light leather jacket, but more likely it’s just withdrawal setting in that’s chilled him. He’s a little too tall to be in here, and even though his head comes short of the ceiling, he instinctively stoops as if he’s going to bang his head if he stands up straight.
“Fuck….holy shit, holy shit,” he keeps repeating as he cooks his little hit of tar down, draws it up, injects it. He then breathes a sigh of relief, smiles and leaves. I hear him kick-start the bike and putt off over the gravel, the tone of the engine indicating a slow and relaxed acceleration. He must be feeling better now.
You Don’t Get It
I’m pretty sure you still just don’t get it. There are only two things you need to know about me.
1. I don’t care if I die, as long as I can get a good hit in the process of doing so.
2. I care even less if you die.
I’m sure that I don’t appear to be that evil all of the time, it’s not like I wish a painful death upon you, I really don’t want you to get a case of full-blown AIDS, but why should it bother me if you OD; that’s probably painless, maybe even pleasurable for a few seconds, which is how I feel towards my own existence. Some people think I have “feelings,” which I do have as long as I need to. I can be who you need me to be, actually feeling what I need to feel to be convincing, to become that person you want near you. I can maintain the illusion until you leave again, or until the moment indifference and betrayal is called for so that I can get what I want. I even could “fall in love,” I suppose, but that requires an uncomfortable relinquishment of control and for what, further misery and sex?
Sex is an annoying and at times dangerous pursuit, and people who are really into sex are annoying, dangerous, and unreliable. Some of my cokefreak and crackhead clients are like that, and I always try to encourage them to leave and go deal with it somewhere else when a hit somehow unearths their repressed cravings for flesh. I only think about sex when I’m going into methadone withdrawal or crashing from a hit of coke, which usually seem to go together. Otherwise it’s a very low priority, and when I do a hit of coke I simply go numb to the core, grow silent and do not want to be touched or even to talk. I cannot understand people who grow amorous on that shit; it’s the ultimate anesthetic of the body and soul.
It’s more of a concept really, a fantasy, something that I still believe I’m supposed to want. The same is true of loneliness and other such nonsense, it’s almost always just some manifestation of chemical imbalance, of craving and withdrawal, and even though drugs may suffice where human contact was once needed, the presence of another person, regardless of my relationship to them will never be able to replace drugs.
Fucking Waste of Time
I can’t regard the possibilities of sex and romance as more than dangerous distractions really. The problem is that they do exist, and somewhere in the quest for a break, for the continual friction and discomfort that defines existence at its most basic and unadulterated, the opportunities and the pointless lower-chakra driven desires combined with faces, eyes, tastes and places for tongues, screaming envelopments of shimmering fields around two bodies, clinging, resisting , fighting a coldness that even soaks the bones in a night where the sun’s tyranny has not yet left the air. The stagnancy holds, the cold in the bones, longing, wanting something empty and unquiet, again located near the base of the skull to just shut up, to be filled. Hence the need for the next load of whatever comes along, injected routinely, really the most sensible and reliable act in the world, rational in its entirety as the result, the desired result is more or less guaranteed.
Why the opiate or the methadone is appropriate is defined in the phrase that drifts in with the merciful chemical “it’s so peaceful.”
I wish for nothing more than this.
The leaders of the land, the magnates of church and State alike, and finally the police and prison warders have in their books phrases and definitions that have me and mine reduced to vermin, to be captured caged, and exterminated, preferably in the slowest and most painful way possible.
While most of us stick to low level criminal activity, some seek more spectacular acts against the property rights of persons other than themselves, even acts of implied violence that bring terror to the victims. Then there are acts of actual violence, of flesh being damage by fists, blunt or sharp objects, bludgeons, broken bottles and in the most decisive equation, bullets.
Prison hovers close by at all times, and while in this year I have seen the inside of the county jail on a few occasions, I have not seen the state prison system for myself, although I have heard stories. Rape is the first thing most Americans seem to think about the fate that awaits the male prisoner in this nation’s prisons. The special fear the young man feels upon entry into a men’s prison for the first time is simply the fear that women live with every day.
In fact it is an iconic piece of our mythology, and is all too real in many places, although the frequency of forcible sodomy in men’s prisons is affected greatly by how seriously the problem is taken by the staff.
What would our prisons be without the mythology of rape? What would cops scare young drug offenders with? What new tool would replace the threat of sexual assault, so valuable a leverage in the recruitment of street snitches?
So it’s on into Friday, waiting for the next event, knowing that no more nubile 18 years olds will place impossible to ignore tits in my face, and feeling somehow thankful for this.
