Posted on February 29, 2008
Photo by S.Baker
It hit me, all of a sudden.
I’d been trying hard to think what my present surroundings reminded me of. I knew it was a novel, or a short story. Something depressing, that had registered with me a long time ago. And now, I was having a flashback.
The German author.
That was it.
These surroundings were straight out of one of his short stories.
We turned down yet another long corridor. Concrete floor, concrete ceilings. On each side, obscuring steel doors on prison cells. This was a high security prison, and there were no cages like you see in the movies about Alcatraz. Just endless, interminable corridors, with row upon row of reinforced steel doors. Uniform, gray, forbidding.
I cast a sideways glance at my two companions. They marched along, expressionless. The sergeant, short but tough. Experienced. Eighteen years a corrections officer.
The corporal, tall, thin, and slightly mournful looking.
I couldn’t but help to fall in with the marching step.
It was surreal. We were the gaolers. Three uniformed men, with guns and chains. Pepper spray, and electric shock Tasers. Marching, expressionless. Grim. On the way to pick up a murderer. A young man, a gang member with a long rap sheet, who had murdered a close family member.
We turned another corner.
How long had we been walking? It seemed like an hour. We’d been up elevators, along corridors, up some more elevators, and along yet more corridors. Was there an end to this place?
Sometimes we would meet a prisoner coming the other way. Chained. You could tell his risk status by the escort. If it was just one corrections officer, you know the prisoner was just dangerous. If it was two corrections officers, you could figure the prisoner was highly dangerous. We, on the other hand, were a threesome…
I had never before been in such a large institution. Twenty-thousand-prisoners. Housed in two towers with no windows facing outside… I had visited hundreds of gaols. Mostly picking up. Extradition flights. From out of state back to home state. Pick ’em up, and fly them back. Wanted on warrants, mostly serious felonies. The lower ranks of prisoners were bused around the USA. That, strangely, could take weeks. Prisoners would have to endure crazy, zig-zag routes back to their home state. To face the music. The more seriously dangerous, the VIP prisoners, were flown. First class.
Somewhere, somebody was screaming. The long, drawn out wailing, not of a person being beaten or otherwise physically hurt, but rather the screaming of the mentally disturbed. It went on and on. But nobody took much notice. Situation normal.
I wondered if I would end up screaming in a place like this. Probably. It was inhuman.
Tragic. Wasteful. But… what alternative was there?
I thought of the lecturer at the Academy I had attended. What was it he had said?
“….there are many who would say that you cannot incarcerate your way out of the problem facing society today… “
Incarcerate. Lock up. Confine. Take away light, air, windows. Chain. Cor-rect.
Correct? Make better? Turn back to the straight and narrow? Cor-rect.
Another turn into yet another half mile hallway. Dear, sweet Lord, how long does this go on for? Miles and miles of incarcerated humanity. Screaming. Sweating. Hating. Despairing. Making plans. To hurt. To love. To steal. To connive. To…
The lecturer again. Echoing through my head. He had been telling us endless stories of how corrections officers and law enforcement personnel had found themselves compromised. Their careers ruined. What started out as compassion, a “feeling sorry for “, a warm human emotion, ended up in disaster. I had seen it happen. The well meaning, dreamily idealistic pastor. A sweet person. Fell in love. With a prisoner. Helplessly.
And got caught… supplying drugs. Ouch… The corrections officer. Well meaning. A good human. Thought just a little cuddle to comfort a female prisoner would do no harm.
Wrong... She had led him on, and ruthlessly turned him in. Ruthlessly.
What was it the lecturer had said, over and over again?
“…remember, they don’t call them CONS for nothing… “
To con. To mislead. To deceive. To lead on, and then slap down. To hurt…
I’d seen it happen. It made me nervous of them. With good reason.
I tried to be professional. They said we could empathize. But not sympathize.
Be aware of a prisoner’s problems. Show concern. Be willing to listen. But don’t show compassion. Don’t suffer-with. Oh, no. Stand back. That way lies… disaster.
They will use you. Trick you. Play on your feelings. Trap you…
What, all of them? They are all cons, not to be trusted, to be kept at arms’ length in this hell-hole of a travesty of human relations?
