Reactions

“Am I in it?”

This was by far the predominant response from correctional officers after they found out about my book and website containing tales of my prison experiences. I had been thrown in Segregation and accused of several things including making prison staff look bad. After I’d been released from Seg and all charges were expunged I still expected to be vilified and targeted at every turn for my writings. Instead it seemed that many COs were genuinely curious while others curiosity had ulterior motives.

Query

The first time I saw CO Medet after my visit to Seg, he sidled up to me in the chow hall and asked his question in a confidential tone. His specific concern was whether I had chronicled the yelling match that had very nearly turned physical between him and CO Ralyon. I assured him that I had ever written about it. Two COs only screaming back and forth but almost boxing may have made for a good story, however it was the psychology behind the confrontation which I found more interesting.

Vitriol

CO Ralyon displayed his prejudice and racism like badges of honor. He freely and often slurred an inmate’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation. On one such occasion CO Ralyon verbally abused two transgender inmates. His language went far past merely unprofessional. It was filled with obvious disgust and ugly hate. No human being should have to be subjected to such undiluted vitriol. The two aggrieved inmates reported Ralyon.

Justified

The disagreement between Ralyon and Medet arouse largely Medet told the truth about the incident. He refused to lie on an official report in order to protect CO Ralyon. Obviously, the image of two officers nearly throwing punches is not great optics. However, the fact that a Neanderthal racist bigot like Ralyon is an employee of the Department of Corrections should shame the powers-that-be to no end. CO Medet was not only justified in feeling outrage over Ralyon’s behavior, but should feel a sense of pride in doing what was right even if it meant bucking the system and going against a fellow officer.

I told CO Medet that I’d never written anything about this incident. I suppose I can’t say that anymore.

A Despicable Side Note

Numerous lawsuits have been brought against CO Ralyon for his discrimination and harassment. In other circumstances his actions would be characterized as hate crimes. In this case a representative of the Attorney General of the state negotiated agreements to resolve lawsuits by paying several thousands of dollars to the complainants. CO Ralyon was placed in a different job assignment before eventually being promoted to a position where he works one-on-one with inmates to assist them in extremely personal and sensitive matters. Specifically he will have to interact with some of the same inmates who are actively suing him.  Grievances have already been submitted. I predict further lawsuits to come.

Some Others

Several COs, after asking their questions, were upfront about having checked out my writing, and were largely complimentary about the content and my talent. Officer Sum is one of the most easygoing, funny, fair, and cool COs I’ve ever come across. He told me not to write anything about him until after he retires. I told him I’d never seen him do anything to be worried or of which to be ashamed. CO Sum he wasn’t concerned about that, but rather he didn’t want it getting out how smooth and relatable a person he is—there was comedy in his retort, but truth as well.

Different Perspectives

CO Westin asked if I had written about him, and when I answered in the negative he followed with this: “Well, what do you write about? Nothing happens around here.” I’ve battled a similar sentiment both from without and within myself. I grinned slimly, knowingly, and tried to explain what I’ve written about as well as my general endeavor to provide an unvarnished glimpse into everyday prison life. His response left me both insulted and flabbergasted. “How can you write about being in prison when you’re not really in prison?”

When I stared at him, mouth agape, utterly dumbfounded, he explained himself. Apparently, to his mind, since I reside in the minimum-security portion of the prison and am not constantly locked behind a steel door, I’m not really in prison. CO Westin went on to declare that his job is basically that of a glorified babysitter and nothing much ever happens to make my life difficult, so therefore, I’m not really in prison. His comment that “nothing much ever happens” was a reference to fights and outbursts of violence. This provided me valuable insights into the inner workings of a Correctional Officers mind.

As calmly as possible I explained to CO Westin that, while I was afforded a certain degree of movement outside my cell, I’m still in prison since I can’t leave the building at will, and certainly cannot walk off the prison grounds at any time. He reluctantly agreed that was true, as if I had somehow caught him in a technicality. CO Westin seemed to have romanticized the idea of violence and confinement as how prison is meant to be. I didn’t bother wasting my breath on CO Westin by telling him that I had served nearly a decade of that constant confinement and abrupt violence, and that I didn’t believe for a second that officers like Westin would’ve lasted very long before becoming victims of the violence. I’m not advocating this, but his attitude would’ve made it an inevitability.

Best For Last

When I informed CO Lodes that I hadn’t written about him, he told me that I had changed his life forever. In a good way. It caught me off guard. His explanation of this rather provocative statement came swiftly and unsolicited. I had seen Officer Lodes in probably a year or more, and it felt like he had been just waiting anxiously to see me so he could tell me.

