In the Slammer
It may seem funny now, but wasn’t much back then.
In fact, my parents went to their graves not knowing a thing about it. And I’m not sure my brother knows either.
Well, now he does.
It was after watching Game 1 of the 1987 World Series, between the Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals. I’d been out “drinkin’ with the boys” and—well, a Sunday, Nov. 29 journal entry gets more to the point:
“On Saturday, October 17th, I smashed up my pickup truck to the price of $3,600 driving home from Game 1 World Series celebrations. I’d been out with Jon and Scott watching the game at the Mandarin Yen Sports Bar in Bloomington and was coming home after stopping off at White Castle for a bite to eat. I turned the corner at Lake Street NE, and was no more than 50 yards from the garage door when, failing to turn the wheel back to the right quickly enough, smashed into a [flatbed construction vehicle] off to the side of the road. It happened so quickly that I’m still startled when I think about it. Anyway, my first impulse was to call the police, [and] I was more concerned about reporting the accident than getting arrested for DWI. That was my second mistake. The first was driving at all. I guess it was bound to happen. Anyway the police ran me down to the Hopkins Police station, I was questioned, given the breathalyzer, failed, and booked for DWI. That was a painful weekend. The police gave me a ride home and the next morning, instead of calling the folks, I called Hollingsworth at the radio station where he works Sunday mornings and got his opinion. It’s now been over a month and I still haven’t told the folks and Brian doesn’t know either…”
Part of my sentence was to spend a weekend in the Hennepin County Workhouse. I could bring only two books to read, and had to submit to a strip search the Friday afternoon I arrived. I was allowed a pad of paper and pencil, with which I wrote the following “mini journal” (images from it follow):
Friday, Nov. 6, 1987
Alone. Pencil stub. Kafka’s The Trial. Chapped lips. No supper. Doesn’t look like I’ll be getting any. I’m in Cell 640. It’s quiet now that the long-term inmates have gone on Recreation break. They’re a ways down the hall, but as we came in, they made a hellish ruckus and continued braying until break. I have no idea what time it is. I feel absolutely wretched. This cell is so small. Everything is painted light blue. It’s depressing. All I have is a toilet, push-button sink, narrow cot with cell-matching sheets, no pillow. I’m trying to fight off my hunger. I hope I can sleep later. Frankly, I don’t want to leave my cell until I’m discharged. I’m afraid of the rest of this place. It’s the closest thing to hell I’ve ever seen.
I got through Chapter Three of The Trial, but I had a hard time concentrating on it. Perhaps I should’ve brought a cheerier, maybe more distracting book. Le Grand Meaulnes comes to mind as an example, or a Dickens novel—something to transport me out of this place. I’m thinking about the the things I like to do: walk in the fresh air (I’d like to be at the Arboretum) or listen to the radio out at the folks’. I’ll be glad to see them if I make it out of here Sunday night. Now someone’s banging away on something downstairs. The banging and shouts echos through this inhuman pisshole. If it goes on all night, I’ll go mad. Apparently the hardcores are back from break.
I hope to God I never have to go through this again. Sunday night in my car, driving through Wayzata, I’ll probably be a pool of tears. I wish this were Saturday night instead of Friday night. Then I wouldn’t have a whole day and another night to go through this.
No telephone. No television, no cheery kitchen lights, no shower, no radio. Blue walls, fluorescent light, a black-stencilled inscription on the front wall: PICTURES THIS WALL ONLY. Scale and scum in the toilet. Cigarette burns on the sheets. Two jutting concrete ‘shelves’ that serve as chair and table. Brick, concrete, green-painted bars. Smell of sulfur and tobacco. Sound of cellmates urinating or coughing. Sunday now seems forever.
I’d give anything now to be back to any day or night of the past hellish weeks waiting for a bus in the cold misty rain. Anywhere but here. That would be paradise. I’ll be so happy to be back at work Monday. I think I’ll stop by a bakery Monday morning very early and buy Computer Translation something—have it there for them before they come in. You know, just thinking like this and writing about it has momentarily taken me away from this. I forgot someone down the cell is whistling.
