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Thursday, December 1, 2016

All Our Times Have Come

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Dear Readers,

On behalf of all of us at Minutes Before Six, I would like to express our gratitude for your support and contributions. Those of you who comment on a regular basis ought to know that feedback means the world to us – the writers and the admin team.  To know we are being heard and to receive regular feedback is priceless.   The only way we know whether we are being heard is by you sharing your opinions, questions and thoughtful remarks, and for that we thank you. Please keep the dialogue flowing.

And to our faithful supporters who believe in Minutes Before Six enough to donate funds to support our project, you are our you are a ray of sunshine in a long winter.  You provide the element vital to our growth. You confirm that the work we do is valued.  You make what we continue to do possible and we are incredibly grateful to you.

Please know your continued support is necessary to the ongoing success of Minutes Before Six.  If you appreciate what you experience when you visit us, please leave a comment and/or make a donation.  And share MB6 with likeminded others.  And if you’d like to become further involved, we welcome new volunteers and fresh ideas.  And if you know an imprisoned writer or artist whose voice needs a platform, encourage them to submit their work to Minutes Before Six.    

If you’ve an interesting insight from one of our contributors in the past year, or were moved by a piece of art or writing, please consider reaching out to the writer or artist directly to let him know.  The holiday season is especially lonely for prisoners and being acknowledged by someone for something positive means a great deal.  Many of the Minutes Before Six contributors have very little family or financial support and a kind gesture would include them in a celebration that they typically observe from the outside.  Most prisoners can receive books from Amazon.com and funds via Jpay.com.  If you have questions about how to do this, please feel free to contact me at dina@minutesbeforesix.com

Again, a big thank you to those of you who have contributed to the growth and success of Minutes Before Six in 2016.  We couldn’t have done it without you.

Happy Holidays from all of us  -  

Dina Milito

A Word from Thomas Whitaker, founder of Minutes Before Six:

Learning something that you didn't know before is pretty neat, isn't it? Knowledge opens our eyes to the wonders of just how special all of this is. It can make us kinder to our planet and each other, more hesitant to jump to judgements or on to bandwagons, more accepting of nuance and differences. It is the single differentiating factor between the wise and the foolish, the rational and the ignorant. It's the antidote to a political season like we've just experienced, a piece of terra firma capable of supporting a weary soul that has spent the last year tossed about on a sea of absurdity. They may like to pretend that everything is just spin, but real knowledge eviscerates such con-jobs. I like to think that we here at Minutes Before Six are participants in that battle. Every contributor has different goals, different circumstances, but one thing we have in common is a shared desire to part the veils that law and tradition have erected to keep the people who pay for prison from actually knowing what their money buys. We're trying to show you a reality that isn't supposed to be seen, and to teach you something that our errors have taught us. For my part, before I ever came to this place, I never once wondered about why exactly it was necessary for prisons to be so hermetically sealed away from public scrutiny. It's a curious thing, don't you think, that a system built around the ideology of punishment-as-deterrent should be so secretive and censorious by nature? If punishment is meant to be didactic - We're going to hang Johnny here so as to teach Steve what not to do - doesn't that imply that it must be witnessed by someone? If the "obstacle-sign" must be clearly expressed and understood, who benefits from burying the punishment away from view? Who was "corrected" when they kicked my door in last Wednesday and sacked my cell over my recent essay on Donald Trump? Why would prisons across the country hate bloggers with a passion usually reserved for major gang figures?

This is a deeper question than you know. To illustrate why, let's take a brief walk back in time a bit. During the 18th Century, prisons in England were basically temporary waypoints for criminal defendants, a place to hold people until they were tried, executed, or exiled to America or Australia. The only individuals that stayed for long were debtors. The environments of these prisons were basically gothic nightmares: dungeons where prisoners of all types intermingled, oftentimes with their families at their sides. Every vice imaginable was sold there, usually by the administrators themselves. These were sites of filth, decay, and disease. So-called "gaol-fever" (typhus) was everywhere, a pestilence that often spilled out via the officers into the community at large. One outbreak in 1750 at the Old Bailey eventually killed a huge number of people outside the prison, including the Lord Mayor of London, two judges, an alderman, a lawyer, an undersheriff, and more than 40 jury members. Some prisons, like Clerkenwell, actually make Polunsky seem sort of pleasant by comparison.

