July 19th, 2012 Comments Off on Mauston’s City Limits
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.