Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series by David Blackwell under creative commons on flickr.

Nokes: What do you want?
John: What I’ve always wanted. To watch you die.


Father Bobby: [about sermons, before the boys are sentenced] This is one of my favorites.
Young Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra: What is?
Father Bobby: “Whatever you do to the least of brethren, you do to me”.

above two quotes are from Sleepers, by Lorenzo Carcaterra


This bird-killing-and-enjoying-it guard is bespectacled and boyish looking. He was probably bullied. So now he’s just getting a little action himself, although in a chickenshit way, because we are inmates. Behind razor wire, we must restrain ourselves from delivering a good ass-ramming to the guards, and he knows this, and so, he walks around the ball field with that stupid grin and Nazi mindset, figuring out how he can bolster his own weakness by picking on defenseless people. He does this full time.

Med Line: Frog Gravy 40


In the hallway, the homeless man in isolation screams, between obscenities, to the pepper spray SWAT team, “You’re racist!”

“I’m not precious,” says the guard, and I assume he meant to say, ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because he says, “I don’t like nobody.”

The Hole, The Chair, And The Holding Cell: Frog Gravy 17

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, February 2008

It is three o’clock in the morning, and a couple of female inmates next door, as well as Meg, in this cell, are on the floor, on their bellies, taunting and tormenting Harry, who is mentally ill and housed at the end of the hallway in an isolation cell. They shout, at maximum volume, “HAAAAAAARRRRREEEEEEE!!! Want some puuuuussssyy, Harrreee?!”

Harry shouts, “HELP! Somebody! Please! HELP ME! Let me out, please Helpmehelpmehelpmehelp.”

Harry’s repeated requests for help reveal, on its face, Harry’s profound lack of understanding of his own surroundings.

I am on my bunk, listening. I cannot help Harry. If I try to intervene, the bully inmates bullying will turn their rage onto me. If I do not try to intervene, they will continue to prey on Harry.

I do not intervene, and I am ashamed of myself. I do not intervene, because I am afraid that I might hurt someone.

I have never seen, nor will I ever see, during my stay in McCracken County Jail, the pathetic man we call Harry. None of us knows why he is locked up.

If the guards were to take Harry out of his cement tomb for recreation in the outside cage, we would have witnessed it, because we watch the hallway that leads directly from his cell at the end to the outside cage at the other end. We never see Harry go to rec. Christie, who had been here for seven months on my arrival had never seen him during that time either.

On my bunk, I try to think things through, although the noise is distracting. There must be thousands and thousands of Harrys locked up everywhere. Harry the person is no longer Harry the person. Harry is a bait ball in a cement cell at the end of the hallway. He is as defenseless as a child. The apex predators are hungry to hate, and they feed on Harry constantly, kicking the steel door, shouting insults every time they pass by, picking what’s left of Harry and then picking some more.

I often wonder if Harry is somebody’s father. Or son. Was he ever loved? Did Harry ever matter, to anyone? Was Harry a veteran, psychologically crippled by tours of duty? I do not know.

Why are the Harrys out there picked up, locked up, and then alternately ignored and picked on? The bullies use Harry almost exactly as they would a bar. They wander by and use him when they need him, and when they’ve had their fill, they belch, toss the glass, and move on.

There are rumors that Harry has spread feces onto the walls on the cement tomb. Perhaps this is the only thing left for Harry to do, to tell himself that he still exists.

I wonder also about Harry’s mental and physical treatment care plans. This jail has a social worker who oversees the medical needs of the mentally ill inmates. While there may be a nurse practitioner or an off-site physician signing off on the care plan and the medications, all initial requests for such must go through the social worker gatekeeper first. The sad thing is that Harrys own profound disability at the moment prevents him from filling out the initial request form on his own behalf.

This jail is not at all unique. Jails are the new ground zero for Eighth Amendment violations of the mentally ill, as I see it. Harrys are warehoused, untreated and abused everywhere.

There should be a zero-tolerance policy for inmates tormenting their fellow mentally ill inmates. If I were the jailer I would post signs everywhere: You torment Harry and you go to the hole, to sit and think about your bullying. Signed, The Jailer. But, it is not meant to be. Rather, Harry is shelved jailhouse prey and nothing more.

What will eventually happen to Harrys everywhere? On my bunk, I wonder these things.

  1. ed nelson says:

    that story about “Crazy Harry”, is too horrible, and as you say an endemic thing far and wide, so when there are things that repeat through an environment, (not to over expand it… ) but it isn’t just the limited anomaly, that seems bear out, so what it may suggest, seems to me, might be… it serves some important function, for the social dynamic, or to get to the point, it serves to “send an important message”, or provides a readily observable “object lesson”, to a course and corrupted population, not overly reachable through subtlety!

    As the pop gets more brutish, and beastial, and dumber and courser… so goes the need to make plain what can and will be the results of bucking the system, laws and orders, well not really, brute power.

    What I wanted point to, is wouldn’t it be akin to a form of human sacrifice? (Letting the “capo” prison guards, drawn from a strata not much distant from the inmates, by in large… run wild with craven sadism.)