Around the time the century ended and the Enlightenment was in full swing, ideas about incarceration underwent a huge shift. Principle among them was the concept of using punishment as a "technology of representation," to use the terminology of Michel Foucault. Under this view, punishment is a sort of theater of Signs. Punishment was to be natural and unarbitrary, and it should strike at the desire to commit crime, not attain vengeance. It is meant to be restorative for the prisoner, but more so for the audience, who begin to see the idea of crime redefined. A "crime-punishment" sign is reinforced via the use of public lessons; indeed, punishment was ideally handed out all through the city, so that the spectacle is disseminated outward to the maximum possible audience. The principle aims were to reintroduce the criminal to society via the transformative act of justice, and to view all involved as semiotic subjects whose "souls" were being written upon. These were very powerful ideas, held by cultural elites all over Europe and America. And yet, in less than 20 years, this ideology had been completely subverted by the concept of the prison, which is its polar opposite because it occludes punishment from public view. How did this happen?

I have a theory about this, which I will share with you in 2017. Suffice it to say that I don't think Foucault or any of his hundreds of acolytes have come anywhere close to actually answering this question; in fact, I think they very artfully dodged it because they can't find the answer they need in the discourse of penology. However it came to be, from the very earliest days of the modern prison in America, the rule has been to sever the life of the convict from that of the greater society - even when the stated object of prison is to ultimately return that convict back to society in an improved form. That which is done to us is not meant to be a lesson, merely a secret, and not just in physical terms. There are still many people in our country that don't want to know anything about what goes on behind these walls. They have been culturally programmed to accept the vaguest promises of administrators that what is done to us is exactly what we deserve, and not to fret about it. Clearly, most of you avoided this programming, but you must at least acknowledge that it exists. You may have once fought against it, slowly waking up to the realization that just maybe you ought not to drink the Kool-Aid and accept that these mini-tyrants had the best of intentions in mind. All of this is to show that when I argue that we contributors are fighting against a couple of centuries' worth of cultural norms, I am not talking nonsense. This is combat, and your brains are the field of battle.

We don't ask for much in response. This, I think, is a service to you, one that we don't charge a subscription fee for like a magazine. We don't hit you with annoying pop-up ads, or use algorithms to track your online habits. Last year, several of us (petitioned) you to consider leaving a comment every once in a while, if a submission impressed you. I am very appreciative that many of you continue to do this. It's always nice to get feedback, particularly when said feedback challenges my prior way of thinking about something. I'm going to go a step further and ask you to start sharing a link to MB6 on your social media accounts if you ever happen to feel a particular essay has special merit. I've read some really good pieces this year, and I hate the idea that they just sort of fall away into irrelevance as the months progress. My main goal for this site since it opened up to other writers was to build a platform that was reliable and stable. I think we've accomplished this. Going forward, I really want to try to improve the material existences of as many contributors as possible. Too many of us go to bed hungry at night, or have to scrape and hustle just to get the supplies we need in order to have our words read here. (These were written using a technically contraband ribbon, for instance.) Don't misread my intentions here: nobody is trying to get rich, live it up, whatever. The older I get, the less idealistic I seem to be. More and more I yearn simply to solve the smaller, more elemental problems of the world around me, and it has become increasingly difficult for me to believe in huge goals when my neighbor or friend is living the worst possible life imaginable. It's also harder to process kind words when I'm struggling with the base of Maslow's pyramid. We're all human. We need to eat, to stay clean. Words mean very little when these foundational matters are not secure. Please consider selecting one of the writers on this site and help them out a little. If you'd like to know how to do this, you can contact the curator of this site at: dina@minutesbeforesix.com. Barring that, please contribute to the site itself here to help with operational expenses.

If money is tight and you'd rather donate some time, we are currently looking for a few more volunteers to assist in the digitization of submissions. We are about at the point where we have enough incoming content to move to bi-weekly posts, but we simply don't have the staff. Your commitment would not take up a large chunk of time, maybe as little as an hour or so a month. But you'd be helping to give a voice to those that have been muzzled, a connection to those living in a world of alienation. You'd also effectively be helping us double the published material on this site, which I think most of you would consider to be a net positive. This position entails no direct contact with any inmates, only with administrators of the site itself. If this piques your interest, you can find out more by emailing: dina@minutesbeforesix.com.

