“The only time people think about injustice is when it happens to them.”
— Henry Bukowski
In keeping with the spirit of the season I thought I’d share some interesting information. You know those special movies that we get to enjoy over the holidays? It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, and White Christmas? As the cockles of your heart are warming up, remember this. The snow in those classics was actually asbestos.
Reminds me of The Conqueror, starring John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dick Powell and dozens of crew members. It was shot in the desert in Nevada where Wayne, checking his geiger counter, thought it was broken because the numbers were so high.
But why be negative when this special season is upon us? In my case, of course, prison brought me and my family the warmth of the season for four years, compliments of The Hamptons. Not the temperature, mind you, since it was often 35 degrees below. The prison system, called DOCCS claimed to want to keep families together. So, I was sent 20 miles from the Canadian border. My family drove the seven hours each way and stayed at a hotel when they could afford to visit. But, the mainly black and Spanish families boarded buses at 10 p.m., drove all night, and arrived at 8:30 the next morning with their kids in tow. They saw their men after changing the babies on a moving bus, without sleep, and then boarded the bus again at 4 p.m. the same day to get back to New York.
For me and the other inmates it was No Christmas lights, No music, No presents. and Christmas dinner was a baloney sandwich and a red-dye kool-aid bottle.
So, in keeping with this season of tranquility and forgiveness, I’ve attached an episode from The Gulag — a five volume, 3000 page description of life in the slow lane. It was either that or take the chance of a trial in Suffolk County where judges were picked and paid by D.A. Spota as part of his Vindictive Prosecution for my writing about corruption in the Town of Southampton and the D.A.s office. In prison I met a lot of guys who weren’t politicians. They were just mentally ill killers, drug dealers, rapists, child molesters and wiseguys. A better class of criminal than those in The Hamptons.
Excerpt from The Gulag — Dialog from life on the inside
Garcia hadn’t been around for a long time. At least not where Harry was. But, he showed up in the Gym and was using some of the weights. Harry had to admit that for a 60-something year old heroin addict who admittedly was a “career criminal” he looked the same as before. He’d been in Harry’s dorm for a while before he stood up during a game of dominos and threw his chair at his opponent who was aggravating him — another Spanish inmate who was challenging him. Garcia may have looked like he was over the hill after having used heroin for 40 years but he didn’t take shit from anyone. Not the inmates, not the civilians and not the cops. Going to the Box was no big deal for him. In fact, for a guy with a lot of missing teeth, the ravages of heroin addiction, the various metal rods and other appliances holding him together, and. not the least of which – always looking like he needed a shave – he was entertaining. And, when he would be released in a little less than a year after his 5th or 6th bid which now totaled over 20 years in prison, he would be wealthy.
“You goin’ home soon?” he asked Harry as they walked the perimeter of the basketball court, the de facto indoor track.
“I don’t know,” Harry said, repeating his mantra. “Could be 4 months or it could be five years.”
“Got any boards comin’ up?”
“I got a Merit Board in May. But, who knows?”
“You’ll make it.” he said, confidently.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no reason to deny you. You got no disciplinary, no violence, you’re 72, you got no history, they got no reason ta deny you.”
“Your mouth to God’s ears, man,” Harry said.
“Take my word fer it. I spent a lotta time in prison. You gonna’ get it, 90 percent.”
“I hope you’re right,,” Harry said. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m doin’ great,” he said, “aside from my last ticket.”
“Yeah, dis cop Colgate’s got a hard-on fa me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I got like 8 tickets from this one fuckin’ guy, Colgate, every dorm I go to — when he shows up, he gives me a ticket.”
“I’ve heard about him.”
“At a hearing with the Captain, they wanned ta know why I had so many tickets.”
“What’d you say?”
“I tol’ ’em, he’s a scumbag. I don’ give a shit, dey can do whateva they wan’. He’s still a scumbag.”
There was something about an old timer in prison. Mostly, they just didn’t give a shit. They knew the ropes, they were comfortable or adjusted to prison, and they knew all of the threats. Ultimately, if you had any kind of disability, the advantage started to switch to the inmate. That was Garcia.
“When I ged out I’m gonna’ be a millionaire,” he said.
“How is that? Harry asked, in disbelief. Harry had worked hard his entire life, from the age of 12 and here he was in prison, and would be left with nothing. The corrupt politicians and lawyers who’d been responsible for his prosecution avoided jail time and would collect pensions and here, this heroin addict, would be a millionaire when he got out?
