No Country for Old Friends

Prose, including snippets (mini-memoirs).
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Lightning Rod
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No Country for Old Friends

Post by Lightning Rod » December 19th, 2010, 9:45 am

No Country for Old Friends
(excerpt from Dharma for Dummies an epistolary memoir by Lrod -- http://www.truthandbooty.wordpress.com )

Prison is not a good place to make friends. Most relationships that develop behind bars are based on more utilitarian foundations than friendship. One of the few friendships I made during my stay there was with Bryan Moore-Jones. We walked together on the track around the baseball field in the evenings after work and talked of cabbages and kings and prison politics. We had college classes together. There were some very smart convicts on the Wynne Unit, but they were usually smart in the clever or cunning way rather than by any association with the academic arts. Moore-Jones had a degree when he enrolled in the school of hard knocks. Our college backgrounds were similar, multi-university studies in the liberal arts with special interest for media and communications. We were both hopelessly out of place culturally speaking, in the Texas prison system and it was nice to have someone with whom I could discuss Rimbaud and not get a blank look or have him say, "Oh yeah, Stallone, right?"

It's not considered good inmate etiquette to casually inquire what particular offense brought another prisoner to the institution. You were more likely to hear if a person was a 'rape-o-' or a robber or a killer on the chow-line grapevine than by asking them directly. I knew that Moore-Jones was in for a murder charge but it was many months and many miles walked in stride with him before we discussed any of the details.

When I first hit the Wynne Unit I was warned by my first cell-mate that Bryan was a 'politician,' which is an inmate term for someone who is somewhere between a snitch, a collaborator, a teacher's pet and the maddeningly popular suck-ass kid that you hated in high-school. The politicians had the easiest and most powerful jobs within the institution. They were running the place because they were by and large the smart ones, the operators. I noticed that many of them were junkies because of the natural manipulative instincts addicts are obliged to develop. You could spot a politician because his prison whites were starched and pressed. Everybody else wore them straight out of the industrial dryer, wrinkles and all. This was before the Ruiz Decision had been implemented and the old Building Tender system was still partially in place. In this system, inmates are placed in charge of other inmates. Luckily for me, Federal Judge William Wayne Justice took possession of the Texas Prisons on behalf of the US Constitution around the time I got locked up. Within weeks after I arrived, the whole institution began to change. We spent weeks in lockdown as they meticulously categorized and segregated the prisoners into various security levels. All the gang tattoos were sent on chain busses to Siberia or West Texas. There were suddenly no more inmate bosses. Inmate violence dropped dramatically. When I first arrived, I saw blood several times a day in some violent context. Within six months, such things happened perhaps once a month.

Conditions were much better after the Ruiz Decision set some modern and humane standards and they began to be enforced. But before Ruiz or after Ruiz, the politicians still ran the place. They were the top bureaucrats in the institution. They were the secretaries and assistants to department heads and those like Moore-Jones who was the officer's private barber. Bryan told me that he had never cut a head of hair in his life but the military clips that most of the guards wanted didn't demand a Vidal Sassoon. He did a passable shave and listened well. The intelligence potential of this job was immense.

In any institutional setting, be it a prison or a school or a corporation or the military, there are two factors that make things work. Organization and politics. Whatever the organizational hierarchy, the ones who figure out how to make it work for Them will prevail. These are the politicians. So, in this sense, Bryan was a politician. He only had to work four hours a day in the air-conditioning and he was able to develop a bourgeois simpatico with the ruling class which on occasion translated into favors and considerations.

Bryan also cut my hair. There was a barber chair in the day-room and amid the clang of free-weights and the blare of ESPN on the communal television, he would cut my hair and we would talk about movies or novels. He reminded me of Jack Lemmon playing a barber. All style and light conversation, much combing, very little cutting. Bryan was a film buff and had compiled a list of 100 top movies. For each of these he had written a detailed and studious review and this was before the internet. He also organized a Jeopardy game in the rec room every Thursday evening, if we could find six geeks out of the 400 inmates in the camp.

