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Old 06-01-2009, 09:00 AM
Archie999 Archie999 is offline
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Default 2 Months in the SHU at Taft

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The following is a narrative, in short-story format, of the two months I spent in the SHU at Taft during the Spring of 2007. My hope is that this information will shed some insight into the lack of purpose served by Administrative Segregation.

This is a true story. All of the inmates mentioned are real people, some of whom have been released others of which remain incarcerated.
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TAFT CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
TAFT, CALIFORNIA

Administrative Segregation (AD-SEG)
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
23-hour per day lockdown

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I


Somewhere in this vacuum there has to be logic – some genesis of common sense. I know it’s out there, exactly where I’m not entirely sure. Listen. Listen hard and maybe you can hear it for me. Jingling keys. Stomping feet. Clicking switches. Clacking door locks. Hissing air vents. This is society’s cure for crime. Prison. Incarcerate the unlawful behind concrete walls and into cement cells. Protect the public and punish the criminals. This is society’s logic. I suppose it makes sense. There are no saints in jail, myself included. We all deserve to be here. But what happens upon release as many of us, myself included, will someday leave prison and return to public life. Here we will again mingle with common folk in church, at the bus station and at the unemployment office. And we will do so after living in harsh conditions amongst the dregs of society.

Listen. Listen hard and maybe you’ll hear logic fracture. The first time I heard it was at the Joseph J. Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston where a diplomatic judge declared “Forty-six months”. That was my prison sentence. He continued “you are one of the most exemplary defendants to appear before me. I hope you can get this behind you”. How could anything about a federal prison sentence for a criminal defendant be exemplary? That is, unless you’re sitting at the US Attorney’s table.

The second time I heard logic fracture was in the AD-SEG unit at the Taft Correctional Institution. It started as silence – a silence interrupted by a dark voice that began screaming “I need to see the nurse!”. It was loud and coming from one of the segregation cells not afar. Over and over. “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”.

I looked down at my cellie from the top bunk. Hook replies with a quizzical smile as he had heard the screaming too. He gazes around the cell then at the door in a concentrated effort to learn who was yelling.

The Special Housing Unit (SHU) at Taft is split into two wings that form a “V” shape with a control room at the apex. The Administrative Segregation wing (AD-SEG) contains inmates who have been removed from the general population and segregated in the SHU for petty administrative policy violations such as refusing to work, disobeying staff orders and the like. Hook was removed from the satellite camp at Taft and placed in AD-SEG as a result of a detainer. I was removed from the same camp for refusing to participate in a work-release program. The opposing annex in the SHU, Disciplinary Segregation (D-SEG), contains inmates who have been removed from the general population and segregated for more serious disciplinary infractions, most likely violence. So it could still get worse.

The AD-SEG cells at Taft are clean but tiny. Each contains a metal bunkbed, metal table with a fixed stool, an overhead shelf, stainless steel commode, stand-up shower and narrow plexi-glass windows. The walls and fixtures inside the cell are painted a soothing manila-tan color. The cell that Hook and I share is about twelve feet long from front to back and about eight feet wide. Every surface in the cell reflects concrete. It’s just a complete cement box save for the solid metal cell door and narrow plexi-glass windows in the rear wall and cell door. The front cell-door window overlooks the AD-SEG corridor and the opposite cells allowing limited communication between staff and inmates. There is a convenient two inch gap between the floor and the cell door through which newspapers, small books and commissary items can be exchanged. In the middle of the cell door, is a smaller locking fold out doorlet through which meals are passed to inmates. There are no bars or cages in AD-SEG. The entire unit is a huge concrete monolith subdivided into smaller concrete cubicles. I’ve been in here for a week now sharing a cell with Hook. Bunking with him is like living in a concrete cartoon.

Hook is doing time for smuggling illegal aliens over the border into the United States from Mexico. On the outside, when he wasn’t busy importing people, Hook spent his free-time surfing the beaches of San Diego where he lived with his family. His bleach-blonde hair and tan features speak his entire story. This morning though he speaks another story as we both listen to the voice somewhere in the unit which continues screaming “I need to see the nurse!”.

“You think we’ll get commissary today”, Hook asks amidst the barking voice.
“Don’t see why not”.
“Good. I’m almost out of coffee”.

Hook is addicted to Keefe freeze dried instant coffee. It’s a popular commodity available through the prison commissary. He has at least one cup per hour. From the top bunk, I watch Hook slide out from the bottom rack and approach his nearly diminished stash of caffeine. He’s a skinny character with a mangled plume of bleach blonde hair which this morning is all pressed to one side. Hook fills his cup with two spoons of Keefe instant coffee then fills the mug with tepid water from our commode. Sipping quietly, he moves to our barely visible cell-mirror and attempts to arrange his hair without success. “I don’t look too bad do I?” he asks. I search but fail to find an appropriate response. I mean, how good could anyone look while wearing an orange jumpsuit in an 8’ x 12’ concrete box, bad hair day or not ?

In the federal prison system, inmates are not allowed to possess currency. We purchase commissary once per week using money orders sent by friends and family on the outside and minute sums earned working prison jobs. Money orders mailed by loved ones are forwarded to a centralized Bureau of Prisons post office box and credited to our name and register number. Prison wages are also directly credited to our name and register number, hence, as inmates we never actually see any money. Given that we shop only once per week, it is very common to exhaust a supply of a particular commissary item prior to shopping day – just as Hook has done with his rations of coffee. This gives rise to an informal yet very fluid bartering system. In the general population, inmates use stamps as a unit of currency and there’s usually a couple inmates who “run stores” out of their lockers. Such store operators spend all their funds buying commissary then hold the provisions in their lockers. When another inmate depletes his supply of a particular item prior to their commissary shopping day, that inmate can exchange stamps with the store operator for the needed provision. So it’s a game of timing and desire. If you want something prior to your commissary shopping day, you need only trade stamps with a store operator who profits from a mark-up between the price of stamps and the price of the exchanged item. The store operator then later re-trades the stamps for other commissary items, some of which end up back in his store. In AD-SEG though, no one has a store thus stamps are of limited use. So we barter item-for-item.

The caffeine quickly stimulates Hook’s senses as he begins pacing back and forth through our cell to gaze out the windows. “Nothing goin’ on outside” he mutters. The window in the rear wall of our cell partially overlooks the main prison recreation yard. From this window we can spy a tiny corner of the softball field and the running track. Hook hops onto our table and sits with his feet on the stool. This is a comfortable perch from which to sit while looking out the rear window and talking.

Hook continues “Maybe I can make a trade”.
“Bang on the door, see if you can get Junior’s attention”, I reply.

Junior is a Spanish inmate who works as the AD-SEG orderly. It’s a rare privilege to work as the orderly in AD-SEG given the 23-hour per day lockdown in the unit. As the AD-SEG orderly, Junior is allowed out of his cell to work in the unit where he mops and cleans for most of the day. This also means he interacts with all the inmates in AD-SEG, many of whom have other commissary items they are willing to trade.

So Hook goes fishing for more coffee by banging on the cell-door. Junior appears shortly thereafter in the AD-SEG corridor on the opposite side of our door.

“Coffee” Hook yells.
“Alright, let me ask around. What you got in trade?”.

Hook relays an oral inventory of his non-caffeinated commissary items and Junior goes on the prowl returning shortly thereafter with a red bag of Nescafe instant coffee. Junior slides the bag to Hook under the cell door through the two inch gap and yells “Candy bars”. Hook slides a handful of candy bars to Junior who again disappears down the hall. Good trade for which Junior will likely profit – candy bar or otherwise. Hook mixes a second coffee and resumes telling me how he smuggled illegal aliens across the border from Mexico.

“So my family’s furniture business is over the border in Mexico. We make the furniture there using cheap local labor. Just can’t compete paying US wages. I go across the border twice per day. They took notice of that and offered me $1,000 just to drive one of their cars”.

