March 29th, 2011 Comments Off on Chapter Five
Ernesto, delighted to be out of stir, celebrated his release by taking over all the driving chores, as their GMC truck made its way north through the big sky country. Only an occasional grain elevator, a water tower, or the squat buildings of a small town chipped away at the lower edges of the sparkling hemisphere suspended above them. Driving through the dark, while Paco’s wife, Pauline, and her latest baby dozed beside him, Ernesto had the whole of the lonely night to think about the cowering Mexican boy whose arm had been splintered by the guard’s wrench. The moaning of the Black boy who had given Hodges “some tights” still rang in his ears and, unaware of it at the time, Ernesto’s thoughts about injustice were beginning to jell. Perhaps because he himself was so easily affronted and quick to retaliate, his experience in the reformatory–the beatings he had witnessed–heightened his concern for those less able to defend themselves than he.
By the time the red-orange September sun slipped up over the horizon the Rodriguez truck was almost halfway to Nebraska where was still much work to be done. And for the first time in what had seemed forever to a teenager, Ernesto looked forward to being paid for his labors.
During the summer of 1951 there had been changes in the family. Rosa had married a migrant worker named Mike Delgado whom she had met in Bayard and the two of them ended up in Sydney Nebraska where Mike worked. Like some of her earlier couplings, her marriage to Delgado was of short duration, lasting not much longer than five miscarriages in rapid succession. For Rosa it was as close to motherhood as she was ever to come, despite the fact that later she had several other husbands and a large variety of live-in-companions. More will be said about Rosa’s activities later in the story.
The same summer, Carmen, a year older than Ernesto, married another migrant worker in Bayard named Jose Enriquez and that was and remains a happy marriage, blessed by three children, Joe’s sixteen year old brother, Luis, was much taken by the youngest Rodriguez girl, Angelita, who was fourteen years old at the time and certainly fair game by migrant standards. Angelita was the last child at home and the only unmarried one in the family, a family being slowly torn asunder by Lencho and Jesusa’s disagreements on almost everything.
Angelita sensed that the family was breaking apart and had decided that the best thing she could do for herself–even at age fourteen–was to get married as soon as possible. And the best way to get married, she thought, was to get pregnant because she was certain that the baby’s father would marry her when he discovered that she was carrying his child. (The reader must remember that in 1951 there was no particular cachet in having children out of wedlock and AFDC hadn’t yet taken off.) Luis Enriquez, Carmen’s sixteen year old brother-in-law, was only too happy with the first part of her scheme, getting pregnant, but as events proved, he had no interest in the second part. No one in the Rodriguez family knew Angelita was pregnant.
On the second evening after his arrival in Bayard, Ernesto’s almost unbelievable affinity for trouble manifested itself again. Guadalupe was home taking care of the baby and Ernesto looked up his old friend Joe Frisco. Joe was delighted to see Rodriguez again, so delighted that the two of them decided to visit a party being thrown at a farmhouse outside of town. Joe’s brother was already there and Joe and Ernesto wanted to know more about the festivities, to check out the action.
Joe had a late model car and the two young men had little trouble finding the farmhouse in which the party was being given. Cars were parked on both sides of the highway and the joint was jumping, as gringos say. Joe Frisco pulled his car into a dirt road that ran between the farmhouse and the adjacent orchard and soon Joe’s brother, with a young lady on each arm, came out to join Ernesto and Joe. Whether it was Ernesto’s job to serve as chaperone for whatever they were about to do isn’t clear, but no sooner were the two girls in the back seat than their car was bumped hard from behind by another automobile filled by four brothers.
“It was a surprise,” Ernesto explained, “nothing expected, I don’t know who the guys were, had never seen them before. I jumped out and went over to the guy who was driving the other car to ask him what the hell he was doing. They guy gave me some crap about the girls being theirs, and stuff like that. The bastard sitting next to the driver got out and started swinging a chain around and I cut the driver pretty good, got him across the cheek, the nose, the ear, y’know. Things was happening pretty fast. Joe got cut on the hand. His brother got knocked in the ditch, was just lying there, and when the guy with the chain knocked out the back window where the girls were sitting, Joe and me took off in the car.
