CHAPTER 8 – EXCERPT: “THE ZO”

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EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 8−“THE ZO,” OF IVAN’S NOW PUBLISHED BOOK:
DOMESTIC GENOCIDE: THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF SOCIETY

Back home, I recall that first county jail bid. It was a learning experience. Though, not the kind one immediately warms up to. My first lesson was to learn to repress that general sense of claustrophobia one experiences when feelings of being trapped begin to settle in. Despite my attempts, often the panic of this acquired madness would get out to rattle the cage. Fortunately, there were friends and family who would occasionally pass through the jail as I awaited trial. They had had the misfortunate experience of doing time at the Big House. And through them I quickly learned that prison was called the Zone, the “Zo” for short, due to all the weird shit that played out behind the walls and razor-wire. The stories they told and the reality I, myself, in time would come to possess, would-be screen writers could better suit material for T.V. shows like The Twilight Zone instead of those of the likes of Prison Break.

The popular episodes I’ve come to find that have made prison movies and TV shows smash hits are deficient mediums that for too long have served only to entrance society with mock and fantasy. I find this so, “because the rhetoric of imprisonment and the reality of the cage are often in stark contrast.” These dramatizations, while real at times, tend to only focus on the obvious and entertaining aspects of prison violence while the mental violence seldom plays out on the silver screen. The reality of this unseen spectacle too often blurs and confuses the real. To the average viewer it’s all titles—warden, guard and prisoner—appropriately fixed with expectations. Situated as such, their character is not. There’s a power differential, for instance, that tends to take shape with each role as expected. However, given a shrewd mind it is capable of oscillating between characters. And where god-like authority over life is given, physical and mental abuse lingers. Remember the Stanford Prison experiment? Monsters were created. They became almost impossible to identify despite titles and garb.

All bullshit aside, the insanity that comes of this makes for a good circus act. Often, I find myself on the yard posted up as if a birdwatcher with my binoculars focused on my fellow prisoners and the people who work here as well. Because we go to great lengths to be conscious of those around us, I study with detail their beliefs, habits, responses, defensive egos and other complexes. At times, many times, it’s as if I’m at a circus being entertained by clowns and freaks. Some cats are funny clowns, gangsta clowns, sensitive clowns, girlie clowns, militant clowns and of course there are the power freaks.

Here, young and old alike are driven insane when attempts to psychologically manage these traps fail. Every day, I see cats line up at the pill-line to get that “gunpowder” as we call it, which fries their brain like rabies. Ironically, the administration partakes in the formation of this madness. For they feed inmates psych meds as if they were Halloween candies. The consequence of which—the psyche ward. Whereabouts, the mentally debilitated exist as if zombies drawling and defecating on themselves as if the untrained child. It’s a touching scene given my family’s history of mental illness. Here, as well as in any state ran mental facility, I’d imagine its worse—tenfold—treatment wise. Heavily medicated, the condition renders the prisoner docile and the only sign of resistance to his dope-peddler’s Mickey takes shape in an occasional mud pie tossed at the administrating nurse.

The junkies amongst us are most terrible. Instead of attempting to wean them of their addiction, like animal control, prison medical staff rush to tame their monkeys (the prisoners’) with a fix of prescriptions better than the blow-up on the street. Real talk! The trap-stars on the yard can not even get their work off because the administration’s dope is A1. The pharmaceutical companies (gangs) got the yard on lock. Unquestionably, this is the preferred method to control the inmate population. Yelp! Feeding ‘em psych meds and keeping ‘em high on dope makes ‘em easy to manage.

