Chapter 4: Duke

Here I am, back in prison, getting to know my cellies...

After Willy arrived in his cell, Duke spent a lot of time pondering just who this strange guy was. He had heard rumors that Willy was an undercover FBI agent, inserted into the prison to break up the rampant drug trade. Just about any illicit drug, pot, speed, smack even occasionally cocaine could be had if you had the "green"...that is, genuine U.S. currency...to purchase it. Like drugs, currency was also forbidden. Prisoners were supposed to make do with their credit at the prison commissary. But, if you somehow obtained actual U.S. currency, you could buy one pinner-joint for a dollar, a small heroin hit could be had for five. Willy assumed that the Feds had planted this rumor. They still seemed to be pissed at him. Duke wasn't so sure it wasn't true. Willy just seemed...so...odd.

The rumor was somewhat credible. Willy was far better educated than most of the convicts. He used a lot of "big" words when he spoke. He seemed to know about too many things that were foreign to his fellow inmates. He just didn't talk like your average criminal.

Duke knew about this and made a point of seeing that Willy got all the usual "tests" given to new arrivals in a cell. Danny was put through a couple as well, but his status as a convicted cop-killer, gave him immediate standing. Most of the tests came by way of "interrogation." Each day, someone would ask Willy something about his past. What did he do when he wasn't committing crimes? Did he have a lady? Why did he go to school so much? Etc.

One day, both Duke and Willy got calls to the visiting room, that they had visitors. This gave the inmates a short time to clean up and look their best for whomever had come calling. On this particular day, Duke had a request...and another test, for Willy.

"I got a lady coming today and I need a favor from you."

"Yes?"

"Yeah. She's bringing me a bag of whites..." meaning amphetamine, speed "...and I need you to help me get it up to our cell."

"O...K..." cautiously. "How do I do that?"

"You're going to carry it up your ass. It's called 'keistering'...you know...sticking it in your keister, up your butt. They will search me real good, 'cuz I got caught doin' it before. But, they won’t bother you."

Duke was being discharged from prison soon and felt that he had gained too much weight. So, he was eating a lot of speed, tablets which had to be smuggled into the joint through the visiting room...in order to stem his appetite and lose some of the roll around his middle. Actually Duke was quite imposing. Even at 5'8" and 260 pounds he looked more like a weight-lifter than a fat man. In fact, he had spent a lot of time pushing iron, it being one of the favorite pass-times of prisoners and there was a lot of weight lifting equipment in the prison. Anything that kept the prisoners busy and contented was welcomed by the guards.

"Won't they search me too?"

"Yeah, but they won't put you through a cavity search."

"What's that?"

"That's when they spread-eagle you on a table and stick this metal thing up your ass and look around inside."

"O...K..." again cautiously, "But, how do I get it up there without being seen?"

"Here's what'll go down. My lady will slip me a little baggie, bound up tight with rubber bands. Then I'll go to the crapper. You follow right after I come out. I'll hide the bag in the toilet paper roll. When you get in there, you fetch it and put a little spit on it so it'll be slippery."

"Don't they have video cameras in there?"

"Yeah, but by bending over, you can easily hide what you're doing from that camera, since it's above you. When you open your fly and reach in to pull out your stuff, you reach back past your balls and poke it up your ass with one finger. It'll go real fast and it’s easier than it sounds. You ain't scared, are ya?"

"Not scared" would probably be an exaggeration, but, compared to his day-one experience with Danny and Tony, this did seem relatively simple.

I really wasn’t all that scared. Eager to pass these tests so as to be accepted by the rest of the prisoners, I readily took on this chore. Also, by then the guards had also become a little intrigued by my strange past.

"O.K., but how do I get it out when I get back here."

"No problem. The rest of the guys will spread some toilet paper in the crapper. You just sit there and when you get the urge...it won't take long...just squeeze it out. We'll clean the shit off of it and we'll all have a party tonight."

Everything went very smoothly as planned. Duke had prepared him well and Willy carried out his task with a minimum of trepidation. Another test passed.

But, Duke still wasn't satisfied. He figured that Willy couldn't really be FBI, but SOMETHING was wrong with him. What was this guy, doing only eighteen months, doing in a maximum security prison? Why was he put in this particular cell with a bunch of “bad boys?” It just didn't add up. He certainly wasn't different from most inmates. He even admitted to being guilty. That in itself was a bit odd. Most guys claimed to be innocent, if for no other reason than to prepare for eventual release and parole, to emphasize the packet of lies they would tell the parole board about being rehabilitated. After all, if you weren't really guilty in the first place...and so on. It was mostly a useless strategy, one the board members easily saw through, but it was almost universally practiced as if it were a religious ritual.