“When we were out on the highway, away from the place, I told Joe we ought to go back and get his brother. ‘Naw,’ Joe said. ‘don’t worry about him. He can take care of himself.’
“A few minutes later we were picked up for speeding’. Right out there on the god dam highway. Must have looked suspicious with the back window missing’ in our car and the girls trying’ to get all that broken up back window glass out of their hair. Joe’s bandaged hand was showing a lot of blood and I guess that’s what made the cop ask a bunch of questions. He wrote a speeding ticket for Joe and then surprised the hell out of us by taking the two girls away in the squad with him.
“It turned out they were both on probation and were supposed to stay away from trouble. I think when they got to the police station in Bridgeport where the cops were from they told the whole story. The cops came to the house and took me in for assault. Cost me one hundred and eighty-six dollars.”
Many marines who lived through the war in the Pacific have claimed that the most dangerous activity known to man was to be picked for the second wave in landings at such places as Saipan, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima. It was always the second wave that caught the heaviest fire from the Japanese defenders. Most veterans who are familiar with Mexican dances and parties would put those events right up there with those landings, despite the fact that few ribbons are worn for having attended them. Citations, si, but no medals.
After the potato bagging was finished, when the Rodriguez’ had been paid for each bag tagged with their name, Lencho and his sons switched over to the distribution and sales end of the business. Both Paco and Lencho had trucks, each of which, when overloaded, was capable of carrying two hundred bags of potatoes, each bag weighing one hundred pounds. Because such of the potato bagging was done after dark, many of the loaded bags were squirreled away to be privately processed and marketed by Rodriguez & Sons. They bought half the potatoes they sold from the farmers they worked for, and purloined the other half. After they had paid a very nominal price for having both the stolen and purchased potatoes washed, waxed, dyed, polished, and put into one hundred pounds sacks by the processing plant, the potatoes were loaded onto the two Rodriguez trucks.
It was Paco’s custom to drive his load of potatoes down to Galveston, where he sold them to local grocers and restaurant for $8.00 a sack. On his return trip to Nebraska he avoided “dead heading”, as it is called, by loading up his truck with watermelons for sale in Nebraska. Lencho and Ernesto, however, sold their potatoes in towns along the way and were never forced to drive as far as Galveston. They netted more than $1,000 dollars profit for each load sold. Free enterprise with a touch of Mexican flair, the scheme worked well because by buying half the potatoes honestly they conditioned the farmer’s mind to seeing the Rodriguez trucks loaded with potatoes. There was none of this business of the farmer saying to himself, my my, I wonder whose potatoes those are.
“So what if we stole from the farmers, they stole from us by not paying us good wages, not paying into our social security,” Ernesto frowned.
Now that he had his own truck which he could use as he saw fit or contract out, Lencho decided to spend the winter in Nebraska and not return to Galveston. He had money in the bank, could pick up odd jobs until the next growing season began, and the children who wanted to could find work at the Sioux Ordnance Depot, sixty-five miles away in Sidney Nebraska. The husbands of Sulema, Rosa, and Carmen found work at the depot, as did Ernesto, who lived in a depot barracks and drove home on weekends to a house he and Guadalupe rented in Bayard. Guadalupe was again pregnant and the baby was due in early June.
Ernesto’s work at the depot was heavy work, but it paid well and he was content to spend his days loading and unloading bomb fins, grenades, machine gun ammunition, and bombs by his standards, life had taken a tranquil turn, now that he had a predictable income and a family to come home to.
In late November or early December of 1951 Ernesto had a vivid nightmare, terrible enough to awaken him. He dreamt he was going to be sent to prison. So real was the dream that when daylight came he asked the others in the family not to leave him alone, to stay with him so they could keep him from doing anything that might put him back in jail. He didn’t want to go anywhere without a member of the family present.