One day as we were walking around the dirt track discussing the subtleties of Clockwork Orange, which hovered with several other Kubric movies around the top of Bryan's list, the subject of his crime came up. All I knew was that he was doing big time for murder and because of Bryan's middle-class background I was guessing it was a case of bad drugs or bad money or bad girlfriends. Turned out that it was two out of three. There was a dispute over money and cocaine and when the collector came to Bryan's house, there was an unfortunate exchange of gunfire which left the guy's brains on the oriental rug. Moore-Jones could have probably talked his way out of it at that point as self-defense being as how this was Texas and the guy was in his living room, but instead he panicked and rolled the guy up in the oriental rug and drove it to the Dallas riverbottoms and dumped it. Cocaine dealers fond of their own inventory are prone to decisions like this.

As he related details of the incident, I noticed some familiar names. Bryan and I shared some associates in the Dallas avant-garde underground. I asked him who he had killed. He said, 'guy named Arturo.'

I took several steps on the dirt track asking myself if I should tell Bryan that I knew his victim. I had done business with Arturo on several occasions. He owned several local head-shops and news stands and was involved in the pot trade on a small wholesale level. He was sort of a liaison between the hippie subculture and the Mexican smugglers in Dallas. Arturo was well-liked in the underground community. You could even say he was a civic-minded criminal. I had heard of his murder but not the details. I did know that there were some folks who were not happy about his execution. I took a few more steps. I wasn't big pals with Arturo but I knew him and our dealings had always been square. Now I was walking alongside his murderer. In my head was an echo of every nursery rhyme and homily, verses from the Blue Book, the Bible and Khalil Gibran's The Prophet, and every Rumi-fied bit of wisdom about forgiveness and release I could think of. Can you be friends with someone when you know he is a murderer? Do you have to forgive him first? I took a few more steps.

After another half-lap I compromised with my conscience and decided to forgive Bryan for his past mistakes but not to tell him that I knew Arturo. I reminded myself that we were in an environment where the less you knew the better and it was best to keep that to yourself. Bryan's friendship had come to mean a great deal to me. Intellectual loneliness is hard to understand or talk about but everybody needs somebody to talk to. More than that, we need people who can understand us in the language that we speak. Sometimes I need to talk about Camus or McCluhan. When we create rooms in our minds that contain rare and curious items, we like to invite guests and show them our treasures and talk about them and have them appreciated by someone who understands them. Bryan and I had little in common with most of the other inmates in terms of interests or vocabulary so we both benefitted by the other's presence. Who cares if he was a murderer? And who was I to be his judge anyway? We walked many more miles together and when I got my parole, I willed him my eleven volume set of The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

The Poet's Eye

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dadio
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by dadio » December 19th, 2010, 10:53 am

Your unfolding story here brings out the fact (forgotten by many) that prisoners are human just like anyone else with their own failings, dark sources, intelligence, folly, wisdom, who locked up for whatever reason, never cease to be part of the human race. Sometimes it is the fact of being locked up that separates them from others who share their folly, wisdom, failings,etc. Well captured.

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Lightning Rod
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by Lightning Rod » December 19th, 2010, 11:08 am

thank you, dadio
you hit on one of my motives for telling these stories. Yes, life continues behind bars in all of its vain glories. Prison is the best laboratory for human behavior that I know of. it crunches everything down in a limited space. I was more often amazed by how alike things were on the inside and the outside than how different they were.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

The Poet's Eye

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Zlatko Waterman
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by Zlatko Waterman » December 19th, 2010, 11:13 am

Crisp prose and smart pacing. You are a natural storyteller, Lightning Rod. Nice to read your paragraphs and sentences again.

I still have the "drug-lords from Mars" character studies.

I think that was one of my last gasps here at S8 before I departed five years ago.

But as they say in the MoTown song,

"Now I'm back . . ."

Strong writing you posted above. I hope you are employed as a pro writer/ reporter somewhere if that is your wish.