At one time I’d been heavily involved in practicing a ketogenic diet. It’s next to impossible with prison food and takes an enormous amount of willpower to maintain this high protein, high fat, low carb regiment. However when I stuck to it, I felt better and was losing weight. I confess I became something of an annoying proselyte of this dietary lifestyle, and it was in this capacity that I talked to CO Lodes. I loaned him my book which described in short no-nonsense chapters the whole science and history behind the keto life. Not long after that CO Lodes was moved to a different post within the prison, and as usual every few months or so, and I moved on with life—didn’t give it any more thought.

What CO Lodes later confessed was that after I had been the one to open his eyes, he became obsessed with the ketogenic lifestyle. He availed himself of the numerous resources, recipes, and communities that he found online, and immersed himself in the keto way. It became a huge part of his life, and he became an avid advocate. When his mother began experiencing health issues, he counseled her in changing her diet to ketogenic.

One of the primary effects of the ketogenic diet is a more stabilized blood sugar level absent the unhealthy spikes. Thankfully this helped his mother, and CO Lodes attributed her improved health to me because I turned him on to the ketogenic diet. I was quite literally rendered speechless by his effusive gratitude to me.

Overall

In hindsight my fears of retribution were largely unfounded. Most officers who admitted to having visited and read some of the content of this website tell me that they didn’t see anything wrong with it. Many nodded in agreement and had a good laugh over what they were reading. They said I captured prison life pretty well.

It seems that Correctional Officers are surprisingly more well read than I imagined. I suppose I will continue giving them something to read.

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Suckers

Personally, I never understood what the big deal was.

Labor of Love

As far as hustles go it wasn’t a particularly lucrative one since the cost for ingredients was rather considerable. Beyond that, the time and effort expended in gathering other essential materials, and then the actual mixing and manufacturing of the product, all made the entire endeavor more of a labor of love than a viable business model. And yet, everywhere I go, there is inevitably at least one enterprising individuals who is making homemade suckers.

Something Different

When I tried to explain these signature sweets to someone who had never spent any time in prison they just couldn’t understand what the appeal was. Since my sweet tooth has never been much for fruity flavored fare I’ve been a fan myself. However, the best I can explain, is that prison is a free market economy based on the law of supply and demand.

I have sold a bar of soap that cost me forty-five cents for two dollars. A buck-fifty bottle of shampoo went for a nickel (five dollars). When I bought the package of thirty hair-ties for a dollar sixty-five I was sporting a buzz cut and only intended to use them as rubber bands to hold sealed my partially eaten bag of chips or peanuts. Instead I sold the whole pack for fifteen dollars.

Why was any of this price gauging possible? Because I bought these items from another penitentiary, and they were all new and unavailable. The security of supply drove up demand and guys were throwing money at me. The quality or original price of the products didn’t matter one bit. They just wanted something different. So too when it came to these custom candies.

Confectionaries

Many of these candy makers derived a real pride from their work and take it extremely seriously. It’s not merely melting and mashing a couple candies together. First, one needs to find a mold to use. The most commonly by far is the butter cups given at most meals. They are perhaps a quarter inch deep and a little smaller than a silver dollar. They are collected, smuggled back to one’s cell, and cleaned. Some confectioners will melt all the flavors of candy into a massive mess of hot liquid sugar, while others take a more targeted and time consuming tactic by choosing two or three specific flavors to melt into what they perceive to be some kind of genius proprietary blend of taste sensations.

For many years I used to see a Q-tip, having been clipped of its fuzzy ends, stuck into the gooey concoction so that it hardened around the stick to create a proper sucker or lollipop. This has fallen out of fashion in recent years as consumers just want the sugar fix without the aesthetic affectation.

Constraints

The only things limiting any inventive sweet maker are the types of candy available for purchase on commissary, and the boundaries of their own imagination. Of course, with it being a business, and with one’s pride at stake, there can often be a healthy competitive aspect wherein the most unique or complex product is held in high esteem.

Varieties

Jolly Ranchers are sold at most every prison and are therefore usually the base for these bootleg bonbons. I have seen these melted and poured around a chewy chunk of now and later center. Spicy cinnamon fireballs have been used as a centerpiece atop the disc of reformed fruit candy. Powdered drink mix has been added to the recipe for color and flavor, and is often dusted across the surface of the finished product to make it less sticky and therefore easier to handle. Whatever the design, these treats are finally wrapped in squares of plastic garbage bag, tied off, and sold for fifty cents or a dollar depending on the size and complexity of the creation as well as market saturation. While these specialty items are completely harmless, they are, by any definition, most certainly contraband.

