July 19th, 2012 Comments Off
A fiction novel written by Ernesto R. Rodriguez
This novel is the results of the author having lived in Mauston, Wisconsin for many years. Some of the events and characters are purely fictional while others are based on real people, real places, real occurrences and real locations.
Mauston’s City Limits is a story about two young boys who are caught up in the racism that is a reality in that area–in the state of Wisconsin. The State of Wisconsin is the home and headquarters of eight different hate groups, and home of some folks possessing a very rare and abnormal mentality.
The intentions of this novel is to shed some light on how racism and political abuse can rip apart the hearts, and destroy the very fiber of, small rural communities. Racism and injustice not only deny these communities a peaceful coexistence, but also deny them the equal protection of the law which is guaranteed to all of us under the United States Constitution.
When these political or private gangs, organizations, or hate groups like the Klan are permitted by our own government to function as a law unto themselves, it denies the rest of us the right to live in peace in a free democracy.
Our prisons are multiplying very rapidly. They, prison guards, are becoming more and more violent every year. We have built maximum security prisons, then super maximum security prisons and where will we go from there? “Star War Prisons?” Here again, racism plays an important role in denying many of us our Constitutional rights. American prisons not only reflect the racial attitude toward people of color, but it also portrays us as the abusive superiority complex of White Americans–as the world sees us.
The roles played by the Mauston Police in this novel are typical of the abuse of power going on all over America by those we place in power. Again, it is no secret that our own government allows this kind of abuse to take place. What is the difference between Homeland Security illegally spying on Americans and the Mauston Police Department? Our country needs a time out to consider the need for consciousness.
The bottom line question is: Who do we think we are that we can use the color of office or political appointments to abuse and mistreat Americans or people who are less fortunate than we are? That is what Mauston’s City Limits is all about.
How many Johnny Funmaker Cornados incidences do we need to bring us to considering an act of consciousness Wisconsin Representative, Russ Feingold?
Chapter One: Waupun State Prison
It was a nice sunny day in June, 1979, when I drove the old red pickup truck to the Wisconsin State Prison in the city of Waupun, to pick up my friend Johnny Funmaker Cornado who was being released after serving six years of a fifteen year sentence for “Attempted Murder.” Johnny had almost killed a man in a Mauston bar fight over a girl he had dated but didn’t know too well. He had no idea she had a big jealous and mean boy friend–a construction worker, who was as solid as a brick. After the man punched Johnny in the face, and after Johnny realized he was no match for this man, he picked up a bar stool and caved in the man’s head.
Waupun, Wisconsin State Prison
The Mauston prosecutor went out of his way to send Johnny to prison. It seemed that Johnny’s Grandmother was a Funmaker, a Hochunk Indian, from a large family. The prosecutor did not take a liking to Indians, who were considered “un-American” because they paid no taxes. In addition to being “a half-breed” he had almost killed a tax-paying white man. The prosecutor had the upper hand when he prosecuted Johnny: Johnny was born a mixed child, he was born to a poor family, he had “Indian” blood, and he was “Trailer Trash.”
When the prison gate was electronically opened I heard the prison guard call out: “You’ll be back, Yahoo. You fucking half-breed! We will be waiting for you!” said Neffstad, the prison guard who was opening the gate.
He knew Johnny would not jeopardize his freedom, and Johnny also knew that if he mouthed off at the guard, the prison goon squad would drag him back in to complete the remainder of his sentence. He refused to take the bait.
Johnny’s only reaction was to smile at the old guard. As we walked out on the sidewalk away from the prison gate, Johnny swore they would never get him back in Waupun, at least not alive. He looked back at the prison, which looked like an old castle, took a deep breath and exhaled. He then said, “They are a bunch of dirty bastards!”
Johnny explained that Neffstad was an alcoholic, under-educated and mean as hell. He said that Neffstad and several other guards had beaten him severely, and after the beating Johnny said he made threats that someday he would kill Neffstad.
Perhaps Neffstad was now realizing that the opportunity to carry out that threat was very real and walking down the streets of Waupun, his home town.
I opened the truck’s door and Johnny placed his small cardboard box on the seat. The box contained some letters he had received while serving his time and some other personal belongings.
“Would you like to drive?” I asked, as we drove up to the main street of Waupun, heading out of town.
“Nope. The dirty bastards wouldn’t let me renew my driver’s license,” he explained. “Look around you. You see that cop car up the block? They would love to see me behind the wheel. They’re going to escort us out of town.”
Johnny said he needed to go to Milwaukee and take care of some business, so, we headed east.
He was right. The Waupun state troopers followed us for several miles, then disappeared out of sight.
Johnny said that he would love to get a good home cooked meal in some good truck stop. “These truck stops generally serve some good home cooked meals,” he said, wiping his mouth with the fingers of his right hand. So we pulled into the first truck stop and went inside.
Johnny and I took a table and sat down with our backs to the wall, and facing the counter. After a minute or two, Johnny spoke, “Fuck this place! It’s full of redneck assholes, with pot bellies, smoking like trains, and they have the manners of country hogs–let’s get out of here!”
I looked and noticed the waitress chewing gum; she had a cigarette in her left hand in which she also held the order pad. She wiggled in between two big dirty and greasy truck drivers who were cursing loudly and filling the place with cigar smoke.
“What can I get you two big boys?” she asked in a flirting voice. Both truck drivers reached out and each one squeezed a buttock and laughed out loud. The waitress seemed very happy and assured that they would tip her handsomely.
On our way to Milwaukee, John and I talked about old times, crimes we did together, girls we grew up with. We talked about our fishing spots. One thing I knew not to mention, was the Mauston Police nor the prosecutor. Johnny once said that the Mauston police were always out to prove they could be the world’s greatest scumbags.
John and I drove to Mitchell Street on the South side of Milwaukee. “Stop here at the Mitchell Inn,” he said. “Let’s have a cold beer.”
John dragged a bar stool to him and pushed it up against the wall. Then we dragged the table near the bar stool and we sat down with our backs to the wall, for a cold beer. John and I had gotten into a habit of not exposing our backs to anyone regardless of where we went.
A pretty white, short waitress, Teresa Rauch, who went by the nickname of “Little Bit,” served us our beer.
When Johnny asked her what her name was, she replied, “Do you want a fucking beer, or are you just looking for a whore?” She put her right hand on her hip and waited for an answer. She held the service tray in her left hand beside her leg. She was wearing a beautiful white hand-made apron with flowers on it against a black blouse, and tight blue jeans shorts that revealed a hot set of tights. The little bitch was cute and didn’t look much older than fifteen!
Johnny smiled and looked her over real well, and then said, “I wouldn’t mind a good whore if she’s as good looking as you are.”
The waitress swung the brown plastic service tray in front of her, covering up her beautiful little tits, and said, “Sorry asshole, we don’t serve whores here!” and walked back behind the bar to ring up the two beers we had paid for.
After a while Johnny walked into the toilet after another man, a Mexican, walked in. I immediately followed Johnny and pretended to be using the urinal. “I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch, here’s my old friend Tony Amaro,” Johnny said.
The man smiled but Johnny hit him as hard as he could with a rolled-up right fist on the forehead and Tony went down like a sack of spuds. Johnny pissed on him.
Tony shook his face from side to side and quickly reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out all the bills he had and pressed them into Johnny’s hand. He never said a word. He wiped his face with both hands as we walked out of the toilet.
We left the bar and headed for the truck which we had parked behind Paul’s Jewelry Store. “Drive down to the Purple Cow,” Johnny said, “I have to see a man there.”
As we drove away, Johnny explained that Amaro had gotten one hundred joints of marijuana with the promise that he would mail the money back to him as soon as he could once he was released from Waupun. However, he never mailed the money, and in fact, word got back to Johnny that Amaro had been in the Mitchell Inn bragging to an ex-convict faggot by the name Michael West, that he had conned Johnny out of the weed. “What a stupid motherfucker,” Tony was reported saying and laughing loudly, “Whatever made him think, that me, Tony Amaro, would ever pay him. I never pay anybody shit!”
Johnny explained that Tony was a petty con man who would steal from his own mother. Tony had been placed in the same cell with Johnny shortly before being released and it was then that Tony had begged Johnny out of the weed. The weed had been muscled away from a weak inmate who had talked his girlfriend into delivering it to the prison.
West, he explained, was ex-convict who dealt with stolen bonds and got a handful of time at Waupun, but wormed his way out by feeding information to the F.B.I. as to where and from whom he had gotten the stolen bonds. West had also been caught with his pants down and another inmate pumping the meat to him, by a prison guard. The story had even made the newspapers because West had married a female attorney while he was serving time, and this had made the news. The well known attorney immediately filed for a divorce. He was also a paid informant for the F.B.I.
We pulled into the Purple Cow on the South side of Milwaukee and went inside. We took a booth. Before Johnny and I could get comfortable a big woman with big tits and a finely shaped ass came to serve us.
“Would you gentlemen, with the compliments of the house, like to have a private room with your pick of the girls,” she said as she pointed at the man we had come to meet, Jack Davidson, a tall lanky fellow who was the manager of the bar.
We ordered two Millers and said we would rather wait for Jack at our booth. Jack was a reconvict out of Waupun whose expertise was in pimping whores. Jack managed the bar but the moneyman behind the bar business was a dope dealer, who was also a convict by the name of Augie Bergenthal, who by the way, had a wife who was a transvestite and a very good dancer.
“Damn! It is good to see you out here in the real world,” Jack said as he slid into the booth besides Johnny. “I know you can use a good piece of ass–take your pick and have a good time as long as you want to–go man! Go!”
Johnny thanked the man but said he would rather get down to business.
“Hey dude, we need to get you out of that J.C.Penney’s suit you got here.” Jack said as he pulled on the lapel of Johnny’s dress coat.
I couldn’t resist telling him the story about Johnny squirming and complaining that he had to get out of the prison clothing . How we went into J. C. Penney’s where Johnny got a complete new outfit. “You should have seen the look on the lady’s face when Johnny told her to throw the prison suit, shirt, tie, socks and shoes into the trash” and that they were prison clothes and how he had just gotten out of prison. “The lady looked at me, not knowing what to think, I just couldn’t help laughing,” I told Jack, “For a minute I really thought she was going to pass out on us.”
After a short conversation and a couple of beers, Jack called a man to the booth. He was a large man with a bald head and looked like he might have been the bouncer. He was wearing a black leather vest and black cowboy boots. He whispered something in his ear and handed him our truck keys–the man hurried away.
After another beer Johnny and I shook hands with Jack and left the bar. The big girl waved and smiled at us as she picked up the twenty dollar tip Johnny left for her.
“Where to, Johnny,” I asked as we pulled away from the Purple Cow.
“Back to Mouse Town, where all the loonies are. I just can’t get myself to liking the fucking place,” Johnny said. “It gives me the creeps just to think about it.”
I have some idea why some people call the Mauston, “Mouse Town.” It could be because there is a large cheese factory in Mauston. Then the Mauston Park Oasis has a large statue of a mouse eating cheese at the entrance of Mauston, right off of highway I-94.
Johnny didn’t say much on the way to Mauston. He became rather quiet, so I turned on the truck’s radio and left Johnny to his thoughts. I was sure he had some plans to work out in his head and wouldn’t tell me about them until he was ready to do so. I didn’t need to be told why Johnny wanted me to take the long way around to our trailer. He was sure the Mauston “pigs” had already learned of his release and perhaps wanted to welcome him home. He simply wanted to avoid them as long as he could.
The first song on the radio was “Love Potion Number Nine.” I like that song. Then came “Pretty Woman.” As we neared the Wisconsin Dells area, Johnny spoke up and asked me to take the Dells exit and take 13 towards Adams and then swing back to Necedah where we owned a trailer out in the deep woods of Finley.
It was almost three in the morning when we arrived at Finley. We made our way through some swampland, which most people call wetlands, to where the trailer was. A family of five Rottweilers was on guard. We stopped about sixty yards from the trailer and listened quietly for several minutes. We did not hear the dogs barking. But as soon as we neared the trailer, the dogs began to go wild and it wasn’t until they picked up our scent that they settled down and they allowed me to introduce Johnny to them. Millie was now about eight years old. She had been just a young pup when Johnny was sent to the prison. She hurried to him and sniffed him out. Her tail waved in a quick motion, from side to side letting Johnny know how happy she was to have him at home again.
After settling down the dogs, Johnny walked to the truck. He reached under the seat and came up with one kilo of cocaine, two bags of pills, and several pounds of redbud marijuana. “Let’s get all this stuff into the old hog pen as soon as we can,” he said.
We grabbed the packets and headed towards the hog pen where we had a trap door covered with manure. The trap door led to two metal barrels where Johnny and I would hide items we never wanted anyone to find or know about.
Johnny’s Granddaddy raised hogs until he died and left us the place, the trailer, hogs and land. We decided to build us a hiding spot where the ground smelled the worst of hog shit. Johnny’s reasoning was that if anybody or the Mauston pigs wanted to snoop around our place, they would have to pay the dear price of going through the hog shit and the awful smell.
We were young boys then. No one was hiring young boys like us, so, we decided to take whatever we could and sell it for money we needed so desperately. Once we went down to Ken’s Marina during the night, in Granddaddy’s johnboat, when we knew the old man would be snoring away, and stole several boat motors. Once the heat was off the stolen items, we would take them far away from Finley and sell them. As the time went by we even decided it was time to get rid of the hogs, but the smell, the awful smell, was still there.
It was late morning when we completed our work. The night was hot and the smell was awful. We were tired and Johnny complained that even in prison where he was allowed only one bath a week, he never stunk so bad as he did now.
“I’m taking one hell of a long shower, Little Brother.” he said “I reckon I won’t get any sleep, so, I’ll sit up and have some beer and you can sack out if you want to.”
I was so excited about having Johnny at home that I knew I couldn’t sleep either, “Pitch me one of them beers and I will sit up with you if it’s okay with you.” I replied.
I didn’t think Johnny would sleep for a couple of days after just getting out of prison. I thought he would want to see the whole wide world first. I’m sure his nerves were as tight as guitar strings–not even the beers he had drank nor the hard work of hiding the drugs seem to tire him out. As for me, I was just happy to be with Johnny again.
Johnny went to take a long shower and I grabbed myself a new beer and sat in the big rocking chair our Granddaddy left us. It was old but still in good condition. I had drunk about half of my beer when I thought I heard the dogs growling. I grabbed the loaded automatic shotgun and walked outside. I ran a few yards alongside the muddy driveway to see what I could see. I heard what seemed like a low humming of a car’s motor, but I didn’t see any lights. I assumed the car was a Mauston cop snooping around. But they knew better then to come snooping around in the swamp without plenty of backup! Several years ago they found a police car but never found the two officers who drove the car into the area.
When I entered the trailer, Johnny wanted to know what was going on.
“Nothing that I could see,” I lied. I didn’t want to arouse him. “Something just spooked the dogs–maybe a deer or a coon.”
Chapter Two: Broken Hearts
Granddaddy, Frank Cornado, was a big man, strong as a bull. His hands were hard as iron, but he was a quiet man who didn’t like talking a whole lot. Most of all he didn’t like talking about his past life. Whenever we asked him questions about the past or about Grandmother, he would scold us: “My little ones,” he’d say, “There’s much to be done around here. If we don’t feed the hogs, we too will starve to death. Come now, let’s feed the hogs and see if the chickens laid any eggs. Come along now.”
The only thing he ever told anyone about himself was that he had come from the Northern parts of Wisconsin, “Hodag Country” near Tomahawk where he once worked as a logger, and that the Indians had been very kind to him. He said the winters were cold and long and the summers were too humid and short. “But, it is truly God’s country up there.”
Even his own son Tom couldn’t get him to talk much except a few things about Tom’s mother but not much else. Local Indians rumored that Granddaddy’s mother had left him on an Indian reservation, but no one was sure which tribe he was left with. Nothing else was ever said about his mom. It was said that Granddaddy later ran away from the reservation in hopes of finding his mother.
Marium Schillings, a white woman, who most people in Mauston called “crazy trailer trash” lived in the swamp a little distance from Frank, and was a small source of information for us about Frank’s past. She told me and Johnny that she would often sneak up to our place and offered Frank a plate of food to eat and they would talk sometimes.
“I did most of the talking ’cuss he wasn’t much of a talking man,” Mrs. Schillings explained. “Frank had an old dog, Uncle Burt was his name, and he never barked at me nor growled when I would sneak up on Frank. Uncle Burt’s ears would stand straight up, and he would turn his head and look at me with those big eyes of his. But he never made a sound. Sometimes he would come to where I was and lick my hand. That was before Barbara died, Frank’s wife–she was a Funmaker you know! A fine and proud Indian woman she was. The rest of the Funmakers were a wild bunch. One of her brothers even killed a brother–they liked their liquor.”
Marium said that a couple of times late in the night, she had snuck up to the trailer and sat down to listen to Frank sing some Indian songs he learned on the reservation. “To me, I think he was singing to his misses ’cuss he really missed her plenty. Funny thing” she said, “Frank never told anyone what she died of.”
Marium died shortly after her man died. She left the run down trailer, the land and a big yellow school bus to her stepson Ron Schillings who was locked up in Waupun and had been there for thirty-three years.
It seems that if you are considered “crazy trailer trash” nobody cares about what happens to you when you die. It is a sad thing, but that’s how it was with the both of them.
It was said that after several years of logging and later working at the roofing trade, Frank had saved enough money to purchase the trailer with several acres, a handful of pigs, a few chickens and a pit bull he named “Uncle Bert.” They, some local folks, who knew Frank, said that he trained Uncle Bert to kill chickens and bring them in to be cooked whenever Frank decided they would have a Sunday chicken dinner.
On one of Frank’s trips to Mauston to purchase some groceries, he met Barbara Funmaker. It was love at first sight for the both of them. They were never married but out of this wonderful love affair came little Tom Funmaker Cornado. Frank decided that little Tom should always remember Barbara, so, Frank gave Tom her last name as a middle name on his birth certificate.
Barbara never got well after giving birth to little Tom, and three years later she died of some unknown ailment at the age of 36, according to Marium. After Barbara’s death, Marium took it upon herself to keep an eye on little Tom and Frank. She claimed that while doing so, she always tried to keep her distance and not let them know she was watching out for them.
After Barbara’s death, Frank raised Tom the best he could by himself and would never let him out of his sight. Uncle Bert never took his eyes off Tom neither and would never let him get in the way of danger. Once when a deer came to the yard and was curious about Tom, who was playing in the sand pit while Frank was on the john, Bert chased the deer away and came back with his tongue dripping sweat. This was a story told to me by old Marium who just happened to be tracking the deer through the swamp to make sure he would not be shot.
When Tom was old enough to go to school, Frank almost cried when he put him on the big yellow school bus. It was the first time he had to let him out of his sight and he was afraid for Tom. But he knew he had to let go and send him off to school.
Frank made Tom promise that he would come straight home once he got off the yellow bus if he was not there waiting for him. Frank spent a lot of time showing Tom how to get to the trailer and even showed him places where he could hide in the woods if he were ever afraid to go into the trailer. Tom learned all his lessons well much to his father’s relief. Tom also learned to read to his father who had never learned to read. Frank showed his son how to tell when the hogs were ready for market. He placed an iron pipe braced to a fence post and told Tom that if a hog had to squeeze through, he had the right poundage to go to market and would fetch a fair price. “Not before and not long after,” he told Tom.
Tom was in his teens, when a new classmate asked him what he did in his spare time, and wanted to know where he lived. Tom was proud to tell the new boy that he raised pigs and lived in a trailer in Finley with his Father. The new classmate took it upon himself to call Tom “Trailer Trash” and “The Pig Herder.” Tom was fighting angry but refused to fight with the boy, and would not tell Frank what he was up against.
But Tom had no choice when the new classmate challenged him, a few day later, to a fist fight and push him. Perhaps if he had not pushed him, Tom would have not fought. But Tom dropped his books and without thinking of the consequences tore into the boy with both fists flying as fast as he could throw them. After the fight was over, the new classmate ran off crying and Tom went home sporting a black eye.
When Tom got off the yellow school bus, Frank yelled out, “Oh my God! Who won the fight, son?” and hugged him tightly and examined the shiner.
“I did!” Tom yelled out, then tried desperately to tell Frank how he was forced into the fight and that he would never fight again with anyone. “That‘s a promise Daddy.” he swore.
After supper Frank, Tom, and Uncle Bert sat down to share stories, some good and some bad. But Tom said that at last Frank told him, “But since you were the winner, it is not likely they will ever bully you again.”
As Tom grew older, he learned many things about life, like drinking alcohol and having sex with girls his age. Before long Tom left the hog farm for Madison, Wisconsin where he found work in the roofing business. He worked for the Nelson Roofing Company. A man by the name of Steve Parker who was a resident of Mauston but worked in Madison with the roofing company hired him because he knew Frank, Tom’s dad.
Tom decided that since he was earning good money he should get himself a woman. He was tired of going to his empty apartment. He was tired of drinking alone and tired of not having sex on a regular basis. He had been dating a girl by the name of Sandy but there were many times he could not locate her by phone or otherwise. He liked Sandy and decided he would ask her to marry him.
Sandy accepted the proposal, and the two got married by the justice of the peace. Soon a child was born and they called him John Funmaker Cornado. Little Johnny was a shade darker than his mom or dad, and Tom said it was the Indian in him. Sandy joked and asked if she could call him her little half-breed? Tom was offended and Sandy promised she would never say that again.
Johnny and I met in a Madison park where I spent a great deal of time, after I was abandoned by my mother. I slept in broken down van near the park. So when Johnny asked me to go to his house and meet his parents, I was delighted.
Little Johnny told his parents about me not having a home and asked his parents if I could come live with them. He told them he would love to have me as his little brother. He went on to tell his father that I was living in an abandoned van.
Tom had a hard time getting Sandy to agree to take on another mouth to feed and another load of clothes to wash. Sandy screamed and yelled at Tom, “What about sending these two to school with books, lunch money, and all that–where does the money come from?”
Tom assured her that they would make ends meet, and that he would ask to work overtime and maybe even get a second job.
About a year later, after Tom and Sandy adopted me, Sandy disappeared shortly before Christmas and she was never heard from again. Two months after Sandy left us, Tom decided it was time to take us two boys to his father’s farm where we could tend to the pigs and help his dad who was growing old and had no one to look after him.
When we arrived at the trailer we found the old man, Frank, bundled up and wearing a large wool cap, He wore two pairs of pants and rubber boots. He was feeding corn to the pigs. Frank had heard the dog barking and heard us calling out to him.
When he saw Tom, Johnny, and me, he smiled and wiped a tear from his eyes. “What in the world have we here?” he asked. “And look at you, my son, how big and strong you are.”
Frank was so happy to see his son after so many years that he started to cry. “Oh don’t mind me–I’m just an old fool glad to see so many children here. What worries me is where are we all going to sleep, by golly.” Frank wiped his nose, then removed his glasses and dried his tears, with an old white rag he used as a handkerchief.
Six months went by with Tom doing odd jobs in the Mauston area and sometimes in the Wisconsin Dells during tourist season, selling tickets for the boat rides and the Tom Bartley show or cooking in a Dells restaurant. Once he was asked to fix some broken pipes for a water ride. It was all good money but soon winter would come again and the tourists would be gone leaving the Dells looking like a ghost town, and he would have to go back to the pig farm, which he had come to hate.
Tom was truly saddened by Sandy’s leaving. It seemed to have ruined his whole life and he was feeling very much alone again. His drinking became regular. He tried not to let us see him drinking. He would claim he was tired and went right to bed without speaking to his father or us. He would get up early and leave as soon as he could so that he did not have to face the family. The first thing he had to do in the morning was to have a strong drink of whiskey before breakfast.