Hook pauses to sip his coffee during which I surmised that the “they” to whom he referred were the Jackals who managed the human trafficking ring with which he was involved. I’d read in the newspapers about Asian immigrants who paid thousands to the Jackals for entry into the states. Hook continues “so there we are at a vacant lot in Mexico near the factory. They pull up in this ridiculous beat-up little car. The back-seat is hollowed-out. They flip the back seat forward and a little Asian guy squeezes into the crawl space between the back seat and the trunk. Then the seat is flipped back into its normal position. I take the keys, get into the driver’s seat and drive across the border. The chink hops out in California, I get my thousand dollars and we do it again later”.

I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Hook smiles and snickers too. It was a simple hustle. But one that inevitably earned Hook a felony record.

A tap at the door. We both look to find the face of a Corrections Officer (CO) who asks “Rec ?’. We both nod yes and the little doorlet in our cell door flops open. Hook practically leaps from the table to the door. He turns around, hands behind his back and extends his wrists through the doorlet after which they are handcuffed. Hook steps forward with his hands cuffed behind his back while I jump down from the top bunk. I turn around with my back to the door, extend my hands through the doorlet and am cuffed likewise. Moments later our cell door opens and we are allowed outside for one hour of recreation. We almost skip down the hall in glee.

Recreation in the SHU occurs in enormous human sized dog kennels which are surrounded on all sides with chain link fence. Each kennel is about fifty feet long and thirty feet wide – not quite big enough in which to run but considerably larger than the living cells. During “rec”, inmates are segregated into separate yet adjacent kennels by race and security classification. Hook and I are the only two white inmates at rec and are therefore deposited into the last most kennel. Most of the other kennels are already filled with other inmates – Spanish, Blacks and Asians.

As Hook and I enter, hands cuffed behind our backs, a black inmate bellows “here come the Wall Street guys. What up fellas”, he continues with his Cheshire-cat grin.

Hook and I are accustomed to certain of the blacks at recreation and have developed an almost comical camaraderie with them. Certain others simply ignore us. “Doing tax returns later my man” I reply.

The black inmate belly laughs and concludes “Yeah man, get me a couple million okay?”. We all smile while the CO escorts Hook and I into our kennel, uncuffing us moments later. The large chain-link door to the outdoor recreation yard is closed and we lightly trot around our kennel in a half-jog. For the first time in 23 hours we can feel the sun on our bodies. It’s a glorious feeling interrupted only by Cheshire who engages Hook in conversation. The black inmate has unbuttoned his orange jumpsuit to the waist and tied the arms of the cloth in a pseudo-knot around his hips. They’re an odd sight – a skinny bleach blonde surfer and an enormous black weightlifter, blabbing face-to-face through a chain link fence. Any conversation is good conversation while at recreation in AD-SEG though. Race need not matter. Topic need not matter. Many of the inmates at Taft formerly resided in adjacent towns and cities in southern California. As such, it is common to find mixed races discussing the same neighborhoods – as Hook is currently doing. Cheshire seems more Los Angeles than San Diego though so I doubt they will share much common ground. I remain two steps removed from the exchange half-jogging to and fro in the kennel. Fifty minutes later we are again handcuffed, marched back indoors and into the segregation unit escorted by a CO. As we walk forward and upstairs, I can’t help but stare towards D-SEG searching for the screaming voice that had attempted to summon the nurse.

Hook and I are again deposited into our cell and uncuffed through the little doorlet. We’ll go out to recreation again sometime tomorrow morning. Till then, it’s back to the cement. I hop up and into the top bunk, stretching comfortably. “Time for some coffee”, Hook announces as he begins mixing his elixir. Hook wipes his hand across his blonde mane, sweeping his hair again entirely to one side. We both smile as the unit fills with a familiar echo “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”.

“Who is that?”.

Hook jumps to the cell door pressing first his ear then his face into the window. It was a vain effort to locate the voice. Again “I need to see the nurse!”. Hook continues spying without success.

“It’s definitely someone in this wing”, he concludes while staring out the cell door window.
“You sure ?”, I ask.
“Kinda”.
“It’s not someone in D-SEG?”.
“Could be. I mean everything echoes out there”.

The thought of someone screaming for a nurse from Disciplinary Segregation was unnerving. Haunting visions of a deformed inmate chained to a metal cot danced through my mind along with the atrocities of Abu-Grhaib and Guantonomo Bay. “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”, again and again. It was difficult to block.

Now comes dead time. Hook and I have about twelve hours to kill before lights-out. This void will be interrupted by only four events; commissary, lunch, the 4PM stand-up count and then finally dinner. Commissary arrives without incident. A CO passes us our items through the little doorlet. As expected, Hook receives more Keefe instant coffee along with a smattering of candy and toiletries. The doorlet is closed and locked and we are again absent of any external stimulation. Hook fumbles through a handful of paperwork and mail related to his detainer while sitting at the desk and sipping from his mug.

“What’s happening with that?”, I ask from the top bunk.
“Nothing. Haven’t been able to get in touch with the lawyer”.
“Have you requested a phone call or written to him?’.
“Naw, my Dad is suppose to be handling all that”.

Hook has a perplexed gaze as he stares at his legal paperwork.

“You should write the lawyer. Maybe he doesn’t know you’re in the SHU and unable to call. Maybe he’s waiting on you?”, I state.

Hook stares at his paperwork fumbling again. “That’s not a bad idea”.
“Tell him you can’t make a phone call and that he needs to initiate and request a legal phone call with the prison staff. He may not be aware of that”.

I hand Hook a pad of paper and a pencil at which he again just sort of blankly stares. “Alright, tell me what to write”. An uncomfortable silence follows. I hesitated at asking the question but surrendered with “Do you want me to write the letter for you?”.

Hook springs from the table, smiles, returns the pad of paper and pencil to me on the top bunk then claps his hands announcing “Okay, what are we gonna say . . . ?”. I couldn’t help but chuckle as Hook and I craft an ambivalent caffeine induced form letter to his lawyer. Hook bounces around the cell, continually jumping in front of the mirror flipping his hair, sipping coffee and speaking. And so Hook and I consume the next hour drafting letters to his attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego in an effort to resolve his detainer issue. We go through countless drafts which is partially a by-product of the coffee as well as available time. Lunch arrives shortly thereafter. Our doorlet pops open and four plastic portioned containers are passed inside after which the doorlet is closed and locked. Our two tan colored containers hold hot-food portions while the remaining two aqua-blue containers hold cold portions, generally consisting of salad, condiments, plastic utensils and a Hi-C like drink mix. As a general rule of AD-SEG etiquette, Hook eats while seated on his bottom bunk with his meal containers on his lap. I eat at our table. The meal is quick and uneventful. A CO returns to collect our containers and the doorlet is again locked. We now have almost five hours to kill until the 4PM count and dinner. I feel sleepy after eating and very much want to climb into the top rack and snooze. This is the worst thing to do though.

“Tell me about San Diego”, I ask while seated at the table facing Hook who is now lying in the bottom rack. He looks like a neatly ironed carrot while dressed in the orange jumpsuit stretched fully across his cot. And so I listen to stories of southern California, the warm sun and surfing. It seems a lifetime away. Hook describes “catching tube” a surfer expression for actually being inside a wave that curls overhead. He continues describing how he spends time teaching his son to surf. As a native Bostonian, the world of southern California, warm sun and surfing is entirely alien to me. I’m more accustomed to snowstorms, ice and catching the flu. So I listen. And I want to be a surfer.

A metal tap at the door and the face of a CO. We both stare. The little doorlet clacks open as the CO barks “Hook . . . goin inside. Pack your stuff and be ready in twenty minutes”. The CO shovels a clear plastic garbage bag through the doorlet, closes and locks it then disappears down the corridor.

Silence. Complete and total silence followed only by the echo of thumping heartbeats.

