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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cap and Gown

By Millard Baker

I really loathe the attire I wear. My attire represents the miscreant individual I was. The dark blue pants have “CDCR Prisoner” written on the front pant leg. The light blue shirt has the same words written across the back of it. The average person would immediately identify the attire as penitentiary wear, worn by convicted criminals who negatively impacted society. I am devastated over the fact my thoughts, decisions and actions led to my criminalizing society, which did not deserve any of it. At the time, my life was in turmoil. In fact, my muscle of life was in atrophy. So, in my misery, I cared less for others. That diseased way of thinking was a danger to society and better fitted for incarceration and the scraggly attire that comes with it. I deserved to wear that attire; I was a terrible guy who I now, honestly, hate. I speak about myself in such a dastardly way because it’s the truth.

I began to want different though. I was cognitive enough to understand that in order to change my attire I had to change myself. I started my journey of transformation, fully aware that there isn’t some type of panacea in terms of changing; it takes an overall lifestyle change. I courageously opened the door of my past to gain better insight. I had to find out why I was so angry, hopeless, uncaring, resentful, etc. Once I discovered these things, I worked hard on them. I forgave those who abandoned me and my twin sister at five-years-old. I came to understand that I lacked a true sense of self-esteem and people and things that made me feel better. I learned I was impulsive, never really thinking before I acted. With hard work, I began being mindful; I now “think about thinking”, instead of relying on old habits. My whole internal dialogue changed, and I became a happier person. I learned humility and how to be kind to others, things I avoided before. This old dog learned new tricks, proving it’s never too late to change.

I believe college completed my transformation, it taught me in areas I was still deficient. On May 8, 2020, I graduated from the College of the Redwoods. My scraggily attire was covered with the beautiful regalia, showing who I really am today. Fairly soon, I will give back this scraggily attire for good and in exchange I will wear something I’ve been dreaming about: a suit.


*******

“You did it. You did it, Son”. Those were the words my mother excitedly yelled while shedding tears. I just informed her I officially graduated college. We all try to make our parents proud; unfortunately, I always underachieved in doing so. All my life, education was something I failed in. I was placed in special education, which fueled my terrible behavior. From middle school through high school, I cut class and was defiant to teachers. Then, in 2000, I dropped out. Twenty years later, I have an AA Degree in Liberal Arts; Behavioral Science, a G.P.A of 3.85, with no special accommodations required. I’ll explain how education went from being my Achilles heel to my bailiwick. College is challenging at the best of times and completing it while incarcerated adds to the challenges; I’ll delve into what it takes to prosper in this condition. Lastly, some people disagree with the incarcerated receiving higher education; I’ll explain the benefits of education while incarcerated.

All my life, including throughout my incarceration, my mother has been trying to motivate me to get into education. But I lacked the desire and motivation to do so. My ignorance was a huge reason I was incarcerated in the first place. I do want to be released with hopes of remaining free, and realize education is the key to doing so. Since I had previously failed so much in education, my self-esteem was low. I had to find my internal motivation. Delving within myself, I asked, do I want to remain this way? The answer was “no”. I envisioned myself an intellectual who will empower others to become educated and impact the world as an asset opposed to the liability I had been. Simply put, the season of being a failure, criminal, follower, ignorant was over. I wanted to become the best version of myself. College allowed me to learn how I got to the point I was at. With my new self-determination, I started working hard on these momentous areas of my life. Education became fun and something I fell in love with. Heck, even this essay is done because I enjoy writing now, so good things come from education.
The incarcerated come to behave like downtrodden cenobites. Lots of hopeless, angry, pessimistic people are around, so trying to balance the challenge of college in this environment is tough. Muhammad Ali was famous for what was called the "rope-a-dope". This was when he used the ring ropes to bob and weave around the opposition. I liken this tactic to life inside; inside we bob and weave through this abnormal environment. We have to be focused and extremely resolute to reach our goals. I've literally been called a ‘nerd’ and ‘schoolboy’, but that’s ok, as it allows me the chance to preach the importance of education. Honestly, many have been receptive to the message and have joined college too. Being others’ catalyst to undertake higher education is a role I accept; I can show others what's important. Some guys are tired of being pestilent, but they get caught in the group-think mentality, thus refusing to speak up and express their desires. Education is momentous, but isn't a panacea. We have to apply what we learn and make a moral commitment to live strait-laced and motivate others to do the same.

Why do incarcerated people desire free college? We don't deserve anything. I am fully aware taxpayer’s money pays for our college. To be inside, we messed up and should change. The taxpayers are investing in prison reform, and it has benefited society. Studies have shown a recidivism rate of 70-80% for those with no education. Those with higher education, however, have only a 13% recidivism rate. Clearly, college can transform the lives of us who are incarcerated, and many of us who transform want to give back and help troubled youth avoid this demise. Moreover, many of the college-educated go on to start businesses, create jobs and inspire others. We will also pay taxes and keep the cycle of lowering recidivism going. It is often social and legal barriers that are big factors leading to recidivism. But, with education, we can jump these barriers.

Education is now my bailiwick. With a goal and motivation, we all can overcome past challenges and thrive in life. I hope to reach those who might question if they have the make-up to become educated. I want to help them overcome their self-limiting beliefs and just go for it. If a special education guy who dropped out of high school can attain a college degree, anyone can.

Millard Baker V16360
Pelican Bay State Prison
P.O. Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532

Thursday, September 10, 2020

My Father's Violin

By Burl N. Corbett

Every evening, my father played his violin by the upright piano in our dining room. The nightly concerts were among my first memories, but I can no longer recall if I listened from my upstairs crib, or downstairs in the old wickerwork bassinet my mother wheeled from kitchen to living room in our tiny stone farmhouse. These memories have no faces, just a soundtrack, and I had no name for that, either. I knew neither thread or needle, but it occurs to me now that he was stitching my world together note by note, his swooping bow composing my future memories in an elegant cursive, tying up my earliest impressions with elaborate ribbons of bowed glissandos and pizzicato triplets. My mother would later recall that I was a happy baby, giggling and gurgling and pumping my little arms and legs as if I were conducting Father’s performances.

Mother also recalled how I had cried and cried the day that Father traded in his worn-out ’38 Chevy for a new ’51 sedan. I had loved the older car and the cozy backseat beds Mother fixed for the long twenty-eight mile trip home after visiting her distant family every other Sunday night. In my memory, it is always winter, it seems, and I can still recall the comforting weight of the wool army blanket into which I was tucked. Enshrouded in a cocoon of warmth, I watched the blazing orbs of passing headlights wheel across the inky firmament of the headliner, lying half-asleep, counting the glowing streetlight comets zooming past the windows until the tires’ soothing purr lulled me to sleep. The next morning, I would wake in my sunny bedroom, magically transported from the ancient world of night to a freshly born universe drenched with light and the reassuring murmur of my mother softly singing to life our breakfast world.

The old car was soon forgotten, and I slept just as soundly in the new one. It had a radio, and although I drifted off amid the same lights, I did so to the sound of my father’s voice singing along with the popular songs from his adolescence, the pre-war soundtrack of his life. His strong baritone reassured me that the world was balanced just right, and that I was loved and protected as I rested groggily at its delicate center, listening to the monotonous drone of the tires only a few feet from my prone body. In those days of ineffectual heaters, sometimes a faint scrim of frost obscured the rear windows, but secure in my warm nest I imagined that Father’s singing coupled with the bravely struggling heater had repelled the cold. But all things must end, and one evening I abruptly announced that I was too big to be tucked in like a baby, and that part of my life was over.

But, some memories are as persistent as an unwisely fed stray cat, and as a friend and I drove across the country a decade later, I rested in the backseat of another old Chevy, watching a similar light show of pinwheeling headlights upon a torn headliner and thought of my father back home, dreaming perhaps of a younger me. And I thought too of my old crib and bassinet, both covered with dust, their rips reinforced with spider webs, sitting empty in the sad attic where all of our keepsakes and memories eventually go to den. 


When I was four, my one-room schoolteacher paternal grandmother taught me how to read and write. An enthusiastic student, by the time I entered grade school I had become an ardent reader, devouring books well above my grade level. When I was six, my father taught me how to play and notate chess. At the time, the algebraic method of transcription was not widely used, and I laboriously registered each move, writing KKN-B3 and KBP-4, rather than the pithier Nf3 and g4. By the end of a long game, the letters and numerals sprawled down the page like arcane hieroglyphics decipherable to only us, the elite wizards of the chessboard. For no particular reason, Father saved each score sheet in the dining room china closet, and as the years went by, the pile threatened to obscure the dishes, until for no particular reason I declined to keep score. Soon, because of either my incipient adolescence or teenage indifference, I forget which, our competition ended, too. One day, I noticed that the heap of yellowing scoresheets was gone, but attributed its disappearance to one of my mother’s occasional cleaning frenzies. We still played now and then during the ensuing decades, but neither of us bothered to keep score; our eyes were upon the future, not the past. 

My father had been a medic during World War II, a corporal in General Patton’s Third Army. Like many former soldiers, he rarely spoke of the war itself, only of the mud of France, the ruined buildings of Germany, the beauty of the Bavarian Alps. When his battalion visited Hitler’s mountain redoubt, the Berchtesgaden, he retrieved for a souvenir a small triangular stone from its ruined fireplace. As I later discovered, he had been at another of Hitler’s creations, a hellhole at which the iron heel of a lunatic doctrine had ground into bloody submission an entire race of people; a Godforsaken inferno of mass murder and torture, a place utterly devoid of hope, in which conscientious scorekeepers toted up the deadly tally with mad Teutonic precision. 

