Gary a note!
Disclaimer: Author must here assert unequivocally his right to remain detached from the goings-on in this piece. Further, the author can't possibly know any of the histories of the participants nor be familiar with any, undoubtedly horrific crimes that may have been attributed in the past to inmates and guards here mentioned. The author is just as wide-eyed as you are and wishes you to know that. But to tell a story about childish doings in the Florida Department of Corrections, the author has temporarily sunk to a despairing level of...something...
...and, well, the atmosphere I found myself in at both New River "C."I. West then East serves to indicate how far I'd fallen since the Federal Bureau of Prisons took a shit on my head.
The following piece was written last spring, but for reasons that will become apparent, I was reluctant to mail if off. I only have 16 teeth left; I wanted to keep them.
I've changed a few names here, but not the hero's name. And I rewrote everything in past tense.
Explanatory Notes: The word 'nigger' is used a lot in prison. I don't know why, exactly. It's a vocal ideogram that's become fashionable inside, and the root word of a lexicon as common as cornflakes. Color is not the determining factor, either (although it's one of them), when deciding to call someone "my nigga." I am obliged to report here that I, a fifty-year-old white guy, have been "my nigga" plenty of times. It's sometimes a term of bonding, sometimes used derisively, and almost always demeaning, although not in the way you might expect. "Hey, my nigga!" means something like: "Hi, asshole. You're a nigger just like I'm a nigger, so don't get uppity!" The term is not easy to get used to and, I'm told, infuriates members of the black middle class, who have spent so many years teaching Americans not to use the word.
I am a federal prisoner being held by the state of Florida now, by the way. And in the feds there was a more diverse population. F.C.I. Texarkana, my former federal home, was 70% Central American, so the term "nigger" was not as ubiquitous. But in the Florida D.O.C., and especially when I was an inmate of "the triangle" (F.S.P. Work Camp and New River "C."I. in Starke/Raiford), everyone around me was a nigger, except of course the black guards. They were African Americans, which fact is the drawstring for my story here, a story about Florida "Crackers" and "Niggas" on 'a 'pound'." It's also about an African American hack with an enigmatic mind the scope of which did not in the least boggle me, and a Thor-like body which did.
I call this tale:
BOOING UP BECRAFT(...in which an inmate gets Dead Serious.)
When I lived in the feds I rarely saw a fight. Didn't happen, or if it did it was likely to be serious, with lacerations and makeshift weapons and all the rest: Screaming, blood, broken bones, a stretcher, a condolence call to the family, a request for the right to cremate.
But at New River East in Raiford, Florida, there were fights every day. Fights all the time. Fights like undercard bouts. Get-down-and-boogie fights where nothing in particular was happening, then suddenly two guys would flair up and Bim, Bam, Boom, it was ON! And in the year I lived there, there was only one death. Imagine that.
When I was housed in D-dorm we averaged one or two fights a week for all of November, December, January, February and March. No one seemed to sustain much damage, it was forgotten in an hour or so, and I never saw anyone go to the hole for duking it out with another inmate. The guards sat in their locked offices and looked through the glass. They made polite wagers among themselves. They left the combatants alone. A guard would throw you in the hole for serious offenses like having too many t-shirts in your laundry bag or hiding pictures of naked ladies in your locker, but for fighting he wouldn't do a thing.
The last little tussle I witnessed was between a noisy, rude, piece-a-shit-who-thought-he-was-running-something named Rooster, and an up-and-coming welterweight named Coleman. It was no contest. In three quick rounds Coleman had Rooster slumped on his locker spitting and slobbering and vowing to get even. He never did. Coleman would have beat him up again. Coleman was tough. He'd learned his moves in the army, where he was involved with martial arts. He once tried to explain them to me, but I couldn't follow much of what he said, so I won't go into that here. I don't know how to spell the words anyway, and I wouldn't have a clue where to put all the apostrophes. K'ing P'hu or T'ai Qu'an D'o, or wha't e'v'e'r'...Anyway, nobody was seriously hurt. Rooster learned some manners, and in a day or two everything was forgotten.
