There's a lot of mental illness in prison, more than in the rest of the world. Or at least it's more obvious. When I was at New River West, half the guys I met were fresh roasted, some of them dangerously so. Tell your children: If you break the law and go to prison, the man who lives in the next bunk may very well be a homicidal lunatic.
It's especially disconcerting when for some reason he takes a liking to you, wants to hang out, decides to be your pal. That's all anyone needs - a bosom bunkie who's doing life for carving up the pizza delivery girl because she was a tool of Satan. He sits at the foot of your bed and masturbates as he describes his walk with God.
Also, while you're at it, tell your children that in prison you could become a target for a crazy guard, too.
Oh yeah! Yeah oh yeah, there's a bunch of nuts prison guards in America. Usually they've been fired from real jobs because they couldn't get along, or because they screwed with whatever program they were supposed to facilitate, or because they insisted on engaging in weird rituals or polemics that weren't relevant and that monkey-wrenched the work site. Ex-cops become prison guards sometimes, for example, after they've been run off the force for violence or for having done something too bizarre for their co-workers or the general public to digest.
At Texarkana FCI there was a guard who had been a police officer in Laredo, Texas, until he chained a Mexican fellow up and threw him off a bridge. The Mex was killed, I think, and the inefficient officer had to be relocated in a hurry.
But sometimes the employee will do nothing more than become a pain in the ass. Maybe he rats out fellow workers for not shining their shoes properly. Or maybe he takes liberties with the public because of his job title. A man like that is not just annoying, he creates internal dissention and causes needless public complaints.
Occasionally he's dangerous. The army regurgitates these guys all the time. Or promotes them. In Viet Nam they got fragged on a regular basis. The only possible home for many of these dudes is deep within a giant bureaucracy, counting and cataloging paper clips, or as guards for various Departments of Corrections.
Here at New River East in Raiford, Florida, we've got a certifiable square peg who everyone agrees is insane. One source tells me he came to us by way of the Investigative Division of the power company, where he spent his days busting meter violators and such, measuring wire fatigue and writing reports on tree limb violations.
Another guy, an officer, says no, he was a county building inspector creating havoc at construction sites all over the area. He got in trouble with his co-workers when he told on them for using county trucks to go to lunch. But both sources agree that Sergeant Z is completely around the bend. He's the proverbial bed bug who, because he's now a Sergeant in the Dept. of Corrections, insists he be treated by his captive audience as some sort of moral compass, a wish not easy to honor from a man who's nose is constantly up one or another prisoner asshole, sniffing for gas leaks.
From a distance, Sgt. Z looks almost normal. He's your average, middle-age, silver-haired, brown uniform. But, he's always smiling one of those manic, inappropriate smiles from Venus or Mars that somehow touch the hysteria button, and when you get closer you can see that he's a lodestone. His eyes are unforgettable mad, and he has a busy, obsessive repertoire of gestures and furtive eye dartings that are extremely uncomfortable for most people (even other guards) to deal with.
You could say that Sgt. Z is a walking, talking ad for PROZAC. He's 'Homphrey' Bogart in THE CAINE MUTINY, fingering his little silver balls. He should be weaving baskets somewhere, or making Hopalong Cassidy wallets in Arts & Crafts class.
For the record, big prison bureaucracies regularly accept his type and consider them perfectly employable. After all, nothing is ever reported to the outside world, so a total creosote brain can float along in the ebb tide of his psychosis and pick up a check in spite of his world view or his insecure, sometimes dangerous hate. Other guards just learn to put up with them, and the prisoners run away. But Sgt. Z is special. He absolutely will not allow the institution to cruise along doing time. He has to throw up barriers.
Those of you reading this article have likely broken a dozen state and federal laws, city ordinances, homeowner's agreements, etc. this week. Y'all know it, too. Hell, there are so many tiny things that have been legislated, almost nothing you do is clearly, unarguably secure from meddling regulation. Eating? "HEY, get that outta your mouth, pal!" Sleeping? "What 'cha doon onna bench, asshole?" Sex? "Ooh, don't, STOP, NO, THAT'S ENOUGH!"
If you run a yellow light, if you paint your house pink, if you spit on the sidewalk or water your lawn or own a cat without papers or perform unacceptable sex or smoke something or eat an unprescribed headache pill or tamper with your pillow tag, you're breaking a law.
So imagine what it's like in prison. Imagine how you'd feel if a crazy person followed you around all day with a little blue book, crying foul and issuing citations and examining your body for evidence of improper behavior.
Sgt. Z's blue book is scruffy and dog-eared from the constant thumbing. He attacks the inmates with it, and he insists on delivering theories, engaging the men in riddles, forcing his patronizing lessons and finding fault, quoting obscurities then tailoring them to fit his nutso assumptions.
Reliable sources tell me that when at home, Sgt. Z can spend hours acting odd. He stands in the shadows under the eaves of a dark night, for hours, just stands there in the yard, hidden from view, waiting for some neighbor to commit something, murder or rape maybe, so that he can spring into action. His neighbors think he's looney toones, of course, according to my reliable source. But I don't need to resort to second-hand reporting to see that Z is a freak.
And I don't need reportage to see that his freakishness is harmful. He pounces on minute, meaningless rule violations, then issues citations that steal time from prisoners and create problems throughout the population, even into the officer cadres because they have to stand up for him.
I watch him operate sometimes and wonder what could possibly be on his mind. How does he justify himself? How did his children survive intact (if they did *)? I look into his eyes and want to run in panic, screaming. Any moment I expect him to talk to his invisible rabbit or flap his arms and try to fly. He acts exactly like a man with something to hide, like he's done a thing truly awful and he's ashamed of it. Maybe he's consumed with guilt over a leather-and-whip fetish. Or what if he wears pantyhose under his uniform and lashes out because they give him a rash.
