May 1st, 2011 Comments Off on Chapter Thirteen
After the trial, at Rosie’s invitation, Ernesto moved in with Rosie and the three children. Christina age seventeen, John age sixteen, and Liza all accepted the not guilty verdict and Ernesto’s presence. The five of them frequently appeared together in public and in private their lives together were unmarred by any tension. Things were going well, but the absence of tension didn’t last.
The DeLaPaz family, aided whenever possible by Ernesto’s opponents Arturo and Martinez, kept up their steady drumbeat of accusations.
Tired of threats and gossip, Ernesto decided on a vacation to Texas and the Mexican border. He tuned up the Cadillac and shoved off, accompanied by Rosie and Liza who was then about nine years old.
Their first stop was in Fort Worth Texas to see his daughter Patricia and her little girl Becky.
The last time he had seen Patricia was in 1957 when Lupe, his wife had taken the little girl to see her father at the Marquette prison in the upper Michigan Peninsula. Patsy, as she is called now, was married to a man named Gallardo and had a five year old girl of her own.
After visiting in Fort Worth Ernesto and his two traveling companions headed for Galveston Texas the town where he had raised. One of the things he especially wanted to do there was to see his old childhood friend, Tony Galicia.
The three northerners checked into the Galves Motel and in almost no time Tony and his wife joined them in what was a joyful reunion for the two men.
Recalling his conversation with Tony, Ernesto had this to say about Galveston. “It had not lost its flare for vice and prostitution or all the violence that went with it. Somehow the folks of Galveston had never learned how to use charm, peace, and tranquility.”
The next stop for the traveling trio was Corpus Christi. During their visit, Rosie looked up a local curandera and asked about her future. Whatever it was she was told, she kept to herself.
“When it came to my turn,” Ernesto laughed, “when I walked into the room, she sensed I didn’t believe in her. ‘Why are you here?’ she asked. ‘I really hate people like you, but I’ll read the cards for you.’
“I remember dropping a card or two on the floor when she asked me to shuffle the cards she was about to read for me. This irritated her. ’You treat your life as carelessly as you do the cards. Someday you will have to slow down and get some order into your life.’
The three tourists drove all over South Texas visiting friends and relatives. They visited Presidio, Laredo, and Eagle Pass where Lencho still lived. While they were in Eagle Pass, they stopped by to visit Sara Rodriguez who had married Lencho’s brother.
When Aunt Sara introduced Ernesto to the in the family several of them wanted to know whether he was “The bad boy who was always in trouble.” Aunt Sara was delighted that they could identify her nephew from then stories she had told them.
After three weeks of togetherness all of them were getting on one another’s nerves. Ernesto had had his share of sun bathing and swimming, he was exhausted, and he was yelling at both the DeLaPaz’, who were boring him. He was beginning to believe there was something to the curandera’s mystique.
When Ernesto returned to Lansing he rented a large old house on Willow Street and asked Rosie if she wanted to live with him or her children—it couldn’t be both. Rosie disagreed and decide it was best if she tried both, spending two or three nights with him and others with her children.
With all that time on his hands, Ernesto began seeing women intermittently.
One of his girlfriends named Carol called Ernesto one afternoon and told him that Rosie had stopped by her house demanding to know whether Carol was sexually involved with Ernesto.
“How dare you accuse me of that?” Carol yelled at Rosie. “I am a married woman.”
The relationship between Rodriguez and Rosie was not destined to be a long tranquil one. This was so because Rosie, like a regular old rat terrier would not let go of her suspicions about Carol. At one point while driving down the road, Rosie slapped Ernest who then backhanded her in self defense. The goings-on were observed by a police officer in a passing patrol car. The officer signaled to them to pull over.
“We were just having some marital problems, officer.” Ernesto explained.
“Bullshit! We are not married.” Rosie screamed, getting out of the car. “Please drive me home, officer.”
That was the last time Ernesto saw Rosie for a long time. They both had had enough.
One midnight, several months after not seeing Rosie for a while, Ernesto entered the El Tango Café for a cup of coffee and a bowl of chili. When he sat down at the counter a beautiful blond, named Lori brought him a cup of coffee and kissed him affectionately on the cheek
The El Tango Café was owned by Ygnacio Manuel whose daughter Esther Lopez, was working that night. When she saw Lori kiss Ernesto, she yelled across the floor, “quit lollygagging and get to work—you got customers!”
