Everything was different at the Local Parole Unit (LPU). The only thing that resembled being in prison were the head counts. We still needed to be accounted for twice a day.
The guards would come through the barracks once in the morning and once in the evening to verify that we were all still present. Otherwise it felt like I was back in the Army, except with a sense of peace.
My bunkmate liked to sleep on the top bunk. With my being new, I thought for sure I would get stuck with the top. But luckily for me he told me to take the bottom one. He seemed pretty easy going, but he had this one strange daily custom. When ironing his uniform every morning, he would place an adult magazine and at the end of the ironing board and talk to it like it was his girlfriend or wife. When he finished ironing, he would kiss the magazine and say: “I’ll see you when I get back from work.” He had been at the DB for twelve years.
He told me that he used to be an Air Force cop but that he was an alcoholic. One night after drinking heavily and blacking out, he woke up in jail. Someone else was talking about the night before and that they heard two people had been shot. He wondered who they were talking about and found out it was him. He had shot and killed his Commander and his Flight Sergeant while drunk and couldn’t recall anything. There was no way to know for sure if he was telling the truth about not remembering, but he was serving time for a double homicide. He was so calm though and you never would have known that he had been a murderer.
One of the Trustees across from my area was a former Army Ranger Officer. They kept the former Officers separate in the DB, but not out here. In conversation I found out that he was in charge of the team that stormed Manuel Noriega’s house in Panama during Operation Just Cause. He had affair and was in prison for adultery. He knew that had screwed up, however he was frustrated with the Army for putting him in prison. The weird thing was that even in his anger towards the situation, he talked in such peaceful tones. This seemed to be a theme at the LPU.
Some of the guys I knew from 3 Wing and B-6 were in my building. The rest of the population was a mixture of guys from all the other Wings and B-5 Minimum Custody. People talked and had conversations but it was never loud. I’m not sure if it was the acoustics of the building or just that everyone enjoyed the peace and quiet. Either way, I didn’t care, I was just glad to be in a place where I finally didn’t feel like I was going to explode.
Eventually, I figured out that the average Trustee had worked very hard to earn this level of custody. There really was nothing worth going back inside the walls for. This kept everyone very calm. When doing laundry, if your clothes were dry and you weren’t there to get them out, you would usually find your clothes folded on top of the dryer. Not every time, but enough for me to remember. There just seemed to be a level of respect that was pretty rare at the Castle. Minimum Custody was similar, but only on a smaller scale.
Even working in the mess hall wasn’t that bad. There were windows around the entire building with sunlight coming in all day. It felt more open and spacious, even though it was smaller than the 3-Wing mess hall. It was such a change of scenery. Working inside the 3-Wing mess hall was working inside walls, within the wing walls, within the Castle walls, inside the big wall surrounding everything. No outside light could penetrate into the bowels of the DB.
When I opened the screen door to get inside it took me back to some of the kids summer camps I attended in my youth. Inside there were booths as well as table and chair setups. In the middle of the dining area sat a pretty nice salad bar. This was something that we didn’t have inside the walls. The whole thing had a country diner feel to it. To the left was the kitchen and serving area. Fully stocked with all the equipment needed to cook for all the Trustees at the LPU. Out here we all pitched in to help. Everyone took turns doing some of the dirty work which was nice. We all worked together as a team. Once again, much different than inside the walls.
One Trustee would generally be sort of a shift manager. This was usually based on experience. The guy who ran my shift had been a Chef in the Air Force for twenty years before he was sent to the DB. None of us knew what he had done to end up in prison, but he was well respected for his knowledge and experience. He loved cooking and always was willing to teach us how to do things. The food tasted so much better out here.
It could have been due to the shift leader.
It could have been newly acquired lease on life.
Or, it could have been just been psychological.
Once all the work was done and we had some down time, I would open the back door to the kitchen and sit on the steps. Mostly to just take in the clean air and watch the trees sway gently in the wind. Many leaves in a variety of colors, would break free and drift to the ground as the season began to change.
I began to notice small ground squirrels with long stripes and alternating rows of dots that ran down their backs. They would scurry out of the woods and come up to the steps. If I sat still enough they would come up to me to investigate by standing on their hind legs. They would stare at me and it looked like they were begging for food. Not sure why they intrigued me so much, but I thought it was cool that they came so close. So I made sure to take some crackers or some cheese with me on break. If I held it out, they would come take it out of my hand and scamper off a bit.
Then they would turn around with a look in their eyes as if to say thanks.
These were some of my favorite moments.
It seemed as if I could lose myself into another place or time.
Peace (Click To Tweet)