True to his Word


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood, available on now.

Sometimes when a fuming, irate inmate is threatening to beat someone’s ass, he’s not just blowing off steam or spouting machismo. Sometimes, if given a sliver of opportunity, he will carry out each and every threat he utters.

Eight o’clock in the morning is too early for a lot of guys to make it to yard in prison. When one is locked behind a steel door with nowhere to go and nothing to do, time is relative, and Benjamin Franklin’s credo—“early to bed, early to rise”—becomes more or less moot. In fall’s bitter chill, and especially in winter, the warmth of one’s bunk beckons too tenderly to be ignored. Some inmates, however, will brave the metaphorical hell and/or high water to attend yard no matter the time of day or weather conditions. Dee was one of those dedicated few.

photo by Graeme Weatherston
photo by Graeme Weatherston

Generally, an announcement was made as a reminder on each day there was early yard. This usually consisted of: “Get ready for yard.” Sometimes there was an additional: “If you’re going to yard, get up and get ready.” The standard procedure was to have C/Os stand at the far end of the deck opposite the front door and, when the time was right, announce that it was time for yard and electronically unlock all the cell doors. It was incumbent upon the inmate to push his door open during the twenty seconds or so that the lock was disengaged. Missing this opportunity usually meant missing yard.

On this day, the two officers walked up the wing, corralling inmates to the front and ensuring that all doors were closed and secured so no one could slip out and have full reign of the deck. All was going fine until Dee began banging on his door.

Hey man, open my door!” C/O Nieman had just pushed it shut, so the latch clicked closed to lock the occupant within. He hadn’t walked three feet past it when Dee began yelling, so he backed up to Dee’s door.

Why didn’t you catch your door?” Officer Nieman inquired.

I was just a little slow. I just missed it. I was taking a piss, man.”

Why weren’t you ready?”

I am ready.”

The bubble officer told you to get ready ten minutes ago.”

I am ready.”

Why’d you miss your door then?”

I had to piss!” A brief silence passed between them as they glared at each other through the perforated steel rectangle that served as a window into the cell. “C’mon, Nieman,” Dee said, sounding as close to civil as I’d ever heard him. “Open my door so I can go to yard. Everybody hasn’t even left the deck yet. Let me go to yard.”


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Nieman wasn’t known for his civility or reasonableness. In fact, he had a reputation as a prick. He lived up to it in the next instant when he answered while wearing the snide, self-satisfied smirk of someone who’s been given authority over another and abuses that authority at every available opportunity. It’s a common facial expression seen on C/Os in prison.

I don’t give a damn about your yard.” Nieman turned to continue on his course to the front of the wing, still sporting his signature shit-eating smile. But Dee had more to say on the subject.

You little bitch!” Dee’s voice boomed throughout the deck like a sudden and unexpected cannon report. He followed this by banging his heavy foot against his cell door, rattling it on its hinges, and making a racket loud enough to awaken anyone who’d been trying to catch a few extra moments of slumber. “You’d better open my muthafuckin’ door!” Dee’s words echoed again, and there was unmistakable menace in his deep baritone voice.

Quit kicking your door!” Nieman ordered upon returning to Dee’s cell. He tried to imbue his tone with the full authority of the badge he wore, but instead ended up coming across as almost petulant. He didn’t sound like the one in charge.

“You missed it. It’s over. Sit your ass down and stop hollering.”

I want to go to yard,” Dee responded.


Well, then I want to talk to a lieutenant, cuz this is some bullshit.”

I don’t give a fuck what you want,” said Nieman, still grinning. I believe it was that big grin that helped push Dee over the edge.

What ensued was a verbal barrage from Dee wherein he likened Nieman to a small female dog, a single bit of feces, and intimated that Nieman engaged in sexual congress with his own mother. Interspersed amongst the insults were promises to inflict bodily harm upon the officer. These threats were filled with such vehemence and vitriol that what happened next was nearly beyond belief.

Following the incident, many speculated why Nieman did what he did. Most people figured that he was looking for a paid vacation, but I believe there are better ways to get a few days off that don’t include getting beaten to a bloody mess. Whatever his reasoning, Nieman weathered Dee’s irate cursing while wearing that same maddening grin, as if nothing but a warm spring breeze was wafting against his face. Then he opened Dee’s cell door.

Dee was known to most by a nickname of sorts: Big Dee. It wasn’t an ironic moniker, but an absolutely appropriate one. Dee had been locked up for over a decade, and all he did was work out. He didn’t read books to pass the time, or get a job, or go to school, or write letters. Dee pumped iron, hence his strict adherence to yard attendance. The results of his decade-long love affair with weightlifting were disgustingly impressive. He looked like a caricature of a monster or gorilla—everything was disproportionately huge. His muscles bulged everywhere, and his arms were bigger than the average man’s thigh. With eyes blazing rage, he appeared even more monstrous as he stepped from the cell and wasted no time in initiating his attack.

Dee punched Nieman twice in the face before grabbing him and throwing him to the ground like a rag doll. Nieman managed to push the panic button that sent out a call to all C/Os’ radios, but he couldn’t manage to get his hands up in any semblance of defense. Dee knelt over Nieman like the most dedicated penitent and commenced to worship at the altar of ultraviolence, hammering away at his helpless victim with enormous, vicious blows to the head and body.

Officers were on their way, but two porters arrived first. They each wrapped their arms around one of Dee’s gargantuan biceps in an effort to pull him off Nieman’s bleeding and motionless form. This slowed Dee down so that he could only hit Nieman a couple more times before four C/Os and a white shirt enveloped the attacker. After they all arrived, Dee didn’t resist much as they cuffed him up. They needed two pairs of interlocked handcuffs to accommodate his wide, mountainous shoulders. If Dee had resisted at all, I doubt they would have succeeded in subduing him.

Dee got a year across the board—one year added to his sentence, with that year to be spent in Seg. The two Samaritan inmates each had six months credited to their sentence for their exemplary actions. I didn’t see Nieman again for about six months, but when I did, he had mellowed only a little. He was still a prick, but perhaps not such an egregious one. This incident was the inciting act that was the cause of my first lockdown. It lasted for three weeks, and I believe the whole thing could have been avoided with just a little courtesy from either individual.

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