Thursday, June 30, 2016


By Chris Dankovich

The yard was empty, except for maybe one or two other people, as it always is when it's cold and rainy and during dinner when we can either go outside or eat. I walked alone, merely thinking, daydreaming. It was a blessing; in prison, there is seldom time to be alone with one's thoughts. There is the old prison cliché, "You have nothing but time. ...", but that time's value is different when you lack control over most of it, and the remainder is seldom uninterrupted. A feeling of solitude, of personal space, of quiet only comes along once every year or so (many people purposely get themselves put in the Hole occasionally for this very reason).

I was thoroughly enjoying my private walk around. The feeling of the cool mist gently caressing my face, cooling me down after my run, but without a breeze to make it unpleasant. The slight whiff of exhaust from the nearby highway on one side of me slowly merged and became overtaken by the woodsy smell of the swamp and trees as I neared my favorite part of the yard. There I could see the three most magnificent oaks I have ever seen, their branches looking powerful, twisting, prehistoric. I could peer into the unknown of the darkness of the woods, imagining what lay in the shadows of the trees, seeing images in the light and shadows of the leaves. There I would see wildlife, at times a deer, a groundhog, even a bald eagle, once a small wolf or coyote. Some animals I had never seen before. Some I had. How I have dreamed of being like them, able to fly, to run away.

As I slowly walked further around the half-mile track of what was for the brief time my prison yard, I saw movement up ahead. It was no inmate, no officer, but still was within the perimeter of the fence. Treading carefully towards it, my eyes focused and registered what it was. A goose! Oh how I longed to be a bird, even a goose. That bold animal which foretells the coming seasons, which bravely lands and rests inside prison walls, probably taking the yard that encloses us to be a bordered meadow for itself. Such an animal was a very common sight for us, but now thrilled was I to be able to see it without any other distractions, perhaps even to get close to it!

As I got closer, single-digit number of meters away, the goose (a most noble specimen, possibly the largest I have ever seen) flapped its giant wings (at this point, surely the largest I have ever seen) and propelled itself, feet still skimming the ground, closer to me. There it stopped, in the middle of the track, as if it willed me to gaze upon it. Closer I neared, and as the meters of distance shortened to a single-digit amount of feet, I smiled at the goose. The goose, however, returned my smile with the most curious noise . . . a hiss, like that of a snake!  And the strange animal then started flipping its head repeatedly at me, as if sticking its nose up at me. I did not know what this animal was doing, but it did not seem like positive, friendly motions aimed at me, so I stepped a few feet to the side in order to give it a wider berth. As I did, I received a honk that seemed to acknowledge my presence, and in good fun I chose to do my best impression and honk back.

Apparently, while I have attempted to hone my writing skills over my time, my inter-species linguistic abilities have failed to improve, and my goal of fun communication apparently enraged the large animal. It began honking wildly, after which I stepped further to the side, now onto the grass, to give it space. At this point it put its head down and charged me.

As the enlarged, enraged goose came closer at an astonishing speed, I could not outrun it, though I've also learned growing up and in prison that running from an aggressive individual generally invites further aggression. So I put up my hands to protect my face, all the while asking myself, “Am I really about to have to punch a goose?” Standing my ground, the goose stopped about a foot away from me, still honking wildly, though looking stunned that I had not ran away. I looked at it with the utmost respect, and kept walking, trying to demonstrate to it that I meant no harm. But my cautious flight provoked the mad goose further, and again I found myself raising up my hands and responding in a defensive position to its desire to fight. As it charged me again, I asked it in a loud, clear voice, "Is this really what you want to do, Goose?!” not expecting an answer (but, with the strangeness of its behavior, expecting possibly a physical response).

Again, the goose, madly honking and gnashing its bill, stopped merely a foot away. My adrenaline rushing from being attacked by a large bird on the prison yard prevented me from enjoying this very rare, very close encounter with wildlife. At my feet now, still honking, my foe opened its massive wings, and I felt the tearing of the wind from its wings as it rose off the ground like a demon out of Hell. Flying into the air, it hovered menacingly at the height of my head, honking --growling-- and snapping its bill. I stood my ground and covered my face, ready to swing, hoping that I didn't lose an eye in what seemed like an inevitable fight. Hovering for a moment, just out of arms reach, the goose-out-of-Hell twisted around, the breeze from its wings blowing my hair back, and took off over the fence.

My incident with the goose over, I continued on my walk alone. As I did, I pondered the other possible outcomes. I would not have struck the goose-fiend unless it first had made physical contact with me, but I can imagine the possible end results. In its initial attack, I very well could have ended up damaged in a very sensitive area, based on the height of its head when it charged me. Having taken flight, should it have broken through my boxers-like defences, its fearsome beak (more like a vicious falcon's or eagle', I say!) could have potentially blinded me in an eye. Short of that possibility, an equal amount of damage could have occurred to my reputation.

"Hey Dank, how’d you get that giant scar across your face?" Someone would undoubtedly ask.

"I . . . uhm. . ." I'd mumble before manage to blurt out the truth” I got it when I was attacked by a goose."

