Saturday, March 22, 2008

Robert and the "Sisters"

Until you actually spend some time in a place like this, it's really difficult to know if the stereotypes we have about what kind of people are in prison are real or simply misperceptions. I had seen movies and television programs that had the full bevy of characters you might expect. You see the "bosses", the one's who seem to get whatever they want...items that none of the other inmates seem to have. And there are the "fish", inmates that are brand new and seem to be lost all the time. There are snitches, enforcers and thieves. They always seemed to be there on the big (or small) screen, but did they exist in real life?

A week after I got to this new place I called home, a new guy moved into the unit. His name was Robert and he was quite a bit younger than I was. He was a Mormon and had spent some time in the army, and in fact, had served in Desert Storm in Iraq. He apparently noticed that I was a Christian...I guess the fact that I always seemed to have a Bible in my hands was probably a big "give-away". We became friends (if that's the right word in this place) and spent quite a bit of our free time together.

He was an interesting specimen. He said he was in "Club Snoopy" because he had cut the barrel off of a shotgun because he wanted to commit suicide after his girlfriend broke up with him. I learned never to discount someone else's story, so maybe it was true. (He also said he was a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church...but again, who really knows.) He taught me how to play chess, a game I hadn't played since I was in high school. He was very well read and we would talk about all kinds of different things. He would share his letters from back in Utah with me and it became pretty obvious that the letters that he mailed out were probably just as bizarre as the ones that he shared with me.

On many evenings, we would walk the track just to kill time. One night, as we were walking, we noticed "them". They were pretty easy to notice. It was a group of three African Americans. They were sitting on the bleachers next to one of the softball fields. What help to set them apart from the other inmates, and in particular the African American inmates, was the way the made up their hair, their fingernails and the way they put their make-up on in the mornings. Most of us didn't use make-up, especially since it wasn't available at the commissary. And maybe because most of the men here didn't wear make-up, but these three did. Robert decided to call these guys the "Sisters"...a pretty appropriate title.

The "Sisters" would talk like girls and definitely worked on having all of the feminine mannerisms they could muster. They crossed their legs tightly and "limped" their wrists. They talked in falsetto voices sand and danced around like the stereotypical "fairies" most of us would picture. At times as we would walk past them, they would be talking about guys they been with on the outside before they ended up in this place and it seemed they would raise their voices to make sure those around them could hear. Or maybe, they just wanted one of us to hear them.

It soon became apparent that one...or maybe all...of them liked Robert. They would stare at him every chance they had. If we were walking into the chow hall and the "Sisters" were sitting at a table eating, they would stop and watch Robert walk in. It was like wolves sizing up the next meal from the sheepfold. It soon became almost a joke and we both would simply laugh.

But then, Robert's bizarre side came out a little bit. He had been sharing stories about the "Sisters" to some of his buddies back in Utah. He tended to exaggerate a little bit about what they might do to him, but then, maybe Robert knew something I didn't. About a week after Robert got a letter from his friends, he decided that it might be "fun" to actually talk to the "Sisters" and get his picture taken with them to send to his friends. As we talked about it, we knew there might be some danger in that plan since one or more of them might think that Robert actually liked them and might want to develop more than just a distant relationship.

Sadly, all of Robert's plans for a picture were interrupted. Apparently, the "Sisters" were having some other problems on the compound and one day, they just simply disappeared. I learned over the three years I was there that disappearances were common. The rumor mill reported that they had all "PC'd" themselves (asked for protective custody) because they were being threatened by some men in their unit. Like all rumors, there was never any way to substantiate it, but they never did return to the compound. And Robert never did get to have his picture taken with the "Sisters" for his friends back home.

It didn't take very long being on the compound to realize that the stereotypes really do exist. I was soon to become acquainted with more of these characters who could have come right out of Hollywood.


Deb said...

I really like this new direction you're taking. I want to know more about Robert's weird writing and I want a better picture of him. If you were friends, what did he like about you besides your Bible? Is he Christian? Would you have gone with him to talk to the Sisters? More. More. More.

I'm hoping you give me more pictures of the people you lived with for those three years, and how you felt as one of them.

I really love the part about the makeup - your humor adds so much to the story. A story that could be anything but funny and hopeful and full of life, but is in fact all of those things because it's you telling it.

I love you.

Rudra said...

Interesting to know.