The Hoosegow Abyss -Part 8

Eddie G. gives up the drug trade and suffers the consequences.

A Whiff of death

As a prison radio talk-show host, I was approached by a group of Hispanics who knew of my prior drug business; they had a deal they thought would interest me. They knew the talk-show guests were escorted into the prison by the Warden and were not subjected to a normal search. Since the Warden trusted me, they wanted me to arrange for a woman they knew to come in for an interview. Every cavity of her body would be filled with drugs she would give to me during the radio interview. I didn’t trust these Hispanics, particularly the guy calling himself their “Leader”. They offered me a cut of their take. I refused.

“So now your too good to work with us. Is that the deal?” said their “leader” with a cocky smirk

“Like I said, I’m not interested and don’t need your money.”

“You need to think this over,” he said as he moved closer to me.

“Nothing to think about. I’m not in.”

“You’ll screw this deal for us. It’s worth a lot of money.”

“I’m still not interested.”

I should have remembered the first Godfather movie where Brando refused to help other “families” sell drugs, because two days later a prisoner I knew from Marquette came to me. He was known to assault people for a couple of hundred dollars, stabbing being his preferred method. He smiled as he approached.

“You must have a hit lined up,” I said.

“I sure do.”

“Who?”

“You.”

He didn’t make a move and was just telling me he had been hired. He handed me the two hundred he had been paid. I folded one bill and said, “This is yours. I’ll handle it from here.” He said “No problem” and left.

I knew who had paid him and I went directly to the HASTA office where four guys were hanging out. Cigarette smoke drifted through the room in layers. I showed the “Leader” the $100 bill. When he bent forward to see what I had, I slapped him so hard I almost took the brown off his face. One of his buddies jumped up and I asked him what he thought he was doing. The buddy looked at the “leader” for direction, but getting none he stepped back. I told the “leader” I had known him for years and that had I not helped him years earlier at the Michigan Reformatory, he would today be someone’s girl. In prison the one of the first things you do to humiliate a con is to feminize him. No one moved, so I left. I thought it was over.

The next day the younger brother of my former business partner approached me in the yard and told me I should get off the yard today. He added, “They’re looking for you and they all have knives. They’re drunk and on drugs to give them courage.”

It was a November Saturday and the sun cast a chalky light on the ground. I was standing alongside a four-foot fence in front of the chow hall, known as the Big Top, when some coward grabbed my coat from behind. He spun me half-around and stabbed me in the neck. The knife entered the front left side of my neck and exited the back of my neck near the base. The entering blade first felt cold then hot. Blood was shooting wildly, spraying everywhere. I looked up and saw my attacker and something told me to stand my ground. I surprised him by walking toward him, raising my arms to expose my chest, and yelling “FINISH IT!”. Stunned, he stuffed the knife under his coat and hurried away. Ten guards monitoring the chow lines were as many feet away from me under a gun tower, but nobody did anything.

I had taken CPR and advanced first-aid and knew I had to stop the bleeding. If I panicked, I would bleed out. It would take too long for staff to call for medical help so I walked the distance of a football field to the prison hospital. I. Was. Not. Going. To. Die! Not at the hands of some punk who had to take pills for courage. I covered the entry wound with the palm of my left hand, but warm blood kept spilling out the back of my neck. I reached up with my right hand and stuck my index finger in the hole in the back of my neck. I had to get to the hospital fast, but couldn’t run. I was dizzy. I got near the hospital when another Mexican and his white friend saw me and put me in a fireman’s carry position and took me to the hospital security gate. The nurses were leaving for lunch and I said there would be no lunch today. I told them where my wounds were and they quickly cut my coat off and had IVs in my left leg and arm. A nurse called the Control Center asking for an ambulance It would take too long so I told them to call extension 1000, the Warden’s office and tell them what happened and that it’s Eddie G! The ambulance arrived within minutes. Normally an ambulance would wait for paperwork before leaving, but the driver said per the Warden the paperwork would follow with a guard.

Two of the prison nurses were with me in the ambulance and one panicked nurse said, “I think we’re going to lose him.” When I heard this, I propped myself up on one elbow and said, “I’m not going anywhere!” and told the driver to stand on the gas and felt the vehicle surge forward.