But then, I knew little of these horrors; to me and my classmates – the boys, that is – the war was just an exciting adventure in which things got blown up. We drew fantastic battle scenes replete with tanks and battleships, airplanes and submarines, all engaged in unlikely tableaus of mayhem. With just a pencil and a few crayons, on sheets of lined notebook paper, we reimaged the war as an exercise in perspective, rather than the horrendous bloodbath that drenched four continents. 

During the years of my military fixation, I assembled plastic models of warplanes and battleships, with a few jeeps and destroyers thrown in for variety, until my bedroom resembled the coast of England before the Normandy Invasion. Our home lacked a bathtub, but our small sideyard creek served quite nicely as the English Channel, a perfect spot to launch my glued-together armada. I suspended the airplanes from my bedroom ceiling, where they slowly spun in the breeze coming through the window screens, as if engaged in imaginary dogfights. But within a year or two, I put aside my substitute toys of mass destruction, my martial bellicosity tempered by smithies of a gentler persuasion, and returned to my books.

I was a curious child, a loner who explored our farm and the adjoining watershed forest until I knew every species of tree, every kind of flower, and every turn of the creek. I explored our house, too, from its dank basement to its airy attic. In the summer, I liked to sit in the sauna-hot attic until I became drenched with sweat. When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I retreated to the chilly basement, marveling at the floor by floor diminishment of the temperature – a drop from attic to cellar of easily sixty degrees. I also visited the attic in more temperate seasons; a trove of my father’s childhood books was there, as well as more recent paperbacks from the ‘40s and ‘50s. I loved to browse through them on rainy days, paging through the Mickey Spillane shoot-‘em-ups for the verboten “good parts” tacitly promised by the lurid cover illustrations of trashy gun molls sporting conical breasts that threatened to pierce their sweaters. On rainy days, it was easy to fantasize that the clay panpipes of the old mud dauber wasp nests along the rafters were emitting the rain’s one-note melody. Lying in the flat, even, dim light filtering through the grimy gable windows, I lay amid the forlorn discards of my ancestors’ pasts, happily daydreaming of an unguessable future. 

During one of these visits, I discovered an album of love letters from my soldier father to my home front mother-to-be. Although his lovely handwriting was crabbed to fit on the onionskin paper, and a word or phrase had been blanked out by a  hypersensitive censor toiling ingloriously amid the groaning gears of the vast wartime bureaucracy, his dislike of the war and his passionate desire to return home to the woman he loved was evident. Reading his letters was like reading his mind, and when he asked my mother if “she had ever been raped with her clothes on?,” I cringed with embarrassment, ashamed of my snooping.

The album wasn’t filled with just ancient billets-doux, however. There were black and white photos of my uniformed father and dressed-to-kill mother outside her sister’s house, juxtaposed beside scenic snapshots of undamaged French chateaus, German castles, and transcendent images of the Alps. To look at them, one would never guess of the horrors that had occurred in their shadows. As if to illustrate that very anomaly, there was also a series of photographs taken during the liberation of Dachau prison camp, where he had witnessed the ultimate human to human barbarity among countless day to day lesser ones. As I examined them, I felt with a shiver of revulsion as if the Angel of Death had lifted his dark robe to mock me, exposing himself in all of his hideous grandeur.

I had been raised on a sheep farm, and the death of a poisoned-by-nightshade ewe was fairly common. I had even watched with a queasy stomach the veterinarian digging through the ewe’s intestines, searching like a latter-day haruspex for a clue to its demise. And I had often held the heads of non-laying hens upon the chopping block while my uncle beheaded them with a hatchet. Death was no stranger, he just hadn’t yet stopped for a human client.

I had never attended a funeral, and on the rare times I had accompanied my parents to a cemetery, I wandered off while they were visiting their friends and relatives to read the epitaphs and examine the carven symbology on the older headstones. Even there, surrounded by its victims, Death seemed as remote as the hidden daytime stars: for why would I ever die?

But the people in the photographs, the corpses and the living skeletons whose burning eyes haunted one’s soul, had once thought the same, yet here they were, stacked in cords like Satan’s own firewood, or staring forever out of Hell itself. No amount of flowers or well-meant prayers would appease their tortured souls, and for their murderers there won’t be time enough in eternity to earn their redemption.

I never told my father that I had seen the photographs – I felt guilty, vaguely immoral, like I had when I looked at the salacious crime novel covers. It was difficult to reconcile the man who read Plato and Schopenhauer with the man who had also read such sleazy trash. Nor could I picture him recording those horrid events through a steady viewfinder, then returning to his tent to compose love letters to his wife. From that day on, I regarded my father in a new light, as an unknowable entity, a possessor of great secrets, a contradiction, even.


Although in his later years, my father would play his violin less and less, as if his artistic sensibilities had been retempered upon the anvil of a prosaic smithy to better withstand the vexations of a coarser era, I still liked to listen from the living room sofa as he valiantly stormed Dvorak’s “Humoresque,” stumbling at a difficult passage, cursing aloud, and then renewing his assault at the beginning. After getting a bar or two further in the trying composition, he would misfinger or misbow. “Son of a bitch!” he’d exclaim, then labor on, his curses replacing the libretto. Through much practice, though, he had managed to master a few slow pieces by his favorite violinist, Fritz Kreisler, lovely works that he played with eyes closed. Sometimes during an evening concert, I stood outside in the dewy summer grass, listening through the screened window amid the drifting pointillistic dots of lightning bugs, the hollow basso grunts of the bullfrogs in our creekside marsh accompanying my father’s ethereal serenade. Swooping bats basted the velvet heavens to the darkening hem of the earth, as they and the melody soared and plunged in ragged accord. The Milky Way spread above me from horizon to horizon, each star glittering in mute fury, and I craned my neck stiff watching it watching me. Eventually, the recital ended, and I went back inside, blinking in the light. Father never asked where I had been, and I in turn never asked where he went when he closed his eyes, suspecting that we had each been briefly transported into a private-but-somehow-mutual realm of ecstasy.


In every life there are moments so intense that they forever exist in some sort of quantum perpetuity, moments destined to endlessly recur in a Nietzschean wheel of eternal recurrence. If that is the case, then my father is diving to the ground this very moment, face down in the grass next to our backyard burn pit after mistaking the explosion of a carelessly discarded aerosol can for a mortar round. After standing up in obvious embarrassment, he explained to the picnic guests that his reaction was a survival reflex from the war, when he had carefully shepherded his fragile existence through a maelstrom of steel and fire. Although he tried to laugh the incident away with a sheepish smile, I could see that he had been wounded deep inside, and that the unexpected blast had probed that festering sore. 

Later on, after he had downed several beers, I overheard him tell his brother how a horribly wounded soldier – his face and manhood shot away, blinded and legless – begged him for a lethal injection of morphine, pleading and bawling until my father quietly filled a syringe and placed it in the man’s hand. The next morning, the man was gone, a new patient in his stead. No questions were asked, no answers volunteered, and the war went on.

When Father noticed me listening, he changed the subject. Once again, I had caught an unsettling glimpse of my father’s secret history, leaving me with the unsettling suspicion that he had deliberately abetted a suicide. But, I reasoned, compared to the forests of corpses felled at Hitler’s death camps, his “crime” was inconsequential indeed, and I soon relegated its memory to the attic of my mind.


In 1963, the bland but cozy post-war society that my father’s generation considered their reward for saving civilization, was assaulted by a cultural revolution led by The Beatles. As though electing to rub salt in his “wounds,” I decided to learn the guitar, the better to emulate Bob Dylan, an artist whose music was a combination of my two favorite genres, folk and rock ‘n’ roll. Ever the good sport, my father not only bought me a nylon-string Martin, but paid for my weekly lessons, no small expenditure given his modest salary. Now it was my turn to sit at the piano cursing over mangled chords and sour notes. One evening, as I was fingering the tricky chords to The Beatles’ “Michelle,” my father began to play the melody on his violin. 

“That’s a pretty song,” he commented. “Who wrote it?”

“The Beatles!” I proudly informed him, glad that he had finally acknowledged, accidently or not, an accomplishment of my generation’s favorite band. 

“Hah!” he snorted derisively. “Someday you’ll find out that they paid someone to write their music.”

Nevertheless, he played the song to its end.

Now that I was a musician, too, we talked of our relative instruments. It turned out that his violin and another in the attic were spoils of war, taken from a bombed-out estate in Germany. Inside the piano bench was another, a leather-bound volume of classical favorites, entitled Sturm und Drang, mute evidence of the cultural refinement of the same nation that had perpetuated some of the worst crimes in the long and sordid history of the world. The troubling dichotomy didn’t escape me, nor deter me from trying to play the pieces. As I struggled through the copses of difficult keys choked with a plethora of sharps and flats, I mused over the paradox that if musical notation – like that of chess – is a universal language, then how could those fluent in both systems have committed crimes so utterly antithetical to the serenity and joy that they transcribe?

Finally, unable to resolve this enigma to my satisfaction, I put aside the irksome philosophical posers that had stumped finer minds than mine, and simply played the music. 


As he aged, Father slowly retreated into himself. Never an outgoing man, he became a semi-recluse. Once he retired, he divided his waking hours between his downstairs reading chair before the unwatched television, his upstairs bedroom desk, where he typed letters to the pen pals he would never meet, and the front porch swing, where he thought his old man thoughts. He no longer played his violin; arthritis, not Dvorak, had finally defeated him. Turning to chess as a solace, he practiced against a chess computer until, on the rare occasions that we played, I struggled to prevail. But when senility established its first beachhead, he reluctantly gave up the game he loved, although for some reason, he kept a set-up chessboard in his bedroom. One day, it struck me that I was now older than he had been the evening that we had played “Michelle” together, and I felt a frisson of unease over my own mortality. Inside my being, there was still a recalcitrant child who resented being sent to eternity against his will.

