Day 12: School is in session, “hooch,” and Michael Jordan

By | December 16, 2008

by Brian A. Wilkins

This day corresponds with Saturday, August 2. I found out, after I was released on September 17, the supervening indictment, which dropped all the serious charges the Tempe Police tried to push through, was executed on Thursday, July 31. Though I should have never been abducted in the first place, I should have been released from captivity no later than Aug. 1 since I was no longer facing the malicious charges Wallace and Johnson (and Loewenhagen) tried to put through.

Of course, this did not happen. I was still being held on $54,000 bond facing a disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana charge; marijuana the alleged “victim” brought over to sell; which has been his only source of income (besides cheating the unemployment system) all year. Doubt they ever checked the prints on the bags, the zig-zags, or the pipe. That’s why it was all in a grocery bag when the Tempe cops arrived; so I could drop it off in front of the alleged “victim’s” place and have no more ties with him.

Armed with my new pencils and three 50-sheet pads of paper, the night cruised by quicker than usual as I filled one of the pads, front and back. I was mostly re-documenting what had happened so far in there (since, again, they took all my previous writings) but also started writing a novel about the one that got away, and doodling random thoughts about “Anne,” several ex-girlfriends, and my home state of Iowa. It was about 8 a.m. when one of the D.O.’s came by with the answer to the tank order I filled out: I would not have court again until Monday, August 11.

As soon as I read “8/11/08” on that sheet, I quickly turned around to the toilet and vomited up what seemed to be a gallon of clear, bitter liquid. I realized at that point, laws, facts, and due process were all irrelevant. It was apparent that I’d be in this place as long as the City of Tempe, Maricopa County, and the State of Arizona wanted to keep me here. I was now their property and no longer an American citizen who was innocent until proven guilty.

I laid back down on the bunk for several hours, kind of sleeping and kind of conscious and catatonic. When I came to, around 1pm, Walter was sitting in the doorway of the cell. “Sup man. Just making sure nobody steals any of your commissory,” he said, while reading a Bible. I sat up and gave him a bag of pork rinds, but it was our conversation that was revealing. “So what are you reading about in there,” I asked him. “Nothing really man. I can only read a few of the words,” he said. I chuckled because I thought he was kidding. There’s no way an 18-year-old kid in the United States should not be able to read.

But sure enough, when he attempted to read a couple sentences aloud at my request, he stopped after trying to sound out a few words. “I’m kind of embarrassed by this; I didn’t want you to know,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to get my G.E.D. but I don’t think I can pass the test.” Walter admitted to me he was “slow” and lost interest in school after 6th grade because his teachers would belittle and mock him. He dropped out during his 7th grade year.

“I just want to get out of here and work for a Harkins Theater,” he would continually say; but conceded he would likely not be able to fill out the application fully. I was more pissed at the state of U.S. public schools than anything else at that point, and Walt just felt like a little brother who wanted a big brother in his life (he barely knows his dad either).

I needed to do something to feel semi-normal in there while I was awake and Walter gave me the opening. “You’re going to pass that test and I’m going to make sure of it,” I said to him. For the next two hours, we tackled nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I then drew a blank multiplication table and told him to bring it back to me tomorrow completely filled out. “I don’t know multiplication,” he told me. “Yes you do,” I said. “If you roll two 6’s with dice, how much is that?” I asked him. He thought about it for a few seconds, then blurted out “12!!” “Ok, so what’s 6 times 2,” I asked. He starred blankly at me for a few seconds and finally said “10…….no, no…12.”

I told him his homework was to fill out the multiplication table the best he could and to write me an essay entitled, “Who is Walter?” He had never written an essay before, but I again told him to do his best and we’ll fix it all tomorrow. He wanted to learn but was never given the opportunity; wonder how many other black kids in America are like that?

During evening chow, Freddie came up to the cell, in the hyper-energetic fashion he was always in. “Sup homie,” he said in his deep Spanish accent. “Can I have your oranges from your tray?” he asked. This would be at least the fifth time he asked for those rotten, nasty things, so I was curious. “You have a vitamin C deficiency or something,” I asked him. “Na, vato. I’m making hooch.” “FOR REAL? You mean alcohol?” I asked. Scrappy and Oscar both laughed at my ignorance. Freddie told me how he peeled the oranges and put them in a “clean” sock. He squeezed all the juice out, using the sock as a filter.

He said the orange juice you order from commissory wouldn’t work because it has preservatives in it. Once he squeezed the juice from six or seven oranges, enough to almost fill a 20-ounce empty soda bottle, he dropped 12-15 Jolly Ranchers into the juice. That was the closest thing to sugar you could get in jail. He walked around with the bottle stuffed down his pants because it had to be kept warm. Seven days and several releases of the built-up air in the bottle later, you have hooch.

“Yeah I was drunk as hell last night fool,” he said. He had a bottle already prepared and let me look at it. It smelled like rotten oranges and rubbing alcohol, and looked like puke. But he made it and sold it for 5 or 6 items. Apparently the bottles sold really fast. “The woods are my best customers,” he said.

As those guys were leaving, this brother who had just been transferred to this cellblock stopped in. I learned earlier that week that his name was (seriously) Michael Jordan. “Sup kinfolk,” he said. “I understand you’re the smart one in here.” I didn’t know what to say to that so I asked him what he wanted. “Can you draw me a calendar for August and September?” he asked.  “I just want to be able to keep up with what day it is.”

Michael’s story was sad and cruel. He couldn’t read or write, but was arrested at a bank when he tried to open a checking account. He had spelled his name wrong and wrote a few numbers of his social security number wrong, so he was charged with ID theft. I believe he is still in that jail, undergoing Rule 11 (unfit for trial) testing, but I wondered how can someone be arrested for misspelling his name?

I didn’t leave that cell all day, which would become a pattern. Freddie gave me an extra towel he had taken from laundry for giving him all those oranges, so I rolled it up and used it as a pillow. It made sleeping much easier in there, as the aforementioned would become my most common activity after this day.

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