Prior to the infractions that graduated us into AD-SEG, both Hook and I were housed at Taft’s camp – an ancillary facility without security fences or walls located outside the main prison. We were classified as “out-custody” which means we were allowed to serve our time outside the general population at the main prison. Inmates with such security classifications are generally considered low-risk, non-violent offenders that pose little threat to prison staff, other inmates and the general public. Yet, Hook was now being moved out of AD-SEG and into the main prison where he would live amongst felons with higher security classifications many who bear a greater propensity for violence. This is not good.

Hook hesitantly packs his belongings into the plastic garbage bag. I can see the apprehension in his face. The CO returns and opens the doorlet. Hook is cuffed with his hands in front of his body thus allowing him to carry his bag of property. The doorlet is closed and locked after which the cell door is opened. I nod as he exits. Hook turns glancing over his shoulder, blonde lochs all flipped to one side partially hiding one eye saying “Bang on the window if you see me walking the track. I’ll wave”. And then he was gone.

Alone now. This sucks.

I spent the following two days in AD-SEG sitting on the corner table with my feet on the stool staring out the window, intently gazing at the small wedge of the recreation yard waiting for Hook to appear. Silence, followed by more silence. Just a complete void. And then . . . there he was – dressed in tan, walking slowly on the track staring up at the SHU. Hook’s blonde hair was like a signal flare. I began feverishly banging on the cell window with both hands. He stopped dead on the track and swiped his hair across his head before raising both hands in the air and waving to me. I continued banging over and over and over screaming his name. And then he was gone.

I crawled into the now vacant bottom rack and wanted to cry. Sharing an 8’ x 12’ isolation cell with another person is challenging. Sharing an 8’ x 12’ isolation cell with dead air is near damning. I want to be in sunny San Diego “catching tube”. I want to be in the general prison population talking with Hook albeit at the risk of violence. I want to be anywhere but here.

Then the voice “I need to see the nurse!”. Again and again “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”. Over and over it echoes.


II
I never saw Hook again and can only speculate on what happened to him. If the detainer was lifted, he probably spent very little time in the general population at the main prison and was hopefully transferred back to the camp where he could serve the remainder of his sentence sans additional drama. It’s conjecture at best though.

After Hook went inside, I spent about a week alone in AD-SEG staring at the walls and talking to myself. I saw Cheshire outside at recreation a couple times along with a new white inmate named Olaf who later became my new cellie. Olaf is serving a twenty-one year sentence for importing hashish from Asia to Vancouver.

Back in the 1970’s, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Asia, Olaf learned to sail large multi-masted schooners and other sea faring vessels. He spent months island-hopping on such crafts in southeast Asia and in the south Pacific where drug enforcement laws were virtually non-existent. A decade later, sometime in the mid to late 1980’s, an international drug cartel that owned a schooner, approached Olaf about sailing a boat loaded with hashish from Pakistan and India to Vancouver. Olaf, being an opportunist like most other convicts, accepted and began making month long sails across the Pacific in boats filled with narcotics in exchange for handsome sums. After several such journeys, one of Olaf’s crewmen became involved in a domestic legal incident somewhere in either Canada or the United States. In exchange for immunity from prosecution for this incident, the crewman agreed to become an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and agreed to help the DEA apprehend Olaf during an upcoming hashish sail from Pakistan and India to Vancouver. The informant lured Olaf away from the schooner while it was berthed during which time the DEA surreptitiously boarded the craft and placed a transponder inside the hull. The Coast Guard tracked Olaf all the way from Asia to Vancouver where they intercepted his vessel in international waters off the coast of Canada. Just as the Coast Guard was preparing to board Olaf’s boat, a nervous crew member set fire to the vessel in an effort to sink the ship and destroy the hashish, yet, the Coast Guard was able to recover the crew and enough drugs from the wreckage to earn Olaf a sizeable prison sentence. Olaf drafted and filed several unsuccessful appeals pro se’ arguing jurisdictional matters indicating that the boat was not of US registry and that he never entered American waters, therefore, he is not subject to prosecution by the United States. It’s a good argument. Better still is the Coast Guard video which is often broadcast on real-life drama television shows such as “World’s Wildest Police Chases”. You can read more about Olaf’s high-seas narco-adventure and unsuccessful legal claims by conducting an internet search using the terms “Olaf Peter Juda” and “hashish”.

I don’t like Olaf. He’s weird. And he’s far too comfortable being naked in my presence – something that is certainly a by-product of his Peace Corps days and months at sea. Maybe also a by-product of his twenty-one year prison sentence. Olaf never hesitates to strip out of his jumpsuit, drop his boxer shorts and use either the commode or the shower all the while talking to me. Whenever Hook or I needed to use the toilet or shower, we would give the other advanced warning thereby providing time for the other to move to the rear of the cell, into the windowed corner and effectively out of sight. From the windowed corner, you can’t really see the shower or commode thereby giving the user some privacy. Further, whenever Hook or I showered, we hung across the stall a make-shift shower curtain crafted from string and bed sheets thereby also allowing for some privacy. Olaf does neither . . . just as he’s doing right now while taking a shower without the shower curtain.

“Why don’t you hang the curtain”, I ask from the top bunk.
“I be done showering before I even get the thing up”.

Water is splashing all over the cell floor. Olaf emerges from the shower stall stark naked without even a towel across his body. I turn away while still in the top perch as Olaf dries himself and dresses. Moments later he’s clothed and mopping the cell floor with his towel.

“What you reading ?”, he asks.
“Just some newspaper articles my family mailed”.
“Perhaps I could see when you finished”.
“Sure”.
“You take ‘da law class at camp?”.
“Yeah, I took that class a long time ago back at a camp in Massachusetts”.
“I teach that class. You like to hear?”.
“Well . . . I already took the class Olaf”.
“But you like to hear again, no?”.
“Sure why not”, I reply in a desperate attempt to stir conversation and kill some time.

I hop down from the top bunk and sit at the table, feet on the stool all the while looking out the window. Olaf sits upright in the bottom bunk with his legs stretched across the mattress pad hands folded in his lap. He’s a peculiar, lanky individual sporting wavy brown hair, thick eyeglasses and bad teeth. I half-listen as Olaf commences his oration. He speaks the fundamentals of constitutional law then excerpts from the federal sentencing guidelines before concluding and asking for my newspaper articles which I deliver without hesitation. Olaf stands, walks around the cell, briefly spies the newspaper clippings, quickly dismissing them and returning them to me. “Garbage” he says “Why ‘dey send you this stuff?”.
“They’re trying Olaf”.
“You should read my brief. I wrote and presented my own appeal”.

In jail, an inmate can be whoever they want. Prisons are filled with Walter Mitty like dreamers living fictional dream lives while preaching fantasies of yore. This affliction is particularly keen amongst white inmates many of whom attest more knowledge of law then their attorneys and judges. This of course begs the question – if they know so much about the law, why then are they still in jail? Olaf is a self-proclaimed inmate lawyer although he indicates no legal or formal schooling beyond a college degree in rhetoric and philosophy from Berkley. More flower power. I’m beginning to wonder how much of Olaf’s previous hashish bounties was smoked in his captain’s chair during his excursions across the Pacific. Olaf retrieves a copy of his appellate brief from his stack of legal paperwork, hands it to me and says “Read”. And so I do, climbing into the top bunk, entirely amazed at the reach of the cartel with which he was woven. The brief talks about the manufacture of hashish and opium in Pakistan along with its movement through India then across the ocean. Olaf’s rewards for his services allowed him to pay cash for houses and cars in New Mexico and across the southwest. He makes a very good jurisdictional argument though – did the United States Coast Guard have the right to apprehend him and did the United States Justice Department have the right to prosecute and incarcerate him while he was still in international waters off the coast of Vancouver? For a brief moment I side with Olaf. That is until he strips out of his orange jumpsuit, drops his boxer shorts and starts shitting on the commode while facing and talking to me. He gave me no notice to jump down from the top bunk and slide into the recessed cell corner by the window. Now I’m with the authorities regarding his incarceration. Keep this exhibitionist shitter locked up. I turn away not able to bear more of it silently praying for him to finish. And he does.