The Gunslinger

Any CO or other security staff member who has spent a year or more in corrections has most assuredly come across one of these manufactured morsels. Sergeant Shroder had close to thirty years on the job and seemed to gloat with a sickening satisfaction over his ability to flush out even the tiniest infraction of the rules. He moved with a stoop-shouldered, cock-hip shuffle with his hands at his sides like he was some kind of third-rate gunslinger in a B movie western. This cowboy impression was accentuated by the poor approximation of a bushy blond moustache. For some unknown but undoubtedly bizarre reason he managed to always smell like mustard. Shroder was universally disliked by the inmate population, and by all available accounts, he was viewed as a joke by many of his colleagues and had few fans amongst them.

Asinine

Each of the six men in the cell froze as Sergeant Shroder slowly ambled in with his congenial “Hello, gentlemen”, meant to disarm anyone who wasn’t already privy to his reputation. Slow in speech and manner, but his agile eyes missed little, and in this instance they fixed upon a couple colorful discs sitting on the shelf next to Flick, who was sitting on his bunk trying to project the perfect picture of innocence. Sergeant Shroder wasn’t buying it.

“What are these?” Shroder asked, cradling them in his palms and staring with a perplexed interest as if he had never before in his long DOC tenure encountered anything like them. Which, of course, he must surely had.

“Candy,” Flick replied with understandable unease and trepidation.

“They don’t sell these in commissary.”

“Ah, no. No. They’re . . . homemade.” Each word was distinct from the last, a verbal tiptoe through a minefield. Flick knew that the trap was set, but was helpless to do anything but play the scenario out.

“So you made it?” wily Shroder queried.

“Nope.”

“So then who made it?”

Flick was no snitch, so he replied not a word.

“Hmmm . . .” Sergeant Shroder examined the treats, making more inquisitive sounds and blowing exasperating breaths through the strands of his anemic stache before speaking again. “This looks like drugs to me.”

Flick’s face swiftly flipped through confusion and outrage before setting into acceptance that he was almost certainly screwed.

An Artisan

The name of the candy-maker in question began with the letter “S”, and he was one of Flick’s good buddies. Flick wasn’t about to rat him out, neither could he exactly dispute the fact that what Shroder held in his hand could be construed to somewhat resemble drugs. Fruit punch drink mix had been artfully swirled into the center of the colorful but largely translucent slab and could, theoretically, have been crushed up pills of some kind. Embedded into the surface of the candy was a single Skittle that had been painstakingly pressed into the confection as it began to harden so that the stamped “S” was clearly visible. It was the artisan’s signature. With a bit of stretch in logic and good sense it could also be perceived as a pill of some kind. The high quality craftsmanship of the candy was Flick’s undoing, but still he tried his best to dig himself out of a hole that Sergeant Shroder had thrown him in.

The Gunslinger Gets His Man 

“That’s not drugs, it’s just candy. Look, that’s a Skittle on top.”

“Well, I know you guys call pills Skittles sometimes. So, maybe it’s one of them kind. I’m no doctor.” Shroder was being deliberately dim, and it was working to get on Flick’s nerves.

“You don’t need to be a doctor,” Flick replied, not quite yelling, but almost. “It’s just candy, that’s all. Are you freaking kidding me!” Now he was yelling. “See look.” He snatched one of the sweets from Shroder, unwrapped it with a practiced twist and flip to deposit it on his tongue. “See? Candy,” he managed to mumble around the substantial chunk he had quickly shuttled into the hollow of his cheek.

Sergeant Shroder’s belligerent bullying ploy had worked, though in all likelihood once even the possibility of drugs was voiced, Flick was doomed to a seg-term, even if only for a brief time to investigate the “suspected illicit substance”.

Sergeant Shroder’s moustache twitched with delight as he smirked his satisfaction. “Destroying the evidence. That’s alright, I’ve got this other one.” Shroder’s fist closed around the second candy before dropping it into his shirt’s breast pocket. “We’ll see what this really is. Go ahead and turn around for me.” With that he reached for one of the four sets of handcuffs dangling from his belt, and in doing so, sealed Flick’s fate.

Fallout

This happened on a Friday, so Flick remained in segregation over a long holiday weekend. As soon as the details of the situation were heard by the adjustment committee and investigating officer on Tuesday, Flick was released and put right back into the same cell. Sergeant Shroder faced ridicule from all directions, but he received no type of censure for the egregious abuse of his authority.

Window Seat to Freedom

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My starving eyes saucered as they attempted to watch it all at once. They’d been deprived of simple beauty and had grown lazy on a steady diet of televised facsimiles. Freedom breezed past me at 55 miles per hour in the form of green fields, trees, farm-houses, and tiny communities littered sparsely across the land.

