Saturday, February 16, 2013


DAY SIXTEEN: Prison Diary January 18, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL

Remember Goldilocks and the porridge — too hot, too cold, just right? That is a fairy tale. In real-life prison, it seems, everything is too hot or too cold. It is never just right.

In the early morning hours of my retaliatory stay in solitary for expressing myself, the weather turned cold and windy. An officer said it had snowed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which isn’t that far from this godforsaken place. Suddenly the confinement cells turned freezing cold, it seemed — concrete and steel hold cold better than heat.

Voices erupted from other cells in protest, “turn on the heat!” Hardly anyone back here has any clothing beyond the bare minimum. Even this old building is supposed to have some sort of thermostat. Eventually someone had mercy and cut on the heat. And did they cut on the heat! Powerful blasts of hot air like the Devil’s breath came blowing out a little vent. In minutes the cold was gone. In half an hour the tiny cells were stifling, and more men were yelling, “turn it down!” Can’t. If we’d had coffee we could have had it steaming.

Taking advantage of the situation, I immediately washed my shirt and hung it from the vent with staples. It looked like a flag flying in a gale! In minutes it was dry, so I washed some more. Then, as always happens, before another soul collapsed in the saunas, they cut the heat off. Soon, the cold dominated again, but fortunately the sun rose and drove away the chill.

Last night confinement had some excitement in an otherwise boring and monotonous existence. Two young men locked in a cell together across the catwalk from my abode got into a rousing fight. Everyone heard the thumping of fists, grunts of pain, sounds of crashing against the walls, the bunks, the floor, cries, more slaps on flesh, more grunts, oofs and gasps.

Most prison fights don’t last long. “Sucker punches” predominate. One man “creeps” the other, lands his best punch, usually stunning him and leaving him open for a battering and kicking until the puncher gets tired. But this fight seemed evenly matched, and went on and on, perhaps three minutes, a prison eternity.

The noise drew the guard, who looked in the little plexiglas window and ordered them to break it up, stop fighting. They paid him no mind, going at it harder, perhaps to gain a win before the squad rushed them.

No squad needed. The officer opened the metal tray slot, and hit them both with a canister of pepper spray. That took a minute to take effect, then they were both burning, crying, the fight was over. Another guard came, the combatants submitted to the command, “cuff-up,” putting their hands behind them and through the slot, to be manacled. The crybabies were led to cold showers to wash off the burning capsaicin, per the rule. I give the responding officer credit — he handled it professionally, and without unnecessary force.

That was last night. I’ve been neglectful of my prison diary entries because of the urgency to file the appeals of the false disciplinary charge, “attempt to conspire,” which isn’t an actual infraction, but is what is called an overbroad, vague charge utilized merely to put something down on paper even when the person has done nothing wrong, to justify the oppression. Sort of like “grand mopery with intent to commit scrutiny,” another nonsense charge.

I am back now, for a little while, at least. I got mail fairly unhindered, informing me that my first installment of poems and diaries had arrived unmolested — the “heat is on” in the mailroom, too, which means many eyes are watching their actions, so for now the mail Grinch is playing it somewhat by the book. If you don’t file your appeals within certain tight deadlines, they kill them, although that never kept prison officials from ignoring mandatory deadlines, or not responding at all.
Around nine thirty this morning, I was called out, manacled, waist chain, cuffs, padlock, legirons, and led to the infamous little “d.r. room,” where I talked on the phone to all-star lawyer, Bill Sheppard. No sooner had I been “unchained” and locked securely in my cell, than another escort officer told me I was going to dental.
Last week the dentist examined the upper left molar that had broken, and today was the scheduled extraction. Forget about fancy dental work in here. It’s “yankem, pullem” time.

It’s not easy even getting into a dental chair when you’re chained like Harry Houdini about to get dropped in the river, but I made it. At least they use novacaine in prison, so after the shots took effect the dentist proceeded to pull the tooth until it broke in two. Oops. After some serious grinding and digging the malefactor came out, but the hole in my gum was so deep, he said that he could see the gray sinus membrane. Whoa! No problem though. The membrane was intact, and besides, I’d signed the release, hadn’t I, that authorized them to do whatever they did without fear of lawsuits. If you die, you die. Form signed.

So, a few stitches and gauze pads, I was good as new. At least, the painful tooth was extracted. I hobbled back to solitary, numb for hours, thank you, Lord.

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