My cellie went to seg, and I couldn’t have been happier. He was loud, lazy, obnoxious, messy, and he stank of sour body odor. Rarely a day passed that didn’t find me biting my tongue and swallowing my ire over his constantly grating behavior and personality. Oftentimes I longed to take all of my aggression and frustration out on his sneering face. His leaving also meant that, after nearly two years of banishment to the top bunk, I was finally going to be back on the bottom bunk where I felt that I truly belonged, and where life was so much better.
This was Friday evening and my elation lasted through the weekend as the bunk that I had vacated remained empty. Monday afternoon sent a tremor of anxious fear through my core when I found out that Luigi would be moving into the cell within the next few hours. Luigi was coming out of seg which is never a good sign. In fact he had lived in the building prior to his stint in seg. The last time I had seen Luigi he’d been beating another man with his fists.
It happened as I stood in line outside the chow hall after having eaten. The day was frigid and just past noon. The grass was covered in a thick carpet of snow that had fallen a few days previous—the walk had never been shoveled clear, so it was a slick layer of snow and ice stomped down by the feet of hundreds of inmates. I was standing with my shoulders hunched against the arctic winds, swaying from foot to foot to further combat the cold, and beginning to feel numbness my poorly protected legs. Luigi pushed his wiry frame past me in line, but I thought nothing of it. He did, however, catch my attention when he sped up and tackled a guy standing ten feet in front of me.
Luigi caught him entirely unaware and he went down hard face first into the largely untouched patch of snow next to the sidewalk. When he struggled to roll over onto his back in order to defend himself, Luigi backed off just enough to let him perform the maneuver, but this wasn’t done out of mercy or some noble sense of fairness. It put him right where Luigi wanted him.
Luigi straddled the chest of his supine opponent and set to pummeling him about the head and chest. It was a slaughter. The guy on his back managed to raise his arms in meagre defense, but it didn’t help him much. Luigi delivered an unending cascade of fists that connected solidly with flesh eighty percent of the time. When Luigi’s assault was unsuccessful it deflected off a defensive limb and punched the snowy ground on either side of his victim’s head.
Luigi was an unfaltering machine. Left, right, left, right. Again and again and again. Snow flew skyward with each misplaced mortar blast of Luigi’s fists. It took far too long for one of the ten security staff members in the immediate vicinity to intervene and pull Luigi off. By the end Luigi had been striking a defenseless man who was only barely clinging to consciousness.
I’ve with and among violent men for years and have largely learned how to move through their ranks unscathed. Knowing that Luigi would be joining my six-man cell had me appropriately fearful because I had heard through the prison grapevine what the inciting spark was which led to the fight outside the chow hall.
Apparently, in the earlier morning hours the day of the fight, Luigi had argued with his soon to be enemy. Voices were raised, threats were made, but tempered simmered for a while before boiling over in the snow. The argument had been over the use of the bathroom. Or perhaps it could be better phrased as what Luigi perceived to be the other man’s over use of the bathroom. With sixteen men all trying to use one toilet and sink for their morning eliminations and ablutions it was inevitable for people to get in each other’s way. Luigi severely beat a man for getting in his way. If that was how he operated, then I was flat-out screwed.
My six-man cell shared a bathroom with an adjacent three-man cell. Nine men, one toilet. Much better than sixteen men, but it could still be a challenge. My deepest reservations were rooted in the fact that I had serious bladder control issues. I was notorious for it amongst my cellies. For years all of my various cellies who came and went noticed and commented on it. To compound this, I’m also an early riser, and at the time I had a job which meant I had to be ready to leave first thing in the morning. All of this conspired to put me in the bathroom multiple times throughout the three or four hours from the time I wake until the time I left for work. I had visions of Luigi berating and beating me while my weak bladder wept its pathetic contents into my boxer shorts. I braced myself for the arrival of this bully as best I could, and cut back my fluid intake as an added precaution.
Very quickly I found Luigi a fun, funny, good-natured guy. Hearing his account of what led to his snow-fight led me to concede that I could certainly understand how he was pushed to the breaking point. According to Luigi, he had been denied access to the bathroom for well over an hour as he repeatedly knocked on the door. The men on the other side ignored him and let each other take their own turns. This was a situation that had been persisting for weeks. When Luigi later tried to speak rationally to them about mutual respect and consideration, they ridiculed, insulted, and belittled him. The man upon whom Luigi would eventually heap all of his ire went too far as to call into question Luigi’s manhood and then threaten him with bodily harm. Luigi ended up beating him to the punch. Both literally and figuratively. A straightforward circumstance of prison justice. Archaic and skewed it may be, but there’s also a sideways logic and symmetry to it. For every action there is an opposite, not necessarily equal, reaction.
Faulty First Impression
Luigi and I never had any issues over bathroom usage. We cellied together for years and became good friends. It turned out that my first impression of him had been formed upon seeing him at one of his worst, lowest moments of self-control. I’m thankful that in all the time that I lived with and knew Luigi I never again had to witness that other side of him.