The Death and Rape of a Michigan Corrections Officer — Part 7
Based on A True Story in Seven Parts
Note: Each part will first be separately published, followed by the entire story published as a single piece.
Jamal & The Warden
“For a white person,” Jamal said, “you certainly can be a dumb motherfucker.” Warden Biggie Biggins laughed but listened. Compared to Maurice, Jamal was dark skinned, with ptosistic eyes, and had a silky Lou Rawls baritone voice. Warden Biggins liked his seductive melodic speech and the way the smile on his round face grabbed and held his attention.
Jamal was released from prison and after about a year Warden Biggins contacted him to meet for lunch. While Jamal was still incarcerated, his sister needed a healthy kidney and he arranged to donate one of his while still in prison. Kidney transplant surgery is hard on the donor and Jamal completed his post-op. recovery first in a prison infirmary, then in his cell. The operation was successful and Jamal’s selfless act, coupled with his prison behavior record and the amount of time he served, got him a parole. He never asked for Warden Biggie Biggins’ help in getting his parole, and Warden Biggie Biggins never offered.
They ate at a yuppie restaurant located overlooking a small lake in upscale East Grand Rapids. Besides the restaurant, the lake was bordered with expensive houses, many pillared and conservatory equipped, a far cry from Main prison. They both had Caesar salads laced with calamari…also a long way from the beans and franks and cornbread served in prison dining halls.
“I’m not used to this,” Warden Biggie Biggins said.
Jamal: “What you don’t go to restaurants?”
Warden Biggins: “No, of course I do. I’m not used to this with you.”
Jamal: “Would it help if I dressed in prison blues?”
If Jamal had been dressed in prison blues Warden Biggie Biggins would have been less rattled. He had never seen Jamal in civilian clothes and today he wore a beige sport shirt with green checks, brown well-creased slacks, and brown loafers. He was more relaxed than the warden knew him to be and it wasn’t until seeing him now that Warden Biggins realized how tense Jamal was while in prison. He started with the formality of calling Warden Biggie Biggins “warden” until the warden asked to be called “Biggie”.
Jamal: “So, what is it you want? You said on the phone you wanted to talk about the McFadden incident. What’s bothering you?”
Warden Biggie Biggins mentioned the Roxy McFadden investigation while Jamal was still in prison, but they never discussed it at length. After calling Jamal to arrange lunch the warden mailed Jamal a copy of his investigation report. Now, at lunch, Warden Biggins told Jamal about his meeting with Maurice.
Warden Biggie Biggins: “After meeting Maurice I got the sense that he murdered and raped her because if he didn’t do it somebody else would. But that seems a stupid reason for doing something so bad.”
That’s when Jamal made the “you certainly can be a dumb motherfucker” crack.
Jamal would never have said such a thing before, and Warden Biggie Biggins detected a new edginess to his voice; his gut told him things had changed between them but he didn’t yet know how.
Jamal: “Sex is always the smokescreen, especially when a white woman and black man are involved. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about the hot chest-crushing anger a twelfth-street black man carries, and the rage from living a life where society saw him as a problem. And then there’s this white woman who her own kind shun, another authority figure telling him what he can and can’t do, a confluence of symbols of all his weakness and inadequacies as a man beat into him every day.”
Warden Biggie Biggins: “Are you saying Maurice killed Roxie out of anger over some broad sense of being wronged?”
Jamal: “That had something to do with it, but it’s not the reason. No, Maurice acted out of helplessness, a sense of impotency caused by decades of slavery, racial violence, racial discrimination, and the on-going systematic disenfranchise of African-Americans. While in prison you gave me stuff to read by Hannah Arendt. Well, she was right on when she said that violence is the expression of impotence.”
Warden Biggie Biggins objected; slavery was long ago so why would Maurice carry the weight of those past events
Jamal: “Slavery was just the beginning of the oppression. After slavery came reconstruction, then share cropping, employment discrimination, FHA red-lining, exclusionary zoning, and more recently high interest sub-prime lending. Even today we have Republican legislatures passing laws that disenfranchise African-American and other poor voters. No, it’s not slavery that Maurice bears, but the legacy of slavery embedded in all these other systems designed to keep Blacks poor and isolated.”
Warden Biggins still objected. He didn’t see how discrimination would cause Maurice to kill and rape Roxie. And in any event, thought it a goddamn poor reason to kill someone.
Warden Biggie Biggins: “So why aren’t other black prisoners killing and raping white corrections officers?”
Jamal: “That’s not a fair question. It’s like asking why all white people don’t go to college just because some do. The fair question is, ‘Are blacks robbing and killing, and raping people, particularly other blacks, way out of proportion to their percentage of the population?’ The answer is yes they are, and the reason is that in their impotence they want to be like white people.”
Warden Biggie Biggins: “Maurice killed Roxie because he wanted to be like whites?”
Jamal: “Yes. Maurice killed and raped Roxie because he wanted to be accepted by Black prisoners and white male guards. He wanted to be seen as a man. He wanted to fit in with prison culture and secure some crumb of self-esteem, and the only way he knew how was through violence.”
They finished their salads and the waitress brought coffee; they drank in silence as the warden digested what Jamal had said. Warden Biggins wondered aloud why Maurice thought he needed to use violence to secure what he wanted. Was violence the prevailing value in black ghetto culture?
