By Eddie Griffin
This series is written for at-risk children and not necessarily for popular human consumption
Monday, June 30, 2008
The road to hell is not paved with gold. It’s paved with eggshells. Crack one eggshell. Crack another. Then you’ll find yourself in the belly of the beast.
Like never before, a man’s eyes are suddenly pried open to his own mortality. The curtains goes up on life in super-maximum security with the unceremonious introduction the “shank”, the makeshift knife every man must sees when entering prison at the super-max level.
Life here begins at life, and usually ends with death. Lifers, doing a life sentence, will die of old age or a knife in the gut. But the Old Bull is one tough son of a bitch. Each day he is fighting to live, fight to survive, if no more than just see another day. For the privilege, he will kill. Being forewarned, do not get in his path.
A sense of smell and a keen sense of danger
This is an animal kingdom where a man’s body odor is his territory. A bloodhound sense of smell and a extra sense of danger is gift for the soul of a man who wants to survive in prison. The smell the toughest guys in prison announced their presence before they arrived. The walls vibrate. Tension cries out of the brick wall like heat waves on a hot summer day. A man could sense his coming before he made his presences known.
Every man had a sacred zone. No man encroached into another man’s space, unless he wanted to intimidate and dominated the man who space was invaded. It was the invisible territory that separated the men from the boys.
Step inside my perimeter, says the spider to the fly, and I would put a person in a coma for a day, a week, a month, or have him on life support for a year. With the heel of my hand, I can strike like a cobra and deliver a forceful, if not fatal, blow to the face of anyone who steps inside my space.
They call it the “bum rush”, because there is no back down… and no time to say, “Oops! I didn’t mean it. It was an accident.” A man was DOA on the spot against a champion lifer. There is no concept of fairness in hand-to-hand combat in a battle to the death.
I bum rushed death, head-on, in an encounter with a young man welding a pipe. Just when I had become overconfident and cocky in my abilities to defend myself in hand-to-hand combat, the pipe cracked my skull and restored my sense of humility. I saw stars. Blood gushed from my head and oozed down into my eyes.
Damn! I did everything right in my defenses. I gave the assailant my arm for a target. Then I stepped to him and embraced him, face to face. But the pipe broached my perimeters, and I was terribly wounded, clinging to the assassin’s arm.
The will to live is powerful adrenalin. I had seen the futile fail. I saw the tears in their eyes when they fell. He heard them scream for Jesus to save them. But, in the silent realm of my mind, I without prayed: “Lord save me”. That was my blood dripping on the prison floor. I was only two shakes from being clubbed to death.
De ja vu
There was a butcher and a baker that King Pharaoh in the bible put in prison with Joseph. One night, they both had a dream. And, the meaning of the dream was this: One would come out of prison alive, and the other would die.
I would be the survivor who came out of prison alive. But my counterpart died. We had been training partners. And, we each were given a premonition of our moment of truth.
It began in the gladiator cage they built inside the segregation control unit, where inmates were allowed to recreate for one hour a day, a privilege and a curse awarded to us by the courts. On any given shift, three men would go into recreation cage per turn. But the drama came in when the assigned recreation partner would be an assassin.
It was a cat-and-mouse game where some prison guards tried to even the score, by putting a black inmate into the cage, followed by two white inmates. The guards would sometimes slip the white inmates knives. This was how the notorious white supremacist group known as the Aryan Brotherhood was born, by assassinating targeted black inmates.
I found myself in the cage with two recreation partners: One, the toughest guy in prison; the other a sojourner prisoner just passing through, being transferred from on prison to another, a marshal arts trainer. We did mock combat training for given situations that we might find ourselves against prison guards.
With a newspaper roll, our trainer taught us how to take a baton club from a guard. The objective was to give him the arm for a target, then bum rush him, and lock his elbows. It was this same scenario that I found my self against a youngster welding a pipe, my payback for defending his manhood. He was unappreciative and, given a choice, he chose to defend the very penitentiary pimp that was exploiting him.
The pipe came at me, as the rolled up newspaper baton. Go down into a crouch and set the forearm as bait for the baton. “I guarantee you they will try to break your arm”, our trainer said. As the club comes down, step into the man, straighten out your arms, and wrap his arm at the elbow.” That was the planned defense that I botched in a life and death situation.
I saw stars that took me back to that night in the gladiator cage, when we danced with the devil. I always stepped outside of my perimeter and got clonked by the rolled newspaper. In real life, the pipe grazed my skull.
And, that’s the way it happened that my blood dripped on the prison floor, and I was locked arm and arm, in a life and death struggle, against my would-be assassin. As I struggled, I prayed, “Lord, save me.” Then I heard the pipe hit the floor. I was free.
Counterpart of the de ja vu
My counter-part was Raymond Smith-el, a Moorish Science of America gladiator, known as the Sword of Justice, street named “Cadillac”. He was a bull. His muscle-clad block build was buffalo hide thick. It was rumored that once a would-be assassin stabbed him in the chest. They say the knife was crushed flat.
No wonder he had a reputation as a man who be killed. Raymond had a saying: “While everybody else is a Chevy, I am a Cadillac.” Damned if he wasn’t.
