personally…i’m a bit sick of myself tonight. need a new game.…
he’s leaving… on a midnight train to Georgia.
so sure we were on something. your feet are just on the ground…
where’s neil when you need him?
just what I been needin’
it’s good to want things.
I am HIV+. As a result I received required medical “treatment” whilst in prison. I use the quotes on purpose. Of ALL the doctors I saw – ONLY ONE treated me like a human being and worked to alleviate my suffering. He was also one of only two correctional officers to *ever* shake my hand. Dr. Berrios single-handedly fought the Bureau of Prisons to get me HIV medication when I did not meet their standards for “having AIDS.” They are THAT behind on research to believe that in order to need an ARV drug you must be already in the throes of AIDS. Crazy, right? I fought with the doctors for over three years to get past that, and would not have succeeded had it not been for Dr. Berrios. He gave me life.
Thanks guy. 🙂
But this story isn’t about him, it’s about another situation involving a different doctor.
And me shitting myself.
I had been incarcerated for less than six months, long enough to feel I had some grasp on the rules and procedures, but still new enough to rarely (if ever) question authority. I did what I was told, when I was told and hung my head down when I was unhappy with the results or the demands. At this point in November of 2007 I was being held in lieu of sentencing at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail – a true hellhole of a prison. Roach-infested and run by a “good ol’ boy” mentality the place is everything you know from Oz – without any attractive men. The food was often, if not always cold, occasionally had bugs floating in it and was only edible in the sense that you could chew it if you had no other choice. That it was cooked using free inmate labor and cheaply purchased second hand foods should come as no surprise.
I had not been “down” long enough to have many doctor’s visits at this point – lots of screenings, but no actual doctor sat down with me, reviewed a file and offered care. THis would be the first time. The prison had a Nurse Practitioner who prescribed medicines and whom you saw for “sick call” should you have minor ailments not requiring a visit to a hospital or clinic. This Nurse is who prescribed the proton-pump inhibitor medication to me (a generic form of Prevacid). When I was called out that day to report to Booking I had no idea it was for an HIV care referral. In booking I was handcuffed, leg cuffed and had a chain wrapped around my waist which was then attached to the handcuffs. I wore an orange jumpsuit with sweat shorts, a white tshirt and boxers underneath. I had only orange plastic slippers as shoes, though thankfully I could afford socks.
After being “restrained” I was loaded, alone, into the back of a passenger van whose windows were darkened with tint and backed by steel rebar. The separation between the front and back of the van was also rebar covered in shatterproof plastic. A deputy from the jail, whose name I was neither given nor would have remembered, drove the van. He had a bushy mustache and cut grass on the side. Apparently being a soul-sucking minion of the state injustice machine doesn’t pay enough. Who knew?
The Nurse had put me on the generic Prevacid two days earlier as a replacement for the Zantac I had been taking for about four years straight. My combined diet coke, coffee, sugar and crystal meth addictions left my stomach in raw knots at times and the only thing that ever seemed to work (because giving up those things? Yeah right!) was to take Zantac in ever increasing doses. Unfortunately Tangipahoa did not offer Zantac and would not without a prescription. THough it was sold over the counter and some such medications could be purchased via the Commissary then, Zantac was not among them. The Nurse, in his wisdom, refused my request and instead granted one I had not requested, likely because it was cheaper for the prison. The aforementioned Prevacid.
This did not help my stomach. Yet the day of the doctor’s referral it wasn’t bad at first, a little grumbly, a little sore, but nothing I could not handle. I acutally felt good. THe day was crisp, but not cold, I had recently gotten in a boatload of my own Robert Jordan books to read, I had access to a cellphone I could use to receive calls from Caleb (a wholly different shit story in of itself!) and money from my mother and sister Michelle for goodies on the Commissary. I could not really watch TV and I lived with extremely violent men who would as soon beaten me as rape me (yet another shitty story!) but all in all, it wasn’t terrible. Even the evening onslaught of roaches crawling out of the circulation vents was tolerable after a few weeks.
As the van bounced down the highway towards Lallie Kemp Regional Hospital my stomach suddenly and wretchedly dropped. The feeling was not unlike the downward side of a large hill on a roller coaster. I knew what was coming next.
“Excuse me, Boss?” I asked (even after only a short time down I had taken to the norms of calling deputies “Boss” when I wanted their help and “Deputy Sheriff” when I wanted to be a shit to them.)
Boss grunted in response. I imagine his mustache must have twitched. He had just been telling me a story of how beat-up-tired he was from working two jobs – one of which involved lawn care – and giving me the left-handed slap of a compliment that I *must* be enjoying having to “not work” for my “room and board.”
“I need to use the bathroom.” I said.
“We almost there, son.” the man said. Not unkindly, but rather how one might address the child of person one really does not like.
“I don’t think it can wait.” I said, softly.
“It just gonna have to. Ain’t nowhere to stop, unless you failed to notice, you an inmate. I cain’t let you piss at no McDonald’s.”
“I don’t have to piss, Boss.” I replied. Sheepishly. “Number 2. Bad.”
At this point my stomach has started gurgling, quite audibly, and there is a restrictive pain around my duodenum. I’m clenching my butt cheeks together with as much grace and force as the bouncing van, leg/waist chains and circumstance will allow. It is not working.
“Well shit.” the man said.
I blinked. Was this a command? A commiseration? A blithe dismissal? What punctuation could I insert into his comment to give me direction? His tone offered none. The van bounced over a particularly rough patch of asphalt.
And my control slipped. Not a fraction, but totally.
I shat freely.
Not a pleasant, English country-side, Anne of Green Gables shit, but a watery, foul-smelling and toxic shit which burned like acid. Because, well, that’s exactly what it was.
The generic Prevacid had done something to my stomach and now I was reaping the rewards. As the funk drifted forward, the shatterproof glass could not keep it away, Boss made a loud noise of disgust.
That was it. Nothing more.
A full twenty minutes later we pulled into Lallie Kemp Hospital. My backside was sodden and my clothes stuck to me. Boss put the van in park and got out to open the side door. He helped me down, wrinkling his nose at the disgusting smell wafting off me – he did not offer to remove my chains.
