The Death and Rape of a Michigan Corrections Officer — Part 6

Warden Biggins goes to Max prison to talk to Maurice

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.

Part Six

Meeting Maurice

Warden Biggie Biggins first saw Maurice through the small security glass window of his cell’s solid steel sliding door at Max, Michigan’s version of a supermax facility, where he was isolated in his cell twenty-three hours a day. Warden Biggins opened the hinged sheet-metal flap covering the window and peered in. Gee, he thought he’d be bigger, that such an out of proportion act like rape/murder would involve a big man, not a small bald guy. He noticed Maurice’s yellow nicotine-stained fingers, then his skin the color of low-grade maple syrup, not quite molasses, suffused with a dusting of gray pallor; and his face dropped, dragged down by the repetitive minutia of prison life. He got a life sentence with no chance of parole. No doubt the reality of complete deprivation clutched his mind like a migraine. In fact, the warden was counting on Maurice’s near total lack of human contact to get what he wanted.

His door slid open and Warden Biggins stepped in; it closed and hermetically sealed the their eight by ten space from everything they knew, loved, or hated — stripped of control, just the two of them in a tiny universe. The misty staleness of cigarette smoke permeated everything and a smoldering butt clung leaf-like from Maurice’s cracked lower lip. Warden Biggins had two cups of coffee and handed one to him. There was no smoking in this prison, yet there was Maurice.

The warden had two cups of coffee and he handed one to Maurice.

In isolation Maurice’s brain function had slowed to lapse-time, and minutes passed before his rheumy eyes adjusted to the warden. His mouth issued a faint gurgle: he thinks, but the connections between mind and speech are unused and tangled. Warden Biggins sipped his coffee giving Maurice time to form words.

“So . . . so who the fuck are you?” Maurice asked.

Warden Biggins introduced himself and said he conducted the murder investigation and needed to know why Maurice raped and killed Roxie. He had no chance of escape, so why did he do it? That obstinate question appeared in the warden’s dreams, vexing his still moments. It had nothing to do with his administrative investigation, but he owned it and had to deal with it.

Maurice didn’t talk so Warden Biggins leaned against the metal shelf bolted to a wall desk and silently looked at him. Warden Biggins knew Maurice saw just another white authority figure there to cause problems, one white dude in a long line that he encountered during life: a player in a structure of power and authority called the criminal justice system Maurice blamed put him where he was. What Warden Biggins didn’t know, and would later discover through both Maurice and Jamal, was that he was also part of a well-funded and ongoing effort to undo the Thirteenth Amendment.

Warden Biggins rephrased his question, “Why did you kill her after you raped her? Either way you must knew you’d be caught.”

Maurice: “Why should I talk to you? What’s in it for me?”

Warden Biggins: “Nothing. You get nothing except the chance to talk with another human being. Otherwise you sit here all day while you brain turns to shit. Way I see it you got nothing to lose by talking. You’re in for life and you can do that easy or hard. It’s your choice.”

Maurice: “Will you visit me again.”

Warden Biggins: “Maybe.” Thinking, “Are you out of your fucking mind!”

Maurice sat on his bunk staring at nothing then turned to face the warden. As if addressing a priest in a confessional — his voice flat, factual, and minimalist — he described his crime: He had tried to get into the auditorium and Roxie stopped him. They argued and he grabbed her radio from her pants belt and hit her on the head, knocking her out. The assault achieved its denouement when he removed his own belt and strangled her. He had told her several days before in the dining hall that Jackson was no place for a woman to work, so what did she expect?

Warden Biggins said, “Wait a minute, you raped her after you killed her?”

Maurice nodded “yes.”

Warden Biggins: “You fucked a dead woman?”

Maurice: “I didn’t know she was dead.”

Warden Biggins: “But she didn’t move and she was bleeding”

Maurice: “I figured she might be dead but I didn’t know.”

Warden Biggins: “But you fucked her anyway.”

Maurice lit another cigarette and looked down at the floor. “Yes,” he whispered, and meekly offered, “but she was still warm.”

Warden Biggins never met a man who had sex with a dead person, and couldn’t form a follow-up question that didn’t sound silly. Was it like masturbating? Like screwing a passed out drunk? Did it seem anonymous? So, Warden Biggins went back to why he “thought he could get away with it” since “why did you kill her after you raped her” was irrelevant. Warden Biggins was making some progress?

Warden Biggins: “I’m asking again: Did you think you would get away with what you did?”

Maurice: “Nobody gave a shit about her. Nobody wanted her there.”

Warden Biggins: “So you what… decided to join in?”

Maurice: “I did what they all wanted to do.”

Warden Biggins: “They…prisoners?

Maurice: “Everybody, prisoners and pole-lease.”

Warden Biggins: “You think the officers wanted to fuck her and get rid of her?”

Maurice: “Uh huh. That’s what they said.”

Warden Biggins: “Did you know Roxie McFadden before this incident?”

Maurice: “I knew she was a fish[1] guard. I had seen her in the dining room. And like I said, I spoke to her once.”

Warden Biggins: “But otherwise you didn’t know her.”

Maurice: “Nope.”

Warden Biggins: “So, you thought you could get away with what you did because you were doing what everyone wanted to do.”

Maurice. “Well, nobody gave a shit about her. Nobody wanted her there.”

[1] Prison slang for a rooky guard.

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