It Was Not for Nothing
A Prison Journal
If winning isn’t everything, why keep score?
– Vince Lombardi
by Tom Adamson
My problems began after months and months of struggling with bills and banks and a mortgage payment, when one of my more prosperous clients called and casually asked, "Did I invest $30,000 or $40,000 in the last bond issue you sold me?"
Something like teeth gnawed at my chest. "You mean you really don't remember?"
"No. I've got so much going on I can't remember exactly. Besides, that's your job, right?"
The teeth snapped hard. I became a crook, endorsing checks made out to the stock brokerage I worked for, putting the funds in my checking account, trading heavily in stock options - always telling myself everyone would he paid off handsomely, and no one would ever know. As my losses mounted in the option market, I created fraudulent securities, promising a higher return than real ones would ever pay.
I took advantage of my clients' trust and naiveté, and I stole their money. There was nothing very clever about what I was doing. I blame no addiction, no motor impulses, no uncontrollable cravings. I merely deluded myself into believing that it was not immoral and that everything would turn out all right.
When the Federal Reserve notified my bank of the huge sums going through my personal account, I was finished.
My attorney was hopeful at first, but as the months went by he grew less confident. He told me that I could even get the maximum 20-year sentence if the judge wanted to make an example of me. He advised we waive a trial and plead "no contest."
For the 6 months between my hearing and my sentencing date, I vacillated between the hope of getting probation and the shattering thought of prison. I had trouble finding work, finally taking a telemarketing job that didn't pay much but got me out of the house every day. Nights I drank.
One day I met a retired broker friend for lunch. After some small talk, he looked squarely at me, his drink in his hand, and laughed. "Tom, Tom. Sweet, lovable, trustworthy Tom. Of all the people..." He broke up with a belly laugh. "Of all the people, you were ripping off the system. Of all the people."
I gulped at my beer, feeling ashamed and yet strangely pleased.
We talked more, and I casually asked him for a $1,500 loan — "to tide me and my kids over." He had plenty of money, and I thought I would get a quick "yes, sure."
But his jaw hardened, and he said quietly, "Don't think so, Tom. Really don't think so. You're like a rubber band. You're gonna be stretched and stretched, and you may spring back or you may break."
Boesky, Milken, Levine, the Keating Five — the 80's had its share of fraudulent money-changers. I'm not nearly in their league, nor would I want to be. But we're still talking about lying and stealing and self-deceit. Prison was the fate of many of those crooked deal makers. I am one of them.
Douglas County Courthouse Source: Jon Clee en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wiki_Photos_038.jpg
The Courtroom, Douglas County, Omaha, Nebraska
"Your Honour," my attorney said, "Mr Adamson has a very good educational background, owns his own home in Douglas County, has never been in serious trouble before." Standing beside him, I felt proud of the man he was describing — his client — although it didn't make me proud of me. I was oddly detached from the scene. They were deciding the fate of Tom Adamson, not me.
As my lawyer finished up, he turned to me hurriedly and said, "Mr Adamson would like to address the bench."
Looking slightly bored and above it all, the judge smiled. "Go ahead."
"Your Honour, I'm sorry for the lives I've damaged and the trust I've broken. I would like a chance to rebuild my life and repay the people I stole from." It was too rehearsed, too fast, too predictable. And everyone knew it. We had used my gambling addiction as part of my defence, but the judge didn't buy it. When my lawyer asked for probation on the condition that I attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings, the judge said, "Mr Adamson, I feel you're about as rehabilitated as you're going to get."
And so it was to be "incarceration of 3 to 5 years." I fumbled in my pockets for the car keys and gave them to my ex-wife, Cheryl, and I was handcuffed and led away. I turned around quickly and, nice guy to the end, said to my lawyer, "Good try anyway." Then somehow I mumbled, "Thank you, Judge Davis." Three to five years. Good Christ! What have I done?
Douglas County Correctional Center Source: dccorr.com
For the next 3 hours I sat on a long bench in the holding tank. There were about 20 guys in there, most of whom kept to themselves. I was still in my street clothes: 3-piece suit, wingtips. At 1:30 the guards slid trays of cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes in to us. A lean, glossy black guy in a burgundy suit kicked his tray to the side and yelled, "I don't need food. All I need is Jesus, sweet Jesus." His eyes roamed across our startled faces. No one moved until finally another guy picked up his tray and began eating.
