Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Train

By Milo Rose aka One Eagle

In the Spring of 1957, I was being raised as a free roaming seven-year-old child. My mother would encourage me to go outside and play and I'd be off without hesitation, as there were a million things to explore and people to meet, with few rules that I can remember, except for memorizing my address. 

One warm sunny morning the household was abuzz. We were planning an outing to the car dealership on Ashland Avenue to pick up our brand new two door 1957 Chevy Bel Aire. From there we were to begin driving to California. When I say we, I mean my mother, father, five-year-old baby sister Janice, and Uncle Billy, who really wasn't my uncle, but my dad’s best friend. It was at this time I got my first lesson in automotive care, when I asked my father why he wasn't driving faster. I was told, "You have to break the engine of a new car in slowly, so the motor oil has a chance to seat all its working parts, and won't burn up on you.” He smiled and said, “Don't worry, we will be going fast soon. This car has a big V8 engine and is made to go fast!"

I had no idea where Sacramento, California, was, but was told it would be our new home and that it was going to be a long drive. My uncle Billy, sitting in the back seat with my sister and me, pulled out a road map of the United States, and started teaching me how to read it. I was already an avid reader of my much older cousin's comic book collection, which made it easier to learn to read the map. I love learning new things and became enthralled by the map, which showed me where we were, and where we were headed. It became my job to keep my dad and everyone else informed of our location. I beamed with pride at being able to interpret the points of the map I held in my hand!.

It didn't take me long to begin learning the world was a much bigger place then I ever imagined it to be. My young mind started to wonder what was down each road on the map. Places I had seen on the television were becoming real to me, and I wanted more maps. I was thrilled to learn we could get free maps from gas stations in each state we traveled through. I felt like I was learning a whole new language and was amazed by all the information maps held. The world was now mine to explore!

The road trip was nothing compared to the places we would visit after settling into our rented house, located southwest of Sacramento. The house we moved into was wasn't new and I really don't know how to describe it, other than it had a lot of doors, and there was a small park across the street with a equally small fish pond. There was a huge walnut tree in what passed as a front yard. I know I liked the house, it held a good vibe. The whole area did.  A few houses away was a busy street, and on the other side of the street were newer, smaller houses and the school I would walk a few blocks to attend. I have one vivid memory of it snowing and all of us having a snowball fight on the playground. Right around the corner there was a model airplane shop with remote control planes. I could always hear their motors running, but never saw them flying. The last few vivid memories of the house and area I have were of my mother throwing a bag full of my dad’s stuff into the garbage. I went back and dug through it to find medals and ribbons from when he was a sailor during World War II (he was a second gunner). Another memory I have is of my mother holding my baby sister’s and my hands while we walked down that busy street one afternoon, headed for a movie theatre to see Snow White and Jumbo, when the motorcycle club called the Hells Angels came roaring passed us. I'll never forget that sight and sound!  There seemed to be hundreds of motorcycles shaking the ground as they rumbled by.

My father seemed to know a lot of people all over California, and we visited people in mountain areas who showed us different places of interest. I loved driving around the mountains and seeing the sights. We visited the Redwood Forrest and drove through trees. There was a place I was told was a famous amusement park, but it didn't seem all that big to me.  I'm sorry to say we didn't go to Disneyland, but we did eat at the Brown Derby and visit Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. To me, California was a wonderland of sights and things to do. So very much different than the dirty smelly city of Chicago, Illinois that I was familiar with.

Then one day my mother informed my sister and I that the three of us would be taking a train trip back to Chicago. My father and Uncle Billy had already driven back to Chicago months before and, while I was excited at the thought of traveling by train, I hated the idea of leaving California. I wanted to stay there forever, and I tried to talk my mother out of going. But she told me I'd be able to return when I was older, which did make things seem better, and I went back to being excited about traveling by train!

I do not remember much about boarding the train, except that we moved quickly through the crowds and it was noisy. I held my little sister’s hand and hurried to keep up with my mother. Once we boarded the train, things slowed down as we walked through the cars to find the compartment where we would sleep at night. Each car we walked through was different and people seemed to be moving with purpose as my mother dragged my sister and me behind her. The train was bigger and longer than I imagined, and it seemed we walked forever.  Finally, we entered a car with rows of curtains on both sides of the narrow passageway. When we stopped and my mother pulled back one off the curtains, I saw two levels of beds and she told my little sister Janice and me that we would be sleeping on the top bed. To me, the tiny space was cozy and there was a small light in the compartment too.

When the train started moving, we continued on our way to a double decker car to see the views. It took a while to get used to walking. All the cars seemed to be rocking back and forth but after awhile even the sound of the train passing over the tracks became a normal rhythm. I liked being up high, looking out the windows on both sides of the train and being able to freely move back and forth between the seats. Plus, I could hear people pointing out things of interest, which made the adventure even more pleasant. I didn't enjoy looking out the windows at night, because there was very little I could see in the dark. So, at night I became a people watcher, so much so that my mother had to remind me not to stare (much easier said than done!). I was amazed by how many people were actually on the train, and at how orderly everything seemed to function.  Once in awhile the train would stop to let people off and on. I thought to myself how riding the train was like taking the bus in Chicago. Everyone knew where they were going. My mother had to remind me not to stare at people while riding the buses in Chicago too! I was amazed by the different ways people dressed and carried themselves and often wanted to ask questions, but my mother said that wouldn't be nice. So I'd sit there and wonder. 

The second night on the train my sister and I were awaken by a commotion of people pulling back the curtain of our sleeper. Neither one of us had any idea what was going on, as people started telling us not to worry that everything was going to be alright. By instinct I began to sooth my sister, who was frightened and asking a million questions. The people around us were trying to keep us distracted from what was actually going on. Our mother had suffered a major miscarriage and was hemorrhaging badly, causing the train make an unscheduled emergency stop in a small rural Midwestern town so she could receive medical attention. My sister and I didn't know it, but our fates had been decided too.

An older couple took over soothing my sister and assured me she was safe with them, while a couple of guys started asking me baseball questions and telling me about themselves. Soon after the commotion stopped, my sister and I were dressed and lead to the dining car. The train started moving again, with the early morning daylight streaming in through the windows. My sister didn't appear frightened any longer and I was comfortable talking about my favorite teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. It wasn't long before I found myself sitting in a railroad car designated for the baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.  One of the players made me a ring out of a crisp one-dollar bill that actually fit on my finger. I forgot about the earlier commotion, and the baseball team kept me entertained for the time it took the train to reach Gray, Indiana. Once there, I was told our Aunt Betty would be waiting to take my sister and me home with her.

True enough, after climbing off the train and standing there on the train platform squeezing my sister’s hand, our Aunt Betty showed up. She assured my sister and me that our mother was okay, and she and our father would come to get us soon. It didn't happen right away though.  I was enrolled in school and began to worry I'd never see our parents again. Finally, one day our parents showed up and told us we would be moving into a new house in the far south suburbs of Chicago, but that's another story.

