The Hoosegow Abyss-Part 11
Eddie G, is told he is being considered for release but must first show he can be trusted in minimum security. He is sent to the minimum-security Michigan Reformatory Dorm, where his hopes are dashed.
I didn’t want to leave the Muskegon Correctional Facility, which was medium security, but the Parole Board said they wanted to see how I would do in minimum security because they were considering me for release. Because of my crime, I wasn’t eligible to go to a prison camp but had to go to a minimum-security facility located next to a higher security prison: Michigan Reformatory Dormitory, Jackson Trusty Division, or Marquette Trusty Division. While at MCF, I developed contacts and supporters living in the Lansing, Michigan area. I was given my choice of placement, so I picked MR Dorm, which was close to Lansing where I wanted to eventually parole. I was leery about MR Dorm because it was for young offenders learning how to do time and could cause trouble.
When I boarded the transfer bus, I wasn’t put in the usual leg irons, handcuffs, and belly-chains. All the other prisoners, destined for higher security locations, were in restraints, so I sat in a seat right behind the corrections officer’s driver — -I wanted to look out the window, and I didn’t want to answer any questions about why I wasn’t in restraints. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the ride, and by how good the relative freedom felt.
MR and its dorm are located in rural Ionia County and our driver chose to take the backroad that snaked through hills and stubbled cornfields, following the Grand River as it flowed slowly and occasionally reflected random flashes of the bright sun. There were many houses along the route and people tending garden patches, washing vehicles, and hanging clothes on outdoor lines that then fluttered like flags. I saw kids and their pick-up baseball game, others on bikes, and some just standing and waving to our bus. I was finally able to wave back.
As we approached the familiar Michigan Reformatory (MR), I continued to feel relaxed instead of apprehensive about going behind those massive walls as I had been on my other stays at MR. I remember laughing and telling myself, “You’re going to the Dormitory!” I remember thinking that this was the beginning of the end; this was minimum custody, and I was close to the end of my journey through the prison system.
After a brief stop at MR to drop off prisoners, the bus took a blacktop driveway for a quarter of a mile until it came to another long drive at the end of which was a low white building without any exterior barriers: no walls, no fences, no nothing. Instead of turning down the drive to the Dorm the bus just stopped. I was told to get out and get my property from under the bus. After piling all my stuff on the side of the road, the officer got back on the bus and as the door was closing said, “Good luck.” For a moment I panicked and thought, “You can’t leave me here. I’m a prisoner!” I had no idea what to do so I sat on my pile of property until I saw a prisoner coming down the drive from the Dorm pulling a cart.
He had a big smile on his face and asked where I came from. When I told him Muskegon, he said with delight that’s where he caught his case. As we loaded my stuff into the cart, he became very personal, asking how much time I had. Prison etiquette dictates you never ask a stranger the length of his sentence; it’s like asking on first meeting someone their age. I hesitated to tell him I had three life sentences because I didn’t want to answer what I thought would be his next question, “How did someone with life get to minimum security?” But I did. I told him life. I waited for his response and he said, “We have a bunch of lifers here.” Then he asked if I knew a guy named Junior Acosta. I laughed and said, “After you get me to the office, go tell Jr. I’m here.” I asked how long Jr. had been here and he said about a year. I could tell by his serious face and lowered tone of voice that as usual Jr. had everybody intimidated.
When we got to the Dorm, he took me to a small room I later learned was the visiting room and told me to take a seat. He parked the cart and left and a few minutes later in walked Gerald Mason. I was shocked. I remembered Mason from MR; he was a guard then and now he ran the MR Dorm. Mason didn’t have much regard for me, and frankly I had little for him and never treated him with respect. This time around Mason acted professionally, not even acknowledging that he remembered me. He processed me in and looked at the cart with my property and said, “Do you have anything in there you’re not supposed to have?” I said no and he told me to take the cart and report to the officer down the hall.
The officer greeted me with a curt “hello” and gave me a bed assignment. This was definitely a dorm setting with bunkbeds crowded so close that laying in my bottom bunk I could touch the bed next to me. I didn’t like it! I was given a bottom bunk, so that was good, but my neighbors were very loud. I pulled the cart over and started to unload my stuff when a voice called out my name. I turned to see Junior Acosta and we greeted each other with a hug. He wanted to walk and talk but I told him I had to put my stuff away. He said my stuff was safe, and in a loud voice said anyone who messed with it would answer to him — -a familiar threat coming from Junior. I said, “No, I have to first get settled,” and guys near us began fidgeting and glancing at each other. Junior always got what he wanted because he once was a good professional boxer and let everyone know about it.
Junior just said, “Okay, I’ll see you later” and left. One of the guys nearby said, “Don’t you know he is dangerous?” I laughed and said, “Junior? You’ve been listening to too many of his war stories. I know he can box. I don’t box. I’ll just cut you.” That settled that and rearranged the MR Dorm convict pecking order. It may be a minimum security dorm, but it’s still a priosn.