But within a system like the Florida D.O.C. a man can get a reputation that follows him. He can become so well know as a badass that he metamorphoses into a target sometimes, and sometimes even a target for the guards - the ones who want to prove something or who enjoy beating on inmates.
So it was no surprise, then, that right there at New River East there was just such a convict - sort of a throwback - who'd been christened and occasionally had to deal with it. His name was Michael Becraft, the Michael Becraft, and one Tuesday he was forced to go toe-to-toe with the baddest hack on 'a 'pound, the famous Sergeant Dead Serious.
"Noooo..." you might say, "not Dead Serious!"
And I would say, "Don't get smarty-pants! This is not so funny!"
It's not so funny because at New River East, Sgt. Dead Serious was the main Catch dog, which is the term in the Florida D.O.C. for the guard who does the dirty work.
It's not talked about, of course, but every one of these compounds might have a Catch dog.
At New River, Sgt. Dead Serious was one of a trio or so of psychopaths who were called upon when a con needed to be taught a lesson, or when the con's family was being troublesome, or when an in-house fuckup was in danger of being exposed. Catch dogs grow into the profession. They begin to make their own decisions regarding corporal punishment. They have fun. Most Catch dogs enjoy chaining a man up, taking him into a little room, knocking him around, making him do things naked or in funny costumes and humiliating him for entertainment purposes. At New River East there was even a scandal a few years back when the phalanx of Catch dog-like guards working in lockdown were making inmates crawl around on their hands and knees in their underwear. The inmates had to bark like dogs or something.
But Dead Serious wasn't a jokester. He'd earned his nickname, all joking aside, by being seriously serious in a sort of weight-forward-on-the-balls-of-the-feet, ready for action, deadly serious way. Think of a Rottweiler straining against his leash. Overt physicality was his thing, and swinging his powerful arms, popping a fist into a palm, snapping and manipulating his obsessively flexing fingers, calling everyone "chief," and squashing the occasional inmate like a bug was what he lived for. He was the industry's pride and joy, the Catch dog of Catch dogs, an evolutionary regression and more, because he was a black man who was so insecure or so dumb that the Florida Crackers on the staff were able to manipulate him. All the inmates called him the house nigger, a term I'd heard before on another compound that described a similar animal in the D.O.C. zoo.
And by the way, he was only a few feet tall, extremely short, which may be why he had such an attitude. He was short, but he was five feet wide and built like a backhoe. He must have eaten lots of vitamins and big slabs of liver. Tuna fish by the ton. Reports of his steroid use were all over the compound, as well as unverified tales of his feats in the weight room. The rumor was that along with his deadly serious use of growth enhancers and his weight lifting regimen, he also taught martial arts at some unnamed studio. Whether any of the stories were true or not didn't matter. Sgt. Dead Serious bristled with menace and would be the last man on earth I'd want to pal around with.
Note: Inmates and guards had both told me that Dead Serious was into steroid cycles. I have no idea if that was true, but throughout the triangle and especially across the street at Florida State Prison, there was (and is) a big problem with uncontrolled roid rage among guards. My neighbor in G-dorm, an 18 year veteran convict of the area, told me tales of skinny young uniforms (sons or grandsons of guards) just beginning their rites of passage as newly employed officers, fearfully walking the corridors all stick-insect insecure, then bulking up overnight on steroids, bragging about it, losing their cool a few times over tiny things (testosteronic overload), eventually becoming mountains of angry muscle with no brain to accompany all that power. I myself have had RHOID rage a time or two, but rhoids and roids are two different things.
Anyway, if I chose not to kick the bobo with Dead Serious, you can well understand why. Inmate Michael Becraft, predictably enough, thought the same way. At no time had he ever considered making ol' D.S. his buddy. He was not friendly with the staff, and he did not give a hoot whether anyone on the staff liked it or not. He would take your K'ung F'u, tie it in a k'not, and sho've it up your a'ss. He wasn't trying to prove anything, he said, he just wanted to be left alone.
