Thursday, May 28, 2015

No Mercy For Dogs Chapter 18

By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

To read Chapter 17 click here

My life as a working stiff in the Mexican economy began during the third week of September, 2004. I pulled up to the front of Don Hector's massive home-cum-showroom-cum-warehouse complex just before 8am, completely ignorant as to what my exact duties were to be, how much I was to be paid for my labor, or even the exact time I should have showed up in the first place. I was to figure out the answers to these questions rather quickly, as it turned out: almost everything, almost nothing, and not a minute before 9:30am, so help me God.

Don Hector's compound was surrounded by an ornate concrete and garishly golden metal fence so massive that it would have taken a tank to storm the gates. I couldn't detect any signs of movement through the little vertical slats in the grillwork, so I rested my bicycle against the partition and sat down in the shade. I've never particularly enjoyed new social situations, and this especially included the first day at a new job. I had expected to feel some tension or nervousness, but instead I felt myself still drifting along in that warm current of emptiness that had settled upon me during my last trip to Monterrey. It wasn't that I didn't have anything to be afraid of, I ruminated. It was just that I no longer had any way of connecting with that fear. I could still sense it, like one can feel the power and immensity of the sea when standing on the beach at midnight; I just couldn't see it. This must be what someone dying of cancer feels, I thought, when they realize that nothing more can be done. "Fuck it" is not a viable survival strategy, but sometimes survival itself loses all allure. If I had known that this null-state was to be a more-or-less permanent condition for the rest of my life, I probably wouldn't have accepted it so easily.

The morning routine at the muebleria was fairly regular. At around 9:45, either the señora or one of the children would leave the house, walk across the large internal courtyard where the delivery trucks were parked, and enter the showroom. A few minutes later they would exit the gate and lift the metal shutters that protected the showroom's windows during the evening hours. On the morning of my first day of employment, it was Doña Maria who met me at the gate. She gave a small start when she finally noticed me, though her surprise quickly turned to pleasure as she identified me. Shakespeare once had one of his Richards (the Third of His Name, if I recall correctly) remark that "for by his face straight shall you know his heart." I've seldom known this to be the case (in fact, I've more often taken such naiveté to be a working definition for ignorance of the human condition), but with Hector's wife the bard might have been on to something. Maria was one of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met. From the very first she embraced me and it wasn't until years later that I came to the conclusion that she had probably always known that I was a bad apple. Some people believe in good and hope so much that they can carry you and all of your assorted cynicisms and neuroses along in their wake. I don't believe that the law of karma has any sort of ontological reality, but if I am wrong, she is going to have a really pleasant next life.

That morning she showed me which keys unlocked the metal shutters, and I spent a few minutes lifting these into their frames. I would manage this task twice a day, six days a week for the next ten months. By the time I had finished with this, Hector's youngest son, Raul, had descended from the house and was sitting on one of the couches near the entrance door, watching the news. Raul was a burly man roughly my age, with his father's large shoulders and scowl and his mother's kind eyes. He wasn't generally known as a morning person, but had shown up early that day to meet the odd American son of a local gangster. He seemed a little skeptical of my story, but overall he treated me with civility. Within a few hours I would figure out exactly why he didn't seem to mind my presence. 

Don Hector arrived at around 10 o'clock. He wasn't big on pleasantries. Or compliments. In fact, he pretty much made up for these deficits with a surplus of orders and demands, with maybe a complaint or twelve tossed in for flavor. I had expected to be doing construction work, but I spent my first three hours as a tiny cog in the machine of the economy lugging furniture. Behind the storeroom sat a large warehouse of perhaps 25 by 35 by 20 meters. The z-axis is important in this description, because Hector made up for what he believed to be a shortage of space in the horizontal sense by stacking furniture on top of itself, sometimes as high as forty feet. The place was a literal mountain range of sofas, davenports, settees, desks, tables, wardrobes, and the like. It was pure chaos back there. I couldn't detect a single discernible organizing principle for why certain items were stacked together. I did, eventually, figure out a few basic laws that governed Hector's warehouse, after spending a few hours summiting its peaks and crags: if one needed item A, it could absolutely be counted upon to be directly underneath item B, which in turn could be counted upon to be directly underneath item C, which was under D, etc., etc., ad-backbreaking-infinitum. The number of items sitting on top of what you needed seemed to be in indirect proportion to the rapidity with which the customer needed the item, annoyingly. Initially Raul and I were Hector's worker ants, until he managed to disappear after about thirty minutes. That, I discovered, was Raul's superpower. It also explained why he wasn't more skeptical of my story: I was the new Raul, the new lightning rod for Hector's mercurial temper. As I worked, I could feel the jagged fragments of the bullet in my left arm tearing into the flesh. On a few occasions I almost asked for some help, but I swallowed my words. It felt good to hurt, somehow. Right. Justified. It still does.

We adjourned for lunch at around 1pm, and I biked over to a small taco joint down the road. After lunch, Hector directed me upstairs to the new showroom annex, where I laid tile. Occasionally I would be called down to help load various pieces of furniture onto Hector's large red Chevy truck, and then he and Raul would leave on a delivery. I ended the day a little after 7pm, exhausted and smelling of mortar, sweat, and muriatic acid.

That evening I trudged back to the Hammer's ranch to take a cold shower. The breeze was strong, so I sat in the hammock for an hour or so and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. One of the new kittens had taken a liking to me, a little gray furball of a thing, and it would sit happily on my stomach as I petted it. As I did so, it would knead my stomach with its claws, an odd behavior that I've never quite understood, not being a cat person. I had never been one to appreciate the simple life, and some part of me sat amused while the rest of me sat exhausted, watching the horizon darken.

The days progressed, each introducing me to another of Don Hector's tasks. The man owned seven homes in Cerralvo and two in Monterrey, and most of these were filled to the brim with furniture. It became obvious that Hector had converted me into a proxy for my "father" and intended to boss me around in a way he could never order around the Hammer without running the risk of being shot about a thousand times. There were many times when said something acerbic or even outright hostile, but the weight of history pressed my lips together. More than perhaps any other period during my sojourn south of the border, my first few weeks working for Don Hector seem a blur to me. Only three events stand out clearly to me, all of these years later.

