Friday, July 19, 2013

Tolerance…To A Point Part 1

By Santonio Murff

It was a thrill to be back in the County on appeal after 18 long, pain-filled, but productive years!

The overcrowded dilapidated Tarrant County Jail that I’d been housed in from January of ’95 to December of ’96 as I awaited my trial had given way to a new state-of-the-art Tarrant County Corrections Center that left little to be desired by the criminal class.  I must admit, I was both impressed and touched.  I never knew anyone cared.

60A, the pod where I was housed, was spacious and spotless.  A shift sergeant came through every night at 11:45 pm to inspect each cell and make sure that they stayed that way.  There would be no defacing the walls and bunks of this multi-million dollar facility with nicknames, gang graffiti, and other jailhouse scribbling.  And I for one appreciated the effort.  I didn’t want to know who else had been in that cell and when, nor did I care who was a snitch and who could go to hell.

There was a peace to be found in those snow-white brick walls and pearly gray floors.  A slender, one-foot rectangular window was set in the upper back wall, giving a glimpse of downtown Fort Worth and weather conditions.  There are no bars in the future.  A twin plate of glass sat in the right side of the broad mahogany door that allowed entrance and exit, to and from the huge dormitory-like dayroom with its three phones, plasma television, 20 cushioned chairs, and 18 four-seating stainless-steel game tables to distract the accused from their precarious predicaments.

A complimenting mahogany desk ran halfway down the left wall of the 12 by 7 foot room, stopping a couple of feet in front of a glistening stainless-steel toilet that offered options of hot or cold water with the press of a button.  A large scarless mirror hung above the toilet; while a long fluorescent light that you could have turned on or off at your pleasure stood at its right shoulder awaiting your attention.

All in all, it was more than enough room for my cellie and me, and a luxurious step-up from the cramped barred cells of prison life that kept you fighting off the cold in the winter and trying to escape the heat in the summer.  The order of the day was central air and heating that kept the rooms fresh, if a bit chilled, year around.  But the sweetest joy of all, by far, was the single stall always hot showers with their thick green curtains – WITH CURTAINS – which provided an unheard-of-in-prison privacy.  You can’t possibly fathom that joy unless you’ve been forced to take (often) cold showers, in cramped quarters, with upwards of 50 other men for years.

Having quietly made up my bunk and neatly put away my things to not disturb my slumbering, elderly, black cellie, I spent well over an hour in the perfectly tempered shower and came out feeling like a new man.  I dipped back into my room long enough to groom and then left it to my still slumbering cellie.  With a list of phone numbers in hand, I bounced down the stairs to the dayroom with a smile on a mission to notify the world that the San-Man was back!

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 A little bit of love will buy you a whole lot of forgiveness from the majority of convicts.  When a convict writes those ranting and raving letters (nearly all of us long timers have done it an one time or another, for one reason or another) it’s not so much that we’re angry and we certainly don’t hate our loved ones.  Our tirades are often rooted in our unseen pain; in our hurt feelings at being neglected, seemingly forgotten by those we hold close and dear to our heart.

Forget the visits, which may not be feasible for some.  Don’t worry about the $10 or $20 a month you may not be able to send.  A simple letter, a photo – things that are feasible and affordable to all, small things that mean so much to the incarcerated are often times lost or forgotten in the everyday grind of making a living.  This is why most prisoners echo the saying:  “Out of sight, out of mind.” (You spend too many years out of sight, with family and friends acting like you’re out of mind, and you truly begin to believe some of the officers’ tauntings at mail call: “Don’t nobody love you!”)

I had no such misgivings on my triumphant return to the County.  My friend Anthony and my mother had utilized Facebook to keep everyone abreast of the developments in my case.  They’d all anxiously waited to see if I’d be bench-warranted back for my hearing.  And now, to their surprise at something in “the system” having actually proceeded as predicted by me, and to their joy at having prayers answered, I was back. 

Everyone expected me to be released at my upcoming hearing.

Family and friends rushed down to see me.  I received six visits the first week.  I had not received six visits in the last six years!  Ridiculously priced $10-15 for 15 minute phone calls were robustly accepted.  The same food items from the penitentiary commissary were charged double for at the County Cantina.  A 25¢ soup was 75¢.

“Don’t worry about commissary prices!”  I was told by my ever-supportive and generous little brother.  “You’re coming home and we’re gonna fatten you up before you get here!”

