By Tim Eby
Disclaimer: Blogs published on NIA’s Website and social media venues will often reflect the writer’s unbridled frustration of humans with respect to the continuing failure rate of current corrections/justice systems, and NIA greatly appreciates that. While the words and phrases used in these pieces may not always match those NIA uses, we believe it is important to allow those writers to reflect using their own language.
Tim's Crossing #2 | Edgefield: Inside and Out
While assigned to Edgefield, I witnessed an endless stream of prison staff become entangled within webs of deceit spun by their own hand, and eventually their nefarious deeds always come to light with disastrous consequences. Correctional Officer Diaz was no exception.
11:30 PM. There are no other sounds like that in the known universe; gothic, heavy, thick, well-worn brass keys swinging in rhythm, striking against each other upon the studded black leather utility belt of a prison guard as they patrol a cell-block tier, otherwise known as walking the run. Identical to DNA and fingerprints, each being exclusive unto their owners, so too are the signature characteristics each guard projects across a cavernous cellblock with their brass keys. If you are here long enough, being able to discern which guard is walking the run by noting the cadence of their colliding keys becomes an acknowledged sixth sense.
The Great Horned Owl harkened as Dick Head’s shift ended. Ronnie, my best friend and cellmate, discerned that Yvonne Diaz entered our corner within the primeval catacombs of Edgefield. The metallic rhythm projecting itself from her keys was unmistakable, feline, purposeful, and delicate when compared to her colleagues whose keys often emitted a sinister rhythm one could expect to hear from the dungeons in the antiquated black and white Boris Karloff or Vincent Price films I watched as a youth.
Every convict knew Diaz had relieved Dick Head. Her keys imitated the delicate sound of frozen rain pellets dancing upon frosted windowpanes in late November, followed by two fragile clinks concluding with an enticing jingle before the series repeated itself. Juxtaposed with the cadence of frozen rain pellets, the alluring perfume Diaz always wore never failed to drift across the gaping expanse of our cellblock as a sensual invitation to remember what it was like to feel the sensual caress of a seductive woman again; some of us have not experienced that carnal pleasure for several decades, giving birth to a torturous ache no man should have to endure.
Ronnie stood at the bars of our cell straining to catch the tantalizing scent of Diaz; I often felt that somewhere Ronnie and Diaz had crossed paths long before she wore the gray shirt of a guard, and he had donned the white cotton uniform of a Texas convict. I could never pinpoint that suspicion; Ronnie refused to acknowledge my thoughts on the matter. Yet, there was a sense of familiarity between them, something shared long ago, something unspoken and intensely understood.
Diaz, thought to of been in her early 40s, owned an intoxicating beauty. The mere existence of Diaz gave heterosexual convicts assigned to Edgefield abundant fuel for late night masturbatory desires. I often wondered, did she grasp the magnitude of convicts achieving orgasmic bliss while fantasizing of sundry sexual encounters with her each evening? The volume of inmates involved geometrically expand when compared to other female guards; to ponder the reality of the calculations involved, at least in my mind, can be compared to the mysteries of the Fibonacci Sequence. Was Diaz aware of this? Surely, she must have been. Did she care?
Despite her chiseled features, Diaz could not hide the evidence of physical abuse meted out by the hardened fists of a cowardly spouse. The perpetual faint bruising around her hickory-colored eyes, which no amount of Walmart makeup can conceal, bore witness to frequent violence upon her person. Rumor had it her husband held the rank of Captain at the nearby Beto Prison and presented himself as a righteous deacon at a nearby rural Baptist church. Ronnie admired the nihilist philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche but despised holy roller Jesus freaks and preachers. However, he hated just about everyone, as I do, which explains why we were friends, trusting each other. The Great Horned Owl was still barking in the distance. Ronnie hated the owl too.
As Diaz came to our cell for the routine roster count, she uttered a faint “hi guys,” accompanied by a near undetectable smile as she handed Ronnie a small bundle of marijuana, allowing him a lingering hand-to-hand exchange and yearning eye contact. She pulled the perfumed package from under the bra she wore beneath a heavily starched gray uniform shirt; her uniforms were always pressed and well-tailored unlike most of her female colleagues.
The facial expression of Diaz that evening appeared to be remote with thoughts focused on a point beyond the fleeting finite existence humanity shares. I have observed similar expressions in the eyes of convicts who, for whatever reason, embraced the belief that suicide is superior to life within the foreboding netherworld of a Texas prison where civilization had banished them. Many souls abandon hope within the hellish confines of prisons like Edgefield, akin to the words Dante’s Inferno paints vivid imagery of by stating: “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” Dante’s statement is all inclusive. It does not differentiate between guards and convicts. No truer words have ever been written. The old “red brick” prison farms sodomize the soul, regardless of the color of the uniform you wear.
