Uncommon Compassion

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“C’mon, quick; Tee needs you.”
I was mid-conversation with someone, but left him immediately without a word of explanation or apology. Tee was my cellie, my buddy. There was an urgency and seriousness in the messenger’s tone that begged no rebuttal or delay. Once I arrived at the cell that Tee and I shared with four other guys, I could immediately see that Tee was in agony.

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Proof
I’d known Tee for over a year to this point, and he had often made it known that he had a history of back pain that often precluded him from any type of strenuous exercise. There were times when I was less than sympathetic to Tee’s plight, and I even postulated that he was merely practicing his own brand of crying wolf as an excuse to be lazy. When I saw him poised in pain over his bunk, I knew I’d been wrong.

Stuck
Tee’s butt was hovering half a foot off of his bunk, as both of his arms were ramrod straight like stilts holding him aloft. His arms were shaking from exertion and exhaustion. His features were pinched together as he gritted his teeth against the pain.
“What can I do? Can you sit down?” I asked him.
“No,” he grunted.
“Do you want me to help you sit down?”
“No!” he managed to holler with some conviction and more than a little panic.
“Well, what can I do?”
“Get the C/O.” I turned to leave the cell and do just that, but Officer Osmond was already making his way down the hall in no kind of hurry at all. A crowd had begun to gather.
“He needs help!” I called to C/O Osmond.
“I know,” he replied. Apparently, someone had run and told him about the burgeoning medical emergency. He didn’t pick up his pace. Once he did arrive at the cell, he shooed the gawkers out of his way. “What’s wrong?” he asked as Tee continued his best impression of a statue.
“I threw my back out,” Tee replied, his voice straining to maintain normalcy.
“Oh,” Osmond said, sounding befuddled. “What’s that mean?”
“I threw my back out,” Tee repeated the phrase as if it were self-explanatory. “I can’t move,” he added as further explanation, but was only met with more of the officer’s vacuous gaze. “I’m stuck!” Tee finally belted out followed by a scream of frustration and pain as the exertion from the initial yelling sent hurt hurtling along his already agonized nerve endings.

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photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Callous
C/O Osmond called in a medical emergency over the radio, and medical staff were dispatched to the cell house immediately. Then he stood to the side, disinterested, and waited for assistance to arrive as if the entire situation were one big nuisance. Tee managed to slowly but surely lower himself until he was perched stiffly on the edge of his bunk, looking completely unnatural and uncomfortable. I stood there to support Tee, but was merely silent, useless, and helpless.

Guys outside the door laughed and made fun of Tee for basically hurting himself by standing up out of the bed. Our cellies all joined in the ridicule. C/O Osmond even added callous comments to the conversation and had a good chuckle about it all. I could tell that every breath Tee took caused him added discomfort. I wanted to yell at all of them to shut the hell up. When I heard the rattle of wheels in the hallway and saw C/O Arthur pulling a stretcher with two nurses and two other C/Os in tow, I figured things were only going to get worse for Tee.

Compassion
C/O Arthur had a reputation for being a colossal prick. It was a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation. I stepped out of the way, expecting Arthur to further debase and belittle Tee as that seemed to be the popular pastime for the moment.

Instead, he was extraordinarily gently and compassionate. He asked Tee to describe the pain and how exactly it had manifested. Arthur crouched down onto his knees so Tee wouldn’t have to move his head in order to look at C/O Arthur as he spoke. Arthur seemed to hang on every word. The two nurses stood in the hallway and looked indifferent. The two C/Os appeared to be bored.

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photo by Ambro
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Once Arthur had assessed the situation, he instructed the two C/Os to bring in the flatboard and put it on the floor. Then he provided them with a step-by-step tutorial on how they would assist him in moving Tee to the flatboard. It was clear from Arthur’s delivery and demeanor that he wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection from his helpers. With extreme care, the three C/Os gingerly lifted Tee bodily from the bunk and rotated his body to achieve the necessary repositioning. After Tee was seated awkwardly on the flatboard, C/O Arthur spoke in a comforting voice, as he assured Tee that it was necessary to move him again. With an uncanny tenderness, Arthur slowly straightened Tee’s legs and strapped them in place. Tee was lying on his back and Arthur manipulated Tee’s arms to cross them over his chest before securing them there. Once Tee was ready to be moved, Arthur and the other C/Os, including Osmond, cautiously carried him to the stretcher then fastened him to it before rolling it out of the building.