As a child Ernesto had many dreams that had come true–a gift he sometimes did not appreciate–dreams predicting future events, things about to happen to him. Some good and some bad. He knew the dreams would also come true and he was deadly afraid. He remembered the dream that warned him that he would be arrested after buying wine for his Indian pals–but he had had no control over that dream as it came to him after the act was committed.
On that fateful morning after Ernesto’s dream the season’s first big blizzard howled toward Bayard from the West. Cattlemen east of Denver were warned to get hay bales ready for air-drop to the cattle stranded on the ranges. Bayard itself was beginning to accumulate snow when all of the Rodriguez’ decided to visit town. Lencho and Jesusa wanted to visit a bar and the others chose to see a movie.
Ernesto remembers that, “Jose left the movie a few minutes before it was over. He wanted to get the car keys from our parents and to tell them it was time to go. He came back to us ten minutes later and said, ‘Mother’s down at the police station. She‘s bleeding out of the left eye. Dad’s down there too. They’d been drinking and got into some kind of a fight. Let’s get down there. Quick!’
“So I left the others and ran to the police station as fast as I could. The police office was a small room–maybe about twenty by twenty–and my mother was sitting against the wall on the left. She was holding a dirty old rag up to her eye and there was blood all over her face and stuff, y’know. I asked my father what happened.
“‘Ah, that fucking Nicho! That god dam Nicho came over and called me an old goat, so I got up and started to walk out of the bar. He pushed me and kicked at me. When he did that I grabbed his foot and went to pull him down. He grabbed on to the pool table and hung on. I was reaching for my knife when that son-of-a-bitch grabbed a pool ball and threw it at me. I ducked and it hit your mother in the eye!’
“My Mother was behind my dad, trying to stop the fight.” Ernesto said. “Mother had fallen down and Nicho had gotten away from him and ran out the back door. Someone called the cops and they took my parents down to the police station. When I got there I told the officer that they had to arrest someone for what had happened.
“‘We’re gonna arrest him,’ the officer said, ‘but we ain’t going out there now. It’s snowing too bad.’
“It’s snowing too bad?’” I asked him. “Or are you afraid to go get him? If you’re afraid. I’ll go get him my damn self. In fact, I’m gonna go out there now and get him.
“They decided they were gonna lock me up. They didn’t want me to go, but then they changed their minds and told me if I behaved myself, let them handle it, I could go on home.
“I took my mother and father with me but told the cops they better get out there quick and arrest the guy. When I got home I changed my mind, gabbed a butcher knife, and jumped in the car. My father was going with me and I told him, no, he wasn’t. ‘Oh, yes I am,’ he said and we argued. I put my foot on his ass and tried to scoot him out of the car, but he grabbed the steering wheel and pulled himself in. I finally said, okay, he could come along but he should let me handle it by myself and stay the hell out of the way, y’know.
“We went out there and I’m knocking on this guy’s door. It was snowing like hell and it was beginning to pile up real good. Wind was blowing so hard it made seeing anything difficult, what with the snow flakes hitting me in the eyes.
“When I knocked on Nicho’s door it was snowing so hard he couldn’t see who I was. He tried to stick his head out the door and yelled, ‘Who is it? Who is it?’
“Tu amigo,” I yelled back, “I need to see you right away,” Every time he’d stick his head out the door the damn snow would hit him right in the face.
“When he finally saw who it was, he yelled, ‘Oh my God!’ but it was too late.
“That’s when I let him have it with the butcher knife. I caught him on the collar bone and gave him a long cut all the way down to his pecker. He was just wearing his underwear and the knife cut through them clean, dropped them right off. Nicho jumped back and I heard something falling, like he knocked something over. Maybe a table. The lights went on and off, and he was trying to close the door.
“My Dad was giving me more trouble than Nicho was, yelling, ‘let’s get in there and kill him! Let’s get in there and kill him!’
“Wait a minute!” I said. “Wait a minute. Back up! There could be four or five guys in there with an axe or a gun or something.”