Later comes the 4PM stand-up count, dinner and quiet time. I jump back into the top bunk and wrap a towel around my head and eyes so as to block the light. Downstairs, Olaf is listening to classical music on his handheld radio. The music quickly lulls me to sleep.

Morning arrives with a hazy sunrise. The cell is still mostly dark save for a faint glow peering in through the rear cell window. Turning onto my right side while still laying in the top bunk, I swipe my hand across the smooth cold concrete wall. It feels like cold, stiff flesh. Olaf is still asleep. I hop down from the top rack, moving quietly to the table on which I sit placing my feet on the stool while staring out the window. The horizon looks blurry and gray. Maybe it’s just my eyes adjusting to the light. I’ve been in this cell for almost a month now.

The sun begins to slowly creep skyward filling the unit with more light casting a random pattern of shadows that dance quietly throughout the cell. Outside in the AD-SEG corridor, I can hear jingling keys, clacking door locks and stomping feet. Breakfast is near. The cell light zaps to life and the doorlet opens after which four breakfast trays are inserted. Olaf wakes and we eat. Then a new face appears in the AD-SEG corridor. It’s a white inmate working as the AD-SEG orderly. I tap at the window to get his attention. He struts over staring into the cell from the opposite side of cell door window.

“Where’s Junior?”, I ask.
“Transferred. He’s gone”, the new orderly replies.

The youngster stares back waiting for more conversation. He’s a short, portly character with brown hair and matching goatee. Seems friendly enough, so I go fishing. “Got any newspapers out there?”.
“Yeah man, there’s a bunch floating around AD-SEG. You want in the loop ? You can get ‘em like fifth”.
“Absolutely. What would you like in trade?”.
“What you got?”.
“We have a little bit of everything in here”. Which was true. Olaf brought a bunch of commissary with him when we moved in together and I had purchased lots of cookies, candies and other essentials during our last shopping day. Some of it was for personal use but most purely for bartering here in AD-SEG.

The new AD-SEG orderly continues “Well, you take care of me and I’ll take care of you, deal?”.
“Deal”, I conclude. Moments later he returns with a handful of used newspapers and magazines which he slides under the door. It was gold. “I’ll come see you later about what I want”.

So Olaf and I read during the early morning hours, passing time discussing current events. We go to recreation outside and engage the new AD-SEG orderly who we learn was transferred into AD-SEG from the ancillary satellite camp just as Hook and I were. I didn’t recognize him though. Taft Camp houses almost five-hundred inmates in four living units so unfamiliar faces are very common.

Later that afternoon, Olaf and I were moved to a new AD-SEG cell on the first floor of the unit. The interior of the new cell is identical to our previous home except it’s located on the opposite side of the AD-SEG wing so we no longer have a view of the main prison’s recreation yard. Now we have a view of nothing – nothing but a bunch of rocks that is. Day after day is the same. Wake up, eat breakfast, go to recreation, eat lunch, 4PM stand-up count, eat dinner then sleep. It’s mind numbing. That is until Olaf decides to submit some written complaints to the warden.

“Who ‘dese guys think they are?”, Olaf announces while composing his latest issue on a piece of paper better known as an “Inmate to Staff Request” or “cop-out”. He folds it, then slips the cop-out between the wall and top left corner of the cell door where it’s pinched by the metal door frame and sticking out into mid air in the AD-SEG corridor. This is the third complaint he’s submitted. Hours later, a CO struts past our cell and retrieves the paper. Days pass with no response and it appears that, like his pro se’ appeal, Olaf has once again been ignored. That is until Monday morning when the warden and his senior staff conduct their weekly SHU examination. The warden walks with his associate wardens and executive staff down the AD-SEG corridor and looks into every cell to ensure the physical well being of each inmate. No judgment is made regarding mental well being. For an inmate, the inspection is like being the object of a ten cent peep-show. Anonymous faces gaze through the cell-door window and stare with voyeuristic eyes. Hook and I had been through a pair of such inspections and simply waved to the staff, each of whom deposited a dime, ogled and moved on without incident. It’s a mistake to engage the senior staff in conversation during SHU inspections. And it’s a mistake Olaf is making right now as the warden appears at our cell door window.

Olaf approaches the door muttering, “So . . . you’re afraid of me, ehhh warden?”.
The warden replies saying only “You’re a terrorist”. Five hours later Olaf was gone and I was alone again.

There are times in modern society when the pen is mightier than the sword. Praise to those who succeed with written appeals and cop-outs. Such is not the time though after you’ve been rescued from a burning schooner in the North Pacific amidst bales of charred hashish. And it’s certainly not the time when you’re warm, clothed and fed albeit incarcerated in an 8’ x 12’ segregation cell. Olaf failed to realize this despite the jurisdictional merits of his failed appeal and baseless complaints to the warden. There are better ways to exit the ocean. And there are better ways to exit a concrete box. Patience. And then a familiar voice “I need to see the nurse!”. Again and again it echoes “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”.


III

After Olaf’s hasty departure, I spent another week alone in AD-SEG before being moved to yet another cell and bunking with Pat, the new AD-SEG orderly who is serving a twelve year prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Years later, I learned that Olaf was transferred from Taft to a federal prison in Phoenix with a scheduled release date in 2010. Pat and I spent a few weeks together exchanging stories, trading commissary and blabbing about nothing specific. His AD-SEG etiquette was superior to Olaf so it was a pleasant change. I’ve been in the SHU for almost two months now. Bunking with Pat is almost like living alone because he spends most of his day outside the cell working in the SHU as the orderly. We spend only a couple waking hours together at night chatting and maybe twenty minutes together in the morning before he exits the cell for work. It’s like being married to someone who works a normal 9 to 5 job – save for the fact we’re locked in a concrete castle wearing orange jumpsuits.

A tap at the cell door window. Pat stares at me from the AD-SEG corridor saying “Lompoc”. I replied with a furrowed brow not sure what he meant. He says again “Lompoc. You’re being transferred to Lompoc”. And then he was gone.

I spent about two months in AD-SEG at Taft for refusing to participate in a work-release program. Now I was on my way to a real federal prison in Lompoc, CA where I would be housed behind the wire in the main prison’s general population. I had lost my “out-custody” camp status.

In hindsight, I’m not sure what purpose, if any, my time in the SHU served. I just don’t see the logic in it. As I exited AD-SEG with my property in a clear plastic garbage bag, hands cuffed at the front and escorted by a CO, a familiar scream commenced in the unit. “I need to see the nurse!”. It was emanating from a confinement cell on my left. I gazed into each box looking for the source as the CO and I marched down the AD-SEG corridor. And there it was. Cheshire was standing in his cell with his face inches from the cell door window. He screams over and over “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”. He pounds his fist on the window as I pass saying only “Peace out Wall Street”. Then he resumes screaming for the nurse. To this day, I don’t know why. Over and over he screams “I need to see the nurse! I need to see the nurse!”.
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Old 06-01-2009, 09:34 AM
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You nailed it. I spent a couple months in Ad Seg myself at a low.
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Old 06-01-2009, 11:44 AM
Archie999 Archie999 is offline
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Default Doing time at Taft Camp

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Following is a narrative, in short story format, of time I served at Taft Camp from 2006 - 2007.