Holding me firmly by an elbow, Boss led into the hospital. I hung my head in shame as we passed through hallways of people waiting, knowing they had to be watching as I passed, staring at the grotesque spot of wetness that must be covering my backside. I imagined their thoughts:
“Who did he kill?”
“I can’t believe criminals get medical treatment!”
“Did he shit on himself?”
“No more than he deserves.”
“Where are my kids?”
“What a loser.”
“Did he shit on himself?”
I suppose I had other thoughts to accompany the shame and uncomfortable sensation of wet shit trickling down my legs, but I cannot now remember them. Boss led me out of a door and to my surprise I saw the van in the distance. We could have walked along the outside paths, but for some reason – habit maybe? – Boss had specifically taken me past the groups of people. Perhaps he enjoyed my humiliation. Perhaps it was simply that he was so checked out he could imagine no other way. Neither explanation would shock me and neither excludes the other.
Still holding to my elbow Boss led me to a set of back buildings, actually opening the door for me as we entered. Such a gentleman!
Inside were a small coterie of very shy people. Perhaps not so shy – perhaps they just did not want to be noticed. After all I was now in a clinic for HIV patients in a small town (Hammond, LA) – a place where having HIV was synonymous with sin and consequence. At least I judged it so, then. No one met my eyes. THey did however wrinkle their noses.
The nurse behind the makeshift desk, a large stack of files looming behind her, looked up at us with disinterest. She clearly saw enough inmates that the sight of one all blinged out was not unusual. Like everyone else, she did smell me, judging by her wide open nostrils and curled lip. Or maybe she just had an innate disgust at the criminal justice system.
“You’ll have to take a seat…” Nurse Grumble said. “The Doctor isn’t here yet.”
“Um, Boss…I need to use the bathroom…” I said.
Boss eyed me up and down. A look of pure, dedicated consideration.
He led me to a bathroom, uncuffed my hands from the waist chain, uncuffed one wrist and gave me the gimlet eye. “Be quick about it. And nothing funny, ok guy?”
I expected Boss to see himself out and shut the door. He did not. He saw himself IN and shut the door behind himself. Boss sidled into the corner and watched as I undid my jumpsuit and managed – barely – to pull it off my shoulders. It was stuck to my ass and the back of my legs. The sound it made when it came off was sort of like a mashup between a pop and a slap. I did not really WANT to look down at my underwear, but I had to. My pale knees shook and bunched around my ankles, surrounded by orange bunting, were a pair of white boxers with a massive, slightly crusty and drying puddle of greyish brown filth. Little bits of something clung to the fabric. Somehow, my gorge did not rise. I glanced up to see if Boss was watching, remembering his admonition to “Be quick about it” and unsure if I would be punished for daydreaming at my own shit stain. He was cleaning his fingernails with an attachment from his key ring. He must have sensed me looking at him.
“You almost done there, son?”
“I haven’t even sat down.” I said to the floor as I reached for toilet paper in what would be a vain effort to clean my ass free of muck.
“Well get a move on, we can’t miss your appointment.”
“I need to clean myself up…I..” I stuttered. The evidence was wafting in the air alongside the proof in the boxers below, yet to actually say it aloud – to admit that I had shat myself and to not some random person but to Boss, to the man in charge of holding me prisoner, to the very symbol of my decline and defeat – was harder than I could ever have imagined. “shit myself.”
“Well that’s obvious there, son.” Boss said, a creeping note of softness entering his tone. “Go on.”
But of course there was little to be done aside from wiping. There was only toilet paper and a sink and hand soap. I managed to clean my ass off as my stomach grumbled with impending doom. Wiping down the boxers was not as easy and I had to settle for just get as much of the mess up as I could. Surprisingly, Boss did not try again to rush me, allowed me what I imagined was a full ten minutes of free, if it can be called such while bound in chains, time to clean up.
As I pulled my slopped boxers up, Boss said, “All better?”
How to answer? Was there an answer? Clearly I had only imagined his momentary softness or perhaps it had simply been exactly that: momentary. Unsustainable. A recently broken down and incarcerated meth addict with HIV I intimately understood the word “unsustainable.” I empathized with him. He let me button my jumpsuit and then reattached the handcuffs to the waist chain, led me by the elbow out of the small bathroom.
Some two hours later I was seen by a tired-looking, only vaguely disinterested doctor. He asked me routine questions.
How long had I been positive? How many times had I shot heroin? Did I engage in male to male sexual activity? And finally, thankfully, but with little grace…
“Are you currently having any problems…?”
“Well yes, actually, Boss.”
“Don’t call me that, it’s Doctor.”
“Um, yes, sir. Doctor. I…I used the bathroom on myself earlier. Number Two.”
I figured using the word shit, even though I could still smell it, might be inappropriate. I wondered how the “Doctor” had not smelled it and found it necessary to ask?
“Does this happen often?” he asked. In the corner Boss took a phone call and barked out times and prices. I heard him distantly, not really processing the content of his words.
“No sir. This is the first time.”
Not true. Just the first time today. A long time meth addict who had engaged in all kinds of odd sexual pecadillos had not only shit on myself (and others!) numerous times, I had done it unintentionally in public enough times that though I could not remember the last phone number I’d owned, I instantly remembered the last time I’d committed such a party foul. Still that was so not what “Doctor” was asking. So I answered as expected. I’d already told one doctor long before about my weird sexual past and it hadn’t turned out so well, funnily enough that story was about stomach problems too.
“Tell me what medications you’re on…do you take Prevacid?”
“They just started me on a generic version a few days ago.” I replied, pleased at his guess, which likely was not a guess at all.
“Figures. Proton-pump inhibitors sometimes do this to people in your condition. What were you taking before?”
“And that worked for you?”
“OK. I’ll write you a prescription for that. Anything else?”
That’s it? The “Doctor” had already turned away from me and begun writing on a pad of paper. I suppose he had given me not just what I needed, but what I wanted, yet all told the visit had lasted less than five minutes. All the waiting, soaking in my own slightly damp shit and that’s it? Shouldn’t he have told Boss to undo the chains and let me get out of my dirty clothes? Shouldn’t he…do SOMETHING? My stomach grumbled as the “Doctor” wrote, but it was drowned out by Boss barking into his phone.