Traveling on the prison transfer bus is an especially hellish ordeal. The discomfort and disorientation that the ride places on a convict is exacerbated by the fact that most of the buses, except a few older models still in service, have a barrier of sheet metal where the windows should be. This allows only a thin trickle of light and air to come through a three-inch wide perforated portion of the metal that runs along the top of the side walls of the bus. Due to the restraints that weigh down an inmate in transit, it is difficult and painful to stand and look through this slim window on the world—not to mention illegal—and a C/O managing a transfer bus is quick to write a ticket. This barrier serves to keep the degenerate criminals within from glimpsing all that they’re missing, and the public from having to put actual human faces on the idea of incarceration.

photo by dan www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by dan
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

There is, however, a coveted seat that affords the weary convict a view during his travels.

In nearly all my transfers and writs, I was always seated somewhere close to the middle of the bus. It’s not like the C/O had asked for my opinion or let me choose a seat to my liking. Only once in twenty trips was I ever blessed to be placed in the one seat—at the front of the bus in the row of seats opposite the driver—that had bars across the window instead of the metal barrier. The bars did little to mar my view. The world I was so far removed from felt somehow foreign. I felt like a stranger moving through a strange land. In opposition to this vaguely unsettling notion rising within me, there was a welcome familiarity to my road trip.

In my youth, I’d traveled endless highways on family outings to visit distant relatives and to lay down roots in new towns. The idea of exodus and ease of movement is part of the bedrock and backbone of America. There is something especially inviting about an open road stretching out before us; it speaks to infinite possibilities and the freedom to come and go as we please. That freedom was taken from me by my own bad decisions. However, for a brief moment on the transfer bus, the highway spread out before me, and I got to watch from my window seat as the beautiful summer sun blazed down on the world. The view consumed me, the carriage that carried me was of no consequence, and I was just another sojourner in this life. For a few fleeting hours as I perched on my window seat, I transcended my tragically drab surroundings and found a sense of freedom, if not freedom itself.

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Razorblade Horace

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It was strange and surreal to have a selfless act of kindness return to try to stab me in the face.

As Horace swiped the razorblade toward my face, time seemed to slow momentarily, and I froze. It was obscenely surreal, this scene I’d suddenly found myself in the middle of, but even as the slim weapon swung ever closer to slicing me wide open, I couldn’t help thinking of the irony that I had actually provided Horace with the object he was attacking me with.

===

It was a big misunderstanding and miscommunication, really. Once tempers flare, though, none of that matters—especially when a blade becomes involved. Horace, besides being saddled with such an unusual and unfortunate name, looked like a caramelized Truman Capote. His voice even bore a similar, strangely effeminate lilt as the late Mr. Capote. These facts tended to make him appear less than formidable. That is, until he started swinging a razorblade at me.

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Before the excitement, I hadn’t been paying attention. My mind was a million miles away mulling over something or other as I was racing to the shower to beat the rush of post-yard would-be bathers. There was no sound of water running and no towel or other paraphernalia to indicate that anyone was in the shower. I counted this as a stroke of luck, so I pulled back the curtain on the nearest shower stall.

Horace was standing there, fully clothed, with a towel around his neck and a mesh bag of necessary shower accoutrements dangling on a string from his limp wrist. “Damn,” I exclaimed reflexively as my heart leapt into my neck and my pulse chased after. “That’s my bad. Sorry, man.”

I had only a passing but cordial acquaintance with Horace, mostly because he had been my neighbor briefly before he moved to another cell. With his demeanor, appearance, and voice, Horace was suspect by default. On top of that, I knew he had spent time in a part of the joint reserved only for those with serious mental health issues and that he was on the medline twice a day to get his skittles.

Armed with this knowledge, I didn’t believe his loitering in a shower stall to be in any way overtly egregious or malicious. Standing behind a shower curtain while fully clothed, as if lying in wait, is certainly considered odd, especially since homosexuals often use the showers for illicit carnal liaisons. However, since there hadn’t been any exposing of intimate bits involved in our brief interaction, I dismissed the whole thing as no big deal and moved on to the next shower stall.

It was my fault, and I took full responsibility for it. Unfortunately, Horace didn’t feel the same way. The situation quickly escalated.

What the hell is wrong with people?” he muttered, as if talking to himself, but plenty loud enough for me to hear. “I’m sick of all this fag stuff. People trying to catch a peek and pretend like they’re not. Nuthin’ but a bunch of fags here.” I was immediately offended and angry, and like a reflex I checked him.

Whoa, whoa, hold on; it was my fault, I said I was sorry. It’s my bad. But you can keep all of that homosexual stuff. I ain’t got nothing to do with it, and I don’t want to hear any more of your fag…”

YOU SONUVABITCH!!!”

