Friday, August 16, 2013

The Kite Box

By Timothy Pauley

 “But I didn't do anything!" Mo protested. The two guards remained stone faced as one moved around behind Mo to place handcuffs on his wrists. "Lieutenant's orders," the other one said impassively. "I demand to speak with him then!" Mo blurted out. This elicited a round of muffled laughter from both guards. Who was this guy to demand anything.

Mo continued to protest as he was marched out of the unit towards the infirmary. Nearly everyone they passed seemed surprised that such a boot licking punk would find himself in handcuffs. Mo had a reputation of being ultra-compliant and they just didn't throw guys like that in the hole. But strange things had been happening lately...


It all started when Randy Jones retired. He was the beloved recreation director and he'd finally had enough of the punitive direction things were headed. He found another job and walked away from the prison after over two decades of service there. The job had been fun most of that time, but the new Director of the Department of Corrections had taken office a year earlier and immediately begun to shake things up. Most of the old guard saw things headed in an ugly direction and either looked for a quiet corner to wait until they were eligible for retirement, or just bailed.

No sooner was Randy gone and the administration decided the prisoners no longer needed morning recreation. At least not in the gym, which in a facility like that one where it snowed five months out of the year, essentially meant no morning recreation during those months. No one was hit harder by this than Randy's gym crew. They had become accustomed to spending their mornings in the gym and it hurt to have this taken from them. Within a week of the new schedule, they began coming up with ways to share their pain with those who caused it.

It was a soft yard by prison standards. The administration had a great deal of control of the facility. This was in large part because a high percentage of the population was given to sharing information with them. If there was a fight, the next day the lieutenant would empty the kite box and find a dozen kites telling him who and why. That made his job rather easy and allowed for maximum control without a lot of effort. The lieutenant could not have conceived of a set of circumstances where this would be taken from him.

Tex and Tom, on the other hand, quickly came to the conclusion that this was exactly what needed to be taken from the lieutenant in order to even the score for his decree ending morning gym. The only question was how to accomplish this feat. At first, that seemed like a formidable task.

Tom had been to several prisons previous to his arrival at WSP. He'd seen a lot of changes and he'd also identified a lot of chinks in the armor of the prison administrations. One such chink was when he was at a facility that had installed a bunch of cameras. At first everyone was afraid to do anything against the rules for fear of being immediately caught. But it was prison and in prison people eventually end up fighting regardless of the consequences. The surprising part was that the cops didn't catch any more fights with the cameras than they had been previously.

It was at that point it became apparent that they could have a million cameras but if there were only a few people watching them, odds of being seen had not greatly increased. Too much information can be just as burdensome as not enough.

Applied to the lieutenant, this knowledge manifested itself in the form of a paper party. Where previously Tom and Tex had been spending their mornings in the gym exercising, they now went to the library instead. Every morning they could be found at the back table laughing and writing. Any time someone approached, they would quickly cover whatever it was they were working on and wait until they were isolated before continuing. Nobody really paid them any mind though.

What they didn't know was that these guys were filling out kite after kite. On any given morning they would each complete fifty or sixty at least. "Bob and Charley got in a fight in the bathroom at the school." "Bill and Eddie were having sex in Eddie's cell after lunch." "Rob is planning an escape." "Scott is having sex with his counselor." "Al is stealing from the kitchen." These kites were a wealth of useless information. Had they been true, this would have been any prison admin1strator's dream come true. To know of every crime being committed in the facility would have made the lieutenant a very happy man. In fact, it did. The first day anyway.

Lieutenant Hooper had taken a couple extra days off so it wasn't until Wednesday that he showed up to empty the kite box. By then Tom and Tex had been at it for four days. Hooper broke into a broad grin when he saw how many kites he had. Today would be fun. He scooped them into his satchel and headed into his office still smiling. When he sat down and reached in the bag for the first kite, Hooper began to whistle a little tune.

After reading several kites, Hooper began to wonder what his staff had been doing while he was gone. The place was falling apart. But he'd get things back in order in no time. He quickly decided that instead of reading through all the kites first, he'd just resolve each issue then move on to the next. When there had been a fight, standard procedure was to order the participants to remain locked in their cells until such time as Hooper could investigate.

