Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike Throws a Sucker Punch

Saturday, September 13th, and the week that follows

For the first time in my life, tonight I truly feel like a writer. Gone are the petty, bourgeois luxuries (distractions) of penal life, like electricity and running water. Present are only the roaring winds and the creeping darkness and the clanking and crashing of the metal gates being tossed about by internal drafts. My handwriting is only moderately passable at the best of times, so I wonder if I am even going to be able to read this in the morning. Writing by the sodium vapor perimeter lights is something of a challenge, though a curiously enjoyable one. The power has been out since last night, and the guards aren't even attempting walk-through checks anymore, a sure sign that we are on emergency lockdown status. Obviously, I have zero connection with the world at this point, but I fear that Ike is going to be a bad one.

Prisons are, by necessity, built rather tough. The human spirit is as dense as steel, and these walls have to be at least as hard as that in order to break it. Even still, the walls are vibrating. The steel frame of my bed is shaking, to the extent that I feel as though I were on a ship at sea. All I lack is a candle, and this would be positively Victorian. Our cells have a window, the dimensions of which are about three inches on the vertical, and about three feet on the horizontal. A narrow sliver of an alternate reality, set in concrete, right up along the roofline. I have to roll my mattress up and stand on top of it in order to see the outside world...and what a sight! The perimeter lights run on generators, so they are all ablaze, standing resolutely like the Seraphim guarding the gates into Eden. The rain has decided that gravity was so last year, and is now falling sideways, and even upwards when the whimsy takes it. In the fields past the many fences of razor wire (the area known as No Mans Land, or "the place where you get shot if you go," according to the Warden on my arrival here), the poor horses belonging to the work crew boss-men are all hunkered down next to each other in a pack. I lived with plenty of horses when I was in Mexico, and my minds eye can see these now, with their ears plastered back and their eyes rolling about, showing lots of white. (And yes, for the record, I did indeed return my Yuppy Club Membership card to the home office, thank you very much.) The trees and the new stadium lighting they installed a few months ago are doing some form of dance, sort of like when a white guy tries to dance the tango after at least half a bottle of Don Julio...not that I have any personal experience with such things.

A thought has just occurred to me: I know that in the event of war on the homeland (ie: if Pancho Villa or Jesus Malverde are miraculously reincarnated and begin running raids across the Rio Bravo to seek vengeance on unos cuantos rancheros), the prison officials are under orders from the Governors Office to put a bullet in the heads of every man on DR. I wonder how bad a natural disaster would have to be to qualify for such a final solution?

Later, about Midnight - Not assassinated yet. Huzzah. The water in my toilet bowl is moving in and out, in and out. I am lucky I had the foresight to have filled all of my containers up before the water went out. How much do you want to bet nobody listened to me and followed suit? I can already hear them now: "Thomas? Homeboy? You awake? Hey, Wood, I just wanted to kick it wich ya for a minute...say, you got any of that wet stuff you could loan me?" Grumble, grumble. It's always a fun balancing act for a Christian in Hell, with people wanting to confuse or conflate kindness and weakness.

It is incredibly humid in here right now, to the extent that I think my envelopes are shot...the glue has sealed itself. So, if you get a letter from me in a few weeks, and the thing looks like someone has been trying to gnaw on it for awhile, this should explain it.

I don't think I have seen a hurricane this strong before when it was this far inland. Before the radios went down, Galveston was looking like it was going to get a direct hit...those poor people. Those places are built for this stuff, but I was hearing tales of a possible 15 foot storm surge...that is insane. I think it has been previously noted that I am something of a dork, and when I worked out the math on that, I wouldn't be surprised if after this weekend Galveston looked like a war zone. It is in these times that I mostly keenly feel the failure of my life. I have two strong arms...well, one right now, but you get my point. I could be doing something. Even in the worst periods of my life, when my heart was like the maelstrom outside, I always put my hands to work. A strange form of humanistic noblesse oblige, perhaps. We are never all light or darkness, we human beings. I remember one time I went to Kentucky to repair and build homes for people living in extreme poverty. On the inside, I felt nothing but scorn for those people living in such a state of squalor. And yet, I was there. As a team leader, no less. Those people didn't know my feelings, and I am confident that those homes will still be standing long after I am dead. I even drank sour mash from a bathtub distillery, and did so with a smile. Sigh. This line of thinking has made me jittery. They could have us doing something...loading sand into bags. Something. Anything. I am not dead yet. For Gods sake, put me to some use!

