Friday, August 17, 2012

Old Diaz

By Michael Wayne Hunter

"Lock up! Lock up!" Officer Diaz, a squat, aging man, gratingly bellowed, shattering my early morning pacific state of mind.

"Do I come into your living room and yell?" I snapped without thinking, already knowing confronting a badged buffoon was a mistake.

"This isn't recreation," he barked. "Inmates returning from the chow hall will proceed directly to their cells."

Almost every prisoner was standing in front of their cell waiting for the Control Officer to hit the unlock and open the door, only a handful were hanging on the water fountain.

Absolutely knew I should simply move on, but sometimes you just got to say something. "Pull out your flashlight," I emphasized each syllable as if I was speaking to a preschooler, "hit them with some lumens and they'll go home."

Diaz lit them up and they scattered for their cells.

Giving Diaz a half-wave, half-salute, I walked on but after a beat I heard Diaz holler, "Hunter don't like my orders, but I like 'em and know you like 'em..." He was still mouthing off when I locked up.

"What was that about?" my cellie questioned.

I ran it down to him.

"Watch yourself," he warned. "When I pick up my psych meds, Diaz monitors the line and crowds the med window. Some guys taking meds are unsteady on their feet and if they even slightly brush past him he hits the alarm and takes them down to the dirt."

"That's crazy!"

"Sure you're right. I walk all the way around him. Once he told me to walk a straight line, and I told him they tried to make me walk a straight line in grade school and failed, doubt they'll succeed here either."

Chuckling, I said, "Probably both of us shoulda stayed quiet."

"Lots of things we should do and don't," my cellie said idly. "Rather be myself and in prison then Diaz out in the world. Probably has multiple ex-wives and a dozen or so children that hate him. Bet all his money goes to alimony and child support, so he has to live in a basement apartment in Fresno with only a hot plate. Our cells are probably a step way up to him and that's why he's so miserable and angry."

Laughing, I brushed my teeth and got ready for work.

Awhile later, my door opened and wearing my state blues, I started for the law library. A flashlight beam found me, and Diaz motioned me over the officers' podium.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Work," I replied neutrally.

"Giving you the day off. Lock your ass in the cell."


Changing into gym clothes, I cranked rock on the radio and started working out in my cell. Ten minutes went by and my door opened up. Walking to the Control Tower in my gym clothes, I called up, "What?"

"Going to work?"

"Diaz gave me the day off."

"Hunter needs some cell time to reflect on his sins," Diaz rasped.

Tiny and Chukes, pet prisoners of Diaz, laughed, and Diaz basked in their faux approval.

I went back home, started to workout again and the door opened.

"Hunter," the Control Office announced over the loudspeaker. "Per Sergeant Grey's orders, you are to report to work."

Taking my time, I washed up, donned my blues and went to the library.

"Where you been?" Mr. Kay, the Law Librarian and my boss, asked.

"Officer Diaz gave me the day off."

"So that's why I had to call the Program Sergeant to get you released? Mr. Hunter, you work for me."

"Tell Diaz."

"I'll make sure he gets the message."

Legal pleadings were stacked all over my workstation. I started scanning them into the memory of the copy machine; the number of copies I'd have to generate depended on the court and how many parties have to be served. Logging the copies, most of them I handed to prisoners in the library, but a few have to be delivered to cells.

In my housing unit, I slid an original and three copies to Caspar.

"Give this to Patrick next door," Caspar said and sent under the door and administrative appeal. When I gave it to Patrick, a light beam hit me.

Reporting to the Officers' Podium, I felt somewhat gratified Officer Diaz had mastered the flashlight technique so quickly from my sparse instruction.

"Stand here." Diaz pointed to a spot right next to his chair.

Thinking about my cellie's words of caution about how Diaz liked to hit his alarm and take prisoners down, I said, "I'm just fine right here," and stood on the other side of the podium from him.

Montes, a female guard, also at the podium looked at both of us warily but didn't say a thing.

"Know you sniveled your way to work," Diaz said caustically, "so what you doing in here?"

Holding up legal documents, I said, "Delivering copies."

"Suppose to deliver from the law library not pass cell to cell. Saw you pass from cell 133 to 132."

Looking around, I could see Chukes and Tiny openly passing tumblers of homemade wine and whiskey to cells and collecting payment in canteen.

"I passed a legal document," I said impassively. "That's my job."

"Don't do it again."