As for the remaining population? We become drugged with “negativity” ever seeking conflict to vent. For prison is an extremely manipulative environment fueled with the negative and most miserable elements of society—and I’m not just talking about the convicts. A sense of numbness and hatred seems to invade the soul of every man, woman, and child connected to it. For it’s often accepted as gold not to feel. Except with the homosexuals and their “lovers’ quarrels.” They become the unnatural order of things because sexually deviant behavior is promoted by administrative constraints on natural relations. And while I’m a firm believer of “to each his own,” in here, do not let this sterile breeding game cross races where they are segregated. It’s like something out the early 1900s where an African was found to be having relations with a white woman—an all out riot! For the brothers and I who do not “use,” we now have our safety put at jeopardy all behind a homosexual desiring some shit on his dick.
If only these walls could talk, the real they would tell. For this cage breaks the weak and builds the strong—their hearts, their minds and souls. There’s no doubt about it, it will make you more of what you were before you came in. And it is relentless to kidnap the youth lost in the soulless eyes of a graying fool trapped by deception, freed by death. His face tells a story all to its own. One of unrealized potential, punishing consequences and possibilities of success that no longer exist. When he looks in the mirror he sees this potential but knows it will never come. Behind his eyes there’s always something rustling—clamoring emotion pent-up in a small space. When he speaks it’s often with anger, anguish, and bewilderment. And he often pauses in his speech only to drift off, a troubled soul. He’s contagious with bitterness that condemns the dreamy conversations of other prisoners. For us these conversations are healing, pulling us out of our suffering and setting the future before us as a concrete thing. As we imagine ourselves back in the free-world, we will a happy ending onto our ordeal and make it our expectation. With these talks, we create something to live for. Yet, we are the few who persevere given a circumstance where, for example, the C/Os (correctional officers) seek to deprive us of something that sustains us even as all else seems to be lost without freedom—dignity. This self-respect and sense of self-worth is the innermost armament of the soul. It lies at the heart of our attempts to maintain our humanness. To be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind.

In prison I have learned that men subject to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope and dignity are almost impossible to retain. “Without dignity, the identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In prison, degradation can be as lethal as a bullet.”
And to think this is a place where America’s Juvenile Court is housing youngsta’s by the tens of thousands, and then has the audacity to expect them to mature and be functional citizens. Needless to say, this is no place for a kid to do so because when subject to this sort of treatment, like animals we behave.

From Projects-2-Prison the brutality associated with prison effectively distorts the rationale as if the caged animal pronged and irritated by an inescapable trauma that inevitably prompts us to be at each others’ throat. This is a reality I witness daily on the yard. Crammed in prisons (both on the bricks and behind brick walls) we cannot breathe. Frustrated, we kill and we fight. We self-destruct. There is no place to articulate or constructively vent.
Because of the danger this presents, one is forced to isolate himself from the impulses of fear and love and call on the inner-beast to survive. This arms us with both the instruments of destruction and the ego to follow through. Yet and still, my heart is in my ears. The moment of truth usually arrives in form of a menacing ploy that delivers me to the threshold of reckoning.

Boom! Next thing you know there’s 200 plus prisoners in the yard at each other’s throat. Shanks are out. Someone is stabbed. If not two or three…. Rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas are indiscriminately hitting everybody. Backs are stinging, eyes are burning, coughing, and some fool’s teeth are lying on the ground. A warning shot is fired! Then someone dies. He’s carted out on a gurney. And the only truth in all this madness is he has no friends to tell him who his enemies are as he lies lifeless having donated his efforts to nothing.

Nonetheless, fear for the next becomes strapping and constant to the point it forces his back up against the wall. He’s no punk! So insecurity keeps him in the ring reppin’ the ‘hoods twisted values. He’s all “extra’d out.” He strides about the yard with his chest poked out and fist clutched as if dynamite ready to explode. He lives by the rule: “I’ll never turn down a fade”—even if it kills him. Understandably so because in prison, as in the streets, his ego can stand no blows of others perceiving him as weak. Thereby, his very behavior is premised on maintaining an image projecting the “wrong cat to fuck wit” to those he himself considers a threat. As if an Australian frilled lizard, he maintains a façade of potentially dangerous. Though, make no mistake about it there are those who are wit’ the business of violence in all extremes. Generally, they are the ones distinguished by a confidence that airs no pretense. They are the ones that the fool with his chest all poked out often misreads only to find himself the victim of his own folly. Here, the fool becomes the mark (i.e., the “demo”) that others recognize stepped to the wrong cat. Though, this is not always the case because this sort of man, who is secure within himself, has neither had reason for nor mastered the art of intimidation. Thus, he’s likely to be the fool all the same because he will constantly have to resort to violence to prove a point—he’s the wrong cat to fuck wit’. As such, the challenges keep coming and coming because he has failed to manipulate the “threat” of violence he’s capable of. Where he wins, he becomes reputable. And while this may bestow him with a certain degree of respect that may give pause to those who contemplate transgressing him, there ever remains another fool who views his confidence as a target to build his rep.

