Sunday, January 17, 2021




 So was my fitful sleep interrupted early Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

Three hours later, securely handcuffed with a black box ( a cruel and unusual penal torture device), waist chain, and leg irons, eight fellow transferees similarly chained hobbled with me to the rear prison gate where we struggled to board a decrepit Ford transport van. Within thirty minutes both my hands were numb and swollen, and my right wrist cut and bleeding.

The first row of seats had been removed, and three of the youngest prisoners foolishly agreed to sit on the nasty floor. Inside the van, steel mesh grills bolted to the window frames securely contained the passengers. A large hasp and padlock attached to the outside of the two side doors effectively eliminated any efforts to break out of the van. The sally port gate rumbled open. The van backed out.

We pulled away. I didn't bother looking back through the rear grill for a last look at Tomoka C. I. I was glad to be gone.

The guard said four of us were going to Lake C. I., a supposedly better prison near Clermont, not far from Orlando. My twenty-first prison in forty-two years of involuntary servitude. My overriding concern remained how far the prison was from Jacksonville, how far my wife Libby would have to drive to visit. Lake C. I. was a longer drive than Tomoka, but it could have been much worse.

As senior man, I felt it my responsibility to establish the tone of our trip. With several foolish young men rubbernecking through the grills at attractive female drivers at red lights and pedestrians revealingly dressed, screams, catcalls and wolf whistles were sure to result as soon as we got into city traffic. The guards couldn't stop any misbehavior, but the driver could aim for every deep pothole in Florida's crumbling infrastructure, with the Ford's crippled shocks transferring jarring jolts to our backs and bottoms. Swerving the van into the other lane toward oncoming traffic, then jerking the wheel back scared the hell out of us. I didn't need any more stress. My cue.

''What would you do if that maniac driver flipped this van and crashed us upside down in that water-filled ditch?'' I asked the one nearest me. ''You think you could get us out?''

''Why, I'd kick out that window and roll out.''

''You think you could bust out that steel screen? Those are some pretty heavy bolts in those window frames. What if the van caught fire?'' I asked. ''You think those guards would risk flames to unlock that door for us?''

The van got quiet. Mission accomplished.

Actually, the two escorts in our van and the third driving the chase vehicle were military veterans, older and more mature than the eighteen- and nineteen-year old trainees the state was hiring, and I believed that in the event of accident or disaster, they would try to save us, if possible. I wasn't going to tell my fellow travelers.

The chase vehicle following us provided extra security in case something happened, like a crash or a hijacking. A few years back some prisoners in Georgia somehow overpowered and killed two transport officers and stole the van. Florida wasn't having that. At the least, the chase driver could radio for help.

Rather than taking the most direct route to Lake C. I., Interstate 4 west to Highway 27, the driver chose to cut cross country through mostly rural areas north of the interstate. We passed million-dollar estates with beautiful horses scampering, interspersed with pastures of purebred Black Angus waiting their turns to become Big Macs. Approaching Lake C. I., we passed acres and acres of a rare vineyard of native Florida grapes planted on rolling hillsides.

We were there--my new home!

Lake County features a different topography than the normally flat land of Central Florida, with sometimes steep hills (in Florida terms), valleys, and its namesake lakes. The prison is built the same. Some housing areas are perched high above a small fenced-in lake (or pond). Actually, the pond is recognizable to Floridians as a sinkhole, where the underlying aquifer had dissolved the limestone base, creating a deep crater that swallows up any trees, cars and houses unfortunate enough to be above the collapsing underground hole in the earth. I could visualize a large dorm sliding down the hillside and. disappearing underwater, one more thing to worry about.

Passing by the sinkhole, I gawked at all the birds, over a hundred white ibises busily probing the shoreline with their curved pink beaks, coots, grackles, and dozens of seagulls crying and swooping overhead. I didn't see any alligators, but long-term residents assured me they were hiding beneath the thick water plants. In years past, more enlightened prison administrators permitted inmates to fish in the ''lake,'' but those days are gone.

Cats! We passed two jet black cats and a brindled one eating leftovers from ''chow.'' I'd never seen a cat eating yellow rice or another nibbling at a cold biscuit.The last time I'd seen a prison cat had been several years before at Columbia Annex, at visit, when Libby and I spied a large fluffy tomcat sunning on the peak of the adjacent chapel roof.

Friends assured me there were numerous other skittish feral cats that would show up at mealtime.

After a long trek up and down hills I finally arrived at my new quarters, a large open dorm housing 140 men. Crowded. But with daily canteen access, a much better situation than the ineptly managed Tomoka. And trees! A large oak tree, three feet in diameter trunk, shades the canteen line, and a few rose bushes bloom beside a small storage building. So much more human and calming than the sterile Tomoka compound.

No one knows how long this will last. They are moving groups of men to other dorms, and some say 500 will be transferred out in upcoming weeks. I pray that I will be spared.

It's great to be out of ''the hole.''


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will miss seeing you and Libby. You both are in my prayers. Take Care. Sue, aka Ryan's Grandma