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Thread: Tale of the White Elephant

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Tale of the White Elephant

    Tale of the White Elephant

    The inmates in County Jail called Reception Center West in Chino, the White Elephant. After finding you guilty The System didn’t know exactly what to do with you. It depended on what kind of criminal you were. If you were some kind of teeny-timer, for instance, a guy, who for some reason was relatively normal, i.e. not a career criminal, you could probably be counted on not to try to escape, and were in for a treat.

    You could get sent to doing time in County Jail or outside in a camp in the mountains, building roads you didn’t know where-to, or fighting fires, but only if you were a low-risk prisoner.
    To determine your destination, they needed to test you, to see how you ticked. Were you some innocent babe that just this once got caught having some illegal fun? Is that the story you’ve been handing the judge and the DA?

    Or were you a true gangster, a law-breaker, a scoffer who laughed at the law because you’d copped the attitude that whatever the law said, it didn’t apply to you? Cutting every corner illegally? No respect for authority figures? Living the Thug Life? The latest Public Enemy Number One? You figure you’re a law unto yourself and don’t need any stinking badge, is that it?
    For this kind of attitude they lock you up in a much safer place, one with a barbed wire, gun towers with a bird’s eye view of the yard, and a high wall.

    So now I’m on a bus and heading up the Five North. We don’t need seatbelts on this bus, because we’re shackled to the seat with a chain and we’re shackled to each other with another chain. It’s like Ben Hur and the galley scene, but there’s no aqua-blue Mediterranean horizon and no burly drummer. The closest thing to an ocean is Seaworld and Mission Bay whizzing by on the left. It’s summer, and they’re flying Jolly Roger flags. After the dimness of the county jail, the sand and sun make me squint and feel happy. As weird as the destination is, it’s good to be out and see familiar places and the brighter side of things.

    Compared to county jail, this is a field trip. Why, it’s in the same direction as Disneyland!

    I glanced down when I felt the chain wrapped around both my wrists tighten where it was securely bolted to the floor, and the second one wrapped around my waist, like a hungry anaconda, continued to wrap around the men to my left and right, and all the men on my side of the bus. As varied as we were, I realized we were much the same. We were all grown men, wholly responsible for our present situation, and at the same time reluctant victims of Aretha’s Chain of Fools. It depressed me to think of the ramifications. The mental ones were bad enough, but the physical ones were more at hand.

    “I pray I don’t have to pee, or anything more substantial.”

    I looked up and swiveled my head around… no problem… no bathroom.

    So most of the way north I did my best to recreate the drive to Disneyland my parents took me on when I was ten. This was because when I looked out the screened window at the dry golden hills of California rolling off in the distance, with dark scrub oaks in their cracks; they reminded me of turds sticking out of some alcoholic’s yellowed hepatitis ***. Maybe I was a little depressed even to imagine such an image. So, I’d go elsewhere instead.

    I’d pretend I was in the back seat of my Dad’s Ford station wagon, my mom riding shotgun as only she could, breathing the fumes of their twin Marlboro’s as the carcinogenic clouds rushed past me and out through the open window in the back, reading the latest adventures of Donald Duck and Huey Dewey and Louie.

    But then the Sheriff’s bus to Hell would run over some bump on the freeway and I’ll snap back like the elastic on my Haines, and see where I really was.

    I was on a bus with a bunch of jolly good fellows, going nowhere we planned to go.

    We were going to boarding school,
    A college of hard knocks,
    And jolly good felons,
    Whatever the effort,
    The time,
    Or the cost.

    Oh, ****! I was thinking in doggerel poetry. I knew I was getting nervous when the Orange County Sign rushed by like a brain-freeze from a frozen Margarita at Mimi’s.

    That Somewhere Nasty I’ve Never Been To lies straight up ahead.

