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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

by Timothy Pauley

"Seven, eight, nine, teeeeeeeeen!" Big Paul growled as he pumped out his final rep of curls. He quickly dropped the bar on the bench below and flexed in the mirror. First it was a double biceps pose, then a side shot, then from the other side. Big Paul loved the mirror. In fact, he loved it so much that he actually paid other prisoners to run to the weight room and save that area for him so he could gaze at himself while he worked out and especially in between sets.

When I got to the Walls the weight room was just a small expanded hallway with a few pieces of old equipment off to the sides in either direction. The fitness craze had not caught on yet and there were only a small group of men who used these facilities with any regularity.

A few years later "Muscle & Fitness" magazine had helped popularize bodybuilding and the prison caught this trend early on. They opened a new recreation building and made the weight room three times the size it had been. They also filled it with new equipment. It was easily the most expensive and well thought out part of the new recreation program.

Within a couple of years, the bodybuilding and powerlifting phenomenon had become so popular, even the new weight room was too small. Prison officials could not have anticipated the quadrupling of popularity for this area, but it soon became a madhouse of activity, with prisoners squeezing into every available square foot of space, trying to get a workout.

Recreation staff were always fielding requests for more equipment but they wisely elected not to cram any more equipment (or people) into the already crowded weight room. But they still had a budget allowance for equipment so when a couple of guys requested they mount a mirror on the wall, it was a done deal almost immediately.

The day the mirror was installed was a memorable occasion. Instead of enhancing the bodybuilding experience, it quickly became an idiot magnet. Not only did three different groups of guys all attempt to crowd around this two foot wide space, but it even attracted idiots that previously had never been in the weight room. Guys would get done playing basketball, take a shower, then come in the weight room and try to lean in front of the mirror while they combed out their eighteen inch afros. It was quite a sight to see all these people jockeying for position, some with weights in hand.

After about a week I finally warmed to the concept of the idiot magnet. True, it brought extra traffic into an already overcrowded weight room, but not to the area I used. In fact, the idiot magnet actually created more room for those of us who were not smitten with our own image and were content to workout away from the crowd. We finally reached near unanimous agreement that idiot magnets were great.

Big Paul's infatuation with the idiot magnet was unparalleled. At first he tried to push his way to a spot directly in front of the mirror. He was 6'5" and weighted about 280. This gave him the notion that others would just get out of his way. Maybe a handful actually did, but they were replaced by several others who did not care now big anyone was. This was prison, little guys could kill you too.

After a week of frustration, Big Paul decided on a strategy. He found a guy who worked near the gym. When recreation was announced, this guy had a two block head start and could easily claim any piece of equipment he wanted. So Paul cut a deal. For five bucks a week, Slim would dash to the weight room and claim the bench directly in front of the mirror for Big Paul.

For the next three months life was good for Big Paul. Each day he’d take his place in front of the mirror and gaze at his muscles for nearly the entire recreation period. No days off for him, he was a fixture. For a guy who worked out so much he wasn't nearly as strong as his size would indicate and he was very smooth with excess body fat, but whatever he was in that mirror must have looked fantastic to him because he seemed to have almost a religious fanaticism about the mirror. On the rare occasion Slim didn’t come through for him, Big Paul would have something akin to a psychotic episode. That mirror was as important to Big Paul as most people's first born son is.

Another strange phenomenon in most prison weight rooms is the calling of attention to oneself. Perhaps it's the testosterone. Or maybe it's just some inner need for recognition. Whatever the case, many prisoners like to holler and grunt loudly while they lift. Many even like to throw weights down, sometimes even from shoulder level. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey, look at me, I’m a tough guy!"

This is probably one of the reasons the floor of the weight room was a base of wooden planks covered with thick rubber mats. Instead of the thrown down weights breaking or cracking the floor, they simply bounced. This could be humorous at times.

It was not uncommon at all to see guys limping out of the weight room. It was usually the screamers too. They'd finish a set, then throw the weights out of their hands at whatever height they happened to be at the conclusion of the final rep. Often these discarded weights would hit the floor and bounce several inches. Sometimes that could result in the second touchdown being right on someone’s foot. Usually this was the person who’d thrown them in the first place, as he would be the only one in the room not paying attention to where the rebound was going to land. Initially this would cause instant laughter from around the room, which would often set the screamer off into a tirade. That would lead to even more laughter because what is the guy with the recently broken foot going to do? Chase you? Beat you up? The typical response was to tuck his tail and slink off.

