Missouri State Prison looks like it was pulled up by the roots and transplanted block by block, wall by wall, tower by tower, massive iron gate by gate from Medieval Germany. Standing at its entrance and looking up, you are dwarfed by the sixty-foot parapet tower as it stares down at you. It is a perch for all that evil represents, and its mortar, black from age, looks like plague between rotten teeth, and you step back in time to a Shakespearean age of Richard the II.
Even the drab, dressed prisoner like surfs, with gray uniforms blend naturally inside the rock buildings encumbering the grounds. The first unnatural sight is the mentally ill inmates that share the prison with the criminally sane. “The Walls,” the prison’s alias, boast of being the bloodiest forty-eight acres in Missouri. High schools have reputations built on intramural games won; a business by sales and net profits; churches by souls converted; and this prison by the gallons of blood it has spilt. This coveted reputation held scared by convicts for many years is quickly being nudged out of the way by an ever increasing reality; The Wackiest forty-eight Acres in Missouri. Its populace maybe more lunatic than criminal.
The prison spews intimidation at you at every salient. It is less notable for what convicts extract from this place, than from what it extracts from you. It demands that you pay it homage with fear; only then does it permit you to live with a lessor fear; but you are allowed to exist. It wants all the bad in you, all the dark nature of the lower self; and all that we hate about ourselves and wish it murdered, it calls to life in you. This prison has a long narrow underground corridor–like dungeons are haunted, but not with ghosts from the dead, but by disinherited souls searching for their home among living zombies. In every direction you turn your head, there is a high impregnable wall of boulder-size stones surround you, and everything held within its grip touches off thoughts that anywhere else, you would have otherwise left alone. There is nothing in this dreary opaque world–where sunlight and understanding and knowledge war to get in–to trigger good memories or experiences; the longer you fight, the more viciously intense the fight becomes either to preserve a sound mind (if you entered with one) or to create one.
Here, in this Gothic, Dark Ages looking castle, men’s attitudes and desires generate a whole constellation of new dark insidious ideas to invent evil, and memories and concepts, relics of a man’s soul left from “life on the streets,” about how men and women work and play and make love, raise children, live and die; and everyone’s gods, both make believe and real, fight for supremacy; and whoever can scream the loudest, beat their chest the hardest, amass the greatest confusion of forces wins and makes for a Herculean struggle among the madness to search for sanity. Such adventures among the ruinous memories and lives of men, drive in me the strange power from reflections born of surviving in so cruel and minimal environment. I feared not to storm the eternal stronghold of angles by force and will if but to steal death!
Immediately I discovered there are two modern types of convicts in prison: people like me, who are insane and idiotic to have willingly traded freedom by committing a crime, for being bound to life behind bars and then the growing, soon-to-be-majority type, the truly insane–men who belong in mental-health facilities rather than in prison, where often the only aid they receive is the opportunity to go farther into lunacy without obstruction. The rerouting of the throng of the mentally ill from hospice-like institutions, down the boulevard of indifference, and into prisons to warehouse them, has become the way our society directs the traffic of the insane on that downward hopeless spiral.
Some of the insane, the neurotic, and lunatic happen to be my friends. Friends who drool on themselves, who numbly bump into walls head on, back up, and do it all over again–sometimes for hours–until one of the living damned finds the compassion within and turns the inmate around, and is redirected to anywhere, but into a wall. But sometimes, because the harsh and callused heart is bored with monotony, for sport, someone will grab such a wandering soul, and point them directly into a wall, or worse, in the direction of a sudden drop off or depression in the ground.
The first time I saw a matted mess of insanity begging me for a smoke, who smelled like vomit and week-old armpit dredge, I swore I would stay as for away from them as possible while I did my bit (slang for duration of prison sentence). Now however, I look after a few of them, as I am able to do. Perhaps because my brother, who used to be sane, my little Bobo, now in his late thirties, reminds me of them. When I came to prison, something in my brother broke, an emotional rope perhaps ripped from his soul, and he went adrift, and I am waiting to see him wash up on shore in the face of one of these men’s faces. Ever since me and Bobo were boys together fighting to hold on to each other against overwhelming odds, we depended on each other–I must have finally surrendered the fight when I was convicted of rape.