My father may have thought differently, however, as he gradually sank into the quagmire of senility, wherein dwelt an ogre eager to steal not only his life, but his memories, too. It occurred to me that perhaps our memories are only on loan, are periodically recalled and redistributed, that maybe our lives are a series of recycled events endlessly reshuffled by karma. By that reckoning, perhaps someday in another world the Jews will slaughter the Germans, the chickens will hold the hatchets, and my head will rest upon the chopping block.

After much consideration, I rejected the premise. In such speculation lies madness: Lear raging on the heath, Nietzsche crying before a mistreated horse, Hitler ranting in his bunker.

As Father’s illness progressed his days sorted themselves into the “good” ones and the “bad.” Between these polar extremes lay the latitudes of “worse” and “better,” the longitudes of “normal” and “abnormal,” the degree of each a matter of debate.

A month before his death, I discovered him in his bedroom, eyes shut, big band music playing on his radio, his face without expression. For a second, I thought he had died, but then I noticed his right index finger keeping time on the arm of his rocker. Before he became aware of my presence, I quietly backed away, leaving him dancing with my mother under a glittering mirror ball in a pre-war ballroom, a begowned chanteuse crooning “Embraceable You.”


The last time I saw my father alive, he sat before the television he could no longer see, hands folded on his lap, his face a stony mask. When I asked if he was all right, he responded with a gruff “No!” I looked at my mother; she merely shrugged: What could she do? For that matter, what could I do or say that could ease his distress? Without a word, I simply left the room, leaving him to the fate that had been forged before either of us were born. He died in his sleep two days later. 

My mother’s phone call awoke me at midnight; her voice frantic. “I can’t wake your father,” she cried, “come up here now!” Immediately I knew that Death’s carriage had kindly stopped at last. I raced up the hill in my truck, ran past my distraught mother into his bedroom, where he lay upon his back in bed, eyes open, his right hand dangling above the floor, a large bubble balanced upon his lips, glistening in the muted light of a bedside lamp. As I searched for a pulse I knew I wouldn’t find, I glimpsed my distorted reflection in the gossamer sphere. After closing his eyelids, I shattered my image with a fingernail, releasing my father’s last breath back into the world he had just quit. Now, his travails were over, his soul unburdened once more.

As I folded his cold arms across his chest, I thought, So, this is how it ends; this is my father in death. Now there’s nothing more to hurt you, Father, no more horrors to witness, no mirror to remind you of your lost youth. I pulled the sheet over his face and looked around the room, fixing forever the tableau of his passing.

Wracked with grief, I looked about the room, grasping for a peg on which to hang my sorrow. Then I noticed his chessboard on a small table, a game in progress. Next to it, lay a yellowed transcription of a game I had recorded nearly a half-century before. With a guilty sob, I turned to my father – my still, lifeless father – and wept for us both, regretting bitterly the inexplicable shadow that had fallen between our lives all those years before. 


At his funeral, seven uniformed veterans fired three volleys from their rifles; the reports faded echoless in the vast, sun-washed cemetery. My father’s life would be condensed to a mere two dates – eighty-six years apart – embossed upon a simple bronze plaque imbedded in the earth; as a modest tribute to his traumatic service to his nation, every Memorial and Veteran’s day a tiny flag would flutter above his grave. As a bugler played taps, I thought of my father bowing his violin, eyes closed, transported to a temporary utopia wherein beauty trumped ugliness, and affronts to man and God such as Dachau did not exist. As a pastor who knew nothing about the deceased droned on and on, I scanned the sky for a fortuitous omen, perhaps a circling hawk or an auspicious crow, but there were only fleecy herds of grazing clouds, hazed before a gentle wind.

With solemn respect, the sergeant of the guard presented the coffin flag to my sobbing mother, then handed me twenty-one expended brass shells. Then my father, my poor dead father, was lowered into the ground, his duty over.


A few days later, as my mother was going through his things, she discovered a Bronze Star Medal, an honor that my father had never mentioned. What other secrets had he borne away?, I wondered. I recalled the hideously crippled casualty who had begged for release, and I knew beyond doubt that he hadn’t used the syringe that my father had “put in his hand,” nor had he died from his wounds. No, my father granted his petition, and administered the overdose. Perhaps for the rest of his life, my father saw the man’s ruined face every time he played his violin, the only good thing he had brought back from the war. Maybe his attempts to play the divine music of Bach and Shubert and Beethoven was his petition to them to intercede with God, to request Him to suture and heal the grievous lacerations upon humanity that had been inflicted by their countrymen.

Although I inherited Father’s violin, I never learned to play it. It rests on my bookshelf, next to an empty cartridge mounted on a walnut plaque. The brittle notations of our long ago games are in a trunk, waiting to be replayed with a future grandchild.

Sometimes on summer evenings, I sit at night on my father’s wooden porch swing, remembering my six-year-old self nestled on the backseat of the old ’51 Chevy, listening sleepily to his father singing along with Sarah Vaughan’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” while outside the half-frosted windows a galaxy of passing headlights and glowing streetlights wheel past in mute splendor. Then I look across the road at the moonlit meadow alive with fireflies, and I know with that child’s unshakeable conviction that neither me or my father will ever, ever die.


SMART Communications
PA DOC # HZ6518
Burl N. Corbett 
SCI Albion
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733

Born 6/9/47 in Reading, PA.  Raised on a 123-acre sheep farm only three crow miles from John Updike´s famous sandstone farmhouse of “Pigeon Feathers,” The Centaur, and Of the Farm.  Graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 1965.  Ran away to Greenwich Village to become a beatnik in 1966 with only a Martin guitar and the clothes on my back.  Lived among the counterculture for 3 years, returning disillusioned to PA for good in 1968.  Worked on a mink farm; poured steel in a foundry; chased the sun as a cross-country pipeliner; drove the big rigs, baby!; picked tomatoes with migrant workers; tended bar on the old skid row Bowery; worked as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for two Southeastern Pennsylvania newspapers; drove beer truck (hic!); was a “HEY, CULLIGAN MAN!”; learned how to plaster, stucco, and lay stone; published both fiction and nonfiction in several nationally distributed magazines and literary quarterlies; got married and raised four children; got divorced and fell into the bottle; and came to prison at the age of 60 with no previous criminal offenses other than a 25 year-old DUI. The “crime”? Self-defense in my own house without financial means to hire a decent lawyer.  Since becoming the “guest” of the state in 2007, I have won six PEN Prison Writing Awards (two first and four honorable mentions); the first and only prize of $500 in the 2013 Eaton Literary Agency short fiction contest; written a children/young adult book, Coon Tales; a novel of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” Dreaming of Oxen; a magic realism novel, A Redneck Ragnorak, and many short stories and memoirs.  My first novel, A Haven from Violence, and Coon Tales, are available at Xlibris.com or Amazon.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Arrest

By Erin George

These are turbulent times. As the nation grapples with the murder of George Floyd, citizens of all ethnicities and ages are flooding the streets, demanding change, as a coward shivers in his government-subsidized bunker. I am not able to join the demonstrations because I'm in prison, but, at least, I thought, I could share my own story about the police. Here it is.

The day I was arrested, my two older children were at school, so I'd spent the morning running errands with my youngest, Gio. We'd just had lunch at Applebee's, and she was dozing off in her car seat in the back as we approached our home.

As we got closer to the house, I saw a cluster of people standing in my driveway: two men in suits – whom I recognized as the detectives who had been investigating the death of my husband months earlier – and a woman I'd never seen before. As my SUV pulled into the drive, they all stepped back to give me room.

The detectives watched me quietly as I unbuckled Gio from her seat, only approaching when I finally clutched her in my arms. Respectfully, even gently, they told me that I was being arrested for the murder of my husband. They asked me if I had any questions. They also asked me who they could contact to take care of my children. The woman, they explained, was a social worker who would make sure that my Gio would be safe and my other two children would be met at the school bus that afternoon.

I was numb and handed Gio to the clearly kind and concerned woman after one last, desperate embrace. I was allowed to lock my car, and, when Gio began to cry and reach for me, the detectives let me hold her again, to calm her and try to explain, as best I could to such a young child, that everything would be okay. 

After giving Gio back again, I was carefully seated in the detectives' car, brought to the police station, and booked.

I later learned that the social worker had taken Gio to a close friend's house and that all of my children were immediately surrounded by people who loved them.

There, then, is my experience with the police.

It doesn't sound familiar, does it? It's nothing like all of the other stories we've all heard, the stories of violence and heartbreak that so many have endured.

You can justifiably ask, why is my story so different? What made me so special? 

Did I have political clout or great wealth? Was I a celebrity? Or did the detectives arresting me have some doubts about my guilt? I did not and was not. And the cops most assuredly did not.

What I was was a middle class, suburban, white woman; no one special, except to my family and friends. That, it seems, was enough to ensure that I'd have no remarkable arrest experience to relate.

But when I hear other people's – black and brown people's – horrific stories of injustice and violence, I cannot use my own benign experience to dismiss those tragedies as aberrations; the acts of "a few bad apples" in the police ranks: the violence is too well-documented and widespread to dismiss. 

No, my own story is only further proof of the poisonous open secret that taints our entire society: that there exists two parallel justice systems in America – one based on the ideals that give us the moral high ground as we preach to other countries for their human rights abuses, and a second that perpetuates those very same abuses we decry elsewhere.

What other explanation is there? How else could I, a woman accused (and eventually convicted) of murder, only feel the touch of a policeman as one chivalrously guided my head to avoid an unpleasant bump while being seated in his car, while generations of black men, women, and even children have felt a knee on their neck, a taser's jolt, a bullet's deadly blaze, simply for being suspected of selling loose cigarettes, passing a phony twenty dollar bill, or playing with a toy in a park? 