In the afternoon I was led into a locker room and told to "strip down and hit the water." A stocky, bald white guy with several tattoos stood beside me in the shower, and as I washed he casually asked through the spray, "What you in for?"
"Yes, thank you." Damn! Why am I getting cute now?
He smiled slowly, then turned his back to me and began whistling.
Being processed is a long, tedious task, and the jumpsuit I was wearing was awkward. Clutching a towel, a bar of soap, and a Bible, I was sitting in the tank again when my name was
called out. I was escorted into another room. Cheryl's lawyer was standing there, along with my sons, Reid and Bobby. They were startled to see my prison clothes, but they
gamely smiled. I tried jokes, small talk, anything to make our few moments together go well. It began in the back of my head, slowly, painfully — a sensation of bone going to
ashes. I managed to stand up and embrace them as I left. Reid was stoic, as always, but Bobby began to cry. I will carry those tears a long time.
My fellow inmates, kids mostly, who committed crimes of urgency while high-wired, now revert to childhood as they clamour for the right to choose which cartoons to watch. The
intellectuals play cards and avoid arguing over the rules. The wary burn time with restlessness.
Night 6, 11:30pm
"Adamson! Adamson! I need to talk, man. It's Jackson. Next door, man. I need to talk!"
"Yeah, OK. What's happening?" Here I was, sitting stark naked on a cold metal toilet, talking through a wall to a small, slow black man nicknamed Ned (a cruel name the other blacks gave him, shortened from Neanderthal).
"It's my wife. They just took her into the hospital. I'm afraid something's wrong, man. I mean, her going in like this, and the twins not even due for a month yet. And I'm here and can't help her or even call, man."
"Now don't get excited. She's in the best possible place she could be. The best way you can help is try to get some sleep, and pray."
A typical white man's answer. Ned let me go back to bed.
Next morning I noticed he didn't make it to breakfast. It was almost noon when he came out of his cell. As he slowly walked past me, he looked through my eyes and said simply,
"They died, man, they died."
We got to go to gym today, and I immediately joined in a basketball game. I learned quickly that the game in here is more furious than fast, more power than finesse, more show-off than pass-off. I also learned that there are a few superb athletes here, and that you call out "paper" (as in "good as cash") when you anticipate a shot going in.
Afterward, I showered and shaved for the first time in 6 days. Tomorrow, several of us are going to Lincoln for some "serious" time. One of the guys said to me today, "You look soft, man, a short-timer. How much you gotta do?"
"I got 3 to 5 years." His eyes widened, and he gulped. I felt a flush of self-importance, followed very quickly by depressing guilt.
I walked down to the big table by the TV and sat beside two giggling white kids. Jimmy and 3 of his friends were farther down the table, all laughing at some sitcom. George, scraggly and young, walked over and mumbled, "I ain't watching this shit," and turned the dial to the news.
The others shouted, "Put that back, ass-wipe! Now!" George ignored them and sat down.
Jimmy stood up, glared at George, and turned the dial back to the comedy. George jumped up, but Jimmy said quietly, "Now be cool, man, just be cool. There's a bunch of us want to see this. So just sit down."
George scowled and turned the dial back anyway. The room got very still. The guard in the observation box looked out for a second, shook his head, and turned away, his keys jangling. Jimmy raised his left hand to turn the dial again, and George grabbed it. For a second the thin, gangly kid held back the stronger man's arm. And then, THUMP. Jimmy's right hand came down and slapped George's ear. George froze as a dribble of blood spotted the side of his face.
"Damn, punk, get out of here now," Jimmy hissed. George's eyes filled with tears. He turned away and gave a low moan. I sat there, paralysed. The guard strolled
out, looked up at the TV and smiled.
Lincoln Evaluation and Diagnostic Center Source: corrections.nebraska.gov/dec.html
Day 8, On the Road to Lincoln
When we left the city limits of Omaha no one even took a last look back. The guards let us listen to the radio, and when the Pointer Sisters came on, the van was absolutely swaying. Jimmy's
falsetto rose higher and sweeter than the singers' voices. "Yes, indeed," he crowed.