Some of the older cons look out for the deranged–some for ignoble reasons, and some for noble reasons. Eventually I succumbed to helping look out after a few myself. But I am a convicted rapist, what do I know about providing for the needs of the insane? I do the best I can with what I have (and that ain’t much); and sometimes I regret reaching out to them because it has generated a habit in them to follow me around, which at first competed so fiercely for my time, that they threatened to keep me from obtaining a General Education Diploma. I soon realized after I started class that my friends had quite an ensemble of skills of varying academic backgrounds that it made studying often humorous and nearly error-free, as you shall soon see the reason why.
I discovered among the rewards for doing wrong, besides the minimum wage of forced labor at the current rate of $7.50 a month; cockroaches for dinner quests that scurry across your plate at meal time to eat first (which have been used to race in competition); shakedowns and strip searches, the common benefits of prison life, I have an added curse: I am a nurse, doctor, and therapist for my neurotic friends. Some shake with delirium tremens, calmed only by potent drugs that would inebriate a large dinosaur. As much as I sometimes hate the job, mostly because it simply gets in my way of my pursuits and time, I am all they have–and I know that.
It may be they need me less than I need them. With the constricting monotony of routine and shrinking confinement, and your dream mode in paralysis and ennui, I need them to give me a purpose to live. Prison, at least the ones I have been in, oozes, drips, sweats, and leaks with meaningless routine. Everything, and I mean every political idea, religious belief, scientific hypothesis, every experience, every job ever had, sexual persuasion explored, conspiracy theory claimed, every contention argued over, every word has been driven over the same road at least a zillion times. The truth is I need a cause. Something to grasp with my mind that conveys some image of importance, because the great pang of captivity is the deprivation of achievement. To have nothing to do is the greatest demoralization by far amongst our human sufferings. My sick friends are my purpose however much I hate their shortcomings. Moreover, my debt I feel, and every roadblock in my way to finding who I am and why I raped women will be removed only when I have paid for what I have done. For now, until then, it is in the uncanny company of insanity that my only escape comes.
Take for example, Freddy Kruger. Oftentimes convicts give lunatics surnames because they usually remind you of someone beside themselves, and they are never offended or ashamed because they simply don’t have enough reason to know better. As long as they remain submerged in the subconscious it does them no harm, and convicts do much good to laugh at them. Freddy conjures up horrific images of a tall Boris Korloft. Looking at him makes the hair on your neck stand on end if you stare at him long enough. Once a female guard who had never worked in Freddy’s cellhouse before was unaware of just how terrifying he could look in the middle of the night. She walked down the long narrow walk along the outside of cells counting each prisoner to ensure everyone was in their bunk. It was three in the morning as she walked up to Freddy’s cell just as he stood at the door of his cell with a comatose vacancy in his eyes. His black and graying hair stuck straight up and his eyes were swollen and bloodshot from insomnia. The woman guard had no idea Freddy was harmless. She stepped up to his cell bars, looked to see if the inmate was on his bunk, and instead she saw a towering mad-looking and crazed dog, with his one eye looking left, the other right–it was a shocking sight for her. He looked like the ax murderer from Hell! She screamed when she saw the dried food in his matted hair, and saw her worst nightmare playing in his eyes–she dropped her clipboard and pen, ran down the long corridor screaming and yanking at her hair; stopped at the locked door, banged on it with her fist, and passed out.
