The First Nine Days
From the Journal of an Incarcerated Sex Offender
by Anonymous, 2000.05.30
Although the names and other identifying data have been altered, this in not a work of fiction, but an actual account of the circumstances that a convicted sex offender encountered during his first nine days in a prison in the United States.
March 23rd, 2000
Stripped, scrubbed, and with my new identity, I proceeded, as instructed, down the hall. I entered the pod through the double metal doors and was directed to my room - # 9 on the upper tier. My roommate, a young man in his early 20’s, I will call him George, was lounging on the bottom bunk. I introduced myself, and we talked a bit.
Almost right off, he asked me, point blank, what my charge was. This was the question I had dreaded from the beginning, but I had not made up “a story” ahead of time. One of the reasons for my neglecting to do this is that I was pretty sure that people would already know what the charges against me were because someone among them either saw me in the news on T.V. or ran into an article in the newspaper. My prosecution was a high profile media event in the area.
My plan, such as it was, was simply to be evasive until I could see whether I might slip by unnoticed. This was the second most anxious moment I experienced throughout the entire ordeal. The first was probably my anticipation of the consequences of my indictment and charges appearing in the newspaper and on TV. The media is a major player in the system of torture this society has established for the punishment of those who have violated it’s sexual laws. Punishment does not begin with a guilty finding in court, but with the report of the alleged crimes in the newspaper.
In my case, in response to my new roommate’s direct question, I answered, “Assault”, and when he questioned me further, I said I didn’t want to talk about it. Not smooth at all; but, as I was soon to discover, there really was no way I was going to slide by unnoticed.
I had a rather pleasant conversation with my roommate who, it turned out, was a drug dealer, and a general wheeler and dealer, but who was, nevertheless, a rather appealing person. I was a daddy for him at first sight, and it was clear that, except for the sexual abuse charges against me, I would have no problems coping with him.
March 23, 2000
After supper, two others came to make my acquaintance. They also asked me point blank questions, which I was ill-prepared to answer. They seemed genuinely friendly, which turned out to be the case in the longer term. However, under questioning, I admitted that the charges against me concerned sexual assault. They told me it would be better not to admit this. Again, they were being helpful. Still I left the encounter feeling I had made a mistake. I guess it was my fatalism about the nature of the charges against me being discovered no matter what I said that made me ineffectual.
During the afternoon session in the rec. room, I watched TV hoping it was not their policy to watch the news. They watched sports, and I was left in peace.
The first indication that I had been discovered as a so-called “skinner” came to me when I heard someone from the next cell (or the one below mine) saying my name. (Sounds seem to be transmitted through the ventilation and plumbing system, so it is hard to tell from where they come.)
Then I heard quotes from the Bangor Newspaper article about me. Even though I had neither seen nor heard the article, I knew this was what it was. I could have written the report myself.
The voice from below got my roommate George’s attention and told him he was rooming with a “skinner”. He asked me about it, and I did not deny it.
George is about 5” 10’ and fairly well built. He is a lot younger than I am. He certainly has more experience fighting than I do. However, he does not appear to be much stronger than I am. I now feel I would be close enough to being his match, so as to not make it worth his while to try to beat me up. He is afraid of crazies, and I could be a crazy if push came to shove. At first, I felt more intimidated by his swagger and bragging. I am reminded of the chimpanzee who discovered that by banging two garbage can lids together, he could terrify the other males in his group and vastly increase his prestige. There is a lot of garbage can banging in this place. Assessments of this sort went though my mind, as I sat on my bunk and watched him react to the news. But he was not to respond with violence.
“I’m not judgmental,” he said. He shook his head. “Still, I don’t know what to think.” He asked me more about it. I said I could not tell him what actually happened between myself and the boys. “But it was not the kind of thing one would assume from reading the newspaper.” That was a bit of an understatement. But he pointed out that his friends were “solid guys.” By this he meant the blustering, would-be-alpha males on the unit. They would not be happy with him. Still, though, he did not threaten me.
I suppose someone must have spread the news during the last recreation period (between 7 and 8). At any rate, on the first night of my stay in the orientation pod, I experienced the night calls on the dorm. I was, of course, unable to see anything or even guess who was shouting. They were just voices and screams in the night – loud, raucous, full of hate and venom – animal-like voices in their primitive intensity but with a malice and hatred that was distinctively human.
“Hey, Foster, you piece of shit.”