Day 10, Lincoln
The talk turned to the younger brothers of north Omaha, the teenagers coming to power in the streets.
"Shit, man, all they talk, all they say to anything is 'Uzi, Uzi, Uzi.' They think they can fucking outgun the Man with submachine guns."
My turn with the doctor, a balding older man. He took my pulse and temperature, checked my records, had me walk in front of him. Everything normal, everything fine. I was about to go when he said, "What are you doing here?" A casual question, not too difficult to answer. But I felt overwhelmed. I didn't speak, just stood there looking at him.
What am I doing here? I thought. What do you mean — do I look innocent, out of place? Or do you mean, more likely, how could I have screwed up so badly that I wound up here?
He said, "Adamson, doing time involves idle speed. Your mind is racing a thousand miles an hour, and you're idle, going nowhere. Your brain is humming, hut the walls, the
time, the system won't let you out. You want to run, but you've given them your legs." He snapped his briefcase shut. "Idle speed, Adamson. Get used to it."
"Get up, lay down, get up again. Do it over and over, like a soldier," Jimmy says.
A few hours of psychological testing today. Few guys took it seriously. One teenager wrote obscenities on his test and yelled about his "constitutional fucking right." Another
drew patterns on the page.
At night, as we lie in our beds, we talk for a while. He says that black men are attracted to white women "because they're softer than the black bitches. You know, softer to feel, easier to boss around. You get in a fight with a black bitch, shit, she'll fight back like a motherfucker. She'll go after the goddamned hammer, she gets mad enough. White mamas, snow bunnies, you know, they like their men to be kinda mean."
Ace rocks himself to sleep every night. He climbs into bed and just rolls back and forth, sometimes for 20 minutes, until he finally dozes off. Tonight, before rocking himself under, he tells me about all the men he's shot. "Including my time in California, eight altogether. Killed 2 — no, 2½ of them I killed."
"Two and a half?" I ask, hoping the uneasiness in my voice is not too obvious. After all, you learn quickly in prison never to be shocked by anyone's crimes.
"Yeah, two motherfuckers died right away, but one held on for 6 months or so in the hospital, so I just count him as a half. I splattered most of his guts out in a van, but them doctors patched him up and he lived. But I hurt him so bad he wished he had of died."
I ask him if he could somehow get by without guns so that maybe his chances of staying out of jail would improve.
"Could be, Cuz. All I know is, where I run you gotta have a gun to get by. You don't let someone fuck you if you can fuck them first. Know what I'm telling you, Cuz?" I
hear him start to hum and rock.
Preacher, a lean, smooth white guy, was running the pool table again. Quick with the stick, he's a man being pulled apart by gambling and drugs on one side and by Jesus, he says, on the other. Off in the corner a small cocaine deal was being finalised, while beneath the concrete stairs Fast Freddy was running another poker game; cigarettes were the currency, and Freddy was the house. He took a swig from his jug of Tang, let out a series of expletives so tightly strung that all the untrained ear could catch was the last "pussy-eating motherfucker!" He laughed suddenly and laid down another winning hand. Over in the corner balcony, on what is called the front porch, Fat Chicago was planning his next mail heist. His plans are brilliant. He says, "I don't need the goddamned money. I need the challenge." Sure.
In the background, the blaring rock music on TV was selling iced tea, chewing gum, running shoes, beer, deodorant. The crowd around the set was getting excited, waiting for "The
Andy Devine Kickboxing Tournament," or something like that. I drifted from scene to scene, cool and ghostlike.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Cash moving toward me. He's doing life here in Nebraska and also has time to serve in Texas — mostly, if talk is right, for murder. He starts talking to me in a low, calm monotone, and I nod my head even though I can't hear him very well. Then I realise Cash is telling me about his crimes.
