Getting to Know the Michigan Prison System

Fosgene & Berrybaum

A True Prison Visiting Room Story

Entering the administration building, Warden Biggie biggins was stopped by the front desk officer who said Captain Welton wanted to see him. The officer buzzed him through the door to the warden’s office suite where he shed his light jacket and briefcase and called Welton.

“Fosgene is here,” said Captain Welton.

Warden Biggie Biggins thanked her and headed for the Control Center. Outside the first main gate he encountered Fosgene waiting to enter to be searched and sent to meet prisoner Paul Berrybaum already waiting for her in the visiting room. If pushed, Warden biggie Biggins would confess he never liked Fosgene since learning who she’s here to visit.

Fosgene is typical for that class of women that come to visit prisoner boyfriends in need of a woman’s attention, maybe some quick sex and, who knows, maybe something more lucrative. Unlike prisoner wives trying to hold a family together the many girlfriends do it on a whim or because of loneliness or maybe the excitement of a taste of danger. After the first several visits, they might also bring their children and the prisoner suddenly becomes an “uncle” the kids never knew existed.

They always bring money and put some in their prisoner’s account at the front desk where they sign in; they take the rest with them to feed the visiting room vending machines, past the bullet resistant steel framed glass gates that swoosh open and close with a Star Trek pneumaticism, and submit to the authority of a full-body pat search by indifferent, efficient female officer hands pressing their necks and shoulders and torso, hips, the cheeks of their asses, their legs and crotch, and then down their cleavages and around their cupped breasts. Finally, these visitors grudgingly run their fingers through their hair, shake their heads, and remove their shoes and socks to show their feet bottoms, then open their mouths and lift up their tongues.

They endure these violations week after week, year after year, so they may sit in a room wrapped in glass and one-way mirrors and cheap thin carpet, on hard plastic airport chairs amidst people they don’t know, or met while here, eating lousy vended food. They do this all day, or until their bladders fill and they have to leave to use the restrooms outside the gates and then are not allowed back in until the next visit. On weekends they may have traveled hundreds of miles only to have their visits cut short because of the press of visitors. But anything can become a ritual, and once ritualized the pat searches will not only be tolerated but welcomed as a life affirming act: something special that makes you feel special and takes on the familiar smell of habit.

Psychopaths like Paul Berryman are smart and very personable and easily worm their way into your confidence, but they are dangerous because they have no conscience, are incapable of empathy, and often enjoy watching others suffer. Psychopaths make up less than ten percent of our prison population as well as the US general population; because of their intelligence and out-going demeanors they are over-represented in the ranks of politicians and corporate heads. Psychopaths need close surveillance because of their ability to wreak a level of prison havoc out of proportion to their small numbers. Psychopaths are adept at lying and there is nobody as self-assured as an ex-con psychopath. This attitude comes from learning as a prisoner what all those in authority over your life want to hear, and how to go about telling it to them. In the mid-1990’s much was made of the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI), the ability to read others and judge their needs. Well, psychopaths have an abundance of EI that they use to exploit through manipulation, gossip, and self-promotion. The only people who can trump an ex-con in this area are politicians who, also like ex-cons, are often unable to distinguish between their lies and the truth.

Fosgene comes during the week to increase her chances of a day-long visit, and she comes often, or at least as often as she’s allowed. Paul prefers her to show-up on crowded weekends because it’s harder to keep track of what everybody is doing and easier to extract the drugs or money she sometimes jams into her ass but usually in her snatch. While other visitors shield them, they fuck and she is grateful for it, for the attention she gets nowhere else. Paul is younger, much younger, and he always sits next to her with his arm around her shoulders and hand draped over her chest trying to cop a feel from her withered breast.

She loves her man as she has loved many men who used and shit on her — this is no different except at least here she has some control; Paul can’t beat her as she knows he eventually would if they were anywhere else. And he loves her in a crippled, psychopathic way that will endure as long as there’s a swap of his attention for something of value.

So the risks are worth it to Fosgene, and her first stop is the women’s bathroom in the lobby where she removes the tapered drug cylinder bound in a condom and covered with petroleum jelly from the plastic bag in her white faux-leather purse, hikes up her skirt in one of the stalls, bends over and gently urges a slight pressure to relax her rectum (god, how many times has she done this that she’s begun to like it?), and coaxes the cylinder into her rectum, today’s receptacle since the package is too big for her vagina, though not the favored receptacle because once in the visiting room it’s harder to extract the load from your rectum than your vagina, as well as somewhat messier. She washes her hands, checks in at the desk and takes the key she’s given to a bank of gray lockers to secure her coat and purse.

Warden Biggie Biggins might have used her exit from the ladies’ room to confront her and tell her, “He’s using you, you know. You’re going to get caught and you’ll be prosecuted and you’ll do time and your kids will have to visit you. We’re watching you.” But he didn’t. He waited until she’s searched, cleared the gates, and stands outside the Control Center waiting to enter the visiting room. Then Warden Biggie Biggins said, “He really doesn’t love you. He doesn’t give a damn about you.” Paul saw them talking and Fosgene was visibly upset — -as betrayed by her blushing furrowed neck and widened Maybellined eyes and deepened dowager frown. The Control Center staff noticed Warden Biggie Biggins saying something to Fosgene and wonder what. But not Captain Welton, she’s also in the Control Center and knows exactly what’s happening: Fosgene entered the visiting room and Paul was coolly sitting by the vending machines to signal her that this one is a quick visit with a fast drug transfer and rapid sex between the Coke and potato chips. Fosgene was not happy.