Better yet Tatoo Juan knocking at the door, down from the tattoo shop a couple of doors up the block. He’s looking at me with his perpetually positive facial attitude, ready for some kind of start off or wake up. His head’s mostly bald and a scar runs down the middle of it, a steel plate implanted through the middle of his skull as some kind of and emergency repair job, for to some kind of crack-cocaine related blowout back in New York, and I guess he doesn’t do so much coke anymore, although he’ll still want a little here an there. His entire body is covered with tattoos and he wears shorts, even in the middle of winter; entirely appropriate to his trade, and the walking advertisement that is his body.
I’m not sure what point of his visit is yet, as he walks over to the shitty stereo and places the vinyl disc on and it’s Easy E with a 20 something minute rap epic. Adventure seems imminent.
The project is to procure some tar from somewhere other than the convenient but overpriced trailer-park retailers, and I set about the business of this. Jon’s patient, strangely calm, someone capable of planning ahead, running a business and not usually getting sick before being able to score again. He claims to be half Jewish and half Puerto Rican, but I’ve only met his mom, who indeed seems like a friendly and open-minded nice Jewish lady from New York. Juan doesn’t look like Juan Epstein, he just looks like a white boy with lots of tattoos.
It’s a question of driving, the phone calls aren’t turning up much, and some people down in Denver don’t even have phones, so the decision is in fact to drive to Denver and see who’s around.
After an abortive run through Five Points that only succeeds in locating an old man who regretfully announces that he has retired to methadone and dominoes at the senior center, a little more driving yields a result at someone’s home, Scotty in his barren room with a single Billie Holiday poster breaking the antique white monotone of the wall and stating the obvious, it’s that famous photo of her last recording session, the heroine of heroin whose image finds its way to the containers chosen by addicts for their lives, rented places where they listen to her. And who better indeed to listen to while finding this moment of transitory healing, wellness as a disruption to sickness. Things get worse in temperature extremes too, sometime heat being the worst.
So we get a nice chunk, about a half a gram or so with John’s money and head back.
Four AM Tatoo
Friday night passes normally except that at one point I’m drinking a 40-ounce, and alcohol is something I almost never touch. There had been coke earlier, and I can’t even remember where the beer came from. But I’m drinking it, it’s coming up on 4:00 AM and Juan’s still there. I guess the night must have been productive, it did seem like there were a lot of coke runs, a lot of free hits, a few speedballs and quite a few people passing through simply to pick up new syringes. And now it’s just the two of us talking. Somehow I’ve ended up in possession of a couple of little pieces of the heroin we’d picked up that afternoon. Jon wants one of them back. I think about it, and decide what I want.
“I want a tattoo.”
“Sure, we can go do it right now, just stop drinking that beer, it makes you bleed more….”
I decide that I want a small black broken heart, with some lyrics from a Rolling Stones song inscribed underneath it. Juan insists on putting it in quotation marks, pointing out that the lyrics are in fact Mick Jagger’s and not my own, but doesn’t insist on inscribing Mick’s name beneath them.
“I Want to Tear
We walk up the block, and Juan opens the tattoo shop. Juan is very professional in his approach, using gloves, disinfectants and single-use disposable needles and blades. He sterilizes the work table, has me sit down in something like a dentist’s chair, and goes to work on me. It hurts. The fine needles drive a stinging tickle into the nerve endings of my skin, and though each jab is bearable, the repetition amounts to a larger pain, making my arm jump around almost involuntarily. I’m surprised at how badly this hurts in spite of how loaded on supposedly pain-reducing substances I am. The outline of the heart and the fine lettering somehow get done, with an occasional “Dammit, hold still!” from Juan, which I do my best to obey.
The real pain comes when he attaches something to the tat-gun that does not qualify as a needle in any way; it is a blade. It’s wide and flat, maybe an entire eight of an inch across. He starts filling in the outline of the broken heart with black, as the blade tears into the skin, releasing much in the way of blood as Juan works. The thing hurts like hell, but somehow the pain is more solid and less ticklish than the multiple jabs of the tiny needle. It’s concrete enough to make me clench my fist and hold still, and although this phase of the operation seems to pass slowly, the whole thing is over in about twenty minutes. I’m bleeding heavily. Juan disinfects the wound and bandages it skillfully, warning me not to remove the bandage of a couple of days, and also that there will be a heart-shaped scab there for quite a while, that it won’t look nice and that I’ll want to keep it covered anyway. I am not to pick at it to speed the process along; some of the ink might be pulled off of partially healed skin with the clotted and dried blood, were I to do so. I now have, at the age of 34, my first tattoo, small, black, broken, with the words of a song that say what I feel better than I ever could.
