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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lazy Tendencies: Oversleeping

Written for and Dedicated to Ex-Offender Re-Entry

By Eddie Griffin

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When a man is not prepared to meet the morning, he has a tendency to oversleep. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands together to take a nap, so shall a man’s poverty come upon him like an armed robbery.

Lazy people are generally poor. But poor people are not generally lazy. Most poor people do not have the luxury of rest and sweet dreams. They cannot afford to slumber, lest they sleep the sleep of death. But the slothful is always looking for a spot to rest, fold his hand, nod off into slumber land, and sleep the sweet sleep of ease. His wake-up is a surprise, as sudden and as shocking as an “armed robber”.

Speaking from experience, nobody likes to be roused out of their sleep by an armed robber or murderer.

One morning in my prison cell, I was paid a visit by Casper, the Unfriendly Ghost. They called him Casper, because he had killed 10 men in Atlanta Federal Prison. Nobody ever saw him. He left no evidence, other than the slit throat of his victims. Over a period of years, during the 1970s, the FBI never caught him. That is how he got the nickname Casper, the Unfriendly Ghost.

Doing time in a super-maximum security prison can be draining. There was always tension in the air and threats of violence all around. And every night, when I returned to my cell, I was totally fatigue and exhausted. My only reprieve was sleep, an escape for the mind, into a painless abyss. But even in the twilight world, there is the dragon.

Out of another world, I was called out of my sleep at the touch of a sharp object at my throat, and immediately I tumbled out of bed clutching the arm of a hand with eagle claws. It was the hand of a man who had sharpened his fingernails into hardened talons like that of an eagle or a falcon.

The dawn had not yet broken. It was chow time. All the cell doors were open. And, I had overslept. Now I was wrestling for my life against a man with a claw for a hand, a convicted murderer.

To make a long story short, we wrestled to an exhausted standoff. He warned me to never oversleep again. And, that was when he told me the story of Casper. He was the infamous killer of 10 inmates who all overslept, and was attacked early in the morning before men emerged from their cells for breakfast.

Strange that we would become friends and he would become one of my trainers. Every morning thereafter, before day, he appeared at my cell door, checking to see if I was awake and alert. From there, we would drink honey, run 10 miles around the track, barefooted on jagged rocks, lift weights, and punch the punching bag until our knuckles bled. And, after all this, he would come at me in fury, and say, “Stop me from killing you.”

He had a killer’s instinct and he thirst for it. And, there was little doubt in my mind that he would kill me, if I slacked off one bit, if I slumbered just a little, got too comfortable, or folded my arms to get some rest. He would kill me at the drop of a hat pin.

So, this is how I learned not to oversleep.

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, so shall poverty come upon you like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:33)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Man on a Chain Gang

By Eddie Griffin

That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang, sang Sam Cooke. The year was 1960. As listen to this oldie, and watch the video, there is a point in the song that hits close to home and I shed tears.

Can’t you hear them saying, “I’m going home. One of these days, I’m going home. See my woman whom I love so dear. But in the meanwhile I got to work right here.” That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

Chained together, by iron shackles, feet to feet, ankle to ankle, hip to hip, wrist to wrist, and yoked together at the neck. From the slave ships to the cotton fields of Texas, some never came home again.

I weep for them, because the spirit of their memories haunts me, day and night. I can still hear the cries of Brother Herman, a prisoner, set to be released within days, stabbed to death by his best friend and running buddy, who could not bear to see him go free. Jealousy is a brutal killer.

Give me water, I’m thirsty. My, my, my, my work is so hard.

Shoot me, Boss. I just can’t do this kind of work no more. Cursed was the ground before I was introduced to the aggie. And, cursed it will be when I return to the dust thereof. So, shoot me now, Boss, before I recover my senses and want to live.

I wasn’t cut out for the ole plantation fields of Texas, with prison guards on horseback riding shotgun over me. I never saw a cloud in the sky, nor a shade tree, and the water wagon only came at the turn-row. And, fields stretched miles and miles, forever, and there was no end in sight, except death.

How many times the thought entertained my mind?

“Griffin, you’re chopping the Captain’s corn,” the man on horseback shouted. “Don’t you know the difference between corn and Johnson grass?”

Really, to tell the truth, I couldn’t tell the difference, even unto the very day.

Somewhere out there is a cemetery for all the nameless inmates that never saw the light of day again. Nobody knows their number. Nobody cares to inquire. Neither the end, nor the means, concerns the public. Death is death, whether by execute or a thousand cuts.

Except for a little red bible, I would have been out there with them, among the dead and forgotten. My end was beyond pain. I had endured entombment in solitary cages, behind steel doors, in refrigerated strip cells, and padded psyche ward cells. And, at last, in the twelfth year of my captivity, I baste to death in the Texas 110-degree heat.

I was beyond pain. I begged for death. I pleaded for death. But first I needed to set things right between me and my Maker. I had to finish reading the little red bible. It was a friend to me, having survived, from solitary cell to solitary cell, throughout all my dilemmas and rebellions. After this, I would take my stand: Shoot me, Boss. Take me out of my misery.

From the beginning of my captivity, I never expected to survive a 50-year sentence. I was unreasonable to even hope. And, I didn’t want to build my hopes up too high.

Every man pays for his sins, and there is an exactor that comes due. With a total of 50-, 20-, and 10-year sentences, I felt the burden of my sins. If I were to survive, I would have to walk through hell on earth. Only about seven men have gone into the dungeon of the abyss, and survived to reemerge. I am one, favored and bless.

I guess Sam Cooke conveys the spirit of my feelings in his soulful rendition of Stand By Me. The song tells of how the Lord delivered Daniel out of the lion’s den. “Do me like you did Daniel,” the singer sings, “Stand by me, Lord.”

[To be continued]

Thursday, September 9, 2010

RE-ENTRY: Fort Worth

Community Working Together & Solving Problems