23 February, 2019

Exile in Creepville

Institutional changes forced Hopper and me to move, first out of our wing, and then out of 6-House altogether. Neither was cause for celebration.

After having lived for one full month in Housing Unit 1, I feel qualified to make some observations on these environs, and on my fellow inhabitants thereof. You wouldn't think so, but the differences between two virtually identical housing units in the same facility can be stark.

To start with, the doors here are not the same as those in any other general-population house. 1-House was built as a segregation unit — ad-seg, or, even less formally, "the Hole." (Why this necessitated sliding doors is beyond me. I was absent on the day they taught prison architecture in school.) These doors are a nightmare.

Rather, they would be a nightmare if they let a guy sleep through their explosive opening. Imagine an M-80 firecracker going off, each time one of the wing's seventy-two residents comes back from an appointment, a visit, work, or recreation — things that those of us in honor dorms have more of than average prisoners. The cascade of doors unlocking after free movement resumes, following custody counts, sounds like an aluminum stepladder tumbling down a stairwell.

The loudspeaker in 1A renders the voices of all who use it incomprehensible. This deters no guards from doing so, or from getting pissed off when they're not understood. I'd ask them not to mistake our confusion for obstinacy, but I don't want to end up with a conduct violation for insulting behavior.

The intercom also beeps and squawks in the middle of the night, sometimes for unnecessary one-way conversations with early workers heading for the kitchen at 3 AM. Daywalkers like me toss and turn through it all, hopeful that sleep will quickly take us again.

The telephone situation in this wing is different from that of my previous housing unit. As far as whether it's better or worse, the jury is still out. Here, one of the four phones is frequently available without a wait. Word has it, however, that snitches who see anyone talking at length will "drop kites" on him, hoping to get him in trouble. If such notes are really dropped in the caseworkers' inbox, I can't say. The idea alone is distracting. When I'm on the line, conversing, and a guy stands nearby, I start fretting. Is he waiting to make a call? Does he look impatient enough to go scrawl a pissy note about me? Might someone else hang up first, to give him a shot? I've always tried to be considerate with my telephone use, but now I'm downright paranoid.

It's impossible not to wonder who the aforesaid kite-droppers are. You couldn't throw a glazed honey bun across the wing without hitting a likely suspect. Creeps abound. Maybe it's the man with the limp, who glances a little too frequently at people in the shower. Maybe it's Down Syndrome Colonel Sanders. Maybe it's Lurch, the tall, drugged-looking guy down the walk. Maybe it's the Human Liver Spot who's always smiling. What's that old guy got to be so cheerful about? Whatever he claims it is, I'm dubious.

Stereotypes in prison generally prove accurate. Do enough time and you'll develop a kind of sixth sense about them. I profile other prisoners on a daily basis. Give me seven days in someone's vicinity and I'll correctly tell you their crime, seven out of ten times.

That said, there seem to be an inordinate number of sex offenders in this wing. There's one (or two) in nearly every cell. They hold forth at great length, either mushmouthed or with exaggeratedly precise diction, about the most mundane or esoteric topics: baseball, carpentry, national politics, jadeworking in ancient China, Alicia Silverstone's filmography, Sailor Moon. These people tend to be easily slighted and almost comically passive-aggressive. I hear them en route to meals, waiting to use the JPay kiosk, and while making laps around the wing so Hopper can use our toilet in privacy. They never fail to skeeve me out.

At the top of my list is the peacocking egotist, the piece of shit with the entitlement complex, who I overhear complaining about whatever perceived injustice befell him this week. The guy who thinks the world owes him, gripes about it nonstop, and makes oblique threats about his opposers getting what's coming to them — he's probably the one I need to watch my phone use around. Ironically, he devours phone minutes while manspreading in his seat, taking up as much of everyone else's space and time as possible. The worst part is that he's not even just one person. There are several of him in this wing, with different names, in different cells. He's all over the place, there are just fewer hims in other wings.

I'd prefer to not be in the wing with him — with any of these creeps — at all. Once I change jobs, I can live on the opposite side of the prison again. So I solicited Hopper's thoughts on the matter. He's the best cellmate I've had here, after all, and I'd like to keep him a while longer. When I asked what he thought of requesting a move elsewhere, he was unequivocal. We're staying in 1A. Creeps or no creeps, moving seriously sucks.

13 February, 2019

Places I’ve Been

To shut our eyes is Travel — EMILY DICKINSON

I go so many places. I can understand why you might be jealous.

Just last week I was in Berlin, this perfect little third-floor apartment off Alexanderplatz, writing late into the mornings, fueled by bottomless cups of fragrant black coffee. Sunrises spilling over rooftops and updrafts of diesel fumes from below were my cream and sugar. I go there often.

A while before that, I was in, of all places, the Australian desert, following the straight-as-a-plumb-line highway north from Sydney in a rental car. Road trains whipped past like giant mythological pachyderms, their two- and three-trailer tails roaring terribly. My father was there. He drove. We passed the time in silence, mostly, but there’d be occasional moments of mild excitement when one of us would spot a bend on the faraway horizon — a shift of a few meager degrees in the road’s direction — and say something with mock-delight about the sudden variety. The trip was an echo of the one we took when I was eleven and we came to Oz for Christmas: we drove to visit the Great Barrier Reef, just he and I, and besides the accident that burned my hand and took us to the emergency room, it was perfect.

I’ve trekked through the forests of Hokkaido, communing with the spirit of the Japanese wild. I’ve flown over the Mongolian steppes with my mother, thousands of feet above where hordes once led their hard, nomadic lives under the Golden King. I’ve stalked the midnight streets of London, ascended narrow footpaths to secluded Alpine retreats, and watched ghost crabs scuttle along moonlit beachfront while cool Caribbean breezes treated my skin.

I’ve done these things, and so much else, without leaving my prison cell. Although the scenery here sucks, my mind encompasses a number of universes, each more enticing than the last. It’d be wasteful to sit dwelling on reality.