My youngest brother and my fiancé echoed those sentiments and my books were looking mighty nice.  I was in prisoner’s paradise.  If I wasn’t on the phone, rebuilding relationships and catching up, I was in the visitation booth doing the same.  Laughing and loving life.  The new County didn’t have a rack time and the television stayed on all night.  So I stayed in the dayroom, seldom seeing my always slumbering cellie.

Then I had the hearing….

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My hearing was a slam-dunk in every imaginable way and a few that I didn’t foresee.  My lawyer was optimistic, but in the constantly constipated ways of “the system” there would be a three to six month deliberation period before justice was rendered and I would be, God-willing, released.  Expecting me to get out that day, family and friends took the news harder than I did.  Too busy lavishing in the love I was being drowned in, and understanding how easily it could evaporate, I’d said not a word to discourage their assumptions.  It was lovely while it lasted.

After having done time for as long as I have, you learn to treasure and thoroughly enjoy the tides of affection and attention when they roll in, because they will surely roll away again.  The word went out that I didn’t get out, and there would be months of deliberations.  True to form, the vast majority disappeared, leaving me with prayers, memories, and a nice commissary balance.  I wasn’t the least bit shocked or saddened.  The tide had rolled out.

I did the only thing a real convict could do:  I bought me a pint of Banana Pudding ice cream, thanked the Lord for the blessings, and got back to doing time.

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The art of doing time, trouble and stress-free, is setting up a regular daily routine and never sweating the small stuff.  Other inmates are going to act stupid at times, officers are going to yell unnecessarily most of the time, and the only policy that you can expect to be followed is the “policy of personality.”  The “policy of personality” states that each pod and each shift will be run according to the whims of the officer assigned.  He is a stickler for policy.  She is lenient on everything.  They are only here for a check and could care less about it all.  You deal with each accordingly.

In prison, where you are around the same officers and inmates for years, you adjust to your cellie and you learn to deal with it (incarceration, that is).  You can do your time easy or hard, with a smile or a scowl, but you are going to do it.  It is not as hard as outsiders would imagine when you have a majority of convict bosses (lifetime officers) and convicts (older mature inmates) who all operate from a platform of giving respect to get respect, with everyone understanding that we all have basically the same agenda: To have a good day.

The County operated from no such platform and had no such understanding.  Now that I wasn’t ripping and running to exhaustion and sleeping through the rack-ups and maintenance, medical sick calls, or the pod being too loud (which I’d never noticed was screamed about on the average of every 30 minutes with the threat of a rack-up), I couldn’t help but notice the mountains of small things.

The officers who bellowed threats from the time they came on shift until they left.  The ones who came on daily with an attitude looking for any reason to rack everybody down for a few hours or their entire shift so they could have a leisure day.  The youngsters (most 18 – 25) who seemed to never fail to give them a reason.  I wrote a grievance (complaint form) on this daily for a couple of weeks, before a few officers took it upon themselves to stop racking up over 70 offenders for what a couple did.  I had to thank them, because the administration took no action in curtailing the abuses of authority.

I had to rack my brain, traveling back a couple of decades to see was I so unruly and disrespectful in my teenage years.  The youngsters would come a half dozen or deeper and cut a buddy in the chow line to the grumblings of the elderly or timid.  I’d gently remind them that we had nowhere to go and the county was not going to run out of food.

“A brother just hungry, Ol’ School!” A young Crip (who’s OxGx I know quite well) laughed as I languished in a cushioned seat with a reading book, only rising to go get my tray after everyone had been served.

“Ol’ School, we gotta catch these videos,” they’d say and change the television in the middle of a program as a dozen others bit down on their frustrations.  Everyone over 35 was called “Ol’ School.”

“Ya’ll need to catch that Law library,” I’d shoot. “While ya’ll over here playing dominoes and watching videos, those folks are across the street plotting and planning how they are gonna get a conviction.”

They’d laugh.  “You show’ll right, Ol’ School!” And, then they were bouncing to the new Lil Wayne – Two Chains’ video, or screaming as Nicki Minaj worked it like only she could.