There is no record of him having any family so he never has visitors and never receives any mail. He’s doing time because he was convicted of stalking a woman on her way home late one night after she left work. It was mid-January and freezing; snow fell like a cold guillotine which waked at Freddy’s fingers and toes. He curled up with discarded cardboard on a bus-stop bench, and when the woman stepped off the bus from work she cordially smiled at him through the falling snow. He mistook her polite gesture, and hoping he might find warmth where she lived, he followed her from a distance. Her paced quickened from fear and Freddie matched her hurried step. Before long she ran for her life as Freddie pursued her–then she slipped on the icy street and tumbled, cutting and lacerating her face. Freddy’s look of a crazed animal sent the woman in shock as he stood over her. Wallowing in the cold and screaming, she brought the police on the scene with their guns drawn. The new stalking laws put him away for twenty years, and considering his history of mental problems, seems stiff to hit so hard. But then again, I’m not ajudge, only Freddy’s friend.
The first time I saw Freddy was over five years ago; a few months after I arrived and had been moved to a new cellhouse. Freddy had his small bedroll in a bear hug, and stepped by me without looking at me. I did not know it then, but the cellhouse was a special unit that the deranged convicts were tossed in to keep them out of the hair of guards and the main convict population. It is the repugnant sights and smells that were the hardest to accept initially. I would have never imagined that the consortium of vomit, old urine, sweat, wet hair, and terrible farts would become so familiar to me that they’d no longer punish my senses. It was not long before I realized who cares about these men–the parole board, judges, civil-liberty attorneys, politicians, clergy or prison counselors–where are the Advocates of the Defenseless; Apostles to the Deranged? So what if Freddy misses his daily sedatives of Haldog and Prolixan (psychotic control medication) to keep him from pulling his hair out at the roots, or bite his fingernails until they bleed; or if, like others, defecate on themselves, or as in Freddy’s case, walks around talking to Abraham Lincoln when there is no one to feed his scorging memories, tranquilizers to keep them from waking up? Who cares!
People who Freddy is angry at will care when he eventually gets out–people at large; anyone is potentially Freddy’s next victim because he is absolutely nuts. But every now and then reality falls upon him and it seems for a short period he emerges from some bottomless pit within. In those times he is furious because he knows he should not be in prison. Then he weeps; not sure he knows why. I am sad for him because he tries to communicate about something so painful he becomes incoherent, and all he can do is curl up fetally, and suck his thumb.
“Freddy,” I ask him, “what’s wrong? What is it? You can talk to me.” He buries his face in his hands and tries to speak; his voice is broken and his nose drips with mucus as he weeps about an event, or maybe a memory, or who in God’s name knows why? but maybe, I tell myself trying to grapple with having no answers–maybe he understands, but just can’t tell me. And Freddy has many reasons to cry–believe me.
He says nothing, and then as if the rain and clouds broke loose, and the sun shines from above, he gets up and disappears among his counterparts babbling to someone about the Civil War era. Now nobody cares whether he gets help, but they will care on Freddy’s terms, and not on their own.
I always pass him and smile at him. Over the years I have become a permanent fixture in Freddy’s mind where he can resort to for cigarettes, without having to bend over and suffer a terrible degradation to get one to appease his warring nerves. He is a black man, fifty something I guess, though he may be thirty because insanity and being victimized by the many pangs of captivity can make a man look fifty when he is only thirty. He loves walking barefoot year round. He is comfortable in a state T-shirt, and his job is to pick up cigarette butts on the prison grounds; a job skill that did not come easy for him to learn. I put an old tin can under his arm, and a set of gloves on his hands, told him to keep walking in circles and the guards would leave him alone. For the most part they do. Periodically, he bends over and touches his toes to act like he’s reaching for cigarette butts. It took me a month to teach him that trick. He trudges along even in the snow, or when it pours down rain, or on the blistering hot concrete, he walks cordially barefoot.
He is as strong as a bull, maybe stronger. He has ground to powder men’s knuckles who shook hands with him unsuspecting of his strength. Convicts wager with the new fish (new arrivals at prison) just coming into the joint, that they can’t shake hands with Freddy for more than five seconds before they beg for mercy. They think it’s a sure bet, as intimidating as he appears to be, almost anemic looking, frail, and dried-up looking. Freddie is ignorant about the bets being placed for and against him; he only knows to squeeze like a vice whenever he hears the name Stonewall Jackson. When the parlaying has ended, a convict sends the new fish over to shake hands with Freddy. He takes the man’s hand in his own and shakes mechanically a second before someone shouts “STONEWALL JACKSON!” Then Freddy bites his lower lip as he clamps down on the poor fool’s hand, sending him into a screeching and yelling fall to their knees cringing with pain, and a swollen hand that is fractured in a dozen places.
