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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Arena

By Blaine Milam

It's all a haze to me, like a dream-fog.  I'm being escorted in a blue paper gown that does little to cover my body. My hands, of course, are cuffed tightly behind my back. Two guards are holding fast to both arms as we move down a long hallway, glass windows showing a garden on one side and a field with razor wire and guard tower on the other.

As we near the end of the hallway, I see a wide, low counter/control center teeming with guards and nurses. I'm walked up to the counter; where an angry looking guard draws my attention: "Inmate, state your name and number." To which I reply: "Blaine Keith Milam, 999558." He then calls another guard, telling him to bring the leg-irons. 

"Got a Death Row’n here. Put those leg-irons on ’im, leave ’im cuffed behind his back, and put him in that holding tank," he says, pointing to a large tank with big glass viewing ports. 

"l need to use the bathroom," I say. 

"No one’s stopping you,” is the reply. 

"Uh, I'm shackled up?" 

"And?" he shot back. 

That absurd "And?" sums up my experiences of Jester IV in one neat, exceptional, frigid syllable.

I find myself holding my piss.  The shackles cinched so tight the blood won't flow. After 20-minutes, an Indian nurse wheels in a cart, takes vitals, etc. She is meaner than a damn rattle snake! Just going through the motions, I suppose. She tells me: "You will be placed in a cell, with nothing but a suicide blanket - and nothing else - for three-days. Your food will come in the form of johnnies.” Then she leaves.

Forty-minutes of waiting, and finally the lock turns in the heavy door.  Two guards walk in and grab my arms and we walk out. One has a bit of rolled up toilet paper on his hand, the other snatches a small, stiff "suicide blanket" off a pile by the control center as we walk past, heading down another hallway. This hallway has cells on either side, the faces staring out of the glass portholes are somber, sad, pleading for help. I start asking questions that aren’t getting answered. As we get to my cage, the guards each let go of my arms, reach up, and rip the paper gown from my body. They shove me through the door into the cage, and slam the door with an echoing boom

"Back up, slide your hands through the slot.” 

I do. 

They remove my shackles and I instantly go to the toilet. When I am done, I take in my surroundings, and am completely horrified at what I find. Forget the fact that this cage I am locked in, naked as a jaybird, is filthy and freezing cold. All that I expected. What shocks me is the sight I see when I look across to the opposing cages on the other side of the hallway: a sad face here, a vacant stare there, and a guy smearing feces all over the viewport in his door. It is on his face, and the only thing the guards say is, "Be sure to leave a little opening, so we can see you".

I know, just from the short time already spent in this cell, what I would have to do if I want to keep my sanity. I am going to tell these people exactly what they want to hear, so I can leave as quickly as possible. Because any more than a week in this hellhole would be more than enough to make anyone go crazy… if they weren't already.

Depression is a serious illness that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in everyday life. I had battled it throughout 2016, not knowing just how serious an illness it is. The cold truth is that TDCJ punishes those of us who have it, rather than try and see what the issue is and get us help. 

This is my story; all accounts are 100% true.

*****

I arrived on Texas Death Row almost seven-years ago and what a learning experience it has been. I spent six of those seven-years trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I am by nature an outgoing, upbeat person, but even that could not help me in the end. Starting in early-2016, I was beginning to slip into a depression that I thought I had battled and defeated by summer. I could not have been more wrong. By November, the depression returned with a diehard vengeance.

I had just had special visits with a special someone, a lady whom I will call "Ma" because she is like a mother to me. I was thankful for our visits, of course. But sometimes other things make us lose sight of the more important things in life, and by November 10th, two-days after those visits, l started to shutdown mentally. It is hard to find the words to describe the sense of loss and darkness that settled upon me. Perhaps there are no words for such an internal state. I gradually lost all motivation to talk to my friends, listen to music, or even eat. I stopped all communications with those who are close to me, such as Ma and Coolbreeze. They knew something was amiss because I was not writing like my normal self, and they began to worry by mid-December when they had not heard from me. It doesn’t really matter what specific details sent me into my tailspin, only that I quickly began to view myself as some sort of opponent. What is important for you to understand, indeed the reason I have felt so compelled to write this when I have never written anything in a public forum about my time here, is the way the State of Texas views mental illness within its prisons.

On December 26th, 2016, the day after Christmas, Death Row went on its routine quarterly lockdown. Normally, the thought of having a bunch of people pawing through all of my worldly belongings would upset me, but I found myself too far down the spiral to even give a damn this time around. I thought hard about "trying to get help" by putting in a "sick call" for the mental health dept.; to see about getting on meds. I knew something was not right. But I also knew they would charge me a hundred dollars I did not have (for a medical copayment fee), just to send me back to my cage, after being told I was "just fine”. I felt that my only way back to happiness was to find an "out.” I thought about it for two days, and tears welled-up in my eyes as I made my choice.

So, on December 28th, I took a lot of pills. I overdosed on a medication that is used for a few different things, and it took effect so quickly that I cannot remember much, except for the feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time. Right before I fell unconscious, I remember staring at a Snickers bar on the floor, thinking how much I wanted to eat that before I went. 

