SECTION ELEVEN


sm
COLUMN FIFTY-EIGHT, APRIL 1, 2001
(Copyright 2001 Al Aronowitz)

STOP THE PRESSES! I WANT TO
GET OFF 

or

WEBS, WASPS AND WHIPLASH
WHILE CRUISING THE O-ZONE

 

LAYING OUT MY WINTER CLOTHES

          I began seriously planning for PDI soon after my fellow Unitarian Universalist Frank Sepulveda was transferred. I began spending more time observing the goings on inside the prison. I paid more attention to the unwritten rules that many of the prisoners lived by. I talked with the old-timers.

          What I found was, as I have said, a slice of the free world. We had it all and more. Long-smoldering feuds. A legal profession. The peacekeepers. The assassins. The poets. Capitalists, socialists, anarchists. The weak and the strong. A class of poor, a broad middle class, the wheeler-dealers hustling through their financial ups and downs. At the top, a handful of power brokers. Just as in the free world, that reliable old rain barrel theory applied inside the prison---the scum rising to the top. Many had even linked up with community organizations like the Jaycees.

          One day I was sitting out in the yard watching the endless stream of prisoners walk by. One young fellow came over and sat down near me. He hadn't been there long. I remembered interviewing him when he came through the hospital. All the required questions. Have you had such and such? All the prison hospital medical stuff. Then my own questions. His was a particularly sad case. He had a serious learning disability. He had stolen a car and taken it across state lines. He had done it again and again. He was, in the eyes of the law, "incorrigible." Tell him anything and he believed you. Ask him to do anything for you and he would.

          I had come across him one day a few weeks earlier. He was sitting in the middle of a driveway between two buildings. I asked him what he was doing.

          "The next truck to come driving by is gonna kill me," he said.

          "Why do you want to die?"

          "The Bible said that if you give it'll come back to you three-fold. I've been giving away everything I get from the commissary. Nothing has ever come back to me."

          "Who told you to do that?"

          "The chaplain's clerk."

          I explained to him that the verse didn't mean he would be rewarded here on earth. Rather, I said, "The rewards will come to you in heaven." Since he had placed so much faith in the Bible I explained that Jesus didn't want him to give to people who already had more than he did. Instead, Jesus wanted him to share with people who were suffering. I didn't have much faith in the brand of Christianity that was being peddled in that joint but with some people you have to be very gentle. He decided to go to his house instead of waiting for a truck. The chaplain's clerk was an officer in the Jaycees.

          This time he looked like the problem was more than waiting for a return on donated candy bars.

          "How you doin'?" I asked.

          "I been makin' friends in the Jaycees. Good friends."

          "Great."

          "I made thirteen new friends at the meeting."

          "Exactly thirteen?"

          "Yeh. Exactly. Thirteen."

          "Who were they?"

          "I don't remember names but I counted them."

          "Do you try to remember their names?"

          "No. I just count. There was thirteen Jaycees that fucked me. They told me that every time I let a Jaycee fuck me he would be my friend."

          He was starting to cry. He was 24. Maybe 25. Young for his age. He looked 19. The Jaycees loved him.

          "I think you should tell them that you hurt real bad. Tell them that you may have to go to the doctor if anyone fucks you again. Tell them you think you have some kind of infection."

          I knew how much the thought of infection would affect them. They'd all start using rubbers.

          Sitting there talking. Watching him suffering. Thinking that the great majority of the Jaycees were closely associated with the church. Members of the choir. You see them with their Bibles. Their little testaments.

          Like the free world. The women bleed. Without women, they manufacture substitutes and the subs bleed.

          When I first arrived, I was invited to a meeting of Trailblazer Jaycees, so named because they were the first Jaycees chapter in the federal prison system. After my introduction, I was asked what I'd like to accomplish while I was in prison. I told them I'd like to convince the prison Jaycees group to drop out of the national organization because it is a sexist group that is primarily interested in the business interests and advancement of men. The president took me to the side and told me he would kill me if I ever talked like that again. The original Trailblazer charter incentive plan: do as you are told or die.

MY DILEMMA: HOBBY CRAFT OR JESUS

          As my plans for the newspaper took shape I began discussing the idea with friends I could confide in. Very few of my friends encouraged the idea. Most of them had much more experience with prison populations than I did. Maybe it was my naivete that made it happen. Whatever. After some interesting escapades and scares over the next ten- or twelve-month period and a transfer to a medium security joint in Sandstone, Minnesota, I was released on parole.

          Before you can "walk" you have to check out of each department in the prison. That means you have to personally go to each department head and have him sign a release form stating that you have nothing of value that belongs to that department. When I got to the chaplain's office I put on my very serious mask and asked him if I could talk to him for a moment.

          He was wary, but he invited me into his office. I sat down and explained that I was leaving and that I was faced with a seemingly impossible problem. I had to make a decision that I had been struggling with for days. He was all ears. He couldn't believe he was listening to this kind of talk from the fellow who had helped shove a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship--he first inside the federal prison system---down the throat of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Leavenworth two years earlier. I explained that I had wrestled with the problem for days. Now I had to choose. I couldn't work it out by myself and needed his help.