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http://www.disposable-razor.com

His scream of rage was so loud and unexpected that it startled my flesh into goose bumps. My heart began banging angrily against the confines of my chest. Horace had left the shower and begun to walk away before I’d spoken up to defend myself, but after his outburst, he immediately dropped the bag then dropped to his knees like a penitent of some sort. Instead of reverent prayers, though, he let loose a torrential litany of anti-gay curses while rummaging through the meager belongings he’d brought to the shower. When he rose to his feet again, he was brandishing the razorblade.

I caught a glimpse of his weapon as he brought it to bear on me. He had secured one end into a piece of cardboard to act as a handle so he wouldn’t slice himself. It was a tiny thing and looked almost comically absurd pinched between his surprisingly meaty index finger, middle finger, and thumb. Small as it was, I knew how easily it could move through skin and the tissue beneath. But when Horace advanced on me, I just stared back, stuck to the floor.

Horace’s outburst had brought a few guys rushing to the area, one of whom was Horace’s cellie. He recognized the situation at a glance and stepped between me and the blade. In an authoritative but soothing tone, he talked Horace down from his intended act of violence, repeating Horace’s name several times to try and snap him back to a semblance of sanity. He had his hands up in a calming gesture that reminded me of a lion tamer, and I had the distinct sense that he had more than a little experience dealing with Horace’s unpredictable and disproportionate temper.

One of the other nosy lookie-loos grabbed my arm and gave me a tug. My feet followed along. It had all happened so fast that I was left flabbergasted. My dumbfounded state had been so complete that I suspect my face would’ve been ravaged into ribbons of flesh and rivulets of blood if Horace’s cellie hadn’t shown up.

I couldn’t shake the strange sensation that I had nearly been the architect of my own disfigurement.

When Horace had been my neighbor, he’d heard that my hustle was sewing and had inquired about how I cut my fabric. He fancied himself a bit of a sewer as well. Being a good neighbor, as an act of kindness, I provided him with a razorblade, since I had one I wasn’t using. If I’d known I’d be staring it down as it was waved menacingly by a man with a history of violence and mental illness, I might not have been so kind.

I steered clear of Horace after that, but only had to duck him for nine days because he was hauled to Seg for getting into a fight in the chow hall. In that instance, Horace proved to be far more formidable than his appearance belied—it took two white shirts and two sarges to pull him off his victim and subdue him. What was the fight about? What exactly set him off the second time? Someone compared the spilled milk on Horace’s shirt to ejaculate, insinuating that he had recently performed fellatio. The smart-mouthed idiot who said it needed stitches—and that was from damage inflicted only with fists. I shudder to think what Horace could have accomplished with his razorblade.

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Everything in Its Right Place

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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.

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Watching Anthony make his bed was almost hypnotic. I had a rough time looking away, mesmerized by my own bewilderment. Staring at the complex process, I couldn’t help but silently ask myself: What is wrong with this guy?

===

To say that Anthony is particular or fastidious is an affront to the English language. Neither description accurately describes the level of his neuroses when it comes to needing everything to be in its right place. His box and living area are obsessively organized, but nowhere are his anal-retentive proclivities more apparent than when he’s assembling his sleeping mat. It could almost be considered a thing of beauty, I think, if there wasn’t something so desperately sad about it.

He begins with a bare mat, with the thick plastic cover he has elected to keep on it, though many convicts illegally alter their mat by removing the cover and discreetly discarding it. The covers are uncomfortable, and in the heat of summer they manage to become both sticky and slick. Inspecting the mat carefully for imperfections, Anthony finally decides to flip the mat and then gives it a series of karate chops before kneading it rigorously, like he’s giving it a complicated and thorough massage.

photo by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.net
photo by David Castillo Dominici
freedigitalphotos.net

Once he’s satisfied the mat is properly rubbed down, Anthony takes a blanket and crisply folds it so it is precisely centered on the top of the mat—a half inch clearance on all four sides. Then he does it again with another blanket. And again. All these blankets make a thicker sleeping surface, and provide a place to hide the extra blankets, which are considered contraband. Next, having manhandled the metal bed away from the wall, he drapes a sheet over his top bunk and lets it settle over the sides, like a dainty tablecloth.

What follows always reminds me of a bizarre solo session of duck-duck-goose. Anthony starts moving around the bed—tugging, smoothing, tapping, and pulling at the sheet. Round and round he goes. Then, he darts back in the opposite direction, all while trying to ensure that the sheet hangs just right, with the same amount of material hanging on each side and at each end. This process takes close to ten minutes, during which he’s constantly crouching down then standing on tiptoes, to make tiny nudges and corrections. When he finally gets it laid out to his own personal specifications, Anthony tucks the long sides of the sheet under the mat, but always ends up pulling them back out several times to start over and smooth out wrinkles before trying the process again. Eventually he gets all four sides tucked in and the sheet corners at the foot and head of the bed tied together, so the mat is fully ensconced and the sheet secured to it. Anthony caresses his handiwork like it’s a longed-for lover, smoothing any barely perceptible imperfections he might detect.

