Dark Horses — by Gary
[Note to Readers: this excerpt is related to the book in the Long Tale Press bookstore by the same title. You are welcome to review it in the normal way, but those reviews will not affect the status of this excerpt in any way.]
The warden scowled at the disorderly piles of papers and takeout food wrappers spilling off the furniture onto the floor of his office. The corner of his filing cabinet peeked out from behind an easel that held a large diagram labeled Dominion State Penitentiary. His desk was completely buried under a pile of files. A glint of yellow metal flashed in the debris avalanched on to the floor. He bent over and pulled out the bit of metal. It was the pen and pencil set that his wife had given him on the day he was assigned here. The nameplate had identified him as, Ed Anderson - Warden, and now, was cracked down the middle.
Nestled in the mess, a pudgy man sat comfortably in the warden's chair. "Sorry about that. I'll order a replacement before I leave," he said, pointing at the damaged nameplate. The warden took several deep breaths trying to control his temper. He hated having his office invaded. He hated this fat pig with his sloppy tie and undone collar. He hated that his actions were being questioned and that his previously spotless career was in the hands of a small minded bureaucrat in rumpled shirt sleeves. The bureaucrat, an inspector from the state prison board, wiped his hand on the untucked tails of his shirt before thrusting it at the warden. His fingers curved inward ready to crush whatever fell into their grasp. The warden shook the hand quickly then pulled back before any damage could be done. The hand turned over and pointed at a chair inviting the warden to take a seat. "I've already talked to the guards, the staff and several of the prisoners. I just need to ask you a few questions so we can wrap this up and I can get out of your hair."
The warden carefully moved a cardboard box that contained desiccated remnants of Chinese food to the overflowing waste basket before sitting down. "I'm at your service," he said formally. There had never been an official investigation at the prison before and the warden was not sure how to behave. He fidgeted in the chair trying to find a good place to put his hands, eventually settling for folding them over his right knee.
The inspector looked at the dark blue suit. He couldn't like a guy that meticulously clean and fresh despite the wilting heat. He already didn't like what he heard in the interviews. The guards all indicated that the warden was one of those annoying detail guys. He was always dressed in one of his identical blue suits, white shirts and black socks. The only sartorial variation was in the ties that his wife selected for him each morning. One guard confided that there was a pool that paid a few dollars to the guard who guessed the color of the tie for the day.
The inspector did not trust anyone who could keep his clothes that clean under these conditions. Huge sweat stains spread across his own shirt, but the warden seemed immune from sweat and the dust. Where does he find the time for ironing, brushing lint and polishing buttons and cufflinks? The inspector loosened his tie and folded his hands behind his head, flaunting the dark stains under his arms.
"Let's get started." He rummaged through the piles on the desk and extracted a thick file. He opened the file and adjusted his glasses before reading the top page. "You run a tight ship here don't you?"
"Yes. Everything is carefully managed here." The warden crossed his legs placing his right ankle across his left knee. The inspector leaned forward noticing a thin layer of dust on the shoe. The imperfection pleased him.
"Yes. According to the men, your management includes a long list of restricted items. No coffee, no cigarettes, inflexible schedules. Is this true?"
"You have to understand that this is not a normal prison."
"What do you mean?" He leaned back in the chair to the point where he risked falling over.
"Look at the files. These men have committed horrible crimes."
"That's what prisons are for, right? To get people like that off the streets."
The warden picked at a dust speck on the sleeve of his neat blue suit jacket. "Yes, and every one of these men spent time in a regular prison, with all the regular murders, thieves and rapists. They got sent here when the regular prison gives up on them. Over the years we have developed a reputation for being able to handle the prisoners that other prisons can't."
"So the other wardens send their trouble makers here."
"Right. For example, there was a guy up at Fulgate that killed three serial killers in their bunks. They tried everything to stop him, restraints, isolation cells, 24 hour guards, but he kept finding a way. The guards were so afraid of becoming his next victim that they wouldn't go near him. So, he comes here. We keep him busy enough that he doesn't have time for making trouble."
The inspector checked another file. "That would be Andrew Hastings, right? I spoke with him, a very unpleasant fellow." The inspector rocked forward in the warden's chair and read some of his notes. "It seems that he was not directly involved in the trouble here. I'm more interested in hearing about Hector Belieze."