The first took place at one of Hector's properties, a large home with a pool that the family simply labeled "La Alberca." This was a rambling Spanish colonial mess of a building, with weird Doric columns around the back patio and inappropriate Palladian windows. The backyard saved the place, though. This was a space of several very verdant acres and rolling hills. One section was covered in neat rows of pomegranate trees like something out of Italy. A ten foot concrete wall separated this oasis from the masses on the north and east sides of the property, save for a gap of roughly 120 feet at the far southeastern point. For some reason lost to the past, one of the previous owners had left this section of the partition open, save for 23 heavy wooden posts that ran in a line from the terminal end of the house down to the wall. Maybe there had once been a reason for running barbed wire down this section (to make it easier to herd animals?), but Hector wanted to completely enclose the grove and the posts had to be removed before construction could begin. Raul and I were tasked with removing these objects, so we loaded up one of Hector's trucks with a few shovels and picks. The patron seemed to think that we could finish this project in a day, so I also threw my bike in the bed of the truck so I could ride home from there.

It took Raul and I about twenty minutes to realize that this "simple assignment" was going to be a royal bitch. The soil was a sunbaked mixture of rocks, more rocks, and packed sand and gravel that seemed to be only marginally softer than concrete. It didn't help that the posts were fairly rotten, so you couldn't really yank on them or use them for leverage against the soil. It also didn't help that the guy who had sunk them was apparently trying to build something that would last until the End of Days, as he had set each of the 8-inch diameter posts in a 70 or 80 pound pool of concrete, which was itself buried nearly three feet into the ground. It took Raul and I almost 45 minutes just to get the first dislodged. We were about halfway through the second when Raul received a call from his father and had to leave to take care of something. He promised to return, but neither of us believed this.

By the time I had dragged the fourth post out of the way I was in a fine mood. My arm was hurting like a son-of-a-bitch and this pain was dragging my thoughts into the downward spiral that usually creeps up under such conditions. This was the beginning of my second week as an employee of Hector's, meaning that I had already been paid for my first six days, a paltry but industry standard 750 pesos. This, for the interested, was a buck and a quarter per hour at late 2004 exchange rates. Variations on the theme of "being too good for this shit" were so loud in my mind that I didn't notice my audience for several minutes.

La Alberca was located in a nicer part of the town, a place filled with high walls and very few stores. There hadn't been much in the way of foot traffic on these streets, and when I thought back on this event later that night, I couldn't figure out how my watcher had managed to get within thirty feet of me without my having seen or heard him. Nonetheless, there he was, standing silently near a gray metal door leading into one of the anonymous compounds, plastic sack in one hand and a rolled up newspaper in the other. The morning was turning blazing hot and it took me a moment to recognize him through the dusty haze. It was his severe wire-rim glasses more than anything else that facilitated the connection: Julian Volcaste, factotum, gun runner, chess genius, and heaven knew what else. I rested my shovel on the ground and leaned against it, returning the stare. Considering his penchant for uncomfortable silences, I decided I would eat each of these posts before I said anything first.

We sat like that for at least sixty seconds before he slowly ambled across the road. He was dressed in gray chinos and a blue button-down oxford, roughly the same old-man uniform as during our past meetings. The bag in his left hand was filled with produce, and it was obvious that he had just come from the market. He looked tired but alert. That was Julian in three words: tired but alert.

"Boy gringo," He spoke, finally, giving me an obvious close inspection.


"I never pictured you doing manual labor. I find humor distasteful, but no doubt there is a good joke lurking around somewhere in this scene. I shall leave others to make it. Does your father now own this land?"

I ignored his question. "That your place?" I asked, nodding towards the compound across the road, a Mediterranean-ish looking place mostly hidden behind tall trees.

He ignored my question as well. "Seems like rough work, bad for the back, and the hands, those soft hands of yours." I winced a little at this, but couldn't come up with anything witty to say before he went on. "You seemed more intelligent than this when we played the chess." He paused, staring at me over the lower rim of his glasses, obviously trying to bait me. I said nothing, letting him have his little moment. "I'm given to understand that you now live in a taller. If only such places had some sort of implement or device whose purpose was to lift heavy objects," he said, before pausing. "You know, like a car." At this he turned his back on me and walked across the road and disappeared behind his concrete barrier.

My initial feeling was one of anger. I may have been plenty stupid, but even I knew that you had to get under an object before you could use a car jack. Getting under the concrete anchors was precisely the problem, and if I could just do that at my whim I would have been done with the entire project by now. I threw the shovel down and went to sit in the shade. I sat down angry, and I would have remained that way for a very long time had I not had the strangest idea that Julian was watching me still from the darkened windows of the second story of his house. At first, I simply didn't want him to see me acting like a child, so I ratcheted down my emotions and simply sat there. I can't really describe the process that took place as I stared fixedly at the nearest post, because it happened very quickly and without discernible phases. It went something like this: what really angered me was that for some reason I wanted Julian to take an interest in me. I couldn't really say why. He just seemed more professional than anyone else I had met in Mexico, someone who always knew what he was about, wherever he was. I needed that skillset. He seemed like someone who could say a thousand things that I might not like but who wouldn't lie to me. He was competent, I decided, a quality that is the secular equivalent of what "holy" means to the theist, a status and quality that I have rarely encountered but for which I have searched all my life. It came to me that if this was a true description of Julian, he wouldn't have mocked me unless there was some purpose behind the words.

I sat staring at the nearest post for about ten minutes, working it out, deconstructing the problem. This is something I more or less do naturally now, but it was a first for me on that sweltering day, at least in this pure, systematic way. Then I got up, located my bicycle, and rode back to the taller. In twenty minutes I was back, my satchel bulging with its load. To the first post I clamped a large pipe wrench, roughly eight inches off the ground. Once secured, I placed a floor jack directly underneath the wrench's head. I couldn't believe how well this worked: the posts rose from the ground like magic, even with a massive load of concrete stubbornly attached to their bases. I was done with the entire undertaking by 1pm. As I was piling the posts up for removal, I glanced back across the road to Julian's place and found him again leaving his compound on foot. I smiled at him and pointed to the pile of poles stacked near the street. He didn't smile - I don't think he knew how - but he did point his index finger at his head, tapping it twice before walking away. Message received. For the first time in ages, I didn’t feel like a complete failure.

Both Raul and Hector seemed shocked when I pulled up in front of the muebleria and parked my bike outside. They were relaxing in the AC near the front of the Store. Hector looked at his watch, before remarking disapprovingly that it was not yet 6pm. I shrugged. "I'm done with the posts. What's next?" Now Raul looked really surprised, and Hector downright suspicious. So suspicious, in fact, that he took me and his son to the site, purportedly to load the infernal posts into the truck for disposal, but mostly to have a reason to fire Don Rogelio Rios's son for lying on the job. I couldn't see Hector's face from the bed of the truck when we pulled up to the pile of posts, but I can imagine it nicely. I never told them the trick.