Over the years I would look at the ring the Pittsburgh ball player made for me and wonder who he was. Even today, over sixty years later, I have warm memories when I think of that ring, (which eventually, one of my younger brothers took and unrolled and spent) and I try to recall exactly how it was made. It reminds me that peace and kindness exist in the world and I'll always be grateful for having received it during our train adventure.

Milo Rose 090411
Union Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Raiford, FL 32083 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Hell's Kitchen Cooking School II: Right in the Oven

By Chris Dankovich

To read Part One click here

The slightly soapy smell of baking bread wafts up above the stovetop. Here it intertwines with a cacophony of scents and smells, sweet and savory. One man is making caramel, another tends to the chicken-lemon-rice soup, crowded into the space the size of a bathtub, while a third cracks the oven just enough to check the bread.

Behind them, freshly kneaded dough is now being spun into rolls by two men. Off to the side I direct a seventeen-year-old named Evan, who has never had a job before, on how to hold a chef knife to dice an onion for our meal later. His first cuts down the onion are slow and nervous but also surgical. Taking his time, he goes around the hemisphere before turning it to cross-cut. I continue to watch as he goes into the second half with more confidence before stepping away to remove the green beans from the steamer. I quickly replace them in the hazy, screaming compartment with thin cord-sized strands of carrots I julienned before the students got to class in order to get them just flexible enough to tie in a light knot around each half-portion bundle of beans.

I call Drew over, an adult who has worked in a professional kitchen before and who is here to learn more, to trim the chicken breasts and slice them into cutlets thin enough to pound into scallop-sized pieces the thickness of a hardbound-book cover. I take Evan to sauté the onions and prepare our marsala-like sauce. Normally made right in the skillet as the chicken pan-fries to a golden brown, we whip the sauce together in a measuring cup so he can understand the proportions and how each ingredient affects the taste. It’s similar to a red-wine demi-glace, though we are an alcohol-free kitchen (Yooper John's under-the-bunk potato hooch just doesn't cut it as a cooking wine),something that, with experience, doesn't limit us but only expands our horizons. A little grape juice, a dash of balsamic vinegar, some homemade chicken broth, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch of brown sugar and some cream. Browned onions in the pan, followed by some mushrooms, with our sauce poured in over top, allowed to simmer before a butter-roux is whisked in. The taste, rich with a myriad of notes of flavor. "Man, that's good," he says.

The first thing I do every morning, after washing up, is make my cup of coffee. If the water is hot, it just needs a minute in the microwave after adding a spoonful of the dehydrated stuff to be just right. I sip it as I go out the door, past the officer who checks my pass. The air is crisp, and the sky is still dark, and I take in the few stars that still struggle against the dusky light. My head is in the clouds on my way to work every day, because there's no other place it would rather be until I get inside. Through the double-doors, it looks a lot like an industrial school or institution, which is what this building basically is. Upstairs is the GED school, where basic education is a chore mostly forced on those who, apart from their adult sentence, are usually otherwise juveniles. Education is often fought against, protested with "I don't need this sh*t, I'm going back to selling dope when I get out with my new connects," though occasionally accepted and periodically enjoyed. I worked there for seven years, one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, as I got to witness revelation and change in young men. To the right on the main floor, are the vocational classrooms. At one time there were four, but now, due to statewide budget cuts, there are only two available vocational education options for these men, including many young ones who have never had the opportunity to learn a trade or skill before as they came to adult prison just out of eighth or ninth grade. As a tutor/chef in the Food Technology vocational class, one of the two remaining ones, I work to help these men better themselves at a skill which they can take home to their families, which they can take home to care for themselves, which they can take home and, combined with other skills and lessons and use to stay away from the temptation of things which might lead them back to prison. As someone who suffered abuse at a young age because I didn't have the confidence or the skills to extricate myself from my situation, I take seriously my ability to help (or to fail) others in bettering themselves and their abilities in a positive manner. Others, including my employer, took that time with me and gave me the opportunity to learn on my own, the only reason I have any skills as a thirty-year-old man today.

Eating well is also a perk, and I'm looking forward to dipping into the hummus I showed the class how to make yesterday while finishing my coffee. My employer, as part of his teaching duties, likes to teach the class different methods of food production from different styles of cooking, many of which the students (mainly the young ones) have never had before. Asking the class if anyone had ever had hummus, most had not, and one student, mouthier than his size should allow, yelled out how disgusting it was and how no one likes that stuff. By the time it was done and monkey-dishes of it were passed out with some chips, the sunshine smell of the lemon with the earthy scent of the chickpeas and tahini and garlic had broken the barriers down, and everyone asked for more, including sass-man who was conspicuously quiet as he held out his bowl for extra. Now I'm hankering for some extra myself this morning for breakfast. The classroom is divided into two parts: the educational front-of-the-house, and the traditional, full-service back-of-the-house. I hang up my prison-issue coat and walk to the back, where I work to cook, or guide the cooking, for between thirty and seventy guests every day, mostly the inmate students, but sometimes staff too, who provide feedback on how the dishes compare to the outside world.

Once a month, my employer puts on a dinner and pays for a deluxe three-course meal with multiple options, and for that day we work hard to be the best restaurant in town. Hummus is possibly going to be one of our next appetizer options, but for right now I open it up and snack on it as my boss talks to me and my co-worker about our plan for this day.

Today we're cooking for professors and students from the University of Michigan in addition our regulars. The guests are here as part of an event, and we get to try to impress these people who eat well on a regular basis. It's a privilege, an honor, and exciting... and there's no room for error. To get to this point, each student involved has to prove himself, if not in the accumulation of technical skill, then in willingness to work and the ability to listen and learn. This is where I enjoy working with the younger men more; our records for shortest time before injury in the kitchen are within the first three minutes on the first day of working, within the first twenty minutes, and within the first hour... records all set by adult-adults over the age of thirty. I've had co-workers who talk down to the students, or who barked orders at them, but I've found it most effective to speak normally to them, using the authority that comes with knowing what I'm doing and being able to show it. Still, the youth are the most receptive, and the ones who are willing to work usually have the kind of questions that are fun to answer. "Can you deep fry cookie dough?" (yes, if you batter it... let's do it) "How do you make spaghetti sauce?" "What goes in a Big Mac's secret dressing?" (thousand-island... this is how you make it) "How come that burger tastes better than any home-grilled one I've ever had?" (because it was seasoned properly and cooked medium-rare).