This meant, of course, that they would have their meals delivered to them and eventually they would need to be let out to shower as well. But ordering a "red tag" was how the process all began. It bought a little time to decide what to do with them. That was how Hooper began.

First Hooper called Sergeant Smith and read him the six names of people who had been in fights. Of the first seven kites he read, three were for fights, one was to report a guy for making wine, two were for homosexual activity, and the last one was from Kauffman. That was the one that had Hooper scratching his head, wondering what to do.

To the prisoners, Kauffman was known as Mo. This was short for Chi-Mo, which is prison slang for child molester. Mo had been having sex with his young daughter from the time she was seven until his wife finally caught on five years later. He was sent to prison with fifty years to serve and immediately established himself as a spineless yes man. A yes man who loved guards. Of course this didn't set well with other prisoners but at first the guards seemed to like Mo just fine. Eventually, however, they read up on his crime and came to share the same opinion as the prisoners. But they were required to tolerate him nonetheless. Regardless of his personal feelings about the guy, Hooper didn't quite know how to cope with this kite.

It began: "I haven't slept in eight days. Every time I close my eyes, I hear the voices of the children I molested screaming at me just like they did when l was violating them. I can't sleep and I just want to kill myself to make it stop." It went on, but Hooper had seen enough. It was hard enough to act unbiased as it was, he really didn't need to read something like this. Kauffman was a sick man. But if he did actually kill himself, it might very well be doing the world a favor but it would also be a lot of work and a negative reflection on Hooper as a manager. Something had to be done. And since this guy was apparently borderline psychotic, Hooper figured he'd best oversee this personally.

First Hooper called the infirmary. The psych doctor only came in twice a week and this wasn't one of his days, so he talked to the head nurse. He told her to arrange a strip cell, one without anything but a mattress so Mo would not have any way to hurt himself. Then Hooper called Sergeant Smith and instructed him to have some officers go find Kauffman and move him to the infirmary. Once the wheels were in motion, Hooper was only left with the task of filling out the transfer order for Mo to be kept under observation in the infirmary until such time as Dr. Griffin decided what to do with him.


The moment Mo and his escorts arrived at the infirmary, he overheard the exchange between one of the guards and the head nurse. Mo began whining loud and hard. The more the guards and nurse tried to coax Mo into the strip cell, the louder and more boisterous he became. He soon began to resemble a child throwing a temper tantrum, tears and all. Finally one of the guards pulled up on Mo's cuffed wrists, bending him forward at the waist, then thrust him forward into the cell. Before Mo could turn around the door was slammed shut. "When you calm down, we'll take the cuffs off," one of them said. By then Mo was belling like a baby, pressing his nose to the glass pane in the cell door.


Hooper spent the next four hours splitting his time between reading kites and calling Sergeant Smith with further instructions. By the time he'd illustrated reading all his mail, there were seventy-two people on red tag and one more troubling kite to deal with. It was another issue for Dr. Griffin no doubt. Actually it wasn't a kite. It was an observation report that had somehow ended up in the kite box. Hooper couldn't make out the signature, but these forms weren't even available to prisoners, so it had to be one of his staff. Obtaining that form had been the most proud moment of Tom‘s week.

The report read:

While conducting s walk through of cellblock Bl, I observed inmate Best on his knees in front of the toilet in cell upper 10. Inmate Best appeared to be lapping water out of the toilet like a dog. I tapped on the door with my flashlight and inmate Rest looked up at me and began pounding his chest with his fists end howling like a wild dog. At that time I observed what appeared to be urine in his toilet.

Hooper had no idea what to even think about this one. Best had done some weird things over the years but nothing like this. Perhaps he was finally losing it. In any case, he couldn't allow someone like that to continue wandering the yard. Hooper called the infirmary once again to see if they could spare another isolation cell...


Lunch that day was quite an ordeal. With over twenty percent of the unit on red tag, the kitchen ran out of Styrofoam trays end had to order more before they could make up enough trays to feed everyone. When they finally prepared them all, Hooper had to request extra officers from another unit to distribute them. And, of course, with each tray they delivered, they had to near a sad story from someone who literally had no idea why they were on lockdown. The lunch meal normally took about forty-five minutes to complete. That was stretched into three hours.