That was the last thing I remember before waking up from a coma in a lot of pain three days later in UTMB Galveston Hospital. My hands were tied to the bed with nylon straps that cut deep into my wrists. It felt as though I had been hit by a truck! I had tubes and wires running all over me, and my initial thought was: It was all a dream, I was never on Death Row. I remembered absolutely nothing of my time on Death Row. 

The day before I was arrested for the crime that eventually sent me to Death Row, I was involved in a serious car accident that included a head injury. When I woke up that day in Galveston, I was convinced that the accident had just occurred, and I became immensely upset that I could not find Amora, my little girl, who was in the car with me at the time of the accident, along with my ex-fiancé. So, in my mind, it was December 1st, 2008, and she, Amora, was still alive. A flood of relief came over me, and tears welled up in my eyes. It is still 2008, I thought, as darkness took me back.

The second time I awoke, I had a little more energy and my mind was racing with thoughts of the past. My eyes were burning with tears but, somehow, I collapsed back into sleep.

The next time I woke up, I could talk. My tongue was raw, and my throat and nose hurt, and there were two people staring down at me. One started asking me questions, the other taking notes.

“Who are you, sir? What’s your name?”

“Blaine,” I told them.

“What year is it, Blaine?”

“2008.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital? Where’s Amora?”

“Who?”

“Amora! Go get her,” I begged.

Then I slipped back into sleep. I could not stay awake for longer than a couple minutes, if that. And, worse still, I could not control myself from twitching like crazy, jerking around, going through muscle spasms. It was bad.

Waking up for the fourth time, I still had no memory of ever being on Death Row. Once again there were two people in my room, looking at me. They asked me if I had tried to commit suicide. By the confused look I was giving them, they felt the need to explain to me what happened, so they told me I was found unresponsive in my cell at Polunsky Unit/Death Row. That was all it took; all my memories flooded back to me, all these mixed emotions. I was devastated! 

They asked me again, “Did you try to commit suicide?” 

I nodded my head yes, and they asked me, “Why?”

To that I replied: “Depression maybe? Ya’ll are the doctors!”

I was mad at them for bringing me back to reality, mad at myself for not ever doing anything right! All I wanted to do was end all the pain and misery. I couldn’t help but look around the room for anything I could use to finish the job. But as luck would have it the two people I’d just talked to had ordered the room cleared of all harmful objects, and so it was.

A nurse came to my bedside and pointed to my nylon wrist straps and said: “If I take those off, are you going to be cool? Because they are there for your own protection. You ripped out two IV’s and a catheter.” I had no knowledge of this. I told him: "Yes, I will be cool,” and I apologized for any trouble I may have caused them. When he removed the straps, relief was instant. Blood began seeping from where the straps had cut, but my wrists and parts of both hands were numb. After removing them, he left the room, the guard locked the door, and I fell back to sleep.

Waking up the next time, I felt a bit better. A nice nurse came in and asked me to try swallowing some ice chips. If I would, then I could have a meal. I did. Then a doctor came to see me, and he was not nice by a long-shot. He was demanding that I tell him where I got the pills, and told me I was lucky to be found when I was. He told me how the pills I took work; he explained how my system shut down, and how I needed rest to combat the drug. They kept flushing my system the best they could.

For the most part, they were pretty nice to me while I was there in UTMB Galveston. That weekend I got to watch tv, something I had not seen in years! I actually felt comfortable for once. The free-world people talked to me like I was a human being - and treated me like one. I was starting to feel like there was something to live for - look forward to even. It was the day after New Year's, which was a Monday. A nurse came in to remove my catheter and clean me up a little before being moved out of the ICU to a regular room. That was my fifth-day there.

When they came to move me to the sixth-floor, they shackled me hand-to-foot, sat me in a wheelchair, and rolled me out. Turning the corner from the ICU, I noticed there were bars everywhere, and beyond the bars a picket/control center. They opened the gate. We rolled on through to a bank of elevators and I saw “TDCJ INSTITUTIONAL DIVISION” painted on walls. I shook my head as we entered the elevator. ICU was on the third-floor. We exited on the sixth-floor and I was taken to a room on the far side of the floor. They lay me on the bed, removed my shackles, and left me alone in this very large room. I looked around and saw a window, a bathroom, and a tv hanging from a wall-mount. I swung my legs out to the side of the bed, and stood on shaky legs to make my way over to the window. I was blown away by the breath-taking view I had. The harbor; ships of all kinds sailing in and out. And the craziest thing of all was the overwhelming feeling of familiarity with what I was looking at. I found out later that night, from a guard, that there used to be a battleship right outside that window. This happened to be the USS Texas; a ship that I’d boarded as a little kid when the family had vacationed here back in the early-90’s. It’s what had gotten me so into battleships. The ship, I am told, is now in Houston but, when I was a kid, it sat right outside the window I was staring out of as a Death Row inmate.

I thought it would be best to give life one more chance. I do not believe in coincidences - how else would you explain ending up in the same spot I was at 22-years before, when life was so much simpler than it was now?

