Central Unit (Part 1 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. He writes some of the best prison-fight stories on the Internet.
I remember when I first pulled up. Central Unit reminded me of a cross between Alcatraz, and the prison in the Shawshank Redemption. It’s one of the oldest prisons in Arizona. Its reputation for violence and death has no equal.
You probably know that in all prisons a subculture of violence exists, but in Central Unit it is as acceptable as a morning cup of coffee – by guards and inmates alike. Even though it is 23½-hour-a-day lockdown. Anyone heading there has to get ready for battle.
The 1980 movie, Stir Crazy, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, was filmed at Central Unit. These days its décor consists of rusted bars, cracked-moldy concrete, and generations of rats, roaches and feral cats. Rumour has it that the prison was to be condemned a long time ago, but the State of Arizona just has the health inspector and OSHA look the other way.
Standing in front of my new cell, I stared through the bars. It was early morning, about 5am. The other inmates on the run were still asleep as their lights were off, except for my neighbor’s. The escorting officer radioed the guard in the control tower to rack my new home [open my door]. He did, and I entered.
As the steel bars closed behind me, I felt somewhat more comfortable. I could let my guard down a little as a closed cell buys a little protection, or perhaps just piece of mind.
I turned on the light to get a better view. Tired blue paint was peeling off the walls, exposing the concrete underneath. The stress cracks in the cement floor were climbing up the bottom of the walls. There were leopard patches of rust on the steel toilet, sink and single bunk. The iodine and iron smell that only weathered old steel gives off penetrated my sinuses. The floor was filthy with dirt and little balls of lint and hair. I could feel the dirt against my sandals as if I were walking on sandpaper. A square 12x6 inch window was above the toilet. I hopped on the toilet, and discovered the window to be a square hole with bars that led straight outside. It had no safety glass, making my new place feel more like a dungeon. I didn’t even entertain the thought of bugs coming through it. I took a deep breath and exhaled, and told myself it was time to clean and christen this place my new home.
Tack-tack-tack-tack…I heard the rapping of a plastic mirror being tapped against the concrete wall. I turned and saw an arm stretched from around the cell next door. The hand was holding a mirror, in which I saw a reflected combination of a face and bars. The hand and mirror waved for me to come over. I motioned over to the bars, and the hand disappeared with the mirror and returned with a note. I took the note and went back to the light to read it.
The note read: I am Cowboy and I am white. The run has rules. No talking between 10pm and 10am, or when people are on the phone. He also warned me about a race war taking place, adding he would give me the scoop later.
I wrote him back, and made my introduction as well. What yard I recently came from. Who was there, and all of the usual idle chatter to let him know I was all good.
We shook hands and that was it as far as formalities. I went back to cleaning and organizing, then fell asleep.
Before Warrior’s story progresses, I’m wondering if any of you are aware of the ways prisoners who are locked-down in separate cells manage to fight each other?
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Shaun P. Attwood