    I had my doubts it was going to fun. Scary was more like it, as I wasn’t planning on being somebody’s ***** or dropping the soap either. Not me. No Can Do the Two-Man Rhumba. I’ll wear a sign in the shower if I have to, that says, “Hands Off” and paint artificial pimples all over my butt.

    And everywhere else.

    Well, we drop off a couple of kids to California Youth Authority, and some girls to a women’s lock up, and now we smell cow poo wherever we go. It’s getting real rural out here, lots of grass and cows, telephone poles, barbed wire fences, a couple of farmhouses, barns , weeds, mail boxes on weird angles, and not much else but sky sky sky.

    And there it is, like a white mirage shimmering in the blue haze-cow-****-stinking distance, The White Elephant, home of the miraculous 60 day Observation, and my new accommodations, awaited with warm gun towers and sturdy open arms.

    Tall white walls, glistening in the noon-day heat, reminded me of Chateaux D’If, in Marseilles harbor, the one from Count of Monte Christo. Had my picture taken there in 1972, while doing the old-school grand-tour thing. Edmund Dantes, when he was falsely imprisoned, found an old timer who taught him how to escape. In the end he became a rich dude. Maybe that will happen to me. Wonder if they have a library.

    On the first day the bulls found out I’d been to college. One approached me in the yard right after they read us their Riot Act of Rules through a loud speaker. He was tall, wore mirrored aviator sunglasses, so we’ll call him Mr. Big.

    “Can you type?” says Mr. Big, looking down at me.

    I see myself in his glasses looking up, and since we’re standing outside in the yard, the tall white walls standing behind us look like we’re in the Foreign Legion. It’ summer, it’s hot, I’m sweating and uncomfortable, and the Algerian desert smells like camel poo. My imagination is starting to get to me. It’s the ultimate Conradian dilemma, like in Typhoon and Lord Jim where your imagination first gets to you, then f**** you. But as worried as I am, I keep it on the down-low.


    “We have a job for you.”

    I wonder what kind of job it will be. Maybe they’ll have me stamping out license plates, like in the movies.

    I ended up being the ducat clerk, a clerk who typed up where every one of those four hundred men would go every day. They would have to test, or take a physical, or take the dreaded test where you had to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist or someone in charge of your brain, someone whose intent is to probe all your secrets and uncover your true nature.

    To be continued…maybe.

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  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    That was fascinating and so very well written.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  3. #3
    Registered User
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    Oct 2018
    Dorset, UK
    Cool story, written very naturally and flows really well.

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    thanks and continuation

    Thank you both foer your comments. Around here, comments are rare. This next part is for adult readers.

    Sometimes, at night, after I’d finished typing the next day’s assignments, I had free time. On the wall was a binder labeled Irregularity Reports. It seemed like a dull title for a dull subject, but it turned out to be the best read in the Elephant.

    If anything unusual happened they had to make a report. Prisons thrive on regularity and order.

    One day they suspected one of the full-timers was selling black tar heroin. They sent him off to see the doctor for a shot for the swine virus, and while he was out of his cell, searched it. They found the dope, but didn’t tell him they knew, because they wanted to know where he was getting it. Two days later he was scheduled for a Bone-Yard Visit from Lupita, his main squeeze and pseudo-papered wife, who he’d been seeing regularly for over a year. But on the day of the visit, instead of having her see him right off, they took her aside.

    You see, there were two kinds of prisoners. Most were only there for the observation, and within a month or so would be gone. But a few were sentenced there, and were doing real time. The Bull needed people who were there year-round to run the place. Raymundo, the dealer, was one of these, and the true prisoners, if you could call them that, got visits in what was called The Bone Yard, trailers used for conjugal visits, which was the state’s euphemism for the old In and Out.

    We got visits too, but only with a phone and through a wire-reinforced glass window in a wall and on a camera. No boning for us. Our 60 day stretches were more like prime rib… boneless.

    The day they took Raymundo’s woman aside, one of the Bulls told her she had a choice. “If you want to see Raymundo, you have to submit to a search, or you can turn around right now and walk right back out the door.”