This incident spurned the second major development of those days. The magically uprooted posts really impressed Raul, who saw himself as some sort of power lifter and toughie. That I had completed a task that he had given up on so rapidly caused him to reappraise me, and he soon invited me out with him, his girlfriend, and best friend Oswald in Monterrey that weekend. I had some doubts about going; I mean, I barely knew the guy, and he seemed a little indolent to me. I initially told him that I might have to help my dad with something that Sunday, but that I would get back with him in a few days. Raul didn’t give up, though, and we ended up playing some video games together after work a few days that week. It became quickly apparent that Raul and I had something very much in common: we were both foreigners in Cerralvo's cultural context. As we killed each other repeatedly in the twisted world of Unreal Tournament, he told me about having spent his high school years in Monterrey. The city, with all of its entertainments, varied cultures, liberal politics, and, frankly, its women, had ruined Raul for life in a small town. He didn’t say as much, but I could tell that he was feeling crushed between his desires to flee the monotony of Cerralvo and his familial duties. His sister Cynthia was really the only other postmodern individual in his immediate circle, and she had her own reasons for keeping Raul at arm’s length. I quickly realized that in me, Raul had visions of hanging out with a 21st Century Man, an American from the cosmopolitan mecca of Miami. It struck me all as very sad, both that he believed such a lie and that I had to live it. I eventually changed my mind about going to Monterrey. We drove down in his Nissan Tsuru, a vehicle which has no American analog but which is the approximate size of a telephone booth with wheels. Once in the city we met his girlfriend Esmerelda and his best friend Osvaldo, who was studying medicine at a local university. The bar they selected in the Barrio Antiguo would have felt perfectly at home in any metropolitan city in America. I'd seen it all before: the same juiced up, sleeved out degenerates manning the velvet ropes at the door; the same hipsters, all dressed alike, all simultaneously trying too hard not to look like they were trying at all, and, failing this, trying to look like they were only trying "ironically"; the same flawless chicks in the same vanishingly short skirts that would cease to interest you within a few hours at roughly the same time you were trying to put your clothes on quietly and get the hell out of dodge before you actually had to talk and discover that you had nothing in common save for a desire to be alone. I had swum in these seas before. Hell, I had worked in them for years. I probably could have popped behind the bar, twirled a few bottles, lit up a few gaudy 151-based shots with lurid names, and gotten a job instantly. Instead, I just felt tired, old. Still, for all that, there was a sort of comfort in the familiar. The crowd was young, urban; they spoke in a Spanish completely distinct from that in Cerralvo, and I discovered that I could understand them better because they used a vocabulary loaded with cognates. I didn't know it at the time, but the Barrio Antiguo sits very close to Tec de Monterrey, one of the better science, math, and engineering universities in the Hispanic world. These were intelligent youngsters, privileged, more oriented towards New York or Paris than Mexico City. I didn't want to be there, but I didn't want to be there less than anywhere else at the moment. In any case, my old friend Don Julio pretty much dropkicked my higher-level functions into abeyance. He's pretty good at such things. 

We crashed out at one of Don Hector's houses in San Nicolas. The place was pretty nice, a small two-bedroom home of perhaps 1800 square feet. Cynthia had managed to escape for the weekend as well, apparently, because when we arrived she was there along with three of her girlfriends. She paid me about as much mind as she had the entire two weeks I had worked for her father, and I laughed internally at the Hammer's stupid theories. Cupid, he was not.

These Saturday night trips became a custom for me. Regardless of whether Raul was going or not, I would leave work around 5pm on Saturday, bike home, take a shower, and then walk to the bus station. Once in the city, I would select one of the cheap hotels in el centro, and then spend that night and all day Sunday first to map out the city in my mind and then, eventually, to understand it. I went to a lot of museums and theaters, whatever spot of culture I could find on the cheap. I figured out how to get into university libraries without a student ID. I reconnected with the web at small internet cafés, and listened to all sorts of presentations by professors and cranks in the public squares. I returned to the market again and again, learning to navigate its immensity. Within a few months, it felt like home.

Life settled into a steady rhythm. I started playing guitar a lot with Cynthia at night after work. She was far more skilled than I was, but I had the benefit of having been exposed to bands she had never heard of before. The full team of Hector's workers returned after their three week vacation, and we started a series of projects for the patron. I laid block. I used the ARC welder. I broke my back lugging couches and loveseats and mattresses. I still felt mostly numb, but I was at least tired at night, and that goes a long way towards consuming one's attention. Raul and I hung out a lot, and I noticed that he actually started working (a little) with the construction crew, just so we could talk. It wasn't a life, exactly, but it was something close. 

The holiday of Halloween has been slowly invading the Republica for years. An American invention, it is seen by the elder generation as a crass and dishonorable assault on the holier occasions of All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Dia de los Muertos. This, of course, only fuels the younger generation to embrace it all the more strongly. Edgar was nuts over the concept of trick-or-treating, and he had convinced his father to have a party at the house on the 3lst. I think the Hammer was ambivalent about the idea of costumes and candy, but he could usually be counted on to enjoy having the family together to eat his food. The man kept three large refrigerators in his kitchen stocked with food just for such occasions. I wasn't even planning to attend, but Edgar kept bugging me about it so much that I finally relented. The issue was truly settled when I came across an absolutely pristine uniform for an ICE agent in the market in Monterrey. I couldn't help myself. The idea of a gringo illegal alien showing up to a Halloween party in Mexico in the costume of the American agency tasked with catching Mexican illegals was too much for me. It was like an irony supernova. I don't know, maybe the hipsters in Monterrey were rubbing off on me. I didn't know what to expect at the party. Some pumpkins, maybe, a few bowls of sweets. Some kids dressed up as animals, perhaps, or comic book characters. In deeply Catholic Mexico, I sort of figured that witches and devils would be out of the question. What I didn't expect was to see Rudy - the real Rudy, the legitimate son of the Hammer - pulling up to my taller shortly after I returned home from work. The last time I had seen him was the day five months before when he had pawned me off on his father. When he had left me in the hands of Smiley, a massive sociopath who got his name for cutting throats. When he had lied to both me and his father, I reminded myself instantly. The Hammer and I had discussed the possibility of seeing him again, but Gelo maintained that Rudy only really showed up in Mexico every few years, and only when he needed something from his father regarding the drug trade. Given the fact that he had deceived his father so thoroughly, Gelo opined that he didn't think we would be seeing his hide again for years. But there he was, smiling broadly at me, reaching his arms around my back to clap me on the shoulders, as if we were viejos camaradas. My mind churned with indecision, but I played the cards he dealt and welcomed him with as much warmth as I could fake. He patted my cheek with one hand, commenting on my tan.

