I was only wishing that I would ever leave prison alive. But I remember the first night, out of the hole, like no other night before, wishing upon a the first star that I had seen in six years. I lay in the grass on my back in El Reno Federal Prison yard, looking up at the moon and the stars in the night sky, never to take life for granted again.
I saw heaven. I had come out of hell alive. That hell was the notorious Control Unit inside Marion Federal Prison, max-six security living death chamber. I had gone further than any other prisoner in deprivation. I was held incommunicado by the U.S. government.
For fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening, I had running water… water to drink and flush the commode. I had no clothes except my BVDs… no mattress to sleep on… and windows wide open during the coldest winter in the state of Illinois. My face was on the cover of the Sun-Times, in big bold letters: “I will not compromise my views”.
Before I was released, all the revolutionaries had renounced the use of violence to achieve political gain. Rafael Cancel Miranda took it like a bitter pill. President Jimmy Carter was ordering the release of select U.S. political prisoners.
Each day, the guard would bring me my three’s. I had stopped eating… couldn’t eat, really. I was frozen to the steel bunk hanging off the wall. But I would always manage the strength to ask the guard for a cigarette. That’s when I saw a big man cry.
Warden Fenton had me dragged to his office. I couldn’t help but laugh. He was looking at a ghost, the smart-ass inmate who delivered him, the warden, an ultimatum from the Marion Brothers.
Goosh! That pissed his goat!
But now he was releasing me, by President’s orders, transferred to another prison… somewhere in red neck country Oklahoma.
It was the first time I had smelled victory against the government. For the first time, I saw women and minority guards. We were tired of butting heads against an all-white, club welding, prison guard force. The new guards were scattered about the El Reno prison campus.
Some took time out to thank me, others I had to break in like rookies. We had gone on a prison hunger strike to demand more minority officers. Since I was the propagandist, it was designed as a media ploy.
Prisoners strikes to hire more federal prison guards.
It sounded good enough to make the hunger strike 100% successful. And, it happened on Bicentennial Celebration day, July 4, 1976, America’s 200th birthday. The Marion Brothers went on hunger strike. The prison was shut down.
The second demand was the real point of the strike: Stop using mind control experiments on politically conscious prisoners. The media bit and we went live internationally.
Fenton looked at me and smiled. “Griffin, I’m taking you out of here and transferring you to El Reno. We don’t want to see or hear from you again.”
And, then he said something queer. “And, I don’t believe that you are a criminal, either.” I gushed into tears.
I had gone from prison to solitary to a solitary within a solitary, to padded cell, and finally a strip cell, my refrigerated morgue cell. In my final hours, I could see a ship frozen at sea. My eyeballs were glazing over with a sheet of ice. And, all I could see was a ship on the frozen sea. That’s when they unlocked the doors and released me.
The first night in El Reno I look up at the moon and stars and realized that there was a God who answered prayers.
I think about that night, as I spent hours upon hours in El Reno’s music room, catching upon on music from 1970s that I had never heard. And, “Wishing Upon a Star” was one I played over and over again, wanting to go home, into the seventh year of my incarceration.
A female prison guard strode into my world and I was no spellbound, having not even seen a female for six years. My life became a battle of urges, and I became more tiger than panther.