          He came out from behind his desk and sat down beside me. The chaplain had this look of disbelief on his face. He put his hand on my shoulder and reassured me that he would help in any way he could.

          "Do I have your absolute confidence?" I asked.

          "My office is like the confessional, Joe. You know that," he answered.

          That remark almost broke me up, but I held the serious look. My eyes were kind of watery as a result of holding back the laughter. He was in heaven. I looked him in the eye and explained, "You know I'm being released." He nodded. "You know I have to check out with all the departments." He nodded and said, "Yes, Joe. How can I help?" I explained that since yesterday I had two departments remaining to sign my release forms. My problem was that I had been going to the departments in their order of importance. With the religion and hobby craft departments the only two remaining, I couldn't decide where to go first. "Would you help me, Father?" I asked. "Should I have you sign or should I go to the hobby craft shop first?"

          He froze. He took his hand away from my shoulder and stood up, walked to the chair behind his desk, turned to me, and called me a son-of-a-bitch. As I stood up to leave I added, "That's right, priest, but a son-of-a-bitch who thinks the philosophy of the good carpenter is a gas as opposed to your adulterations of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood."

          He had answered my question. I headed for hobby craft.

          The next day, the chaplain had the final word in the matter. Before he would sign my checkout form, he made me wait three hours.

          No, I take that back: Even with the wait, it was a pleasure watching him sign his name right below the director of hobby craft's signature.

BUCK NAKED AT THE LIQUOR STORE

          I stepped out of that northern Minnesota federal prison ten days in front of 1970. John Eastman was there to greet me. I had just made a terrible mistake and was in a vile mood. The associate warden had seized one of my paintings---a combination sculpture/painting that I knew was going to make me enough money to start the newspaper. I didn't find out what they had done until I picked up my parole papers and was stepping out of the prison. I had 15 or 20 paintings to load into John's station wagon. Right away, I saw that they had removed the sculpture part and given me only the painting part. I returned to the window and asked the guard on the other side about my missing art. He said I used federal property to make it. He was talking about scrap metal that had been discarded. From my papers I took out the document giving me permission to use the scrap. The guard said, "We'll let the warden decide. He'll be back in a week."

          It's at times like this that the boys are separated from the men. I should have torn up my parole papers and refused to leave. Hindsight has convinced me that if I had shoved my papers back through the slot and refused to leave I would have been given the sculpture. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that they would have had to give me the sculpture because I had already been officially paroled, the papers had been signed, and if I had refused to leave they would have had to charge me with trespassing and call the local sheriff. If they had done that, the news media would have heard about it and the story would have made the local news. Subsequently, the story would have hit the wire services and gone national: "Prisoner artist arrested for refusing to leave slam without his art."

          That particular sculpture, made up of scrap metal, was a powerful piece---the best piece I had ever done. I might have turned to art full-time if I had stayed for a showdown that evening. Who knows? Who cares? Art is the grass that is always greener...Maybe it's what I'll do when I grow up.

          But I was infected with "getting-out fever." I wanted out and I was one door away from freedom. I was ready to walk. John was standing there. My paintings were loaded. I turned to the guard. "Will the sculpture be safe until I call the bureau in the morning?" "Absolutely!" he answered. I believed him. Can you imagine? I believed him.

          Believing a guard! Allowing your wants to override experience. I'd simply call the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the morning and scream. There was no way they could take my property away---not just my property, MY ART.

          Heading south toward Minneapolis I outlined my plans for a prisoners' newspaper. Money wouldn't be a problem for long. I'd sell my paintings and use the money to get started. Talk about a distorted view of reality.

          I felt so good wheeling down the highway with cold beer and a little smoke that the three-hour drive to Minneapolis seemed to last just a few minutes. John has a never-ending supply of stories, inspiring stuff, the good guys always lose. Approaching the Washington Avenue exit I asked John to turn off and drive west on Washington Avenue. Along the way clusters of street people were gathered around an occasional barrel nursing fires with scrap wood and rolled up copies of free weekly tabloids to keep warm. We pulled into Discount Liquors' parking lot and I ran in for a case of Linenklugle's. As I returned to the car carrying two cases, one old man asked, "Want to share a couple of those holiday beers, mister?"

          "Hell, yes." I put the case down and grabbed four long-necks and motioned for John to come join us. John isn't a beer drinker but he got into the spirit of the moment. We opened the back of the wagon, set the cases inside, popped four "Linees," and we raised our beers to peace.

          Christmas was only a few days away. These two men, hawking drinks in a liquor store parking lot and freezing their asses off---I knew these guys, good old guys, and they were in a worse prison than the one I had just left.

          "This ain't exactly beer drinking weather," John said.

          "Bullshit," the older of the two men said. "It's always beer drinking weather."

          I asked them what they would be drinking if they had a choice.

          "They got some Four Roses on sale that would warm us up."

          I handed John my beer and came back with a couple quarts of Jack Daniels.

          I handed each of them a bottle. "Merry Christmas."

          The old fellow in the ratty jacket was damn near jumping up and down. I couldn't make out what he was saying until he put his teeth in. "This'll warm things up tonight."

          John was stamping his feet and I was wondering what it would be like living in a prison where your heat source was a 30-gallon barrel. It must have been 10, maybe 15 degrees.