“We all done here?” Boss said as he closed his clamshell flip phone.
“Yes.” the “Doctor” said handing an envelope to Boss with a practiced hand before he walked out of the room.
“Let’s go inmate. And try not to shit on yourself again until you get back to the prison.”
I met Craig the day I moved into UA unit in Beaumount Low FCI.
A brief primer of the Federal Prison System:
Super Max – where terrorists and people who kill guards end up. All human contact is reduced to separations of space. Lots of shatterproof plastic and steel doors. No bars. No recreation with other inmates, no library, no email. Pretty much just a whole lot of “no.” Although you can receive mail. Also known as 23/1 – 23 hours a day on permanent lockdown and 1 hour in a rec yard alone. The rec yard consists of a 30 x 10 foot concrete area with 30 foot high walls and a chain link fence covering the overhead portion.
High/Penitentiary (the “Pen”) – infamous for its stabbings which frequently result in 23/1 lockdowns, if not permanent ones. Obviously a dangerous place, run by gangs but with far more freedom than a Super-Max. Available library, email, UNICOR and other prison work, but limited movement and very high staff to inmate ratio.
Medium – surrounded by a wall, a fence and armed guards, but freer in movement than a Pen and with a lower staff to inmate ratio. Still quite dangerous and still run by gangs. Access to a library, email, mp3 servers and recreation yards by unit (usually). Frequent fights do result in lockdowns, but no as often as a Pen.
Low – surrounded by a fence but no wall, no armed guards in general and much smaller staff to inmate ratio. Movement is unrestricted for the most part during “10 minute moves” which take place on the half hour every hour between 730am and 830pm. Access to libraries, email, mp3 servers and one single recreation yard for the entire compound. Often access to rec classes: leather shops, wood shops, painting shops, etc. Guards tend to “trip” on things like cardboard in your locker and stealing food from the chow hall, as opposed to stabbing fellow inmates (as in the Pen and Medium.) Still, run by gangs unless you’re at a compound where the population of sex offenders (“chomos”) are dominant – at which places gangs of sex offenders run the compound. Guards are complicit in this, as it is easier to take such a path of least resistance rather.
Camp/Minimum – no fences, no walls, most doors unlocked. Total freedom of movement on the compound between 5am and 9pm. Staff to inmate ratio very low (sometimes as low as ONE guard for the entire camp!). Less recreation activities than a low but a few places still have weight piles (which are not allowed in higher level security facilities). Libraries, movies, open visitation and far more televisions. NO gangs! Woot! Gang members may make it to a Camp sometimes but they have nothing like the power they do at high levels. Lots more contraband at Camps – more cell phones, outside electronics, clothing, shoes, toiletries and personal care products and food than the above places. (I had an illegal mp3 player, a nose trimmer, a body hair shaver, illegal boxer briefs, tank tops and a memory foam mattress topper)
Now that you have a brief understanding…back to me and Craig.
Craig is not his first name, but his last. He was taller than me, pushing 6’4” and thicker in the body though not particularly in good shape. His body was worn from hard heroin addiction and poor living, his teeth rotten and his breath reeked of coffee and sewer gas. Along with his dumpy frame he wore a long beard tapered along the chin so it resembled a column of curly hair descending half way down his neck. Tacky, I know. Especially as he was bald on top – though thankfully he did not try a desperate comb over or some such ridiculousness. I never got the specifics on Craig’s crime, though it definitely involved computers, a steep fine and an investigation by the FBI. Somehow we became fast friends.
It took only days before Craig admitted to me that he had once been “gay for pay” – had had a “sugar daddy.” I felt such revulsion for whomever had once paid to kiss him. His mouth was like a pit of brown barnacles growing out of a redden tire. Yet if I squinted just hard enough, I could imagine – that maybe, just maybe he had once been attactice. Or perhaps his benefactor had simply been plussed by Craig’s nominal “straight” status and was so ugly himself that Craig a viable option for quid pro fuckment. Craig even had a tattoo under his right leg: a long fishing pole with a dick on the hook and the words “QUEER BAIT” across it. When I came out to Craig, of course, I had no idea of these things.
Craig was a sad man. He had no real family left save for an Aunt and Uncle who kept him at a distance and wrote infrequently. THey sent no money and only vaguely empty promises of a possible visit, during which time Craig might be lucky enough to sample the vending machine food that was a such a lure when held against the fare of the chow hall. Other Federal inmates with access to funds could shop at the Commissary once a week and produce delicious meals, but Craig was broke and his prison job scarcely afforded him money sufficient to feed his coffee addiction and buy toiletries. He was poor in a terrible place to be poor, Federal prison. But still, he had coffee. A radio. Batteries. Access to the “white” TV room, books to read, a mat to sleep upon and ample, if terrible food in the chow hall. Especially when inmates who COULD afford Commissary fare would accompany him to the chow hall and give him the majority of what they did not want or would not eat. All in all his life was not terrible, merely uncomfortable.
This being said, Craig very much wanted his life to be better and a visit from his Aunt and Uncle was what he held on to.
“Frank, man, I THINK they’re coming this weekend!” Craig told me excitedly. His noxious breath wafting the smell of burned instant coffee towards me.
Thank Tori cigarettes are expensive, I thought or he’d reek of those too!
“I know it doesn’t mean much to you, bro, you get visits all the time.”
True and not. So far I’d had four visits in twelve weeks. By no means a high amount for the prison, but compared against Craig’s situation it must have seemed magnanimous. I talked often of my sister Jane and my parents and my sister Michelle – all of whom visited me; I commented on the banality of the food from the vending machines, without really thinking much on just how good it must have sounded to Craig, who would have none of it. Ever.
“I got a letter and she said they’re coming!” Craig said, waving a scrawled handwritten rule sheet of paper at me. It looked as if a fussy woman with Parkinson’s had penned it.