“You got to ‘check in’” (To “check in” means to check into protective custody – but also to die.)
“Why’d you do it?”
“Why don’t you kill yourself – I’ll do it for you.”
The chants started by one person and finished by another.
“Rip – per”
“Skin – ner”
It continued for, perhaps, a half hour and then died out. Not everybody had yet seen the newspaper article. They had not yet been incited to their full fury.
March 24, 2000
One of the features that pervasively colored my initial experience here on the orientation unit is the difficulty of accomplishing the simplest tasks in life. To make a telephone call, to write a letter, to secure an aspirin for a headache are all tasks that require planning and an inordinate investment of time.
If one had been outed as a “skinner”, taking a shower is a task requiring careful observation and planning. The showers here are fairly visible from the guard “tower”, so there is probably only minimal danger. There are three shower rooms – all on the lower level. For partial privacy, they have some curtains hanging down in front of them – but the person in the shower remains partially visible. The situation is complicated by the fact that there are two showerheads in each shower stall – partially separated by a partition. The shower room opposite the tower affords the greatest visibility, which is a plus for safety, even if a negative for modesty.
The first task was to figure out whether more than one person ever went into one of the shower units, even though they accommodated two. I noticed that a person wanting a shower would wait outside, even if only one other person were inside using the double unit. I would have been a huge faux pas to go into a double shower stall when another person was using it – a faux pas that would have provided the nighttime screamers endless material for homophobic innuendo and ridicule.
The mistakes that I made when I took my first shower were less serious. I picked a time when about 4/5th of the inmates were out in the yard and nabbed an empty shower. However, I had things like my watch, a pencil, and a little paper with me (as I had been lying in wait for the right shower while writing). There was no dry place to put these things. So I put them on the floor and undressed. When I hung my clothes on a hook, it pivoted down and let everything fall on the wet floor.
“Something wrong with the hook,” I thought, and transferred everything to another one. Just as I put the last item on this hook, it did the same thing. Finally I managed, by using two hooks, to hang my things up, take my shower, and return to my room, more or less clean, but with a lot of soggy things in my possession. In my room, I noticed that the hooks were of similar construction. I had just never put enough things on them before to cause them to collapse. The reason they are made this way, I am sure, is so that nobody with suicidal impulses would be able to use them to hang himself.
As I went to get into line for receiving laundry, I noticed that the man who had questioned me about my charges earlier and had cautioned me to make up a story, went out of his way to fall in line behind me. He had introduced himself earlier as Lance.
“Don’t pay any attention to that stuff they say at night,” he told me. “They won’t do anything to you – not here. Maybe on the hill.” (”The hill” is the more open and less supervised section of S. Windham outside the Orientation Cottage.) He went on to explain to me that things would get better once I got off the Orientation Unit – if I got the right placement. He gave his assessment of some of the placement options that might be available later.
I was deeply touched by the kindness Lance showed in reaching out to me. In order to full appreciate this kindness, it is important to understand that if a man is openly friendly to an identified “skinner”, he risks being harassed as a “skinner lover,” or even suspected of being a skinner himself. This was the first of a number of gestures of friendliness that I received or witnessed.
During the evening after the final recreation period George stood in front of the door and began talking about his life. Occasionally I would try to add comments about my own experiences that related in some way to what he was telling me. But he would interrupt without registering anything I said, and would continue talking. Soon it became evident that he required very little input from me in order to consider our interchange a conversation. So I limited myself to nods, grunts and an occasional question.
He told me about a time he was younger when some other kids he was with beat him up, tied his hands with a plastic bag, and left him to freeze to death in snowy woods. He made it back and found various ways to get revenge on these people over the years.
He talked about the fancy clothes (color coordinated right down to the socks), and the expensive cars he used to own. He was known as “Pretty Boy” because of his attention to style.
Gradually the focus of his talk shifted to what he really wanted in life. His first choice would be to be a physical education instructor. He also thought about how nice it would be to be a police officer or a teacher. He said he like kids and dreamed of opening a youth center to keep them out of trouble. He realized however, that most of these options were closed to him because of his felon status.
Then he talked about the important people in his life. His four-year-old daughter was the most important person. He would like to be able to pull his life together for her sake. He had a grandfather and a grandmother who had been good to him. Finally the grandparents of his daughter continue to be supportive and helpful to him. It struck me that what he most dreamed of having in life, and probably never would, were things that had been a part of my life up to this last year: meaningful work with children and adolescents, a stable family, and people I could depend on. It was curious how easily he poured his heart out to a contemptible skinner.
