By Michael Wayne Hunter
Scanning legal documents into the law library copy machine, I heard another prisoner say, "Here they come." Turning, I saw two guards rushing though the door.
"Step away from the copier and sit down," a green uniformed guard ordered me.
I planted my butt in a chair, and the guard started searching legal pleadings stacked on the counter awaiting copying for filing with the courts. Another guard marched past me carrying a bundle of papers and entered the glassed office of Mr. Kay, the law librarian and my boss.
"Can't read my legal work," a prisoner complained to the searching guard.
Not looking up, he growled, "I'm not reading," and kept flipping pages.
"But..." the prisoner continued to protest.
Looking up, the guard snapped, "Sit down! Everyone take a seat." All fifteen or so prisoners in the library settled into chairs.
"Mr. Hunter," the librarian called.
Reluctantly, I walked into Mr. Kay's office and on his desk was hard core copied in black and white. Porno.
"Can you explain this?" he asked.
Figured I was fired.
Just ten days ago, I received a pass to report for a job interview in the law library. After breakfast, I reported to the library door where I found all three clerks waiting for the law librarian to arrive and unlock the door.
"What's up?" I said, and shook hands with Pablo, Evan, and Mark.
Pablo was the legal beagle and lead clerk, he assisted prisoners with legal research and filing their legal pleadings, anything from an administrative appeal to appeal of conviction to tort claim in state or federal court.
Mark was the copy clerk. From scores of master forms, he made up packets of documents prisoners needed to fill out to file their claims and then also made additional copies when the pleadings were all filled out and ready for filing with the court.
Evan was the general library clerk. Checking out fiction and non-fiction books to prisoners to take back to their cells and also maintained newspapers and magazines for reading inside the library.
"College testing today?" asked Evan.
I was the college clerk for a few hours each week, registered students, and assisted the proctor with exams.
"No." I showed my pass. "I'm here to interview for a clerk position."
"Guess I'm out then," Mark sighed. Evan and Pablo nodded agreement.
"What's going on?"
"Got caught running illegal copies yesterday," Mark explained. "Mr. Kay sent me home but didn't say I was fired."
An awkward moment and then two followed by a third crept by, but Mark didn't leave.
Finally, I asked, "Uh, Mark, you going to stay and get at Mr. Kay?"
"Yeah. Thought I'd try to work it out and save my job or maybe have him recommend me for another position."
"I'1l wait in Education." I turned away.
"No. You got a pass for interview. Stay and put in your bid."
"Don't want to crowd you," I answered and bounced.
My housing facility at Pleasant Valley Prison has five hundred single man cells. Due to the tidal wave of prisoners flooding into The System, the cells are doubled up and the gym converted to housing. Running at over two hundred percent capacity, twelve hundred prisoners are housed here. Since there are only about five hundred assignments, hundreds of prisoners will walk over your dead or alive body to land a job, especially one with a pay number, and law library clerks are paid twenty-four cents an hour. Until recently, I had been an education clerk and made eighteen cents an hour, but my teacher had transferred so I had been unassigned. Seemed to me Mark had already been hit by the bus and left for dead, but I wasn't going to stomp out his last breath. I'd simply step aside and see what evolved.
Mr. Kay came through the gate and unlocked the library door. Pablo and Evan went inside, but Mark stayed outside and spoke to Mr. Kay for a moment and then two before he turned and left.
"Mr. Kay," I called and came up. "I'm Hunter, I'm ducated for an interview."
"I know who you are," Mr. Kay, a thin, medium-sized man in his mid-sixties said quietly and motioned me into the library.
The library has a main room with four tables and five legal research computers. Behind the counter there are two rooms of general library books, one for fiction, the other non-fiction. A third room has legal books, master legal forms, and a copy machine sits outside its door. Mr. Kay's glassed in office is set off to the side.
"Need to unlock," Mr. Kay murmured. "I'll be with you shortly."
As Mr. Kay keyed locks to doors and computers, I asked Pablo, "What did Mark copy that got him fired?"
"Porno. Got caught copying it a few months ago by Mr. Kay and he was warned. You know Mr. Kay originally interviewed to be a prison chaplain, but all the positions were filled, so he became the librarian. He's really down on smut. Mark was busy, slipped, and left copies on the counter. Mr. Kay found them and sent him home, but let him keep his job."
