Prison Education: Student Writing (06-06-2011)

Prison Education: Student Writing (06-06-2011)

Out of my class has come an array of interesting writing, some very good and some not so good. In the spirit of promoting my fellow prisoner-writer and prisoner-student, I have an excerpt for you. One of my students turned in a superb beginning to his novel. He agreed to allow it to be posted on the blog. He hopes to receive feedback that I can forward to him. I hope to show you what great work came out of my class and to humanize prisoners a bit hopefully. I hope you enjoy it. It is undoubtedly witty and clever…not to mention eerily similar to my current surroundings, a land for which I have coined the phrase “The Land of Misfit Toys.” Note that parts of this writing are slightly graphic, so be prepared.

“Cellie” by Jake Davis

“I hate this place. I hate this place. I hate this place.”

I mumbled my mantra as I bobbed and weaved my way from the rec yard back to my housing unit…of course, the unit was farthest away from the rec yard. I was dripping sweat from an 8-mile run and wanted to get back to A-North to get a shower before lockdown.

I felt like a 3-year-old riding a tricycle through an elephant parade. All around me were the serious exercise addicts whose goal was to pack on as much showy muscle as they could. I didn’t fit in well. I’m a reasonably good long-distance runner and look more like a Nazi prison camp survivor than a contender in an ultimate fighting program on pay-per-view. No, that’s not quite right. I look more like an extra-terrestrial. Not the one in the Disney movie E.T., but like one of those revealed at the end of the film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” You know, small, spindly, with long, thin arms, legs, and neck and a body just big enough to hold in the most vital organs. My glasses didn’t help. They magnified my eyes to make them look much larger than normal. They won’t let you wear contacts in prison.

So, of course, the prison name that stuck with me was “E.T.” Everyone seemed to acquire a sobriquet in prison that’s generally clever, accurate, and unique. It didn’t help that my real name is Edmund Tanner…another way to get to “E.T.”

I’m hyper by nature and usually walk at a good clip. To do that here is generally impossible. These idiots like to show that they are in control, which they aren’t, never have been, and never will be. So they don’t walk. They mosey, and my frustration level rises. When the goons tell them to do something, they will, but they will take their own sweet time about it and do it in their own way. Hence, the half-mosey during recall. A recall is when the prison starts to shut down for the night, and all the inmates return to their housing units from the rec yard, barber shop, hobby craft, classes, or their jobs.

I was behind four huge guys walking abreast. We had to stay on the cement sidewalk, but I couldn’t stand this; I dodged around them on the grass, mumbled a pro forma “‘scu-me ‘scu-me ‘scu-me,” and picked up the pace to a more comfortable level. After eight months in prison, I’m starting to pick up some of the lingo. God help me.

Halfway back to my unit, I saw guards running from various parts of the compound, listening to their radios. The guards broke into a dead run toward A-North as if someone had flipped a switch. Not good. “Dead run” is a relative term. A couple of guards I did recognize came from the Lieutenants’ Office at a very good clip, despite all of the law enforcement crap on their belts and their big black boots. Officer Hindenberg was on duty at A-North, so he could hardly avoid involvement, which would have been his default standard operating procedure. Most people that fat move like they’re carrying an extra couple hundred pounds. Hindenberg moved with the alacrity and grace of a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon and had approximately the same physique. By the time he’d moved from the sidewalk back into the unit, both officers from the Lieutenants’ Office were already there, and I could see at least six more coming up fast. This was either their standard shock-and-awe response, or the guards wanted to get in on some hazard pay. Something’s happened. Again.


Uh, lady, recall is already a one-way move back to the housing units, and everyone is already doing what you just commanded them to do. Oh well, I guess she was supposed to say something.

Of course, the inmates wanted to see what was going on, but the goons either wanted to get in on the action or find a plausible way to avoid it, as befitted their individual natures. The place started to remind me of an anthill just after someone dropped a brick in the middle of it. All I wanted was a shower. And a long drink of water. And my life back.

Some guards were rooted to their spots in front of their units and encouraged us to move along. Not bright enough to devise an original cogent instruction, these guards chanted the default sing-song, “Walk and talk, walk and talk.” Now, the electric medical cart was heading this way. This turd-du-jour had hit the fan, and the best I could hope for was to dodge the most prominent pieces. Chances for a shower were going downhill fast.

I had to head right towards the action because I lived in A-North. My prison philosophy is to emulate the submarine…stay out of sight, unnoticed, but be very aware of what’s happening around me. I don’t know if I can keep that up for the next twenty-three years, but it’s worked well enough.

