There are 48 inmates on a section. There are 3 sections to a pod. Each building has 3 separate pods, and I’m in building #7.
It’s early morning, and everything is beginning to stir. The factory workers are “turning out” for their 12 hour shifts and the field squad are lacing up their boots. The spotlights from each tower are being replaced by the sunlight, as the boiler rooms exhaust roars.
Entryways are tightly secured by officers in grey and heavy steel doors. Movement is controlled on the farm in close succession. That doesn’t mean, though, for a minute that chaos isn’t looming right around the corner. Undoubtedly, sometime today emergency calls will shout out over the radios. Body alarms announce the officers location and severity of the incident. Guards in full regalia hailing gas guns and battalions will surge past in the hall. Orders to “face the wall” will be followed by medical staff with stretchers escorting inmates in restraints. In close proximity will be a video camera, a Lieutenant or Captain, and harsh disciplinary infractions.
“Yard, all the way out” is announced on my section, allowing for two hours of recreation each morning and night. Concrete walls and surrounding sky-high fences enclose a basketball court and areas to play handball. The weight benches will have a line ten deep, while corners are used for shadowboxing. They say 12 laps around the rec-yard equals a mile and my guess is, I have ran from coast to coast by now.
The TV’s just came on and I swear I hear the domino’s already. This will carry on until “rack-time” tonight at 10:30 P.M. Seats on the benches are reserved early just in time for The Price is Right and The Young and The Restless. Fixtures in the penitentiary, imagine that. Sports occupy the other television and the Las Vegas section of the day room. Dice, parlay’s, bingo, and board games. Not quite, but you get the point.
Banging on the window from the picket, the guard motions for school by signaling with her hands an imaginary book opening and closing. A pull on her collar will mean time for clothing exchange, while hands in prayer means “church–all the way out.” In a few hours, she will motion with her hands like she is taking medication– “pill window.”
As always, a mad rush for what is universally known behind these walls as “happy hour.” The handful of psychiatric medications silent angry voices and calm multiple personalities. Joe, who has it out daily with Caroline (his other personality)– the bitch who steals his beer– gets a combination of pills and an injection or two (depending on the day). He paces in short strides while simultaneously laughing, crying, and biting his arms. He always asks me if I was in a Western and if he can have a pinch of chewing tobacco. “I would, Joe, but Caroline keeps stealing my shit too.” Joe replies dishearteningly “Tell me about it.” You gotta love Joe.
Watching through my door, I see my neighbor impersonating Elvis again. They call him “T.P.T”– Trailer Park Trash– and believe me, he lives up to the name honorably. “Days like these make you want to pull the tarp down, jump in the car, and go for a ride.” He entertains and makes everyone laugh in his own, highly medicated, sideshow kind of way.
Not amused by his “Love Me Tender” serenade, the annoyed officer in the picket raises her arm and extends her middle finger with malice. Which, incidentally, still means the same thing in both your world and mine.
It’s 6PM and just about time for mail call. Mr. Burns is parading around the dayroom excitedly waiting for a reply from some Prime Minister. “When those sons of bitches find out that I know where Solomon’s gold is buried, they’ll be calling me the fuckin’ messiah!”
Day in and day out old man Burns strategizes his big plans for conquering Israel. In his late 80s and senile, he tends to always get away with outrageous racial remarks and lewd comments. “I heard Michelle put deep fryers in the green room at the White House! You know how long it’s gonna take to get that smell out?”
When his letter doesn’t arrive, he goes on an hour long rampage with the guards. “HEY! Rent-a-cop! I got a federal offense with your name on it!”
Many times there are fights that break out; it’s usually over something as simple as taking someone’s “claimed” seat or what basketball game they are going to watch. Guys will call each other out to fight somewhere out of the officer’s sight, this is called “getting their paper,” “catching a square,” or “getting in the paint.” You would not believe the amount of people who walk around without front teeth because they were knocked out in a fight. Since the dental department does not provide any sort of dentures or false teeth, they must live out the duration of their sentence without being able to chew their food. What’s worse than prison food? Puréed prison food!
Today was commissary day. The dealers, the hustlers, the queens and the pimps, are all running ramped on the block. This is the day when debt is collected and dues are paid. The hustlers hit the sidewalks for the dealers, the queens are on the “hoe stroll,” and it’s every man for himself behind bars in the Texas underworld.
Today, Charlie and I had the privilege of attending a Native American heritage ceremony. There were several different tribal nations who traveled from Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and throughout Texas.
The volunteers were accompanied by a motorcycle club called “The Zealots,” and the mother-daughter singing team, Sayania. The organizers and hosts worked closely with our unit’s Major, and did an impressive job of bringing it all together.
It was a celebration recognizing that we are all children of one Creator. This ceremony was the first of its kind in the history of Texas prisons and was monumental. We all gathered together and listened to the testimonies from members of these different tribes including a Chief who delivered a profound message about forgiveness and freedom.
The most memorable part of the ceremony was the enchanting music; a hauntingly, transfixing, flute. This flute was played by Grandmother White Eagle and was interwoven with the beat of an enormous drum (the heartbeat of mother earth) played by 4 women. Their flowing shawls and headdresses of lace and feathers blew wildly in the brisk Texas wind.
Above us circled dozens of soaring birds, their wings unbound and free like the ceremonies spirit. The celebration closed with the smoking of a sacred pipe and interlocked hands in prayer.
This ceremony unified men of all different colors, beliefs, and cultures. It was meaningful for me to share this experience with Charlie, who taught me the harmony and humbleness within the Native American heritage and for this, I am very grateful.
Close your eyes and listen to this…