“Nicho tried to push the door shut and did it by pushing on the glass panel on the door. But I kicked it at the same time he pushed so the door hit him in the face and his hand and arm came flying through the glass panel. He cut his arm going out, I hit it with the knife, and he cut it again pulling it back in.
My father was halfway in the door, carrying his little bullshit knife, and I was trying to drag the old man out. In the process of pulling on him I lost my scarf. I didn’t want to leave any evidence so I used one hand to pick up the scarf and the other for hanging on to my father’s coat. The guy inside the house was screaming, ‘You mother fuckers! You sons-of-bitches! You cut me!’
“I finally pushed the old man into the car. He had one foot in and one foot out of the car trying to get back to Nicho to finish the job. I grabbed him around the neck with one arm and was driving with the other. I got him home, but the following morning I was arrested.”
And so was Ernesto’s short-lived freedom. He was held in the county Jail, in Bridgeport Nebraska , until he reached his seventeenth birthday because the authorities wanted him to go to the reformatory, not the place the state sent young boys–Boys Town, which was founded by Father Edward Flanagan in 1917 for at “risk kids.”
Nicho who was also a migrant worker, had been stitched up by a local doctor. He had given the police a written deposition before disappearing without a trace. He could have gone to Mexico, California, or anywhere where no one could find him. Wherever he had gone, he was unavailable for Ernesto’s trial at the end of February.
For his part, Ernesto did little to endear himself to his jailors. After one of his preliminary sessions in the court room he came out into the hall and embraced Guadalupe. “I was talking to her, telling her I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, and stuff to make her feel better, y’know.
“While I was talking to her a cop came up and grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘Alright, let’s go!’
“Wait a minute,” I told him. “I’m saying goodbye to my wife. It’ll only take a minute.”
“‘Come on, you god dam greaser,’ he barked at me. ‘When I tell you to move, you move!’
“So he grabbed me, spun me around, and pushed. I whirled around and kicked him dead in the balls. Dead in the balls! Got him real good and he was out of it. The other policeman outside the court room grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and threw me back in my cell, still kicking.”
Lencho hired an attorney to defend Ernesto, for which the lawyer was paid the princely sum of fifty dollars. Even with the value being what it was in 1952, the defense attorney was overpaid by at least forty-five dollars, considering the efforts he made in behalf of his client. He wanted Rodriguez to plead guilty and be done with it. The longest sentence the judge could hand down was five years. For fifty bucks, what the hell, the lawyer thought. The prosecuting attorney, on the other hand, had blood in his eye and was either a liar or the possessor of a priceless imagination, judging from the scenario he presented to the court. Even the accused, who has never been especially bashful about admitting his various deeds, was flabbergasted.
According to the prosecutor, Ernesto had gone to the house, slashed the screen on the outer door, knocked out the glass window on the inner door, and let himself into the house. He proceeded to turn on the light in the kitchen and then enter the bedroom where Nicho was sleeping peacefully with his wife. Turning on the bedroom light, the accused then pulled the covers off the sleeping couple and sliced up his victim.
Ernesto doesn’t know whether Nicho or the police slashed the screen door shown in the court room photographs, but he swears on Jesusa that neither he nor his father did it. He is also sure that had a medical examiner been present for the trial the examiner would have testified that the wounds on the body and the arm could not have been inflicted in the manner set forth by the prosecutor.
“The lawyer,” Ernesto recalls, “said he was going to plead me guilty. And I told him that, no, Nicho wasn’t around, wasn’t anywhere in sight, and that if I pleaded not guilty, I’d walk out of there. The god dam lawyer disagreed, said that they’d keep me in jail for six months, find Nicho and bring him back, and then make me face trial. I told him if Nicho wasn’t in the court room I wasn’t gonna plead guilty. Never once did that son-of-a-bitch representing me kick up a fuss about my having the right to face my accuser. Not once!
“So I told the judge ‘Your Honor, I plead not guilty.’
“The lawyer said, ‘Your Honor, I’d like to approach the bench.’ He talked to the judge and I heard him say, ‘I’d like to plead him guilty and get it over with.