This is a true story. The inmates mentioned in this writing are all real people some of whom have been released others of whom remain incarcerated.
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TAFT CORRECTIONAL INSITITUTION
TAFT, CALIFORNIA

Camp - Unit A4A

2006 - 2007
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Clyde and I are waiting inside the chow-hall for CO Montes to unlock the back-door so we can dump the morning garbage. We have four chow-hall trash cans on wheels overflowing with clear plastic garbage bags and a collection of recyclable refuse gathered from the vegetable preparation (veg-prep) room. The chow hall trash will be tossed into the garbage dumpster near the loading dock but the veg-prep refuse, which contains discarded lettuce leaves and similar organic material, will be forwarded to Squirrel Dave who is responsible for recycling the contents at a composte pile five hundred yards from the chow hall. Dave, who is now sitting on the back dock with an enormous feral cat in his lap, transports the refuse to the pile in a large, four-wheeled gray cart. Rumors abound at Taft Camp regarding Dave and how he actually earned his “Squirrel” nickname. He’s an animal lover – there’s no doubt about that as he gently strokes the gigantic feline which is still in has lap. Some of us think he’s a man lover too, yet, similar to the truth about his nickname, we’re not entirely sure. Dave is effeminate but not overtly gay.

During the morning garbage dump, Clyde and I always place a small bag of discarded breakfast foods into the veg-prep refuse which Dave later retrieves and feeds to his cat and the overwhelming population of desert squirrels which live around Taft Camp. There are hundreds of squirrels and rabbits in Taft, many of whom race up to the edge of the running track after each meal, and wait for the inmates to toss them food scraps. Cornbread is a favorite amongst the squirrel population. Actually, any bread product including biscuits is well received by the rodents. They’re fat, furry, entertaining little creatures.

Dave continues stroking his feline. He’s an odd character serving a ten year sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Like many of the other inmates at Taft, Dave was ensnared with the Mexican drug cartels for whom he imported cannibas into the United States from Mexico. He doesn’t look like the typical Mexican drug dealer although he speaks fluent Spanish and bears dark Aztec skin. Dave is balding, round at the waist and very gentle mannered. His voice flutters on the edge of feminine.

“Hello” Dave says as Montes finally opens the rear door of the chow hall so Clyde and I can exit with the garbage. Dave grins reflecting all his teeth pushing his big belly outwards. Moving contraband and stealing food out the back door of the chow hall is a common hustle so Montes carefully watches our every move as we deposit the garbage bags into their appropriate containers – chow hall trash into the dumpster and veg-prep bags into Dave’s cart. Moments later Clyde and I return to work inside. In our absence, Dave retrieves the small bag of breakfast foods from out of his cart and feeds the cat on the rear loading dock.

“Thank you”, Dave says hours later on the recreation yard where I saw him shirtless and shoeless sun-tanning adjacent to a small pack of hand fed squirrels. Riley and I just keep walking on the outdoor recreation yard track whilst I pry for the source of Dave’s nickname.

“Dude, he ate one of the Squirrels”, Riley replies to my inquiries.

I look over my shoulder at Dave who is still lying on the ground, almost nude save for a pair of gray athletic shorts, and think only ‘impossible’. My cellie Riley has a reputation for exaggerating and in many instances entirely fabricating the truth. If you can eat ten hot-dogs, Riley can eat fifty hot-dogs – or he knows someone who can eat fifty hot-dogs. If you can run a five minute mile, Riley can run a four minute mile – or he knows someone who can run a four minute mile. The thought of Dave eating one of his four-legged friends appears another of Riley’s fables.

“Never”, I reply.
“Naw man, it’s true. Ask around”.

And so I did. No one at Taft Camp was able to confirm Riley’s allegation. Then again, no one denied it either. Riley’s fable seemed more and more believable with each inquiry. The following morning, Dave was again seated on the rear loading dock with his cat who was entirely content in his company. It’s a haggard looking beast with a matted coat of fur and a bloody torn ear which Dave avoids while repeatedly petting the animal. “Whoa daddy . . .” Dave declares with a flustered feminine voice as Clyde and I exit the chow-hall with the morning trash “Look at his ear. I think he got into a fight last night with one of the coyotes in the sand dunes”. Montes, Clyde and I walk a wide circle around Dave to avoid his bloody eared cat and any ailments it might be carrying. We dump the organic trash into Dave’s cart, chow-hall garbage into the dumpster and then return inside after which Montes again locks the back door of the chow hall. Moments later, I quickly return to the rear door and gaze out the window. Dave has organized the morning breakfast bag of scrambled eggs, hams and bread into small white styrofoam bowls from which the cat was now feasting. A separate bowl contains discarded milk which the feline drinks in entirety. Dave hops down from the loading dock and begins pushing his cart of veg-prep garbage uphill and around the corner to the outdoor composte pile. The cat, now alone on the rear loading dock, finishes eating, cleans himself by licking his paws, then later disappears well fed and loved.

Same routine the next morning with one exception – Dave is absent. The cat is staring at me from the opposite side of the windowed rear door while anxiously seated on a bunch of empty milk crates. Montes unlocks the back chow-hall door and we again dump the trash while the cat watches and waits with an almost perplexed look regarding Dave’s void. The cat’s ear is noticeably mangled. A bloody crust appears to have formed around the base of the appendage, yet, the animal appears unfazed by the wound. All he wants is breakfast which is sitting in the organic garbage bin. Clyde and I return inside to work. Three hours later at about noon, after being dismissed from work-duty in the chow-hall, I ran around the food service building to the rear dock and found the cat sitting patiently on the milk crates waiting for breakfast. Still no Dave. I hop down from the loading dock and retrieve the breakfast bag from the gray push-cart, open it and fill the small Styrofoam bowls on the raised loading dock with the contents. Dave’s cat pounces down from the milk crates and proceeds to eat. The size of the animal is overwhelming. It appears more fox or coyote than cat. Maybe it’s a cross breed.

Later the 4PM stand-up count. Riley and I stand at attention in our cubicle as two CO’s bound past quickly and uneventfully. Minutes later they shout “Clear” from the front of the housing unit as inmates begin to meander out of their cubicles and throughout the building.

The housing unit at Taft Camp consists of an enormous concrete building that forms a bent “U” shape with four long rectangular living units on two levels in each arm of the bent “U”. Administrative and staff offices are located in the curve of the “U”. Inmates are housed in two-man or three-man cubicles each of which contains a bunk-bed, table with roll-out stool and two stand-up lockers. The three man-cubicles contain an additional lower cot with pull out drawers located beneath this third bed frame. Each cubicle is separated from the other by six foot tall tan colored cinder block walls that form “L” shapes. The two man living spaces are very roomy and comfortable. The three-man cubicles, which are located in the center of the housing units, are congested. Riley and I share a two-man window cubicle in Unit A4A. It’s nice by all comparable penal standards. Riley, who much resembles a tattooed Jesus complete with long hair and beard, is serving a ten-year prison sentence for selling drugs. He has a wife and child on the outside living somewhere in the Los Angeles area, exactly where I’m not sure. They visit once per month.

As a general rule of prison etiquette, an inmate never enters another inmate’s cubicle unless invited to do so. Most conduct conversation from the circumference of a cubicle while glancing around or over the cinder block walls – just as Michael Ray is doing with Riley right now. There are big men in this world. Then there’s Michael Ray, probably the most enormous, muscular black man in southern California. Or at least, the most enormous, muscular black man I’ve ever seen in southern California who is not playing professional sports. Michael Ray is resting his arms and his walking cane on top of the cinder block wall that subdivides our cubicle from adjacent cubicles. His shoulders and biceps bulge like swelling tree trunks resting on the tan painted concrete. Michael-Ray’s shaved head and black goatee stare at me from a height known only to those in the NBA and NFL.

“What’s up” he nods in a diplomatic voice before engaging my cellie Riley. “I know yous’ got some garlic in ‘dere man”, Michael Ray continues, probing Riley for some spices for his evening meal. “Hook me up and I’ll take care of you next week”.
My cellie Riley replies “Alright, alright . . . garlic, lemon herb spice, special mix, onion . . . what am I, Wal-Mart to you?”.
“Yeah ‘das right Riley, you ‘da Wal-Mart of the house”. Michael Ray winks to me with one eye smiling all the while.