It was all small things that bothered me not at all, though it seemed to trouble others quite a bit.  I liked the youngsters enough to dish them doses of wisdom, which they seemed to accept even if they didn’t act upon them right away.  But I’d smile when I see a half dozen of them sitting around continuing their conversations until the chow line was empty and then following me to get their trays last.  It heartened me to see a couple sign up for the free G.E.D. classes that the new County offered and then be called out for school.

I never preached to them.  I stayed away from my past gang affiliation in most of our conversations, because most of them were gang members, and I didn’t want the stigmatization of favoring one over the other.  I wanted all their respect and ear as a man who cared.  And, I always kept it humble and lead by example.  I guess, I could relate do them, and I know I cared, because I’d come to accept that those many, many years ago…I’d been exactly like them.

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 The youngsters I could manage.  The bellowing officers I could deal with.  It was the dead body in the room with me that was growing more and more unbearable.  No, my cellie wasn’t actually dead, but by the 20 plus hours he spent unmoving in the bed, he couldn’t have been far from it.

I personally don’t think that there was any greater discomfort about incarceration than the lack of privacy.  There are no adequate words to depict how aggravating it can become to be housed in a small room, with an open toilet, and someone who you don’t get along with.  Maybe you’re a clean freak, whereas he’s extremely nasty; maybe he’s a whiner, whereas you’re a man who accepts your lumps without complaint; maybe you’re quiet and humble, whereas he’s loud and ornery ----it doesn’t really matter how incompatible ya’ll are, unless ya’ll create a major disturbance which will result in one or both of ya’ll being locked up in less pleasant accommodations with less privileges, ya’ll are stuck with each other.

My elderly cellie, “Ol’ School,” and I had no such problems.  He just was always there.  I go to the shower, I return – he’s still there in the same spot, dead to the world.  I have a good day, a bad day; I do some writing, I do some reading – “Ol’ School” was right there with me, unmoving in peaceful slumber.  I need some “me time” or to “sit on my throne” (use the toilet) and there was Ol’ School.

“You don’t never leave the house, Ol’ School?” I queried one evening when he’d risen for chow.

“Never.” He ended the conversation with a curt nod as he headed out to get his tray.

He actually did leave for a couple of minutes at every chow call and every three days or so for a brief shower, but I guess there was little need in telling me what I already knew.  Anyone who knows me, knows that woman, children, and the elderly are my soft spots.  I won’t stand for any of the lot to be mistreated.  Ol’ School’s brisk dismissal had me a mite peeved though.  I actually practiced my delivery for when he returned.

“Bro, with all due respect, we got to live together –“

He shook his head with dismissal, halting my words, already knowing where the conversation was going.  “My eyes too bad to see that volcanic television (he meant plasma), my back too bad to sit in them chairs, my knees too shot to do much walking, I don’t play games, and all them loud children make me nervous ---what do you want me to do?”

I could think of not a thing, not even a response.  Ol’ School shrugged and to back under the covers.  He went back to sleep and I went to the dayroom, got a request form, and did the only thing I could do:  I threw myself on the mercy of the administration, pleading to be placed in one of the dozen single cells on the pod.

I guess mercy is not their strong point, and they obviously weren’t impressed by my 18 years of incarceration.  After my third unanswered request in three days, I resigned myself to my fate.  Sleeping above an almost dead body wasn’t that bad.  Ol’ School didn’t smell, and he didn’t bother me.  He was just always there!

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 As fortune would have it, a fifth moon didn’t rise and fall before my 62 year old, petite, jet-black cellie was called to roll it up, he was going home.  As that we hadn’t shared twenty words in as many days, I’d had no idea his release was coming.  He rose gingerly from the bunk with no enthusiasm, took a couple of minutes to slick down with water the several puffs of scattered gray clouds that clung stubbornly to his scalp and brushed his remaining discolored teeth.

It took him less time to swipe his meager possession into the brown grocery bag we’re given when we enter the County.  Ol’ School had never been much for words, and I’d always appreciated that about him.  That night he didn’t break tradition.  He extended his gnarled hand, “Good luck to you.”

“You too, Bro.” I shook his hand and returned to my book.  And with that, Ol’ School was gone.

I sprung from the bed to dance me a short feet-shuffling jig, adding a shoulder roll, and a fist pumping “Yes!”

The house was finally all mine.  If I was lucky, I’d have a good week all to myself.  To write.  To poot in peace.  To “sit on my throne” at my leisure with a good book.  To work out.  To walk back and forth in deep conversation with myself.  To do all those things a sane person did not do with another breathing body a couple of feet away.