“That accident I had over on 6th and Second Avenue, y’know where I fell down the cellar staircase and lost the sight in one eye, well, they settlin’ now.”
“No shit,” Harry said, vaguely remembering Garcia telling him about how he’d been stoned on heroin and fell down an open cellar door. Would he now also be getting paid for his heroin use and stupidity?
“Yeah, they talkin’ now.”
Harry looked at him as they walked. He was getting ready to start jogging. “What’re they talkin’ about?”
“Oh, two-two-an’ two.”
“What does that mean?”
“From the three different defennants, onna $10 million dolla’ case, I’m lookin’ at $6, den the attornies. Probly $4 million.”
And, there it was. After 20 years of prison, 40 years of heroin addiction. He’d be getting released to count his $4 million in cash for being stoned and getting hurt.
Jones was the first candidate for role-playing in ASAT, the drug program. Roddy picked a few guys to address particular aspects of their personalities.
“Ya don’ talk ta many guys in here,” said Darnell, the 20’s black guy with dreads and a repeatedly broken nose on his lightly bearded face. He worked out in the Gym everyday along with and he was funny, quiet, and observant. He was looking to be serious as he addressed Jones, who was a drug dealer but NOT a user, according to him. “An, ya keep ta yaself,” he added.
“You good ta th’ guys ya know, an’ ya stick to the mos’ intelligen’ guy in ‘ere,” pointing to Lynch, the short black kid who’d wanted a gun so he could intimidate people into respecting him.
“I’m jes tryin’ tagedit tagetha an’ ya know, I wanna geddouta here,” said Jones.
“Just don’t talk at all,” Harry offered. Roddy laughed and put her head down.
“Well, guys, I think you’re helping Mr. Jones and I hope he’s taken your comments seriously,” said Roddy.
Suddenly, a VERY loud fart erupted from the back,
“Really?” Roddy was perturbed. “Really, guys? Again?”
Laughing from several guys in the group began and everyone looked around as the shirts were pulled up over their noses.
Now it was Harry’s turn. He’d been instructed by Roddy to role-play with Mr. Kane, known to Harry as Ibrahim, and also ‘Africa.’ He’d been instructed to do it with Hiller, known also as Mike, and Green, the tragi-comic actor.
While the instructions were unclear, Harry had decided to play the part of Kane but before he got to say a word, Green took a mop head and draped it over him. This was supposed to mimic the Rasta hat which Kane wore all of the time. Green proceeded to walk around the group wearing the mop-head. Even Kane was able to summon a laugh.
Harry pretended to be Kane in a scene where he took over an interview and rebelliously put the reporter on the defensive. It got the approval of Roddy and drew laughter. Kane enjoyed it.
But, the high point of the afternoon was Pinckney.
Pinckney had gotten a ticket and had managed to irritate Roddy. She was annoyed by his incessant “It’s what I do,” attitude towards selling drugs. And, he also managed to alienate her the day before when they’d all ganged up on her, directly causing Harry troubles in its aftermath.
Today Pinckney was supposed to assess where he was in the program.
“I wanned ta let ya know that I’ve been havin’ some issues that I think has somethin’ tado wid my behavior lately,” he said, convincingly taking a deep emotional breath.
“I jes learned that I had a daughter an’ ‘ey did a tes’ an’ she’s mine.” He paused again and put his hand on his chest, his bushy beard jiggling slightly. Green came up behind him and put his hand on Pinckney’s shoulder and kept it there. The group was silent.
“An, ya know, I’m mentally ill, I know dat, but, I got dis girl I din’ know I had, an’ ya know, I’m not maself. I’m olda’ then mosta you guys. I’m ol’ enough ta be ya gran’fatha’.”
Harry looked at him. He was about 50. Harry was more than 20 years older than him. Was he fucking kidding?
But, it was working on Roddy. The rest of the guys just stared at Pinckney, the Irish and black inmate.
“Dey did a DNA so ah know she’s mine. An’ all’ese yeahs ah missed ‘er.” He took a deep breath, placed his open palm on his chest, and continued. He still had Green’s hand on his shoulder and the room was silent, except for Pinckney’s soliloquy.
Roddy was also quiet and you could see her fighting back tears.
“So, here I am, ah know ah made mistakes. I’m responsible fa alla what I done, an’ ah’m payin’ the price,” he paused again, “an’ I’m hopin’ ya can unnerstan’ ma fuckups. I haven’ been right, lately. I ain’t been voiceful about ma pridicamen’.”