Riley hands Michael-Ray some chopped garlic as I just watch. Rather than eating at the chow-hall, many inmates cook their own meals using microwaves in the living units and commissary foods such as rice, beans, tuna, bag-chicken and other food stuffs. Michael Ray and Riley talk about nothing specific after which Squirrel Dave appears at the cubicle. “Snap, I’m outta here”, Michael Ray declares as he grabs his walking cane, strutting down the unit corridor making a hasty exit, muscular tree-limbs flailing at the side.

“Hello” Dave announces in a very familiar feminine voice. Riley exits the cubicle quickly proceeding towards the microwaves where he’ll cook his evening dinner with Michael Ray thereby leaving Dave and I alone.

“What happened to you this morning?”, I ask.

Squirrel looks around the unit as inmates continue to mingle past after which he retrieves a ridiculous black plastic hair comb from the breast pocket of his shirt with which he begins sweeping his thin shower wet hair backwards across his balding scalp. Dave is dressed in institution issued tans with a button-collar shirt tucked neatly into belted pants. The shirt, collar, sleeves, cuffs and pants are all neatly pleated although Dave’s belly, as always, is pushed outwards and dangling over his waistline. He looks a buoyant incarcerated poster-boy for LL Bean - place your order before December 1st and this prison uniform is yours for the low, low price of $59.99. First one-hundred buyers receive a free black plastic hair comb and a microwave recipe for Squirrel Stew.

“Oh man . . . I had a call-out for medical and waited for like two hours”. Dave’s voice again flutters on the edge of female. He almost always initiates or replies to conversation with “Hello”, “Oh man” or “Whoa daddy”. Then an uncomfortable silence. Squirrel Dave remains outside the cubicle combing his wet hair backwards waiting for more conversation and most likely a status report on the condition of his cat. So I continue “Well . . . I fed him some scrambled eggs and milk. Seemed happy but I didn’t touch him or pet him”. Dave smiles replying “Thank you”. Then Dave disappears down the unit corridor.


II


“Just go then and take all your suits with you !”, my wife screams as she exits the living room. I’ve been out of prison for ten months now living in Las Vegas with my wife and two step-children all the while under the watchful eye of the United States Probation Department and my court ordered supervised release. This is hell. Doing time in federal prison, with its informal code of conduct, is easier than doing time in public life. Or maybe I’m just having trouble adjusting to the world outside after more than three years in jail. Homecoming’s litany of marginal employment, poverty and alcohol is not what I had expected.

Average daily summer temperatures in Las Vegas hover around 120 degrees. Being from the northeast, the desert heat resembles that of a well heated Thanksgiving Day gas oven. The warmth at Taft in the San Joaquin Valley wasn’t even this harsh. In Las Vegas, the sun bounces off everything and radiates throughout the entire valley slow roasting all within. It’s impossible to escape. Just walking down the street is exhausting. I’m working a menial job frosting donuts and serving coffee at a local diner where I earn $9.00 per hour. The work is tolerable, the people are not. Something happened while I was incarcerated. Something happened to people – the way they think and talk is not the same as I remember it to be. Or maybe something happened to me.

Earlier this week, while working an evening closing shift at the donut shop, three youngsters ranging in age from fourteen to nineteen enter the diner and proceed to harass my co-worker – the only other employee working that shift. The youngsters, dressed in baggy low-rider pants and exposed boxer shorts, spit a barrage of MTV initiated rap insults at my co-worker after which I escort the three delinquents outside while continuing to listen to their sarcasm. I don’t say a word as we exit the building together. My co-worker is now alone inside the donut shop. I remain silent and just listen as the youths continue jawing outside under the covered awning of the donut shop which is only partially lit amidst the evening darkness. A quick survey of the situation suddenly doesn’t look favorable. I’m dressed in tan kahki uniform pants, a blue uniform shirt, a foolish looking fast-food hat and comfortable athletic shoes. The youngsters are standing and facing me in a half-circle. So I punch the center juvenile full on the jaw and watch him fall flat onto the pavement. He’s lying entirely on his back, spread eagled on the ground staring at me, dazed and stunned. Still he continues with his epithets “Do you wanna die muthafucker?”, he barks at me from the missionary position on the pavement. He’s a long lanky youth although he now appears a twisted tinker-toy while splayed on the ground. I fondle but do not retrieve a folding knife from my pants pocket. It’s a beautiful black handled, black bladed shank – one that fits comfortably in the palm of my hand while folded close. “Yeah I wanna die”, I reply while fingering the steel in my pocket. The remaining two youngsters turn and run. Now it’s one against one. The felled juvenile stands, stumbles, grasps his jaw and flees. Cowards. I waited for the police to arrive but they never did so I return to work inside. “Awesome!”, my co-worker states from behind the counter as we resume cleaning the restaurant.

During my three years in federal prison, violence between inmates was rare. Those confrontations that did occur were quickly disposed of with swift lopsided beatings. That is, ten inmates would assault another solitary felon, beating him senseless. Similarly, one inmate weighing 300 lbs would bludgeon another smaller inmate weighing half as much. But they were isolated incidents. Rarely was there an instance of two equally matched felons fist-fighting in an even brawl. Further, prison violence between inmates was always preceded by silence, not screaming or yelling. Quiet was the most dangerous precursor in federal prison. So listening to common street folk and juvenile delinquents hollering is new. It’s something I need to re-learn. Battering a disrespectful delinquent in the face and watching his two buddies run away in disgrace is new. Public rules of social engagement and conflict resolution now seem backwards to me. Had I punched one in a trio of inmates while incarcerated, I would have been the recipient of a three-man boot-stomp, not the witness of a cowardice flight.

My co-worker and I complete our shift, clock-out and separately depart for home. He offers me a ride in his car to which I decline and proceed walking alone down Silverado Ranch Boulevard. It’s sweaty hot outside, still maybe 100 degrees even though it’s after 10PM. The Las Vegas heat never seems to abate. My first thought is the three kids are waiting for revenge with a bunch more friends somewhere along the boulevard. The warm steel of the pocket knife gives me comfort during the walk home during which I was not confronted. My trek down Silverado Ranch Boulevard is exhausting. Sweat pours down my chest and back soaking my t-shirt. My legs and feet feel heavy - an unfortunate by-product of working a shift while standing. Still I continue walking, pounding step by step towards home. The concrete sidewalk slaps me in the face with each step. At home now, I kick off my shoes and fall quickly asleep in my fast food uniform on the sofa beneath a thin sleeping bag. I never saw the three juveniles again.

Hours later I wake to the sounds of my wife milling about in the kitchen. I can tell she’s angry by the clambering of pots and pans as she makes no effort to be quiet. My wife is upset about our financial instability. We just never seem to have enough money to pay for everything – and it’s all my fault. Since I was released, everything that goes wrong in the house is my fault. It’s my fault the dog peed on the carpet. It’s my fault she’s hung-over and doesn’t feel well. It’s my fault that it’s 120 degrees today. All I wanna do is escape this blasted desert heat and go home to Boston. And it’s my fault for expressing this desire to her. “Just go then” she yells telling me to take all my suits with me. So I do, but leave the dress suits behind. I grab a backpack and fill it with jeans, t-shirts and toiletries, exit the house and begin walking towards Sunset Park located at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Sunset Road in southeast Las Vegas. Upon arriving, I settle comfortably beneath the shade of an enormous isolated tree, lying across the lush green park grass and fall quickly to sleep. Hours later I wake to the intense midday sun. It’s scalding. The shade cast by my tree has moved slightly right thereby placing me directly under the sun. So I grab the backpack which now serves as a pillow, move five feet to my right into the shade and return to my slumber. It’s quiet bliss accompanied only by the sound of a gentle wind. Hunger pangs and thirst wake me around 3PM after which I proceed to a local convenient store where I buy food and drink. The cool air-conditioning inside is paradise albeit temporary. The reality of my hasty exit from the house suddenly arrives as I pay for my provisions. I have only a $182 in cash, no credit cards and, in effect, nowhere to sleep tonight. The thought of returning to my wife and the house occurs but vanishes as quickly as it arrives. I just can’t go back. And I can’t buy a plane or train ticket to Boston and travel out of state without first obtaining permission from the Probation Department. If I spend my limited supply of money on a hotel tonight, I will quickly exhaust such funds leaving me unable to buy more food and drink. Shelter seems secondary to hunger. And with the warm weather in Las Vegas, sleeping outdoors seems more plausible than starving. So I resign myself to homelessness and unemployment in Sunset Park – something I later learned was not uncommon in Las Vegas and not uncommon at Sunset Park which street denizens call Park 2000. I abandoned the job at the diner.