Just got up to look through the bars of my cell. Something that most people wouldn’t know about being on the business side of prison bars is that you have a very limited range of vision looking out than you’d think. You hear rattling keys and guards’ footsteps, but it’s so hard to see ANYTHING. And another thing is the patches of silence all of a sudden ripped by clanging or pounding—it’s nerve-racking. Someone could start screaming bloody murder then you’d hear nothing but silence, or the roar of an overhead fan.
I’ve got to make it through this.
That old ’70s song “Stoned in Love” … who did that? Some guy singing The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting.”
“I wish I was walking in downtown Iowa City, to see Sue @ the Nest. It’s quiet now. Just a whistle from Cell Block A. I wish I could draw Iowa City and put myself in the picture…”
“OIL THOSE SHOES!” Cellmate says to guard on his rounds.
I’m literally flushed with boredum & anxiety.
Saturday, Nov. 7, 1987
Sometime after 5:30, Sat. Nov. 7th. This time tomorrow I’ll be free! I’m concerned now about getting around in my car—if I’m pulled over w/just my 7-day permit, I’ll end up back here. And I can’t have that. So Monday I’ll have to call and pick up a work license permit in St. Paul before the end of the day.
My mind’s already racing toward tomorrow. I finished reading Kafka’s The Trial before supper. I’ll admit to being bored by it. I know I’ll never look at it again. For other reading material I brought the textbook to my Supervision course. I’ll read that tonight until I go to sleep and tomorrow all day. I’ve been trying to mentally go over all I’ll need to do in the coming weeks to get totally back on my feet again.
The only breaks in the monotony here are meal calls. They open up our cells, we step out and, single file, march down to the lunchroom (a gymnasium). The times we’re in our cells we don’t talk to one another (the OC’ers we’re called—“Own Clothes”), but we’ll chat at the lunchroom. I’m looking at the march down to breakfast tomorrow at 7:30–8:00 and lunch around 11:30. After lunch, I’ll be pacing the cell—hopefully they’ll start the release process before 5:30. I don’t want to be here any longer than I’m scheduled. I hate this place more than anyplace I’ve known. It’s inhumane.
Everybody calls each other by their cell number: ‘Hey man! Hey! Hey 539!’
SONGS I WANT TO HEAR:
“Thirty Days” Chuck Berry
“When You’re A Free Man” Moody Blues
“Burn Down The Mission” Elton John
“Sitting” Cat Stevens
“Mohammed’s Radio” Warren Zevon
“Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me” Todd Rundgren
“I’m A Man” Chicago
“In The Cage” Genesis
Sunday, Nov. 8, 1987
All prison food tastes like stale blueberries and mashed potatoes.
On the way to lunch one of my cell block mates tells me the book he finished reading last night was the first book he’s read in five years.
I’ve been thinking about my ‘distant’ past rather than the ‘recent’ past here. Faces: Geoff Morrison, Danette, Kim, her cousin Lori, the Rogers family at Christmas. I’ve also thought a bit of places I haven’t been to in a long time: Camp Shamineau, Surfside, and Bethel Methodist when Pastor McClelland was there.
Breakfast – 7:30–8:00 Lunch – 11:30 Dinner – 5:30
Lock-ups periodically throughout the day. Sunday chapel services at 8:00 not available to OC’ers.
My sinuses attacked me this morning about ½ hr. before lunch. Funny I’d get that even in this place on a Sunday AM!
I’ll feel better tonight after I’d been out at the folks’ for a while, after I’d cleaned up a bit at my apartment and gotten back to my own bed listening to “Music Through The Night” with Arthur Hain on KSJN. I’ll be glad to see everybody at work tomorrow morning. Remember to get treats for Comp. Translation.
Remind myself to make up a detailed floorplan of what Surfside looked like for use in Dumond story idea (c.f. ‘Baby At Her Breast’ – Matt D. talked with old girlfriend at back piano bar, 1979).
Think of what a bitchier world this would be if we put EVERYONE in the slammer.
Geo. Harrison’s ‘What Is Life?’
2:00 Vikings: 27 Raiders: 0 ?????
My bet at work was a 9/4 Vikings 9/3 Raiders. Don’t know if this is halftime score or what. Suppose I’ll get the final later. I could use the winnings.
3:30pm Eagles: ‘And freedom, oh freedom … well that’s just some people talking … your prison is walking through this world all alone…’