When Esther herself brought Ernesto the chili he had ordered, Esther told him, “Why are you trying to put the make on that nigger whore!?
“You know I don’t touch any drug addicts and she’s a druggie. But you got a lot of nerve calling someone a nigger whore—Your pimp, Lynn Turner, is a nigger!
“I learned later that Esther was mad at Lori because she thought Lori was screwing Turner.
“To my surprise, Esther slapped me across the mouth. Instinctively I hit her with my fist and she went flying into the kitchen and fell on her knees. I went after her and kicked her as hard as I could between her legs. The dishwasher, Richard Lopez, jumped me and I slammed him up against the washing machine. He bounced off the machine and ran out of the café.
“Esther called the police, but when the customers told him what Esther had done and what she said about Lori, the policeman advised me to leave the café and left.
“Esther wasn’t finished with me yet. She told me that Turner was going to whip my ass for what I had done to her. I didn’t think he had it in him and I told her so, and added that I would wait for him to show up.”
Before long someone came to Ernesto who was still in the El Tango waiting for Turner, and told him that Turner was outside and wanted to see him.
When Ernesto opened the door to meet Turner, Turner pulled out a small revolver, pointed it and pulled the trigger several times. The gun misfired, or it could have been a starter pistol. Ernesto saw nothing but smoke as Turner turned and ran away.
Once again the same policeman visited the El Tango to investigate the attempted murder, but when Ernesto and others said they would sign a complaint against Turner, the officer told Ernesto to get lost. The refusal to file a complaint by police officers is very common in Latino and black neighborhoods. Their motto is “let the bastards kill each other.”
The liquor Ernesto had been consuming off and on all night had its effect on him. He drove back to his house, picked up a 30-40 Springfield rifle and levered five shells into it before returning to the El Tango. He reasoned that Turner would have to come back to the El Tango to pick up Esther, and that would be the time to blow his black ass down the street.
“I reached the parking lot and waited for Turner to show up. After several minutes I noticed Lori leaving for the night.
“I spotted a car driving by slowly on Grand River Avenue across from the El Tango and enter a small parking lot there. I braced myself believing it was Turner. There was a small crowd of young people in the parking lot smoking pot and drinking. I saw Lori moving away from them. I eased the tip of the rifle out the open window of my car and waited to see if it was indeed Turner. Suddenly someone yelled, “Jesus, get down he has a rifle.” The black man who was not Turner dropped to the pavement and rolled under his car for protection and the rest of the crowd scattered, running down the street. Esther immediately called the police.
“I put the rifle back on the seat and covered it with my topcoat and drove down Grand River and turned left on to South Cedar Street where I was cornered by several squad cars.
“I was handcuffed, booked, and charged with carrying a loaded rifle within the city limits with intent to use on the person of another. I thought ‘oh hell it’s just a misdemeanor’, but I was in for a big surprise.”
The first person the police notified was DeLuca. He immediately called Ernesto’s parole officer and requested a parole violation detainer be placed against him. Ernesto also learned that De Luca wanted to charge him under the Habitual Criminal Act.
Ernesto immediately contacted Donald Martin and requested him to take the case. Fortunately, Martin’s wife admired Ernesto’s Cadillac. This made it possible for him to trade his car plus a thousand dollars for Martin’s services.
Martin tried out an idea on his client. How would Ernesto like it, if they sent him back to Wisconsin as a parole violator and then have the Michigan charges dismissed.
“Hell no!” Rodriguez replied. “I know I am going to get the maximum five years here in Michigan, but that’s okay, because whatever time I serve here will have to count towards my sentence in Wisconsin. I would rather do my time here because if I go back now, they may put me back in solitary, This means that If I see Hoeft or Neffstead I will want to kill them and end up serving the rest of my life there. I haven’t forgotten those bastards.”
Rodriguez was placed in the same tank, cell, he’d occupied before, in the Ingham County Jail where some of the prisoners were holdover from his murder charge days.
Several days after Ernesto’s arrival one of his cellmates experienced a very severe headache. The Jail’s doctor, on one of his routine visits, promised the man he’d send a guard around with aspirin. Unfortunately, when the guard showed up with the aspirins he gave the inmate only one tablet, saying that was the doctor’s order. Ernesto quickly interceded and asked for his own aspirin, as did the other prisoners. When the guard left they pooled their pain killers and gave them to the man who needed them. The linking up of the inmates did not go over too well with the guard.
