Friday, 3:00 PM
“Hey, Dee!” Townsend-El hollers for me, coming in from outside. We’re in the same unit and he was the one who actually introduced me to Twilight as being a possible candidate for the Black History Month program.
“Yo,” I say while walking his way.
“I talked to Breckenridge and he said Skool is back and he’s in the SHU. They’ll probably let him out tomorrow if the counselor is here.”
“Good! I’m so relieved.” I said and Townsend-El returned the sentiment.
Saturday February 17, 12:00 PM
I was in the housing unit, inside a small storage room you would find in a typical 3 bedroom house. This was one of the many conversions the ‘zone’ had improvised as a computer room – after issuing 1 computer per 20 inmates (which provided us four). The ‘FBOP’ (Federal Bureau of Prisons) added a new form of communication: email with our friends and family in 2007-2013. At a rate of 5 cents a minute, with a 30 minute session time and a 30 minute wait to log on again after logging off. Even though outside the ‘twilight zone’ email is free. For us in the ‘twilight zone’ this too can be a financial burden upon our loved ones. In fact the housing unit I am residing in had once been a horse barn and is still being referred to as ‘The Barns.’ So you can imagine what it looks like with 90 bunk beds, enclosing each bunk cubicle by a four foot wall, 2 small book shelves, providing four metal hooks beneath them, two 3 foot lockers, two 14 inch stools, and not enough room to squeeze by one another. This is just one side of the barn complex, separated by doors and a middle hallway for which the case manager, counselor, and secretary’s offices are located. Just picture this: we’re still being housed like the animals.
Boom boom boom…boom boom boom. I hear at the unit door. Someone was banging, trying to get the unit officer’s attention, whose office is situated next to the entrance. Typing away trying to save pennies that add up, I was concentrating on the importance of telling my niece about her pursuit toward college. She is a senior in HS and had inherited a leadership that had been placed upon her by her father, my brother. As a new cornerstone to our family and a baton being passed for the next generation of family.
“Excuse me Dee,” Townsend-El said, “that was Skool at the door. The officer just let him in and he went to the other side.” He informed me, knowing the window of time is just as personal and serious as the $3.15 phone call for only 15 minutes, ranging up to a total of 20 calls per month or managed within a 300 minute allowance at a rate of $0.21 per minute. So if you’re not fast at typing, reading and composing your thoughts to reply, emailing becomes an evermore expensive commodity as well.
I giveTownsend-El a nod to acknowledge him, keeping focus on the screen until he mentions Skool. “Alright, good looking.” Elated, I take on a different focus with my niece and finish up my driving points.
Fortunately, it had been our regular officer on shift that didn’t mind us hanging out on either side. I went to my room to grab some new writing material I had just finished, before heading over to the other side.
Twilight was sitting on his bunk looking at some episode of thoughts when I greeted him, “How are you doing Mr. Hoard?”
Trying to read just his thoughts, he replies, “I’m fine, about to get myself together (shower). How are you?”
Whatever had been on his mind in that brief moment I interrupted was still attached cause his eyes betrayed his words, and the piercing look he gave me to confuse what I may have seen convinced me the more that he was mentally outside the ‘zone.’ Years in the zone has that effect: drifting in time ‘zones’ that don’t exist. But very real in the dichotomy of a projecting mind, rolling on the wheels of old and future times.
Respecting his space, I took a different approach, “I’m blessed. Everybody has been worried about you. Have you talked to your wife and family?”
“I just finished talking to my wife for a few minutes. I haven’t talked to anyone else, my email is still off.” (Any time we leave outside the ‘zone’ or are transferred, our personal coded pin-number is deactivated for security purposes. It is generally reactivated within 24 hours.) He continues on, “How did you do at rehearsal this time?”
Happy that he asked, “I nailed it, flawless, without the papers!” Since day one Mr. Hoard had challenged me on every level, insisting that I use my notes just in case I get stuck, or to look down as I speak so I don’t lose my place.
“Yeah, you would do it when I’m not there.” He said in a joking manner, but then goes back to his way or no way. “Listen to me, keep those notes with you.”
Like always when he gets serious with me on this subject, I submit, “Alright, alright.” I speed along knowing that I’m not using them and switch the subject to something more interesting. “You know the program has been changed?” It was impossible for him to know. He just got out of the SHU, or at least I thought.
“Yeah, I already heard. Don’t worry it’s going down exactly how I organized it.” Wherever he was 5 minutes ago, this steered his blood and he was back in charge.
As I wondered how Mr. Hoard knew about the changes in the program, my answer came walking up the hallway. I didn’t factor in Townsend-El had time to fill him in.
“What’s up Skool? What’s up Dee?” Townsend-El addresses us.
“What’s up?” We reply in unison.
Townsend-El enters his cube and takes a seat on the only stool that Mr. Hoard has in his cubicle. I see they have some important things to talk about. So I tell Mr. Hoard, “I’m going to let you get yourself situated…”
Townsend-El interrupts me, “You’re good, I’m not going to be long.”