"What about him?" The warden crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"The prisoners hate him. They openly threaten him with violence. What's that all about?"
"He let some of the men down. I had to have him isolated with a 24 hour guard."
"Because of his smuggling activities?"
"Right. He started with a string of so-called girlfriends that brought the goods in. They brought in mostly harmless things, playing cards, pornography, personnel items, that sort of thing. We shut that operation down by searching him after every visit. But by then he had a reputation among the men as a smuggler."
"And the men began to count on him for things."
"And somehow he still managed to get things in. We would find caches of jewelry or chewing tobacco during inspections. Naturally, we suspected Belieze, but we couldn't figure out how he did it. So I stepped up the inspections and started confiscating contraband. In hind sight, I guess I could have handled that situation better." The warden paused to look for a reaction from the inspector, who rolled his hand to get the warden to continue.
"Eventually, we found his source. He had made friends with one of our food suppliers. The goods came in hidden in the produce. Belieze snuck into the kitchen after deliveries and grabbed the goods. Once we knew what was happening it was easy to shut down the operation."
"So you shut them down, but the men blamed Belieze."
"These men tend to react first and think never. It makes sense if you think about it. If they were better at thinking things through, they wouldn't commit crimes, or at least they wouldn't get caught." The inspector nodded in agreement.
"I understand they roughed him up."
The warden shook his head. "Yes. A guard found him in his cell barely alive."
"How did they get to him in his cell?"
"They didn't. They got him in the bathroom and dumped him in his cell after."
"They carried him from the bathroom to his cell, and no one saw anything?"
"The guard on duty that night was distracted."
"The guard that night was..." The inspector looked through his notes.
"Adam Jones. He said he went out to investigate a noise, but the prisoners say he went out to get revenge on James Finley. They had some history."
"What was Jones' beef with Finley?"
"There were several incidents between them, but it started when Finley bit his finger off."
"How does something like that happen in a high security prison?" The inspector leaned forward and looked the warden in the eye. The warden pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead before starting the story.
"It was Finley's first day. The guards were taking him in for a shower. That's standard procedure here. The men are usually pretty ripe coming straight from special confinement at their previous facility. Jones got impatient and nudged Finley along, sending Finley into a blind rage. The guards reacted according to their training and subdued him quickly." The inspector was familiar with the technique where as many as five guards quickly pile on the prisoner, each pinning a part of the prisoner to the ground. As violent as it appeared, very few people ever get hurt during the procedure and it is very effective in getting the prisoner restrained.
"Then what happened?"
"Finley went limp when the guards jumped him. He appeared calm, so Jones started to let him up. The floor was wet and when Jones stood up he slipped. The rest of the guards held on, but Jones fell next to Finley's head. Finley twisted and got the finger in his mouth. Before anyone could do anything the finger was severed."
"Couldn't they reattach it?"
"No way. Finley chewed it up so badly it couldn't be saved." Both men were silent for a moment. The inspector felt the tips of his fingers and winced.
"Well," he said trying to put the bloody images out of his mind. "You put him in solitary for..." He paused to look for another file.
"Ten days. When he came out he was calm and manageable. He wouldn't talk to anyone about it, but he didn't seem to want any more trouble. He's the kind of guy that if you don't push him, he tends to do the right thing. But if you manage him too much, well, I just told you what happened when Jones pushed him." The warden picked up a glass from the side table and wiped it with his handkerchief before he filled it with water. "We put him in with the population and I never heard anything more about it until the incident with Belieze. That was when we found out that Finley had been playing little tricks on Jones. Stealing from his locker, putting peppers in his food, things like that. Jones, didn't report anything, but he took Finley out from time to time and beat him up. Finley never complained, but he also never stopped the tricks."
"So what did you do about all this?"
The warden cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. "They were keeping such incidents from me."
"That doesn't make sense. Prisoners are always complaining about things, from crunchy peanut butter and religious persecution to scratchy socks. Why didn't they say something about this?"
"We get all the usual complaints but this was a different kind of thing. There was a sense that if they got a guard in trouble there would be retaliation."
"But the threats from the guards didn't seem to bother Finley. I have a report here that says he put feces in the guard's shoes. Why hassle the guards if he knew he would get beaten for it?"