After departing the convenient store, I return to Park 2000 where I settle into a remote corner and lay on the grass amidst a group of small trees standing in two perfect rows. There is no one else nearby. As I had done earlier in the day, I prop the backpack up for a pillow and lie flat across the thick park grass and stare upwards at the evening sky which quickly darkens and fills with stars. The evening temperature still seems around 90 to 100 degrees. It’s warm and uncomfortable but not threatening. Again I fall quickly asleep, quietly, comfortably and alone dreaming of New England.

A loud “hissssssss” sound startles me awake. I spring up from the park grass and off the backpack pillow standing fully while staring defensively about. The night darkness is disorienting. My first thought is there is a snake nearby. Such would not be surprising in a desert park. Again the “hisssssssss” sound. It’s somewhere nearby. I rub my blurry eyes gazing at the ground waiting for something to slither across my bare feet. The only light in the park is that provided by the stars overhead and a few dim streetlights located far off in the distance. Then a cacophony of “hisssssses” all at once. Whatever it is there is more than one and they’re moving closer. I stare out at the park horizon and wait. Then the source of the “hisssssss”. A group of enormous lawn sprinklers sprout out of the ground and begin blasting enormous streams of water across Sunset Park. The sprinklers are ignited in groups. The “hisssssing” sound echoes from the sprinkler heads as they fill with water and pop upwards and out of the ground. A new problem now – I can’t sleep in the park given all the watering. I retrieve my backpack from the ground and proceed towards Sunset Road. Behind me the lawn sprinklers engulf Park 2000 in streams of water.

I walk down Sunset Road looking for another place to sleep. An enormous maze of sand dunes littered with thorny bushes and shrubs emerges adjacent to Sunset Park. Seems hospitable. So I explore the sandy hills under the starlit sky looking for a sheltered cove in which to sleep. The myriad sand dunes are about ten to fifteen feet high with lower sunken trails at the bases. I continue walking along the footholds, slipping through the sand for about twenty minutes until I find the perfect berth. It’s a disorienting walk as I can see only about four steps ahead of me in the night darkness. In the maze of dunes, there’s an obtuse “U” shaped hill with scrub bushes all along the ridge. The middle of the dune is recessed with a lowered sandy bed. My new home. I place the backpack into the nest and lay down on the sand which slips around me. It’s more comfortable than the park grass. Exhausted from the journey, I again fall quickly asleep.

Morning arrives uneventfully as the horizon slowly lightens. The sand remains very comfortable as I jostle about shaking small pools of the element from my hair, pants and feet. A more urgent problem now – I’m lost in the middle of a mini-sand desert in need of a toilet and toilet paper. I climb to the top of the fifteen foot tall sand dune and survey the surroundings as my bowels strain. From this perch I can see Park 2000 and the adjacent crossroads where I know I can find a public toilet. I also know I’m not gonna make it to such. Suffice to say I sacrificed one of my few t-shirts that morning as I “went native” at the base of another secluded sand dune. This is what my life has been reduced to – homeless, unemployed and shitting in the desert. I return to the obtuse sand dune in which I had slept and lay back down looking upwards. I feel scruffy, dirty and unshaven because I am scruffy, dirty and unshaven. And I’m covered in sand. It falls out of my sneakers, pants and hair. The morning sky continues to lighten. I need something on which to lie if I’m to sleep in the sand dunes again. At first light, I walk up Eastern Avenue to a cheap flea-market store where I purchase a $3 straw-wicker beach mat. It would be an ideal buffer between my body and the sand. The store also stocks $42 insulated sleeping bags, yet, given the summer heat and my lack of money, such an article seems unnecessary at the time. I roll the straw-wicker mat tight and insert it horizontally through a backpack strap and exit the store after paying. Hunger and thirst again. Another survey of my funds indicates I don’t have enough money to continually pay for food. I dismiss the thought of eating discarded food scraps and dumpster diving instead electing a new petty criminal scheme as I proceed up Eastern Avenue towards the nearest food market. I enter and am again relieved by the cool feel of air conditioning. It’s a light, uplifting feeling that removes the weight of the summer heat. I place my backpack into a shopping cart and push the cart through the store while filling it with a random collection of groceries. As I do, I open two pre-packaged deli sandwiches and eat. Up and down the aisles I move, shopping like any other customer only I’m eating as I do. I retrieve two large drinks from a refrigerated cooler and swill them down in seconds. Still up and down the aisles I push the cart. Twenty minutes later, fed and satisfied, I orphan the cart full of groceries leaving it in the middle of the store and walk out the door of the food market with my backpack. I waited for store security to approach me in the parking lot but they never did. Later, I retrieve a roll of toilet paper from a mini-market restroom and proceed towards Park 2000 where I return to a shady spot beneath a gathering of trees and again fall asleep this time dreaming of sand – not the comfortable, slippery sand dunes in which I had slept last night, but rather the hard crusted sand at Taft. Hours hence, I again moved to the adjacent dunes and slept for the night.

The stink of homelessness strikes me full the following morning as I wake in my sandy cove to the scent of my own body odor. I’m a mess in need of a shave and shower, yet, there are no public bathing facilities in Park 2000 aside from an enormous duck pond full of duck shit and putrid water. The thought of cleaning in the duck pond is repulsive. Still dark with a crest of morning light, I roll up the wicker mat which served as a bed-blanket last night, grab my backpack and proceed out of the sand dunes and into Park 2000 where I find a remote drinking fountain. I strip out of my clothes and sponge bath beside the fountain while wearing only my boxer shorts. I use my previously worn t-shirt as a towel and wash feverishly all the while watching for onlookers. There is no one else around. Moments later I apply a fresh coat of deodorant and dress in new clothes from out of the backpack, later proceeding towards the public toilet house where I find a stainless steel sink and a blurry scratched mirror. Here I brush my teeth and shave. The mirror provides only a fleeting reflection sufficient with which to shave. I feel a new person now, having shaken off homelessness albeit temporary.

I spent a week in Park 2000 lying under shady trees, sleeping in the adjacent sand dunes, eating from the local markets without paying and constantly shaking the sand from my clothes. Homelessness was boring but easy. As I entered the second week of my sojourn without shelter, I met three homeless men sharing a beer near the entrance to Park 2000. The eldest of the group indicated he had been living outdoors in Sunset Park and other surrounding Las Vegas areas for two years using proceeds from a disability claim to buy food. He sported a scraggy, unshaven beard, bad skin and a gray mesh baseball hat with a cropped pigeon feather. The thought of spending years in Sunset Park was unsettling. It was at this time that I decided to visit my Probation Officer at the Foley Federal Building in downtown Las Vegas. Eight hours later I was home in New England courtesy of a quick airplane flight out of the desert. As I flew home, I wondered if Squirrel Dave was still caring for helpless desert animals in southern California. Animals that lived in small sandy burrows foraging for food wherever they could find while gladly accepting food scraps from generous, tender inmates – inmates such as Squirrel Dave.


