Throwing Nothing at Nothing

The man who escaped from a nearby prison on Super Bowl Sunday (see The War Right Here) is still fighting extradition. If what he was trying to do was get a break from the Michigan Department of Corrections, well, mission accomplished, though it’s only a matter of time before he ends up in a level 5 somewhere in the state shaped like a mitten.

Prisoners in the U.S. can’t be tortured, of course—it says so right in the 8th Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” But I can guarantee you that for the next decade or so his treatment by correctional officers is going to border on cruel. He’ll be like a piece of lint in some dark corner of that mitten, in a closet, in the pocket of a coat, and it’s just now turning spring—winter is a long ways away, so there’s no hope of that mitten seeing the light of day for a very long time.

C.O.’s take care of their own, and so far at least two have been suspended indefinitely for their role (or non-role) in allowing an escape on their watch. The upshot of the escape on the rest of the inmates in Michigan has been frequent cell searches to look for cardboard and plastic. Apparently the escapee, Michael Eliot, used cardboard to lie on the snow-covered ground as he burrowed under the fence. I don’t know what the plastic was for—I’m guessing he formed some sort of waterproof clothing. So, once a week since that Sunday, the shelf that I glue to the inside of my locker for paint supplies and typewriter ribbons gets jerked out and tossed into the hall with about a hundred other shelves made of glue and the discarded cardboard boxes.

They have to do something. In a year, some corrections bigshot will be brought once again before the Michigan House and asked what has been done to prevent anouther escape by a convicted quadruple killer. It will all sound good, how they’ve eliminated cardboard and plastic, etc. The microwave motion-detectors on the fence weren’t on for some reason, so that will be addressed. Everyone will be happy. The representative’s constituents will sleep better at night. Some other meaningless gesture might be implemented statewide. For example, the escapee used dull little schoolkid’s scissors to cut the cardboard and plastic, so the future purchase of those from our hobby-craft suppliers might be outlawed. I would guess that there is a sizeable, high-paid group in Lansing thinking of all sorts of other shit to do.

In reality, it doesn’t do anything. No one intent on escape is going to be deterred by the crackdown on cardboard and plastic. The best word for most of what happens in prison is Absurd with a capital A. It reminds me of a movie I never saw called “Unmade in China.” An American was going to make a movie in China but found that trying to make a movie in that oppressive nation was so bogged down in ridiculous red-tape and requests by governmental functionaries that the bureaucracy swallowed the project, and all he end up doing was filmind the absurd reality of it all—hence the title, “Unmade in China.” Once you get more than one man working on restricting other men who are under their power, all bets are off. It becomes an exercise in oppressive and absurd rule-making futility.

You see, there is a certain type of person who is drawn to governmental work that wields power over others. I ran into one such person last night.

Winter’s days are numbered. It was 50 degrees yesterday, and the first televised game of the Detroit Tigers’ spring training was on Fox Sports Detroit. The Tigers won 17-5, and after a cold, dark season with 90 inches of snow, I think everyone is ready for a break. I walked around the wet and meltingly-treacherous icy track. I did pull-ups and dips. I used the phone.

It was about 8:30 p.m., time for yard to close. I stood by the gate, looking toward J-Block, 500 feet away, past what is basically a tundra of deep snow. The block is five stories high, and for some reason when I’m a long ways away from it, I wonder whether or not I or anyone could hit a golf ball over it? I don’t think that I could, but you never know with golf balls because sometimes what seems like a long distance isn’t that long when you break out a solid shot with a driver. I became convinced last night that a pro golfer would have no problem clearing J-Block (50 feet high at a little less than 200 yards out), probably with a club not much less than a driver. I’m still not sure about myself.

Anyway, the snow bordering the quarter-mile track is in shrinking piles. I scooped up a gloveful, packed it to the size of a baseball and threw it overhand into the snowy void of the yard. My arm wasn’t warmed up, but it was a pretty good first toss. I’ve always had a pretty good arm. I packed up another, tossed it, and it flew a good 10 feet farther than the first.

I began to pack up another when I heard, “You trying to catch a ticket?” It was the pear-shaped c.o. who loves catching men coming out of the chow hall with contraband cookies.

“No,” I said. “I just watched baseball today, got the urge to throw something.”

“Well, you can’t throw things.” He claimed he was once a pitcher. He said I could practice throwing with nothing in my hand.

“That’s not as fun,” I said. The gate was opening and I began walking that way.
“Neither is catching a ticket,” he said.

There was a time when I would have argued with the man, trying to get him to see the folly of his reasoning, and his life. I was, after all, throwing snow at snow! I’m pretty sure the rule about throwing things didn’t apply. But not anymore. I have thought this before, and it seemed apt here: I would rather be who I am, a prisoner, than most of these men who get to go home at night. They aren’t free, either.


About the Author

Curtis Dawkins is BULL's chief book reviewer. He earned an M.F.A. from Western Michigan University and is currently an inmate at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan. His short story collection, Prison Ink, is the first release from BULL Books.