By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Lockdown! And They Mean It
The last day of March, my friend and cellmate of more than a year suddenly decides he wants to move out. I didn’t really know why, but it didn’t bother me much that I would have the cell to myself for a while. Then the very next day… here it comes.
April 1, 2020 – We go in for the evening, all is not as it appears, but the staff knew what the plan was. While I was looking forward to a couple days with no cellie, little did anyone suspect we would all would be on lockdown in our cells for the next 4 months. The Covid-19 pandemic had arrived and with no cellmate, it would be just me and Booger to ride it out alone.
So the next day when we are all unsure what is going on, they brought in food carts and fed us off of styrofoam trays thru the bean slot in the door. The unit manager comes around and slides a piece of paper under everyone’s door. It’s a government memorandum and it says we are being locked down as a precautionary step due to the pandemic and that review of this lock down would be in 2 weeks. We would be let out for showers three times a week and phones would be brought to the cells in a rotation on a daily basis. End of memo.
Now for weeks we had been under modified operations. All the units were separated and they were trying to figure out what and how to run Unicor. That ended up a total cluster bomb, and they started taking only select inmates to work on a bare bones detail intended to isolate the units and the people from other units from each other, but basically we were in the cells 24/7 with a tentative review date now re-instituted to be “upon the director’s notice.” Meaning indefinite lockdown.
After a while I built a little routine for keeping busy. I would sleep till around 7 a.m. then get up, wash the tray they slid in at me earlier, have coffee (instant made with hot tap water), and listen to a radio program for a couple hours. After that, I would read till lunch, eat lunch, and then do at least an hour of exercises with the blue rubber exercise band someone gave me years ago as “therapy” for my back. Well I’ll tell ya, out of all the wacky contrived methods of use I came up with for the thing, I never once found one that could even remotely be called “for my back.” But hey, I’m locked down by myself with no company except Booger and even he wasn’t keen on the pandemic lockdown, told me “I’m outa here” and ran off to play with his friend the scruffy prison cat.
Anyway, after the massive non workout with the huge rubber band I would generally wash up again and sit over by the door to watch the TV I can see from my cell door window. I’m in the very end cell on the tier so I’m only able to see the one television but trust me one is enough even when you can listen to others every day. It had its special programs and best of all I liked the movies when it would get put on a movie channel in the evening by one of the men who just happened to possess that most sacred of prison tools, the TV remote.
These dudes are like rock stars, only disrespectful. See they think nothing about changing a program in the middle of it without any consideration to anyone else, basically because they are locked in and no one “can tune them up” for it, and secondly, they have the ever-powerful remote. These are the men I truly came to despise while on lockdown but now and again, just once in a while they would get into remote wars, one would change it, another would change it back, then on and on, back and forth it would go till eventually they settled on a neutral channel. This I didn’t mind because inevitably the final channel in the battle was better than either of the others. Smile. So I’m kind of “into” the war, and every now and then I would yell thru the crack in the door, “Change it, change it, change it,” just to try to get a battle started. I know, purely selfish and definitely self-serving but hey, it’s a lock down and I can be as selfish as the next guy.
so there is that, and then there are the staff members who are forced by the administration to act like they have a reason to siphon off hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers money. Like the psychology department, these fine upstanding BOP employees come daily to walk around the units looking in the door and asking, “Are you ok?” Now please don’t bother to say “No” or want to vent any frustrations because they didn’t have either the time or the patience to listen much less any solution to any problem to render. Some genius in the department decided they could slide puzzles under the doors and by doing so justify their $60,000 salaries.
So it was then decreed that a word search or a sudoku or some such paper puzzle would be at least weekly and mysteriously slid under the door by an entity that at that point didn’t even need to see if you were ok, because they had amazingly enough cured your every psychological problem with a puzzle. Thank the heavens for these brilliant and able essential government employees. Now, you may thinking, how does this have anything to do with his spiritual development? Well, forsooth, I will avail you of the link. See these people were so transparently non-caring about our welfare in these cages for a month, two, three, four at a time, that, for me at least, it took great patience and unbending faith in the Creator in his ways and works that I would be able to make it thru even their escapades and antics without melting down.