Later while he talked to me in front of my cell, the night screaming and chanting started up again. I sat on my bunk listening to him while he stood against the door, as if shielding me from those voices we both chose to ignore.
March 25, 2000
I was sitting at a table downstairs when a tall, gangly young man came up to me and said I needed to “check out.” This, I later learned, was Ron (not his real name). I didn’t understand at first. Thinking he was delivering a message that a guard had asked that I “check in” with him, I stood up and looked around. Then, I notice that Ron was presenting in a threatening mode – arms away from his side and shoulders pulled back, head cocked to one side, mouth open slightly and feet apart. He rocked back and forth and said, “You got to check out, man, now.”
I recalled now the meaning of “check out”.
“I don’t need to check out,” I said, and sat back down.
Later George told me that Ron has a charge of sexual assault against him and is trying to shift attention away from himself. Also, according to George, Ron’s mother pays a muscular, street-wise black, whom I will call Gordon, $30. a week to protect him. I noticed that Gordon hangs close to him, and I wondered whether this might be true. I am the one with the least prestige on the unit, and Ron is trying to bolster his image by making threatening gestures toward me. It never occurred to me to be afraid of this kid. I saw him as a malicious coward and a fool.
Later I was sitting at the end of a table when a group came by and filled the seats all around. They began to play cards. I figured I was not going to be welcome, and I begin to gather my things together. A big guy sitting next to me motions and says, “You’re all right.”
March 26, 2000
During the morning rec. period, I sat at my table (the unofficial “skinner” table) and tried to write a letter. Gordon and Ron wandered over and stood close enough, so that I could overhear their conversation. Gordon is a heavy set, obviously street-wise, black who has his head shaved except for a pigtail hanging down in back.
“People who hurt children should check out,” Gordon said, “before they get seriously hurt.”
He continued to talk in this vein for about 5 minutes with Ron nodding and agreeing. I pretend not to notice.
Throughout the day, wherever I went, I heard people taunting me with “skinner” and “ripper.” During lock-down times, they occasionally called out of their cells. “Foster, you will die,” “Why’d you do it, Foster?” And “Skinner,” occasionally accompanied with loud banging. I also heard someone call my cell-mate, George, a “skinner lover,” which concerns me because if too much pressure builds up on him, I might lose the relatively secure situation I have in my room.
While I was in line for lunch, I heard someone behind me say something about a counselor. I knew this is for my benefit. “Someone like that can’t afford to turn his back,” the person said.
Except for purposes of harassment, no one sat near me or engaged me in conversation for fear of diverting unwanted harassment from me to himself.
During the afternoon lock-down, I told George I don’t know whether I can take it anymore. I am thinking about asking to be placed in Protective Custody (P.C.). He tried to discourage this course of action. He told me that in P.C. “You’re in a room by yourself. You got nobody to talk to. It’s mostly skinners.” The more he talked, the better it sounded – like that might be just my brier patch. “There’s some rats there and a few punks,” he added.
“Why do the punks end up there?” I asked.
“Because they kept getting beat up because of their mouths.”
As he tried to talk me into staying, George told me his philosophy of survival. “You can’t trust anyone,” he said. “I got no friends here – just acquaintances.”
That evening in the supper line, I heard two people near me talk about a skinner who “took advantage” of some kids and “ruined their lives.” The person goes on to say, “I hope something like that happens to him.”
In the laundry line later, I heard one person saying to the guy beside him, “You hear about those kids who got their lives ruined?”
That night, so that I would not forget, I jotted down some of the things that various people screamed at me out of their cell doors,:
“We’re going to strap you to the toilet, Foster, and fuck you in the ass.”
“Push the fucking buzzer, you piece of shit.”
“Kill yourself you fucking piece of shit.”
“Die, ripper, die.”
“I’m going to stick it in your hairy ass.”
“Burn, skinner, burn.”
“Check in, Foster.”
“Why’d you do it?”
“Little boy fucker!”
It went on for about 45 minutes. After it stopped I was able to settle down and try to sleep.
March 27th, 2000
Donald Moran, my attorney, called in the morning. Because he is a lawyer they called me out to call him back. One of the worst things about the first 5 days on the A Pod was that I had no way to contact my wife, Boo. I knew she would be worrying. I told Donald to let her know I was alive and surviving. He had called her already and said he would get this message to her. I was incredibly grateful to Donald for taking the trouble to make these calls.