"I could always feel it happening, feel my temper taking over before I could even stop to think what I was doing. Sometimes it's over something small, but if someone's trying to run over me, well, man, pride and temper can be a mean mix. One time, it happened right here in this prison. Some guy got up in front of me when I wasn't doing nothing but watching TV, and he went to change the channel. Before I could even think about it — " He turns to face me suddenly, and I see the blue-cold fury of his eyes, eyes that look as if they were born at gunpoint. "By then the blood was pouring out, squirting all over me, and then I really lost my temper. I damn near killed him. All over a TV program. All over nothing. But in here, you just can't let anyone fuck you over, at all."
I'm staring and nodding. His eyes flash down to the game below. "That new kid down there, he probably thinks he's gonna screw me over." He nods toward Pogo. "Borrowed 6 dimes last week, said he'd pay me back this week. Hell, if he'd asked, I'd have given him the lousy money. But he said he'd pay me back, and he will pay, or I'll put something across his head."
Cash straightens up, winks, and walks away. I keep nodding, in case he suddenly turns around, but he came and went like a summer storm.
I've become adept at nodding, either to speed up people's inane comments or deflect them. One day, out of boredom, I counted my nods during a 3-hour period: an incredible 116.
I even began to differentiate between the long, slow, thoughtful nod expressing deep interest in what's being said and the staccato, emphatic, short nod showing affinity and energy, such as
"Right on, brother, kill those pigs!" The thought even occurred to me that somewhere on my sentencing decree, in small print near the bottom left corner, it reads: "Sentence may
alternatively be filled upon offender's nodding 1,342,961 times."
He walked over to me as I plugged in the vacuum. Outside I could see a fog rolling in, casual and free, over the barbed-wire fence. "What do you need?" he asked urgently, his eyes wild.
"None of my business, but you know Freddy's card games are fixed. Him and Symington are cheating."
"What the fuck? Are you for real here?" he asked.
"Just telling you what I saw."
His eyes bolted away, and then he whispered, with a quick whip of his tongue, "Damn, damn."
"Adamson, get busy up there! Reynolds, back in your room." The guard's voice echoed away as I finished my duty.
"What?" I stammered.
"People tell me you say I cheat in cards. That true, punk?" He looked straight at me, and I just froze. It seemed to get very quiet in the module.
"I ... I ... I ... what ... what are you talking about?"
"Look, fat man, I got a good, clean game going here, and if you got something to say about it, say it to me. You understand?" Every B-movie about prison violence flashed through my mind. In the corner of my eye I saw Pogo hurry away toward his room.
Fat Chicago, breathing heavily, came up to us. "What's going on, Gary?" he asked Symington.
"Nothing, Chicago. Just straightening out your little buddy here. Right, Adams?" Symington towered over me.
"Yeah, right," I murmured, and slowly edged by him.
"You know, the walls talk in here," Chicago said as we reached the top level. "Keep your mouth shut and avoid guys like Symingron. He's heavy traffic."
A heavy door opened, and in the corner of a large, glass-walled room sat Cheryl and Bobby.
"Well, hi, nice surprise," I blurted. Bobby jumped up. "Hi, Dad, how you doing? Losing weight?"
We hugged and I said, "Yeah, sweating it out, no beer."
"That's a good thing, at least," Cheryl said. "I'm here because my lawyer said to bring your car registration down and have you sign it. I need the money, you know. I can sell the car for $1,500, and you won't be needing the car for awhile."
"Yes." I paused. "So how are you doing?" There wasn't much feeling in my question, and I only half listened to her answer. Bobby wandered around the room, looking at the electronic system outside the door as gates opened and shut around us. Cheryl rambled on about her job and her family. My mind started to wander. I felt more out of place with her than I did in this prison.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I interrupted. "I screwed up my life and your lives, and believe me, I'm paying for it."
Cheryl fell silent. Bobby looked at me. I shrank.
Walking to my module, I felt glad to be going back to my cell. I waved and yelled at Ace when I got there. "I'm home!" He just looked at me.
I've noticed that while some of the inmates have photos of their loved ones in their rooms, almost all have a snapshot of themselves in their younger, more promising days. They are saying to all who will listen, "This is how I was. This is how I can be again." There is Cash, grinning, standing over a deer he had shot. There is Fat Chicago, dressed in army khaki from his Vietnam tour, about to go fishing. There is Pimping T, dressed up, with a shy-looking girl on his arm.