I fuck off the whole weekend by allowing myself to fall asleep near dawn. I wake up to late to make it to the methadone clinic. I’m pissed off at myself but there’s not much to be done about it, decide to sleep through as much as possible, scrape up some short lived and inadequate relief from the local outlets if anyone needs to score, small comforts. It takes a long time for the sickness to hit with methadone anyway. It’s more of a drag psychologically than anything else. I’m broke, hungry yet unable to eat, and oddly cheerful as Monday dawns again. I’m not even worried about exactly how I’m going to get to the clinic, although I don’t have two dollars for the bus.
Step out into the first traces of light in the east and stick my thumb out, I ride down through Boulder to 36, another all the way to Denver and I bum fifty cents off the driver to get the local bus. I’m in a good mood when I make it to the clinic and in a better one when I leave; there’s no hurry and I’m not even pissed off about the obligatory UA that results from missing a couple of doses. I know I used, they will know I used, what the consequences will be remains to be seen, but they will fall within a tolerable range of annoyances.
Again blessed relief and “it’s so peaceful,” I don’t know how I’m going to get back, think, decide on getting home the same way I got there, don’t feel like panhandling in Denver and now that I’m dosed I have more patience than ever. Walk down to the on ramp to 1-25 and stand there for some indeterminate amount of time, catch a ride to 36 and stand still again. It’s still somewhere in those beautiful first two hours and time has no meaning. Location has no meaning in relation to comfort or mood either, it’s just something I take notice of, and the trip back up to Boulder is a very minor problem; its time-consuming nature not frustrating, I believe in the certainty of the outcome, and that nothing other than my eventual return to the trailer will result from this.
65 mustang in that weird off-yellow color with a black vinyl top pulling over stopping, Texas plates long-haired dude behind the wheel and I go ahead and get in.
The question comes two or three minutes into the ride.
“Do you know where to get any coke?”
I hesitate. The answers to questions like this always have consequences.
“It’s OK man, look, I’ll show you my tracks!”
He rolls up his left sleeve, and I can just look over at his arm as he keeps his hands on the wheel. I can see long permanent scars like mine; dude’s for real so I decide to play it for what it’s worth however little.
“How much do you need?’
“Just a quarter…”
I sigh, “Well yeah but it’s all the way up in Boulder where I live.”
“Cool, I’ll give you a ride there.”
A ride all the way back to the trailer
For My Ol’Lady
Mustang pulls up in front of the trailer, and I invite him in. He gives me twenty five bucks and I walk over to the local retail outlet, there’s no point in going to the projects for something this small. As usual, the count is a little light to begin with when I pick up the quarter gram. I don’t touch it, just take it back to the dude, and then ask him if I can have just a little, maybe a nickel’s worth for a taste. He’s cool with that, and I break it down with cold water and draw it up. Before I hit it, I offer him a syringe and ask him if he wants to get high right there too.
“No, it’s for my ol’ lady,” is all he says; thanks me and leaves. I do the tiny hit, hardly worth even the extra hole in the tired vein, just a little lift, a tease really, but worth it for the ride home. I figure I’ll never see him again. What would be the point of driving all the way up from Denver for tiny little bits of dope?
Full Moon on Ketamine
Things of little import, days and their drift with the timing of the trips to the methadone clinic and little else; Just the IBM sitting there waiting for something to some into my empty head, do these days even exist? It’s not as bad as it might sound though, could be a lot worse really, could still be living in Denver with all the fucking crackheads and meth freaks down there, a shade worse than the customers out here on the edge of town at the edge of reality. This place you can stand in the wind, mountains always close, Armageddon visible in the right lighting, and people who’ve gotten into some kind of jam up, usually with themselves, kind of like me. They are here, amusing at times, annoying at other times, almost always harmless. Someone will show up wanting something, the sign on the wall has an arrow pointing at the sharps box saying “Please Deposit Used Syringes Here” and that right there keeps their dulled, barbed potentially infectious points away from skin and blood. The health department now has a new machine that melts them down into these things that look like hockey pucks.
No excuse but one 3cc syringe full of Demerol and another full of Ketamine delivered by Jake’s woman for reasons unknown free of charge probably because she has some way to get more, just samples.