          Since I had planned on changing into some of my old clothes that John had brought up from Iowa, I handed the old guy my overcoat.

          "This and the bourbon will keep you warmer."

          Suddenly the old guy was giving me the once over. "What ya got on your mind? You a faggot or something...""

          His partner became indignant in an almost aristocratic manner. "Shut up, fool. Ya got a new overcoat and the best bottle of booze I've ever seen you sucking on. This dude's comin' on like Santa Claus and not asking for Jack shit."

          John was laughing so hard he was crying.

          I handed the other guy the sport coat I had on.

          "What size shoes you wear?" I asked him.

          He didn't even look down. "Any size ya got."

          I took my shoes off and handed them to him. He glanced at them, sized them up, put them in his coat pockets. I started unbuttoning my shirt.

          The old man looked at John. "What's your friend been smoking?"

          I handed him the shirt and took my pants off. "Thirty-two waist?"

          "Me exactly, but what are you gonna wear?"

          I took my shorts off. John handed me one of the bottles and I took a drink.

          Now both of the old guys were laughing almost as hard as John. I guess it was a strange scene.

          I flashed on my old Navy buddy Don Pelvit running six blocks through the snow one January night in Minneapolis, naked and barefoot. It was 33 degrees below zero.

          I took my socks off. The two guys were looking at my feet like they expected my toenails to have fingernail polish on them.

          A woman came out of the liquor store laughing and yelled, "You're freaking out the store manager. He just called the cops."

          We all piled into the front seat. John was laughing so hard he could barely drive. I grabbed a pair of old Levis and a sweatshirt. A few minutes later we were eating burgers from White Castle and washing them down with Jack.

          We dropped the old guys off some place on Lake Street and headed south on I-35.

          Throughout the remainder of the trip John talked about making films. He had sent me one film to show our fellowship but custody had taken it away and returned it to custody. I asked him what it was about. "Some nuns walking around down in Mexico. Strange shit." That same film, The Day Love Died, was later used in a successful United Way fundraising effort.

          I outlined my plans for a newspaper that would open lines of communication between prisoners and the free world.

          "Who's going to buy your newspaper?"

          "Libraries."

          "Why?"

          "Because I'll give them material that will blow their minds."

          "No one cares."

          "Only because the material hasn't been presented to them in an acceptable format!"

          I had convinced myself! No one could reason with me. No one could change my mind. John had known me long enough to know that the stories were true. He had freaked often enough, been fired from enough jobs, stared at enough rejection slips, been married and divorced and remarried enough times that he knew how important it was to be able to tell your story.

          We drove all night. It was like old times, being with a friend I could dream with.

          When we reached Cedar Rapids, John asked me how I felt.

          "I feel pure. Nothing to hide. No place to go but up." What I lacked in discipline I figured I could make up for with enthusiastic bullshit.

          It had been a great drive. I think I'll always feel a chill across my buns whenever I think of standing naked in that parking lot by the Discount Liquors in Minneapolis. But that kind of cold I could deal with-watching the sun come up as we drove south through the rolling, snow-covered Iowa farmland, with the air so clear and sharp that it brought tears to my eyes.

          This was an off period in John's life. Nothing permanent. John dropped me off at his small apartment, gave me the keys, and said he'd see me in a couple days. I went in. John's place was always as good as home and it was good being home. I needed rest and time to organize my thoughts. Another of my dearest friends was waiting to help---Marsha was one of the elements that combined to make the Citizen-Times an adventure. The sun on the window frost was almost blinding.

          After the reunion amenities, I called the Federal Bureau of Prisons and explained about the painting and the sculpture.

          Two hours later, a fellow from the bureau called me back and said that the sculpture had been destroyed. "They figured it was prison property so it was taken to the welding shop and taken apart with a cutting torch. It was junk."

          I made few non-prisoner friends while I was locked up.

          I'd make fewer in the next three years.

PRISON ART ATTRACTS COLLECTOR

          A phone call to Eli Abodeli got me space to paint for a month in one of his downtown hideaways. Another call to the People's Church got me space for an art show.

          I had left prison with enough art supplies to last me ten years. When you paint in prison an interesting thing happens. Prisoners come by and watch. They see you doing it and it looks easy. They send home for money for supplies and tell the family to send photos. "I'll have oil portraits for you in a month," they reassure the folks at home. The money arrives, they buy the oils, brushes, and a couple of "how-to" books, and everything they touch turns to mud.

          They finally end up making a deal with one of the prison artists. You get the supplies and you paint them a picture they can send home.

          I slapped more oil on canvas in the next 30 days than I had in my entire life. No style, no nothing. Just a hodgepodge of emotion. Pictures that I hoped would sell, if not for the art at least for the curiosity.

          My show was memorable for two reasons. The first reason was that I met a person who was interested in two of my paintings, but wanted to see them hanging before making a choice. I agreed to bring them to the person's home that night.