I was not lucky.

The next day, “Loco” walked into my house unannounced and I knew from the looks of him we were gonna have problems.

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 Loco was a manifestation of brown pride.  A 5’5 bald headed Mexican, with Mexican heritage artwork tattooed from his muscular biceps to his clean shaven head.  His eyes were dark and steady, searching for a challenge or slight.  I’d seen hundreds of “locos” in prison who wore their short-man’s complex like a badge of honor, always ready to show that they could back theirs up.

“Loco,” he said by way of introduction, as he stepped in to throw his stuff up on the top bunk.  I’d immediately cleaned and seized the bottom bunk with Ol’ School’s departure.

“San-Man,” I gave him my name as we quickly sized each other up.  It was a prison thing; guys who’ve done time on rock-n-roll units (violent) did it unconsciously.  You wanted to stay alive, puncture wound free, you’d better be able to quickly process “a threat” before it attacked.

“Where you do time at?” He was only 26, but had obviously done time before and was thinking the same thing I was.

“Ferguson, Terrel, Coffeild…” I trailed out.

“All rock-n-roll units,” he smirked.

“All rock-n- roll units,” I acknowledged with a nod, returning to the Daily Bread I’d been reading when he stepped in.

He didn’t volunteer information on the unit or units he’d been on, which meant he’d probably done a short stint at a more docile facility.  I didn’t care so I didn’t inquire.  I don’t play the “name game;” I know him, do you know them? Don’t care much for prison talk at all.  I’m not really anti-social.  I just don’t bother people; and don’t want to be bothered with them, when I know we are clearly on different paths in our lives, although I enjoy helping the next man when he wants to be helped.

The young, I’ll make an exception for, because they often times don’t realize they need help.  I live by the first lines of the First Psalms: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”

Loco had that whole aura about him as if he thought being a convict was the thing to do.  And, damn you if you disagreed.  He was out the door to mingle without a word soon as his things were put away.  I looked out over the dayroom, after rising to take a leak, and spied him at a table in animated conversation with two other Mexicans he obviously knew from the world.

“If you like it, I love it,” my grandfather used to say when I was being hardheaded.  Outside of the occasional words of wisdom I contributed, I pretty much lived by the same “to each his own” mantra in prison and minded my own business.

Loco ran all these thoughts through my mind, because I knew his type:  Always into everything, always on the verge of getting rolled, because he felt rules were made to be broken.  I knew him well without ever having had a conversation with him, because, a decade ago, I was just like him.  Hours later, he stepped back into the cell with a smile, and proved me right.

“Cellie, you’ve been gone 18 years, Holmes?”  His eyes glowed like he was housed with a living legend.  I was used to such a response from the young who didn’t yet understand that there was NOTHING cool about doing time.  The young, who didn’t yet get that it was a stigmatization that would hunt and try to hinder you for the rest of your life.

I met his eyes. “Yeah.”  I said in a way that let him know I didn’t want to talk about the penitentiary.

He let it go and jumped right into his spiel about knowing since I’d done time, I’d respect the hustle, and let homeboy fall into our house tomorrow to get some ink work.  He hadn’t been on the pod for 4 hours, and was ready to violate several rules (having ink, tatting paraphernalia, and doing tats) that would definitely get him and that homeboy rolled (moved to disciplinary pod with less freedom and privileges), and he wanted me to inconvenience myself by disappearing while they did it.

“My homeboy say, you can fall in his house if you want to,” he added when I just looked at him.

“Bro, I’ve done my time.  I’m trying to go home now.  Not take unnecessary chances that could worsen my situation.”  I threw up a halting hand before he could finish telling me all the reasons why not one would get caught, and why they couldn’t use his homeboy’s house.  “The answer is no, Bro. Ya’ll do what ya’ll do, but I’m doing my time.”

He didn’t take the news well.  He looked heatedly at me as I looked calmly back.  He finally sighed and shouldered out of the room.  “A Mexican just trying to make some snacks,” he grumbled.

Over half of us locked up for just trying to make “something” or being too close to people who were just trying to make “something” in violation of the law.  Now, you’re in jail just trying to make “something” in violation of the rules.  And, when most get to prison they’ll again just be trying to make “something” in violation of policy.  It’s a never-ending cycle for some that keeps them taking a step forward and two backwards all the days of their lives, I thought, but said none of this to Loco.