The weekend came. So did Jane. Sadly, Craig’s Aunt did not. I bounded back into the cube I now shared with Craig – we had been bunkies for six weeks by then, in a “white controlled” cube – full of plastic wrapped hamburgers, Hershey’s Cookies n Cream bars and microwave French bread pizza. Surely these things came off my breath, when I noticed Craig in his bunk, not reading or drinking coffee or listening to the radio, his flaccid arms behind his head and a sullen expression on his broken face. He did not look at me as I entered. Very unusual for Craig, who always wanted to know what I’d eaten, how my sisters were or what I might have seen in the Visitation room. It was also a Saturday night and here Craig was – alone and unrelieved.
“What’s wrong, Craig?” I asked as I removed the khaki day uniform required for visitation in favor of cheap cotton shorts and a white t-shirt.
Craig continued to stare sullen at the ceiling. FInally after a very pregnant pause he turned his head and looked at me. Then he sighed. “I waited all day and she didn’t come.”
A new detail occurred to me: Craig wore his full khaki uniform, much like the one i had just removed. On a Saturday no one wore such unless to attend Visitation. Glumness rode into my Visitation high. THis would have happened regardless – it was even given a name by the other inmates “P.V.D.” or “post-Visitation depression.” Usually it meant taking off the uniform, crawling into bed and falling into a fitful sleep until Count Time at 4pm. But Craig’s pain trumped my own. I edged myself against him on his bunk, invading his space and said:
“I’m so sorry man. Is there anything I can do?”
Would that I had never said such. Would that I could erase that moment. I’d never have known the shame of his slap. But that was months in the future.
“Nah. It’s not your fault they didn’t come. I shouldn’t have got so excited…” Craig said forlornly.
“Well. How about this?” I beamed at him. “My shopping day is Tuesday. Give me a list for $40 worth of stuff and I’ll buy it for you. You can pay me back whenever, but it’ll be a nice treat, you can make something good, nachos or something and you’ll feel better.”
Craig looked skeptical – with good reason. NOTHING in prison is free. NO ONE gives from the heart. That is what we’re taught and what is often, painfully, reinforced by experience. Aside from my faggotry – Craig may have assumed I was trying to buy his sex, much as his former “sugar daddy” once had – Craig could have thought any number of things or reasons to refuse. But he did not. He perked up instantly after his moment of skepticism.
“Well…really? You’d do that?”
I had just left a visit during which I’d pressured Jane for more money, I had plenty. And in my thought it seemed clear that Craig needed it more than I, even if it were not really and should not really, be mine to give. I gave it anyway. WIth one and a half hands.
Craig lit up. He soon began making his list. It didn’t take long – $40 could be spent in surprising quickness at the Beaumont Commissary. Craig knew this – his job as a prison plumber paid only $25 a month and he could not hope for an upgrade for at least several months from a Grade Four to a Grade Three – at which point he’d make about $40 per month.
I lit up myself, pleased that I could help someone in need. Craig had been nice to me a place where people were inherently NOT nice, had been welcoming and accepting (if secretly) of my sexuality in ways that allowed me to feel like I could, actually, DO this whole prison thing. So it did not seem too much of a stretch to offer him what I could, after all, it was just other people’s money.
I bought everything on Craig’s list (snicker, I know you want to…) and got such pleasure dumping it on his bed. Coffee, candy bars, cheese and chips, tortillas and one lone bag of meat. Some batteries and bags of creamer. A box of Swiss rolls. Surely this small haul would allow him to have a moment of unrestricted pleasure in the grim, taupe-walled box of displeasure. When Craig returned from work for lunch and saw the haul he grinned, a horrid sight, and quickly put his gifts away.
“I swear, I’ll pay you pay as soon as my Aunt sends me money or I make Grade Three!”
“Don’t worry about it, whenever you can!” I said, because that is what you do. You offer time to pay a debt even when you don’t expect the person to take such a length of time. Of course, that is OUTSIDE prison.
Weeks would pass and Craig would not hear from his Aunt or Uncle again. But he did begin to grow close to someone else in the prison. A gang member. Not just ANY gang member, of course, but THE gang member in our unit: Dee.
Dee was the “shot caller” for the Aryan Brotherhood on the entire compound. That means that he was the highest ranking member of the gang in the prison. He “called the shots.” Amusing to note that the term “shot caller” is derived from basketballers and primarily a term used and originated by black men. For white gang members who detest black people to co-op the term without irony always struck me as hilarious. (The AB’s called black people in the prison “toads” and “niggers” – the former in their very presence, the latter only in the “white” TV rooms or in private.) Though gangs are often tough and formidable as both allies and foes, and though they may seem courageous and fearless – they are in fact the opposite. Gang members are often the weakest at heart and most frightened of people – the very terror they feel is what motivates them to require a gang the first place. They cannot “make it” on their own and desire succor and safety and foolishly think this, along with associated cachet, comes from being part of a gang. Being SOMEONE. Part of SOMETHING. It’s pathetic and all too human.
An apt description of Dee.
Dee had gotten close to Craig because Craig wanted these things. Lacking family and money and anything like what he saw the AB’s in possession of, it must have been a powerful lure for Craig.
To BE someone.
Dee took full advantage. He soon had Craig following him around rather like an idiotic puppy and avid child combined, only one disposed towards violence and cruelty. Not at all the ugly, smelly and sad Craig i had known. He was still all of these things, but he had subsumed such into his new identity as a recruit into the AB. Also – he had not paid me back at all. Not a single thing.
More weeks would pass, I would move out of the cube with Craig and into the cube with Dee. Dee had the single best cube in the unit – a two man instead of a three man, in a corner, with a window in the back of the unit – far from the noise of the TV rooms and the guard’s station. It was too difficult for me to resist when he offered it to me. I should have known better, but that is another chapter. Craig would also move from our former three-man into another white controlled two-man with a fat man named (*sigh* yes) “Tiny.” Tiny and Craig were both slobs, though Tiny had a hustle selling baked goods and so he at least had money. This benefitted Craig in that he got to eat samples for free. Craig also made his Grade Three and astonishingly enough made Grade Two when the Grade Two plumber was shipped elsewhere. Right around this time things between Dee and unravelled and I was given very explicit instructions to move out or be stabbed.