Before I arrived at the Wall, I tried to prepare myself to face the rumors spewed at us from inmates returning from the prison for court hearings. I thought I was suited up enough and I could withstand a shock, but I soon I realized how unprepared I was.
I watched Freddy and his bedroll fade from my vision, and walked down the long rectangular concourse. Right as I adjusted the bag under my arm to tighten my grip on it, a man runs hastily up to me and giggles.
“Got a smoke?” He wrings his hands vigorously, like he is washing them with soap.
“Sure,” I told him, and pulled out a cigarette from my pocket, and handed it to him. He snapped the filter off and put it in his mouth and chewed the tobacco instead of smoking it. While he chewed the tobacco into a brown syrup, he giggled again fiendishly.
After I gave it to him, he turned and walked away. I turned to the guard escorting me to the cellhouse and asked if it was true that the mentally ill here were dangerous.
“Shouldn’t they be in a nut house—somewhere else, rather than in prison?”
He grabbed his pregnant belly of gluttony and laughed heartily. “This is a nut house!” he snickered.
As I continued walking an overpowering odor hit me. When I inhaled my lungs tightened, and my eyes burned. I spun around to walk back out the iron door, but it slammed in my face; the guard vanished. I turned back to face the long cellhouse corridor and squinted my eyes to pierce the dull-lighted future. On both sides of me were sheer galvanized fencing welded to each sidewalk outside the cells, that shot straight up for four stories. The protected barrier kept inmates from throwing themselves or others off the upper stories. I looked around for fans and windows, and most of the windows were draped with old bed sheets or toilet paper, and forgotten collected dust and grime, making it difficult for light to enter.
The longer I stood there and breathed in the foul odors of urine, smoke filled air, and dirty mops, the dirtier I felt on the inside.
I walked down the middle of the cellhouse with cells to my left and right; the mentally and emotionally poor decorated the place with insanity. They each had a sound all their own, broken garble, of tongues, teeth chattering, and grinding and gnashing, forming sounds that went into the air in every direction wholly upon their own course to nowhere and collided; whispering secret messages, foaming at the mouth, mumbling, synthetic and true laughter, heckling and humming, rocking back and forth, long venturing screams prophecying the end of the world and the end of our lives in prison–they reached at me, and reached out to me every time I passed one of them. As I continued to walk toward my new cell, I couldn’t help but listen to the meaningless insanity of human suffering. Then I stopped and stood paralyzed, so dismayed at the sight of filth, I looked down at my boots, and on the bottom slop; a leftover half-eaten Twinkie, gum and grime stuck to the bottom of my soles. I wished I had galoshes on. I remember I made the sign of the cross for protection and whispered, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: Amen.”
It was a Mecca of priests, prophets, gurus, martyrs, and mystics of human indecipherable confusion and distortion, conveyed by raising each of their own tabernacles where they stood, each of them worshipping their form of belief, offering ultimate joy and sacrifices of pain, surrendering all reason to madness himself. I’d seen religious madness before and I hated it. There was no making fun of them; you could not challenge the voices that spoke oftheir revelations gleaned from dimensions which could not be discerned by the rest of us, but no less held tantamount importance to their reality as ours would. The worlds they spoke from allured you; but a man of reason, of logic, from a realm of dulled senses like myself, of fear that cripples and cringes at the call to follow them because it may be that being stranded on one of their islands is permanent. Anyway, it is not a matter of answering them nor heeding their messages, but of avoiding being swept into the wind of their odyssey when your world becomes too full of turmoil. Whether they are pioneers penetrating deeper into the potential of the human psyche, which may be galaxies of mystic wonder yet to be discoyered, or if they are chained animals to a subterranean realm, pitifully poorer that this plain of sensuality and pragmatism, I have no idea. I do know that watching and hearing them scares me; and as I made my way down the long stretch of cracked concrete, I wished that they would die and leak back into the walls oozing with insignificance, they seemed however faintly, to have emerged from.