The same guard soon found himself tempering with the prisoner’s food, giving them only half a cup of coffee with their meals. Ernesto made it a point to be first in line for breakfast after the prisoners discovered the short serving and told the guard he wouldn’t take his tray until they served him a full cup of coffee with their meals. When the guard refused, Ernesto forcefully ejected the tray into the corridor, spilling its contents. He was ordered to move out of the way and allow them to serve the other inmates, but he refused to budge and no one was fed. Later that day the jail’s goon squad escorted him and another prisoner to the jail’s segregation cells.
There was a “swamper”, a mop man at the Ingham County Jail named Junior Thronesberry. He was a young white man who came from a family well known for its drug dealings. Junior had watched the guards taking food off Ernesto’s plate and putting It on the plates of their favorite inmates. Junior was in a perfect position to ingratiate himself with Ernesto because as a swamper he had access to every nook and cranny in the jail, and nothing that took place escaped him.
Junior and Ernesto laughter about a prisoner nicknamed Geraldine, a homosexual who had been jailed for impersonating a female, soliciting, and running off with a customer’s pants and wallet.
Junior claimed to Ernesto that Geraldine and another Homosexual by the name of Mrs. Brown were getting a lot of attention from the guards on the second shift, under the pretense of taking them to evening visits with their attorneys. Geraldine and Mrs. Brown and two other homosexuals were escorted to one of the supply room. There the four gays put on a virtuoso performance of sexual perversion for the guards’ great amusement and titillation. Junior who was himself straight, served as the guards’ “jigger man”, their lookout man during their sex orgy.
Jones, the guard who was cheating Ernesto and other prisoners out of their food and coffee, was actively involved in the gay sex ring, the late attorney visit program. He had asked Junior to jigger for him on one occasion when he and Mrs. Brown had a tryst in the supply room. Jones explained to Junior that he wanted Mrs. Brown to perform oral on him. But Junior learned later that Jones wanted Mrs. Brown to fuck him in his butt. Ernesto considered this information extremely important.
For a time Geraldine occupied the cell immediately next to Ernesto. The two men talked, were friendly, until the guards decided it would be best to move Geraldine to a cell where Ernesto could not gather information on the “late attorney visit program.”
Mrs. Brown was in a different unit in the jail and Ernesto didn’t see as much of Brown as he did the other “Queens.” But whenever Mrs. Brown passed Ernesto’s cell he always had a kind word and a smile for him.
Thanks to Ernesto’s poker playing ability, he kept large amount of candy bars and cigarettes. He made sure that Junior would deliver cigarettes and candy to Geraldine and Mrs. Brown, as well as the other queens. Ernesto had a wicked plan and knew that the queens would pay off in the long run.
Ernesto began to line up his ducks and put his wicked plan to work. First he called the cocky and abrasive Jones to his cell. “I know something about you and your pals, something you don’t want me to go public with, so get off by back—do you understand?”
Matters came to a head one afternoon when one of the guards brought his tray of food.
He noticed that for the first time in a long while, he was given a full cup of very hot steaming coffee. It was not only full but it contained a cigarette but floating on the surface.
When Ernesto called the guard’s attention to the cigarette butt, the guard remarked,”I wonder how that got there?”
A split second later the guard screamed when the very hot coffee hit his eyes and ran down his face.
The guards were playing right into Ernesto’s hand. He knew the guards would be back with reinforcement and he was ready for them.
Before long four guards stood in front of Ernesto’s cell. They unlocked the door and swung it open. Ernesto lit up a cigarette and waited—he knew he was in for a good ass whipping. They asked him to step out saying he would be taken to solitary. Ernesto was no fool. He knew the minute he stepped out they would start beating on him, and later claimed he came out fighting and had to be subdued. Ernesto held his ground in front of the cell’s door, and warned the guards, “You may whip my ass but the first one of you who comes through that door is going to get the ass whipping of his life!”
“One of the guards was unexpectedly pushed through the door by the others. I pushed my cigarette into one of his eyes and while he was screaming I fired a right and a left to his face. When he covered his face I went for his rib cage and hit him twice more in the face. The guard’s head hit the metal bars each time he was hit in the face, and this made him pass out and fall to the floor. He did not come out of it until he was in the hospital.
“The second guard was a captain who rushed me. I used his own momentum and slammed him up against the back wall. The third guard came up behind me trying to put a choke hold on me. I dropped my chin and his arm flew into my mouth and I bit into him like a pit bull.