In the gladiator cage the night we danced with the devil, we practiced defending ourselves while in handcuffs. My trainer partner, Cadillac, was in handcuffs when he was delivered to his death. On his way to the shower in the notorious Nazi-style control unit. Thomas Silverstein and another Aryan inmate broke out of the gladiator cage with knives. The prison guards fled. The other inmates on the tier were helpless, because they were locked in.
How does a man in handcuffs defend himself against two men with knives? He cannot.
They tell me that Cadillac put up a pretty good fight at first, then raised his arms in the air and gave his assassins a clear shot at his heart. There, he died, my training partner.
Aryan Brotherhood leader and assassin, Thomas Silverstein, then took the body of Cadillac by the legs and drug him from cell to cell, making a stop at each black inmate’s cell.
A year later, Silverstein stabs a prison guard to death.
The BBC calls Silverstein the “most dangerous man in America”. Silverstein counters with the claim that the prison system made him that way, that the conditions in a super-maximum security were so harsh and cruel, that he could not help himself but to kill, kill, kill, in order to survive.
The Boogey Man
Today, Silverstein is the Boogey Man of the prison system, the man who will never see the light of day again. He is locked away in a special prison cell with “no human contact” status inside USP Florence.
A Boogey Man is an official title given to select men, who are locked into a dungeon, never to see the day. The first Boogey Man that I had heard rumor of, while in federal prison, was Robert Stroud, otherwise known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz”.
I learned of the boogey man legacy from the lips of “Red” Haynes, the successive boogey man after Stroud died in Springfield. Each man had killed a prison guard. Since there was no death penalty, prison officials take vengeance by forcing them to live out their lives in a living hell… some bitter medicine I tasted for myself.
The story of Red Hayes, as I told it years ago, was here was a man, one of the first prisoner subject placed on the experimental drug know as Valium. After being released from prison without the medication, Hayes suffered a “white out”. From there on, he could not remember what heinous crimes he might have committed.
The men who never saw the light of day again
Hiller “Red” Hayes sat in front of my cell in the Control Unit and told me what he remembered of his life. He had been in solitary confinement for thirteen straight years. He remembered no family life. He had no family or friends, and everybody in the world had forgotten that he existed.
His back was full of red, raw circular bedsores, festering with the stench of death. When he raked his sandpaper-rough hands over the stubs of reddish gray hair, it would crackle. He was electro-static. His body was so full of electricity. He could probably electrocute a person with a handshake. I was amazed to see sparks fly from my fingertips. And, a handshake could become a static electric shocking experience.
As for Red Hayes, they say he killed a prison guard, so they put him away for his natural life. As he talked to me and told his story, he stared out into a distant dimension. Here, I was looking at a man who would die in solitary confinement within the year, a man with no family or friends, a man nobody in the world knew about.
The Most Desperate Man Who have ever lived
After Red Hayes died, the Boogey Man passed on to Gary Trapnell. His adventurous autobiography outlives the Fox himself, author of the “Fox is Crazy, Too”. He was the guy who hijacking an airliner, demanded $300,000 ransom, and the release of Angela Davis, the Black Panther Amazon Queen of the Revolution. But the exit of his life was more adventurous than all the former crimes combined in his autobiography.
I was there to see his last chapters in real life… actually on the prison yard when a hijacked helicopter came into the prison to snatch Trapnell away. I witnessed one of the most daring escape attempts in history, a crime that would condemn Trapnell to “no human contact”, never to see the light of day again.
As we sat on the prison yard, a comrade nudged me and pointed out a helicopter coming into compound, flying erratic like something amiss. It was an attempted escaped by hijacked helicopter. Gary Trapnell and his buddy were making a desperate bid for freedom.
I found the unfolding scene amusing and entertaining. But my partner thought not, so he suggested that we get off the prison yard before the shooting started. This was one drama that was a must see for me, even if bullets flew everywhere. I enjoyed deadly excitement. They don’t make movies like this in the free world.
This is the most excitement I have had all day. Why not watch?
I watched the hijacked helicopter come toward the back tower like a dive-bomber, with the cockpit rocking from side to side. The tower guard never saw it headed his way. In the meantime, there was a drama unfolding inside the cockpit, between the female hijacker and the pilot.
Here was a woman flattered with words of love from a legend adventurer. She literally worshipped Trapnell. He instructed her to charter a helicopter and then hijack the pilot, fly the chopper into the prison compound, and pluck him and his buddy up off the yard.
As the helicopter reeled and rocked in the air, the two escapees made a mad dash across the compound, their yellow windbreakers flapping in the wind. Inside the cockpit, the pilot seized the woman’s gun after a long tussle. As he steered with one hand and held the gun on the woman in the rear seat with the other.
The female hijack makes this retarded statement: “Oh, that’s okay. I got another one in my purse.” When she reached for the second handgun, the pilot blew her brains out of the back window and safely landed the chopper.
From that day on, Gary Trapnell would never see the light of day again. But his desperate attempts at escape did not end there. A year after the hijacked helicopter escape attempt, the daughter of the woman turns around and hijacks an airliner herself and demanded Gary Trapnell’s release. She had the hijack airliner fly to the city near the prison. This buried Trapnell.
The Most Dangerous Man in America
The current Boogey Man is Thomas Silverstein, hence the legacy lives on.