No doubt I should've just agreed and move on, but my mouth started out running my brain again. "Caspar's a monster. Guy's got staff assaults and beaten down bigger guys than you and me added together. If he asks me to pass a legal document, think I'm going to do it, Diaz."

"Ordering you not to pass in my house."

"Going to protect me, Diaz?" I taunted. "Going to follow me around with your alarm?"


"Hell, yeah, and so would you if you didn't have that alarm button to call for help."

"Hunter, just go back to work," Montes interjected.

"Not done with Hunter yet," Diaz objected.

"Go," she said to me.

I went.

A few days later, Gonzo asked me to bring a music CD to work. Gonzo's former cellie, Jose, was in a fight in the dayroom, so the cops moved him to another housing unit and the CD was left behind by accident.

"Jose will drop by the library after school," Gonzo said.


On my way out of the building in the morning, Diaz hit me with his flashlight and I reluctantly went to the podium.

"What's that?" he pointed at the CD

I explained.

"Hand it over."

I gave it to him, expecting him to search it and give it back. I knew there wasn't any contraband in the case. I'd already checked it myself before agreeing to mule it. Diaz didn't search it; he took it into his office and locked it up.

"Confiscating?" I questioned Diaz.


"Need a receipt!"

"Said it wasn't yours," he clowned me, "why would you need a receipt?”

"You know I need a receipt so no one will think I clucked it."

"Not my problem."

"Diaz, I'm just going to stand here 'til I get a receipt. Don't care how long it takes."

"Go to work."

"No." I shook my head. "This might not go down the way I want, but it's not going to go down the way you want either. If I don't get a receipt, I'd rather wreck right here with you then later with Jose. You see I kind of like Jose."

Taking his time, Diaz eventually wrote a receipt and dropped it on the floor. As I reached down to pick it up, he planted his black boot on it. Straightening up, I waited to see how bad this was going to end.

With contempt, he said, "Don't forget your receipt.” and kicked it toward me.

As I walked away, I kept my face impassive. I knew he was trying to humiliate me, but kind of thought I wasn't the one who had lost his dignity.

I gave the receipt to Jose and told him to get at Diaz about the CD.

The next day, Jose told me Diaz said the receipt was made out to me so I would have to pick it up. At lunch, I got at Diaz and he said the CD belonged to Jose so he would have to collect it.

I got at Sergeant Grey. "Got a problem with Officer Diaz."

"Which Diaz? Young or Old Diaz?"

"Old Diaz. Think he's trying to wreck me with the Mexicans."

"Really think you got a racial conflict?" Sergeant Grey questioned sharply.

"No. No, I don't," I confessed.

"Just threw it out there to catch my attention?" he quizzed. "Trying to manipulate me, Hunter?"

"Yeah. Something like that."

Relaxing, nodding, Sergeant Grey heard me out, took the receipt and collected the CD from Officer Diaz. Case closed.

Kicking back on Saturday, lying on bunk reading, light hit my eyes. Diaz.

"Hunter," he hollered. "We do this every damn day. Why aren't you up for Count?"

"Only Close 'A' prisoners are counted at noon on weekends."

"That's a damn lie!" he yelled. "You're a liar, Hunter. Just trying to get me in more trouble with the sarge. Won't work."

Thought he might just be messing with my head, but a closer look let me know his rage was real.

"Check your Count Board." I pointed at the clipboard in his hand. "My cellie and I aren't on this Count."

Angrily checking the board, Diaz muttered, "How in the hell was I s'pose to know you're not Close 'A'?"

Maybe the big Close 'B' sign taped to the cell door, I thought, and wondered what was really going on with Diaz. Drugs? Alcohol? Senility? Insanity? What?!

"Evil," I got at a friend I'd been jailing with for awhile, "Diaz is driving me nuts. What's his deal?"

"Don't know nothin' 'bout 'im," Evil tried to gaff me off.

"Not going for that. Your homies, Chukes and Tiny, got keys to the dayroom. They’re Diaz's boys. You know something."

"Just you and me?" Evil asked.

"No one else here."

"Gonna deny it all day 'cuz it's for sure gonna end in a train wreck, but on the real, Diaz likes a shot of prison whiskey in his coffee. Gets a shot and lets the homies run 'round. Used to be a shot of whiskey in a mug of coffee. Nowadays it's a shot of coffee in a mug of whiskey. Diaz is a half step from the gutter."

Explains a whole lot. "All right, Evil, I'll keep it on the quiet."

Picking up a pass for a visit mid-morning on Sunday, flashlight lit me up again.

