An Essay By Perry Allen Austin, Texas
One Long Day
The Picture: a late afternoon sun as seen through a chain-link fence from the ground. In the background, through the glare of the sun, you can see what looks to be several buildings a short distance away. Quite possibly warehouses.
The day began like any other day on the Coffield Unit, the prison farm I've been on for the past few years. It began badly as usual and steadily got worse. My day started at 3.00a.m. in the morning when they suddenly rolled the doors for breakfast with no warning. My cellie and I fly out of our bunks, grab our shoes and clothes and jump out on the run just as the door slams shut. The guards are hollering for everyone to get off the runs and into the dayroom, so I quickly get dressed and make my way to the dayroom to wait. After about thirty minutes they let us out for chow, and I sleepily make my way to the chow hall for a breakfast of cold hard grits and soggy scrambled eggs. At least the coffee's great and strong. After chow it's back to the dayroom for more waiting. An hour later we're finally allowed back into our cells to get ready for work. Work comes early for us who work in the fields. By 6.00a.m. we're back out in the dayroom waiting to go out to work, and by 7.00.a.m. we're on the trailers on out way to the fields to spend another day banging our aggies on the hard sun-baked earth. Around 11.00.a.m. we're back in the building for lunch, and then it's out in the fields again at noon for more of the same. Finally around 3.00p.m. the Captain calls halt time! We wearily put our tools up and climb on the trailers for the long ride back to the building, where we'll be strip searched and then herded like cattle into the showers, several hundred at a time for a quick five minute shower. After shower it's back to the cell block and into my cell where I can kick back with a cup of coffee and a cigarette until chow time.
Then the commodes back up and overflow. My cellie and I rush to lift everything off the floor before it can get wet, cursing and hollering. We can hear others hollering and cursing too so we know this is a bad one. After about ten minutes the guard in the picket finally finds the key to the pipe chase and turns the water off. The floor is covered in sewage and my cellie and I begin the long, disgusting process of cleaning up.
We finally get the mess cleaned up and everything put back to rights when the door slams open and the guard hollers out "Outside recs!". Huh? Outside recs? My cellie and I look at each other and realise that we were so intent on cleaning the mess that we completely missed supper. My best friend Joe gives me a holler asking me to go to rec with him. I give a great sigh and figure why not. I grab my smokes and head on out.
The rec yard is pretty crowded this afternoon. There's a big crowd standing around the basketball court watching or waiting to get in the game, and another crowd over by the weights set. Some guys are just walking around, others laying in the grass, everyone doing their own thing to relax or unwind. Joe and I are standing on the edge of the basketball court watching the game when I notice something going on over by the fence. Four guys are standing in a close half circle facing outward surrounding a fifth guy kneeling next to the fence. He's got a pair of metal shears and as I watch he begins to cut the chain link fence. I elbow Joe in the side and he looks towards the fence and watches; his eyes go wide as he realises what is happening. I look around for the guard that's supposed to be wandering around the rec yard keeping an eye on things. There he is, over by the weights talking to some of the guys with his back turned. I look to my left at the closest tower. His view is blocked by a flat bed trailer that is parked next to the fence on the side of the dirt road. Looking towards the tower to the right, I see his view is blocked by the warehouse next door to the sheet metal shop and a line of other shops running along the far side of the dirt road. The guy with the shears finally cuts a big enough hole and all five of them squeeze through and kneel at the back of the flatbed trailer. Then they all make a dash across the dirt road to the sheet metal shop and go in through the small side door. By now more guys are noticing what's going on. No-one stops what they're doing or stops to stare but they're all keeping an eye towards the sheet metal shop, waiting expectantly for what happens next. I quickly glance back towards the weight area. The guard is still standing there talking with his back turned. Suddenly the loading bay door flies open with a horrendous rattle and a bang. An engine revs up and out of the darkness a large forklift truck comes roaring out of the bay. With one guy driving, the others are hanging for dear life to the sides as he spins the truck around and speeds between the metal shop and the warehouse towards the perimeter fence. As they approach the fence the driver raises the forks and they slam into the fence with the forks just over the razor wire and extended over the fence to the other side. I take another quick glance at the rec guard; he has finally noticed what's going on and is frantically talking into his walkie-talkie. The tower guards are strangely silent, as if they're in shock, unable to believe this is really happening. By now four of the guys have climbed to the top of the forks and are jumping off to the other side of the fence. Suddenly a shot rings out. Then another, and another. The guards are firing now as fast as they can pull the trigger. Four of the guys are on the other side and scattering. The last guy is just making his way up to the forks. As he reaches the top he gives out a cry and falls. He's been hit! Amazingly, with all of the shots being fired, he's the only one to get hit. Unbelievable. This is something like out of a movie. I turn at the sound of running feet and yelling and see guards pouring out of the building like ants. Where in the world did all of these guards come from? They come running out yelling for everyone to "Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" As I get on the ground I wonder to myself "Why?" The guards are shooting the other way! But then again, that was some mighty poor shooting so maybe it would be a good idea. Besides, these guards look awfully mad, sure don't want to make things worse!
It's an hour later now and the hot August sun is setting. I'm still laying here on the ground like everyone else, my hands are bound behind my back with flexicuffs. They've been taking us in three or four at a time to be stripped, searched and questioned. I look up through the chain link fence at the setting sun and give a big sigh, and as I lay my head back down on the concrete I wonder - when will this long day ever end?
Perry Allen Austin, Texas
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