          I found the place on the east side of Cedar Rapids in a neighborhood of luxury homes. A long curved drive led to a huge entrance; just inside the entrance was a Marvin Cone painting. Pretty heady company. On the tour of the home, I saw originals by Grant Wood, Picasso, and Matisse, and what seemed to be more early American traditional paintings by artists I didn't recognize. I was overwhelmed---not just seeing the art, but because this person was interested in my two paintings, one for $400 and a small one for $120. In my wildest prison dream of getting out and having a show I never imagined that I would ever interest anyone with this kind of an art collection.

          A huge staircase led up from the front entry way. On the first landing was a prime spot for a large painting. Upon entering the house it was the first spot you saw.

          "I think the large one might look good there."

          I agreed with her.

          "The warm colors will be complemented by the woodwork."

          I had never seen that much woodwork in a home in my life. Plus it was a painting I had done in a day. "Angular Compromise." Two figures. Hard to tell if a man or a woman was compromising. John had named it. It was a steal at $400.

          We went upstairs to look at it from above.

          It was beautiful.

          At the top of the stairs was a large area with more stairs leading off in three directions. The area was lined with bookcases and built-in seats.

          "Would you care for a drink?"

          "You bet!"

          As the drinks were being poured I looked at the books. They were all matched sets. Some of the sets had 25 or more books in them. All appeared to be bound in leather, or at least material that looked like leather.

          I didn't recognize the titles or the authors, but it didn't take me long to realize that I was not looking at the classics. She Was Daddy's Little Girl and Cheerleaders Romp. Many years would go by before we'd see a marquee with Lawyers in Lace on it but I'll bet the book was there if it was in print. As I gave the books a closer examination, I was aware that I was being watched. I took a book off the shelf and opened it. Clit lit. Hundreds of books. Expensive, matched sets of cheap trash. I'm not talking erotica. No Henry Miller or Anais Nin in this collection.

          I couldn't believe it. The collector from hell. Grant Wood and Marvin Cone Behind the Green Door.

          "You like to read books like those?" I was asked.

          It was clear where this evening was headed. No sense in playing games. "Which do you prefer, the large painting or the small one?" I asked.

          "I can't make up my mind. I like them both," was the response, spoken slowly while my glass was being filled with the first Calvados I'd ever tasted. I've wondered about Calvados for years. It was what Ravic always ordered in Remarque's Arch of Triumph. I could smell the book, see the Minneapolis Public Library. I don't think he ordered Calvados in the movie.

          "I'll buy the small one because it's the better of the two paintings. I'll also buy the large one if you will spend the night."

          I sat there with my Calvados. What would Ravic say? I couldn't believe this. Was it the fascination of being with a newly released prisoner? I thought about the $400. Maybe it would have been possible if she hadn't looked so much like Charles Bukowski.

          "We could read to each other."

          "Sorry. I'm driving a borrowed car and have to return it in half an hour."

          "Could I have them until tomorrow night?"

          "Sorry. I have obligations." Obligations?

          I was grateful to pick up $120.

          The second memorable happening was that I made $2,500 from the art show. If the sculpture that had been ripped off by the guards at Sandstone had been in the show I would have made $7,500.

CHAPEL BUILDER BUSY BUILDING WARDENS

          A week earlier I had moved to Iowa City and enrolled at the University of Iowa. An interesting incident happened to me when I arrived there for the first time. While in prison I had taken some correspondence courses, mostly in criminology, from the University of Iowa. The professor who I sent my lessons to, Professor Caldwell, was the author of a widely used criminology text. I had poured my heart into those lessons. Typewritten papers that would run 30 and 40 pages always returned with an "A" boldly marked across the first page, usually followed by "Remarkable" or "Good work." Years later I'd sit around with teaching assistants from that same department. The long papers only elicited groans, they told me. The papers would be passed around. Care would be taken to not spill any beer on them. The best ones were the shortest. No BS. Just the facts.

          As a prisoner, I had been impressed by Dr. Caldwell. He had headed the department and authored an important text. He had praised my work. On my first trip to Iowa City to find a place to live, I stopped at his office to meet him. It was a typical office, narrow and long. Books lined the shelves from floor to high ceiling. Sitting behind a large desk that was stacked with books and papers, he looked smaller than he probably was.

          He recognized my name immediately and welcomed me to Iowa City. We talked about various topics: prison, his department, what I would probably find at the University of Iowa. He failed to mention everything I learned to love and hold dear while in Iowa City: drugs of every imaginable type, fun stuff, with peyote topping the list. And love. I found love in all forms, including the permanent kind.

          But at this point I revered the old professor. Finally I asked him the question I had come there to ask. Thinking that he would be the centerpiece of a lengthy article in the journal someday, I asked him, "Dr. Caldwell, you have been involved not only with the subject of criminology but with the prisons and prisoners of Iowa. What do you believe is the most important contribution you have made that has been a benefit to prisoners?"

          He leaned back in his chair, shut his eyes, and was deep in thought. Finally he leaned forward and looked at me. There was a dramatic pause. Was it practiced? I'd never seen him lecture. "My most important contribution? That's easy. I'm responsible for the chapel at the Anamosa Reformatory. I'm prouder of that than anything."

          It figured. He was nothing but a guard. The guard from the department head's office. It seemed like every time I turned around, some script for a grade B movie was happening before my very eyes.

          I sat there looking at him. He seemed to expect a response. I didn't say anything. I just stood up and left. I couldn't believe it.