Big Paul loved to throw the weights around as much as anyone. But at least he paid attention to where his feet were. A man of his size had no trouble wielding the biggest dumbbells in the room, which were ninety pounds each. On his last rep, Paul would growl loudly, pitch the dumbbells as high in the air as his spent arms would heft them, then lift his feet off the floor to avoid any embarrassing situations. We all learned to respond to this routine. When the growl came, everyone within ten feet watched to see where the dumbbells would fly.

It was a cold December day. I happened to be doing squats that day so it was all the more important I pay attention to Big Paul. He was doing dumbbell bench presses with the ninety pound dumbbells. Even though I was more than ten feet away, I was not about to be the victim of some freak accident when one of those chunks of iron took a wayward bounce in my direction. Each time Paul let out his end of set wail, my eyes would find the dumbbells as quickly as possible. There were very few people in that room who did not do this.

On his fifth set, Paul was particularly pleased with himself and growled even louder than normal. As he prepared to rid himself of the dumbbells, he put a little extra oomph into this thrust and I watched as they sailed past his feet. From the moment they hit the rubber mat, nearly everyone in the room knew what was going to happen next, including Big Paul. I watched as his face contorted into a look of complete horror as the dumbbells bounced off the floor and flew toward the mirror. It was almost like slow motion. But nothing could stop them. First one, then the other sunk into the glass panes with a satisfying thunk.

Instantly lines shot up to the very top of the mirror. In the blink of an eye the mirror had become covered with lines and distortions where the glass had shattered in predictable fashion.

At first I thought Big Paul was going to start crying right there in front of us all. His face could not have registered any more distress than if his first born child had just fallen out a tenth story window. The room went completely silent in a matter of seconds.

Big Paul sat on the end of the exercise bench for a long time, staring into the broken shards of mirror that were now only held together by a wooden frame. It was almost as if he was trying to will the damage to be undone. Slowly the rest of the guys in the weight room went back to their routines. Soon the room was full of the usual sounds of normal activity. Paul remained frozen for nearly twenty minutes before he finally pulled his shirt on and shuffled out the door.

In the weeks that followed, a decision was made by recreation staff that this mirror would not be replaced. They directed a couple of us to tape up the part where the dumbbell hit and leave the rest until such time as it actually started to fall out. That took months, but at the first sign of missing fragments, the frame was pried from the wall and the mirror was no more.

During this time Big Paul continued to work out in front of the mirror. He could often be seen trying to adjust his body position to enable him to see more of himself in whatever fragment he'd chosen to focus on. But it just wasn't the same.

Soon the crowd in that few square feet of the weight room was no longer highly congested. Paul had it all to himself. I missed the idiot magnet and even though the breaking of the mirror had been hilarious, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Big Paul. Had he seen some outside threat directed towards his mirror, there is no doubt Paul would have defended this with great ferocity. How could he have known that all the while he was looking at the threat in the mirror?



Timothy Pauley 273053 A316
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Plantation--A New Beginning?

By Mwandishi Mitchell

"That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.”
Friedrich W. Nietzsche

Every so often we have to take a fall from grace. One day I was on top of the world--and in the next instant I was cast down with the Sodomitesl The event I'm speaking of is my expulsion from SCI Graterford. For administrative reasons, I was kicked out of the plantation that I've called home for the past nine out of eleven years of my incarceration. Allow me to explain the sounds and thoughts I experienced on the way to my new home--SCI Houtzdale.

The guard tapped on my door in the hole of SCI Graterford at 1:00 am.

"Mitchell, you'll be rolling out in about a half hour," he says.

I wiped the hardened rheum from my eyes, "I'll be ready, Champ" I replied. 

From there I began the regular grooming process of washing my face and brushing my teeth. I was excited about it. Getting on the bus and onto the road to see different people, cars, homes, shopping malls and trees. I hadn't seen a tree in nine years behind the wall! 

When I got into the holding tank there were three people I already knew. They were getting transferred, too. Two were going to SCI Rockview, one was going to SCI Frackville, and one to SCI Dallas.

"Mitch, you finally gettin' out of here, huh?" asks Player. Player was a block worker in the hole until somebody threw shit on him.

“Yeah, after six months. Where they sending you to, Player?"

"Awe, man, they sending me to Rockview. Whut about chu'?"

"Houtzdale. Eva' been there?"

"No, but I heard it'z nice there."

Everybody knows his destinations. They call you to the property room to pack up all of your stuff the day before. I hadn't realized how much stuff I had accumulated over the years. Over half of it, I threw away. The state only pays for your T.V. box and two record boxes of property. Anything extra and they'll ship it to the jail they're sending you to--at your expense! So they're charging me for four record boxes to be sent to me. But these were important things that couldn't be replaced and which held sentimental value. I couldn't part with them. My legal paperwork-- transcripts, appeal briefs, and motions-- take up two record boxes by themselves!

