June 3, 2008
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Letter #30: A Bus Ride to Remember …
Greetings from the beautiful, sun-soaked campus at Salinas Valley! God is great, and I’ve officially completed both the move and my catch-up sleep-fest in which I replaced my 1-hour night’s sleep on June 1st with a good old-fashioned nap today. Very refreshing, especially after the non-glamorous way the California Department of Corrections and “Rehabilitation” chooses to travel.
After staying up into the wee hours with my cellie and writing my final exhortations to a couple close friends, I was whisked away to Delano’s “R&R” at 3:00 a.m., June 2. Again, “R&R” resembles nothing like what outside life has accustomed me to regarding that phrase. Receiving and Release. Think of the phrase “Catch and Release” with you playing the part of the fish, and you have a much more accurate feel for the place.
A holding cell the size of a small bedroom was where I was told to wait with 15 other guys. “Lunch” (peanut butter, bread, apple, graham crackers) was provided in paper sacks 30 minutes later. We got to know the guys around us, some of us talking in low tones. Some, not so low. A big officer shouted at us to shut up, using potty words. We did, for a second. Loud mouth #1 and #2, who were seated next to me, began speaking around the guy seated between them, in voices that could have awakened my cellie, Jonathon, even back in his cell.
Again, Big Fatty Mad-Med yelled at us, “[Swear words with punctuation marks] Or else!” I was already mute; now, I carefully shut down all auxiliary non-essential brain functions and thought about the perfectly choreographed movements of 16 men being strip-searched still haunting my mind from moments before: Open! Ahh! Turn! Bend! Cough! Squat! Cough! Stand! One foot! Other foot! Turn! etc. I couldn’t drown out the louder and louder voices of the guys next to me, and neither could The Large One’s barked orders.
Whew! I breathed a sigh of relief. They were moving us now. Uh-oh. It was into a slightly smaller holding cell, the size of two coat closets, which made sitting impossible. In fact it made not being touched by at least 6 other males impossible. At this point, I’d like to give a little shout-out to the guy who thought about borrowing his cellie’s deodorant and decided against it. Kudos to you, Bro, and your bean-lovin’ sidekick who blessed the rest of us with the distinct knowledge of your presence. Um, if we promise to bind and gag the Talkmeisters, may we return to the other holding cell, please? No.
A woman C.O. comes to the door, which is Plexiglassed-in for our sensory benefit. A sea of faces in boxers and T-shirts waits as she calls off a name to get a picture taken: “Garcia!” Five guys claiming to be Garcia come bursting out of the stifling cell, which is, thanks to last night’s beans, quickly becoming a gas chamber.
An eternity <ahem> passes, and we’re returned, silent at last, to the cavernous opulence of the previous cell. Later, leg shackles, handcuffs, and waist chains with loops in front for our handcuffs are attached. Don’t think about that itch on your nose.
The—I lie not—paper jumpsuit I’m now wearing makes me look like a bad mall Santa, with its red color and one-size-fits-all tailoring. Part of California history, I feel like I’m wearing a Giant Sequoia.
The Greyhound bus I’m loaded on is aptly named for its canine counterpart. Thin, rib-like rows greet me and the—gratefully—nice man I fold up next to for the next 7½ hours. It soon is apparent that we’ll be running typical bus line schedules: pick-ups and drop-offs at a few other places of interest.
My entire collection of earthly possessions, now neatly stowed in two grocery bags, follows me via the bus’s undercarriage. I find out that the sergeant driving the bus prefers absolutely silent passengers, 80s music (via Sirius satellite radio), and multitasking (answering his cellphone while eating Cheetos, while changing the radio station—the list of stations in his lap—and while changing lanes—accidentally—at 80 miles an hour). Many inmates began praying for the first time.
My legs cramping and Charlie-horsing in the tight space and my right knee dipping into the exposed tail of a screw combined to make sure I didn’t miss any of California Highway 46. Standing up to straighten out the kinks wouldn’t be interpreted as such by the woman manning the M-16 through a cage next to the bathroom in rear.
We stopped in a McDonald’s parking lot so one of the guys could use the bathroom. Risking the appearance of being a 6-year-old, I announced that I had to go too. Two reasons were at the forefront of my mind: (1) I needed to stand up. (2) The back two-thirds of the bus was non-caged and was filled with General Population inmates, through which I would get to walk in order to use the open toilet in back. It would be entirely possible for my destiny to take an entirely new direction, and I wanted to face—fearlessly—the eyes of the foe, seeing it as a challenge.
The M-16 lady was up front now and helped me exit my cramped quarters, putting a guy from a spacious side-facing bench seat into my seat. (I rode in his spot—stretched out—for the final 3 hours. 🙂 )
As the steel door opened to the back section of inmates crowded into the seats, I nodded politely to the guys in the first row and proceeded to excuse-me my way between the rest of the rows—15 in all—to the tiny bathroom area. The bus was eerily silent as I stood there in my red paper suit, trying to figure out the least painful way to get the zipper at my chin all the way down with handcuffs attached to my waist. I jingled my chains as I thought, then contorted over and made it happen (some guys tear holes in the suit to urinate out of; it’s that hard).
With the zipper down, I remembered that all of this had simply been a ploy to stretch my legs and my bravado. The zipper hadn’t even been necessary!
With deafening silence now pounding in my ears, I remembered the bus full of General Population inmates behind me. Something was necessary! Someone before me had just peed; they knew what it sounded like.
I rattled my chains and cleared my throat, as if about to make an announcement, but none came. I worked a great ball of saliva in my mouth and let it drop directly into the shallow water below. It didn’t sound even remotely like I was urinating. I shuffled my feet, rattled my chains some more, and thought of drinking fountains running through the sprinklers of Niagara Falls in the shower next to a waterbed. Nothing.
I gave a cough, hummed tunelessly and slammed the toilet seat down with my foot. Now for the zipper …
Back at my seat with the bus under way, the guy next to me let me know that he hadn’t owned a toothbrush in 11 years—my closest estimate by his breath.
I’ve gotta jet—Mail Pickup. More later. I love you all!
P.S. I’ll be able to call you guys in about 10 days! Praise God, all my property was given to me! The facility is clean and I’m doing well.