III

“Whoa Daddy” Dave declares while standing at the edge of the recreation track and hand feeding corn bread to the desert squirrels. “Look at them all”. There are about twenty squirrels sitting at the edge of the track inches from Dave’s feet. Each is holding a bright yellow chunk of cornbread in its front paws while resting on hind legs and eating. Their mouths work feverishly to devour and in some instances stuff and store the food into their cheeks. “Okay . . . no more” Dave says to the rodents as he disperses the last of the cornbread after which the squirrels patiently wait for another inmate to pass and toss them more food scraps.

Michael Ray struts quickly past. Caution. Then his voice “Walk a lap wit’ me Wall Street”. Gulp. And I do.

Keeping pace with Michael Ray is difficult given his long legged stride. He doesn’t talk during the first minute as we pace down the back straightaway of the track approaching the first curve. “How much time you got’ ?”, he asks as we enter the bend.
“Forty six months”, I reply.
“How’d you end up here from ‘da east coast ?”.
“Wife relocated to Las Vegas. I applied for relocation to the camp at Nellis Air Force Base after my first eighteen months, but they put me here”.
“Yeah, ‘dey closed Nellis”.

Another uncomfortable silence. I want to ask Michael Ray the same questions but worry about prying and insulting him. And I worry about getting smacked by his walking cane. He seems sensible though so I digress “You think Squirrel Dave really ate one of the squirrels ?”.
Michael Ray almost laughs replying “Come on man . . . ‘dat dude? Look at him”.
And I do as we enter the front straightaway of the walking track approaching the second bend where Dave is still standing over his family of squirrels.

Michael Ray and I walk several additional laps after which he departs never answering the squirrel question. Months later, Dave was transferred from Taft for unknown reasons and I adopted both his cat and the family of squirrels all of whom I fed on a daily basis. I can’t imagine how they survive out in the desert amidst hard caked sand, scrub bushes and predators. And I never learned the truth behind Squirrel Dave’s nickname.
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  #54  
Old 06-01-2009, 12:47 PM
Julie1015 Julie1015 is offline
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I'm enjoying your short stories. You truly have a gift.
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Old 06-05-2009, 01:17 AM
dogmeat dogmeat is offline
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I love reading your stories. Can't wait to find another
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Old 06-05-2009, 01:45 AM
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Thanks for sharing,it gives a little idea of what i men go through year after year in SHU.
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  #57  
Old 06-25-2009, 10:50 AM
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Default Can they recieve care packages to The Camp in Taft, CA

whaddup whaddup people!

a friend of mine was recently sentenced to 3 years at The Camp in Taft, CA. I would like to find out if anyone knows whether or not they accept care packages and from which website. Thank you!

~NJ
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  #58  
Old 06-25-2009, 01:05 PM
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Is that a CDC fire camp or a federal prison camp. This thread deals with CDC fire camps. If it is a federal camp you would need to ask your question in the Federal Prison forum.
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  #59  
Old 06-26-2009, 12:57 AM
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This was in The California Fire Camp Forum, moved it here to other Federal prisons.
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  #60  
Old 06-26-2009, 09:03 AM
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no care packages to Taft Camp...sorry
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  #61  
Old 02-25-2010, 10:00 PM
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Default help ?

hey anyone knows how long it takes to get approved to visit at taft ci
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  #62  
Old 02-25-2010, 10:05 PM
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Default anyone info. on taft

any one know anything about taft?
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  #63  
Old 03-15-2010, 05:31 PM
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Default anyone need ride?

anyone need a ride to taft ca?
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  #64  
Old 03-15-2010, 05:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwjgirl View Post
Hello, My Husband has been at Taft since March. I live about 3.5 hours away and just drive up and back home. The rooms in Taft are terrible. I had my car broken into once also. I've stayed at the super 8 in Bakersfield and it was decent. Is your Husband on the camp side?? Best of luck to you
hi my husband is at taft also. were are u comig from.
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  #65  
Old 03-15-2010, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CHITO View Post
Hi my name is dina my husband has been in taft for almost 7 months now i i been to visit twice last time i was there was this past weekend the times i have gone over i always stay in maricopa its like rigth next to taft the hotel its not all that but i get some sleep thats all it matters good luck!! On your trip long drive..
hi im thinking about going ever sat im from the san joaquin valley u
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Old 03-15-2010, 05:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CHITO View Post
Hi my name is dina my husband has been in taft for almost 7 months now i i been to visit twice last time i was there was this past weekend the times i have gone over i always stay in maricopa its like rigth next to taft the hotel its not all that but i get some sleep thats all it matters good luck!! On your trip long drive..
hi were are coming from
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  #67  
Old 03-15-2010, 06:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwjgirl View Post
I will be visiting my husband at taft CI in CA. I 'm not sure what to expect. CAn someone help???
hey were are coming from i just starting going im from the san joaquin valley. im planning on going every sat . it really nice have room for one person.
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  #68  
Old 03-27-2010, 10:40 PM
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Default I go 2 sat. of each month? have room 4 1 person? taft ca?

Need a ride
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  #69  
Old 04-07-2010, 08:54 PM
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Smile In need of info

Hello my name is Laurie and my husband is being trans. to taft fed. camp and is there any one out there that lives near this facility and has a loved one in one of the taft facilitys I would love to hear from you. Thanks and have a great evening
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Old 05-05-2010, 01:48 PM
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Default CI Taft Chinese Speaking Inmate

To ALL,

I have an acquiatance who is entering CI Taft in California in May 2010. Does anyone know someone who is either at Taft currently or who has been an inmate at Taft that speaks Mandarin Chinese? This acquiantance would like to speak to such person to find out answers to many questions. Thanks!
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  #71  
Old 06-07-2010, 02:58 AM
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i am very new at this. my husband just got to taft last week thursday. i have not heard from him. how long would i be waiting for that phone call? also, he was transferred from a county jail and he has no money with him, i read that i was able to place money into his account with jpay but they ask for an inmate number, do i have to wait for his call to give me that number?
also, any other info would help.

thank you.
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  #72  
Old 06-21-2010, 12:20 AM
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Default Look him up on department of prisons website

you can enter his name on B o P website- sorry, I dont have enough posts to send the link on the website! You can message me and I will help you get to the site, you will be able to find his inmate id from there, and then wire him money.

Last edited by Angel-a; 06-21-2010 at 12:22 AM..
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  #73  
Old 06-26-2010, 01:58 AM
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my dad use to be there...its very laid back but they are strict on dress code..no open shoes no revealing clothes..It was so hot when we use to drive out to taft so obviously we would were clothing that was suitable for summer..there was a day they wouldnt let my sister in because of her shirt/..?? but we had an extra jacket in the car so i always recommend to have an extra shirt or something for back up....also you can take $20 dollars of change so u can buy snacks and drinks they have in the vending machines.....
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  #74  
Old 07-01-2010, 02:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwjgirl View Post
My Husband is there if you have any further questions that haven't already been answered
I must report to taft in August. Any insights you can offer would be helpful. My family is concerned about visiting and phone calls, etc. How is the phone call paid for ? Should They get a "go phone" from bakersfield to reduce the cost of phone calls ? Thank you for the response.
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  #75  
Old 08-03-2010, 06:42 PM
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Default Taft..

Quote:
Originally Posted by racer View Post
my father, age 73, just started serving an 8 month sentence at taft. I'm very worried for him, he's been there 5 days and we haven't heard from him yet. I wonder what he is doing with his days, is he eating and sleeping o.k...it is very hard to not have heard from him. Does anyone know if they can wear shorts in this heat? Any information on Taft would be appreciated.
Hi.. a friend of mine was sent to Taft yesterday and I am also worried about him... Can anyone tell me whether the inmates can make calls to people who have cellular phones? I was told they may not be able to call cell phones... I would really appreciate any information concerning this place.. Thanks!
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