The next few days I would wake up wondering if my friends were okay, if they were mad at me, maybe judgmental of what I had tried to do, or if they even knew! I had no way of knowing. We don’t get to make phone-calls, or receive mail there at Galveston. I was feeling better by my last night there; still a little weak, but definitely better than before.

Bright and early Wednesday morning, January 4th, they woke me up to get dressed in prison garb and get my IV's taken out. They did some last minute vital checks, then I was shackled-up, feet-to-hands again. I asked the guards: "Where are we going?" One replied, “Back to your unit.” Okay, I thought, that’s good. I did not want to go to Jester IV. From all the horror stories I have heard about that place, I'd fare better at my own unit.

I was escorted to the elevator bank, and down we rode to the ground-floor. We exited into a caged-in area, and walked a short-way to a garage, where a transport van sat idling. I was ushered into the cage and a guard slammed the door, latched the cage with a padlock, and shut the van door.

The three guards went to a red gun-locker mounted on the wall behind the van, where they acquired a shotgun, three pistols, and a mean-looking AR15. We were cleared to leave the garage, and as we pulled out I saw a fat guard walking around with a shotgun. We hit the road. I was on "sensory-overload" with all the sight-seeing! I had not been on a ride in so long,  so this ended up being the best part of the day! All the cars, buildings, signs, the ocean! It was a sense of feeling human again! It was great.

I did not realize I had been fooled until we had been on the road for about two-and-a-half-hours. The guard nearest the back cage, where I was, picked up a cell phone, punched in some numbers, and said: “Get your ranking officers prepared for an intake. Death Row. Blaine Keith Milam. 999558. We are 15-minutes out.” I saw a road sign that said Richmond, TX, and thought: That's not where Polunsky Unit is!

Then we were at the front gate of the Jester IV Unit, and my gut was sinking! I found myself saying: Ah, those were just rumors, Blaine. This place could not be near as bad as they say? Silly me! I was in for one rude awakening. We pulled into the sally port, got the van checked, and moved onto the intake building, which was red and tan and squat. The ranking officer working that day opened the rear doors, unlocked the padlock to the cage, helped me step down, and walked me to the intake door. I was stripped naked, medical bracelets cut off, and handed a blue paper gown by two African guards, who I could not understand due to their accents. They started getting upset at me because I was not complying with what they wanted. I wanted to comply to their orders, but I just could not understand them! The ranking officer had to instruct me. I found out that 98% of the staff there at Jester IV were African natives, which is cool, it was just very hard to understand them! When dealing with the mentally ill, you would think that the first step would be communication, right? Not there, clearly. The rank told them to take me to Psych-Housing, so each grabbed an arm, and we left the intake.

About an hour after being put into my cage, I heard the squeaking of a food-cart
rolling down the hallway. My belly was rumbling, as I had not been allowed to eat breakfast before leaving Galveston Hospital. Despite being in a filthy place, I was still a little hungry. When they got to my slot, I waited for them to put my johnny sack down so I could grab it. 

A guard shouted, “Put your hands out here if you want to eat.” 

I said, “I am eating. Give me my sack!” 

Then the guard said, in broken English, "Since you are new, let me explain to you. You get no paper here. I open food, dump it in your cupped hands, you go eat it!" 

I was horrified, so I did not eat that meal. I looked across to the guy with the feces all over him and his cage, and watched them feed him in that state. I was sickened.

See, a johnny, in normal prisons, is usually two sandwiches, and raisins or prunes, in a brown paper sack. The sandwiches and raisins come in white paper baggies. When I asked why I had to eat from my hands, I was told that: "The paper could be harmful:" which, I might add, is a crock of shit! Anything might be “harmful,” like, eating from your hands in a filthy environment, with no soap. Especially for the feces guy across the hall. Or, how about freezing to death in a cell. 

What is "harmful” is the least of their concerns. It’s mainly about how far one can be belittled, defiled, humiliated, until there is nothing left but little bits and pieces of a one’s sanity.

By this point, the overwhelming stench of feces and urine started making me sick. Although my belly was growling, I was glad I refused to eat because it probably would have been a moot point if I’d have thrown it back up.

Sometime after noon, a lady appeared in the window of my door. I was walking around, naked and cold. I had tried wrapping the sorry excuse for a blanket around me, but to no avail. The lady was a "Psychiatrist.” A sorry excuse for a “Psychiatrist” I might add. She made her beloved title known a few times throughout our "talk" session, which lasted all of two-minutes. Just going through the motions, like a robot that could really care less if you live or die. When I asked her if I could have some clothes and a mat, the amusement on her face was all too clear: "No, you cannot.  It’ll be three-days from now, if you are not suicidal.” And, in my mind, all I could think was: Who wouldn’t be, after a couple of days in this camp? 

I told her I was fine. “Ship me back to my unit.”

“I’m sorry, you will have to stay here for five days due to the weekend.” 

Apparently, all evaluations stop during the weekend. They only give a shit about you five days a week.

She told me she would be back in the morning to see me: Yay, I thought. 

