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Reflections and Scenes from Inside Garnier Correctional Center, Connecticut – 2007 – by Joe Laaman

February 10, 2008
tags:

Ice Cream Trucks

They call them ice cream trucks. I don’t know why. They’re not as tall as the melodic Mr. Softee trucks I ran to as a child on Chenango Street.

Built upon a heavy duty pick-up truck frame, the inmates are sardined in a metal box with a sole entrance at the rear of the vehicle. No more than four feet high, the box is tight. Even medium-framed inmates must hobble on their knees to squeeze in. The metal floor has machine-punched indentations, maybe formed to keep inmates from slipping on the urine or vomit, or maybe to inflict sharp pain to moving knees.

When the first inmate steps up the thin steps the other inmates follow quickly. This attempted step in unison can reduce the pain from the chain which tethers inmates to each other. Both ankles are footcuffed together on a short chain which makes movement difficult, even for the athletic. Attempts to synchronize a dozen inmates per truckside up these three steps always fails because individual inmate ability and speed varies from the young and quick to the old and feeble. Wrist pain from tightly clamped handcuffs is constant, becoming excruciating when jarred by the connecting chain of someone ahead or behind.

During these prison to court trips the box temperature is either very hot of bone-chilling cold. Facial sweat beads may drip from summer heat. Another cause is from the pain inflicted by truck motion body slamming. The abrupt truck starts and stops often, deliberately initiated by the driver to create sweat from pain. Sometimes the inmates can hear the mocking laughs from the c.o. driving the ice cream truck as he smashes the breaks on.

Usually conversations begin among the inmates when the steel doors slam shut, erasing light in the metal box. As more inmates begin speaking, the louder, the angrier, the cacophonous box feels.

A living tomb. A moving sarcophagus.

As twenty or more larynxes boom for dominance the sounds which echo against the metal box walls cannot escape to a world outside. Possibilities to cover an inmate’s ears or pinch his nose to not exist, as he is immobilized from ankle to wrist, bound body to body, involuntarily forced to become a piece of this unnatural beast.

It is in this darkness where air is stenciled by sweat and urine and intestinal smells that the metal and flesh being throbs in agony and vibration. The unintelligible words do not belong to a symphony, but to its opposite. It is an unbearable deafening drone.

As the forced movements of inmate bodies collide, the horrific sounds and smells and death of sight intensify. The sealed box bulges like a rusty can of tomatoes pressurized by botulin gas, ready to explode into bright sickly redness.

One inmate begins to emit noise from his mouth because that is all he can do: I am because I create sound.

Names

Rainbow walks the diamond-shaped rec space quickly. Jerky and lanky, his balding head with the few brown strands of hair remaining flutter to his shoulders like those of an undernourished horse in windy gallop. Twenty-seven years old, Caucasian, thick glasses, Rainbow doesn’t speak much, because he can’t. Striving to stutter is all the tall titan can do.

For most people rainbows connote feelings of freshness after rain, flowers everywhere, even a lucky pot of gold.

A new inmate asks why he is called Rainbow. Rainbow, stuttering in face-contorting agony, fails to form a word. Another inmate, hearing the question, begins popping and tapping a rap beat on a table. As if Rainbow was injected with a magical potion, he begins to sing, sing his words clearly and crisply. He begins with “Rainbow is not my name, no sir. Rambow is what I’m called, oh yeah.” The beat halts and the speech stops.

Sly Stallone as the knife-wielding Rambo crosses the new inmate’s mind. Slicing and stabbing, spilling blood – is that what Rambo did on the streets?

One day last month the judge sentenced Rambo to twenty hard years.

That night Rambo slit his wrists.

Stone or Tanto he is called, neither is his name. About thirty-five years old, bald scalp, brown tear-ductless eyes – once seen no one forgets.

His mother came from New Zealand, part Maori, his father a Native American from a North Dakota reservation. Though petite, Stone’s mother loved Harleys. Her mate-to-be was a cycle club leader. Stone, brought up with bikes, booze and blood, was preordained to prison.

Six feet tall with a sturdy build, one does not first notice that he is wheelchair-bound by unremoved bullets. Stone practices his Native American religion with a medicine bag and a healing feather. He removes ill will and stress from inmates who believe. Fluttering and outwaving his blessed turkey feather while chanting he brings peace for the afflicted. Missing his front teeth, top and bottom, is not the reason Stone is unforgettable.

One day Bob, a psychotic, kicked big Stone clear out of his wheelchair during rec. He continued the attack by repeatedly smashing his face with his feet. A suspected slight of respect was the reason.

Stone, a self-proclaimed artist, draws pictures for other inmates because, being handicapped, he cannot work a prison job for soup or coffee.

The unhidden reason no on forgets Stone is because he is tattooed ear to ear and nape of neck to chin.

Doug, a.k.a. Banger, is a forty-five year-old skinny Caucasian who yells and screams all the time. On the outside Banger drinks coffee all day while smoking. Banger says he could have been somebody. His sister graduated UCONN and his brother works on Wall Street. Called Banger because he has shot up a lot, he has visited prison almost every year of his life for shoplifting, mostly. Must be tough to be his cellmate.

Crazy C., a small-statured Puerto Rican, likes to play basketball. He has one good shot resembling the 1968 Celtic John Havlichek, a two-hand set shot from the Key. Crazy C. talks a lot. Too much. He says he owns a couple of Rolls Royces and mansions. Claiming he played with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, everyone knows he is a liar. Every day whatever Crazy C. says – big or small, spectacular or common – has no truth.

Yellow 30 is a strong Hispanic inmate. He spends a lot of time in the weight room. Yellow is always serious, no smiling, always looking around. He has been in prison for years. He has been a prison barber for years – most inmates feel wary when he cuts their hair because it is said that he left an unknown number of bodies on Connecticut streets.

Dirty Money looks tough, some call him Nails. He is a 35 year-old African American with unsightly skin folds on the nape of his neck. He has been in and out of prison since childhood. In prison he is a card, a comic getting along with everyone. Dirty knows half of the inmates from prior bids.

Hector, Hec, moved to NYC alone at age fifteen from Puerto Rico. At forty-five he has lived through tough times, Latin gangs, drugs, violence. He paces around the block repeating, “I’m Hec… Latin Kings… blacks… whites… peace,” mostly unintelligibly. He has T.B.I., traumatic brain injury. Hec misses his mother in Puerto Rico. Hec says he was framed by city cops and his girlfriend.

There are many others on B Block: Wolf, Red, Benny, the Godfather, Shooter, Fat Art. Like Hop-Along Cassidy, the Rock or the Duke, inmates have their own tags.

Are the monikers for privacy or pride? Are they self-chosen or appointed? Are they the same inside and outside prison? Maybe they are listed on rap sheets after their inmate numbers #333444.

Epilogue

Rainbow/Rambo – He is back on B Block. He just made it, bleeding just a little too slow. Takes time to bleed to death. He saw the light.

Stone – was released last week to a half-way house.

Banger – has HIV, he says AIDS does not exist, a CIA plot. He takes no medicine.

Crazy C. – says he is not a molester.

Yellow – will cut prisoners’ hair until he dies.

Dirty Money – Inmates are laying bets on when he will return. Three months is even money.

Hec – He was taken away to Seg, unseen for months.

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