The next morning the cell doors opened up at 5:15 am. This was the normal wake up call. I got dressed in my brown uniform and went downstairs to eat in the dining facility. Not as many people were up and around because it was Saturday. Some inmates had to work so they were up and also there were the early risers. The food was great. They had bacon, sausage, eggs including omelets, pancakes, hash-browns, toast, oatmeal, etc. These were the choices every morning. If you keep inmates well fed, you have less problems. After eating and receiving my shake-down, courtesy of a guard, I re-entered the wing.
There were various things I could do to occupy my time. The DB had the largest library in the U.S. prison system. I could check out books if I wanted to. The athletic areas were much like a regular military installation. Outdoor recreation consisted of a softball field, a running track and weights. Weight lifting was very big at the DB and some of the inmates competed in body building competitions. Some inmates just went to outdoor recreation to be outside. The field was fenced and had razor wire as well as guard towers, manned with armed guards. We were only allowed to go out for two hours a day. If it was raining, no one could go outside. There was also an indoor recreation area consisting of a gym where you could play basketball and indoor weights.
At night the gym was turned into a theater and whatever movies were playing on post were rotated to the DB. If you went to the movie, you entered the gym which was set up with folding chairs. The gym was then locked so you had to stay there until the movie was over. No one could leave and there were plenty of guards around to maintain crowd control. This is what I did with the majority of the weekend evenings. The movies I saw were pretty current in the U.S. but would not make it to the bases in Europe for about six months. So I became an unofficial movie reviewer for my parents. I would give them advice on what to see and what not to see once it got to them.
None of the inmates that I knew from Fort Polk were in 3 Wing, so I had to just start some new relationships from scratch. I met a guy who said that he taught a guitar class and so I thought I would sign up for that. My dad played guitar and so I thought I might be good at it. It was an eight month course and it started in July. I had plenty of time to learn. I actually went to two classes and right away I could tell that my hands did not want to play guitar. It just wasn’t for me. However, this was a non-issue because the instructor was sent to solitary confinement in 4 Base, affectionately called, “the hole”. I don’t know what he did to get sent down there but the class was canceled.
Everyday a document was posted that had any custody or domicile changes listed on it. If you were moved up or down your name would be on it. Good conduct and passing a board would get you moved up. Bad conduct would get you moved down in custody or even sent to the hole. 4 Base was also used for protective custody. The document never stated why an inmate was reduced in custody however if two names were on there it usually was a fight or two inmates were found in a cell together. If only one name was on there it could be for any reason.
As I was walking around the right side of the wing, an inmate came up and introduced himself to me. His name was Charles Johnston and he said he needed to tell me something. We moved over by the wall near the wing entrance to be out of earshot of other inmates. Quietly he whispered, “You need to move down, right away.” Wondering what he meant by this I asked, “Why?” Again in a hushed tone he said, “You have been noticed and you are not safe on 8 Tier, especially on the left side of the wing.”
The wing seemed to be somewhat self-segregated. Charles was black and the left side of the wing seemed to be mostly of that persuasion. Because the showers were on that side of the wing, as I mentioned before, certain inmates positioned themselves there to watch other inmates in the showers. Skinny white boys were the favorite to observe. He overheard conversations, that prompted him, to inform me to move down. I thanked him and immediately made my way over to the guard cage to request a form allowing me to change cells.
The guard that I handed the form to, grabbed a master list and ran his finger down until he found an empty cell on 6 Tier. I was so relieved when he motioned to me, that it just happened to be on the right side of the wing. I ran up the staircase to my cell on 8 Tier, and packed up all my belongings. Making my way down to 6 Tier on the right side, I felt much safer already. My new cell was not too far from the back of the wing, but it was only the fourth tier up from the ground level. All my belongings were redistributed to their respective places and I organized my cell to regulation standards.
Even though I wasn’t really in the Army any more, I was still in the Army. Our cells were visually inspected daily and if it wasn’t right you could get written up. Randomly and unexpectedly our cells were completely searched in order to find contraband. Too many infractions for any reason would result in a Disciplinary and Action board. A variety of punishments could come from this board. Usually extra duty would be assigned or a loss in custody level. If an actual crime were committed, an inmate could be court-martialed again.
As far as church went, the DB catered to 14 different religions. This included various Protestant denominations, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even a Wicca service. On Sunday’s they held traditional Chapel services. I went to the Chapel for the Protestant service. The Army Chaplains that facilitated the services were rotated each Sunday. This meant, I would hear a calm tempered sermon on one Sunday. The next Sunday, what I listened to was so over the top that it might not have even been a sermon. Everything was so much different than what I grew up with. It was very disappointing and it didn’t feel right to me. But it was one more thing to get me out of 3 Wing, so I went anyways. There were also Bible studies happening before lunch, but I didn’t join any. Just wasn’t interested I guess.
As I look back, I feel like I was so arrogant to God. There were so many opportunities for me to interact with Him. Even when He made His presence known to me, I dismissed it or took Him for granted. It seems as if I only wanted a relationship on my terms or if I were in serious trouble. Even though I was reading the Bible, I couldn’t even tell you what it meant or what I was really reading. I think I was reading it just because I felt like I was supposed to.
Even though I was locked down, confined, with no where to go, I was still running…
Running from the One who could really set me free.
Next post, I run into someone from Fort Polk at the Academic Day School.
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