Ronnie took the scented bundle while taking notice of her expression, commenting that Diaz’s husband had dispensed an added ration of his bare-knuckle handiwork, as discernable by the extra layer of makeup under a bloodshot left eye and swollen bottom lip. Had Diaz abandoned all hope within the prison of her own domestic Inferno? Ronnie hated her spouse, despite never meeting the prick, vowing to kill the lying holy roller if the opportunity presented itself. Knowing Ronnie as I did, the opportunity would be executed with an extra serving of “up close and very personal” for the coward who laid his fists on Diaz.
Barely 20 minutes had passed before frantic yelling from the fourth tier erupted with extreme chaos. A microsecond later, Diaz slammed into the freshly painted gray cement floor in front of our cell with a sickening THWACK; her twisted body imitated a child’s cast-off marionette doll. Diaz’s eyes stared straight ahead, emitting a faint glimmer of life as her noble Spanish blood pooled around fragile splintered skull fragments. The cellblock erupted into a level of apocalyptic turmoil Dante could never have imagined within his literary visions of hell. Soon after, several guards raced in barking orders on their two-way radios; one of the inbred imbeciles slipped and fell. Seconds later medical staff arrived, but not quickly enough.
Diaz beamed as the final spark of life appeared to be giving way to the realm of transcendent freedom known as death. Anguished souls find their liberation in many forms once they abandon all hope. Diaz found freedom from her personal rendition of hellish prison; prison becomes manifest in various constructs and personages other than high walls, razor wire and gun towers. My decades of incarceration embedded a perspective that prison and freedom carry myriad forms and definitions. What is freedom to one, may be a prison to another, or to some like Ronnie, nothing really matters as our lives have neither significance, nor meaning. I am inclined to embrace the perspective that “none of this matters,” as we are born from emptiness and die into an emptiness which cares not if life or death is our fate on any given day. The only important issue is being able to live proudly as defined by your own terms. All else is bovine excrement, pure unadulterated malodorous excrement.
After the gurney carrying Diaz’s lifeless body was removed from the cellblock, two Black inmate orderlies arrived with the standard yellow Rubbermaid mop buckets filled with pungent bleach water; each bucket had the obligatory thick cotton string wrapped around a wheel creating a wicked squeal. Watching the orderlies with rapt attention, Ronnie exhaled the magical herb Diaz delivered while quoting Arthur C. Clarke: “Maybe those nihilist philosophers are right; maybe this is all we can expect of the universe, a relentless crushing of life and spirit, because the equilibrium state of the cosmos is death….” Ronnie was an avid reader of Clarke. Ronnie appeared to be visibly shaken; I had never seen him like that before.
Maybe they were right, as the words of Nietzsche came to mind, stating: “To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.” It would seem Diaz had adopted the view of her life no longer presenting access to living proudly. I have seen it before, but that evening within the eyes of a woman who felt she could no longer live with dignity and self-respect. Ronnie has mentioned that from time to time, he detects the same transcended yearning in my eyes. When he sees this, my friend always states: “if you must die, die proudly.” Somehow, that vision makes sense in our vain and hypocritical world, where nothing matters beyond living with pride, self-respect, and dying well. If you have neither, what is the point?
The ever-efficient orderlies removed all that remained of the coagulated pool of blood as if Yvonne Diaz had never existed, which raises the question, “What is existence?” When the orderlies pushed their wretched squealing Rubbermaid buckets beyond the “crash gate,” the cellblock fell into a state of catatonic silence. Someone from the 3rd tier wondered if the unit commissary would be open in the morning.
1 AM. The sweet fragrance of ganja wafted through the cell; the music of Tool flowed through my contraband headphones. The Great Horned Owl harkened as I slid headlong into unholy nocturnal visions of Dante’s flaming Inferno.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
At age 55, Tim discharged a 20-year prison sentence. Soon afterwards he enrolled in college and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Southern New Hampshire University earning a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English - Creative Writing with a minor in Legal Studies. Tim has been accepted into the Fort Hays State University Literary Arts Master’s degree program.
His fictional work often explores the plight of social pariahs within our self-absorbed society. The stories tend to be Urban Gothic in nature, with an expanding interest in "flash fiction."
Tim’s interests include cheap bourbon, billiards, tattooed Femme-Fatales, and the musical genres known as “Fusion” & “Chicago Blues.” Various writers have had a profound impact upon his worldview and overall love of literature, primarily Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Joyce Carol Oates, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Tim resides near Atlanta with Charlie, his loyal dog. Charlie was born on the very day Tim walked out of prison; they are inseparable.