Thursday, April 9, 2020

It's The Wait That Gets You

By Nascomento Blair

“On the count.”

Thade rolled out of bed. He quickly pulled the blankets off his body and reached for his shorts. The other inmates were already up, inside the cubes and some standing by their respective room doors. One prisoner would already be up and making coffee since the kitchen and showers opened at six o’ clock. That prisoner usually takes it upon himself to wake up the dead sleepers. It was now 6:30 A.M. and no one wanted to be written up for delaying the count. 
“Knock Knock!” The second guard came. Thade sat up and pulled his door half open. He placed his feet on the rug on the side of his bed and stood up avoiding the cold floor. When he opened his door, he noticed his neighbor in the room across from him was already standing there waiting. For some reason this guy always had his window opened, even in the dead of winter. Thade felt the cold air on his toes because he did not put back on his socks. He had only managed to push his feet inside his slippers. Thade being the person he was, pulled his room door shut and stood aside from the cold air entering from his neighbor’s window. 
The unit was quite diverse; of the thirty-four prisoners, there were twenty-eight inn rooms and six inside the cubes. The rooms were single, except for the two-man room at the back side of the unit. Thade was located on the front side of the unit, which luckily for him, was a bit quieter than the cubes and the backside. The six people inside the cubes were part of the diversity; two had outside clearance, one was an asbestos worker and the other two were block porters. They too varied in racial make-up: two blacks, three Hispanics and only one white. As the rules of the unit went, they were each waiting for someone in a room to leave so they could be put in a room; then the cubes would be refilled again repeating the perfunctory cycle of prison. The rest of the block however, had less diversity. There were almost as many Hispanics as blacks inside the rooms and only about eight whites. There were two kitchens and three phones, so for the most part people did not really get into each other’s way. “Count clear, sign out on the board if you are going somewhere!” the guard shouted. Thade stepped back inside his room as did a few others. For the most part, only the inmates who were going to breakfast chow usually signed out that early. Most of the men on the unit did not need passes written to attend their daily program assignments or jobs. 

Thade sat down on his bed, and wondered how the day would go. He had only been in a medium for nine months and finally it was the day he had been looking forward to. 

Today was the parole board for those eligible. It was the third Tuesday in a cold December. Nervousness was in the air and there were blocks of unmelted snow on the ground outside. Thade had a revelation and asked himself the biggest question yet; “Where would I sign out to?” He washed his mouth out with some mouthwash and exited his room. He was going to ask one of the other eligibles. He walked past the officers station and towards the backside of the unit. He was going to speak with Jeffery. Jeffery too had a hearing and was one of the other four people on the unit who were part of the nervousness; and who months ago begann working on their parole package. Thade knew Jeffery had some idea; after all, he had been to four parole boards already. This would be the fifth and all his hits were the maximum two years. Jeff, as Thade called him, was six feet one. Caucasian, clean shaven sturdy shoulder built, blonde hair with some grays mixing in, with a bop in his walk and thirty-two years inside the prison system. For some reason the block was just so cold, but obtaining the information on the parole proceedings was tantamount to Thade. Jeff was also the Block clerk, and locked inside the last cell on the unit, down by the wall fan and the third phone. He was also a good reach from the kitchen and the showers located on the backside of the unit. All the rooms had toilets and sink inside inside them except the two man room, so Thade figured Jeff was probably washing up. “Knock, Knock” Thade softly tapped and said, “Jeff, you got a minute?” He opened his door and realizing Thade was standing there, smiled and said “what’s up, you nervous?” 

“Somewhat” Thade replied, “But I want to know where do I sign out to?”

“You don’t” Jeff replied shaking his head and blinking his eyes. “They call for you, and the officer writes you a pass and you go to the RMU, sit inside the bull pen and wait. This is how they do this shit every time, it’s their show, they just dog and pony us” he finished in his usual cynical tone. “You are an initial, right?” 

“LTCA,” Thade replied. 