We wait no longer than thirty minutes in the holding tank before we're told that the transport van that takes us to Assessment is here. I take my last look at the place where I was held in Administrative Custody for the past six months and sigh in relief that it's finally over.

I get onto the van and I see Brother Shareef! A good friend of mine who made me smile upon seeing him. He smiled, too, as we shook hands in handcuffs. We were still handcuffed because "officially," we were still ad seg. Brother Shareef was the head minister of the Nation of Islam. The same people who were having me transferred were responsible for having him transferred as well. Shareef, had been in Administrative Custody for eight months!

"Mwandishil Peace my brother, praise be to God. You're gettin' shipped, too?"

"Yes," I say while still shaking his hand, "please tell me that you're goin' to Houtzdale wit' me?"

"Nope, I wuz already kicked out o' there. Dat place iz Klan central!"

"Really?" But it's what I expected. "Where they sendin' you then?"

"Coal Township. Haven't been there yet. Heard it'z not dat bad."

"Sum'body told me tha same thing about Houtzdale," I say while cutting a dart at Player. Player casts his gaze to the floor. 

When we get off the van and get into Assessment we're told to strip out of our orange jumpsuits for yellow transport jumpsuits. There were three guys who were in Disciplinary Custody, and they had to keep their orange jumpsuits on. Before we put on the transport jumpsuits we had to all be stripped and searched for contraband. None of us had any. After that, they brought the guys down from the general population blocks who were being transferred. All together there had to be twenty-five of us getting on the bus.

The breakfast bags were passed out and we ate and sat around for the betterment of three hours. When the bus was ready, the officers brought in the chains and shackles to put on us. They have this device called, "The Black Box," which they put over the locking mechanism of the handcuffs. It's designed so that a person can't pick the lock or insert a hidden handcuff key. The drawback is: that your hands are reversed in an awkward position, which can be painful during a long ride. 

Shareef and I got on the bus together, and I offered him the window. He gladly accepted and I sat next to him. From the outside it looks like a regular Greyhound bus--but on the inside--it's nothing like a Greyhound bus! The seats are hard as a rock. There are three cages behind the driver. That's where they put the guys on Disciplinary Custody in the orange jumpsuits. They have to be locked in there per Department of Corrections policy.

At exactly 5:30 a.m., we pulled out of SCI Graterford. I took one last look at the forty foot wall that surrounded me all of those years. I then saw the construction of Phoenix I and Phoenix II--the new plantations they're building outside of the walls of Graterford. I wondered, when will this philosophy of lock 'em down and throw away tha key eva' cease? Then, reality hit me: It’ll never stop, because there's too much money to be made off of mass incarceration.

Once on the road I was like a kid in a candy store. I loved the new cars that were driving beside us on the highway. I marveled at the different housing developments and beautiful homes I saw. What did they do to afford them? What kind of jobs did they have? Did they have large or small families? With all that wealth--were they happy? And inside I felt sad. I felt sad because I could've taken another fork in the road. I didn't have to sell drugs. I didn't have to do the negative things that came with living the street life. But, I chose to; and because I chose those things--I forfeited my life! I could've just as well been living in a half a million-dollar home, with an eighty-thousand dollar car sitting in my garage or driveway. I damn well could've and should've. For me, that would've been, "The Road Less Traveled." I felt the irony of Robert Frost's classic poem.

At 8:30 a.m. we pulled into the State police Barracks for a bathroom break. Mind you, we are still in restraints. I didn't have to urinate but Shareef did. I then scooted over and took the window seat. There was this skinny kid who said that he had to defecate. The guards told him that once we were on the bus, they weren't allowed to take off the restraints. ,

"Whut do you want me to do? Shit in my pants!" he screams.

"Do whut you gotta do," the guard answers, with no sympathy.

The person sitting next to the kid made him take the seat in the front of the bus. The whole bus was clowning this kid. I felt bad for him. The guard told him to hold it for forty- five minutes until we got to SCI Benner--which is the transport jail across from Rockview. He had a strange contorted look on his face. Then, about twenty minutes into the ride from the State Police Barracks--he let go! Now, the jokes are really coming. He was going to SCI Frackville, and I know that the guys who were going to Frackville with him would never let him live it down. He would be the butt of jokes for the rest of his time in the penitentiary.

At 9:15 a.m. the bus pulls in at SCI Benner and I couldn't believe the size of the place--it was huge! There were racks with all the names of the state penitentiaries in Pennsylvania. The guards opened the luggage doors at the bottom of the bus, and started putting people's property on the racks of the institutions they were being transferred to. Shareef and I had been talking the whole time. We laughed at the good times we had. And we expressed our sadness in the fact that the institution had succeeded in separating us--he, I, and our brother Supreme Captain, Benny-Do. Three positive minds, who struggled and prayed for the uplifting of our people--splintered, just like that. At the drop of a dime!