After several months Tom just stopped coming home all together. He would find himself an “old whore” who would let him sleep with her for a few nights, then he would move in with another one, until Johnny and I lost track of his whereabouts. One woman yelled at us, when we asked if she knew Tom. We knew she had lived with him at one time. “That worthless impotent drunk–get out of here. I don’t know nothing!” she told us.
Johnny and I missed Tom and loved him very much. He was the only father we knew. After a year of not hearing from Tom, Granddaddy died of a broken heart, leaving the pig farm and an old pickup to Johnny and me. We felt we were too young and that we had no one to help us, except the attorney who handled our Granddaddy’s will.
Berkos, a Mauston lawyer, advised us that we now owned Granddaddy’s property, the pickup truck, what money was left in his bank account in the Mauston Bank, and the bills–taxes were almost due. He made it clear to us that if the taxes were not paid, that we could lose the property. He further advised us that since we had no real legal guardian, he would take care of us as much as he could. “But,” he said, “Let me tell you that both of you are really up against some high odds.”
Johnny and I decided that since we were too young to work, and didn’t want to raise pigs for a living, that perhaps we should try stealing stuff we could take to Madison, Milwaukee, or Chicago to sell. We had heard other kids talk in town about stealing and selling the stuff out of town.
Johnny and I came to a mutual understanding, that we would not trust others to know anything about our business–no questions asked. No one at all.
When I asked Johnny what it was that we could steal in the area, he replied, “Give me time to think. I will come up with something good and profitable.”
We decided to drive into town and park the truck in the parking lot of K-Mart and the Pick-N-Save grocery store and then walked around town keeping our ears and eyes open to see if we could decide what the tourists wanted.
Before long we spotted two fishermen near the Lemonweir River dam talking about fishing and how their boat motor broke down and they had to be towed in off Castle Rock Lake into a resort called The Shacks. One of the two fishermen said, “I always carry an extra motor just in case.” And the other guy said that the small motors were worth a nice piece of change, “but they are worth it! You never know when you’ll need a trolling motor to pull you out of a tough spot.”
It was this conversation that put Johnny’s brain into gear. “Steal boat motors late at night along the shores of the lakes and the Wisconsin River.”
I agreed but said that the idea needed some planning to see how easy or hard it may be to steal these motors.
The two of us went to Ken’s Marina and rented a boat and motor. The proprietor, Old Man Russ, showed us how to operate the motor, took our money, threw in two safety cushions and pushed the boat out into the inlet. “Have fun boys,” he yelled out and then pocketed the money and danced up the slip to his sales trailer.
How could he have known that he was helping us learn the trade of stealing, so that we could get our money back from him?
As the current pulled the sixteen foot aluminum boat into the Wisconsin River towards the rail road tracks, Johnny suggested that we do a little trolling as not to draw attention to our selves. I said that I had no desire to dirty my hands on some big fat carp full of mercury and paper mill chemicals.
“Never mind all that shit, we ain’t gonna eat no carp. We just wanna look like two young men fishing.” he said.
We took the boat out of the inlet, turned left under the rail road tracks and headed towards the Petenwell Dam. We turned back and boated on the East side of the lake where we spotted several small motors next to big motors that were just waiting for us to take home.
We talked about hitting some of the other marinas in the area, like the Castle Rock Marina. Johnny said that he had spotted several boats parked out behind the bars in Mauston, like behind Randall’s Bar and The Dry Gulch Saloon that would be easy to take. He said, “We have to be real careful and avoid being seen. Perhaps put some mud on our faces like we see on television.”
“We got our work cut out for us,” Johnny said. “Let’s go fix that old johnboat and made us some money!, he said, rubbing his hands together indicating that things were warming up for us.
I was now feeling better than I had been feeling for months. Now that we had some good ideas and money would start rolling in soon, I had no real ideas as to what I would do with my share of the money. All I knew is that we needed lots of money for gas, food, and taxes since Granddaddy’s money was running so very low, according to the lawyer handling our estate. Yes indeed, we were moving up in the world as Johnny put it, and I trusted him all the way.
After Tom’s disappearance, and Granddaddy dying, I felt a great loneliness creeping back into my life. Suddenly I was faced with being alone except for Johnny. I knew instinctively that Johnny felt even worse than I did. But somehow we managed not to talk about our feelings. For a long time we both felt numb and didn’t do much except to pet the dogs and try to comfort them. By this time Old Millie had past away after Frank died. Johnny found her near the hog pen where she and Granddaddy would sit and talk with the hogs before feeding them. It just seemed like there was not much to live for.
Johnny was two months older than I was, and two inches taller, like his Granddaddy, tan skin, wavy black hair, well built and thin. Granddaddy always said he was truly handsome like his daddy, Tom. As I looked at Johnny and seeing how strong and good looking he was, I kept telling myself that soon he would find himself a good woman, and I would then have to just go on down the trail by myself. Damn! These thoughts just made me feel like crying at nights when I tried to sleep but couldn’t. What was even worse, was that I couldn’t understand what was going through Johnny’s mind during these real bad times.
People around us thought that Johnny and I were brothers. I was five feet ten inches tall, curly black hair, and built like Johnny. We never had much to eat, so. neither of us ever developed a big appetite, and just never gained any weight to speak of. Both Tom and Sandy kept a lot of beer around so Johnny and I got to liking beer more than food.
We managed to fix Granddaddy’s Johnboat. We were now ready to venture out and make some big bucks. We were both aware of the danger involved but we just couldn’t consider the danger aspects because our money was running low and we needed to get on with our plans.
The forty-horse-power Johnson boat motor was more power than we needed for our work. Nonetheless, we were glad we had the power just in case we had to make a run for it.
We hitched up the Johnboat to our old pickup and headed for Necedah. We turned South on County G and went past Lenny’s Lumber company. Before we got to the railroad tracks we turned left into the boat launching area. It was about two thirty in the morning. Johnny and I worked quickly to launch the boat and made our way towards Ken’s Marina where we knew we could get our hands on several new Mercury boat motors. We got to the Railroad Bridge, went under and turned right into the inlet that would take us to Ken’s Marina. There was a small thin island to our left that had a sign pointing to the Marina, where fishermen could stop in for bait, tackle, snacks, gas and beer. Our well greased motor was surprisingly quiet as we trolled up to the water’s edge where the old man, Russ, had a string of aluminum fishing boats tied to the shoreline.
While Johnny was working on the motors, which were not locked down to the boats, I went up the slope to Russ’ trailer to avoid being surprised, I knocked on his door and yelled as loudly as I could, that I was fishing and needed bait. Ken came to the door madder than a fighting skunk, “What the hell is the matter with you–you asshole–can’t you see we’re closed?”
I walked away as quickly as I could so that he could not see my face, and yelled back “I am sorry sir, sorry…”
“Get the hell away from here before I call the sheriff!” he yelled. The door slammed behind me and I knew I was safe knowing the old man was not about to get out of bed for anything.
When I reached Johnny, I whispered, “He’s tucked in tighter than a chicken’s egg–let’s get them all.”
Johnny and I worked quickly and before long we were headed out of the inlet and working our way back to our pickup and trailer. We spotted two other fishing boats but it was dark and we could not see each others faces or boat registration numbers.
Johnny and I had met a couple of Mexicans in a bar in Wonewoc, Wisconsin who said they were from South Chicago and wanted to buy a boat and couple of good boat motors. They had bought us a couple of beers and gave us their phone numbers. They said they had been fishing at Dutch Hollow Lake and had caught some real big Crappies and large Bluegills, and had plans to come back again to fish the area.
The Mexicans didn’t know where we lived and we never exchanged our real names, so, Johnny said he felt safe to make the contact in South Chicago. We needed the money. We also needed to get rid of our stolen goods.
We both knew that we had to be careful because the Necedah and Mauston cops were on the prowl trying to get information on who hit Ken’s Marine. Johnny said that we were not the only ones stealing in the area. “Some guys hit a business on the corner of Highway 58 and County G. They got away with several large boat motors, new ones, and the cops are hot under the collar!.” He warned.
We both had developed a real hatred towards the Mauston’s cops and detectives. They were very good at ripping off Juneau County. The sheriff would accuse one of his officers or detectives of stealing evidence, drugs or money, then fire or suspend them without pay while the investigation was conducted. The suspended officials would hire a lawyer and sue the County of Juneau for a big sum. It was set up for a winner since there was no proof of wrongdoing. In this way, the lawyers got well paid and everybody was happier after splitting the profits! Except the tax payers of Juneau County.
It seems that those who handled the county’s money didn’t care how many times this was done. It seems that every sheriff, chief of police, cops and detectives on the Mauston Police force had his turn and no one was the wiser! It was a sweet setup and why not take the money if the county is giving it away so easily and without any real concern. Perhaps it was just good politics to keep your eyes and mouth shut.
We both knew the local cops had a lot of nerve hunting down a few poor thieves and spend more county money to put poor folks in jail! We hoped that someday, if we were lucky, the Federal Government would come to Mauston and clean out all the rats in public office! Again, perhaps it is good politic to keep your mouth shut. “If you can’t beat them join them!”
The local news paper, The Star Times, didn’t dare attack the story for fear that the “Good Old Boys” who controlled the area would tar and feather them and run them out of town.
We made a deal with the Mexicans, who took the boat motors off our hands and they promised to buy whatever we could bring them in stolen goods. They seemed to be more interested in vehicles, trucks, which they could transport to Mexico.
We got a few goodies from behind the Dry Gulch Saloon and Randall’s Bar, while the customers got themselves good and drunk. On one such occasion we got lucky: We spotted a New Dodge Ram hauling a nice Bass Boat. The owner left the keys inside the truck! The Mexicans were happy to see us. They purchased the whole lot no questions asked. They said, “This truck, amigos, will bring in a lot of money!”
We learned a lot from stealing. We learned that this world is truly a “Dog Eat Dog World!” This is how it works. Mauston and surrounding areas spend a lot of money trying to lure tourist to the area by offering water recreation, good fishing, get away lodging, deer hunting, horseback riding, prostitution, drugs and other sports. In all honesty the Mauston area could not survive without the tourist dollars. Juneau County is the poorest County in Wisconsin and contains the meanest people in the state. A handful of mean old bastards, “Good Old boys” ran the entire show.
One would think that the area folks would love the tourist trade. Much to my surprise they really don’t. If you ever drive into Mauston and see a large sign that reads, “F.I.Bs” you will know how much they love you. F.I.Bs stands for “Fucking Illinois Bastards,” and generally it is the Mauston Police Department that spray paint these letters on signs along the country roads.
If you are a “fib” and someone steals something from you, the Mauston Police Department could care less, unless there is something fishy going on and they need to shine the spotlight on someone else.
If you are a local resident trying to expose the injustices, the “Good Old Boys” will jail you, intimidate you, frame you, or in someway push you out of town. That’s just how it is. They control the whole affair.
After our dealings with the Mexicans we decided to celebrate. We stopped in Milwaukee and had a good Mexican meal, “The Acapulco special bar-b-que plate lunch.”
We had been warned that National Street was dangerous and that the restaurant was dangerous also They warned us that the “Cobras and the “Latin Kings,” street gangs were at war with each other over the drug trade and that shootouts could occur at any moment. It seems that on Valentine Day a kid by the name of Joe Rivera and his limousine driver had been gunned down while eating there with his girlfriend.
The rumor has it that the owner of the Acapulco, Donna, had been married to a drug runner who was sent to Mexico with a large sum of money and was never heard from again.
We went to the Acapulco lounge and ordered a couple of beers. As we sat there sipping away at our beers, we spotted some very beautiful unescorted Mexican ladies. The ban was great and playing an old song, “Por una mujer casada me decen que ade murir…..”
Mexicans are not friendly people once they have had a few drinks, and when they are listening to encouraging “corridos”, fighting music and when their target is a white man dancing with a beautiful Mexican senorita.
We decided it was time for us two country boys to get back to the woods before the shoot out.
We tipped the bouncers, bought them a couple of drinks of tequila and had them escort us to the door. As we made our way to the truck, Johnny asked, “What the hell is wrong with these Mexicans?”
I replied that I thought it was just the liquor, music, and their sex drive!
On our way towards the Wisconsin Dells, I turned on the radio. It was playing mean woman. “I got a woman who’s mean as she can be, some times I think she’s as mean as me. When she has sex she never smiles…”
Chapter Four: The June Flood
The constant June rains caused the Snake River to flood the surrounding areas of Finley, Necedah and Mauston. It flooded like never before in history! Homes were flooded and people had to be evacuated from towns as far as Lyndon Station near the Wisconsin Dells. The Federal Government had to step in and considered us a disaster area. Our trailer in Finley, in the middle of the wet lands, was severely flooded. We had no choice but to load our five dogs into the pickup and head towards Mauston.
When we arrived in Mauston, we learned that the Lemonweir River had flooded the Willows Motel where we had hoped to stay. The owners, Richard and Cynthia McKowan had over two feet of water in their office. Johnny and I decided that it would be best to get to the hills of Wonewoc where we had an old school friend, Eddie Coppernall.
Eddie and his wife, Josephine were happy to see us, and when we offered to pay them rent money, they refused to accept anything from us.
“We just hit the Lottery for two hundred and seventy five thousand dollars,” Josephine explained.
“Yep, sure did,” Eddie added. “We gonna buy some property in Richland Center, build a home and open up a hardware business.”
After supper and chatting about the old school days, Eddie said he had something to show us. “Follow me,” he said and motioned to the door leading to the garage, which was attached to the kitchen.
Eddie opened a wooden crate and whispered, “Get a look at these beautiful babies!”
The wooden crate was full of handguns.
“You’ll be surprise what you can buy when you got money. I got the whole lot real cheap too. Would you boys be interested in a couple of fine guns? Give you a good deal” Eddie said.
Johnny looked at me and I nodded yes. We picked two 357 long barrel magnums. Johnny also picked himself a small 38 aero weight five shot revolver–small but powerful gun. The big mags also had a kick like a country mule.
It was three weeks before the raining and flooding would stop long enough for us to consider going back into the swamp and to our trailer. Johnny, the dogs, and I were anxious to return home. But there would be no going home without food for us and the dogs.
Our first stop was the Mauston Coop. But as our luck would have it, just as we parked, the dogs went into a frenzy and wanted to attack old Sheriff Dick McCurdy, who pulled in behind us.
“Howdy McCurdy,” Johnny greeted the old sheriff and calmed the dogs.
“Them there sure is a fine bunch of dogs. Haven’t seen you boys in town since Frank passed away. How you boys like the flooding and all that damage?” he asked.
“It seems to be the worst I’ve heard of, “ Johnny replied. “Yep, terrible–just down right terrible!”
We were nervous over talking to the sheriff because we had guns in the truck.
“We gotta get some food for the dogs,” said Johnny, pointing to the coop’s door.
“Hear say the Willows’ owners are going to sue the city. They really got it bad,” McCurdy said, as he looked inside the truck. “Old Frank always took good care of this old truck. Still running okay?” he asked as he patted the front fender and kicked the front tire.
“Running good–yep–sure is.” Johnny said and moved towards the coop.
“Not so fast boys, I need to talk to you. Frank and I were very good friends when he was alive. I knew him well. But I don’t really know you John and I don’t know anything about your little brother here. Don, is it? That’s your name?” He continued.
“Sheriff,” Johnny tried to cut in.
“I just want to warn you that I have many deputies who are not as friendly as I am, and right now , cause there is a lot of stealing going on, they’re out there looking to see who is doing it all. Who ever they is, they ain’t leaving no trails and my deputies don’t like it at all. You boys wouldn’t have any idea who these thieves might be, would you?”
“No sir!” we said.
“Sheriff we ain’t done nothing like that, but, if we hear anything me and little brother will sure nuff give you a holler. Ain’t that right little brother?” Johnny said.
“Sure will, sheriff,” I added.
“You boys be real careful now,” McCurdy said as he made his way back to his patrol car.
As McCurdy drove away, Johnny said, “How he ever got elected to be sheriff is a mystery to everybody in the county. They say he can’t read or write and they say he has never made out a report on any crimes he’s looked into.”
We made our way over the dam. The water was still high and moving rather rapidly.
We pulled into the parking lot of our local grocery store, Pick-N-Save and went inside to get our groceries.
As we headed back to our truck, with our groceries, we heard the dogs barking and growling at two Mauston Police Officers, who were looking over our truck.
“Some nice dogs here,” the lady officer said.
We just nodded our heads.
Their nametags read, Terri Brunner and Jeff Johnson.
“Are you boy half breeds or full Injuns?” Terri asked.
I could see Johnny starting to bristle like a wild boar about to attack.
“What’s the problem Miss Brunner?” I cut in before Johnny could open his mouth and get into big trouble.
“No problem boys,” she replied. “We just want you to get to know us better.”
“Why? What have we done?” Johnny asked with an attitude.
“What you doing in town when you know we don’t like Injuns?” Brunner asked. “Injuns don’t pay taxes like the rest of us. And just the other day, we had to run two gambling trailers out of town. You wouldn’t be a Funmaker would you boy?”
Just as Johnny was about to break, we were interrupted by an incoming police call on the police scanner. The call asked for police backup for an officer who was being attacked by a local White boy in the Dry Gulch Saloon on State Street.
We wasted no time getting into our truck and headed out of town to Finley.
“Granddaddy always said that the Funmakers owned a lot of land around Mauston, and that they controlled some of the gambling. He claimed that they were a very large family and meaner than shit. I can’t remember if they are from the Eagle Clan or the Bear Clan, “Johnny explained. “I guess Grandma was a Funmaker.”
As we neared the trailer, all five dogs leaped out of the truck and took off on a frenzy to check out the trailer, then they came running back with mud all over them. I could see we had our work cut out for us. I knew we had to repair the floor and throw out some very wet furniture.
We started a fire with some of the furniture that had been ruined by the flood. We lit our Coleman lamps and set back to enjoy the sunset. The dogs seemed happy to be back home. They were playing in the mud like little children.
The mosquitoes seemed to be as large and as noisy as helicopters. So we threw a moldy blanket into the fire to create some smoke in the hopes of driving away the mosquitoes.
“Johnny, I think it was just a bad omen that we got stopped by the sheriff and then those other two officers. Have you ever thought to leaving this place and going somewhere else to live, like Madison or Chicago?” I asked.
“Can’t say that I have. Nope, I have a lot of good memories of my Granddaddy here. I have hope that someday my daddy may come back here, you know. What if he comes back and we ain’t here? He would never find us. But I’ll tell you what little brother, if he doesn’t come back before long, we can talk about moving out of this shit town!”
I had heard many stories about the state of Wisconsin having eight different hate groups that went around killing Blacks, Indians, and Mexicans, and how the police would harass dark skin folks into leaving town. The local people even had a fight going on with White people they called “Trailer Trash.” The whole area seemed to have something they hated like the “F.I.B.s”.
I had heard that Westfield Wisconsin was the home of the Klu Klux Klan. All these bad feelings were making my skin itch with worry. I sensed that something terrible was about to happen to Johnny and me. I was worried about the dogs too. What if they were left alone? Who would take care of them?
I couldn’t help thinking how old Millie died shortly after Frank passed away. I couldn’t understand it all, but I could feel the evil in the night’s air, and it was like I could hear their footsteps coming through the swamp towards our trailer. I tried not to worry Johnny with my feelings, but now and then I asked him if we could move away, far, far away.
I think Johnny would have killed that lady cop in town, if he had had a chance. I could see it written all over his face. I would not have blamed him. I had the same feelings, but it truly scared the hell out of me.
We were quite for a long spell. We were both so quite that the buzzing of the mosquitoes got louder and louder.
Johnny spoke after a long while: “I keep thinking about how many Indians she has been disrespectful with since she got her badge and gun attached to her tits?
“Had we done something to them, they would have denied saying what they said and put us in jail on other charges. Then we would have to face old Judge Brady , who lets the prosecutor and the police do as they please. Like they did Jack Williams. The cop crashed his house party and when Billy asked the policeman to leave, they arrested him and beat him up badly. Then they put him in jail for assaulting an officer. The prosecutor threatened to sent him to prison if he contested the case in any way. He said he was pressured to pleading guilty to a lesser charge, a misdemeanor that carried a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars. But no one said anything about how the cop crashed the party without a reason. “There are some real dirty bastards in Mauston.” I said. “We need to be very careful, Johnny.”
We both knew that even the lawyers in Mauston were not worth a shit. Hell, they went fishing and hunting with the cops and prosecutor–they were buddy buddies-all of the rotten bastards. It was always safer to hire an out of town lawyer.
Local lawyers always demanded a two thousand dollar retainer fee and then threatened their clients into pleading to a less charge. Hell, why would anyone pay a lawyer two thousand dollars and then plead guilty. This can be done without a lawyer, but somehow the local lawyers got away with it.
We understood that this kind of stress was not good for us. But it was a way of life and sooner or later we understood that some thing had to give or we had to move out of the Mauston area.
The darkness crept up on us. In my mind I could hear their footsteps working their way through the woods toward us, but I was too tired to care–couldn’t keep my eyes open….
Chapter Five: Tar and Feathers
The morning sun was shining through our trailer window. Johnny had taken a shower. He was dressed in his new jeans, and cowboy boots. He was drinking a beer, and watching television. He was sitting on the couch and had his feet on the cocktail table.
“The news are just one lie after another. It’s gotten to where you can’t believe anything these politicians say. The Republicans say one thing and the Democrats say it isn’t true and how do we know who’s telling the lie? I don’t care anything about voting for anybody,” Johnny said, with bitterness in his tone.
I didn’t give a rat’s ass either about voting. It was true that the system never did anything for me to be proud of or to give me reason to vote. I had seen too much abuse by those who had power to mistreat those they considered below themselves.
Johnny reminded me that soon I would be of legal drinking age and could go into any bar of my choice–legally. He reminded me that I could now dance and drink with the beautiful ladies of the night, better known as the “barflies.”
I really didn’t know much about myself. My mother never said much of anything to me except she would scream at me for being her burden and unwanted responsibility. She never mentioned who my father might have been. The only name I ever heard her call him was, “That no good son-of-a-bitch!”
Johnny wanted to know if I had any dreams as a child. I assumed he meant if I ever wanted to be like someone or to be something special. I really had not given the question much thought and I told him so.
Then Johnny spoke again: “My Granddaddy and my daddy always said to me that if a man wants to get anywhere in life that he had to work his ass off and save as much as he could. Bullshit! My dad never made much and never saved a penny. Mostly, he just drank it away, yeah, just pissed it away. I think that’s why my mama just packed up and left without saying a word,” Then Johnny threw the empty beer bottle against the wall. “Fuck a bunch of work!”
I agreed with his anger and the tears that streamed down his cheeks. I could see myself in him.
I turned off the television and turned on the radio. The country music station was playing a recording about “Cows with guns,” and it was funny. The song was about cows that were rebelling about being slaughtered for food and were going after humans. Some man called the station and wanted to know where he could purchase a copy and who the writer was. The disk jockey said he was sorry to say that someone just mailed the disk in without a name or return address. The laughing took our minds off the terrible feelings we were having. Johnny was smiling too.
I couldn’t help thinking that when mama left me all alone, all my thoughts went into thinking that I was not worth shit to anyone, not even to my own mom. I just gave up. I guess poor folks ain’t got no business dreaming about anything they can’t afford.
A few days went by and Johnny and I decided that we would celebrate my birthday by going to a bar in the small town of Hustler, Wisconsin. Johnny and I didn’t like the Mauston cops and decided that Hustler was a small town with one small bar and we weren’t known there. Our plans were to have a few beers, listen to some good country music and shoot the shit–just the two of us.