I won’t say I was unafraid to die. I was. But the threat of violence in prison is a constant that triggers a person’s primitive inherent fear of violent death, something those outside prison no longer experienced as a norm. Prison takes a convict back to mankind’s primitive state when violent death was a rule and, as Hobbes said, life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Sooner rather than later in prison you are bound to sniff the whiff of death, the grave, the crypt.

Arriving at the hospital, the tone of the situation changed: the staff there were relaxed because I was alert and responded to all their questions. The change in atmosphere calmed me until I heard the doctor ask why he had been called in from a football game for a “damn inmate.” I decided when the doctor got closer, I would slap him. He approached me and I asked if he was the only surgeon available. He said “yes” and I decided I would slap him later. He examined me and told them to prep me for surgery. This is when I was sure I would make it.

In the operating room, they transferred me from the gurney to the operating table, stretched my arm out on a cantilevered board of some sort, strapped me down, and tilted the table slightly to the right so the doctor could get a clear look at my neck. The anesthesiologist, an Asian man (you don’t see many of them in Michigan prisons), put a mask over my face and told me to count backwards from one-hundred; I started but then stopped, thinking it a waste of energy. Through the bright light above me the surgeon appeared and said, “Now let’s see what we have here.” My right arm was free and I removed the mask and said to the surgeon, “Are you ready to start now?” The surgeon turned to the anesthesiologist and snapped, “This man isn’t out!” Again, I asked the surgeon if he was ready, and he said “yes” and I went out.

Was I in Heaven?

I awoke wearing nothing but one of those gowns that expose your behind. I was disoriented but aware enough to see a pretty candy-striper pass by my open door. Then a nurse arrived who also looked good. I tried to imagine what I looked like: unshaven, wild blood-clotted hair. I asked the nurse if I could take a shower and she said no because I had an IV in my arm. I assured her I would protect the IV and she relented. The shower was in the room and as the hot water hit my face and ran down my body I looked down and saw steams of blood swirling around the drain. The nurse returned before I finished and gave me a razor. She told me to be careful around the stitches. It was the first time since the surgery that I looked at a mirror: I saw a lot of redness and blood-stained stitches. It was me alright, in all my Frankenstein glory. I had to tell myself to not panic, that despite the lingering pain the worst was over. I was alive, though definitely not as pretty I was before.

When the surgeon came to examine me, I remembered I wanted to slap him. He was a little taller and considerably older than me, and had a prognathous lower jaw that made him look like a square-jawed comic book character, his face a mask of indifference. I was alive and thought I should be thankful and refrain from slapping him…after all, it wasn’t the only time I was called a damn inmate. He examined me and said, “You’re a lucky man, a main artery was cut and by all rights you should be dead.” He then added, “I’ve been a doctor for twenty years and don’t understand how you’re still alive.” He went on to say he wasn’t a religious man, but that I ought to thank God. I sat up straight and told him I was alive because, “I wasn’t ready to go.” The second I said that I knew it was bravado from the hollow feeling inside me. Prison also taught me that often being tough was but a front for being scared. The surgeon closed the chart and left. I sat for a minute. The hospital was quiet and nobody passed my room while sunshine streamed in from a nearby window.

Despite being a nominal Roman Catholic, in the post-surgical silence I heard myself softly say, “God, I know you could have taken me, and I’m grateful you didn’t.” I believed in God; I just didn’t think He gave a damn about me anymore than I had given a damn about my victims.

I suppose it was my fault that I was quickly moved back to prison: I continuously walked around the hospital talking to all female candy-strippers or nurses; after all, I had been imprisoned for years with nothing but furtive female social contact and enjoyed both the casual interaction and novelty. Before my hospitalization, I was consorting with three women: I got social visits from a woman who worked for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, and another one who I met through my HASTA involvement. The problem with getting romantically involved with visitors is if they show up to visit on the same day; also, women visitors have been known to thumb through the visitor sign-up sheets at the prison front desk, looking to see if their guy is “cheating” on them. Fights between female visitors have occurred in prison reception lobbies; good old ‘pull your hair, scratch your eyes out’ battles that guards had to break-up. Although confrontations of that sort are a major inconvenience for a prisoner, most prisoners know that many non-related female visitors are drawn to the “danger” and “naughtiness” aspect of visiting a convict, and will likely be back again to visit once they calm down. I mean hell, these women know they’re not dealing with boy scouts, you know what I mean? Nothing enhanced the sartorial stature of a convict than prison gossip about his being fought over by women.