"Okay, who's the shitter?" the Sgt. asks, once all of the property was loaded onto the racks.

The kid gets up--and holy crap! No pun intended. But you can tell he's wearing briefs and not boxers. There were big clumps of excrement packed in the seat of his pants. The bus was in an uproar! Poor kid. That's a helluva thing to have hanging over your head.

We were all split up once we got to SCI Benner. They gave us lunch bags and we had to wait in humongous holding tanks that had the names of the institution of where you were going. Houtzdale was the last tank and Coal Township was next to last. Brother Shareef and I said our goodbyes and I went into my tank. We hugged one another because they had taken off the restraints once we got to Benner. We were the first bus there, so there was only another guy and I in the tank. We were the other two from Graterford that were going to Houtzdale. Houtzdale happened to be the guy’s jail. He was down on writ at Graterford. He basically told me what to expect once I got to Houtzdale. He explained to me that compared to Graterford--I was in for a rude awakening.

"It'z crazy," he says. "tha majority of the population are young. There iz a big war goin' on between tha Bloodz and tha Crips. It'z gangland."

Bloodz? Crips? Whut tha fuck iz going on? I thought to myself. When I was a teenager Bloodz and Crips were a California thing. Now, it has found its way to the east Coast. Hearing that deflated me, and with it, my hopes for the younger generation. What a waste.

Two more people came in, an older gentleman by the name of Phil, and a younger guy who had gotten kicked out of boot camp. This made our total four. The Houtzdale van didn‘t get there until 12:30 in the afternoon. Once again, we were put into restraints and loaded into the van. The Houtzdale guards were wearing bulletproof vests and had huge Glock 40's as their side arms. They looked very intimidating!

The ride to Houtzdale from Benner was only about forty-five minutes to an hour. We went through the small town of Houtzdale and I wondered who was the Dutch or German settler this town was named after. When we got here all I saw was a huge fence with bubble razor wire going across the top of it. No wall, at least I could see trees!

We stopped at the sally-port in between the gates where the guards had to check their vests and side arms. Out of the sally-port came a guard with sunglasses on, his mouth packed with Skoal. He opened the side door and said in the most country voice I have ever heard in my life: 

"Well, lookie here! These are four handsome specimens we have here--truth be told!"

I pondered, Whut tha hell have I gotten myself into?

After we came through the sally-port we came to R & D. I don't know, nor did I ask what R&D means. I'll take an educated guess and assume it means: Receiving and Departures. Because I DIDN’T HAVE ON AN ORANGE JUMPSUIT, I didn‘t expect them to put me back in the hole. After the R&D Sargent did the inventory of my property, he informed me that I was still listed as ad seg in the computer. So they took the property that came with me on the bus and put it in the storage room of the R&D. My hopes were downtrodden gust when I thought I was going into the general population. About a half hour later, guards from the hole on H-Block came to get me.

The hole guards took me to the strip tank and locked me in there. It was a clear Plexiglas tank with a camera mounted in front of it. I just stood there for every bit of two hours. I was so tired. I had been up since one in the morning and I had to fight the urge to lay down on the strip floor and go to sleep! Then, the lieutenant came in and told me that the reason why the process was taking so long was because they didn‘t have anywhere to put me. I am a Z-Code, which means I'm on single cell status because I don't have a cellmate. He informed me that he was thinking about putting me in the medical department, which was fine by me. The lieutenant left (I'm assuming to discuss the dilemma with the Day-Captain-- who told him no way) and when he came back he came with the sergeant. and two officers to begin the strip search. In no way am I new to strip searches--but this strip search takes the cake! The officer gave me the command to take my index finger and run it around my top and bottom gums! In eleven years that was a first. Another first was pulling back the foreskin of my penis?! Who in the hell would put anything there? After that, I really began to overstand how diabolical these people were…

From the strip tank I was taken to H-A018 cell. When we came through the doors the noise was deafening. Two guys were yelling obscenities at one another while they were locked behind their doors. I noticed that the size of A Pod was a little smaller than the wing I was on at Graterford. Eighteen cell was the first cell at the top of the steps. After I was locked in the guard reached through the wicket to remove my handcuffs. Once he took one handcuff off, I went to turn (to give him easier access to release the other cuff-this is a common practice at Graterford) he gave me a sharp command:

"No, do not turn!" he said, while having my arm hemmed up.

Now, I was really aware of exactly where I was!