More weeks after this I learned good news: I would no longer be at Beaumont Low! I had been granted a transfer to the Prison Camp at Pensacola, the facility I SHOULD have been at all along! Excitement! Fireworks! Joy! I immediately began to get my affairs in order: prime on my list – settling Craig’s debt.
Then I did something really stupid.
I went to the “store man” (an inmate who purchases commissary items in large numbers and then resells them at a significant markup to people who either have no money for commissary and must use prison currency [stamps at this facility] or have already shopped for the week and cannot shop again but MUST have some item [usually a sweet or cooking item for some dish]) who happened to be a close friend of mine. Arnie was more than happy to apply what Craig owed me to the small debt I had accrued to Arnie. I owed Arnie $28 and I sold the $40 debt from Craig to Arnie. Arnie would make $12 on the deal. Finance titans eat your heart out! Well, needless to say Craig was not pleased.
“You did what?”
“I sold the debt to Arnie…so you’ll just pay him whenever you can, he said it’s cool!”
“Listen faggot you can’t just do that shit! If people find out they’ll think I answer to you and if Dee hears about it…”
I brushed aside his use of the word “faggot.” Since becoming an AB recruit his language had certainly become more antagonistic. But i was leaving the hellhole of Beaumont! On to greener pastures at a CAMP! Where reputedly gangs did not exist and I would never again be beholden to the assholic whims of men like Dee. Being called a faggot by someone I counted a friend was small time.
“But…I mean…” I stuttered.
Craig waved me off. I considered the matter done. A day later, at my job sewing army trousers in UNICOR, Dee (a UNICOR mechanic) approached me.
“Say, Frank, does Craig owe you money?”
“No, I …” then I corrected myself. “Yeah, he owes me $40.”
“And you didn’t sell the debt to Arnie or anything?”
Shit. Caught in a lie. I swallowed and shook my head no.
Dee smiled and left.
Later that afternoon I approached Craig, and confronted him. I had told no one else aside from Craig and Arnie of the debt transfer and Arnie was savvy enough to keep it to himself. The ONLY way Dee could have learned of it was to be told by Craig.
“Yeah I told him. He’s my shot caller.” Craig said. “And he said I don’t owe it anymore.”
“THat’s bullshit!” I said in a friendly tone. We had been friends, I expected him to remember that sad moment on his bunk when I swooped in with Jane’s money and to honor it. He did not. “You OWE me Craig!”
Craig stood up. He loomed. “I don’t owe you SHIT faggot. Get out of my face.”
So I left.
I approached Arnie later after work and asked his advice. Arnie said to forget the debt and forget Craig. Move on and let it go. Very good advice. I should have followed it. But what I did not know was that confronting Craig earlier had constituted a violation of gang rules. I had “checked” one of the ABs. THe only appropriate response was for that AB to slap me like the bitch I was. And Craig did not do this which meant the ABs would come down on HIM. I did not know this. So I left Arnie’s cube burning with anger at having been played. I passed by Craig and Tiny’s two man and saw Craig lounging in his bed, arms behind his head, doing nothing. So reminiscent of that day when his Aunt did not show that I clicked out. I turned into his cube, thankfully Tiny was NOT there. My anger must have shown on my face because Craig rose up and loomed again.
“Listen,” I started. “I don’t know what you told Dee or what is going on but you KNOW you owe me! I thought we were friends Craig! I KNOW stuff about you…and…”
I should have seen it coming. His open hand collided with the side of my face with tremendous force, sending my head careening into the taupe painted concrete wall that separated cubes. The pain was not instant. THe humiliation was. I panted. MY hand bent in angry claws. I was poised to attack when I saw what CRaig now had in HIS hand.
A piece of metal turned into a weapon. I backed away. Only when I returned to my cube did I feel the trickle of blood sliding down my cheek and face from where the wall had split my head open. Mere minutes would pass before Dee would show up – commanding me to go to the guard and claim to have fallen. Count time was coming soon and injuries if not reported would cause trouble for everyone. Thankfully my hair was quite long and it was sufficient to hide the wound. I refused. Dee put his finger in my face.
“Don’t make me teach you another lesson faggot and DON’T check any of my boys EVER again!” He left. Down the hall someone shouted, “Count Time!”
I tried to maintain a stoic expression during count, though my body wanted to shake and my pulse raced. CRAIG had HIT me! In front of LOTS of people! How EMBARRASSING! And i had done NOTHING but flee! Of course i had performed the mental calculus: I could not win in a knife fight with only my hands and even if I did it meant going to lockdown AND having my camp status revoked. Even REPORTING the slap as it happened would mean lockdown for both Craig and myself and loss of my camp status. Nerves took over. If someone else ratted us out then I was SCREWED and HUMILIATED!
But it didn’t happen that way. The evening progressed and I held ice to the wound, the throbbing came and went, the shame stuck with me. Finally around two in the morning the next night I could bear it no longer. I had recently learned that cookie flour (ground up processed cookies, like Oreos), artificial sweetener (real sugar was verboten in the prison as it could be used to make wine), milk, margarine and chocolate bars could be combined in the microwave and boiled to make FUDGE! My experiments thus far had all been failures, the consistency had always been wrong. In the process of these tests I learned from an old school con that boiling sugar would peel the skin off a man’s bones. This con had been a prison baker and even showed me the patch on his forearm where he had accidentally spilled molten fudge on himself. It look like someone with a grudge and very sharp spoon had scooped a chunk of the man’s fat flesh. I shuddered when he told me. But two nights after Craig slapped me – as I lay in my dank humiliation, unable to sleep – I recalled that man’s scarred forearm simultaneously with the contents of my locker.
I had no need of the cookie flour, I assumed. Nor the time at 2 AM to crush any without waking half the dorm. In a nervous frenzy I set to work. Combined all the ingredients in my large tupperware bowl and snuck to the microwave area (which was closed for the night after 12 midnight). I quietly put the bowl into the microwave and set it for twelve minutes, the time suggested by the old con with the scarred arm and left back to my bunk. THose twelve minutes were as agonizing as if I waited for a confirmation of an unwanted pregnancy or a possibly failed drug test. Finally the clocked ticked off two-thirty. It was nearly done. I ran back to the microwave area to catch the appliance before it beeped.