I was even calling a female guard at her home, and another older female staff member gave me her daughter’s phone number to call. The woman who worked for the Civil Rights Commission arranged for us to meet in a room reserved for lawyer visits that because of client confidentiality was more private than the visiting room. All-in-all, I considered myself a prison Playboy, a real Correctional Casanova.

My parents called the hospital daily to see how I was doing. When they sensed nursing staff were getting aggravated by their calls, they had friends and relatives call.

A convict I knew witnessed my throat cutting and, thinking I was doomed, told his mother I was dead. His mom delivered the spurious news to my parents.

One of my visitors, the lady who worked for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, knew my parents and helped them contact the Warden, who assured them I was alive but in critical condition. The Warden also gave my family permission to visit with me as much as they wished once I was back at Jackson. My recalcitrant siblings also came because when they wanted something from my parents, my parents told them they could have it if they visited me.

I told Mom and Dad why I had been attacked and though they were grateful I was trying to stay out of trouble, the attack made them emotionally understand how dangerous prison was; up to now their fears were intellectual, but this made them very visceral.

Over time my parents relaxed some about my imprisonment, having worked their guilt out enough to at least get a decent night’s sleep. Now their old guilt feeling returned along with their utter helplessness to do anything for me other than show up. I kept saying their visits were helping me survive, though I’m not sure they appreciated their importance.

A Break

After returning to the prison hospital, the Warden told me he would permit me back in general population, if that’s what I wanted to do. He even offered to have a few of my prisoner friends meet me when I first entered the yard to provide me security. He said that since I refused to name my assailant, nobody would be locked-up for the assault. Or, I could transfer to the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF), a fairly new place that had a reputation for innovative programming. I had already been approved to go once I finished my Bachelor’s Degree in May. Since this was now November, the warden said he would arrange the transfer, if that’s what I wanted. Then he said something that really got my attention: “I honestly think you can be released home in a few years.” He wanted me to go to MCF, which was a lower security level, because he thought I would avoid trouble there and take advantage of the programming. He thought remaining in Jackson was a bad idea, and to emphasize the point said, “If you want to blow this shot, the decision is yours.” I took him up on his offer, deciding constructive despair was better than plain old despair.

Before being transferred, I saw a specialist because my vocal cords had been cut and were not healing properly. I had a voice, but I had to force a yell in my throat just to produce a growl. I was concerned I might not be able to speak well enough to be understood. We don’t realize how much of negotiating life involves our ability to speak clearly until we can’t. My prison survival and all that I had accomplished was as much dependent on my ability to talk my way out of bad situations, and into good ones, as anything else. The specialist assured me once everything healed, he could make some corrections and I would again have a more normal voice; maybe not the same one I used to have, but a clearer more understandable voice. I was okay with that.

I had a bunch of visits over the next ten days from family, friends, and even politicians I had met though the radio program and HASTA.

Before I left Jackson, I had another visit from the Warden. He told me that when I got to MCF I should have the warden there, Gary Wells, call him and he would smooth things out for me. We’ve all experienced turning points in our lives, game changers that refocus our attention on something that lurked deep in our guts that at weaker moments of masquerade we sensed but never let surface. Some people claim they make their turning points, as if a turning point experience is an exercise of will. But I think you stumble upon them, and that it’s the stumbling, more like a blunder or miscue, that catches you off-guard and refocuses your attention.

Could I be the type of person who needs an adversary to define myself? First were my parents, then society in general, then other prisoners and staff and anyone I thought a threat. Was I that fragile?

As I lay in my hospital bed, I had a vague awareness something was different. I transferred to MCF just before Thanksgiving… and that was goodbye to Jacktown.

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Joseph Abramajtys

Joseph Abramajtys

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