Lockdown, The Docudrama

So you want to know what it’s like inside?

I heard you were curious about how we live in here. I’ll tell you, but you probably won’t believe me. I mean it’s not like on TV, or movies. Even the documentaries you have seen don’t fully do it justice. You see I can only tell you about my personal experience. I can’t tell you what it was like for the 100 or so men involved, or the 38 men that were hospitalized, or the 8 in intensive care with severe injuries, or the one that died in the 2-day 6 prison riot. I can only speculate about what it’s like to stand in the middle of an all-out race riot that started because of some off handed remark, and now panic, fear, and hatred are the currency traded on this concrete with hesitation and haste; because we don’t really want to do this but what will my “brothers” say if I don’t. I don’t know anything about fashioning a piece of my steel table into a barbaric murder axe, just to sink it between the ribs of my neighbor. I was smoking and joking with him yesterday, but now he is my mortal enemy. I just don’t know about that type of thing. And to be honest most of us don’t.

Sunday was a normal day, as these things go. I woke up, made a bowl of oatmeal, and drank some orange juice. It was about 7:45am and I sat in relative quiet for the few minutes it took me to heat and eat it. Of course there were people around,

…there are always people around.

But as long as no one is talking to me, I can almost block them out and have a similitude of privacy and solace. Since it was Sunday, and my day to work in visitation, I got dressed in my best Orange uniform (l only have one set). I don’t generally wear the orange jump suit, I pride myself on my prison fashion. But the bottom line is I can make even prison orange look good. I headed out around 8:30am on my way to the visiting room. I am a member of the photo club which means we set up a green screen and a table in the corner of the visiting room in order to take pictures of inmates and their family members. It’s a good fund raiser that brings smiles to families in hardship. I really like doing it. It was almost 2pm count time when I got back to the unit. I work the Crossings Church service on Sunday evenings, so I showered in order to be ready to head out when count clears. During count I found the Raiders’ game on TV. I almost hoped for a lockdown count so that could watch more of the game. No such luck. Count cleared on time, and I ran back to the visiting room, this time to move the tables and set up about 200 chairs for the service. There are several of us that do this task so it goes pretty quickly. Once done I had some time, so I went back to catch more of the game.

The Raiders were up 10–0 in the first quarter, but after the 2nd quarter the Chiefs took off. Patrick Mahomes is a beast, what can I say…

I needed to head back to the visiting room at 4:30pm. That meant I had 40 minutes to chill. Right at 4:20 my cellie (cell mate) came to the door. That is strange because he is the sound man at the service and cannot leave the equipment unattended. He said, “It’s a lockdown cellie.” He didn’t know why, he only had speculation that it “fell down” at another prison. So with that, at about 4:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, we were locked in our cell.

It’s crazy that events and circumstances unbeknownst to us affect our lives so immediately and drastically. If there is a huge fight, or even a shooting at the Walmart across town does the Walmart near you get closed down with police tape? Obviously, what actually happened in this case is completely different from the Walmart scenario; but that is how it feels for those of us that not only didn’t have anything to do with it, but also were completely unaware of it until we were remanded behind locked doors.

Let me describe the cell. From the door to the back wall its about 12 feet long. From one side to the other it is approximately 8 feet wide. Not too bad right? But that doesn’t take into consideration the 6' by 3' steel bunk beds on one side, or the locker boxes mounted to the wall on one end of the cell, or the steel desk that protrudes from the middle of the wall opposite the beds. It also doesn’t account for the sink directly inside the door on the right hand side, or the toilet on the left inside the door. That leaves maybe 8 square feet of bathroom for 6'2" me and my 6'10" cellie to eat, sleep, relax, exercise, and toilet in. Two giants but we make it work; luckily we are both skinny. Suffice it to say, I was able to watch the Raiders’ get beat 28–10 by the Chiefs. The rest of the night was spent flipping channels. At one point I looked out of the small window in the door and was hit with the seriousness of this lockdown. Normally men are escorted to medical for evening medication, this time the nurse came door to door. Not only that, but with her was an officer I did not recognize carrying what looked to me like a Mini 14 Machine Gun. Come to find out it was a pepper gun, but it appeared to be a fully automatic small arms rifle with a collapsible butt stock, and about 12–14 inch barrel. A sight I have never seen in my nearly 2 decades behind bars.

