Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Cold Hell

By Samuel Hawkins

I was shoved into a cell, with no mattress, no bed, no clothes. The guards told me not to turn around, and I didn't. I heard the cell door close behind me. The handcuffs were my only attire. I expected that the guards would open the slot in the door and order me to back up to the "cuff port" so that they could remove my handcuffs. I was wrong. When I looked over my shoulder they were gone.

Moments before I had had an entourage of guards surrounding me, jerking my body in whatever direction they wanted me to go. Now resistance was no longer an issue. I had fought my fight. It was not as bad as I had expected. If the tables were turned, I would have smashed all of them. Fortunately for me, they were torn between their professional duty and personal hostility towards me and every prisoner just like me.

I walked over to the cell door and looked out of the window. I saw the guards exiting the pod. Some were part of the cell extraction team and still wore the black uniforms of the "Goon Squad." I wasn't impressed. They were just routine shift officers dressed up with knee and elbow pads, and helmets on their heads, looking like Storm Troopers from Star Wars. Fuck them.

I heard my name being called and I answered. When I did, there was an echo in the cell. With cement walls and floor, and a steel sink and door, there was nothing to absorb my voice as it traveled around the cell. Whoever had called me had already answered back, but I couldn't hear his reply. It was awkward trying to communicate like this. I had to tell him to wait five seconds before answering me so that the echo would die down and I could hear what he said. After five seconds, I heard someone say "ok." I listened through the side of the door, and caught bits and pieces of what he was saying: "It's me, Big ... from Hill ... what did ... ." I gathered that it was a partner of mine, Big Hank from Hilltop Crip, and he wanted to know what had happened. I told him to hold on for a minute. I needed to take care of something.

I had to do something about these handcuffs. My arms were hurting. I sat down on the floor and pulled the cuffs under my legs, then, one at a time, I squeezed each leg through until my hands were in front of me. This felt much better. Now I could lie down on the floor on my side and talk underneath the door. This way Hank and I could hear one another better. There was still an echo, but this was easier to deal with than before. I began telling Hank what had happened, and how I had set my previous cell on fire. This got a response from him and elicited comments from others as well -- mostly laughter mixed with declarations like "That nigga's crazy." I asked Hank who else was in the pod, and he told me that Whitey from Long Beach Insane Crips was upstairs, and Lemonade was a couple of cells down from me. The was also an Uso (Samoan) that I knew named Sam Cat. There were some other names that I recognized, but I didn't know those guys that well. I told Hank that I'd talk to him later. It was getting cold lying naked on the floor with the vent blowing, and I had to get moving.

As I began to walk back and forth to try and stay warm, I thought about how I had ended up here in this "strip cell" again. I didn't want to show any weakness by asking when the guards were going to remove my handcuffs, so I would ignore them when they would come by to check on me. When chow came, they didn't bother to stop at my cell to give me a tray. They just walked by and ignored me.

With nothing to eat, I decided to inspect the cell. I checked the toilet to see if there was any water in it. There wasn't, and I wasn't surprised. When someone is placed on strip cell status it is standard for the water to only be turned on for five minutes each hour and to only provide five squares of toilet paper every two hours. After seeing that the sink didn't work either, I moved on.

I still smelled of smoke, and my skin had a yellow tint from the fire extinguisher. When I recalled the ridiculous voice of the unit counselor as he called out to me while the flames were raging in my cell, I laughed. After I had started the fire, he was on the tier, standing outside of the cell, unable to see inside, as flames and smoke shot out the side of the door. Of all the stupid things to say at that moment, he asked, "Hawkins, what are you doing in there?" I didn't bother to respond even with a "fuck you," for I was shocked by the ferocity of the blaze I had ignited.

The cold air from the vent began to chill the cell, and the cement walls absorbed the cold from outside. I rubbed my arms to keep from shivering. I knew from previous encounters in strip cells that the warmest place is on the floor directly in front of the door where warm air can blow in from underneath. The air outside the cell isn't that much warmer than inside, but it’s the best thing going. Knowing this, I lay down in front of the door and rubbed my body some more.

I heard the door to the pod open and got up to look out the window to my cell door. The sergeant and to guards walked in and went out of view, but a moment later they were at my door ordering me to step the back of the cell. I did, and they opened the cuff-port and told me to approach so that my handcuffs could be removed. After the cuffs were removed, they again ordered me to the back of the cell, and before I made it there they slammed the cuff-port shut. I paced back and forth for a few minutes, relieved that the cuffs were gone. It was getting colder as it started to get dark outside, and I began to run in place to keep the blood circulating through my body. A few minutes later, I changed to jumping jacks. Five minutes later, I switched to burpees. In the midst of this, a face briefly looked in the door. I ignored it. It had to be a pig, and he definitely wasn't stopping to give me anything. There would be no cloths or bedding coming from them anytime soon. Fuck ‘em.

I heard the pod door close again, and then Big Hank called me. I went to the door and answered. He asked, "How you doin’ down there?" I replied, "I'm cool, Homie." His response was once again drowned out by the echo. I reminded him to wait a couple of seconds when I got done talking before he answered. Four seconds later he said, "My bad," then wanted to know who was on the other end of segregation where I came from. I told him my crime partner (co-defendant) Chucco was down there, Lil Spook from Hilltop, a couple of other non-affiliates, and some white boys we knew from general population. Big Hank then told me he was about to play some chess, and that he'd get at me later. He also said that he'd try to send me a sheet when the Tier Porter came out to clean the unit.

I lay on the floor by the door again for a little while and listened to the conversations on the tier. When Hank started playing chess, the tier quieted down some. I could hear him calling numbers out: 12 to 26, 52 to 36, 2 to 19, and so on. I had played these games countless times in segregation. It was a common way to pass time, making a chess board out of paper or whatever else was available and calling out each move. Today I could only listen, because there wasn't shit in my cell to make anything out of. Somehow while listening my mind had escaped the cold, but before the game ended the cold had sunk in again. I got up off of the floor and began walking once more, cursing the guards and their ally--the cold.

I couldn't see the clock from this cell, but I knew that the porter had to be coming out soon. I sure hoped he could get me a sheet. The cold would get much worse as the hours passed into late evening and early morning. I started my little exercise routine to warm myself up again. As I ran in place my bare feet began to get sore as they pounded on the cold cement floor. I stood still and rubbed my body. I recalled my football coach telling me that the warmest place on the body was under the armpits, so I tucked my hands there. I would warm them up for a minute, then attempt to transfer that heat to other body parts by rubbing them. It didn't work. I needed that damn sheet.

I heard the pod door open, and I looked out. The guard had just thrown some bags and a mop head into the pod, and I knew this meant that the porter would be coming out soon. I heard his cell open a moment later and stood at the door looking to see who it was. A white dude. I didn't recognize him. It didn't matter. He knew the program. He'd get me the sheet if he could. He began to push the dust mop around the floor, and we eyed each other--me looking through the door, him through the reflection in the windows of the dayroom. He walked around and came down by my cell, and I asked him to grab the sheet from Hank. He nodded and told me to be ready when he came by. There was no question that I would be.

Samuel Hawkins is 40 years old and has been incarcerated since age 19. 
State raised, he will, at age 45, finally be freed.

Samuel Hawkins #706212
Stafford Creek Corrections Center
Unit GA-21U
191 Constantine Way
Aberdeen, WA 98520

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