Even though he offered courtesy, more often than not, you adapt quickly to the four spoken languages: verbal, non-verbal, physical and aura-energies. The first two are general forms of communication. Physical is self-explanitory, but for the sake of understanding: punched, stabbed, kicked, killed, etc. However, aura language is the most critical, it could avoid and eliminate troubles that could personally affect you. For example: walking up to talk to several people while they’re having a dialogue. Abruptly they stop talking to non-verbally speak to you as a message and allow you to speak briefly, and keep it moving. Perhaps you missed the message and don’t feel the awkwardness in their growing frustration. Their anxiety is communicating while producing an aura that should be felt now. All indicators have been shown, even by not giving you any feedback. So in the event you don’t gain the sense of their energy, their frustration breaks through their patience and one or both say “Can you see we’re talking?”
This was one of those moments although I had been talking to Mr. Hoard before he arrived. But it was obvious in one of the four languages,(non-verbal body language) how he pulled up and set on the stool that he had left briefly to retrieve something and come back to finish. I had some other things to do, plus Mr. Hoard had to get himself together. “Now, y’all go ahead….I’m’a holler back at you Mr. Hoard.”
“Okay, see you later.”
Monday, February 19, President’s Day, 12:50 PM
After catching up on most of what I planned, and missing from seeing Mr. Hoard all day Sunday, I stopped to see what he had on his agenda since it was 70 degrees and beautiful outside. The cubicles were empty, so I knew almost everyone was outside. On holidays, the education department and work facilities are closed except for the kitchen workers, trash crew, recreational workers and unit orderlies.
Stopping short of Mr. Hoard’s cube I asked, “What you doing today?”
“Um…that ain’t how we address each other.” Twisting his face as if I committed the ultimate sin.
“Oh, my bad.” Just trying to get some of his old blood moving, “Good afternoon. What are you doing today?”
His face released the sudden tension, “I’m about to catch the move. I have to let my hair dry out in the sun so I can get my hair done tonight for the program tomorrow.”
Mr. Hoard has the longest dreds in this zone, with a full pepper gray beard, he is 5’9″, with chestnut complection and if he hugged you, you would know the meaning of a bear hug.
Before I could say something else, the intercoms blasted, “Ten minute move.” This is an open move to travel through unlocked passageways that are permissible such as the gym, rec yard, units, chapel and education department that may or may not be open on any given day.
Rushing to push me on and fixed on his mission, Mr. Hoard tells me “I’ll see you early in the morning. We have a big day tomorrow.”
“I’m not going anywhere, I’m going outside with you.” I take to stepping behind him while telling him, “I haven’t ever seen you move this fast. Keep in mind that Hoard is 60.
1:00 PM Recreation Yard
The rec yard is 120 yards, catty-cornered from the middle entrance we had exited from. Twenty yards straight ahead is an identical barn that runs parallel to the barn we live in. At the end of this barn is an attached gated fence that gives access to the rec yard. Forty feet inside this small sally port is a one-way turn-style allowing entrance only to the yard. Left of it is an exit gate only unlocked by a rec yard staff member during each ten minute move.
Twilight enters the turn-style and I follow behind. Just to the left of entering, there is a 40×120 foot pavilion with 14 community tables. These tables are generally used for card games, Dungeon and Dragons, social gatherings, and for those who want to test their chess skills against the better chess players on the compound. We briefly stop to speak with Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Kelly is a giant amongst men. Not because of his physical stature, this was just his suit to convey the charisma and wisdom flowing through his mind. He is made of the moral fiber that an anthropologist may seek to uncover today in the Ancient Egyptian tombs. He is rare and one of the few left of a time that has almost passed. A wisdom that we may never see again. It is normal to see people drawn to him, like a moth to a bright light. He is full of life, breathing inside the hopeless, unfortunate or needs of others who have not experienced what he has in life. His physique is another story. Not because he is a body builder, but at 76 years old, he is very fit, and he has the energy of someone half his age. He is blessed with smooth black onyx skin, no wrinkles, 5’7” tall, 180 pounds, bald head and stainless white teeth and he greets everyone with a smile. It’s nothing to see him fully geared up in a head band, wrist bands, gray sweat shirt (with sleeves cut half off), gray sweat shorts, gray diabetic socks (pulled up past his knees), and gray New Balance orthopedic shoes. Either he’s doing sprints on the track on a nice warm day, or doing calisthenics in intervals on the baseball field.
More often than not you’ll find Mr. Kelly plowing over a chess board, humorously antagonizing his opponent or joking with the crowd who enjoys the bags of free candy that he brings as a ploy to distract his opponents.
All of this is found beneath the pavilion where Mr. Kelly showcases his chess talents (for anyone who steps up to the challenge) or telling stories that would match those of James Weilden Johnson, Mark Twain, or any of the great story tellers of their time.
Walking away from the pavilion, we step towards the track when Mr. Kelly hollers out, “Dee, let me get some games out of you. These guys ain’t no competition.” More as a plead for the good times we share at the board.
I respond, “I’m’a get with you.” Telling him the same thing since I started writing back in July of last year.
The track is 100 yards left of the entrance turnstile and 40 feet to the right before you hit the pavement. As soon as Twilight and I hit the track we enjoy the small talk. We’re still in the bonding stage, so I’m listening to him tell me more about his early adult life. Occasionally, I asked questions while being in awe of my mentor. There was something about him from the beginning that I latched onto and have been unglued ever since. Perhaps it’s fair to say that Twilight is a world magnet mixed with all the best ingredients attracting those who desire to learn. Fortunately, I’m absorbed in it.
After hitting our second lap we caught up with a few guys that previously knew Twilight at another zone. They were reminiscing on how sweet the camp life was. Particularly the Father’s Day extravaganza and the nature of animals domesticating to people.