Jamal: “Hell no. Violence is the prevailing value in white culture. Blacks see whites using violence to secure prestige and power. In this country we learned the value of violence from whites.”
Suddenly Warden Biggie Biggins realized the conversation was no longer about Roxie and Maurice, or about abstract ‘Blacks’ and ‘whites’, that Jamal used the word ‘we’ for the first time and it signaled a new direction for their conversation…indeed, for their relationship.
Jamal pulled a book from his jacket pocket and handed it to Warden Biggins. It was Black –on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in the Service of White Domination.
Jamal: “Read this. Wilson says that we learned that ‘violence is the great equalizer in a world characterized by great inequalities.’”
Warden Biggins: “But the Main corrections officers were not violent to Roxie.”
Jamal: “They didn’t have to be. That’s what they had Maurice for.”
Jamal claimed that male guards established the setting, and delivered the sacrificial lamb, and Maurice did the rest. And by doing what he did, Maurice reinforced the prevailing dynamic between white and Black, and reinforced a social structure that sees African-Americans as depraved, crime prone, violent sub-humans out to rape and murder white women, despite the fact that nearly ninety percent of the crimes committed against whites are committed by whites
Jamal: “Maurice did the white male guards’ dirty work for them. That’s what whites want. They want us to do their dirty work so they can justify shitting on us after we do what they want. As far as whites are concerned, that’s what a Black is for. In addition, the white guards reinforced their belief that female guards don’t know what they’re doing and can’t be trusted.”
Warden Biggins: “I’m surprised. You never said these things to me before.”
Jamal: “You’re surprised? When I was a prisoner and you a warden, and you with all the guns, and me with nothing, and your surprised I wasn’t entirely candid?”
Jamal stared at the warden, waiting for a response. Their waitress cleared the table and refilled their coffee while Warden Biggins thumbed the books index. He closed the book and laid it on the table and looked out across the lake and saw what looked like a small version of a riverboat, the old sidewheeler kind seen plying the Mississippi River in movies about the antebellum South. Suddenly Warden Biggins realized his perspective was off and what he saw was a barge equipped with a rotating wheel that cleared aquatic growth from the lake. Warden Biggins got that awkward feeling that follows the disorientation that comes when you see things one way and then are faced with a new reality. He sensed he was about to be indicted for something and wanted to steer the conversation back to Maurice, but it was too late.
Warden Biggie Biggins: “I have to think about all you’ve said, but I think I’m beginning to understand…”
Jamal interrupted: “Maybe, but I doubt it. You’re part of a massive effort to extend the legacy of slavery by way of the criminal justice system. Did you know that it only took five years after the Civil War for the percentage of African-Americans in our prisons to go from near zero to 33 percent? Now white people are taxing themselves in order to spend billions to expand prisons to increase the number of incarcerated Blacks to almost 40 percent of the total national prison population, close to 60 percent in Michigan, and even higher in some other states. And you are an instrument of that policy…a policy I think is designed to undo the thirteenth amendment.”
Warden Biggie Biggins: “Whoa! I’m just trying to understand what happened between Maurice and Roxie. The way I see it, nobody won. Maurice didn’t, Roxie sure as hell didn’t, and in the long run the male officers, mostly white males, didn’t either.”
Jamal: “Oh. How’s that about the male guards?”
Warden Biggins: “There will be more women in corrections because the male officers can’t stop the hiring. So, the males lost too.”
Jamal: “They may not keep women out of guard jobs, but they set the rules on how things will work. Roxie was an example to all new female guards on what will happen if the women don’t do as they’re told. No, I disagree. I think the male guards have won. But the male guards aside, have you spoken with other women in Department of Corrections, those in administrative positions?”
Warden Biggins nodded he had, and told Jamal they all expressed regret at what happened to Roxie and…
Jamal: “And let me guess, they see an opportunity to turn this into a cause, something that will increase their safety and job opportunities and the opportunities for all women.”
Warden Biggins: “That’s true. Sexual harassment training has been beefed-up. An elaborate procedure to investigate sexual harassment complaints is now in place. More female officers are being hired. The department even has an annual Roxie McFadden award that is given to an outstanding female rookie officer.”
Jamal: “That’s right. And that’s what they should do. But don’t you see, what we have here are two people from the bottom of society — a slum Black man, and let’s face it a working poor white woman — thrown into a volatile pit of anger, fear, and despair, and from it comes a cause for one and nothing but the same bullshit for the other.”
There was nowhere else for their conversation to go. Warden Biggie Biggins had asked Jamal about Maurice’s motives and was given an answer that indicted the warden’s career and handed him partial responsibility for what happened to Roxie and Maurice.
Warden Biggie Biggins thanked Jamal for his time and honesty, but said he didn’t expect or like the answer Jamal gave him.
Jamal: “If in the future you think you may get an answer you’re not going to like, then maybe it’s best you don’t ask the fucking question.”
 Prison Blues consist of a blue jacket adorned with a wide orange stripe the full length of each sleeve, and blue pants also equipped with an orange strip the length of each pant leg.
 Rollo May, Power and Innocence: The Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1972.
 Amos N. Wilson, Black –on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in the Service of White Domination. (New York: Afrikan World Infosystems, 1990), p. XIX.