When the call was done, I talked with Bud Spellman, the case manager for the orientation unit. (It was from the phone in his office that I made the call.) I told Bud how terrible things were for me on the unit and requested a transfer to another unit. He said it would be best to get through orientation on the A Pod. It would take about 2 months to get classified and another month after that to get transferred to Elk’s Bay. I asked about Amherst. He said that would be “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” (Amherst was the place they finaly sent me.)He suggested that getting transferred now would slow down the classification process. He pointed out that “P.C.” is a classification and explained that “Administrative Segregation” is a less restrictive classification than “Protective Custody.”
When I returned to the A Pod, it was during the morning rec. period. I sat down at my table to think about my conversations with Donald Moran and with Bud Spellman – Gordon came over and sat down at the table across from me and gave me menacing looks. I got up and went to the drinking fountain. When I returned I sat some distance from Gordon. He got up and moved over besides me. He pretended to be holding some sort of weapon in his shirt. I went to another table.
During the afternoon rec. period, a person I don’t know came up to me with the pretext of talking with me about a mystery he was reading. Then he said to me, “Just stand up and do your time. Don’t pay any attention to these guys. Nobody is going to hurt you.”
The pressure, however, continues to build. Everywhere I went, people made harassing comments. During lock up, I could hear people yelling out of their cell doors. Rather than leave me alone during rec. periods, guys would now sit near me or walk by making harassing comments.
By afternoon lockdown, I felt that I had reached a point of emotional exhaustion. I told George that I was going to ask to be transferred, and he called a guard who was going by. She came and talked with me. “I can’t take anymore of this,” I said. My voice broke.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“All the threats and stuff. I need to get out of here.” I could barely speak without crying.
“I need to check with someone else,” she said.
She left, and I began writing a note to the effect that I felt my life was in danger. Within five minutes, another guard came by. “We are going to have you talk with Sgt. Carter,” he said.
Sgt. Carter was a neatly dressed and laid back man of medium build. He invited me to sit down and asked me what was happening. I began to tell him, but completely broke down, and started crying. It was probably two or three minutes before I could get control of myself.
As soon as I was able to, I told him what had been happening. He commented that people with my charges are often treated that way. He told me that it was unlikely I would be killed. Finally, he said that he had no space that would be appropriate in another unit. If I insisted on being transferred, I would have to be placed in segregation with the troublemakers. While I would be safe from physical attack there, he thought I would be tormented worse in segregation with troublemakers than on the A Pod. “Try to stay on A Pod until tomorrow,” he said. “Then we’ll see.”
I agree to this and returned to the unit.
During lock-down after supper, I heard some people shouting and cursing at someone else – I couldn’t quite catch his name. I commented on this to George. “Yeah,” he said. “When a new one comes in, they start in on him.”
“Why’d you do it,” someone screamed.
“Die, you fucking skinner.”
“Kill yourself. Do it now.”
They were not screaming at me, at least for the moment. I felt relief that someone had come along to take the heat off of me. And I felt ashamed to feel relief for this reason.
March 28, 2000
I was up a good deal of the night meditating, thinking and asking God for help on how to deal with the increasing pressure under which many of the men were putting me. Obviously, I wasn’t going to hit anybody unless I was actually physically attacked. But what was I going to do” Finally I recalled a story I had read about Mother Theresa. Some men who did not want her working in India were harassing her on a regular basis. Finally, she confronted one of them. “Look,” she said, “if you are going to kill me, do it. Otherwise leave me alone. I’ve got work to do.” This seemed to be the right tack.
The next morning during the rec. period, I sat down in my usual place. Morgan soon came by and sat down beside me. He was again pretending that he carried a concealed weapon. I doubted that he had anything as formidable as a knife, but was also sure I was no match for him physically.
I looked at the hand that was presumably toying with a weapon hidden in his clothes. “Look,” I said. “If you are going to hit me or hurt me, go ahead and do it. Otherwise, leave me alone.” I made no motion either to protect myself or to leave.
He stared at me a few moments. Then he made a gesture of appeasement – showing me the open, weaponless palms of his hand. “I’m a peaceful man,” he said.
“That’s good.” I said.
He leaned toward me, again in a menacing way. I did not pull back. He stood up and walked around behind me. He hovered, close to my back. I didn’t even look around to acknowledge his presence. Finally, he left and began walking around the parameter of the A Pod, as though he had nothing more on his mind than getting some exercise.