"Just trying to blend in a bit. A few more months and I might be as brown as you."

"Don't count on it. You're a gavach hasta al tronco."

"Your pops know you are here?"

"Sure," he responded, taking a seat on one of Emilio's patio chairs. "How else would I know where to find you? Is he pissed off at you or something, making you live in a shithole like this?"

I shrugged. "It's not so bad. And I doubt he's any more angry at me than at you," I said, fishing for some sort of status check. Something about all of this seemed I couldn't decide in what way. I mean, this was his family down here. So what if he came to see them?

"Aw, he's cool. He knew I was full of shit when I handed you off. But he really seems to like you for some reason, so it's all to the good. Anyways, vamos. I'm supposed to get you so we can start eating."

I excused myself and went to put on my ICE uniform. Rudy seemed a little drunk, maybe a little stoned, but, again, so what? It was a party. People do that. He didn't seem to understand the joke behind the uniform. He didn't even seem to notice it, a fact I found odd. As we drove over to the Rios compound I became increasingly convinced that he was coked up, and I allowed myself to believe that my feelings of uncertainty found their origin in my natural wariness around the inebriated. Even then, I wondered if I was deceiving myself.

The Hammer had gone all out. The pavilion in the center of the green space was hung with white and orange lights, and one of the large barbeque pits was fired up and smoking. Most of the extended family was in attendance, the children sporting cheap costumes. Princesses of various sorts seemed to be the popular choice for the girls, while the boys sported an assorted collection of pirates, vaqueros, and, oddly enough, two policemen. Edgar had found a plastic rat's mask somewhere, and had pinned a homemade tail to the back of his pants. He seemed in high cheer, as always. Even some of Gelo's goons had showed up, though I couldn't pick el Lobo or Smiley out of the crowd when we first arrived. The Hammer took one look at me and nearly fell down laughing. Seriously, I'd never seen him like this. Chuy and Abelardo had obviously spent some time in the States, because they got the joke as well. Edelmiru - whom I hadn't seen since the day I witnessed how the family shipped their dope - laughed nearly as hard as Gelo. He wiped a tear away and tossed me a cold Carta Blanca. Only the Mochaorejas didn't seem to understand the costume, or, if he did, he didn't react to it in any way. Aside from the Marines knocking down the front gate, he didn't seem to react too much of anything, at least not in what you could call a normal, human manner.

The strangest reaction of all came from Rudy. He seemed startled at first, his pug-like head swiveling from me to his still-bent-over-in-mirth father and back again. I wouldn't have thought much of this if it weren't so unexpected; of all of the people present, I figured he would have appreciated the gag, considering it was the two of us that had scammed our way past both the ICE and the INS in June. For the tiniest of flashes, something akin to anger flowing into hate ghosted across the muscles of his face. It was gone in a microsecond, but I had seen it. He quickly turned to me and smiled, as if he were finally in on the joke. I could tell he was just trying to decide if I had noticed his moment of honesty. I smiled back, not knowing what else to do.

Rudy soon drifted away, and the womenfolk began bringing container after container of food out from Gelo's kitchen. There was cabrito and chicken fajitas, chilaquiles, enchiladas, chilis rellenos, tamales, carnitas, taquitos de tripa, frijoles de loya, empanadas, marronitos, manuelos, champurrao, churros, and a dozen other dishes I couldn't pronounce then or remember now. It was epic, as these things go. The party started winding down around 10pm, when the little ones began drifting off to sleep in their mothers' laps. Some of the men hung around until well past midnight, talking, drinking, and listening to me play an old guitar of Edgar's, accompanied by Edelmiru on his accordion. I wasn't anywhere near his league, but he made me look decent. A little before 11pm Rudy got a call on his cellular and departed. I didn't see him go, but Chuy told me he had mentioned he was going to meet a girl. I was about ready to leave as well, and went in search for the keys to Edgar's truck. El Raton was sloppy drunk by this point, his mask hanging down the back of his neck and his tail long lost; there was no way I was letting him take me back to the taller. I figured I would steal his truck and he could hitch a ride with someone the next day to pick it up.

Gelo's house was dark when I approached it. I had never been inside by myself this late at night, and I hesitated a moment before entering. I found Gelo standing in front of one of his massive refrigerators, his face limned by the cool white light coming from inside. Despite his earlier cheer, he appeared a shrunken figure, sad, alone. He sensed my presence and looked over at me,

"Vengo para las llaves de la trocka de Edgar," I explained, feeling as if I had just interrupted something sacred.

"So," he said, closing the door. The room descended into complete darkness, until he flipped on a tiny lamp over the sink, "We were both wrong."

Despite my fatigue, I knew exactly what he was talking about. "He came back."

"Yes, the hijo de la gran chingada come back." He moved to a window, pulling the blind to one side so he could look out upon the pavilion and the small group of revelers that remained. "The two of you, you no are friends."

I couldn't tell if was a statement or a question, but it didn't really matter: in either case, the answer was the same.

"No," I admitted.

"No friends," he repeated. "There is no friends."

Something about the way he said this made it sound like a final judgment.

"I've had a few," I disagreed quietly. "I haven't known much love in this life, and when I found it I had a hard time understanding it. I usually handled it very poorly, but I did now it when it came."

He continued to stare out the window for so long I began to think about leaving.

"Love?" He said slowly. "No, there ees no love. Ees una fantasia, una ilusion."

I mulled this over for a few minutes. This was a side of Gelo that I had glimpsed before, but I seemed to be getting the full tour now. I wasn't sure why, what woke this up in him. If it had been anyone else, I would have thought he was drunk. I could still see him as I had found him, standing alone in the dark in front of his massive fridge. "If that was true, you would have spent, what? A thousand bucks? Two thousand? On all of that grub. You wouldn't have three stainless steel Viking Sub Zeros in your kitchen loaded with food. You wouldn’t have done the things you had to do to fill them," I added, softly.

"You see the mirage and believe you find the water."

"Edgar loves you. So does Pedro. Your nieces and nephews feel the same way."

"They don't even know me."

"They still love you unconditionally."

At this he turned to look at me, cocking his head slightly. "There is no unconditional love. Only unconditional need."

"Maybe. That explains why they are here. Why are you?"

"Obligations. Mi deber," his eyes flashed, and I saw the killer. "Why are you?"

I got the message. "Like I said, I'm looking for Edgar's keys."