I’m not sure they are crazy though, because after time I’ve learned that the insane treat each other better, kinder, with greater affection and innocence, than the sane treat each other. So who is nuts? I have asked myself, too many times over. Maybe they love perfectly.
I approached the end of the cell block and started to step inside my cell when a beanpole-size man and tall, stepped in front of me, expressionless. His eyes soft blue, and gentle, and handsome, I smiled when he smiled at me with black gaps between his yellow enamel corroded teeth, and he made my tummy queasy. I wondered, briefly accounting the whole of my life, for which act of injury was I suffering for–one of them or all of them? I wondered how much longer I had to be punished for what I have done.
“Excuse me, sir,” I told him. “Would you mind moving?”
“I’m Dash Rickrock,” he exclaimed, proudly.
“That’s nice,” I replied. “Would you mind moving so I can get in my cell?” He stood and moved not, so I tried to walk around him. He stepped sideways to block my way.
“Excuse me,” I said impatiently.
“Have you seen Elley-May and Granny and Jed?” he asked.
“Oh, sure, absolutely, I’ve seen them. They’re on television at five o’clock every night. You can see them there!” I said, patronizing him for even asking me such an idiotic question. I tried to step around him but he stood his ground blocking the entrance to my cell.
“Listen, what’s your name again?”
“Dash, Dash Rickrock–Elley’s boyfriend.”
“Well then, Dash, listen. I don’t want any trouble. But. I am going in my cell–I can go around you, over you, or through you, but I prefer you to just move,” I said in a melodramatic tone.
“Jethro and Mr. Clydesdale–have you seen them, they were suppose to be here by now?”
Dash was beginning to annoy me. “Yeah, I told you, watermelon brain, catch them on the television, they’ll be glad to see you and talk with you,” I said, and pushed into his shoulder to move him out of the way.
He stood fast, like a sentry, or an iron scarecrow. Where did he get such strength? I asked myself.
“Get out of the man’s way, Dash!” someone yelled, from the other side of the cellblock.
“Yeah, Dash, you sexy looking Bitch!” another convict from up above yelled. I looked into his eyes not blinking nor moving, hoping he would move away from the door. Someone threw an empty beer can and it hit Dash. Reluctantly, he stepped aside while he rubbed the bump on his head; and I yelled at the guard at the end of the cellhouse to open my door. He opened the steel box, pulled the nineteenth-century clutch-like brass levers and the loud long rolling of gears slid in the overhead gearbox down the concourse toward my cell. When the lock mechanism opened, a loud thud exploded in the door, and it quickly bolted sideways, and I walked in. I waved to the guard to keep it open so as to not let the many onlookers know I was scared to leave my rear vulnerable. To have closed it quickly behind me would have been to show fear, something I tried very hard not to do by that time.
I immediately set out to put my few belongings up, and fix up my new penthouse suite but first, I had to rearrange the household furnishings, consisting of one rusty gray enamel-chipped locker that had been the infested home of the indestructible, inextinguishable American cockroach. I stuck the end of a broom handle inside and banged as hard as I could until the sound and shaking rattled them out of their hiding places. Scurrying in every direction once they hit the ground, I stomped at them as fast and as hard as I could, as though I had danced a jig. The radios blared so loud and constant, a mixture of country western, Mozart, gospel, rock-n-roll, rhythm and blues, blue grass, and rap, all constant reverberations that made me twist up toilet paper and push into my ears for plugs to blunt the sharp edge of torment. Above the noise I heard a commanding voice.