“When the prosecutor told the judge his story about what he thought I’d done and the judge had heard mine he turned to the prosecutor and said, as I recall, ‘Mr. prosecutor, let me tell you something. I’ve listened to you talk about this man’s case and I don’t believe you. You told me this man cut the screen, broke the window, turned on the lights, went into the bedroom, turned on the lights there, then pulled the covers off the man and his wife and began cutting him. What was the man doing sound asleep when Rodriguez was doing all those things? Do you expect me to believe the victim wasn’t going to wake up? Well, I don’t believe that. The story the accused tells makes much better sense. I can believe his story about fighting with the man because of the assault on his parents. And because of that, I don’t want you coming up here recommending that I give him the maximum five year sentence.’
“Before the judge sentenced me he asked me to step up to the bench. He was frowning and going through my papers. He looked up at me and asked me whether I had violated my Texas parole by coming to the State of Nebraska, . In those days I didn’t know what the word “violate” meant.
My English was very poor. Also, I was ashamed to say I did not know what he was asking me, and I thought he could look at my record and know the answer anyway. Now, I honestly believe he would have put me on probation had I told the truth and said no.
So, I smiled at him and said, yes.
Because my lawyer pleaded me guilty, I and me saying yes when I should have said no, I ended up getting three years in the reformatory.”
This taught me a lesson, about how important it was to get an education, learn to speak English, and if I didn’t understand something, ask for clarification before speaking. It was a real turning point in my life.
Later, one of the officers asked me why the hell I had told the judge about violating my Texas parole when I knew I hadn’t. I was too dumb to know what I had done. I guess the judge had the right to do what he did, but I still wonder why my bullshit lawyer didn’t make a big stink about my right to face my accuser. If Nicho had been there, I could’ve blown his fucking story out of the water.”
None of the two or more months Ernesto had spent in the county jail awaiting his seventeenth birthday or trial was credited against his three year sentence. But once the sentence was handed down, his jailors moved rapidly and he was dispatched to the reformatory, better know as the “Ref” which was located in Kearney Nebraska where it was thought, Ol’ Ernie would fit in quite nicely with the home-grown juveniles.
Traveling by car, the officer escorting the handcuffed Rodriguez ran into a furious blizzard when they reached Ogallala on the banks of the North Platte River. When they peered through the opening cleared by their racing windshield wipers, the officers spotted dozens of drivers waving for help from the side of their half buried cars. There was no choice but to remove Ernesto’s handcuffs and let him assist in freeing drivers, while he himself was on the way to losing his own freedom for three years.
The Kearney Correctional Center, as it is now euphemistically known, was located on the outskirts of town and its fifteen foot walls told the passerby that this was a maximum security facility. At the front was the administration building and infirmary, behind them the kitchen and dining hall, and off to the side and behind both were the cell blocks. Adjacent to them was the two story solitary confinement building, known to inmates as ‘The hole”.
Entering the reformatory, or the “Ref” as it was also called by its denizens, cause no culture-shock for Ernesto who by then, as the saying goes, needed no one to show him where the little boys’ room was in places like that.
About the only difference between this reformatory and the one in Gatesville was the walls, the weather, and the relative humanity of the guards, or “screws”, as they were known in Nebraska. Also, there were no gangs in Kearney such as there had been in Texas.
Life for the first month was relatively uneventful. Rules had to be learned and friends and enemies made. Ernesto was placed in a cell with three other inmates. His quarters had a toilet bowl, wash basin, and, behind a narrow stretch of curtain, a place to hang clothes. Long accustomed to typical migrant accommodations, it was no hardship for Ernesto to again become accustomed to the two tiered bunks. Most of the clothing was Army surplus, the style de rigueur at Kearney being camouflaged material for working parties.
