Entry 9: First Prison Knockout

It’s 8:30 in the morning. A bit early to write today’s post, but I doubt an event will top the currently ebbing one, so here we go.

As I sat on my cot reading last night’s post/rant, an inmate yelled directly below me, breaking the silence.

“They’re going to kill me, ya’ll! They’re going to kill me! Tell my family!”

People yell stupid stuff throughout the day, but this guy sounded terrified.

“They’re going to kill me! You’re next! Believe me, you’re all next!”

Someone on the rock shouted, “I wish they would hurry up so we can get back to sleep.”

“No!” The guy screamed with an increased level of distress. “Don’t fucking kill me! Please don’t kill me!”

I’m not sure who he was talking to, but he is right below me, which means he can probably see the officers at their desk.

“Shut the fuck up before we do,” barked the psychotic officer we all know.

I’ve watched Shawshank Redemption. (odd facts, it’s near universally voted the best movie EVER) I remember the brutality of those guards, and I’m new to prison. Perhaps this inmate is right to be afraid?

The CO’s threat sent the inmate into a frenzy. He kicked at his cage all while droning, “don’t kill me, don’t fucking kill me. Don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.”

The guard’s rattled as if he rose from his chair. He paced toward the man. He started heckling him, a little too low for me to hear it all, but by the tone he was having fun. I heard him say, “We’re gonna get ya!”

 The man was yelling so loud everyone on the rock started to yell. Some to their neighbor, others at the inmate, some at the guard. 

When the worried man reached a point where you could hear that he was crying, the CO shouted for everyone to shut up. Most of the inmates obeyed, but the man was inconsolable. He was begging to not be murdered.

Once relatively quiet, the CO called for back up over his mic and addressed the distressed man, “You’re going to observation. I’m not gonna listen to this shit all day.” His keys rattle and unlocked the cell. The convict went silent the minute the key slid into the lock.

As the door opened, the CO–now in full control–said, “Now, keep your fucking mou-“

That was when the guard we know so well’s words were cut short by a two slap sound I know so well, a left, right to the face, and the right connected with serious umphh!

Quick footsteps, and the exterior door crashed open. An alarm sounded. Not the piercing alarm of a prison escape, it was a lone fire alarm the guards tested daily, but it still amplified the danger. The inmate had fled his cell, then the building, inside a fortified prison.

There was no chance of escape. We are in the heart of a complex with redundant walls, razors, and fences. The area he ran back to led to a majority of the prison that had been closed for years, but it still had its own fencing and razors, and structures. However, the thought of those obstacles didn’t constrict my chest and perk my ears.

The man in the gun tower scared me.

On my first day here, a nurse informed me that he had worked at this prison for thirteen years. I asked him if he had ever seen anyone shot.

While exhaling, he bobbed his head. A beat later, he pointed out our window. “A couple of months back, a guy tried the fence rights there. It was a foggy day.” He placed a pen to his lips and was lost in thought. A moment later, he added, “He’s a paraplegic now.”

Back in my cell, the big sirens went off. I heard the fleeing convict scream and through the window slats, saw him go down

I tensed for the report of a rifle shot. Luckily for the man, tasers have a decent range.

His escape lasted twenty seconds, covered thirty feet, and put the entire prison on lock-down. When the prison gets put on lock-down, inmates are hurried back to their cells.

The man in the cell next to me was on a callout. Having arrived after the doors had been locked, he was stuck on the catwalk which afforded him a bird’s eye view of the ordeal. He is one of the people I talk to and the only one who knows I am writing this, and I asked him what he saw.

He looked back at me with eyes the size of half-dollars, a smile etched his faced. He then yelled so everyone could hear. “It’s officer so-and-so, man!” Meaning the guard we all know and hate (perhaps just dislike). “Nigga’s on his back, wide-eyed, dazed, holding his jaw and neck.”

Another inmate who could see yelled, “I saw it. He got knocked the fuck out.”

Hundreds of voices screamed in unison, deafening the narrow building. People were kicking the hollow, thin metal that housed our desks and lockers. It sent a deafening reverberation through the building. To me, they sounded like post-victory war drums.

With a current racing through me, I joined hundreds of others and yelled, “Where’s that mouth of yours now?” I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt vindicated. I imagine we all did.

Convicts asked the guard how tough he was now? How he liked being a smartass, and so on.