This was a victory for me. I was elated.
At lunchtime, I forgot to take my drink when I got my food. My place was only a couple of steps from the end of the serving line. I stood up and asked the inmate serving the drinks for a glass of juice. He, it seemed, was one of those with the self-assigned task of tormenting me.
“Oh, it’s all out,” he said. He jiggled the big plastic juice container by way of proof. I knew, of course, that he was lying.
“I guess I’ll have to do with water,” I said. “I’ll need a cup.”
I took a paper cup and went to the water fountain on the other side of the A Pod. When I returned with my water, I saw the drinks man serving juice to two guards.
“Oh, I see you found some,” I said with a smile. “Great.” I picked up an empty cup and handed it to him. The guards looked a little confused, and moved on. The juice man filled the cup almost to overflowing so as to cause me to spill it, and set it on the table. I picked it up carefully, took a sip, and returned with it to my place.
My second victory.
During the lock down period after supper, I lay on my bed and listened to the screamers torment the most recent pedophile they had uncovered.
“I’m gong to get you into a head lock and rip your head off.”
“Why’d you do it?” etc. – all this accompanied by growls, laughter and banging on doors. I still didn’t know the new guy’s name, but I caught a glimpse of him. He looked soft and gentle. He was obviously terrified. I heard from my roommate that he couldn’t read or write. He is probably a little retarded.
It is clear that the systematic terrorizing of people who have been involved in any kind of sexual behavior with minors is a planned and an institutionally supported aspect of the mistreatment of “pedophiles.” A few simple changes in where people are placed and some modifications of administration policy could change all this. It’s the “good cop, bad cop” strategy. This insane screaming and abuse is the artillery bombardment that precedes the arrival of the stern but sympathetic counselors with their demand for total surrender. A completely broken man can then publicly weep, confess his sins, and beg for forgiveness. At that point, he has been made ready to “begin the healing process,” and to, eventually, re-enter society.
“I’m going to fuck you in your hairy ass you piece of shit.” That is the voice of Christian Puritanism as much as the offer for forgiveness at the end of the “healing” process. It’s the warp and woof of a single fabric.
Mr. Lewis was a big man who had been a guard here for a long time. He had a reputation for being tough. He was strict in enforcing the rules.
The final rec. period ended at 9:00. Generally from about 9:00 to 11:00, there was some yelling out of the cell doors and banging around. But the serious abuse of the unacceptable kind generally did not begin until 10:45 or 11:00. At around 9:30, I heard someone yell out of his door: “Hey, Lewis, you fat fuck.”
Mr. Lewis was standing alone down on the floor of the A Pod rec. room. He yelled back at the owner of the anonymous voice: “No!” he corrected him, “That’s Mr. Lewis, you fat fuck.”
The screaming after bedtime was very loud and aggressive. It began in earnest after Lewis – that is to say, Mr. Lewis – left. Some of it was directed at a new person, and some of it at me. In addition to the now familiar chants and curses, there were a few new ones.
“We’re gong to get you in the morning, Foster, and fuck you in the ass.”
“Be careful in the showers. You sucked a little kid’s dick; we’re going to have you suck a real man’s dick.”
After the screaming and banging died down, I fell asleep and had two nightmares. I don’t remember the first one well – only that my wife, Boo was around and that I was going crazy. Then I dreamed I woke up. I am hiking with Boo along a trail. We encounter some dogs, but they are friendly. It is dusk. She goes ahead of me, and I lose track of her. I begin hunting for her. I grow increasingly frantic. It is dark. I am consumed with dread and horror.
Then I think I am lying in bed in the old house in Kansas City. I see my hand beside my face, and it startles me. It really is my hand, and I am awake, for real this time.
March 29, 2000
During the rec. period in the afternoon, several guys I don’t know come over and sat down across from me at my table. A thin man with a short beard seemed to be the spokesperson.
How many books did you write?” he asked.
“I heard there were lots.”
“That’s rumors. How much can you trust rumors?”
“Would I tell him the name of the book?” I said, No. “What about the publisher?”
He asked “Why I wouldn’t tell.”
A couple of others came by and sat on either side of me.
“Any information that people get is used against me.” I explained. “So much stuff gets thrown in my face at night, how can I trust anybody?”
The spokesperson looked at me, his eyes wide with innocence.
