Thursday, August 21, 2014

Becoming an All-Expense Paid Guest of Uncle Sam—Cook County Jail




Note—The fifth installment in my on-going series of stories about my Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War, trial, and imprisonment.
Moments after I entered the Federal Building to report for incarceration on my Draft resistance conviction I was made rudely aware of the difference between being held for arraignment and being an official convict.  Gone was any semblance of politeness or acknowledgement of me as an individual.  The processing was brisk.  There was no reluctance to lay hands on me although I was totally compliant.  I was finger printed and mug shot once again.  But this time my new Bureau of Prisons identification number was attached.  I was told to memorize that number.  From that point forward that was how I would be known.  I would not be referred to or called in any official capacity by my name.  I must instantly answer to my number.
Some folks never forget that number.  I have trouble remembering my phone number and it took the better part of my first 50 years just to master my Social Security number by heart.  So I have long since forgotten the long string of digits.  But, believe me, I was keenly aware of them then.
I was also subjected to The Dance for the first time.  That’s the strip search procedure used every time a prisoner is moved from one secure area to another, between or inside institutions.  Anyone who has been inside the joint knows the drill.  Strip naked.  Raise your right arm over your head.  Raise your left arm over your head.  Run your fingers through your hair.  With feet apart raise you scrotum.  Turn around.  Place your hands on the wall. Raise you right foot and show the bottom of your foot. Raise your left foot and show the bottom of your foot.  Lean over, grab your butt cheeks and spread them.  Be prepared, at the discretion of the guard, to have your anus probed by a gloved hand.
After initial processing I was placed in a cell with three or four other men to await transfer to Cook County Jail where we were to be held until Federal Marshalls could transport us to our prison assignments.  It was a two or three hour wait.
When a vehicle and Marshalls were ready we were removed from the cell and shackled—hands together in front of us, at the ankles so no more than a shuffling movement could be made, chained around our waists and linked together.  Down in a cramped elevator to the basement garage a panel van awaited.  Unchained from each other, we took hard seats and chains from our waists were bolted to the floor.  We were instructed not to talk.  We didn’t.
The van disgorged us in the bowels of Cook County Jail, where uniformed County guards signed for us.  Frankly the next couple of hours were a blur.  I remember being lead through a maze of hallways, frequently stopping to pass locked gates.  The place had a loud, continuous din of noise—the banging of doors, buzzers, shouted orders, the hum and roar of fans and ventilation equipment, assorted yells and cries as we passed tiers of cells.
We were processed once again.  Again finger printed and photographed.  Stripped and searched.  We were issued Cook County uniforms, in those days two olive green jump suits, two sets of well used underwear, two pair of black socks, and thick soled black boots.
My little gaggle of Federal prisoners and I were still in a group, destined for the same tier.  I can no longer remember the tier designation.  It was on the 2nd or 3rd floor.  Cell blocks radiated out from a common core.  Inmate tiers were designated by direction and floor, 2W, 3N, etc.  Our particular destination was reserved for those on or awaiting serious felony charges, prisoners brought up from downstate institutions for appeals or to testify in court proceedings, and Federals like ourselves.  This, I was later told, was elite company far from the puking drunks, detoxing junkies, gang bangers and petty criminals being held for lack of bond or the poor saps who were serving out their sentences in jail.
We were injected, one by one, into the day room of the tier through a secure portal.  We each carried a rough wool blanket and a single sad pillow.  The portal was to one side of the glassed-in guard station which protruded into the day room.  Ordinarily guards did not enter the tier unless there was trouble or inmates were locked down. 
The day room itself was large and crowded.  Behind an open area were three or four rows of tables with attached benches.  Men sat at the tables playing cards or dominos, reading and talking.  Many sat or sprawled on the bare concrete staring at small black and white TV mounted high in one corner.  The rear of the day room opened up on a corridor lined on both sides with two-bunk cells.  The perimeter of the entire tier was surrounded by bars and a walk way.  One side of each cell was visible through the bars from that hall, which was lit 24 hours a day.  At the end of the hall was a large open latrine with rows of toilets, sinks and open showers.
Our arrival caused something of a stir.  We were greeted and peppered with questions.  I was easily the youngest man that I could see.  When they found out that I was up on a Draft rap there was a ripple of guffaws.  Turns out it was not a prestige crime.  I could hear some muffled jokes about fresh meat.  Not reassuring.
When the crowd thinned a bit, a Black guy in his mid-thirties approached me.  He was wearing the standard jump suit, but the collars were long, pendulous ending in a blunt arch more than half way down the chest.  He was, he informed me with no sense of braggadocio, the Boss of the tier.  It turned out ranking gang members could obtain special uniforms and various other goodies and favors.  He had a relationship with several of the guards—he kept order on the tier and he got certain, ahem, luxuries in return and for a modest price.  He told me he would look out after me and to let him know if I had problems with any of the cons.  I appreciated the help, but had the suspicion that he would want something from me, sooner or later.
I was informed that because of overcrowding that there were no available bunks in the cells.  I would have to sleep on the floor of the day room.  Since I thought I would only be there a day or two, I thought nothing of it and stashed my bed roll off to one side.  I found an empty spot on a table bench and settled it to staring blankly at whatever was on the TV.
I had missed lunch and had no stomach for breakfast.  Despite my stomach continuing to do nervous flips, I was getting hungry.   
Around 5 o’clock dinner arrived.  Metal pans and cups were handed out.  The pan was filled with a large ladle-full of some kind of bean slop.  There were a couple of slices of dry white bread evidently baked from sawdust.  A foul black concoction alleged to be coffee or a small carton of milk were our choice of beverages.
I stared into the bowl.  It appeared that some sort of red worms were swimming among the beans.  “Them’s pig tails!” I was informed.  Turned out that pig tails and beans were the most common dinner, alternating with Ox tails and beans and on rare occasions a slab of gristly meat deep fried and advertised as chicken fried steak.  There was no salt.  The beans smelled and tasted like crap.  I passed that first night.
But hunger eventually gets to you and after a few days I was wolfing the stuff down, spitting out the bones with the best of them. 
Breakfast was a glop of powdered eggs or an oatmeal gruel with the saw dust bread pre-toasted but cold.  Lunch, unvaryingly was the same plain bologna on dry white bread famously handed out in police station lock-ups.  Those who had money in the commissary could supplement their diet with chips, candy bars, and brownies.
The diet and the tension ganged up on me.  Usually as regular as a twice a day milk train, I couldn’t produce a crap for a week, which I assure you made me very uncomfortable.
A week you say, wasn’t I supposed to be on my way to the big house before that?  I began to wonder the same thing until one of the other Federal prisoners got word from his lawyer that we were stuck in Cook County Jail because all of the Federal Marshalls needed to move us had been sent to Wounded Knee to shoot Indians.  American Indian Movement leaders including Dennis Banks and Russell Means were holed up in a standoff with authorities in the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  As long as both sides continued taking pot shots at each other, I was stuck in Cook County.
The days stretched into weeks.  I continued to sleep, fitfully on the floor usually under a table to provide some shield from the 24 hour a day light in the day room.
Because I was assumed to be headed rapidly to the prison in Sandstone, Minnesota, my friends lost track of me and my commissary money provided to me as a class war prisoner by the IWW General Defense Committee was sent up there.  Without any money on deposit at Cook County, I could not access the commissary for smokes, or any of the little luxuries including writing implements, paper, envelopes, stamps, toiletries, smokes, or snacks.  The lack of cigarettes made me a double beggar because cigarettes packs were the currency between cons.
After a few days I got word to the fellow workers and received my first visit.  We spoke through a thick window.  It was good to see them.  And good to have them put some money in my commissary, which I rapidly spent on Pall Malls, writing equipment, and magazines to pass the time.  About a week later my girlfriend Cecelia took an afternoon off work to come. Our meeting was awkward.  Neither of us knew what to say.  I never saw anyone else in my time there, although my commissary account got refreshed.
Every morning we were all wakened.  We had half an hour to piss, shower and shave.  I had been warned about the showers and tried to avoid them by washing in the basin, but was told by guards that I must shower at least twice a week.  I tried to keep my butt to the wall and never, ever, bend over.
To shave we were allowed the use of the then new disposable razor.  Used to the metal heft of a Gillette Safety Razor, it felt weightless in my hand.  The blades were bad and maneuvering it over the unfamiliar territory of my chin, which had been adorned for years with a goatee, meant that I was bleeding for breakfast most mornings.
I passed the time in the day room mostly watching daytime television.  A punishment then as now.  Since I didn’t gamble, the card and domino games were out.  After I finally got some commissary money, I had something to read and I began writing the epic letters that prisoners with a lot of time on their hands are known for.  And not just to friends.
One day I caught Helen Reddy on some morning show.  She sang a couple of songs.  I was impressed and wrote her a heartfelt four page handwritten fan letter, something I had never done in my life.  I forgot that my hen scratch printing was virtually illegible and that my unassisted spelling made me seem to be at best semi-literate.  I never heard back from Helen.  But later I realized that fan mail from jail tends to give stars the creeps.
One day the tier was surprised by the delivery of several cartons of brand new Penthouse magazines—enough for everyone.  Let me tell you the guys were excited.  You could buy girlie mags in the commissary, but most didn’t have enough in their accounts to buy them.  The magazines came courtesy of the tier’s most famous resident.
Silas Jayne was always described in the press as a horseman.  He ran an upscale riding stable and a business peddling broken down nags as expensive show horses to the teen age daughters of wealthy men.  He also had a habit of seducing and/or assaulting those same girls and blackmailing their fathers.  Some of the girls had turned up missing.  He also had a long running feud with his brother George who was in the same business.  There had been fatalities on both sides.  But Silas, who made pals of cops, escaped arrest, even after he was suspected of the sniper killing of an Indiana cop investigating the disappearance of three girls.  What finally got him arrested was the similar shooting of his brother George.  He was in Cook County awaiting trial.
For all of his tough guy swagger, Silas was deathly afraid of the other inmates, especially the Black ones.  He paid our tier Boss plenty for protection.  But he never left the safety of his cell.  A little rat faced toady who was his cell mate would bring him his food.  This was in violation of the jail rules, but the guards were also well paid to ignore it.  I only glimpsed Jayne through the bars of his cell on my way to the latrine and showers. 
Jayne’s hot shot lawyer was somehow also involved with Penthouse’s Bob Guccione.  Thus the gifts.
Jayne was later acquitted of the murder.  He was arrested again for the barn arson of a rival that killed dozens of horses but died before that case came to trial.  Years later he was tied to the disappearance of candy heiress Helen Brock who apparently was going to the authorities with evidence of some of his horse frauds
We had a couple of other murderers who had made headlines, but no one matched Jayne for star power. 
About three weeks in, the tier Boss invited me to visit his cell.  Not for the first time.  But this time he had something to offer I could hardly refuse—hooch.  That’s a sort of home brew alcohol.  This batch was made up by his friends in the kitchen, made from fermented fruit pulp, honey and a little yeast.  Closer to mead than wine or beer.  It stunk and tasted, well, like you would expect.  The Boss had a couple of quarts of the stuff in milk jugs smuggled to him by obliging guards. 
It was mid-afternoon and the cells were mostly empty.  We shared a few swigs of hooch.  He offered me some downers, but I never did like pills.  He said if I wanted, he could even get some grass.  I couldn’t imagine how that would work with the smell wafting everywhere.  But the Boss had everyone in his hip pocket, so I supposed nothing was impossible.  As we grew mellower, he began to come on to me.  I was expecting that.  I kept a close eye on the open cell door.  He explained how he could protect me, even in the Federal joint.  He had friends everywhere.  He extolled the virtues of becoming his bitch.
I thanked him but declined.  “I just can’t do it,” I told him.  “No, I didn’t think you would, but it was worth the pitch.”  We shared another swig or two and he let me go without laying a hand on me.  He never invited me back, but he did make clear later in the day room where tongues were wagging that I was a “stand up dude, so lay the fuck off.”  And they did.
The Wounded Knee siege was finally broken on May 5, 1973.  The Federal inmates got word that Marshalls would again be available to transport us in a couple of more days.  I was still sleeping on the floor under a table.  I had been in Cook County for just over a month.
Next:  Sandstone.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Becoming an All-Expense Paid Guest of Uncle Sam—The Interim

The IWW's General Defense Committee adopted me as a Class War Prisoner.


Note:  This is the fifth in a series of posts about my experiences with the Draft and Justice System during the Vietnam War era.
Judge Sam Perry gave me two weeks to put my affairs in order before reporting to begin my three year sentence for draft resistance.  I actually had damn few affairs to put in order.  My life was pretty simple.  But I was grateful, I guess for a little time to prepare.
I had to figure out what to do about work.  That was second shift at the Schwinn Bicycle framing plant on the west side.  At first I planned to put in the final two weeks on the job, mostly so my girl friend Cecelia would have a little cushion for taking up the entire cost of rent and utilities at our place on Freemont Street.  I knew she was worried about that.  But we finally decided for me to give a week’s notice instead.
My foreman at the plant was more than a little ticked off when I told him.  I was the only guy who was cross-trained on all of the welding machines on the line, the spot welders that attached clips and small parts and even the big flash welder that fused the front forks to the main frame.  I could take the place of anyone who missed a shift or cycle in and of machines so the operator could go to the bathroom or seek first aid for the frequent injuries associated with hot metal and a fast paced line.  He told me he would never have spent so much time “developing me” if he knew I was planning to up and quit on him for no good reason.  I hadn’t explained why I was leaving.  He told me not to come crawling back when I couldn’t get as good a job.
I did share what was going on with the younger guys on the line.  They were a little incredulous that I wasn’t just hightailing it to Canada, but supportive.  The last Friday, as always, we took our checks to be cashed at a nearby saloon over lunch.  We smoked dope in the car on the way there.  The guys each bought me a quick shot.  I bought them some too.  We smoked another doobie on the way back. 
Got there 45 minutes late.  The line was at a standstill.  The foreman was fuming.  He yelled at the other guys and told them they were all written up.  But he needed us and sent us all back to the line despite our generally obvious impairment.  I want to apologize now to any bicycle buyers who might have purchased a product produced on that line the wee small hours of the morning.  I hope no one was killed.
I phoned my councilor at the American Friends Service Committee and reported the outcome of my trial.  He was astounded and angry that my lawyer, Jason Below, had not even tried to use the defense based on my not being told that I had been removed from the pool of eligibility, which they had recommended to him.  He suggested that I should file an appeal based on incompetency of council.
Hmm.  I turned that notion over in my mind for a moment.  I pictured the likely result of marching into Federal Court and charging that my lawyer, one of the best known hot shot corporate attorneys in Chicago and one who had volunteered his services selflessly to me at no cost, with incompetence.  Likely before a Judge who belonged to the same posh downtown clubs and whose wives served on the same charity boards.  I envisioned being sent to hard time in Leavenworth for life.  I told my councilor I’d take a pass on that.
He did say I could file a request to have my sentenced reduced, but I couldn’t do that until I was actually in the slammer.  I could draw up the papers myself from the joint, he said.  Just find a jail house lawyer to show me how.  He assured me there would be no shortage of them.  I was dubious, but it turned out he was right.
Another task was figuring out what, if anything, to tell my mother who was physically ill and in very precarious mental health.  Phone consultation with my Dad in Des Moines resulted in an elaborate scheme.  I would call her and tell her that I had just signed up with the Merchant Marine and was shipping out immediately on a tramp steamer.  I obtained some picture post cards from various ports in South America, Africa, and Europe and wrote brief messages on them spaced over the next three years.  I sent them to Dad who arranged with various people to post them from the cities at intervals. 
The whole scheme was so lame, and so unbelievable that anyone with any sense could have seen through it in a trice.  My mother, however, was a champion of willful denial of bad news and it turned out swallowed the whole thing hook, line, and sinker.
A lot of my time was spent making the rounds of friends, Fellow Workers in the IWW, and others who I had had collaborated with in various radical projects.  I guess when I started out on this, I imagined that I would be lionized as a brave martyr to the revolution.  I imagined that going to prison would punch my ticket as a revolutionary.  After all hadn’t all of the great ones done time in the slammer and come out stronger and more committed?  I was sadly disillusioned to learn that almost no one else shared this view.  Most of them knew me too well to detect anything heroic about me.
Take my friends at Solidarity Bookstore, the anarchist hotbed on Armitage Avenue across from Waller High School.  The folks there were all Wobblies, but also much more ideological than many of us.  I had joined their collective and taken shifts at the store and had joined in creating a Chicago chapter of the International Black Cross, an organization dedicated to the defense of anarchists around the world charged with crimes and supporting class war prisoners.  I co-edited and contributed to Black Cross Bulletin which was circulated around the world.
I assumed in light of our work with prisoners that my sacrifices would be particularly appreciated there.  Not so much.  The general consensus was that I was collaborating with the state in my own persecution.  A real revolutionary, I was told, would never voluntarily surrender.  Instead, I should go underground and form or join a revolutionary cell ready to smash the state by any means necessary.  Failing that I should at least go to Canada and fight on as an exile.
Despite this assessment, my friends agreed to help me with a project at self-improvement in the joint.  The good Quakers had informed me that I would be able to receive books in Federal prison provided they were shipped directly from a book store and I filled out some paperwork.  I selected a number of volumes from the bookstore that I had never had time to read—a new edition of the writings of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin translated and edited by an old friend, Sam Dolgoff, several books on the Spanish Civil War and anarchist collectives, and some studies of more modern European workers’ self management experiments.  Following the example of Eugene V. Debs and other heroes, I planned to educate myself.  It worked too, not by transforming me into a great revolutionary thinker, but those books made it past censorship and helped me while away many an hour.
I got a little more support at IWW headquarters.  Carlos Cortez, with whom I shared principle editing duties on a staff collective for the Industrial Worker was naturally supportive.  Not only did we work together extremely closely, but the legendary artist/poet/editor was a rare World War II draft resistor.  And in fact he had been sent to Sandstone, Minnesota to help build and be a first guest in the prison there—the same place I had just been informed would be my new home for the immediate future.  Together we worked on some copy for the paper about my trial and upcoming absence.  The union’s General Defense Committee also enrolled me as a Class War Prisoner and set me up to receive the usual $10 a month to be deposited in my commissary account, which would turn out to be pretty much all of my mad money for the duration.
Fred Thompson was my mentor.  He had served a stretch of hard time at San Quentin in the 1920’s on a charge of criminal syndicalism—basically for handing out the Industrial Workers on the streets of Maryville, California. That was a common fate of the old Wobblies I knew.  Fred had a story to tell me by way of advice.
Laying in his cell night after night, he could tell by certain tell tale moans and groans that the other denizens of his tier passed the time almost every night beating their meat.  Fred took a dim view of this.  Not on any moral grounds, however.  He was convinced that repeated overstimulation would rob the act of the value of its therapeutic release.  So he organized the guys to masturbate just once a week.  That’s right.  A few years later I asked another old fellow worker, Herb Edwards, who had been in the pen with him if the story was true.  It sure was, he said in his heavy Norwegian accent, “and that’s why Fred was the best damn organizer I ever saw.”
None the less, in the course of my confinement I can’t say I successfully followed Fred’s advice.
Most of the Wobblies, however, were puzzled why I didn’t just book for the border.  And lo these many years later I still get the same question every time the subject comes up. So at the risk of interrupting the smooth flow of the narrative, I’ll take a moment to explain. You are free to decide if it’s bullshit.
Despite my proud radicalism, a good chunk of me remained the idealistic, and even patriotic, kid who grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  My first lesson in civic morality—often reinforced by my father—was Davy Crocket’s motto, “Be sure your right, then go ahead.”  Which, by the way, would turn out to be a pretty good shorthand for the high flown philosophy I later picked up from Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I was also deeply impressed by the naïve patriotism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
So when, after considerable wrestling, I decided that the Vietnam War as a moral abomination in which I could not in good conscience participate, I was almost genetically programmed to stand up and act on my belief.  That meant, to me, doing it proudly, openly and willing to take the consequences for my action.  There was actually more than a little swaggering machismo in that notion.
The same sense of patriotism kept me from joining the thousands who left the country.  Good or bad, I was American.  And I wanted to stay in America.  When the whole thing was over, I wanted to be able to go about my business as a free citizen, which is to say I wanted to stay in this country and continue to make trouble.  I couldn’t do that in exile.
My refusal to go underground was simple vanity.  I did not want to give up being Patrick Mills Murfin.  I liked that guy.  I had many noble aspirations for him and dreams of glory.  I wanted to write the Great American Novel and have my name emblazoned on the cover and on whatever they give you for the Pulitzer Prize.  I wanted to be the subject of admiring biographies when I was dead and buried.  Hell, I wanted someone to make a movie of my life and cast whoever was that year’s Paul Newman in the lead. The anonymity of a life on the run could not compete with that level monumental egotism.
So it was resistance and waltzing into prison, trumpets blaring, for me.
Except that no one was really tooting those horns.  As the days ticked down and I finished my rounds of visits, I was taken aback by how everyone seemed perfectly capable and willing to go on with their lives in my absence.  All of my functions were smoothly being handed off to others, most of whom could do them better.  I suspected Cecelia would not long wait before finding someone else to warm her bed, either.
That last Saturday I went to the barber for the first time in a few years.  I got my hair restored to the same dorky style I had in high school, parted low on one side, clipped close around the ears and neck, combed to one side and then back so the front stood up a little.  That brought back the cowlick that made me look like Dagwood Bumstead.  I made this sacrifice, and I shaved my goatee for the first time since I played King Henry VIII in Man for All Seasons back in freshman year of college.  I kept the yellowish mustache. This was on the advice of the Quakers to avoid rough handling by the con barbers in the joint.
Barely recognizable I attended one last great shebang of a going away party.  It must have been a lulu.  I have absolutely no recollection who threw it, where it was held, or how much I drank.  I assure you it was a lot.
Then on a Monday morning I climbed alone to the El platform for my ride to the Federal Building.
Next:  Cook County Jail.