My neighbor watched and called it out in real time as officers helped the smart ass to his feet. He was limping as they helped him to a chair. He seemed delirious, but I think he was lucid. I think inflections of justice were raining down, overloading him. He was hearing each and every insult, absorbing them, and accepting he deserved them all, and more.

He may remain the same man, but for that instant, God was doing His best to navigate the bully onto a corrected path.

As they led him out, a universal chant was gaining steam, but I wasn’t sure what was being said, and asked my neighbor. He was leaning over the railing, chanting with the throngs. At the sound of my voice, he leaned all the way back while keeping his hands on the top bar and continued in-time, “ARUS IS NEXT!”

Yes, that was it. “ARUS IS NEXT! ARUS IS NEXT!”

“But what’s ARUS?”

“Our psych.”

Each section gets a counselor. They are our only line of defense, our representatives against errors and mistreatment. He’s called an ARUS. I’ve written ours multiple times, but have yet to receive a response.

I see him daily. He spends his time at the guard station, laughing. He strolls to the few people he blesses with his attention. He wears dark-colored sunglasses atop his slicked-back hair. His shirts are Tommy Bahama–a brand popular in my small circle of smuggler friends as they cost a hundred and fifty dollars, are made of silk, and each button is pressed from a coconut husk. His pants flow as he walks and his polished shoes add to his South Beach persona.

It was rumored that he shared our medical and mental information with the guards and they all got good laughs out of it.

I’m not sure what ARUS means, but it stands with the guards, and was the exact opposite of anything you would want to rely on when you need sympathy or assistance.

Out of the window, I saw the guards lift the man who one-two’ed our oppressor from the grass. It was the first look I had. All my glee evaporated. His face was contorted in agony. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He bellowed for help while rotating his head, searching for a friendly face in the sea of gray and black.

Blood leaked from his forehead, presumably from the fall after being tased (in jail, I learned this was common). As they led him inside, he cried, “Please don’t kill me, guys. Please don’t kill me.”

I swallowed the rising lump in my throat as the chaos around me dimmed. The rock grew quiet, then silent. Everyone listened as they escorted the man through the building.

Moments later, chatter resumed a steady buzz, but the yelling had subsided. I talked with my neighbor. He had been telling me the day before that if our A-hole guard worked in a level four prison, he would be respectful, or get stabbed–plain and simple.

My cell is the first at the top of the stairs. It is nearest the gun lane, a spot that allows an armed man to cover the two galleys in case of a riot. He also had end slots to cover the yard.

The gun tower officer was standing in the  “window” saying something to me.

I yelled that I couldn’t hear him.

He yelled, “That man don’t know how close he came to reaching that big house in the sky.”

Being slow on the uptake, I frowned. He pointed upwards and I understood.

By the flushness of his face, I could tell he was coming down off a rush and needed someone to vent to. He had just been through an ordeal. I saw in his face that he was thankful he hadn’t shot the fleeing man, but the reduction of adrenaline was proof that it had been his intention.

“What’s the shoot rule?” I asked.

“Shoot to stop.”

“The head?” My neighbor asked (and here I had been thinking about a warning shot).

“Could be, but it could also be the leg,” he retrieved his rifle. Its presence tightened my chest. He racked the bolt. The sound echoed and amplified, sending a chill down my spine.

Ejecting the bullet, he rotated it between his thumb and forefinger. Again, I had the feeling he was grateful to have someone to talk to, rather than be looking at someone who would never speak again.

The phone trilled in his hide. He nodded. I nodded, and he ducked away.

An old-school joined us and inquired as to what the gun tower officer had said. I told him.

He then told us today was the guard who got punched’s lucky day. He would receive twenty to ninety paid leave to recover. But it was really because he needed time to pass to avoid constant ridicule.

He then animatedly impersonated many of the potential insults the guard would have endured.

While laughing at one of old-school’s impressions, I asked what would happen to the inmate. His tone changed from light-hearted to serious.

“Depends on the guards, I guess. A little beating. A lot? Then they treat him like a dog the rest of his bit.”

“Will he get a new charge?”

“Maybe, but don’t matter. He’ll do every day of his max.”

Today David slew Goliath, but the payment for helping his people will be years of mistreatment. A stiff price for someone who was probably mentally ill.

It’s 10:24 in the morning. The start of another day in quarantine.

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