Talk, and it never ceases for a second, is of crimes … easy, non-emotive, clinical discussions of crime, with all the passion of oncologists discussing tumors. Every variety of crime save sex crimes – a major taboo I will discuss in depth later. Half the unsolved crimes in Fairfield County could be solved if anyone bothered to listen in, at least a third of the future crimes as well (nothing more amazing than to listening to guys locked up plan a crime, like the designers of the Titanic hearing the news and planning to rebuild her, exactly). But, of course, no one is interested, for a host or reasons, not the least of which, I realize much, much later, is job security.
I move from one pen to another, am stripped searched for the first time (it’s only humiliating the first fifty or so times, then one learns how to turn the tables), get to jump into a shower for a few much needed minutes, issued my first pair of tan pants with elastic waist and white t-shirt. (NOTE: I’ve been in ten prisons in five states, this was the only communal shower. The prison shower room is a fallacy, the cliche, of prison shows and movies. Inmates abhor male nudity to the point of outright phobia. I have played sports most of my adult life, have taken showers with a dozen guys at a time, have never seen anything like it — fear, revulsion, fear – it would be funny if it was not so pathetic).
Into the medical holding cell to await physical and mental ‘exam’. The two guys on the bench next to me – we have all been stripped searched by this point – are snorting heroin they had hidden in their court papers. They are the happiest, calmest men I have seen all day, including my lawyer. Looking back, this is also the first empirical evidence I have as to the efficiency and work ethic of COs.
“Any current health problems?”
My mental health exam:
“Know where you are?”
“Good,” note absence of logical followup, “know what day it is?”
“Yup.” [note absence of followup question].
“Good”, ditto, “Thinking of killing yourself?”
Done. I find out a little later a yes answer leads to immediately being stripped naked and thrown into a padded cell (no, really) to be on a TV for at least 24 hours. I am very imaginative, but for the life of me I cannot envision how that is supposed to help one feel better about living.
Finally, midnight, armed with two sheets, I am directed toward my cell in ‘the blocks’. I walk through freezing cold hallways, stand in front of a secured, sliding door waiting for someone to notice me, it ‘pops’ open (an apt verb), I walk through ….. into a furnace. Apparently a high bond means no air conditioning.
My ‘unit’ is dark, reeks, my cell door is popped, scrapes open (I never got accustomed to that sound, thank God), and I step into a tiny cell, bunks to my right, toilet straight ahead, a foot or so from the lower bunk…. my lower bunk. A cellmate is asleep above, I lie on a mattress as thin and comfortable as a weekday New York Times, and stare up, listening to noises until 6:00 am when the door snarls open and we go to breakfast in a small, glass enclosed, ‘day room’, the TV blaring some inane local morning news show that echos off the glass and around and around, like shrapnel in a tank. To this day, I refuse to watch the local news, morning, noon, evening, night. I will not do it.