My absence of such a story is not specific to me, either. White people have cell phones, too, after all, and I'm sure that if in white neighborhoods white suspects were being murdered by cops on the flimsiest of excuses, there'd be footage everywhere.

When I think about my childhood, I can't remember a single instance of seeing a police car patrolling our neighborhood. In fact, the only time I ever saw a cop was when we had an assembly at school once about avoiding drugs. Nor did local police patrol the gated community where I eventually bought my own home. When I was arrested, I didn't know of a single person among my family or friends who had also been arrested, much less incarcerated. I'd certainly never had to receive a talk from my parents instructing me on how to avoid being murdered by the police.

I know how privileged I was. But I am no more responsible for that privilege than people of color are for their own circumstances. So how, in a country that brandishes its ideals like a club, can something so random as a circumstance of birth determine whether you will walk or be carried away from an encounter with the police? And how much longer can people like me ignore it?

Erin George 1141067
Fluvanna Correctional Center
P.O. Box 1000
Troy, VA 22974


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Sanctity

By Terrell Carter

Have you ever been in a place where solitude and silence allowed you to see beyond the distractions in life and you end up in a place where new discoveries shape your worldview? Well, a few years ago, as I sat in a penitentiary cell drowning in the mundaneness of an incarcerated existence, I found myself in one of those spaces. It was one of those anxiety-filled evenings where sleep was chained, shackled and held hostage by demons of the past. It was in the crushing blackness of contrition, illuminated by the pale glow of a 19-inch TV. It was in that between-television-seasons time, when nothing was on, causing me to question why I continued to spend half my jailhouse checks on the bullshit cable the jail provided. I was bored out of mind, surfing from station to station in a fruitless attempt to find something worth watching. Finally, after flicking through the stations at least five different times, I gave up and resigned myself to watching everyone's favorite corporate news show, CNN. 

Usually on these anxiety-filled, sleepless nights I would turn the TV off and employ the timeless trick of counting myself to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, however, I would count regrets, something I never ran out of. Right before I hit the ‘off’ button on my remote, one of PA's local politicians, Rick Santorum, fresh on his first presidential campaign trail, was on CNN eating up free TV time. I paused. After a quarter century of incarceration, I was always interested in hearing some new lies falling out of the mouths of the local politicians. After all, in my humble opinion, lies masquerading as political truths are the chief reasons why second chances leave such a bitter taste in the mouths of Pennsylvanian lawmakers. 

For a full hour, I half-ass listened while Rick Santorum used the CNN interview as a campaign tool. His voice droned on, regurgitating these cliché-like catchphrases and conservative talking points: fiscal responsibility, small government, crime, anti-abortion, etc.

After some time though, his voice became a blur of sound and my eyelids became heavy as sleep broke free of its imprisonment. Just before sleep temporarily escaped the demons of the past, three words became distinguishable from the blur: "sanctity of life". I opened my eyes and watched as Rick Santorum – with this made for TV smile that never touched his eyes, and the pontification skills of a TV evangelist – ranted about the evils of abortion.

‘Sanctity’ simply means ‘holiness’. It is a term I often hear in the debate about abortion, so much so that it was never a term that was particularly noteworthy to me; so why did it strike such a chord with me on this night? Well, prior to his voice becoming a blur and the subsequent pro-life diatribe that “life is sacred”, Mr Santorum was espousing the virtues of State-sanctioned murder. Hold the fuck up, mister. How can you champion the morality of killing people, and then, out of the other side of your mouth, say “life is sacred”? This was my thought that I ended up screaming at the TV, hoping that the interviewer would not let him off the hook with such an obvious contradiction, hoping he would at least ask a few challenging questions like: “What is the value of a human life?” “Are all human lives sacred?” “Is it just the lives that lack generous amounts of melanin that have value, or is it just the folks who don't reside behind barbed wire fences and forty-feet walls, that are worth saving?” Of course, it was a wasted hope because, for whatever reasons, those challenging questions were never asked. However, they are important questions nonetheless, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

When social distancing is the new norm for most for the world, how is it that this logical measure put in place to minimize risk of infection, does not translate behind prison walls? How is six-feet of separation possible when you're confined within a 13×7 cell with another human being for 23-hours-and-20-minutes a day? How can you be safe when testing is virtually non-existent and you are subject to constant exposure to potentially asymptomatic people who enter and exit the institution daily? Realistically, there are two basic steps that can be taken to effectively reduce the risk of spreading a virus within the confines of a prison. Number One: reduce the population. Or, Number Two: test everyone behind its walls. Anything less than this is just an exercise in futility. In PA, the Governor used his power of reprieve, making 1,800 individuals eligible for release. But don't be fooled by this shell game. Although 1,800 is a lot of people, out of the 50,000 men and women in the PA D.O.C., 1,800 is a paltry number that makes little to no difference in the sardine-like confinement of PA prisons. 

In the mad dash to incarcerate as many poor people as possible, prison systems throughout the country have morphed into human warehouses bursting at the seams, and now that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, they've turned from warehouses to potential mass graves. So, the questions that CNN interviewer was supposed to ask Rick Santorum but failed to, I'll ask you instead: “What is the value of a human life?” “Are all human lives sacred, or is it just those lives lacking generous amounts of melanin who don't reside behind barbed wire fences and forty-feet walls, that are?” More importantly, “Do you even care?” 

So, as I sit in this cell – locked away, stressed out, anxious about each breath I take of this recycled air, afraid that the next inhalation will be the one that condemns me, worrying about my family and friends and if any more of them will fall victim to this scourge – I keep asking myself: Does my life have value? Are any of the 50,000 souls doubled-up in PA's penitentiary cells lives worth saving? Or, are these questions better left unanswered, making it easier for us to be forgotten, ignored, and rendered voiceless, so that if this deadly disease – god forbid – really takes hold, no one will hear our cries or our labored breaths rattling in our chests? Will we just be gone? 


SMART Communications
Terrell Carter BZ5409
SCI Phoenix
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lucky Day

By Leon Carpenter

Segregation is fucked up! No question about it. I am forever damaged from all the years I was left in that madness. 

One morning while wasting away in segregation I was watching the news. I think it was CNN but who really knows? Life back then was much easier. Back then you were not labeled racist, sexist, Marxist, etc… based on where you got your morning full of nonsense. 
I was about twelve months into an eighteen-month segregation program the morning this happened. I remember being happy to have a TV and how glad I was to not be my neighbor. I remember just being happy that I was able to sit on the concrete slab the State calls a bed and turn my TV on. I remember thinking how lucky I was, having the small black and white TV to turn on. 
Obviously, the State's program had cast its spell on me. There is no way a normal human should feel lucky under such living conditions. I was being held in segregation for eighteen months for something I did not do. I was twenty-two years old. I had seven hundred and seventy-four years remaining on my prison term. My life was a mess.
So, there I was, sipping my single serve packet of coffee, watching the news. This was during Bush Junior’s time in the White House. The war was in full swing and Guantanamo Bay at its height. Lots of bad shit was going on in the world. There were people blowing themselves up around the world based on empty promises. Our armed services men and women died daily. For a great part of the world's population, it was an “us or them” mentality. 
Well shit got out of control at Guantanamo Bay; the “us” team was abusing the “them” team. Somehow the media got ahold of tapes and pictures of shit the “us” team had been doing to the “them” team. That was the morning news I was watching when I had the lucky feeling about myself. The talking heads were going on and on about the treatment of prisoners. They were correct too! That shit was not cool. Those people were being sprayed with water hoses and mace, stripped of all clothing, dragged out of their cells, to be video recorded and humiliated. That shit should never be acceptable. And there I am, feeling lucky to have my TV. Glad I was not my neighbor and hopeful that this day would be nothing like yesterday.
Just like the armed services men and women overseas, our dry, dusty state prison had the “us” team and the “them” team. “Them,” just to be clear, are no good, lying piece of shit criminals, and the “us” team are arbiters of truth and righteousness. I was on team “them”. 
My poor neighbor had mental issues. The fucker would smear his shit on the cell walls. I am not talking about a spot. I mean the entire freaking cell. No joke. Of course, for me and everyone else in this closed air pod, this was awful. Not only would he do this, but he had another twitch to his character. He would yell out his door for hours on end. In fact, they called him “Preacher” because he would yell gibberish about the Bible for hours on end. I am serious. HOURS NONSTOP! That got to me. 
The day before, Preacher's medication wasn’t working, so shit was in the air, and the pod was getting closer to Jesus. This happened so often, I nearly became numb to it. Nearly, but not completely. I felt bad for the guy. Mental health services were failing him. They allowed this poor idiot to be out of his mind, instead of figuring out how best to help him find peace. My father was mentally ill like this. I know his behavior was not his fault. That did not mean I did not want to shut his mouth for him though. 

Someone down the way, no longer able to tolerate in the smell of human waste or Preacher’s sermon, finally snapped. Unable to process life normally anymore, the guy begins kicking his cold metal door with pure rage. No way could he have this sort of power while his mind was present. As he kicks his door like the madman Preacher had driven him to become, he too starts yelling shit in between kicks about the devil. I THINK he was just trying to fuck with Preacher, but who really knows? It didn’t seem the right time to ask about his faith. 

Not to be shut down or outdone, Preacher began banging his shower shoe on his hollow sink, casting out demons. This may sound like an improvement, but it wasn’t. This is a loud ass noise you can’t block out of your head. And it goes on for hours. Hours of this noise. Noise that echoes like something right out the depths of hell. Noise that hurts my head. There is zero relief. The dumb TV is useless, the sound drowned out by my peers and their battle.

