Eddie's Story Part-4 The Bus Trip: The Day Eddie Closed the Mackinaw Bridge
Bus Trip: The Day Eddie Closed the Mackinaw Bridge
I remember, years ago, listening to a conversation among prisoners sharing their criminal experiences: what crimes they tried, what worked, what didn’t work. It was my first realization that prison is a University for Criminals, clearly a place of higher learning.
On April 27, 1973, at the age of 18, I was being prepared for transfer to the Michigan Intensive Program Center (MIPC) located next to Marquette Prison in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. MIPC was newly opened and was designed to hold only 100 of the Department’s most hardened and incorrigible prisoners. Because I spent much of my time at Jackson and MR in segregation, I was classified as incorrigible and quickly becoming hardened.
MIPC is divided into four wings housing 25 prisoners per wing. Each prisoner has his own cell which was under 24/7 sight and sound surveillance. The unique aspects of this facility was that much of it was built underground, making escape pretty difficult; and it operated one of the first prison behavior modification programs in the nation, a program structured to be kind of a Clockwork Orange lite for those of you who remember the Burgess novel or the Kubrick film. Every minute of every prisoner’s day was tightly programmed with the goal of step-by-step getting you ready to return to some other prison’s general population. Housing prisoners in segregation is an expensive proposition, so the Department was trying to reintegrate long-term segregation prisoners to general population status, which is significantly cheaper. Also in the 70’s, there was a philosophical and political commitment to rehabilitation that regrettably no longer exists today.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was first transferred from MR back to Jackson to join other prisoners and be prepared to take the bus, called the “Snow Bird”, to the far, cold, north and MIPC. I was placed in an empty cell with nothing to do to await transfer. I was bored so I asked prisoners in neighboring cells for something to read and was given a copy of the National Enquirer, which contained an article by Jean Dixon, some lady who claimed to know the future. Remember, I was 18 years-old and very naive. Today I know Dixon was a fake, but back then I was impressionable. Anyway, Dixon predicted that sometime in February, 1973, a span of the Mackinaw Bridge will collapse and a busload of prisoners will plunge to their deaths. My first thought was, “I can’t swim”, forgetting the fact that I would be wearing leg irons and handcuffs and be belly-chained to a line of 17 other prisoners.
I read the article to the prisoners in cells next to mine (I offered to give them the article but they refused to take it, leading me to guess they couldn’t read) and they were clearly concerned. I told them there was no way I would cross that bridge in February, and here it was already February 27, the span has not yet collapsed and there is one other day left in February, which means we had a fifty-fifty chance of getting killed on that bridge. They asked what I was going to do and I told them I didn’t know but would figure something out before we got to the bridge.
At 4:00 a.m. they loaded us on the bus, two lines of 18 prisoners for a total of 32 convicts. By now everyone heard about or read the Dixon article. Yet, the bus loaded peacefully with men much older than me, very much bigger and meaner looking than me, and who had already done 15-20 years mainly in segregation. In other words, these were huge guys who spent a quarter of their lives fighting the system and each other, and had spent years (not months, like me) in segregation: they had nothing to lose.
There were two armed guards on the bus: the driver and a guard locked in a steel screened area in the back of the bus. I was the last in the line of prisoners I was chained to so I sat near the rear guard. When a prisoner in my line had to piss, he did it in a container that was then passed back to me so I could empty it in a nearby toilet. I said to myself I was not going to cross that bridge and die chained to a bunch of convicts. I started placing the full piss bottles on the floor next to me. Around Gaylord I saw a sign that gave the distance to the bridge at around 60 miles. I knew I had to make my move.
I grabbed two piss containers and turned toward the guard in the cage in the back of the bus. He barked an order for me to sit down and I calmly said I was not going across the bridge and I threw both containers of piss on him…not easy since my hands were in cuffs chained to my waist. He drew his pistol and pointed it at me and said Sit Down! I said shoot me, I’m not going across that bridge. He didn’t shoot but instead radioed the driver to pull over, which the driver did. Then the guard in the cage jumped out the bus’s rear window. The driver also left the bus and both guards conferred with the guards in the chase vehicle that was carrying our property.
The guard in the back of the bus didn’t return but the driver did and pulled the bus back on the highway. The prisoners all looked at me and said, “Now what?”
I couldn’t think of anything at first but then I decided if we rocked the bus hard enough, maybe we could turn it over. That would stop us from going over that bridge. So we started to rock the bus from side to side and the driver got on the intercom and said, “You guys need to know that at this speed if this bus goes over you will all die.” The guard cage in the back had a small hook that kept it shut and I could release it with my small hands. I remembered the radio in the cage and flicked it on and announced, YEAH, BUT YOU’LL DIE TOO. I was amazed how fast the bus pulled over and stopped.
The lead guard entered the bus and asked what the problem was. Since I had the intercom I told him about the prediction. Then I asked for cigarettes and food. They gave each prisoner a pack of cigarettes (I never smoked but it was the first thing that came to mind) and sandwiches. I also asked for a reporter and a short time later somebody showed up with a tape recorder. I told them about Dixon’s prediction and said we were not objecting going to MIPC, we just didn’t want to cross the bridge today, that crossing day after tomorrow would be fine.
They attempted to again drive off so in unison guys on one side of the bus got back-to-back with guys on the other so that we could bring our feet up and kick out all the windows. That didn’t stop the bus so we tore the seats from their anchors and randomly threw them out the windows. Still the bus didn’t stop. We realized that we were traveling through traffic so we then timed tossing the remaining seats out to coincide with surrounding traffic in the hopes of hitting other cars and causing an accident that would stop the bus. This got their attention and they pulled over. I suppose they tired of us by then because they called in a local fire department and hosed us down through the open windows for about an hour. They used the window behind the guard cage to point the hose through and get a clean shot at us. I figured I started this party, and I was small, so I told two very large guys I was chained with to jam me backwards into the window opening, which they did with relish. The firemen beat my back with the hose nozzle…man, that is one heavy piece of equipment…and I told the prisoners not to remove me even if I asked them to...They enthusiastically complied.
After the hosing we were soaked and freezing cold. They put a State Cop in as driver and now we continued with State Police escorts front and back. Though we huddled together for warmth, I was still in the back of the bus and heard the Marquette Prison Warden radio the bus driver and say, “Get that bus on the road and don’t stop for any reason until you reach MIPC.” There were no windows and it was snowing and very cold and they pushed that old bus faster than it ever traveled before. They closed the Mackinaw Bridge to all traffic both ways except our convoy, and with rifles pointed at us we crossed the bridge. I was too fucking cold to care whether the bridge collapsed. We were freezing, beat-down, and ready to drown.
All the old cons on the bus agreed that when we reached MIPC we were in for one hell of a beating. When unloaded at MIPC I looked like a wild man with my hair frozen and sticking out. We stepped out of the bus to a gauntlet of two rows of 50 officers in full riot gear, all armed with shot guns. Everyone was quiet except for a Captain barking orders to the officers. We were unloaded one prisoner at a time, with the next prisoner unloaded once his predecessor was secured in a cell. Each step was taken with shotguns aimed at our faces. We all expected that as soon as we were in our individual cells, unable to act as a group, the beatings would begin. After all, we had intimidated the guards, all but destroyed the bus, attempted to cause traffic accident havoc, and shut down the Mackinaw Bridge, to say nothing about causing the mobilization of a fire department and a rather sizable number of Michigan State Police. It was quite a day and now the piper must be paid.