After securing my stuff I went looking for Junior who locked in a single-man room on the other side of the building. The guard in that area was another officer that I remembered from inside MR as being laid-back; I pointed at Junior’s room and the officer nodded recognition and waved approval for me to go down the hall.
Things had changed for Junior. Back when, he hadn’t a nickel to his name and relied on intimidation to bum cigarettes; he only wore shabby state issued clothing called ‘state blues’. Now he was married to a lady who flew in from Massachusetts once a month and brought him money and an ounce of weed on each visit. He said she was from a rich family. Junior must have been telling the truth, because he sported a gold chain, a fancy watch, and on visits he wore silk shirts, dress pants, and alligator shoes that had to cost a fortune. I asked him why he hadn’t hired a lawyer? He believed after eighteen years on a natural life sentence he would soon be released by the Parole Board. After all, he was in minimum security. I told him I thought it was wrong to use the lady that way, but he insisted she was his and he could do with her what he wanted. I don’t think junior was all that interested in getting out; he only wanted to play the big shot while all along he wasn’t anything but a punk. He knew it, and he knew I knew it.
I suspect he also knew if he got out his marriage would crumble, that her being with him was okay at a distance, but once released she would tire of him and dump his ass. This way, she could indulge her little rebellion at arms-length, then return to her Massachusetts society life. Many think prisoners use vulnerable women visitors, and that’s true. But some women, particularly those previously abused by male partners, visit prisoners to maintain a relationship with a man that the women can safely control and leave when it’s no longer exciting or fun. In return for male compliments and courtesy, they let the guy cop an occasional feel, or screw them behind a vending machine. It’s a win-win.
The following week I went to Classification to receive my work assignment and ran into Fred Webber, who I remembered as the MR classification director. Weber had issued me a misconduct about eleven years ago when he gave me an assignment I didn’t want. He had gotten upset and said I would do as I was told. I had been sitting on opposite sides of a big conference table and I pushed it at him and said he had me confused with someone who gave a shit about him. I did a few days on the hole for that, but I didn’t take the job (whatever it was).
Fred immediately acknowledged our past relationship and even reminded me of the table incident. But then he said that I wouldn’t be in the dorm if I hadn’t changed my ways. He reviewed my program history and noted I had been in the auto mechanics program for about eight months while in Muskegon. He was partially right: I was enrolled in class but had an agreement with the instructor where I signed in each day and then left. I didn’t tell Fred about my arrangement and he assigned me to the prison garage as a “mechanic”. I didn’t know anything about cars! I walked out of classification wondering how I was going to fake being a mechanic, a job I would start in two days. When I returned to the dorm Junior told me the prison garage was a half-mile down the road and that I would have to walk there each day dressed in state blues. I never liked wearing cheap state clothing, but I was excited about walking that distance off prison property. I decided to make the best of it and arrived at my first day of work in neatly pressed state blues and shined shoes. I had walked there with a group of young white guys, I’d say 18–20 years-old, also assigned to the garage. The garage was run by two supervisors: an old guy named Bill, and Kyle, a younger guy who fit my image of a poor country hick. I decided the best approach to my situation was to be honest, so I told Bill I didn’t know anything about auto mechanics. Bill didn’t bat an eye and said I could help whoever was working in a vehicle to get tools.
The first week was boring. We got to work at 7:30 each morning and sat around doing nothing. We went to lunch at 10:30 and returned to “work” at about 12:30. It was only after lunch that the mechanics would work, if there was even any to do. I didn’t like sitting around, and I sure didn’t like being told to get tools by some young kid.
I spent my workday wandering around the shop. The garage had a storage area for the bus that brought me to the dorm, a classroom that was never used, four vehicle lifts, and a wash bay. I noticed that the classroom housed a desk that was piled high with paperwork — -order forms, bills, those sorts of things — -stuff I was familiar with since I held many clerk positions in the past. I went to the supervisor and asked him why he didn’t have a clerk and he said he did, pointing to a guy working on a car. Later, I talked to the clerk and asked him why he wasn’t doing paperwork and he said he wanted to be a mechanic, not a clerk. I suggested to my boss I switch jobs with the “clerk” and he agreed, and two days later I was reclassified as a clerk.
It took days to sort the stuff on the desk into piles. Every time a vehicle came in paperwork was generated. Finally, I had the boss sign everything and he told me to deliver the paperwork to a lady in the main facility’s business office. That was a weird feeling, just walking in the prison’s front door and into the business office. The lady I gave the paperwork to didn’t bat an eye and said, “You must be G., Bill said you were coming to see me.” She took the paperwork and looked it over then called the boss and said everything was in order.
