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 #4 | From the Outside In
I recently received a letter from Dantrell, a 63-year-old friend mired within the Orwellian confines of the Texas prison system. His correspondence expressed acute angst over reentering society after 30 years of incarceration. Like so many others before him, the day of release was not looked at with exhilaration and expectation. His entire being and who he came to identify as was about to be stripped away by the state with no more dignity than flushing a toilet.
As his letter was read and reread, thoughts of my own release came flooding back with haunting realism. Dantrell would be entering a world he no longer knew, as I did. When I walked out of TDCJ, the world was unrecognizable; no one was there waiting, nor would anyone be there for Danrtrell. My friend will face much of the same obstacles I did, having no clue how to use a cell phone, a laptop, using the internet or email, complete unfamiliarity with debit cards, and most of all, the absolute mind-f*ck Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) can be for many years. I shudder over the realities of what my friend will encounter in the not-so-distant future.
The following is something I wrote during my undergraduate studies during a period of immense struggle with PICS. The story, though fictional, incorporates the essence of what most long-term ex-cons struggle with, to one degree or another, as they try to navigate their way back into a world they are not sure they wish to be a part of. Dantrell will be no exception; nor have I been.
The flashing OPEN sign of the 24-hour café probed the wintery precipitation as a beacon beckoning my storm weary soul to safe harbor. Pinky’s Grill stood three blocks from the solitary bus stop located under an equally solitary streetlamp at the intersection of 24th Street and St. Clair Avenue; the luminescent light always flickered. A stray dog pawed a nearby pile of shredded trash bags. The wretched creature looked half-starved, unlike Scooter, the dog I had as a boy in rural Ohio; does the dog have a name? Three mini donuts were tossed to the malnourished mongrel; it looked up, puzzled.
Discarded heroin needles, empty beer cans, and soiled condoms littered the ice-covered sidewalk; crumpled newspapers cartwheeled down the semi-deserted street imitating trademark tumble weeds seen in Sergio Leon “Spaghetti Western” films starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Sleet pellets penetrated the thick gray beard I wore, boring miniature holes into the side of my face with the ferocity of angry diamond tipped drill bits. My cheap $7 Walmart watch showed 11:59 PM; the damn bus was already 15 minutes late.
Were these the only crumbs life was going to grant after discharging a 30-year prison sentence three years ago? God, if there is one, has cursed me with a broken-down 66-year-old body and residence at the Morrison Hotel, an establishment where complimentary toilet paper is not included with the weekly rent. Despite earning a Master’s degree in prison, the only source of income has been perpetual minimum wage day labor jobs on the water-front docks. Am I going to have to wait all night for the damnable #6 bus in this god-forsaken weather? An outbound freighter sounded its soulful foghorn as the force of the incoming storm increased. I wondered: where is the ship headed, Tahiti, Vietnam, India? Shit, any destination beyond the purgatory of post-incarceration “nothingness” would be a vast improvement to the status quo. Life was far better in prison; three years of so-called freedom and nothing, nothing, nothing. Thoughts of suicide or returning to life behind the razor-wire have been entertained in recent weeks, including tonight.
Having decided to forgo the AWOL bus, dropping anchor at Pinky’s seemed to be a prudent choice considering the execrable weather. I shuffled down 24th Street hoping to avoid breaking my geriatric ass on a patch of ice; somehow that task was navigated without too much of an effort. A blast of warm air, perfumed with the heady aroma of patty melt sandwiches and burnt coffee, assuaged the senses upon entering the cheerless surroundings of the eatery; a torn black vinyl booth, patched with red duct tape, was claimed next to the unwashed windowpane facing 24th Street. Pinky’s was half full. The usual assortment of late-night junkies, drunks, transvestites, longshoremen, worn out hookers, cops, and perpetual insomniacs was scattered throughout the confines of the establishment, each striving to remain insulated from other patrons within the cocoons of their own secretive thoughts.
A nameless wannabe Marilyn Monroe waitress placed a cup of boiling black coffee in front of me. I asked for creamers and ordered breakfast plate #3, consisting of hash browns, bacon, Texas toast and 3 eggs, over easy. Marilyn wore a pink uniform at least two sizes too small, revealing pasty cleavage mimicking the color and texture of raw dough oozing from cardboard tubes of buttermilk biscuits found in the grocery store next to the margarine and cheese. Her Monroe mole appeared to have been applied with a Sharpie pen. A massive city dump truck, yellow strobe flashing, rumbled by, slinging salt pellets on 24th Street as Marilyn served the breakfast plate; she never brought the creamer. Just as my palate was about to savor the decadent levels of artery clogging cuisine, I noticed the dog across the street, sitting stone still as the sleet and snow squalls swirled around him; he sat there, staring, shivering.
Ricardo, a mustached cashier, who did not sport a Sharpie mole, sat on a wooden stool, and took my $13.75; he handed over the large coffee (with cream) and two additional sausage patties I had ordered “to go.” The dog shadowed my steps back to the bus stop shelter. As the patties were pulled from the brown paper bag, my new companion whined. With a bit of trepidation, the canine carefully inched forward with caution. Within a few minutes, the mutt was on the bench devouring the succulent meaty treat. He reminded me of Scooter.
The #6 bus finally arrived just as the dog curled up to lay his head on my lap; he fell asleep under the strokes of a gloved hand.
“Hey mon, you getting’ on or not mon? This is the last bus until 5 AM mon” snorted the Rastafarian driver.
“Naw, we’re good, we’re good.”
“Suit yourself mon,” were the departing words of the Bob Marley clone as he closed the accordion doors. A moment later, the bus lumbered down St. Clair before it disappeared in the blowing snow.
We’re good… Scooter and I are good… we’re good.
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.