Possibly you’ve known someone you really liked, someone you wished the best for, wanted to help, but there was nothing you could do for him or her. Doomed seems a bit melodramatic, but bad luck doesn’t capture the ill fortune that befell them. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an explanation. But there must be; there has to be a Rosebud somewhere.
I knew many guys in prison who’d had terrible lives; for most I could trace it to their childhoods, societal clichés—born in poverty to a crack addled mother, raised in a ghetto, etc.
Victims who then created victims.
But Stone Cold was born into a rich family with stunning good looks, the stereotype blond square jawed high school quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend. He showed me pictures of himself with his girlfriend beside his red convertible—the All-American Hero.
Yet something happened; I don’t know what, but the result has been a wasted life with decades in Federal and state prisons for robberies, burglaries, assaults, and drugs.
I first met MW at Nash one evening my first week down when I headed to the chow hall. A massive guy with broad shoulders and pumped chest grabbed me from behind, almost smothering me.
Oh NO, I thought, here it is, my first assault—just like in movies and on TV, but the guy said almost lovingly in a deep southern accent, “Mr. Peterson, I’ve been waiting to see you. I knew your son and will help you in any way I can. Just tell me.”
When he released me, I saw a warm smile on a face that featured one of the crookest noses I’d ever seen, as if the guy had spent his life in a boxing ring without ever having a doctor repair the damage.
“You wrote about me once,” he said. “But you didn’t know it was me.”
It had been during my column writing days for the Durham Morning Herald. In one column, I wrote about out-of-control crime exemplified by the shooting of guests at a city motel.
“I wasn’t a guest,” MW said. “It was a drug deal gone bad. The other guy—he wasn’t a guest either--shot me and Duke Life Flight had to chopper me to the hospital to save my life.”
MW showed me the wounds—they did look life threatening.
When he was transferred to my unit, every morning regardless of weather he was at the door to the rec yard waiting for it to be opened, then he would run to the weight pile and work out. Every morning in driving rain or in zero-degree weather.
His moniker was Stone Cold because he resembled the former WWE wrestling star. Though a gentle gerbil to me, he had a darker side that resulted in frequent trips to The Hole and transfers to another unit; he rotated units the entire time he was at Nash.
MW had a violent temper. It wasn’t a hair trigger—there was no trigger. It would just go off like a land mine: BOOM. No preamble; no warning. Just BOOM!
An example: after taking a shower upstairs one day, MW came out naked carrying his towel over his shoulder just as the Unit Manger came onto the block with the Sergeant.
He yelled up at MW, “Put the towel around your waist. No nudity on the unit.”
The officer at the desk, Lurp, yelled, “I’ve told him that a hundred times.”
MW ran down the stairs (naked) and yelled at Lurp, “You lying fat piece of shit, you never told me that.”
The Sergeant put his hand on MW’s arm, “Put your towel on and come with me.”
He and the Unit Manger took MW to the Sergeant’s office. They talked to him about ten minutes: Relax; take it easy; forget about it; this is just a warning—from now on put the towel around your waist. Now go back to the block.
Mike left the office, crossed the hall, entered the block and immediately ran up to the desk and shouted, “You motherfucking worthless fat turd, you never said anything to me.”
The Unit Manger and the Sergeant ran into the block, grabbed MW and pulled him back into the Sergeant’s office. “Take it easy, goddamn it. We just told you that it’s ok, forget about the incident. There’s no write up.”
They talked to him another five minutes, then sent him back to the block. As soon as he walked in, he ran up to the desk yelling, “You cocksucking bucket of shit, I should break your fat ass in half.”
Once again, the Unit Manger and Sergeant ran onto the block and dragged MW off.
Now that’s it, they said. We’ve told you three times there’s no problem. We’re ordering you to shut up, go back to your cell, and forget about this. Understand?
MW nodded, crossed the corridor, went into the block, and ran up to the desk screaming, “I’m going to rip out your heart you worthless hog. You never said a word to me about a towel.”
Well, that was it. The Unit Manger and Sergeant cuffed MW and took him to The Hole.
He spent a couple weeks there and was transferred to another unit.
MW was simply unable to control himself. He has been released from prison twice since, very briefly, and then it’s other robberies, burglaries, and larceny of a motor vehicle. And his family has money! They cared about him. I met them once at Visitation; I was teaching GED. His father asked me to get MW in the class—he didn’t have a high school education. I tried,
begged MW to sign up, but he wouldn’t do it. He was in his thirties then and I think ashamed to admit he didn’t have a high school diploma.
He’s in prison again and won’t get out until he’s 56. But then what? He’ll remain a denizen in the prison system until he dies, even if we discover Rosebud.
I never saw MW again, but he sent me two notes, one about Sidewinder who had just been sent to my unit. “He is a good guy. A stand-up guy. Take care of him,” MW wrote in rather delicate script.
Sidewinder turned out to be a sweet little old man with a strange sideways gait, the result of an injury long ago. He had been in prison since 1977 for murdering his father.
Sidewinder was “Shelled,” a term for nuts, whether you came into prison that way or as a result of decades incarceration.