And so, I pace. 

Three steps to the door, turn around. Three steps to the bunk, turn around, every so often glancing out the small window cut in my metal door. 
Three steps to my door, turn around. 
Life in segregation allows for very little to look forward to. Your three meals a day, your single hour out of your cell to shower, a call home if you’re lucky, and the chance to take more than three freaking steps in one direction. Getting out of the small cells for that brief sixty minutes is important. Sometimes it’s the single thread that holds a person together. 

Knowing this provides context for what happens next. 
The good ol’ boys working the unit finally make their appearance in full riot gear.  With shock shields, bull horns and bottles of mace, they arrive. The fat one in front begins yelling at us with the bull horn. If things were not so fucked up, I would have fallen out laughing at the sight of it. The dumb horn was full-sized but it looked like one of those kids toys in his fat hands. He yells, “All inmates in this pod are now on restricted movement! No one receives yard, shower, phone or mail for twenty-four hours!”
They stand there in their military gear. Shiny service boots that glint in the light. Camouflage blue pants tucked into these boots. Service belts holding mace, flashlights, plastic zip ties for cuffs, and their radios. These motherfuckers are mean too. Unprofessional and unchecked.
“They” stand in the midst of “us,” six men now losing our minds over this unfair decision to take our yard, shower, mail, and phone time. All that serves to hold us together, gone! Nothing is left. 

They joined Preacher and his counterpart in what is best described as cacophony. 
I stand there silently looking out my cell, trying to figure out how I lost my day. As I’m ruminating, the military-like group of fat men, now laughing, move in. 

My neighbor’s cuff port is opened by an officer, who sprayed into it what sounded like an entire can of mace. When the officer was done spraying and subduing my neighbor, not a move was made to help this mentally ill man. 
Cries now replace the words of Jesus. Gone is the smell of his waste, traded for the poisonous gas of mace. The cuff port slammed closed and the riot team, a group of overweight men with poisonous gas, moved down to the next cell. With no request for the occupant to comply, the cuff port opens, and they spray him too, and then move to the next cell.

By now I’ve completely lost my vision and ability to breathe.  The gas was coming into my cell as if I were being sprayed directly.  The only thing I could do was bury my face in a shirt I was able to wet before they turned the water off, and lay on the ground, gasping for breath and searching for air to cool my chemically burned lungs. How long I laid there, I don’t know. I coughed, choked and burned for what seemed like days. I could barely open my eyes.  Gone were the echoes from kicked doors, replaced with coughs and pleas for water.

When I managed to get off my floor and look out my window, I saw Preacher completely naked laying on his stomach, crying from his pain, begging for the officers to help him. There were two officers standing over his convulsing body.  One was holding a dog leash connected to the man’s ankles and wrists.  The other was filming the scene.

In the next room over I could see two more poor souls just like Preacher, naked, hogtied and crying in pain.  After a couple of hours of this they were escorted back to their cells, all the while mocked, manhandled and recorded.  They remained naked for the next forty-eight hours in their poisoned cells without water or any way to clean the burning chemicals from their skin.  Our criminal convictions seemingly bar people in our nation from caring about living conditions incarcerated men and women suffer are under every single day that seem obvious in other circumstances, like war.  

And so, there I sat, sipping my coffee, watching these national news commentators call for criminal charges against the soldiers for their behavior at Guantanamo Bay, and I felt lucky.  Lucky not to be my neighbors.  


Geoffrey Leon Carpenter 752058
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777
Hello World! Friends call me Leon but the government officials get my attention by using my government-approved name, Geoffrey Leon Carpenter.  It is up to you which works best. I’m a 39 year-old male held captive in WADOC.  My crime… well, those are many but the roots rise out of poverty, abuse and drug addiction. I’m happily committed to a special person, my future and my life. A hope of mine is that something of value can be gained from reading these words. These unadulterated truths seep from the darkest depths of my wounded soul.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Social Distancing in the Age of Social Illiteracy

By Timothy Pauley

"My bad." This is a term currently in vogue. It is a way to indicate one has transgressed, but without expressing any remorse for said transgression. This is similar in many ways to the slogan it has come to replace,"l’m sorry." Similar in that it acknowledges a wrong, but different in that it gives no expression of remorse, thereby paving the way for identical future transgressions.

"Good lookin' out." This is a term in the socially hip vernacular that acknowledges that someone did something helpful, but without expressing any gratitude. Almost like saying thank you. Almost.

While older people clinging to traditional phrase might seem amusing to some, perhaps there is something deeper going on here. Could this be evidence of social illiteracy? If you are inclined to dismiss this, perhaps more evidence is in order.

Prior to March of 2020, these observations mattered little. Who really cares if the enlightened among us wish to alter traditional expressions? Then, we were all told about "social distancing."

According to numerous experts, the single most effective way a person can avoid becoming infected with COVID-19 is by keeping at least six feet away from other people. They even coined the term social distancing to describe this method of self-protection. Unless someone is totally disconnected from mass media, they are familiar with this term and with its implications. Everyone in prison has been advised of this.

In prison, social distancing is a unique phenomenon. Prisons are designed to keep a huge number of people in the smallest geographic area possible. The system is literally designed to herd people like cattle. There are lines for nearly every activity permitted. Even living quarter dimensions are the minimum amount of space the law allows. There are deliberate choke points throughout these facilities, designed to funnel a large number of people through a relatively small opening.

When nobody is infected with COVID-19, this is not a major problem. Prisoners are forced into tight spaces with such regularity, it becomes second nature. Many even internalize this as the norm, huddling close together even when space permits otherwise.

Apparently, this behavior is not confined to prison. Even after the governor of Washington declared a "shelter in place" order, television crews broadcast footage of crowded beaches and other recreational areas in Seattle. I received correspondence from a friend who attempted to go camping but was unable to find a spot due to the crowds.

The next day, I was mopping a hallway in the prison where I reside. Four guards were huddled together discussing a get-together after work. From the brief snippets of conversation I overheard, I gathered at least a half dozen of them were planning to attend.

As I write this, COVID-19 has yet to hit prisoners in my section of this facility. When it does, there is little doubt it will arrive as an indirect result of guards and other prison staff ignoring the governor‘s directive about social distancing. When that happens, everyone confined here will be screwed.

A couple weeks ago the virus was found inside the work camp, directly on the other side of the east wall of this prison. The prisoners known to be infected were removed from the dorm. Everyone else was ordered to remain in this room for the following two weeks. Dozens of these men were so distraught they were willing to risk their release dates by running out of
the dorm and refusing to return.

The prison administration has instituted several measures designed to permit a greater social distance between prisoners. To the best of my knowledge, social distance between prisoners and staff have not been considered. If this has been discussed, I certainly cannot see any manifestation of that in the interactions that take place at this facility. This even though we know that the threat will ultimately be a prison employee.

Yet many of us are doing all we can to maintain a safe distance from everyone. During the limited recreation we are permitted, this is sometimes possible. Or at least until one encounters one of the aforementioned individuals who have internalized the huddling mentality. 

This particular prison has a fairly large exercise yard. There is a running track that runs just inside the perimeter fence that is a third of a mile long. There is a walking track inside of this that is approximately a quarter mile around. In between these two tracks are pull-up bars, tables, and a basketball court. If everyone acted responsibly, keeping six feet away from other people would not be difficult.

The second day after the prison instituted a modified schedule to facilitate social distancing, I went to the yard to run. The doors to our cages rolled open and roughly a hundred people proceeded down the narrow hallway out of my living unit, towards the yard.

Knowing there would be a crowd in the hallway, I walked as fast as I could to get ahead of the congestion. I made it to the yard only coming into close proximity to a handful of people, maybe ten.

As I ran my laps, I began to notice a disturbing trend. The vast majority of people in the yard were in groups of two or three. None of them appeared to have any concern about their close proximity to one another. This included the two guards. I was glad I was the only one running.

Then a man who, judging by the fact he was a good eighty pounds overweight, has no regard for exercise, stationed himself approximately three feet from the running track. He just stood there. Each time I ran past, I tried to hold my breath and turn my face away from him, yet this clearly was not proper social distancing. But what were my options?

Years of experience have convinced me that exercise strengthens my immune system. Yet the walking track was filled with groups of people not maintaining proper distance. Even if they were, these people were walking slower than a pace that would yield sufficient health benefits.

Just as I finally convinced myself the one person standing close to the running track was an acceptable compromise, I encountered another group. There was a station of various exercise equipment approximately six feet away from the running track. A group of men had staked out this territory and were huddled together talking. They kept drifting closer and closer to the running track until they eventually settled in approximately two feet away. Best I could tell, none of them were even exercising.

I held my breath and turned my face away. What else could I do? Then I looked up and there was a man walking on the running track, coming directly towards me. If I were running on the walking track, the guards would order me to stop. Yet this man continued to walk on the running track for the duration of my run. I gave him a wide berth, straying off the track whenever I had to pass by him.

By the time they ordered us to leave the yard, I felt like I'd made a decent effort to protect myself. Then it was time to try to make it back to the cage they keep me in without any close encounters.

There are a set of stairs and four doorways between the yard and the cage they keep me in. I walked slow to keep, my distance yet people kept walking up on me from behind, making this impossible. On the stairs and in each doorway, guys would stop and talk with their friends.

When I finally made it back to my unit, a dozen guys were huddled around the doorway, forming a gauntlet I had to navigate to even return to the relative safety of the cage they keep me in. All seemed oblivious to any problem with this huddling, even though there were two guards amongst the huddle, people who spend two-thirds of their day out in the community where the virus currently resides.