Beyond that, momentum has been building for several years now in the movement for substantial criminal justice reform. It has gotten to the point where it is not just coastal intellectuals who are discussing this topic. I know that many of you do care about these matters, but have been unable to bring yourself to broach it with the people in your inner circle. Maybe it's time to do that, don't you think? You have the benefit of arguing for the side with all of the facts, and all of the inertia. Within all of the doom and gloom of this political season, it may appear at first glance impossible to defend the idea of redemption. I get that. I've found, however, that it's a lot easier than it seems, that truly redeemed people glow in a certain way that is easy to detect, and that we all on some level recognize the need for redemption. I feel like after being scoured by the last year of news, we are a people that have begun to protectively cradle our values, as if such things could be stolen from us. No one can take your goodness from you - it can only be given away. A value or a principle that is locked away in a safe is a value or principle that suffocates to death. That doesn't mean you have to believe everything anyone tells you. Fake redemption is just as real as the genuine article. I humbly suggest to you, however, that an inability to separate the two for fear of the former is worse than not believing in redemption at all - it's a sort of hypocrisy that professes an allegiance to grace but which never extends it. How do you tell the difference? The same way you separate fact from fiction in any other sphere: you test us. I think I speak for most of us on this site when I say that we're begging for that test, pleading to be able to show the distances we've traveled. I often wonder if the people that send me angry letters and emails truly believe that I'm the same person that I was at 23, or if they're simply terrified that their ideas of guilt and blame might be flawed. When someone tells you that prisoners can't change, that is not a statement of fact, it's the declaration of an ideology I think most of you reject. Test us. Test us again. Test us until you are satisfied. No one is ever exactly who we need them to be. At the same time, many of us are far more than what you'd expect, and I think it's as great a tragedy as can be imagined in this life if you get into the habit of allowing the former to poison your understanding of the latter.

Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 999522
Polunsky unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Steve Bartholomew 978300
WSRU
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

Libby Ray

Dorothy Ruelas

Maggie Macauley

Dina Milito


Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Riving

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By Chris Dankovich

A note from the writer: Not everyone who chooses to interact with prisoners treats us honestly . I originally wrote this piece a couple years ago, and it is a part of a story that is very close, personal, and difficult for me. Months ago, I was invited to write by editors at a criminal justice news organization, and submitted this piece after much internal deliberation. I had hoped that it would shed light on the issue of what a child going through the adult criminal justice system, and in particular one housed in solitary confinement, goes through (all the while expected to behave and defend themselves as a fully-educated, cognizant, responsible adult, despite no other circumstance where they would even be allowed to be treated as an adult).

The piece that was ultimately published was completely different from anything I had written. The headline, portrayed deliberately as if I had written it myself, screamed for the worst sort of attention. My story and voice were changed against my will, without permission. For reasons I will never understand, multiple sections were altered or removed entirely, making the story into something other than fact. And I wasn't even told by the publication. I found out when good friends of mine contacted me about it (as I do not have access to view the writing myself). I was humiliated and ashamed for having been so trusting. I complained directly, but ultimately, nothing was done.

I have chosen to publish my original story here because I still wish the same message about juveniles going through the adult world against their wills to be spread, and Minutes Before Six has earned my trust on a regular basis a place for me, or anyone incarcerated for any reason, to speak. I hope that you feel this piece, which is very personal to me, and that it allows you for a moment to see through the eyes of the thousands of children every year who have to go through exactly what I did.

The room was white, the walls were white, and the ceiling was white. The only object in the room, apart from the mattress on the floor (gray) was a stainless-steel toilet, which in the light reflected white. It was as if the humanity had been bleached from the room. Apart from the delivery of meals (spaced equal distances apart) when I could ask the time, only shadows could keep me company. There, to the right, a message written on a window: "100% Jamaican," written in toothpaste and feces. But remnants of a human being's thoughts are not the same as having the actual person around. Though there, and sometimes I could see someone move, I was alone.

I was in the "Hole." Someone said it was the "psychological Hole." As I sat there, sometimes thinking, sometimes staring at the wall, sometimes napping (because without knowledge of time passing there can be no true sleep), I wondered whether it was called that because this was where they put people who were crazy, or where they put people to make them so. Was there a distinction? Did those charged with caring for our safety and the safety of others care themselves? 

What happens when you protect a man, or a boy, physically, but deprive him of everything that makes him who he is? I had shed my tears for the past year, since my arrest, but here, having been sentenced -- to what to a 15 year old is life -- I could only feel anticipation for what was to come. For, from what I had heard about prison, with other people and the ability to walk around hanging out with friends if you make them and the razor inside your shaving razor if you don’t my life would be better than it was here, or than it had ever been before.