Afterward
All the talk on the deck was about Tee. Some were poking fun at him, others claimed he had just been faking it—for what purpose, I have no idea. There were some individuals who were aggressively cruel in their maligning of Tee, concluding that he was a stupid and worthless portion of excrement. It shocked and baffled me that a known crank C/O showed more human kindness to Tee than his own fellow inmates did.
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Puddle of Blood

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When I first saw him lying there with his eyes open and emptied of all their light, I felt certain he was dead.

No Luck
I’d been in and out of the building all day—work, healthcare, work, chow, work. Every time I returned to my building, I’d nabbed a telephone and tried to get through to my friend but always without any luck. After I was in for the final time and done for the day, I began walking down the hall toward my cell, but only took three steps before reconsidering. I turned around quickly on my heel and immediately began moving back through the dayroom, making a beeline for the only phone cubicle that wasn’t occupied. Based on my track record for the day, I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances, but I had to try.

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Precious Connection
I got through! My heart raced ahead of itself, as I was stupendously elated to speak to one of my precious few tethers to the world. The longer I’m incarcerated, the more I’ve come to understand just how important it is to have these connections. Unfortunately my friend’s voice on this occasion sounded like it was coming from a million miles away and filtered through a howling hurricane, so I only caught maybe every tenth or twelfth word. I smashed the receiver painfully into one ear while jamming my index finger up to the first knuckle into my other ear in an effort to block all the background noise whirling around me. Even with ambient noise squelched, it only served to make the garbled voice come in with more volume but still the same amount of insufficient clarity. I grunted out sporadic affirmative vocalizations—ahuh, yeah, yup—but wasn’t able to make much sense of the disjointed, one-sided discussion. My confusion over the conversation only lasted a few short minutes because I quickly had reason to be confused about something completely different.

Terminated
“GET OFF THE PHONE! NOW!!”

The C/O doing the yelling was only a half dozen paces behind me, and I nearly leapt loose of my skin to skitter away in the wake of his screams. I’d never seen him before, had no type of relationship or rapport with him, and the withering, hateful look he shot my way made it clear that I had somehow unwittingly waltzed myself into a dangerous predicament. I froze and stared dumbly at him; I was caught in the harsh glare of his gaze. When I didn’t move fast enough, the C/O cussed me out thoroughly before questioning my mental acuity and competence. Then he yelled again for me to get off the phone and go to my cell, this time inserting certain choice curse words into his demand.

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sbrookscareers.blogspot.com

“I gotta go. Gotta go back to my cell. Something’s happening here. Gotta go, bye. I’ll talk to you…whenever. I don’t know. Bye.” I hated having to leave my friend hanging in uncertainty, not knowing what was going on or if I’d be okay, but didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Once I was off the phone and on my way through the dayroom in the direction of my cell, the C/O I didn’t know turned back toward the hallway opposite mine, presumably to go find someone else to swear at.

There wasn’t a single other inmate in sight. At that time of day, the dayroom and hallways are usually teeming with guys coming in from work and the gym. Most of them are trying to get in the shower. I didn’t know what, but clearly something serious had happened.

Silent Apology
C/O Cantos was my five-day officer, and I got along with him well enough. I also knew him to be capable of being strict, or even a crank at times, so I wasn’t sure in which direction his inclinations leaned, especially in the heightened circumstances that had suddenly arisen. As I approached Cantos, I raised my hands above my head and shrugged my shoulders up to my ears while plastering a confused but conciliatory look on my face. The whole act was meant to convey that I was both sorry and that I didn’t know. It worked.

“It’s okay, you didn’t know. Just get to your cell.” He didn’t have to tell me twice, and I actually jogged the final fifteen feet that got me out of the dayroom and into the hallway.

Serious Situation
My cell was at the end of the hallway, fifty feet away, and while I had quit my jogging, I kept a quick pace. I could see one C/O standing in front of my door. He was in profile to me and was looking down at the floor in front of him, but the way the hallway angled to the right made it impossible for me to see what he was looking at. Then he looked up at me and stabbed a stubby finger in my direction.