"Hunter," Diaz called, "you gotta fill a bottle before you go anywhere." He held up a urine sample vial. Drug test.

"I'll take the bottle to Visiting with me."

"You must give a specimen under direct observation."

"Sure, I'll give the bottle to the Visiting Officer and fill it when I use the bathroom."

"No." Diaz shook his head. "Not going 'til you fill it."

"Look, Officer Diaz, I know we been on the wrong track. It's my bad and I apologize. But my visitor came from a long way to see me, she's waiting, and I need to go."

"Not going anywhere 'til you fill the bottle."

"This's bullshit! I'm a lifer and don't go to the parole board. Dirty test don't mean a thing to me."

"Stop crying."

"Know what, Diaz? You been here for four hours and it seems kind of odd that all of a sudden you're in a hurry to throw a bottle on me. Bet it's bogus. Bet my name's not on any list. I got a pass for Visiting, I'm going to report to Visiting, and if the bottle is legit you can test me later. Got a problem with that, take it up with the sergeant."

"Sergeant has nothing to do with this."

"Sergeant will have everything to do with this if you try to stop me. Only way you're going to stop me from leaving is to take me down. The Control Officer will have to hit his alarm and the sergeant will come running and we'll let him sort this out."

Diaz didn't respond, so I turned away, went to my visit and never filled a bottle.

Days went by and Diaz seemed to forget about me and I stayed well away from him.

"Look at this," my cellie said one morning as he looked out the cell window. Chukes and Diaz were nose-to-nose screaming at each other.

Officer Montes came out of the office, spoke urgently to Chukes and he walked away.

With a leer, Diaz patted Montes on the butt. Face blazing, Montes stalked out of the housing unit.

Strutting off with his coffee mug, Diaz went into Chukes cell.

"Think Diaz went to get some whiskey," I murmured to my cellie.

Chukes bounced from nowhere, slammed the cell door shut, automatically locking Diaz inside.

Banging the door, Diaz caught the Control Officer's attention. Seeing Diaz locked in a cell, the Control Officer hit the alarm and the cell door unlock.

Prisoners in the dayroom got down, badges flooded into the housing unit, and Diaz screamed at Chukes, "You shut the door!"

A guard ordered Chukes to roll onto his stomach and handcuffed him behind his back.

Officer Montes reappeared and started talking seriously with Sergeant Grey. Patting herself on the butt, she pointed at Diaz. Sergeant Grey called over Diaz, and started barking at him. From the floor, Chukes started yelling something at Sergeant Grey, Diaz, and Montes. Spinning, Diaz ran at Chukes and booted him in the head a couple of times. Guards swarmed, pulled Diaz away and then picked up Chukes from the floor and gaffled him out of the housing unit.

Sergeant Grey spoke harshly to Officer Diaz. Head and shoulders slumping, Diaz went away.

Never saw Diaz again, heard at first he retired. Much later, I heard Officer Montes say Diaz was working weddings as a disc jockey. Apparently, he's real popular; his signature is hitting people with a flashlight to pull them out on the dance floor to shake that thang.

-The End-


Dolmance said...

Thrilled to get your book. Looking forward to reading it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well, it was a compelling story inasmuch as I read it to the end. Well written as always. But the 'punchline' was sorta anti-climactic and... dubious. Nevertheless, dude can write. A good yarn, but not one of his best.

A Friend said...

The following is from Michael in response to the comment left by Joe G:

My goal when I write is to present the world I live in each day in a detached and hopefully interesting way. Some of the best people I know inside the walls of the dungeons are guards and prisoners. I try to portray people the way I see them in an honest way whether they're clothed in convict blue or guard green, although admittedly through the lens of my life experiences that I'm sure lends a bias which could be termed a point of view.

"Old Diaz" is like all of the stories I send out into the world, I consider them my children and hope for the best for each of them. My feelings about each story evolves over time and of course I have favorites. When I read Joe G's comments, I reread "Old Diaz" because I hadn't looked at it for months and hoped I hadn't made a mess of the material.

Reading it over, I found I was satisfied with the story. I don't believe I intended to write a punchline, but I agree with Joe G. that the ending was in retrospect somewhat facile and mocking although it was also true. Even from this fresh perspective generated from Joe G's thoughts, I doubt I would change it.

Some people have told me they feel Joe G's comments are unfair but I disagree. I read his thoughts, consider the, carefully, appreciate them and I think his interest and feedback is valuable to my writing.