Durango Jail is hell on earth. At least it is for me.
I don’t sleep at all. There’s a tiny window in our cell. I watch it get light every morning.
I spend all hours of the night pacing in a small confined area or walking around the pod literally looking for crumbs to eat off the floor I’m so starving.
It’s about 4-5 days in. I’m standing in the middle of the pod. There are inmates all around me.
My stomach muscles suddenly tighten. I start having a hard time breathing. One despairing thought hits me after another. I break out in a cold sweat. I slowly walk to my cell and sit down on my bunk. My chest tightens. My emotions sink fast, and I can’t stop them.
It’s like out of the blue the reality and weight of everything that’s happened bears down on me all at once. My emotions burst inside. My face goes in my hands, and I break down sobbing.
It gets harder to breathe as all the muscles in my body contract. I start having flashbacks of one traumatic event in my past after another.
The most recurring and dominant flashback is of when I was 9 years old and almost killed by a Japanese Akita (dog). Below are pictures of my head wounds (I had over 300 stitches).
Everything I felt then as a little boy conjoins with every feeling I’m experiencing now. Excessive shock, fear, hate (not in me, but toward me), pain, helpless, unprotected, hurt, defenseless, etc. In both tragedies, I can’t process what’s just happened to me.
The dog turned on me with no warning. Now it feels like everyone I love and care about, including God, has turned on me.
Finally, I get one of the guards attention. I try and tell him I need some medical attention.
Holliday, the head of the Woods, comes and sits down next to me.
My face and head are inside my shirt. He is very kind. He tells me things will be OK. He confesses that when he gets off the phone with his son, he hides and cries every time. He says if anyone gives me a hard time, to let him know; he has my back.
Everything and everyone is so harsh and cruel in this place. A little kindness brings a lot of relief.
I’m cuffed and escorted to medical. I’m told to sit in a chair and wait. There’s a very butch female officer next to me. I ask her if she could please help me. She asks what I need. I tell her I just need someone to talk to me, ask me questions about myself.
It’s obvious she’s uncomfortable with emotion and doesn’t know what to do.
I suggest that she just ask me my name.
She does, and I tell her. She asks what I like to do. I rattle off a few things. Just having someone, anyone treat me like a human being helps calm me down.
A guard comes and takes me in to see a psychologist. It takes about 15 minutes for her to get me to breathe properly so I can talk. We have a long conversation. She diagnoses me with severe PTSD and chronic fatigue syndrome. She’s emphatic that I find a way to sleep.
When we’re finished, I feel much better. A detention officer escorts me back to my pod. He also looks up my charges and tells me I’m all but guaranteed to be released at my hearing.
The harsh, vulgar, and violent culture shock of jail is crushing to my already delicate mental state.
It’s not just that I’m in chains and cuffs and behind bars.
In my mind, I’ve lost everything that means anything to me in my life, forever.
They have phones in the pods you can use. But, in order for them to be all that effective someone has to pick up on the other end.
No one ever does for me. I’m completely in the dark when it comes to my family.
I’m left to my imagination, and I imagine the worst.
Father’s day comes and goes. Nobody contacts me. As usual, no one will answer my calls.
Nine days in jail seems like an eternity.
EVERYBODY I talk to though tells me to stop worrying. With my minor charges and no priors, I’m getting released.
In the meantime, I learn about every kind of street drug there is including their names, code names, etc. Drugs infest the place. They’re smuggled in by the inmates in ways I have no desire to describe.
I have a couple inmates teach me how to live on the streets because that’s where I think I’m headed. I learn what restaurants to hang out next to and how to get food out of a dumpster. I’m taught how to make money collecting cans.
I’ve made a whole new class of friends.
For the most part, I’m well respected and liked by most the inmates. I show no fear whatsoever, but I’m also respectful and treat others with dignity. It bodes well for me.
The day finally arrives to go to court and see the judge.
I can’t imagine being free.
The first thing I want is a cheeseburger. Something that simple sounds too good to be true.
Early in the morning, I’m awakened by a detention officer. Those going to court that day meet in the middle of the building just outside our pod.
One by one we are stripped searched. And I mean STRIPPED searched.
That’s all I’ll say about that.
Our feet are then chained and hands are cuffed.
Most of the day is spent painfully waiting. I have to be transported to the courthouse which is about 40 minutes away. When we finally arrive, we’re all put in the same holding cell I was in the first time I saw the judge.
I’m extremely nervous, but excited at the same time.
I just want out. Living on the streets sounds heavenly compared to this place.
An officer calls my name. I’m taken to a tiny private room. There’s one chair, a countertop, and a sliding glass window separating me from the room on the other side.
I’m confused at what’s going on.
Abruptly, a woman dressed like an attorney opens the sliding glass door.
It’s the prosecuting attorney!
You’d think I murdered her family. She’s angry and hateful. The first words out of her mouth are,
“Don’t think for a second that we’re offering you a plea deal! You face serious charges and are looking at up to 6 months in jail! You are NOT going anywhere today!” She shuts the sliding glass window and walks away.