          That department at the University of Iowa, I later found out, led by the likes of Caldwell, turned out more federal prison wardens than any other single institution of learning in the country. And the federal prison system, then and now, contrary to the public relations drivel that is ejaculated from Washington, is one of the most repressive systems in the world. It was bad then. It is worse now. Behind the repression, brutality, and behavior modification units are a bunch of wardens from this department.

GETTING ORGANIZED

          The new year found me in a small, cheap, furnished room three blocks from the University of Iowa on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Van Buren. I wasn't carrying much with me: an easel and some art supplies, a few books, and odds and ends of new used clothes. My personal needs were few.

          The PDI, on the other hand, needed a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation, a board of directors, and money. What that added up to was a serious need for contacts and advice. I'd also need space for an office, at least one extraordinary staff member, and ultimately a home large enough for a staff that I figured would grow to 15 when we were publishing. All I had were a few ideas and the money from the sale of paintings.

          That money was earmarked for emergencies. Staffing of the PDI was not going to be easy. I wanted ex-prisoners in key positions. I knew prisoners who had developed those necessary skills while serving long prison sentences. Unfortunately, they were still inside, with little chance of getting out.

          To save money I applied for and received tuition assistance.  When I learned that I could use it to help pay my rent and that I could qualify for grants to cover the rest of my rent and my living expenses, I enrolled full time.

          Culturally, economically, and politically, Iowa City was the place to be. It had an excellent symphony, the best rock concerts, opera, a remarkable university drama department, the Bijou where two art movies played nightly, year around for 50 cents, and reasonable rent. You could walk anywhere in town. Politically the university campus was boiling over with antiwar activity. Opposition to the Vietnam War was drawing the kinds of crowds Vivian Stringer would draw years later with the Iowa women's basketball team. Sit-ins at Old Capitol. Gentle people making a non-violent statement while the jocks ran across their bodies.   

        At my first sit-in, I needed every bit of restraint I could muster to keep from reaching up and smashing one of the sadists in the groin as he ran across the group. Long conversations with COs while I was a prisoner had partially prepared me for these confrontations, but I still had problems. At times, I still felt that the solution was to "take up arms against the sea of trouble."

          Every night crowds would gather. Occasionally they would spill over into the streets. Banners would be unrolled, poster board would appear, and as quickly paint and brushes. An American flag appears, upside down, draped across the front of a house. The Iowa City police come pounding on the door. Jackie Blank comes out and refuses to take it down. "It's a legitimate distress signal. A nation distressed. I'm signalling for help!"

          The police wanted no part of that scene. Everyday it became increasingly more difficult to break away from the discussions, the planning sessions, and the teach-ins to attend classes. That problem was soon solved when the action of the streets moved into the classrooms. With increasing frequency students were challenging instructors about the significance of what they were teaching. "If universities are teaching people to think, why are we in Vietnam? Why are there people without food, housing, jobs...""

          Some students who objected to the interruptions would counter with, "We're trying to get an education! Why don't you take your rhetoric some place else?" To them, activists responded, "What the hell do you think I'm here for? I'm paying tuition just like you are---but I want more for my money!"

Endless Questions, Accusations, And Confrontations.

          One day a group of students challenged an instructor about a comment he had made in an offhand manner. After some give and take the instructor finally got angry and told the students, "If you don't like what I'm teaching or how I teach it, you can get out." One of them jumped up and said, "Wrong! Either you begin to deal seriously and responsibly with these issues or you can get out."

          Thinking he was involved with just three loud-mouthed radicals, the instructor called the university police. When they arrived, the three students were addressing the entire lecture hall about the use of police to back up instructors who "were out of touch with reality." As the police advanced on the three, 95 percent of the rest---over 300 students in all---got up and began to leave the hall. The three disappeared in the crowd. When calm returned, only 20 or so students remained. The great majority agreed that changes were needed.

          I had been away from school for a long time. What I saw now was more than students demanding an end to a war they believed was unjust and illegal. They were demanding the right to participate in the decision-making process. They wanted some say in what they were being taught. The most vocal students were being singled out as troublemakers, and no doubt they were. But the trouble they were causing had been a long time coming.

          In many ways the university's attempt to stifle dissent reminded me of my recent life in prison. Prisons have always been intractable as far as rules are concerned. You do as the state tells you, or else. In prison, you refuse an order and you land in solitary confinement. You don't get kicked out---you get kicked farther in. When prison personnel find themselves in a situation where they are wrong and a prisoner is right, they simply change the rules. No discussion permitted.

          Traditionally, neither prisoners nor students had any say in how their institutions were run. But now, as I became acclimated to my new environment, I saw that educational institutions were changing. The PDI would act as a catalyst to open prisons to greater public scrutiny, I vowed. As a result, change in the prisons would be possible also. Making prisons more democratic would not be easy. Once people realized that only a small percentage of the prisoners were a serious danger to society, change would come.

