Monday, August 10, 2015


I wait for the bus after I pass through the sally port of the Main Gate at the prison. The day is a prickly one -- heat pressing down and squeezing sweat out my arms, face, and back. A stream of it runs down my back under my shirt.

But these days are lovely in a way. Curtains of rain obscure the Santa Rita mountains to the south, and the hope of rain, of cool, fresh rain hums in the heat. I hear thunder, see ragged sticks of lightning in the distance.

I don't mind standing out in the sun when the vista is like this.

Even the concrete beneath my feet glistens with humidity. Patient wildflowers have defied the scraped discipline of the prison and sprung up in the lower washes. The puddles left over from last night's storm hold blue sky and reddish sediment.

A bus passes, but is not the one that will take me to Santa Rita. I wave at the driver and he nods. I would have taken his bus, but that unit is locked down. Another staff assault coupled with a staffing shortage keeps those inmates in their cells today. We won't get a chance to talk about their entries for the Pen Prison Writing Contest. The deadline for that is only a few weeks away.

Nothing to do about it. I can't go in and they can't come out.

My bus pulls into the roundabout and I wait for the officers to disembark. It's shift change time and the bus is packed with uniformed, badge and weapon wielding men and women who smile and joke as they step down, glad that their Saturday shift is over.

I see evidence of flood when we pass over the culverts on the way to Santa Rita. Water ran last night, under the bridges; it smoothed out the sand, sculpted it into meandering beds. The sand tells the story of being carried through the darkness, left in a new place, waiting for the next flood to travel again.

Once I have my radio and am through the electric gates of the Santa Rita yard, I pass men waiting in line for "meds" or some other appointment. A few look sick, in pain. I feel their eyes on me, appraising, sizing me up, trying to place me. One asks how he can get into the workshop. I stop and explain the process of submitting a "kite," as a guard signals for me to follow him to the education wing where he unlocks a door to an air conditioned room.

He leaves me to set up.

I wait. The thunder continues. I hear laughter from the visitation area on the other side of the wall. No one comes.

After forty five minutes I knock on the thick window of the control room. I ask that they turn the men out for the workshops. The guard looks annoyed or embarrassed and makes the calls.

When the men show up, we have only half an hour left.

I ask if anyone wants to read.

Heathco, one of the regulars of the workshop, speaks up and says he wants to read first.

"My father died three weeks ago," he says. "In the last year, we kinda ... reconnected. We been writing back and forth and he even sent me a story about how he found who he was, how nature helped that, one time when he shot a bird, an Indian hen, when he was only about ten years old. That got me to write more to him about what my life has been....I want to read a poem I wrote to him before he died, one I know he received and read the day he passed."

He reads three pieces: the poem, the story his father wrote to him, about a time he shot and killed a sacred bird, and a reflection on the two other pieces.

He is moved. The other men are quiet. Rain falls. We can hear thunder, close now.

"I never was much what I would call spiritual, but I have to say that I have seen someone out the corner of my eye lately, and that person looks like my father. When I turn to see him straight on, he's not there."

We talk some more, but run out of time. A guard comes into the room and assumes a wide stance. The men get quiet as I give them an assignment for the next workshop.

They leave and I pack up my tub. I make my way out past the window, turn in my radio, and pass though the gates.

I wait again for the bus, now in the rain. I don't mind. I am not worried about lightning.

On the bus, one of the guards asks me, in a sardonic, knowing tone, "Any masterpieces today?"

"You might be surprised," I tell him.

I look out the window and think I hear answers rising from the patterns in the sand, the sand left stripped by the rapture and memory of rain, the water that runs at night.

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