Squirt smaller half-cc hits out into spoons and hit one, the Demerol just a flavor and nuance sliding over the top of methadone blocked receptors, just barely, then the Ketamine, silvery tingling and a lifting away, nullification on the gravitational grip of the body on consciousness, not enough for departure, just enough to take the accursed weight of physicality off during the short-lived PCP like trance. Alternate again to the Demerol, and then to the Ketamine yet again and walk out into an oscillating and metallic light, Luna huge and brilliant ascending over trees and plains to the east, reigning over this cooler part of hell and high lunacy.
To vertiginous effect, damp lighting filtered through leaves to silver in puddles; you may not agree; this is sacred and cannot be found by any intentional or conventional means.
To walk as dead with eyes open.
The Mexican Chick
I was wrong about the dude from Texas, whose name a Jimbo or just Bo or something like that. Bo comes back with his ol’ lady and asks me to score for them again.
Another walk over to the other dope house, it’s just a quarter again but I demand that they kick me down a decent size hit this time so we split it three ways. The shit isn’t too badly stepped on this time and we all get a really good one.
Small dark red-brown with Indian eyes and long black hair, short skirt and feet in flat sandals, clean animalistic and hyper-aware, brushing dangerous eye contact, heart blips and races harder than from the coke which I’m down from already.
The fear I don’t feel in the presence of death and the absence of vision is present, have to blink draw breath and remember I’m supposed to feel like crap right now and wish I had another hit, take comfort in the fact that another one is inevitable sometime in that same day.
Nothing like it to hold back the unknown quantity rushing in that thing to be avoided at all costs, pain or even the potential, no not that kind of pain, the physical, banal, boring and in time ignored as part of a larger gray shades landscape, but something that is sharp. Piercing, check the perimeter and it’s been violated.
Trailer Park Girls
The drift into Tuesday it’s too warm for the time of year and it’s beer with the neighbors. Back through a hole in the fence short path to Floppy John’s place where it’s out in the yard with PBR semi warm and some little bitch, white girl skinny acting and talking like a teenager but tired alcoholic face betraying thirty-something like myself, she’s talking, looking grasping pointlessly on my hair, kissing, tongue and nicotine infused alcoholic spit and I like it. She says her name is April.
I silently approved the plan and we walk slowly off hand in hand, Floppy John raising his beer in a toast to us and saying “enjoy!”
Back in my living room which for some reason I can’t determine is clean, toxic kisses and then she bolts out the front door saying she’ll be right back, I shrug. She is right back, this time with another woman, who’s taller than either of us, kind of heavy around the hips, big butt, her face is that Indian looking but her skin is pale.
The two women stand in front of me, I’m looking up at them from couch. They raise their shirts in unison, baring braless breasts. The little one asks ‘Which one of us has nicer tits?’
It’s one of those questions that’s too dangerous to answer. Again I weigh my words carefully as the years have taught me too, and can come up with nothing better than an awkward neutrality “Uh, well I think they’re all… I mean you both have very nice ones,”
Actually I like April’s better, they’re small and youthful looking, although April is somehow malnourished it seems, Patty the big girl’s are large and hang maybe a little low, neither of them are beautiful women, ‘not like the Mexican chick,” I catch myself thinking.
I still think I want to fuck April, just on general principal, arousal from the initial contact is gone and it’s just an idea at this point. Pointless I guess but some stupid notion of teenage boyhood, that I should fuck. April does act like she’s still sixteen, her middle-aged alcoholic face n
End up on the Island-Mattress in the back with both of them, but it’s really just me and April and I go down on her for a while.
Morning After a Bad Fuck
I couldn’t get her off with my tongue, maybe ‘cause she was drunk, or maybe I’ve just forgotten how it’s done through an overall lack of practice and I couldn’t cum by fucking her either.
“Methadone,” as sort of an apology, she looks a little offended, but she and the big girl Patty took care of each other, they’re both gone and I’m glad. No need for any regrets here. Trailer park girls, and who the fuck am I anyway, having to demand that again of my reflection in the bathroom, pointless.
Feeling of just a little too much spit and a nausea that paradoxically resembles hunger, time to go to the clinic again and this trip is too fucking long. Now I have to do it every day because of the inevitable hot UA after fucking off the last weekend. I do have a new tattoo and the bandage reveals a field of narrow black sprouts of clotted blood growing up through the slots left by the wide blade. The black broken heart is three dimensional for now.
I go up to the shop on the way out, and Juan says that it’s healing just fine but not to pick at it, that some semi healed skin might pull off and take ink with it, leaving the coloring uneven. He re-bandages it for me, and I head for Denver.
