THE TERREBONNE PARISH PRISON ain’t no joke. I thought I was in the bowels of Bolivia or anyplace in South America where everything is constantly sweating from humidity and dank and dark and scary. Six metal bunks literally chained to riveted walls like in a boiler room, where up to twenty modern day dregs of society, mostly blacks, were held. Day and night the door swung open constantly admitting another miscreant, who nearly all exclaimed,“ Are you kidding me? There’s no room!” After some giant Black guy snatched me off the top rack in the middle of the night and told he wasn’t sleeping on the damn floor, I found my way under the bottom bunk in the back and tried to disappear in the awful place. Maybe twelve feet by twenty feet with a low metal ceiling with rows of rivets joined the metal, and looked like you were in a ship or underground somewhere. Twenty or thirty years of grime, the shower was nearly a half inch of grime and just a few dim lights completed the South American prison ambience.
I WAS REALLY ON the second floor jail of the Municipal Complex and Courthouse in Houma, Louisiana at the end of 1979, doing two years for being stupid. At least six weeks in this pit of misery I still remember as the worst six weeks of my life. The whole time I was in there I heard it was “Blood Alley,” in the regular population and more than a few inmates would rather be in there than in “The Back,” it was that damn bad.
MY FIRST NIGHT IN THERE I got my jeans and my tennis shoes stolen and woke up sleeping on the floor in the large day room because of overcrowding by a group of eight or ten young black guys whipping bars of soap at people sleeping… Fortunately I didn’t have to get up and get my ass beat because a long simmering feud erupted by two of the large bulls in there. One of them wasn’t real bright, and looked like an old country mule, kinda narrow between the eyes and the blank stare of pure ignorance, and grew up on a sugar plantation and had scars on his head from a lifetime of bad decisions. In for murder and about six ‘three, two hundred and forty pounds he had what I was told was a, “Star in his Eye.” A slight glean of madness in his eyes that when he looked right at you was like a twinkling of sharp knife in the sun that set a chill down your spine. He had a sick disdainful grin on his face like he was just dying for you to say the wrong thing so he could punch you in the face. The other guy was real friendly and had been all over the world in the Navy, about five ten maybe thirty years old from the “Melpomene Projects in New Orleans who was caught robbing jewelry stores and on his way to Angola, America’s bloodiest prison now and then, for a fresh fifteen year sentence. I had spoken to him only briefly in the chow line after I recognized his distinct New Orleans accent that sounded alot like Winton Marsalis. Once he seen them messing with me, I always thought he may have intervened on my behalf.
I HAD NO IDEA what they were ‘beefing about and could only understand three or four of every ten words of their bastardazation of the English language, a mix of ghetto slang and New Orleans mumbo jumbo, where they will just make up shit on the fly just to get everyone else to laugh at the other guy. After a few hours of arguing intensely, I determined they just didn’t like each other. I kept my head in the King James Version of the Bible and prayed and was glad they were otherwise occupied. I remember I read the first ten chapters and because of its three contradicting and over lapping accounts and style, I was more confused than when I started….
IT WAS LATE AT NIGHT in the Bayou Jungle and the animals were at rest when someone would start banging the hell out the metal wall with his cup or foot, anything to wake up his celli or the guy next door so he would wake up and turn over to stop snoring… The lone deputy stopped by the cell on his nightly walk through and asked if I was alright, I was white as a sheet and didn’t sleep a wink that night. He had pulled that routine on others I am sure and probably relished scaring the hell out me. The day they picked a jury for his trial the prosecution placed ‘Ole Creole,” in a Conference Room next to the Court Room with his family and they leaned on him for days to plead guilty to spare the Librarian’s family the ordeal, and offered him 50 years to plead guilty and, and even before DNA although he claimed he didn’t do it, the evidence said otherwise and at the last minute he caved… Later that night I asked him what happened and he told me he couldn’t do a Fifty-year sentence and he told that judge that after sentencing and the judge told him,
I WAS CARRYING MY BEDROLL with two old itchy dark green Army Blankets with holes in it and stained white sheets that smelled like they had been washed in Simple Green. I headed straight down into them and made them get out of my way just by walking thru them, and seeing at least six other people sleeping on the floor, I knew I wasn’t getting a cell anytime soon. I made it to the far corner out of the way in the caged area inside of what looked like and office building from the outside except the thin slice of windows around the building. Completely concrete and three quarter inch rebar floor to ceiling, like a metal cage inside and almost the size of the building except for a catwalk for the Deputy’s to walk around and check on us, but I never seen them back there, you were on your own. Two twelve foot metal picnic tables bolted to the floor and a blaring old TV with all the knobs missing, sitting just outside the bars on the catwalk on a Milk crate. As scared as I was they’d never know it because I knew from being in juvenile homes in Florida after escaping from every foster home they placed me in, with all Black people when I was a kid, that like animals, if they sensed even a hint of fear, I’d get run over in there, but if you will fight, they will leave you alone and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as long as you go down swinging…
I left my bed rolled up and set down against the bars on the rolled up skinny cloth mattress and just sat there staring straight ahead to a blank spot on the wall and tried to blank all this out of my mind. A little trick I learned when was a kid, I kinda just zone everything out by not looking at anything directly or focus my attention on anything in my immediate area, but remain on high alert. I know I looked like I was ready to knock somebody’s ass out that fucked with me. I didn’t give a fuck what color they were. And if I did have to fight one of these animals it would be a fight until I was unconscious so maybe I could get a Morphine drip out of this sorry state of affairs, maybe eat some wax beans and pinch nurses on the ass.
I KNOW YA’LL ARE WAITING on me to get to part about nearly getting Murdered by a Homicidal Maniac, but all in due course, first we have to get to the juicy part…. The reason I happened to know so much about the affairs of the heart of Killer Black and Redbone, as it were, is I was the conduit of their heated Note’s or Letter’s that had to be delivered about forty of the most difficult feet in love lorn history, from The Back to the Women’s cell. They had been separated since she went to prison years before, Redbone and Killer Black, I don’t remember his name but he had the unusual features of a star twenty year old first year college athlete, with all white features but Black as Pirates Alley in the French Quarter of New Orleans at four in the morning in the off season….
He told me right to my face, after I was gracious enough to jeopardize my trustee status for him by delivery the notes, that he hated White People but he liked me. I didn’t like him one bit, I was scared to death of him and was glad they had that three quarter inch Rebar between us. I remember that sly grin on his face like he knew something you didn’t know, but would never make eye contact for longer than a fraction of a second, and shift his eyes to the floor like we were conspirators. He was a killer; I could smell it on him. Danger reeked from this poor wretched bastard like garlic from a fat Italian. He was one of the few people I met in jail that I truly hoped would never get out, I get a chill just thinking about one of the fraction of a seconds he did look into my eyes. Much like the senseless Librarian Murder, he did something equally stupid but I don’t remember now. I remember he was real smart and asked real important questions in a child like manner once he seen I was a little smart. It occurred to me then that but for being born and raised in squalid conditions in a row of one room shacks on a sugar plantation, and raised by a father who he always envisioned with a bottle of cheap wine and causing trouble, this kid could have been doctor or something…