The following Monday, arriving at work at 7:00 a.m., the mechanics did what they normally did, which was to sit around. I knew that if they continued, I wouldn’t get the necessary paperwork until the end of the day and wouldn’t have time to process it on time, so I told the mechanics from now on they had to do their work in the morning. They didn’t like the change, but they went along with it. Soon all the maintenance work was done by noon and the mechanics didn’t have to return in the afternoon. The boss was happy, and the business office lady was happy, and I was the only one in the shop in the afternoon doing my work.
After a few weeks my boss asked if I was interested in being the shop driver. Stunned, I said, “You know I’m serving life. I don’t see how I can be approved for a driver’s license.” He assured me he would take care of everything. I asked who he had to go to get permission and he said, “Joe Cross.” That news got me excited because Joe Cross was my former MR counselor and we got along well. I told my boss I would like the job, but I asked him to wait a few days before he went to Joe Cross. He agreed.
I called a lady who visited me at MCF (back then prisoners could make collect telephone calls) and asked her to call Bill Weideman and a few other MCF staff and have them call Joe Cross and say I would be a very good driver. My boss told Joe Cross that I had taken control of the shop and had the place running smoothly and Joe immediately approved my boss’s request. My boss returned to the shop and told me to get in the car because we were going to the Secretary of State office to have me take the driver’s test. I told him no way, that I hadn’t driven in thirteen years and needed to study before I took the test. He left me at the shop and drove away, returning about a half-hour later with a driver’s manual. He tossed the manual to me and said be ready tomorrow morning. The next day I got a chauffer’s license.
Each morning I walked to the motor pool, picked up my list of errands and the vehicle keys, and drove around the city of Ionia and nearby towns. On occasion, my boss would have me drive to Lansing and the State of Michigan surplus storage warehouse to get office furniture and equipment, some of which got to MR while the rest I delivered to my boss’s home. I guess he was padding his retirement account by fencing the stuff. As a convict, you don’t ask questions.
I liked going to the Ionia farmers’ market and walking among the tables of fresh vegetables. I enjoyed the colors and odors and kibbitzing with the vendors. I love tomatoes and was on chatting terms with a lady farmer who always had a big, red, ripe tomato for me. Her tomatoes were acidic and sweet and I enjoyed biting into them, their juices dribbling down my chin. Prisons aren’t noted for serving quality tomatoes.
Ionia is in the middle of Michigan, about half-way between Saginaw and Muskegon, so my parents’ driving time to visit me was reduced by half. On one visit my baby sister came with her boyfriend. We visited in the outside visiting yard, sitting at picnic tables. There was plenty of space for people to walk and talk and being in the country the air was clean and smelled of fresh cut hay. My sister was in her teens and I hadn’t had the space and opportunity to talk with her alone in quite a while. When she was a little girl, I sent her books and small gifts, and she always insisted on talking with me when I phoned. She had driven separately with her boyfriend who I thought was an arrogant ass…but I didn’t tell her, thinking she’d find out for herself soon enough. Then she told me she really liked the guy, but sometimes he scared her when he had too much to drink at a restaurant or party and forced her to drive home with him instead of calling a cab or my parents.
Back at the picnic table I asked the guy to take a walk with me. When we were far enough from my family, I told him if he ever harmed my sister I would kill him. Yeah, I know: old habits are hard to break, but hell she’s my baby sister. He snarled at me and said, “Just how do you plan on doing that from here?” then walked away, got is his car and drove off leaving my sister to come home with our parents. Of course I’d never kill the asshole, but I had to make a point.
I excused myself, telling my family I would only be gone a few minutes. I got the keys to the state car and caught up with him at a stop sign outside Ionia. I pulled in front of him and got out and motioned for him to lower his window. Then I said, “This is how I will get you.” A few days later I contacted a friend who was released but was one of my runners when I was dealing dope at Jackson. I asked him as a favor to find my sister’s boyfriend and rough him up and tell the asshole, “This is from Eddie.” Well, I guess he beat the shit out of the boyfriend, because during my next phone call home my sister said, “My God, what did you do to him?” I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about, I was in prison.
“But he told me the guy who beat him said it was from you.”
“People say a lot of things. Is he treating you better?”
“He is now.”
“There you go.”
As I mentioned before, at the time of my sentencing my lawyer said he thought I would do about ten years, but as it turned out politics and the Parole Board had something else in mind.
New legislation prompted by the get tough on crime movement denied convicts with my length of sentence and type of crime placement in minimum security and I was transferred back to medium security. Concurrently, legislation allowing victims to be notified when an offender was being considered for release.
Soon after my transfer I had parole interview with one parole board member who would make a recommendation on whether or not I should be granted a full parole hearing. At that interview the parole board member said I had come a long way with regard to program completion and behavioral change, but she wanted me to do more time. She held up three fingers.
I asked, “You mean three more years?”
‘No,” she said, “thirty.”