“What are you doing? Where’s your cell?” I pointed past him and was about to pick my speed up a bit more when a flutter of footsteps and jangle of keys from behind me caught my attention, and I had to investigate. With a glance over my shoulder, I saw four lieutenants, one sarge, and three C/Os bearing down on me with no-nonsense looks across each of their faces. “C’mon, straight to your cell. Hurry up.” I turned back forward to see the C/O who was blocking my door waving me in with frantic arm motions like he was some kind of spastic ground control operator guiding an airplane home. With all that authority hot on my heels, I was grateful for the excuse to haul ass. So I did. It wasn’t until I was practically on top of Tall Boy’s supine form that I saw him and reflexively slowed my speedwalk to a crawl to gawk in shock. I finally knew what all the fuss was about.

Lifeless

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photo by by Simon Howden
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Tall Boy was tall. Go figure. He was over seven feet but managed to seem even taller as he walked with his back ramrod straight so that his body always appeared to climb to the sky. Despite the latter half of his moniker, Tall Boy was actually quite elderly—closer to seventy than he was to 60—and he used a cane to help him walk. His right leg was the problem, and it was clear that he struggled with the effort to downplay his limp as much as he could, but it was impossible to erase altogether. I suspect his extremely erect posture was born from pride and was his way of overcompensating for the limp. I didn’t know him well, but he’d always come across as a nice old guy. I couldn’t imagine what crime or perceived slight that he may have committed, but he didn’t deserve what was done to him.

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Tall Boy’s oversized frame was stretched out on his back, legs splayed to the sides with the toes of his enormous booted feet pointed heavenward. He looked like a statue or monolith that had been toppled in some violent uprising. His eyes were vacated of all recognition and life—only blank, unseeing orbs gazing up at nothing. He wasn’t blinking. Two of the three florescent overhead lights had burnt out leaving the corner area cast mostly in the shadows. An ideal spot to ambush someone.

The blood pooling around Tall Boy’s head was the dark corona of some perverse fallen angel. A C/O had been concealed from my view by the curve of the wall, but I could see him as he stood over the body and held Tall Boy’s cane in his hand. He wore latex gloves and was carefully examining the tool to see if there was any evidence to suggest it could be the murder weapon. Or the attempted murder weapon. As I was hurried into my cell, I feared it would be the former.

Evacuation and Investigation
Nurses came with a flatboard and hauled Tall Boy away. His head was wrapped in a white bandage that had quickly turned red with blood. His feet hung limply off the end of the board. I couldn’t discern any signs that he was alive. C/Os thronged to the building and a shoddy assembly line of sorts was set up. Each inmate was pulled from his cell and stripped by two C/Os who then checked his body for blood, bruises, or any other markings that could be indicative of a struggle. Next came a ramshackle interview conducted by the Internal Affairs lieutenant and an IA C/O. My cellies claimed all they heard was a loud banging sound, and thought maybe someone had dropped their property box. Since I had only just come in from work and then jumped on the phone, I had nothing to contribute to the discussion. Nothing ever came of any of it. No one went to Seg or got in trouble. There were rumors that Tall Boy had died, that he went to a hospital outside prison, and that he had been transferred to another joint. I have no idea what actually happened to him.

Stir Crazy

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“I can’t take it anymore! Gotta get outta here!”

Winn’s voice screeched and cracked as he lost control. His face was twisted and distorted as he pressed it against the small rectangular pane of security glass in the door. He grabbed ahold of the handle and shook with all his might, grunting with exertion, but to no effect. With the edge of his eye, he caught me looking at him with shock, utter disbelief, and even a touch of horror, so he quit his caterwauling. He slapped the door with the flat of his palm and the loud smack echoed around the tiny confines of our cell. When he began to laugh uproariously, I was sure that I was in serious trouble.

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photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Better than Everyone
Winn had been locked up for just over twenty years when we became cellies, and his extensive prison experience had given him a perverse sense of entitlement, as if he were better than every guy who hadn’t spent the bulk of his life incarcerated. This kind of loopy logic is actually quite common amongst men like Winn who have spent so many years in prison. Winn was so full of pride that he came across as an ignorant, arrogant prick. The extreme degree of his holier-than-thou type attitude made me less inclined to be sympathetic when he began to bug up.

Lockdown Protocol
A lockdown generally means that inmates are completely confined to their cells with meals delivered and no showers allowed. I’d spent the first half dozen years of my prison term in a joint where lockdowns were more than merely commonplace, they were a routine and expected way of life. A lockdown, even a short one of two to three days, was practically guaranteed each month. At least twice a year there would be a month long lockdown. Since I had only fairly recently arrived at the lower-security facility, a lockdown was nothing to me but an opportunity to get some writing or reading done. Maybe watch some TV. The professional convict Winn, on the other hand, was fifteen years removed from the max security prisons where lockdowns are par for the course, and he wasn’t handling it well.

