In Good Company
There are many different ways to experience life. One of the coldest and loneliest is to be homeless.
Imagine yourself standing on the street as the temperature drops. Lights come on. Cars speed by, homeward bound. You wonder to yourself, “Where am I going to sleep tonight?”
So you walk; it’s cold; you’re hungry; your feet hurt You have nowhere to go, no one to call, nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep.
Homelessness is an insane situation which many people try to escape through drinking and drugs. This is why, for one reason or another, many homeless people end up in jail or prison. Once the feeling of hopelessness sets in, it’s only a matter of time before a person seeks food or shelter on his own terms.
Homelessness and prison go hand in hand. The following stories deal with homeless people after they are taken off the street – after you can’t see then anymore. I have told them with humor because I believe that laughter can heal many wounds. One wound I’d like to see healed is the disposal of promising lives thrown away through laws such as Three Strikes.
When I first arrived on the psych unit of the San Diego County Jail, the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere: much quieter than the typical mainline.
As I approached my cell, I was greeted by several people.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Hi,” I said; not really in the mood for conversation;
The central jail was brand new, built in the ’90s. Its main function was to receive those who had just been busted. After several days most people were bussed to another detention center, which was down south near the border.
I remember one of my first breakfasts on the psych unit. A big, goofy looking dude asked, “Hey, anybody want these eggs?”
“No,” I said.
“Hey Gomer, want these eggs?” He was talking to a guy who looked a lot like Gargamel from the Smurfs.
“What it mean, dis ‘Gomer?” asked Gargamel.
“Well, it”s a figure of speech,” dude said in full Southern drawl. “It means pencil neck geek faggot.”
The whole table erupted in laughter. I guess it seemed fanny because it was so unexpected. It sounded like the goofy dude with the long hair and big forehead was going to break it down (apologize) to Garganel, but instead he dumped on him with both barrels.
That was the beginning of my journey through absurdity, tomfoolery, grab-ass shenanigans. I needed the comic relief because all I could think about was killing myself.
The Hard Way
Southern drawls remind me of a time in the Department of Mental Hell. I had a really wacky neighbor with a Southern drawl, who thought that I was the one banging on the wall all night. It wasn’t me, I swear! It was coming from downstairs! So this guy was in the cell next to me, cursing me out all day long. I didn’t want to say anything; it wouldn’t have helped anyway.
Eventually, this wacky Southern guy ended up driving himself crazy. He called the staff and told on me for banging on the wall all night. It wasn’t me, I swear! The staff ignored his accusations, as they always did.
“Yes, Mr. Wacky Southern so-and-so, that’s nice. Do you need a PRN?”
“NO! Those meds make me feel like my whole body is dying!”
“Well, you’re on a Keyhea, which means you have to take your meds because of a court order. So, if you don’t take them, we’ll force them on you.”
[I think it helps to have a sense of humor about these things. I know, because I was on a Keyhea at one time. And even if it doesn’t help, have one anyway!]
So, here’s this correctional officer telling this distraught young Southern man, “We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way,” as he’s discreetly keying the man’s door. ,
“What”s the hard wa…….”
BAM, SLAM, BANG! Nine hundred pounds of male staff rush into the cell to smash him, strap him down, and inject him.
You’re gonna have to mind somebody.
Sometimes karma plays strange jokes, like when you’re tying to avoid someone. The more you try to avoid him the more you run into him.
That’s the way it was for me and KJ. Krazy Joe earned his name at a state hospital, when a psych told him to do something. She emphasized her point by laying a hand on him. Big Mistake. Krazy J took hold of her arm and broke it. So, you can understand that, when my path crossed KJ’s in DMH, I did my best to steer clear of that fool!
Krazy Joe was a slender dude with a Bozo the clown receding hairline thing going on. He looked keeerfraaazy! Everybody knows that mothers and crazy people are capable of uncanny feats of strength! So, it was to my horror when I accidentally nailed Krazy Joe with a beautifully thrown spiral. THUNK! Dead in the neck! He never knew who threw the football that first time. You’d think I would have learned my lesson! No, not me.