As she walked away, I kicked myself for not thinking to ask her about the guy with feces all over him and his cell; to ask about helping him get cleaned up and, hopefully, restoring the smell around there. I really do not think it would have done any good. She no doubt saw the poor guy, and smelled the stench.

Finally, at about 4:00pm that afternoon, they came and pulled feces guy out. Other inmates cleaned his cell, while guards took him to the showers. I watched as the inmates just swished dirty, nasty mop-water all over his cell, and then ran a scrub-brush along the door. It was better than nothing, I suppose.

Chow came at shift-change and, yes, I ate it. I was too damn hungry to turn it
away this time. I just did the best I could to clean my hands under the freezing cold water in the sink. I ate, and then I tried to lay down, but, no matter what I did, there would be no sleep this night. The best way I can describe the ordeal is: take a blanket about two-feet by four-feet, soak it in starch to make it about as stiff-as-a-board, and go find a nice, freezing cold piece of steel (concrete will work too). Now try and lay down and sleep.

Early the next morning, the "Psychiatrist" was there at my door. After getting no sleep, walking the floor all night trying to stay warm, my feet killing me, my hair was wild, sticking out everywhere, and dark circles I could see under my eyes in the reflection of the glass in my door, I was exhausted. She had the nerve to ask me: "How are you feeling?" I told her I felt a little tired because I hadn't slept all night, then I said, "cold". She said "cold" is not a feeling. Yeah? Could have fooled me. She tried to flip everything I said back on me. I was tired, so she turned that into "distressed" and "unstable." In all actuality, I was upset and tired because of how things are conducted around that Quackville. Because that's no way to be treating the mentally ill. As an example, after the “Psychiatrist” got done with me, she told me she would be back to see me Friday afternoon - the next day. Well, she walked away from my cell, over to the guy across the hall from me - who happened to be next to the guy who was smearing the feces the day before. She walks to his door and tells him, and I quote: “Why are you crying? Look at you, you are supposed to be a grown man, and here you are crying like a baby!" The guy mumbled something that she must have understood because she stated: "What? And you thought your mother was going to live forever? Suck it up." Now, that caused this guy to go into what I call a “shutdown" mode. He was diabetic. He started refusing his shots.

On Friday, after two-days in this camp, I wanted absolutely no more. I was lucky enough to snag an hour of sleep - only because my body shutdown - definitely not because of any type of comfort. Later that day, the "Psychiatrist" popped up at my door; I did not know if she was ready to go home for the weekend. She told me: "All this will be on your file, so, if you come back, it’ll be worse for you. I’m going to go ahead and discharge you, your ride should be here Monday next week.”

"So, I have to stay over the weekend? Do I get clothes? Can I eat my meals like a human being?" 

"No, you will get clothes when transport shows up to get you Monday, and you will get johnnies over the weekend. Good luck.” 

What? Did she really just tell me “good luck”?

She walked back across to the guy who had been crying the day before. He was at his door. I saw tears streaming down his cheeks. She showed him a report and stated: "So, I see you are refusing your shots." The guy said he does not want to live anymore. So, she told him: "You will take your medicine," and stormed off down the hallway. The guy looked at me and bowed his sad face and turned away from the door.

Not long after, I heard harsh words from a familiar voice. I went to the door and looked out across the way. That mean Indian nurse was talking to the emotionally distraught guy. She yelled at him: "Doctor has ordered we give you medicine! You will take!" She returned a short while later with a ranking officer. He was suited up with gas canisters, a gas mask and a shield, and backed by a six-man team. The nurse was preparing a syringe, squinting through the faceplate of her gas mask. The ranking officer opened the bean-slot and told the guy within to, “Cuff up, and take your medicine”. If he were to refuse, the guard said that: "By the power invested in me by the State of Texas, we will gas you, run in there, pin you down, and force you to take your medicine.” 

He refused, and they did just that. They beat the guy up, and the nurse came in as he was on the floor, and stabbed the needle into his gas-covered hip.

The weekend was pretty much uneventful, just cold, and tiring. Saturday night a waterline busted due to it being below-freezing outside, and we were all feeling it inside, trust me! And then on Sunday afternoon, the feces guy, who had somehow learned my name, was calling me. 

I walked to the door and said, "What’s up?" 

He said, “Come swim with me?”, as he was jumping up and down in a freezing-ass-cold puddle of water. 

He had somehow managed to flood his cell, along with the run, and the water was a fast-running river, heading right for my door. I just shook my head, but it was about to get a lot worse. I went and picked my blanket up off the floor and went back to the door. The guy was laughing and giggling; jumping around like it was mid-summer and sprinklers were running, and all he wanted was for me, and whoever else, to join in. No way I could get upset with this guy; he had the mind of a three-year-old, clearly. I did not shout with glee, nor did I jump up and down in the cold water. I did give the guy a smile, and that was all he needed to complete his fun. He then took a drink out of the toilet - the dirty, disgusting toilet - but it was all good to him.