Bingo! Fifteen seconds left!
I popped the door and held the steaming and ludicrously hot dark brown mixture using two socks as pot holders. The liquid bubbled menacingly. I padded softly towards Craig’s cube, my mind nearly in a fugue state from tiredness and humiliation. One thought on repeat cycling through my tired brain…
SLAP ME? SLAP ME? SLAP ME?
My hands wanted to shake, but I was all too cognizant of what i carried and I held them in tight control. FInally I reached the opening the wall of Craig’s cube. I hovered. My brain began to spin doubts.
If you do this they will catch you. He might die. You certainly won’t be going to a camp. You could be on lockdown for years. Even if you get away with it the other ABs will retaliate…
But this warred with:
SLAP ME? SLAP ME? SLAP ME?
I must have stood there, shaking everywhere but my arms for five full undetected minutes. Then I heard the whisper of keys. OH SHIT.
Now or never, Frank!
I managed to make it to my cube and set the fudge mixture atop my locker. I sat on the cube’s lone metal stool to await being counted and smiled. I could see the fudge mixture on the locker. ANd it was beginning to set. FInally.
I had learned how to make prison fudge.
Lil bit was truly little. with her dark hair in tight braids along the side of her head she walked past my bunk as i read Eragon for the fourth time trying to catch a memory that might pull me out of the despair of imprisonment. the slick green plastic and scratchy wool blanket beneath me could offer only token comfort against the unyielding iron of my bunk. it, like the prison system, could beat my weight for my entire life and show only wear in the paint, it would not break for me. So i retreated from the blaring sounds of constant BET background into the book, into something I’d already read, a story meant for teenagers about dragons and soul-deep bonds. i performed this retreat often into numerous comfortable fantasies. escape, it should be noted, is always on the prisoner’s mind.
but for lil bit, the moment was not yet about escape. it was her first day on the line, her first time with the degenerate queens of L2.
she would glance around as she clutched her own scratchy wool blanket to her teenage girl’s chest her thin, battered plasti-coated mattress on the concrete floor at her orange slippered feet. she looked lost, like eragon surrounded by urgals in a strange land.
except she knew these interlopers. and they knew her.
several of L2’s ersatz “girls” rose and rushed to lil bit. they hugged her, took her blanket and grabbed her hand, prepared to lead her from the wild into the fold.
do not be confused. lil bit was no more a girl than any of the women embracing her. these were -to a one – all transsexuals. men who should have been women. men who in a more permissive culture might not have sold their under-construction bodies to hungry, clandestine straight men who were desperate to get well and truly fucked by a low cost, accessible, and degraded female analogue. a woman with a dick and all the driven sex it implied. a woman for whom fifty dollars meant shame well spent. these were the women of L2. and they welcomed lil bit as one of their own. because she was. for now.
“Lil Bit” Miss Vanessa chirped as she wrapped her thick, trunk-like arms around Lil Bit. Vanessa’s stringy polyester hair swayed a little bit. Miss Alexis, Miss Jazmine and Miss Elton (even the “gay boys” on L2 wore the “Miss” salutation.) all moved in for hugs after Vanessa eased back. Miss Michael and Miss Sugar Red followed. I remained in bed, watching. Of all the women on L2, Lil Bit was the most alike to an actual female and the least constructed. Without prior knowledge, with her slim body and shoulders, her delicate features, small hands and full lips Lil Bit was easy to mistake for a born woman. THis made her even more popular among the men in prison, among the johns on the “ho stroll” outside, and less so among the girls of L2. Lil Bit, all five feet two inches of her, looked over the twenty-foot-long metal table at me and turned her petite nose up at me. I heard nothing as I wore my contraband headphones that drowned out almost all sounds. It was a costly but very much worth it mercy I acquired after seven months of 16 hours days filled with loud noise, loud television, and only the rarest, sinister quiets. But I saw the look she gave me.
I knew that look.
Lil Bit did not like me.
I wasn’t too much on liking myself at the moment, so I understood her loathing. What I did not understand was how she arrived at the loathing so fast. L2 was comprised of ten bunk beds, enough for twenty homosexuals. The only open bunk then was next to mine, on top and to my right. I had a bottom bunk as I had been a resident of the line longer then that all but a small fraction of people in the prison, and only one queen on L2 could claim to have continuously resided there longer, but Miss Gladys is another story. After some brief discussions, Lil Bit – aided by Vanessa who drug the mattress for her – moved into the bunk adjacent and above me. She made her bed in a cursory manner, paying little attention to me. I watched her with the same wariness I watched everyone new – was she crazy? A thief? A liar? A crackhead? These questions needed to be answered and could never be asked directly.
When Lil Bit had finished putting her bed together – a very quick process on L2 for a new inmate, as we were only given a raw cotton sleeping mat covered in lime green plastic, a single woolen blanket five feet by five, a sheet sewn into the shape of a six foot long sack, two orange jumpsuits, a pair of orange shorts and a pair of orange plastic slippers – she then pulled herself up into the bunk. As she did so she committed what I knew then (if not when I first came to L2) as a huge no-no – she kept her plastic slippers ON. THen she dropped them to the ground from the top bunk, scattered particles of dust and fluff tracked across the floor from the bottom of the slippers onto the bed beneath – onto Miss Vanessa’s bed. I turned off my radio to listen.
“Oh no Miss Baby!” Vanessa growled. “Don’t do tha’! Next time take yo’ shoes OFF firs’ then climb up into the bed!”
Far nicer than the absolute cursing I got for my first transgressions with Vanessa.
Lil Bit somehow knew I was watching and she glared down at me from on high, her dislike amplified further now. I quickly looked away but continued to watch Lil Bit from the corner of my eye, still wanting to figure her out and hoping she would anger Vanessa enough to get Vanessa to get angrier at her. Watching Vanessa become Vincent was always worth the show. But that did not happen. Instead Lil Bit leaned down and asked Vanessa if she could borrow Vanessa’s “Mercedes.”