          Punishment for radical activity was a reality on the campus. Some of the more conservative students, especially from the fraternities and the athletic department, would catch antiwar activists alone and attack them. During sit-in demonstrations, the leaders invariably ended up getting kicked around, stepped on, and punched when they were being carried or dragged away. Vietnam veterans who were opposed to the war were often attacked. A young bearded veteran with a flag sewn on his sleeve upside down was set upon one night by a group of ROTC students who ripped his dog-tags off and whipped them across his face again and again. He was cut rather badly, but he refused to press charges against them or tell anyone their names even though he knew the students who had attacked him. He had seen and participated in all the violence he could endure in Vietnam, he told me. "There is nothing anyone can do that will cause me to fight---ever again."

          Sobering. Your anger would rage. Understanding would be almost impossible. But finally, painfully, you realized that he and others like him were right. The resolution of disputes through the use of force and violence accomplished nothing positive and led only to more violence.

          And just as it was tough for the most active protesters, it was also tough for many of the instructors. I was awed by the sophisticated methods young students used to pin instructors down on issues pertaining to the war. There were groups that seemed to be devoting all of their time to the war. They were constantly producing and distributing fliers and making amazing demands on instructors.

          In my previous life as a full-time student many years before, I had always viewed professors as intelligent, dedicated, educated people. Frequently, we students didn't like their regimen or their methods, but we never thought to challenge them, to treat them like equals. Now I was watching professors being dragged out of their ivory towers and knocked off their pedestals.

          For example, at the beginning of one semester, a professor who had been head of the department the previous year was putting everyone to sleep. Finally a young man stood up and started making his way to the aisle. "Pardon me. Excuse me. Pardon, etc. etc," he was saying in a conversational voice as he squeezed by the students seated in the cramped lecture hall seats. The professor stopped speaking and was watching him work his way past students.

          "May I ask where you are going?" he said to the young man.

          The student stopped, looked at the professor, and said, "Yes." And stood there.         

         "Well?" the professor asked.

          "No, I'm not well," he answered. "I signed up for this course thinking I'd get my mind fucked. I'm certainly not going to listen to this drivel for the rest of the term." And out he went.  

          I had never heard the word used in reference to mind stimulation and gratification, but I understood.

          A number of other students must have understood as well. About 20 percent got up and left.

          Interesting.

The First Issue

After mailing out the flyer I sat back and waited for the postage paid return mail cards to flood in. In a few weeks we would have a return of at least 50 percent. Why not? It was free gratis. If you don't like it, just write cancel on the invoice and forget it. No obligation to inspect a 72-page tabloid written, designed, edited, and marketed by prisoners and ex-prisoners. Curiosity alone would have people returning the postage paid card. We couldn't miss.

When a direct mail campaign brings in a 3 percent return it is considered successful. I believed that the PDI's uniqueness alone would bring us a return of 50 percent or more. Not all of them would subscribe, but I knew that most intelligent respondents would at least consider $6 a fair investment. Prisoners could subscribe for $1, although we were encouraging them to spend $6 if they could afford to do so.

The response during the first five weeks was less than exciting. Three weeks after the mailing, two cards came in. A few days later we received three more. Another week passed and two more came in. Seven in five weeks, out of 7,000.

Hello, I thought. Is anyone out there?

With the response to the mailing in my hand, I understood clearly that the only people I could count on to support the PDI were the people who were unable to do sop---the prisoners.

The lack of response from the libraries I could understand. In their eyes, our content was so specialized that no one besides prisoners and correctional employees would be interested. I had failed to convince them that 20 to 25 percent of the general population was interested in the problems facing prisoners and their families.

My greatest disappointment was the lack of response from the colleges, particularly those with criminology departments. I had fine-tuned my list so that the mailer was sent directly to the department heads as well as to those professors who were well known because of books they had written.

What also mystified me was that no one called or wrote to ask questions about what I was doing. The PDI was the only newspaper dealing directly with incredibly serious problems---problems that concerned the public as well as prisoners. Our initial presentation to prospective subscribers had been professionally done. Yet it generated no response.

Equally distressing was my not being able to discuss the problem with anyone. Becky and I were the only people who knew. If I mentioned what was happening to anyone else, I would never be able to undo the damage. For those few weeks while I waited for postage paid cards to arrive, I had imagined a flood of so many cards that I would have to borrow money to pay the postage. During that time I would occasionally find myself sitting in the office late at night. Becky would be typing articles. I'd reach to the rear of the bottom drawer and take out the seven return mailers that we had received. Becky would glance over, see what I was looking at, and shake her head. I simply cannot believe that there are not more people who are curious enough to drop a postage paid card in the mail to get a free copy of a publication of any kind, I would say for the fiftieth, sixtieth, or hundredth time.

Becky would shrug her shoulders and respond, over and over, No one gives a damn about prisoners, or about you or about me.

One night, just as she was saying that to me for the umpteenth time, an Iowa City police car slowly drove by the office. Becky smiled and added, At least not anyone willing to spend $6 on a year's subscription.

She was absolutely right. It took over a month for the facts to sink in for me to understand and admit to myself that my dream of a widely circulated and subscribed to monthly journal that would provide a power base to bring change to one of the most repressive prison systems in the world was not happening. There would be no wages for staff and travel and lobbying. There would be no research department, nothing for correspondents behind the walls. If the PDI was going to happen it would have to be done on sheer determination, bluff, and a willingness to work without pay. The question was, how much determination could a person generate when the bank account had only enough money to cover a couple months' expenses.