When the guards rolled around on their 15-minute security-check, they were not happy. One was yelling: "Who is doing this nonsense?" He was one of the African natives, so in his thick accent it was hard to understand him. When he saw the guy drinking out of the toilet, he narrowed it down to him, got the key to the guy’s pipe-chase and cut his water off; which, in a way, is completely understandable. That fixed the problem, or so I thought. But neither this guard, nor his co-worker, were at all satisfied. When dinner time came around, the run was still full of water, as were most our cells. The guards wanted everyone to know whose fault it was we were cold and wet. So, when they got to the guy’s cell, they held up his food and teased him with it. They did not feed him then, nor at breakfast. I, and a couple others, were yelling to help the guy, but it did no good. Feces guy did not know any better, I know “gone” when I see it, and that was him. But there was no reason at all to take this man's food, much less tease him with it.

Monday morning was a big morning for me. I’d had four-days of no sleep, freezing my ass off, seeing things I never wanted to see, and do not want to again. I was more than ready to go, but my ride never showed up. I saw the "Psychiatrist" walking up and down the hallway but, when I tried to flag her down, she ignored me. I wanted to know why I was still in this hellhole. Monday night passed slowly. l dozed off for a short time again. I was slipping back into a depression that I knew was going to keep me here even longer if I showed any signs of it. I had to be cool.

By the next morning, l was on the brink of a total mental breakdown. When, at around 7:00am, the guards opened my slot to cuff me. They handed me a blue paper gown. I was taken to the transport booth, and given clothes for the first time in five-days. When one of the transport bosses said: "Damn, you look rough.” I replied: "Get me the hell out of here!".

We arrived at Polunsky around 9:30am. I thought I was going to be punished again for what I had done, but the Captain reclassified me as a Level One, and placed me in my old cell; the same one I was in the day I took all the pills. The return was clearly welcome. A lot of the guys thought I had died, or was in a coma. I told them what had happened. They all seemed happy to see me back, and almost well. It took a bit of time to get all my belongings back, but I did, and I guess that's what matters.

Upon returning and being put back into my cage at Polunsky, my neighbor asked me: “Well Blaine, I guess we are all going to have to start treating you like you're "crazy”?” I replied: "I do not even know what "crazy" is anymore.”

Although my neighbor was joking, I was not. It still boggles my mind, to this day - almost six-months later - how the mentally ill are viewed as nothing more than numbers in the eyes of the State; and l cannot help but think: And we, the inmates, are supposed to be the bad guys?

There is nothing I'd love more than to be able to rescue the people back at Jester IV. But, unfortunately, the best l can do is tell my story in hopes of pointing out the reality of how mental illness is viewed within the confines of TDCJ.

There are other things that could not be added to my article for certain reasons. But I do hope - those of you who read this - if you are ever feeling depressed, you will talk with someone about it, and get the proper treatment. Depression is a serious illness that should always be dealt with sooner rather than later - so long as it's treated with kindness, not malice.



Blaine Milam 999558
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Well, where to begin? I am just a country boy from Longview, way behind the pine curtain in eastern Texas.  I have been on Texas Death Row now for over seven years.  I am new at this writing thing.  I only have a 4th grade education so I am about as much of an auto-didact as you are ever likely to find.  I am currently working on two books one an autobiography the other a parody called As Death Row Turns.  I’m a simple man.  I would be content merely with a couple Pulitzers and maybe the Man Booker.

This is a link to Blaine's cousin, Jonathan, singing a song that Blaine wrote on The Prison Show. The song begins at the 30 minute 11 second mark.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Magic Lantern Chapter Three

By Anthony Engles

To read Chapter Two, click here

Kimba

Ground shaking heavy-metal, the smell of gasoline fumes and spilled beer mixed with the coppery taste of blood. Then, the nauseating stimuli swirled together in a noxious cloud and disseminated into the retreating dreamscape of Kimba's mind. 

He lay still with his eyes closed. His consciousness pushed the visual and auditory images back into the dismal recesses until there was nothing but a shadow of melancholia left on his spirit. He woke with this shadow each morning and carried it with him throughout the day until he returned to his subconscious purgatory each night. Kimba opened his eyes and blinked once. He stepped directly from a nightmare into a dream, this new surreal reality that was his. Even after five full months, he still struggled with the transition back into the land of the wakeful living after so many years of waking in the land of the walking dead. Before he rose each day, Kimba took stock of what was real and what was not, who he was and who he would never be. He carefully catalogued and compartmentalized the simple components of which his belief structure was constructed. This prevented moments of hesitation or confusion as he moved tentatively through each day that bombarded him with choices and information. His new reality was a world both hostile and foreign, a brightly colored place where he felt in constant danger of being swept away by a colossal wave of ambiguity.

He sat up in bed - a full-sized mattress and box spring that lay directly on the floor of a spacious living room. He swung his feet out and took a moment to observe the strange sensation of carpeting on the soles of his bare feet. Wearing only a pair of black sweat-pants cut off below the knees, he slowly stood, made the bed, and went to the enormous bank of windows that overlooked the valley to the south. His 38 year-old joints popped and creaked like those of a boxer past his prime; they seemed to take a moment to warm up to the idea of forward locomotion.