Because here I was, just sentenced to prison for longer than I had already lived, despite having been diagnosed as mentally ill by multiple psychologists and as insane by one of the world's leading forensic psychologists. But if the court would have listened to him, I refused to. (Remember being 15 and being told that you were wrong when you didn't believe so? Imagine being told that you, your brain, and your conception of reality and everything you know are wrong). So here I was, so crazy that I wouldn't plead crazy even though it meant I would have been a free person sooner.

When you are alone, truly alone, with no other distractions, the only things you can hear are the whispers of demons. Not real voices (well, sometimes you can almost actually hear them), but thoughts, ones that infect your mind, your sense of self, your sense of what is real. What you feel is determined by whether you listen (eventually, with no angel standing on your other shoulder, you will) and both your loyalty to and confidence in your previous interpretation of reality (and what you feel is what matters, for who we are and what we do, while they may be influenced by objective factors, are ultimately determined by emotion and belief). A moment of doubt, of hesitation, an impression of betrayal and you will travel down a road that forks into oblivion or infamy, melancholia or violence. For there is only so much a mind can bear, particularly when what it has to bear is unlimited nothingness. The fear of falling is generally the fear of landing at the end of a great fall, but the one thing more frightening is the abyss that may never end.

Is it possible to make someone crazy? In such a short time, no, at least not permanently. I could feel it welling up, though. Hypersensitivity occurred first -- I noticed the most subtle, alternating flickering of the white light, on a scale of one to ten, the difference between a 9.9 and 10-- as I struggled for input, lest my mind become solely occupied with what was inside. Patterns, faces, images appeared in the texture of the painted walls, next to minute stains that I hadn't noticed before, the origin of which I didn't want to consider. Then came broken thoughts, followed by boredom, followed by sleep. Then came delirium, the kind you feel with a fever, or in the middle of the night upon waking from a dream that didn't fully end, and you lie there trying to recapture it but instead your thoughts race and your heart races and you sweat and stay in that limbo of exhaustion and insomnia for hours. But this didn't end at daybreak.

As I lay there, blanket over my head, the pinpricks of light shining through the spaces between the threads (which, for a moment, I may have thought to be stars), or sat up staring at the wall, my hands, counting the bricks (how fast could I count them?), I imagined scenarios in my mind. There, outside my door's window, was the girl I used to talk to back in school, asking how I'm doing, coming to check on me. I blink, close my eyes, and I see my judge again and this time I can say what I want to him: some strange, soulful combination of "fuck you" and "please help me." There, at my friend's house, back in time (for fantasy exists outside its continuum), I pull him to the side and tell him to get rid of what he has that he shouldn't. Then, me, outside of myself, goes and tells my past me to avoid what is about to happen that already has.

What if I could change things? What if I could go back to this moment or that, a month, a year, or five in the past? Every scenario played in my head. I thought of the fight when I was seven, at the private swim club where some kid I had never met before asked if I wanted to fight and then held my head under water while I choked and flailed until a lifeguard pulled me up and kicked him out of the pool for an hour. I thought of when I went to the hospital on my eleventh birthday, after my mother had sucker punched me and threw me head-first into our living room's glass and wood coffee table. I thought of how the last year, spent in the high-security building of the county's juvenile detention facility, had been the best, and ironically, the freest year of my life, having spent the previous 15 years in a house with someone who had tried to molest me and who had kept my bedroom window nailed shut and barred me from going outside. I had the knowledge now of how everything could have been different, too long after it became impossible to change a thing. Despite all the thoughts and prayers it is possible to make, the forces of nature and the tides of time would not make an exception and change their direction just for me.

Despite differences in how it happens, reality still does affect the mentally riven. The impotence of my mind to produce any physical results in my position in space or time (not that I would have expected it to, if you would have asked. . . I'm not crazy like that...) changed the direction and purpose of these waking dreams. Soon I merely imagined a companion, someone to anesthetize my loneliness, my insecurities: a beautiful girl, with a name that I could whisper as if she were actually there (like Wilson the volleyball in the movie Castaway). A woman (for masculine energy, even if it is pathological, needs its compliment), imagined to be there with me to talk to, to hold, to hold me. Never actually seen (not for real), she was felt, my blanket piled next to me, my arm around it, or pulled tight around me and against my back.


