The Prison Notebooks
The Prison Notebooks
SOUND EFFECT – METAL DOOR CLANGING SHUT – VERY LOUD
SOUND EFFECT LOUD VOICES DOWN AND OUT
For those of you who’ve never been to prison – [ASIDE] which, today, is to say, haven’t been yet – here are the three things you should know: [HOLDS UP ONE FINGER] One… the noise. It’s never quiet, not even for a moment. Not ever. [HOLDS UP 2 FINGERS] Two… the smell. There’s a sort of very thick industrial cleanser smell that never quite manages to cover up layers of far worse smells underneath. [HOLDS UP 3 FINGERS] And three… [SHUDDERS] the food.
If you gave a room full of monkeys some eggs, flour and a whisk they would produce something edible at least occasionally. No; the only way you can make food this bad is on purpose.
CONTINUES MORE SERIOUS IN TONE
This relentless assault on your senses – the constant din, the pervasive stench, the numbingly horrible tastes, and the all-encompassing boredom of the place – these things combine in their effect like some enormous low-voltage Taser with no “off” switch. Most of the time you’re not asleep, you spend stunned.
CONTINUES WITH RETURN TO MORE UPBEAT TONE
My own time was served in the county lockup, which, in some ways is worse than the big state prisons up north. The lockup is always fifty or sixty percent over capacity which makes it more prone to sudden outbursts of violence.
But it was that overcrowding and my lack of prior criminal record that got me an early release. And it’s the memory of the sound, smell and menu choices that keeps me coming early to the meetings… sitting quietly… and mustering all the sincerity I can as I confess and repent my crimes again and again.
George Orwell in Anger Management
NARRATOR: We will read now, from the Anger Management Handbook:
“Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.”
[PAUSE] Hmmm….. [BEMUSED] Now that someone is actually working on my biography I’d kinda like to meet him, clear up a few things, double check some dates, the usual stuff.
WALKS BACK TOWARD BIG DESK
SITS ON THE EDGE
See…. My problem is this: What if cynicism is the only sensible response for the true romantic in the postmodern world? Which is sort of what Oscar Wilde was asking in his famous quotation: “Only someone with a heart of stone can look upon the death of Little Nell without laughing.”
DISMISSING THE THOUGHT, HE CONTINUES
The whole culture of counseling has a certain… Smurfs vibe to it.
You remember the Smurfs, right? The tribe of tiny animated blue people who preached the joys of cooperation to the very generation of people who, now in their thirties and forties, seek to make me more cooperative?
The only Smurfs who had individual personalities were those portrayed as incompetent curmudgeons who would inevitably see the error of their ways and return to the safe conformity of the greater blue pack.
Just as AA refuses to allow for the possibility of a glass of good Bordeaux with a nice beef carbonade, so too does anger management fail to recognize that a punch in the nose or swift kick in the balls might be the proper response in some situations.
I’m not a violent person; I don’t believe in corporal punishment in schools
– except for college, but that goes without saying –
I’m against the death penalty, dog fighting, cock fighting… I’m not that sold on prize fighting or the NFL or NHL for that matter. But I do believe in the possibility of righteous anger.
NARRATOR TAKES A BOOK FROM HIS DESK AND OPENS IT, FLIPS THROUGH SOME PAGES TO A MARKED SECTION
A few weeks after George Orwell had gone off to fight in the Spanish Civil War he wrote in his diary, “I’ve been here for two weeks and I haven’t killed my first fascist yet. [PAUSE EYEBROWS RAISE] If we could each kill one fascist they would quickly become extinct.”
Maybe his math needs updating, but he has a point, and his anger was a righteous anger.
CLOSES BOOK, PLACES IT BACK ON HIS DESK, CONTINUES
Woody Guthrie’s banjo had, written around the edge of the top, “This machine kills fascists.” I just don’t mention that to Ms. Peaksbury.
NARRATOR WALKS STAGE RIGHT
ALL LIGHTS OUT BUT THE LIGHT ON THE DESK ILLUMINATING THE “Ms. Peaksbury” NAME PLATE
Big Black Dookie Eater
In prison, a guy who’s pretending to be crazy by eating his own feces is called a “dookie eater.” This always reminds me of the moral of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Mother Night,
“You are who you pretend to be, so you must be very careful who you pretend to be.”
For no apparent reason, a couple years back my dog, Butchie, a black Lab mix, suddenly became a dookie eater. One day in the middle of winter out in the snow he found a frozen dog turd… and the poopsicle was born.
Now I have to search the yard before I let him out and shout at him everytime he stops to examine the ground. The problem has not affected my pit-bull, Sundance, who has become the main supplier of the yard snacks. I don’t know how long this will go on. I suspect that at some point either he will stop eating it or I’ll stop caring that he does. This is how most of my problems get solved.
I’m telling you this because in jail there was this 20 year-old four hundred pound black kid with a row of big gold teeth in front who smiled all the time in this odd way that was as if he was hearing the voices of dead stand-up comedians…
NARRATOR ROLLS HIS HEAD A BIT AS HE SAYS
…Nipsy Russell, Godfrey Cambridge, Red Foxx, Richard Pryor….
He would smile, mutter to himself and roll his head, but never actually look at anyone. He was being held in the county jail temporarily before heading up north for good to a maximum security lock-up.
His name was Maurice Maurice Morris, his street name was “Two Times,” and he’d killed six people; four in his family and two more later that same day. After I got out I looked up the story in the newspaper.
The paper said he had the mind of a very large and very strong six year-old child and had developed a problem with crack cocaine. The first four people who died were people who told him that he should stop using crack when that was the last thing he wanted to hear. The last two people who died were people who wouldn’t share their crack with him.
I don’t know what it could feel like to have your life be completely over, but still find yourself alive and stuck inside it.
I wonder if there are ghosts, and if that’s what they feel like.
Or, maybe when your life turns to shit, eating shit just seems somehow logical, I don’t know.
As I was being processed before my release I was put in this small room that had two wooden benches and one door. I’d been there for about twenty minutes when the door opened and, for some reason, they brought this kid in, sat him on the bench across from me, and left us there. When they brought me in they handcuffed my left hand to a metal bar by the side of the bench. The guard who brought the kid in just told him to sit and be quiet and left.
Now, the words [AS IF SPEAKING TO PRISON GUARD] “Uh, excuse me, but shouldn’t you handcuff this huge dookie-eatin’ mass murderer, or give me back my bat?!?” never got past my chest, regardless of the volume they played at in my head because, in the movie that was playing in my head, when I said them the guard stopped, looked at me, looked at the kid, said “Now you behave,” smiled, and left.
So I didn’t say anything.
Maurice Maurice looked at me and smiled. He laughed softly to himself. Rolled his head, he looked at my handcuffed arm. For some reason his gold teeth seemed...
out of proportion to the rest of his face.
Maybe there’s some primal connection between shit-eating and cannibalism because I sat there with the “pa-WOOSH pa-WOOSH” sound of my own heart pumping blood roaring in my ears, trying not to seem concerned and trying to imagine how I might fend him off when he jumped on me, and what it would feel like when those big gold teeth chomped down on my throat.
We were together all of three minutes when they returned and took him away.
I never saw him again.