"A goose? What is that, some kind of gang or something?" They'd say (other gangs call Crips "Crabs," and white supremacists call black people "crows" or "ducks").

"No, it was, like, an actual bird. I actually got attacked by a goose on the yard." 

And I could respond "Well, you should see the goose," but in the end, nobody wins a fight with a goose. Because like a fight with the law, one can only lose such a fight.

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Drink to Forget

By Thomas Schilk

Before my father left, I remember how he would sit on the couch every night to watch TV and drink his beer. He especially liked to watch movies about the war. The right end of the couch was his and no one else was allowed to sit there. Next to him was an end-table with a lamp, placed towards the back, which sat on a small round lace doily. On the front of the table there was a small, square, clear-glass ashtray that also was his. I remember that the ashtray started clean every night then filled up with crinkled Pall Mall butts as the night wore on. Closest to his hand was his beer glass, which looked like it was made from the same glass as his ashtray. His beer glass sat on a round cork coaster that he replaced every night. The coasters were advertisements for Piels, Blue Ribbon, Ortliebs, or some other beer. My father drank Ballantine’s. He got the coasters for free from one of the many local tappies that crowded our neighborhood. Most nights, my brother Joey and me would lie on our thin carpet, in front of our father, and watch TV. Not that we always wanted to. I remember that all the lamps would be turned off and the scenes on our black-and-white TV flashed through the living-room like blue lightning. We weren’t allowed to make any noise, so we lay frozen as the bombs dropped and the bullets whizzed by. Some nights, he would say, “Here, you want some beer?” and I would take the clear glass with both hands and drink a little of the warm, sour liquid. Joey always drank more than me. Although I can’t remember the first time that I took a drink, I remember it tasted like something that had gone bad.

A while after my father left—I was ten years old—I remember Joey and me came up with the thirty cents it took to buy us a quart of Ortlieb's beer on New Year’s Eve 1969. Even though I drank less than half—Joey drank the most—I got sick and vomited in the alley behind our house. When I was twelve, I drank a whole quart of Bali Hai wine on the loading dock of Masland’s Dura-Leather right around the corner from our house. It was a fruity pink syrup that cost a dollar and was worth just about that much. I remember laying flat on my back and experiencing my first case of the spins. I vomited so much and made all kinds of promises to God that I wouldn’t keep. I remember, throughout my teens, Joey, me and our friends would put our nickels and dimes together to buy cheap wine. Boone’s Farm apple was a favorite because it only cost ninety-four cents a quart.

When I was sixteen, at a Christmas party over the McMenniman's house, I drank almost a fifth of Seagram’s lime vodka and I remember holding my new leather coat away from my body as I vomited on the pavement. I remember the molten heat that filled my chest after downing shots of Ron Rico 151 at Michael DeComa’s house and all the nasty hotdogs that I ate afterward. In my early twenties, Mary and me would smoke copious amounts of weed and then make all kinds of sugary concoctions in our Waring blender. We'd mix Bacardi Silver with strawberries, pineapple, kiwis or other fruits with crushed ice and always Goya crème de cacao. The best part was licking her sweet sticky lips. I remember the darkness as Mary and me drove in the back of a van to Jenkintown with her pretentious friends. I remember the musky taste of the Puna Butter sinsemilia and the crisp, dry, bite of St. Pauli’s Girl that they handed back to us. I remember all the watery bottles of cold Miller’s that I drank while waiting in some dive-bar for whoever my connection was at the time. And I remember downing shots in the hushed silence of a bar on Esplanade Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana right before the FBI caught up with me. From my late-twenties until I was thirty-five, I remember tasting a lot of vinegary jailhouse wine that I would cook up and sell for cop-money. I remember about eighteen years ago, when I made my final gallon of jail-house wine from two pints of sugar, fresh orange juice, one sliced potato and five days’ worth of impatience. It was my last drink and it tasted like something that had gone bad.

Now I’m fifty-three and still I remember most things. I remember lying in my cell and wanting to die night after night after night. I remember all the trips to the hole. I remember when I first came to prison and how the cell-block seemed to go on forever. I remember the crackle of the match against the striker and the smell of sulphur when I cooked up the dope. I remember my body shivering on that cold December night when I found out that Mary was gone forever. I remember my clothes stinking of the stale smoke from all the dive-bars that I half-lived in then. I remember my Ohaus triple-beam scale and the weed and the baggies and the rush of the hustle. I remember the power I felt when some sweet young thing shook her ass at me while George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” throbbed out of the jukebox in Tellup’s Bar. I remember the taste of Mary’s lips and how her hair looked spilled out on the pillow. I remember being afraid she would fly and the purple bruises on her arms when I held on too tight. I remember the limp Christmas decorations that hung on for way too long the year we lost Joey. I remember the Roger Dean artwork on the cover of the Yes album that I cleaned my weed on. I remember not eating hotdogs for almost ten years. I remember how good I looked in my three-quarter length brown leather coat. I remember all the promises that I didn’t keep. I remember how the fake fruit taste of Bali Hai was strong enough to cut through the bitter taste of vomit in my mouth. I remember when Ortlieb's went up to thirty-five cents a quart. I remember finally, really believing that my father wasn’t coming back anymore. I remember the rough feel of the threadbare carpet against my bony knees and elbows as I laid on the floor and how hard it was to stay still. I remember Joey’s eyes looking into mine as I drank the warm flat beer and the crack of the belt. And I remember he yelped as we watched a blue soldier take a round to his chest and the precise curve of his fingers as he clutched his jacket and fell to the ground.