“We aren’t those,” he said.
“How do I know that?”
A red pencil was on the table beside my regular one. I had brought it down to sharpen it for my roommate. The guy on my right said,
“Hey, I see you got two pencils. I need one.”
“Sorry. I need that.” I moved the red pencil over in front of me and folded up the letter I was working on so they couldn’t see it.
“How many here you think are against you?” asked the spokesperson.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe 99%.”
“Shit,” he said. “Half the people here are skinners.”
When I returned to my room at the end of the rec. period, George wanted to know what had happened. I told him.
He shook his head. “Don’t trust anybody,” he said. “This is prison.”
During the last shift, Morgan sat down next to me and tried to read what I was writing.
That night when the 11 pm screaming began again, I was asked “Why don’t want anybody to know the name of your book.”
March 30, 2000
In the morning, I was called out to see the Physician’s Assistant. We had no sooner exchanged greetings than he looked at me with his head cocked to one side and said, “If your don’t mind my saying this, you don’t look like a criminal.”
I shrugged and contemplated asking whether he had studied phrenology, but decided against it. “I don’t know what to say,” I said.
Can I ask you why you are here?”
“It was a sex offense.” Curious. What does a “Criminal” look like? Someone from the lower classes, I suppose – a person with bad teeth who used poor grammar.
A fight broke out at lunch. A man at a nearby table had a tray of food dumped on him. The guards were quick to respond and took the one who threw the tray out of the pod. I asked my roommate George whether he knew anything about this when we went back to our cells. He shrugged. “The guy who got food dumped on him was a skinner,” he said.
March 31, 2000
The frequency and intensity of comments against me increased from the moment I came out for breakfast. Some people had decided to agitate against me in a big way. Everywhere I went, I heard comments and threats both from people who happened to pass close to me and from the doorways of the inmates in the hall of the unit that was not out for recreation or meals when we were. As I started down the stairs on my way to the morning recreation session, one of the biggest guys on the unit – one I had believed to be neutral toward me sneered up at me. “I’m going to kill your fucking ass,” he said.
I had not been sitting long at the table I always used when Morgan came over and sat down across from me. I ignored his initial comments – which on the surface were not hostile.
“I’m not gong to hurt you, “ he said. “I want to talk for real.”
“If that’s for real, I’ll talk with you.” I said.
A guard came over to the table and sat down two seats away. Morgan explained to the guard that he was just going to talk with me – he wasn’t threatening me. I signaled to the guard that it was all right, and we moved a little further down the table and sat across from each other.
Morgan wanted me to know that he was an intelligent and serious person who actually was interested in Buddhism. I said I believed him, but he wanted to prove it, so he went back to his room and returned with four books that were, in fact, serious expositions on different aspects of Buddhist thought.
Morgan said that he thought I should ask to get into protective custody. He said that if I stayed on the unit, I might get hurt by somebody, or set up in some way. He said that’s what happened to Cheetah. Cheetah was the small man who appeared to be from Dravidian decent who was in the first fight I witnessed on the unit. Someone hit him, and he threw his coffee at them. Then, apparently, it was claimed Cheetah started it. Morgan said this led to Cheetah being sent to max, and that it hurt his classification. What the actual outcome of this situation was, I don’t know, but I don’t doubt that the intent was as Morgan portrayed it.
As I listened to Morgan, I weighed the factors that I needed to consider:
1. It would be better if I were able to finish my orientation, as that would facilitate my classification process – which would enable me to move on.
2. There appeared to be real danger to me – both of serious physical injury and of getting set up for difficulty with the system.
3. If people located the notes for my journal, they might interpret them in a negative way – inmates might see me as a “rat” collecting information on them – prison authorities might (plausibly) think that I was collecting information that could be used in an expose.
I told Morgan that I wanted to finish orientation and that, toward the end of the day, I would ask to be moved. Morgan asked me to tell the authorities when I talked with them that he had helped me out. I also decided that I would send my notes to Betsy for safekeeping until I felt I was in a more secure situation. I was determined to have as complete a record as possible of my stay in A Pod.
My cellmate George disclosed a new wrinkle that had developed in the situation.
“Some guy claimed that when he came by our window and looked in, he saw me on your ass,” he said. He shook his head. “I ain’t no fagot – not by a long shot. I can’t let that go by.”
He looked at me with a peculiar apologetic smile. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I like you. You’re a nice guy.” He looked down and shrugged. “But I can’t live with you any more.”