Anthony then takes three large bath towels and lays them one at a time over the immaculate sheet, carefully matching their edges so they’re perfectly aligned. This not only adds extra padding to the thin mat, but also keeps the sheets safe from any careless spills of food or drink. (A towel is easier to clean and to replace, but DOC policy allows for new bedding only once per year. In reality, it usually takes longer than that.)

Fluffing his pillow before slipping it into the pillowcase involves more karate-chopping. It’s quite the cardio workout. Once it’s in place on the bed, Anthony then piles two blankets and three towels, all precisely folded and properly perched atop the pillow, until the entire structure stands nearly three feet tall. All the while, there’s a constant smoothing and caressing going on, like Anthony can’t stop his hands from touching what he’s done. All told, Anthony’s bed-making process takes the better part of an hour—forty-five minutes on average.

Anthony never spent time in the military, so that can’t account for his particular and specific bed-making technique. If I ever needed a laugh, the next show was just around the corner because Anthony would strip his bed every single day and wash his sheets. I think he did it just to kill time and give his day some structure. Whatever the reason, seeing him relaxing on top of his freshly made bed with a satisfied grin made me feel a bit mischievous.

One day, walking into his cell, I struck up a conversation and casually rested my hand against the edge of his mat. After a brief pause, I managed to get a finger under one of the towels he was sitting on and nonchalantly curl the edge of one towel under itself. Still talking, I watched as Anthony became more and more uncomfortable until he couldn’t hold eye contact any longer. His gaze darted down to the offending bulge, his fingers quivered and his hands clenched spasmodically as he fought the urge to fix it.

Call me cruel, but I found his obvious turmoil hilarious. A dozen times his eyes roved back and forth, from me to the wrinkle, as he nodded distractedly at our conversation before surreptitiously sliding his hand from his lap and fingering the towel back into place, all while trying to make the motion seem natural. Inside, I giggled with delight.

Shortly after my harmless bit of torture, I ended our talk and pushed off the side of his mat as I left the cell, leaving my handprint disturbing the previously pristine sheet. When I got to the door, I turned and saw Anthony meticulously petting the offending portion of sheet to erase the evidence of my presence. I had to smile at the absurdity of him needing to have his things look just right.

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Quality Healthcare

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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.

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I thank the good Lord above from the depths of my heart that I’ve never had to deal with a hemorrhoid. Of all the various maladies and embarrassing afflictions that have been visited upon me, the dreaded hemorrhoid is one I seem to have dodged entirely.

Billie Iris, on the other hand, did not enjoy my good fortune.

It’s not the kind of medical issue that a macho guy wants to admit to or have to deal with, but once a bloody pustule starts proceeding from the anus, a person’s priorities shift and their proclivities for modesty evaporate. Billie Iris got himself on the sick call list as soon as possible and assumed that a severe situation such as his would be handled delicately and professionally. Instead, after the doctor stared into Billie’s anal area for a suspiciously lengthy period of time, he instructed his secretly terrified patient to finish stripping and gave him a bedsheet to wrap around himself like some kind of prison toga before leaving the dingy exam room.

photo by ponsulak www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by ponsulak
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

When the doctor returned, he wore gloves, held a scalpel, and had a nurse in tow who had a stack of gauze in her gloved hands. He didn’t secure his patient’s verbal permission or have him sign anything. The only explanation given of the procedure was, “We have to take care of this now,” before he instructed Billie to lay his chest on the exam table, put his butt in the air, and relax. Excellent bedside manner. There was no sterilization of the room or the region about to be operated on. After the cutting was done and the area had been excised, they taped some gauze to his ass and sent him on his way. They provided no pain meds, ointment, replacement gauze, or any instructions on how to wash and care for the area. The doctor simply told him to get dressed and go back to his cell house.

Billie Iris awoke the next morning with his boxers and bedsheets covered in blood. This was enough to convince the C/O that he had an emergency situation on his hands, and he hurried the understandably freaked-out Billie back to Healthcare. When Billie returned to the house, he was loaded down with plastic bed covers, gauze, plastic undergarments (essentially diapers), and the generic answer to all prison maladies: Ibuprofen. Each passing day saw Billie, who was usually a fairly easygoing guy, become more worried and frantic. He couldn’t get any relief. He was constantly making trips back and forth to Healthcare for resupply and to complain about the pain and unsanitary nature of his predicament, but he could never get a straight answer from Healthcare staff as to what his affliction was, how serious it was, and how best to care for it and/or treat it. After a week of this, in desperation, Billie Iris sought my aid and opinion.