Thomas Schilk AS0255
SCI Graterford
P.O. Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Liberating Yourself from a Dark Past

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By Rosendo Rodríguez III

Lately, one cannot turn on a radio, a TV, a smartphone or pick up a magazine or a newspaper, and not hear something about, or see, the exodus of refugees who are streaming into Germany. At first glance, one might simply dismiss the crisis as par for the course when it comes to the world socio-political scene or merely something that would serve as filler for the various news outlets.

But when I actually sat down, poured a cup of coffee and mulled the situation over, I asked myself a question: If an entire nation like Germany can be move d to liberate itself from its dark past, can we all not do the same at the individual level?

When we look at the nation of Germany, there are a number of factors we have to consider in regards to its size and population.

First, Germany has a land area of 137,828 square miles (356,974 square kilometers) and has approximately 90 million people living within its borders. From an American viewpoint, it isn´t a very large nation. To put it in perspective, you could fit the square mileage of Germany within the state of Texas (my home-state) almost 2 ½ times. Germany´s population, meanwhile, is equal to the entire American southwest, from Texas to California.

Now, bearing these statistics in mind, I ask that you further consider the following: Germany will absorb 800,000 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, and will do so by giving them language classes, housing, food and a monthly stipend of 390 euros ($390.00). This is done not only willingly, but with a hearty “Willkommen!” (Welcome!) by cheering crowds of Germans who warmly receive bus and trainloads of weary refugees.

So then, why, you may ask, would Germany spend so much of its money and resources on complete strangers? Strangers, mind you, who are about religiously, culturally, and ethnically apart as they could possibly be from your typical German?

The answer becomes clear when you realize that, at their height during the second world war, the various Nazi concentration camps at such places like Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, just to name a few, were executing and then incinerating 20,000 people a day during the Holocaust.

The current generation of young Germans have been taught to bear the shame of their grandfathers and to not respect the mistakes of the past. By donating clothes, home-made food (so much that German officials kindly turned people away after being inundated), by offering refugees shelter in homes, apartments and office buildings and giving them jobs; by handling balloons and teddy bears to exhausted Syrian children at train stations, Germany made the choice to liberate itself from its dark past. What makes it all the more amazing is that within one generation, 70 years, from 1945 to 2015, they are accomplishing it.

When we reflect upon this act of atonement writ large, we should ask ourselves how we can, on an individual level, either in the outside world or behind bars, liberate ourselves from our own dark histories.

Well, if you are out in the free world and are reading these words on this website, then you are on the right track. You´ve taken the time and effort to peruse this site and listen to the voices contained herein, so take the next step and correspond with someone who is incarcerated. Becoming involved in the life of one of us behind bars can have the benefit of not only enlightening our lives as well as yours, but also of cleansing yourself of past misdeeds that weighs heavily upon you. (Speaking as a man who has served in the Marine Corps and attended college for five years at Texas Tech, I have learned a hell of a lot more from my neighbors here on death row than I ever did in the military or on a university campus). One does not need to be religious to absolve themselves of their sins or past mistakes, by simply reaching out to those of us inside these walls would be enough to suffice.

If you are behind bars and wish to liberate yourself from your own dark past, then just take a look around and use the resources at hand. Learn a new language or skill and assist those around you who are unable to help themselves. You have a unit library and by extension, an entire world of knowledge within reach; check out a legal dictionary and a copy of your states´ code of criminal procedure and begin teaching yourself, then later teach others, the law. If you can paint, fashion crafts, draw, tailor clothes, or perform any other beneficial skill in prison, then put forth those efforts to helping the people around you.

I know that not everyone in prison is guilty of the crime of which they are accused, but everyone has things in their past for which they can atone.

In closing, there is a thought that I would like to leave you with: A German public broadcaster, ARD, released a poll on September 3rd, 2015, that stated that 88% of Germans would donate clothing and/or money to refugees, or have already done so, while 67% of those surveyed said that they would also perform volunteer work for these refugees who are in the most dire of circumstances. After being questioned why they would do so, all of the respondents replied that these acts would be an atonement for the darkest chapters of their nation´s dark history. It is my earnest hope that those of you who read these words will be motivated to do the same.

Rosendo Rodriguez 999534
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Greetings, my name is Rosendo Rodrigues and I grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas. At 18, I studied political science and history at Texas Tech University and I served in the marine corps as an imperial storm trooper for the US Government.  I speak English and German.  I enjoy reading science fiction and playing Dungeons and Dragons and love finding hilarity wherever it may ensue.  I currently reside in a gated community on Death Row in Texas.  Schreib mir auf deutsch, oder, write mein English.

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