Eddie's Story-Part 2
I had a lengthy stay in the county jail for someone who immediately pled guilty--roughly 10 months--which is unusual. My incarceration was made even more difficult as the victim of my crime was related to the Sheriff at the time of my arrest in 1971. That being said it didn’t make my stay in the county jail any more normal or easier-just the opposite – it got harder in a hurry. I fully understand the average person reading this material will find my words difficult to believe. Yet understand having 45 years served, and no release consideration in sight, there is nothing I can gain by not sharing the absolute truth. In fact, it could cause me more harm than good, by not sharing the truth. Once in jail I was subject to regular unprovoked assaults by staff that clearly I hadn’t earned through bad jail behavior. This happened far too often without any real explanation, so my lawyer felt justified to request my transfer to the nearby county of Midland to prevent this from continuing to happen to me. I remained in Midland a few months, and since the lawyer couldn’t prove the beatings were unprovoked, I was returned to the Saginaw County Jail. Trouble wasn’t as frequent when I returned, but I now knew I was going to get beat no matter what I said or did, so I figured I would try and hurt someone myself. After all I was only 5’4” and 140 pounds. As a result of the beatings, I was often moved from wing to wing and gained a reputation for fighting with staff. I specifically recall at one point I was placed in a wing that had prisoners returning after years in prison for re-trials and re-sentencing, guys that had 5-15 years already served in prison. Even worse everyone was black except me. I was still only 17, with long hair and no hair on my face. The jail staff thought I would get abused in this environment, at least that was what they expected. Fortunately for me, there was one guy I knew from my neighborhood, a huge gentle giant who remembered me as a young boy, and who had lived a couple houses from where I grew up. Thankfully he shared that with the others, and they simply accepted me and I had no more problems. In addition, other prisoners made sure staff didn’t just come into the wing to beat me. The end result was that the beatings stopped.
Even though the staff felt I would be abused in this crowd, it never happened. But just so you understand, a week or two after entering the wing, a white Marine on leave was arrested and placed in this wing. He was 19 and came in talking about having beat up a few guys, and bragging about how tough he was as a Marine. That night these guys had him in his cell sucking cock for anyone that wanted it done, and even worse they didn’t beat him to accomplish their goal. Of course they told him they would beat him, and a few guys spent the evening screwing him as well, each taking their turn with him through the night. I guess he was a tough Marine after all! The next morning, the Marine made bond and was released.
I fully understood what staff expected to happen to me in there, but it didn’t. The guys starting sharing stories from their prison experiences, and made it clear when I got to prison, there is no question I would have to fight. One comment remained in my memory, “They are going to be on you.”. I took it to heart, and despite being a little guy I started having fights with anyone new coming on the wing. I lost some, and won some. The ones that I did lose, other prisoners made sure I didn’t get beat up bad, demanding the guy stop when they saw I was losing. Nevertheless, I was quick to fight anyone, big or small. I even started saying “YOU HAVE TO BE BIGGER FOR ME TO FIGHT, TO MAKE THE FIGHT FAIR”.
When I finally arrived in state prison quarantine, there were a lot of guys from the county jail that knew me, though they weren’t aware of the amount of time I had received. Upon learning I had received three life sentences, and knowing my attitude about challenging everyone, I was looked at in a whole different light.
In 1972 Jackson Prison Quarantine was two huge blocks, Seven Block and Eight Block: seven block was for those prisoners under 21 years old, and eight block was for those 22 and older. Each block held roughly 500 prisoners. The blocks are set up in galleries: base, first, second, third, and forth gallery: fifty cells on each side. Looking down from fourth gallery made me imagine what the Grand Canyon might look like. The space was huge, and I had nothing to compare it too. The cells faced each other, though there were at least 40 if not 50 feet separating each side from the other. Each gallery railing was draped with chain link fencing from the first gallery on up to the ceiling of the block of the fourth gallery. The fencing was there for a number of reasons: for the safety of the officer walking on base; so that items weren’t thrown over the gallery to injure the staff; to stop those who had the bright idea they couldn’t do the time the judge imposed and wanted to jump to their death; but more importantly to make sure while fighting you weren’t thrown off the gallery.
The block looked like one huge dog kennel, and sounded like it too. Everyone was loud, and everyone wanted to be heard over the next guy. This occurred 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. It was a mad house and this was where I was expected to spend the rest of my life. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. I was, but I was working very hard not to show it. I had made a vow to myself, that I would make it no matter what the cost, or die trying to.
The officer’s desk was in the front of first gallery, and down below was a large group of tables to run meals. I entered the block during meal time, so there were a bunch of guys at tables below. Everyone stopped to look at the new guys coming in, and there were about seven of us entering.