Losing It
At first his mental turmoil manifested as an uncontrollable restlessness. He couldn’t sit still. His legs jittered and shook without ceasing, and he would sporadically walk back and forth across the scant space of the cell a few times before sitting back down to shimmy in his seat for a while. It was only a matter of time until the urge gripped him to pace some more. Around two in the afternoon on only the second full day of lockdown,Winn began to yell and slap the door. He was unraveling. His ensuing laughter sounded insane ,and I’m neither too proud nor too ashamed to admit that hearing it scared the ever-loving hell out of me.
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Faking It
“What’s up, man!? How you doin’ buddy?” Winn brayed much more loudly than was necessary. I didn’t, in fact, know Winn very well or particularly like him all that much, so I didn’t count us as buddies. His affable smile was completely disingenuous. I had glimpsed Winn’s legitimate lunatic leanings and he was overcompensating with a forced attempt at jocularity and normalcy. While I wasn’t buying it, I also certainly wasn’t about to let him know that his façade was translucent. I had no desire whatsoever to witness Winn entirely unhinged.
“I’m good, man,” I replied to Winn’s queries. “Just getting some writing done. How about you? You good?” He chuckled and managed to sound somewhat less than maniacal.
“Yeah, I’m good, bro.”
“Yeah?”
“Shit, man, I was just playin’. I’m straight.” He was not just “playin’,” and I knew it. I suspect he also knew that I knew it, but we both silently agreed to continue faking it.

Coping
Following this incident, Winn paced a few more times, but eventually he withdrew himself from everything and ended up laying in bed with the blanket over his head for hours. As the days dragged on, he became more horrified and disheveled, less responsive, practically comatose for long stretches of time. After two weeks of lockdown, his temperament and personality had changed so dramatically that he was unrecognizable from the man I had first met only a few months before. He had lost enough weight for it to be easily noticed and constantly wore a dazed look which gave the appearance that he’d misplaced his tether to reality.

Once the lockdown finally ended, it took weeks for Winn to recapture the heights of bravado and bullshit machismo that he had previously attained, and I couldn’t help but be disgusted by it. I had witnessed a more honest vision of his true self and knew just how fake Winn was.

When it comes to surviving prison, I suppose there are all kinds of different methods that guys use to cope.
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Not Stockholm

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My cellie Kevin and I got along well enough. He worked out too much, in my opinion, but it could just be that his extreme dedication made me feel both shame and guilt over my decidedly more lackadaisical approach to exercise. Regardless, we each had our own ways of doing time, our personalized and unique perspectives, and one day he took me to task for mine.

Syndrome
“You think this is how it’s supposed to be? This place sucks, man! You’re messed up! You don’t even know how bad it is; they’ve got you fooled. You’ve been here so long that you’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. You’re just messed up!”

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photo by imagerymajestic
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This rant was railed against me as a reaction to my stubborn optimism and (according to Kevin) my annoying tendency to focus on the positive aspects of any given situation. Kevin, on the other hand, chose to embrace negativity and complain about EVERYTHING. Stockholm Syndrome, as I understand it, is a phenomenon which occurs when a person has been held captive and subjected to varying degrees of mental and emotional duress until they begin to sympathize with their captors, as a psychological defense mechanism,. In more extreme cases, these individuals actually take sides with their captors and fight to defend them. According to Kevin, I was the hostage, and the prison we were being held in was the entity to whom I showed sympathy.

Sour Outlook
Kevin was practically a professional complainer, and as such, his distorted outlook tended to determine his outcome. In my experience, I’ve found that a sour attitude is a self-perpetuation and self-fulfilling way to approach life. Sometimes I had to find that lesson out through painful experiences, but at least I did learn it. The same can’t be said for Kevin, which explains why he thought that I was suffering some cockeyed form of Stockholm Syndrome.

Differing Perspectives
The prison we were in at the time was a disciplinary joint without much movement outside our cell or many privileges of any kind. This gave Kevin license to take issue with just about everything. When he went to gym, he’d complain that there were too many people and not enough weight machines or not enough time allotted to really get a good workout in. When gym was cancelled for no apparent reason, Kevin complained about being denied his recreation period.