As I’ve said before, I am not a medical professional. I don’t know what it is about me, but people seem to seek out and value my feedback on a plethora of issues and topics. It’s not that I act like a know-it-all—at least I don’t think I do. I hope I don’t. Regardless, I have that effect on people. In the case of Billie Iris, my approachability apparently made him feel secure enough to ask me to have a gander at his sphincter. Lucky me! Since I’m sympathetic to those who suffer at the hands of the largely callous and indifferent prison healthcare system, I agreed to lend my friend my eyes. This was not something I particularly wanted to do or ever thought I would be doing, but that’s the price you pay when you’re such an amiable guy.

We’ll do this quick, okay? On the count of three.” Billie Iris was facing away from me, his shirt pulled up to the middle of his back. His thumbs were tucked into his pants, ready to drop them, but he craned his head around at the sound of my voice. We made eye contact, and it was awkward. He was scared. I was scared and freaked out, too. He nodded his head at me. “Okay, let’s do this quick,” he agreed. With a deep breath to steady myself, we began.

One.” I didn’t know why I was doing this. “Two.” He leaned further forward so his butt was higher in the air. I really didn’t want to do this. “Three.”

After a moment of hesitation, his pants dropped to just below his cheeks, and I got to witness his affliction in all its brutal glory. I gagged and retched in my mouth before rather indelicately exclaiming: “Dude, that is not good at all. That is nasty. They gotta do something for you.” It didn’t exactly put him at ease, but I was merely giving my knee-jerk reaction to the horror show before me.

I honestly can’t say what I had expected to see, but I doubt my darkest nightmares could have prepared me for the view before me. Protruding from the wrinkled flesh adjacent to his puckered anus was what looked like a bloody tongue, or a sloppy flap of pastrami. It flopped and wobbled almost three inches out from the surface of his skin.

www.icswaco.com
http://www.icswaco.com

Due to its position, it was entirely impossible not to soil the protuberance during defecation and the wiping process afterward. It appeared to be a perpetually bloody open sore. This suspicion was confirmed, as it left red smears against his pale white ass. Somehow mesmerized, I stared at the monstrosity as if looking into the face of some alien evil. I might have continued staring if Billie Iris hadn’t pulled up his pants and broken the spell the malevolent little bugger seemed to have on me.

Yeah, man, they gotta do something for that. Stay on top of them, man,” I said. It’s the best I could come up with. Then I got outta there.

For months, Billie Iris was in a battle with Healthcare, constantly seeking further medical attention that they never provided. The doctor merely told him to push the unnatural bulge back inside his body and leave it alone. He was strung out on pain meds and laxatives to make his evacuations less traumatic and lessen his straining from constipation, which I suspect may have been a factor in creating his nasty anal node in the first place. Through it all he continued having to sleep on plastic, wear diaper devices to catch his blood flow, and slather the ugly thing in hemorrhoid cream.

The experience changed his easygoing personality. He constantly talked about his medical woes and the latest news on that front. As much as I felt sorry for the guy, it got to the point that I dreaded him coming around because I was sick of hearing about it. Once he contacted a law firm that does pro bono medical malpractice cases. He requested copies of his medical records, which he was entitled to under the Freedom of Information Act. In reviewing these documents, he was flabbergasted to find that there was no record of the illegal surgery performed on him, on site and without his permission. This apparent conspiracy and cover-up only provided fodder for his ranting complaints.

Billie Iris went home six months after I had peered into the face of evil erupting from his sphincter, and I was glad to see him go. I was glad not only because someone going home always reminds me that I too am leaving one day, but also because I wouldn’t have to listen to him prattling on endlessly about his problems. When he left he was still bleeding from his ass and planning a big lawsuit. I wished him all the best, told him to be good.

I wish this type of medical malfeasance were an aberrant occurrence, but when a man is reduced to a number, a faceless commodity, it becomes easy to justify treating him with a shocking level of indifference.

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Hurting

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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.

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I was caught in Healthcare, stuck there during a scheduled institutional count. What’s worse is that my visit was an unscheduled one made necessary by a gaping wound on my finger that had resulted when I accidentally slammed my hand between two dumbbells. Dumb indeed.

Because this was an unexpected situation, I hadn’t been able to plan ahead and bring a book to pass the time as I waited the hour or more for count to clear and movement to resume. That meant I only had a few fellow inmates, who were also unfortunate enough to get caught, to keep me occupied with gossip and varying degrees of intelligent conversation. I was mostly content to sit silently with my own thoughts as entertainment, augmented perhaps with a bit of eavesdropping on the handful of guys assembled in the Healthcare waiting room. Enjoying my own silence was not to be, however, as David sat on the bench next to me.