He was cool when he returned to the house, but that next morning our relationship took a turn for the worst.

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“Kaaa-rock-poo-poot! KAAA-ROCK-POO-POOO!”

I looked up into the steel belly of the top bunk with a frown.  He had to be joking.  “AH-CHAK-CHAK-POOO!”  The unbelievable racket with the cartoonish finales kept coming.  I stared up a moment longer, wondering was this some kind of retaliation for our earlier disagreement before swinging from the bunk to rise and look into Loco’s face.

The man was honestly asleep.

I looked into his slack with slumber countenance, watching his slightly agape lips actually fluttering around the buzz saw, lawn mower, shooting sounds he was choking out.  This alone would usually wake the normal convict up like a sixth sense, which became fine tuned in prison.  My staring into his mug neither disturbed him nor decreased his volume.

I fell back into my bunk and contemplated waking him up.  There was no way that I would get back to sleep before the breakfast chow call in a couple of hours, so I let him sleep.  I picked up my Daily Bread early.  Reflected on that day’s message, and then did some scribbling on a song I was writing for my fiancé’s album Ballad for my Boo.  When they announced chow I was waiting for Loco with a smile.

He handled his toiletries and turned to me with a “What?” He wasn’t a morning person.

“Bro, you wasn’t snoring, you were Screaming.”  I chuckled.

“Screaming?” he scowled. “What you mean by that?” the lil’ man’s complex was in full effect.

“I mean, you snore loud enough to wake all of Fort Worth.”

He shrugged like he’d heard it before.  “So I snore…loud.”  He watched me.  I watched him.  It wasn’t a challenge, but it was issued testily.

I stood up under the guise of making up my bunk.  “I had a cellie Big Shawn who sounded like a power-saw.  He told me to just wake him up so he could turn over----“

“I don’t like to be woke up and I don’t sleep on my stomach, Holmes,” he snapped.

“You ever tried your side?”

“No.”  He exited the cell.

I nodded.  No problem.

That night when Loco started the sound effects, I dropped the hard green cup they issued us for chow and watched it bounce across the floor ---LOUDLY.  Loco woke up, shifted, scowled at me and went back to sleep.

The sound effects started anew.  I rummaged very loudly for quite a while in my brown sack for some snacks.  Loco woke up with a curse, a shift, and a pounding of the bulge in his mat that made for a pillow.

“KAAA---“ before he got it out and slunk too deep in a slumber, I gave the powerful toilet a thunderous flush.  “Dude! I can’t sleep,” loco swung his legs off the top bunk with red eyes.

“Bro, I understand your pain.  I can’t stand unnecessary noise when I’m trying to sleep either.”  I stepped back so he could jump on down. “We gonna live together, it’s gotta be an understanding…respect.”

He came down with a stumble, and shot his feet into his shoes.  He only glanced at me before heading out the door with a F – this.”

A while later, he was at a dayroom table in agitated conversation with one of his homeboys.  I went to sleep.  After breakfast when he returned to the cell, I was wide-awake and writing.  He hopped up into his bunk without a word.  I got out my green cup and waited.  And waited.  Over an hour later, I rose to use the restroom and glanced at Loco.  I smiled.

My poor Vato must’ve really been tired, he was sleeping with his mouth wide open --- on his side.  I put away the green cup.  Eased out the room door and went to use one of the three communal toilets outside the shower so I wouldn’t disturb him.  Understanding and respect, the world would be a far better place with more of both.

Ours didn’t last long though; I don’t know whether he filled out a request or what, but the next evening Loco was called to roll it up.  He was being moved.  He threw his stuff in his mattress cover and left without a word.  Again, I prayed for just a seven-day reprieve: a break before having to adjust to another personality.  God must’ve been busy elsewhere.

The Babbler made his energetic entrance within an hour of Loco’s departure…and had me missing Loco in half that time.

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“The Babbler” is in the house!  And, Bro, I promise you’re gonna love having me as a cellie!”  He came through the door babbling in a rich high-pitched voice that was fine-tuned for comedy.

I looked up from my writing to take in the barely touching five feet, slim but toned white boy with his bush black Afro single gold tooth and dancing blue eyes with a frown of scrutiny.  He looked like the melting pot of America had been dumped on him, and he was a blend of a little bit of everyone.

