Welcome. I wish to make clear a couple of things about this one. First, it is NOT intended to be self-serving, to ask for anyone’s sympathy or approval, or to influence you in any way, with respect to how you might react or wish to share with others. It’s your choice and I have no qualms or reservations with anyone wishing to make comments, either directly to me or with others. In fact, I encourage it! This blog is an “open forum”, if you want to comment anonymously, you may. I have no fear of the truth.
Secondly, I know it’s contrary to the purpose of this blog, given the fact I’ve said it’s about “us” and all but I have my reasons. Maybe some of it’s therapeutic and maybe it’s the start of something else, perhaps a book one day. But maybe more importantly than anything else is it might give you a better sense of the why, who, and what I am; a man that treasures the words FREEDOM and LIFE, why I’m so philosophical, why I have such passion about life in general, and perhaps how you can take something of your own life that might appear tragic, sad, or negative and turn it into perhaps one of the greatest assets you’ve ever had as a human being.
When one loses their freedom, and I mean nearly complete in every way a person could lose it, it changes your entire outlook on life and what is important. This is a glimpse of my life that will be forever embedded in my memory and what I’m about to write is “right off the top of my head”, no notes, no plan, just the way I like to “ramble.” I do have a journal that I’ve kept since “that date” and if you recall from the April 24th blog, that was the date of the start of my new life; 158 days inside what is not so affectionately known as “The Bullpen.”
The photographs you see here were hand-sketched drawings I did sometime around July 2008 about a month into my stay inside the Elkhart Law Enforcement jail facility and its main “living” area known as “The Bullpen.” These were the dark days, though not entirely dark since the lights, like the TV suspended below the ceiling just outside the bars, were on 24 hours a day. But once my head started clearing after 30 days or so, I decided to make the best of it and “mapped out” my surroundings. As I said earlier, incarceration does strange and funny things to a human, you’ll discover simple ways to survive because of the meager existence; a very small bowl of cold cereal for breakfast at 6 a.m., two measly PBJ’s for lunch at 12 p.m., and the “piece de resistance”, a “hungry man” microwave dinner at 6 p.m. The rest of the time? A fresh set of “oranges” once a week (not fruit mind you, which I did not have ONE sight or taste of for 5 1/2 months, the meals I just described was the EXACT routine EVERY day, one steel shower to share amongst anywhere from 4-7 other guys, jail-issued toothbrush, paste, no razors or sharp objects of ANY kind, jail-issued lye soap, one bath and hand towel per week, one jail-issued mat, pillow, sheet, and what was called a wool blanket but better described as a flea-infested large beach towel full of holes. The mat was about 3/4″ thick by 24″ wide and 5 1/2′ or so in length, set on a steel “bunk”.
The bullpen consisted of 2 separate living quarters each with 4 bunks, two on each side, and there were always fights over who got the “bottom bunk”, the softest pillow, blankets with the fewest holes, and so on. This occurred every time someone came in for an overnight or a day or two stay for whatever charge they were hit with; assault, battery, probation violations, meth, or whatever else “Doc Holliday” and his minions could find roaming around the fair city of Elkhart, Kansas. By the way, “Doc Holliday” was the nickname I gave to the sheriff (His REAL name is Justin D. Holliday, I kid you not!) of this fine 270′ steel and concrete cage they had us holed up in, usually for 18-20 hours a day, and sometimes ALL day, depending on the on-duty deputy’s mood, or if we got “locked down” for fights, contraband, or whatever else might come up.
One time, I went 14 straight days without seeing the light of day and they had us “inside” our own cells within the “bullpen”, consisting of four bunks, one steel toilet, one steel sink, and maybe a deck of cards if we were lucky. I’m guessing that was one of the toughest times I had, though there were many others.
One night, some young punk decided he didn’t like the “smart-ass” banker and starting beating me with a bar of soap stuck inside a large sock, swinging it around like a mini-sledge, and what I later learned was called “soap in a rope.” Another time I asked “Geno”, thealpha male of the group, who was waiting in “county” to go to a formal correction facility for 10 years after being convicted of child molestation on his two young kids, to turn the damn T.V. down at 5 in the morning since it had kept me up all night long. (the T.V. alone is an entirely other story, which I’ll go into later) He came into my cell, pulled me up, head-butting me square in my teeth. If the front four I have weren’t fake already, he’d of knocked ’em out, but it left a huge gash on his forehead, and he bled like a stuck pig. When “Doc” happened to stop by later he said, “what the hell happened to your head Geno?” To save face in front of everyone else since he was the “tough guy” among us, he told Doc he slipped in the shower. Everyone laughed at Geno after Doc left except me. I just went about the day as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred., because I knew Geno would respect that gesture.