A two hour yard was inadequate to him, meals insubstantial, TV reception not clear enough, available television channels too few. For Kevin, going on lockdown was akin to an apocalyptic event. Seeing only the bad kept Kevin in an interminably lousy mood. He could smile and laugh and have fun, but the undercurrent of abrasive annoyance—like a despicable default setting—was never far from display.

photo by dusky www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by dusky
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Making Lemonade
Where Kevin saw nuisances and aggravations, I identified blessings. Although gym periods were often crowded, that was good motivation to keep pushing through fatigue for the entire hour, because halfway through gym most guys fell off and there were plenty of weight machines available. Two hours of yard was plenty; free TV was lovely. I’d become accustomed to only three showers per week with other cleansings performed while standing over the sink and toilet, so that didn’t much bother me either. To me a lockdown wasn’t a curse, but rather an opportunity to focus on my writing with few interruptions. At times I’d even hope for/look forward to a lockdown because I craved that chance to give my work some undivided attention.

Despite Kevin’s opinion, none of my upbeat outlook was a result or example of me sympathizing with my so-called captor, but rather me making the most of a rough situation. Lemons into lemonade, as the adage goes. In the end I honestly didn’t think we had it all that bad.

Finding something to endlessly complain about is easy no matter where someone lives. From the bedsprings that make your back ache, to the chair that stubs your toe most mornings, to the latest horror show the news has waiting every day; there’s always something to find fault with. Consciously, continuously, and adamantly counting one’s blessings and thereby refusing to get dragged down by the hate and negativity that so insidiously permeate this world, especially enveloping the environment of prison, is an admirable way to live. I daresay—the right way to live.
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Master Craftsman

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As a consummate entrepreneur, DJ managed to turn a profit making trinkets and baubles whose only real appeal was in their uniqueness. All of his toilet paper flowers and decorative pillows were quite beautiful, but beyond that they had no practical value whatsoever. While DJ recognized that he had a lucrative business in place, and he certainly enjoyed spending/eating the profits, he was also perfectly aware of how ephemeral and ultimately useless his products were. This knowledge eventually led to a degree of dissatisfaction on his part, which was only countered when he had the opportunity to call upon his master craftsman capabilities.

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johnbaileyowen.com

The Artistry
Both skill and talent were certainly required for creating DJ’s pretty presents, but he was capable of so much more. When he could get his hands on the proper materials, he excelled. His passion projects were tediously time-consuming, but he reveled in the real artistry and true craftsmanship of them.

Repurposed
A pair of old leather boots, which had been discarded as trash, were gold to DJ. He would take a razorblade that he had removed from its plastic disposable casing and use that to slice the leather into pieces and strips appropriate for the works he intended to create. To prepare the tough leather, he would rub Vaseline into it everyday for as many days as it took until it was soft and supple.

Meticulous
Once the leather was ready for his nimble fingers, DJ would commence to crimping and folding the edges, manipulating them and preparing them to receive his stitches. I have no earthly idea where he procured the nylon string that he used to sew his material, nor what he used to dye the white nylon black so that it matched the boot leather. He fashioned his pieces into bifold wallets that could be sent home as gifts by inmates or a more simple holder designed to carry an Inmate ID Card.

The latter was also seen as some kind of silly status symbol. Wristwatch bands were his other specialty and when he was finished, his products looked as professionally produced as anything on display for sale at a retail store. As a sewer myself, I marveled at the tiny stitches and how intricate yet uniform he managed to keep them.

ab3a017ea97ea90959d180b2a9e699d7Ingenuity
Since wristwatches are prominently displayed on one’s wrist (go figure), they are also something of a status symbol in prison. The watches generally cost about ten to twelve dollars, so it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how it is, and most guys like to trade up the factory watchband for a prison-made replacement. DJ’s leather bands sold well and lasted for many years, but leather can be hard to some by. Shoelaces, on the other hand, are routinely thrown away, or else are available for purchase in commissary. DJ would deftly slip the outer cloth covering from the rounded shoelace, leaving behind a braided rope. The liberated material he would flatten and, using those astonishingly subtle stitches, he’d sew the two strips into a band approximately three quarters of an inch wide. Using durable plastic pieces that he scrounged from somewhere and Velcro he’d sliced from shower curtains, DJ formed a clasp for these original works of prison art. For an additional fee, using brilliantly colored thread, he could stitch a person’s initials into the band to distinguish it from others of its ilk.