Pictures of their past, bridges back to where they want to go. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears, for a little time, and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).
Back in my room, I lay down on the bed and cried.
He once talked to Ace about death. "Might be a gun. Might be a truck running over you. Might just be your heart going out on the basketball court. Point is, you
don't know — you'll never know — until your time is due. So you got to get everything out of every day, get it all now, and keep on grabbing. My job, you see, is taking money,
robbing banks. That's all I do, and I try to do it well. Now the cops, their job is to catch me. And what the hell, I'm here, right? I didn't do my job as well as I
could, but next time I will." He made a shooting motion with his hands and laughed.
"Little boy was smart. Damn smart. He could shoot dice, bag weed, count to 20. And fight, Cuz, he could fight kids twice his size."
I stared at my feet propped up on our little writing bench. The air hung damp, heavy, sweet. Ace stretched out on the bunk. "They called me at work. Told me he was dead. I just hung up the phone and started walking down 72nd Street. Kept on going, not crying or anything. Found me a store and bought a pint of gin, some cola, hit McDonald's for two cheeseburgers, and just walked and walked." He swallowed hard on cigar smoke and added, "Finally got home after midnight, sloppy-sick drunk, crying like a damned baby."
He flicked his cigar into the toilet and rolled over.
"What you all fail to understand," he drawled, "is the state of mind of the State of Nebraska. Violence, of course, is a real point-getter, but lately the fine folks who run this show are putting a little more bang in your past record to up the old point total."
"Yeah," Pimping T agreed, casually picking at his gold front tooth. "They're even using misdemeanours to gang up those damned points on you. I know they'll be pulling me over the Wall, for damned sure."
"So what's the story of the new guys?" Larry asked, glancing at the trio of white men walking around the gym, trying to get a feel for the place. They wore matching khaki pants, T-shirts, and gold watches, and Pimping T had dubbed them The Three Unwise Men.
"Don't know. Let's go interrogate that matching set and find out," Far Chicago answered as he heaved himself to his feet. Larry stayed behind with me, quietly watching the basketball game and the men sweating and grunting on the weight machines.
"Well, Tom," Larry began, not noticing or perhaps not caring to comment on how startled I was to hear my first name used, "how's your time going? Do you think you've changed any?"
I hesitated. "I don't know. God knows it's a change for anyone, and God knows there's time enough to think, to try to make some sense out of where I've come from." A lame answer, a stalling manoeuvre. I was hoping to get out of this conversation without too much self-discovery. But at the same time I wanted to get Larry's impressions. He's educated, experienced in the penal system (this is his third fall), and keen on the perception of moods, which is something you must learn in here. "Do you think I've changed?" I asked.
"From what I can see, you've adapted well to what goes on in here. You've become more outgoing and at times almost boisterous, hut you're mellow enough to get by with everyone. That's
good. But you've become shallow. You focus on only the few things that get you through the day: gym, pool, food, showers, listening to the same old stories. They get
us all through the day. But this system we're in, it works on you and you don't even know it. It will change a man. I know, believe me."
"Yeah, it's been about 7 or 8 weeks now for me."
"I hear we'll be moving on, a whole bunch of us, next week. You hear anything like that?"
"Yeah, I think we're next in line."
"Tell you what," he said crisply, looking straight into my eyes. "This place here has worn me down to almost nothing. Inside, man, I'm crying."
"Amen to that," I thought.
"Yes," he replied.
"Then do ten Hail Marys and call me in the morning." Damn thing about it is I think he will.
Omaha Correctional Center Source: corrections.nebraska.gov/occ.html
We arrived shortly past noon at the Omaha Correctional Center. After moving into our rooms, we went out to the playing fields, where I ran into a couple of guys, including Ace,
whom I knew from Lincoln. We walked around the facility on a paved track. There were men playing tennis, basketball, softball, and handball under a huge summer sky.
Everyone at this little camp works. My job as a teacher's aide pays $1.05 a day. I help other guys prepare for the GED test. I'm finding the biggest division among
prison inmates is not between blacks and whites, but between younger and older prisoners. This is reflected in the attitudes of those in the education program: the older guys take
learning and testing much more seriously than the younger ones.
"First one on your left. So, welcome to OCC."