What holds me and drags me in each day as a steel chain with a fish hook in my gut, I guess that’s why they call it hooked. So it reels me in and plays me back out over and over again, never quite caught and gutted but never released. Make all the gestures of defiance and freedom is everything hypocritical delusional denial asshole I know what owns me, no question about it fucking Nazi shit but so what?
Not complaining because really you don’t fucking get it do you, nothing else works, at all. Except the real shit and there’s problems there the near infinite potential for increasing tolerance, nobody fucking stabilizes and one hit sure as fuck won’t hold you 24 hours. Mainly it’s a reason to live because no matter how bad the night before or the morning after the next sacrament is waiting.
She’s called “Flaca,” or “La India,” small dark and thin, but healthy-looking. I like her and label her ‘dangerous,’ resolve not to let any desire to fuck her influence any of my decisions, not to mention that old ‘Bo well he’s just a good dude, so each time they come up greet them by hugging them both at the same time, telling them they’re ‘my favorite customers,’ which I actually mean, I certainly am not using the line on anyone else at that time.
“How did it get to this point?” one might ask, although I rarely worry about such things these days. A random injection or a divorce? Stupid can of cat food down the leg of my jeans into my boot through a hole in my pocket so that even after I get busted for shoplifting they never find it, I get my ticket and walk out of there with it. Bring it home to the cat “You will never know the shit I went through to get this for you!”
How many times has the concept of “amounting to anything” been spat down to us by well-meaning fathers and figures, as if this world amounts to much of anything. Of all the raw hypocrisy, this is the outrage, when you speak your hate words for my religion as if it is somehow less abominable than what you’ve tolerated and somehow excused; your sign waving folksong singing generation, wallowing in the opiate of the liberal, hope is dope, feels good until you run out of it doesn’t it now?
As if I owe any of your miserable asses anything, and you want me to contribute to this thing, you “society” or whatever the fuck you call it. Fuckers this part is not my fault, the toxicity, the radiation, the genocide, it was there before I was born.
One night on my way back from chow, I climb the stairs and return to my cell; I see someone else’s name on the door. I‘m confused; I have to set this straight. I start to remove the other guy’s name from the little holder on the front of the door. I know it’s my cell; the number -17- was correct. Someone behind me says “Hey, what are you doing?” I realize that I have the right cell number, but the wrong tier. I still need to go up another flight. I walk off mumbling “oops, sorry, wrong cell, I thought this was my cell for a minute but it had the wrong name on it…” The man just laughs and says, “Just keep taking those drugs, you’ll be fine!” and as I walk
In the third building I get cellmate, a quiet, and somewhat melancholy young black man. He’s been sitting there in the cell for three weeks. Now I have smokes, a whole carton of Camel Filters. He had smokes too. We sit, and smoke in silence, waiting to see what happens next.
The next night, they call on me, along with most of the other people in the building to “pack it up”. I pack my plastic bag. When it’s time to leave I give my cellie an extra pack of smokes and say goodbye.
We’re herded into a gymnasium where we sit, and eat sack lunches. After lunch, shackled to a buddy selected on the basis of height, with irons around our legs, and our cuffed hands chained to our waists, and loaded onto an old blue school bus, with shotgun wielding guards in the front and rear. The guy next to me asked if I’d ever been on this ride before. I shook my head “no.”
“It’s a pretty captured kind of feeling, isn’t it?”
I laugh. “Yeah it is.”
I think of the band Alice in Chains, and substitute my name for Alice’s. I’m in chains, on my way to the “big house”. The bus heads southbound on 1-25, takes some smaller thoroughfares through downtown Colorado Springs, stops at the East Canon complex and drops off a few people returning from court appearances and the like; they already know where they are going.
We pass an ominous looking “supermax” prison, known simply as “The Colorado State Penitentiary” (CSP). Supermax prisons, also known as “control units,” are much like the original concept of the penitentiary developed by well-intentioned but somewhat less than realistic Quakers in the 19th century. The solitary self-contained cells, with running water and a flush-toilet were where the penitent might meditate on his or her sins and come out an improved member of society. This rarely happens, but control units are effective, in ridding prison systems of tough, violent, hyper-aggressive “old school” convicts. People who go to CSP, do the 2 to 5 years or so, and are released into population, rarely return to CSP. CSP has a 4% recidivism rate (within the prison system).
Whatever they are doing to people in there, it works. Control units also are an effective way to deal with dissidents, self-styled revolutionaries, jailhouse lawyers, and other trouble makers who may not actually be breaking rules or being violent in any way. It’s called “Administrative Segregation,” (AD-SEG) as opposed to “Punitive Segregation. With “Ad-Seg,” no disciplinary conviction is needed. Prison administrators are not subject to any judicial interference with regard to prisoner placements and classifications.