The second time I hit him was worse. I threw the football from one end of the DMH yard to the other. WHUMPF! The ball collided with Krazy’s groin. I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes get so big. And this time, he knew who”d thrown the ball. Luckily, my homie smoothed things over and Krazy forgave me.
The third incident was different I was sealing the bottom of my door with wet toilet paper, preparing for a flood. The guys were just coming in from yard Some of the water had leaked into the hallway. The first person to go down in front of my cell was Krazy. BAM! He went hard and fast, and stayed down. Another guy careened past my door in a blur, and smacked straight into Krazy. BAM! He went hard and fast, and stayed down. Another guy careened past my door in a blur, and smacked straight into Krazy. The third guy was wise to the situation, and stopped short of the water. He gave me a horrified ‘what the fuck?’ look.
It was an accident, I swear!
Breakfast with a Twist
Part of the thrill of suicide is brandishing it in other people’s faces. The audience: yes, what every great drama needs. And it’s a rush to perform before the audience. Perhaps that’s why a young man was now hanging by his neck from the second tier. Shit! He even had a plastic bag over his head just to be sure! The only problem was that the sheriff deputies were now cutting him down (and roughing him up at the same time!).
He looked like some other planet astronaut with his bubble-like breathing apparatus and the white cord connecting him to the mother ship. Who were these alienesque hostiles, trying to way lay this cuckoo cosmonaut?
For several days he had been walking around with a slipknot around his neck like a tie. And just last week we were lining up for breakfast and here comes cuckoo cosmonaut. He pauses at the top of the stairs, then without warning does a nose-dive – BAM BAM BANG!- down the entire flight. Then he stands up like nothing happened. “I’m OK,” he says, and proceeds to eat his breakfast
Even more outlandish was when he tried to commit suicide by Homie. All he got was a black eye!
I’ve made the cut I am in the psych tank shower at the brand new Central Jail. I hope I’ve found a vein large enough to keep bleeding as long as I run hot water over the wound.
I am standing in that shower for half an hour. Shit. It isn’t working. People in the day room are getting suspicious. I wrap the cut in toilet paper, and run the water for a few more minutes to wash the blood down the drain. Shit I’ll try again later. I am relieved that I am still alive, yet frustrated that my feeble attempt didn’t work.
Light-headed, I make it down the stairs and across the dayroom to my cell. Suspicious. Very suspicious. I’m thinking that everyone knows what I did, even the guard in the control tower.
I am feeling very ugly inside. And I am feeling relief that I took action. I know that I will do it again. I choose not to spend another day in this place. This is too much, way too much for me to handle. Fuck God. I thought he wasn’t supposed to give me more than I can handle. Now I know I have to die, and it will be good. Fuck them. I am not going to serve their sentence. I did not do anything to deserve 39 to life. I would rather die than serve a life sentence I don’t deserve.
Disorder in the Court
I can’t believe the probation officer just knocked over the water jug from the DA’s desk onto the floor! I’m not laughing, though. This shit’s way too serious.
It’s understandable that the probation officer should be flustered, after delivering that bipolar pre-sentence report I’m looking at it now…Hmmm… “Mr. Carrillo claims to have been taken from his mother at an early age (8 or 9), and then moved around between 20 or 30 foster placements… drug and alcohol problems… none of this has been corroborated… Anyway, these mitigating circumstances will not be considered, as this is a three strikes case … blah …blah… blah.”
Then the little chipmunk DA chirps up, “Do the crime, do the time,” in her best Mary Poppins meets Cathy Bates voice.
No wonder I’m going crazy.
The P.O. had the nerve to tell me that she sympathized with the nature of my upbringing, as she used to be a child social worker. But, it’s now “her job” to sentence me to the maximum: 39 to life. Gee, thanks for your sympathy.
