Monday, March 15, 2010

Cellhouse Brawl

"Jay, you cool, man?"

"Yeah, I'm cool. I've been cool the whole time."

The argument started in night cell one between me and my bunky, Jeff. We were both locked up for armed robbery, but he was facing sixty years for beating a cashier with a hammer. I, on the other hand, was only facing twenty years because there wasn't bodily injury. I was more of a bugged-out gentleman robber. We had been bunk mates for going on two months, and there seemed to be a growing resentment between us which I was only remotely aware of. The medication I had been taking, Depakote, had dulled my perception; otherwise, I would have seen ahead of time the madness which followed, and may have been able to avert it.

I stood in the walkway just outside the first night cell and stared through the bars separating the walkway from the day room where a group of "offenders" watched one of the many fake judge shows which air on daytime television. The irony never escaped me regardless of my dulled, medicated senses. I failed to pick up on the rising tension emanating out of night cell one, though. While I absorbed the irony through the lead painted institutional-green bars, Jeff was boiling over with unmedicated rage.

Fruit Fingers, a fifty something black guy with a penchant for drama and punks, tried to give me a heads up by asking if I "was cool". The subtlety escaped me along with many other innate abilities Depakote suppresses.

"You called me a motherfucker!" Jeff screamed, while hurling blindly out of our shared night cell. He had apparently been listening to the exchange between me and Fruit, and ignition had been achieved.

To be fair, I did call Jeff a motherfucker. "Motherfucker"s were thrown around the cell house as casually as "man" and "brother". "Motherfucker" is not considered to be taboo like, "bitch", which is the ultimate name to call someone to see if they are a "punk", or if they, "stand on something". In prison the word motherfucker takes on the role of a punctuation mark more than the shock value curses thrown out to crowds from comedians and rappers. Apparently Jeff hadn't gotten the memo...

The first wanton blow landed on my upper lip, and the second found pay dirt squarely on my nose. A river of blood instantly replaced the taste of cheap instant coffee I had been gulping just seconds before the melee. It was all I could do to catch my breath and keep from collapsing as the fists kept landing. I ducked my head down and Jeff's knuckles began to land atop my skull. I realized if I didn't do something quick, I would certainly end up on the wrong side of a statistic. With all the might I could muster, I grabbed hold of Jeff's midsection and thrust with my legs. Jeff wavered slightly as I hooked a fist around his back and landed an awkward, but powerful, punch in the vicinity of his left kidney. I thrust once more to try and take the upper hand hoping Jeff's psychosis may have been waning, but my hopes found no validation as my left knee crumpled backwards, hyper extending.

Jeff began another series of blows to the top of my swelling noggin as I grabbed my leg and popped it back into place. Blood drenched my bare chest and I could see pools forming on the ground around us. I attempted another mighty thrust when the most horrific sensation in my asshole region added shame and embarrassment to my personal catastrophe. I had ever so slightly shit my pants. Instant coffee had joined the universal conspiracy to drive me completely out of my mind. While I was acutely aware of the new development in my underwear, the fecal matter hadn't escaped the clutches of my buttocks. I can only attribute this one saving grace to the steady diet of peanut butter which I bought off commissary to supplement the lack of protein in the jail food we were given by our keepers.

Some of the other convicts which were gathered around must have noticed a lull in the action and took it upon themselves to break up the brawl. I had regained my footing and positioned myself for my redeeming offensive. But before I could serve up my piece of humble pie, Jeff had melted into a wall of gawking inmates.

Blood coated myself and the entire floor around me. I had been opened up pretty good. With shit in my shorts, and blood drenching my body, I stood erect with a fearless air. I made eye contact with as many derelicts I could hone in on. I finally belted out, "What the fuck is up now?!!!"

The motley group of detainees that surrounded me cast their eyes away and fell eerily silent. I could hear muffled voices coming from down the walkway. I made my way through the crowd and headed towards the voices. I acutely became aware of the relation of my gaping wound and the state of my environment. Filth embedded in the crevices probably from years of inept cleaning harbored any number of diseases that could haunt me in the form of several popular maladies.  

I boldly approached the person mostly responsible for my condition, planted my feet squarely, and postured for an offensive. I noticed Jeff cradled his right arm and stared wide eyed at me with fear so thick I could almost smell it.

Up until that day, I believed myself a tough cold-hearted hardass. But realty rushed to my ego to awaken my higher self. All my previous fights I had been intoxicated in some way or another. This was my first physical confrontation without the uninhibited qualities of Xanax and alcohol. The Depakote worked its magic to quell the extremes of emotional responses. This situation I found myself in had no point of reference. Naked reality is the best creative phrasing I can apply to the experience.

Jeff's arm looked twisted and a nice sized lump took shape just below his elbow. It was clear to me he had a fracture. In his newly petrified state, I knew I had the upper hand for round two.

"So, what's up, now?" I belted out.

"Man I don't remember what happened. I'm sorry, man. I think my arm is broken. Do what you have to do, but I can't fight back." he said in a quivering voice.

"Well what happened, man. Now you're all fucked up and not a badass anymore?"

I began to draw back a fist but I paused, unable to muster up the anger and adrenalin to follow through with the first swing. I turned to look over my shoulder and saw a small sea of unkempt faces greedily anticipating another violent scene. 'I'm not like these people' ran through my mind along with,'I could easily become like them, though'.

I turned back to Jeff and simply said, "If your arm isn't broken, we're gonna fight like men in the day room."

"Okay..." he squeaked out.

I made my way back through the crowd and entered my night cell to retrieve my toiletries. One of the other inmates had already began to spray cleaner on the ground for the blood. I said, I'll get it man, you don't have to do that."

"Ain't no thing to me. You don't even want to know how many times I cleaned this shit up," he said matter-of-factly.

I first looked into the metal mirror over the toilet/sink in the night cell and inspected my head. I had several huge lumps scattered all over my skull, bruising had already began on several places on my face, Blood crusted half my goatee, and the source was a gaping hole through my upper lip. I chuckled slightly and proclaimed to one of my other bunkies in the four man cell that I could blow bubbles through my lip. I was creating an air of levity to ease the tension of the fight.

The crowd outside my cell had dissipated, but everyone was talking about the fight and taking sides, and possibly bets. I had no illusions about saving face at this point. The constant reminder of the humbling fecal matter allowed me to embrace whatever amount of shame I faced after losing a fight. If I weren't under the influence of Depakote and actually respected my peers as actual peers, I may have put on some kind of confrontational air. But at that point I just wanted to comfortably, and cleanly, make my way out of the cell and get stitched up in a sterile environment. Gangrene haunted my irrational train of thought and I told my other bunky to bang on the door after I finished with a shower to let the guards know about my condition. I instructed him to say I had a seizure while in the shower. My crime had been a violent crime and any record of violence would be frowned upon, and could easily have added a year or more to my sentence. I may have been medicated, but I wasn't stupid.

The single shower had a good coat of rust and probable lead based institutional-green paint. I pushed the button for first spray as I removed my underwear. No shit had touched my underwear, but I began washing them with a bar of lye soap. Blood, shit, and sweat swirled down the drain. And for one moment I paused in the steam and realized how strangely beautiful the horrors of life could be....

I never took Depakote, or any other psychotropic, after that day.

No comments:

Post a Comment