“They overpowered me, whipped my ass and dragged me to solitary.”
After several days passed, which Ernesto used to read several Louis L’Amour westerns and go over his plan, he demanded to see the sheriff, a man named Barnes.
When Barnes stopped by to see what Ernesto wanted, he told Barnes that if the guards insisted on filing charges (and he knew they would) he had a story about his guards he would not believe.
No one heeded Ernesto’s warning and a few days later, after he was released from solitary, he was charged with three assaults against guards. Donald Martin was appointed to represent Ernesto in the preliminary hearing, during which time Martin accused the guards of being involved in homosexual acts at the jail.
After Ernesto returned from his hearing he met with Sheriff Barnes, who brought along a tape recorder. Ernesto supplied the name of witnesses to the late attorney visit program, including Geraldine and Mrs. Brown who proved to be very grateful indeed for the candy and cigarettes. They told all. Ernesto then told the sheriff that the guards came into his cell to beat him because he, Ernesto, had threatened to tell the sheriff on them.
When the cocky little man Jones who had been Ernesto’s tormentor learned that Ernesto had told the entire story, with the help of the queens, to Sheriff Barnes, he threatened to bring his gun to Ernesto’s cell and shoot him.
“Fuck you, you little faggot, you don’t have the balls it takes to kill a man!” and that was the last time Ernesto saw the man who shortchanged him on his food and coffee.
“Some guards don’t seem to get it through their heads that they shouldn’t give inmates a hard time. The inmates have nothing to lose, where guards can lose their jobs—their careers. Inmates can retaliate in many ways, including having an outside friend visit their tormentors or firebombing their homes—they just don’t think inmates have that kind of power, but they do.”
Rumors had it that Jones refused to submit to a lie detector test and was fired on the spot. Others were fired and some placed on probation. The charges against Rodriguez were dropped.
Almost every motion made by Martin was denied and his instructions to the jury failed to give them the option of finding him guilty of reckless use of a firearm, or possessing a loaded rifle within the city limits, both of which were misdemeanors.
DeLuca had coached the witness, a Mr. Jones, a small drug dealer from East Lansing and who worked in a club named The Star, to falsely testify that Ernesto had told him, “Don’t move or I will kill you.”
Exacerbating matters, someone, no doubt Martinez and Arturo, spread rumors to the police department that men armed with machines guns would attempt to free Ernesto somewhere between the jail and courthouse. When Ernesto arrived at the courthouse for sentencing, the judge had taken the rumors seriously and had the building surrounded by police armed with automatic weapons.
When Ernesto arrived at “Jacktown”, known formally as the Southern Prison of Southern Michigan, or SPSM, he found conditions there had, by his standards, had gone to the dogs. Knifings and killings had increased to as many as seven a week. Inmate robberies of other inmates had increased to twenty-five a day. Fear was so great that only a fool would go unarmed or without joining a gang. The biggest and most feared gang were the “Moores”. Hits (assaults) and drugs were the two most popular products in the “Central Complex, which now housed seven thousand inmates instead of the five thousand for which it had been designed.
The Oakland County Prosecutor, L. Brooks Patterson, had sponsored a bill known as “Proposal B” in which violent criminals were not allowed to earn “good time.” The effects of his proposal was to increase the number of attacks on guards who were already perilously close to having no control over the prison inmates. Prison factories were being closed down as places too dangerous to work in. The institution was honeycombed with chain link fences to prevent rioting inmates from reaching places like the hospital, the rotunda, and factories containing valuable machinery.
“Jacktown” was a black man’s prison now, headed by a black warden, Charles E. Anderson. New prisons for white wardens were being built in Kinross, Riverside, Muskegon, and what was known as the “North Complex” in Jackson. Ernesto believes that when prisons become predominantly black, black wardens are put in place to take the blame when the prisons go up in flames!
Shortly after arriving at “Jacktown” Ernesto took a job as a reporter with the prison paper, The Spectator. It was in that capacity that he reported on a meeting of Hispanic inmates with a man named Bob Carson, Carson, an Anglo appointed by Gilberto Martinez, was paid to run the prison program proposed by Rodriguez when he worked for Quinto Sol, and Ernesto was outraged that Martinez had not hired a Hispanic, but hired an Anglo instead.