Sunday, September 14th
The guards are finally moving about. Power still down, and I fully expect it to be for a long, long time. These pendejos are complaining about it, and the lack of showers, rec, etc. Makes me sick. Whole coastal cities could be pulling an Atlantis right now, and these payasos are complaining about not being able to use their fans. Sorry. I have noticed that since my arrival here, I have developed something of a potty mouth, by way of osmosis. Lately, I have been trying to cut it out. I notice that I have been substituting certain curse terminology with Spanish words of some equivalence, which may totally violate the spirit of the law I set down for myself, but I guess sometimes you have to work in steps. I sound like a bloody anglophile, what with all of the "wankers" and "bollocks" I have been tossing about lately. I do get some degree of satisfaction that after 18 months, these people still don't have any idea how to take me. I was once told by this guy who never finished high school (he was imprisoned at 16) that he could see me sitting next to Graham Greene at a bar in 1952 Hanoi. I closed my eyes for a moment reveling in the imagery. Then I had to wonder how this street rat even knew who Graham Greene was. Sometimes, life is far, far stranger than fiction.

The pigs had to spend the night, which both angered them (because they had to sleep on "those f-ing hard-ass mattresses" that we sleep on), and pleased them (because of the overtime). A lesson, should you ever find yourself on the other side of the looking glass: during lockdown, do not mess with the lawmen. When a human being is given arbitrary power over another in normal conditions, they can be rotten. (Understatement alert.) But when said men are smelly and tired and their backs hurt, they become monsters. There really isn't anything to prevent a team of pigs from beating down an inmate on any given day. That's prison. But when they are miserable, best to keep thine trappeth shutteth, unless you have some sort of sick compunction to get sodomized with a night stick. You think I am being facetious. Shows what you know.

In dark moments I realize what prison really is. This place is only the visible portion of a wound on the body of a diseased society. It is equivalent to the man who has a wound that will not heal, but who keeps applying new bandages, in order to maintain his state of denial, and ignore the fact that he is, in fact, mortally wounded. Sometimes I think that the missing link between animals and a true human being is us.

After such comments I wonder about myself. I am very susceptible to the prison muses of depression and paranoia. What am I trying to be? Some form of prison mystic? A philosopher in chains? Does anything I say even make sense? My friend Darlene and I like to sit around and mock the Republicans and the "vacuous masses" together. Somebody, maybe it was me, joked that most of the people I know would have to hope that the wizard possessed a large supply of brains, should they ever end up in Oz together. She is able to get away with this, because she is brilliant and such are the perks of being blessed with a high IQ. So what is my bloody excuse? Riding coattails has never seemed a terribly dignified means of conveyance to me. I do not intend to be vituperative nor vain, but sometimes I fear I am both, in great amounts. Do I honestly believe I can institute some species of positive change on the world from this place? Am I that deluded? Is that narcissism? I am not even sure such a thing is possible, though I cling to such hopes as a man would grasp a piece of driftwood after a shipwreck. If it is possible, I feel my role in such a process will be limited to that of a catalyst. Someone who simply gives a polite nudge to some of you to notice how blessed you are, how powerful your potential is. I have seen this effect numerous times. Though I often lament the negative attention I get, the vast majority of my correspondence is very positive, some even truly remarkable. I consider myself a lucky man to have such fine exemplars of humanity standing at my side, showing me the way to be a better man. I am going to be sharing some of these stories with you in the future, that you might feel as blessed as I do. We are a nation badly in need of some reminders that we can have faith in each other. We are mixed in two wars against fanatics. The Russian bear is back on the prowl. It looks like the Empire of Paulson will seize the throne this week in DC, if Congress approves a massive bailout of Wall Street. (For the record, I want you to recognize that if they do pass this bailout package, the United States of America WILL become, by definition, a socialist country. The pundits can toss about whatever non sequiturs they like, but it doesn't change the reality of the situation. To delve into the vast world of understatement yet again: I am not bloody amused. Will the real conservative party please stand up?) Very shortly, a travelogue of a friend of mine from Germany will be posted (see below for transcript). The writer, Suleika, is a truly exceptional person and friend. In fact, she somehow manages to put my prose to shame, despite the fact she is writing in a foreign language. That might normally make me feel self-conscious, except everything she writes is so full of light that it is impossible not to feel better about myself and the world. I fear she has had the misfortune of being born in the wrong century. She is far too elemental for this world of plastic and concrete. You will see what I mean when you read her story. I am very blessed to have played a small part in her tale, but the most important aspects do not actually have anything to do with me...they have more to do with you, and with the place each of us has as our brothers caretaker. Especially in this time of great turmoil. My hopes and prayers are with all of the people who are trying to put their lives back together after Ike. I wish there was something I could do for you, beyond that.

"I remind you that we can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing."

-John McCain

"The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend."


© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.