Moreover, at the end of the day there’s this dick of a C/O whose life outside this slave provides him no respect. So he demands it from a prisoner simply because of the costume he wears. Okay! So it’s all about mind games now. True to the form, the wise con plays the Game, so as the C/O can “get the fuck on” like Andre 3000 to the next cat that might bite into his bullshit.
Trapped from being less than perfect, he’s kenneled into a minefield (the yard) where there are no new faces, least none he cares to see. No stimulating conversation, just the same ole talk about “the man” or some ole hag everybody reckless eyeballing. So he attempts to escape—the chapel. Only to witness the preaching of God to the mentally ill who cannot digest his grace without seroquel. Hands down, prisons are indeed asylums for the mentally ill. For we clap and praise the sky as if slaves seeking freedom through prayer and spirituals, instead of the guns and steel that rest on our backs. Can a man find his lost moral compass in such a place? Most cannot, some do.
* * *
Guess it goes without saying, the above commentary is the sort of hype society at large marvels at with amusement. Yet this is not the tone of discussion I seek simply to impart with. I have a different story to tell. One that involves a deception kept locked away behind prison walls. In essence, it requires for us to question the true degree of civility in American society. Do prisons effectively capture the raw and unchecked nature of man’s brutality? In answering this question, I’ve had an entire yard of subjects ranging from C/Os to murderers to study. What I’ve come to discover in answering this question is there is nothing moral or civil about the nature and administration of prison. Here, the keepers become just as criminal as the commitments.

Case in point, guards become sex offenders. Women prisoners get it the worst. They’re frequently forced into a sex trade for the little extras. For me, a member of the male gender, my bat ain’t so appealing so the molestation becomes most subtle. Instead, I’m ordered to get naked, lift the jewels, turn around and spread my cheeks until the crest of my rim appears. Ain’t that a crime? Surely, there’s a commitment (i.e., a prisoner of the sort) whose mirrored behavior landed him a stiff prison sentence. And to think, somehow society has accepted the notion that the most effective approach to deterring its criminal element is to barrage it with the very inhumane treatment it seeks to deter.

As bad as it may seem, I can honestly say it gets worse. Take for example the “Potty Watch” experience. It entails being bound in a paper jumpsuit and duct tape. It’s a hostage situation. Whereas, as the days of inhumanity pass a C/O stands post playing in your dung anticipating the discovery of contraband. I know plenty cats on the yard who received a 25-to-life sentence for a hostage situation. The staff is into robbery too. Aside of the petty material items they chose to take from me, it’s the 211 of my mentality—both good and bad—they seek. For example, they attempt to displace the work ethic my grandfather taught me with this quasi-slave system. I refuse to partake in it. So they call themselves punishing me by taking my idiot-box (i.e., TV). Their idea is that I’m to benefit or be rehabilitated in some sense by slaving for a nominal wage, if any, in the government’s multi-billion dollar prison industry. In the same breath, they attempt to chalk-up the slave labor as punishment. All this seems like gorilla pimpin’ to me. And here it was I, like many Americans, thought pimpin’ and pandering was illegal.

I must admit it’s been simply too easy to be overwhelmed by such circumstance. Sure, there’s a story to tell. However, what I’ve come to discover and experience is simply profound. Because, where we find the term prison, as defined by various glossaries to be any place of confinement of persons accused or convicted of crime, the reality is this definition is genuinely lacking in meaning. Thus arresting a clear-cut understanding of what a prison truly entails. If words could describe the situation, the definition should read:

Prison (priz’ən), n. [1] A compound composed of present day mentalities which founded this country; [2] A medium used to mask present day enslavement; [3] A social device facilitating class and racial hierarchies within the makeup of American society; [4] A place of isolation designed to silence one’s voice and influence; discourage family and community ties, support; and a process of natal alienation; [5] A state of mind constraining the ability to constructively think, act or make decisions conducive to a prosperous and fulfilling life. Syn. 1.) Incarcerate. 2.) Imprison.

Perhaps, given more detail to this definition society will come to realize that America’s penal institution becomes the most effective tool of Domestic Genocide. Thus, an attempt must be made to connect the dots between the sociopolitical beneficiaries of incarceration and it’s by byproducts. Thereby, the above definition will serve as an outline for the remaining topics discussed in this chapter.

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