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 #3 | Day of Release
Three tortured blasts from the antiquated steam whistle shattered the heavy silence of another gothic East Texas morning. The bellowing sentinel was bolted atop a rusted tower situated just beyond a pair of 12-foot-high razor wire fence rows; half-starved coyotes prowled nearby, yipping in unison. Every day for 75 years the pre-dawn eruptions signified a new day had begun on Edgefield; nothing had changed as my 20-year residence in TDCJ was about to conclude. The moment of discharge was nigh. Later that day I was transported to “The Walls” prison in downtown Huntsville for release the following morning.
For the uninitiated, it is incumbent to understand release from prison is not always a glorious event for the well-seasoned convict. Decades of incarceration institutionalizes a person to the level of being wholly reliant upon the system for every need; prison completely strips a person of their autonomy. After endless years of being subjected to the state micromanaging each moment of your existence, including when you are permitted to use the toilet, the very same Draconian system, on average, dumps 1,756 convicts on the side of the road everyday with no more dignity than an overstuffed garbage bag of soiled baby diapers.
As the years fall off the calendar, the world beyond prison walls assumes new forms, reshaping itself with the passing of each day. Like so many, I was tucked away in a cloistered time-capsule made of brick, cement, iron bars, and razor wire, literally encapsulated in cocoons impervious from the hands of time; the only windows permitting a glimpse into the far-removed world were antiquated televisions, cheap AM/FM radios with poor reception, and the occasional letter at mail-call. The convict who served decades no longer recognizes, nor understands society. Yet, our oblivious culture expects them to reintegrate with ease while leaving prison with ill-fitting clothes, a bus ticket, and $100 “gate money.”
I have friends who left prison after decades behind the wire; a few of them “made it.” Others committed a new offense for the purpose of being returned to prison, being their home; some developed severe illnesses soon after release as their bodies began to mysteriously fall apart; and far too many simply said, “screw it,” and committed suicide after building up their courage with the aid of cheap bourbon.
As the moment of release inched closer, questions began to viciously harass my inner most thoughts; Would I have a chance to survive out there? Would I become another ex-con suicide or recidivist statistic, or worse, wind up living in a cardboard box under Interstate 35, being little more than a passing shadow within a society where ex-cons are viewed as cancerous pariahs and social lepers?
8:30 AM September 2, 2011. In 60 minutes, I would enter the ranks of the 1,756 walking out of prison that day. Twenty damn years had passed since the cops tossed my Irish ass in jail. Yet, there it was staring me in the face, one hour before they opened the doors, standing in line with 29 other convicts waiting to receive our free-world clothing; clothing Goodwill had rejected, and any self-respecting crackhead or wino would be embarrassed to wear. How many had once stood in this very line wondering if they would survive on the streets? I wanted someone to transport back to Edgefield, my home, where I would be safe. No one did.
Upon being herded into the staging area to receive our discharge papers and clothing, I saw it. BEHOLD!! There stood the mythical “Bible Barrel” underneath portraits of nameless TDCJ officials with celluloid smiles. The barrel broadcasted a majestic aura worthy of reverence, worship and sacred recognition. For two decades I heard about the Bible Barrel but had come to believe all the accounts were fables, not unlike the countless other urban legends fabricated by convicts with too much time on their hands, and who were, quite frankly, full of excrement. Prison was never in short supply of fantastical myths of this nature, some catapulting beyond the barrier of ridiculous, yet accepted as gospel-truth by countless inmates. May God (whoever She is) strike me dead for harboring unbelief, doubting the existence of the Holy Bible Barrel.
The barrel collected Bible’s prisoners no longer had use for. They had prayed to Jesus while making a grand show of the “jailhouse religion” game to the utmost level throughout their period of involuntary servitude. As freedom lay mere moments away for these brayers of holy babbling, Jesus was delegated to a blue plastic 55-gallon barrel, a barrel formerly used to ship pickles. I could only grin at the irony of it all while numerous inmates lined up to casually tossed their Bibles into the yawning mouth of the holy blue receptacle.
A bellicose female sergeant with stained plastic teeth and a fresh Elvis tattoo on her forearm distributed the clothing. Her breath projected a dreadful odor I had never encountered before. After pillaging through a pile of shirts, the sergeant viciously tossed a lime green shirt which slammed into my head with the velocity of a 99 MPH fastball. After peeling the luminescent garment from my face, a huge red fish woven into the abominable green fabric was staring back at me with a mocking grin. Upon seeing the shirt, the lobotomized pinhead standing next in line wondered what kind of fish it could be; How in the hell would I know? Do I look like Jacques Cousteau?
For some, slipping into a pair of pants with a zipper contained the seeds for a cataclysmic event; for many of us, decades had passed since we wore trousers with rows of glistening metal teeth. However, that potentiality primarily existed for those who discarded their state issued prison boxers expecting to purchase overpriced underwear at the store located in the nearby Greyhound bus depot. This concern proved legitimate as Jamal, the black guy I had been talking to earlier that morning shrieked. Evidently, he had a disastrous incident. Thankfully I had the foresight to keep the state issued boxers. Although I avoided shredding myself, buttoning a shirt for the first time in two decades was proving to be a formidable task. Thank God for laced tennis shoes, otherwise I would have been in a world of hurt if something with Velcro had been issued.
The long anticipated, the much-feared moment arrived; the front doors were unlocked by rather short Lieutenant with a severe Napoleon complex. Jamal and I were the last pair to step through the gateway into the brisk September morning. As we timidly wandered towards the bus depot, I touched a tree and blades of grass for the first time in nine years and hand fed a cheddar cheese potato chip to a squirrel who seemed to be grateful for the treat. Jamal was still snarling about the mishap with the zipper.
As we approached the depot, a pair of red-neck hookers appeared to be the unofficial “welcome back” committee soliciting their services to our group for a minimal fee. Standing on the other side of the parking lot were a troupe of fanatical Evangelicals offering baptisms in a galvanized cattle watering trough. All I wanted was a bucket of Popeye’s chicken and a bottle of ice-cold Lone Star beer; sex and salvation had to wait.
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.