He had no means of support and none from a job because he always forgot he had one. He lived on coffee and “lean backs,” blood pressure pills that in quantity made you lean back or fall down or never get up. He was very trim and constantly begged coffee. If you gave him a 15cent packet of instant coffee at 8:30, he’d be back at 9 for another packet, and on and on. I would give him a $3.50 bag every Monday and tell him not to come back until next Monday, but he never knew when Monday was, so he’d still hit me up every few hours.
When I once asked why he killed his father, he started a story about Hitler and Nazis, so I said forget it, though I now wish I’d listened; it would have been a fascinating tale.
We wondered what he would do if he ever got released. Someone suggested he could get a job as a greeter at Walmart: Toys? Aisle 5. Got a coffee?
He should have been released years ago because of a change in the law affecting prisoners sentenced before 1979, and in fact he was scheduled for release in 2008, but he needed a “home plan” for release, so DOC contacted his brother in Yadkin County to set it up and the brother scheduled a visit with Sidewinder—his first visit in 30 years!
When the day arrived, we helped Sidewinder get presentable—he was usually pretty scruffy looking—and waved him off.
When he returned, I asked how the visit had gone. Good, he said.
The next day I had a visit and asked Officer S who handled Visitation how Sidewinder’s visit went. Terrible, he said. His brother told him don’t ever come back to Yadkin County.
Poor Sidewinder. And he thought it’d been a good visit. I wondered what he’d consider a bad visit? No matter, DOC decided that the law change didn’t apply to him and he wouldn’t be released after all. He’s still in prison. Just as well. Walmart is getting rid of greeters.
MW’s note of recommendation about another guy, Danny, turned out wrong. I don’t know why MW liked Danny—maybe he just felt sorry for him because Danny didn’t have any outside support or friends, and he had a life sentence for a murder. He’d been down 23 years.
I didn’t like Danny because he was as morose as Eeyore, sullen, moody, depressing, and had negative comments about everything. He lied, bragged, gambled, and took dope. Worse, he hated blacks and claimed he was a Lumbee Indian, though he was unquestionably black himself.
As far as I was concerned, he was a complete piece of shit, but MW had vouched for him. I figured he knew something I didn’t. He didn’t.
Danny was tall, early forties, and mostly he played cards at the poker table. He also had a cell, but he didn’t have—as far as I could tell—a job that was a prerequisite for a cell.
In short, things didn’t add up with Danny.
The biggest and most anxiously awaited event of the year was when Christmas packages arrived. Once a year, inmates could receive a package with up to $100 of food ordered by relatives or friends from a company owned by former guards.
Inmates spent days deciding what to order from a long list of cookies, candies, chips, etc., then they sent the list to relatives, but many relatives couldn’t afford $100, so the day packages arrived was joyous for some, sorrowful for others.
In 2008, I was on a bunk and couldn’t fit all the food in my locker when the package came, so I asked Danny to store some in his cell. Since MW had vouched for Danny, I trusted him.
Every now and then, I would go to Danny and ask for some of my package, but then shortly after Christmas when I was on the weight pile, someone ran out to tell me that Danny had just been moved to another unit; he was gone.
With all my food! It turned out that he had gambled most of it at the card table and got in serious debt. In exchange for snitching, the reason he had a cell in the first place, the Po-leese moved him to another unit.
I was pissed! Not only had he stolen half my Christmas package, when he got to his new unit, he’d bragged about it.
Johnny Blood, the guy I relied on to solve my problems (stories about him in the book), delivered a message to him for me: Meet me in the chow hall tomorrow; we need to talk.
He sent word back, “Fuck you, I got over on you.”
I was beside myself. Losing face in prison is dangerous, a sign of weakness others will try to exploit. Rae Carruth, the former NFL pro, was constantly challenged, sort of like famous gunslingers in the Old West, but he could handle himself physically. I was too old for that, so I’d had to rely on allies I’d made through “business” dealings, particularly Johnny Blood. Johnny had a price; I could afford it, so I turned to him.
Two days later, Danny went into Protective Custody, taken to The Hole for safety, but to stay in PC, an inmate had to explain why he needs protection and from whom, so the following day I was called to the Admin office. A Captain showed me an inmate’s picture on his computer screen. “Do you know this guy?”
“Yes, that’s Danny.”
“We heard he stole some things from you.”
“You didn’t hear it from me.”
He tapped his screen and another inmate’s image came up, a young Blood who had been on a bunk beside me before he was sent to The Hole for getting a dog paw tattoo. I had had dealings with him before. (several stories about him and Bloods in the book)
“You know this guy?” the Captain asked.
“Yes. I don’t know his real name, but everybody called him Street.”
“Danny says you have a hit out on him and Street is supposed to do it. He’s in PC because he’s afraid you’re going to have him whacked.”
“What does Street say?”
“He says he hasn’t talked to you since he got out of The Hole and was sent to another unit.”
That was technically true; he hadn’t talked to me, but Johnny Blood had talked to him for me and subcontracted the Danny problem to him. I shook my head in disbelief. “Are you telling me that anyone on this camp can go into PC just by saying I have a hit out on them? That’s stupid.”
He nodded. “I know. But tell me--just between us and off the record--do you think it’d be safe to take Danny out of Protective Custody and put him back on the yard?”
I thought a moment, then shook my head. “Probably not.”
He laughed. Danny was shipped the next day to a more miserable prison.
Now it was ok that others knew Danny stole my Christmas package; he’d been made to pay.