"They are on the hooks."

"Okay, good night."

I walked to the wall by the door and found the set I was looking for. I was just about to get the hell out of there when he called me again. I turned in time to see him remove a large manila envelope from the top drawer of a roll-top desk in the corner. He handed this to me. I opened it, and out poured two more envelopes. Each contained a full identity package, one from America, the other from Mexico. The American set included a birth certificate, driver's license from the state of Oregon, and a passport. The Mexican envelope was filled with paperwork: passport, federal driver's license, IFE card, birth certificate, tax data, school records including a degree in economics from UNAM, and military service record. I whistled at these last two. I was, apparently, a former Captain in SEDENA.

"Not bad, eh, Rudy?" he asked, looking up at me.

"Rudy? He went that way," I pointed over my back. "Apparently my name is Alejandro. Or Conrad, depending on which wallet I have in my pocket."

"Yes, good. Now, buenas noches." He turned to walk towards the hallway leading to the bedrooms, disappearing before I could think of a way to thank him. I stood there for a moment, then turned to go.

Back in my taller, I spent an hour or so memorizing the facts pertaining to the new me. New mes. The economics a bit was a joke; what the hell did I know about any of that outside of what Paul Krugman whined about in his op-eds? The product looked top-notch, though, and I really had no doubts that they were completely, totally legit. The Mexican set had me listed as having double nationality, with an American mother. This would explain my physiognomy and my accent, at least. All in all, the legends were flawless. I felt safer than I had before, holding the envelope to my chest as I lay down on the cot. Safer, that is, until I thought about Rudy. I couldn't shake the thought that I had missed something, me and the Hammer both. Something obvious in hindsight, invisible to the present. His presence made me feel like it was already too late to save myself from something, that it had always been too late. 

Thomas Whitaker 999522
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

by Timothy Pauley

"Seven, eight, nine, teeeeeeeeen!" Big Paul growled as he pumped out his final rep of curls. He quickly dropped the bar on the bench below and flexed in the mirror. First it was a double biceps pose, then a side shot, then from the other side. Big Paul loved the mirror. In fact, he loved it so much that he actually paid other prisoners to run to the weight room and save that area for him so he could gaze at himself while he worked out and especially in between sets.

When I got to the Walls the weight room was just a small expanded hallway with a few pieces of old equipment off to the sides in either direction. The fitness craze had not caught on yet and there were only a small group of men who used these facilities with any regularity.

A few years later "Muscle & Fitness" magazine had helped popularize bodybuilding and the prison caught this trend early on. They opened a new recreation building and made the weight room three times the size it had been. They also filled it with new equipment. It was easily the most expensive and well thought out part of the new recreation program.

Within a couple of years, the bodybuilding and powerlifting phenomenon had become so popular, even the new weight room was too small. Prison officials could not have anticipated the quadrupling of popularity for this area, but it soon became a madhouse of activity, with prisoners squeezing into every available square foot of space, trying to get a workout.

Recreation staff were always fielding requests for more equipment but they wisely elected not to cram any more equipment (or people) into the already crowded weight room. But they still had a budget allowance for equipment so when a couple of guys requested they mount a mirror on the wall, it was a done deal almost immediately.

The day the mirror was installed was a memorable occasion. Instead of enhancing the bodybuilding experience, it quickly became an idiot magnet. Not only did three different groups of guys all attempt to crowd around this two foot wide space, but it even attracted idiots that previously had never been in the weight room. Guys would get done playing basketball, take a shower, then come in the weight room and try to lean in front of the mirror while they combed out their eighteen inch afros. It was quite a sight to see all these people jockeying for position, some with weights in hand.

After about a week I finally warmed to the concept of the idiot magnet. True, it brought extra traffic into an already overcrowded weight room, but not to the area I used. In fact, the idiot magnet actually created more room for those of us who were not smitten with our own image and were content to workout away from the crowd. We finally reached near unanimous agreement that idiot magnets were great.

Big Paul's infatuation with the idiot magnet was unparalleled. At first he tried to push his way to a spot directly in front of the mirror. He was 6'5" and weighted about 280. This gave him the notion that others would just get out of his way. Maybe a handful actually did, but they were replaced by several others who did not care now big anyone was. This was prison, little guys could kill you too.

After a week of frustration, Big Paul decided on a strategy. He found a guy who worked near the gym. When recreation was announced, this guy had a two block head start and could easily claim any piece of equipment he wanted. So Paul cut a deal. For five bucks a week, Slim would dash to the weight room and claim the bench directly in front of the mirror for Big Paul.

For the next three months life was good for Big Paul. Each day he’d take his place in front of the mirror and gaze at his muscles for nearly the entire recreation period. No days off for him, he was a fixture. For a guy who worked out so much he wasn't nearly as strong as his size would indicate and he was very smooth with excess body fat, but whatever he was in that mirror must have looked fantastic to him because he seemed to have almost a religious fanaticism about the mirror. On the rare occasion Slim didn’t come through for him, Big Paul would have something akin to a psychotic episode. That mirror was as important to Big Paul as most people's first born son is.

Another strange phenomenon in most prison weight rooms is the calling of attention to oneself. Perhaps it's the testosterone. Or maybe it's just some inner need for recognition. Whatever the case, many prisoners like to holler and grunt loudly while they lift. Many even like to throw weights down, sometimes even from shoulder level. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey, look at me, I’m a tough guy!"

This is probably one of the reasons the floor of the weight room was a base of wooden planks covered with thick rubber mats. Instead of the thrown down weights breaking or cracking the floor, they simply bounced. This could be humorous at times.

It was not uncommon at all to see guys limping out of the weight room. It was usually the screamers too. They'd finish a set, then throw the weights out of their hands at whatever height they happened to be at the conclusion of the final rep. Often these discarded weights would hit the floor and bounce several inches. Sometimes that could result in the second touchdown being right on someone’s foot. Usually this was the person who’d thrown them in the first place, as he would be the only one in the room not paying attention to where the rebound was going to land. Initially this would cause instant laughter from around the room, which would often set the screamer off into a tirade. That would lead to even more laughter because what is the guy with the recently broken foot going to do? Chase you? Beat you up? The typical response was to tuck his tail and slink off.

Big Paul loved to throw the weights around as much as anyone. But at least he paid attention to where his feet were. A man of his size had no trouble wielding the biggest dumbbells in the room, which were ninety pounds each. On his last rep, Paul would growl loudly, pitch the dumbbells as high in the air as his spent arms would heft them, then lift his feet off the floor to avoid any embarrassing situations. We all learned to respond to this routine. When the growl came, everyone within ten feet watched to see where the dumbbells would fly.

