In a previous entry, I claimed to be the only white boy in my unit while locked up in The Tombs. That’s not exactly true. For the first three days of my visit, there was another caucasian along with me. Crackhead Charlie (what I called him for obvious reasons) was a piece of work all right. A tile layer by trade (when he was employed), Charlie spent most of his time (by his own admission) either stealing or smoking crack. No fewer than 30 times had he been in and out of custody thanks to his constant illegal activity and addiction to the rock.
At 49 years of age and close to medically obese, Charlie wasn’t really a tough guy. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t sound off if he fucking felt like it – a reality which got him into trouble when his mouth flew out of control. As a person with an inquiring mind, I questioned Charley about the worst place he was ever locked up. His answer was Rikers, where after saying something sassy to a crip, he awakened to a severe beating dished out by no fewer than 8 of the offended inmate’s brothers.
As it turned out, Charlie and I gravitated toward each other – and not just because we were of the same race. (In fact, I cultivated a few acquaintances in the joint – obviously all but one of whom was a man of color.) Charlie had an irreverent sense of humor I appreciated. His take on our “vacation” was “Hey! We hang out…crack some jokes…and we’ll be all right.”
On day 3 of my stay, Charlie had a court date in Staten Island which did not go well. He returned to the intake holding pen in a bad mood and got into it with a back inmate with whom he used the n-word. Upon being forwarded back to our unit, he continued with some racist intonations and after returning to his cell, discovered that the toilet stank to high heaven owing to plumbers coming in his absence and snaking the commode. (Charlie had actually been sleeping in Upper 22 but relieving himself in Upper 23 because the toilet where he slept was stopped up.)
And that was all she wrote. I was unfortunately in the common area when the shit hit the fan. Charlie, now locked in his cell for his own safety (after fucking with the inmates of color), went berserk slamming his fists on the cell door and hurling every possible politically incorrect epithet at the inmates with whom he was at odds. “You spics and niggers can suck my mother fuckin’ dick, you faggot bitches,” was just a sample.
And there I sat, the only white guy in the unit, listening to him hurling insults at the inmates who of course came back with “Kiss my ass you honky bitch,” and on and on. When the hispanic CO on duty tried to calm him down, Charley of course called him a spic. It was really that bad!
As for me, I was mortified as in…”Charlie. Shut the fuck up! You’re making our people look bad!” Because I really was the only person who might be able to calm Charlie down (he had bared his soul to me the night before), I went to the CO and offered to make an effort on behalf of essentially everybody involved. And as I walked over to his cell door, it looked like I might be able to get something done! But one of his most vociferous taunters, a guy with a mean knife scar across his face, chided “Billy! forget it,” as if to say “Don’t get involved in this!” He didn’t have to tell me twice. Charlie had made his own bed and now it was time for him to sleep in it.
I have to admit that initially, the exchanges were so over-the-top that the entire performance was as humorous as it was embarrassing. But this insanity went on for hours. Everybody would calm down and then out of nowhere, Charlie would start banging and screaming – and the guys would taunt him more as if he were a caged animal. Honestly, it got sick. And some of the guys knew it.
Oddly, the episode brought me closer to the other inmates. Some came over to discuss what happened and I got the idea that given the circumstances, they approved of how I handled the outburst and didn’t hold me guilty by association.
Anyway…by morning, Charlie had been moved to another unit and I became the sole white boy in 8 South. I’d really like to speak to Charlie now. The boy needs help – and I could tell my presence brought a calming and positive influence in his life – however temporarily. Oh well! I have my own problems to tend to. I’ll leave him to tend to his.