Captain Welton exited the Control Center and stood next to Warden Biggie Biggins. “She’s not going over to him.”

“No not this time.” he said. “Look, he’s getting up, he knows something’s wrong.”

Paul is a true psychopath, the kind of guy who would have dinner with you, kill you, then order desert. At twenty-two he got nabbed for a particularly nasty crime and now he’s leaving the forties behind and skipping middle-age for prison pallor induced old age, the skin of his cheeks taking on a prison induced craquelure. He’s tall with mostly black hair and Semitic good looks; his once straight frame is slightly stooped, and there’re the beginnings of a future pot belly. He’s slowing down but his taste for havoc has not abated, not at all. Paul’s the kind of prisoner who baits other prisoners to assault staff or other prisoners, then sits back to enjoy the ensuing violence. Unlike many “normal” prisoners, psychopaths never age out of their psychopathy. Never. Leading Warden Biggie Biggins to wonder if they’re brains are wired differently.

Things aren’t going well and Paul sneered at Fosgene.

“He’s looking at me,” Warden Biggie Biggins said. “She’s told him what I said.”

Paul broke a thin-lipped expression that might be confused with an out of practice smile and, pushed the small of Fosgene’s back, guiding her awkwardly toward seats near the vending machines. Oh yes, he’s showed Warden Biggie Biggins: he’s spending quality time with Fosgene even though he knows and they know and she knows there’s no chance of a dope transfer today; that she’ll sit through the entire visit with that cylinder up her ass because he’s pissed off and someone has to suffer; and Biggie biggins or Welton or somebody will stand there all day to let him know they all can play the same shitty little game.

“When the visit is done,” Warden Biggie biggins said to Welton, “put Paul on poop watch.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Welton said. “I’m thinking about the paperwork.”

Poop watch means being put in a segregation cell until you have a bowel movement and we can determine if you have a drug bundle crammed up your butt.

“I know,” Warden Biggie Biggins said, “and the calls from Central Office and the ombudsman’s office and Paul’s lawyer. Don’t worry, just mention drug drop in your report and they’ll back off. I’ll handle the rest. Better yet, if you can fit in some reference to terrorist, that would be helpful.”

Welton laughed and said, “I’m going to remind you of that.”

Paul stood and took Fosgene by the hand leading her between the machines.

“Welton,” Warden Biggie Biggins said, “I thought we were going to push those damn machines closer together.”

“We did,” she said pointing to the visiting room occupants, “but they keep slowly moving them apart.”

“Yeah?” he said, “Then bolt them to the fucking floor.”

Fosgene shook her head no, she didn’t want to do it, but Paul would not hear it: a blown dope transfer is one thing, but that and no sex is quite another. A prisoner named Jon Kreon and his visitor stood to block any view of Paul and Fosgene. Jon Kreon is an Episcopal minister serving time for having embezzled money a bank had loaned to his former congregation — just another gullible Christian group having put their faith and meager funds with the wrong guy. It took a long time before Kreon’s crime was discovered because West Michigan banks just assume churches won’t pay their loans and write them off: they don’t want the publicity of foreclosing, not in a religious area such as this. Whether you want to or not, if you have money in any of these banks you subsidize religion.

“I wonder what that must feel like,” Warden Biggie Biggins said to Welton. “I mean sex with a dope cylinder crammed up your ass.”

“Same-O, same-O, but with added intimacy,” Welton says.


They both laughed and Paul, lubricious smile and all, finished and moved Fosgene away from the vending area to seats closer to the visiting room entrance; they sat with their backs to the captain and warden and to the left of the now seated Jon Kreon.

A very young-looking prisoner neither Welton nor Warden Biggie Biggins recognized sat on Paul’s left; he’s with an obese woman Fosgene seems to know but had not come in with. The unknown prisoner didn’t talk to the obese woman and only occasionally looked at her pink sweat suit encased triple belly rolls jiggling each time she laughed at comments from Fosgene or Paul. The unknown prisoner also bought vended goods and gave them to Paul, a sign he was probably one of Paul’s “kids”. Paul has any number of “kids” who do his bidding and with whom he has sex. Warden Biggie Biggins has been tempted to tell Fosgene about them but his cynicism does have limits.

“Do you know what Phosgene is?” Warden Biggie Biggins asked Welton. She looked at him anticipating a punch line. “It’s the name of a World War One chlorine poison gas.”

Welton laughed and said, “I didn’t know that.”

“Someday,” he said, “I’ll tell you all about it.” He didn’t know how soon that someday would be.

Warden Biggie Biggins told Welton the situation’s hers to deal with and started to leave when Paul stood and Fosgene exited the visiting room. She looked at Warden Biggie Biggins with her enmity filled florid face. Paul had fucked her, and Warden Biggie Biggins had fucked her, and Welton was about to fuck her with a rare full-body exit search, so now her day was just perfect, thank you.

“Warden,” Welton said,” her thick black Bob Marley braids suspended above the captain’s insignia on her uniform jacket, “who are we?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a necessary evil.”

Warden Biggie Biggins walked away.



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