Yes, all of them. Because you can’t tell them apart…
We turned another corner. We were told to wait. Finally, we were there.
A few minutes passed by. We waited, expressionlessly, without conversation.
I thought of the phone call. The secretary to my boss. Concern in her voice. If I would be willing to pick up an exceedingly dangerous prisoner. Who was on suicide watch. Who was thought to be capable of anything.
And here we were….
A doctor came out. A nice lady, concern etched all over her face. She was sorry, she said, but she could not release the prisoner to us. Upon being informed that he was going by air, he had screamed hysterically that he would kill everybody if he got the chance.
She told us he meant it.
The two officers with me looked at me. It was my decision, as captain of the aircraft.
I said it was okay. We’d take him. We were prepared. We did this all the time.
She demurred. We discussed it. She relented, reluctantly, but not before stating expressly that we had been warned.
They brought him out. Young. Good looking. Fit and strong. A faceless, expressionless,
shuffling, chained, human being, on suicide watch, classified as “highly dangerous “.
We talked to him. Politely. Explained the options. Come with us and behave. We’ll all have a pleasant day. Or…
He was thinking about it. I studied the gang insignia. Especially the tattoo of the three small tear drops, trickling from his left eye. Three kills… he was saying he had killed three men. He probably had. The gangs in gaol were very well organized. One phone call was often all it took. And a new arrival’s gang affiliations, his gang record, his reputation, would be scrutinized by the other inmates. Anybody making false claims was liable to such severe punishment, that few dared.
The sergeant was talking to him. Quietly, politely, yet firmly. He was not in any hurry. Nor was I. This was a psychological moment. A time to measure the risk of violence.
He thought about it. Then he nodded. Quietly. It was enough. He was coming, quietly.
For now, anyway. For now…
* * * * * * * * * *
We flew along at Flight Level one-two-zero, at a steady one hundred and seventy knots.
Everybody was quiet. Only the steady beat of the engine disturbed our thoughts.
The controller handed me over, with a pleasant “good day “. I thanked him, and tuned the radio to the next frequency. They were good, the folk at Air Traffic. They knew who we were. In the remarks section, I always explained what we were doing.
“Prisoner transport, high risk “.
It had paid off before, when an airborne prisoner had turned violent on us. It was good for immediate priority over other aircraft. Only the callsign “Lifeguard ” that I had used in prior emergency medical flights, commanded more authority.
I wondered what he was thinking, this tough, hard young killer. As he looked out the window, and saw the world slide down below. Did he think it a pretty sight? Or even beautiful? Or did his hard, unseeing eyes see only his future? The judge he would be facing? The inevitable gaol term? His victims?
It was impossible to know. I wondered what the girls would make of his handsome face. The raven black hair, the strong cheekbones, the deep brown eyes. In his young life, there had to have been young women who had fallen in love with him. How, I wonder, had he treated them? Not too well, by all accounts.
He had murdered one of them…
A few hours later, we had landed back home. As we taxied up to the Sheriff’s hangar, there was a feeling of relief. Quickly, we unloaded him, and placed him in the waiting prison van. The door shut, and now all that was left was the inevitable paperwork.
The sergeant and I went back to the office to attend to that, leaving the corporal on his own watching the van.
The paperwork shuffle was complete, and soon my passengers would depart by road, and I would be able to go home.
We were feeling pleased with ourselves.
The corporal came in. Something in his voice alerted us.
“Well… “, he said, and trailed off.
I looked up sharply.
“What? ” I said.
My mind instantly saw the prisoner going berserk in the van.
“No “, the corporal said, reading my thoughts.
“He’s just…. “
His voice sounded unsteady.
” He’s lost it. He’s crying…. “
We went out to check.
From within came the sound of a human being letting go. All the days and weeks of toughness, all gone. It was beyond tears. Beyond crying, weeping or wailing. There are no verbs, that can describe the sounds we heard. Just a deep, deep heartfelt sobbing, that combined a primitive wail of a wounded animal with the broken hearted gasping of a lost child.
We looked at each other. There was nothing we could do.
The sergeant spoke, softly. There was compassion in his voice.
Entirely against regulations.
“I think it’s hit home, now he’s back “.
The corporal and I nodded, and instinctively, all three of us tip toed away…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 30, 2014, 8:47 pm