“And your last name starts with a B, so you’ll be going first. Thade stood there in front of Jeff trying to absorb all that information. He had qualified for this board by earning a Limited Time Credit Allowance - LTCA - hearing due to the proposed qualifications which the list supplied, through his counselor from D.O.C. Thade had earned this by obtaining three College Degrees, all the way to the masters. So here he was six months early. He was sentenced as a first time felony offender to 15 years to life, after being convicted at trial on a single count of first degree kidnapping with intent to collect ransom, violating New York state's Penal Law §135.25.

Jeff on the other hand was more nonchalant about going to his fifth board. He was already re-sentenced to eight years over his time by the parole board. For some reason Thade sensed the cynicism in his voice; and who could blame him. Prison makes you into one of two things; either you become cynical or suicidal. To be suicidal is to continue indulging in the destructive cycle of violence which brought  you to prison -- drugs and all the jail politics, the cycle of the box and being kept locked down. Or being cynical and realizing eventually that everyone is running a fool's errand and the parole board was no different. 

“You’ll be alright” Jeff told Thade. “If you ain’t got any crazy tickets, you should do well, plus you got college,” he finished. 

“I hope so …” Thade replied.

“Listen, they see the initials first, then those in the box, then the de’ novo’s and then reappearance last. All these are in alphabetic order, so they should be calling you today. Me, they should get to me by tomorrow.” 

Thade exhaled and shook Jeff’s hand, grateful for the information, but now a bit more nervous. He would be going today. Jeff on the other hand had a de novo hearing and his last name began with an A. The courts had granted Jeff’s motion that his last parole denial was arbitrary since the nature of his crime could not change. This seemed to be the favorite reason for parole to be denied to the prisoner sitting in front of them. 
On his way back to his room, Thade saw John coming from the other side of the unit. When he caught up to him, John’s clothes reeked of cigarette smoke. John too was a Caucasian standing 5’11’ and had been to six boards already. He had been a medium for eighteen years. His earliest board was at six years and he’d been hit with the maximum two years each appearance. John was a bit more fortunate than Jeff at this venture, because some people from the parole preparation workshop had come to see him. They had also created a supplemental brief to his; so his spirits were a bit more elevated than Jeff’s. 

“You ready buddy?” He smiled and asked Thade. 

Thade nodded his head and replied, “For fourteen and a half years now, I have been ready.” John patted him on the back and said, “That’s the spirit, because they will be calling you early because you are an initial and a B.”

Thade moved his eyebrows and they both parted ways. He was headed to the showers. He went back to his room to gather his shower gear and turn on the radio to listen to NPR news. He looked at his pressed burgundy shirt and black tie atop the hanging space on the clothes hangers.

The seam in his green pants complemented the seriousness of his efforts all these years in working on himself. Ayn Sin Suki was going through hell and the people of the world were disappointed in the de facto leader and Nobel Prize winner. Thade thought to himself; how does it feel to be judged by the world?
After his shower, Thade sat back down in his room. He listened to the stories on the news. He was trying to stay in the state of mind which he had cultivated for himself over the past two weeks. He heard another of the parole initials talking on the unit and gallivanting. Miguel was the fourth person along with Jeff, John and Thade who were all slated to see the board. Miguel though, had just come back to prison with a new Department Identification Number-DIN- He had gone home last year for a murder on his first appearance. In less than a year, he was back with a new bid, new DIN and was now an asbestos worker. Miguel made up the rest of Hispanics inside the unit which was almost the same number of blacks. 
Democracy Now was on the air and Thade was diligently watching the clock. He listened carefully as the show’s host Amy Goodman read the headlines and tried to take his mind off the purpose of waking up that day. He slipped his socks on and then his green pants. He refused to put his shirt and tie on at the risk of appearing overzealous. The last thing he wanted was other prisoners coming up to him and asking about his business. He was trying to avoid the fakes who would pretend to care about his parole board hearing. Then came a tap on his room door. He opened to see his Puerto Rican comrade Enrique standing there smiling. Both men used to work-out together and both of them worked in the same department at their previous facility. Enrique smiled and said, “What’s up bro, now do you feel?” 