So today, our special menu is the soup with freshly baked rolls for the class, along with some caramel-crunch cake (with, of all things, potato chips rolled in with the caramel for a salty-sweet crackle that circumnavigates your taste-buds in every bite). For the guests, something to give this day's line-chefs something more to focus on. Our main dish is Chicken Holly: pan-fried cutlets of chicken, sautéed with onions, mushrooms and garlic, finished with a sauce made from homemade demi-glace and a grape-balsamic reduction, served with a rice pilaf and a carrot-"tied" bundle of green beans dressed in seasoned butter. Anticipating some of our guests being vegetarian or vegan, I have been preparing chickpea seitan cutlets with a Thai yellow curry, alongside the vegetable bundle dressed with vegan seasoned margarine. For dessert, my coworker is supervising some homemade apple pie that is nearly out of the oven at this point, the warm, sugary smell rising from the oven next to the one with the baking bread.

As we work, the civilian teacher I work under, an incredible chef, takes a look at the task everyone is working on, giving additional pointers. A moment of truth for me, as he knows my cooking and taught me much of it to begin with, as now he tries a sample I made of our main course, a meal I came up with. And there is no greater compliment than when a man who has the ability to cook anything and most things better than you could do so goes in for seconds on your dish. He doesn't say anything, but nods his head and asks me how I was planning on garnishing it. He turns the question to the students as well. "Who can tell me what a garnish is and what its purpose is?" The students aren't completely sure, so he gives them a breakdown. "Customers eat with their eyes first. The difference between a delicious meal at a mom-and-pop diner and the same one costing ten times more at a fancy restaurant is very often how the same meal is served."

The guests trickle through the steel doors, and we can hear murmurs about how good the food smells. The tutor-chef who helped teach me when I was first learning the basics of cooking told me to never take that as a compliment, to instead take it as a challenge that the food had better live up to the potential promised by its scent. Everything is ready to finish off (so that it is still hot when served), and the hustle begins. The vegetables are removed from the steamer and plated, the pilaf is scooped as I finish the chicken and the rich, bright sauce. Once fully assembled, my boss, ever the teacher, uses the moment to show the students the vigor added with a simple pinch and "pow" of chopped parsley and a slice of orange on the side. We slide them over to the serving tray where Evan, dressed in his nicest, ironed prison uniform and fresh, bleached apron, takes the food to the guests. Oooohs and aaaahhhhs sound as they receive their plates. I quickly wash my hands, finish the Curry Seitan, and bring them out to the vegan guests, one of whom informs me that the last vegan meal someone else "made" for her was a plate full of slightly cooked vegetables and a slice of pizza without cheese. Some of the guests talk to our kitchen workers and to me as they eat and as they finish their meals. A few ask for the recipes to the meals today, the best payment I can receive in this non-commercial kitchen. The compliment is magnified by the fact that these people are accustomed to eating well.

Our time to eat as they leave. The students get paid for their hard work in good food. After ten years eating in the aptly named chow hall, I am grateful for this opportunity every day I have it, and the students often clamor for the opportunity to be part of the events for the same reason. I can't blame them, and to the degree it is in my control, I make sure they eat well for working well. The catch is that they have to eat it right now, as to bring it back risks a contraband ticket. So there is a sight of a bunch of grown men stuffing their face until they're about ready to pop... here, a sure-sign that someone put in a good day's work.As we clean up (nobody's favorite part), we start planning for tomorrow. Not quite as busy as today, but we still plan on serving the best meals in town again... and to teach a new generation the skills they'll need to do so for a job, or for themselves and their families, skills they learn in Hell's Kitchen Cooking School.

_ _ _ _ _

And now, from the Hell's Kitchen Cooking School's Test Kitchen, a delicious original recipe for the richest, most delicious chewy Blondies:

(makes approx. 24 large Blondies)

* 3 cups brown sugar
* 3 sticks (12 oz) melted butter/margarine
* 3 eggs + 3 egg yolks
* 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
* 1.5 tsp Baking Powder
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease half-sheet pan (13"x18" baking pan) and flour (if well-greased and floured properly, a "brownie sling" nor a pan liner is needed). In mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, melted butter, and eggs. Sift, then fold in with spatula, the flour, baking powder, and salt until fully combined. Fold in chopped walnuts. Pour into prepared half-sheet pan, spread out evenly. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time, until toothpick stuck into blondies 1/3 of the way to the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, allow to cool. Cut into 24 individual blondies.

Chris Dankovich 595904
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer MI 48446

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Man Down: A prisoner’s struggle for survival in the Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (from 2009 to 2011)

By Edgar “G.BAM Shango” Pitts

Twelve hundred beds needed to be filled at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. That was the problem prison officials faced when they decided to turn Lewisburg into a lockdown program called the Special Management Unit (SMU). How they decided to solve their problem was just as sinister as the SMU itself. 

Prisoners were rounded-up off penitentiary compounds and arbitrarily labeled as management problems to justify their placement in the SMU. Prisoners who had been keeping clear conduct for years found themselves in front of the hearing officer explaining why they shouldn't be sent to the program.

After spending about eight years in the highest security prison in America, the Administrative Maximum (ADX), I was transferred to Allenwood United States Penitentiary in Pennsylvania in September of 2008, which came as a relief after the harsh and psychologically harmful environment of the ADX; where inmates like Ramsey Yousef, the first World Trade Center bomber, and Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber are housed.

Not long after I arrived at Allenwood, a rumor circulated around the penitentiary of a list with the names of prisoners who were supposed to be taken off the compound for placement at the new SMU program at Lewisburg. To some it sounded too conspiratorial to be believed; others weren't concerned because they had been maintaining clear conduct. It just couldn’t concern me because I had just been released from the ADX program after serving an excessive amount of time there. 

Our apathy was being fed by changes that were supposed to have been taking place in Washington. At the time, many of us believed that the program at Lewisburg, the secret prisons around the world, and Guantanamo Bay-type programs were all products of the Bush Administration. We were convinced that the Obama Administration would never allow a sadistic program like the SMU to be implemented under their watch. But we were all wrong, and naively so. Because while Guantanamo Bay, at the time, was rumored to be in the process of closing, a version of it was being opened here in America at Lewisburg for us. And not for Al Quaeda members; but even though we were not terrorists, we were treated as such. 