    An analogue to a kind of live crucifixion, (as the Romans used to terrify their population:

    Sparticus c. 85 before Christ: e.g., when the revolting slaves were vanquished, they were crucified on poles every few hundred feet for the few hundred miles on the highway from the south back to Rome, as a visual reminder one would think, and of course, it was catchy, hence the symbol bearing the name, adapted for so long. A Sacrifice. Loss of a valuable thing for some other trade off thing, (good, but for who?)

    And the lyrics to the tune, “He died for your sins”, the symbol emdodies about everything in the nutshell. Be good, but don’t get too good there, Jethro… !

    • Yes, Ed, thank you so much for bringing some more insight to this representative character, Harry. I struggled with this post a bit, and other than incorporating some additional dialogue into other essays, I will likely leave this essay out of the final manuscript.

      I believe in a show-don’t tell approach, and this here, puts too much flesh and bone onto Harry, i think. Since he is representative of many and perhaps even central to the incarceration experience, I believe it is best to allow readers to form their own ideas about Harry, who he was, who he is, and what he represents.

      The mystery is more powerful, I believe. The mystery involves not so much Harry but more the rest of us. Why, exactly are we so driven to be cruel? What drives man’s inhumanity toward man?

      Again, thank you for your thoughts and for bringing more to the discussion.

      I will try to do better with tonight’s clips as well!

      • ed nelson says:

        Well if it’s ok to flash back to a previous great post of yer’s, vis vise books and to read lists:

        a nuther couple came up, one: Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes”, his autbiographical.
        things New York, and Irish.

        and and and… oh… Gore Vidal’s; “United States” , book of essays, not his usual weird fictionalized crap, of which he has said… And I agree… ( Paraphrase: ) “Well, if you don’t have a grasp of history, well then you won’t unnerstan much of my work, as it presupposes a modicum of education… ”

        So I took out a bunch of his novels, and I got nowhere with ’em, so I never claimed to get… what would be any kind of good educatin’ . Although our school masters… (Jacks of many trades… like line up and get a handout… ) Or GI Bill in hand, go grift the f*n system as phony “teachers”, in the aftermath of the great change… ww1/2 redo of the human world.

        So, I guess he meant by similar statement there, was that in writing those great “novels”, He must of had somebody like me in mind, as those who wouldn’t get it, because he’s right: I don’t get those “novels”, don’t get em, don’t like the prose much either, which could have been the clincher because good prose, if there is good use of language, it is like music, I will read it because that is a cathartic, or a something good

        Many know, to hear the language abused, as when you are confined to some places!! … that isn’t too… nice, it reduces one to a state of hopelessness, to be in the midst of… of…. well what’s the nice word?…. (Sorry might have to resort to a term… not from but it is sort of reminiscent of: * 1. foot note…

        Now, to the other author I thought of, didn’t read her yet, but I sawr her on Book tv, and she made good, was: Iris Chang. Who wrote “the Rape of Nanking”, beautiful Chinese woman, and then suicided.. so goes the story.

        And don’t forget another couple a guys too: Least Heat Moon: “Blue Highways”, which would lead to a before guy… Steinbeck, “Travels with Charlie”, and so many… legendary. don’t forget ole Jack London, Europe read him but not so many of our… brainstorm… spectator-sports pops… hey how bout a new multi million bucks sports stadium near you… ?

        *1 Untermenschen!. that don’t have to mean anything… racial, there has to be some form of just that, or “bears don’t shit in the woods”.

  2. “So, I guess he meant by similar statement there, was that in writing those great “novels”, He must of had somebody like me in mind, as those who wouldn’t get it, ”

    Don’t underestimate yourself ever! Sometimes the high-brow people get me down too, but I’m starting to get beyond all that. It’s bullshit. Sometimes I am convinced that our bird outsmarts everybody.

    Thank you so much for these additional suggestions! I have some issues with attention sometimes, so I listened to Angela’s Ashes on CD. It was one of the best-told, most poignant stories I have ever heard (I think he read it). What was also inspiring was that he wrote the book later in life.

    Thank you so much again:)

    • ed nelson says:

      The guy… Vidal, puts out some important stuff, (queer as he may or not be.. and I really like his authoritve statements to do with what is and is not, in that designation, e.g., that, to wit: there is no authentic designation: Homosexual, that is cutting edge… because that really is true.

      There is no such thing as a “Homosexual” because of all the reasons… that he has done a good job to talk about, but I agree with too. as like my little neigbor told me… she is “BI”, well woopteedoo, so… I guess my question would be… how come I don’t get a go…. ? )

      I tell ya…

      and… (not there’s any wrong witff that… ) haa!! but to the point, I think that guy was … cutting edge. You know if you follered his stuff, start with the tv shows where he talked down that fruit bastard: W.F. Buckleyeasshole… And in one of Vidal’s statements, (don’t recall what venue… ), but he did call the great shit head Buckley… : ” that complete lying queen” or the likes of that, which is about what any sensible ashole coultd deduce!!

      sorry I have to go, and listen to the norsk musikk that my jew friend tuned me in to, good stuff, I can get back to my roots for a time, got other ideas too,

      Read the books I told you of, they are good, I mighjt read your books too, say hi to Prof Fred.


