Friday, July 11, 2008


Dateline: Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Location: Deep inside a prison cell in Florida


Life in prison is like living in "The Twilight Zone," only without the spooky music, "Da da DAH da, da da DAH da, - da Doom!" The normal rules don't apply. Trapped in the Twilight Zone - the only thing missing is Rod Serling's mellifluous voice. Weird things happen. The hero is an anti-hero. There is an invisible dome, like a giant soap bubble that shimmers occasionally when the sunlight hits it at a certain angle, extending beyond the razorwire fences, that "normal" people can't see as they pop through, in and out. For those of us who are trapped in the Twilight Zone the dome is an impenetrable exit, and we are doomed to spend our lives inside it.

Right now it is "count time," when everyone is locked behind steel doors waiting for the count to "clear," meaning all the chicks are in their roosts, not one is missing, and if they can add up the numbers correctly, the guards will soon let us loose to go to "chow," lunch consisting of a slice of turkey ham, one cup of boiled, bland black-eyed peas, four ounces of canned greens, a smidgen of coleslaw, and two slices of white bread. Umm, Umm good.

We are supposed to be quiet right now, but a heated conversation is going on down the hall with Bean, Heather, Halle Barry, and Slim Jim. Two of those are female names, but I assure you that the bearers are not female, except in the twisted world of the Twilight Zone.

Pity the real Halle Barry were she to cast her eyes on her prison namesake. She would either start screaming or laughing, at what the horrid grotesqueness has spawned, or at the sheer lunacy that anyone could ever attribute the beauty, talent, and grace of the real Halle Berry to such a caricature.

Imagine a nightmare filled with monsters, each monster with a stick-on name tag on its chest, "Hello - I'm _____ " Clark Gable, Brad Pitt, Sophia Loren, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Heather Locklear, or any other handsome or beautiful sex symbol you can think of. Visualize, these misnamed monsters strutting around their cages, noses in the air, pretending they are the real owners of the identities they have stolen. It's like everyone's insane, and they're each living in the other's fantasy world.

Many years ago I saw a movie - was it "King of Hearts?" Something like that. World War II, a deserter wandered into a French town where all the citizens had fled, and the inmates at the insane asylum had gotten loose, come down to the town, moved in, took over, and were leading the lives of the townspeople. It was pretty confusing for the deserter, trying to figure out what was going on. That's how it is in prison. Confusing. Like the Twilight Zone.

Bean is a huge, fat, shaved-headed white guy who grew up in the black inner city projects of Miami. That has a particularly warping effect on some people, and they tend to suffer from an identity crisis. He looks white, like a red-neck, but he sounds and acts like an inner city project kid. So who is he?

He's arguing with Heather - you figure it out - about slinging his/her pack of "Rip" under the door and across the hall to Bean's cell, so he can roll a couple of RIP's for them to smoke. "RIP" is tobacco, the small boxes of loose tobacco called "Top," and stands for "rolled in prison." RIP. Rest in peace. Smoke RIP's for so long, and you will rest in peace, on Boot Hill or Gopher Ridge, the interchangeable names for the prison cemetery in Union County.

Many years ago the Florida Department of Corrections packaged their own brand of cigarettes to issue to prisoners. The county sheriffs bought them, too, and passed them out in the jails. You were given so many packs of RIP's a week, and the nonsmokers either sold their allotments to the heavily-addicted or gave them away.

When I was in the county jail in the 1970's, they were still passing them out. White packaging with an orange state of Florida logo and "DC" (Department of Corrections) overlay. They looked like Camels. I never smoked, so I don't know what they tasted like, but the secondary smoke was rank.

The prison had five tobacco barns next to Florida State Prison at Starke where they made the RIP's. As the prison population boomed in the late 1970's, they closed the cigarette operations and converted the five tobacco barns into crude prison housing, high-ceiling warehouses filled with bunks, called "BTU," Butler Transit Unit. You could still smell the tobacco.

I spent a week there on my way to Raiford, and we called it "Wild Kingdom," for all the huge moths, weird flying insects, bats, and birds that wandered through the cracks, roof, and ventilation gaps at night. It was already scary, fresh in prison, in a huge room in the dark, filled with weird people, trying to sleep, and have a giant, buzzing, flying cockroach land on your face. The nights were punctuated by screams as bugs and other vermin freaked out the prisoners.

The tobacco barns have been gone for thirty years, but men who weren't even born then are still arguing about RIP's, which became the generic name for any tobacco in prison. What's stupid is that ten minutes before the argument, the cell doors were open, men walked up and down the hall, and Bean could have taken three steps and been in Heather's cell, to burn the tobacco directly rather than get angry because he/she didn't want to slide it across the hall on the floor.