After about four months on the compound at Allenwood, I was found in possession of a four inch piece of metal that they claimed could have been used as a weapon. As a consequence, I was given 60 days in the Segregation Housing Unit (SHU), along with other sanctions. 
Halfway through my SHU time the rumors about the list proved to be true. We began to see prisoners being rounded-up off the compound, and notified of their so-called rights to challenge their SMU referral. We were told that we could present evidence and call witnesses etc. to disprove being labeled a management problem. This made prisoners hopeful. Most, if not all, believed they had a chance to convince the hearing officer they didn’t fit the criteria for placement in the program. 
But they were all disappointed. Because they all returned from their hearings with the same outcome: They were all SMU bound. 
I was naive enough to be hopeful that I wouldn’t be one of those referred to the SMU. But I was wrong, too. I was served with the same notice and read the same rights as my fellow convicts. 
I immediately contested the referral to the counselor notifying me. I told him that I had just been released from the ADX program after doing about eight years there, so another term in the SMU would be excessive and unjust. But my reasoning fell on deaf ears. The counselor responded sarcastically by saying, “Unfortunately for you, they will need to fill the bed spaces at Lewisburg, so your name was placed on the list.”
Before I even received my hearing, I was told to pack my property because I was scheduled to be transferred to the SMU program at Lewisburg. When I reached R&D, seven other prisoners were also waiting to make the same trip. After we were all humiliated by the strip searches, fingerprinting and the usual rituals of defeat, we were all shackled and loaded into a van to be taken to Lewisburg. 
The ride from Allenwood to Lewisburg took about thirty minutes. We were received with the same humiliation at Lewisburg that we were sent off with at Allenwood. The usual rituals of defeat were performed. I was given a bed roll and placed in a cell no bigger than an outhouse and just as filthy. G-Unit was turned into the SMU and it was notorious for its rats and roaches.
I opened the window and heard convicts talking to each other through their windows from one unit to the next. They came from all over; from penitentiaries in Louisiana, California, Florida and Virginia. They talked about being shipped far away from their families and friends. Some had already had their hearings, and some hadn’t. Of those who hadn’t, some were still hopeful they may be rejected by the program. Others who knew better said so, to the dismay of the still hopeful ones. 
In the morning, I was awakened by the noise coming from the heavy machinery working to put the finishing touches on Lewisburg to make it a ‘Lockdown Program Facility’ for the SMU.
Later that day, a guard told me that my hearing would be held in Lewisburg. I asked him, “Why have a hearing?” Because my transfer to the program before I had a hearing demonstrated it would be nothing but a sham. He agreed, and then he walked away.
Even though they claim that the SMU is a non-punitive program, very few things at the ADX, which is a punitive program, prepared me for the harsh and inhumane conditions of the SMU.
At the ADX prisoners had control over the lights in their cells and could turn them off and on as needed. But here in the SMU prisoners have no control over the light, which is kept on from six in the morning until midnight. At the ADX we were allowed to keep our personal property; but here we are deprived of personal property pending advancement in the program. At the ADX we were allowed to view religious programs on TV; but here we are denied that privilege, one that even detainees at Guantanamo Bay enjoy. At the ADX we were given recreation about twelve hours a week; but here we are only given recreation for five hours a week, which can be arbitrarily denied. At the ADX we had single cells; but here we are forced by gassing, restraints and other torture methods to accept a cellmate whom we may end up fighting. 
So, despite the semantics of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), not only is the program punitive, but it is more detrimental psychologically than I can ever explain here. Suffice it to say that prisoners are being put in four-point restraints for days and left to urinate and defecate on themselves for refusing to accept a cellmate whom they may not be compatible with. As a result, prisoners lives are being jeopardized, as I am about to explain. 
The day came for my hearing. I saw prisoners coming out of the hearing area complaining. I was taken to the room in restraints. Before I sat down, before I even said a word or presented my case, the hearing officer told me that I fit the criteria. He recommended that I would be placed in the program. I asked him about due process, and he told me that this was the most due process I could expect. 
About two days later, all the prisoners who’d had their hearing were taken to the Z-Unit section of the prison. The cells there were much bigger and cleaner, and had showers. I guess this was a more humane method to impose their injustice.
I was placed alone in a cell. Most of the cells on the unit were empty. But later that night prisoners came from several other penitentiaries. Some were forced into cells with other inmates they didn’t know, nor had anything in common with. This is a dangerous practice that has cost prisoners their lives in the past, and will in the future. 

A Brief History of Lewisburg and Me

I stated here that I was transferred from the ADX to USP Allenwood in September of 2008. I should also mention that I was sent to the ADX by prison officials in Lewisburg. I was an inmate at Lewisburg from 1998 to 2000, before it was transformed into a lockdown facility to accommodate the SMU. So, I knew several of the guards, and they knew me. When I was an inmate at Lewisburg, I used to work at the Unicor faculty. I participated in the GED program, where I passed the test and received my GED.

I also used to participate in the religious activities of the Rastafarian community. So, when the penitentiary became flooded with marijuana, the Rastafarian community was immediately suspected to be the culprit. And when the urine analysis tests of prisoners started to come back dirty, unscrupulous prisoners started to point their fingers at the Rastafarian community to escape punishment. 
Religious contractors were allowed to visit prisons to preach and worship with prisoners; the Rastafarian community had a regular visitor. So, the prison officials concluded that he must have been the source of the marijuana. One day, he was scheduled to visit the prison to celebrate a Rastafarian holy day with his imprisoned brothers. When he arrived, he parked his car in the prison’s parking lot and started to enter the prison, but he was denied entry. He was searched but no drugs were found on him. However, they searched his car and found a pound of marijuana.
I was then immediately put in restraints and taken to the lieutenant’s office. I declined to talk. I was then taken to G-Unit, which was the SHU. I was placed under investigation, and I was forced into a cell with an inmate who was a suspected informant. They wanted this inmate to spy on me. 
So, to counter their plan, I overpowered the suspected spy, taking him down onto the floor of the cell, and stood on his neck. I told him to scream for help. He complied, and when the guard appeared, I demanded to speak to the warden, because the inmate shouldn’t have been in the cell with me. After a back and forth of demands, the guards came with a team of about eight, and stormed the cell. I was then placed in restraints and four-pointed. 
I was eventually written up for conspiracy to introduce drugs into the prison and taking a hostage. I was found guilty, and along with numerous sanctions, I was given a disciplinary transfer to the ADX. I was held in the ADX from 2000 until September of 2008, when I was transferred to Allenwood. So it was deja vu to be back in Lewisburg; but this time in the SMU.

Bloodshed instigated!

I was left alone in the cell until another busload of prisoners came about two days later. I was told by a guard to get ready because I would be receiving a cellmate. So, I cleared some of my belongings off the top bunk to accommodate my fellow convict. He was brought to the cell, and I was told to cuff-up. I complied. They opened the door and placed him in the cell with me. They closed the door behind him and he immediately pushed his hands through the tray-slot to be uncuffed first, thus leaving me cuffed-up and vulnerable. But after he was done, I did the same without incident. 
The guards left us there in the cell, I introduced myself, but he ignored my attempt to be cordial by demanding that he be given the bottom bunk because he had a medical pass for it. “That’s not gonna happen,” I said. “I have a bullet in my ankle. I don’t have a medical pass, but I don’t need one.” 

 “It’s like that?” he asked. 

