The way it works at Baypoint Federal Country Club for Wayward Males, guys sometimes throw their buddies who are checking out a going-away party, and invite the D.O's to join in. Everyone acts all chummy, guzzling Dom, firing up the Cohibas, playing Texas Hold 'Em for real hard-on money, and letting the good times roll.
It's not like that at most prisons. At most prisons the guards lord over inmates, treat them like scum, sweeten their lousy state-tit paychecks by muling in merchandise. Skin magazines and dope, those are the major franchises at the low-rent lockups, with cell phones grabbing a chunk of the action---a year contract paid in advance and a flat two hundred and fifty dollars going to the D.O. who sets it up on the outside. Then the D.O. goes home to his double-wide trailer and his Dish Network TV, feeling smug and in control, thinking his tiny little life beats anything the cons can ever hope to have.
But things are different at Federal Prison Camp/Baypoint, where the alumni ranks are swollen with premium-grade white-collar criminals including, at last count, two former U.S. congressmen, a past president of the Florida Senate, and enough fallen financiers to staff an M.B.A. program in advanced corporate swindling. At Baypoint, the D.O.'s lack leverage.
They're just chambermaids with too much testosterone. Because it's not like they can build any equity by catering to inmate cravings. Whole different crowd. Baypointers enjoyed the good life before they got caught and fully intend to start enjoying it again the moment they get out. There's nothing they really need, and even if there were, they wouldn't obligate themselves to the hired help.
So what you have at Baypoint is the D.O.'s being serious suck-ups and go-fers and actually thinking that once the Mr. Bigs get back into circulation they will look kindly upon the cheerful detention officer who used to bring fresh towels and fix the leaky toilet. Maybe find a place for him in their organization. Like that ever happens.
No one threw me a bubbly send-off. No slaps on the back, no thirty-dollar cigars. And the D.O. escorting me through all the graduation-day rigamarole---a pork loaf name of Fairbanks---was definitely not playing brown-nose. Mainly because he and all the other guards thought they had me figured---just an aging jock, a bottom-feeder among the Baypoint elite, someone who'd pissed away what little he'd had, and wound up at Baypoint instead of a lowlier joint where he belonged only because he had charmed someone with a little clout. That she was a beautiful someone ticked them off even more.
I had made all the stops, collected my exit papers, and Fairbanks was ushering me into Building A, the "transition lobby," with its fake leather furniture, and ficus trees dropping leaves in every corner. Two other D.O.'s were manning a counter by the last set of doors between me and the great wide open. They traded talk with Fairbanks as we walked up, making me stand there a minute, then two, playing their D.O. mind games. One of them was this black dude named Williams and the other was this pimply young white guy didn't look like he could have been more than two years out of high school. Probably brand new on the job, still developing his style, paying close attention to the older guys and mirroring the way they did it.
Williams finally glanced sideways at me and grumbled, "Put your bags on the counter, Chasteen."
"No bags," I said.
Which got me the full turn-around from Williams. He raised up from his swivel chair and looked me over.
"Mean to tell me you're leaving here and you ain't got nothing?"
"Just my good looks."
"Shit, then you really are traveling light, Chasteen. Let's see your papers."
I gave them to him. Williams ran them one-by-one over a green-light scanner, the pimply kid taking them and sticking them in a see-through plastic pouch that also contained my driver's license, birth certificate, and passport.
"You're supposed to ask me first," I said to the kid.
"Ask you what?"
"Do I want paper or plastic..."
The kid was glaring now, only his glaring skills were still pretty lame. I kept looking at him until he looked away.
Williams jerked his head toward the doors.
"Chariot's waiting, Chasteen."
I looked outside. A hundred yards away, beyond a Bahia grass lawn turning brown against the sun and a ten-foot chain-link fence topped with concertina wire, sat a big black SUV. One of those Cadillac Escalades it looked like---the only vehicle in the visitor's parking lot.
"You sure that's here for me?"
"Guy driving it asked for you," said Williams. "Figured he was here to pick you up."
"Yeah," said Williams. "Two of 'em, as a matter of fact."
Fairbanks said, "They your boyfriends, Chasteen?"
I let it slide. I was trying to figure out who was sitting inside the Escalade. I wasn't expecting two guys to pick me up. I was expecting Barbara. She was the beautiful someone. Just thinking about her gave me...
Put it this way: Baypoint might be the Ritz-Carlton of prisons, but the top brass cuts no slack when it comes to conjugal visits. You have to be married. To each other. No license, no nooky. And no amount of bribery could change that. I'd tried.
One year, nine months, and twenty-three days. That's how long it had been. One short stretch for a monk, one giant gulch for my kind.
I grabbed the plastic pouch that held my papers and turned toward the door.
Fairbanks said, "We'll leave the porch light on for ya, Chasteen. So you can find your way back."
"That's sweet, Fairbanks. I'll leave the porch light on for you, too."
"So you'll know where to deliver my pizza."
The doors jolted open, and I left the three of them standing there, Williams saying, "Smart ass walking..."
Copyright 2004 by Bob Morris