He's on a precipice, a cliff, about to hurl himself into the void, jabbering all the way down and worrying his hands together, shouting about disrespectful inmates, inmates who touch themselves inappropriately or who keep extra pairs of socks in their lockers.
*His son is also a prison guard I think, and if he's the Z that booed me up at FSP, the fruit didn't fall far from the tree.
There is an axiom as true in here as it is on the outside: "If there is an excessive amount of silly rules, there will be an excessive amount of rule breakers."
So Sgt. Z's insatiable maw is constantly fed.
He crawls the rec yard these days, pouncing on any man who dares to give a friend a soda pop from the canteen ("No bartering," says Z, ignoring the definition of the word "barter"), or capturing some slimy bastard who wears his shoes untied. And you absolutely cannot point out irony to him. He's not capable of making the leap.
The other day he confiscated my gym shorts because they weren't neat enough. They were too scruffy. Had holes. As he explained this to me I stood and eyed the other officers in his group. They looked uncomfortable. They tried to look away. Some of them dribbled smokeless tobacco down their chins.
One guy was five-and-a-half feet tall with three chins and knees like ice cream cones. He weighed well over three-hundred pounds. The whole squad looked like a school of blowfish, swollen for protection. Very neat blowfish.
But Sgt. Z, as I said, sees no joke. And he's not fat. He has no time to eat, what with the constant poking into prisoner's underpants, pulling out his blue book, quoting chapter and verse through a nose as red as rutabaga and a lipless smile of contempt.
I'm telling you, this guy is not normal. He peeks in windows at night. He times and counts inmate visits to the drinking fountain or sessions on the toilet. He will spend hours on paperwork so that he can legally take a pair of cheap sunglasses or a borrowed magazine. He's one of those guys who thinks respect can be commanded, and the whole time he's insisting on his respect, there's this glittering sparkle of madness forcing its way out of eyes like windows in a warehouse. There's a seretonin overdrive within his neurochemistry that must be a harbinger of something terrible to come.
He's a hysterical balloon about to burst, and I for one don't want to be there when it happens. His mind will fill with voices and faces and the shrill laughter will echo across the yard, and he will have embraced his rural, ignorant, anal-retentive muse and failed to survive intact.
I see Z taking a crap in the morning, seated precisely, knees at 35 degrees, wiping left-handed, front-to-back, then examining the residue for contaminants. He flushes exactly once, then stands, tucking pee pee away so that nothing swings or bobs or otherwise moves to a rhythm unacceptable.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason he puckers his lips and makes a farting noise.
"Ha-ha!" he shouts, and begins to pluck his eyebrows in the mirror. "Goodness, ha-ha, yes!" he screams, giggling, burbling, dribbling wet warm saliva over his chin and down onto his underwire bra.
AUTHOR'S ADDENDUM: After showing the preceding article to a hundred or so inmates, I must here confess to being told of another reason for Sgt. Z's disruptive behavior, a reason that has nothing to do with being insane. They claim he's just stupid and mean. I don't think that's possible, but some of the inmates have convinced me to at least present the argument. I agreed, only on condition that I use their rationale against them. In other words, I will here prove that the good Sgt. is nuts.
What separates man from the beasts is his ability to see the whole picture. He has a concept of mortality. He envisions his end, as well as his beginning. Dogs and bugs see only what's in front of them. Squirrels may store nuts for the Winter, but there is no proof they actually know why.
Pretend for a minute that Sgt. Z is not an inefficient prison guard upsetting the orderly running of a human warehouse, but a chess player who has no concept of what it is when you make moves to further an end. He will NEVER win because all he'll do is to capture pawns or knights or bishops with each ill-thought move, and the moves will be independent of any concept of checkmate. He takes his turns, moves his white pieces simply to capture black pieces, and the idea of a goal is lost.
So in the end he'll have a stack of worthless pawns and bishops and knights (various inmate trash, paperwork, punishments), and his king will be in the shitter (the inmates will hate him, other officers will look at him with contempt, the warden will roll his eyes and sigh, the efficient running of the prison will be impossible).
Maybe I'm not being clear...
Shooting at a target is fairly simple. Monkeys can throw rocks. But shooting at a MOVING target takes brains. You have to see into the future, and seeing into the future is a HUMAN characteristic. Seeing into the future entails a bunch of complicated mathematical calculations done on the molecular level instantaneously. It's a uniquely human experience. Only humans can picture what will happen later, when they do something now.
And Sgt. Z will likely never be able to hit a moving target. He doesn't understand the concepts behind managing many hundreds of incarcerated men.
If you readers out there smoke a joint, maybe, and think for a minute, re-read the last two paragraphs, you'll see what I'm getting at. Sgt. Z can't possibly be sane. If he was, he'd be non-human. And I really don't think that's possible. The Florida D.O.C. will do a lot of things, but they won't ever give a monkey Sergeant stripes. Never. And that's the truth.
The real problem with guys like Z is that they wield so much arbitrary power, power that is uncontestable and actually whimsical in its administration. There's the ubiquitous DR of course, but there is also a thing called a CC (correctional consultation), which is a yellow flimsy that takes three days of an inmate's good time and is given out by the guards when they witness an infraction of some kind. It is supposed to be administered judiciously. After all, a CC robs a man of 3 days of his life. But because there is no official hearing or witness evaluation at the administration level, a crazy guard can go wild without any sort of censure.
And that also is the truth!
Gary Brooks Waid