“Yes. You need to get into one of these empty cells. And you need to do it now, or just get on the top bunk here,” I answered.
He decided to take my advice. When the guards came back to make their rounds, he requested to be moved immediately because we were not compatible, but the guards ignored him and walked away. He then started to kick the door to get the guards’ attention. When that didn’t work, he started to shout, “C.O., I need to see you.” He did this repeatedly while kicking on the door, but the guards still ignored him.
Other convicts started to kick their doors and yell to get the guards’ attention. This went on for about ten minutes before several guards came to see him. He told them that he needed to move because he needed a bottom bunk, but the guards told him that was not going to happen. Even though I had the bottom bunk, one of them told him, “Get that bunk right there,” pointing to my made up bed. Other inmates heard this and knew what it implied, so they began to kick on their doors again, demanding the guards move him instead of trying to instigate bloodshed.
While all of this was going on I told him it would be best if he would just take the top bunk and try to move when a different shift of guards were working, because it was quite clear what the guards wanted to see: they wanted to see us fight for the bottom bunk and I didn’t want that.
A guard then returned to our cell and told me to get ready to move into another cell with somebody else. I told him I wasn’t going to move, and he walked away. This was done to further inflame the situation, which I explained to my cellmate and he agreed. We decided to try again, when a more reasonable group of staff was working.
However, our other attempts also failed. This made the situation very tense, so I decided to make arrangements to move to another cell with a convict that I was compatible with. Before I was able to make that move though, the situation exploded into violence. Unfortunately for convicts, when it gets to that point, the only winners are the prison officials, as this incident and many others like it demonstrates.
He was well aware of the nefarious plot of the guards. He knew that I was making arrangements to move to another cell; and that if we ended up fighting each other for the bottom bunk we would be playing right into the hands of the instigators. Despite all this, he attacked me. 
He struck me with a body blow that almost made me collapse. I remained standing and countered with a blow to his chest that backed him up, but he grabbed my dreads and twisted my head in a way that made it impossible for me to throw any more punches.
A guard stood by the cell door and watched us fighting. But instead of alerting the emergency response team, he walked away and allowed it to continue. 
With this harsh reality in mind, I grabbed one of his legs and swept him off his feet. This gave me enough room to connect with a blow to his face. He let my dreads go. I got on top of him and began punching his face until he started to bleed. He said he gave up, so I got off him and told him to get the guard’s attention. He faked and tried to knock me out with a blow to my head but it didn’t work, so the fighting resumed. 

He threw his punches, and I threw mine. He kicked, and I kicked. He bled, and I bled. Then I connected with a blow to his head that made him collapse. A stream of blood was flowing from his head. The walls in the cell were splattered with blood. I only had a scratch under my right eye; the blood on the walls and floor wasn’t mine. Blood was still streaming from his head, so I called out for the guards, but they continued to ignore me.

I peeped out of a crack on the side of the door and saw a guard on the range. I called out to him, but he paid me no mind. Other convicts then started to call out to him, but the guard took his time responding. I yelled, “You want to see niggas kill niggas? Well, I’m not gonna be the flunkie in your fucking game!” 

He slowly approached the cell door and stared in. I screamed at him, “This is what you wanted, you bitch.” He responded with a smile. His sarcasm infuriated me, so I challenged him. “Open this door and come in here. I bet you, I’ll make you cry,” I said. But the coward just walked away.
My cellie was still on the floor, barely moving with blood surrounding his body. I screamed through the opening on the side of the door, “Man down, man down.” 

I saw a group of guards walking slowly towards my cell. The lieutenant came to the cell and stared in, and told me to cuff-up. But I told him that he needed to first cuff-up my cellie. He demanded in an authoritative voice, “I said to cuff-up now.” 

“I’m not gonna get in restraints while he’s not. So, let me help him to the door and you can cuff him up first.” 

He pointed the gas canister through the tray-slot and said, “If you don’t cuff-up now, I’ll gas you.”

Angrily I said, “Fuck you, you’re not gonna set me up and get me killed while I’m in restraints.”
This is all a deadly practice, especially in these kinds of situations when violence has already been committed. To cuff-up while my cellie remained uncuffed could have been suicidal. He could have been playing possum, waiting for me to cuff-up so he could attack me while I was in restraints. I therefore refused to cuff-up. The lieutenant gassed me with a chemical that got into my eyes and on my skin and burned me intensely. The gas blinded me and felt like it was eating away my skin. The lieutenant saw that it was working, so he demanded in a loud voice, “I said to cuff-up now.”

I responded defiantly, “Fuck you.” So he gassed me again. The burning became even more intense and unbearable. I therefore found my way to the tray-slot and allowed my hands to be cuffed.

My suspicions were immediately realized. As soon as I was in restraints, I was gassed again. Then I heard the lieutenant encouraging my cellie to get up. I couldn’t see, so I was certain that he would attack me while I was in restraints. The lieutenant continued to encourage him, saying “Get up. He’s cuffed-up. Get up!” Implying I was vulnerable to be attacked. Fortunately for me, he was really out.

Later on, I found out that this same lieutenant was involved in a similar incident where two inmates were forced into a cell with each other. A fight broke out between the two, and before it was over, one inmate was dead. So, the lieutenant was well-aware of the dangerous nature of the situation. Nonetheless, he was still instigating violence between prisoners.

I was handcuffed, burning and blinded by the gas, and my cellie lay unconscious on the floor. Yet the lieutenant and other guards refused to enter the cell to try and save him. Instead, the lieutenant engaged in trickery by yelling at my cellie to get up, knowing that he couldn’t. This prolonged the incident. I walked over to the door and shouted so that the other convicts could know what was happening in the cell. “I’m cuffed-up. I got gas in my eyes. I can’t even see and my cellie is not moving. They want him to die, that’s why they’re leaving him in here. They want me to kill him.” 

The lieutenant screamed, “Shut up and get away from the door.” He gassed me again.
This time the gas was more intense than before, so I blindly staggered toward the shower. After a brief search, I found it and got in. My hands were cuffed-up behind my back, so I used my forehead to turn it on. I felt like I was on fire, but when the water came pouring down on me, it felt like the fire was extinguished. I let the water continue to cleanse my eyes of the chemicals while the lieutenant was arbitrarily prolonging the incident.

Enough of the chemicals cleared out of my eyes for me to see the gang of guards all standing by the cell door with the lieutenant in front. He was still yelling at my cellie to get up. My cellie started to move, but it looked like he was choking on blood. I began to loudly narrate everything that was happening in the cell. “He needs help. They want him to die. He needs help. He is choking on his blood. He’s too weak to stand up and they know it.” They still didn't enter the cell to save him. 

I began to talk to my cellie, hoping he could hear me. “These bitch ass police want you to die. Try and crawl towards the door, so they can cuff you and take you to the hospital. If not, they’ll let you bleed to death in here.” I kept repeating this part until he started to move and crawl towards the door.

He tried to get up, but couldn’t. He raised one of his hands to the tray-slot. One of the guards placed a handcuff on that hand. His hand then fell along with the cuff, so they screamed at him to lift both hands, so both could be cuffed-up. 

They then opened the door and dragged him out and placed him on a stretcher. They stormed the cell, cursing me and calling me a bitch. They slammed me down on the bed and held me there while others were twisting handcuffs to inflict extreme pain to my wrists, and some were hitting me on the back and ribs. They stood me up and walked me out of the cell, down the range, where they pushed me in a small dry cell. I was locked in there and told to burn. I was left in restraints, and even though the water had eased the burning, I still felt like I was on fire.