Yesterday morning, an older white prisoner named Paul went to the canteen, bought a laundry bag full of food, tobacco, and toiletries, and was attacked, knocked down, and robbed of his purchases by two young black prisoners. Paul had been waiting for weeks to receive the $65 he could spend at one time, but he didn't even get a cold soda out of the deal. Word is that the two robbers were also from the Miami projects, and Bean put them up to it to help pay off his huge debts.

Right now he is arguing with another prisoner down the hall, known as "Diamond Head," who is not Hawaiian. I won't even go there. So much for life in the Twilight Zone.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Dateline: June 27, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


This is one I surely wish I didn't have to write, a terrible crime committed here at Tomoka C.I. Wednesday, June 25, 2008. A prisoner serving two life sentences for kidnapping and rape, Enoch Hall, raped and murdered a female prison guard inside the PRIDE prison industries building. I'm not going to mention her name yet - you can find out about it on the local TV web sites, or, or the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

This has deeply affected most everyone here, staff, guards, and prisoners, touched so closely by such a heinous, calculated act. up until about six weeks ago, I worked with this officer for several hours a day, Monday through Friday, for three years. Needless to say, we'd had long conversations on a variety of topics, and though we had our differences, she saw things from the guards' perspective, I saw them from the prisoners,' there was mutual respect.

She had gone through many difficulties in her personal life in the past three years, and was often stretched thin emotionally, and subject to strong outbursts when she was irritated or aggravated, which was often. She was much more educated than most of the guards, having once been an English teacher, and a couple of years ago I first offered one of my writings to her to read, "Fighting the Ninja," about AIDS in prison. When I asked her if she wanted to read a manuscript of something I'd written, that I'd like her opinion of it from a "correctional" point of view, she almost snatched it out of my hand.

I went back outside to work in the garden, pulling weeds in the hot sun in the area behind her "caustic office," where all the cleaning supplies for the prison are kept and dispensed daily.

I was busily bent over and sweating when she came running out of her office shouting my name several times, my papers clutched in her hand. She seemed in such a tizzy that I knew I must be in serious trouble, but couldn't imagine what I'd done, unless she was offended by my writing. that has happened in the past.

I stood up and walked toward her wondering what it could be. She got right in my face, held up the papers, and asked, "You wrote this?" the thought went through my head that perhaps she was going to accuse me of plagiarizing, of copying someone else's words, but I didn't see how that could be it, because the essay was so personally my own, that no one else could make any claim on it.

"Yes, ma'am, I wrote it. Why? Is something wrong with it?"

She took a deep breath. "Wrong with it? It's unbelievable. I've never read anything like this. I couldn't stop. It fucked me up."

Yes, she was known for "earthy" language at times, and wouldn't hesitate to use profanity to get her point across. I suppose part of that was her extra-duty job, working as a bartender in a biker bar in Daytona to pay her mortgage. She was a study in contradiction.
"This is the most powerful thing I've ever read. this is all true?"
"Can I borrow this, or make a copy of it? I want some of my friends to read this."

I knew then that perhaps I'd written something pertinent, to get a reaction like that from a tough prison guard.She asked me to let her read whatever else I wrote, and I did. I asked her for her feedback, and it was generally praiseworthy. "You're a great writer." Well, in her opinion.

I gave her a copy of my poem, "Remembrances of Five," and she brought it back to me with tears in her eyes. "It must be good - it made me cry. I can't stop thinking about it."

Months later I told her it had won first place in the Tampa Writers Alliance poetry contest, she embraced herself, shivered, and said, "I just got goosebumps thinking about that poem. My hair stood up on the back of my neck. Can I get a copy of it?"

I'm not going to go into all her struggles with life, the recent brain cancer death of her father, the jailing of her 19 year-old son on drug charges a few months ago, her frustrations with how she was treated at the nearby county jail every day at lunch when she went to visit him ("Now you know how our families feel when they get a hard time trying to visit us," I said.), having to tell her son that her ex-husband, his father, had died, dealing with the infidelities of her most recent ex-husband, struggling with part-time jobs to pay her bills. Maybe later.

The PRIDE prison industry here refurbishes school buses and fire trucks, along with other large government vehicles. Guards who work security there get a separate check from PRIDE. She had been working there a couple of afternoons a week to fill in, and wasn't even supposed to work Wednesday. She got a call a little after three PM that the guard there had a family emergency, could she fill-in for a few hours? Yes. Her fate was sealed.All the PRIDE "free people" left, and she was in effect supervising 15 prisoners alone from a little after three until six PM or so.