Doing his best to create a bit of fun in a place where little of it was available, Ernesto decided one day to play a prank on the guards by “screwing up the count”, as it was called. Several times a day, every day, the prisoners were counted and if the count didn’t come out correctly, there was hell to pay for all involved. Walking down the long tiers, guards counting the prisoners in each of them, and when the final tally was taken it was very important that it came out as expected. The fun loving Rodriguez decided to alter the total by hiding behind the curtain in his cell when the guard walked by. He doubted his absence would be noticed until the numbers on each tier were totaled, and even then they wouldn’t know who was missing.
As he had hoped, the reformatory was galvanized into action by the head count. Bells jangled and sirens screamed in his recidivist ears that evening. Guards, screws, ran about every which way and the dogs were released to sniff down the escaped felon. Ernesto’s cell mates, who could see out the window, reported that jeeps with searchlights mounted on them roared through the wooded land adjacent to the prison. A second head count was taken and still the authorities came up one prisoner short. When he finally tired of the pandemonium, Ernesto came out from behind the curtain and lay down on his bunk, an act which permitted him to be tallied on the third head count. It was then that he learned that there was a variance between his and the authorities’ sense of humor. An his attempts to explain that it wasn’t his fault if the guards hadn’t seen him and had counted wrong were to no avail. He was marched to “the hole” for four days of solitary confinement, never more, they hoped, to “screw up the count” again.
The hole was a two story building located in a swale close to the main cell blocks. With five single cells measuring about seven by nine feet on each floor, the concrete building was cold, damp, and crawling with white bugs of an unknown species. The bunks were concrete slabs resting on concrete floors. No one made the beds because there were no mattresses, no pillows, no sheets, nor blankets. Plumbing consisted of a bare metal, tub-shape toilet bowl with no cover, and a water spigot. The stench from the open toilet was vile, continuous, and pervasive. Once a week a guard would open the cell, tell the inmate to step out, and hose down the concrete cubicle. Unfortunately, the bugs must have known how to swim because they were back in crawling armadas by super time. There were two meals a day, mush in the morning, and a hodgepodge du jour in the evening. Slopped into a big bucket and ladled out into each prisoner’s stainless steel bowl, the food was at least nourishing, if not appetizing.
When the “Big E” was released from the hole he was assigned to the job of peeling potatoes and onions, work which he found especially distasteful. The other inmates performing the same work soon became bored with it too, and tempers flared. One of the young men, whose name Ernesto forgets, “got smart” and Ernesto took umbrage to his rudeness. All of the inmates were using paring knives and when the inmate who was antagonizing him moved to get to his feet, Ernesto was up as quick as a cat and kicked him on the head, toppling him over backwards. The unconscious body was hauled away to the infirmary and Rodriguez was again assigned to the hole, but this time for a longer period.
On the second floor was a slender inmate named Horace, who was in the hole for having escaped earlier. Horace had broken his ankle jumping off the outer prison wall and, limping badly, he had soon been picked up in town. To the other inmates Horace was known as “Sea Biscuit”, because he was constantly jogging or running in his cell to prepare himself for his next escape attempt. On the same floor was a big farm boy named King who didn’t like Mexicans in general–he had never known any–and Ernesto in particular. To King, Rodriguez was a “tamale”, a “greaser”, or worse. It was the chatter between the inmates, especially his with Horace, that made Ernesto decide to try to escape, or “excape” as Ernesto pronounces it. If Horace had made it over the wall, why couldn’t the others? To effect his escape, Ernesto decided to file through one of the bars on his cell door. If he could get out of his cell, it would be easy enough to hide next to the entry door and overpower the “screw” when he let himself in. None of the guards were armed and Ernesto anticipated little difficultly in getting the keys. Because such things as files and hacksaw blades were kept out of reach of the inmates, he would have to find another tool with which to cut through the bar, but what? The only possible instrument was the spoon which all prisoners had, if his spoon was missed he could always say he had dropped it in the noisome toilet, where no one in their right mind would look for it.