"Yeah, sure. No bands playing, none expected either. OCC, yeah. I'm ready for it — 26 acres of correctional initiative." He drew the words out long and flat, hanging them in the air.
I laughed and told him I'd see him around. "Sure thing, Adamson." And he resumed his rhythmic stroll, as cool as ever.
As I finished my walk to the classroom, I remembered that when we'd first met in Lincoln, he'd called me Tricks. After a few weeks, I was Duck. Here in Omaha, I had graduated to Adamson.
"Just look at all those hamsters, parading right in front of us," said a rough, wild, young white man named Marco. "Man, if I had my thirty-ought-six, it'd be just like a shooting gallery.
"Hamsters?" I asked cautiously, not wanting to appear too ignorant of the latest code words. I heard a giggle as I pressed on. "Why are you calling those black guys hamsters?"
"Because you can be standing next to a whole group of them and talk about caging and killing hamsters, and they won't know what the fuck you're talking about. They'll just think you're weird."
"Which fits you fine anyway, Marco," someone shot back, and they all laughed.
"But I tell you, with my thirty ought-six, or even a Remington 1858 cold frame, we could lean up against the bricks here and just pick off a few and have a good time."
There was a general murmur of agreement as someone offered Skoal around. I declined.
"Those punk-asses think they're pretty tough," he says suddenly in a dry-crackle voice full of ashes and smoke. "They ought to get down on their knees and thank God above they wound up here and not in the pen."
There's a thud of flesh colliding on the court, and a long-haired boy takes a quick elbow in the stomach as he is going for a rebound.
"That cute little wimp would have been claimed, branded, and fucked in the first hour after he got off the bus down there." The old man chuckles softly, staring at the boy with
slightly sunken gray eyes. He's not wearing a shirt, and I see his stomach muscles tighten and twitch.
"Who are you talking about?" I said.
"Ray. You know, the Preacher. Seems he got in a fight with another guy, a big guy. Ray took a shank or a razor blade to the guy and got him in the stomach. I saw the guards taking both of them away in handcuffs."
"Are you sure it was Ray?"
"Yeah, it was him all right."
I remembered seeing Ray yesterday afternoon, playing basketball in the summer heat. He seemed quiet, calm, and as full of Jesus as ever.
"Been having a lot of time to read the Bible, brother," he said as we walked out the cafeteria door. "Learned I could have avoided all the fussing and fighting by following the
example of Paul. I've learned how to take insults, abuse, punishment, all in stride for the Lord. I've learned the meaning of long suffering from the Acts that Paul wrote. And
especially chapters 19 and 20. I read them slow, slow, slow."
"Yeah, man. Cut the shit. Just show us the books and give us the price."
"Alright, man, that's cool. Let's just see what we got here. Oh yes. Look at this one right here. That mama is taking the famous John Holmes up her butt. In his entirety."
Slowly he turns the pages one by one. A true salesman, he times his silence perfectly. "Yes indeed, that Holmes really knows how to pack the pink, don't he?" Murmurs of agreement all around. A couple more magazines are brought out.
"And now the sticky part," Pimping T says, flashing a monstrous smile at his pun. "The price for the whole load of sweetness here, 20 in all, is $40. Naturally, I'll go for $35 in store trade."
"35? Are you fucking serious?"
"As a heart attack. Look, if I gotta break this set up and sell them one by one, I'll get 50 or 60 bucks, just take me a little more time. But I got the time, you know what I'm saying?"
Hot silence, hurried looks between the 2 kids.
"Besides, if you can even find these fuck-books around here, much less get them at a lower price, then snatch them up. Otherwise ..." Another pun, this time no smile. Minutes later
all parties seem satisfied, and they walk away briskly into the heat.
"I said, how old are you?"
"Thirty-seven." I smiled. "Why?"
"I've been watching you play, man. You're good. You hustle out there. You're really trying. You play a good game."
I began to mumble a thank-you or something, all the time thinking, "What the hell does this joker want from me?" But he had already turned and gone inside. I lingered behind, leaning against the wall. Here I am, I thought, a convicted felon with an MBA, divorced, bankrupt, alcoholic, living in a topsy-turvy, dizzy world of controlled hysteria. And now some convict has given me his Old-Man Hustler of the Year Award.
