September 5, 2005, Bridgeport Jail – mid-afternoon, I met my first DOC counselor, a short, overweight, 30ish white woman who projected an air of wanting to be anywhere except in a windowless office in a jail that should have been bulldozed under (and the ground salted) thirty years earlier.
“My clothes were thrown out when I went to the infirmary, I need pretty much everything,” was how I started after she nodded in my general direction and sighed deeply.
“Okay, put in a written request for whatever you need.”
“Great, could I get some paper and a pen?”
“Can’t give you those – do you want some toothpaste?”
“No . . . I need paper and a pen.”
“Just buy some in commissary.”
“I don’t have a commissary account, I just got here.”
“Oh, okay, you need to make out a request and note that you’re indignant.”
“I’m also indigent.”
“That’s what I said.”
“So, exactly how do I request the paper and pen I need to request the clothes I also need?”
Deep sigh, “You just write it on a simple piece of paper and drop it in the request box.” The ‘duh’ was implied.
“Really?” I deadpanned
“Simple as that,” she ended the conversation.
The matter was rectified when a late shift CO needed some advice on filing for a divorce. An hour consultation that resulted in plenty of paper, a bunch of pens, and all the t-shirts, boxers, tan shirts and pants a guy could ever want.
Four and one half years later, almost to the day, I was evicted from prison – at 4:53 PM to be exact. Emergency court order faxed to Willard CI in Somers. I was reading in the privacy of a small dorm with only 131 other men, trying to make myself small because a troop of guys were due back from getting legal mail any minute and they would be sprinting to get to me in the (false) assumption my legal opinion was best when I was fresh. The phone rang, CO at the desk answered, hung up yelled out “Hey Mr. Hicks, c’mon down!”
He was short, black, and a really nice guy – yup, one of the few – and when I got to the desk he leaned over and whispered, “I just got a call you’re gonna’ love, you’re outta’ here, my friend. Get down to the counselors’ offices.”
The counselor offices. Where the counselor on duty was a man who had managed to hold on to the title counselor without having ever been heard to speak. When I walked into his office his eyes were flicking between the fax from court and the clock above his desk – his shift was over in five minutes and counselors did not get overtime.
The guy was creepy on a good day, this day he was off the charts. He handed the release order to me, pointed, handed me the phone, I made the call home. . . he never said a word. Until I hung up.
“How’d you do this?” He snarled.
“Do what?” I was already in a daze, he was adding to it rapidly.
“Get out like this – it doesn’t happen,” he spit that. Then I realized – even in that moment, in the state I was in – that he was angry. Unreasonably angry. Ned Beatty at the conference table ‘you have meddled with the primal forces of nature’ angry.
I didn’t know how to handle it, I was having an out-of-body experience, had been through hell getting to that point, and this counselor was killing it. And getting more pissed off every second.
It occured to me I was technically free, so I moved to leave. He stopped me. Leaned in very close, hissed, “Stay away from the inmates, you might infect them.”
That was it, I got out of there. The last words spoken to me by a staff member while I still had to listen. Or pretend to. Another counselor from the opposite end of the spectrum from the first. Perfect bookends and a pretty good synopsis of the whole process.