To my surprise the cell was very clean. The institution as a whole is very clean. Houtzdale is only fifteen years old, which is fairly new compared to the old prisons like Huntingdon, Rockview, Dallas and Graterford. All the doors are electronically operated and there is central air! Can you believe that? They actually have air conditioning! The summer months at Graterford were brutal. I guess air conditioning is one positive thing I have to say about Houtzdale.

So, as I’m standing at the door of my cell, I happened to look across the tier at the cell opposite me--when I see Randy!

"Mitch, whut tha fuck? Whut‘re you doin' here?"

I smiled and laughed at seeing a familiar face. "Awe, man, Randy--dey kicked me out, cuz! Damn, I wuz wondering why I hadn‘t seen your face. I thought you had went home?"

"Guess again, Mitch. I had three dirty urines and they kicked me out around two years ago. Man, you're not goin' ta like dis place! Compared to where we were, it‘z like tha difference between heaven and hell."

"I'm beginning to see dat," I say, with a chuckle.

"Are you AC or DC?"

"I've been on AC since Thanksgiving when dey ran down on me."

"Shit, you‘re outta here, then. You'1l have to see PRC on Thursday and they'll cut chu' loose. All they're goin' to say is keep your nose clean and don‘t put your hands on anybody--especially the guards!"

"I already know an ass whipping comes wit' dat--so I'm not goin' there."

"I wuz gus' in that cell. Dey moved me in here with him to make room for you 'cause you're a Z-Code," Randy says, pointing to his cellmate.

“Sawry 'bout dat, cuz.”

"It ain‘t 'bout nuffinl Yo. holla back at me once you get situated."

"Sure thing, rand," I said lastly.

I made my bunk and hopped up on it laying back. Don't ask me why, but I‘ve been sleeping on the top bunk for years. Another oddity of mine. I'm a creature of habit. 1 thought about everything that was taking place. I wondered if Houtzdale might turn out to be different from what I was experiencing? Maybe it was only a few guards who were prejudiced assholes and not the majority? I found it highly unlikely, though.

The next day it rained all day so I didn't sign up for yard. The cell gangsters were at it again. All day yelling- -back and forth, back and forth. A black guy and a white guy named Serano.

"Aha nigger! You're a nigger--you‘re dirty and you stink!" yells Serano. "Bye nigger! Bye nigger!"

"And you're a rat. Ser-rat-no! Hey, doez anybody have any cheese? Ser-rat-no iz a rat!" says the Black guy.

I found myself putting my head under my pillow for the majority of the day. It was hard to believe that two grown adult men--were carrying on back and forth like children. I spent that Wednesday cursing myself for putting myself in this situation. I was surely paying the price for the mistake I made at Graterford. 

At around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, two officers came to my cell door and told me that they were taking me to see the security lieutenants. I was handcuffed in the front this time, and taken through a maze of corridors until we came to a door marked: Security. One of the guards knocked on the door.

"Bring him in," said a voice from inside the office.

I entered and sat down, while the guard left me alone with the two lieutenants.

"How in the hell do you say your first name?" he asks, with a look of curiosity. 

If I had a penny for every time I've been asked that question in life, I'd be a millionaire. "M-wan-dishi."

"How about that? Just the way it‘s spelled," he replies.

Eureka! No wonder why you're wearin‘ tha white shirt wit' tha silver bar on your shoulder!

"We‘re going to be frank with you, Mitchell. The computer doesn't tell us why you were transferred from Graterford, and we really don't care. All we want to do is make sure you don‘t make any problems here at Houtzdale. Does that seem acceptable to you?"

I ain't writin' shit about none o' y'all! "Yes, that seems fair, sir."

"Good, we're going to give our recommendation to PRC to release you, alright?"

"Yes, thank you, sir."

"Alright, he‘s good to go," the lieutenant yells for the officer to come in and get me.

The weight was lifted from my heart. After six months of Administrative Custody, I was finally going to be released! I wanted to jump for joy. Although, I didn't know if it was going to get any better; compared to what I had experienced so far in my two days at Houtzdale. I still had faith that things might get better.

A few hours later I was called into PRC where all of the big shots were--Deputy Superintendent, Mayor of Unit Management, H-Block Unit Manager and H-Block Counselor. They gave me the exact spiel that the security lieutenants ran down, and agreed to release me from AC status. I thanked them all and was escorted back to my cell.

Later that night at around 6:30, I was released from the RHU and escorted to C-Block, A Pod, in the general population. There are thirty-two cells on the second and bottom tiers. My cell is the second cell right by the telephones and control panel, 1002. I was finally out of the hole!