I’d been on the line for over a year and had never heard that expression used in that manner. I thought I was well versed and here, in mere minutes, I’d been shown up by Lil Bit. I harrumphed quietly, to myself, and looked at the TV, hopeful -if only distantly – that it had been changed off BET.
Still watching The Game. What a TERRIBLE show. Everyone involved with it should be shot and then fed to the people who actually watch it.
My eyes drifted back to Vanessa and Lil Bit and saw that Vanessa was handing up her cheaply made, yet expensive at $32, radio from the prison commissary. Vanessa, for all her horrible aspects was generally a generous woman. But she did NOT lend her radio out. She could not afford to a buy a new one and they were far too valuable in the context of imprisonment than any desire to be generous. Yet she handed Lil Bit the radio without hesitation. The radio that Lil Bit called a “Mercedes.”
I learned many things in this manner – overhearing the queens talk and parsing their language to understand what they meant and in what context. As someone who had always wanted to be a writer but was mired in being a junkie – observation without reflection was a hallmark of mine then.
What I figured out after that was Lil Bit was NOT new to L2. The queens knew her too well, she was too well received to have just been another girl from the PLank Road or Scenic Highway transsexual whore walks these girls frequented.
Perhaps she’s not a prostitute at all?
Not likely. THey’re all prostitutes.
Yeah I thought it.
I would later learn that Lil Bit was in fact not a prostitute, but simply fond of other people’s things – she was a true thief. And this was NOT her first time on L2, but her fourth. She had tried to snatch an old woman’s purse and been caught. I’d been wrong many times, but back then I still refused to regularly face such truth.
Before long Lil Bit had put the cheap earbuds in, lain back on the thin mat and put her knees up, settled in. It had taken me several days before I felt so comfortable. She was at ease in minutes. I was actually jealous – without really thinking about how ridiculous that was. THen Lil Bit started to sing.
“Sometimes love comes around and it knocks you down…” she tweeted.
ANd it was beautiful.
Lil Bit could SING! As sweet and angelic as if she were a choirgirl in her prime. Many of the girls on L2 could sing to a minor degree, but this was an order of magnitude higher. It was bordering on sublime. The song was currently popular on the top 40 radio stations, “Knocks You Down” by Keri Hilson. I was fond of it without being in love with it. I had heard it many hundreds of times, as top 40 rock along with NPR took up most of my days and nights. But I had never heard it like this: with no music – just the crystalline tones of a beautiful voice in an ugly place.
She can sing! And for some reason she HATES me!
This is what I thought. My heart hardened and her singing stopped being beautiful. L2 was an ugly place and finding beauty there rarely had any lasting effect. Just then the guard, moved from the control booth into the dorm and shouted. “Pill Call!”
L2 – as a protected custody homosexual line was unlike any other line/dorm in the prison. We were nominally to be kept separated from the other inmates – “the boys” as we L2 “girls” knew them – and escorted whenever we may come into contact with the boys As such we were escorted to the chow hall under guard supervision, escorted to medical, rare trips to the recreation yard, GED class and visitation. The only time we were regularly NOT escorted was pill call. Pill call in EBRPP was a sordid affair – part obligatory process, part social function, part business opportunity. A contracted LPN would wheel a cart full of medications to one wing and allow several different units (i.e. A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3 – etc) at once to form a line and received their medications. By prison policy L2 should NOT have been allowed to participate in this manner, but as so often was the case, guards were lazy and would skirt such rules. Therefore many of the queens would use Pill Call as the perfect opportunity to see the boys, to interact and pass notes with the boys, to engage in furtive, quick sex acts with the boys. I was no exception. In fact, not only was I no exception – I was an avid participant. I would frequently use Pill Call as an excuse to hang out before the bars of other units, K1 & K1, E3, etc – in the sharp hopes that one of the rare gorgeous bodied men would sling his cock at me and hope for attention. It had happened often enough with the unattractive men. Within several weeks I had given my first blow job to a dick shoved between metal bars while others simply walked by, laughed or lusted or sighed.
By the time Lil Bit arrived I was a professional at such acts, and well known for my bravado. THe girls would comment on it.
“WHo dick you suck tonight, Miss Frank?”
“Did you gobble Miss Frank?”
“Who you et, Miss Frank?”
Initially I would hold my conquests close to my chest, but eventually I learned that it was better to be infamous and brash about it, than be infamous and sheepish.
“I sucked EVERY dick I saw!” I’d shout. “I ate up YO husband and HER husband and HER husband!”
The girls would laugh, thinking I was joking, but also knowing I might be serious. No one wanted the truth known. Not them, not me.
THe night Lil Bit arrived and Pill Call was called shortly after the girls did their usual cat-calling of me. I replied with my customary faux faggotry. I had no knowledge how long my sentence would be. Years at least, possibly decades. I knew this behavior was not really indicative of my personality – I did not swish and lisp except as a joke – but with an open-ended prison sentence before me it seemed prudent to adopt the ways of the Romans for as long as I would remain in Rome. And as with the ROmans, it became part of me. So when the girls cat-calling I put a hand on my hip and said, “Imma suck ALL the dicks tonight!”
Rounds of laughter and then I caught Lil Bit’s eyes. She glared.
I swallowed – not from fear of her, she was half my size at best – but from apprehension at her connection to Vanessa who could beat me senseless with ease. LIl Bit swept past me and said nothing. She lined up before K1 & K2 and waited for her pills, not paying any attention to the numerous calls of the boys who were very pleased at the sight of her slim femininity. Feeling their lust, I moved towards the bars. Standing just behind them was a beautiful murdered named who went by the named Ziggy. His actual name was maybe Bertrand, but no one called him that. Bertrand was not traditional a pretty man, though he was quite young, maybe twenty three or twenty four. His body was all rippling, lean muscles, narrow waist and wide shoulders. And his hands were rough and calloused and slim. Hanging between the bars just below where his hands pressed was a huge, thick, gorgeous cock. He swung it at me. I had sucked Ziggy off many times. But never in front of other people.
I licked my lips and searched the immediate area for any guards.
THere were none.