That would seem like a serious security failure, a woman alone with prisoners who had a variety of rape convictions, even though she had a tiny pepper spray canteen and a so-called "body alarm" panic button, to call for help.The details aren't clear yet. They will come out. Apparently, Enoch Hall hid in a shed when everyone else left, she went looking for him, he ambushed her, raped her, and stabbed her to death with a knife he made from sheet metal.

Terrible, terrible crime, and we all now suffer from his actions.

Twenty five years ago at Raiford a guard was murdered, and I saw a similar response. The entire prison was put in lockdown. We all suffer for one person's crime. Now, as then, this changes the atmosphere at a prison. Where before certain guards are friendly, easy-going, suddenly they are grim and serious, realizing that this is a prison, there are dangerous people here for a reason, this is not a game (although many are playing games), and your life is on the line every day.

I've always realized that, and behaved accordingly. I know I am deep in enemy territory, with no back-up, and I watch behind myself, keep my radar on, and stay in survival mode. one slip is all it takes. you never see it coming.

I've told men to be on their "P's and Q's," not to make a fuss, keep a low profile, that when this happens, the guards are angry, looking to retaliate, to strike back. Run your mouth and suffer the consequences.

Yesterday lunch was delayed because "EVAC" (the ambulance) was called to take a prisoner to the local hospital. Something happened, and he "got his ass whipped" by several guards, as another guard bragged, bad enough to be hospitalized.Yesterday, the day after, I went to work in the chow hall at eleven AM and didn't get back to my building till about 9:30 PM. Long day. They were in "not mode," one wing of each housing area slowly escorted to the chow hall, single file, served their trays, then sat there for awhile, escorted back, half hour of dead time, escort the next group.

We're usually finished serving lunch no later than one PM. Yesterday it was after 4 PM. Then we turned right around to serve supper, and got the last group fed by 8:30 PM.The guards on the four to twelve shift come in about 3:30 PM, and hang around the captain's office for instructions before they relieve the day shift.

Yesterday the two prison chaplains hung around doing their "grief counseling," I suppose they'd call it, hugging a couple of the female guards, talking to the men.When I saw that, it struck me that it is doubtful if any of those people even knew the victim beyond the most superficial of relationships, working at the same prison, but having little contact or conversation.

It seems odd, perhaps, to think that some of her closest relationships were with the prisoners who worked under her supervision for hours every day. About seven of them either delivered cleaning supplies for her or worked as clerks in her office. The delivery guys only worked one or two hours, early and late, and spent the rest of the time in her office, "jawboning," drinking coffee and sucking up the air conditioning. She spent a lot of time talking on the telephone to girlfriends, sharing virtually every detail of her private life, who she liked, who she despised - on more than one occasion some arrogant male guard who deluded himself into thinking he was God's gift to women would come in and "chat her up." She would do all the appropriate grins and giggles, then when he would leave, she'd walk over to where I was working - I emphasize, working - I wasn't one to sit there and be one of her sycophants - and tell me, "He is such as asshole. I despise that creep. He makes me sick." She would snarl this out.

I asked her once why she acted so friendly to those creeps if she felt that way. She just tossed her head like the answer was obvious, and dialed another number on her cordless phone as she walked back to her office.

The point I was making is that there is no consideration whatsoever for offering any type of grief counseling to the prisoners who knew her better than most of the guards, who no doubt are going through the grieving process more acutely than most others. I've only had a chance to speak with one of them so far, and only briefly, but I'll do my best to make the rounds, talk to as many as I can.

I want to talk about this some more in another blog perhaps, but want to mention that this incident will most likely result in many changes here.

First, heads will roll. The top dogs - warden, assistant warden, colonel, and captain will be required to fall on their swords. Scapegoats. Fact - it is their fault. They are responsible.

Two things that graphically illustrate a failure in prison security - first, an escape, obviously. The whole purpose of security is to keep the prisoners inside the fence. If someone gets out, someone else has to bite the bullet. Second - the murder of a prison guard. That is definitely a no-no. The system failed. While these geniuses were having all the trees cut down and hedges pulled out and building more steel doors and caging in the wings in "B" dorm in the name of security, a lone woman was raped and murdered in the shadow of a gun tower by a convicted kidnapper/rapist, and no one even knew about it for who knows how long, at least an hour. Most likely those guys are out of here, demoted. Huge wrongful death lawsuit potential for her son. Get a lawyer now, Kyle.

Enough of that. The phones are back on and visits are scheduled for Saturday. Life in prison goes on. See you later.