Chris Dankovich 595904
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer MI 48446

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Biggest Loser

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A story by Timothy Pauley

Pony Morrow was a big lump of goo.  In fact, he´d picked up his nickname way back in juvenile detention because even as a teenager, his belly stuck out like a pony keg.  Now, pushing forty, it no longer resembled a pony keg, but rather, a full sized one.  Pony had given up trying to shake the name years ago when he realized he would never have the self-discipline to do anything about it.

Pony had two major skills. One of them was a remarkably ability to convert the dog food they fed prisoners into huge stores of body fat.  His work could be seen spilling over his belt, protruding off of his backside, and in rolls that had formed three extra chins below the one he was born with.  Even food that most prisoners considered inedible was fine with Pony.  In fact, he liked that the best because guys gave it away.

Pony´s other skill was annoying people.  He only liked to talk about two things.  The first was Pony Morrow.  He didn´t actually like to talk about the real Pony Morrow, but the fabricated version he had created in his mind.  He was a pimp.  He was a player, He was a high level drug dealer, an entrepreneur, gang leader.  You name it, Pony Morrow had done it.  He was a legend in his own mind.

The other thing he liked to talk about was what you could do for him.  Typically this would come on the heels of a monologue of his grandeur.  After telling you about his stable of prostitutes, he´d ask you for some food.  “Can I get a couple soups? My money´s a little slow this month.”  Something like that.  Failure to comply with his wishes would usually be met with, “sucka” or “trick” which he´d mutter as he shuffled away, toward his next target.

Usually, Pony´s routine went off without a hitch.  He was great at figuring out who might be receptive to his game and had a remarkable degree of success augmenting his diet in this way.  As long as the guards were even slightly lax, Pony would end the evening three or four ramen soup packets for his evening feast.  The problem was, Pony often was either unwilling or unable to discern when a particularly vigilant guard happened to be working.  On those occasions, the very act of someone handling Pony a soup was considered a crime.  This was trouble.

One evening Pony had just procured four soups.  He was feeling particularly proud of himself as he shuffled back to his cell to begin preparing his snack.  “You,” the guard shouted, pointing his extended arm and index finger directly at Pony.  “Stop right there,” Jensen shouted as he aggressively hurried toward Pony.  “I saw that,” Jensen said as he reached Pony.  “Give me that contraband and give me your ID card.”  Pony´s shoulders slumped momentarily as he realized this guard was trying to jack him for his food.  Just as quickly, though, he puffed out his chest and indignantly replied, “What for? I ain´t done nothing.”

Jensen was having none of that.  “I said give me that contraband and give me your ID card, right now!”  The angry guard extended his open palm towards Pony and waited.  Pony quickly considered his options.  No matter how this played out, he was going to bed hungry that night.  Dinner had sucked.  His stomach was rumbling already.  Now this sorry turnkey wanted his food.  Anger began welling up inside of him.

“This my food.” Pony shouted as he tucked his soups up against his ribs like a football and stuck his chin out toward the guard. “Give me that contraband right now or you´re going to segregation.” Jensen responded.  “Why you fuckin with me? This is my shit.” Pony replied, tucking his soups even tighter to his body.

The alarm sounded as Jensen keyed the mic on his radio. “We got one refusing in B upper.”  Pony knew this mean the good squad was now on the way to take him to segregation.  Not only was he going to lose his food, but he was going to be stuck in the hole where they really fed bad.  Pony reared back and began swinging his pudgy arms in kind of a windmill fashion as he stepped forward toward Jensen.  Before the soups hit the floor, Pony´s fists were bouncing off the sides of Jensen´s head, making a thwack sound each time he landed another blow.  Jensen was so shocked he had already absorbed several punches before he had the sense to step back and try to deflect the blows.

Moments later the goon squad came pouring into the unit.  They quickly pepper-sprayed Pony in the face, then tackled him to the floor and two more pulled his arms behind his back and tightened a set of handcuffs onto his wrists.  Even though Pony had quit struggling, they continued to press his face hard into the floor and jam their knees and elbows into any area that might cause him pain.

A few minutes later, they dragged Pony to the hole.  With a guard on each arm, they drug him face down across the floor and out of the unit.  His head banged against the door frame on the way out.  Once outside, they stood him up and twisted his arms high behind him, nearly dislocating his shoulders and causing him to bend forward as far as he could, as they began marching him to segregation.  Once in segregation, they pushed him into an empty cell and slammed the door behind him as Pony stumbled and fell face fist onto the concrete floor.