Unfortunately for me, I was given an immediate wake up call to the fact I was serving life. Today, I blame the naïve or inexperienced, or rather the uncaring sergeant for the start of my troubles. Maybe I shouldn’t but I do. The sergeant greeted the group of us, with a clipboard in hand, and announced, “WHICH ONE OF YOU IS IT THAT HAS THESE THREE LIFE SENTENCES?” I stepped forward and said that would be me. He immediately spoke very nicely, saying, “Did you see a lot of cars on your way up, did you see a lot of trees?” I answered yes that was true, I had seen a lot. He then said, “Good, because from behind these 40 foot walls where you’re going to spend the rest of your life, you won’t see any of them again.” That immediately shocked me into realizing my sentence. I had only been sentenced two days earlier, so the reality hadn’t set in yet. In that flashing moment I woke up to reality. His next comment baffled me. I had to wonder was he stupid or testing me? I made the choice to think he was stupid. His next question was, ‘NOW HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DO YOUR TIME, THE EASY WAY OR THE HARD WAY?” That question started me on the road of resistance. My response was, “After what you just told me, I’ll do this any fucking way I feel like doing it.” Clearly he didn’t like my response. His face got red, he stood with what authority he felt he had, firmly told me he didn’t like my comment, and that I was starting down the wrong road. I simply responded “I don’t give a damn what you like and don’t like.”
I learned what he meant by doing it the easy way or hard way after that. Remember there were a bunch of guys eating at the tables below who had heard our conversation. I had loudly been disrespectful to him, a sergeant, and that wasn’t something he would be willing to accept lightly. I was placed on fourth gallery, and on my way to my cell I witnessed a fight at the end of the hall. I had a few cat calls addressed to me that I ignored. I was still soaking in the fact I was going to spend the rest of my life here.
Upon arriving to my cell, there was nothing. A 3’ x 6’ metal frame bed, with mattress, a toilet on the wall, a tiny sink and bars on both front and back of my cell. I sat for a few minutes, and then it registered regarding the CAT CALLS. I remembered the words of the guys in the county, “They are going to be on you and you’re going to have to fight.” I looked around my cell, and I noticed the mirror that was bolted to the bars was loose. Upon investigating I realized the mirror was attached to a steel bar, about 10” long, 2” wide, and about 3/16” thick, I immediately unscrewed the bar, and re-attached the mirror with a torn piece of bed sheet. I made the decision to address the cat calls as soon as they let me out of my cell.
Hours later, all the cell doors were opened, all attached to one locking system. Your cell door opened whether you wanted out or not. I stepped out trying to remember where the voice of the cat call had come from. Going to the prison yard, I ran into a few guys I had been in the county with, including one big black guy I had fought with back then. We greeted each other and talked. He immediately shared with his buddies, “THAT MEXICAN WAS CRAZY IN THE COUNTY, AND NOW HE WILL BE EVEN WORSE, THEY GAVE HIM THREE LIFE SENTENCES, AVOID HIM.” It wasn’t that they were scared of me, they just didn’t want the trouble that I would surely give them. The word spread quickly. I was labeled the “crazy one” by prisoners, and dangerous by staff. The prisoners who witnessed my performance with the sergeant stayed clear. Everyone seemed to think “that guy doesn’t care if you are an inmate of staff, he just doesn’t care.”
I found myself in a unique situation. I had a sense of power and control that I had never experienced in my life. The handful of young Mexican guys in quarantine started hanging around with me because with me they weren’t likely to have trouble come to them.
It got to the point they came to me with issues they expected me to resolve. Issues like another prisoner had taken something from them, or they were being pressed by another prisoner. With the reputation I had been given, I gladly attempted to resolve the issues for them. I simply made it clear to the parties in question, if you don’t want problems correct the matter or I will correct it for you. To my amazement these implied threats worked on most of the guys. Of course I had to step up in a few situations, with guys who felt they were equally as dangerous. After being accused of assault on a few different occasions, I landed in the “HOLE” --segregation-- a few times. Five days the first time, seven days the next, and seven more again. My reputation as a force to be reckoned with became stronger with each trip to the hole.
I stayed a lot longer in quarantine then normal. Normally within three weeks you would be moved on to the next facility. Yet you had to do a battery of tests, see doctors, psychologists, etc., and I couldn’t do that from the hole, so a few weeks stay dragged out into a few months. In fact, I was finally placed on a permanent “TOP LOCK ROLL”, which meant though I wasn’t in the hole, I wasn’t allowed out of my cell either. I inquired why, since I had done nothing recently to warrant this punishment. I was informed that in order to be transferred you couldn’t be in the hole, and every time I had been scheduled to transfer I was in the hole. So, to make sure that didn’t happen again, I was going to be held on TOP LOCK ROLL until the accepting facility had room for me.
A few weeks passes, I was transferred to Michigan Reformatory, (known also in the 70’s and 80’s as “gladiator school” – that is another story all by itself) where many of the guys I knew from the county quarantine were waiting. Upon my arrival I was greeted by a bunch of Hispanics and showered with all the needed essentials immediately. With so many gifts I compared it to Christmas. I later learned it was more like a tribute to someone they felt might be a new leader. Within months upon my arrival the Hispanics were now divided, half following the former leader, an older guy, 25-26, and half were following me. This was going to be a new chapter in my journey. It didn’t get any easier, nor was I any less scared of what lay ahead.
The truth of the matter: I remain scared today.