When we arrived at Red’s Bar, the night was black and the music was loud. We were ready to have us a good old time.
As Johnny stepped out of the truck, a big man, about six feet two inches and weighing about three hundred pounds, wearing jeans, boots, and a jean jacket staggered up to Johnny and asked if he could light his cigar.
Johnny said he did not smoke and never carried a lighter nor matches.
The man looked at Johnny, and asked what the hell an Indian was doing in Hustler? “We don’t have any Indians in this town. What the hell you looking for here? Are you looking to get yourself tarred and feathered, Injun?”
Johnny hit the man with a straight right and then with a left on the mouth. The blood splattered and the man went over backwards and hit the dust like a ton of lead!
As the man hit the ground, he reached into his jacket and came up with a revolver.
Johnny reached under the seat of the truck and pulled out the 357-magnum and shot the man three times in the chest, and immediately jumped back into the pickup.
The truck kicked up a lot of gravel as we sped away from the parking lot. I got my gun and fired several shots into the air, just to keep the bar customers from coming out the door and seeing us or the truck.
Neither of us spoke for several miles. We drove to Oakdale, and then into Tomah then took Hwy 21 to Necedah to avoid Mauston’s city limits and the Mauston cops who we assumed would be on the run as soon as they got word of the shooting.
We decided it would be wise if we had a beer or two at the Sportmans’ Bar in Necedah. Johnny said that most people don’t know enough to look at the clock when they are drinking. We could say where we were just in case we needed to account for our whereabouts to the local cops which would surely come asking questions sooner or later.
When we entered the bar we spotted several people we knew, but no one really noticed us. We took a table in a dark corner, ordered some beers and watched the pool players.
The crowd was wild and the country music was loud. A couple of the women sitting at the bar looked at us for moment then turned to tend to their drinks. We drank until an hour before closing time. We ordered a six-pack and headed out to our trailer.
The following morning the story about the shooting was on the radio. The Juneau County Sheriff, Old Dick McCurdy, referred to the shooting as a senseless and cowardly . No mention was made about the man having a weapon. He claimed they had no clues as to who did the shooting, but assured everyone that the shooter or shooters would be caught and brought to justice. McCurdy also mentioned that he had over one hundred deputies investigating the killing of “Deputy Raymond Brunner of Union Center, Wisconsin.”
”This is one birthday I won’t ever forget,” I said to Johnny.
Johnny said we didn’t have time to think about my wonderful birthday and we had better be thinking of disposing of the guns–get rid of the evidence and quickly.
I suggested that we could bury them in the swamp where no one would find them. I reminded him that they could not drag the area. And I knew of just the right spot.
Shortly before sundown, I took two dogs with me deep into the swamp. I was sure I was not followed. The dogs would have sniffed out anyone in the area. I found a deep hole under a large stump and buried the guns deep into the mud and headed back to the trailer. The dogs ran in front of me sniffing the air for any scent of strangers, man or beast.
By the time I reached the trailer, Johnny had drank several beers and seemed angry and worried. He raised his head, look at me and said, “How was I to know he was a cop?”
“What difference does it make what the asshole was? He was looking for trouble and found it, and this makes it all okay as far as I’m concerned. Besides the cops are the ones who think they can do anything and get away with it. They deserve what they get when they look for trouble–fuckum!” I said.
“Cops don’t like it when one of their own goes down. Mark my word, they will be out hunting like dogs on a coon. They will be looking for the guns too,” he said.
“Do you think Eddie might say something? I am sure that by now, the word has gotten around that the asshole was shot with a 357.”
Johnny said he didn’t think Eddie would say a word. “He sold us the guns illegally which means he could lose his business and even go to jail. Besides, he’s a member of the Posse Comitatus and you know how they hate the Federal Government and the local police. No, I really don’t think he will talk, but getting rid of the guns was a good idea.”
“I have heard tell he is a solid old boy, and a little crazy himself when his feathers are ruffled.” I replied.
As far as we knew, no one saw our truck or us the night of the shooting. Nonetheless we needed to keep our noses to the wind and our mouths shut as tight as canned goods. We needed to stay out of sight for a long time.
We both agreed that we would let each other know our every move. We knew the Mauston police would would be sniffing up our asses like hounds on a hot scent.
“It’s a good thing he’s dead. A dead son-of-a-bitch can’t run off at the mouth one way or another!” I said, to let Johnny know I supported him all the way.
“You know, I keep wondering how many ‘Injuns’ he has tarred and feathered in the town of Hustler? And what he said to me was that my life was not worth a shit to him . That’s why I punched his lights out! If he did not value my life, why should I value his?” Johnny said with bitterness in his voice.
I agreed with him. I too was sick and tired of the assholes referring to us as ‘half breeds.’ I could not hold back my tears.
I was feeling very depressed. I couldn’t help thinking how my parents had deserted me, making me feel unwanted and unloved. My Mother, what I could remember of her, was a beautiful lady with long blond hair and blue eyes, five feet two inches tall. She loved to drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. In my heart I knew she loved me, she just didn’t have the skills to cope with her misfortune in life. One day I came home and she was nowhere to be found. She just left me to fend for myself. I called her Jen, short for Jennifer. She was all I ever had in life. At the moment my life didn’t seem to have any direction. Johnny was all I had and I wanted to hold on to him at all cost, regardless of where our relationship would take us.
Chapter Six: The Frame-Up
Almost two months had passed since the shooting of Brunner. We had not ventured too far from our trailer. We kept busy trying to provide ourselves with food. We fished the Snake River for northern pike and catfish. Johnny was good at pickling pike. He said his Granddaddy taught him how to cook. From time to time Johnny would do a fish boil with potatoes and onions and we ate like rich folks. But our dog food and other necessities were dangerously low. It was time to venture out of our safe place. We had no choice. The dogs were as restless as we were.
About two hours before sundown, Johnny spoke: “You know how much I hate to go into Mauston, but, we don’t have a lot of gas and very little money. What do you say we wait until dark and then drive out to buy what we need at Pick-N-Save in Mauston? We do need to get some supplies.
Something told me that one of us had to stay at the trailer to protect the dogs and the trailer. There had been some unusual noises around the property and it worried me. I didn’t mind going or staying, but I was certain one of us had to stay.
Johnny was quiet for a long spell. I had no way of knowing what his thoughts were but I suspected he was dealing with the shooting of Brunner and the mess we were in. But he could have just as well been thinking what his Granddaddy or Tom would do at a time like this. On the other hand, his thoughts might have been about his Daddy and Mama–maybe just missing them as I missed my parents. It could be that he just didn’t want to talk or do much of anything. Whatever his thoughts were, it worried me to see him like this.
After a long silent spell, He spoke softly: “I’d like to stay here and just think things out. It just seems like every time we go somewhere somebody wants to make trouble for no good reason at all…”
I made a list of what we needed and headed for Mauston. Not long after I drove on to County Highway 58, I spotted a set of headlights. The car pulled out of the woods. I was followed for a short distance then the lights turned off the road, but less than a mile I was being followed again. I pulled into the Pick-N-Save parking lot. stopped the truck, and waited to see what the follower would do. It was a police car. It continued on towards the dam and perhaps towards the Courthouse on State Street. I felt relieved.
I couldn’t help worrying about Johnny being alone at the trailer. I got the supplies we needed as quickly as I could and headed out to the truck at a fast pace.
As I stepped out the door I saw three policemen, one of them was searching the inside of the truck. Thank God we had been smart enough to get rid of the guns. The truck was clean. I proceeded to put the supplies in the back of the truck.
“This your truck boy?” one of the policemen asked.
“Yes sir.” I said and went to reach for my registration and driver’s license
I felt a hard blow to the back of my head and remembered hearing a voice say, “Resisting arrest,” and I fell to the asphalt face first.
I came to in the jail house elevator. My ankles and wrists were cuffed and locked to a belly chain. I said nothing–I felt a lot of pain and numbness all over my body. My mind whispered to me that I was about to be questioned about the murder. I wanted to panic, but I didn’t dare. I realized that I was in for a very rough time and perhaps another beating I would never recover from. I was thrown into a small cement cell. They did not remove the chains. I could hear voices. I heard someone say: “Book him for stealing the boat motor, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer.
Some time later I was awakened when a policeman propped me up against the wall, and without saying a word, he hit me several times on the face and kicked me on the groin.
“Now that I have your undivided attention, I have a few questions we want you to answer truthfully, and if you start lying I will kick your fucking teeth in! Comprende? Do you understand me, Boy?”
My face was swollen, my mouth was bloody, my ears were ringing and I kept passing out. In between times, I could hear them asking me if I knew anything about the murder in Hustler. All I could do was to shake my head, no.
The following morning I was booked and thrown in a row of jail cells with several other prisoners. I could see that I was not the only one that had gotten the third degree by the Mauston Police Department.
After spending the weekend in the Juneau County Jail, I was taken before Judge John Brady. I was charged with theft of a boat motor, resisting arrest, and attempting to assault a Mauston Police Officer.
Just as the Judge was about to set bail, one of the arresting officers approached the judge and stated that I had made death threats against the arresting officers. He then asked the judge to deny me bail.
Judge Brady spoke: “We don’t need to take a chance on getting another one of our policemen killed. Bail is denied–a date for trial will be set.”
Months went by before my case was assigned to a local attorney, Don Berkos who urged me to plead guilty to stealing the boat motor. He promised he could get the resisting arrest and assault charges dropped.
I said, “No way,” and that I had not stolen the boat motor and didn’t know who put it in my truck. I had been framed by the Mauston Police and there was no way out for me except out of the prison gate after serving a long sentence.
I demanded a jury trial hoping that somehow I would be vindicated. But nothing went my way. A local drug addict and alcoholic sign painter, by the name of Clayton, of Mauston, now deceased, testified that on the day of my arrest, he saw me steal the motor from a boat parked behind the Dry Gulch Saloon where he had been drinking all evening. He claimed he could not recall the exact time but that he was positive it was me he saw that day.
I was sentenced to seven to ten years in The Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun, where I became just another number, #33406.
Johnny did every thing he could to help, but nothing worked for us. At my sentencing he promised to take good care of the dogs and trailer. He said he would be waiting for me to be released, and that he would make sure I would always have a home to come to.
I was heartbroken and bitter. I cried like a little boy lost in a grocery store. I felt like I would never see Johnny again–my life had once again fallen apart. I was ankle chained, handcuffed, and belly chained. I was given a pair of orange coveralls with the word “Jail” stenciled on the back. I was placed in a police car and driven to the State Prison.
From the outside, the one hundred and twenty five year old prison looked like an old castle built with stones. My first fear was that I was a young man entering a world that had no women. I feared I would be raped and beaten and no one would care. I was stripped of all my clothing and a few personal belongings. As I stood waiting for some prison clothing, a prison guard called out, “Bend over and split your cheeks!” I turned to face the guard and meant to ask him what he meant by his remark, but before I could speak, a second guard jammed a wooden club into my rib cage and I almost passed out from the blow and pain.
“Bend over and split the cheeks of your ass real wide!” he demanded. “You’ll learn to do as you are told, boy!”
As I bent over one of the guards yelled out to me to turn around, lift up my testicles, and open my mouth wide. Then he looked into my mouth and ears and pushed me up against the wall. The second guard sprayed me with bug spray and ordered me to take a two minute shower. As I showered, I swore that if I lived through my prison sentence that I would kill me a Mauston cop and a couple of prison guards. My life just didn’t seem worth living.
I was taken to cell block H and assigned to cell 32. I released the chain on the wall and let the metal bunk swing down. I threw myself on the thin cotton mattress and cried into my pillow.
A guard yelled out, “Chow Time” and the entire cellblock rattled with noise and hungry inmates murmuring and whispering to each other and calling out names of friends to make sure they were awake and not miss supper.
The opening of the cell doors made a loud metallic sound, metal crashing into metal. The inmate in the cell next to me whispered for me to get in line and follow the man in front of me, “And keep your mouth shut!” he warned.
We were marched out of the building and across the prison compound to the kitchen area, better known as the Chow Hall. From time to time the guard would yell at us to stop and then yelled at us to march forward, two abreast.
When we entered the Chow Hall, I did as the man in front of me was doing. I was not hungry and took only a few American fried potatoes and some dry bread. The inmate behind me whispered that I would not get any more food until the following day. I whispered back that I was not hungry.
At last we sat at a small square table with four attached seats. I placed my metal food tray down and tried to eat but couldn’t swallow my food. The inmate to my left ordered me to put my food in my pants pocket. I asked why and he pointed to a sign that read, “Take all you want but eat all you take.”
“The guards will shove it down your throat if you don’t.” he said
Another inmate to my right reached into my tray with his spoon and shoveled my food into his mouth as quickly as he could, to keep me from getting into trouble with the guards.
Thanks,” I whispered.
Fish, I’m afraid you got a lot to learn about prison,” he answered.
At last we were ordered to march out of the dining area. I carried my food tray and spoon to the guard who waited for the inmates to show him the spoon and then place it in a large metal bucket. I later learned the reason for inmates to show him the spoon and then place it in the bucket was that they were afraid that inmates would steal the silverware and use them as weapons against inmates and guards alike.
Inmates who did not turn in their spoons were immediately taken to solitary confinement and kept there until the spoon was located. The same was done to inmates who did not eat all the food off of their trays.
Again we were marched back to H block and locked in our cells for the night. The inmate in cell 31 warned me not to talk in the cellblock. Then he tapped on the wall and slipped me a hand written note which read that the guards would soon be taking count. It said that I must be on my feet, standing at the bars with my right hand on the cell bars. One hand only–not two or they would be counted as two inmates per cell. It stated that if I needed to talk to a guard, I was not to yell out, but to wait until a guard made his round or I would or could be taken to solitary confinement for “causing a disturbance.”
I learned that there were no rule books. Inmates explained that guards made up the rules as they needed them, and whatever they said was rubber-stamped by other guards, captains, deputies, and warden. Consequences were never spelled out in advance and they were left up to the pleasure of the guards. If an inmate was a dark skin person or a minority, guards, specially those associated with Klan, would take double pleasure in dishing out double punishment.
After the so called count, I laid down on my thin mattress. I could feel the metal straps of the bunk press against my flesh and bones. For hours I just thought about Johnny, the dogs, and the free world. I thought about the Mauston Police beating me and how my appointed lawyer did nothing to defend me. Suddenly all the lights in the cellblock were turned out except for one or two lights near the guard’s desk.
I had no idea how long I had been asleep before the screaming of an inmate awakened me. I jumped to my feet and stood at the bars trying to find out what was going on. I could hear guards yelling, “Let’s go get that bastard!”
The inmate was screaming that he wanted out of the prison and was swearing he was innocent.
Other inmates began screaming at the guards to get the “son-of-a-bitching cry baby” out of the block so that they could get some sleep.
The inmate who was screaming then set fire to his mattress and the smoke clouds filled the cellblock with black smoke. I placed a wet towel against my nose and mouth trying to filter the smoke going into my lungs.
The guards opened the inmate’s cell and rushed in to beat him with wooden clubs. After a few minutes of beating on the inmate, there was a short silence. The guards then dragged the inmate out of his cell by his ankles, and took him to solitary confinement.
The con next to me slipped me another handwritten note: “You’ll get use to guys going nuts in this joint. Be strong or you will be next. Like we say in here, “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”
It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I could hear inmates crying and talking in their sleep. Some screamed from what could have been nightmares. I listened until I too fell into a restless dream that didn’t seem to have an end. The metal bunk poked at my body as to remind me of my bad attitude and all my sins.
The black silence was broken when the guards announced that it was breakfast time.
Again we were marched to the chow hall and back to the cellblock. Many of the inmates were let out of their cells to go to assignments.
The man in cell 31 went past my cell and whispered, “You will be taken to the hospital for a check up in a little while–be cool, fish.”
He was right. I was released from my cell and given a “Pass,” or a written note with my name, destination, date and time written on it. I was told where to go and allowed to go without a guard. When I arrived at the hospital, a nurse asked me to sign in and had me take a seat. I was not alone. Waiting with me were five other “fish” or new arrivals.
Without warning, several guards and an inmate got into a fight. The guards were beating the inmate with clubs and trying to cuff his wrists behind his back. The inmate was kicking and yelling, “Fuck you, you bastards–stick your finger up your own ass.”
The first thing that came to my mind was that someone was trying to rape the inmate because he was a young boy. But the other fish explained that the doctor was just giving us all a “finger weight,” or prostate check up.
Once I was released from the hospital, I headed back to the cellblock where I was told to report and turn in my pass. When I arrived, the guard who checked my pass started screaming at me.
“You want a tour of the joint, young boy? I’ll give you a tour straight to the Greenhouse the next time you come back late. Get your ass into your cell before I bust your ass!”
I must admit, I had not been in any great hurry to get back to my iron cage.
I learned that the passes are marked with the time one leaves each destination, and this tells the guards how much time the inmates takes to get to and from one place to another or if the inmate takes a detour from the regular route. Petty as it seems, that is how prison security operates.
Within the next few days, I was assigned to the prison laundry, housed in an old building that was over a hundred years old. It had been constructed with wooden beams and stones. Perhaps it was the first structure when the prison was first built, to hold American Indian prisoners.
The laundry facility was doing the laundry for the State Mental Institution, which was just a few miles away from the prison. The laundry from the “Nuthouse” had a horrible odor to it. I learned that the smell was mostly from defecation and urination from mental patients. Not a single laundry worker was happy with his assignment. Even the guards who watched over the laundry workers couldn’t stand the horrible stench.
When I asked for a change of assignment, the guards just laughed at me and told me to return to the sheet pressing machine.
I hated my assignment so much that almost every sheet I pressed, I tore when guards were not looking. I hoped that someday the institution would get wise to my slave labor destruction and save money by having outside businesses do their dirty work. I must admit my destruction of state property gave me a small sense of pride and vengeance. I felt alone in what I was doing, but I was fighting the beatings and the injustice.
I soon learned I was not alone in my personal struggle. Other laundry workers were whispering that they should burn down the place. Some even tried to set fire to carts of clean dry laundry, but the fires were quickly put out by the guards or by inmates who wanted to earn “Brownie Points.” After each fire attempt; two or three inmates were taken to solitary confinement for a very long time.
Inmates told horrifying stories about what the guards did to inmates in solitary. Stories told that inmates were beaten and chained to metal bunks and to the walls. Some were drugged into submission. It was said that several inmates had hanged themselves because they could not take the mental and physical torture–bread and water for meals and terrible daily beatings and tear gassing by prison guards.
I could sense something was brewing in the inmate population. Inmates were hiding homemade weapons and whatever tools they could get their hands on to use as weapons.
Then the prison got quieter and quieter until one day in the month of June when over five hundred inmates were normally released into the recreation field.
I was one of the five hundred. I was sitting on the grass with a white inmate from cell 31, whom I referred to as DJ. He never told me his real name. I had no idea that what was to take place next was part of a plan to start a prison riot.
Two inmates went to the center of the prison yard and faked a fist fight. As inmates gathered around to watch, guards came running to subdue the fighting inmates. It was then that I heard an inmate leader yell, “Now–let’s get the motherfuckers!”
Inmates charged the guards and beat them, clubbed them, and stabbed them. Other guards who came to the rescue were also beaten to the ground and kicked. Some guards realized it was a trick and stated running away towards the main office and into the industrial buildings where they barracked themselves.
Half of the five hundred inmates on the recreation field ran along side of the prison guards to get away from the rioting inmates.
An inmate with a homemade knife in his hand was yelling at those who were running away, “Run you fucking cowards–run!”
I later learned that many of the guards who ran away ran right through the administration building and kept right on going and never reported back to work. Many were seriously injured.
The tower guards began shooting into the courtyard near the inmates who were beating on the prison guards. They were ordered to move away from the guards. The shooting brought the fighting to a halt. The inmates were ordered to sit on the grass or risk being shot.
An inmate leader by the name of Richard Nichols began reading a list of demands to the inmates and the guards. The list included better food, better personal treatment, the firing of several mentioned guards, hourly wages for labor, established rules and consequences, and a demand of an investigation in to the prison condition by the Governor’s Office.
The inmates had intended to take over the License Plate factory, but could not get inside the building because several guards had barracked themselves inside and locked the doors and windows.
While Nichols was reading the list of demands, the prison administration had armed farmers and local yokels with handguns, rifles, shotguns, and baseball bats. They were crawling all over the place, on the roof tops, on the prison walls, and lining up in the prison yard in riot gear and formation waiting for orders to attack the inmates.
I knew I was in for another beating. I had no weapon, but I did have a ball point pen which I intended to shove into the eye of any guard who might attack me. I was afraid but ready to defend myself if needed.
The armed farmers and guards, about three hundred of them, from the Waupun area, were dressed in riot gear and looking like something from outer space. They were dressed in helmets, chest and leg pads, gas masks, and armed with baseball bats. Some were armed with guns.
They surrounded the inmates and ordered us to throw out all weapons, undress and to form a single line. Then began to move towards us, letting us know they were ready to bust heads.
I stood up and waited to be attacked, and I just didn’t care if I lived or died–I was determined to put up a fight and go down swinging.
The inmate leader ordered us to throw away all weapons, form a line, and go to solitary without getting hurt. “There will be another time, “ he yelled.
Several bleeding guards were carried off the recreation field. Some had to be carried off on stretchers.
We were lined up, searched, marched to the Greenhouse, naked as jaybirds.
Once inside the building we were locked into cells and packed in like sardines–standing room only. Some took turns lying down while others were standing. There were as many as 19 inmates per cell which were no more than six feet wide and nine feet long.
For ten days inmates threw urine and feces at the guards who were now wearing raincoats and rain hats while moving inmates from one cell to another.
When things settled down many inmates complained they had been beaten and raped by other inmates.
Nichols and other leaders of the riot, were kept in solitary while many others were released into the general population if they promised to behave and to follow the rules. When they came to release me, I elected to remain in solitary until the officials met the demands. I had no desire to return to the general population where inmates were marched everywhere, dressed like clowns, and treated less than human beings.
My decision to remain in solitary turned out to be a rather costly one to my health and sanity. Honestly, I was not prepared for the insane and horrifying experiences that almost cost me my life and threatened to run me completely insane. Had I known what tortures awaited me, I probably would have chosen to die on the prison yard.
Chapter 7: The House of Torture
“The Greenhouse” is the name given to the solitary confinement building by the prisoners at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun. The inmates claimed that the guards used a green tear gas to quiet rebelling inmates or inmates who violated the “Silent System” a rule that prohibited inmates from speak to each other while confined in the Greenhouse regardless of the length of sentence to be served in solitary. Inmates were allowed to speak with prison officials only, and no one else.
Inmates who broke this rule were often gassed, beaten and placed in isolation and fed only bread and water for two weeks or more depending on the behavior of the inmate. In other words, inmates were starved into submission.
Isolation cells had a metal barred door and a second solid wood door that prevented light from coming into the cells and prevented the inmates from seeing other human beings. The idea was to totally isolate inmates from each other. Mental depravation.
Inmates understood that even a whispered word was a violation of the rule. It was the rule that any small verbal noise would be considered, “Causing a Disturbance” in solitary. This so called “security measure was necessary”, by prison standards, to keep inmates from plotting riots or escapes or other mischief. To the inmates, it was just punishment!
From the inmates’ point of view, the silent rule was diabolically designed to break the spirit of rebellious inmates and to torture and punish them. It was also a poor excuse to beat, tear gas, and chain down inmates.
Perhaps a more appropriate name could have better described the activities of the solitary confinement building, like the House of Tortures, or the Torture Chambers, The Devil’s Butcher shop, or the Belly of the Beast!