Once he was in the segregation cell, the guards were supposed to open the small cuff port on the door and permit Pony to put his hands in front of it so they could remove the cuffs.  But not when you assault a guard.  No, when that happens, you get to keep the cuffs for a while.  It wasn´t until the next morning when they finally removed Pony´s handcuffs.  He got this instead of breakfast. Instead of lunch they finally brought him his blankets and sheets.  By dinner Pony was in total meltdown.

Robbed of his evening snack, pepper sprayed, beat up, handcuffed for hours, left in a cell with no bedding, and denied breakfast and lunch was enough to turn a lump of goo like Pony into a quivering mass of incoherent rage.  Pony´s tenuous grasp on sanity was all but lost.

By the time the guards came by to push Pony´s dinner tray through the cuff port in his door, they found him drawing disturbing pictures all over the walls of his cell.  Only thing is, Pony wasn´t given anything to write with.  Upon closer inspection, they noticed a three inch long turd in his hand.  This was the actual drawing implement and Pony was wielding it like a crayon.  If there was any question, that was cleared up the moment they opened the slot in his door and the stench hit them.  The guard quickly thrust Pony´s dinner tray through the opening and slammed the door shut.

Pony continued to draw a giant pig with one hand while he reached into his tray and thrusting mashed potatoes into his mouth with the other.  Between bites Pony kept mumbling to himself.  The words were forming sentences that could only be deciphered by a thoroughly twisted mind, if that.

For the next six months this routine continued.  It was so bad the guards were becoming afraid of Pony.  Jensen hadn´t actually sustained any injuries, beyond a few bruises, so it was not Pony´s fighting ability.  It was the fact that he had completely lost it.  Who lives in a room where the walls are crude cave paintings made of feces?  Who reaches into his food with a hand encrusted with his own feces, then puts the mixture of food and feces in his mouth? How could anyone not find this unsettling?

Were it up to the guards, Pony would have remained locked in that room forever.  But it was not up to them.  Every few days they would be required to hand cuff him, place him in the shower, then hose out his cell.  Once he was cleaned up, Pony resumed his fecal festivities nearly the moment he was returned to his cell.

Then came the order.  It came from headquarters.  Mental patients were no longer kept in indefinite isolation.  It was decreed they would be returned to general population.  That meant Pony was getting out of the hole.

*************

Ski came to prison shortly after his eighteenth birthday.  He was convicted of murder and sentenced to twenty five years.  Upon his arrival, Ski fell in with a group of young men like himself, who had very little hope.  They amused themselves doing what many young men do in prison, acting like dumbasses.  That´s just what young guys do while they´re trying to wrap their minds around a hopeless situation.

Prison administrators like to put thing into neat cubbyholes.  They have a category or classification for everything, especially people.  When several guys hang out together and do things that draw attention, the default is to consider them a gang.  It didn´t take long for Ski and his friends to fall into that category.  Within a year they´d been declared STG or a “Security Threat Group”.

Ski was a smart kid.  He adjusted to his new reality more quickly than most.  As soon as he´d completed his five years of mandatory close custody, he was eligible to transfer to a medium custody prison.  This is somewhat unusual because it often takes a young long term prisoner longer to accumulate the necessary period of good behavior to qualify for such a transfer.  But Ski had done this and was soon on his way to a better place.

Ski ended up at a facility where he could enjoy a much higher quality of life.  The only problem came when he tried to get a job.  An STG designation is difficult to shake.  Once this is in a prisoner´s file, there is virtually nothing they can do to get it removed.  That meant that Ski was only eligible for a handful of jobs and, even then, could only hold a particular job for two years.  For his first job, Ski was on a paint crew with several other STGs.  It was a decent job and permitted him to have enough money to purchase the necessities like soap, toothpaste, and perhaps a little coffee.  But two years passed and Ski soon found himself unemployed once again.

The facility had four areas of STG jobs.  One was for blacks, one was for Hispanics, one was for whites, and one was mixed.  Being white, this meant Ski was only eligible for two of these areas.  Ski had friends on the mixed crew who kept trying to get him hired.  The only problem was that they were white too.  If Ski were hired, it would no longer be a mixed crew.  That left Ski with only one area.  Out of a couple hundred jobs, he was eligible for five.

T-dog had one of the five jobs.  When he was told he was transferring to camp soon, he put in a word for Ski.  Ski talked to the boss as well and was assured he would be able to have the job when T-dog left.  Ski was stoked about the prospect of finally having a job again.