Pornography had been legal in California prisons until the 1990's when the governor was running for the republican nomination for President of the United States. Wanting to show he was tough on crime and didn't coddle prisoners, the governor pushed through a series of prison regulations including banning any sort of nude photos stating they were not conducive to rehabilitation. Now nude photos, even grainy black and white copies sell for fifty cents a page while prison clerks make between eighteen and thirty seven cents an hour. Do the math.
Calling me into his office, Mr. Kay gave me a legal research written test. "You can use all the library's resources to find the answers," he told me, "but don't talk to anyone while you take the test."
During my eighteen years on San Quentin's death Row, appeals were a primary topic and I know how to use legal digests and the Shepards. Within the hour, I had filled in all the blanks. After I turned in the test, Mr. Kay conducted an interview and many of the questions were odd. For example he asked me if I had a problem with typing an adverse report about another prisoner. There's no way I'd generate an adverse report, but I'd type one authored by Mr. Kay. I didn't ask him for clarification, I simply said I'd follow the instructions of my supervisor. Figured if Mr. Kay asked me to do something way out, I'd just quit and he'd no longer be my supervisor. Case closed. Anyway, my answers seemed to satisfy him and I was the new copy clerk.
Pablo checked me out on the copy machine, the law library opened and a half dozen prisoners rushed in. Lining up their documents on the counter in front of me, some of them hundreds of pages. Flipping through the first one, I found towards the back of the exhibits about twenty nude photos. The prisoner wanted three copies, so the sixty copies of the photos would be worth about thirty dollars on the prison black market. Almost as much as I'd make in a month.
“What's this?" I asked the prisoner.
"I'm filing a complaint in federal court that I have a First Amendment Right to possess and view images inside the prison that are legal to possess and view outside the prison. Those images are exhibits to show the courts what the prison is denying me."
"Mike, he needs those exhibits," Pablo jumped in, double-teaming me.
Skeptically, looking at one and then the other, I said, "How about if we just kick this to Mr. Kay and let him make the call?"
"Can't bother him about every job," Pablo objected.
“Okay then, I'l1 make the call. I'm not copying it.”
With a look of disdain on his face, Pablo scooped up the photos and walked to the other end of the counter. 'We'1l just go around him," I heard him whisper.
Going onto the next stack, I found nothing amiss and started logging and copying documents. Whenever 1 had to go to the law book room to obtain master copies of forms, Pablo would run copies and log them in the book. I didn't know what they were copying and didn't want to know.
The third day at work, guards came into the library with copies of three hundred tattoo patterns they had just confiscated from Guzman as he left the library.
Mr. Kay called me into the office. “Guzman didn't have any copies made,”
I opened my log book to show them, hoping they wouldn't notice the three hundred copies Pablo had made for Castillo, Guzman's cellie.
The guards left, and Mr. Kay warned, "Mr. Hunter, you're responsible for all copies leaving the law library.”
Tilting my head, I thought it over for a moment before answering, "With responsibility comes authority. I'm not the only clerk authorized to run copies."
Mr. Kay didn't respond. As the silence lengthened, I realized he wasn't going to say anything and went back to work at the copy machine.
“I showed them Z-Man didn't make copies," I clued Pablo. "Good thing they didn't notice the three hundred page copy job charged to his cellie."
Pablo smiled, but like Mr. Kay, didn't say a thing.
Leaving work, the guards stopped all three library clerks for a search, but waved me away when they saw all I was carrying was a pen and my ID card. Evan and Pablo had expandable folders, so they were thoroughly searched for anything illegal but nothing was found.
The next morning, my building officers told me all the library clerks had been fired by the program sergeant. Drama over, I thought, and returned to my cell.
An hour later, my cell door opened, and I was ordered to report to the library. Mr. Kay had come to work, discovered we were all unassigned, and then called the assignment lieutenant and had us reassigned. 'The sergeant doesn't have the authority to fire anyone without documentation," he explained to us.
Pulling Pablo and Evan into the law book room, I said seriously, "You guys have to slow your roll. We're blazing hot.”
Looking stubborn, they didn't answer and continued running copies whenever I was away from the machine.
Thinking it over that weekend, I tried to make sense of it all. Not all the photos were porn, some were just nudes. Seemed to me there was nothing wrong with prisoners looking at something in their cells that wouldn't be illegal if they weren't in custody. I also thought guards had better things to do than crackdown on photos. I didn't want a write up for copying it, but I didn't want to get stabbed for blocking copies either.