After being in the dry cell for about an hour, a group of guards came along with a camera to record my strip search. To preserve evidence after the search, I was seen by a paramedic. After the paramedic, an FBI agent was there to see me, but I declined to make a statement. I was then escorted to an empty cell. As my mind started to process everything, I couldn’t help but realize that this was only my first week in the SMU.

The Cellmate Dilemma

Picking or accepting another person to live in a cell with you has the potential of becoming a life or death decision. This is not an exaggeration. To live in a cell that is no bigger than the average bathroom could be extremely stressful, but to live in a cell of that size with another person is not only extremely stressful, but could also be deadly.

The moment you enter a cell with another person, you become vulnerable to that person's worst instincts. Every inmate has a history, which is most often an unknown factor. In an environment like the SMU, it’s not unusual to find yourself in a cell with a complete stranger. After you’re forced into a cell, and after pleasantries are exchanged with your reluctant cellie, the obvious must then be addressed: Who are you? 

That is the question that corners my mind the moment I see or become aware of someone who may become my cellie. I always try to initiate a handshake, make eye contact, introduce myself, and, in my own way, I try to project peace while I scan the face and eyes of my potential cellie for treachery. I would be remiss if I failed to perform these essentials that have now become rituals.

The key to successfully completing the SMU without being killed or killing your cellie is to find a reasonable cellie. I eventually came across a cellie who was reasonable enough to realize that we must find a way to live in such a small and cramped space without trying to kill each other. In the SMU, we are confined to our cells for twenty-three hours a day on weekdays, while on the weekends, we spend the entire forty-eight hours on lockdown. To overcome the stress of being confined like animals in a zoo, we turned our cell into a gym when we exercised, into a school of liberation when we read, studied and reasoned, and into a temple when we worshipped our God Jah Rastafary. My cellie and I were both practicing Rastafarians, but we were not perfect – the harsh conditions that we lived under revealed our imperfections. The times when prisoners are fed are often the most tense times, because around feeding time some inmates jockey to get access to the tray-slot to get the best tray for themselves, while leaving the tray with less food for their cellie. My cellie was no different when it came to food. When we first became cellies, he used to stand guard by the door to assure that he got the best tray for himself. I allowed him to do this shameful act several times, so that it would be well-established to us just what he was doing.

Then one day around feeding time he was standing by the door as expected. I got off my bed and walked over to him. I told him to get out of my way. He hesitated for a second, and then moved. I took my stand by the door. When the guard passed me the food trays, I made sure my cellie got the best tray. My tray was messed up, so I showed it to the guard. He passed me another tray. I tried to return the messed up tray, but the guard told me to keep it. So, I ended up with two trays. But I took the extra tray and shared it with my cellie.

After we were done eating, I noticed he was quiet. I looked at him, but he avoided eye contact. I decided not to say anything. The vibe that I received from him wasn’t malicious; it was obvious that he was embarrassed. Then he spoke with a contrite voice, “I’m sorry for acting that way. I was thinking with my stomach.”

I understood exactly what he was saying. Neither of us had any money to purchase food from the commissary, and being vegetarians we received less food to eat. So, hunger was a common thing for us.

The lesson of our condition couldn’t have been more obvious. There we were locked in that cell, forced to face the reality of our poverty. We were without resources, nor control over the amount, the quality, or the nutritional content of our food. The little they did give us caused my cellie and others like him to bring the problem into the cell, instead of challenging the amount and quality of the food with the guards; thus focusing the problem away from the cell and each other.

Hunger can bring out the worst in people. To be hungry and confined to a cell with another hungry person, things can get violent in an instance.

One day, I was lying in bed reading a book. In the distance, I could hear the food cart approaching as they fed each cell. When the cart arrived at our cell, my cellie was the one who was standing by the door. He was given the food trays and he placed them on the table without sizing them up. The officer then passed him two bananas. I didn’t get up to eat. Instead, I continued to read while my cellie ate his food. 

When the food cart left the range, I heard some angry voices arguing. At first I couldn’t understand what was being said, but as I continued to listen, the voices became clear enough for me to understand that the argument was about food. 

One inmate said angrily, “How come you always get the best tray? My tray is messed up.” 

The other voice responded, “That’s not my problem.” 

This didn’t satisfy the one complaining. He became even more vocal in expressing his anger. “Look at this small banana. You always get the big banana. I’m tired of this shit.” 

I’m not sure who attacked who, but it was clear that they were fighting each other for the bigger banana.

The treachery that cell life unleashes is a microcosm of the “dog eat dog world” that led to prisoners becoming prisoners in the first place. The sadness of these events remind me of the Bob Marley song “Ambush in the Night” where he sings, “Through political strategy, they keep us hungry. And when you gonna get some food, your brother got to be your enemy…”

The conditions in the SMU are dangerous. Not because the convicts are dangerous, but due to the highly experimental nature of the program. The term “non-punitive” is word-trickery used to disguise the torture of inmates by gassing them and using four-point restraints until they urinate and defecate on themselves, and cell fights that have caused the death of inmates who had been forced into cells with others they are not compatible. Consequently, prisoners have died from injuries sustained when they were attacked by their cellies while they were in restraints.

One inmate was alleged to have killed his cellie by stomping him into oblivion while he was in restraints. Another inmate was alleged to have killed his cellie by strangulation. When we hear about these types of violence being committed, we most often never hear about the role prison officials play in instigating these incidents. It is well known to prisoners that when cellies seek to part ways to avoid bloodshed, the usual retort from some guards is that they “don’t see any blood.” This was evident in my own incident with a cellie. While certain guards occasionally give extra food to treacherous inmates to attack upstanding prisoners who may be a source of problems for the guards.

After completing the SMU program in June 2011, I was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Atwater (USP Atwater) in California. I arrived in the July of that year. The cell politics at USP Atwater were just as treacherous as the SMU. After only about thirty days in general population at USP Atwater, I was placed in the SHU for killing my new cellie. I was kept in the SHU for five years. I was then transferred back to the ADX. This should partly explain why I’m writing this letter here at the ADX. As for the sequence of events that led to the death of my cellie, I will address that at a later date.

Edgar Pitts 04616-084
U.S. Penitentiary
P.O. Box 8500
Florence, CO 81226-7000

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Roo Does Her Duty

By Burl N. Corbett

"How long has she been in labor?" Sean asked his worried neighbor.

"Even since her water broke yesterday afternoon," Barbara replied, tenderly stroking the hapless goat. With feverish yellow eyes, it eyed its two inexperienced midwives and bleated unhappily.

Sean stared into the animal's weird rectangular pupils, pondered the nature of the alien intelligence within. The exhausted doe stood motionless on a bed of straw, gazing back. "Is this her first delivery?" he asked.