And Michael Becraft wasn't the monstrous, bulging, weight-pile type of guy you're imagining right now, either. His unremarkable angles and lumps added up to a rather unimpressive 5'11" and 200 pounds. He looked more like a mechanic than a maniac unless he took his shirt off and exposed his prison tats. But he'd been down long enough to enjoy a certain encumbancy - this wasn't his first dance - and he would have rather fought than be dandled by just any Tom, Dick, or Dead Serious with a mind to knock the smile off his face.
So on the first morning of Spring, 2000, when three of New River East's finest stood together on the sidewalk in front of the inmate clinic and waylaid Mr. Becraft as he passed by on his way to work, Mr. Becraft was annoyed.
"What's up, fuckboy?" said big fat Sergeant Godwank, who blocked Becraft's way and smiled.
"Waid, you should'a seen it," Becraft told me later. "They got in my face and wanted to know about me bein' a bad mutha' fukka over at F.S.P. Right in my face. Then Dead Serious walks up an' joins 'em and they all just stare at me with those stupid, country-fried grins."
Michael said a lot more, but you get the picture. It was like a day at the petting zoo, except he was the animal. It was also just for show. Most prison guards are not driven to discovery. They don't wish to know the origins of the universe or how fish fornicate or why a three-legged table doesn't wobble. If they were ever the slightest bit inspired, they wouldn't have become prison guards. Never-the-less, a spark of primate curiosity feeds the frontal lobe now and again, and Becraft's reputation must have worked its way through the cheese. The need to know was puddling at the group's feet. It was time for a boo. Godwank and the others were positively oily with loathing, like bullies in the school yard. And Godwank must have thought at the time: "...hmm, maybe we can convince our boy Dead Serious to beat this asshole up."
"I said, what's up fuckboy?" he repeated, breathing all over Michael, casting his shadow, looming like the Goodyear Blimp on point.
"You a badass, inmate, or one a them F.S.P. fuckboys?" sneered Sgt. Pyle, thumbs in his belt loops, flecks of Redman staining his teeth.
"Big, bad, Becraft," remarked Captain Pissgums from the back of the group. His face was shiny with pimples. He was tall and soft and easily entertained.
Dead Serious, as was his way, was silent. His silence wasn't a calm silence, though. Never. His silence was noisy with passion - A silent, hormonal rage. He popped a fist into a palm, his neck swelled out like a rooster's, he snapped his fingers angrily, "Rouf!" he almost barked.
So Becraft looked at the officers and said: "Whaddafuck, shitpile 'a cocksuckers, looks like to me. Crackers, niggers, fuck you, your wife, your goddamn dog..." and so on. He smiled good naturedly and kept on walking, detouring around the group.
Sgt. Godwank turned to Dead Serious. "You gonna let that inmate call you a nigger?"
One minute later a barely contained Sgt. Dead Serious, eyes blood red with drug-induced hypertension, escorted Becraft down the sidewalk, turned him right and then right again, and shoved him into the "Captain's Office," which term was a laughable misnomer designating a privately ingressed room right next to the inmate canteen, that was in fact Dead Serious's playpen, sometimes even an arena, where he could get a little privacy with his inmates. The big (but short), dumb sergeant entered directly behind his intended victim, slammed the door, turned, and without any warning drew back and punched the intended victim in the side of the head with his big, hammy, angry fist.
So Michael Becraft, as he said he would do, beat the finger-snapping, fist-popping Hell out of the big (but short), dumb sergeant. He positively took it to the surprised, ducking and bobbing and constantly bucking up, muscle-bound moron, who, as he was getting repeatedly pounded by one then another and yet another perfectly timed blow, an olio of knuckles as it were, kept shouting things like, "Wait!" and "Stop a minute!" and "mmmf, ugh! and so on...
You see, fight fans, Dead Serious had been so convinced of his own superiority, he'd neglected to chain Becraft up. Let us all bow our heads.
When the door finally opened and the three other white officers walked in, their grins were quickly replaced by confusion. They'd been outside the door listening, and what they'd heard was the opposite of what they now saw.
Inmate Becraft was smiling, leaning against the wall. "What up, dogs?" he said, sucking his teeth contemptuously...
...while Dead Serious was holding his knees, panting, not so casually ensconced behind a desk.