Kimba stood in the remodeled loft of the oldest building in Vermilion, a now defunct theater called the Magic Lantern. A heavy early-morning fog obscured the valley and winding Snake River - his view limited to the empty two-acre gravel parking lot below. He looked out the wall of windows - each piece of glass a square foot in size, set in a steel frame 8 feet tall and half the width of a full sized movie screen. The window had been installed over a hundred years ago to allow natural light into the attic - a space with roughly the same area as the stage below. In those days, according to his father, the attic had been used to store props and costumes for the numerous set changes always involved in the production of operas or plays. The attic had been remodeled completely and turned into living quarters before Kimba's father went to Vietnam in 1967. Kimba had just turned 2.

Kimba went to the bathroom and used the toilet. He still marveled at the comforts of a normal bathroom - a plastic seat that lifted or the ability to adjust the temperature of the sink or shower water with two separate knobs. While he washed his hands, Kimba wondered how long it would take for the novelty to wear off and for him to feel as though he had at last rejoined western civilization.

Kimba returned to the living room and went to the only other piece of furniture besides the bed - a forty year-old Magnavox stereo, one of the last models to be made out of real wood. Some of the fifty or so albums stacked next to it had sat and gathered dust for over twenty years. Others that had belonged to his long-dead mother had been abandoned for much longer. He thumbed through the stack-past the Scorpions and Judas Priest - and on a whim, selected Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, one of his mother's favorites. For five months now, Kimba had been trying to flush himself out of a long, deep groove that separated him from the rest of the world. He set the stylus on the vinyl and the sound of classical horns and strings filled the loft. Kimba frowned and let the music wash over him.

Kimba went to the small kitchenette and drank two 16 ounce glasses of water. Then, standing barefoot on the linoleum, he swept his mid-back-length black hair into a ponytail and got on the floor. He extended his body face down with hands apart at shoulder width. With his back straight, he looked forward, inhaled through his nose then lowered his chest to within an inch of the floor. He exhaled through his mouth and pushed himself back up into the starting position to complete one push-up. He performed 29 more repetitions exactly like the first, slowly and methodically, always mindful of his form. Finished, he got up and walked the circumference of the living room - an activity that took 65 seconds, having timed it several times with his watch. Back at his starting point - the floor of the kitchenette - he did 30 more push-ups like the first set. By the time Kimba had taken nine trips around the living room, he had done 300 push-ups in about the time it takes to make a pot of coffee - the same time it took to do 300 push-ups several mornings of the week for the past two decades.

Kimba opened the refrigerator. An astonishing assortment of choices awaited him - all micro-choices to be made that stemmed from a master selection that he had created at the grocery store two days before. When he looked in the fridge he saw himself at the store, saw people staring open-mouthed at him as though his spaceship had just landed in the Safeway parking lot. Women instinctively held their children closer to them when he walked by, and men regarded him with both apprehension and outright contempt.

Once, several weeks ago, a man in his early twenties wearing a cheap suit bumped into him in the canned goods aisle. The man and a similarly dressed colleague had been walking without watching where they were going. The two were prosecutors or frugal defense attorneys that had just come from the courthouse and were holding an animated discussion about a case - a case too important to warrant more than a sideways glance of annoyance in Kimba's direction.

Kimba was not a violent man, but for a time, he had been conditioned to react violently to those who challenged his honor or personal space. The latter had clearly been violated, but Kimba had learned to temper his explosive out-of-body experiences and was able to confront adversity with the resolute calm of a Japanese tea gardener. The expression on the lawyer's face told Kimba
that he had been the one standing in the wrong place, a spot in front of the Del Monte pineapple chunks. Instead of grabbing one of the cans and crushing the man's skull with it, Kimba implemented a shade-tree variety Zen technique he had formulated himself; he fastened himself to the moment - the abstract unit of time and reality that existed in his own psyche and centered himself there. His higher brain remained occupied while his knuckle-dragging lower brain slumbered. He remained suspended there until the external event that took place in real time passed, and the rude attorney was gone. Kimba was highly vulnerable during these episodes, but could find no other means to move about in this world where he was nothing more than an exotic animal that stood outside the realm of common courtesy.

For Kimba, public places were littered with social landmines. Many of the subtleties involved in the human interaction that he carefully studied left him scratching his head. In his world, name-calling was serious business. Each word had a specific connotation designed to illicit an exact response - a form of tribal test to establish pecking orders and to keep the pool of alpha-males from being tainted by weaker types. To watch a young woman call her boyfriend a bitch loudly in the laundromat had initially caused Kimba to wince while he waited for lightning to strike, only to feel like a member of another species when the boyfriend grabbed her by the waist and began to tickle her while she shrieked with laughter.

This broad expanse of acceptable ways to express thoughts and opinions were not completely foreign to Kimba; he had been one of these people once, long ago. He would learn how to fold harsh words into lighthearted banter again and to understand the complex nuances involved in flirting with the girl at the checkout counter. He would even learn how to smile when a disrespectful punk bumped into him without a word of apology - a punk who in Kimba's world would be sodomized both orally and anally his first day there, then perhaps forced to wear a dress and make-up made out of M&Ms for the rest of his miserable stay.

