21 May, 2018

Moving Day

An inauspicious start to your day is being awakened, at 4:38 AM, by a voice calling your name from outside your door, saying, "Pack up all your property; you're transferring this morning."

Cue instantaneous alertness. Cue dry mouth. Cue unmitigated fatalism.

They gave me fifteen minutes. The goon squad was on its way into the housing unit, camouflaged and equipped with big-ass cans of Mace, ready to show some force to the residents of Crossroads Correctional Center in the wake of the riot, the six-hour pandemonium that had erupted two days before. My cellmate and I had anticipated shock-and-awe reciprocation, as well as a purging of the prison population. We hadn't expected long-time residents of the honor dorm to be among those outsted, though. Life, someone famous once said, is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

I wished Doyle, my cellmate of the past three years, luck in the looming shakedown. "Write and let me know where you land," he said by way of goodbye.

It was a curious amalgamation of expressions that watched my escort walk me down the transfer processing hallway. Some of the prisoners occupying the benches wore handcuffs, shackles, and excited grins, pleased as anything to be leaving, never mind to where, because the consensus (particularly among the rioters) was that Crossroads blows. Others sank against the wall, grim and taciturn. I joined neither group, instead sitting tall, unsmiling, mute to any but official questions, steeling myself for the inevitable.

At the last available moment before my turn came for cuffs, I had the presence of mind to request a restroom break. No matter what part of the state I was being shipped to, the bus ride was going to be considerable. Our departure time alone, after boarding the Gray Goose, dragged on till sunrise. When breakfast arrived in brown bags, I held off drinking the little carton of milk. A few unthinking souls used theirs as chasers for their danishes. In short order, if they didn't need a toilet soon thereafter, most of them ejected their breakfasts onto the floor of the bus. The windows proved to be bolted shut, so the sugary smell of regurgitated pastry had to be endured.

I was indifferent to the passing hours, for the most part. My last trip beyond the boundary of Crossroads took place in wintertime; this ride's scenery was lush, verdant, alive, and accompanied by a nausea of indeterminate provenance: nerves, or my seat's location near the back, could've been to blame. At least I didn't puke. Instead, I exercised a bit of mindfulness, practiced being in the moment.

This is Middle America, I thought, as fields and truck dealerships passed my view. Paying attention to this held much of my worry at bay. Nothing could be gained by obsessing over what this relocation would do to those I love — those effects would be felt, and dealt with, in their course.

There went a tumbledown double-wide. There went a church sign proclaiming, GOD IS PRO-LIFE AND SO ARE WE!. There went a murder-red barn. There went a farm store called Dickey Bob, a kiddie slide into an algae pond, the last video rental store in the country, a stick man beside his little house, wearing cutoff jeans and a black stetson. These things did me good to see.

Bladders throughout the bus expanded to the limits of tolerance. Transfer buses, however, pay no heed to posted speed limits and stop for no man. So several prisoners contorted themselves, handcuffed left hand over right, to piss into their emptied milk cartons. The guard riding shotgun kindly passed a clear plastic trash bag through the grate at the front of the bus, which, when half-pint relief proved unsatisfying, became an improvised Porta-Potty. I let my pee-shy seatmate huddle with the bag in my spot next to the window, hoping that the road immediately ahead was free of dips or potholes.

Before all was said and done, I got a whirlwind tour of Missouri prisons — Algoa, Jefferson City, Potosi — that included an hour-long layover in a nine-by-thirteen holding cell with twenty-three other ex-Crossroaders. It was far more than I wanted out of my Tuesday. The terminus came twelve hours after it began, when the bus pulled through the gate of Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center — colloquially known by its milieu, the old mining town of Bonne Terre. My first thought: It looks like Crossroads, only bigger.

The staff at Bonne Terre had a quandary on their hands but made room and provisions for us, their last-minute arrivals, that kind of impressed me. It's too soon yet to claim that day-to-day conditions are in every way superior to the place that just evicted me. (For sure, Crossroads will be a place of misery for several months to come, owing to numerous factors.) But all appearances imply that they represent a considerable improvement.

As for my relationships, being on the opposite side of the state from my mother and several friends means drastically fewer visits. Losing my honor dorm status (even if my record does fast-track me back to it) means a period of seriously limited phone contact. Being a fresh face means lacking the connections that ease the impositions of prison life. I'm starting over — with the edge provided by nearly seventeen years' experience, it's true, but starting over just the same.

Making the best of a bad situation is what I've been striving to do since my sentencing. This latest turn is only different in type. So: lemonade, anyone?


  1. Very nice synopsis. So sorry you are in this position.

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