"It's hard to say. Maybe it's like I said, he can't stand to be pushed. Maybe he liked bugging them. He got to them so much that even when they were angry with another prisoner; they took it out on Finley."
"So all this was building up and you were not aware of it." The inspector was not going to let him blame his troubles on insubordinate guards. That was too easy.
"Listen, I knew something was wrong and I worked my ass off to get it under control." The warden was out of his chair and gesturing wildly until he noticed that he spilled his water. "This place was a powder keg. By the time I got to the bottom of it no one could have stopped what happened. No one!"
The inspector looked up at the warden's reddened face and shaking hands. As fun as it was to shake him up, he had to bring him back down to finish the interview. "It's OK. I'm not accusing you of anything. I just need to understand exactly what happened." The warden sat back down, embarrassed by his outburst. He could feel sweat staining the armpits of his linen shirt. The inspector waiting a few moments while he watched the warden get his breathing under control.
"OK, we have Belieze in the hospital, Jones goes on restricted duty, where was Finley?"
"I put him to work in the cafeteria."
"The cafeteria was where the blow-up happened."
"Yes, but Finley was not involved."
"Were there guests visiting on the day you locked the cafeteria?" The warden seemed to deflate. He reached into his pocket for something but when he found that the pocket was empty he forgot what he was looking for.
"Yes, a TV reporter. She was here to see if they should do a special on Howard. Every few years someone comes by for a human interest piece. Rotten city kid makes good, that kind of thing."
"The reporter was a woman?"
"Yes. And very pretty. We've had women visit before, but this time was different. The men's behavior was inappropriate."
"The witnesses said they, 'Went nuts.' Is that accurate?"
"If they meant the men started pounding the tables and throwing food around. Yes."
"Over the woman?"
"She said that one of the men made an obscene proposal. I never found out the exact nature of the proposal, but you can guess. She screamed and ran out of the building. The men started egging each other on and soon they were out of control. By the time the guards could get them out of there, the place was a mess."
"So you closed the cafeteria."
"Yes. The men got simple meals on trays in their cells."
The inspector leaned back and closed his eyes. He no longer took notes. "Tell me about Antoine Green."
"Antoine was destined to end up in jail from the day he was born. Wrong part of town, wrong economic class, wrong race, wrong friends, you name it. In and out of juvie until his eighteenth birthday when he landed in Jefferson."
"So gets in trouble up there, ends up here and he hated Belieze."
"Hector has a way of getting on people's nerves. He doesn't think before he talks and he talks all the time. Somehow he heard that Antoine's nickname at Jefferson was 'Spear chucker'. Apparently there was an incident where he stabbed another inmate with an improvised spear. Hector teased him about it and managed to get himself in trouble with all the African Americans, especially Antoine. We had to keep them on separate schedules."
"Did Antoine organize the beating?"
"I don't think so. If he had already beat him up once, he wouldn't have done what he did later."
He adjusted his reading glasses and looked at his notes. "The infirmary log says that Belieze was released from the hospital after two weeks."
"Yes, he had a broken arm and some bandages, but the doctor cleared him to return."
"You said earlier that he was on a different schedule than Green. How did they end up in the yard together?"
The warden took his time to answer, searching for a good way to put it. Failing to find a suitable spin on what happened, he dove into the truth. "He was released in the afternoon and we put him in the first available shift. No one thought about Green." The warden did not like the way the inspector removed his glasses and looked right into him. "It was a very stressful time."
"You said that before." He began to quote from memory, "You said you, 'had prisoners in solitary, a hunger strike and guards calling in sick.'"
"Yes, I had redone the prisoner schedules and guard rotations so many times. I guess I lost track."
"So, Green and Belieze are in the yard together, Belieze says something, Green doesn't like it and jumps him. The guards get involved, then the rest of the prisoners." He paused but the warden did not bother to refute the facts. "Where were you at this time?"
"In my office. I heard the men shouting and a guard blowing his whistle so I ran out to see what was going on. There were several men fighting and guards rushing in to break it up. I tried to get over there but the men coming out of the cafeteria blocked my way. Things were getting out of hand fast, so I went back into my office, called the front gate and told them to lock us up tight.
"By the time I got back to the yard it was a mess. The men had turned on the guards. I could see at least two of them lying on the ground unconscious."
"The guards were armed with batons?"