Kimba settled on a couple of good slugs off a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. He savored the mildly tart liquid as it flowed over his taste buds, noting how different parts of his tongue detected the sweet and sour elements separately. He put the bottle back then returned to the wide-open space of the loft. He consulted the watch that lay on an old wooden produce box turned upside down that served as an expedient nightstand. Also on the box sat a half-burned candle that he read with at night, a well-worn copy of Shantaram, and an ancient American Indian bracelet made of badly tarnished silver and studded with turquoise. Once he noted the time, Kimba lay on the carpet and performed ten sets of 100 crunches with a 60 second break in between each set.

Kimba harbored no resentment towards the citizens of Vermilion that treated him with open antipathy; only he knew who he was now, the good he was capable of, and his ability to become a well balanced, functioning member of this town. It was also only he who knew the open, festering wound in his soul that never healed and oozed into his restful sleep, poisoning his dreams almost every night. That punishment eclipsed any that could ever be imposed by a Superior Court Judge or an over-zealous Department of Corrections employee. The people of Vermilion remembered only that he had taken the lives of innocent victims - including those of women and children - leaving pieces of their dismembered corpses lying around like the unwanted parts of the animal tossed onto the floor of the butcher shop.

It had taken the furtive glances and wide open-stares of these people directed at him for Kimba to finally understand the isolation his father had felt for the remainder of his life after returning home from Vietnam. Kimba recalled those times when his father would drink himself into a sloppy stupor while he ran the projectors - sometimes too drunk to change the reels. At other times he would lapse into somber moods for days at a time, perhaps beating Kimba or his mother senseless, or with luck, completely ignoring them both. His mother would say that these periods of depression were caused by chemicals used in Vietnam to kill vegetation that had left his father sterile - a frank admission to a ten-year old boy, but perhaps the only explanation simple enough for a boy that age bewildered by his father to understand. Still, Agent Orange had not caused the social disease that was more threatening to the locals than the hopeless drunk who was running the old theater into the ground - they had come to look at him as though he were a predator that mingled among them, like grazing zebras that kept a wary eye on a well-fed lion snoozing in the shade nearby.

Once Kimba had finished with his workout, he put on some expensive but well broken-in running shoes, a T-shirt and a gray pull-over sweatshirt. He placed his keys, cash and cell-phone into a fanny-pack and carried it in his hand. He had tried to wear it in the traditional way, but it felt cumbersome and foreign to him, like a useless appendage. He barely knew how to use the phone and it seldom rang, but Kimba knew this was an integral part of being a modern-day citizen in the new millennium.

Kimba left the loft from a heavy steel fire door that had been recently installed for security. He trotted down a flight of enclosed steps and paused at the bottom. The scene still surprised him upon seeing it every morning; the theater was gone. Seats had been torn up and replaced with a dance floor with a full bar and lounge on the north end of the auditorium-sized space. Each morning Kimba stood here in the gloom and reflected upon the relative simplicity of those days gone past with his own brand of nostalgia - a bittersweet amalgam of his father's capricious, violent outbursts combined in a bizarre collage of bits and pieces of movies burned into his brain. He had watched and listened to them over and over, night after night. When he had arrived at the theater five months ago after a 22 year absence, only one area of the building remained that even provided a clue that movies had ever been shown here at all. The small concrete projection room located behind the balcony seating above where the bar and lounge had been added during the last remodel completed in September of 1998. Kimba had gone up there only once, feeling a mild, detached sentimentality upon seeing that the place was now used to store banquet tables and other restaurant equipment. The movie screen that once taken up the entire south wall of the huge auditorium was long gone, having been sold or stolen during the theater's period of vacancy after the death of his father. Kimba's skills as a projectionist or 38 year-old usher would not be needed at the Magic Lantern anytime soon.

Kimba cut back and moved southward through a dark hallway towards the rear exit. According to his father, this part of the building had once been the top of a stone wall that surrounded an area dug into the earth to store munitions. The building had been the original armory when Fort Vermilion was built, completed in October of 1848. General Gerald Vermilion had selected this spot for the fort because it overlooked a section of the Snake River that settlers breaking away from the Oregon Trail had chosen to cross. The current on the west side of the bend ran slow, the river shallow and wide. Because immigrants would sometimes spend a few days here to rest and water their animals before continuing west, local Nez Perce and Cayuse indians - already restless and hostile - turned this part of the river into one of their most productive ambush points. After several surviving members of the immigrant parties limped into Seattle relating first hand accounts of gruesome scalpings, the brutal rape and even murder of their people, the Army tasked General Vermilion with selecting a spot to build the fort. The Whitman Massacre on November 29th, 1847, helped cut through typical government red-tape like a hunting knife honed to a razors edge.

Out in the parking lot, Kimba set off in a slow jog along the east wall of the building, across the empty front parking lot, and onto a sleepy, early Saturday morning Main Street. He glanced at the Bank of America sign across the street; it was 7:21 and 47°.