The bus passes through Canon City; at the west end of town, the rest of us get off the bus, sit down in a room with a dark, silent TV, and wait. We’re given dinner, two cold hot dogs and a small plastic container of beans, also cold, which I consume. It’s still early on a Friday evening; a guard explains almost apologetically that we’ve arrived too late for dinner.
We’re assigned to our cells. Somewhere I’ve had lost the water cup that DRDC issued me; I figure out how to drink out of the tap in spite of how fast it comes out. We get out for five minute showers. The next day, in the afternoon, we get a little yard time to walk around, talk, and smoke. Some people greet me “Hey Joe!”
I light up a cigarette, and gaze up at a late afternoon sky in early November, a wide view without any grate over it. The colors of the clouds hit by the light of the setting sun as they drift dazzle me. I realize it’s the first time I’ve really seen the sky in nearly a year.
I have a long sentence ahead of me, and no doubt that it will not be without its share of hard time, but I also get the feeling that the worst is over; there’s nowhere to go but up from here.
On Monday morning, They tell me I’m part of a small, lucky group selected to start serving time right there at The Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility (CTCF) known to all as “The Walls”.
The name itself sounds ominous, and the walls, some of them over one hundred years old, are impressive. Huge irregular blocks of sandstone made by long dead convicts, stacked high, up to what looks like 50 feet in places let the newcomer know he’s in “Real Prison”.
I’m 34 and only on my first time down, fearing that I have neither the wisdom of experience nor the strength and resilience of youth; all I’ve got left is what’s left of my mind; I will have to learn to live by my wits.
During the first few days, the new arrivals stay in a segregated section of cellhouse three, a dull two story building with old fashioned barred cages, which still houses the gas chamber. The gas chamber is just a historical artifact. It hasn’t been used since the death penalty was banned. The death penalty is back, but lethal injection is now fashionable. CSP alone is used for executions now. There was a time when the prison, known also as “Old Max” was a genuinely tough and dangerous place.
Some older cons speak of times when stabbings were a weekly occurrence. Some even lamen the fast vanishing convict code, missing the days when they could fight, extort, rape, and kill with near impunity due to the acceptance of the code. One guy still remembers breaking rocks in the 1950s.
Now it’s 1995 and things are gentler at The Walls; old cons wanting nothing more than to do their time in peace, and “tough guys” are rapidly removed to less pleasant places when they surface. A high percentage of medical and psychiatric cases as well as around 150 people with full-blown AIDS, and other serious or fatal illnesses make it more like a low security mental ward, or old folks home. There’s a large infirmary on the premises, where people go when they needed a higher level of care than most prisons can give.
I walk the yard alone, looking up at the lone, rifle-toting guards in the towers, then up at the walls and the sky. As if on cue, the whistle of a nearby freight-train, followed by the low thundering of its wheels and metal-on-metal clanking noise made by the boxcars breaks the relative silence; I can only laugh now! I’m serving time in some old country song, like that one by Johnny Cash. I decide to write my own song in that genre. I start out in my head with the lyrics “There’s a train that runs outside the walls…”
On my first night in general population, housed in Cellhouse 7, a 265-man, two story, four-tiered concrete birdhouse, I step outside for a smoke. A guard se me, looks at his watch, and kept walking. Back in the cell-house I see the time and realize that I had walked out the open door of the cellhouse 20 minutes after the 9:00 PM curfew, a serious offense. Maybe the guard knew I was a “fish,” or maybe he had better things to do, but I’ve lucked out. I tell myself to pay more attention from then on. I’ve also missed medline , as a result of not knowing the dispensary’s schedule.
This is my first night without meds in a very long time. I meet my new cellie, a well spoken black man of about my own age with a smooth, soft voiced manner. He seems to the be a real gangster. The loud ones, the aggressive and foul mouthed alpha-males are all just “wannabes,’ LJ ‘s to be taken seriously.He tell me his name and shakes my hand, tells me to feel free to watch his TV when he’s no in the cell.
I stop worrying about my medication when he asks me “You smoke weed?”
I nod in the affirmative. “We’re gonna smoke some weed now, all-right?” I smiled and say “Yeah!” out loud. He pulls out a pin joint, lights it and passes it. We smoke the whole little thing down to that last crumb of pot and sliver of paper. The shit’s really strong.
He’s got a collection of porno mags; with no embarrassment asks me to go sit out at a table in the pod and read while he jerks off. When he’s done, he offers the magazines to me and volunteers to do the same so that I can take care of myself. I decide that it’s at least appear to do so, even though Mellaril’s got me shooting blanks. An orgasm with virtually no liquid to ejaculate just isn’t worth it.