"I understand a few of them lost their batons to the prisoners."
"The guards didn't have much training for situation like this. "
"But you were able to stabilize the situation."
"I guess. I really don't remember the details of what happened."
The inspector looked at the neatly dressed man. It was hard to image this fastidious administrator as a formidable leader in a battle with the prisoners. Witnesses reported that he went right into the worst of the fighting to rally the guards. His baton flashed out at prisoners and guards reminding them to follow orders.
Most of the time he just carried the baton low at his side. A subtle, "Do it or else" threat that backed up the clear concise orders the warden issued. He assembled a small group of guards into an organized squad that was able to recover the wounded and move them into the cafeteria. There were many bad feelings among the men and guards but they all agreed on their respect for the warden and his baton. Later when the guards stormed the barracks the warden led the charge holding his baton high like a general with his sword.
"How long did that initial fight go on?"
"All afternoon. I tried to divide the men into small groups but there were not enough guards to keep them under control. We would get a few isolated and another group would come in behind us."
"There's one thing I don't understand about that first day. Why didn't you call for help?"
"I don't know. I guess with all the action going on it never occurred to me." The inspector wrote for a long time while the warden tried to think of an answer that did not sound so lame.
"And the following three days? It never occurred to you to call for backup?"
The warden shook his head sending the inspector into another furry of writing.
"OK, moving on. The men took over the guard house that evening correct?"
"There were men going through all the buildings from the very beginning. Mostly they just destroyed things. All of the guards were busy in the yard so, they pretty much had the run of the buildings."
"When did they occupy the guard house?"
"Sometime in the late afternoon. At first, I thought they were giving up since there were fewer attacks. Later, I found out that they were retreating into the buildings. I tried to head them off, but the groups in the yard kept us busy."
"It would have been good to have backup then, eh?" The warden endured the reproach silently. "So they got into the guard house were they found the tear gas."
"The tear gas attack didn't last very long. What happened?"
"They tossed a few canisters out to cover the retreat of the last group of men. There was no wind and the cloud spread out in a circle around the front of the guard house. We just moved back out of the way. Some of the gas flowed back into the building so it hurt the men more than us. One of the guards wrapped a towel around his head and ran into the cloud, grabbed the canisters and tossed them inside. I don't know how the men held out in there, but they never threw out anymore canisters."
"They stayed in the guardhouse for the next three days. What was your plan?"
"First, we tried rushing the door. We found out later that they had blocked it with furniture. I gave orders that I didn't want any more people hurt or killed, so that limited our options. One guard wanted to burn the building down and another suggested we shoot anyone who appeared in the window. I rejected those suggestions and any idea like that.
"Finally, we decided to wait until night and slip in through the windows while they were asleep. But they thought of that and slept in shifts. The next idea we tried was to surround the building and starve them out. This one worked. It took three days, but when we went in they were too weak to fight back."
"Not all of the men were in the guardhouse, right?"
"There were the wounded, of course. They went to the infirmary. The rest were locked in their cells for the duration."
"Conditions were rough for those men. The men couldn't wash or relieve themselves. "
"I didn't have much choice, did I? I couldn't spare guards while I had dangerous men plotting who knows what in the guardhouse." The warden was on the edge of his seat. "I did what I could to be humane. When I could spare a few men, I sent them over there to take them to the bathroom and bring them food." The warden's face reddened and his voice rose in pitch. The inspector's impassive expression made him angrier and defensive. "What would you have me do? Sure, I could have had the state patrol or the National Guard in here stomping all over the place, attracting attention from the press. Wouldn't that have been just great? Who knows how many people would have been killed then?" The rant went on. He listed cases from the news where state patrol had been too quick to shoot. He compared this to the careful, disciplined approach he took. Other times even he did not understand the words that came out of his mouth. At one point he blamed a speech by the governor calling for a crack down on gangs as a cause of the riot.
The inspector sat quietly letting the warden have his head. When the fit was over, the warden sat back down, more embarrassed than anything else. "I'm sorry about that. I don't know what came over me." The inspector opened a file and read for a few minutes giving the warden time to calm down. When the warden's breathing slowed to normal, the inspector moved on as if nothing had happened.
"So, you waited three days then ordered the guards to charge the guardhouse. What happened then?"
