25 February, 2022

Sunrise, Sunset

They clouded one's vision with red, or they practically deafened you with riotous orange. Some sweetened the world with honey and gold. Still others spanned the sky in thick waves of vermillion, violet, and peach so vibrant as to make a person weep with joy at witnessing such beauty. I remember the best sunsets.

All of them were seen in Picnic Point, New South Wales, Australia, the suburb of Sydney, where I lived from ages ten to eleven. I was a lucky kid. Just a few hundred paces down the street from my house was the perfect place to sit and watch the day dwindle. A stand of trees terminated abruptly at a cliff face overlooking a couple of tennis courts. Young Byron rode his bike down there at least a couple of times each week. A particular weatherbeaten boulder offered a perfectly butt-shaped contour for watching the sky-show.

On a different bluff, halfway around the planet and a number of years later, friends and I sometimes watched the sun come up over Kansas City railyards. We called the place Pendergast Point, because of a statue of renowned Kansas Citian William Pendergast that stood there. Its actual name was Case Park, but I didn't learn that until years later, when a fit of reminiscence prompted someone I know to google the location. It had been a place for lookouts. Because of an elbow in the Missouri River to the north, Civil War soldiers – and, before them, watchful Native Americans – could see for miles up- and downstream.

Case Park's wrought-iron benches sat all in an arc along what felt like the literal edge of the city. The kind of steep embankment that only an earlier, less litigious age would leave unfenced looked down at humming patches of interstate. After a very long night of activity, a couple, sometimes a handful, of young adults could sit there and be soothed by the gentle rise of another day. We sat in silence as the sun came up before our eyes. Its amber glow rimmed the hills surrounding railyards and reflected off the tracks, like veins of gold crisscrossing the city that we called home. The sunrise was our curtain drawn, the end of our revels.

While awaiting trial for first-degree murder, my neighbor in the county jail was a grizzled biker who went by "Frenchie." He'd shot a man dead for sleeping with his girlfriend, then beat and kicked the body until his own boot flew off. It was hard to make that violent image of drunken-rage Frenchie jibe with the man I ate meals and watched Survivor: Africa with. He had showed me pictures of himself snuggled up on the couch with Rootin' Rudy, his potbellied pig, and with the son he was so proud of. I watched him break down in tears, saying, "I'll never get to watch another sunset."

Years after our legal ordeals ended, Frenchie and I stood on the yard at Crossroads Correctional Center, where we both ended up, and I pointed to the sky. "Remember when...," I asked him, and he nodded. Through the chain link and razor wire, we saw the sun glowing poppy red at the horizon. It dipped lower and lower as we watched. I thought of Australia. I thought of friends come and gone. When the announcement came that the yards were closed, neither Frenchie nor I moved right away. We waited, each lost in his own thoughts, until the just-right moment came. When it came, we went.

09 February, 2022

Recovering from Lockdown

Three days without a shower, without a hot meal, without talking or writing to anyone beyond my cell, could've been much worse. After multiple incidents of multiple stabbings last week, the shit really hit the fan on Monday. Rumor had it that a staff member was assaulted in one of the GP houses. The prison administration decided to put a hold on the violence, halting all prisoner movement and communication for an indeterminate period of time.

To be sure, with all of us locked up tight, eating brown-bag meals, taking medication delivered to our own doorways, taking birdbaths (if cleaning ourselves up at all) in our sinks, further assaults were unlikely. Lockdowns are temporary solutions, of course. As soon as everyone is cut loose again, pandemonium can return. Thus came the goon squad.

On day two of our hermitage, I discovered that the toilet wouldn't flush. This is standard practice for shakedowns, so no one can use the commode to dispose of anything. I woke my cellmate with the news of impending havoc, and we braced for impact.

With predictable recklessness, black-clad guards from prisons all around the state descended on every wing of every housing unit here and wrecked up the joint but good. Their search objectives were, ostensibly, drugs and dangerous contraband. So-called nuisance contraband left with them too – empty bottles and boxes, hooks and pictures hung to walls, expired medication, and most anything stockpiled by the hoarders among us. They also emptied everyone's trash, which was nice.

We found the cell a mess, however, when they allowed us back into it. My typewriter lay under his bath towel, on his bunk. One of his dirty socks was in one of the bowls I eat out of. My shelf of canteen foodstuffs looked to have been churned – stuff from the back was at the front, and stuff from the front was in the back. I was glad not to have left any open containers there.

The rest of the days passed. I finished reading a book, then read two more. For the first time since we got JPay tablets, in 2018, the administration had deliberately turned off the prison's Wi-Fi. (How strange that concept seems!) I decided against banking e-mails to send whenever this was over. By then I could more fully explain what happened. The app deletes message drafts older than twenty-four hours, anyway.

There was a local news report about the incident, although I didn't see it. I officially rescinded my news blackout a couple of years ago, but I still don't often watch. I figure that anything important or relevant will filter down to me eventually. In this case, on our first day of relative freedom, when wings were released to breakfast one walk at a time, a neighbor sat at my table and shared what he'd seen reported: that it hadn't just been a regular assault, that someone had stabbed a housing unit manager who was now in the hospital. I used to be in a wing with the guy who did it. My opinion was that he was unstable, so I kept a good distance between us. It looks like I won't have to worry about that anymore; he's going to disappear for a while.

What might today bring for the rest of us? The Wi-Fi's back on, which is a good sign. Laundry, canteen, and factory workers were called back to their jobs. Some words about showers were muttered by a guard at breakfast, but that's still speculatory. I'm eager to get back to work, too, but I'm more excited about cleaning myself up. Birdbaths just don't do it for me.