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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.