Note: This kind of moment is not as rare as you might expect in prison. Guards are often made fools of. Some of them even consider it part of the game - win some, lose some, just having fun. And because this episode went down only two weeks or so after an investigation had been initiated in response to D.O.C. thuggery with another New River inmate (see Kay Lee's report on the Riley, Moody, Godwin debacle), our little D.O.C. platoon standing around in the Arena couldn't all jump on the smirking Michael Becraft. Besides, as I said, he wasn't chained up. Someone might get hurt.
Dead Serious, once he caught his breath, was mortified. He could already feel his face starting to swell. He could already feel his cheeks pushing up to meet his eyes. He could already imagine the jokes out on the yard once the inmates saw his fat lip. He'd had to endure similar ignominies in the past over on the West side, and the warden had barred him permanently from the lockdown wings because of his pugilistic failures and his overt brutality. He knew that he could always win the fights if he used the handcuffs, but sometimes he just forgot.
"That wasn't fair," he whined. "I wasn't expecting it." Soon he began pouting. He ran a delicate hand over his sore nose. The word "Chief" did not escape his lips, and suddenly he forgot to snap his fingers, crack his knuckles, or punch a palm with his until recently serf-satisfied fist. "That wasn't fair," he said again, but the other men in the room weren't listening.
They were interrogating Becraft. They wanted to know where he'd learned to fight. They wanted to know if he was a racist. They made him take his shirt off so they could examine his tattoos for evidence of white-supremacist leanings or Armageddon mantras, or maybe the date of the white uprising (there's a BIG problem in some of these Florida prisons involving the guards and the K.K.K. Maybe they were hoping for a brother). And when Becraft told them that he used to be a racist back when he was young, but he'd given that up years ago, they asked him what he thought of Sgt. Dead Serious.
"I think he's a stupid nigger," said Becraft, and smiled.
Note: You know, when I tell these stories I always get a certain amount of feedback, and there's always someone out there who says: "Surely you're exaggerating!"
But no, I'm not. When Becraft told me this story, he wanted it printed up soon. He wanted his name spelled correctly so the guards would know. I'm relating what I heard, and this stuff is as closely reported as is possible given my skewed, out-of-plumb mind and a certain gift for irony. And what's more, in this case it gets even sillier because Dead Serious was insulted again and wanted to fight again, only this time he'd be really really prepared, and nobody can call him a stupid nigger and get away with it except maybe his mom.
The three white officers filed out the door and slammed it and locked it. Sgt. Dead Serious, with a powerful leap across the desk, tackled Michael Becraft...
...and got the shit beat out of himself again for his trouble. Battered and bruised, he had to try and make a deal with the indefatigable inmate with the wicked left hook.
"You're not gonna tell anyone about this, are you?" the Sgt. suggested.
"Nah. Well, maybe one guy," said Becraft.
"Come on..." Dead Serious's voice cracked.
"Just one," said Becraft.
"Hey, let's let this end it!" A hopeful, swollen smile.
"Your nose is running," said Becraft.
Michael Becraft was transferred the following week, but it was after he told me the story of why Dead Serious had to take a day off, and why, when next we saw him, the number one Catch dog of New River C.I. East had lumps all over his face.
Me and my new pal Michael Becraft walked around and around the track, right in front of Dead Serious, laughing and laughing, and I thought then that I'd write the story and put a big closing page about little boy guards and the nature of racism and unprofessional conduct and brutality and all the rest. But now, as I think back, I realize I don't need all that. The story speaks for itself. The sad thing is that this story is not remarkable, it's commonplace. People know about the excesses, the arenas. And people will live with any horror if they see it every day. Arenas, gas chambers, killing fields, they all happen because somebody lets them happen. Racism is like that.
River Junction Work Camp
Gary Waid is now a free man in body as well as spirit!
To write Gary Waid or Michael Becraft use the following addresses:
Gary Brooks Waid
River Junction Work Camp
300 Pecan Lane
Chattahoochee, Florida 32324
Gary Waid is now living in the free world,
working on his second novel.
New River "Correctional" Institution - West Unit
P.O. Box 333
Raiford, Florida 32083
Michael Becraft is now at AVON PARK C.I.
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