We weren’t escorted back from lunch. Eventually, they just opened the doors and we were free to roam back to our block. It felt like such a luxury to be able to walk like this, so…human. Walking back to the block a guard appeared in the hallway. “I’m looking for two volunteers. Who feels like pushing a lawn mower?” I was not fast enough. Two of the guys from my block beat me out. They got to go outside.
I went back to the block. Waved at the guard who opened the doors and let me inside.
We could smoke in there too. This was changed while I was locked up. Eventually they took all of the tobacco off of state, but when I was first locked up we could buy cigarettes or rolling tobacco from the canteen. I didn’t have any, and I didn’t have any money in my account yet. I was actually pretty happy that I had finally managed to not be smoking. I had been trying to quit for years, and now after months in jail I didn’t feel the rage of a nicotine craving in my system anymore. Even the cigarettes that the guard had given me the day I had gone to court hadn’t tasted great. But now I really wanted a cigarette. It wasn’t that I wanted to start smoking again as much as I wanted to be able to make decisions about my life, or at least that was how I rationalized it. I liked the idea of the smoke taking up a little bit of space for me. I liked the idea of lighting a cigarette when I wanted to light a cigarette. One of the guys in the block was sitting at a table rolling cigarettes. He didn’t speak any English, but understood when I asked him for one. He nodded yes and slid a hand rolled cigarette across the table towards me. I lit it and drew in deep with satisfaction. Excused myself and went to lie on my bunk for a couple of hours. There was one book in the whole block. It was a western by Louis L’amour, Kid Rodeo, I think. It was kind of nice, lying back on my bunk, a cigarette and some old western. There was the hum of a giant fan. I drifted off.
When I woke up the guys were back from mowing. We all gathered around the table so they could tell us about it, what outside was like. They said they just mowed a big hill. They talked about lawnmowers and talked some about the lawnmowers they had owned before being locked up. Eventually one of them pulled a dandelion out of his pocket. We took turns passing it around, smelling it. Talking. We slowly wonder over the dandelion, pulling apart its tiny petals, stripping the stem to smell the greenness. We chat and get to know each other better. “How long were you in jail?” “Is this your first time down?” “What’d you get?” We talked about court, our trials, what we were in for. A couple of people had recognized me from the news, but some of these guys were from the other side of the state, so hadn’t really heard, which was kind of a relief. Raymond said that he had to get his case back to court. He said that he had been a photographer for a pornographic magazine company. His wife had been his assistant. He had been brought up on child sex charges. The story he told us was that he and his wife had photographed a girl that had turned out to be 17 instead of 18. It had happened a couple of years ago. She was twenty and in college now. At the time of the session she had provided them with what appeared to be valid ID, but wasn’t. She had been paid for the photographs and signed contracts and everything, but she had falsified her information. One afternoon a friend of her father’s had managed to run across the pictures of her in this magazine, and had realized that she was underage. This friend alerted her father, and now this guy and his wife were brought up on child sex charges together. The charges were worsened by the fact that he had repositioned her at some point during the shoot, so he had touched a minor. Well, he tells us, he was sure that this was an open and shut case. His lawyer assured him that he wouldn’t do any time over this. They had all of the documentation, copies of the contracts, copies of the forged ID. His wife had been released already, and had gotten time served after being in the county jail waiting for so long. A few weeks ago his biggest worry was how they were going to save the house, get his finances caught up, get going again after so many months in jail. He was ready for court. He showed up for court and his lawyer gave him a pat on the back and said, “Right, you ready to go home today?” He damn sure was ready!
I don’t know if his story was true or not. That’s the other thing about prison stories. You never really know if you are being told the truth. At some point you stop caring about whether it is the truth or not. What does it matter? It was his truth. He told us a good story, and he seemed to believe it, and so I could believe it with him. Who cares about whether or not the story was true. I have my own time to do, my own stories to live; if he needed me to believe this with him, then I was absolutely willing to do just that. We could complain together with righteous indignation about the injustice, the unfairness, of the justice system. I usually ended up hoping that the stories I was told over the years were true. I always ended up hoping that the guys that I met over the years that swore they were innocent, really were. I had one friend that swore continuously that he was innocent of attempted murder. I remember walking the yard with him one Saturday morning, explaining to him that I wished that I had been wrongly accused. It would be much easier waking up in the morning knowing that you were innocent, knowing that everyone else was wrong.