But everything couldn't be as sweet as roses--there was a drawback. It seemed they had kept the property I came with at the R&D! So, I was in the cell naked. No T.V., radio, just the set of browns they gave me when I came out of the hole. I had to borrow a pen and some paper just to send out a few letters. I type everything I write and loath writing in ink because my handwriting is horrible! Then, Monday is Memorial Day, so I'll have to wait until Tuesday--and who knows if I'll get my property then? I'm going to miss the Memorial Day marathon of Band of Brothers! That's my favorite!

Already, I've had to check a guard. One of them asked (or ordered rather) for me to do something and added, "Buddy." I told him to address me as, Mr. Mitchell, and in no way was nor would I ever be his "Buddy." he didn't like that. But I don't give a shit about what they like. Stay in your lane and I'll stay in mine. I hate to even talk to rednecks. I don’t say anything to them unless it's absolutely necessary! If you talk to me with respect then you're going to get respect back from me. If you talk to me like a nigger--well guess what, pal? The nigga will come out of me!

I don‘t know how long I'll last here, my friends. I'm scared. I'm scared I'll hurt somebody if they push the wrong button. And I'm soared they‘1l probably kill me if I do. My greatest weapon is: out of sight. out of mind. who knows? maybe this will be a new beginning for me? All I have is my faith in the Supreme Being that He'll keep me safe.

That's all I need--because with that. I have nothing to fear.



Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474
SCI Houtzdale
P.O. 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Nemesis

By Chris Dankovich

"What's going on with you and Chico?" asked Big Steve in a concerned tone as he walked into our shared cell.

"What do you mean?" I asked, surprised by this question.

"I mean, he's out there at the table saying that you stole his stuff and that he's gonna stab you."

"Haha, you're an idiot."

"No, I'm being serious. I'm not joking. I think you might want to go find out what's going on."

***

"Hey young man," beckoned Chico, wearing his coat and sitting on the base level, as I came back inside from lunch.

"What's up, Chico?" I asked as Pablo walked inside and sat at the table next to him.

"Young man, do you know if it's going to be chow time soon?"

I looked at him with confusion for a moment. "Chico, we just got back from lunch," I said as gently as possible.

"Oh, so I missed it."

"Chico," said Pablo with concern. "You just came back from lunch, too. Don't you remember?"

"No, I haven't been yet today."

"We both sat at the table with you," said Pablo, as I nodded in agreement. "You were there with us. You had pizza. You just got back about eight or ten minutes ago. Don't you remember now?"

Chico muttered with uncertainty, a look of frustration in his eyes. "Oh. I guess maybe."


"You still hungry, Chico?" Asked Pablo.

"You want a [Ramen] noodle or something?" I asked.

"No thank you. I'm fine."

Chico's memory was getting worse. Now a few months after he had been in the unit, somebody had to always leave the dining room with Chico whenever he left. With eight units at the prison (with two more on the young side), all organized identically, Chico would walk into the wrong one, sit down at a table on the base level, and wait there until Pablo had our unit officer call around to find him or until "Count Time" came, when our officer noticed that a man was missing and another unit's officer noticed he had an extra one in his unit. Chico even managed to wander through the school building and somehow through a locked gate (at least it was generally locked) to reach one of the units on the “Youth Side," though the eighty year old with a flowing white mustache and hair got noticed pretty quickly in a unit full of children under eighteen. Generally, since Pablo would take him outside for walks and to the medical unit, he would also follow Chico out of the chow hall, but occasionally I would help to give Pablo a reprieve, as would some of our other friends, except for Tony.

Tony sat in Chico's chair once, the one with the pillow and blanket at Pablo's table. He sat on the edge of the seat, just for a moment, to talk to Pablo. Chico came out of the bathroom to find Tony in his seat, and was furious.

"YOU'RE IN MY SEAT!" shouted Chico, waving his finger at Tony as he approached the table.

"Whoa, sorry, Chico. My bad," said Tony apologetically as he stood up.

Chico was still angry. "I can't believe you sat in MY SEAT!"

"I'm sorry, Chico. I didn't mean anything by it."

"He's sorry, Chico. He was just trying to speak to me real quick," said Pablo.

Chico, still with a scowl on his face, muttered something about, "You'll be sorry" and, "we'll see."

"Whoa, look here old man," snapped Tony aggressively. “Now I apologized to you, but you are NOT going to threaten me. I don't care who you are or how old you are, ya dig?"

Chico grunted (almost a growl) angrily and stared at him.

"Alright, I've looked out for you, but if that's how you want to be, screw your little chair, and screw you, too. Don't speak to me again."

Tony felt bad about how he had snapped on Chico. A few days later, when Chico walked to the shower, Tony noticed that Chico barely had a sliver of soap in his soap dish.

