Do you want to hear how my days go by in this place? How my time is spent? Okay, I’ll give you a detailed description:
The cell doors of the whole institution are opened by 6:00 a.m. and immediately the P.A. system starts making announcements. There’s no letup all day: dozens of announcements for visits, hundreds for patients to report for bloodwork at the lab, dental callouts, oncology callouts, calls to the chow hall (by units), recreation moves, etc., etc.
So the whole joint starts to come alive at 6:00 a.m. There’s a rush to the microwaves to heat water for coffee; gruff, angry faces facing another day in prison.
We go for breakfast. If the Warden is in, he doesn’t allow a long line of inmates lined up to be served; if he’s not in, I think, the cops on duty enjoy making us miserable by calling 2 or 3 or 4 units at a time and have us out in the hallway for long periods of time waiting.
One must be careful not to bump into or say anything to upset someone at this time. This is a crucial time of day for fights to happen. There are hundreds of mental patients (they have a unit of their own but they mix with the regular population during meals. And they tend to be annoying. They are loud, some are disrespectful, dirty, and not groomed properly. They have to be avoided. I made the mistake of taking offence for being bumped into by a six foot four African American and called the guy a “fucking asshole”. We began to argue voraciously and attracted the guards, who broke us up. But now I have to watch out for this guy. He sat at my table for four yesterday and stared at me all the time he was there. He didn’t eat, just stared, then got up, picked up his tray and left the chow hall. I wasn’t afraid of him but I didn’t want any trouble in my present condition, so I was relieved when he left. Another black guy said to me: “Man, why would you want to argue with a mental health patient, you know they are all crazy”. Why indeed! It’s in my genes to not let someone slight me. I don’t even mind dying; but I can’t ever be slighted and not say anything.
Breakfast is served from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00. I usually get out of there around 6:30 a.m. and head for the only stairs available: just one flight of about 30 steps, and I climb them up and down, ten times after each meal. Of 900 inmates in this joint, I’m the only one who does this – its for exercise.
Breakfasts are good meals here. Everyday they are different; fried eggs and bacon, toast, jelly, grits, coffee and milk one day, cold cereal and blueberry muffins; bagels and cream cheese; boiled eggs another day; omelettes and fried bologna; cinnamon rolls and oatmeal, always fruit- apples, oranges, grapefruit, fruit cocktail, crushed pineapple and orange and grapefruit juices.
After my stairs workout, I go back to my room where my celly (Mr. Ho) is usually back in bed where he’ll sleep until 10:00 a.m. I make a cup of Cappachino coffee (16 oz.) and lay back on my bunk and listen to N.P.R. news for an hour – then I try to write for a couple of hours – just little stories or comments – like this one to send out to my blog and/or web site. I never get them right the first time; I have to rewrite them many times.
I usually write until they call us for lunch, around 11:30 a.m. Lunches are good too, and change seven days a week. They are never the same over a seven day cycle: Cheeseburger, baked chicken, fried chicken, lasagna, spaghetti, hero sandwich – there’s always a salad bar and soup and beans and cooked vegetables, buns, dessert and beverages (coffee, milk, juice). I get out of there before 12 noon, to ten more flights of stairs, then return to my room and have a cup of coffee while stretching and dressing to go outside for an hour’s exercise in the big recreation yard.
At 12:30 p.m., they announce on the P.A. “Compound is open for a ten-minute move” and hundreds of inmates go to their destinations – most to the yard. I bring my radio and listen to a station called “The River”. It plays 70’s and 80’s rock and roll: The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, The Eagles….
I walk for an hour at 15 minute miles. I stop after every lap (5 laps = 1 mile) and do a set of twenty push ups. I try to get 3 miles and 300 push ups in an hour. That’s not bad for a guy suffering with lung cancer and who was given up for dead 3 or 4 months ago.
An hour later they call for a ‘ten minute move” over the P.A. and I return to my room by 1:30, I shower (I have one in my room, it’s a hospital room), put on pyjamas, lay down on my bunk and read and eventually fall asleep. I nap for about an hour – get up, make a cup of coffee, read some more while they have an “Institutional Count” – it’s the main one of the day and everyone must stand and face the door. It takes about a half hour to clear. Then, at 4:30 p.m., there’s a “mail call”, to some (me included) the most important instance of the day. Then, by 5:00 p.m., dinner is being served in the chow hall… eat, and do my 10 flights of stairs. At 6:30 p.m. my “Palliative Care” worker arrives at my door and we discuss what we’ve done with our time that particular day, primarily what we got done in the writing department! His name is Jeff Bell and he’s probably the best writer in the place.
When I was on my “death bed”, Jeff talked me into living. When I had lost my memory (from a brain operation) and couldn’t pick up a pen, Jeff encouraged me to, at least, try. I did and found I could do so – not very good at first – but constantly, at his urging, improved.
Jeff only stays an hour. We have a cup of coffee and we leave each other with each other’s daily writing for editing.
By then it’s around 8:00 p.m. and I prepare myself for bed: groom myself, floss and brush my teeth, put on pyjamas and lay back on my bunk and read my daily newspaper, the “U.S.A. Today”, and usually a periodical such as Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report. They lock us down (in our rooms) for the “9:00 count”, then unlock our doors around 9:30 and let us out until midnight to watch T.V. or play cards or dominos. By 9:30, I’m ready for bed and nine hours of sleep. And that’s how I spend my days! Exciting – eh? It’s all routine. There are days and nights that I do other things, like: go to the library, go to education department to watch a movie, go to religious services (Catholic mass), go for Chemotherapy or radiation or blood work, dental, eye exams… I answer correspondence – at least one or two letters a day. I’m about 60 pages into a new novel I’m writing – don’t know if I’ll ever finish it though.