“I don’t know, I’m just trying to stay on point and do the same things I’m used to doing..” 

“Yeah, but how do you feel about today,” Enruque interrupted.

“I don’t know,” Thade replied. 

“You are prepared for this though right?”

“I guess…”

“You’ll be fine, I have to go to work, tell me what happened later.”

“We’ll see. I’ll holla when you come back.”

“Good luck, bro,” Enrique responded. Thade thought he would just be cheeky to free his mind up a bit. “Luck has nothing to do with diligence,” he told his friend. Enrique laughed because he knew Thade was witty and enjoyed his quips. Thade stepped back inside his room only to hear the radio on his tablet saying how India’s President passed some laws geared at discrimination. “As if there was not enough discrimination in India already: he said out loud. He walked over to his window to stare at the courtyard and industry building, which were his views outside. He picked up his plant and placed it between the bars and the window to let in the cold air. Thade thought about lying down because he couldn't keep his mind off what was to come. The room was now too cold and Thade quickly closed his windows. 
Thade stepped out of his room once more. He noticed how sparse the unit had become. Most of the inmates had already left on the walkway, when it was announced that it was open. He saw Jeff and John. They were both dressed. “Hey Thade,” John said. “They haven’t called you yet?” 

‘“No. What, they call you?”

“Man, this shit is weird, they called both of us.” John said. Jeff walked up to Thade wearing ordinary state greens. His thirty two years in prison had created the type of jadedness, where dressing up seemed far from his mind. John on the other hand was clean shaven, smiling and had on a long sleeve dress shirt, but no tie. Both men were well aware of the day’s proceedings and consequences, and yearned for their freedom. They had fifty-nine years incarcerated between them. Thade noticed that, while Jeff seemed like business as usual in his approach; John was a bit more upbeat looking forward to the day. Thade thought maybe it could do with the help he received from the lawyers from the Parole Preparation Project. “Maybe they will call you soon Thade,” John said trying to console his old roommate. 

“They usually call initials the first day, not reappearance and De Novo’s.” Jeff inserted. It was now 9:30 A.M. and both men walked off. Thade wished them both luck and then went back inside his room.

Thade rolled over to see the light peeking through the window. For some reason the wait had made him a little weary. He had gone to his room to lie down and rest his mind. For him only ten minutes had passed since his nap. He stood up and tapped his watch. It was 10:30 A.M. and they still had not called him yet. He opened his door to see if Enrique or anyone else had come back yet, from work or the yard. Another inmate came through the door, looking suspicious. 

“What’s up guy, you all right?”

“Yeah,” Thade nodded. Thade walked behind the 6’2” 170lbs inmate to the sign out board. He realized that Miguel was not called either; but had signed out to the yard as a porter. “This dude is crazy,” he muttered. He went back to his room to brush his teeth. He still had his sleep cap on, shielding his locks from the lint of prison, but was still trying to keep a positive mind amidst this dreaded wait. He walked back out the room only to see if people had started coming back from programs yet. 

“Bed four” the guard shouted. 

Thade walked gingerly towards the guard’s station. All he thought about was what the condemned person must have felt on death row. Nothing like this, he knew, but the wait was just too much. “Yes, miss”, he asked.

“Are you bed 4?”


“You got to go to the RMU, for parole.”

“Okay,” he answered nervously.

“Hurry up, I’m going to put 10:45 on your pass, alright."

“Alright,” he said while walking off. 
With a frantic haste, Thade sprinted to his room. He quickly put his shirt on. Something must have gone wrong from the time he heard the news, because he could not fasten the top button on his shirt to secure his necktie. He called out to one of his friends for assistance. After three attempts, the button was fastened and his necktie fashionably done. He put his chino jacket on over his well pressed burgundy shirt and his black tie, grabbed his folder with a copy of his documents and left. He had to put some pep in his step, because the walkway closed at 11:00 A.M and the walk to the RMU was at least ten minutes from his unit.

To read part 2 click here 

Nascimento Blair 07A0015
Fishkill Correctional Facility
Box 1245
Beacon, NY 12508

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

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