Another time, a punk Mexican yanked me clean off the top bunk because I wouldn’t give my pillow up to some new dude that was a bud of his and started wailing away at my head with his fist. By the way, in case you’re wondering, there were remote cameras everywhere that allowed the dispatchers to monitor our every movement 24 hours a day so when someone wanted to start a fight they had to strategically maneuver themselves to get to one of the few spots inside that couldn’t be viewed and recorded. There were SIX alone covering just the 270′ foot “bullpen.” I never backed down to anyone there and it wasn’t long before I had gained a measure of respect from the other “long-timers” like me, even though I was twice their age in most cases and not nearly in shape as they were.
Funny thing was, I eventually became very good friends with Geno after the “head butting” incident and he stood up to several dudes later on my behalf many times when they came in all hot to take me on just because I was older and different I guess.I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t nearly as in shape as the others. That started to change not long after my head cleared. Outside of the bullpen was a steel door that led to the “outside”, as we called it, since it was the only time I saw the light of day; a 24′ x 27′ slab surrounded on three sides with steel rods embedded in concrete extending 12 or so feet in the air where it was covered with a double set of steel mesh to “hold” us convicts in. And a basketball goal, no net, nothing. Just the rim. They gave us a basketball, devoid of any grip, and I must have shot hundreds and hundreds of baskets over the next 5 1/2 months, sometimes in the rain and, if they’d let me, even when it was very cold at night by the light of the moon.
But the part that “got me going”, as it were, was walking. I quickly discovered a way to pass time, get exercise, and apply some of my banking analytical skills. I measured off the rectangular area and came up with exactly 102 feet in 1 “lap” around the “track”; 24’x27’x24’x27′. Taking off three feet on all four sides to allow for the walls and turning, I came up with roughly 90 feet. So that’s where and how I began to get back “into shape”. Walking. 60 laps to start with, roughly 5400 feet, or slightly more than a mile. Within a very short time I was up to 240 to 300 laps daily or 4 to 5 miles, and soon thereafter, I added sit-ups. I remember a funny moment one day when “Doc” stopped by to tell us to “come in” for the day and I still hadn’t gotten the laps in I wanted so I kept walking for another minute. He said with a smirk, “Whaddya doin’ Gus? Training for Olympic walking?” I replied “yea, I might just DO that!” Anyways, back to the situps. I’d take my feet with my jail-issued orange pull-on slippers, slip them under the bottom steel rail for support, and started my ab workouts. First day? Maybe 25. Added pushups later. By mid-July, I was doing 240 laps minium walking, 100-200 sit-ups, and 100+ pushups daily. Every day I could. I literally LIVED for those times when they would let me “outside” into my own world and sanctuary and became very depressed when I couldn’t. At first, the young guys made fun of me. Guess they thought that wasn’t “cool”, this walking business. Before long though, several of them began walking with me, even though I never asked them to, and a few eventually developed their own exercise routine.
And I distinctly remember what one guy said one day. He was about my age and was watching as I traipsed around and around, head up, shoulders back, striding firmly. He had been arrested for methamphetamine manufacturing. He said “Gus, you’re walking like you have a mission in life, like you know what you want, and nothing will stop you.” I think of that moment right now at this second nearly 2 years later and it nearly gives me goosebumps. Soon though, I was wearing holes into my jail-issued pull-on “shoes” and the deputies were getting pissed when I asked for different ones, only because they didn’t have any better ones to give.
So I “made do.” I “made do” with the entire existence during my time at the “Holliday Inn”; walking, sit-ups, push-ups, playing spades until 2 or 3 in the morning to pass time when I couldn’t get “outside” earlier to let off steam; constant games of cribbage with “Geno”, my new pal who always beat me even though I knew he was cheating (here again something I did if only to give him the self-satisfaction of out-smarting the smart-ass banker. After all, he WAS facing TEN years for child molestation and despite my abhorrence for the crime he had committed, he was still a human being for christ’s sake and also in spite of the 2 dozen pills he was taking daily for schizophrenia and psychosis),”football” tournaments on the steel table where we ate, using paper I scrounged up for everyone we made into those little triangle things we held together with lye soap after it was shaved off, soaked in water, and made into a sort of pasty glue, reading (I must have read every old western novel they had in that place plus whatever else I could get my hands that my family sent me), letter writing, “journaling” the entire day, and watching television when there was nothing else to do. Ahhhhh, the television. Now, THERE’S an item that might be a topic at another time since it was such a HUGE source of disagreement, fights, and discussion during my time there.
So, I guess that’s it. For now anyway. Perhaps after reading this, you’ll have a better idea of who “Gusto” is; why FREEDOM is so big for him, why LIFE is so treasured for him, why he “goes deep” all the time on his Facebook page, why he loves nearly EVERYTHING about life now. The craving for human contact. The craving to LIVE.