    • ed nelson says:

      Not quite Crane.. I am not underestimatinng myselff… ( Boy that was a work to do type that

      I am now listening to this tune// my friend sent me this Norwegen site, so I am side/lined for the moment… cause I do that, I can’t realy understand much of norsk, but it sounds pretty cool, and my grandad wouldn’t have any problem.

      And I owe my life to my dad and grandad, so they’re all gone an Mommie too…(as of Dec. 9, 11, so nobofy cares but just a few…

      • Oh Ed, I had not heard that you recently lost your mother, and I am so sorry to hear of it. There is something about the loss of a parent that places us, I don’t know, for lack of a better term, ‘next,’ and losing the matriarch is just very painful to deal with, I’m sorry:(

        No question, Vidal is worth a look. Thank you for directing my attention.

  3. Here is the scene from Sleepers, referenced in the post above:

  4. ed nelson says:

    poor guy got creamed eatin’ his dinner, what did that signify?

    I mean I do like decive actions when it can be… too bad they ain’t no people in the gubment can do dat. And/but I sure don’t mean… presidents goin’ round’ killin’ on a whim” for sure!

    we will be headed to rough times.

  5. ed nelson says:

    make sure you get the essays, “United States” essays 1952-1992, that is my fave, and he does killer “non fiction” work, to bring in some light on things, other books and interviews, great, that guy is real smart.

    That guy put out all these “novels”, but when he does essays, whoa parder, that is where the rubber is meethg the road, and while I’m delving back … his arch nemissis, or let’s be kind, one of his not to good of pals… (or so it is made to seem… [haha]… ) another perty good author, and one of his at least… “In Cold Blood”, excellent, and you like the dark, so do I, I like the people/authors, that shine a lamp into that labyrnth dark f*n cave filled with dirty spidery creeps!

    what is up when a guy goes around (It//) -swishing it up for all time, and then does major things like taht work? go figure.

    I got many more authors/works, that I could boost, but for now, let’s see…. Did I mention Proffessor Feynman, real good books, I got it on the table here: “Surely your’re Joking Mr. Feynman”… very good reading. ( he is/was a major nuclear physisist who played bongo drums and schmoosed with people, very great guy I think.)

    CraneS, you like dark, so here is some good dark, not creepy, based on real… one of the Paris contingeint or something like that, in the 30’s or so, Paul Bowles, man he has some real good fiction books that derive… (I presume…. ) from horrid tales of monsterous shit, a lot of it in the North Africa, though one of em was in Central America, stories of horrible people, reall good.

  6. ed nelson says:

    Well, talking about ole Frank McCourt, and that great book/autobiography, to be reverred… I just remembered that I love the sound of music from the Isles… I am going to get my stereo brought back up from the basement, because I used to like to crank it up and put on some good tunes, a couple would be: Tommy Makem and others that I really like: Rachmaninov (playing his own special piano with his giant hands…) and oh yeah, i never seem to get too much Steven Foster… Those tones, those sounds, that is Americana.

  7. ed nelson says:

    Well I just thought maybe I could put another one out there. another little trial balloon/see if
    they’re bighting.. type a deal. Capice?

    I’m not sure what it means, but at this moment, I cannot make a contact with any of my people, they are not there to be accessed, not my little jack ass brother, nor my sister, nor, some of the asshole people I have known from many years, though they be far from what I call good… pieces of crap is what some of those are… but I keep them in my rollodex, because,… Oh well, maybe I don’t really know, but this one guy, I went to school for 12 years with, he is really weird, and there is a story there too.

    We, back in about the year: 1963-4. we got in my pu truck and set out to look at motorcycles, down 17st. Oakland, and we went down looking and so on, I didn’t buy anything.

    In my p/u were these guys, Ken, and Paul, well we had a good time I guess, driving down that ole eastbay road.

    Didn’t see any motor cycle that was worth the money, One of the three of us was Paul Joses, who his brother who kind of inspired the whole thing, unwhitingly, that guy: 6’6, and maybe just a little intimidating to any normal sized human… well he was seen riding a 650 motorcycle and it sure was cool to us little dweebs… man that guy was scarey, or cool, but he was a little weird or over the top. I have to say, seeing that Steve roll on that 650 triumph or what ever was pretty impressive…. (so that is a whole new discover thing…. )

    It is a real story, but we are not talking about a happy story here, not at all, well sinse I’m talking, if your listenening…. well f*k it, I might as well run the damn story.

    Paul killed his big brother, dumped him in a resevoir near here, and then went to a court hearing for his divorce case, and shot up the courtroom injuring several, then killed hiself right there in the Nevada County Ca court house

    that was one of my few freinds, that’s how it went, I have other friends I can talk about, some of what they told me, e.g., going to VietNam, and all that….



    • Darnit, I keep forgetting that on WordPress, it does not always alert me to new comments, so I am just now seeing these!

      Thank you so much for your suggestions and for your sharing of some heavy stuff here. Would you ever consider writing? I think you should consider it. Losing touch is sad, no matter what the circumstances, I think. But, you have a virtual family!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s