It was a cold December day. I happened to be doing squats that day so it was all the more important I pay attention to Big Paul. He was doing dumbbell bench presses with the ninety pound dumbbells. Even though I was more than ten feet away, I was not about to be the victim of some freak accident when one of those chunks of iron took a wayward bounce in my direction. Each time Paul let out his end of set wail, my eyes would find the dumbbells as quickly as possible. There were very few people in that room who did not do this.

On his fifth set, Paul was particularly pleased with himself and growled even louder than normal. As he prepared to rid himself of the dumbbells, he put a little extra oomph into this thrust and I watched as they sailed past his feet. From the moment they hit the rubber mat, nearly everyone in the room knew what was going to happen next, including Big Paul. I watched as his face contorted into a look of complete horror as the dumbbells bounced off the floor and flew toward the mirror. It was almost like slow motion. But nothing could stop them. First one, then the other sunk into the glass panes with a satisfying thunk.

Instantly lines shot up to the very top of the mirror. In the blink of an eye the mirror had become covered with lines and distortions where the glass had shattered in predictable fashion.

At first I thought Big Paul was going to start crying right there in front of us all. His face could not have registered any more distress than if his first born child had just fallen out a tenth story window. The room went completely silent in a matter of seconds.

Big Paul sat on the end of the exercise bench for a long time, staring into the broken shards of mirror that were now only held together by a wooden frame. It was almost as if he was trying to will the damage to be undone. Slowly the rest of the guys in the weight room went back to their routines. Soon the room was full of the usual sounds of normal activity. Paul remained frozen for nearly twenty minutes before he finally pulled his shirt on and shuffled out the door.

In the weeks that followed, a decision was made by recreation staff that this mirror would not be replaced. They directed a couple of us to tape up the part where the dumbbell hit and leave the rest until such time as it actually started to fall out. That took months, but at the first sign of missing fragments, the frame was pried from the wall and the mirror was no more.

During this time Big Paul continued to work out in front of the mirror. He could often be seen trying to adjust his body position to enable him to see more of himself in whatever fragment he'd chosen to focus on. But it just wasn't the same.

Soon the crowd in that few square feet of the weight room was no longer highly congested. Paul had it all to himself. I missed the idiot magnet and even though the breaking of the mirror had been hilarious, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Big Paul. Had he seen some outside threat directed towards his mirror, there is no doubt Paul would have defended this with great ferocity. How could he have known that all the while he was looking at the threat in the mirror?

Timothy Pauley 273053 A316
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Plantation--A New Beginning?

By Mwandishi Mitchell

"That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.”
Friedrich W. Nietzsche

Every so often we have to take a fall from grace. One day I was on top of the world--and in the next instant I was cast down with the Sodomitesl The event I'm speaking of is my expulsion from SCI Graterford. For administrative reasons, I was kicked out of the plantation that I've called home for the past nine out of eleven years of my incarceration. Allow me to explain the sounds and thoughts I experienced on the way to my new home--SCI Houtzdale.

The guard tapped on my door in the hole of SCI Graterford at 1:00 am.

"Mitchell, you'll be rolling out in about a half hour," he says.

I wiped the hardened rheum from my eyes, "I'll be ready, Champ" I replied. 

From there I began the regular grooming process of washing my face and brushing my teeth. I was excited about it. Getting on the bus and onto the road to see different people, cars, homes, shopping malls and trees. I hadn't seen a tree in nine years behind the wall! 

When I got into the holding tank there were three people I already knew. They were getting transferred, too. Two were going to SCI Rockview, one was going to SCI Frackville, and one to SCI Dallas.

"Mitch, you finally gettin' out of here, huh?" asks Player. Player was a block worker in the hole until somebody threw shit on him.

“Yeah, after six months. Where they sending you to, Player?"

"Awe, man, they sending me to Rockview. Whut about chu'?"

"Houtzdale. Eva' been there?"

"No, but I heard it'z nice there."

Everybody knows his destinations. They call you to the property room to pack up all of your stuff the day before. I hadn't realized how much stuff I had accumulated over the years. Over half of it, I threw away. The state only pays for your T.V. box and two record boxes of property. Anything extra and they'll ship it to the jail they're sending you to--at your expense! So they're charging me for four record boxes to be sent to me. But these were important things that couldn't be replaced and which held sentimental value. I couldn't part with them. My legal paperwork-- transcripts, appeal briefs, and motions-- take up two record boxes by themselves!

We wait no longer than thirty minutes in the holding tank before we're told that the transport van that takes us to Assessment is here. I take my last look at the place where I was held in Administrative Custody for the past six months and sigh in relief that it's finally over.

I get onto the van and I see Brother Shareef! A good friend of mine who made me smile upon seeing him. He smiled, too, as we shook hands in handcuffs. We were still handcuffed because "officially," we were still ad seg. Brother Shareef was the head minister of the Nation of Islam. The same people who were having me transferred were responsible for having him transferred as well. Shareef, had been in Administrative Custody for eight months!

"Mwandishil Peace my brother, praise be to God. You're gettin' shipped, too?"

"Yes," I say while still shaking his hand, "please tell me that you're goin' to Houtzdale wit' me?"

"Nope, I wuz already kicked out o' there. Dat place iz Klan central!"

"Really?" But it's what I expected. "Where they sendin' you then?"

"Coal Township. Haven't been there yet. Heard it'z not dat bad."

"Sum'body told me tha same thing about Houtzdale," I say while cutting a dart at Player. Player casts his gaze to the floor. 

When we get off the van and get into Assessment we're told to strip out of our orange jumpsuits for yellow transport jumpsuits. There were three guys who were in Disciplinary Custody, and they had to keep their orange jumpsuits on. Before we put on the transport jumpsuits we had to all be stripped and searched for contraband. None of us had any. After that, they brought the guys down from the general population blocks who were being transferred. All together there had to be twenty-five of us getting on the bus.

The breakfast bags were passed out and we ate and sat around for the betterment of three hours. When the bus was ready, the officers brought in the chains and shackles to put on us. They have this device called, "The Black Box," which they put over the locking mechanism of the handcuffs. It's designed so that a person can't pick the lock or insert a hidden handcuff key. The drawback is: that your hands are reversed in an awkward position, which can be painful during a long ride. 

Shareef and I got on the bus together, and I offered him the window. He gladly accepted and I sat next to him. From the outside it looks like a regular Greyhound bus--but on the inside--it's nothing like a Greyhound bus! The seats are hard as a rock. There are three cages behind the driver. That's where they put the guys on Disciplinary Custody in the orange jumpsuits. They have to be locked in there per Department of Corrections policy.

