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20th April 2016

Death In The Afternoon

The view from the window in my cell can only be described as bleak. Stark. There are eight bars that stretch across horizontally (as opposed to the normal way which is vertical) that are white and chipped with paint. My window looks out onto the middle of the compound.

You would think that the inside area of a prison would be one large open space but that's not the case in a federal pen. The recreation yard is fenced into three different spaces that are corralled by 12 ft high chain link fence that has razor wire coiled through the the top. There are three massive cell houses on this compound that have four cell blocks in each building, and because the daily environment here is so violent and volatile, we go to outdoor recreation with only the cell blocks that are in our building. We can hang on the end of the fence and talk to guys from another cell house, but we can't rec with them.

And sitting dead in the middle of the yard looking down on everything is the gun tower. It looks like a tall concrete silo with a flying saucer on top of it.

The sidewalks on the compound that run between the rec yards and that go to the chow hall, laundry, and medical, are fenced-in. We call these area "Chicken Runs." They are designed for control and they have locked gates that we have to pass thru every few yards so that when something kicks off we can be locked down into this area and cordoned off. The chicken runs (or "Corridors" as the prison administration calls them) are straight death traps.

I am in a cell house that is at the far end of the yard, and what I've just described to you, is what I see when I look out every day. I often reach for the top bar on my window as I stand there, and hang onto it like a monkey while I contemplate eight more years of this view.

Yesterday, we'd just came off of a week-long lockdown and I'd just returned from eating my first hot meal in 10 days. Because God is merciful, it just happened to be Cheeseburger Day. I'd just returned to my cell and washed my hands and unbuttoned my tan uniform shirt and hung it on the hook on my wall. Then I brushed my teeth with my purple and white toothbrush, using Colgate Tartar Control from the arsenal of toothpastes that I keep in my locker.

I was hanging on the bars like a good silverback and looking out onto the yard when I saw that the Deuces go off. I had my MP3 on and was rocking JAILBREAK by AC/DC. I couldn't hear the message playing from the PA on the gun tower that tells us to lay flat on the ground because "Lethal force is imminent," but I did see everybody who was walking back from lunch hit the deck. Then I saw more than a dozen staff members and guards run to the cell house that is at the opposite end of the compound from mine. My first thought was, "Damn. That didn't take long." Buses bring new people into the institution every Wednesday and one had arrived during the lockdown. When new people come to the yard, old beefs are sometimes settled and the new recruits are vetted. Sometimes, this vetting process involves knives.

After a few minutes of looking out onto the activities on the yard, I saw a group of staff members surrounding a stretcher on wheels as they ran with it. Laying on the gurney was a white guy who looked to be dead. An officer sat on top of him straddling him as he frantically did CPR and rode the stretcher through the chicken run on the way to the front of the institution, and to what I assumed was an ambulance. The cop never stopped doing CPR, but it wasn't having any noticeable effect.

My first reaction to what I was witnessing was to say a prayer for the guy's soul. I asked God to let him have a peaceful journey home. A journey without any fear. Then as I stood there, I caught myself feeling just a little bit envious of the guy. No more gun towers and chicken runs. No more lockdowns. No more pain and loneliness. You might think that these are macabre thoughts, but your window doesn't have the view that mine does. I allowed myself to ride the tracks of this train of thought for a few minutes, then I checked myself because those kinds of thoughts aren't healthy and don't serve my goal of remaining Ford Tough. The truth of my life is that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be right now and it's up to me to not only make the best of it, and once I do this, spread the Love. I may not've figured out how to entirely do that yet, but I have figured out a few things not to do.

That was the guy's last ride through the chicken run. He'd been down since 1993 and was due to go home this year, but it all ended for him on March 2, 2016. He's now square with the house and free. Yes, he's dead...but he's also free. They locked us back down to investigate his death, and as I type this blog we're still confined to our individual cell blocks.

I'm still here standing in my window hanging onto the bars looking out onto the yard. Not free...but alive. I'm not really worried about eight more years at this point. I'm just taking it one day at a time. Because, in the end, that's all that anybody is really guaranteed. Today.

Jeffrey P. Frye
Bank Robber's Blog

10th April 2016

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Jeffrey P. Frye
Bank Robber's Blog