The next day, I vowed to do better. I wore a makeshift mask to and from the yard. I was the only one running, so I felt relatively safe removing the mask for my run. Huffing all that carbon dioxide from my expelled breath would only defeat the purpose of cardio training.

As I approached the exercise bar station, the same group of social butterflies were congregated a mere eighteen inches off the running track. Among than was a man who the guards call when they want someone to paint an out-of-bounds sign for them. I have personally witnessed this man painting out-of-bounds lines all over the unit, thus sequestering our already limited space.  He particularly likes to paint them in line choke points, making a narrow passage even worse.

I stopped about twenty feet away from these men and put my mask on. When I approached the group, I asked why they insisted on crowding the running track. I further explained that even if they did not believe in the importance of social distancing, they should at least have the respect to allow others to do so. Seemed like a reasonable request.

Out-of-Bounds Guy was pissed. He pointed out he was not standing on the running track and wanted to know what the problem was. When I reiterated that he was less than two feet off the track, he sarcastically said, "Well, there's no line here," presumably referring to the fact that his handlers had not tasked him with cordoning off that particular portion of the prison yet.

Out-of-Bounds Guy made it clear that he could not be bothered with social distancing and would continue to act however he wanted. Essentially, he identified himself as a person intent upon helping the prison staff spread this disease.

Had this been just about any other prisoner, it would have been annoying and somewhat troubling. The fact that it was a prisoner who spends a disproportionate amount of time in close proximity to guards, rendered this exchange downright alarming.

According to prison protocol, I was supposed to assault Out-of-Bounds Guy at that point. I was literally supposed to throw away any hope of being paroled any time soon. I refused to comply. Instead, I kept my mouth shut and made an extra effort to steer very clear of Out-of-Bounds Guy and his cohorts. It was my only chance at a better future.

Upon reflecting on the current state of things, I determined that once the virus hits, everyone here will be exposed to it. Since I am in the high-risk category, I decided to try and get ahead of this. I wrote to the governor's office.

So, did I beg for help? Did I request new rules? Did I ask him to have Out-of-Bounds Guy paint a line protecting the running track? Of course not. Those measures would have been futile. Instead, I offered to allow them to use me for medical testing.

I told the governor that I would volunteer to allow them to test whatever they thought might work to combat this virus on me. In the event it was unethical for them to administer something, I agreed to waive my human rights, civil rights, and even self-administer if necessary. I told him I would allow them to continue doing this until I either died or they found a remedy for COVID-19. The only concession I required was that, if I survived, I would be released on parole. Give me liberty or give me death.

Why would an otherwise rational person make such an offer? On the surface, it may even seem insane. Yet they have designed a near perfect delivery system for COVID-19. If I am destined to get it anyway, at least I want it to count for something. As it is, Out-of-Bounds Guy, or some other egocentric individual is literally going to deliver COVID-19 to the cage they keep me in. At that point I will be at the mercy of a medical department that has been responsible for the deaths of several prisoners in the past few years.

To be clear, I am not accusing prison staff of deliberately trying to infect us. They appear to just be trying to make the best of a bad situation. There is really nothing they could do to mitigate this.

Were they to lock us in our cells, it would require far greater staff presence to administer a bare minimum of services. That would mean increasing the number of people from the community entering the facility, thus increasing the chances of importing the disease. No, this problem began long before anyone had even heard of COVID-19. 

If social distancing is working anything like this out in the community, it's a wonder everyone hasn‘t caught this disease. I'm sure there are Out-of-Bounds Guys out there too. Perhaps that's why so many people are dying.

In this age of social illiteracy, where people can‘t be bothered to move four feet out of common courtesy, is it any wonder social distancing is not working? At least the tough on crime crowd will have something to celebrate because before this is over, many prisoners will die before their time.

Timothy Pauley 273053
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

Thursday, August 6, 2020

It's The Wait That Gets You Part III

By Nascimento Blair

To read Part II click here

“On the count!” 

Thade rolled out of bed again. It was Wednesday and he was hoping it would be a more eventful day than the one which had passed. He stood at his room door and went through the perfunctory morning ritual of the department of corrections. His mindset was different today. There was little hope that things would turn out in his favor, yet deep down he hoped that his number would be called before the parole board today. The count cleared and Thade retreated to his room. He turned on his tablet once more to listen to NPR’s news on his local radio station. For some reason he was still distracted at the power displayed by the parole board the previous day. He marveled at the idea some prisoners sell their families about being ready for that second chance; yet they explode at the idea of waiting for more than six hours. Truth be told though, Thade thought the parole board was very powerful, and they did not hesitate to show the convicts how truly powerful they were. A knock came at his door. He was in the process of brushing his teeth and noticed through the hole in his room door that it was Jeff. He walked over to the door and watched as Jeff smiled. 

“What’s up? You ready?” Jeff asked. Thade nodded his head and smiled while walking away towards his toilet and sink. He spat out the contents of his mouth and stood up as Jeff continued to steer the conversation. “Well, buddy I heard that they would not be here until 1:30 today, so that should give you time to take a shower and go cook some of that good Jamaican food you always be doing in the kitchen.” 

Thade paused for a minute. He wanted to measure his response appropriately. He was always amazed at how prisoners were privy to certain information. It was 7:00 A.M. and Jeff had told him something which required some amount of running around in the jail to attain. He spat again, after mulling over his response. He slowly looked up at his mirror, then at Jeff, and said, “How do you know that?” 

“Well, I heard yesterday that due to the impending snow and shit, the commissioners were gonna be late,” he finished. Thade paused again. His shoulders dropped and disappointment echoed inside his response. “What does that mean for us who did not go yet? Are we supposed to just, go about our daily routines like busy bees, or are we supposed to just sit and hope we are called soon to quell this agony of wait? Man, the nerve of these people. Would they inform the people who were slated to the board about their potential tardiness?” 

“You know I overheard the officers speaking about this yesterday when I was sitting on the bench outside the hearing. Listen Thade, that’s just how these people operate for years now. They do what they want, when they want and to whom they want. There is no accountability. Who is gonna stop them? The sentencing court will not intervene, and if they do they don’t want to let people go and something bad happens, so they leave things in the hands of parole. So parole acts as god almighty.” Thade was now washing out his mouth while still listening to his friend vent his frustrations over all these years with the parole board. 

“Listen man, my last two appearances lasted just fifteen minutes and the one  before that was just five. Now they have this bullshit law saying they have to go through everything, so they are doing just that, and that takes up a lot of time. These people don’t care, all they have to do is show up, and you make sure you show up too. I tell you, Bro, it's going to be a long series of events and this whole process is meant to unsettle you, so when you go in there looking mean and mean muggin them, they will say aha, we got one,” he finished. 

Thade looked inside his mirror again while rubbing the cocoa butter stick on his dry face and said, “I guess it’s the wait that gets you…”

“Exactly,” Jeff said, pointing to his friend and smiling because he made Thade realize, the parole board was all about the wait. Thade continued titivating and his friend wished him good luck and closed the door. It seemed he was in for another of those long series of ‘hurry up and wait’ which tells the story of the prison experience exactly. 

The hours dragged themselves by and Thade was sitting inside his room frustrated. Suddenly he realized he did not call his family the previous day due to the exhaustive experience of bullpen therapy. He went to the phone booth and quickly dialed his wife’s number. She answered, and in her frantic voice wondered if something had gone wrong. They had killed prisoners before in this facility, so he understood her concerns. They talked for the allotted half an hour and then he called his mother to give her the same reassurance of his safety. He informed both of his callers that he did not see anyone yet and was just exhausted because of the process. They both encouraged him individually to just be humble and patient. He thanked them and assured them he would call later. It was now 10:30 A.M. and he was as hungry as ever. 

The block sergeant had walked in the block, and Thade asked the blue shirt if he could have a word with him. The sergeant was a tall strapping Caucasian man who stuttered when he talked. Yet he was very professional, mild and easy to talk to. Thade asked him about the rumors of the parole board commissioners coming late. The sergeant assured Thade that that was the case had asked him if he were going to the board also. He answered in the affirmative and was told that the parole board would not convene until 1:30 P.M. that very day. Thade thanked the sergeant and walked back to his room. Jeff was right but he still had to know through his own research. After all, he did not come by his degrees by just listening and not researching things of his own accord.

The kitchen smelled pleasant due to Thade cooking his favorite curry cabbage with fish and rice. He shared brief conversations with people entering and exiting, who were drawn to the pleasant scent of his food. Enrique was returning from his asbestos program and looking a bit ruffled. He asked Thade if he heard about the delayed time and Thade answered, “yes.” Unlike Thade, Enrique was never called the previous day, so his nerves must have been shaken to its foundations. The 11:30 A.M. count was called and Thade ran to his room door to assume the familiar stance. When it cleared a few prisoners asked him how things had gone, since he had retired immediately  the previous night. He answered the best he could and went to finish his meal. He had not had much of an appetite the day before but was assured of the time today, so now he could at least eat something. 

After Thade ate, he decided to take a shower and just relax his mind and not allow the power displayed by the parole board to dissuade him. He listened to the BBC news as it blared over the radio broadcasting the various events the world over. He got up and started getting dressed; regardless of how poised he felt, it was the nervousness of the unexpected which still kept him off balance. Again, he was recalcitrant to put on his necktie because he did not want too many people asking questions. He slowly put his socks on and got distracted when he saw the industry tractor trailer pulling into the courtyard outside his window. He realized quickly that he was not the only one fascinated with the truck because many industry workers were also standing on the docks watching as the driver maneuvered his vehicle into the right spot, to pick up the prisoners finished product. 