“I bet your name is Killa, or the Crusher, maybe?”  He chirped on. “Just my luck to be housed with tha Killaaa!”  He screamed in mock dismay, chunking his things on the top bunk, then extended his left hand so I could see the L-O-V-E sponge tatted on the back of his fingers.  I reached to shake and he jerked it back to shoot out the right hand which had L-A-F-F (laugh) tatted on the back on each digit.  “Love or laugh? Love or laugh? Love or laugh?”  He rotated the hands back and forth in front of me in a deejaying rhythm of challenge.  “What do you wanna do, cellie, love or laugh?  The Babbler is too high on life to hate.”

I gave him a perturbed look and he settled the L-A-F-F before me.  “Okay, we’ll laugh!”  I gave him what was meant for a very short shake, but he clutched my hand and covered it with the L-O-V-E.  “But never forget it’s all love, brother.”  I managed to extract my hand before he could go through the elaborate ritual of grips, twists and shakes that he’d started.

My writing was forgotten as I took him in, wondering, was he serious?  The Babbler was true to his name, he talked non-stop.  A miniature bundle of energy, he moved, bounced around doing this and that, and talked non-stop his every waken moment.  I never did get to tell him my nickname.  He became The Babble, and I was Cellie, Killa, or The Crusher, according to the mood and conversation.

The Babbler was one-man conversation who didn’t need any answers, responses, or encouragements to carry a multi-hour conversation with you.  He stayed answering his own questions to keep the dialogue moving:  “So you love having me as a cellie, right? I knew it!  The Babbler is good people.  A riot a minute, man!”

That single gold tooth at the left top front would sparkle as he bounced before you with a broad smile, his blue eyes alive with enthusiasm always searching for a smile of approval.
He lived to entertain.  He’d start out with a tear jerker. “Did I ever tell you about my ex, dude?  The midget stripper with no arms.”  A deep sniff. “She was homeless, man.  Couldn’t make a dime.”  A helpless shrug.  “No arms, she couldn’t take anything off!”  It was the flashing gold and begging eyes that forced you to give a grin to his obnoxiousness.

Why did I do that?

“You smiled! You smiled!  I made the Crusher smile!”  He bounced up and down like an energetic child.  “Give me your Killa card! Give it to me right now!”  He demanded.  To quiet him down you passed him an invisible card which he dramatically tore up, chunked into the toilet and swung a hip into the toilet button to send it down and away with a loud flush.  “The Babbler has won another soul to the kingdom of comedy.”

“Chill, Babble!” I actually had to place a firm hand on his chest to keep him from giving me a welcoming hug to the kingdom.

You could not dislike the Babbler.  No more than you could keep from being annoyed by him.  “I promise you, cellie.  I am the best cook in Texas! You buy these items,”  he forced a list into my hands, “and I will amaze you! Astound you! Make you cry out with joy!”

Three days, I listened to unexpected bursts of boasts about his culinary skills, and had the discarded list plopped back in my palm, before I went to commissary and got the $10 worth of items, and $2 more he added while I was in the line.

The waterlogged tasteless drool he concocted had me gagging and ready to strangle him.  He saw it in my eyes. “Babbler is a liar!” he cried.  “I was just hungry, Cellie!  The Babbler has no money, no family, and no love.  Forgive me, Killa! Don’t crush me, pleeeease!”  He crumbled to his knees at my feet.

Used to his theatrics, I didn’t even crack a smile.  I was all set for a gourmet meal and got garbage.  Got taken for $12.  “The Babbler is a liar, and he’s gonna eat all of this garbage – yours and mine.”  I pushed the bowl into his chest.  Then wanted to snatch it back, he smiled so brightly and dug in so heartedly.

“Bro, I am trying to write.” I told him another evening.

“Go right ahead, Cellie.  I just like to her myself talk.”  And he went right ahead talking to me, answering his own questions, and chuckling at the appropriate places for over an hour.  The only thing that made the Babbler tolerable was that he completely shut down at 10 p.m.  It was like a switch was pulled on him, his mouth shut, his eyes closed, and he did not utter another word or rise again until breakfast was called several hours later.

Three things you will learn in prison are patience, tolerance and how to adjust.  Patience has become a golden characteristic of mine.  I was tolerant to a point.  And, I could adjust with the best of them.  So 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. became my writing time.