Barbara brushed back a strand of graying hair and dabbed with a rag the sweat on her forehead. "Yes, Roo's just turned two." She frowned at the creature's distended vulva and turned in despair to Sean. 
"Could you maybe feel around inside to see what's going on? You've delivered lambs before, haven't you?"

He frowned in turn and looked away; he had done nothing of the kind. Although he had grown up on a half-ass sheep farm that had long-since reverted to brush, and his uncle had once shown him how to peel away the caul from a newborn lamb's nostrils if its mother didn't or couldn't lick it off, luckily for both Sean and the hypothetical lamb that emergency had never arisen. And now he was expected to insert his hand into an unfortunate animal’s vagina in order to hurry along the sacred rite of birth.

He regarded the suffering beast, and with a sigh agreed to try. 

"I'm sorry, Sean, but I just can't bear to do it myself," she confessed, gesturing at a bucket of warm, soapy water. "You'd better wash your hands first – I added a pint of Lysol to sterilize it. Is that OK?" she fretted. 

"Sure, that'll work as good as anything," he fibbed. But then he expected the whole affair to end badly anyway. In light of the doe's condition, a spot of infection was the least of her worries.

He removed his shirt and carefully washed his hands and right forearm. Outside the open bay door, the dirt barnyard baked under a hot July sun; inside the stone bank barn the air was cool, the light diffused. At his touch, a contraction shivered Roo's flanks; she shifted uneasily, softly bleating. her glistening vulva yawned invitingly, and into that secretive passageway Sean plunged his finger-wedged hand, working it in elbow-deep until he felt the tiny hooves of the unborn kid. The tiny hind hooves of the dead kid. To avoid a dangerous breech birth, the fetus needed to be turned.

"Can you feel it?" asked Barbara. "Is it alive? Is it OK?"

No, he thought, none of the above. "It's facing the wrong way," he said, ignoring her questions. "If I can turn it around, it should pop right out." I hope.

With difficulty, he wormed his fingers around the dead fetus, only to discover another inert body. Unless the stillborn twins were quickly extracted, their mother would die. As Sean struggled to turn the entangled pair, the unwelcome memory of an illegal abortion he had arranged fifteen years before crossed his mind. Despite his doubts that the baby was his, because of his youthful callowness and a selfish desire to avoid a messy paternity suit, he had reluctantly paid half of the abortionist's fee.

Could this be a punishment for that transgression? A rebuke from the void by that disembodied soul? With a grimace, he pushed the ridiculous notion from his mind, but as he blindly worked to save Roo's life, he couldn't shake the feeling that he was enmeshed in something more than just a botched delivery.

"Oh, God! I can't stand this!" Barbara cried, as Sean withdrew his bloody arm. "I'm going outside for a while."

After washing clean his arm, Sean followed her out to the sunny barnyard, where they sat side by side on a wagon tongue, watching the other goats graze in the pasture.

"It won't turn, will it?" she asked. "It's dead, isn't it?"

He lit a cigarette and exhaled with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Barbara, but there are two of them in there, and they're both dead. They have to come out before Roo dies from toxic shock. I think it's time to call a vet."

"It's all my fault!" she wailed. "If I had only called him last night, maybe he could've saved them. But none of my other does ever had labor trouble.'

Sean said nothing. He suspected that she hadn't called the vet to save money. Not that he blamed her – he wouldn't have either. But now she would have to pay anyway, and wind up with nothing but a pile of dead meat to bury. He recalled an old Amish saying about the foolishness of paying for a dead horse. Well, they'd waggle their beards over this one, all right.

"Don't blame yourself," he consoled. "Shit happens – it's part of farming. But still, I think you better call him now. I'm afraid I'll kill her if I try to pull them out backwards."

Barbara got up and walked into the house. Sean waited on the wagon tongue, wishing he had a beer.

When she returned, he asked who she had called. He recognized the man's name and spit on the ground. "That arrogant son-of-a-bitch? Couldn't you think of anyone else?"

"I know you don’t like him, Sean, but I didn't have much of a choice," she explained. "It's getting hard anymore to find a vet willing to treat livestock – a lot of the younger ones just want to work with dogs and cats. Doc Martin is one of the few old-timers left."

Sean snorted his disapproval. Doc Martin was by no stretch of the imagination an "old-timer." He was a self-important man of Sean's generation, no older than fifty at the most, a member of the Chester County horsy set who rode to the hounds in pursuit of foxes. Sean, who wrote an outdoor column for a local weekly, had once written what the Doc had considered a favorable article about fox trapping, which elicited a nasty phone call from the hunt club's "Master of Foxhounds," the good doctor himself. In a perfect example of the pot belittling the kettle, Martin castigated Sean for "glorifying a cruel sport," as if harrying a twelve-pound canine across the countryside with a slavering pack of dogs bellowing for its blood was a kinder recreation, and the knocked-over fences and trampled crops left in the wake of the half-ton steeds were nothing more than a spot of collateral bother, more the pity. The outraged vet had just worked up a good head of steam when Sean interrupted his harangue, advised him to write a letter to the editor, and hung up the phone. Martin never bothered to submit a rebuttal, and the controversy – if one could dignify the squabble with such a term – died of inertia. And now Sean's bitter critic was expected to save the day, if not Roo.

"So, when's he coming?" Sean asked, grinding out his cigarette underfoot. 

"Around six, after he finishes his office appointments."

"All right, I’ll come back then. I think I need a few beers first."

Barbara appeared uneasy; she knew about the unresolved feud.

"Don't worry, I won't cause a scene. Me and the doc buried the hatchet years ago," he lied, doubting very much if Martin had. But since the men had never met, with luck the allegorical hatchet might just remain interred, rather than in one another's allegorical skull.

With a blush, Barbara pooh-poohed his suspicion of her suspicion, and returned to Roo. Before Sean left, he overheard her telling Roo in a soothing tone that everything would be OK. Reflecting on the cold, tangled-up bodies in her womb, he thought not.

Sean sat at the picnic table on his enclosed front porch, two cans into a six-pack, watching a beam of sunlight prismed through a quart Mason jar creep across the floor. Inside the jar, floating in rubbing alcohol, were a pair of tiny deer fetuses removed from a slain doe by his friend Stu. A mere three inches long, with well-formed eyes and minuscule hooves, each was a perfect replica in miniature of their dam. When Stu performed an autopsy and realized that he had taken three lives with one bullet, he rose from the gut pile badly shaken, vowing to never kill another doe, an oath he broke the very next season.

Sean had retrieved and preserved the aborted-by-gunshot fetuses as visible proof of how God's meticulous handiwork was evident in even the least of His works. Now he arose to study once again the fragile tracery of their ribs, the tiny hearts and lungs discernible beneath their translucent skin. With a shiver, he thought of his or an anonymous father's lost child, scraped from its haven by a strictly-for-the-bucks croaker who would later lose his physician's license and serve a prison term for running an amphetamine pill-mill from his all-purpose office. Sean recalled with shame how upset his twenty-three-year-old self had been when he learned that the date of the scheduled "procedure" conflicted with an anticipated trip to the shore with his drinking buddies. Cringing inwardly at the painful memory of his blithe heartlessness, he opened another beer.