We have a few interesting conversations over the next few day, at one point he asks me
“Would you suck your own dick if you could?”
“Well that means you’d suck another man’s dick too then!”
“No it doesn’t, you jack off, does that mean you’d give a hand job too some other dude?”
The meaningless debate fizzles. A moment of anxiety over the possibility of some form of sexual coercion passes; LJ’s strictly heterosexual, not even provisionally gay like some men are in prison. He’s a respected and respectful person. He’s just concerned about my long term well being;
“Shit man, you’ve got a lot of time to do, man you better get you a fag, cause that’s the only way you’ll get your dick sucked for a long time. Find you a fag, before someone makes you their fag!”
LJ tells me that being a “cell-soldier” during my initial period of incarceration is not a good idea; that people are already beginning to talk. I come back with
“I don’t give a fuck what these people think!”
LJ counters with
“Yeah, but if the whole penitentiary starts thinking you have something to hide, it could make your life hard.”
After a week of free weed, color TV and good conversation, LJ is removed from the facility for a court appearance. Shortly after LJ leaves, the guards shake down the cell; they find two capsules of the antibiotic, Keflex. I explain to the guards that the nurse issued these meds to me in cellhouse 5. A new cellmate moves in, someone who claims to be a minister, serving time for alleged misuse of church funds and credit cards. There was something weird about him and his story, but I don’t press for details. I had heard a long time ago that it was bad impolite to ask people what their crime was.
Of course, this idea’s part of an old version of the convict code, now everyone asks you what you did. People accuse me of being a sex offender more than once, but my paperwork exonerates me. Other cons point out the known “Rape-Os” and “Chesters” (as in “Chester the Molester”), and “Cho Mo’s” (rapists and child molesters) to me. The Walls has a high percentage of sex offenders in its population.
Deferring to LJ’s wisdom and experience, I start to get out and talk to people, anyone who chooses to talk to me. I start getting used to making it to med-line and meals.
The first “Sunday Dinner” that I choose to show up for (I had skipped the first Sunday dinner I’d been there for, and people were shocked, telling me that roast beef had been served.) features fried chicken as the entrée. I get my tray and wander around looking for an empty seat. A young black man shows up carrying a tray, just as I’m beginning to eat.
“You’re in my seat,” he says.
Oh, sorry,” I tell him and move to another seat at the same table. Shortly thereafter, another young black man arrives and informs me that now I’m in his seat. They both explain to me that all the seats at that table are “reserved”.
That’s was just the way it’s done; certain groups of people get used to eating together and a system of “reserved seating’ is generally accepted. If you don’t have a reserved seat, it’s still possible to find a place to sit at most weekday meals, by walking around and asking “anyone sitting here?”
But for Sunday Dinner, there’s usually a full house. I get up, feeling anxious and glancing around for a place to sit, I hear one of the men saying “Yesterday I got here and there was two of them motherfuckers sitting here!”
A white guy, who looks to be in his late twenties, with a slim build, average height, and just slightly long collar length hair looks over at me; there’s nothing threatening, or even remarkable about this person. Only a pair of expensive cowboy boots sent in from the outside distinguishes him from the rest of the green clad diners.
It’s OK, man, you can sit here!”
I take him up on his gracious offer, and he says, with only the mildest tone of overt racism, “You gotta watch out for those blacks (he didn’t use the ‘n-word’ like many of his peers would have). You can sit here anytime you want.” The man’s name is just a little odd. His name is Brent Brents
One evening, I hear my name in the cellhouse PA system; I’m summoned to the Captain’s office. The captain gives me a look that seemed to say “I don’t like you. I’d hate you, but you’re not even worth that much of my time and energy.”
I’m being charged with medication abuse. I start sputtering out my defense; I’m told to save it for the disciplinary hearing. The captain looks at my file, and glares up at me, “Armed robbery and assault.”
I nod in silent agreement; he’s was looking at a misdemeanor conviction that’s was over twenty years old. It still shows what the original charge, APDW, assault on police officer(s) with deadly weapon, a felony. The charge was reduced a misdemeanor for a number of reasons, and I decided against trying for an acquittal on grounds of self defense. I believed at the time of the incident, that I was defending myself. I had the good fortune to be sentenced in Federal court (it was a DC case) by the Hon. Rufus King, a compassionate and liberal judge, who after leaving the bench and returning to private practice, became an advocate for reform in various areas of the criminal justice system.