When Ernesto rubbed his spoon against one of the cell’s lower bars he was pleasantly surprised to find the spoon’s metal was harder than the steel bar and, armed with that knowledge, his escape became a matter of patience. For five days and five nights he was busy as a beaver. In the floor above, “Sea Biscuit” accelerated his training schedule. Ernesto’s plan was to make a cut through the upper and lower part of one bar. He figured that if he could squeeze his head and shoulders through the narrow space, the rest would be easy. That was his first miscalculation. His impatience to get out was another. When he had cut completed and the other almost finished he realized a solid kick could save him hours of time. And, sure enough, it worked. Standing on the bent bar it broke loose quite easily and snapped, rolled across the concrete floor and lodged itself behind the radiator and the wall. It was impossible to retrieve it back into the cell, in spite of several tries. But even worse, the hole in the cell would be easily seen by the patrolling guard.
Frantically, Ernesto stripped to the waist, rubbed his body with saliva, and tried to squeeze through the tiny opening. He had to get that damn bar before the guard came along. But he couldn’t get through because the sharp stump on the upper part of the sawed bar gouged into his right collar bone. He was an inch or two from freedom, and hopelessly trapped. Painfully, he extricated himself and forced to await the worst.
“It was dark,” Ernesto remembers, “And we could hear the screw coming over to the hole from the main cell block. In those days they used great big keys and you could hear them jingling a long ways off. He let himself into our floor and the first thing he saw was the hole in the cell door. The son-of-a-bitch panicked, threw his flashlight and keys on the floor, yelling, ‘Oh my God! My God!’ And took off running like a scalded cat.
“Get the key! The son-of-a-bitch left the keys! The other guys yelled but nobody could reach them. Hell, even if we could have gotten them it wouldn’t have done us any good. We could never have made it out of the building let alone over the wall–they would have shot us all.
“He came back with several helpers leading the ways, all of them shaking with fear, specially the run-a-way-screw, The deputy warden, with a long barrel .38 followed another guard who was armed with a double barrel shotgun, and they were followed by a fat night cook armed with a baseball bat, and another guarded armed with a .30-.30 rifle. Outside the building was another guard armed with a shotgun. They came in real slow and shaking like they expected to see a ghost.
“Once inside and having secured the keys , the deputy cocked his .38 and pointed it at me, made me take off my camouflaged pants and jacket, back out of the cell, they body searched me, and threw me into the end cell buck naked and gave me four sheet of toilet paper. It was winter, the cells were cold, and earlier we had broken out the windows so it was cold as hell that night.
“They asked me to give them the hacksaw blade I had used to cut the bar and I told them I had used a spoon but their mentality wouldn’t let them believe a spoon could saw through a ,jail bar. They looked in my ears and mouth. They made me bend over and pull the cheeks of my ass apart, wanting to make sure that the blade wasn’t hidden between my nuts and my legs.
“The cook was extremely upset that I claimed to have used a spoon–one of his spoons–and asked the Deputy for permission to whip my ass for having used one of his spoons.
“When they were through they didn’t give me my clothes back. Nothing except four squares of toilet paper with which to wipe my ass or keep warm with whichever one came first.
“I used the toilet paper to keep my ass warm the best I could, I put the toilet paper on the corner of the cement bunk–Jesus it was cold–and balancing on one cheek, hugging my knees and trying to go to sleep. They left me like that for a week, naked as the day I was born. I remember snow blowing in through the broken window. It was a miracle that I didn’t catch a cold or freeze to death.
Arguments continued to rage between Ernesto and King, who was in the floor above . It was safe to call Rodriguez a “tamale” when both of them were locked in solitary confinement, but that separation wouldn’t last forever, King was talking himself into a high spot of Ernesto’s “things to do” list while the Mexican was shivering, naked in his cell.
Ernesto’s ordeal ended when the reformatory officials decided that, all things considered, Rodriguez might find more suitable companionship and an environment better able to rehabilitate him in the state’s penitentiary. The “Big House”, as it was known, was only a few miles from the reformatory and perhaps there something could be done to teach the hot tempered Mexican his drawing room manners. The kid had served his apprenticeship in two “correctional centers” and it was time, they thought, to give him his journeyman convict papers.