16 Jul 08
Laying the Sword Down (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 early October when I heard Doc was up for parole. I went to wish him well before he was scheduled to go. I walked up the stairs, towards his cell, and found him on his bunk. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee was in the air.
“Yo, Doc! How ya doin’?” I said.
“Hey, youngster! How the hell are ya?”
“OK. Jus’ wanted to swing by and say what’s up. Heard you up for parole.”
“Yeah, I am. Hey, I gotta bone to pick wit’ you! I’ve been hearin’ yer fuckin’ name floatin’ around the crowd too much.” As he gave me a suspicious glare I couldn’t help but look away and pretend my mind wandered out of the conversation. But he knew otherwise. “What do ya have goin’ on right now? Busy?” he said.
“I’m not doin’ anythin’, just roamin’ the yard.”
“Have a seat, kid. We need to talk. Want a cup of coffee?”
“Sure,” I replied, and sat on a cheap plastic lawn chair, like you find at a hardware store.
You could tell Doc had been in prison for quite some time. His living area was organized with military precision.
The state of a living area provides a peek into a prisoner’s mind. Chaos, discipline, obsessive compulsiveness all become apparent.
Doc knew this, and took pride in his display of discipline. On some level you couldn’t help but admire certain aspects of this man. Discipline being one of them.
Doc pulled two plastic cups from his shelf along with a jar of coffee. “One scoop or two?”
“One’s cool,” I said.
He shoveled one scoop in a cup, two in the other. He then pulled from a hiding spot an odd looking device. A cut electrical cord with two prongs on one end.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“This? It’s an old con trick. It’s a stinger. You’ll hear the name people call it always changing, so cops don’t become hip. Take a good look at it. You may have to make one one day.” He tossed it to me.
I examined the stinger. Each electrical wire was attached to a piece of metal, yet the metals didn’t touch, but were closely tied together. “How’s it work?”
“You put the heating element – the metal pieces – into a cup of water, and plug it into an outlet. The electricity heats up the water.”
“Damn, that some crazy shit.”
“Ya gotta learn to make a lotta shit like this in here. If ya ever end up in the max lockup, be careful if ya make enemies. They’ll heat up a cocktail of Bengay, Magic Shave and grease, then toss it on yer ass. It’s brutal shit, man. It’ll peel yer skin off like acid.”
I couldn’t help but imagine the horror of what that must feel like.
In prison, you pay close attention to topics on what could severely hurt you. There are creative prisoners who seem to have endless ways to cause you harm.
“Is the water bad for you?” I asked.
“Don’t know. That’s why I heat the water. Never can be too careful.” He made the coffee.
It was so strong I squinted sipping it.
He studied my face humorously.
I realized I was in a situation he’d relived over and over. He made strong coffee for others to test their resolve, and never ceased from finding humour in that.
“Don’t worry. That’ll put hair on yer ass,” he chuckled hoarsely. “So, kid, I hear you’re getting’ into shit. What’s up with that?”
“Nah. Jus’ tryin’ to earn my respect.”
He looked at his cup of coffee as he took a sip. The steam parted around his face as it climbed. He seemed to slow down, perhaps buying time to gather his response to me. “Look, kid, I can’t knock ya. I’ve been there and done the same shit. I’ve seen it all. I won’t patronize ya wit’ some self-help bullshit and how ya needs to change. But I will tell ya this: read. Pick up a book, and find out who ya are. Gather perspectives. Books afford ya that. Ya see the world through another’s eyes. Maybe what I’m tellin’ ya now might not make very much sense, but one day it will. What I’ve told ya will one day click on. Somethin’ in yer thoughts will trigger this conversation, and when it does, the right book will be there when ya need it. Whatever ya do here, be careful and don’t drift too far. If ya do, there may be no comin’ back. In the end, your journey is just that, your journey. Educate yerself in who ya are.” Doc had a southern twang, but spoke to you with confidence in his words. He’d been there and knew what he was talking about.
I tried to make sense of it all then, but my mind wasn’t ready. He was right though, one day something did trigger all he’d said, and I did pick up a book. I picked it up in the hole recovering from a severe beating. Nursing my wounds, I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize the face staring back at me. Was it because I looked so disfigured or because of what I had become? Had I drifted too far?
The book was the only item in the cell on that day. It was The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.
Before Doc and I finished our conversation, I wished him the best come parole. Thanked him also for his valuable insight. Doc did make parole, never to be seen again. Rumor had it, Doc was living life successfully in Colorado. I’ll never forget that man.
I caught a movie the other day called Hero with Jet Li.
In one scene, something was said along the lines of, “A warrior’s ultimate act is to lay down his sword.”
That hit home.
Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi are known for expressing the same philosophy expressed differently.
It can be hard to leave the sword behind in here, where the main language prisoners use is violence.
One day though, I will be one of those success stories like Doc.
Never to be seen by the people in here again.
That will be my ultimate act.
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Copyright © 2007-2008 Shaun P. Attwood