The captain doesn’t know anything more than what the printout in his hand tells him. Prison guards and officials view each arrest without a conviction on an inmate’s record as a crime committed, but not punished. In essence, an arrest is about the same as a conviction in their eyes.
The captain asks me if I wanted to have an inmate representative at my hearing.
“Yeah I do,” I respond, unable to conceal my indignation.
The whole thing blows over, and never goes to a hearing. I see the sergeant who supervised the shakedown and tell I tell him “You almost got me in a lot of trouble!”
“Yeah, I know but we went back and told the captain how polite and cooperative you were, and that we really didn’t think you intentionally broke any rules. If anyone messed up, it was the nurse, for giving you the pills in an unmarked envelope,” the sergeant replies.
It starts to dawn on me that while they would never be my friends, and in theory always be “enemy soldiers,” the guards were human beings, and appreciated being treated decently in a predominantly hostile environment as much as anyone else. An uneasy peace can be maintained, at least some of the time.
Early one morning a man who I’ll just refer to as “Old Sarge” a tough, white-haired old man with a “Popeye the sailor” build hands me a plastic bag and tells me to pack up again. It’s the day after thanksgiving.
I’m sent back over to cell house 5 for a rowdy ride back up to Denver. The bus stops at the nearby Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility and some female inmates board the bus, sitting in the front in their own cage. One guy keeps shouting “Let’s get buck naked and fuck!” This is met with both giggling and calls to “Shut Up!” peppered with strong “Spanglish” profanity from the women?
Smoking is not allowed on the bus, but some smokes and lighters are on board, and we pass the cigarettes around.
There is no restroom on a prison bus. It’s just a school bus converted to hold prisoners, with nice extras like metal grates over the windows and gates separating the prisoners from the guard and drivers, and the men from the women. A youngster named Kevin, someone I’d get to know quite well eventually, protests that he needs to take a leak. We’re still a good hour outside of Denver. The guards laugh at him and tell him flat out “No.”
A number of minutes later, Kevin’s protesting again saying that he has a problem with his bladder and that he’s serious, he can’t hold it. His request is met with indifference and derision again.
A couple of minutes later, I see someone standing up out of the corner of my eye. I look up and see Kevin standing with his pelvis against the window grate. I can’t see exactly what he’s doing, just the urine flying of into the breeze outside the bus. Kevin is pressing the head of his penis as far as he can into the metal grate, and taking a leak out of the open window it covers. Before he can finish, the guards see what was he’s doing. They order him to stop, and the driver slams the brakes and swerves a couple of times to make him lose balance. Somehow he manages not to fall down, but some stray drops of urine fly back into the bus and everybody in the general vicinity ducks. I don’t remember if a drop hit me or not. The protests of the other prisoners are minimal; they understand that the kid just has to pee, and that the man was being a dick about it.
One guy, is actually being released. The bus stops at Colfax and Peoria in Aurora. One of the women starts crying, and the man getting off the bus tells her and the rest of us “Don’t worry, someday it will be you, it’s hard to see it now, but that time will come.”
I try to imagine being released. I can’t; I’ve already made the shift in my mind; the institution is reality now, anything outside is simply irrelevant, and for all practical purposes imaginary. By the time we get to DRDC, most of the others have been deposited at the county jail or various halfway houses. There’s just me, Kevin and a couple of other guys. We’re informed that we’re all headed for the infirmary. A tough young guard in military fatigues and combat boots lectures Kevin about how people who expose themselves are sent to CSP as sex offenders.
Kevin responds by saying “fuck you” softly.
The guard tenses up like a snake ready to strike.
“What did you say?”
Kevin thinks better of it and says, “Look man I’m sorry, I just have this problem with my bladder.” The situation defuses without further complications.
We all go through an abbreviated intake process, and Kevin ends up being my cellmate at the infirmary. The rooms are large, with real beds, a toilet and a shower. There are little color TVs mounted on the walls, and even though only a couple of channels come in clearly, the whole set up seems luxurious. Female inmates sometimes bring our food to the door of the cell, other times we’re allowed to walk out to the food cart and pick it up. There is nothing to do but eat, sleep and read, although the selection of reading material was slim. I read A Winter’s Tale by Mark Halperin and The Song of Maven Many Shaped by We watch many episodes of “Home Improvement” and lots of local news. And we talked about drugs and crime. Kevin likes to do crystal meth and steal cars and he’s doing three years for grand theft auto. He seems shocked at the length of my sentence.
I won’t dare post what you’ll find here anywhere else. Read at you own risk!