"We broke in through the front door. We made a battering ram out of a flag pole that had been torn down in the initial fighting. Four guards used the ram to break the door then the rest swarmed into the open door. There was no resistance. It turned out that we could have gone in sooner. The men had been fighting among themselves. There were many wounded and the rest were exhausted. All we had to do was walk in and pick up the pieces."
"OK, let's move on to what happened afterwards. You called the state patrol."
"Yes. One of the men was unaccounted for. I thought he might have escaped during the confusion."
"That was, Finley, right?"
"Yes. Finley. We searched the whole prison and he was gone. The state patrol set up road blocks and searched the area around the prison but they couldn't find any sign of him. After a week they called off the search."
"He's quite a character isn't he? When I interviewed him he wouldn't say anything. Do you know what happened?"
"The best I can figure is that he hid in the old cell block. We had searched it, but he must have found a secret place to hide in there. He could have brought food from the kitchen where he works and hid out during the searches. The rest of the time he would have had the building to himself. I'm sure he was having a great time in there making us look like fools."
"But you found him eventually."
"Sort of. He just showed up in the yard one afternoon. I questioned him but as you ha e seen he doesn't say much. All I could get out of him was that he enjoyed the vacation."
The inspector fought down a chuckle, turning it into a little cough that he concealed with his odd looking fist.
"All right. We're almost done here." The inspector put done the files, placed his elbows on the desk and rested his head on his hands. "I'd like to know a little about what you have down to put the prison back on track."
"At first it was just damage control. The prison was a shambles, guards were quitting and everyone was bickering over every little thing." The warden lowered his head into his hands. "It was all we could do to keep the men locked up and fed, tend to the wounded and patch up the worst of the damage. I was at my desk 24/7 dealing with everyone's problems and trying to keep it together.
"The guards were useless. They were the ones who had provoked the men in the first place and they completely lost control when the fighting started. Every time one of them quit, I thought, there's one more that I don't have to fire. On the other hand, I needed guards who I could count on before I could do anything else. Fortunately, I found Will Murphy to be the new head guard. He's been great at getting the kind of men we need and training them properly."
"While Will was settling in with the guards, I worked on the men. There was plenty of work needed to repair the things that got destroyed in the incident. It seemed to me, that they made the mess so they should clean it up. I started with a small group of men who I thought I could trust to pick up some of the wreckage. The men were so happy to get out of their cells that they gratefully did everything they were told." The warden sat up tall. It was important that the investigator include all the good work he had done in the report. He leaned forward and continued the story of how he got the men to fix up the prison.
"Slowly, I allowed more and more men out on work details. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, that's for sure. I had to be careful with the schedules to make sure that I never let men who might try to kill each other out at the same time. Then, I had to strictly monitor the tools they used to make sure there was nothing missing each day. I worked like Jacques Cousteau in shark infested waters keeping an eye on everything. It was hard but worth it. You've seen the place. It looks pretty good, doesn't it?" The warden beamed with pride over the progress they had made. "It was interesting how the work seemed to calm the men down. I am planning to have the men work on various maintenance projects from now on, just to help keep them manageable."
"So, there have been no incidents since then?"
"A few minor things, but the guards keep a close eye on everything so we can nip problems in the bud."
"OK, I think I have everything I need." The inspector gave no clue of what he was thinking as he gathered up his papers. "Sorry about the mess."
"When can we expect your report?" The warden asked.
"It will take a few days to put my notes together, and then I'll work with the commission on the final report. They can take anywhere from a week to several months. You should just go on your vacation and relax. We'll let you know." He put his pudgy hand out towards the warden.
The warden took the investigator's hand and held it as long as he could, trying to find some clue about what would be in the report. Nothing. He would remain in bureaucratic purgatory while faceless officials sorted through his sins and weighed them against his virtues. This was not how he had dreamed the day would end. He had started the day confident that the end was near. A clear case of hope overcoming reason. His wife validated that misguided fantasy when she handed him a glass of orange juice and offered a toast to the end of the revolt. She felt that life came in a series of stories with one ending, allowing the next one to begin. Life had a way of never quite fitting into her straightforward philosophies. With several months of uncertainty ahead, he would go crazy worrying. He had to start the next story now, before he went crazy with worry. He needed to come up with a project, something that would show that he was still the best, something that would restore Dominion's reputation as the best managed prison in the state.