Sean returned to the barn two hours later, a six-pack in his belly and another in a small cooler. Barbara and her brother Rob, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and two of her lady friends stood around Roo's stall as if it were a sick bed, speaking softly. Barbara's husband, Chuck, leaned against a post, chewing on the end of a dead cigar. Roo stood as before, her yellow eyes on fire.

"Doc Martin just called," said Barbara. "He's on the way."

After introducing themselves, everyone turned to Roo, who was in obvious distress. As the women described to one another the most horrible sights they had ever witnessed, Sean opened a beer. How about the face of a woman who had  just "terminated" her pregnancy, destroyed for convenience her baby? he thought. That oughta rank right up there, all right. Just as the ladies were running short of gory accidents and difficult childbirths to relate, Doc Martin arrived.

Sean's antagonist, a fairly muscular man with graying brown hair, stepped from his truck and looked around, then strode across the barnyard into the barn.

He listened to Barbara's account of Roo's lengthy labor, then took from his bag a shoulder-length glove. As he wiped it down with disinfectant, Sean explained what he had discovered.

"Is that so? Well, I think I had better take a peek myself," Martin said. "If you don't mind, hold her still for a minute or two."

Without further ado, he plunged his hand into Roo's vagina, groped about a bit, and then abruptly ripped out hind legs first a dead kid, causing Roo to emit a heart-rending bleat as a great jet of blood spurted across the floor, splattering the horrified witnesses. Tossing aside the limp body, Martin reached inside the dripping fissure and, accompanied by another spate of blood, tore out the second stillborn fetus.

"My God, man!" Rob exclaimed. "This kinda shit reminds me of 'Nam – I'm outta here. Call me when it's over." Shaking his head with disgust, he walked away.

"Oh, Roo!" Barbara cried. "My poor little Roo! What has he done to you?" 

The Master of Foxhounds tossed the carcass next to its twin and felt the flank of the wobbly doe. "They had to come out, you know, and that was the only way," he remarked, reinserting his arm.

"Hold on a second," he muttered, "I think there's one more to go."

Anticipating another gory denouement, everyone but Sean and Barbara rushed outside. But this time Martin gently extracted a live kid. He swung it by its hind legs to clean its nostrils, then laid it before its barely erect mother. With no visible emotion the vet peeled off his bloody glove, washed it off with Lysol, and asked Sean if he wanted to announce the glad tidings.

"Christ," Sean said, looking at the pooled blood behind Roo, "I could've done the same thing, but didn't want to hurt her."

"Well," Martin observed, "that's why people call me, not you. I know what needs to be done and have no qualms about doing it."

Sean regarded him with revulsion. The woman who had nominated him the father of her unwanted baby had also had no qualms about getting rid of it either. Their whole short-lived affair had struck him as fishy from the start. He had easily – too easily in retrospect – seduced her on their first date, and although they dated for several weeks until her abortion, she refused to have intercourse even though the "damage" had already been done. Ever since their breakup, Sean had wondered if she had been impregnated by someone else, someone who couldn't afford an illegal abortion, and had coldly framed him as the father. Years later, after he married another woman, he heard that his one-time lover had joined a cult, then checked herself into a mental institution before eventually dying by suicide. Sometimes Sean expected the hair to part and allow the sword to fall upon him, too.

Upon hearing the good news, the others hurried back, oohing and aahing over the surviving triplet. Roo stood unsteadily in the bloody straw, nuzzling to its feet the shivering kid.

"She's lost a lot of blood and is at risk of toxic shock," Martin declared. "I'll give her a mega-dose of antibiotics, and if she's still alive come morning, she might just pull through."

Chuck escorted Martin to his truck, paid his fee in cash, and returned to the barn, chewing on a fresh cigar. Barbara and Rob sopped up the blood with fresh straw, while the two lady friends, much recovered, wiped dry with burlap sacks the nursing youngster. With a laugh, Barbara informed Sean that she intended to name Roo's baby after him.

"Better me than that butcher, I guess," he replied, opening another beer.

"But he did save one," she pointed out. "And even you admitted that the others were already dead."

"Yeah, but what about Roo? If she survives that outrage, then she's the toughest damn goat in the world."

Stroking the poor animal's head, Barbara clucked sympathetically. "Whether she lives or dies, Sean, Roo has done her duty. And ours is to accept the will of the Lord."

Again, Sean thought of the unnamed being whose death he had underwritten. The day after the "operation," its deeply upset mother claimed to have picked from her menstrual pad tiny pieces of flesh and bone and worse: an accusatory pointing finger. At the time, he had refused to believe it, thinking her hysterical. But now as he looked at the forlorn pair of discarded bodies in the bloody straw and thought of the twin deer fetuses on his porch shelf, with a shiver of self-loathing he knew that she hadn't lied. Had he done the "will of the Lord," or that which was merely expedient? Crushing in his hand the empty can, he choked back a sob.

As he left the barn, he glanced at Roo, who would die before morning. His namesake had gained its feet, and was attempting to nurse. As Sean walked home in the gathering dusk, bats swooping overhead, he looked past them to the emerging evening star, promising on its grace to bury first thing in the morning the things in the jar.

SMART Communications
PA DOC # HZ6518
Burl N. Corbett 
SCI Albion
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Born 6/9/47 in Reading, PA.  Raised on a 123-acre sheep farm only three crow miles from John Updike´s famous sandstone farmhouse of “Pigeon Feathers,” The Centaur, and Of the Farm.  Graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 1965.  Ran away to Greenwich Village to become a beatnik in 1966 with only a Martin guitar and the clothes on my back.  Lived among the counterculture for 3 years, returning disillusioned to PA for good in 1968.  Worked on a mink farm; poured steel in a foundry; chased the sun as a cross-country pipeliner; drove the big rigs, baby!; picked tomatoes with migrant workers; tended bar on the old skid row Bowery; worked as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for two Southeastern Pennsylvania newspapers; drove beer truck (hic!); was a “HEY, CULLIGAN MAN!”; learned how to plaster, stucco, and lay stone; published both fiction and nonfiction in several nationally distributed magazines and literary quarterlies; got married and raised four children; got divorced and fell into the bottle; and came to prison at the age of 60 with no previous criminal offenses other than a 25 year-old DUI. The “crime”? Self-defense in my own house without financial means to hire a decent lawyer.  Since becoming the “guest” of the state in 2007, I have won six PEN Prison Writing Awards (two first and four honorable mentions); the first and only prize of $500 in the 2013 Eaton Literary Agency short fiction contest; written a children/young adult book, Coon Tales; a novel of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” Dreaming of Oxen; a magic realism novel, A Redneck Ragnorak, and many short stories and memoirs.  My first novel, A Haven from Violence, and Coon Tales, are available at or