All the blood leaves my brain. It feels like another shotgun blast to the chest. It’s like I’m jolted with a thousand volts of electricity. I bend over and put my head between my legs to avoid passing out. I come close. I force my head up and can see papers on the other side of the window. The one on top is a typed written letter with my wife’s signature on it.
As soon as I start to read it, the attorney recognizes she left the paperwork out and returns to snatch it away.
She opens the glass window again and informs me there is nothing more to discuss and she’ll see to it that I’m assigned a public defender. She reiterates that I’m not going anywhere, period!
She slams the glass door shut before I can get a word in and leaves.
The guard opens the door to the room and motions for me to get up.
I sit there in stunned, horrified silence. This can’t be happening!
The officer makes me leave and escorts me back to my cell. I can hardly walk.
I ask the officer what the hell just happened. He informs me I won’t be seeing the judge today.
I fire back, “Oh yes I am! You go tell the judge I want to speak to him.”
He leaves, comes back, and blatantly lies to me. He tells me that the judge has left for the day.
I’m handed a piece of paper and told to sign it. On it is the name and phone number of a public defender. There’s also a date set for my next court appearance.
It’s set for 3 weeks away! I thought I was being released. Instead, I’m going to be locked up for at least 3 more weeks. Each massive psychic blow breaks me more apart on the inside. I’m being broken to pieces. I’m in a perpetual state of shock.
I refuse to sign the paperwork.
The officer says I have to. I tell him to go jump in a lake; I’m not signing anything.
He responds, “OK, it doesn’t matter anyway,” and walks away.
I sit in utter shock, horror, and disbelief. Every time I get a little hope, the unthinkable happens.
I sit in the cell waiting to be taken back to jail. I’m on the verge of another panic attack. There’s a guy who won’t stop whining about how everything happening to him is not his fault. Just like everyone in jail, he can’t say 2 words without one of them being the F word. My nerves are beyond shot. I’m fed up with his unending, whiny rant. I finally shout,
“Hey, shut up, man! Nobody wants to listen to your whining. We’re all suffering in here.”
He immediately shuts up and lies down. The next time the guard comes by he requests to be transferred to a different cell. He feels I’m a threat to him. I don’t disagree.
It takes the entire rest of the day to get back to the jail.
The violence in this place taxes my nerves.
But, what bothers me the most is the unrelenting vulgarity and obscenities.
It’s XXX talk 24/7.
It grinds on me. There’s no getting away from it.
It’s an early afternoon. I’m lying on my bunk and my cellmates are submerged deeply in the usual degrading, sordid, and vile exchanges.
I can only think of my wife and daughters as I listen to their wretched crap. I can’t take it anymore.
Impulsively and without thinking (as usual with me these days), I stand up in the middle of the cell and the words just stream out of my mouth.
“Shut up! I’m not listening to this crap any longer. Do you have any respect for women at all? They’re not objects, and certainly not mere sex objects! I’ve had it, and it stops right now! Have I made myself clear?”
There’s complete silence. Then, the topic changes, at least for a while. No doubt, I shock them. To them, this is just normal, everyday talk. It’s obvious they’ve never been called on it.
Nubs is the head of the Chicanos. He’s in my cell at the time.
You don’t disrespect a head without violent consequences.
I don’t care. I’m ready to go at it right then and there and Nubs can tell.
He can’t just let it stand especially because it was done in front of others.
Over the next several hours, I hear whisperings about what’s going to happen to me.
The heads of each race meet and discuss what the consequences should be.
There are none.
Nubs informs me later that they decided not to do anything to me because my remarks weren’t aimed directly or solely at a head. Nubs also shares with me that he advocated on my behalf.
He then tries to convince me he really does respect women, he just talks like he doesn’t (kind of sounds like me as of late, just in an entirely different way)! Nubs gives a sincere apology.
Afterward, there’s a mutual respect between us.
That same day the Jamaican in the cell next to me doesn’t get so lucky. I wish I remembered his name. He’s big and strong, but dumb. He doesn’t really belong to any racial group so he’s kind of a loner. He’s totally illiterate. He’s embarrassed about it.
I know this because he pulls me aside and asks me to confidentially read to him the postcards his girlfriend sends him.
Holliday, the head of the Woods, becomes convinced that he snitched to the guards about something.
He sends 2 torpedos into his cell while he’s sleeping and they just start beating him in his sleep. I hear the entire thing, including his screaming. He ends up with a black eye swollen shut, busted lip, bruises, and a bloodied nose. I really feel sorry for him. He’s never the same after that. He withdraws completely and is suspicious of everything.
I despise the cowardice of beating someone when they’re defenseless. It’s the way of the jail though and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to stop it.
It’s going on 3 weeks, and I haven’t heard or talked to anyone on the outside. In my mind, I’m already long forgotten about.