Tears started to form behind his glasses. Silence.
Just then Green blew a prodigious wet fart that lasted 5 seconds long with his hand still on Pinckney’s shoulder. He smiled.
“Y’know, bro’,” said Cuba to Harry, “Green worked on that routine wid Pinckney for half an hour.”
“I think it worked on Roddy.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Looks like it.”
Harry’d seen the Christmas show when the first run of ‘White Christmas’ came to Rockefeller Center, at Radio City Music Hall. The star was the alcoholic Bing Crosby and it was a gala show, replete with entire families, men dressed in suits and fedoras, and kids in little outfits, tagging along with their parents. Harry lined up to get in with his favorite aunt who lived in New Jersey. She was his father’s sister and her husband Jack was with them as well. Both of them were avid Christian Scientists who occasionally fought with each other like cats and dogs. She was a domineering woman and he was her supplicant despite the fact that he’d had part of his stomach shot out in the first World War — and then went on to become an undercover Pinkerton operative. He was a tough Scot who had a pronounced accent. Both were Readers, the elevated equivalent of a Pastor or a Priest, and occasionally Harry would hear about their attacking each other with a knife in a drunken stupor on the porch of their New Jersey home.
They took Harry to see the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall and he was introduced to the stage show at 9 years of age. It featured the Rockettes, the dance troupe.
Little did Harry know then, that more than 50 years later, he would be emulating their routine. In prison.
Harry’d seen drag queens since then, but it wasn’t quite the same as the Rockettes. The girls would line up, place their arms on each other’s shoulders and kick.
Kick to the right, kick to the left, bounce and skip and follow the beat from the orchestra. Repeat.
“Pinckney,” Harry said, “this is what we have to do. The two of us will join arms and kick, first to the left, then kick to the right, and we keep doing it. Soon as the second half of the game starts we begin after doing some loud cheerleading. Ready?”
He laughed. “Yeah, what’rewegonna cheer?”
“Doesn’t matter what we cheer. This is about looking like idiots in front of Roddy. This is going to clear up your problems with her. Guaranteed,”
“Okay, so whatta we say inna cheer?”
“We’re Mod 2, right?”
“So, how about ‘Mod 2, Mod 2, Rah, Rah, Rah. Then, Mod 2, Mod 2, Sis Boom Bah?”
“That’s good, That’s good. Mod 2, Mod 2, Rah, Rah, Rah, Mod 2, Mod 2, Sis Boom Bah. Right?”
“That’s it, you got it.”
So, Pinckney was all psyched about showing off his stuff and first he started doing the knee moves from the Charleston, and was wiggling his ass while he moved his palms from left to right on his knees while he was bent down to simulate the dance move. And, as the game started again Harry said to him, “Okay, let’s start over.”
Harry tapped Pinckney on the shoulder and then turned around and started yelling, “MOD 2, MOD 2, RAH, RAH, RAH,” and Harry was waving his arms looking like Mick Jagger with his lips pursed and pointing his palm and index finger stuck up the air while wiggling his body as he imagined a hooker would.
“MOD 2, MOD 2, SIS BOOM BAH,” Harry continued as Pinckney joined in with him and then motioned for him to start their dance routine.
They put their arms on each other’s shoulders and Harry said “GO,” and they both started doing kicks: to the left, stop, to the right, stop, and, again, to the left, stop, to the right, stop, and on an on, and on, kicking high in the air in unison. All that was missing were the costumes.
The guys in the bleachers went wild. There was screaming and cheering and laughing and all of the ASAT guys plus others who were just in the Gym were pointing at Harry and Pinckney, the two oldest guys in ASAT doing a dance routine.
This was the drug program.
Here they were, performing like Ru Paul’s crossdressers, without costume or music — with a basketball game going on behind them.
This is what Harry, his education and training and assiduous efforts to expose corruption had accomplished.
As the yelling and screaming and laughing reached a crescendo, Harry turned and looked to be sure that Roddy was still watching them.
He was almost certain that she was because she’d stood briefly before to emulate their dance steps and listened to the cheering going on as he and Pinckney had continued their RuPaul Rockettes routine.
As the cheering died down, the guys in the bleachers turned and started screaming at the players, egging them on and yelling and whistling for them to sink baskets.
Finally, after the din finally died down, everything slowed a bit and the game ended.
He didn’t even know which team he’d been cheering for, but they’d won.