"Hey Chico, do you want a soap? I've got an extra couple. You shouldn't have to use that little sliver. It'd be gone before you could even wash your face."

Chico's eyes lit up. He walked over to our table.

"Hold on one sec," said Tony as he stood up. "I'll be right back. Let me just get them from my room."

Chico looked over at me. "Hey, young man."

"What's up, Chico? How you doing?"

"Oh, just getting old," he said as he stood there, staring in the direction Tony left until he returned.

Tony returned with three soaps. He gave them to Chico, and Chico held them as if he had just been given gold coins.

"Three?" smiled Chico.

"Yeah, that way you have some spares."

"Thank you, young man."

(Chico called just about everyone "young man." I don't think he ever learned any of our names, other than Pablo's.)

Chico had his coat over his chair. Taking two of the soaps from Chico's hands, Tony walked over to the coat, and Chico watched as he put two of the soaps in its pocket. Then he walked back and opened the other one for Chico, placing it in his soap dish.

"Okay Chico, I put those two in your coat pocket, and here's one for you to use now."

"Okay, thank you," he said as he went to the shower.

The next day, gratitude turned to fury as Chico told anyone who would listen that his bunkie was stealing from him. His soaps were stolen, as was his other "stuff" (which he never really identified other than to say it was gone). His bunkie was a Guatemalan called Melon (because the way he said "Guatemalan" sounded like "watermelon") who was a deeply religious Catholic, the prison school's only Spanish-speaking tutor for English as a Second Language (ESL) GED students, and who did not seem like a thief. He offered food to Chico all the time. Why would he steal a couple soaps?

Pablo was randomly moved a couple days later to another unit administratively to make room, we later found out, for someone getting out of Protective Custody. Chico didn't seem to know what to do. He would walk around, sit in his chair, then, with a look of confusion and longing, go back to his room. Big Steve, Tony, and I took over Pablo's job of making sure Chico came back to the correct unit. As we'd walk, the accusations against Melon increased. Chico came to prison at a time when inmates wore their own, personal clothes all the time. Family or friends could bring up a box of clothes every visit. Chico accused Melon of stealing all his clothes, though prisoners in Michigan hadn't been allowed to have them (except for an outfit for visits) for a couple decades, along with his soaps and other things.

About a week after he left the unit, Pablo asked us to get some of the excess property of his that he had left with Chico. Chico led us to his room and opened the door (Michigan medium-security prisoners have keys to their own cell doors) so we could help him carry the stuff out. Standing at the door was Tony, Big Steve, and I. when Chico opened his locker, he stared inside for a second, slapped the few clothes hangers he had, and yelled out, "Someone stole all my shit!"

Despite our considerable efforts, we all couldn't hold back from laughing.

"Chico, nobody stole anything from you." Said Tony. "Remember, me and Pablo helped you move in this room? I remember what you had, and you didn't have any clothes to hang up."

Chico wasn't buying it. "No, no. He stole my stuff. I remember...I remember...."

"Okay, okay, Chico. Why don't we just focus on getting Pablo his stuff, alright?" said Big Steve.

"Fine, but I'm gonna get him. He's not gonna keep stealing from me."

"Chico, nobody stole from you, but don't worry about it. We'll 'take care of it.' we got you for anything you need, just let one of us know," said Tony.

"C'mon, “ I said, trying to distract him from his revenge fantasies. "Let's get this stuff out. Pablo's waiting on us. You don't want to keep him waiting, right?"

We took the boxes of popsicle sticks and cardboard outside to Pablo while the yard was open. I made sure to warn Melon to be careful whenever he was around his bunkie. While Chico was old and crickety, he had still killed two people, and had survived some of the worst prisons over almost sixty years.

Later that night, Melon knocked on my door. He had received a letter written in English, and, though he could speak English well enough, he sometimes had difficulty with understanding metaphors or figures of speech. I opened the door, and he handed me the piece of paper to read while he leaned against the threshold. I explained the phrases as well as I could, he seemed satisfied, and I jumped back on my top bunk when he left. A short while later was when Big Steve came in, asking what was going on between me and Chico. At first I thought he was joking, but Steve couldn't keep a straight face for long when he was. I was totally confused, so I decided to investigate.

Chico was sitting at his normal chair, though he had taken the blanket and extra pillow that Pablo had given him back to his room. There was nothing marking that it was his seat anymore, other than that he was usually sitting in it, and everyone made sure to leave it be. It also happened to be right in front of my cell door.

"Chico, man, what's going on?" I asked, still not sure this wasn't some practical joke.

"You know what's going on!" he said angrily.

"What do you mean, Chico?"