We were in trouble.

Let's get a pizza.

Over pizza Becky and I discussed options.

If the PDI is going to press, it will happen because we make it happen, Becky. If we print the issue, who will we send it to? Surely you'll print more than seven copies. Somehow we have to generate some excitement.

Becky had been to all the board meetings. She had heard the details of my dream. More than anyone, besides me, she was a believer. Becky I could confide in. I explained what I was going to do and asked her if she wanted to help. Since it was a week night and she wasn't allowed to party she said, Let's go do it.

We returned to the office our sanctuary and started filling out postage paid return mailers. By morning we had filled out about 3,000. We were tired but we felt satisfied. Every person, every department, every college and university that I had believed would request the first issue was going to get that first issue. So were the television networks, the top newspapers and magazines, some carefully selected wardens of federal and state prisons, chiefs of police, congressional representatives, a few authors, and some prisoners.

Believe me I had my lists.

We locked up, had breakfast, and walked over to Van Buren for a quick rest. Becky still lived two doors up the street. A couple hours later we walked to the office, filled some brown bags with the postage paid cards, and then went to the board meeting.

Everyone was eager to hear about the mailing. Becky and I walked in like we'd just hit the lottery. All smiles. Shaking with what everyone thought was excitement instead of exhaustion. Not being one to waste words, I just emptied the bags on the table and announced that we had a 43 percent return. These were business people and they were stunned by the return. It was a higher return than any direct mail solicitation they had ever heard of. After a general discussion about what was next I said that I felt safe in projecting a paid subscription base of around 20,000 by the end of the first year.

Then I explained that I needed $1,500 to pay for the return mailers and $2,500 to print and mail the first edition of the PDI. The vote was unanimous. Combined loans from Dick Myers, Mace Braverman, Sharm Scheuerman, and John Clark totalled the $4,000. Becky and I walked back to the office and went to work.

We had the money now for the first issue. We even had enough money to pay Becky. But we were only three months into the lease on the van and I knew I'd be unable to generate the $225 needed to keep it. Not with the office rent, utilities, and printing costs plus two separate places of residence. The problem of housing was solved with the help of Sharm Scheuerman and his partner Steve Richardson. Using my GI loan, that I picked up from my time in the navy, I bought a large three-story house at 505 South Lucas Street. The combined rent that we were already paying on separate places almost covered the monthly payment. I still had money stashed from the sale of my paintings. We were going to have financial problems, but we were going to get out at least two issues.

505 became synonymous with PDI.

With more room, a large house, a yard, and a great kitchen, more people began spending time at the PDI. Included, in particular, were some of the kids from welfare families I had been helping out.

Oatmeal and Love

The number of people who were living and working at 505 previous to our printing the first issue fluctuated between five and eight. That number, plus the constant flow of visitors, forced us to locate sources for large quantities of food. I think we were one of the first groups to check out the commercial food wholesalers around closing time each day. Staff members would show up to pick over the fruits and vegetables that were too ripe to be sold to the stores the next day.

Hawkeye Wholesale Foods provided us with tremendous additional quantities of food, thanks largely to David Braverman, patriarch of the Braverman clan, the founder of Hawkeye Foods, and a genuine friend. David's generosity was legend throughout the area. During the holidays he would load up our van with turkeys and hams. Our staff, the welfare families, and the homeless, helpless drifters always knew where the groceries were. Maybe the old man liked us so much because he knew two things: that we could have all been working 8 to 5 making good livings for ourselves but chose instead to devote our lives to the only prisoner-owned and operated halfway house in the country, and that we shared everything we had no matter how much or how little.

David recognized that we didn't share a religion, but we damn sure shared a philosophy. As a result we set a dinner table that was second to none and always had food to share with a dozen or so other poor families. We were the largest welfare family in Iowa City. We housed runaways, escapees, wanteds, people who were walking to the beat of a different emotional drummer, and children from preschool on up.

Although we applied for and used food stamps regularly, many of them went to families who came to us for emergency help. Families also came to us when they felt they were not being treated fairly by Human Services. When that happened I was the one who usually accompanied them back to the office to lodge a complaint. I would listen to the long list of regulations concerning food stamp eligibility, then argue my response. I'd listen and argue, listen and demand, listen and threaten, but I would never leave. Finally I'd walk over and start pounding on Director Cleo Marsolais' door. Come, Cleo would call.

The aide would open the door. Cleo would be sitting at her desk, buried behind stacks of paperwork; all you could see was the top of her head. I'd start right off, "Cleo, these people are desperate. I've never lied to you and I'm not lying now..."

Cleo would just raise a hand and wave for us to go away, yelling, "Just give Grant the goddam food stamps."

If we could have cloned a Human Services army of Cleo Marsolaises we would be living in a more equitable world today.

We became expert on living well with an incredibly small amount of money thanks to the PDI's first vegetarians, Warren and Cathy Dearden. Warren and Cathy came to us in 1971 after Warren won a scholarship to the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. Grove Press had just published A Free Country, a book by Warren that was not only entertaining, it resounded with the ring of personal experience. They hadn't been in Iowa City more than a few hours before hearing about the activities at 505 from a woman at the workshop. That afternoon, they wandered in and introduced themselves.