The morning sun appeared only in brief glimpses at first as it burned slowly but steadily through stubborn fog. Kimba jogged west on Main along the tiny family-owned shops - still dark and uninhabited beyond the plate-glass windows. He cut diagonally across the empty street, past the courthouse - perhaps Vermilion's most modern building with new brick, bronze window frames and tinted glass - and rounded the three-way stop where Main, Dora and Highway 469 intersected. The sidewalk curved to the right, then ended abruptly and turned into a gravel strip that ran north along the highway. With the end of the sidewalk came the end of the town, a jagged edge of broken concrete separated Vermilion from vast wilderness - the terrain on both sides of the highway instantly transformed into dense forest.

Within one mile of Kimba's starting point behind the Magic Lantern, his body settled into a familiar rhythm. His heart, muscles, lungs and joints now all operated together as a single entity; only his mind remained detached from the cohesive unit, free to roam at will. Sometimes he ran along a sandy beach. Waves with mist and foam blowing off their tips would crash to the shore, then return to the sea with a long, serpentine hiss. On some days, the same beach would have been taken over by women that languished on over-sized beach towels and wore French-cut bikinis - like a section of coastline over-run with California seals. At other times Kimba traversed fragrant vineyards during the heat of summer, smelling the sweet aroma of grapes while the air shimmered above the fields of vines laden with the tiny, ripened fruit. When he was especially focused, he was able to replay old movies almost scene-for-scene, including dialogue, or rebuild an automatic transmission down to the last minute ball-bearing with the smell of solvent and burnt Dextron II transmission fluid in his nose.

The sun now made a full showing, only patches of fog in deep valleys and ravines remained. Kimba left the highway and increasing morning traffic and took his normal route - a pothole riddled gravel road called Lariat. He followed the road as it made a wide arc to the left until a glint of metal caught his eye. A small group of mobile homes and a single brown house appeared as the road curved back to the east, all clustered together and huddled around a dead lawn scattered with loose garbage. Normally on Kimba's early morning sojourns through this area, signs of life were scarce, but today there was a flurry of
activity.

The brown house had been vacant since Kimba's return to Vermilion, but today people were moving in. A white chevy Tahoe gleamed next to an older maroon Honda Accord - both vehicles parked well to the side to make way for the full-sized green and yellow Mayflower moving van parked along the front edge of the lawn. The van had parked next to the giant juniper tree, bullying it‘s stout lower branches roughly to the side. Two men barely awake had a long, polished oaken dresser between them and shuffled down the ramp behind the truck. A third man stood by, watching. The man on the ground was in his early forties, with brown hair cropped short, and a graying goatee that made him look a man that refused to accept the fate that they both shared; were getting old. Without conscious effort, Kimba quickly sized up the man as a physical opponent. He noted the thickness of his neck and powerful shoulders, but also how they lacked definition; he had at one time been a man who maintained a certain level of physical fitness, then one day - for whatever reason - had thrown the towel.

The man picked up Kimba's movement when he came into his peripheral vision. He turned and fixed him with icy-blue eyes which allowed another piece of the puzzle to slip into place; the man was a cop. There was no mistaking the certain brand of contempt that law enforcement people from every sector held for Kimba and his kind; he looked away quickly, an instinctive reaction to prevent himself from being recognized before he could become the recognizer should the man prove to be an enemy from the past.

Kimba trotted past the van, the man with the goatee and the sleepy movers. He was five or six steps away from being out of view when an attractive woman in her late thirties stepped out through the sliding-glass door and onto the porch.

"Honey, could you come in here, please?" she said to the man with the goatee. "I think we should move the entertainment center to the other wall."

The woman wore an oversized T-shirt and loose-fitting jeans. Her shoulder-length, dishwater-blonde hair had deep dark roots and was pulled up behind her head in a loose ponytail. Her eyes were big and dark behind simple gold-rimmed glasses that sat on a delicate nose generously sprinkled with freckles - her skin pale and unblemished, but cheeks flushed with exertion.

Kimba replayed the woman‘s voice over and over in his mind. He tried to access the unique lilt filed somewhere in his vault of memory. Just as he slipped past the front of the house, the woman crossed her arms loosely in front of her, and leaned forward slightly as she awaited a response from the man with the goatee - a mild idiosyncrasy that revealed her identity to Kimba just as he stepped out of view - a recollection so sudden and powerful, it caused a brief anomaly in his step. He was now well past the house, and sure the woman had not seen him, but his body betrayed him; despite his efforts to control his reaction, Kimba's heart began to pound furiously and his mouth dried up. Emotions that he had not experienced in years welled up and eddied in his mind. He struggled to complete the ritualistic beginnings of his morning, since his entire existence was comprised of small, well-plotted events throughout the day that were linked to each other in logical succession. The breakdown of just one of these events threatened to throw him into complete and total chaos.

Anthony Engles 832039
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
P.O. Box 769
Connell, WA 99326

My name is Anthony Scott Engles, born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1965.  After a brief stint in the Navy, I pretty much roamed around the country, waiting tables and bartending.  I settled in Spokane in 1994, then got pretty heavy into survivalism and related activities.  I got in a shoot out with Stevens County Deputies in 2003 and wounded one of them.  I’m serving a 30-year sentence in Washington State, where I have done the majority of my writing.  I have one short story published and several unpublished short stories and poems.