Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Day 3, Continued

Dear readers: I'm continuing with my flashbacks to Day 1 from my notes on Day 3. Someday soon I'll be caught up to the present and will switch to topical posts. Thank you to those who have been responding on Facebook: my mother forwarded me your comments.


The three of us stand silently in our small cell fronted by bars and backed by a metal toilet without a seat or lid. I have to pee but don't want to do it in front of the others. I decide to hold it. I finish my forms in about 20 minutes (skipping, as I mentioned, the question regarding death) and stand staring through the bars, avoiding eye contact as if we are scared of each other (which we are).

After about an hour of this, I notice that the gray-haired gent is struggling with his forms. "Can I help?" I ask. I decide that my inner nature, my natural impulse to be friendly and helpful has to win out over wariness and caution. If it doesn't, I'll have lost something of who I am.

"Thanks," he says, surprised. For all I know, he thought I was a crazy mass murderer.

I help him with his forms. It turns out he's not the sharpest tack on the board - a topic I'll return to at a later date - but he seems nice enough.

"What are you in for?" I ask, in the first of many times I'll ask the inmate's favorite question over the next few days.

"Tax evasion," he says.

I sigh: another white-collar felon. "Are you going to the camp?" I ask.

"What's that?" he says. "What are you talking about?"

I think of all the research I did, all the worrying about where I was going, all the talks with my lawyer to prepare, calls with former inmates about what awaits and what to expect. This man clearly came unprepared. I hope it won't come back to haunt him, but, unfortunately, over the next few days, it will. I'll return to that as well, although to give him credit, I'm not sure I'd be as with it at 60 as I am at 44.

Before I can answer, a screech erupts from somewhere down the hall, a real scream from hell. I hear pounding feet. The clang of metal. A bell begins to ring. "Lockdown," someone screams.

I have no idea what to do. A few seconds later, a guard runs by and  yells at us to turn around. We quickly obey. A few minutes pass. I can't see what's happening, just hear the confusion, the yelling. By the sound of it, someone's being dragged away.

Finally, a guard approaches. "Follow me," he says. We are led to another cell, a bit larger but jammed full of people. I look around me, see a bunch of tough looking dudes. Who are all these guys? Are they lumping me together with high-security inmates? We stand like cattle, lowing and jostling as the hours pass. "Where are you from?" I finally ask the guy next to me. " The prisoner's favorite opening line.

"Transferring in from Terminal Island," he answers.

It turns out that these men are being transferred to Camp Cupcake from all over the West. Some have served time in higher security prisons and are now reaping their rewards for good behavior.  I still have to pee - the refrain of the day - but there's no way I'm going to do it in front of 20 guys. A few do: when you gotta go, you gotta go.

A guard wheels a gray box toward our cell. I smell something that can only be described as food. He grabs a key, opens the door.  "Eat" he grunts as he slams the trays through the door.

My first taste of prison food.

I look down at my tray. Two hot dogs. Something brown. Something green. I manage a few bites. I'm not picky but can't manage this.

Before we finish, a guard walks in and takes our trays. He throws some jumpsuits our way. We dress. Now I look like an inmate. I'd been warned to expect a finger up my butt but the worst thing that happens is that I'm patted down. My lucky day, I guess.

We stand in line for about an hour and then, in late afternoon, are led to a van in the outer courtyard that will take us to the camp, my home for the next two years.

We drive for 5 minutes, pull in. I'm nervous; don't know what to expect. I glance about. Can't imagine spending an hour in this place, let alone years.  Crowds of inmates dressed in brown stand about watching. Seen from the windows of the van they appear sinister, threatening. We're ordered to climb out. Eyes follow us; cat-calls ring out: Fish! Here come the fish! (Prison slang for new inmates.) We're led in a line to a squat building. We enter into a long, low room filled floor to ceiling with narrow little bunk beds. And men. And lockers.

Out of time. To be continued tomorrow.

Original Post Date: 5/13/14

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