Tortures went way beyond the silent rule or beatings: Inmates for minor infractions were often chained to a specially designed metal bunk and chained to a metal bar embedded in the cement wall of the isolation cells. An inmate chained to the wall next to the toilet could relieve himself but could not wipe himself clean. Those chained to the metal bunks were forced to lie in their own urine and defecation for days.
Those who continued to speak out or scream were drugged by injection with spyrine, which would put them in a stupor for days and caused them to foam at the mouth!
From time to time, guards would torture inmates in chains and force them to scream out. This method was designed to put fear into the other inmates in solitary.
The torture of chaining an inmate to the specially designed bunk was to force inmates to lie in their own urination and defecation was truly unique: First the inmate was beaten so that he would not resist being chained in. A football helmet with a small paddle lock would secure the chin strap. The helmet was to keep the inmates from knocking himself out to avoid the pain. A plastic thin mattress would then be placed on the bunk to catch and hold the urination and defecation so that the inmate was forced to lie in it for days at a time. In all cases, inmates developed severe sores from the neck to the ankles.
Chained inmates were not fed or given liquids to drink. When they cried out for water or food, sometimes the guards would go into the cell and throw water in the inmate’s face and walk out again.
The metal bunk had welded metal rings which allowed the guards to cuff the inmates wrists to them. The ankles were tied with leather straps pulled tight to cut off blood circulation and cause pain each time the inmates squirmed.
Imagine the odor of excrement’s in the cell block–stinking for days and days and specially during meal times. The guards used the smell to torture other inmates in cells near the chained inmates. It all had a purpose to torture, even those who were in solitary for protection or those who suffered from mental illness. Torture was the whole purpose of the Greenhouse.
We learned that Guards would share these torture stories with their wives and friends and many agreed with them and enjoyed the stories. News article and radio broadcasts told that residents of the city of Waupun were happy with the torture of inmates, and told that some were racist and members of the Klan.
An inmate by the name of Mallo, who had been labeled a psychotic was kept in isolation for years. He would yell out at all hours of the day or night. He claimed he spoke with “Peter” a disciple of Jesus Christ. He would say, “Peter said,” then would never tell us what it was that Peter conveyed to him. Then he would pound on the cement walls with his hands for hours at a time. This inmate was also used by the guards to torture other inmates.
They not only allowed him to scream and yell, to torment us, but from time to time they would beat him and chain him down to let us know they could do it whenever they pleased and to put fear in us. Mallo would smear his feces on the walls of his isolation cell and we all suffered the foul smell.
One day Mallo decided he could not take the beatings any longer, so, he covered himself with his own feces. Then he yelled out for the guards to come in and beat him! “Come on you bastards, come jump on me now!’
When the guards themselves could no longer stand Mallo and his foul smell, they would charge his cell, beat him into handcuffs and leg irons and ship him off to the nuthouse for a month or so, without a court order. After several years of torture, Mallo decided to hang himself and ended the torture for good.
“The Madcap,” Henry Luter, a black man, was another inmate whom the guards delighted in beating. Luter would from time to time just decide to go mad and start kicking asses. Luter was over six feet tall and skinny as a bean stalk, meaner than hell itself, with plenty of muscle. He came to prison from the north side of Milwaukee, from the Hell’s Kitchen Area. He fancied himself a pimp and God’s gift to women. Luter would do anything for the dollar. He had no formal education but he was nobody’s fool. He also fancied himself a jailhouse lawyer.
After being placed in isolation for trying to talk with another inmates, he filed a writ into the Federal Court of Madison, Wisconsin, before the Honorable Judge James Doyle who ruled in his favor that the rule was unconstitutional.
Luter claimed in his petition to the Federal Court that he was punished for trying to communicate some legal questions to another inmate in the Greenhouse. He claimed the rule denied him the right of access to legal information and access to the federal courts.
The court agreed that he be given the right to communicate with other inmates regarding legal matters and issued further orders to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to allow inmates a set time in the Greenhouse and in Isolation to exchange legal information. He ordered Corrections to furnish all inmates with Federal and State Law Books upon their request and to decease from denying inmates the constitutional right to access to the state and federal courts. Judge Doyle ordered that all prison rules and consequences had to be printed in a prison rule book and issued to every inmate. He ordered that inmates had the right to a fair due process hearing and the right to counsel in their defense. That inmates had to be given a copy of the complaint and that inmates had the right to present evidence in their behalf, and had the right to confront and question witnesses or the accuser before the hearing board members. Further that all such hearing and proceedings had to be recorded.
Needless to say, the Federal court order made the prison officials extremely angry and angry at Luter.
Shortly after the Luter vs. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections court order and opinion came down the good old boys decided to pay a visit to the Madcap. Several guards charged his cell, beat him and dragged him to an isolation cell where the guards placed his hands to the metal frame of cell’s barred door and slammed the barred door shut against his hands and fingers, several times. This was done to both hands. He is a crippled man, unable to use his hands.
Luter won a large tort settlement from the Department of Corrections and was soon after released from prison. Shortly after his release he was again charged with the murder of his parole officer but was not convicted and had to be released.
When Patrick Lucy was elected Governor of the State of Wisconsin, he toured the prison at Waupun. As he stopped in front of my cell I asked him if he had seen any inmates chained down and he replied that he had not. I asked if he had been shown the inside of all solitary cells and he replied that he had not.
I asked him to please go back and look into all the isolation cells and told him that he would find an inmate in chains, unable to speak, and lying in his own urine and feces. I told him that he would be lied to and told that the inmate was suicidal and had to be sedated for his own good. I explained that the inmate was being tortured by the guards.
Lucy, his staff members and some members of the media followed him to the isolations cells. He ordered all isolation cells doors to be opened and indeed he found an inmate in chains. The guards had sprayed the cell but the odor of urine and feces was strong to say the least. And has I warned him, he was lied to and told the inmates was suicidal and had to be drugged for his own protection.
When Lucy and his staff members and the several television and radio media folks returned to my cell. They asked for my name and wanted to know what they could do. I requested and an investigation into the cruel tortures that were taking place. I offered to give them truthful information about the entire prison system, unlawful beatings, inmate rapes, cruel treatment, inmates’ attitudes, whatever they wanted to know.
I also asked him to check on me in a couple of days. I explained to him that the prison guards would no doubt place me in isolation for having spoken to him and the media crew. He promised he would have one of his staff members come back to see me in a few days.
Two days after Lucy toured the prison, several guards came to my cell and said, ”Oh man, you were great! You made the newspapers. You were on television, and on the radio! So, boy, take off your clothes, back out of your cell and you know the way to solitary!”
The Governor kept his word. He sent a law student, by the name of Gene Massina to check on me. I was in isolation as I told them I would be.
He told me that the guards told him that I was in isolation because I, without any reason, yelled profanities at them, and that I was in isolation awaiting a due process hearing.
We both understood why I was placed in isolation. He then explained that he would ask the governor to form a prison reform committee to investigate the prison and treatment. He wanted all the names of guards and inmates that I could think of that he should talk with. He asked me to write down anything and everything I wanted to regarding the prison and abuses. He then promised that he had authority from the governor that any information for him would be totally confidential and would not be censored or stopped by the prison officials. He also promised to return to see me once a week.
If it had not been for Massina and the governor’s office forming a prison reform committee, the guards would have surely done a much better job on me. They knew that if they laid hands on me now that the governor’s office would step in and someone would have to pay.
I felt comfortable that the Governor’s Prison Reform Committee would keep the wolves away from their favorite meat for a while, but I knew that sooner of later, they would attack with some form of made up “justification.”
I knew I was in trouble, but I really did not know how diabolical prison guards could be, and that my life was in real danger. The worse part is that society in general does not give a damn about what goes on behind prison walls.
When a crime takes place in the “Free World,” Society looks to vengeance rather than solutions to criminal acts. It deserves what criminals do because vengeance only makes them like the criminals they hate and thereby society perpetuates the vicious cycle of crime. You get tough and they get tougher.
Even families of prisoners turn against their own flesh and blood and assume that their brothers and sister deserve what they get. It is ignorance of the system that keep them blind to the real tortures their loved ones are suffering.
There are small groups of real people in society who have made it their business to attempt to stop the inhumanity that goes on inside and behind the prison walls. Corrections and society in general refer to them as “Bleeding Hearts” or “Trouble makers.” Corrections plays on the idea that once something is demonized, it’s free game to kill.
The politician wants the security of his job and the security of your vote. They blow with the wind. Here is how you can be sure that I am telling you the truth. Have you ever seen one of them at the prison gate with a protest sign. No you haven’t and you never will!
From the time of the “Garden of Eden,” we have had crime, even now as we are in the new millennium, crime is soaring like a seagull in the wind, but never stopping to rest. Then why do we believe that prisons and torture will solve the social problem of crime?
To deliberately torture someone and then turn that “animal” out into society is a crime that will surely backfire on everyone! Think about this–it’s your tax dollars and perhaps your life!
As all these thoughts flickered through my mind, it made no difference, the fire under my ass was getting hotter and hotter by the minute. I was totally at the mercy of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, a system that kills inmates and gets away with it. I knew of no way to convince anyone outside the prison walls that Wisconsin prisons employed some of the most sadistic human beings on this planet.
Prisons are a law unto themselves. They allowed no one to enter their arena, inside the towering prison walls that hide the ugly truth from all the world. It is all done under the guise of security.
Inmates are not only killed, they are driven to suicide, hidden in insane asylums without court orders. In some cases guards allow inmates to kill and rape other inmates the guards do not like. Prisons have been given many names, but the best name is “The Devil’s Butcher Shop.”
Had I known that the Devil himself was in my cell fanning my emotions and slowly sucking my blood, or had I had a tiny glimpse into my future in the Greenhouse, I would have given a more serious thought to suicide. Instead I was fooled by hope to stay alive only to be slowly eaten away mentally, physically and spiritually. I was led into a nightmare that will never, in my life time, have an ending! A nightmare designed by prison officials to follow me to the end of the world! A nightmare that will only be erased when I am dead and in my grave–I hope!
I did sketches of every aspect of prison and abuses. I drew pictures of inmates being tortured, what cells looked like, what metal food trays looked like, weapons used by guards, and I did a drawing of the entire building inside and out.
I wrote about the actions of the guards, how they bragged about being members of the KKK, how they threatened to kill inmates, and how they yelled out racist remarks to us.
I wrote a booklet and won an award from the American Corporation for Penal Research and Reform From Whitewater Wisconsin–the prize money was one hundred dollars.
I had a lot of time on my hands and the silent system gave me the privacy I needed to read, think, study, and write. I learned how to research law books, find decisions, and case laws decided by the U. S. Supreme Court and Lower Federal Courts. I ordered copies of cases and a Black’s Law Dictionary. I went on to become a decent “jail house lawyer,” and on to win a couple of cases that brought some great changes in the Wisconsin State Prison.
I was lucky to live to write this book and to witness what the Governor’s office and the Prison Reform Committee, law students, churches and other concerned citizens who dared to question the prison system and all its horrifying stories, what can really be done if we put away our fears of retaliation and go on to risk our sanity, comfort, and lives to demand that those evil people in power respect the Constitution of the United States America
Thank God for the frightened inmates who dared to risk their lives, and those who hanged themselves to give testimony to the horrifying tortures and abuse of inmates by prison guards at Waupun.
This is not to say that the tortures and abuses have stopped. They continue. But the abuses are now a matter of record and society has become aware of what it has to do to correct the injustices, and man’s inhumanity to man within the prison system.
In America today, because these stories have leaked out, each state now has a group of concerned citizens, composed mostly of families of prisoners and ex-offenders, working diligently with politicians to accomplish change. In the past few years, I have noticed many small steps in the right direction and I have hopes as Judge Doyle once did that: “Prisons, as we know them today must someday change for the better.”
Deputy Roger Chris was as sadistic as they come. He was the most feared official working at Waupun. He was also the most hated. I conveyed this to the Governor’s Prison Reform Committee, and explained that the inmates were plotting to burn down the prison laundry.
“The laundry will be burned down to the ground. You will be told by the fire department that faulty wiring caused the fire. But, I am telling you today, that the fire will be set because the inmates want to demonstrate to you that they want this man, Roger Chris, out of the prison. I promise you that it will burn within a couple of weeks!”
I did not tell the Committee that I personally had given an inmate instructions on how to set a time fuse that would cause the fire to start late in the evening, when all the inmates would be in their cells and the prison guards on the night shift would be relaxed.
The fuse was set and all the inmates were safely tucked in their cells about two weeks later when the prison laundry went up in flames that could be seen from the State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin.
Security went on the defensive and would not allow the fire trucks to come through the prison gates until the Warden could be reached to give his approval. By the time the Warden gave his approval to open the gates, the fire department had nothing to do except to water down the hot ashes. The building was completely consumed.
I was called out by the Committee. They told me that the prison officials said that the fire department determined the fire was cause by “faulty wiring.” I reminded that that I had predicted their exact words. Indeed the building was over one hundred years old and the wiring was bad. But The truth was that my firebug friend did as he was instructed–a job well done.
It is very difficult for society to believe the words of an inmate over the word of a prison official. But that is precisely why I informed them ahead of time that the building would be burned to the ground.
Several months after the fire, Roger Chris was quietly removed from Waupun. We learned he had been fired and soon after got himself a guard’s job in the a Montana prison. We also learned that after three weeks on the job, he was stabbed by an inmate.
Several years later I learned that Chris had landed another prison job in the State of New Mexico, as Director of Prisons, from where he was dismissed again after causing one of the bloodiest prison riots in our American History. In this riot, some thirty-six men had were tortured and murdered and about the same amount, inmates and prison guards were sodomized, stabbed, beaten and terrorized.
Photo of laundry fire at the Wisconsin State prison at Waupun, gutted!
It was rumored that Chris had taken with him some Wisconsin buddies as prison guards into the New Mexico prison system. Their “get tough” practices backfired on them. The inmates fire bombed their offices in what was called the most “savage” prison riot in America.
After Wisconsin guards scurried away from the New Mexico prison riot, some of them reapplied and were hired back into the prison at Waupun. I couldn’t help thinking how amazing this was.
The full story on the New Mexico prison riot was written by Roger Morris in the book, “The Devil’s Butcher Shop.”
I have said this a million times, and it seems to fall on deaf ears. Believe me, prisoners do not riot and put themselves in such danger until they are pushed to their limits, until they can no longer tolerate abusive prison guards and administrators.
The prison administrators are the only ones that profit from riots. Society pumps in more money for over time, higher salaries, fire arms and ammunition believing that they will be safer. Not true, the money, guns and ammunition end up in the homes of prison guards for their own pleasure.
After the fire, things got real serious for me. Officer Hansenstab came to my solitary cell, yanked the wooden door open, peered at me through the barred metal door and said, “Hey, you black son-of-a-bitch! I am going to come in and kick your ass!”
I guess I was not very smart in those days. Instead of keeping my mouth shut and laughing it off, he was comical, I fired back at him, “Well, you got the key, you fucking coward–come on in!”
“We’re going to kill you boy–we’re going to kill you” he said and then shut the wooden door and left.
He was not joking. All three shifts took turns to keep me awake for twenty fours a day. They over salted and peppered my food, pissed in my coffee, spit in my tray, made noises in front of my cell by dropping stainless steal buckets several times during meal times and did what ever else they could to drive me crazy. If I had not been connected to the Prison Reforms Committee, they would have beaten me to death with their bare hands.
The prison doctor made his round daily, five days a week. His name was Turcott, and he took a liking to me. I sometimes want to think that he was gay. In any event, he was good to me and I confided in him. I told him the guards wanted to kill me and were doing a good job of it. He called me into his office where we talked in private and he examined me.
He called me out to the prison hospital three weeks in a row and discovered that I was losing 6 pounds a week due to a shot nervous system and lack of nutrition.
He gave me some strong sleeping pills and I doubled up on the dosage. I plugged my ears with ear plugs he had given me, and slept for days at a time. The guards could not wake me and never came into my cell. Perhaps they assumed that it was impossible for me to sleep through whatever it was they were doing. It was a wonder I did not kill myself with the pills. The pills actually saved my life.
After realizing the guards were truly trying to kill me, I began writing to the Federal Court in Madison, Wisconsin asking Judge Doyle to literally save my life. I did the same thing with Governor Lucy and the Committee.
To my surprise, the warden, Cady, came to my cell and we discussed a move. He wanted to put me in the nut house. I told him he would have to do that by a decision from a court saying I was insane and I didn’t believe he could do that. We settled on a move to the Green Bay Reformatory where all the young punks were locked up.
At last, after four years in the Greenhouse, I was moved. No one could have been happier than I was. I knew that I had escaped the death sentence the guards had passed on me.
My four years in the Greenhouse earned me a few gray hairs. So, when I went for my first shower (which was in a large empty room, with as many as twenty shower heads protruding from ceiling pipes), I was forced to shower along side with twenty young naked inmates. I started to soap down when I heard a high pitched voice calling out: “Hey old man, what the fuck are you doing here in Green Bay?”
I didn’t mind the question. I didn’t appreciate being called something other than my name, specially “Old Man,” so I looked around and spotted the white boy who was questioning me. He was so young he looked like a girl with a pecker.
“If you are talking to me, son, don’t let these gray hairs fool you. I can beat you doing anything you want to do.” I said.
“Yeah, like what?” he asked.
“Like playing chess, fighting or fucking–take your pick, sissy! I shot back. At this point I realized that the Greenhouse caused me to develop a mean attitude.
“Hey Billy, don’t let your mouth overload your ass. Cool it fool!” said a young black boy who seemed to have a little sense about himself. “Don’t pay him any mind. He’s just a young fool, mister.”
The Investigation by the Prison Reform Committee continued on to the Green Bay Reformatory, and I was still very active with the committee. I truly believed I would have never made it out of solitary if it had not been for someone on the committee who took a real interest in me and perhaps pushed to have me moved out. I believe the committee was in close contact with Judge Doyle, because in his opinions he called for prison reforms.
I had been in the reformatory about six months when a Green Bay Television news came on. We all saw a young black male making a statement about the prison. He told how wonderful the reformatory was, how he was getting his education there, and how they should not listen to the “cry babies and trouble makers,” who complained about bad conditions.
I immediately wrote an article to the Milwaukee Courier, a black newspaper, and told them that this young boy was just kissing the administration’s ass in hope of getting an early parole. I also said there were many others like him who were afraid to speak up, and contented in prison as cows chewing the cud.
A day after the Courier article came out and all the inmates were reading it, the young black boy put out the word that he was offering ten carton of cigarettes to anyone who would point out to him the man who wrote the article. There were no takers.
I decided to collect the cigarettes. I caught him on his way to his assignment and told him I wanted to collect the offer.
He asked me to tell him who the man was and promised to bring me the cigarettes in the morning. I told him I would tell him who wrote the article and that he did not have to pay me. I then told him that I wrote the article.
He began doing his little gig and told me that I was right, that he only said those nice things about the prison because he was due to see the parole board and wanted to get out. “I don’t want any trouble man,” he said.
“But you told everyone here you were going to kick my ass, and I did not like that at all,” I said.
He said he was sorry and promised to keep his mouth shut, so, I left him and went on to my assignment at the furniture factory where I worked stripping and refinishing furniture.
Soon after this, I was transferred to a smaller institution at Fox Lake, Wisconsin.
I worked my way up to the parole board and was surprised that they told me I would be released on parole. I did not think I had earned my parole and wondered why they were being so nice to me. Perhaps I was too active with the Prison Reform Committee and this was their way of shutting me up.
I spent almost seven years of my life in prison on a frame up. But al last I was free again!
Chapter Eight: Nightmares
My release from prison was not an easy transition. I could not get use to being free. I kept looking behind me wherever I went. I was expecting some prison guard to tell me to move or to stop or to demand to look up my ass for contraband. It took me years to readjust to society.
I had my share of nightmares–I could still hear the screams of inmates being tortured or beaten. I would have nightmares that I was trapped in prison by mistake and couldn’t find my way out. I dreamed of the young Cuban, Sanchez the Mariolito, who was beaten and beaten until he was found hanging by the neck. In my dream I can hear him screaming, “Help me, they are going to kill me–please help me!”
I never shared with Johnny about how I struggled with myself to bring back the person I had been before I went to prison. I kept wanting to be a little boy again, looking for happiness and laughter.
I thought of doing something crazy so that society could see what I had become, but I had learned my lesson and I knew I would never go back to prison alive. Death would be a better choice.
The killing of Brunner in Hustler was still under investigation. The case was eight years old and the sheriff still had no suspects. Several men and women had been jailed and questioned but all of them had to be released for lack of evidence.
Johnny and I understood that we had to be careful as long as the Mauston police were still trying to sniff out the ones responsible for the shooting of Brunner. At any moment we could be pulled in, beaten and questioned. It was a frightening thought I couldn’t shake.
I wanted to move away from Mauston and from the state of Wisconsin. I was sick of the racism as well as our own personal problems. I was tired of hearing about the Arian Brothers, the Skinheads, The White Socialist Party, The Posse Comitatus, The Klan and others who make Wisconsin their headquarters because they knew Wisconsin cops are as prejudice as they are.
The Mauston police force was as corrupted as they come. They knew how to play the game and they played it well: They would accuse one of their own of some wrongdoing, lay that person off with pay pending a phony investigation and after a year, the person accused would file a suit, collect a big settlement, and went back to work. Then another policemen would take his turn, and The County of Juneau never got wise to this scam. Is it going on today, why let a good thing go to waste?
Corruption was everywhere. Some policemen were accused of beating their wives, and nobody cared. Some were accused of stealing narcotics or money from the evidence storage, and nobody cared. Some had sons dealing drugs in town and nobody cared. The bars sold drugs under police protection. Bar fights went on without arrest and not reported if they were relatives of the police department. Local politicians sold liquor licenses to these same drug pushers. Builders who wanted to build anything anywhere only needed to get to the town’s lawyer who never said a word about the need of an environmental impact statement to folks who came to the town’s hall meetings to protest. Citizens were arrested for misdemeanors and jailed and charged with multiple offenses and forced to plead guilty or risk going to prison. One man was arrested and jailed for “stealing” his own cat when his kid complained to the local police that the father removed the cat from his home because the kid would not keep the liter box clean. Anyone who was not under the protection of the police department was at their mercy.
The Prosecutor was known to withhold favorable evidence to defendants and judges did nothing. Many farmers had been accused of wrongdoings and were ruined financially by the police and the courts to the point that they had to sell their farms and leave Mauston.
The prosecutor had the advantage over those who were jailed. He knew they had no choice but to plead guilty, hire a costly lawyer, or risk going to jail or prison. It was always best to pay the prosecutor a $300.00 fine than to pay a lawyer two thousand dollars and not know if you were going to win the case. Not much of a bargain! Guilty or not guilty, many paid the lesser evil.
If you were of Indian descent, black, poor, trailer trash, Mexican, not in the clique, or if you were a FIB, you were wise not to remain within the Mauston’s city limits for too long of a time, otherwise you would risk falling into the local police net where you would surely be made to suffer indignities.
Johnny too had his share of nightmares. He too had witnessed the tortures and abuses of Waupun. We had our taste of racism from the Mauston folks too. None of this was easy to swallow, but swallowed we did. Both Johnny and I had a hard time trying to keep our bitterness and desire to kill a prison guard in check.
Johnny greatest desire was to kill Neffstad. He desired to kill him with his bare hands–to choke him until his eyeballs would pop out of his skull. He wanted to make him beg for mercy. He swore that someday he would piss on Neffstad’s grave.