The Babbler had a case of OCD whereas he kept the cell spotless.  “You supply the detergent, celli, and I’ll supply the muscle,” he flashed thin biceps, “and we will crush, kill all dirt and bacteria daily!”  He dusted and cleaned the room and washed our laundry daily.

“I have never been to prison, but I have had the distinguished pleasure of residing in the county with a many pleasant honorable gentlemen like yourself, who have.” he had his British accent working and I couldn’t help but to smile which just egged him on. “So I know all the proper protocols.  Penitentiary etiquettes, if you will.”

I laughed.

“You never spit in the sink.” He grabbed his green cup from his bunk to demonstrate. “You fill you a cup of water, and use it to both rinse your mouth after brushing and to rinse your toothbrush.  All fluids going into the toilet!”

I nodded.

“No one wants to smell your rear end, flatulence, that is!”  I laughed outright which got him more animated as he dropped his fully clothed buttocks on the toilet seat.  “So if you have to pass gas then you sit on the toilet and hit,” he frowned like he was letting one rip and hit the flush button.  Then hit it twice more as he made faces that had me leaning over with laughter and him trying to stay in character.  “Sending all of you inner pollutions and foul aromas to the Trinity River!”  He shook his head. “Instead of up your cellie’s nostrils.”

A 24-year old Drew Carey with blue eyes, a gold tooth and a’fro; Hollywood was waiting for The Babbler.  All in all, he was good people, but I was still overjoyed when he returned to the house singing and dancing like he was a reject from Saturday Night Fever.  “Imagine that! The Judge said she didn’t want to hear another word from me.  She told me to just go.  The case had been dismissed!”

I could imagine a Judge quickly deciding a little more panhandling from The Babbler was better than the presence of his mouth in her Courtroom.  Later that evening when they called him to roll it up, I wanted to echo her sentiments.  “Just Go!”

“I promise you cellie, give me seven days, and I will have you $20 cash money and some pictures sent in---"

“Wait! You can’t do that,” I grabbed his shoulders, “The Babbler must stay true to form,” I said with an earnest look into his eyes. “A Liar!”

He found that hilarious.  “The Crusher cracked a joke!”  He opened the room door to bellow to the dayroom below. “I, The Babbler, got The Crusher cracking jokes!”

Even with the officer hollering back that if he didn’t get his butt down those stairs he wasn’t going anywhere, The Babbler stood at the door babbling until the officer stumped up to personally escort him out.  “Seven days! I got you, cellie.  You’ll see,” he was hollering as the pod door closed on him.

I sighed with a smile and shake of my bald head when I was sure he was gone.  I thought, I’d seen them all in my 18 years of incarceration, but The Babbler was an original.  I fell back on my bunk, luxuriating in the silence, having the solitude.  Maybe, I’d get a day, just one blessed day with no cellie.  Please…..

I got two.

But my next cellie took my tolerance to the tipping point…and nearly broke me.

To be continued....

*********      *********      *********      *********     

Santonio Murff #00773394
Robertson Unit
12071 FM 3522
Abilene, Texas 79601


Mike Boylan said...

Hi Santonio, enjoyed your article very much. Looking forward to Part 2. Take care, Mike

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Santonio Murff:

Mike, I appreciate that you took the time to read my essay and send me a positive response. Part 2 is on the way Bro!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad MB6 survived and other's gave it a second chance, (including myself), because before other's were writing/posts, (only Whitiker), it was long worded shit, no words of wisdom..zzzzz. Posts and writings such as yours saved it. I must of missed a few of your writings, (unusual), but glad I caught them now. A lot I enjoy, good writer's..but yours add some sense, a human touch, you can teach some in and out of the walls. I came to MB6 out of anger, curiosity..whatever. Never reply or comment. My fiancé was murdered in '89, guy's still on TX death row. Being on the other side you can understand..but your posts for me kinda 'mediated',felt your lessons were sincere..and took my anger down a notch(s). Thank-you, Lori

James said...

Yes, I have never been to prison, but I imagine it is terrible. The story is very exciting and good. It takes me 2 hours to read, but no waste totally. I agree with the author: there are three things we will learn not only in prison but also in our life everyday are patience, tolerance and how to adjust! Thanks much, author! But it seems like the part 2 is still missing. :)

A Friend said...

James, here's the link: