By David Taylor
After 12 months in a maximum security facility privately owned by G.E.O Corp, I was finally sentenced to 10 years (in the Feds you serve 85% of your mandatory minimum), and was sent to Atlanta Satellite Camp.
Pulling up to the monolithic solid granite block penitentiary I saw five stories of anguish and sorrow. All it needed for a Frankenstein movie backdrop were gargoyles on the outside—instead of the inside. Make no mistake this place is where the boogieman lives.
The iconic Department of Justice seal hangs over the jail bus entrance. It is the same seal on the F.B.I. building, the courthouse, the prosecutor’s office, the judge’s pulpit, and every prison gate across the county. It brings home the message that in America the government is the police, prosecution, judge, jury, and jailer.
I add jury because the first prosecutor I ever met said to me, "You don't stand a chance. We [the government] have a 98.6% conviction rate, which means only one person out of a hundred walks away. Are you that guy?"
I have never been that guy—just ask King Karma.
The prosecutor continued, "It’s Mom, America, and apple pie against Dave the drug dealer. Sign the plea or go to trial and lose…and get 25 to life.
I took the “safe” route. So here I am.
The granite blocks of the penitentiary collect beads of moisture from the humid air and run like tears down the terrifying edifice. My heart goes out to the thousands of men behind that 50-foot wall with its 11 gun towers leering over the whole facility, camp included.
I just want to give you some geographic and political background as to where I am.
I waited 13 days inside that wall for a bed to open up at the camp and get my property back, which included my manuscripts. Then, and only then, was I finally allowed to possess pens, pencils, thesaurus, and dare I say? Whiteout; the staple of prison rewrites.
When I finally left that dingy cell (located in the third circle of hell behind that wall) and felt the sun on my face without the shadow of chain-link, it was glorious! I walked to a softball field of weeds, lay down and fell asleep in that radiance.
I woke up to a booming loudspeaker blaring, "Yard recall!" and found I was burnt to a crisp on every inch of my exposed flesh, which earlier was the color of a captive marshmallow. It took me three months to loose that nickname.
Having been in prison before, I knew “The Rules,” even though this time it was a camp with a 12-foot high fence topped off by razor ribbon. Ironically, this “camp” has much more of a hostage feel to it.
Regardless, the repercussions of breaking a rule are huge, because knowing the rules can save your life.
Rule 1: Respect a convict, distrust an inmate.
Rule 2: Never cut in line. There's a line for everything; food, phone, shower, toilet, etc. You name it, we queue up for it.
Rule 3: Honor privacy. Just because we’re in prison, doesn’t mean we don’t need our space. In fact, having your own space is even more important here.
Rule 4: Shower everyday. Hygiene and hand-washing are a must.
Rule 5: Introducing oneself from a position of strength means leaving your racism and bigotry under the Department of Justice seal at the gate.
Rule 6: Good manners cost you nothing. When you talk quietly in prison, they lean in to hear. When you shout in their faces, eyes and ears close and fists begin to fly. It’s the small acts of kindness that keep the monsters of incarceration at bay. I call this convict compassion.
For instance, Mr. Sam Gray is a 79-year-old Jewish man with one of the kindest hearts I've ever met. He just had a quadruple bypass. As I walk by his cell I see a young Lebanese guy named Jamal tying Mr. Gray’s shoes, so he can hobble to the bathroom with Jamal's help. Mr. Gray is the only man to ever call me "Davey, my boy."
We are a sea of diverse culture and varied backgrounds. There are 524 men in here, including doctors, judges, blue collar types, a state representative, and an ex-governor—every kind of criminal, of every age, color, religion, and background, EXCEPT child molesters and kiddy porn producers. Thankfully, they're not allowed at a camp. Good thing, too, because there are lots of fathers and grandpas here. Almost everyone has a child of some kind that they miss and worry about. The hardest time you'll ever do is in the presence of child molesters. They are vile, heinous, and loathsome. Their crimes are inexcusable even in a world filled with criminals. Nevertheless, it’s a hate crime, punishable by five more years added to your sentence if you even spit on one, much less give them what they deserve.
This is where my literary armor come in, my shield that protects me from all the prison drama, politics, hatred, and just plain stupidity. My suit of armor was a gift from King Karma, who knew I'd stumble without it. In the free world it seems I could not hear my muse, Angelica, because I was always being bombarded with the static of outside influence, never taking time to quietly stop, turn inward and listen.
Here I walk the track with my muse, my memo pad, and my music. Then the words rain down, and my thoughts clear a path through the fog of incarceration.
This second 12 months brought the introduction of Stacy Dymalski, Keltin Barney, and Lizbeth Evanscunk (my editors and copy editor), along with the first complete draft of my novel, "The Jacumba Connection." Aside from the cover letters that came with each edit, my editors’ guidance and direction were in the margins of each page. My words were printed left of center (not unlike myself) leaving two inches for editorial comment.
In the 12 months that followed, I would suit up in my literary armor everyday and live my life within those margins.