I was afraid to get caught up in the system again, in spite of my evil thoughts and desires for vengeance. I wanted to find a way out. But I knew Johnny was not ready to give up his idea of dealing with Neffstad.
At last it came, just as I knew it would. Johnny whispered, “Remember Neffstad?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“I know where he hangs out, and I want to pay him a visit. I have been to the place several times studying his moves. It is a little bar where the prison guards go to drink and have a good time. It is in a little town called Lake Mills, just outside of Madison. Why they go there, I don’t know. I guess it is so far from the prison that no one expects them to go there. There seems to be something special about this place that I can’t put my finger on.”
I knew I couldn’t change his mind. I had tried doing it before and it didn’t work. I wanted to remind him of the danger involved and that we could end up in Waupun again, but I was afraid he would get mad at me and that was the last thing in the world I wanted from Johnny.
Instead I said, “You want to pay the bastard a visit–he’s got it coming, you know.”
“Yeah, I really need to do this. I need to get it out of my system–you know–just get it over with. It’s driving me crazy. I keep remembering what they did to me and I feel like I am letting me down by not making it right. I should have done this a long time ago, but I just kept putting it off. I wanted to be here for you when you got out.”
The night wore on and we made plans to drive up to Lake Mills on some weekend and see if Neffstad would be available to get what was rightfully coming to him. I was afraid but I could not let on. I was hoping that perhaps he would not be there and nothing would happen.
Johnny kept in touch with some of the boys in Waupun. Some relatives of Johnny’s friends would visit the inmates and then bring messages out to Johnny. Inmate referred to this as the “grapevine.”
Johnny had several guns. He had fallen in love with the Army 45 automatic. He claimed it had a lot of power.
When I picked out a 9 millimeter fourteen shot, Johnny said the gun had a tendency to jam now and then. I decided on a 38 police special with a long barrel. A small but powerful revolver.
Once we had our guns picked out, we drove off late into the night to Lake Mills. It was a dark night. It had rained most of the day. As we drove down the road, we did not speak much. I guess Johnny was just thinking about what he wanted to do to Neffstad.
We pulled in about one hour before closing time. We decided that if we could catch Neffstad by himself, Johnny would drag him into a dark spot and do a quick job and leave as quickly as we could. Johnny said he had studied Neffstad’s movements on several occasions and noticed that he generally left the bar alone.
My job was to make sure no one interrupted the action, and to shoot to kill if necessary. We swore we would not let anyone take us to jail. I was not afraid to make this commitment, I would rather die than to spend any more time in Waupun, and be tortured!
Johnny took a walk while I waited in the truck. When he returned he said he did not see Neffstad in the bar, but thought he might have gone to the john. We decided to wait until the bar keeper began turning the lights off and customers began leaving. Johnny was dead set on getting Neffstad and was not about to let this opportunity get past him. We waited.
As we waited in the pitch black of night, I was relieved that nothing had taken place. I was not afraid of doing the job, I just didn’t think Neffstad was worth either of us spending the rest of our lives behind bars or die trying to stay out of prison. He was just an alcoholic and sadistic scumbag as far as I was concerned.
The last of the lights in the bar went out. There were no more customers coming out. It was time for us to make a move.
”Well little Brother, The asshole got away to live another day! What do you think about that?” Johnny said.
“Some folks have all the luck. If it weren’t bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all.” I said, hoping Johnny would laugh a little and ease the tension.
We spent the next several weeks supplying some close friends with small quantities of cocaine, crack, speed, and good marijuana from Milwaukee. Although we sold drugs, we never used any of them ourselves.
We tried doing our shopping late in the evening when the Mauston police might be changing shifts. We had had our share of warnings that we were not welcomed in the City Limits of Mauston. We were clearly told that we were “half breeds, Indians,” and “trailer trash.” McCurdy was the only decent cop of the force.
One such night shortly after going after Neffstad, we made a trip to the grocery store in Mauston. While in the store, Johnny met with some folks, relatives of some inmates who had a message for Johnny.
On our way back to the trailer Johnny told me the story told to him by the inmate’s folks.
“The weekend that we went to Lake Mills, Neffstad was working overtime at the prison. They say that some black inmate who had a beef with Neffstad picked up a horseshoe on the recreation field, covered it with a towel, snuck up on Neffstad and caved his head in. Neffstad died on his way the University Hospital in Madison.”
“Well, it seems that there is only one thing left for us to do,” I said. “All we need to do now is take a trip to Waupun, find the grave and piss on it!”
If I know Johnny, I am sure he was feeling like he was somehow robbed of his rightful duty to take out Neffstad himself.
Chapter Nine: A Dare to Dream
With Neffstad out of the way, it was time for me to reveal my ideas of moving away from Mauston to Johnny. I wanted to go south where it was warm and where people did not know what a snow shovel was. I dreamed of enjoying myself on a white sandy beach surrounded by beautiful girls, seagulls and ocean waves. I dreamed that some day we would get us a girl and settle down to raise a family instead of being alone as we were.
We had only one dog left and she was dragging her hind legs and didn’t seem like she would last too much longer. I hated to see them go but it was just nature taking its course. I once heard an inmate, who afterwards hanged himself, say that “dying was as natural as being born and that death knows no pain.”
The hog farm had died and Granddaddy and Grandma were gone. We weren’t obligated to anyone. If we had any reason to stay at the trailer, it would be because perhaps Johnny’s Daddy might come a looking for us someday. But it had been a long time–we had not heard from him. I kept thinking it might be best if we just let him go as much as it sounds like not the right thing to say or do. We needed to move on and now was the time to plan. I knew Johnny would agree with me, and I swore I would work on him with all the power in me. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.
We deserved some thing better than what we had. I had made up my mind that I was going to make it happen for us. I loved Johnny like my real brother and nothing was ever going to change that.
October and November passed quickly and before we knew it the snow was falling as pretty as it can be. The nights got colder and the wind whistled through the swamp like an angry hawk. Our dog didn’t make it to Christmas. We just buried her in the swamp with the rest of the old dogs. Some how I never thought it was fair for the dogs to live the way we did, suffering all the time from mosquitoes in the summer nights and freezing weather in the winter–we never had the right kind of food to eat, and we were always short on money except when we sold drugs or stole something we could sell. In those times, the devil was always right behind us and warning us that we would someday burn in hell.
Wisconsin winters are not only down right freezing, they drag on and on. A trailer is not the warmest place to live in. The floor, well, it just never got warm no matter how much wood we burned. It’s always best to get a lot of groceries and stock up to keep from shoveling out each time we wanted to leave for town to get food. It just seemed that no matter how much snow we shoveled, there was never an end to shoveling.
Even the deer and other wild critters had a miserable time in the winter. The turkeys would come through the woods shortly before snow fall and eat up all the acorns and what other food they could find, and by the time the deer came looking for food, there was none left for them.
The Snake River was shallow and would freeze to the bottom during the winter months, not allowing us to fish for food.
When I went out to get more firewood, I looked at the old trailer and felt like we had been cursed.
I wondered whatever became of my father and mother, but it was no use. They were nowhere around and it seemed like I would never see them again. I, once in a while, would look up into the sky and ask the Lord to let me see them just one more time, but it seemed that he didn’t hear me. I wanted Johnny to see his folks again, but I knew, he was just in a bag of bad luck like me. I sometimes cried for long periods at a time, but I never told anyone. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a cry baby or something like that. I wanted them all to think I was a tough old boy.
The dogs had always been in our family. They gave us a lot of love and watched over us like we were little children. Whenever anyone tried to get near us or the trailer, they would scramble into position and start barking. They would have died for us, much like a father and mother would do for their babies if they were in danger. I loved them dogs and I knew they loved us too.
I attended a church a few times. I must admit that l went there because I sort of liked one of the girls who sang in the choir–she could sing too. I reckon I was shy and slow with love words. I remembered she just looked at me and smiled as she walked away with another young man by the name “Junior.”
I learned in church that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. I know the feeling when the Lord taketh away.
I don’t recall being happy with my mom when I was a little boy. I was happy when Tom and his wife took me in like one of their own and it didn’t make any difference that they drank a lot, I was just happy to have a family of my own. But again, the Lord took them away too. The same with the dogs, Granddaddy and Grandma, the Lord took them too.
It’s hard on a body and mind to be so lonely and to have so much of what one loves taken away. There were so many times when I was so lonely that I wanted to die–feeling like I had no one to live for.
During the middle of January everything in Wisconsin froze solid. School buses couldn’t move. The oil froze solid in cars and trucks and families got trapped in their homes. The temperature dropped to 40 below zero with the wind-chill factor. It was like having another “Ice Age!”
It took Johnny and me thirty-eight hours to warm up the oil and get the truck started. We had to get into Mauston or risk freezing to death.
The only place we could run to was to the Willows Motel in Mauston. Richard and Cynthia were our friends and would take us in–give us a room on credit until we could pay them. We had one hell of a time working our way out of the frozen swamp, but we made it!
Richard and Cynthia had come to Mauston from Chicago. Richard had saved a nest egg from driving semi trailers for a company in Chicago. They purchased the Willows Motel and became good friends with our Granddaddy. The motel property sat on the Lemonweir River, that some say empties into the Rio Grande River and into the Gulf of Mexico.
They were wonderful folks who were always ready to help people in need like me and Johnny. That was the way they met Granddaddy Frank. Richard would help Frank out on the hog farm and Frank would help with fixing the plumbing and broken down vehicles. Frank loved his beer and Richard loved his beer with a cigar. When Johnny and I were little boys, we met Richard and Cynthia and learned that we could depend on them to help us survive the terrible times. So here we were, in the “Ice Age” at the Willows trying to keep warm.
We settled into the motel with very little money and no food. We were warm and for the time being that was the most important thing. We settled in and prayed that spring would come soon.
This cold spell became the right time for Johnny and I to discuss moving south to some warm place. Perhaps to a place that had palm trees, white sandy beaches, clear blue skies, nice looking girls, plenty of Spanish moss, and deep sea fishing. I had heard many stories about folks catching some awful large fish in the ocean.
Before long Johnny too was dreaming of the same things I wanted. We were ready and at last my spirits were elevated. I was thrilled that Johnny had at last listened to reason and made up his mind to lead a different kind of life. We made up our minds that we would never risk our lives again as we had been doing. No more stealing, no more dealing in drugs, no more guns–those days were now gone forever. We decided that we wanted something better and that we knew we could make it happen or die trying.
“Thank God!” I thought to myself, “Johnny and I are now on the same track on our way to becoming good hard-working citizens!” I was so relieved that we would never put our lives in danger again.
Chapter Ten: The Lemonweir River
As soon as March began to unfold, Johnny and I decided to do some fishing in the river behind the motel cabins. We borrowed a sixteen foot aluminum boat from Richard and pushed it into the river. We jumped in like two little boys off on a venture down the Mississippi River.
In between catching a few bluegills we talked about selling the land and the trailer and using the money to hop the Amtrak to as far as the money would take us, south to a land of plenty of sunshine!
“When we run out of money”, Johnny laughed, “We will go doing odd jobs until we can settle down somewhere–what do you think about my idea, little brother?”
“Do you really mean that? I mean–are you talking about us doing some real honest work for a living? You’re right! I think I can handle that!” I replied.
I looked up into the clouds and whispered, “Thank you God for saving our lives. I promise you won’t regret it.”
“What was that all about,” asked Johnny. “What do you see up there that I can’t see?”
“Wow–got a bite!” I yelled and started reeling in a large mean looking dogfish.
Johnny and I returned to the cabin and began making serious plans to sell the trailer, and move to the South where we felt we would be safer, to some place where no one knew either of us or about the fact that we had served time in the state prison. We talked about going to Berkos, our lawyer, and seeing what we could get for the land. We were fired up about our new plans.
The winter months had taken their toll on us–cabin fever!. We were ready to have a little fun. We decided to see the topless girls. A Mauston man had purchased some property a few miles East of Mauston on Highway 16, and opened a topless bar.
We never liked the Mauston area nor its characters, but decided to see the topless girls someday.
We had a lot of work to do cleaning up around the trailer before selling. The snow was gone but there was mud to deal with and trash to move out to the dump outside Mauston.
We had stones, old furniture, rusty barrels, and old carpet to haul out. We worked very hard for several weeks to spruce up the place. Once it was all done, we felt kinda proud of the way it looked. It looked really nice.
We really hated to leave the place. Our Granddaddy had worked hard to buy this place. I think some times that if we stayed here long enough my mom or daddy might come looking for us. What were they gonna do if we were not here? It was a hard question for me to answer and it bothered me, but we had to do what we had to do. Move on.
We both understood that we were getting older just waiting around for what may never come to be true. I would love to see our folks again, but it sure looked like they weren’t ever coming back here no more. It was time to move to something better.
At last Johnny spoke. “We are just like two old raccoons hiding out in the same tree–in the same old knothole, just waiting for winter to blow over, and we ain’t getting no where fast.”
We were sitting outside the trailer just listening to the buzzing of deer flies and mosquitoes. The fire was burning good and the burning oak smelled great. We spotted several deer walking past the property, perhaps looking for a place to bed down for the evening. When one lives in the Wisconsin backwoods, as we did, one can smell the deer coming or when they take a dump–one can smell them. All this made us feel alive again.
“Sagging tits, hell no!” Johnny yelled out and laughed.
“What’s eating you?”
“I’ll bet you a hundred dollars to a nickel, that there ain’t no sagging tits, at that bar, the Nightfaces. I think that’s the name of the bar.
“I reckon not,” I said. In my mind all I could see were young firm titties.
“Think we ought to go down there and take a look at the girls?” Johnny asked.
“It might do us some good to relax and have a couple of beers.” I said
I knew Johnny was restless. As for me, I would have been contented just to have my beer at the trailer and as far as the girls were concerned, well, once you have seen one, you have seen them all.
At last I said, “Oh hell Johnny, a little young nipple in the eye has never kilt anyone. I’m with you if that’s what you’re wanting to do.”
We warmed up the old pickup and headed out to see the girls at the Nightfaces. It was a dark night, and we assumed the local cops would not bother us unless they could get a good look at us. We had not lost sight of the fact that they were still on the prowl for the killer of Brunner. We decided we would have one or two beers at the most and get out of town. We would take the long way back to the trailer through Friendship to keep from going through Mauston.
As we drove out of Mauston, we notice that Nick’s Bar was closed down and the weeds were growing in front of the door or what once was the main entrance. We later learned that the city inspector discovered the bar was contaminated with “toxic black killer mold,” and had to be closed down.
I am sure our friend, Richard was now a happy man. In the past he had complained that his clients in the cabins could not sleep due to the extremely loud noise or music that came from the bar until closing time. The police were never able to quiet down the bar and Richard and his clients had to listen to the loud noise of Hard Rock Music!
After paying the ten dollar cover charge, we went through the entrance of the bar. A young topless waitress escorted us to a table in the middle of the place.
“Hey guys” she said cheerfully. “What can I get for you tonight?”
As we were about to be seated, Johnny stumbled and almost fell, but he balanced himself.
“First time here son?” a farmer with a beard and a beer in hand, asked Johnny. “My first time here,” he continued, “I fell flat on my face because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the titties, and some jerk stuck his boot out and tripped me.” he laughed out loud and several of his farmer drinking buddies laughed out loud with him.
“He surenuff did fall flat on his face, he sure did.” another farmer reassured us.
I really do believe that we were both blushing when the girl brought us our beers. I can’t deny I looked at her with a desire to have her in my bed. I can’t speak for Johnny. But I noticed that he sat back and just looked at our waitress with loving eyes and a big smile.
We finished up a couple of beers. We looked around at the girls and listened to the bar music. We were having a wonderful time and felt relaxed–it was something we hadn’t felt for a long time. I was happy for Johnny.
“Let’s get out of here, little brother,” Johnny said, jumping up to his feet and dusting off his jeans. “I think we ought to be leaving now.”
We walked out the door and said good night to the doorman as he said,” You’ll come back again, ye hear?”
We joked about what a good time we had and we laughed about us blushing when we looked at the topless waitress. I pushed Johnny playfully and he pushed me back. We had had only two beers–we weren’t drunk.
Neither of us had noticed the drunk who had stepped out of his truck and bumped into Johnny as we were pushing each other around like two little kids just playing around.
“What the fuck!” yelled the drunk truck driver. “What the fuck you pushing me for, you ass hole!”
I put my arms around Johnny and whispered to him not to lose his control, “The man is drunk. Let’s get out of her,” I pleaded.
Before I realized what was going on, Johnny jerked out of my arms and ran into the drunk man knocking him backwards off his feet and on to the ground. Then I heard a gunshot.
Every thing happened too quickly. Two Mauston policemen jumped on Johnny, and rolled him over on his back. I could not believe it but there was a gun in Johnny’s right hand. One policeman threw his body on top of Johnny while the other officer wrestled the gun from his hand. A third officer jumped out of his squad car with a camera and took several quick photos of the officers wrestling with Johnny. By this time customers and waitresses from the bar came running out to see what the shooting was all about.
I knew I could not help Johnny at this point. I had to get away, get a lawyer and clear Johnny. I knew the gun was not his. Johnny was only trying to keep the drunk from shooting us.
As the policemen were putting him into the squad car, I let Johnny know I would help get him out.
Berkos was the kind of lawyer who would do nothing until he got two thousand dollars in his hands as a retainer fee. I had no choice but to give him the deed to the trailer and the land we owned. It was heart breaking to see our plans go down the drain. But Johnny’s freedom was more important than the trailer.
I visited Johnny at the jail for an hour and told him what I had done. Johnny’s only reply was that he would not go back to prison no matter what. I assured him I would do everything I could to get him out. I begged him not to lose his cool. I assured him I would testify that I was there and saw the drunk pull the gun on him. I told him I would do whatever I had to do or say to get him out. “You’ll be out in no time,” I told him.
Berkos did not believe that the gun was not Johnny’s. He said he would ask the police to check the gun for a registration and fingerprints. He told me that because Johnny was an ex-convict it would not be easy to get him out, and told me the judge would not set bond on a murder charge. He said he would do all he could, and for me to keep my mouth shut and let him handle the case.
Several months went by and the lawyer would say nothing about the case except that the police were investigating and that he was waiting on the results. Again he advised me to relax and stay out of his way.
I visited Johnny as often as I could. He too had a hard time speaking with the lawyer from the jail. There wasn’t much we could do except to wait on the court to act.
I was extremely worried about Johnny. It worried me that he kept saying that he would not go back to prison for any reason. I had all I could do to tell him not to think like that. I promised him that everything would be okay. That he would be out in no time. It made no difference what I said, Johnny just gave me that far away look, like he really wasn’t hearing a word I was saying.
I was lonely without Johnny. The trailer just didn’t seem right without him. I began talking to myself and pretending I was having a conversation with Johnny, then with our Granddaddy, my mom, and dad. I wanted to blame all the bad luck on our parents and at one point, I caught myself crying out loud to them to come back and help us. I knew what I was doing was not right, but it made me feel good to talk to someone about our problems, which seem to be growing daily, like wild weeds in the springtime.
I was unable to sleep at nights. I felt like going crazy. I had no one to turn to. I cried like a child but none of these things helped.
After not being able to sleep more than two hours a night, I felt numb all over. All the beer was gone and the food was running low. The drinking water was almost gone. At last I got on my knees and cried like a baby and asked God why he had not let our dream come true. I asked him to tell me why he showered me and Johnny with all this bad luck. It was several hours later, that I woke up and found myself still on my knees.
At last the lawyer told Johnny that we would be having a hearing and that he would let us know the day and time once he knew for sure. He assured us it would be within a week and no more then ten days.
Chapter Eleven: Beyond the City Limits
It was a beautiful August day when I awoke and prepared to drive to the Juneau County Court House, where the hearing for Johnny was scheduled. I was rushing to make sure I would be there by nine a.m. when the hearing would start. The lawyer’s letter said that Johnny was going to court on a motion to dismiss the murder charges on the grounds that there was a lack of evidence pointing to his guilt. It also said that there were two sets of prints on the gun which might prove that Johnny was trying to disarm the drunken farmer.
The letter had also stated that the gun was not registered to anyone, and this could go against Johnny or make it difficult to determine who the gun belonged to. The lawyer expressed that he felt confident that things would go his way, but we just had to wait for Judge Brady to decide.
The old pickup truck was kicking into sixty-five, the coast was clear, I saw no signs of oncoming cars, and no signs of a hidden police car. I knew if I slowed down, I might be late. I was going South on County Highway 58. The old pickup was kicking pea stones all over the road. I was nearing 32nd Street when a huge buck tried to leap over my hood and slammed into my windshield pinning me against the seat and door. A second buck and a doe destroyed my whole front end and radiator.
The truck slipped off the road and came to a stop in the ditch. It must have been a good twenty minutes before I came to, with a minor head injury and a terrible headache.
I walked north back to a car lot on the corner only to find a closed sign on the door and no one around to help me. I walked back to the truck and waited for someone to come by. As my luck would have it, no one came to my rescue for another fifteen minutes. By this time, I decided the hearing was probably over with, and I could go to the lawyer’s office and find out what was said about Johnny getting out. I understood that the judge would have to decide on the motion and that would take perhaps another month or so.
An old farmer stopped and seemed more interested in taking the deer home than he was in helping me. I told him he could have the deer and do whatever he wanted to with them, but I thought I should report it to the local police and my insurance.
“Hell boy, if you report this to the local yokels, I will never see these deer again. Don’t you know son, that this is good eating meat and plenty of it? That there is a big buck. Come on son, I can drive you to the nearest phone, unless you want to go into Mauston, I’ll take you there” he said.
I had the old farmer drop me off at the city’s dog pound from where I phoned the North Side Mobile Station for a towing truck. I was told they would be out to tow me into town and even repair my truck if I wanted them to. I agreed to wait at my truck for them to arrive. They had no idea how soon they could get out to me, but they assured me it wouldn’t be long. The old farmer must have taken the buck–it was gone!
Three hours after my call, the towing company arrived. They unloaded the deer and left it on the side of the road. I was assured that with all the blood and deer fur on my truck that the insurance company would have no problem paying me for the damage.
As we were driving into Mauston, the tow truck driver asked me if I had heard about the big shootout at the courthouse in Mauston. I became sick immediately and felt as if I were passing out. My immediate thought was that Johnny could not have been involved. He would not do anything to jeopardize his freedom and all the plans we had made to go South.
“That’s why we were so late coming out to get you, you know. The whole town ran down to the courthouse to see what all the shooting was about. Yes sir, the prosecutor was killed, Old Judge Brady was killed, two policemen went down, they don’t know if they are going to pull out of it, and the court’s stenographer was shot on the butt as she tried to run out of the courtroom. Two crazy boys just decided they didn’t want to hear anything the judge had to say. They are both dead. One boy got it in the head and the other one was shot several times in the chest. It was one hell of a mess, I tell you…” he talked on and on until we arrived in Mauston.
The driver was kind enough to drive me to Berkos’ office. I promised him I would be up to their office and pay the bill as soon as I could. He assured me that there would be no problem with that and drove off.
I hurried into Berkos’ office still praying that Johnny was not involved, but my heart told me differently. I kept remembering Johnny’s words that he would not go back to prison for any reason. Perhaps he saw an opportunity to end it all and went for broke. I could not be sure of anything but my mind was racing with a thousand questions.
I pushed my way past the secretary and into Berkos’ office. He looked at me and said, “I am so sorry. Johnny was involved in the shooting. He was shot several times in the chest and died instantly. This is what I was told. Johnny also shot the prosecutor and two policemen before they shot him. The other man, an ex-convict, shot the judge and the stenographer. Oh my God! It will be in the five o’clock news of the Star Times. They are going to do a special. You can read the rest in the news. What else can I do to help you?” he asked.
