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walking the Yard

March 27, 2007

a commonality in prison life is a deep-seated desire for freedom

(can i get a well duuuuhhhh?)

whether you have been down a week or a year or a decade, you f*cking want out. it’s the nature of the beast.

if you are in you want out.

and the universal *quick fix* was the rec yard.

in county, the yard is often little more than a miserable concrete box open to the sky (and sometimes not even that) but once you get down state you actually get to go outside. real grass. real open sky. sometimes even critters.

early in my incarceration i was fortunate enough to be placed on a temporary camp for nearly a year that was very near the coast. i’m talking perpetual sea gulls, ocean breezes . . .

hell, you could even smell the salt when the wind was from the east.

it was a fair sized compound.

you could actually get off by yourself, away from everyone, and just walk, think, listen to music, etc.

and whenever the doors would swing i would be out there.

it was my place of prayer, introspection, wandering (both mentally and physically)

it was my place of watching.

i had some odd cats in there with me. there was this one guy. big white fellow with oversized handlebar mustaches and a blonde braid that hung down his back to his waist (they have since changed the rules and dudes can’t have hair that length now, but back then it was still allowed).

he looked like a true viking.

i once saw him tossing bread to the gulls. when they came down fight over it he hurled a rock and stunned one of them.

then, calm as you please, he walked over, picked it up, and broke its neck.

he didn’t live in my dorm (3 dorms shared 1 yard) but i heard he got caught later cooking the bloody bird in his dorm over a *candle* (see below).

another time he went fishing. same guy.

like most prisons east of the appalaichans, this one was built on a drained swamp and in the middle of the yard in a low patch of ground was a drain that led to a large concrete resevoir. don’t think manhole, think square concrete box with the 2″ thick bars going across it. this was to keep the compound from flooding.

it drained out into a lake outside the fence

this guy went fishing with dental floss and a weirdly bent paper clip.

and actually caught a perch.

3″ long tops, but he caught the little guy.

viking guy is, perhaps, an extreme example, but it gives you a picture of the human menagerie that existed there.

i did time with brilliant men and with true idiots, and all of them had thier quirks.

the natural aspect of my time on that camp was what really allowed me to settle into what was ultimately to become an eight year bit.

i remember one day going out onto the yard and taking my shoes off.

we had this vollyball pit that was rarely used. sand floor.

it must’ve been late spring or early summer and the sun was just coming up.

there was a breeze coming in from the east and the smell of salt was in the air. as usual, there were gulls crying overhead.

i just stood there, face lifted towards the sun, eyes closed, toes clenched in the cool sand, listening to the gulls, breathing in the salty scent of clean ocean air. voices a mere murmer in the distance.

and for that brief moment i was free.

in that little slice of eternity, i could imagine i was somewhere else. on some beach. without a care. without the constant lurk of fear.

it was cool.

i learned something then. a survival trait if you will.

i learned to escape

to use my surroundings to go elsewhere in my mind.

granted, you can’t let your mind take you very far in a situation like that.

to be aware is to be alive.

but you can drift a little ways out and anchor your mind in sanity for a brief while before the inevitable return to the reality that hems you in.

definitions ::

candle :: toilet paper moistened and wadded up into a cone shape roughly half the size of a baseball and allowed to dry.

once dry, the candle can be lit (smoking was still allowed back then and we were allowed to have lighters-go figure) and will burn for several hours.

inmates usually used them for cooking small pieces of summer sausage (purchased from the commissary and already fully cooked) to impart a *real world* charred flavor.

i don’t know how bold you have to be to try cooking raw fowl over one.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2007 07:32

    Greetings. I just found your site and this is a most enlightening account. I’m not sure how to respond as I’m wrestling with some thoughs at the moment; thoughts that have been stirred by this. Nonetheless, I wanted to make contact and just say “howdy.” Sounds like “Viking Guy” was quite a survivalist; a good friend to have when everything goes south. Thanks for the post.

  2. March 27, 2007 09:32

    LoL – viking guy was crazy as a loon.

    and while i have no doubt he could hold his own if you dropped him naked on any patch of dirt on this planet, i do doubt he would allow anyone to tag along with him.

    thanks for the comment.

    and feel free to pop back over any time.

  3. Grace permalink
    June 29, 2007 13:38

    Three months ago I ended a 2 year relationship I had with a guy who had spent 3 years in jail. It had been about 25 years before we met, but he carried his time inside like a fine sheen of sweat. I’m sure every guy is different…how they go in and how they go out. I do know this. When I describe some of his idiosyncracies, the first thing my mom asked, “Has he ever been incarcerated?”

    She knew from personal experience. One of the Uncles that used to hang from my family tree did time for bad checks.

  4. June 29, 2007 14:22

    there are many commonalities among the recently released if they served any time at all. a certain edginess, or defensiveness perhaps.

    the longer you’ve been down the less likely you are to truly grow out of it, but you learn to cope, to hide it even as you continue to live it, and to fit in with society where you otherwise might not.

    i have to work on certain things even now. meeting people’s eyes is one.

    in the joint one learns to rely muchly on peripheral vision.

    now i have to think about it each time someone starts a conversation with me – to the point now that people comment on how direct or forward i am (because i look them *too* squarely in the eye).

    but i’ve met guys i did time with years later and they’re a quivering bloody wreck, so yeah, each guy deals with it differently.

    there’s just no escaping the fact that a situation like that is going to change you.

    i happen to like most of the changes that time wrought in me. and i know i’m a better man for it. (though if i had to do it again i think i’d have just gone into the military).

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