At exactly 5:30 a.m., we pulled out of SCI Graterford. I took one last look at the forty foot wall that surrounded me all of those years. I then saw the construction of Phoenix I and Phoenix II--the new plantations they're building outside of the walls of Graterford. I wondered, when will this philosophy of lock 'em down and throw away tha key eva' cease? Then, reality hit me: It’ll never stop, because there's too much money to be made off of mass incarceration.

Once on the road I was like a kid in a candy store. I loved the new cars that were driving beside us on the highway. I marveled at the different housing developments and beautiful homes I saw. What did they do to afford them? What kind of jobs did they have? Did they have large or small families? With all that wealth--were they happy? And inside I felt sad. I felt sad because I could've taken another fork in the road. I didn't have to sell drugs. I didn't have to do the negative things that came with living the street life. But, I chose to; and because I chose those things--I forfeited my life! I could've just as well been living in a half a million-dollar home, with an eighty-thousand dollar car sitting in my garage or driveway. I damn well could've and should've. For me, that would've been, "The Road Less Traveled." I felt the irony of Robert Frost's classic poem.

At 8:30 a.m. we pulled into the State police Barracks for a bathroom break. Mind you, we are still in restraints. I didn't have to urinate but Shareef did. I then scooted over and took the window seat. There was this skinny kid who said that he had to defecate. The guards told him that once we were on the bus, they weren't allowed to take off the restraints. ,

"Whut do you want me to do? Shit in my pants!" he screams.

"Do whut you gotta do," the guard answers, with no sympathy.

The person sitting next to the kid made him take the seat in the front of the bus. The whole bus was clowning this kid. I felt bad for him. The guard told him to hold it for forty- five minutes until we got to SCI Benner--which is the transport jail across from Rockview. He had a strange contorted look on his face. Then, about twenty minutes into the ride from the State Police Barracks--he let go! Now, the jokes are really coming. He was going to SCI Frackville, and I know that the guys who were going to Frackville with him would never let him live it down. He would be the butt of jokes for the rest of his time in the penitentiary.

At 9:15 a.m. the bus pulls in at SCI Benner and I couldn't believe the size of the place--it was huge! There were racks with all the names of the state penitentiaries in Pennsylvania. The guards opened the luggage doors at the bottom of the bus, and started putting people's property on the racks of the institutions they were being transferred to. Shareef and I had been talking the whole time. We laughed at the good times we had. And we expressed our sadness in the fact that the institution had succeeded in separating us--he, I, and our brother Supreme Captain, Benny-Do. Three positive minds, who struggled and prayed for the uplifting of our people--splintered, just like that. At the drop of a dime!

"Okay, who's the shitter?" the Sgt. asks, once all of the property was loaded onto the racks.

The kid gets up--and holy crap! No pun intended. But you can tell he's wearing briefs and not boxers. There were big clumps of excrement packed in the seat of his pants. The bus was in an uproar! Poor kid. That's a helluva thing to have hanging over your head.

We were all split up once we got to SCI Benner. They gave us lunch bags and we had to wait in humongous holding tanks that had the names of the institution of where you were going. Houtzdale was the last tank and Coal Township was next to last. Brother Shareef and I said our goodbyes and I went into my tank. We hugged one another because they had taken off the restraints once we got to Benner. We were the first bus there, so there was only another guy and I in the tank. We were the other two from Graterford that were going to Houtzdale. Houtzdale happened to be the guy’s jail. He was down on writ at Graterford. He basically told me what to expect once I got to Houtzdale. He explained to me that compared to Graterford--I was in for a rude awakening.

"It'z crazy," he says. "tha majority of the population are young. There iz a big war goin' on between tha Bloodz and tha Crips. It'z gangland."

Bloodz? Crips? Whut tha fuck iz going on? I thought to myself. When I was a teenager Bloodz and Crips were a California thing. Now, it has found its way to the east Coast. Hearing that deflated me, and with it, my hopes for the younger generation. What a waste.

Two more people came in, an older gentleman by the name of Phil, and a younger guy who had gotten kicked out of boot camp. This made our total four. The Houtzdale van didn‘t get there until 12:30 in the afternoon. Once again, we were put into restraints and loaded into the van. The Houtzdale guards were wearing bulletproof vests and had huge Glock 40's as their side arms. They looked very intimidating!

The ride to Houtzdale from Benner was only about forty-five minutes to an hour. We went through the small town of Houtzdale and I wondered who was the Dutch or German settler this town was named after. When we got here all I saw was a huge fence with bubble razor wire going across the top of it. No wall, at least I could see trees!

We stopped at the sally-port in between the gates where the guards had to check their vests and side arms. Out of the sally-port came a guard with sunglasses on, his mouth packed with Skoal. He opened the side door and said in the most country voice I have ever heard in my life: 

"Well, lookie here! These are four handsome specimens we have here--truth be told!"

I pondered, Whut tha hell have I gotten myself into?

After we came through the sally-port we came to R & D. I don't know, nor did I ask what R&D means. I'll take an educated guess and assume it means: Receiving and Departures. Because I DIDN’T HAVE ON AN ORANGE JUMPSUIT, I didn‘t expect them to put me back in the hole. After the R&D Sargent did the inventory of my property, he informed me that I was still listed as ad seg in the computer. So they took the property that came with me on the bus and put it in the storage room of the R&D. My hopes were downtrodden gust when I thought I was going into the general population. About a half hour later, guards from the hole on H-Block came to get me.

The hole guards took me to the strip tank and locked me in there. It was a clear Plexiglas tank with a camera mounted in front of it. I just stood there for every bit of two hours. I was so tired. I had been up since one in the morning and I had to fight the urge to lay down on the strip floor and go to sleep! Then, the lieutenant came in and told me that the reason why the process was taking so long was because they didn‘t have anywhere to put me. I am a Z-Code, which means I'm on single cell status because I don't have a cellmate. He informed me that he was thinking about putting me in the medical department, which was fine by me. The lieutenant left (I'm assuming to discuss the dilemma with the Day-Captain-- who told him no way) and when he came back he came with the sergeant. and two officers to begin the strip search. In no way am I new to strip searches--but this strip search takes the cake! The officer gave me the command to take my index finger and run it around my top and bottom gums! In eleven years that was a first. Another first was pulling back the foreskin of my penis?! Who in the hell would put anything there? After that, I really began to overstand how diabolical these people were…

From the strip tank I was taken to H-A018 cell. When we came through the doors the noise was deafening. Two guys were yelling obscenities at one another while they were locked behind their doors. I noticed that the size of A Pod was a little smaller than the wing I was on at Graterford. Eighteen cell was the first cell at the top of the steps. After I was locked in the guard reached through the wicket to remove my handcuffs. Once he took one handcuff off, I went to turn (to give him easier access to release the other cuff-this is a common practice at Graterford) he gave me a sharp command:

"No, do not turn!" he said, while having my arm hemmed up.