I felt he was genuinely sorry, and that he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. “I’m getting out of here before the day is over,” I said.
“I’m talking to a guard this evening.”
“Can’t you do it sooner?”
“I want to finish orientation. They may have a session this afternoon.”
“Lewis is going to be on this evening. He may not let you go.”
He had a point there. Lewis could be very obstinate. I though about it and decided there was just too much pressure and risk in my staying, even for the rest of the afternoon. We agreed that when he went down for medication in about 15 minutes, he would ask a guard to come up to speak to me about placing me in preventive detention.
When the guard arrived, I said I had had it and was ready to go. He said he would talk to the officer in charge and left. About ten minutes later, a guard returned and told me to pack up.
About five minutes later, I left A Pod amidst hooting and jeering from the doors where people were locked up, and insulting comments from people on the floor.
I was escorted to a small office where Sgt. Carter asked me to take a seat. In response to his questioning, I told him what had been happening in the unit and said that I felt I was in danger of physical attack. He commented that some other “high profile” men, with charges similar to mine, were expected to arrive momentarily, and that they would probably take the heat off of me. He also said that I might still face problems on any new unit. Nevertheless, he conceded I had made an effort on the A Pd and agreed to move me.
The new unit (B Pod) to which I was taken was much smaller than the A Pod. B Pod, at full capacity, contains 24 inmates as opposed to 90 on the A Pod. It is in the same general pattern – small cells with two bunks a piece arranged around a larger rec. room with a small yard – but it was all on a smaller scale.
All the guys were out playing basketball when I arrived. I deposited my things in the specified cell and came out to the rec. room where I made a call to Boo. Then I sat down to work on a letter. Suddenly, a glass full of water flooded down on my head, drenching the letter and other sheets of paper in front of me. My first thought was that someone had thrown urine on my head. However, the lack of odor assured me that it was only water. My second thought was: “Oh Shit, it’s going to start over again here.”
Almost at the same moment that I was showered with the water, the guys began coming in from outside recreation. A tall muscular guy I later learned was Ritchie asked what had happened.
“Someone threw water on me,” I said.
“Did you see who it was?”
I shrugged. “I don’t have any idea.”
With a tone of genuine indignation, Ritchie said in a loud voice for the benefit of the whole unit, “It’s not fair – whatever he did – to do that to an old man who can’t defend himself.” I made note of the phrase “whatever he did”: that was loaded with significance. Also, I decided that I was not above taking advantage of the status of “old man.”
I went to another table and began to assess the damage and plan how to cope with it. People brought me paper to replace the paper that was damaged and offered me coffee. About 5 minutes later, a young man with two missing front teeth came up behind me and apologized for throwing water on me. This was Victor. He offered me his hand. Obviously someone had put pressure on him. I was astonished. I shook his head and said, “That’s all right.”
A little later Ritchie came up to me and spoke in a confidential tone. “Don’t worry. Whatever you are in for, they won’t hassle you. Some guys have even said I was a skinner.”
The sequence of events surrounding my entry into the B Pod was the first hopeful thing that happened to me since my going into the courtroom on the 22nd. But I wondered whether I could trust it. Would something else come along to cause the bottom to drop out? Could I really trust this peculiar turn of events?
Later in the afternoon, I mentioned that I was cold and needed a sweatshirt. The laundry people saw to it that I had one by the time clean clothes were passed out that evening.
Things were looking up. But one obstacle in the course still remained. My roommate was a hard-ass.
I have noticed that roommates who are new to each other here waste little time feeling each other out. When the afternoon rec. period was over and we returned to our cells for lock-up, I met Burt. Medium height, stocky and surly, he lay on the bottom bunk and barely returned my greeting when I introduced myself. Before the hour was over, he had asked me what my sentence was, which I told him and what I was in for. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it. He got out of his bunk and stood by the door.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because it’s nobody else’s business!”
He frowned. “I guess that’s right,” he said. “But when a person doesn’t want to talk about it, it makes me think he’s probably a skinner.”
I shrugged. “You can think what you want,” I said. “But I just don’t want to talk about it.”
We discussed this at some length. Or to be more accurate, he told me at some length that if I wanted to survive here I needed to make up a story. This was not, of course, a new idea to me.
As supper approached, I said, “I don’t think you like me very much, but if we have to be roommates, we might as well try to get along.”
“That depends,” he said, “on why you are here.”