Witnessing DJ’s finished masterpieces, I couldn’t help but be supremely impressed by his enormous skill. There was, however, also a touch of wistful sadness to my impression, as I couldn’t help but wonder why his talent and clockwork intellect were being squandered, locked behind prison walls.//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js //

Big Baby

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Bryan was a big, goofy kid. Actually, at six-foot-six, two hundred eighty-five pounds, “big” doesn’t quite do him justice. At first glance, he gave the impression of an imposing slab of concrete with the ability to tear a guy’s arms out of their sockets, but upon closer inspection, his overall appearance was a study in contrasts.

flyA fine fuzz of fair hair spiked from the top of his head that was so blond as to belie belief. His eyes, too, though hidden behind the ridiculously thick lenses of his glasses, seemed an impossible shade of the clearest, cleanest, purest blue. They were pretty blue eyes, no doubt about it, and I say that in the most heterosexual way possible. He looked to be a prime example of Hitler’s Aryan ideal and so-called master race.

Unlike Adolf’s acolytes, however, Bryan did not appear capable of the same degree of evil and mindless murder with which the Nazi party became synonymous. To put it another way, Bryan wouldn’t (or couldn’t) hurt a fly. To put it yet another way, Bryan was a ginormous wuss. It turned out that he was also a snitch; although personally, I don’t believe the situation was quite that simple or clear—more gray than black and white.

Lopsided Melee
A loud, hollow, thunk was followed by plastic bouncing on concrete, then metallic rattling before the first words were spoken in anger. I recognized each sound immediately. The prison I was in at the time had two hard plastic stools in each cell which were about two feet tall, shaped roughly like a spool of thread, and could be easily moved around the cell. This is what I heard collide with the wall in the cell next to mine before it bounced across the floor and settled against the cell door, making the door shake in its frame.

“You stupid little bitch!”

3029whiteThe voice sounded out clearly through the vent that connected our two cells, and was obviously not the nasal, thin tone of Bryan, but rather the more baritone voice of his cellie who was only five-ten, one hundred eighty pounds—practically tiny compared to Bryan. There were various sounds of struggle—shower shoes scuffling, fists hitting soft flesh and unyielding bone, someone crashing into the wall before crumbling to the floor. By the way it shook my cell, I assumed it was the bigger of the two who had lost his legs and was quickly proven right when voices took the place of the violent noises.

Victimization
“C’mon! Get up, you pussy!”

“Nnnooo.” Bryan had managed to turn the two-letter word into the elongated whining moan of a small child. “I’m nnnot gonna fffight you.” Between his stammering and sniffling, it was fairly obvious that Bryan was blubbering like a baby.

“Get up!” Bryan’s cellie sounded frightening in his furor and ferocity.

“No!” Bryan yelled back but only seemed petulant rather than defiant. As he whined and wailed, he just sounded hurt and scared, while his cellie beat him about the head and body. Bryan had curled into a ball in the corner of his cell, crying and calling out for his cellie to stop, but the assault continued. It was a sad thing to hear, something truly pathetic. A couple guys in other cells and I called for the cellie to stop, saying that Bryan had had enough. The commotion brought the “fight” to the C/Os’ attention, and they rushed to the cell. Finally, he stopped beating on Bryan.

Unusual Outcome
After the two men were hauled away, the general consensus was that Bryan’s cellie was bogus, and it was too bad for Bryan who would sit in Seg for a while, even though he clearly wasn’t the aggressor. On the heels of that conclusion was a second one, which was that Bryan, indeed, was a giant pussy. No one predicted that Bryan would return the very next day. When he did show up on the deck, no one really knew how to react. When Bryan freely confessed to telling IA everything about the fight—how he cowered and cried—most everyone was at a loss for words, incredulous over how wholeheartedly and freely Bryan confessed to his wimpy behavior and demeanor.

big-baby-300x201
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Opinions were pretty evenly split. Some felt Bryan was a snitching piece of crap, while others thought he merely did what he had to do in order to get out of Seg. It wasn’t as if he lied about what happened in the cell, and of the two men, Bryan was the innocent one. By so winningly embracing cowardice, Bryan had come out of the fray with only a few bruises to go along with his tattered reputation.