I dropped to my knees and began to suck. Lil Bit had already gone back to L2 and had not noticed. All the girls liked Ziggy and I was sure many more besides myself had sucked his dick, but I did not care. I was not the jealous type and unlike the girls of L2 I neither thought of myself as a female, nor enjoyed the boys thinking of me as one, I did not want one of them as a jail “husband.” But for the girls of L2 it was akin to being Lindsay Lohan in a nightclub or Paris Hilton in a Wal-Mart. Famous for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong places. When Ziggy came in my mouth I swallowed and got up just in time to see the line shift and the nurse come into sight. I moved fast and got into line before she caught a view of me and began to suspect.
I smiled at her, asked for my pills and blew a semen scented “thank you” in her direction. She grimaced and waved me away.
Nurse Billings certainly would have reported me to the guards on duty if she knew. She was hateful like that.
Within two days Lil Bit had met Ziggy and they had “fallen in love.” Ziggy had even made the impossible move – the nuclear option. He told the guards he was gay, though he was most definitely NOT. Yet doing so meant he could and by policy was required to be moved from K1 to L2. So two days after the last time I sucked him off, there was Ziggy coming into L2 with his bags of stuff from four years in Parish Prison awaiting a murder trial and a wide, expectant smile on his face. LIl Bit leapt from her bunk and ran at him, embraced him and kissed him wildly. The girls laughed and the guard in the control booth banged on the windows until Ziggy and Lil Bit ceased kissing, but they kept holding hands. She looked so much like a young girl in romantic love with a young man that I was actually touched before I sneered.
Prison love? How fucking stupid!
But it looked real.
Unbidden I heard Lil Bit’s voice drift into my mind, singing her favorite song “Knocks YOu Down” which she sang every time it came on the radio or on BET. Ziggy settled into the top bunk adjacent to Lil Bit’s – against the wall, two bunks down from mine. They proceeded to talk softly, Ziggy neither looked at me nor spoke to me. I imagined some of the girls laughing, and I actually saw Vanessa grinning at me.
Later than night as I slept fitfully I felt something shake my bed. When my eyes snapped open there was Ziggy, his hard dick pressing huge and devilishly against the fabric of his orange shorts.
“Miss Frank…come suck this dick…” he whispered. THe gentle snores of sleeping queens almost drowned his request. I immediately looked up towards Lil Bit’s bunk. Her head was covered by her woolen blanket, standard for her, and she could not see at all. Another look – this time around the darkened dorm – seemed to indicate no one else was awake. So I slipped into the shower stall with Ziggy, only a length of plastic separating us from the sight of everyone else. THe toilets were in full view of the other inmates, but the shower was screened off by this fabric giving us our only available privacy as inmates on L2. I sucked Ziggy with wild abandoned, swallowing his beefy nine inches and not choking once – making noise would possibly alert others and I had learned not to do that. It was always better to be quiet when having prison sex.
Ziggy came with whispered grunts. His semen spurted down the back of my throated and I swallowed with gentle hums of lust driven pleasure. I loved it. THen Ziggy stroked my cheek, his first ever moment of tenderness towards me, and darted out of the shower. I rocked on my heels, confused – not with emotion – just with shock.
What was THAT about?
I left the shower and crawled back into my bed not bothering to wash the taste of him from my mouth and was soon asleep.
The next day I awoke to screaming. I looked up and saw Lil Bit with her back to the wall, Ziggy, only an inch or so taller, looming in front of her, his fists balled at his side. THey were intently staring at each other, as if draw strength before they would begin the yelling again. I sighed and started to look away when the whole dorm went quiet. I noticed half the queens watching Ziggy and Lil Bit and the other half pretending not to watch whilst doing exactly that. I turned back towards them and saw Lil Bit clutching her cheek with both hands. Right then she looked directly at me.
Her deep brown eyes blazed.
Ziggy had hit her. And I was smiling without thinking about it.
“Fuck you Miss Frank with yo’ AIDS ass, you a nasty white bitch and stay OUTTA mah bidness!” Lil Bit squealed.
I sighed, having just awoken and in no mood to fight. But Lil Bit had the bit in her mouth.
“Don’t nobody like you noways and you gonna die in prison, so how bout that?”
She struck a very raw nerve. I had not yet been sentenced and daily battled the fear of possibly living out exactly what she just said.
Die in prison? DIE IN PRISON?
Rage bubbled up.
“Well at least I’ll die with Ziggy dick in my mouth! How about THAT?” I fired back.
THe already quiet dorm went absolutely still.
I had crossed a line.
Lil Bit snarled and tried to move past Ziggy to leap at me. I got quickly up from the bunk and put on my shoes – a rare luxury when everyone else had only slippers – in preparation for the fight. But Lil Bit could not get past Ziggy. He had grabbed her by the wrists (a move I was familiar with from another incident) and held her pinned against the wall. She lunged at me and him and made no head way. Finally after she took a deep, seemingly calm breath, Ziggy let her go. Her arms drifted down to her sides and though her fists remained balled, she only quivered where she stood. But her face underwent a radical change, an understanding swept through it.
I could almost hear her thoughts.
Wait? MISS FRANK sucked ZIGGY dick?
She turned from looking at me to make eye contact with Ziggy and spit dead in his face.
His reaction was lightning fast and sure. His right fist balled, swung back and clocked Lil Bit just under her left eye. She crumpled wordlessly to the floor. And the dorm went wild. Half the queens jeered with laughter, the other half, including Miss Vanessa and Sugar D and Miss Alexis ran to put themselves between Ziggy and Lil Bit.
“NO. Ziggy!” Vanessa said through her partial and heavy slur. “DOn’t no nigga hit no ho on L2. NO!”
Ziggy, shaking with suppressed anger shot a glance towards the guard in the control booth, to see if he’d been spotted hitting Lil Bit. Satisfied he had not he allowed himself to be pushed aside by the much larger Vanessa while Sugar D and Alexis tended to the slowly awakening Lil Bit. I managed to withhold laughter.
Instead I put myself back in my bunk and sang, off-key and loudly:
“Sometimes love comes around…
and it knocks you down…”