Now, I was really aware of exactly where I was!

To my surprise the cell was very clean. The institution as a whole is very clean. Houtzdale is only fifteen years old, which is fairly new compared to the old prisons like Huntingdon, Rockview, Dallas and Graterford. All the doors are electronically operated and there is central air! Can you believe that? They actually have air conditioning! The summer months at Graterford were brutal. I guess air conditioning is one positive thing I have to say about Houtzdale.

So, as I’m standing at the door of my cell, I happened to look across the tier at the cell opposite me--when I see Randy!

"Mitch, whut tha fuck? Whut‘re you doin' here?"

I smiled and laughed at seeing a familiar face. "Awe, man, Randy--dey kicked me out, cuz! Damn, I wuz wondering why I hadn‘t seen your face. I thought you had went home?"

"Guess again, Mitch. I had three dirty urines and they kicked me out around two years ago. Man, you're not goin' ta like dis place! Compared to where we were, it‘z like tha difference between heaven and hell."

"I'm beginning to see dat," I say, with a chuckle.

"Are you AC or DC?"

"I've been on AC since Thanksgiving when dey ran down on me."

"Shit, you‘re outta here, then. You'1l have to see PRC on Thursday and they'll cut chu' loose. All they're goin' to say is keep your nose clean and don‘t put your hands on anybody--especially the guards!"

"I already know an ass whipping comes wit' dat--so I'm not goin' there."

"I wuz gus' in that cell. Dey moved me in here with him to make room for you 'cause you're a Z-Code," Randy says, pointing to his cellmate.

“Sawry 'bout dat, cuz.”

"It ain‘t 'bout nuffinl Yo. holla back at me once you get situated."

"Sure thing, rand," I said lastly.

I made my bunk and hopped up on it laying back. Don't ask me why, but I‘ve been sleeping on the top bunk for years. Another oddity of mine. I'm a creature of habit. 1 thought about everything that was taking place. I wondered if Houtzdale might turn out to be different from what I was experiencing? Maybe it was only a few guards who were prejudiced assholes and not the majority? I found it highly unlikely, though.

The next day it rained all day so I didn't sign up for yard. The cell gangsters were at it again. All day yelling- -back and forth, back and forth. A black guy and a white guy named Serano.

"Aha nigger! You're a nigger--you‘re dirty and you stink!" yells Serano. "Bye nigger! Bye nigger!"

"And you're a rat. Ser-rat-no! Hey, doez anybody have any cheese? Ser-rat-no iz a rat!" says the Black guy.

I found myself putting my head under my pillow for the majority of the day. It was hard to believe that two grown adult men--were carrying on back and forth like children. I spent that Wednesday cursing myself for putting myself in this situation. I was surely paying the price for the mistake I made at Graterford. 

At around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, two officers came to my cell door and told me that they were taking me to see the security lieutenants. I was handcuffed in the front this time, and taken through a maze of corridors until we came to a door marked: Security. One of the guards knocked on the door.

"Bring him in," said a voice from inside the office.

I entered and sat down, while the guard left me alone with the two lieutenants.

"How in the hell do you say your first name?" he asks, with a look of curiosity. 

If I had a penny for every time I've been asked that question in life, I'd be a millionaire. "M-wan-dishi."

"How about that? Just the way it‘s spelled," he replies.

Eureka! No wonder why you're wearin‘ tha white shirt wit' tha silver bar on your shoulder!

"We‘re going to be frank with you, Mitchell. The computer doesn't tell us why you were transferred from Graterford, and we really don't care. All we want to do is make sure you don‘t make any problems here at Houtzdale. Does that seem acceptable to you?"

I ain't writin' shit about none o' y'all! "Yes, that seems fair, sir."

"Good, we're going to give our recommendation to PRC to release you, alright?"

"Yes, thank you, sir."

"Alright, he‘s good to go," the lieutenant yells for the officer to come in and get me.

The weight was lifted from my heart. After six months of Administrative Custody, I was finally going to be released! I wanted to jump for joy. Although, I didn't know if it was going to get any better; compared to what I had experienced so far in my two days at Houtzdale. I still had faith that things might get better.

A few hours later I was called into PRC where all of the big shots were--Deputy Superintendent, Mayor of Unit Management, H-Block Unit Manager and H-Block Counselor. They gave me the exact spiel that the security lieutenants ran down, and agreed to release me from AC status. I thanked them all and was escorted back to my cell.

Later that night at around 6:30, I was released from the RHU and escorted to C-Block, A Pod, in the general population. There are thirty-two cells on the second and bottom tiers. My cell is the second cell right by the telephones and control panel, 1002. I was finally out of the hole!

But everything couldn't be as sweet as roses--there was a drawback. It seemed they had kept the property I came with at the R&D! So, I was in the cell naked. No T.V., radio, just the set of browns they gave me when I came out of the hole. I had to borrow a pen and some paper just to send out a few letters. I type everything I write and loath writing in ink because my handwriting is horrible! Then, Monday is Memorial Day, so I'll have to wait until Tuesday--and who knows if I'll get my property then? I'm going to miss the Memorial Day marathon of Band of Brothers! That's my favorite!

Already, I've had to check a guard. One of them asked (or ordered rather) for me to do something and added, "Buddy." I told him to address me as, Mr. Mitchell, and in no way was nor would I ever be his "Buddy." he didn't like that. But I don't give a shit about what they like. Stay in your lane and I'll stay in mine. I hate to even talk to rednecks. I don’t say anything to them unless it's absolutely necessary! If you talk to me with respect then you're going to get respect back from me. If you talk to me like a nigger--well guess what, pal? The nigga will come out of me!

I don‘t know how long I'll last here, my friends. I'm scared. I'm scared I'll hurt somebody if they push the wrong button. And I'm soared they‘1l probably kill me if I do. My greatest weapon is: out of sight. out of mind. who knows? maybe this will be a new beginning for me? All I have is my faith in the Supreme Being that He'll keep me safe.

That's all I need--because with that. I have nothing to fear.

Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474
SCI Houtzdale
P.O. 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000