“Walkway!” the officer shouted. Thade was snatched out his daze and knew business was at hand. A knock came at his door and he was told the officer wanted him. He put on his socks and shoes and walked to the C.O. 's bubble. The guard had a mild disposition and Thade knew her from another location which he had previously worked. She whispered, “I didn’t know you were going to the board.” 

Thade nodded and smiled and then she wrote his pass and told him, “Good luck and kill it.” He smiled and thanked her. Thade walked back to his room, got completely dressed this time and left for his chance at freedom. He was more relaxed. Surprisingly, Enrique was right behind him walking and dressed to impress this time. The two walked slowly along the walkway. Enrique was noticeably nervous and perhaps rightfully so. This was his second time going to see the commissioners. He had done seventeen years already, went home and caught a new bid within four months. Thade was thinking perhaps it was that, some people developed habits in prison, which they were unable to extricate from themselves before leaving prison. The two men walked up to the infirmary gates and then the big blue door again. The buzzing reminded Thade of his tedious experience the day before. This time however he was glad to get inside because it was snowing and bitterly cold. They walked into the bull pen and Enrique gave the officer his pass, and then went to speak to a few of his friends. Thade followed suit, but noticed Shakim was sitting inside the bullpen. 

There were noticeably more men sitting inside the bullpen on this day as opposed to the previous. Thade counted about thirty-four people this time, but at least fourteen were from yesterday. He greeted all the other men and then hugged Shakim. “What happened yesterday?” He noticed how visibly frustrating Shakim’s response was. Shakim started to shake his head and said, “Man, these people just do what they want. I was the last one sitting on the bench and suddenly they came out and said the board will not see anyone else. I’m telling you, Man, you just have to remain vigilant because these people have the power of your life inside their hands.” Thade listened carefully as his friend explained away his frustrations about the parole system. 
“Did anyone go see them yet?” he asked Shakim.

“Nah, they not even here yet”

“What, how come?” asked Thade. 

“Man, listen, you are learning how these people really feel. They think because we here already, they can just come and go as they like, and we better not go into that room looking pissd off either because that is exactly what they want.” But this time, the rest of the bullpen was feeling a bit rowdy and the frustrations were beginning to surface. Lopez was sitting on the edge of one of the benches and looked as if were getting ready to explode again. The chatter became louder and then one of the guards walked inside the bull pen and asked for everyone’s attention. He was young, black and everyone thought he was gonna scream ‘on the noise’ like most of the guards usually do whenever they want to show they have control. Except he did not! 

“Pardon me for one second fellas,” he said. “Listen, I know some of you guys are nervous, but this is how the process works. We have word that the commissioners are running a bit late but will be here by about 2:30 P.M. Just try and bear a little bit. What will happen is whenever they call for you; you will step out and proceed down the hallway to the officers sitting outside the hearing room. You cannot take anything with you except for a copy of your parole file and the necessary documents. No lighters, no pens or anything of the sort. Gentlemen as soon as you are called just check yourself so that the process can be a bit more expedient. Now thank you and just please keep the noise level to a minimum.” Wow, Thade thought; this guy was very informative and professional. None of the officers did this yesterday. He watched as the officer exited the bull pen. The occupants started nodding their heads in an agreeable manner. 

“Well there you have it” Shakim said to Thade. Everyone was a bit more at ease this time and the noise level was taken down a notch. The occupants of the bullpen decided to distract themselves with the contents on the TV this time, and their particular conversations. The house was stating their reasons for impeachment of the US. President. CNN could not seem to get enough of Donald Trump. Thade sat and wondered how every media was so caught up on one person, when there were so many things happening all over the world. Thade and Shakim sat and talked about his past experiences with the parole board. Shakim spoke about the letdown he felt yesterday being called last and then just being denied at the last moment. He went on for a few more minutes about the power these people have over incarcerated people. Thade listened intently, because these were lessons he thought would be useful whenever it was his turn. 
The two continued their conversation, occasionally allowing others to butt in here and there. Thade had another friend who was a member of his religious community going to the board that day with him also. The time was flying, the usual impatience of the incarcerated persons in the bullpen starting to manifest. It was now 2:30 P.M. and the shift change was still in progress. The occupants watched as the guards came and went and watched them. It seemed like this eerie ritual was happening, where the eyes watched and the bodies spoke of a deeper understanding of what each person was doing there. Purpose was the fulcrum, which pulled the institution of participants back and forth, the guards knew why the men sat in the bullpen; and then men in the bullpen watched as the guards wore their disdain on their faces.

Thade watched the members of the House one by one make their cases for impeaching the President of the United States. There are many phenomena which occur in prison; that day Thade was privy to witness one of the most paralyzing ones. 

For some reason everyone in the bull pen turned their attention to the big blue door at the south side of the seating. It was 2:35 P.M. Two people walked through the door. A guard walked in front of them as their escort, and Thade noticed they were wearing large winter coats. “It was them.” The whispers started as soon as the two people were recognized. The two walked charismatically on the opposite side of the bull pen, directly facing the hallway to the hearing room. Then the phenomenon occurred. The male figure walking behind the guard was identified as the parole boogeyman himself. 

It was Commissioner Burze. 

His debonair attitude exuded from his steps and the occupants could tell by his professional demeanor that he knew what his purpose was. He wore a gray suit and red necktie, with a large winter coat opened in the middle. It was like a ten minute exchange between the occupants and the two commissioners which actually took place in less than three minutes. The Commissioner’s acuity proved itself and he immediately knew who the occupants of the bull pen were. In one evidently, calculated act, the boogeyman waved and greeted the men of the bullpen. They were stunned! Some mumbled under their breaths a low hello, at the risk of being looked at by their peers as traitors. Thade, being the naive gregarious individual he was, waved in response to the commissioner. The battle lines were drawn, and Commissioner Burze had won the first round effortlessly. 

His move had exposed the temperance of many in the bullpen, their lack of emotional intelligence. It was a victory dance by people on separate parts of the ideological spectrum, and the occupants of the bull pen were already set ablaze because of the audacity of this one man. This one man who will decide if prisoners would go home to their families, have a longer duration or a shorter one. This man who Shakim once said represented the victims, or members of society. And yet these men who wanted to be redeemed by society were so cold to him. How could he not have seen that? Was he smart enough to remember all those who waved, said hello or just stood there like a deer in the headlights of a car facing inevitable doom? How these potential chess players could get checkmated in one move. It was as if they were not even playing the great game of life to begin. Who were they fooling, or did this really mean anything? Thade looked around as the men in the bullpen sat down and the nervousness was visible. Everyone watched as they disappeared down the hallway. The stage was set. There would be no mystery, because the occupants of the bull pen knew who was there and they already knew some of what to expect; because the legendary boogeyman was in the building and any heart not in the right place could be exposed and could continue to dwell in the abyss of the prison system. 
The conversations continued and Thade and Shakim continued to speak about the many current affairs which were plaguing the nation, which the media seemed too obsessed with Trump to report. Time, more importantly, was still going and it was not 3:10 P.M. By then the more guards were walking around the bull pen and it seemed like a completely different crew of people from yesterday. 

This time a heavyset black officer stepped inside the room. He called five names for the board. Shakim got called along with four other of the men who’d been sent the previous day. Thade wondered why he was not called since he was waiting from the previous day also. He hugged his friend and told him good luck. It was a chorus of well wishes from the occupants of the bullpen. Everyone was wishing all five men good fortunes because they knew who was there. 

Thade sat down and started having a conversation with his friend from his religious community. The two spoke about the necessity of the faith but expressed how important it was for one to believe in their own potential also. The conversations continued for more than two hours. The usual feelings of anxiety started to set in and boredom caused many of the occupants of the bull pen to walk around to relieve their tight muscles. Thade noticed as Enrique leaned against the wall in conversation with two of his friends. 

It was now 4:00 P.M. and another guard came inside the bullpen to do the count. The men had to be seated and the guard announced, “Clear,” when he was finished. The chatter continued and the men decided to drown out all the wait and boredom with Pix 11 news at 4. There was video footage of this girl being kidnapped, her mother pushed to the ground which upset many in the bullpen. This would be a feast for deviant Sociologists. “These people are bugging” Came one comment and they kept on coming until the food came in at 4:35 P.M. Surprisingly, this time along with the food came the fat dark skinned guard. Everyone looked at him because they knew he was going to announce another name. It was as if the price was right was going on and every one was waiting to make a deal. It was a tense four seconds. For a while, the officer sounded muffled to Thade. It was his name the guard called. He stood up and put on his jacket and grabbed his folder with his paperwork. He hugged his religious community member and was wished good luck by the occupants and walked out. 
The hallway was shining and clean. It was as if the porters had put down five layers of wax on the floor. The walk was long and the guard escorted Thade as he did the Commissioners. 

He arrived at the next point only to be told that he had to empty his pockets and the contents of his folder. “Take your jacket off and place it on the chair. Hands flat on the wall and legs apart,” were just some of the instructions which Thade had to adhere to before proceeding. He was searched. He complied, and was told to gather his things. “Have a seat on the edge of the bench, where the last person was sitting,” the guard said. Thade gathered his belongings and walked over to a bunch of chairs placed together, where the other men who’d left the bullpen had to sit. There were three people sitting, waiting to be called inside to see the commissioners. He sat down, greeted the men and exhaled. Thade leaned his head against the wall looking up at the ceiling to keep his concentration. It would all be up to him from this point forward.
One officer was stationed outside the door, so close he could listen to what was transpiring inside the room. The others were just sitting and making the usual non sequitur conversations they do to occupy the time. They laughed, talking while the men on the bench worried and fretted. Suddenly, the door opened and one of the men who was amongst the first to be called from the bullpen emerged. He was visibly pissed off. He grabbed his jacket as if it were an insolent child and made a hissing sound. One of the men on the bench dared ask him how it went and he said, “Pschhh, two years.” That caught Thade’s attention and he began thinking about the bogeyman Commissioner Burze. Thade looked at his watch and saw that the time was going. A caucasian woman wearing blue jeans, a gray sweater and a dark blue jacket came out of the room and told the guards sitting at the desk to send back “Martinez, Fisher, and Lockwood.” Martinez was Enrique’s last name. 