Ernesto went further and baited Carson, asking him why he and Martinez and others from Quinto Sol had tried to frame him for the murder of DeLaPaz—he was sure inmates knew about the case as they read the news papers all the time to see who gets cracked for what.
Ernesto knew how much prisoners hate stoolies and informers, and implied that Carson was one of the breed and that put an end to his effectiveness. It didn’t take the inmates long to tell Carson to get out and stay out. The inmates further said that they did not want anything to do with Gilberto Martinez either, because Martinez, on the premise of getting them legal assistance had collected twelve hundred dollars from the prisoners, pocketed the money, and gave them nothing in return.
The Hispanic newspaper in Lansing picked up on the story written by Ernesto concerning Carson and Martinez and there after it was not long before Quinto Sol, and Martinez were under F.B.I. Investigation. As a consequence, funding was cut off for Quinto Sol and Martinez was forced to flee as a totally discredited con man. Revenge was sweet for Ernesto.
About three months after Ernesto’s arrival at Jackson he was transferred to the Riverside Correctional Facility, a mental institution which had been converted to a prison.
During his short stay at Riverside Rodriguez painted a mural eight feet by twenty-four feet in the dining room. And he also employed his jail house lawyer skills to good effect on behalf of an Elsie Mae Henderson in the prison at Ypsilanti. Elsie Mae had been convicted of attempted murder. Her attorney had lost their appeal, but Ernesto spotted the errors in the case. Thanks to his efforts, Elsie Mae’s twenty-five to fifty year sentence was reversed and she walked out of prison a free woman.
In June of 1978 Ernesto requested to be moved to the Kinross Prison Facility in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The relaxed atmosphere created a spirit of free enterprise and it wasn’t long before he and a good friend were doing a brisk drug business.
“I fell into the drug business partnership because the man who was receiving the marijuana was weak and afraid that tougher inmates would take the weed from him. He knew I had what it takes to deal drugs—that killer instinct. Plus I had a reputation of being honest.”
“Rats looking for a way out of prison are plentiful in any prison. I was searched several times. During one of their searches the guards found a few pin joints hidden in my personal property. From that point on I was considered a drug kingpin. I had my suspicions that an inmate whose nick name was “Dirty Red” had fingered me.
Ernesto’s comfortable life didn’t last as long as he had hoped. As he was walking back to his room one afternoon, Ernesto’s drug runner whose nick name was “The Roadrunner,” approached him. “I got that motherfucker, Dirty Red, Roadrunner announced. “Bashed him real good with a big rock up side his head. The last time I saw him he was thrashing around on the ground.” Ernesto ordered his stash man to give the Roadrunner fifty pin joints for his troubles.
Ernesto was immediately suspected of the attack and shipped back to Jackson’s North Complex, where he took a swamper’s job because the job allowed him to run all over the institution, he could keep his door open until ten P.M., and he only had one half hour’s work to do during the day.
Much to Ernesto’s surprise, he received a letter from a lady who claimed her boyfriend had been a good friend of Ernesto, She explained that he had passed away and wanted to know they could correspond with each other. Her boyfriend had told her many good things about him, and she would be please to visit him.
Ernesto saw an opportunity to improve his marketing skills with the help of this lady, Donna Gomez. He decided he would no longer sell marijuana by the “joints” but move up one level by selling it by the ounces. He was sure he could talk Mrs. Gomez to become his “mule”, his carrier.
Ernesto would give Donna five hundred dollars to buy a pound of good marijuana, Columbian Gold, Red Bud, or whatever was available. He instructed her not to pay for the marijuana unless she tested it and it was good. He could not take a chance of ruining his business. Donna made sure she took a friend and both of them tested the product before buying. The marijuana would then be delivered to a swamper in the visiting area. The packets came in three to four ounces. The swamper was paid fifty dollars on delivery of the marijuana. He also knew if he shorted the packet or failed to deliver, he would be stabbed.
Ernesto found a buyer for his marijuana. He decided to finance a man by the name of “Woody” for the first three ounces but after that it was cash or no deal. Woody would pay Ernesto one hundred and twenty dollars an ounce, or about seven dollars a gram. Woody managed to get about nine pin joints out of each gram, and sold them for two dollars each, or for a total of two-hundred and eighty-eight dollas an ounce. One must remember that Woody had to take chances Ernesto didn’t—being robbed or getting busted.
Ernesto also talked Woody into playing poker with five other players. Ernesto, who knew how to cheat at poker and often used marked cards, would take Woody’s hard earned money every time they played.