I walked away not wanting to hear anymore of the event and Johnny’s death. I went through the door and out into the street. I vomited for a very long time. I staggered past the courthouse which was still buzzing with activity–with news people and local politicians. I made my way towards the Willows Motel where I would stay for the night.
The story was written by Jody Kimble. It said that an ex-convict by the name of Browne, a member of the Posse Comitatus, had guns smuggled into the courtroom. Browne was one of seven brothers, who were also members of the Posse. The police do not know for sure but it is suspected that his brothers smuggled in the firearms.
The police speculated that the guns were taped under the wooden benches where the prisoners are seated while awaiting their hearings. Both of the jail prisoners were armed with a pistol during the shootout, and began shooting without uttering a word to anyone. Dave Shuberg, the prosecutor was killed instantly, then Judge Brady was shot. Two Mauston policemen were also shot and later died in the Madison University Hospital while undergoing surgery to save their lives. The court reporter, Barbara Schultz, was shot in the buttocks as she attempted to run through an exit doorway and remains in critical condition in the hospital after hip surgery.
Browne was shot in the forehead after shooting the judge and the stenographer, and while exchanging gunfire with two detectives who ran into the courtroom shortly after the shooting began. According to the police report, Browne had been arrested by Mauston police on drug charges and for attempted murder of a police officer when he was arrested.
Johnny Funmaker Cornado was shot several times in the chest after killing the prosecutor and gunning down two Mauston Police officers. According to police reports, Cornado had been arrest for allegedly shooting to death a local farmer in a bar fight in Mauston.
Inmates in the County Jail told the Star Times that “Crazy Browne” had swore he would not go back to prison alive. He bragged that the Posse would be at his hearing and that he would kill Judge Brady who had sent him to prison once before. The jail inmates said that no one paid any attention to the threats and quoted him in saying “I will kill all you motherfuckers before I go back to prison!” The inmates said that the police thought Browne was just another crazy who wasn’t going to do anything. “They were dead wrong.” they said.
When the police chief was questioned, he refused to comment on why no precautions were taken after the death threats were made by Browne who was known to be a member of the Posse and known to be dangerous. “No comments–we are investigating the whole affair–no comment” was his only reply.
Lawyers would not comment on the shooting except to say that it should have never happened, and that perhaps there was a need for tighter security.
Local politicians who rushed to the spotlights swore there would be an investigation and that heads would roll. They swore that this kind of thing would never happen again in the city of Mauston nor anywhere in Juneau County, they would see to that. They announced that an investigative committee would be formed immediately to determine where the system went wrong in terms of security. “The failure that cost this town the lives of four respected servants of the county, will be corrected.”
“Read my lips,” said another politician, “we will get to the bottom of this!”
The news reporters went on to question several spectators. They wanted to know why two jail inmates would go to this extent to keep from going back to Waupun. What’s going on there that these men feared so much and were willing to die rather than go there?
Only one man spoke clearly and loudly: “I tell you now. The justice system around here stinks. And if you believe prisons are country clubs, why not try spending a couple of weekends in one. You also know or should know that the prosecutor was as much a criminal as those he prosecuted!”
The man quickly disappeared into the crowd.
Kimble went after the man, “Sir, sir, did you know the jail inmates–the shooters? Sir, what’s your name?” but the man kept moving away from her.
Johnny was buried at the county cemetery. Browne’s body was taken away by the brothers who swore vengeance for his death in due time. Perhaps he was buried with Posse honors.
I went to the insurance company and received several hundred dollars for the damage on the truck.
Berkos kept the title to the land, and afterwards wrote me a check for one thousand dollars. I had no reason to argue with him. I just wanted to leave Mauston and all the misery behind me and go South as Johnny and I had planned.
The towing bill was torn up by the owners of the North Side Mobile Station where I had left the old rusty but trusty pickup Frank had left us. I thanked them and walked back to the motel to pay my bill and think about where I wanted to go.
Two days later, I said goodbye to Richard and his wife. They had been kind to me and allowed me to stay at the motel for free. They offered me a ride to McDonald’s where the Greyhound Bus stopped to pick up riders, but I wanted to walk and take one last good look at Mauston. I was not only leaving Mauston, but my friends and a bundle of memories which included our family members.
As the Greyhound Bus roared out of Mauston’s city limits and down I-94 going east, I took one more look at Mauston, and thought of my Granddaddy, mom, dad, Johnny and the dogs. I cried. The tears rolled down my face. It didn’t matter who noticed me. It just didn’t matter any more.
All that mattered now was that I was on my way to a better and safer place…somewhere far and beyond Mauston’s city limits.
February 9th, 2012 Comments Off
The Killing of the Lamb
A STORY BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS
by Ernesto R. Rodriguez
Penny M. Adrian, my Children, The El-Masri family, Ted Vogel, Doctor Andrea Green and family who trusted me and supported my efforts to become a good citizen. It was this kindness and respectfulness that “unhitched the team” of my criminal past. And to my Mother, Jesusa Mesa Rodriguez, who never said an unkind word to me.
This short novel is based on true stories and events of murder and rapes inside the Nebraska State Penitentiary at Lincoln where I, the author, served a three year sentence from 1952 until 1955. The names, characters events and places are all real.
There seems to be three journeys we are gifted with: To be born; to travel through a life time and the adventure in eternity. Perhaps the most interesting is how we live our lives and how we handle the consequences of our actions. Is this Fate? Are we really destined to a predetermined point in life?
If this is the case, then I must not have been gifted with the foresight or intelligence to ward off the evils that overpowered my entire life. Thus, I can’t help wondering how many of us have the same “Fate” in store for us.
The revolution of technology seems to be running parallel to the evolution of the human race. Taboos, laws, rules and regulation are born like children–ten to every second. One minute we are shitting in the woods and two minutes later we are shitting in outer space.
In spite of all the gifts given to us by whatever created us, we are still wiggling in muddy waters like lowlife tadpoles. Our sex lives are equated to those of the bed bug. Our religions are no more than a hypocritical fart on a windy day. Our modern political stance is a worldwide joke. Man’s inhumanity to man is growing like maggots on a carcass. Our prisons are bulging at the seams due to the inability of the human race to bring itself to an act of conscience. If our leaders can’t solve our problems, then why pay them or re-elect them? Or why not change the system under which they work?
This whole affair of man’s inhumanity to man will be our downfall. It is only a matter of time before our boiling pot flows over like a nuclear meltdown. And those of us who are looking to the universe as an escape route must remember that we have scared off the UFOs that tried to communicate with us–there is no place for us in the heavens.
My true story may be short, ugly to read, and you may be ready to set a match to it because the truth is hard to handle. But, my dear friend and reader, if you would only spend a few minutes in a cesspool—an American prison—infested with roaches and rats, you would forever hate your fellow man and you would learn to respect the rats and roaches which will never harm you.
Prisons and prison guards have one aim–to break the spirit of any human child that is unfortunate enough to fall in the hands of “The Department of Corrections” and this is done often because of an illness referred to as “sadomasochism.” If the Department of Corrections were to correct criminals’ behavior through education, gainful employment skills, and fair treatment, there would be no recidivism. But as we all know, every business needs more and more clients to survive, so, today we have millions of folks incarcerated and the majority of them are people of color. Modern day slavery–the selling and buying of human souls.
These true stories are designed to educate the readers that the prison abuses mentioned here are the causes of more crime, more attacks on prison guards, and more policemen getting killed in the line of duty. Millions of us, “Ex-Cons” who have been tortured in the American cesspools would rather kill and be killed instead of being returned to our prisons and the torture that awaits us. Evil begets evil and it’s in the air you breathe. The prison explosion is imminent. In this sense, prisons as they presently operate, are detrimental to society as a whole. It is time that we re-think the present brutal system of corrections.
Ernesto R. Rodriguez
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
John Clausen, a prison guard, at the Nebraska State Penitentiary at Lincoln, was unaware of the inmate who was sneaking up behind him with a home made prison shank. The big inmate quickly subdued him and began cutting off Clausen’s head. The killer worked as quickly as he could, but could not cut the head off completely because he heard someone coming.
He left as quickly as he had come. He disposed of the bloody coveralls he wore over his prison clothing, gloves and shoes and joined the other inmates moving about the prison yard. He was sure no one saw him cutting on Clausen or disposing of his clothes.
Clausen was a good man who was kind to the inmates who worked in the prison’s print shop, which he supervised. He was well liked by most inmates who worked with him or knew him. He was murdered because he was always alone in an isolated spot at noon time where he ate his lunch. He was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb that was sure to launch an investigation into the many abuses inflicted upon the inmates of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, by prison guards and privileged inmates.
Mamoo was an abusive inmate, a snitch or rat who was protected by the prison guards. He was a big, mean, and insane black man serving a life sentence for killing his wife. He had not been satisfied with stabbing her to death with a butcher knife: he cut off her head and took it to a bar, had and drink and then went down the street to dump her head into a manhole. In prison, his only ambition was to butt-fuck every young boy that entered the Nebraska State Penitentiary, and I learned he had chosen me to become one of his ambitions. Thanks to Clausen’s death, an investigation we all wanted was launched. I had not been in the penitentiary a month before I got the word that Mamoo had told several inmates that he wanted to punk me. Perhaps one could say that this was my “welcome to the big house”.
I had no choice but to arm myself with the help of several Mexicans, dangerous inmates whom I had befriended. At yard times, I leaned against the cyclone fence that surrounded the baseball diamond. My small group of Mexican inmates gathered around me for support. They had furnished me with a good shank and were ready to participate in the stabbing we anticipated–we all knew the insane Mamoo would come sooner or later. All we could do was wait for him to make his move.
He came as we knew he would, and when he was close enough to me, he pressed his face to mine, and growled, “I want some of your ass, boy…”
Before he could finish his sentence, I plunged the eight-inch steel blade into his heart. He jumped and backpedaled away with a look, of both, surprise and fear, in his eyes. He glared at me and at the other six Chicanos who were now standing by with shanks in hand – ready to help me end his life. Mamoo moved quickly and disappeared into the crowd of prisoners. But I knew this would not be the end of this encounter.
We learned later that Mamoo was wearing a shield made of prison magazines, under his prison jacket and was not injured in any way.
“You should have went for the throat, Esse, or for the brain!” Camacho, a short Mexican inmate from San Antonio, Texas, advised me.
“Later batos, we will kill the puto!” said Jimmy Sanchez.
I was seventeen years old. I had a fresh three-year sentence for knifing a man who had hit my mother in the small town of Bayard, Nebraska where my whole family worked as migrants. My Mother who had accompanied my father to a local bar was hit on the face with a pool ball while trying to break up a fight between my father and a Mexican migrant worker (Nicho) from Texas. And I took after him because the police would not arrest him that night–they wanted to wait until the following day due to a snow storm we were having. The Judge in Bridgeport, Nebraska sentenced me to the Boys’ Reformatory in Kearney, when he assumed I had violated my Texas parole from the Gatesville state reformatory.
But while I was there, I beat up a bully prisoner as my first offense and also tried to escape. The reformatory officials decided I was a reprobate and a good candidate for the Big House.
My first day in the Big House was truly frightening even though I was no stranger to jails or violence–in fact, I had already been in several jails and pulled two terms in the Texas Reformatory at Gatesville for attempted murder of a twenty-three year old man who thought I was an easy target to beat on. If I had been alone in a room I would have cried like a baby, but I had to put on my false fearless mask if I wanted to survive this madness. I had to stick my chest out and be the toughie fool.
Once my paper work was processed I was stripped and made to take a shower. After the shower I was sprayed with bug spray and thrown some ill-fitting prison clothing. I was marched, along with several other inmates, to the West cell block where I was assigned to a four men cell which had lower and upper bunks. I was the youngest prisoner in the Penitentiary and, perhaps, one of the most dangerous.
I was not dangerous by nature. Fear made me deliver the first blow–fear of coming out on the ass-end of a life threatening struggle. As a kid living in the city of Galveston, Texas, a totally corrupted city in the early forties, “The Playground of the South,” controlled by the Mob, I had seen too many good men knifed and shot for being too slow in defending themselves. It was this fear that made me “dangerous.”
Before long I fell into the routine of prison life. I was assigned to the kitchen where my job was to steam-clean all the stainless steel food trays, cups and spoons three time daily, after each meal. The basement where we worked had a foul garbage odor, and the working inmates smelled like plucked chickens. Once our job was completed we were allowed to walk back to our cell blocks. Our pay was four cents a day, but in those day, cigarettes were only nineteen cents a pack. At times the civilian boss would allow us to take a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread to our cells.
After the breakfast meals, most inmates were herded off to their assignments–to the cannery, the print shop, the plumbing shop, the laundry, the electrical shop, yard crew, the farm, the chapel, the wood shop, the hospital, kitchen, school, butcher shop, cell block mop crews and so on. Once work was completed after the noon meal we were allowed two hours on the prison yard where inmates would sit along the prison wall, played their guitars, played chess or checkers, lifted weights, played horseshoes, ran or walked for exercise, played baseball, boxed, or just sat doing nothing but looking for a way to escape with our backs to the high prison to avoid an inmate attack from the rear.
One of the first things I had to do was fight, due to a promise I had made to inmate King, a young man from Colorado, that I would whip his ass once we got out of the Reformatory’s Solitary confinement. He had taken it upon himself to call me racial names, “Hot Tamale” and “Fucking Spick” along with several other racial remarks for his personal pleasure and entertainment. I made him a promise that if he would put the gloves on with me, I would shake his hand after the match and he could be my friend. He agreed.
He was no match for me. The boxing match was pitiful! He took a few swings, missed and found himself on his ass and bleeding from the nose. At first I was pleased and the feeling of revenge against this racist made my heart dance with joy, but as the fight continued and King, who had allowed his tongue to overload his ass, was bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth, it began to make me feel ashamed of myself. At last I hugged him, told him I was sorry, dusted him off, and walked away pulling the gloves off. To this day, I truly regret this particular event in my life. Whoever taught this child to be a racist, should have taught him how to defend himself.
One day after work in the kitchen, I made my way back to the cell block with a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. I made myself a sandwich and sat there quietly eating away when my cellmate, Mr. Gallegos grunted and gave me a murderous look.
I offered him a sandwich and he refused it. I then asked what was wrong, and had I done something to upset him. He said, in Spanish, that he did not like me and said that he thought he might make cracklings out of me some day.
I had been told that Gallegos was doing a life sentence for killing his wife. It seems he cut her into many small pieces and buried her on the farm, in Nebraska, where he was working as a migrant. After leaving the farm and while he was picking cotton in Texas beside his brother, an immigration officer approached his brother to ask if they had working permits. Mr. Gallegos ran up to the officer yelling that his brother had nothing to do with the murder of his wife. After a full confession he was extradited to Nebraska.
Some times I think real seriously that if it were not for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. How in the world could I end up in a cell with a psychopathic killer who would want to make cracklings out of me? I sure as hell beat the odds on this one!
I always felt the need for a weapon. No matter where I was placed in a jail or prison, I went looking for anything I could use as a weapon. We use to say, “It is better to get caught with one than without one.”
I asked to be moved to another cell, but the prison guards only laughed. When asked why I wanted to move, I didn’t feel like ratting on Gallegos, so I asked no more. I did the next best thing. I went weapon hunting.
The prison administration issued a small brick soap to the inmates to scrub the toilets. The small bricks were hard as cement. I immediately ordered the cell-house runner to bring me four bars. He understood that I would not be scrubbing my toilet that often, thus he asked no questions. I placed the four bricks inside two socks, tied a knot in the middle, and made myself a wonderful blackjack. I placed the weapon under my pillow and slept like a baby.
The following day, after work, I returned to my cell, opened the jar of peanut butter and commenced making myself a sandwich. The next thing I remembered was seeing my slice of bread with peanut butter falling from the cell’s ceiling and feeling a terrible pain on my left temple. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that I had been hit. I immediately dove for my blackjack, and not a second too soon.
Gallegos had palmed an ashtray made from a piece of wooden two-by-fours, slapped the holy hell out of me and sent my sandwich flying to the cell’s ceiling. He growled like a bear and started making his way towards me. He had to work his way around a small wooden and metal table that was located in the center of the cell.
I stood up and swung the weapon as hard as I could. The first blow landed above his left eye. Blood flew everywhere, but the blow seemed to just anger him that much more. He shook his head and growled again but he was unable to move for a moment. I hit him again between the eyes and drew more blood the blows did not stop him.
He made his way around the table and locked me in his arms with a bear hug. He threw me to the floor and sat on top of me, I worked my right arm loose and hit him several times on the back of his head with the blackjack. He took the blows and showed no signs of weakening.
I freaked out when he reached for a single-edge razor blade which was on top of the table. He managed to put the blade to my face. I frantically hit him again and again until he passed out, dropped the blade and fell to the floor in front of the toilet. I was so afraid I continued to beat him over the face with the blackjack until the cell-house runner, who was now standing in front of my cell, yelled at me to hand him my weapon because the guards were coming.
I tossed him the weapon but straddled Gallegos and continued beating him with my fists until the guards pulled me away and dragged me to solitary confinement where I was placed on bread and water for ten days.
Gallegos was in a coma for almost a week. I was told that if he died, I would be charged with murder. The tough old bastard made it back to life and was placed in a single bunk cell.
About ten days after I was released from solitary, Gallegos was released from the hospital. Before long I learned he had gotten a knife and was trying to sneak up on me. I walked toward him and he ran away never to bother me again. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to a mental institution.
As for Big Mamoo, he stayed his distance and said nothing, but I was concerned that he made a threat and might someday act on it. I knew he was insane, and it had come down to me having to kill him. I had no intentions of living with his threat. I had a good knife and it was only a matter of getting close enough to him to do the job. It would not be easy, but I had to do it.
On two different occasions, I thought I had my chance to stick him but he sensed it coming and got away. Now more than ever I had to watch my back. It was coming down to who would get who first, and that was scary.
Cigarettes were as good as gold in prison. They can get a good hustler cash, dope, food or any other favor one can think of. I had no money coming in except from my prison job which was four cents a day and nothing to brag about. I tried selling peanut butter but business was not good. So I made the mistake of wanting to be a loan shark. I learned that prison loan sharks were loaning out two packs for three packs back in one week. Being young and foolish, I thought I would try my hand at it. I told a couple cons I had a few packs I could loan out if anyone was interested–“two for three in one week.” I said, to make sure they understood what they had to pay back.
As soon as the word was out, I was approached by a young man not too much older than me. This kid was a real smoker and his teeth told the story–they were black as tar and he had no intentions of brushing them. I loaned him two packs.
The first week went by and the schmuck comes in empty-handed. He gives me a story that his money came in the mail but was not posted. He begs me out of two more packs with a promise of paying me back a total of eight pack as soon as he can get to the prison store. I went for the hocus-pocus!
Once I realized he was not going to pay me, I tried putting pressure on him. That didn’t work, so I did what I had to do, I got a five gallon bucket of hot water and threw it on the kid with a promise to kick his ass the next time his cell door was opened.
Ten minutes later the goon squad came to my cell and dragged me off to solitary. When I ask why, they told me that the kid had asked for a transfer to an outside camp program. He told the warden I had pressured him for oral sex and when he refused, he said I threaten to kill him. The warden, old Hann, believed him, shipped him out and locked me up for another ten days on bread and water. They didn’t want to hear my story, true or false, they just didn’t care.
The boy was smart. He got what he wanted. I learned a lesson too: most inmates will do or say anything to get themselves out of prison.
When I was serving my ten days on bread and water, a prisoner was badly beaten by several guards and by the warden, Hann. I could not believe my ears. The inmate refused to be “branded.” He refused to allow the prison guards and the warden to shave his head bald. Inmates were “branded” if they received ten days or more in solitary. The branding made it easier for the guards to identify “the trouble makers.” and those who refused to be branded where beaten and then branded. Warden Herbert H. Hann would always put on a black pair of leather gloves before beating on an inmate, or so the stories went.
Several weeks passed without any real incidents in my prison routine. I decided I would learn to play the guitar. I watched other inmates making music and it seemed to be so much fun. My problem was that I didn’t have much of an education. I had gotten kicked out of grade school when I was twelve years old. I could hardly read anything, and my English was terrible. I had no idea what little words like “shy” meant. I spoke mostly Spanish. I couldn’t spell worth a damn, so how was I going to learn to play a guitar. I could see the guitar players looking at music books and that scared me.
Before long I was in trouble again. I had made a friend of one of the prison guards who worked in the kitchen basement where I worked and from time to time we cursed each other out.
I got a notice to appear before the disciplinary committee. It gave me no clue as to what the charges were, just that I had to appear.
Solitary confinement for ten days on bread and water was no joke. The cells were never cleaned, except that once a month they were sprayed down with a water hose There was no bedding of any kind, just a concrete bunk. We were given a pair of coveralls but no towels, no soap, no drinking cups. We had to drink water from a faucet, which was used to flush the toilet, and was directly above the toilet, which was infested with large cockroaches. When the guards fed us our bread, they tossed two old hard heels through the bars and on to the floor of the cell. I truly was not savoring another trip to the cockroach-infested solitary.
There were three men on the disciplinary committee, the “Green Hornet”,(our Deputy Warden Greenholtz), the Warden, and a guard with a sap in his hand. They explained that I had cursed out a prison guard. I tried to explain that it had been done in a friendly way, but the warden would not listen to reason. I was again sentenced to ten days in Solitary.
“I said I was only joking with the guard like he jokes with me.” I yelled. “Now let me tell you this, I will go to solitary this time, but the next time I am accused of bull shit like this, I am not going to the hole without a fight!” I said.
I don’t know why my parents never taught me to keep my mouth shut in situations like this. And it’s something schools don’t teach little boys and girls.
“Give this man another ten days!“ Hann said to the Green Hornet.
“Ten days for what?” I yelled. “For what!”
“For talking too much,” Warden Hann shot back. “Now get out of here before I give you the max.”
“What’s the max ?” I asked.
“Sixty days on bread and water,” Hann said.
“I’ll take the max,” I yelled out and hit the warden on the mouth with a straight right punch that sent him flying backwards out of his chair and on to the floor. I then kicked the guard who was standing behind me, in the nuts, and he ran out of the office.
The Green Hornet was opening the desk drawers searching for a blackjack or a sap. I decided to cause some damage to the glass counters outside the office where crafts were up for sale. I ran out of the office and into the arms of another guard, by the name of Graham.
He threw his arms around my waist and tried to throw me to the floor, but couldn’t. I choked him and hit him several times until the warden, the deputy warden, and three other guards came to his rescue.
I was pulled over the top of a large table where the guards hit me with saps and blackjacks. I kicked the warden in the face and saw blood fly. Then the table gave out from under us and we all went to the floor.
The guards pinned my hands and legs to the floor. Hann straddled me and began beating my face with his sap. After hitting me six or seven times, an old guard grabbed him and pulled him off of me, “Stop God damn you–stop–that’s enough!” , the old guard yelled.
I was handcuffed and taken to solitary where my clothes were cut off and I was tossed into the cell naked and without medical attention. My nose were broken and I had lumps as big as eggs all over the top of my head. That is what saps do. They don’t break the skin but it swells to the size of an egg.
What did I prove? Nothing except that I was good at getting my ass whipped and tossed into solitary. This was big time. Hitting the warden is the biggest sin one can commit in any prison.
I was a bloody mess. Gobs of blood were coming out of my nose. The lumps on my heard were many, painful and seemed to be growing in size. my front teeth felt as if they had been split in two pieces. My arms and legs were hurting from being twisted and jerked out of place. I was completely naked except for a pair of silver handcuffs. The filthy cell was empty except for dirt, stale body odors, and roaches. I was very tired and didn’t care if I lived or died. At last the evening darkness took me off into a very deep sleep.
