Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Day is Finally Done...1085 to go!

That first day passed fairly uneventfully...if you can call turning yourself in to spend the next three years behind bars uneventful. I went to dinner with Gary and Larry and discovered (not for the first time) that they had beans for dinner. But then I guess with a population of about 70% Hispanic, I should have expected that. After dinner was over, I thought I would do a little more walking around the compound.

I was starting to get a vague picture of the schedule here. During the day, the compound is considered closed. In other words, you always have to account for your whereabouts and be signed in someplace. In addition, once you get someplace, you have to stay there until they call for a "Rec move". These typically last for about 10 minutes and give you enough time to get to your next destination. But after dinner, it was different. It was almost like you had a little bit of freedom. The compound was open until 9:30 and this meant you could essentially walk anyplace you wanted to inside the two rows of ten foot high fence and the razor wire.

I walked over to the chapel and looked around. It was pretty quiet. I didn't go in any of the rooms. I checked the bulletin board to see when the services were and then wandered back outside. The temperature was still in the 80's and it was quite warm in my institution issued khaki's and t-shirt and big heavy work boots. I walked down to the library and stuck my head inside. It was definitely the noisiest library I had ever been in with most of the tables full of men either buried in law books or playing cards or chess. There were no staff members visible in the room supervising and there were several adjoining classrooms filled with mostly Hispanic men that I would discover later were in GED classes. The noise from the typing room wafted down the hallway and as I stuck my head in, every typewriter was filled as men were writing letters to loved ones or writing a brief for their next appeal.

From the library I walked over to the recreation yard. I had been here earlier with Gary but hadn't really spent any time. Inside, the pool tables were full and the excercise machines were being used by men who looked like they had just come out the shower with their sweat soaked bodies. As I went outside, the tables under the coverings were all filled, mostly with men playing dominos or chess or cards. A few tables even had scrabble games going. To the south end, the volleyball court was busy with a Mexican version of volleyball that would have driven a PE teacher crazy and at the north end, the bocce ball courts were filled with older men looking for some quiet competetion. In the center, the loud voices of the mostly African American crown was jeering and cheering the players on the basketball court. The "wannabe" NBA'ers were doing their thing, trash talking each other and officials every chance they got.

The dirt track was filled, as I would find it was almost every night with men in groups mostly, making the slow 600 yard walk around the soccer fields. I found myself being drawn to the big cirlce and slowly walked the dirt oval, looking like a "new kid" at the fences and the open fields and hills beyond. Even now, only seven hours behind the fence, it was hard to remember what it had been like. And even harder, to think how long it would be before I would find myself back out there.

The work boots soon felt heavy on my feet and I slowly walked back to the unit. The TV room was loud with the slamming of the dominos and the cussing of the losers in the card games. The actors on the TV mouthed their words silently...the volume only available if you had a radio. Of course, I didn't have one so I left and found myself back in my cube. Larry was laying on his bed doing his college homework and Gary was down in the "white" TV room. I grabbed the guidebook they had given me when I checked in and crawled up onto my upper bunk. As I laid down and tried to read, the noise from the building was almost overwhelming. Our cube was right next to the entry to the bathrooms and showers so nearly every man made the trip past our open cube. I was soon to discover that this happened at all hours of the day and night, and most of these men had never been told that it was polite to keep quiet while everyone else was sleeping.

The compound was soon closed and it was time to call it a day. I knew that we had another count at 10:00 PM and I thought that it was a "standing count" so I moved back down and sat in one of the hard, plastic chairs. Soon, the two officers came up the hallway counting us and as they finished, the lights were turned off and many of the men noisily made their way back to the TV rooms or to the microwave or to the showers. I got undressed and crawled back up into my bunk. I tried to plump up my flat pillow but it was a losing cause. The goose that gave it's feathers for that pillow was either very small or was geriatric and had lost most of his feathers before making it to the pillow factory.

I'm not sure what time I finally dozed off, but it wasn't early. I was dead tired from the events of the past 48 hours but sleep didn't come easily. The sounds seemed amplified and the man with sleep apnia sleeping three feet from my head didn't lessen the problem any. Tomorrow would bring a new day...day two of this 1086 that I would spend in this wilderness.

1 comment:

Deb said...

You manage to make this sound common-place and achingly lonely all at the same time. I kept expecting you to do something against the rules and get in trouble without knowing you were doing anything wrong. I also keep expecting someone to hassle you or try to hurt you.

The culture shock is palpable.

I'm on pins and needles waiting for the next chapter!