“Come over here, Dash, baby,” someone shouted. I walked up to the bars and saw a short, fat man grabbing Dash by his shirt. The man who had ate so many pastry cakes, potato chips and greasy meats, and had been turned into one giant pork chop, pulled Dash by his shirt unto his knees. Then the man grabbed Dash’s hair and pulled his face into his own crotch. He zipped down his zipper and ordered Dash to suck. The inhabitants went into a frenzy of shouting and heckling, throwing garbage off the upper walks, and cheering. The mad walked, stood, or rocked oblivious to the daily soap opera that had a new vile twist with each passing day.
“Open up, Dash, for Daddy,” the convict purred, with bedroom eyes. “Damn, he’s making Dash, a retard, suck his dick,” I murmured within.
Alone in the cell, I watched through the bars, and I poked my head out of the doorway to see if any guards were around to stop it. There wasn’t. The short, balding obese convict slid his swollen hard penis into Dash’s mouth, and his hips slapped Dash in the face. Faster and faster and faster until the cheeks of his butt shook violently–he arched back under the strain of pleasure, and groaned deeply. With one last thrust of his wide hips, the rapist ejaculated in Dash’s mouth and I turned my head away as Dash squinted hard and braced himself against the blast. Semen oozed out of his mouth—down his chin, into the floor. Dash looked up, and asked the man to let go of his hair. Before he did, the convict patted Dash on top of his head.
“Wipe that shit out ofyour mouth!” the man ordered. “And don’t let me catch you sucking another’s cock–you’re mine!”
The fact was the man who raped Dash was not his pimp nor his only daddy. Most of the cellblock pimped Dash out. I shook my head as I watched Dash get off his knees. He wiped his mouth off the best he could on his shirtsleeve. I expected him to spit the man’s semen out and go shower or something—instead he walked up to my cell again. I looked around again for cops to do something about what had just transpired. I couldn’t understand why Dash and the multitudes like him were placed with the rest of us convicts. Minnows for catfish, I told myself. Food for scavengers, I reasoned. Nobody cared, everyone off feeding on the American Dream, each doing his own thing–and who cared, including myself, about what happened to a man who thought he was Elley May Clampit’s boyfriend. Would he ever contribute any good and lasting thing to the society he offended? Probably not, so why care? Certainly neither did I, that is, not enough to step in and stop another man from being raped.
I tried to ignore Dash as he stood at the door. Turning toward him when I could no longer act as though he was invisible, he smeared the remaining traces of the convict’s guts off the sides of his mouth, across his chin. Dash asked me for a smoke, and I was tempted to demand that he go wash the disgusting remains of cum off his face like any sane man would. All the convicts bummed smokes off each other, until you get enough backbone in you to tell them “NO!”; only it is hard to be stingy to a man whom you’ve just watched get raped, so I pulled a cigarette from my pack and started to hand it to him.
“Why do you let him do that to you?” I asked, not giving him the smoke until he answered.
“Well…” Dash sighed and shrugged his shoulders. He could give no more reason than that. He tried but nothing came to him. His eyes reached up into his trouble thoughts, grasping for answers that his mind refused to let him have. The vault that hid Dash’s better half was sealed tight and entry proof. Dash’s answer “Well…?” would have to do. No sooner had I felt a prick in my heart, and felt badly for Dash that he could give no answer than a thought came to me: These are your fathers and your sons that you never had, you take care of them. I cursed the thought and refused to acknowledge it as my own or having any relevance to me. I wasn’t about to adopt anyone’s fathers or sons for my own, especially no retards.
I shook my head at Dash or at the insanity or at the injustice of what I had just witnessed, or at myself, or at I’m not sure at what, and I told him to come into my cell and wash his mouth out if he wanted the cigarette. I handed him my cup, and put it under the rusted faucet and filled it with water browned from heavy iron deposits. As I watched him gulp down the cool water, I thought about how wrong it was for another human being to suffer such atrocities from another human being, and then I thought about Maria, and what I made her do to me in that plot of woods–and I saw I was not any different than the perverted convict that had just raped Dash. Then I understood why such things happen: Because the strong rule by power and advantage–Maria was helpless against me, and Dash was helpless against someone who had the power of reason, as I was subjugated to the demands before me.