As I approached the sally-port to A-North, I could see a pack of goons coming out of the unit. And tonight’s winner of a free trip to the hole was…Oh God, they got Crispy. That’s why so many goons came running. If Crispy wasn’t the largest man on the compound, he was damn close. He had to duck and turn slightly sideways to get through the door. He was head and shoulders taller than the largest of the guards, and some were pretty big. Without Hollywood makeup, Crispy could be the star in the next series of splatter horror flicks. He had been horribly burned at one time, and his head looked like some gigantic wax bust that had been left in a hot car. His ears had primarily been burned away, leaving little nubs where the earpiece of his wraparound sunglasses found purchase. His nose had been reconstructed poorly, as had his lips. Skin grafts made his face patchwork, like an unfinished paint job on some old beater car. Crispy had 186 years left to go on his sentence. Crispy had nothing left to lose.

As the pack of goons led him away, the sea of inmates parted to let the parade pass by. I could see that the one-size-fits-all handcuffs he was wearing would barely fit around his wrists. Crispy’s face was expressionless. But then, it was always expressionless. I don’t think his face worked very well anymore.

The big two-story common room in A-North was abuzz with activity, centering on Crispy’s cell, which he shared with Slo-Mo. I could see two goons inside but couldn’t see what they were doing. It would probably take a few days before the goons could piece the story together. I would know what happened within a couple of minutes.

I buttonholed my buddy Alistaire Higgins, a.k.a. “Gandolf” because of his tall, lean physique, British accent, and especially his long gray hair and beard. He filled me in.

“You missed all the excitement. I wouldn’t call it a fight because Stink had no chance against Crispy. He had been after Slo-Mo for quite a while, but of course, Slo-Mo had no idea what was going on. Stink went into their cell with Slo-Mo when Crispy was out in the rec yard and figured he could get what he wanted from him. Word has it that he had Slo-Mo’s pants down when Crispy returned from recall.”

“Crud! Stink should have known better than to mess with Crispy’s little buddy.” I spotted Slo-Mo off to the side. The goons weren’t talking to him yet, but he looked worried and afraid, shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other. He always held his coffee cup at waist level, half full. I’d never seen him drink from it, but he seemed to use it to steer by. The only time I’d seen him without it was when he wandered around the compound with his little broom and dustpan on a stick, looking for litter.

“LOCKDOWN LOCKDOWN LOCKDOWN,” Hindenberg yelled – his favorite part of the day. He didn’t have much to do once we were locked in our cells. The inmates knew not to buck this, and most started heading for their cells, grabbing their plastic chairs, cards, games, and so on along the way. Three guys headed for the microwaves for a last-minute coffee warm-up before we were locked in our cells, possibly for days. Alistaire hurried with the rest of his juicy story, not getting to draw it out like he would have preferred.

“Anyhow, Crispy caught Stink in the act and was not pleased. He grabbed Stink by his wrist, put his hand in the door jam, and slammed the door. All four fingers and part of a thumb flew into the common room like bottle rockets, and Stink started screaming like a fifth-grade Catholic schoolgirl.”

I’d been watching Slo-Mo throughout Alistair’s story, and he’d just picked something off the floor and popped it in his mouth. Not good. Leaving Alistaire with his unfinished tale in the certain knowledge that I would hear countless versions of it in the next few days, I hurried over to Slo-Mo. I don’t know if I would call him a friend, but I was one of the many people who helped look after him.

“What did you put in your mouth?”

He mumbled something, but I couldn’t understand him. Then he grinned like a four-year-old at a birthday party. This was normal.

“Let me see it.”

He shook his head and kept grinning. He knew, and I knew he would eventually cooperate, but this was his game. Hindenberg was locking people in, and we were running out of time.

“I mean it Sol-Mo. This is serious. It might be nasty. Give it to me right now, or you’ll be in trouble.”

Slowly, he pulled the inch-long cylindrical brown object out of his mouth, grinned, and said, “Tootsie!” His favorite candy. He put it in my outstretched palm. I rolled it over, exposing a fingernail.

I’d never seen anyone’s expression change so quickly from sublime satisfaction to abject horror. Slo-Mo doubled over and threw up on my favorite running shoes: low-bid spaghetti and vegetable soup. Today must be Tuesday. I thought it was Monday, but that would have been chicken-in-a-blender, which already looks like vomit. I would have gone to chow if I’d known it was spaghetti. But I digress.

Hindenberg was floating around, locking down the last few inmates, and called my room. I was directly across from Crispy’s room, so I had a good view of whatever was coming next.

“Can I get a quick shower?” I asked the blimp guard.

“You’re outta luck, E.T.,” he said as he turned the big brass key in the outsized lock. I hated that sound. It always reminded me I was in prison. On the other hand, it also meant that I was safe in my room.

EZ, my cellie, was already under the covers. He slept more than anyone I’d ever known. Good guy, though. When I moved across the cell to get a drink of water from the tiny sink, I slipped in the blood on the floor, lost my balance, and hit my head on the metal desk. I saw spots of light as I dropped to the floor. Drenched in sweat, wearing vomit-stained running shoes, I passed out in a puddle of blood.

I hate this place.