Ernesto shared his money with Donna who had also become his banker, with a bank account in Lansing holding Ernesto’s money. Donna’s share of the profits enabled her to buy a Ford LTD and leather jackets for her and her two kids, a boy and a girl.
Accordingly she was more than a mule. There were two bathrooms in the visiting room, one for men and one for women. The guards never went near the bathrooms. So it was easy to sneak in for a quickie—Ernesto had his share of sex. Additionally several of the visiting women became pregnant during this time.
In early January, 1980, Warden Charles Anderson sent Ernesto a note stating that he was scheduled for release from the Michigan prison on March 14th. Unfortunately, the state of Wisconsin had a detainer on him for parole violation.
However, the night before Ernesto’s discharge he received notice from the United State District Judge Avern Cohn that the prison would hold Rodriguez until the judge decided whether the state of Michigan was obliged to extradite him or not. The next morning, on the 14th, two Wisconsin guards with chains and a plane ticket showed up at the North Complex hoping to get their hand on Rodriguez. They were turned away, sputtering and pissed.
On May 20th Judge Avern denied Ernesto’s petition, suggesting that he would be advised to seek his freedom from the Wisconsin courts. A week or two later two guards from Wisconsin arrived to escort him back to Waupun.
Ernesto knew that his mandatory release date was March 6th, that he would get out of prison then, if he didn’t have any new charges filed against him.
Much to Ernesto’s surprise he was placed in the quarantine cell of the Northwest Cell Block, a sure sign, he thought that he would be returned to the general population, and not placed in solitary.
By the time Ernesto walked to breakfast the word was out that he was back. To some he was a legend. Other prisoners pointed to him and smiled and another group greeted him by name. Ernesto smiled and nodded to them, but he was preoccupied by his search for Hoeft and Neffstead, the two Segregation tormentors he would happily kill. Where, he wondered, were they.
It wasn’t long before the grapevine supplied the answer. Neffstead, according to the grapevine and old timers, had had his head fractured badly by an inmate who used a horseshoe for a weapon. Neffstead’s brain was injured, they said, and he walked around talking to himself, unable to hold a job he had been transferred to. It was thought that he died a year later. Hoeft had left the Segregation building and taken a job out west somewhere with another institution, but neither man was any longer in the Waupun prison.
Two of Ernesto’s other tormentors, Roger Crist and Harvey Winans, were also gone. Crist had gone to Montana where, the grapevine reported, he was stabbed shortly after his arrival. Crist next became Secretary of Corrections for the State of New Mexico, a position he took shortly before the Santa Fe penitentiary erupted in the bloodiest riot of them all. When he headed Corrections Crist hired Winans, his old pal from Waupun, to be the warden at “The Devil’s Butchershop”, as Roger Morris has described the Santa Fe prison in his book by that name.
Winans was not accustomed to dealing with large numbers of Hispanics and they considered his actions blatantly racist. According to rumors, they firebombed his office several times and Winans wisely decided to leave the state of New Mexico and return to Wisconsin, where he eventually supervised the “Bunk House”, a dormitory for the Waupun prison’s nearby farm. Roger Crist was fired from his New Mexico job, but later bobbed up in a more minor corrections job in Arizona.
Rodriguez took on the job of assistant editor of the prison newspaper, The Waupun World, signed up for a paralegal course taught by a black lifer named Danny Shears, and an art class taught by Pat Ogren. In his capacity as a reporter, Ernesto attended a banquet given by the European Culture Group.
It was a banquet which was to change all the years remaining to him, it was on this occasion that he met a young, pretty divorcee named Penny Christenson. He had been talking to another inmate when Penny tapped him on the shoulder.
“Pardon me”, she said. “Are you Mr. Rodriguez?” Ernesto replied, “I certainly hope so. I would not want to be doing all this time for someone else!”
Rodriguez followed her to a table where she was sitting with two of her friends, Judy Kitell, and Mary Jean Royce. They talked about an art show that a group of inmates and ex-offenders were putting on for the benefit of an outfit known as the Organization for Justice and Human Rights.
Penny, it turned out, was the Director of the Education and Action project of the Benedict Center for Criminal Justice in Milwaukee. She was eager to have Ernesto sell some of his paintings at their art show and had no difficulty in persuading him to do so.
