Day 6: Lockdown, Islam, and fishing

By | November 24, 2008

by Brian A. Wilkins

This day corresponds with Sunday, July 27.

I’d been up most of the night coughing up phlegm and sneezing. Sleeping in a refrigerator with a blanket that barely covers your body will do that to you. But I figured it was much worse for people who were in those tents. Around 6 a.m., the doors didn’t open like they normally did. Enough time went by that the 8 a.m. chow was brought to the cells by a team of inmates. Mario said we were on “lockdown” and there was no telling when they would let us out. This would turn out to be one of the shorter lockdowns of the 55 days.

The doors would finally open sometime that afternoon. I had to get out of that icebox and warm up for a while. I went to the outside area and stood in the heat for over an hour. I could feel my hands, feet, and ears thawing like they would going from 10-below-zero to a heated home during a midwest winter. It had to be 110 degrees out there, but it felt great.

I planned to sleep much of the day to make time go by faster. I walked past Ritchie Rich’s cell and dudes were beat-boxing and rapping. I figured I needed an escape from reality so I stopped in and listened. These guys had some interesting tales to rap about. Black was asking the other four of us how he could seriously further his rap career.

Ritchie Rich told him the only way to do so is to sell-out. I tried to put a positive spin on the phrase “sell-out”, noting the exploits of Tone-Loc, Young M.C., and M.C. Hammer. “You can call them sell-outs, but they had more money than any of us at one point in time.” As everybody agreed, a D.O. stood in front of the door, looked up at the tower guard, and twirled his finger in the air. This was the signal to lock us in the cell because there were more than two guys in there at once. I always thought this would incite fights more than prevent them, as the measure is supposed to do.

Most of the conversation while we were locked in there will probably have to be taken to the grave. Let’s just say several of those guys are now in prison for 10+ years. But talking, and I guess bonding, with them proved to me once and for all that no matter how or where Nubian Americans grew up, they always share enough to understand one another.

I stopped and talked to Steve, Train’s brother, when the D.O.’s finally opened that cell door and let us out. Steve is a Muslim and had heard I could speak and write a little Arabic from others in the pod. About an hour into the conversation about Islam and the Middle East, he pointed something about Muhammad I’d never heard before. “There are no pictures of Muhammad so he has no human likeness,” Steve said. Of course this is contrary to Jesus Christ and his very-European look in virtually all depictions. Steve would also say that Christianity is polytheistic because it puts Jesus on the same level it does God.

Train interrupted the conversation. “Time for prayer circle,” he said. Though Steve didn’t do prayer circle, he respected Christianity and said the two religions could learn a lot from the other. The circle was different tonight. Since tomorrow was Monday, people had court in the morning. Anyone who had court the next day would get in the middle of the circle. Everybody would put a hand on his shoulder and say individual prayers for him. One guy was being sentenced tomorrow. “Lord, I know what you have planned for me and I’m willing to accept it,” he said, seemingly conceding a long sentence. That would be me in the middle tomorrow night, as Tuesday was finally coming.

I wasn’t really looking forward to lying on that bunk with 40-degree air blowing on me. But this was my reality if I wanted to sleep. Just as I was attempting to pull myself up there, I heard my name being shouted from another cell. “Hey man, you have any toilet paper?” Chino, who was two cells down, was ignored by the D.O. when he asked for a new roll. I guess he really had to go.

“I’m going to throw a line down. Just tie some to it.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, a string with a piece of soap weighing it down landed right in front of my cell door. I unrolled some toilet paper and tied it to the line and tugged on it a few times. It disappeared and a few seconds later, Chino said, “thanks dude.”

I started thinking about getting out of there as I laid there freezing, wishing for a pillow and a second blanket. There was so much to write about after eight days in this system. Again, my heart was completely set on leaving that place on Tuesday. The rude awakening is forthcoming.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian author.

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