    Lupita feared Ramundo would be Jonesing by now, going through withdrawals, and it scared her. She suspected from his demeanor on her last visit he’d been chipping on his own product when he cut the visit short. She suspected he was taking a powder. This thought unbalanced her, and besides, she also thought it’d only be a pat-down search, probably by an inexperienced female officer.

    “O. K.”

    Turned out it wasn’t just a pat-down, and they brought a registered nurse. After she got naked they noticed a string dangling from her muff.

    “I’m on my period,” she informed them matter-of-factly.

    The nurse pulled a pair of blue Nitrile gloves and a gleaming pair of stainless steel forceps out of a bag and gave the string a tug.

    Out came the dope.

    Eventually, she went out the door all right, but with her hands cuffed behind her back and under arrest. That’s how it works in the real world. There’s only two kinds of thieves and dope dealers, one’s that have taken their fall, and ones that have yet to take their fall.

    Getting arrested and going to jail comes with the occupation.

    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-09-2019 at 12:49 AM.

  5. #5
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    Dec 2018
    I really enjoyed reading this - your monologue, stream of consciousness opening is style is very effective. Looking forward to reading the next instalment. Thanks for sharing!

  6. #6
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    I remember coming up with a plan after lunch, and that was to read a book while the light was still good and take a nap. That way, I figured my time would go faster. I’d go the library and read all the Ian Flemings. Funny thing I noticed about James Bond. The bad guys usually catch him, but they don’t kill him at first. They make the mistake of locking him up, and he escapes, and brings down the fortress hideout and all the bad guys with him. Then it was the biography of Harry Houdini. Papillion was next.

    After a while I noticed I had some kind of escape-dream theme going, and turned to histories and fiction instead. The history was Nikolas and Alexandra, a fat paperback about the Russian revolution. I’d tried War and Peace one time, but gave up after a few pages when I couldn’t keep the character’s names straight.

    Nikolas and Alexandra had all the action; inevitable march of history, drama of a novel, and was many times more moving since it was real. After all, it’s not every day an entire family is murdered, man, wife, four daughters, a little boy. Not every evil villain like Rasputin causes the fall of a dynasty. After a few pages, and after having seen Dr. Shivago, I was hooked.

    I’d read during the day, and read again at night before lights out. The Revolution even snuck into my dreams.

    I find myself in a freezing snowstorm in St. Petersburg, wandering up and down the length of a hoary cobblestone street. I can’t see my hand in front of my face, but I’m on a mission anyway, one that can change the course of history.

    “Where is the black wrought-iron gate with the Romanov two-headed eagle, the main gate of the Winter Palace? I can see the fence itself, the pointed wrought-iron spikes on top, standing bleakly against the white snow, but it’s hundreds of yards long, and the gate must be somewhere, but is it to the right or left? The blinding snow white-outs everything in the distance in both directions as far as I can see.

    What to do? What to do?

    I must find the Czar and Imperial family, the wife, the daughters, the little-boy bleeder Alexie, and tell them what’s about to happen. They can save themselves and get out of Saint Petersburg before all Hell breaks loose and they’re shot.”

    And only I know. Only I know!

    I trod through the blinding snowstorm searching and searching for the gate, hiking back and forth, back and forth, until I fall into a stupor and freeze into a catatonic state.

    Then I’d awake in my bunk with a start that shook me from head to toe, find myself locked up in a joint where they only gate that mattered swung outward to freedom, not inward to a royal palace, and led to San Diego and a way of life I never really appreciated until I lost it.

    Then I knew right where I was. Not in a medium security lock-up in southern California that smelled like a dung-hill, but in the overall scheme of things. And I finally knew who had gotten me there.

    It wasn’t the outlaw biker informant…. it was me.

    Well, that settled that. You live long enough; you learn to deal with yourself.


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