Prison was full of uncomfortable situations.
As I made my way down the staircase with all the other inmates from the eighth tier, I quickly realized that being that high up meant that we were last in line for chow. The line was long with over two hundred inmates all wanting to eat. I also noticed that many inmates had placed their folding chairs and headphones in front of one of the six TV’s, securing themselves a place to watch shows after they were done eating. There were guards at the entrance and exits to the dining facility.
As inmates were coming out, the exit guard had each one assume the shake-down position and were frisked for silverware. The other thing I noticed was that some inmates would saunter out of their cells whenever they wanted and would just cut in front of everyone. The inmates that let the people cut seemed to be in groups together. This was very frustrating. You heard people grumbling, but no one said anything or did anything. I definitely wasn’t going to. The cutters did seem to try to hide it from the guards though.
Knowing that I was assigned to the work in the dining facility, I paid attention as I walked through the entrance. I grabbed a tray and went through the food line. All the food was standard Army chow and looked pretty good. There were two choices of meat and as well multiple side items. Short order like hamburgers, hot dogs and sometimes fried chicken was also served with fries.
Once I went through the line, I walked through an entrance into the dining area. There was a beverage area that had soda, milk and coffee. Also there was a large silverware rack that had metal utensils. To this day I am still baffled by the fact they allowed inmates to have forks and knives. I grabbed my drink and silverware placed them on the tray with my food and looked for a place to sit. I don’t remember who I sat with the first time, I just noticed a few people that I did not want to sit with, or seemed like they did not want me to sit with them.
So I ate, dumped my tray, placed my silverware in the respective bins and headed towards the exit guard and assumed the position. Getting frisked was something that I was beginning to get used to, but at the same time, was not something that I liked at all. They guards always stood behind us and then ran their hands across our arms, underarms, sides, waist, with a focus on the pockets of the shirt and pants. Then they would go down both legs and ankles, with a brief groin check.
As I re-entered the wing I noticed a line of inmates forming to the left of the sliding exit gate. This is where we had to wait for any evening classes. It was Friday night and I didn’t have to go to NA until Tuesday night. You could tell what crime an inmate committed by what classes they went to. Before the guards would open the gate, they would call out over the intercom the name of the class to get everyone down there.
Some of them were obvious like NA and AA. I don’t remember the others but the one that sticks out was R-4. This class was for child sex offenders, I guess they didn’t want to announce that and so they called it R-4. These inmates were maliciously called “Chester” short for “Chester the molester.”
There were inmates who were in the DB for so many different reasons, some rough statistics of my new neighbors; 500 for sex crimes including 350 for rape 250 drugs, 150 larceny, 100 assault and 250 homicide including several on death row. One inmate had been there for just over twenty years for murdering his wife. Considering that I was twenty years old, this was crazy for me to process. Another had been sent straight from Vietnam for shooting his commander.
Also there were inmates that had been court-martialed for crimes that did not have a civilian equivalent. AWOL was a crime. One inmate was there because he was an officer and he dated an enlisted female, he called himself the “convicted dater.” There were inmates in the DB for being gay, this was prior to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I knew of a couple guys that were convicted of adultery, a couple that were convicted of arson and the two for sure, that were convicted of espionage.
Weird thing was, it didn’t even matter what class you took or what line you stood in, when you got to the DB, everyone knew why you were there. Somehow it just made it through the grapevine. Not only did they know why you were there, they knew if you had snitched on another inmate. This made it hard to connect because no one trusted you. Since it was known that I had testified against Captain Tessler, I was in this position.
The cell doors didn’t close again until the “lights out” call at 10:30 pm on weekdays and 1:00 am on weekends. Inmates played ping pong, dominoes, watched TV, or socialized with each other to pass the time. Some of the socializing happened on the main floor or on the tiers. You could stand on the tiers outside of your own cell and talk. You were not supposed to be on anyone else’s tier and you were not allowed to be in anyone else’s cell ever. I decided to just go back up to my cell grab my stuff to take a shower and then come back down.
The showers were on the left side of the wing. In the place where the first four or five ground level cells should have been was an open tiled shower stall. It had a bunch of shower heads but I can’t remember how many. It could have been between, eight to twelve. Some inmates were in the large stall taking showers. Other inmates were waiting their turn. Across from the showers were some inmates sitting at the metal tables playing dominoes and card games.
Once it was my turn, I got in and I noticed that the inmates that seemed like they were playing games were actually paying more attention to those of us that were in the shower. Feeling very vulnerable, I moved a lot quicker and got the heck out of there as fast as possible. Deciding not to take the time to get dressed, I just wrapped my towel around me, grabbed my stuff and went back to my cell.
Deciding to stay in my cell the rest of the night, I wrote letters since, I still hadn’t really made any connections yet. I definitely was not trying to make any connections at the showers. I mentioned before that prison is loud. You have no idea. Maybe it was the way the sound echoed off the walls but every single noise was building on top of each other.
The sounds of; metal folding chairs opening and closing, dominoes being slammed onto metal tables, inmates winning or losing games, over two hundred inmates talking to each other or talk over each other, inmates singing songs, inmates who thought they were still in the military singing cadences. All at the same time, all night long. At times it was maddening, other times I just zoned out to avoid the impending anxiety or panic attack.
A little before 1:00 am, the guards counted down, “Lock down” in ten minutes.” There was a five minute warning and then once again an announcement of, “Lock down, lock down.” The sound of a couple hundred sliding metal prison doors slamming shut, securing us all in our cells was ominous, but comforting to me on this night. The last thing I heard from the guards was, “Lights out.” The lights went out but the noise did not stop, inmates talked and such for at least another hour before the noise level in the cell block finally died down.
The 5 am wakeup call would come quickly.
Next post, a warning…
Uncomfortable Situations (Click to Tweet)