The day T-dog left, Ski got the bad news.  Not only was he not getting the job, they were giving it to a black.  That meant they were violating their own rule.  Ski took this remarkable well.  He was a quiet well-spoken young man and he kept his disappointment to himself.  To those who knew him, however, it was obvious Ski was beginning to wonder when the cops would quite screwing him over.

The first day Pony Morrow took over, everyone was outraged.  Not only was Ski being screwed out of a job they´d promised him, but they´d given the job to a turd-eating lump of goo!

***********

Paul was sitting in the infirmary waiting room.  It was time for his yearly check-up.  He perused the collection of reading material and noticed a brochure about a new diet.  Paul was a bit of a health nut so he grabbed the brochure with great interest.  Within thirty seconds he was doubled over with laughter.

An hour later Paul was walking the prison yard with his good friend Marty.  Between the two of them they had logged about seventy years in prison.  This meant that, when it came to prison stuff, it was like they had ESP.  Paul pulled out the brochure and handed it to Marty.  He then looked at his watch.  Twenty-three seconds later Marty was doubled over with laughter.  The prison had a fancy name for it, but Marty immediately dubbed it “the goo diet,” and Marty knew just what to do with this.

The brochure described the goo diet as the exact same food currently being served, only less of it.  Instead of 3,000 calories each day, the goo diet was for 2,000.  No cookies or cupcakes for the goo diet.  It also described how those who were on the goo diet would not be permitted to purchase high calorie foods from the prison commissary either.  High calorie foods like soups, for example.  Then, on the back page was an application.

“So, who´re we putting on a diet?” Paul asked.  “I think we should help Ski,” Marty replied. “Pony Morrow is a big lump of goo.  This is perfect for him.”  The pair spent the next hour laughing about the new plan.  Ski didn´t know it, but help was on the way.

***************

Pony Morrow shuffled into the chow hall for breakfast.  He´d managed to regain all the weight he´d lost eating turds in segregation.  He´d accomplished this feat by eating everything in sight.  In fact, he liked to sit next to the dish pit so he could get the uneaten food people were going to throw away.

When they pushed his tray out the window, Pony just grabbed it and started walking away.  He got halfway to his seat when he noticed there was no muffin and only a half scoop of potatoes.  He went back to the window and accosted the guard.  “Where the rest of my shit?” he asked. “Move along. You know the rules. Once you leave the window it´s too late.  You´ve got to check your tray before you walk away.” The guard replied.

Pony knew that was how things worked.  He called the guard a punk then shuffled off to his table.  When he was done with his tray Pony began hawking the trays people were taking to the dish pit.  “Hey, lemme get those potatoes.” He said.  As the prisoner stopped and began extending his tray in Pony´s direction, another guard approached and ordered him to move along.  Pony was pissed.  “Yo, you killin my hustle you sorry assed bitch.” Pony spat.  “You´re done here, return to your cell.” The guard ordered.

A similar situation played out at lunch.  Then again at dinner.  Each time things were missing from Pony´s tray.  When he complained, the kitchen staff told him that was what he was supposed to get then the guard would shoo him away.  When he tried to get extras off other people´s trays, guards stopped him.  Even guards who had previously allowed him to do this.

Pony still managed to hustle up a few soups each night.  And this prison was great because they left the cell doors open for five minutes at a time.  Pony would wait until his neighbors left, then sneak into their cells and help himself to whatever they had.  But still, the chow hall situation was really bothering him.  They were cheating him.

The one thing Pony knew was that in a couple days commissary would be delivered.  When they told him they were giving him a job it was explained that all he had to do was show up and he´d get a full paycheck.  Some brilliant administrator had surmised they could negotiate the insanity out of him.  So Pony had ordered fifty dollars worth of junk food.  On Friday he´d have a feast.  That kept him from reacting too strongly to the chow hall harassment.  He wouldn´t get his commissary if he was sent to the hole.

Friday they began opening doors for the prisoners to pick up their commissary.  By the time Pony got out, there was already a line about forty long.  He didn´t care about that.  He just shuffled up to the front of the line and began talking to the first guy.  “Yo, you getting any soups? How bout candy bars? Can I get some?”  As the guy was telling him he couldn’t help him, the guy at the window stepped away with a big bag of groceries.  Pony broke off the conversation abruptly and stepped in front of the man he´d been talking to.  Amid a chorus of cursing and grumbling, Pony presented his ID card to the commissary lady and waited for his sack.