On Monday, I was heading for work when a prisoner waiting for medical tried to hand me his legal work and said he'd be in the library to collect it after he saw the nurse.
“Anything illegal in there?"
"No, nothing," he insisted.
I went to work, glanced through the envelope and it was full of smut. Without saying anything, I handed it over to Pablo.
I knew I was forbidding the tide to roll in.
My homeboys got at me. They'd been hearing I had become the copy cop and might get tossed up for my trouble. Is it worth it? They wondered.
“It's the wild, wild west in there," I told them. “The guards are all over us, my knucklehead co-workers have no idea how to stay under the radar. Someone needs to tell them to chill 'til we lose the heat.”
Got your back, my homies reluctantly gave me their co-sign, but I could tell they weren't happy that I was blocking a money hustle.
“Hunter!" bellowed a random guard, while pulling open the library door.
“Can you tell me why you're always standing next to the copy machine?"
"Probably because my job assignment is law library copy clerk," I answered without a hint of irony and continued to make copies.
The door slammed shut and locked.
Now, ten days after I'd been hired, Mr. Kay was asking me about a stack of porno.
“Can't explain it. Where was it found?"
"Duran was going into his housing unit with it," the officer answered.
“Duran didn't make any copies today," I went and got my log book.
“In fact, Duran wasn't in the law library today," Mr. Kay said after checking his log book.
“You know," he said to the guard, "there is a copy machine in the Sergeant's office and Education as well not just the law library.”
Shrugging, the guard went out with the copies.
“Mr. Hunter," Mr. Kay said sternly. “Remember you're responsible for all copies that come out of the 1ibrary.”
I'd had enough. “I told you with responsibility comes authority. I have no authority over the copy machine, and I don't make every copy-“
"You're still responsible.”
"Fine, I'll make all the copies.”
"No. The legal clerk has to update various publications, and the library clerk has overdue notices to copy.”
"Then don't talk to me about unauthorized copies anymore.”
As I approached the copy machine, a page slid into the tray. Pulling it out, I could see it was a tattoo pattern and gave it to Pablo.
Mr. Kay came flying out of the office and Pablo darted into the law books room.
“What was that copy, Mr. Hunter?"
"Don't know, I didn't copy it. I gave it to Pablo without looking at it.”
Pablo came out of the law books room with an exhibit form, and said,
"This's it, Mr. Kay.”
"No, it wasn't," Mr. Kay fumed. “Mr. Hunter, I could tell it was a drawing...”
"I told you not to talk to me about the copies anymore, Mr. Kay," and I turned away expecting to be fired on the spot.
Face glowing red, Mr. Kay went back to his office, and Pablo immediately jumped on the copying machine and started running more tattoo patterns.
Settling in my chair, I watched Pablo and chuckled, suddenly quite amused by the insanity abounding around me.
Mr. Kay came back out of his office, and ordered, "Mr. Hunter will run all the copies from now on.”
"I'm the lead clerk," Pablo objected.
“Yes, and Mr. Hunter is the copy clerk and will run all the copies from now on and he's responsible for everything that comes out of the machine.”
"It's over," I told Evan and Pablo in the law book room. “I'm checking every damn page.”
"Homies are going to be crazed," Pablo argued. “Already taken money for a dozen copy jobs. Got to get them done.”
"Told you to slow your roll but you didn't hear me. Now Mr. Kay's nutted up and the cops are busting down the door. Barely got the badges out of here and you were back at it. We're on a break.”
"How long 'til we start up again?" Pablo asked, and Evan looked worried.
“Porn is dead. When we're totally off the radar, I'll close my eyes to the tattoo patterns and sports betting pools. Hell, the guards have tatts and run their own pools. But we're going to be careful, no one's walking out of here with three hundred tatt patterns again. Keep it down to like twenty.”
"When can we start up again?" Pablo asked again.
“When we're frosty. Won't be days, could be weeks or even a couple months.”
An unhappy Pablo got at his homeboys, I got at mine, and no one wanted to die over a copy moratorium so the drama went away.
After a few weeks, Pablo quit and went to work in Education for less money but access to a copy machine. The guards almost immediately busted him running porn, wrote him up, fired him, laid all the copying heat on him, and stopped coming through the library door to bother me.
Larry Flynt was no more.