I was to learn later that placing me in this cell, the last cell at the very end of the top tier, was part of a carefully planned campaign to make my prison stay as “uncomfortable” as possible. Ditto for the FBI rumor. Were they trying to get me killed or injured? Who can say? The Feds aren’t talking...

One of the things that Willy did to aid his fellow convicts...and to gain points...was to listen to the stories they were about to tell the parole board. The others figured...correctly...that Willy could better scope out which lies might work, which ones were doomed to failure. During those episodes he discovered that your average criminal is an exceptionally good liar. They could look him steadily in the eye and lay out come of the most incredible nonsense he had ever heard. The facial gestures, the "tells" just weren't there, even if the content often left something to be desired.

Anyway, one evening, just before lights-out, Duke suspicions bubbled to the surface. Perhaps he was also experiencing a little amphetamine anxiety...he was certainly taking a lot of it. He confronted Willy near the center of the cell. They had both just got up from playing cards...gin rummy...at the table in the center of the cell. Standing directly in front of him, Duke began to jab Willy firmly in the chest with his index finger, proclaiming loudly, "You ain't so fucking big!" over and over. His face was contorted, his voice snarling.

"What?"

"I said, you ain't so fucking big!" louder and louder.

"O.K. So what?"

"I mean, I could take you any time"

"Yes. That's probably true. But why would you want to?"

Ignoring that question, Duke continued, "I could mop the floor with your sorry ass."

"I agree. You got that right. But, I ask you again, why would you do it?"

"You look big, but you're really a candy ass, a punk." Duke went on. "You wouldn't be nuttin' to me." As he spoke these words, his voice got deeper, his manner more menacing. The finger-jabbing increased in intensity.

"O.K. I get it. You're trying to provoke a fight with me and kick my ass. I have no idea why you're doing it and there isn't really much I can do to about it. But..." pausing for effect, "...IF YOU DO..."

"YEAH! What the fuck you gonna do about it?" with his eyes now bulging and his body tense as a bowstring.

Softly "...I'll never talk to you again."

"WHAT!!! What the fuck kind of threat is THAT?" Duke bellowed.

Just then, the lights were turned out. Taking advantage of the change, Willy retreated slowly to his bunk...taking care to make no threatening moves. The lights outside the cell provided enough illumination that everyone in the cell could see what was happening. The rest of their cellmates were keeping dead still. They were all waiting for the other shoe to drop after witnessing the preceding event, hardly believing their own eyes and ears. For his part, Duke sat down at the table in the center of the cell. The light from outside the cell was sufficient to see both their expressions. Duke's was one of puzzlement, Willy just trying to look cool. This was one of the disadvantages of being housed on the fifth tier. It never got complete dark at night and, because hot air rises, it was also often uncomfortably warm there as well. On this particular evening, the heat seemed unbearable as everyone waited.

After glaring at Willy...who held his gaze as calmly as he could manage...for about twenty minutes...which seemed to Willy like hours...Duke said quietly. "That IS a good threat. You're not like anybody I've ever met before. And, I do like talking with you. You really know some interesting shit."

He finished, "So, I'll give you a pass...this time." That last was delivered with a grin.

Everyone in the cell relaxed, especially Willy.

Duke and Willy became good friends after that. Duke was a very good friend to have among the Nazis and Skinheads...their own self-designations. Duke had been a biker on the outside. The reason he was inside was that, during a high speed chase, his motorcycle was hit and driven off the road by a patrol car, crushing both his legs. He was thrown a hundred feet and then pounced upon by six cops. He managed to pull out his knife and slit the throat of one of them before they beat him into unconsciousness. Only the fact that cop lived and that they had done so much damage to his physique kept him from a very long sentence. As it was, he was finishing up an eight year stretch. He also still walked with a slight limp.

He did manage to lose about 30 pounds before he was discharged.

Many people have asked how I managed to stay so "cool" in high tension circumstances. The truth is, I wasn't nearly as calm and collected as I appeared. I had developed a trick earlier in life to deal with such circumstances, probably when I was in the army.

Whenever I found myself confronted with a novel situation where I really did not know what to do, I imagined that I was in a movie...actually the author, director and star of that movie...and I asked myself "How do I want this to turn out? What should the main character"...me..."do next?" For reasons that even now I don't quite understand, this always soothed me enough to get control of my emotions and carry on... 

As you will see as you read on, this saved my ass on a number of occasions, allowing me to say and do things that I would never have thought of if I weren’t in a sticky situation. I think it momentarily…just long enough…detached me from reality. But then, reality is not always all that it is cut out to be…