It wasn’t until ten days later that the prison guards came to solitary and removed the handcuffs. They tossed me a pair of Coveralls, two dried out bread heels, and four squares of toilet paper on the cell floor.
“Why you giving him so much toilet paper? He won’t get enough food to work up a good turd,” said Dakota, a prison guard.
Captain Wright, a small, old man, mean, and thin guard decided to have some fun at my expense: “Now, if you decide you need more paper, this is how we do it around here. You use one square and tear a hole in the center, you see, like this.” he gave me a demonstration and proceeded. “Then you wipe your ass with your finger and then you clean your finger with the paper, you see?” he asked.
A few minutes later Warden Hann appeared in front of my cell and asked, “How’s your nose?”
I replied, “How’s your eye, motherfucker?” knowing that the cut had taken many stitches to close. He said nothing else and moved on to visit the other inmates in solitary.
With a pair of coveralls, two heels of bread, and four little squares of toilet paper I settled in to do my sixty days on bread and water.
I felt totally isolated from the whole world. I had no way of requesting medical care, no way to voice a complaint, no way to reach a court or an attorney. No one knew where I was or how I was being treated, or whether I was alive or dead. I was not allowed to send or receive any kind of mail. I guess there are some things worse than being up shit creek without a paddle. I felt like some one had dug a hole in the earth, put me in it, covered it and sat a guard in a chair on top of me. I guess this is why inmates refer to solitary confinement as the “Hole.”
The “Segregation Building, was a square box-like building containing eight cells in the basement, eight more cells on the first floor and six more cells on second floor. The third floor had two larger cells for death row inmates. All the other cells were single-man cells, except in times of riots, when the cells would be packed with as many as twenty inmates per cell.
Inmates in the basement cells were given two meals every third day. They were served in old and pitted aluminum bread pans. The food was simply slopped together, bread and dessert on top of mash potatoes and gravy. Nothing to drink except water from the faucet above the toilet.
Inmates were only allowed to bathe once a week for no more than two to three minutes. Needless to say that solitary reeked of body odors twenty four hours a day.
There was only one privilege allowed in solitary: You could talk your head off–nothing else. Nothing–nothing else! Unless you consider entertaining cockroaches, and inspecting prison guards as a privilege.
Inmates came and went. Some inmates were sentenced to three days, some to six, others to ten and more, up to 60 days.
One day I smelled cigarette smoke. I could not believe it. I got my nerve up to ask who had “smokes” and how about “sharing” one with me.
A voice from an inmate two cells away shot back, “Don’t talk too loud. Keep your voice down.” He whispered. Then he tossed a string in front of my cell and told me to pull it in. He had attached a home made cigarette, Bugler, and a half of a paper match along with a small piece of striker.
I later learned that the inmate was an old hand at doing time in the hole. When he got his notice to appear before the disciplinary committee he rolled up some Bugler tobacco, rolling papers, paper matches and strikers inside a rubber surgical glove, lubricated it and pushed it up his anus.
The string, he told me was made from his coveralls. He said he would tear the pants’ leg and pull out the thin treads and braid them together like a pigtail until he had a thin string twelve to fifteen feet long. A small wadded piece of toilet paper or a piece of clothes could act as a weight to throw the string two or three cells away. The strings, I learned had to be made strong enough to pull a bread pan of food from one cell to another to help feed inmates being starved by the guards.
Guards checking the inmates in solitary were often abusive. Guards didn’t take kindly to inmates sleeping when they made their rounds. They would rake their keys across the bars, shine their flashlights in the inmates’ face, or yelled to them to wake up. Some inmates responded by spitting on the guards and cursing at them. When this happened, guards refused to feed the inmates for the remainder of their sentences.
I heard the rattling of the keys and voices. The guards were bringing in another inmate. Solitary was full, so, the guards put the new inmate in a cell with another prisoner The guards made their rounds after locking in the new inmate and left the building, slamming the entrance gate loudly, metal against metal, and locked the gate.
“Well, well, what do you know guys!” yelled the inmate who was in the cell with the new inmate.
“Pussy!” yelled another inmate, “They just brought you some pussy, you lucky bastard!”
The new inmate was a young Indian boy who was known as one of Big Mamoo’s punks, and who would run to his master at the snap of his fingers. It was said that Mamoo and another inmate by the name of Red Carter, beat and raped Little Beaver when he first entered the prison.
Little Beaver had a three day sentence in solitary. After he left, the other inmate told the story about how he raped him. “I hit on him for some pussy, you know, and this punk took a punch at me. I hit him several times in the face and he fell on his back on the cement bunk. I unbuttoned his fucking coveralls–pulled them off. I pulled his ass up to me–pushed his legs back to his face and shoved it all in–inch by inch. I fucked that punk three times a days every day until he left.” he bragged.
Little Beaver warned his attacker that he would tell Big Mamoo, his jocker, what he had done. “He will get you, you just wait and see–he’ll get you.”
After this story, I got to thinking what would happen if the guards would bring Mamoo and put him in my cell or any cell with another inmate. Mamoo was not only mean, he was insane. Mamoo was also a penitentiary rat who told the guards whatever they wanted to know about other inmates. In return, the prison guards turned their heads when he attacked a young boy. Red Carter, a friend of Mamoo, was also a prison rat who enjoyed the same privileges as Mamoo and was always ready to assist with the dirty work.
Solitary and the lack of good nutritional food was knocking the pounds off my body. I had weighed one hundred and fifty pounds when I entered the prison. I had no scale, but I guessed I had lost some thirty pounds.
As a migrant, I worked hard, pitching hay and peas with a pitchfork onto wagons with horses. I bucked potatoes from sunrise to sundown, and then emptied the potato sacks in the underground silos. I looked like the Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David.
The more I thought about Mamoo, the prison rapes, the show of favoritism by the prison guards, the insane inmates, about the guards beating inmates, the more I realized I had to start working out and getting my body in good shape. I knew it would only be a matter of time and I would need to rely on my strength to pull me through all the prison insanity. I hit the dirty floor, roaches scattered, and I began doing pushups until I could do one hundred and fifty at one time. I would do three sets in the morning, three at noon, and three before dark. I did the same with situps except that I would do three hundred situps at one time. Although I could only take four to five steps from the back of my cell to the front bars, I walked until I was completely exhausted to get my legs in shape.
The only way we could tell what time it was, was when the guards came to solitary to pass out food. Otherwise it was hard to tell if it was a.m. or p.m. At one point I was awakened by two inmates playing chess. “Knight takes bishop,” and “Queen takes knight and check,” and so on. I was amazed and asked them how they could do that. It seems they used the toilet paper to form squares on the cement bunk, spit was used in place of glue, and chess pieces were made from toilet paper or wet bread. Other inmates loved playing the “Twenty Question Game,” where we had to guess what an inmate was thinking within twenty questions. And of course we never lacked for escape artists. There were always a few of us who wanted revenge for our maltreatment. With us it was about destroying prison property and breaking the prison rules to do what we had to do, like getting smokes, extra food to help others, or flooding our cells by plugging up the sewers with bed sheets, pillow cases. Revenge was intentional and the results were sweet even if we were caught and punished.
Being a part of a Segregated Group began to make me feel like a warrior, like someone fighting injustices I could not comprehend, but knew they existed right under my nose.
A white inmate was brought into solitary and placed in a cell with a Mexican prisoner by the name of Ortiz from Lincoln, Nebraska. After the guards left, Ortiz asked another Mexican prisoner if the inmate in his cell was a punk. The reply was that he was, “yes.” This inmate later admitted he had lied.
In a matter of minutes, Ortiz and his cellmate were fighting. Then after a while, things got quiet for a long time.
Ortiz finally spoke again in Spanish, “I hit on him, man, and this punk got to whipping my ass, and suddenly he stopped fighting, took off his pants, and sat on it. Damn, he almost kicked my ass, Esse, but he fucked me good man, like a real bitch!”
I often wondered what the guards would do if inmates complained of being raped by a cell mate. I came to the conclusion that they would just laugh it off and do nothing to separate the inmates. Inmates in solitary could holler as loud as they wanted to, no one could hear us, nor did they care. There was no way to escape being raped except to whip your attacker’s ass and make him beg for forgiveness. But you could kiss your ass good bye, if you weren’t the killer type.
The roaches came out to play at night like clock work. I would lie on my belly and watch them play with each other and run races. If you have never watched a community of circus roaches you are missing out on some real entertainment, they are almost human.
I heard the keys rattling and the big entrance gate to solitary was pushed open and five guards walked In. Each guard was armed with a baseball bat. “Your fucking time is up, bad boy. We’re moving your ass upstairs, that is, unless you want to do another sixty days. Your choice…” Captain Wright said, as he inserted the key into the lock and twisted the key to unlock my cell door.
He pulled the door open and motioned for me to come out, then he pointed, with the baseball bat, towards the entrance gate. “Get, get moving asshole, we ain’t got all day!” He said.
I was taken to the first cell on the second floor. I could see the prison yard, the baseball diamond, and the West cell house. I could see part of the prison wall and a gun tower.
The cell was small. It contained one bunk with a thin mattress, a small pillow, a pillow case, two sheets, and an army blanket. While this did not give me a great feeling of comfort, it was certainly better than a concrete bunk I had been sleeping on for the past two months.
We were not allowed any reading material except the “Holy Bible.” Nothing else. The Segregation Building, was designed to isolate not only the body but also the mind. I couldn’t help wondering how such rules were conceived. Is it possible that several great minds gathered around a long mahogany table, at the tax payers’ expense, and decided it would be a wonderful idea and rule to deny the human mind an opportunity to function and develop? Prison officials did not seem satisfied to starve the body, they had to starve the mind as well.
We were served two meals a day with milk and coffee. The meal came in the old and pitted aluminum bread pan slopped together. By the time we were given our food the two slices of bread were always soggy from food juices. Many of the inmates flushed the food down the toilet and refused to eat, until they realized they had no choice.
It was 1954, a cold January winter day. The steam radiators were banging loudly and straining to keep the segregation building warm when all hell broke loose–the inmates began yelling and banging their stainless steel cups against the bars.
“Burn! You bastard, burn! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They are rioting out there–the laundry’s burning!” an inmate yelled. We could see smoke filling the winter gray sky. Inmates were running wildly across the prison yard. The guards in the towers were firing their rifles. Windows in the segregation building were broken and the inmates yelled out to let the inmates on the yard know they supported them.
The guards began filling up the isolation cells. Inmates were packed in like sardines. The guards were armed with baseball bats and beating inmates into the isolation cells. The inmates below were yelling to us giving us information about the riot. They told us that two guards had been taken hostage and that the laundry had been set on fire.
We were told that there was no standing room in the isolation cells. Inmates had to take turns at sleeping on the floor. They were not fed for days.
The entire prison was locked down. No one was fed. Nothing moved inside the prison except the armed guards who were rounding up rebellious inmates and locking them up. Other inmates holding two guards hostage were holding out in the prison laundry and keeping the fire alive. The Lincoln Evening Journal was banging at the outside prison gate, but Hann would not comment, saying only that inmates should not get any publicity–“They will just get more rebellious…” he told them.
Some guards working in the segregation building sympathized with the inmates in isolation so we were able to send them homemade cigarettes, matches, and food. The inmates below had torn the screens off the air ventilators. The guards unlocked the plumbing area between our cells above isolation and shoved the items down to the inmates below.
After several days, the inmates released the hostages for a promise from Governor Crosby, that he would have a fair investigation and allow the inmates to discuss their grievances against the prison administration.
It was over a month before the prison got back to normal. Inmates were fed in their cells, they were allowed to shower only once a week, no recreation, and armed guards taunted the inmates. Prisoners were beaten and placed in solitary as example to other rebellious inmates. Cells were searched at all hours of the day without warning.
I could see through my window. Several guards and the warden were making their way to the Segregation Building with an inmate in handcuffs.
“I got rid of the last Warden we had, and I’ll get rid of you too, Mr. Hann. You just wait and see. I want access to law books and writing materials,” The cuffed inmate demanded.
“You got the only book you are going to get–the Bible!”, Hann responded.
“That alone will cost you your job. You don’t know who you are fucking with, but you will soon enough,” the inmate told him.
The new inmate was Harry Dunn, a jailhouse lawyer about fifty two years old. He was serving twenty-five to fifty years for armed robbery. Harry had been working in the prison laundry when the hostages were taken and when the laundry was set on fire. The warden had accused Harry of being a ring leader, and without any proof, he sentenced him to the Segregation Building to an “indefinite” term.
Harry was placed in a cell next to mine on the first floor. He demanded law books and writing materials. The guards laughed at him and gave him nothing except enough writing material for one letter. Harry addressed that letter to a federal court, and received a reply. The federal court ordered Hann to give Harry access to all the law books he wanted and all the writing materials he needed and further ordered that he be given full access to the federal courts. The Court also stated that a violation of that order would lead to contempt charges against the prison officials.
Harry got busy writing a writ to the Federal Court in Lincoln, Nebraska, and asked me if I would help him make copies of the writ, and I agreed. I could not read very well and did not understand much of what I was copying, but as an artist, I was good at copying anything I could see. I did know how to write a letter, in a limited sense, and I soon improved. Harry also helped me to understand the constitutional laws, and legal citations. He read United States Supreme court cases and opinions, and for the first time in my life I realized that I too, as a prisoner, had constitutional rights that were being violated by Warden Hann, and that my “indefinite sentence” in solitary was also illegal.
Harry also promised me that he would see to it that I be removed from the Segregation Building. I had no idea what to believe. I could not understand how Harry could have so much power, but somehow I believed him and worked hard beside him to get Warden Hann fired.
I learned that Harry had indeed gotten the previous warden fired, for having done exactly what Warden Hann was doing, and it didn’t seem that Hann had learned anything from the previous warden. Harry confided in me that indeed he had been a ring leader in the riot, but that he had covered his ass. In the confusion, Harry and other leaders agreed to make Harry look like he was rescuing one of the hostages. It was agreed for Harry to shield one of the guards from the rioting inmates and take him to an exit. Harry made sure other guards witnessed the rescue. He shielded the guard and took him outside the burning building, waved at the guards not to shoot, and told the guard to make a run for it.
The guard, to this day, swears that Harry jeopardized his life to save him and that Harry was not a leader. This, Harry knew would go badly for Warden Hann in the Federal Court.
I was quickly learning that I was young and ignorant. I really had no idea that the prison was about to explode, and that the other inmates were in total discontentment. I only knew that I was truly unhappy with my treatment and that I had developed a self-destructive attitude.
Before the uprising and the burning of the prison laundry, during the month of April, on Good Friday, a prison guard, John Clausen, was found murdered in the prison print shop. The killer had intended to cut of Clausen’s head but was interrupted. The head was still attached to neck and shoulders by a small amount of skin and muscle. The killer fled, disposed of a set of bloody coveralls, shoes and gloves, and he was never convicted or exposed for the crime.
Harry and other inmates who claimed to know the identify of the real killer, told that the killing was designed to get revenge for “sadistic acts by prison guards” and to get an investigation of the prison. The inmates’ main contentions were that they were being beaten without reason, that guards allowed certain inmates, like Big Mamoo and Red Carter, to rape other inmates, and they felt they were not being educated or taught employable skills. This caused them to become restless, afraid, bored, and angry.
Somehow the murder of John Clausen, did not get the attention it deserved from the out side world, the Govrenor and the news media. Hann managed to convince the public that it was simply a senseless murder by some evil lunatic. With the public’s sympathy on his side, it gave him, Warden Hann, more power to beat and otherwise mistreat the inmates.
A small group of inmates decided to foul up the investigation of the murder and cover up for the real killer. Edward McClelland was a habitual liar and quickly admitted to killing Clausen. Hann jumped on this like a city rat going for country cheese on a trap. After a long and expensive trial, McClelland was acquitted.
The sad part of the McClelland story is that he was serving a life sentence for a murder he could not have committed. Evidence was produced that at the time of the murder he was confessing to, he was working for a circus in another state. Yet, somehow, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. It was always my suspicion that Edward was a homosexual and thought he would have a better life inside then he would have had outside in the real world.
Joseph DeYonghe, another inmate, a born homosexual from the State of California, also wanted credit for Clausen’s murder. He too was tried but not convicted for the murder. But he was later committed a state mental institution.
An inmate, Harvey Durbin, a prison rat wanting to escape his sentence by pointing the finger at whom he called the real killer, was found dead in his cell. It was ruled a suicide. Needless to say, this state witness for the ensuing trial never made it. To this date, the murder case has never been completely solved.
The unrest at the prison continued. There were many attempts to escape. One inmate, Paul Case, now deceased, had himself checked into the prison hospital. Late one night, he made his way to the hospital roof which was connected to the front prison wall, dropped off into the prison’s outside parking lot and made his way to the State of Michigan were he was arrested and imprisoned for several years at the Marquette State prison. Several years later we met again, but shortly thereafter Case died of a heart attack in Milwaukee, a free man, sometime in 1984.
A 1952 prison riot in Lincoln, Nebraska, the killing of John Clausen, the burning of the prison laundry, the many escapes and attempted escapes finally took its toll on the prison administrators, the Green Hornet, Mr. Greenholtz and Warden Herbert H. Hann.
A penal committee was appointed by the former governor Robert Crosby. We began to hear rumors that a penologist by the name of Sanford Bates would be investigating all of the State prisons at the cost of five hundred dollars a day.
Prison officials did not consider the investigation seriously, and continued with the same manner of treatment, except for small changes in the segregation building—we were allowed to read magazines and novels from the prison library—nothing else changed.
The guards continued to lie, saying that their treatment was proper, humane and necessary to control the inmates. They assumed that slop, concrete beds, roaches, and mind deprivation was proper and necessary to control the inmate population. They could not understand that their abuses would have just the opposite effects.
Inmates wanted an investigation but they had very little faith in the system. The best results seem to come when inmates resort to big-time violence and millions of dollars in destruction of prison property that ends up costing correctional staff their jobs. Investigations into conditions, treatment, beatings, and prison deaths too often result in a decision of “justification.” Most investigations too often do not allow inmates’ input, and those investigating are generally biased against prisoners. In this case, the inmates at the Lincoln Penitentiary were no different.
But they were fed up and ready to strike again and again until changes were made. They were willing to sacrifice another prison sentence to vent their anger, and get results!
Inmates in the Segregation Building now comprised mostly of inmates from the prison riot, some escapees, and inmates under suspicion for the murder of John Clausen–the most dangerous inmates of the prison population. The stew in the pot was beginning to boil and the guards did not see it coming, or perhaps they simply welcomed it as part of their jobs.
The sadistic guards that inmates had been rioting and complaining about, were now pressing the inmates. Their verbal abuses got worse, they refused to give us milk at meal times, and coffee was rationed to one half cup.
The “impatient inmates” as we were referred to, rioted within the segregation building. What could burn was set on fire, the sewers were plugged up and cells flooded, inmates spit at the guards, they threw cups of urine and human excrements at them, and screamed profanities at them.
The warden sent a crews of armed guards, with gas masks and riot helmets and dressed in rain coats to the Segregation Building. The guards tear gassed the entire building! They jerked us out of our cells and hustled us off to solitary.
Once in solitary, the inmates picked the locks of two cells and got out and destroyed the heating pipes. With the pipes broken, steam filled the basement cells–we were roasting.
Not all prisoners are “dumb criminals.”, although we do have our share of dummies, just like in the free world. Among the inmates in solitary we had a few good escape artists. Ray Tapia, a young man from Denver, Colorado, was determined to escape. He and two friend picked the old master locks on two cells. They showed me how it was done, and I learned to open the locks in six seconds. The pick worked faster than a key.
They plotted to jump the two prison guards who checked the isolation building, dress in their uniforms and make a break for the wall. This idea was dropped because they had no idea if the guards were being watched by the tower guards or if they had a signal they communicated with for security reasons.
Instead they thought of using part of a broken steam pipe to bust a hole in the wall, crawl out and hit the wall. They knew where they could get their hands on an extended ladder. But none of these ideas materialized.
One morning, Shortly after breakfast, Dakota and Captain Wright brought in a young blue eyed boy, Williams, a kid from Mississippi. They were beating him and kicking him. The young boy was screaming and cursing. They tossed him into a cell and left.
Later that night, Tapia and I unlocked our cells and delivered smokes to the inmates. I stopped to talk with the newcomer, Williams, to find out why he was placed in isolation.
“You spit on the guards?” I asked
“Yes, stupid, I know…” he whispered.
He told me that he had been beaten and raped by Big Mamoo and when he reported it to the guards, they just laughed. Dakota asked him, if he liked it, and how did it feel, and the kid spit on him out of anger.
“Seems to me you wanted to come here for protection,” I said.
“I guess you can say that,” he replied. “He’s a big guy about three hundred pounds and I’m no fighter. I am afraid of him, wouldn’t you be?” he asked.
“Sure, sure, we are all afraid of him.” I tried comfort him.
“Don’t worry. I promise you that Mamoo will pay for what he has done to you. I promise you that.” I told him.
As I was talking with Williams, I heard a noise on the stairs leading to the upper floor of segregation. I looked up and saw the night guard’s face peering at me through the small window. He looked shocked. He scrambled up the stairs, no doubt, to sound the alarm.
I yelled at Tapia and we both made a dash to our cells and quickly relocked the our cell door with the old style Master locks.
Within a matter of minutes, a dozen guards unlocked and kicked in the front entrance gate. They rushed in with shot guns, baseball bats, and hammers. They ran through isolation but found no one outside the cells. They regrouped and began hammering each and every iron bar, hitting each bar twice. This hammering continued for a long time. At last they left, and went upstairs to the second floor.
The night guard who spotted us outside our cells was sat in a chair and asked to repeat his sighting, what he had seem or what he thought he had seen. After the guard repeated his story, the night Captain, Nance, accused him of hallucinating and suspended him for two weeks without pay. “Don’t come back until you start feeling better, you hear?” he asked. Nance had the guard replaced with another guard.
After several weeks, several of us were taken back upstairs to segregation, and again, I was assigned to a cell next to Harry Dunn.
Tapia and a couple of his escape artist friends were later released into the general population. But their freedom did not last long.
Shortly after their release from segregation, early one morning they armed themselves with butcher knives and hacksaw blades. They forced their way into the guards’ kitchen, tied up two guards then proceeded to cut the metal bars and tried to escape. They were not spotted by prison guards, when scaling the cyclone fence leading to the outside parking lot but were spotted by a lady visiting the prison who immediately sounded the alarm! They were quickly apprehended and returned to isolation.
The segregation building was quiet. I was daydreaming about my wife, Guadalupe Guerra Rodriguez, and my two baby girls when I heard Harry’s voice say: “Are you ready to leave segregation, Ernie?”
“Hann isn’t going to put me back in the general population,” I replied.
“I promised you I would get you out of here and the time is right. Trust me, I am going to get you out, you just wait and see.”
Harry’s petition had been accepted by a Federal Court, and he showed me a copy of a court order issued to the warden. It was an order to show cause why Harry should not be removed from segregation and restored his full privileges in the general population. Harry then explained, that I too had been in segregation illegally all along. He Then handed me a petition he had prepared in my behalf and ordered me to make two extra copies.
“We’re gonna mail these babies in and once they are accepted, you can negotiate with the warden. “If he is willing to let you out, you tell him you will drop the petition. He’ll go for it, I guarantee it. He will not want to answer to another petition.”
