By Timothy Pauley
Mike pressed his nose to the thick Plexiglas window, watching intently as Eddie flashed a series of hand signs. Sign language was the only way to communicate in a control unit. There was no contact between prisoners that lived next door to one another, let alone friends in another "pod."
Prisoners had found a way around this. Nearly anyone who'd been to the control unit (IMU) more than once had learned some sign language. At the very least, the sign alphabet was required knowledge.
Mike had been to IMU several times. He could sign so rapidly he nearly always had to force himself to slow down or those less skilled at this language would be lost almost instantly. Eddie was one of those, so Mike had to stop and repeat lines several times. Add to that the fact that whenever a cop was looking, they had to pretend like they weren't doing this or risk having their recreation cut short. For nearly forty minutes their communication about two short paragraphs played out. But the message was sent.
Mike repeated this routine every time he had recreation at the same time as one of his bros. It was a slow process, but it had to be done. Their hearings were next week. Mike had come up with a brilliant strategy but everyone needed to play along for it to get the desired effect.
These hearings were a farce. The prison administration had made a habit of conducting security sweeps where they would round up an entire group and put them in segregation "for investigation." All investigation really meant is that the administration thought some or all of them might have gotten away with something. Conducting an "investigation" allowed them to punish the entire group without having to define what exactly they had done wrong and, more importantly, actually provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate this. It also sent a message to the other groups about who was in charge.
Mike and Eddie's group were the most recent victims of the dreaded sweep. In all twelve of them had been rounded up. They'd all been to their first administrative hearing where they were informed they were being held in segregation for safety and security reasons.
Since these hearings were supposed to be their due process, several of them appealed the decision to keep them in segregation to the superintendent. He had promptly delegated the task of answering said appeals to the very investigator, Rivera, who'd ordered the sweep in the first place. Of course he agreed with his original decision. They got the appeals back the next day. At the bottom the decision read, "I concur" and was signed by Rivera "for the superintendent."
On the day of their next hearings, the unit administrators assembled in the hearings room. The Unit Manager was a surly character named Mease. He'd worked his way up through the ranks and developed a sincere contempt for prisoners along the way. These hearings were enjoyable for him because it gave him a chance to taunt some of the worst ones.
Mease was seated toward the middle of a long table. On either side he was flanked by the two unit counselors and the unit sergeant was seated at the far end of the table. Directly opposite this table was "the throne." That is where the prisoner sat.
The throne was a 12x12 steel stool that rose about eighteen inches from the ground. It was bolted securely to the floor and had steel rings welded to the base. Prisoners were escorted in by two guards. They were handcuffed to a chain around their waists and their feet were shackled. They were ordered to sit down on the throne and one of the escorting guards would chain their shackled feet and their belly chain to the steel rings on the stool. From this position it was difficult to even take a deep breath, let alone move more than a few inches.
Of the dozen guys involved, eight of them were in Mike's pod. So while everyone was going to stick to the plan, in Mike's pod it was becoming a contest of sorts. In the days leading up to the hearing, they'd devised a color scale to determine the various levels of agitation they hoped to elicit.
Mease was a light-complected man. He was also massively obese, which helped contribute to his pasty whiteness. But when he became angry, he was known to turn various shades of pink or red. The color scale was for the purpose of defining these various shades to gauge Mease's level of anger.
The first level was "fingernail pink." Next was "lips." After that was "sunburn." The final category was called "aneurysm" which was actually more of a blood red. The name aneurysm was more directed at the goal of the competition.
With the difficulty of communication between pods, Mike and the boys had no way of knowing what happened at the first hearings. They could look out the windows in their cell doors and see the other four being escorted through the central rotunda to their hearings, but could only guess how those went. All four were laughing when they returned, which was a good sign. They'd warmed up the crowd.
Big Al was the first to go from Mike's pod. Five minutes later the guards were escorting him back. Big Al was laughing as he shouted, "That fat bastard was already fingernails when I walked in. But when I left he was clearly lips. Good luck brothers!" This elicited a hearty round of shouts and pounding on the heavy steel cell doors. The contest was on!
One by one they were taken to their hearings. As each man returned a similar scene unfolded. After the third guy everyone was reporting sunburn. After that the process seemed to be moving faster, which could only mean they were expecting trouble so they were cutting the hearings short. Apparently Mease wasn't enjoying them like he usually did.
Mike was the last one to be called. He lived at the end of the top tier so he knew from the start he would either be first or last. He preferred last and was hoping to stage the grand finale.
From the moment Mike entered the hearings room he could see Mease was upset. He was already a shade somewhere between lips and sunburn. His normal shade could best be described as tapioca pudding, so Mike knew he’d been primed. As the guards chained him to the stool, Mike tried not to laugh as he noticed Mease's beady little eyes glaring at him from above the thick folds of blubber that were his cheeks. He was pissed.
The hearing began normally enough. First, Mease read the official reason for the hearing. This was included the determination that Mike had been deemed a threat to safety and security and it was being recommended he remain in segregation for the duration of the investigation.
Once he finished the narrative, Mease cringed a little as he asked the big question. "Is there anything you'd like to say Mr. Carlson?" Mike tensed every muscle in his face trying to keep a blank expression. He cleared his throat and fixed his gaze directly on Mease's eyes, took a deep breath, and began.
Mike belted out in his best opera tenor. As he sang, Mike's face assumed a huge grin and the cords of muscle in his thick neck rippled as he swayed his head from side to side, spraying his booming voice to all corners of the room.
The instant the first note escaped from Mike's lips Mease jumped to his feet. He started shouting "Get him out of here! Get this asshole out of here this instant!" All the while he was thrusting his extended finger in the general direction of the door, with the rolls of fat under his chin jiggling like a bowl of gelatin. Apparently he'd heard this song before. As the escorting officer knelt and fumbled with his keys, trying to unfasten Mike from the stool, Mike drew out each note for maximum effect, as if he were on stage performing a Broadway musical. By the time he got to the "r" in concur, Mease was trembling and had clearly ventured into the aneurysm zone.
Before the escorts could get Mike up from the stool, Mease was pounding on the table telling Mike how he was going to regret this. That made it even funnier because everyone knew that Mease was going to do them all as dirty as he possibly could so there was no threat left to use at that point. They had nothing to lose and they knew it. Mike could still hear Mease hollering even after the door had closed and he was hastily being urged down the hallway back to his pod.
Everyone in the pod was peering out his window as Mike was marched back to his cell. The moment the sliding door to enter the pod slid open, Mike hollered, "We've got aneurysm!" This announcement was met with raucous roars of laughter coupled with loud pounding as everyone reacted. Mease had screwed every one of them over at some point and the consensus was let it be a real aneurysm.
Six weeks later Mease's threats proved to just as hollow as expected. Mike's entire crew was abruptly released back into general population without so much as a hint of why they'd been there in the first place. But of course it wasn't up to Mease. No matter how badly he might have wanted to keep them, when the administration needed segregation beds, somebody had to go. In this case it turned out to be a troupe of performers who would break out in song every time they saw one another for the next two months.
Timothy Pauley #273053 A316
Washington State Reformatory Unit
PO Box 777
Monroe, WA. 98272-0777