Ironically, if Bryan had fought back, he would’ve been held in higher esteem for standing up for himself, but then would’ve earned a minimum of thirty days in Seg. He paid the price for his choice as he was vilified and labeled as a snitch by some, and just outright ostracized by others. When a guy gets a reputation for talking to the authorities, it’s a hard one to shake. Choosing to err on the side of caution, I mostly kept my distance from Bryan. The entire incident also served to earn Bryan the title of Big Baby, which I never personally used, but could pretty well understand.
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The Wookie

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Living conditions being what they are in prison, it can be an amazing learning experience in multiple and unexpected ways. Being forced to cohabitate with individuals, often with zero time apart from one another, can reveal a person’s most unique or unusual characteristics as well as their most annoying traits. I don’t honestly believe that Benji was intentionally or overtly annoying, but rather that he was just born that way and was dealing with it as best he could. Unfortunately, my more enlightened mindset didn’t make living with him much easier.
Chewbacca-starwars

Hella Hirsute
Benji already had a fairly dark complection for a black man; dark skinneded is the redundant expression commonly used. His coloring, however, was made even darker by the enormous amount of coarse black hair that seemed to cover every inch of exposed skin that wasn’t covered by his clothes. I myself am not particularly hirsute (I couldn’t grow a proper full beard until I was twenty-five years old) but I’ve seen hairy guys before in movies and locker rooms. Not that I was a great frequenter of locker rooms, but the point is that I had an awareness that some guys are hairier than others. Benji, though, seemed to be some kind of missing link or werewolf boy.

Oddly enough, his facial hair didn’t exactly grow in very robustly, just a few patchy splotches along his neck and jawline. Beyond that, however, he was absolutely covered in a coat of thick tangles. It stood tall from atop his shoulders, crept from his ears, formed one long brow below his forehead. Stepping out of the shower in just his boxers, he looked like he was wearing a damp, dark sweater on his top and leggings on the bottom. The matted hair covered by his boxers was evident through the thin cloth as well as the tufts of stiff scruff sprouting from below said boxers. It was on one of these trips from the shower back to his cell when Benji received his nickname.

Chewbacca
Still dripping from his shower and witnessed in all his hairy glory, someone intoned a call onto the gallery that would sound only like strange nonsense to anyone who wasn’t a Star Wars fan, but which was instantly recognizable to me along with all those whom the force is strong with.

“Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr.” I may have misspelled it, but I knew a passable impersonation of Chewbacca when I heard one and was proven right when the impersonator hollered out, “Hey! Chewbacca! What’s up, man?”

Benji ignored his heckler and kept walking.

chewbacca-chewie-star-wars“Chewie!” The call came again, even louder this time, insistent. “Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr!!!” Benji smirked a bit but tried to hide his amusement. “C’mon, man!” was yelled at Benji as a form of encouragement, and he couldn’t help but let loose a laugh before showing off his true wookie.

“RRRAAAAOOOWWRRAAOOWWGGGHHRRR!!”

Cheers and laughter erupted from all around the deck and Benji got in on the laughter as well. It wasn’t the best impersonation, more of an approximation, but he still got points for enthusiasm. Even so, we weren’t so much laughing at him as were all just laughing together. It wasn’t mean-spirited, and from that day forth Benji was known to most as Chewbacca.

False Advertising
While the wookie Chewbacca is Han Solo’s beloved co-pilot and companion in the Star Wars universe, as well as easily one of the coolest characters to populate said universe, I feel that there are some things which aren’t covered in the films. Certain information was left out that would be useful to know for anyone who is living with a walking carpet. Benji had a perpetually damp, musty odor which permeated him and his surroundings. It was not unlike that of a medium-sized dog. The smell wasn’t particularly strong or foul, just persistent, if not interminable.

Then there was the shedding. I was on the bottom bunk with Benji sleeping and living above me. I had to drastically revise my meal preparation and eating habits lest I chomp on a clump of fur. No amount of proactive or preventative cleansing measures on my part, however, could combat the curly castoffs from interloping all over the sheet that covered my mat as well as the floor of the cell. Every exposed surface, in fact, was susceptible to his encroaching hair. It was as if Benji’s fuzzy follicles had a mind of their own and were trying to take over, to cover the cell in its own coarse coat. I suspect that the corridors of the Millennium Falcon were probably a lot shaggier than originally depicted, and as far as I’m concerned that’s false advertising. Shame on George Lucas.

As for my own wookie experience, Benji was a good guy, but I didn’t much miss him when he moved on. Or, at least, I didn’t miss his furry remnants.
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