That was night one.

Monday I woke up like normal at 6am, though I soon realized we would not be getting out, so I went back to sleep. If you have ever done time in a cell locked down you know getting up, eating breakfast, and going back to bed is common. That’s when the best dreams happen. Today though, it was 9am before breakfast came. It consisted of a piece of wet coffee cake and an apple. Monday was spent reading, pacing the floor, and trying to catch up on things I had been neglecting. Lock-downs can be a blessing in disguise in the beginning for a person that is always busy like me. I even took a nap; though it was a little hot. We do not have air condition contrary to popular belief, and it is the end of summer. That night I watched the rest of the state out at the fair on the news then drifted off to sleep. That was night two.

Being locked down is just like the movie Ground Hog Day with Bill Murray. Except without the comedy. I get up, read my Bible, do some yoga, and think about what I should do for the day. Exercise is not a good idea on lock down because you don’t want to overly sweat. There are no showers for the first week or so of a lockdown, after that it’s only 3 times a week if you are lucky. I personally take Bird Baths in the sink though. I know you know what a Bird Bath is. No? Okay well I don’t literally hop my tall lanky self into the sink and splash around. That would be funny though. First I gather up what I need like soap, shampoo, towel, wash cloth, and clean undies.

Good hygiene is essential kids! So when you get to prison remember this
process.

I take my bed sheet and fashion a curtain between the sink area and the bed, so I can have a little privacy. I also put something over the window in the door, I don’t want to surprise an unsuspecting officer with an eyeful if they come around. Then I strip; it’s about to get real wet over here, so maybe put an old towel down or get out some cleaning rags. I start with my head, mind you the sink is just under 3 feet high, so I have to bend down pretty far to get my head under the water. Beauty is pain right? I soak myself down and soap up the essentials: head, pits, and under bits. Get a good lather then take the wet wash cloth and rinse repeat until the soap is gone. This is not a shower substitute friends, but it will knock the stank off, and give you a semblance of being clean before bed. One thing no one wants to do is get in bed for the nigh feeling slimy.

Prison for me has its ups and downs. Most “normal” days are fine. I mean there is always a dull ache in the back of my brain to remind me that l am not free, but mostly it’s bearable. I am involved in programs and activities, have a full time job that I really enjoy, play music with the band, and perform regularly. I guarantee most of my time is spent in non-prison related activity. Then there are the days where the dull ache turns all the way up. When it’s not an unspoken reminder that you are incarcerated, but an overt exclamation that you are the scum of the earth with no rights or validity. Lockdowns are like that. It can be a struggle to simply get toilet paper, let alone dignity. Staff that normally treat you well, even friendly on normal days, now give you the cold shoulder and looks of disdain. I can’t stand in my door to look out of the window at what is happening outside without feeling like a creep. You’re familiar with the saying, “if looks could kill,” in prison you get used to those looks, they even become normal.

Helplessness is your main companion when prison becomes all-too-real. Let me give you an example:

Earlier I mentioned that my family lives far away. My little sister, her husband and kids, live in North Carolina. I am very close with them. We planned well in advance for a special visit this weekend. We filed all the proper paperwork, and were approved. They wanted to come at this time because they are leaving the country to go be missionaries in Europe. They don’t know when they’ll be back in the U.S. but it will be at least a few years. They rented a truck, and a pull-behind camper for the drive. Traveling that distance with young kids and a trailer is a long, slow ride. Which is why they left on Tuesday. They were set to arrive mid-day on Thursday. It was Wednesday afternoon before they were made aware that visitation was cancelled; they had driven from North Carolina to Little Rock Arkansas. I had no way of knowing where they were, and no ability to contact them.