Another prisoner was called into the room and Thade knew him a bit from the department where they both worked. He went in and suddenly Thade moved up a bit on the bench. He had started to believe his prospects were getting better and maybe he would not have to be so exhausted like he was the day before. At least, he would be able to give his spiel and be done with it, come whatever may. 

Half an hour passed and the former occupant of the bench was still inside the hearing. Thade looked at the other two men and wondered what could be taking so long. It was 5:05 P.M. The new occupants of the benches sat and watched as four more men were escorted around to sit on the benches form the bullpen. Thade remembered the cut off time was 6:30 PM. One of them was an initial like Thade, and the rest were reappearance. 

The door opened again and the guard quickly jumped up. Strangely enough, a prisoner walked out and saw the other men sitting on the bench. “How did it go?” asked Thade. The guy turned around with a nonchalant demeanor and smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hmmm, maybe eighteen months.” Fear began to saturate the tiny space which had become a refuge for these men occupying the benches. The door never closed though, and while the prisoner was grabbing his stuff to walk away, the boogeyman himself walked out of the room. Yes, Commissioner Burze walked out of the room, immediately turned towards the men sitting on the bench and waved again. He repeated this once more. Was that his strategy? Thade thought, or was he just a genuine human being doing his paid job? Did he just declare war, again, on these poor unsuspecting felons? Or did he secretly destroyed his prey by psychologically breaking them down so he could tell if they were sincere or not? Whatever was his motive, this time all the men greeted him and called his name. He disappeared through another door with the words ‘bathroom’ above the door frame. Thade sat and watched  how the men decided to sit up straight and pay attention. Whoever had their heads down, dared not display this, at least not until the Commissioner was out the bathroom and into the hearing room. There was no chatter amongst the now occupants of the bench. Everyone was attentive. 

He emerged once more and everyone was a bit more relaxed. Everything went back to normal. Another name was called and he stepped inside the room. This took another 20 minutes. The prisoner, Lopez, from the previous day was also called. As per his usual impatient attitude, he was asking the guards if he would be able to make it to the law library. The guards looked at him and cracked up a bit, but not before telling him “it depends on when you are finished.” Thade found this strange since this man was there to see these people about going home. 

He thought again about those men who tricked their families about coming home, yet, their actions during incarceration are anathema to their survival if released. Another prisoner sat beside Thade and introduced himself. It was a case of verbal masturbation for this man. He kept on about how he should not have been called to the parole board because he was granted parole in September. Thade listened to his cacophony of complaints. You could almost see the cringe in Thade’s face because the man kept going on about the same thing. “So why don’t you tell the officer to send you back…” Thade interrupted. 

“Well, I think I’m gonna have a short hearing. They only want to ask me why I have not paroled out of state yet,” the man replied. Thade noticed he put his walking stick on the ground and opened his jacket to assume a more comfortable position,. “Listen, I have been locked up 32 years, and they finally gave me parole from the box in Comstock…”

“But here you are in Fishkill…” Thade pressed.

“Yeah, that’s why I know I will only have a short hearing, because I have already made the board.” The more he spoke, the more Thade realized he was full of shit. This prisoner kept on giving Thade a history lesson of his entire incarceration and how he cannot parole to New York.

“So why can’t you just parole to a shelter then? I’m sure that beats staying in prison and allowing these people to treat you like the scum on the bottom of their shoes?” Thade again pressed.

“Nah, see my nephews live with my sister, and they are some bad ass kids. They are in the street and if I parole to a shelter, my sister is gonna want to come get me. I don't come back to this shit man. Look at what they did to my leg?” The man demonstrated to Thade how his leg got broken. 

“You are still here in prison knowing that the officers did this to you” said Thade.

“Yeah, but I put some work in too, this shit isn’t over! I’m suing these sons of bitches. I’m gonna get paid,” he finished. Thade realized what the punch line was. This man was a liar and a conman. His frustrations with this prisoner were growing now and he started to look at the ceiling once more. Then, as if the heavens heard his cry and brought him relief, the guard at the door to the hearing room jumped up and the prisoner who was in the there exited. He was visibly pissed, not acknowledging anyone. Instead, he just grabbed his belongings and stormed off. This distraction proved fruitful because the conman sitting beside Thade was called next. Thade was a bit perturbed but glad to be rid of him. This was to be the first of many people who came before Thade, sat on the bench and saw the commissioners before him. The door closed and within five minutes opened again. The conman was smiling and looked at Thade and said, “I told you, a quick hearing.” He walked off back down the hallway and another went inside. 

This time it was Lopez. “I want to go back to my cube, and to the law library.” He was up next. How could this be? Was this the universe’s way of punishing Thade? Or was it God telling him to be patient because he had something in store for him? Regardless of what; he had to wait and displaying impatience would be a detriment to his goal. Surprisingly it took only ten minutes. It was now 5:35 P.M. and Thade was watching the clock with newfound fervor. The next man up went in and the lady stepped out again. She asked the guard how many others remained and the guard pointed to Thade and one other man on the bench. She told the guard that no more after these two, which placed Thades’s mind at ease somewhat. He thought at least he would get over with today and done. Another five minutes passed and the prisoner exited. For some reason these men seemed to all have brief hearings. The hope was growing now for Thade. “Hey do you want a tray?” one guard asked Thade. His mind was too far from eating food. “No thank you I’m not hungry right now…”

“Yeah, but its pizza…” the guard interrupted Thade’s response to tell him. Thade was beyond livid. Here he was about to convince some strangers why he should be let back into society and they were bothering him about some jail food. “Officer, with all due respect, food is the last thing on my mind at this point” he replied. Maybe it was a test he thought. Was this what these guards at this point did? “Well I'll give the tray to the other guys in the bullpen” he finished. Thade turned towards the guard’s direction and barely cracked a smile. He started looking up at the ceiling once more. All he wanted to do was get beyond this wait. 

It was 5:40 P.M. when the next person went inside the hearing room. Thade had noticed how quiet he was when he came to sit on the bench. The guards started to get a little louder discussing what they will do next. One guard, an obese caucasian, with a mustache, and glasses, resembling a knock off Tom Selleck, started to look at Thade in the often obsessive, fascinated way most guards looked at convicts. He started to make jokes about Thade sitting on the bench. 

“Well how do you think this one will go?” he asked. The other guards looked at Thade and started to come up with all sorts of scenarios. “Well I’m kind of bored; maybe we will get some action.” They all laughed and stared at Thade hoping for a response. Thade was neither impressed, nor was he interested. He had seen these kinds before. They were the ones who provoked convicts and jumped on them, came to court to testify and get compensation. That was how the state apparatus rewarded its beasts. They did things to keep the jails full, and the state loved them for it. Surprisingly though, there was this one guard sitting down laughing with all the rest. She was chubby, of Hispanic descent and was quite familiar with Thade. He knew her from another jail and she was not like this. As soon as they are amongst their kind, he thought, you see who they truly are. 

At 5:50 P.M. the door opened and Thade was called in after the other convict excited. Thade looked at all the guards' faces before he entered the room. For some reason he was not nervous. He sat down and saw the boogey man himself. It was Commissioner Burze. That was who had his lead. Commissioner Bree was also present and only two people were sitting before him that day. He looked at the lady who usually came out of the room and saw that she was the stenographer, and the facility’s senior counselor sat behind him. A chair was leaned against the table where the senior counselor sat and that was where Thade was told to sit. He complied. The commissioners were professional. The boogeyman looked accomplished, wearing a suit, hair slick and curly with a little salt and pepper flavor, and another thick Tom Selleck mustache. 

He started off the hearing by congratulating Thade on his accomplishment and making it to his Limited Credit Time Allowance - LCTA - hearing. His first question caught Thade off guard. “How did you get here?” He asked. Thade responded by telling the commissioners about having a mentor in prison who helped him to navigate these troubled waters. “No, matter of fact get out” The Commissioner interrupted. Thade did just that and gathered his folder and walked out without incident. The fat caucasian guard was right at the door. Thade thought he just wanted to touch a fascinating black man with dreadlocks, so he mostly ignored him. “What happened?” the overzealous guard jumped up and asked. By now, they were all standing and walking towards Thade, thinking he had done something wrong. Or maybe they were just fascinated with how long his locks were. “They told me to stand out here,” he answered. 

“Oh, I thought we were about to have some action,” said the guard.

“Listen, the only action you are going to get from me will be four months from now when my day comes to be released and you people will have to escort me to gate two,” Thade responded firmly. 

“Well I do that too…”

“Well, remember my name,” he said, looking the Spanish female in her eyes. He was wondering what she had become at the same moment and if this was her plan for convicts. Thade stood with his back towards the door of the hearing room. The door opened and the stenographer exited and called him back inside the room. He went in and sat down once more in the same seat with the same poise and confidence. He finally realized it was the waiting that was the science of the parole board.

The End


Nascimento Blair has been released from prison
Nascimento Blair is an aspiring writer and poet at heart. He has spent the last decade writing a collection of poems and romance novels giving his characters palpable glimmer. Nascimento has a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences from Mercy College, N.Y and recently achieved a Master’s degree in Professional Studies at the New York Theological Seminary where he is also the former Vice President of the Alumni Association of the North Campus Chapter. He enjoys playing soccer, chess and cooking and spends his spare time with his wife and son.