04 Aug 08
Firewater (by Warrior)
Warrior - Serving fourteen years for kidnapping and aggravated assault. Half Hispanic and Scottish-Irish with family still in Mexico. Brought up by a family steeped in drug commerce.
It was midnight when I awoke to screams echoing throughout the tier. My cellmate, City Boy, woke up just before I did. In prison you live by your instincts – disturbances always sound the mental alarm.
“City, you awake?” I asked, leaning up from my bunk.
“Yeah.” City Boy was already focussing on the commotion.
“What’s all that noise?”
“I don’t know. Something’s going down though.” City Boy shot to the cell door’s security window, which is about five inches wide and two feet high. It provides a limited view of whatever frenzy is going on.
“Is it the cops? Is it a search?” I asked, assuming we were in for a midnight raid.
Random searches happen often and unexpectedly. A quota is required yearly, but mainly they’re done to keep the level of contraband down. The definition of contraband varies from prison to prison, and C.O. to C.O.. It can be anything from excess pens to drugs and deadly weapons.
I started to calculate what contraband we had, where it was, and whether I had enough time to hide it. Cellmates usually share the responsibility for contraband, depending upon the seriousness of the item/items. For us, extra pens, a stinger, vegetables smuggled out of the kitchen, were what we were worried about.
“Nah, no search,” City Boy said. “The noise sounds as though it’s coming from downstairs.”
Just then we heard glass breaking, bodies crashing on concrete, repeated shouts of, “I’ll kill you! I’ll fucking kill you,” echoing over and over.
I jumped off my bunk and joined City Boy at our cell window.
Every disturbance has the potential to ripple into the population and provoke a more serious situation. So it’s vital to pay attention to all events at all times.
“The shit sounds as though it’s comin’ from below,” I said. “Sounds like Hootch and Wheelchair’s cell.”
Hootch and Wheelchair are two Native Americans. Hootch was known for loving to drink homemade liquor. Partially handicapped and in a wheelchair, Wheelchair was known for chasing the dope man. Both did their time constantly high. Some guys just like doing their time that way – they feel it’s easier to self-medicate than deal with the reality of prison along with the life they led that put them here.
“Yeah, it’s coming from their cell,” City Boy said. City Boy always played poker, so he had a keen eye for detail in order to read a player’s poker tell. “Hey, look at the cop in the tower, brother.” City Boy had noticed the control officer calling over the radio and staring at Cell 1. Hootch and Wheelchair’s. Their cell was close to the tower so the officer had a clear view.
Instantly three officers came rushing in, each carrying a fire-extinguisher-sized can of pepper spray with pistol-gripped nozzles.
An officer with blond hair in a crew cut looked at the tower officer for a hint of direction as to the disturbance.
In unison, three officers approached Cell 1.
An African American officer glanced in and said to a lieutenant, “He has him in a chokehold.”
The lieutenant moved in front of the cell window and said, “Let him go, or we’re gonna spray both your asses!”
But Hootch and Wheelchair were too busy fighting to give their complete attention to the figures outside their door.
The lieutenant knew this and seized the opportunity. “Get ready!” he told both of his officers as they positioned themselves beside the cell door.
The cell door was on tracks and opened along the wall.
The crew-cut officer motioned for the tower officer to pop open the door. As it opened all you could hear was the hiss of the chemical canisters being emptied into the cell, followed by a slamming of the door shut.
“Fuck! Shut the vent!” City Boy said.
“Ah crap!” I said, stumbling to wet a T-shirt to cover up our air vent. An unfortunate consequence of someone getting sprayed chemically is that the spray travels through our shared vent system. I was fast enough to cover our vent and we received minimal fall-out spray.
“Get on the ground, both of you motherfuckers now!” the lieutenant shouted.
“Face the fuckin’ floor, or we’re gonna spray your fuckin’ asses again!” shouted the crew-cut officer.
“OK, when the door pops, tell ’em to belly crawl their asses out,” the lieutenant said to his officers.
The mechanical pop of the unlocking door echoed.
The officers opened the door and shouted for the two to belly crawl out.
First came Hootch, coughing and wheezing, covered in red blood mixed with orange chemical agent.
The African American pounced on him immediately. He put his knee on Hootch’s back, then cuffed him up. The officer coughed as mace strayed off Hootch’s body.
The officers tried to pick Hootch up, but he fell back to the ground. They left him on the floor.
Next came Wheelchair, coated in blood and mace, coughing and wheezing like his cellmate. He was also cuffed in the same manner.
Both were escorted to the hole.
The following morning, the night’s event was the gossip of the day.
If Hootch and Wheelchair’s ears could ring, they would have done so like church bells at the close of a wedding at all of the curses they received from everyone being kept awake and tired.
Apparently Hootch had brewed some liquor, become drunk and started beating on Wheelchair.
In prison we refer to Native Americans as “chiefs.” There’s a longstanding joke throughout prison about chiefs and alcohol. It’s commonly said, “Don’t give a chief liquor. You know how they get on that firewater.”
That night, I finally witnessed the reasoning behind that joke.
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