Helplessness is my constant companion. I do not feel bad for myself; this is just a day in the life. I feel horrible for them especially my nieces and nephew. Though I have been gone their entire life they love me deeply. They were so excited to come see their uncle, and I can only imagine the confusion and sorrow on their faces when mom and dad pulled the truck over and told them they cannot visit with their uncle. They just turned around and headed home. “Your uncle is a failure kids, he messed up big time and he will always let you down. Do not love him.” That’s the lesson that I sometimes think that they are learning at times like this. Pain, tears, and helplessness.

I love you kids, hopefully I can show you someday.

Today is Friday. We should be hugging today! I have another sister whose family is planning to visit in a few months. I haven’t seen them in 8 years. Hopefully this won’t happen again.

The key to maintaining sanity in prison is staying busy. While I was still in county jail waiting to come to prison an old school told me, “When you get there youngsta’ you need to get a job off the unit, establish a routine. Exercise daily, stay busy, and get off the unit as much as possible!” It didn’t take long for me to learn why that was valuable insight. Number one, staying busy and productive makes time go by quickly, sleeping all the time and living moment by moment slows time down. Number two, most problems start on the unit or cell block. Having a job helps prevent you from being caught-up in the nonsense. I would even go as far as halfway to say of the men involved in the recent incident, few if any were involved in any programs or had positive gainful employment. They say idle hands are the devil’s play thing, and we see that proverb lived out all the time in here.

I believe there are two types of people in prison: purposeful and accidental people. Those with purpose are driven and motivated, they are disciplined and forward thinking. They know they are headed somewhere and are willing to put in the work required to get there. They are successful upon release with extremely low recidivism rates. Accidental people are the opposite. They are blown around with the wind; whatever is in front of them at that moment is the most important thing of all time. Accidental people are who you see on the news most of the time, and they can derail a person with purpose if that person is not careful. The actions of the relative handful of accidental people at six prisons around the state have landed the entire state on this lock down.

Today is day 28. I am not complaining, simply stating my opinion, because as an old friend used to say, “This is what we hustle for.” That is my mantra now for any quintessential prison moment. When humanity and dignity are lost, and inmate status is the focus… this is what we hustle for. All the drugs we sold, all the chaos we wrought.. this is our payday. We cannot complain because we brought it on ourselves.

l am so tired of watching TV. But at least I have one. I’m a lucky one. I have a TV, radio, MP4, and a fan. Pretty much every electronic you can buy on canteen. A lot of guys have none of these things. We call it “Dry Celling” when you are locked down with nothing. Thinking about them makes me feel guilty for being bored. I’ve been there though, so I can relate. In the spirit of gratefulness, I have to say this prison I am in now is not like anywhere else I have been. Don’t get me wrong it is still horrible, prison is prison no matter how you slice it, but my unit team seems to be going above and beyond to make this as painless as possible. This will probably change the longer we stay down, but right now they seem to be extremely understanding. They are passing out the food, ice, and removing trash each day. They are running around all day taking care of this or that and I have not heard them take out their frustration on any of us. That is very commendable in my opinion, and rare! These are the unit staff that generally do administrative duties, not direct security. No one likes a lockdown, not even the staff, except for the sadistic few that exist at every prison.

Its Sunday evening again which make this day 34.
This lockdown could be over this week but that is doubtful. The rumor is at least another 2 months, maybe more. All in all we have spent 10 out of the past 17 months on some form of lock down. A lot of it was COVID related, but some of it was due to violence. Sometimes problems are unavoidable. This is prison after all. There are gangs, and all types of people, who have committed all types of crimes. But most often these things can be avoided. Overcrowding caused by lengthy sentencing and little chance for early release is an aggravating factor.

There is more to this docudrama, but I am going to make you wait for the rest.

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