Not long after Ernesto met Penny, he was interviewed by the Parole Board, which refused him a parole, claiming he was “a menace to society”. In the parole plan Ernesto had requested that he be paroled to Michigan because so much of his family lived there. That, the parole board explained, was impossible in view of the fact that they had in their possession a letter from David Hollister and Gilberto Martinez which said that Rodriguez had threatened to kill them when he returned to Michigan. Martinez and Hollister, an Ingham County Supervisor allied with Martinez, were afraid of Ernesto and had invented the threat.
Ernesto was not concerned that his parole request had been turned down because his mandatory release date was coming up soon, in matter of a few months.
Not long after the meeting with the parole Board a telex arrived crediting Ernesto with ninety-eight days of county jail time In Madison Wisconsin. With that break, Ernesto would be released from Waupun on November 29th, 1980. He immediately called Penny who agreed to pick him up at the prison.
Ernesto could not stand wearing the prison issue he had been given and they decided to stop at the Capitol Court Shopping center in Milwaukee to buy new clothing. Afterwards they decided on Kalt’s, a restaurant on Oakland Avenue which Penny liked. Amidst Christmas decorations, the two sipped their drinks and feasted on filet mignon.
After reporting to his parole officer at the Kennilworth Street they headed out to Penny’s apartment at 1919 North Cambridge Avenue. This is when Penny told Ernesto that she had been contacted by a Madison parole officer who wanted to know if the relationship was a sponsorship and “platonic”. “So far”, Penny had informed him, which was the truth.
It didn’t take Penny long to learn that Ernesto had never read Plato—he thought it was just another position.
Penny and Ernesto’s life together was tumultuous. They quarreled, they separated, and came back together again. Most of their contretemps—if that’s the right word—took place after they moved from Cambridge Avenue to a lower complex near the corner of Booth and Meinecke streets in Milwaukee, better known as “the core” area.
Ernesto, with Penny’s help, succeeded in getting a job with the Milwaukee Courier, a black newspaper, and on weekends he would often go to the United Community Center on the South side on 9th street across from Walker’s Square Park. In the park Ernesto set up an easel and art supplies which he used to teach young Hispanic children how to sketch.
And it was there that he met Barbara Maxwell, a skilled courtroom artist and consultant. Barbara worked for channel 12 T.V. Unbeknownst to Ernesto, had watched him sketch and liked his work. It was the beginning of a friendship that led to Ernesto becoming a courtroom artist for channel 4 T.V. Many people thought Ernesto had gotten the job because Penny’s distant cousin, Johnny McCollough, was the station’s evening news anchorman of long standing. That was not true; it had been Barbara’s idea.
In the fall of 1983 Ernesto woke up and decided that he and Penny had spent too much time arguing, quibbling, and fighting. He was going to turn over a new leaf. When he announced his revolutionary intentions, Penny, sensing he really meant it, countered by proposing marriage.
They were married in October of 1983. Their many friends turned out in force to celebrate one of Ernesto’s few smart decisions.
One of the many interests the two of them shared is, of course, the treatment of offenders. Both Penny and Ernesto are heavily engaged in programs and activities which involved juvenile counseling, prisoner rehabilitation, and better prison conditions. In recognition of their community service, Governor Anthony Earl appointed Ernesto to his Council on Hispanic Affairs and overseer of Wisconsin prisons as well as appointing Penny to the Patients’ Compensation Panel.
Ernesto’s indemonstrable mother, Jesusa died in October of 1987 at the age of eighty-three. Fortunately Jesusa lived long enough to see happiness and constructive accomplishments drive violence from her son’s lifestyle.
Summary in Ernesto’s own words: “There is no doubt in my mind that I was destined to confront my death inside the iron cage. It was a miracle that I survived my tormented journey, to hell and back, and live to tell the story—it was not meant to be! If I had my life to live over again, I would choose a more peaceful coexistence with my fellow human beings. If I had to relive my prison journey, I would not change anything except to carry a bigger torch and use it to destroy anything that has to do with prisons. Correctional workers are sexual predators, undereducated, evil, corrupted, and sadistic. The only skills they have are to live off the misery of their fellow human beings—they are the scum of the earth!”
Ernesto and Penny are now divorced but they remain, to this day, the best of friends. Penny lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is still active in prison matters. Ernesto lives in Florida, where he enjoys the white sandy beaches, the great variety of palm trees and Florida’s wildlife. But there is no doubt that his frequent prison nightmares will follow him into his grave.