Here is a video of my reading at KGB Bar in New York City. Per their website, "In the years since it opened in 1993, KGB has become something of a New York literary institution." So, I was thrilled to read there despite the early start time on a gorgeous day. The transcript is below, should you choose to read it instead. The entry is about my first trip to visit Dad in jail this past Christmas.
The prison in Huntsville, Texas is a lot less ominous than I expected. Everyone was extremely nice . . . from the guards who inspected my rental car, to the guard who patted me down, even the guard in the watch tower gave me a little wave.
I thought I’d burst into tears when I laid eyes on my dad for the first time since he was sentenced three years ago. He's in jail for the attempted murder of his girlfriend. Or, uh, his third wife...I'm not really sure since he's not technically divorced from his second wife but anyway she was stabbed five times. Almost decapitated. The cops burst in on them as they struggled. Since my dad is deaf he didn't hear the police break in so they caught Dad straddling her holding the knife. But he’s innocent...just ask him.
I imagined him like what I see on television... in an orange jumpsuit and flip flops, shackled and downtrodden with a broken spirit. UH, NO. Instead, he came into the visiting area with his trademark strut – the cockiness still dripping from every pore. He was clad in a white short-sleeved shirt over white long johns and white cotton pants and Chuck Taylors. When he saw me, he gave a big smile and wave through the glass.
"See, there's nothing to cry about," I assured myself. "He is totally fine. Totally. Jail's the best thing that ever happened to him. In fact, jail is the best thing that ever happened to him." So I maintained my cool composure and pretended like every girl I know spends Christmas just like this.
But the three years in prison have not been kind to his former chiseled good looks. First of all he’s covered in these crude tattoos – the type other inmates give you ... "This one I got in Mexico, this one I got in jail in Ft. Worth after and this one Georgia wanted me to get. HA! Silly!" Georgia...the woman he tried to kill.
His once lush, Elvis pompadour is now thing and receding and slicked back. His formerly beautiful smile with white, straight teeth is now deeply yellowed from his former two pack a day habit.
A few back teeth have been pulled. "Hurt so I yanked it." But many other were knocked out during his numerous fights with other inmates. These missing teeth cause his cheeks to sink a little more than normal, making him look really skinny -- skinnier than he already is. Basically, he looks like a trailer trash Dracul as portrayed by Nick Nolte from the crazy DWI photo.
His dingy thermal shirt, which has sleeves too short to fit his long arms, is clumsily stitched in some places, holey in many others. I started noticing how the uniform of every other prisoner looked clean and new and had a bright white hue. Dad's was a dull ecru at best.
His glasses haven't escaped injury either. The nose pads are missing and they are clumsily taped together in the various spots broken during his jailhouse brawls. Every time he adjusted them, I noticed how perfectly the metal frame fit into the fleshy, scarred divots on the bridge of his nose.
"Who did this to you?" I thought. Angry. Disgusted. Embarrassed.
"What made them do this to you?" I revised. "I'm sure you provoked them. You pick fights, call people names. You’re a racist. Just keep to yourself, Stupid."
Despite everything, there is still an impish charm that even the strongest steel bars can't cage. It is so apparent in his smile and eyes and they way he tells a story that I wanted to give him all my money. "I will pay for new clothes – fuck that ecru shit - and glasses, food, books, newspapers, whatever you want. Anything." This is the exact same charisma that has allowed him to charm woman after woman after woman -- none of whom are deaf -- to fall in love with him, learn sign language and open their homes to a scoundrel.
I spent much of our first day watching my dad regale me with tales of his various escapades from his days in the "Free World", many which involved either weed, drinking or gambling but usually a combination of all three. At one point we were all laughing so loud everyone around us stopped and stared.
"One time I was out partying, dancing, drinking, you know. I saw a beautiful woman watching me play pool. I wanted to show off so I acted like Tom Cruise in that movie "Color of Money" and twirled my pool cue. I not hear her walk up and swung around. The stick hit her head and her hair went flying. SHE WAS BALD! I screamed and grabbed the hair and put it on her head. 'Sorry, Sorry, Sorry!' I never saw her again. HAHAHA!"
Dad also shared detailed stories of life on the inside. Abuse by the guards, the many vaired ways he could make money, how he had sliced open his Converse to make secret pocket and other creative ways he could hide things on himself and in his cell and the punishment for getting caught. "Only 14 days in solitary. That's nothing!"
The next day I repeated the process of driving two hours from downtown Houston, having the car inspected and getting scanned for metal. The chocolate chip cookies and pack of gum I had stuffed in my pockets remained undetected. I was hoping for a "contact visit" so I could pass him my secret stash. A stick of gum sells for $1.00 on the inside. That fat pack of Juicy Fruit could result in a whole lot of money! I also practiced turning a $20 bill into a square tiny enough for Dad to stash in his shoe. Charisma...you just can't beat it.
This time I was greeted with the broken man I had expected to see the day before. He sat down and signed, "I just woke up, brushed my teeth, took a sh*t when they told me I had a visitor." He looked tired and morose as he pulled out the very long list of items he wanted to be sure to tell us before time ran out. No more fun and games it was time to get down to business.
-- "I want you sneak in a $100 bill." He can buy 8 packages of loose tobacco and make over $500 profit and not have to do any of the selling. My $20 just wouldn't cut it.
-- "Get me colorful paper with matching envelopes." He can sell other inmates a set of two pieces of stationery and one envelope for $0.75. After doing the math, it's actually a good investment.
-- Get him the Sunday New York Times. "Only Sunday . . .I want to see what the big deal is." And Discovery Magazine . . . "I love reading about new technology, computers...OH, and what's a blog?"
-- "Look in my box of pictures..." and send him photos of this, this, this, this, this and that. Mostly pictures of the various women he slept with over the years all of them in sexy poses and various stages of undress, but, pornography isn’t allowed in prison so I guess you gotta go with what you know.
-- "Buy me new glasses. These are broken from fighting, fighting, fighting." He’ll sketch out the style with his prescription so I can go buy them. The next time I visit, I'll pretend the glasses are mine during security check in. Then, during a contact visit, we will swap out his old, broken glasses with the new pair I smuggled in. "Don't worry you won't get caught. Everyone does it."
-- Get a message to his friend Larry who was transferred to another prison after suffering severe beatings at the hands of the guards because they found drawings of nude children in his cell. "He TOLD me he's not a child molester, just a flasher! That's nothing. They beat him? Why? Larry said they weren't drawings of children, no, they're midgets -- not dwarves, that's different -- midgets."
And, most importantly:
-- Help him write a letter for an appeal: There was a lack of evidence in his case, he insists. He spent a great deal of time telling me about his implausible version of events the night Georgia was nearly killed. He dramatically acted out a story: "She was mad because we didn't have money for beer. She was already drunk and wanted to fight with me. She grabbed my knife and cut her own throat. I screamed and grabbed the knife and we struggled and she was stabbed a few times.
She wanted me to go to jail for it so she could keep my things.
Twenty years? Why me? Why me? Why me?"
If he doesn't win an appeal, he has six more years till he is eligible for a parole he has little chance of getting. He shook his head slowly in disbelief. His chin wrinkled and his pursed lips turned downward.
"I will tie sheets around my neck and hang myself," he signed.
"No," I scoffed, scanning his face for a sign he wouldn’t do it.
He stared back, scanning my face for one good reason not to.