The Bob Gurtler Column
In prison, you have a lot of time to think...Bob Gurtler, a former inmate of Riker's Island Prison in New York, and who then transferred to a downstate correctional facitility sent us his thoughts...
Lives on hold...
Monday,June 18, 3.00am
"Six cell! Pack up! Leave everything, only take your Bible". That's how they woke me up. I had exactly five minutes to say goodbye to cell #6 where I had been for eight months. I quickly ran up and down the cell block giving away all my clothes and books, except my Bible. I'd written all my important addresses on the last pages which were blank (no doubt for just this purpose). I gave my radio to 'J' who didn't own one and went to the gate.
They led me down the long corridor to a holding pen. After the pen was filled with about 50 others , all clutching their own Bibles. We were put in leg irons. A chain was thrown around our waists, we were cuffed then the cuffs were locked to the chain. Taken to a bus, we were off to prison. Riker's island is actually a jail [i.e. not a prison, ed], one of the largest in the world. Now going to serve the rest of my term.
I am now in downstate correctional facility. It's a maximum prison. I was offered the choice after a week to go to a minimum prison or stay here at downstate. I was informed I could be on the groundskeeping crew. I'd walk around with a 'weed whacker' and trim the expansive lawn. I thought about it, then speaking with some of the other inmates I agreed to stay. Only one more year till parole.
There is no suicide watch here so that part is over now. It was a learning experience like no other I'd ever had. I felt a bit sad not being able to say goodbye to a few of the men in the mental observation ward where I had spent so many hours. I hope they can overcome whatever demons they may or may not have. As for me, well this place is no joke. They put me through a process that reminded me of the military indoctrination I'd gone through years ago. Heads shaved, inoculations, issued uniforms and boots, told to shut up etc. Then when that cell door clangs shut. And only a slit to peek out. No books (except Bible). No pen and paper. They did give me one sheet and one envelope. I wrote to my mother of course. That treatment is given to everyone for the first few weeks.
Some men threw piss, and spat and made a big row! They were then not allowed to come out for meals! (Meals slid under the door.) If they kept it up, well they took them away. I can only guess what they have in store for these types. But I have an idea and it's not a good place. So after a while I was asked if I'd like a dormitory bed. Of course I said yes. And so I've been here four days now. I'm in a kitchen platoon. I am slinging hash. Breakfast/lunch/dinner/ then clean/scrub/sweep/mop etc. At least we get to eat all we want, which is great.
So my spirits are lifting, though as I look around I see a lot of lost souls. Some of these men have very long sentences. Lives on Hold. I'm lucky to have such a short sentence. So I keep reminding myself, it could be a lot worse.
I hope to make my first 'merit patrol' board sometime in January. Having gotten no tickets and having been an S.P.A. (Suicide Prevention Assistant) I hope I can get released early. I just arrived yesterday at the 'cadre' section of this prison.
I'm still in the orientation stage for the next ten days. The atmosphere is more relaxed here. But it's still a maximum security prison. No foolin'. I finally got to go to the prison commissary and purchase some stamps so I can keep up correspondence. For those of you who have been reading my column, I apologise for being irregular. I'll try to improve even though this is only the third instalment.
As for the suicide watch job I held those long months, I suppose I could go on for pages and pages of horror stories like
A guy bit his own finger off or a description of catatonics or delving into the human soul, depression, suicide etc.
But I'd rather wrap that all up by saying: 'I've seen plenty'.
And move on to discuss my own personal feelings about the experiences I'm having. It won't be gory or even very exciting but it will be very real nonetheless.
As soon as I arrived at cadre I was shown to the cell I will share with a man who has been there already for three years, In that same cell.
He's got 'NO MERCY' tattooed across his back in huge gothic letters with praying hands underneath. He seems a nice enough fellow. For now. I went to the library and found James Joyce's Ulysses in the discard bin which means it's mine to keep. I've always wanted to read it , well now I have the time.
I strolled the athletic field walking around the softball game and saw the weight room. I don't think I'll be using it much though. I'd rather pursue more cerebral things.
Today, they called 'packages' I went to pick up my Hot Pot so I can have tea. A very nice creature comfort. It's just a cheap plastic little four cup affair. But to me it's solid gold. I love my little teapot! I bought a few blueberry muffins from the table a few of the inmates set up in the yard. They were trying to raise some money for a charity. These are the first blueberry muffins I've tasted in a year. To some of you this may sound trivial. But those of you who understand, feel my joy.
And so I'll close this short instalment with my 'new' address. Once again I say I will answer any and all letters. [Bobby passed away on sept 22 2006]
Please - send no contraband!
Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.
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