My third strike: assault with a deadly weapon. I cut a guy’s hand in a fight at the homeless shelter. Yeah, the wound required stitches. He had threatened to kick my ass and have me shot. My right hand was broken and in a cast at the time. I guess that brought out the bravado in him. Truthfully, the guy was drunk and having fun at my expense. As for myself, I was drunk enough and heroined-out enough to remember his threats and try to scare him that day at St Vinnie’s. And, I had just smoked some weed, thinking that the marijuana would slow me down and keep me out of trouble. It slowed me down alright Just enough to get me into trouble.
Now the D. A. has her Power Point projector set up. Never at a loss for words, she says to the jury, “I have to admit this is probably my third time using Power Point. If the projector blows up, I’ll try to aim it at the Public Defender!” She is gonna catch hell at the next D.A. / P.D. / Judge barbecue.
Too bad I don’t have enough money to buy all these people new cars. I’d be out of here!
Instead of going to court, I decided to slash my wrist. My cellie threw up. Then he called for the sheriffs deputies over the intercom.
I received stitches along with a brace (which they then took from me), to keep the damaged tendons from snapping. I spent the night in a padded safety cell with a grate in the floor for a bathroom. I was wearing a thick Fred Flinstone get-up.
The doctor came to talk to me in the morning, then released me to the acute care unit. I stayed there for a few days before returning to the main psych tank. While there, I met some interesting characters. “Cut Throat” had earned his name by cutting his throat from ear to ear with a razor blade. “Mogley” was a dead ringer for the jungle boy. “Spider Man” had slashed both arteries in his wrists and sprayed blood just like the super hero sprays webs.
Cuckoo Cosmonaut was also in the acute unit. This time he was wearing a massive cast which extended from his shoulder to his hand. He had jumped off the tier head first. Earlier that week someone else had died performing the same maneuver.
I asked Cuckoo Cosmonaut why he wanted to kill himself.
“Well, I don’t anymore, now that I see you and other people here looking at life sentences.”
“What are you facing?” I asked him.
“How else have you tried to kill yourself”
“I tried to drown myself in the toilet I thought the urine would kill me.”
My Pinochle partner was a young dude. He was cool. He didn’t look the type to be in jail; but then, who does?
We took a break after winning consecutive hands. Our opponents looked grouchy. They were sore losers, especially the older fat Bozo. There was something unwholesome about him. Everyone knew he’d killed her. What the fuck was he doing carrying a roll of carpet to his van in the middle of the night? See, his former partner was in the tank too. The partner and his wife had witnessed Bozo’s middle of the night carpet escapade. Bozo had priors. His prior victims were set to testify at his trial: he had tried to rape and murder them. He would never get out. Good. It’s times like these that I’m glad the prosecutors are so corrupt.
Canteen arrived, for those who had money. Not me: I was as broke as the day I got busted. Man, those soups, candies, chocolates, and pastries sure looked good. I shuffled the Pinochle deck and walked to my cell.
I felt like shit. Just as I was descending into a deep funk, there came a knock at my door. Looking up, I saw my Pinochle partner standing there with a sack in his hands.
“Some of us got together – we thought you might need a few things.”
“Thank you guys!” My spirits lifted with this unexpected blessing of soup, pastries, and chocolates. “Thank you very much!”
“We also hold prayer and Bible study in cell 28 upstairs. You’re welcome to join with us.”
“Thank you,” I said.
My name is G. T. Carrillo. I am serving 39-to-life under California’s Three Strikes and You’re Out law. I did not kill anyone. I cut someone on the hand. This is only my second time in prison.
I have met a variety of people in prison, many of whom are serving life sentences for petty crimes, under the three strikes law. Some of these individuals have not been able to come to grips with the overwhelming reality of serving life sentences which they don’t deserve. Those are the ones who self-parole: they commit suicide.
I have been fortunate. God has been looking out for me. I am still alive.