Thanks to Harry and another inmate by the name of Winston, who helped me learn to read and write. I had managed to read the English and Spanish Bibles from the beginning to the amen. I had improved my vocabulary by copying the petitions, and reading a magazine, The Red Book. At last I was on my way to earning myself a badly needed education.
My petition was accepted by the court, and as soon as I received the acknowledgement I asked to see the warden as Harry had instructed me. Just as Harry had promised me, the warden and I agreed to my transfer out of segregation into the punishment area in the East cell block. I guess my negotiating skills were not good enough, I was unable to win back all my general population privileges, but my new circumstances would be much better. At least I could have three meals a day, and not slopped all together, all the coffee I wanted, milk and all the fresh bread I wanted, instead of hard dried up heels.
The prison bakery made fresh bread daily. When the bread loafs was sliced, the ends of the bread, “heels” were tossed into a large aluminum pan where they hardened and drew the attention of large roaches and rats. This pan was picked up and taken to isolation and fed to the inmates.
I remember my first couple of days in the punishment area in the East Cell Block. I was assigned to a cell next to an inmate from New York State, Horox, who jogged a lot when he was free to do so. The inmates nick named him, Seabiscuit, after a famous race horse.
Seabiscuit told me that he would always be a criminal. He said that he would always be trying to outrun the law and therefore had to stay in good running shape.
“You wanna bet on the fight?” he asked.
Rocky Marciano was fighting dancing Joe Walcott. I liked Joe and knew he would win. “Sure, why not.” I told him. I remember going to the toilet to take a piss. Hundreds of inmates went into an uproar–they were screaming and yelling and making one hell of a noise! I rushed to my small set of earphones only to learn that Rocky had knocked out Old Man Walcott in the first round. I was totally disappointed.
Several days later, about midnight, I was awakened by an inmate that I had serviced time with in segregation, an inmate who knew he could trust me to keep my mouth shut.
He explained that he could unlock my cell door anytime I wanted out, for whatever reason, and showed me a home made aluminum key. I told him, no thanks, and he left to open another inmate’s cell door. I learned that these inmates were not attempting to escape, or to get to a guard, nor to kill anyone–they were visiting consenting homosexuals!
I learned that inmates would make an impression of the tumblers inside the door locks by inserting a burning toothbrush handle into the lock and twisting it. Once the impression was hard, they filed down a piece of flat metal or aluminum into a key.
The inmates studied the routine of the guards and learned how to beat the system. The guards who checked the cell doors every hour on the hour had to lift a metal lever which unlocked one of the two locks that secured the cells. The guards then checked each and every cell door by pulling it. If the door did not move this meant it was secured. If the door would fly open, there would be hell to pay! When the guard reached the end of the row of cells, and all was well, they would drop the lever in place and locked the cells.
What the guards did not know was that when they lifted the lever, the inmates would jam the door so that when the guard pulled the door it would not move. As soon as the guard pulled on the door and went to the next cell, the inmates would immediately pull the door open very quietly. They knew the guards took a one hour nap once they had made their rounds. This gave the inmates one hour to play with, do what they had to do, return to their cells and lock the doors.
The inmate in the adjoining cell, Joseph DeYonghe, was a known homosexual from California, and a boy from a wealthy family, who made no bones about what he was. All of his movements were very feminine.
DeYonghe received a visit from a fellow inmate late one night. He tried to kiss and hug the inmate who had come to see him. The jocker would have none of that and whispered to him. “Stop motherfucker and bend over, we ain’t got all night.”
I could hear DeYonghe moaning with either pain or pleasure, I couldn’t tell which it was. The inmate on the pitching end, whispered, “Shut up fool! You’re gonna get us both busted! Shut the fuck up!”
The romance went on for a couple of weeks, then as my luck would have it, several guards came to my cell, without saying a word, I was escorted back to isolation.
“What the hell are you accusing me of now?” I yelled at the guards as they were locking my cell door.
“One of our inmates came to us and told us you have a key and that you are letting yourself out at nights. Want to tell us where the key is?”
“You’re crazy man. I don’t have a key to anything!” I cried.
“Tell it to the preacher. We don’t want to hear it!” they said as they walked away.
They knew inmates were getting out of their cells. It had to have come from an inmate, but who would have told the guards? Why was I picked? Could it have been that the snitch really didn’t know who was getting in and out of their cells, and just picked me on a hunch? It was no use trying to figure out what had gotten me back in isolation. The guards were going to do whatever pleased them. I simply had no win.
In some ways I felt good. It would be good to see Harry Dunn again, my friend Tapia, and the others. The real standup guys who took no shit from no one and were willing to fight for what was right!
“I heard what happened,” Harry said. “It’s a fucking shame! But Hann will get his and it won’t be long now. That son-of-a-bitch has to go. Welcome home, Bad Boy!”
It seems that the guards nor anyone else ever called me by my real name. The guards labeled me a “Bad Boy” and the name stuck to me.
I asked Harry about his petition. He said the prison’s lawyers were arguing that he had no case, but the court was not buying it. “These things take time, but it’s in my favor so far. The guard I helped get out of the laundry, is on my side, and Hann is shitting in his pants.
You don’t know it, but you will someday understand that prison officials can’t violate the laws nor the constitutional rights of prisoners, and when they do, we can take them to court, like the criminals they are.” he explained.
The inmates, in segregation, began whispering to each other that they wanted to take over the segregation building. They wanted to overpower the guards at shower time. It was agreed that whatever happened, Harry Dunn would not be a part of it. His case was too important to involve him.
A prisoner by the name of Joe Beads, decided we needed a shank, and he knew how to get one into the segregation building. It would take him a little time to do it, but he was confident it could be done.
Joe Beads was a lifer who was once, for years, Warden Hann’s chauffer. Joe had tons of information and proof, on the warden and was ready to tell it all once they took over the building.
According to Joe, the warden and deputy warden, had a home built with prison lumber, and had the house supplied with electricity from the prison. Joe had dates, time and names of places where Hann and Greenholtz went hunting with prison rifles and ammunition. They were supplying two prostitutes with food, can goods, bread, and choice cut meats from the prison in exchange for sexual favors. Hann had pounds of choice hamburger ground for two large dogs he owned. Joe was ordered, by the warden and deputy to deliver the stolen goods. Joe knew the time and dates when they went gambling with the state’s money and much more. Joe knew that the only way to get this information out to the public was to take over the segregation building. No one would listen otherwise.
In addition to what Joe had to tell, there were the other inmates who were ready to testify to the cruelty by prison guards, the roach infested isolation building, the sloppy food, and having to live with insane inmates who did not belong in prison, the denial of a due process hearing before being sent to isolation for indefinite periods of time, the lack of medical care, physical and mental deprivations, prison rapes and much more.
Besides Harry Dunn not participating in the event of a takeover of Segregation, there was one inmate in the death cell who cried day and night. He had been found guilty of killing his wife, her lover, and his dog with a shot gun.
Inmates would yell at this poor soul, “If you hadn’t shot the dog, you dumb fuck, you wouldn’t have gotten the chair!”
My three year sentence was about to end. I too could not participate in a takeover and risk getting more time. Joe Beads and I talked about this and we agreed to keep me out of it.
Joe Beads managed somehow to convince the prison doctor Fink that he needed to be taken to the hospital. Dr. Fink was a wonderful kindhearted man who had his hands tied by the prison administration, yet he did what he could for the inmates, and had Beads taken to the prison hospital overnight for an examination.
An inmate nurse went along with Joe, got him a butter knife and a pocket knife. Joe wrapped them up with tape, lubricated the packet and put it up his anus and this is how he managed to get the knife into Segregation. Joe would later use the butter knife to saw the metal bars of his cell. Believe it or not, metal bars can be cut with a metal spoon. Simple, metal against metal. I had explained this to Joe.
The prison was under investigation, and several members of the investigating committee came through segregation and stopped in front of my cell. “The inmates here are treated well and we feed them three meals a day,” a prison guard told the committee members.
“That’s a damn lie!” I yelled out, and went on to explain that we got two meals, slopped together in a bread pan. The committee members told me they would call me out for a personal interview.
Several of us were called out and taken to the administration building where our stories were recorded. I told them all about the beatings, the branding of convicts, the roaches, the rapes in solitary without mentioning names, about our heels infested with roach poop and how guards threw our food on the floor, the cement bunks, how we were starved and deprived of reading materials. The interview lasted a good forty-five minutes. They asked many questions and took a lot of notes.
Somehow they were not impressed. It just seemed that they were not sincere in their investigation. Things were moving too slowly, and there were no immediate changes in the prison’s attitudes or policies. The same old shit continued after the committee concluded with the interviews and left the prison.
On March the fifth 1955, I was released from the Lincoln, Nebraska State Penitentiary before noon. Joe Beads had given me a pair of Black Nunn-Bush shoes he wanted me to have. Harry Dunn and other inmates promised they would get information to me through their outside contacts and relatives. I in turn promised to write them and share some free world stories with them.
Hann offered to meet me up front and shake my hand. I refused, and advised him to stay away as I would be tempted to spit on him.
I was allowed to visit each segregation cell and to say goodbye to all my friends who had shared their suffering with me. I wanted to cry but held back my tears.
I was walked across the main yard, past the baseball diamond and into the West cell Block, where I waved goodbye to other inmates who yelled out to me. I was taken to the front office and given my personal property and told I had to register for the U.S. Army, and if I didn’t, that I could be arrested.
I whispered to one of the guards, “As I go out the gate please observe the mistletoe I have pinned at the tail of my coat.”
“What did he say?” asked the other guard.
My first stop was at a local thrift shop were I picked out a tan suit, a white dress shirt, and a tie to go along with the Nunn-Bush shoes Joe had polished and given to me. My second stop was at dime store where I bought a pocket knife. My third stop was to see Doctor Fink in his private office.
“Here I am doc, just as I promised” , I greeted him.
“Here’s a blank check for you. Put in whatever amount you need to get home . But promise me you will go home and not get yourself in trouble.”
“Thanks Doc”, I said, “I have enough money to get home and I promise you I will go home and won’t get into trouble,” I promised.
My next stop was the Green Parrot Poolroom where I had been told I could find a certain abusive guard by the name of Wright. I went there and waited. I knew the exact time he would be there. I had gotten my information from another guard who was truly a good man.
I went to the toilet, and when I came out, there he was with a pool stick in his hand and his back to me. I poked him hard on the shoulder and when he turned and saw who I was, he dropped his pool stick, started shaking but didn’t say one word. I showed him the knife and then hid it behind my leg.
“You’re one sadistic bastard. You treat us inmates like we are shit. Now, say one word to me, just one word you asshole and you know what will happen.”
I waited for a response, but none came. He stood where he was just trembling. “Listen to me, and listen well,” I continued. “I am on my way home, but someday, if you continue abusing inmates, you will get another visit like this one, and you may not live through it,” I said and walked out of the pool hall.
I decided to see my ex-con friend, Harris, a barber in Lincoln who had promised me a date with a fine young lady on my first day out. So my fourth stop was to rent a room because he had promised me a date with a beautiful “high yellow” black girl, a friend of his. We met and indeed she was beautiful! But as my luck would have it, a black male, her cousin, spotted her in the bar and forced her to go home. I watched the Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano fight and left the bar.
Frustrated at my near miss, I picked up my things at the hotel and wandered through the deserted streets to the Greyhound Bus Station. I decided I would go to Michigan. It was past midnight. I bought a ticket for a bus leaving a few minutes later for Chicago, via Peoria, Illinois.
On the big silver Greyhound Bus I met a young woman returning to Peoria from a visit to her husband, who was still in Lincoln’s penitentiary. Because I had spent so much time in solitary, I didn’t know her husband, but the fact that I myself had spent time in prison gave us every excuse to get to know each other better.
To add further to my enjoyment of the long trip over the rolling prairies I spotted a beautiful Latina who was sitting in the front of the bus. She was wearing a becoming black dress adorned with lace, and soon she was exchanging glances with me–the handsome ex-con.
When the Peoria-bound wife disappeared, the French-Spanish beauty replaced her in the seat next to me. She was bound for Chicago where, after a night’s layover, she would catch an early morning bus for the ultimate destination. Her husband was of German origin, quite a bit older than she, and very tolerant of her not infrequent peccadilloes.
Between Peoria and Chicago we agreed that we would share a hotel room when we arrived in the Windy city. The next morning we would continue on our separate ways, me to Lansing, Michigan, where most of my family were, and she to wherever her older husband was stationed.
When we arrived at the bus terminal in Chicago the ravishing Latina temptress checked at the ticket counter for the departure time of her bus the next morning and, to her horror, learned that there was a bus scheduled to leave for her destination in ten minutes, a bus she felt obliged to take because, as she giggled to me, she was already two days late. The great lover in me almost cried when I saw those lindas nalgas (beautiful set of buttocks) mount the bus’ steps. “Shit,” I thought, “this just isn’t my day!” I Was batting O for 3.
I later learned from the prison grapevine that Wright went to work, requested to work in a tower, and never worked in the cell block again.
All hell broke loose on March 27, 1955, a Sunday morning just twenty two days after my release from segregation. Before I left, Joe Beads had begun cutting his cell bars with the butter knife. I and several other inmates would sing loudly to cover up the scraping of metal against metal noise Joe made while cutting the bars. After I was released, Joe continued cutting the bars.
Joe was housed in the last cell on the second floor facing the main prison yard. He managed to crawl out of his cell, and went around the other side of the cell block and hid until another inmate called Officer Miller to come up stairs. Once Miller was talking with the other inmate, Joe had him cornered in where Miller could not run past him. Miller was placed in Joe’s cell and the other inmate was released. At this time, Swanson a second guard working in the Segregation Unit was called up stairs by Miller. He too was cornered and taken hostage.
The guards were stripped of their uniforms and locked into one of the cells in just their underwear. The two inmates then proceeded to unlock all the cell doors. The telephone was disconnected and the entrance gate was barricaded from the inside.
Twelve angry inmates were now loose inside the segregation building and trashing the two floors they occupied. They destroyed everything they could, plumbing, windows, steam radiators, toilets, bedding, bunks, sinks and light fixtures. The noises they were making alerted the prison guards that something was wrong inside the segregation building. Tower guards also spotted two inmates wearing prison guard uniforms.
Deputy Warden Greenholtz along with six state troopers attempted to storm the building, but couldn’t get in because the inmates had barricaded the entrance gate from the inside.
Greenholtz sounded the alarm and called all guards to report to work and thirty-five state troopers were dispatched to the prison. State troopers and prison guards surrounded the segregation building and posted a vigil on the prison walls.
Greenholtz immediately ordered to cut off the Segregation’s heating. He attempted to cut off the water supply, but was told it would entail cutting of the water to the main cell blocks. “We will starve them out,” he allegedly told the guards and troopers.
Governor Anderson, decided to move into the prison, and take command of the situation. He made a brilliant move. He was afraid the prison guards might just do something that would get someone killed. He slept at the prison and waited for the inmates to release the hostages.
The Governor wanted to interview the prisoners but Greenholtz put the fear of God into him by telling him that the inmates might take him hostage and escape out of the prison.
The inmates made a list of demands and lowered them out the segregation window on a string. Their demands asked for: no reprisals; firing of all guards known to be sadistic; removal of insane inmates from isolation and segregation; three meals a day; a stop to prison inmate favoritism; medical care for inmates in isolation and segregation; reading material as supplied to the general population; and definite sentences for inmates sentenced to segregation. The prison had already begun constructing a fenced in area to allow the inmates in segregation one hour of exercise daily.
The Governor refused amnesty saying that he did not have that power. He could pardon the inmates after trial or sentencing for breaking the law. He promised to meet with the inmates, one by one, without prison officials being present and promised that their demands would be give a completely fair investigation and consideration. He stated, that he would not negotiate further until the two guards were released.
Governor Anderson was armed with an earlier report from a Prison Study Committee appointed by the former Governor Robert Crosby. The report included recommendations from the famous New Jersey Penologist Sanford Bates who was retained by the State Board of Controls to investigate the Penitentiary. The report was extremely critical of the prison administration. It called for hiring a penal director to oversee the state prisons, and demanded a change in the prison administration. In my opinion, this was calling for the resignation of Warden Hann. But leave it to politics to smear the truth.
The Governor changed his mind and agreed to allow one inmate at a time to come to the warden’s office unescorted for a personal interview concerning their demands. The inmates would then be allowed to return to segregation unescorted.
After four such interviews which started on Tuesday, at 11 p.m. through telephone conversations with the prisoners, the expected capitulation came.
After sixty-five hours, the inmates agreed to release the two hostages. They also requested permission to be allowed to surrender themselves unescorted across the prison yard to the administration office. This was granted, and the inmates surrendered with dignity.
The inmates were given a shower and clean clothing. They were fed, and locked up in the East cell block. A five year sentence was added to each inmates’ sentence, except for three inmates who did not participate in the take over.
There was much confusion within the prison and prison administration. No one wanted to take the blame for any bad publicity or criticism generated by the investigation and the recommendations of Penologist Sanford Bates. Taking the blame would have meant the guillotine for the guilty parties and the cutting off of heads for the Department of Corrections. It is always easier to demonize the inmates who are already locked in cages like wild animals. It has never taken much to convince an uneducated public that the inmates are the real source of the problems–a bunch of discontented criminals that can be put in their place with a good whip and the butt of shotgun. When called to arms, the community quickly volunteers to take up arms against defenseless inmates, without determining who is right or who is in the wrong. The cry goes out, “Kill the bastards!”
Although it was in print, no one seemed to have noticed it. The two guards who were taken hostage, told the Lincoln Evening Journal that they never feared any harm from the inmates; that if food had been sent to the rioting inmates that they would have given it all to the guards; and both Swanson and Miller made it clear that the demands were justifiable. Miller and Swanson, were guards in the Segregation building where they witnessed many beatings and other abuses inflicted on the inmates by their fellow prison guards, and Warden Hann.
If the general public were educated in prison matters or had any real understanding of the Criminal Justice System, they would know that inmates never profit from rioting. They only riot when they are cornered like rats and are not given any other recourse. In this case each of the inmates received an additional five years to their sentences.
The ones that did profit were the administration: overtime pay; more staff; better pay; more guns and ammunition; tighter security and a new segregation building.
What about the murder of John Clausen? Why was this matter swept under the rug? Clausen was a wonderful man who was loved by most of the inmates who knew him or worked with him. The only reason Clausen was killed–remember I was there serving time when he was killed–was that he was in a lonely spot at the right time, and he was chosen as the sacrificial lamb to get rid of Hann and his posse.
Why did Hann rush a mentally ill inmate, and a known liar to court as the killers of Clausen? I honestly believe Hann knows to this day who murdered Clausen. Could it be that the killer knew too much about Hann’s and Greenholtz’s illegal activities and they were not about to chance that their stories would come out in a courtroom?
Why was the murder never solved? I can’t help but to think that such a good man deserves something better than being swept under the rug and forgotten.
Warden Hann, who resigned as warden blamed “the public attention, a small hand full of rebellious inmates,” and “the press “ for the circumstances that brought him to his knees.
At one point, Hann was quoted as saying, “There never has been any serious tension among the majority of inmates. It is always the minority. If this minority received less attention, publicity from the outside, they would be easier to handle. The more notoriety they get the more abusive they become.”
Hann was right: If he could kill an inmate and no one knew about it, the rest of the inmates would be much easier to handle. If I thought they would kill me if I told the truth, I would keep my mouth shut tighter than Fort Knox! Had Hann been a smarter warden, he would have known that sooner or later the inmates would rebel. Hann’s ego got in the way of his ability to do his job well.
Hann also knew that sixty per cent of the inmates were functional illiterates who had no idea why they were in the penitentiary let alone understand their constitutional rights. This particular class of inmates had no idea what abuse was, they were too frightened to protest anything, bad food or ass kickings, and they had been brainwashed into believing they deserved what ever treatment they got. It was the minority who had the guts to stand up for what they believed in. The average American citizen, including criminal justice students, and some news journalists don’t understand this, so Hann played on this ignorance. The only ones Hann could not fool was Harry Dunn and the Federal Court Judges who ruled against him and forced him to release Harry Dunn from the Segregation Building.
The inmates did not win this round. Hann was given the opportunity to resign, but the inmates who were justified in rioting got five years added to their sentences. What a contradiction! The perpetrator gets away and the victims get a five year sentence.
As inmates, we know we can’t win in rioting. We know the public hates us and couldn’t care less what happens to us. So, I am only going to say this once:
This is what most inmates with guts will tell you outright: “If you put your fucking hands on me, you asshole, I’ll set your ass on fire and see to it you don’t go home to your wife and kids! I have nothing to lose, I am already in jail,” and “I live here, and you just work here!”
However true this may be, no one wins!
Hann refused to accept his role which was his downfall. Had he not stolen prison property; had he not been keeping two prostitutes and supplying them with food that was meant to be fed to the inmates; had he not beaten inmates nor allowed his guards to do the same; had he not abused the constitutional rights of inmates and state laws; had he not been lacking in hindsight perhaps he would still be warden to this day, and perhaps John Clausen would not have been murdered. The most important point Hann and The Green Hornet overlooked was the fact that two of his guards told the public that the rebellious inmates were justified in rioting.
I boarded the Greyhound bus in Lincoln Nebraska with a one-way ticket to Lansing, Michigan where my sister Carmen had purchased a big house on Walnut Street and the rest of the family members moved in to help pay the mortgage. They had prepared a bedroom for me in the rear of the house with a back entrance.
I immediately got a job as a dishwasher in a local cocktail lounge and restaurant called Archey’s. I was not only paid a weekly wage of forty-five dollars, but I could eat the best of food, and took a good mixed drink from the bar after my work was done.
I kept in touch with the “rebellious inmates” as I had promised them and they wrote me letters telling me what was going on inside the walls. Their letters had to be mailed to their relatives who would then mail them to me at my Lansing home address. These inmates had become like family to me. I truly worried about them as I did my own sisters and brothers.
I received one letter from Sanchez. The letter said that not much had changed at the Penitentiary since the segregation riot and the investigation. Just a lot of talk and little or no changes from the new administration.
The big news was about Big Mamoo: “It was late, past midnight. That is when most of the prison guards take a nap, thinking all the inmates are sound asleep. I guess someone made a key and got out of the cell on the same tier where Big Mamoo was housed.“ Sanchez wrote. “No one is talking about who did it. The rumor is that some young kid who was beaten and raped by Mamoo got him. We hear say that about one in the morning, there was a loud explosion, and Mamoo’s cell went up in flames. The entire East Cell Block was filled with black smoke.
Guards came from everywhere. Some opened the windows to clear the smoke while others rushed to the burning cell to put out the fire.
Inmates were screaming and yelling. Some of the inmates yelled at the guards to “let the motherfucker burn!” The rumor is that someone threw two gallons of gas into his cell and threw a burning book of paper matches into the gas, then the inmates ran into his cell and locked himself in.”
The story went on to say that when the fire was put out, the guards discovered that who ever did it had plugged up the cell door lock. But once the lock was cleaned out and unlocked, the guards tried to pull the smoldering corpse of Big Mamoo out of the cell by his ankles, the meat just fell off his body like a well roasted pig.
At the end of the letter Sanchez wrote that a rumor on the grapevine was saying that Red Carter was marked to be fired next.
I remember this story as if it just happened yesterday, but the truth of the matter is that I was twenty-two years old when I left the Nebraska penitentiary, and I am now seventy-six years old and happy to report that I gave up my life of crime over thirty-five years ago. I reckon I saw no future in it. but it took me a long time to “Unhitch the team…”
One thing for sure, Hann and I will never forget each other nor the reason for The Killing of John Clausen, the sacrificial Lamb.