“Searching, searching,” I heard condemned men on the first tier of San Quentin’s Death Row calling. Looking out, a guard was already at my cell bars. After sending me through a strip search, I was allowed to pull on my boxer shorts, shower shoes, and then I was cuffed and yoked out of my cell and locked to the bars on the tier.
A guard darted inside, started searching my cell and came back out with a cardboard box, pulled back a flap, and I saw glued inside a six-inch razor sharp steel shank.
“What’s this?” the guard jammed me.
Closing my eyes, I just shook my head. Possession of an inmate-manufactured weapon was for sure at least a year in the hole.
Placing the box on the tier outside my cell door, the guard went back into my cell to search some more.
Yesterday, I came back from the hole after a week, locked up due to a case of mistaken identity. Another Hunter had received a write up and the guards had gaffled up the wrong one.
When I went to classification committee the associate warden had determined I should be returned to Death Row, and I had been assigned my previous cell. My tier cop, Bailey, had gone right upstairs and snatched up my TV, radio, typewriter, all my personal property and brought it right to me. Way cool, but apparently one of the boxes he’d used to bring my belongings to me had a shank concealed inside.
I had known Bailey about eight years, he was this huge black guy who had played nose guard on the University of Arizona’s football team and still bench pressed nearly five hundred pounds. When an extraction team was formed to pull a misbehaving inmate from a cell, Bailey generally led the charge. Raised in the flatlands of Oak Town, he was huge Oakland Raiders fan. Although I cheered for the 49ers, if Oakland was playing the early game on Sunday I’d leave my TV on when I went to yard so Bailey could watch updates of the game. Oddly enough, Bailey was also a Boston Celtics fan, but I told him that was almost automatic since Bailey’s an Irish name. Bailey almost fell out when I spoke of his emerald isle roots.
Every morning for the past eight years when Bailey came on the tier at six to perform his security check and unlock the food ports for breakfast, we chatted for a moment or two about sports. Nothing deep or profound, just a few pleasant minutes.
Bailey was spiking cell doors open down the tier for search guards to pull out prisoners, but he came back now some of the searches were finished.
“Bailey,” I said in a low tone.
“What’s up, Hunt?” He strolled over.
“That box you brought me yesterday with my property had a shank inside it.”
“The box is next to my cell door, it has a shank glued inside.”
Bailey ambled over, picked up the box, and saw the shank. Looking on the outside of the box, he read another prisoner’s name written on it with an indelible marker, a condemned man who was currently in the hole for another weapon.
Walking into my cell, Bailey said to the guard who had found the shank, “I brought this box from upstairs yesterday. Hunter’s not responsible for the weapon.”
“He had all night to glue it inside,” the guard snapped. “Hunter can call you at his rules violation hearing in the hole in about six weeks and we’ll let the lieutenant sort it out.”
Without a word, Bailey turned and walked out of my cell carrying the cardboard box and disappeared down the stairs and off the tier.
After a few minutes, the guard searching my house came outside, looked around, and asked me, “Where’s the box?”
Looking away, I didn’t say a thing.
Bailey came back without the box and started walking down the tier to spike more cell doors.
“Where’s the box?!” the guard who had searched my cell demanded.
“What box?” Bailey said easily, evenly.
“The box with the shank.”
Unlocking me from the bars, Bailey put me back in my cell and went on down the tier.
To find more of Michael’s writing, please visit Life After Death Row.