Zlatko
"M. Degas, when drawing, you often seem lose your way.
In fact, at times you barely seem to know where you are or where you are going."

(Degas):

"Nothing, madame, could describe my process of drawing better."

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Lightning Rod
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by Lightning Rod » December 19th, 2010, 11:40 am

I'm glad to see your face too, Z
I'm clinging to life and going blind but writing quite a bit. The memoir is stumbling along. The Poet's Eye has been doing well. My sponsors pay me a little but right now that's my only claim to professionalism. I guess you could say I'm a professional blind man because they send me a disability check.

I've been intending to write you a letter but wasn't sure where to send it. I've been considering the whole world of phone apps and in this reflection you often come to my mind. I think it's the future of publishing. I've been designing the two books I'm working on to be published as apps. The graphic novel is a strong player in this world. The market will be hungry for them because they translate so well to hand-held devices.

Anyway, it's great to see you around.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

The Poet's Eye

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mnaz
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by mnaz » December 24th, 2010, 3:15 am

Lightning Rod wrote:I was more often amazed by how alike things were on the inside and the outside than how different they were.
i've heard it was like that.

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tarbaby
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Location: Oz, or someplace like Kansas, but mostly stilltrucking's vanity

Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by tarbaby » December 24th, 2010, 9:20 am

Yes, life continues behind bars in all of its vain glories. Prison is the best laboratory for human behavior that I know of. it crunches everything down in a limited space. I was more often amazed by how alike things were on the inside and the outside than how different they were.
Abnormal behavior in prison is easier to study , it seems to me from my four days in jail, or seven years in paranoid Jew boy subjective time.

No I ain't seen but I know what you lived through makes my experience seem like a teddy bear tea party.

You my hero Clay, most of the time, but when you are not my hero I envy your two strikes against you on studio eight. :wink:

Ex-cons— are human too— there is a word you don't hear much in polite conversations

You are my prose hero Clay
thanks for the excellent piece and please pardon my rambling.
“Where is that man who has forgotten words that I may have a word with him?”

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gypsyjoker
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Re: No Country for Old Friends

Post by gypsyjoker » December 25th, 2010, 9:06 am

Merry Christmas Clay.
NOTE: I learned this off of The John Prine Anthology-Great Days, a
highly recommended and imformative collection. I think I kept the keys
the same as the record this time.

G C
It was Christmas in Prison and the food was real good,
G D
We had turkey and pistols carved out of wood.
G C
And I dream of her always even when I don't dream,
G D G
Her name's on my tongue, and her blood's in my strain(?).

Chorus:
D C G C G D
Wait awhile Eternity, ol' Mother Natures got nothing on me,
G C
Come to me, run to me, come to me now,
G D G
We're rolling my sweatheart, were flowing, by God.

She reminds me of a chess game with someone I admire,
Or a picnic in the rain after a prairie fire,
And her heart is as big as this whole ***damn jail,
She's sweeter than saccarin at a drug store sale.

Chorus

[instrumental verse]

The searchlight in the big yard swings round with the gun,
And spotlights the snowflakes like the dust in the sun.
It's Christmas in Prison, there'll be music tonight,
I'll probably get homesick, I love you, goodnight.

Chorus

--
Matt Crider
http://www.cowboylyrics.com/tabs/prine- ... -2725.html

The most interesting prisoner I met during my time at the Atoka Oklahoma jail was the kid who was in for murder. He was the most innocent looking likable, normal, cheerful, intelligent person there. He put out no vibes that would raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Alleged murder, he was being held for trail, shit how the fuck do I punctuate this got dam sentence
I will use carriage returns :oops:

maybe it was all in my mind
but I got the sense from my cell mates
that he had done it

and I wondered what had drove him to it
"human behavior is over determined" THUS HAVE I HEARD

I dig your style Clay, nice clean prose no muss no fuss.
Free Rice
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'Blessed is he who was not born, Or he, who having been born, has died. But as for us who live, woe unto us, Because we see the afflictions of Zion, And what has befallen Jerusalem." Pseudepigrapha

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