By the time Hooper' shift was over, he was wondering if he shouldn't just use a few more sick days and let this sort itself out. But he'd never hear the end of it if he did that. The suits would hear about the turmoil and think he'd lost control of his unit. Hooper couldn't have that. He walked out that afternoon dreading the rest of the week.


The next morning yielded another plethora of information from the kite box. Nearly everyone who wasn't on lockdown already was accused of some sort of misbehavior or another. In addition to that, there were no less than fifty kites revealing the identity of the perpetrators of the kite hoax. That would have been welcome information but for the fact that no two of them reported the same person as the mastermind behind it all. Hooper was so disgusted he swept them off his desk onto the floor and leaned back in his chair to contemplate his next move.

The problem was now stretching beyond his unit. This meant that the administrators above him were now taking notice, which only put more pressure on Hooper to find a swift resolution. The more prisoners he put on lockdown, the more staff it took to run the unit. He was having to request extra help around the clock, and this made him look very bad.

Hooper finally decided to consult with his unit administrative staff. Right after a three-hour lunch ordeal, the sergeants, counselors, and Hooper got together in the break room. He quickly laid out the problem and asked for suggestions. Initially everyone was at somewhat of a loss for words. Sure, there were a few smart comments about how the inmates were running the asylum, but nothing productive.

Finally Sergeant Smith spoke up. He suggested that they let everyone off lockdown and open the gym. His theory was that if they posted a couple officers in the gym, they could easily keep an eye on everyone and see if there really was any trouble at all.

Nobody suggested anything even remotely productive after that. Sergeant Knox, a notorious hardass, wanted to keep the place on lockdown until someone admitted to causing the problem. There wasn't a soul in the room that thought that was a credible solution, including Knox. For lack of a better idea, Sergeant Smith's plan was what they went with. The next morning everyone would come off lockdown and they'd see if anything jumped off.


The next morning at breakfast Tom and Tex were surprised to see the chowhall full. The administration was clearly up to something and they spent the meal speculating on just what the might be. In fact, the chowhall was full of conversation about how the day would unfold.

An hour after breakfast it was time for the first movement. The work supervisors were pleased to see their workforce returning en masse. Tom and Tex headed for their usual rendezvous in the library only to discover that the gym was open. Not only was it open, but it remained open all day, and the next day, and the rest of the week.


Hooper never did get to the bottom of the kite terrorism. But Sergeant Smith's idea of keeping the gym open so they could keep an eye on everyone seemed to be working, so Hooper made that a permanent thing. He had no explanation why, but the kites stopped from that point on.

Hooper was still skeptical about his kite box. When informant kites began trickling in again, he was reluctant to act upon any of them. At first he just threw them away without reading them. Eventually he started looking into some of them and learned that at least some were real. His informant network had not disappeared, but with his confidence shaken, it was severely crippled for many months.

Tom and Tex, on the other hand, were quite satisfied with the state of affairs. The gym was now open every day and they spent their time engaging in meaningful activities instead of sitting in the library filling out kites. The kite program remained a constant source of humor to them, but it had served its purpose. Not very often a guy could commit such a large-scale act of insurrection and actually get away with. They were satisfied just to have their original problem fixed and left it at that.

Everyone was happy. At least everyone except Mo Kauffman. It seems that after the shrink interrogated him about hearing the voices of his victims screaming at him every time he closed his eyes, Mo hadn‘t had a decent night's sleep. He hadn‘t really thought about his victims since his trial. Until now. He sure wished he could get his hands on the asshole that did this to him. Or so he said anyway…

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

Incarcerated since 1980, Tim has actively pursued educational opportunities. His first book, Life in Prison; Digging in and Getting Stated, was published in 2003. Tim writes in a variety of areas including fiction, op-ed, self help, non-fiction prison commentary. Currently he is actively involved in sentencing reform and the fight against the prisonization of America. He is always seeking intelligent dialogue that will expand his consciousness beyond the prison walls.

No comments: