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.

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

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.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
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.

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

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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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.

johnbaileyowen.com
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 //