But I felt good. Obviously the man knows his athletes.
My last night at OCC I helped 2 guys with algebra problems, wrote an opening paragraph for a young man filing a motion to reduce his sentence, walked the track twice, showered after
umpiring a fast-pitch softball game, and lay naked in bed, singing. Although I'm only going across the street, I'm hopeful and almost excited. It's another step back to freedom.
Omaha Community Corrections Center Source: corrections.nebraska.gov/ccco.html
Day 129, Across the Street, Community Custody
One of the first women I heard about, JoAnn, is rumoured to make more money on the inside than she does on the outside. Sunday nights, when only one guard is on duty, she
entertains for about $50 a session. I've admired her from a distance (of about $20).
Today I rode with Charlie, learning the route, which is very easy. The first time out it was strange to see the world going about its business, people driving to work, walking in
the sun, casually strolling, their gestures free, unhurried and unconcerned with such a simple thing as the passage of time.
Realising that even if I don't play along, he'll keep on, I nod.
"Cause you got that driving job, man. The job I've put in for 3 times. I wanted that job. Hell, you're making $3.29 a day, and you get out of this place all day long. Me, scrubbing dishes on a 12-hour shift and only getting $1.57. It sucks." His right eye is twitching slightly, and his feminine voice rises a little higher. "Course, my driving record - 3 speeding and one DUI — probably stopped me from getting that job. That and the nature of my offence."
I look into his youthful, faded blue eyes, his age betrayed by bushy eyebrows and gray hair. "What are you in for?" I ask.
"Armed robbery. I hit 5 places in less than 2 weeks back in '79. Specialised in drugstores. Got 15 to 20 years. I've done 92 months, got 34 to go. I'm on the
downhill run." He took a gulp of coffee and told me about his crimes and his lessons. "Ban every fucking gun in America, and then close down those factories forever. A man
gets a different kind of nerve with a gun, and a hard crime just gets easier. I always had to be drunk or stoned before I robbed anybody, and even then I'd puke out the car window on
the way back home. But I never even could have dreamed about doing the crime without my gun."
The judge concluded that their crimes were the result of nothing more than "simple greed." To anyone else contemplating similar activities, he warned, "The consequences are not
pleasant." The dreadful thought of writer's cramp should, by itself, deter much of the white-collar crime in America.
But now, as he intoned on TV, "Gate Wind Bank, the big-city bank with that small-town atmosphere," his face was lost in rushing memories: the falling sensation as I wrote out my
confession; the strange pleasure in being center stage as my life went to hell; the guilt; the fear of another day; the relief it was all finally ending. I lapsed into a silent,
slow-burning depression, worrying about getting a job after this is over, wondering how the emotional and psychological scars will ever heal. In short, getting ahead of myself once again.
She looked good today, as always, and I was kind of surprised when she didn't get off at the shopping center with the rest of the group. "Just drop me off back downtown. I got some business to take care of there, honey." We drove on a few blocks. Then she turned toward me in her seat, spread her legs, and began to hum.
Cleverly, I turned down the radio and looked over at her. She said, "What do you think, Tom? I know you got 20 minutes until you're due back at the center."
My heart went cold and my tongue faltered. "I ... I ... well ... you know, I heard it's $50 and that's a lot. I mean, you're certainly worth it, but I just don't have that much on me now." I was gasping for air, my voice shrunken, hollow.
She was swaying her long legs over the edge of the seat. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Sugar, how much have you got, and are you interested?"
"Ten dollars and yes."
"Ten dollars won't get you much. In fact, I don't like to cheapen myself down that low."
"JoAnn." My voice was still quivering. "We've got a little time, like you said, and I'd be very easy to please. Hell, it's been 9 months, and..."
"Ten dollars will get you a tittie suck."
"How much is ... is, you know, a blow job?" There, now I'd openly propositioned her. Jesus, my cards were on the table, and my prick was doing the bidding.
"Honey, let me tell you something about sucking cock. It's work, it's dirty, and it ain't related to lovemaking at all."