So I prayed for the strength to keep my thoughts about them to myself and allow the Creator to help me see my way past the frustration and angst they produced in me with their puzzles and condescending attitudes and platitudes that I could hear them sometimes offer or belittle others with thru the door. I’m sure that by now you have discerned that I do not suffer being treated as if I am unworthy of genuine kindness and humane treatment.
There were other daily or weekly fun-filled adventures to help us pass the hours while locked down. One of the very best times was watching the cop roll in with the food cart. He turned around and let go of it. Then the thing kept rolling, right down two steps and turned over right in front of my cell. Awesome! The best part was watching him try to explain what had happened when the lieutenant came to see why he needed 120 more trays to feed us! So all in all, I somehow managed to stay sane or kinda sane.
By late summer the compassionate release program was under way. I applied for a pro bono attorney through FAMM, a prisoner advocacy organization, and a law firm out of Chicago picked me to represent. I truly believed I was going home and writing back and forth with them ate up the last month of the 1st lockdown.
Here comes a slight break, we were to be let out into the common area and allowed to get our own meals from the food carts when they came in, one tier at a time , single file, 1 tray each, don’t try to snag an extra or the tray police will definitely put you in prison, but then again, who would want a second one. It would be almost 5 months before we had a hot meal; they were endlessly cold upon arrival. But here we go, a bit more freedom, now we can use the phones on the wall, the computers as we want to and its better than being locked down all the time, but still no outside activities and no religious services; that was the hardest on me. I am fully capable of prayer in solitude, but it’s always better with a brother or two.
Then along comes a guy, Sterling, who is having problems with his cellmate, “Walks, he says, “Can I move in with you?” Said he was going home soon and he didn’t want to get into trouble and his current situation is, “Gonna make me want to fight this guy.”
So I let him move in. Sterling has since gone home. He was ok and was with me for a couple months, then moved to another unit for work purposes. With him went another guy, so Jason now had no cellie and rather than take the luck of the draw, he agreed to move in with me. Jason was a good cellie, quiet and unassuming, smart enough to talk with and a wealth of information about cell phones and computers and all the techno stuff I’m trying to learn before I need to deal with it.
Now it’s October, there’s another outbreak of Covid and we go back under strict lockdown – back in the cells, not getting out for anything but 15/30 minutes to shower, get ice and that’s it. This goes on for a couple more months. People in the unit are coming down with Covid, staff is bringing it in and all of a sudden I don’t feel so good. I start with a cough that just keeps getting worse. The cough becomes so frightening that I’m scared. I’m hacking all night and all day long. Then this nasty yellow-green phlegm.
I had been here before but never this bad. I have COPD and I figured right off, I had pneumonia, but I knew I had to tough it out because if I say anything they will take me out of my cell and put me in the hole – no property no anything, and certainly no better medical care. Medical is horrible at best in here, so I keep my mouth shut. I know living with me was real hard on Jason, my cellie. He was young and healthy, but he thought I was going to die. Then they decide to let us back out on the flats and Jason moved the first chance he could. I was as sick as I have ever been and ended up with a real nightmare in the making…
DYING ALL OVER AGAIN Verse 1: So you say ya wanna start over again Call it water under the bridge I don’t think I can do that for you I’m dying all over again. Chorus: Yea, it’s a sticky situation Please forgive me if I laugh (HA HA HA HA) When the walls of this ship come tumbling down I come out with a rope, dying all over again. Verse 2: Does the hate pierce your skin? Going back, where do we begin? On my belly at the bottom of the sea Trying to find my way back to me. Chorus – Lead Verse 3: I walk down this lonely road With you on my mind The wind cries out your name It sends chills down my spine. Chorus: Yea, it’s a sticky situation Please forgive me if I laugh (HA HA HA HA) When the walls of this ship come tumbling down I come out with a rope, dying all over again. Dying All Over Again lyrics © Steven Maisenbacher (Walks on the Grass)
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