Warren had taken an early pot bust and done some federal time. He was quiet, had a great sense of humor, and seemed to know what he was doing. For a person so small and slight, he moved around with deliberation and authority. That first night, we didn't even have floor space so they ended up on the living room floor at the home of Elinore Cottrell, who was one of themost interesting and remarkable women I met in Iowa City and whose friendship is one of the highlights in my life.

Early the next morning, when Elinore came downstairs, Warren had just awakened and was standing in the middle of the living room, naked, facing away from her. Just as she was about to say good morning he bent over, and it appeared that he was mooning her. Had she spoken, she recalled to me later, she would have been talking to Warren's butt. She turned and walked back upstairs, then came down a few minutes later when he was dressed.

Some time later, she asked me if I thought he had done that deliberately. I wasn't sure. He and Cathy hadn't been long off a desert commune in New Mexico where food and water had to be carefully conserved. Elinore was living in what appeared to be rather affluent surroundings. He might have decided to let her take a good look at the skinny ass of a man who wasn't impressed with the surroundings, or he may have been bending over to see what Elinor looked like coming down the stairs upside down. Maybe he was picking up his socks. I never asked him.

The next day they were back at 505. Cathy checked the kitchen, the stove, and the refrigerator, and walked through the house. After about a half hour she indicated that she wanted to talk.

"We'll prepare two meals a day, breakfast and dinner, make out the grocery lists, and see that someone does the shopping or do it ourselves," she offered. "We all clean up for ourselves and Warren and I will live in the attic."

There was no question in my mind that Cathy was exactly what 505 needed. I was right. Soon Cathy and Warren were cooking two meals a day at 505. Cathy was also working part-time at a pseudo-Mexican restaurant, the Taco Vendor, across from Keith Dempster's Mill Restaurant, and playing out a whole host of roles at the house: to Warren she was a wife and lover, to the women in the house she was a sister, to the kids she was a mother, to the men she was damned attractive, quick with a smile, always a pleasure to be around, and absolute boss in the kitchen and dining room.

At Taco Vendor, she scrubbed pots and pans during the lunch rush. Her boss was a man who seemed to have trouble with women who thought for themselves and expected answers to questions.

Women like Cathy. Cathy would do her job, but when he started laying trips on her she would just look at him and smile. Finally he decided that she had to wear a bra when she washed the dishes in effect, Wear one or lose your job. I recall her getting that slight, lopsided grin on her face, slowly shaking her head from side to side, raising one eyebrow quizzically,and saying, He is really screwed up. We assumed at 505 that her boss was having hormonal problems among other things. Meanwhile, the meals at 505 became legendary. The evening meal soon developed into the most important meal socially. Often, 20 or more people would sit together around our long dining room table. There, over casserole and salad, we caught up on incidents of interest that had been happening around Iowa City and the state and federal prison systems via news reports from our correspondents in prisons around the world. Conversations touched on deaths, births, and suicides. One of the main thoroughfares from the east coast to the west was I-80; it was a rare evening meal that didn't find a traveler or two sharing dinner with us and bringing us news from the road.

Breakfast was always my most important meal. I had been raised on substantial breakfasts. My mother was a tyrant when it came to breakfast. As soon as you were old enough to work, play, or go to school, you left the breakfast table with the nourishment to carry your share of the load for the day.

Fortunately for me, Cathy had graduated from that same nutritional school. Breakfast consisted of cooked cereal made up of a variety of grains, raisins, and nuts with gallons of raw whole milk from Moss' Dairy. It always appeared that Cathy had made more than the regulars and visitors could eat. Yet invariably the last person to eat would be cleaning out the second of the two huge cast iron kettles that were seasoned to perfection.

Breakfast was spread out over a three-hour period, beginning about 6 A.M., as people wandered in from the six upstairs bedrooms and the two basement bedrooms. It wasn't unusual in the morning to find people sleeping on the porch or in the backyard, or neighborhood kids walking in for breakfast on their way to the elementary school a few blocks away. With Cathy's touch, the house at 505 became a home. Of course she had a pretty responsive crew gathering for those meals. Many had spent long years lining up for food in prison mess halls; they knew what it was like living on a diet of cake and wine in solitary confinement.

The kids who came for breakfast not only were welcomed, but they became close enough to us that we started filling in for parents. Often teachers contacted us if there was a problem. We'd stop in and discuss grades, behavior, all of the issues that parents normally discussed.

One observation I made was that when the kids spent time at 505 their behavior and also their grades seemed to improve. I could easily understand why: they had people around them who were genuinely concerned about their welfare. They were getting good breakfasts and attention in a friendly, laidback environment. Being with the kids, I learned this important lesson: the best way to rehabilitate screw-up A was to give screw-up A the job of helping screw-up B. I had the kids looking out for the grown-ups and the grown-ups looking out for the kids. I impressed upon the kids how important it was that they set a good example for the men and women who arrived at 505 fresh out of prison and incidentally, I also carefully impressed upon these same men and women how important it was that they set a good example for the kids. The result was that the cons looked out for the kids and the kids looked out for the cons.  ##  

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