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http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

There were plenty of other spaces to sit, so I was immediately wary of his mental well-being. In hearing the chatter between C/Os over the radio, I knew that at least some of the men stuck with me were from the psychiatric portion of the prison. Without trying to perpetuate a stereotype, many of these inmates have a signature look comprised of jittery body and eye movements and generally appear to be drugged. Having difficulty staying focused on one topic of conversation during a discussion is another big indication that the inmate’s mind may be muddled by a mental health issue, psych meds, or a combination of the two. In this way, these inmates can be like big children—and like children, they too can be difficult to deal with. David began normally enough, which put me somewhat at ease.

What’s up, man? What happened to you?” he asked, indicating the gauze cocooning much of my hand.

Oh, lifting weights,” I replied. “Got it pinched between two dumbbells.”

Ouch.”

Yeah.”

Stitches?”

A couple.”

Not bad.”

Think I saw bone,” I said, a bit of bragging in my tone.

Niiice,” he said with a good-natured chuckle. I joined with a muted grinning guffaw of my own. Male bonding at its finest. Suddenly we were buddies.

It turned out that he had arrived at this particular facility three days before, and as such, he still had numerous practical questions about how things were run at this prison. How quickly does commissary run? What’s the selection like? What are gym and yard like? How are the weights? (Heavy and painful). What are the C/Os like, in general? How about the shakedowns? Compliance checks? All essential information for a convict to procure. David’s line of questioning let me know that he had served time at some point, and before long he began to give me the background on how he ended up back behind prison walls.

It wasn’t exactly a unique tale. In fact, it’s one that I’ve heard in various variations countless times. He was on parole—doing well, staying clean. He’d gotten a job, was paying the bills, and was living with his wife, who had seen him through his first prison stint of two years. Perhaps not particularly thriving, but surviving—doing better than many parolees. Then he faltered, violated his parole, and was sent back to prison once more. Here, however, is where David’s narrative became a tragedy all his own. He divulged it to me, a relative stranger, as if unburdening himself of knowledge he felt too tired to carry any longer. His blunt honesty and openness made me uncomfortable as he reached out in pain and grief.

photo by David Castillo Dominici www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by David Castillo Dominici
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

My mom got sick,” he began, and I felt the pit of my stomach fill with heavy dread; I knew his story couldn’t possibly end well. “It was cancer. Her and my sister both have it. Had been fighting it. Then, it was sudden, my mom…she was just gone. She went to the hospital, and never came back out again.” David paused, his eyes glassy and staring off at the terrible memory for a moment before continuing. “So I went and got good and drunk. I don’t really think I’m an alcoholic, never been to A.A. After I got out of the joint the first time I had a few beers sometimes, but it was no big deal. After my mom…that’s why I’m back. DUI.” There was a brief pause as he gathered his thoughts, but I didn’t dare intrude on his account, which had taken on the hushed tones of a confessional.

I was at the intake joint for two weeks, waiting to be shipped out somewhere. I missed my mother’s funeral. When I called for the weekly ten-minute phone call they let you have, my dad told me my sister had died. She was only thirty-two. It was the cancer again. I guess it came back.” David took a deep breath and sighed it out in a huff before pressing forward with the final awful portion of his story. He tried to finish it before emotion overtook him and his tears began to fall.

It’s been ten days since then. I just got here three days ago, was finally able to get on the phone yesterday. My dad answered, and I could hear that he was crying. First thing he said: ‘I’m so sorry, son.’ My wife,” David’s voice broke as he uttered the words, but he swallowed past it before he continued. “She had an abscess in her lung. She’d already had surgery. I thought it was all finished, everything was fine, but…something about complications. My dad said she had just died the day before. She was thirty-eight. I’m writing the warden now to see if I can get permission to go to the funeral, but I don’t think I’ll be able to get the money in time. It costs like a couple thousand to go.”

David stared at the floor for a while before looking up to meet my eyes, and I didn’t dare look away. “I lost them all in under a month.” His voice was a hollow, hoarse whisper. He wasn’t raging to the heavens and asking, “Why me?” or blaming his misfortune on anyone or anything. He was just hurting, and reaching out for human compassion in a cold, unloving place.

Sometimes words seem so incredibly inept at conveying what we feel, but words are all I had. “I’m so sorry, man. I’m just…so sorry.”

He accepted my paltry condolences with a nod of his head. Yeah,” was all he said.

I think of David sometimes, and I pray for him. At the risk of sounding self-centered, his many losses remind me all the more of everything I have to be thankful for, the blessings that constantly surround me—even behind prison walls.

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