He pointed his finger at me, and then at my cell. "You know. You got my stuff!"

I was legitimately confused. "What are you talking about? Why did my bunkie come in saying that you're saying you're gonna stab me? Do you think I did something to you?"

"I saw."

"You saw? You saw what?"

"I saw him give you the stuff!"

"Who gave me what stuff?"

"You know! I saw him, my bunkie, give you my stuff. He stole it from me and he gave it to you to hold!"

"Whoa, whoa, buddy. Your bunkie came to me earlier and asked me what something meant because he doesn't speak English very well. Is that what you're talking about?"

“No! I know what I saw! He gave you the stuff."

I was getting a little mad. "What stuff did he give me, Chico?"

"I know what I saw. He gave it to you to hold on to."

"Hey! Haven't I given you my food before when you were hungry? Haven't I offered it to you many times? Do you need something right now? What is it that you think you're missing? Do you need a soap, a noodle, what?"

"No, no, no. Don't try to change on me. I know what I saw. We'll see! I got you! You not gonna steal from me! I got you! We'll see tomorrow!"

"Whatever, Chico. I ain't gonna argue with you. I didn't steal anything from you, I didn't take anything from your bunkie. I've looked out for you many times, but if you can't remember that, I'm sorry. Bye," I said as I walked away.

Two things I've learned in prison are to never underestimate anybody (I once watched a midget beat a bodybuilder unconscious with a padlock in a sock), and, if in a confrontation that is left unresolved with passions heated, to not give the other person an opportunity to get a weapon or a group of friends. I've seen numerous people end up bloody, in the hospital, or missing body parts because they let someone with a declared animosity toward them gather weapons and the element of surprise. Everything I knew, especially Chico's criminal history, told me that this was not good. Yet I couldn't bring myself to hit an old man, until he actually attacked me. I just wasn't going to. The problem was that I knew that if this old guy attacked me, it was going to be with a knife. I was in a situation, but I decided to just leave and keep my eyes open for the next few days.

Anytime I left the room, I made sure that if Chico was around, I kept him in eyesight. He was slow enough that I could easily just walk away and frail enough that I could push him over with one hand, but I didn't want to, though if he got close enough with a shank then I could still get injured even if I did 'win' the fight. And again, I didn't want any of this in the first place.

A few days later, while I used the urinal, Chico walked in the bathroom. I looked over at him, and he kept moving closer. I stopped what I was "doing," and turned toward him as he stopped at the sink.

"What's up, Chico?" I said with some suspicion, getting ready in case I had to disarm him.

He looked over at me, first with what I thought was a scowl, then with what looked like total surprise. "Hey, young man. I stubbed my freakin' toe."

I looked at him as he looked at himself in the mirror, then back at me.

"I haven't seen you in a long time, young man. How are you doing?"

I relaxed a little and laughed. "Pretty good. How about you?"


"Oh, I'm okay. Hey, young man...do you know if it's going to be chow time soon?"


Nemesis, Part II: Oblivion

A few weeks after the eighty year old threatened to stab me but then forgot about it, the weather grew cold outside again, and Chico wore his coat when he came up on the base level to sit next to Tony and me while we waited for the officers to call our unit for dinner. Tony sat behind him, and I looked over when Tony said, "Chico, what's that?" and he reached forward to pull something out of Chico's coat pocket. He pulled out two soaps, the same kind he had given Chico about a month earlier. None of us had believed that Melon had stole anything, but this confirmed it, and so we apologized to Melon for Chico, since Chico wouldn't do it. He still said that he knew Melon had stole some of his "stuff."

One day Pablo sent in for us to bring Chico outside. We had him follow us over to the row of telephones, one of which Pablo had to his ear. He beckoned Chico over and handed him the phone. Chico looked at him, hesitant at first, as it had been decades since he had talked to anyone on the phone. His eyes brightened as he began to talk, though they were full of tears before the fifteen minute phone call was up. Pablo had recruited a family member who lived in the city where Chico grew up to track down Chico's sister. It was her on the phone, and they hadn’t spoken to each other in over forty years.

With Pablo out of the unit, and with Tony, Big Steve, and I all having jobs, there were many days where there was no one available to make sure Chico got back to the correct unit safely. After winding up in multiple units, the kid's side once again, and making his way to the yard when it was closed and had no one on it, he was transferred to an elderly care unit in one of the many prisons in Jackson, Michigan. Pablo somehow received word that Chico had passed away a few years later. We had an officer look up his name and prison number for us on the state’s Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS). His death was confirmed with a simple line that seemed appropriate, given the way his memory had faded to the point of oblivion.

"This inmate does not exist."

***

Chris Dankovich 595904
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer, MI 48446