The next day, the kitchen worker moved into our block, into Kenny’s old cell. He introduced himself, said he was looking forward to getting to know me better. I reiterated that I am heterosexual. He said he knew, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends. He’d be happy to help me out. Had I been on the weight pile at all? Because he could really help me out on the weight pile. He was huge. He was just a big guy, who had obviously spent a lot of time on the weight pile; and I had never lifted any weights at all, not at all in my whole life, but I had all of this time to do and what the hell, right? But I was sure that he wasn’t the guy to show me how. I didn’t trust him at all, not at all. When he looked at me, my skin crawled. He didn’t see me at all. I wasn’t sure what it was he did see, but it sure wasn’t me. So I said, “You want to help me?”
“Yeah, you name it,” he smiled broadly with too many teeth.
“Help me convince the clothes house man that these pants don’t fit. They’re too tight. They hurt my back. They pinch my waist. I need some clothes that fit.”
He decided that he could do that, that we’d be great friends because of it, and he started following me everydamnwhere. Where I went, he went. Most of the time he would spend pressuring me, telling me how great I’d have it if I did have sex with men.
“You could have everything, baby. And look at this, you got a lot of time to do. How much time you say you have?”
“About eight years, little more.”
“Eight years, well that’s a long time to go with no one to hold. You know, I ain’t queer either.”
“Naaaw. I had me a pretty little wife when I was out there. Pretty little brown-skinned Indian girl. She was Lumbee. You know what Lumbee is?”
I did. It was a North Carolina tribe that was in the newspapers pretty frequently, due to fighting the government over tribal recognition.
He said, “Yeahhh. I just do this in here. It’s just what I gotta do. I been doing this bid a long damn time, ya know? You don’t know it yet, but it get lonely in here. You gonna need someone eventually.”
He would go on and on like this. Secure in who I was sexually, I was unfazed, but I have no doubt that he had honed these skills on a lot of younger men, and that they had worked. This went on for a couple of days, and when it wasn’t him it was another inmate, or another one, who had just learned that Kenny had left and thought that I was suddenly available. I was getting really frustrated at all of the attention. I was getting really tired of having to say no all the time, of having to explain myself. I would lock myself in my cell for most of the day, content to read, or write letters, but even there, guys would knock on my door wanting to talk. Or when that didn’t work they would want to know if I could write a letter home to their aunt for them since they couldn’t read or write. Of course I would write a letter. They would drag their chair to my door and start dictating, and within minutes I’d be given yet another proposition. It was relentless, exhausting.
I had just come back from the AA meeting one evening. The yard outside was closed. I walked past the sergeant’s office, went upstairs to my cell, closed the door, and was in the process of rolling myself a cigarette, when there was a knock on my door. I opened it, and two guards were standing there. I thought it was a routine search. They asked to step in for a moment. I took a few steps back to make space for them. They told me that they needed to talk to me, but they needed me to act like they were just searching my cell. Sure, what was going on? They told me that an inmate had informed them that my new friend, the kitchen worker, had spoken of plans to rape me. It was the former kitchen worker. Of course it was.
I was dizzy with I don’t know what. Confusion? Rage? Terror? What should I do?
They asked me if I wanted protective custody. Protective custody? Checking off? It’s a huge no-no in prison culture. Huge. Like being a snitch kind of huge. It can get you beaten, stabbed, or worse.
“No, sorry, I can’t do it. I can’t check off. I got, like, over eight years to do here. I can’t check off.”
One cop said, “Well, it’s your choice. The last guy this happened to ended up in the hospital. Your friend almost killed him.”
The second cop verified this by saying, “Yeah, he’d tied him up with bed sheets, and had spent the morning taking turns going outside and playing basketball, and coming inside and raping him.”
The first cop, “Maybe nothing’ll happen, but if it’s late at night and we don’t see him pull you into a cell, or he stands there waving and we’re too tired to notice and unlock the wrong door, well, there’s not much we can do after that.”
Oh my God! I cannot believe this is actually happening to me. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
“Fine, okay, what do I need to do?” I ask desperately.
So they explain the plan. They are going to bring me some shipping bags. I need to put all of my belongings in them, and then they will escort me downstairs and out of the block to the sergeant’s office where I will need to fill out a form.
Down in their office, I fill out a sheet of paper explaining that I felt threatened and that this inmate persistently “kept coming at me” even after repeated requests that he leave me alone, and I sign it at the bottom. After that, the officers go through my belongings and decide on what I can keep and what I cannot keep. They throw away my matches, my tobacco; tell me I have too many letters. They make me take off my shoes. I have to take off my belt too and give it to them.
Then they ask me to turn around, and they place me in handcuffs. That was the last time I ever wore handcuffs.
They escort me to a unit in the center of the prison, upstairs to a new cell, a cell that is only dimly lit, and the windows have been boarded over.
I am in “the Hole.”
Protective custody, my ass.