Pony was expecting a rather large sack of groceries.  Fifty bucks didn´t go as far as it used to, but still.  When the commissary lady returned to the window with a small paper bag, Pony immediately began protesting.  “That ain´t mines.  I gots a big sack.  Better go check.”  The commissary lady looked at the receipt on the bag, then at Pony´s ID card.  “No, this is it.” She replied.  “You want to check it?”

Pony tore open the bag.  Inside was a jar of hair grease and a note.  Pony grabbed the note and began to read.  The note was actually a form letter informing Pony that people on the medical diet were not permitted to order certain food items, so that part of his order was not going to be filled.  Anger welled up inside him, but even a guy as egocentric as Pony knew that there was nothing this woman could do for him.  He stomped away from the window to another chorus of jeers from the guys he´d cut in front of.  “Fuck ya all.” Pony shouted as he headed back to his cell.

*********

Doctor Topin hated prisoners.  Were it not for his only legal trouble, he´d never have taken a job at this prison.  When he´d finished rehab for his opiate addiction, however, nobody else would hire him.

Each time someone miscreant sat opposite his desk and asked for something, Topin wondered to himself why they ever stopped using stocks, whippings, and hangings in the public square.  He needed the money though, so he at least had to pretend to care.  But he didn´t pretend very well.

When Topin looked up to see Morrow walking in the door to his office, he was sure this guy would have some laundry list of goods and services he wanted.  “Not today, and not from me.” Topin thought as Morrow took a seat across from him.

“What are you here for tod…” Topin started to say, but was cut off abruptly by Morrow. “Yo, ya all gots me on this fucked up diet and I don´t play that shit.  I eats what I wants.” Pony said.  This was certainly not what Topin expected to hear.  He wouldn´t be able to just shoo this one away.  He´d actually have to look in his file.  What a pain in the ass he thought.

Topin picked up the notebook containing Pony Morrow´s medical records.  He opened it to the tab where dietary information should be and immediately noticed the order for a medical diet.  Topin glanced up and it was obvious to him that the man in front of him was at least a hundred pounds overweight.  That meant he didn´t need to look any further.  Obviously this man needed to be on a diet.  Instead of turning the page to see the application for this diet that had purportedly come from Pony, Topin assumed another doctor had ordered the diet.

“Your diet is appropriate for your condition.” Topin said.  “If you want to be taken off this diet, you´re going to need to lose some weight.  A lot of it.”  Topin sat back in his chair with a blank expression on his face waiting for Pony to get up and leave.

Pony´s eyes narrowed as the message sunk in.  “You punk assed bitch!” Pony shouted as he grabbed the edge of Topin´s desk and tipped it over.  Topin tried to jump back but the edge of his desk landed squarely on his left foot, smashing it to the floor.  Once he realized what he´d done, Pony ran out of the office.  He made it to the front door just as the goon squad arrived to take him down.

*************

 Two broken toes was the diagnosis at the emergency room.  Topin hobbled out with cane, a fresh prescription of Vicodin, and an excuse to stay away from the prison for a little while.  He headed home and within an hour had settled into a pleasant drug induced euphoria.

In fact, Topin burned through his Vicodin in record time.  It was the best four days in recent memory.  But the day his script ran out, Topin fell into a panic.  By evening he felt so bad Topin resolved to return to work the next day, just to get his hands on a prescription pad.

The next morning everyone was surprised to see Topin hobble in.  Having endured what he did, most people would take at least a couple weeks. But Topin didn´t last long.  He put a prescription pad in his pocket and promptly declared he had to go home.  His foot was still too bad to work.  Everyone understood and he collected many sympathetic assurances as he hobbled out.

An hour later Topin was back on his couch.  He had three fresh bottles of Vicodin and a listless smile plastered to his semi-conscious face.

*********

Ski was aware of the Pony Morrow meltdown.  No telling where he was, but after such a high profile incident, it was unlikely he´d be back.  That didn´t mean Ski would get the job, though.  They´d already apparently changed the race designation on that position, so it seemed like a long shot at best.

Later that day his door rolled open.  When Ski stuck his head out, the guard ordered him to report to the tower.  When he arrived, Ski was told he´d been hired and the tower guard describes his new duties to him.  As Ski turned away to begin his new job the guard said, “Hey, you don´t play with turds or anything, do you?”  Ski´s blank look was all he needed to see.  “Just checking.”

Timothy Pauley 273053
Washington State Reformatory Unit C315
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777