Realising I was wasting time with my wild dreams, I told her, "All right, 10 bucks. I suck your breast and you, you know." I put my hand on my crotch and started to rub.
JoAnn reached over and put a dainty olive hand in mine. "All right. I could use the money. Five blocks down, take a right and follow the street about 4 or 5 blocks. It's a quiet little spot, you know?" I followed her directions and parked the big van in a crooked street behind an abandoned store. She leaped into the back seat, and I quickly joined her. She giggled, pulled off her sweater, and delicately plopped her large breasts over her bra cups. I swelled and panicked. "Tom, take out your prick. Oh, you have a nice prick. You really do. A nice handful."
The stroking was smooth, regular, teasing. She grabbed my coat and covered me. "Ah. Aah." I splattered the lining of my coat. My shaking hand found the $10 bill and slipped it into her dry hand. She hopped out of the van and waved goodbye. I nervously drove back to the main route and made the next run on time. All day long I felt the edge of worry that we'd been followed.
1987 ended not with a bang or a whimper but with an "Aah." At least, mercifully, it ended.
I knew what Cheryl was going to say.
"I've come to this decision, and other people, AA people, agree with me. The boys and I need to be a family again, and seeing you and talking to you is confusing them. They feel pulled in 2 directions. I want no contact with you for a few months. They have a lot of anger at you, Tom. Bobby even said, 'Dad needs to have some punishment.' You're going through this prison thing so fast, Tom. I think Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous are games to you."
Though I'd been expecting this, I was hurt and pissed off.
Five hours of going over the names, dates, amounts, and other particulars of my crimes left me drained. Near the end, the bank attorney asked, "How would you describe your option-trading record during the period of your crimes ?"
I turned to the stenographer. "DO you spell shitty with one 't' or two?"
"I'm 38 years old. I've been in and out of jail since I was 10. Hell, man, I ain't never had a job for more than 3 months at a time. I need some money for some smack or
bags, I'd hold up a place and just take it. If I hadn't got hooked on heroin when I was a youngster, I wouldn't need so much money, just enough to live on." Ring leans forward
and whispers, "I remember standing on the corner when I was a kid. A bunch of us young punks were standing around, laughing at the older guys on the other corner by the liquor store. They
were passing a bottle around, falling down, getting juiced, getting sick, and we just laughed at them. Last time I was out, in '84, 1 went back to that street, and now we was
standing by the liquor store, getting high and stoned, going nowhere. All that time gone by, and all we'd done is change corners."
I leaned toward the microphone and nervously croaked, "Tom Adamson."
"We understand, both from letters written in your behalf and from your counsellor's recommendation, that you would like a parole review in 60 days, after which point, if the board agrees, parole would be set. You have no major write-ups and have been following the program very well." The vice-chairman raised his eyes to mine; the other 2 members were silent and motionless. "Mr Adamson, what have you done to help yourself?"
"I've been attending AA and GA to try and understand my compulsions." The 3 faces across the table beamed at me, and the vice-chairman continued the mild, pleasant interrogation. In the end, all 3 agreed to see me again in 2 months, and at that point to give me parole.
On the way back from the board hearing, I crossed the paved track I used to walk so often, lost in thought.
"Adamson! Hey, Adamson! Hey!"
"Pimping T. What's going on, man?" Even in this, my moment of tranquil triumph, unease was near. I hadn't seen Pimping T in quite a few months, and I didn't want to see him now. Along with Larry, T is the only guy who can bring up true fear in me.
"Can't call it, man. You got the best hand." From a distance of 10 yards or so, I felt his cinder-hot eyes, serenely malicious, as he strutted along the track. "You just see the board, Adamson?"
"Yeah, it went well, but then again I earned it. I played their game, you know? If you learn anything along the way, more power to you. I did." My vehemence surprised me.
"Sure, right, old man. All I know is that the game keeps going on over here. Nothing changes but the players. A man would be a fool to think this life'll ever change. Know
what I mean?"
Passing time here is like going underwater, where it's easy to succumb to the pressure and drown. But prison has squeezed something out of me, something tangled, reckless, and evil.
Would I do a crime again?
Short answer: "No."
Long answer: "No, never."
These excerpts are reprinted from Idle Speed: One Year in Prison.
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