When I killed my brother I was sentenced to life in Louisiana State Penitentiary, the Alacatraz of the south, I was fifteen. Once I saw the main house I died, yet in death there is rebirth. I never thought prison would make me a better person. Prison is the only place I saw stability. It’s boring as hell because nothing happens, and it’s absolutely terrifying because anything can happen. When I got here Roland McManus ran the blacks of prison. He took me under his wing when I got here. We both were sentenced for the same crime. His brother was a snitch, mine was stealing from me.
I wouldn’t realize until later that Roland was a father figure, he taught me how to survive, taught me how to treat people, how to make my way in the world. He died in his bed of old age. Inmates, and staff came to his funeral, both spoke about Roland very well, each person said they would miss him.
The time to pick a new leader for the blacks is met by vote. I was voted to lead. The first five years of my leadership I took to hoarding all prison supplies, hooch, drugs, sex, cigarettes, and labor. Next five years and it still continues on. Next was education. A new book every two weeks, we write four page essays on any given topic, teach classes and host experiments of all kind. The next five years was the staff, we had to find out everything about them.
The next five years was negotiating with the white supremacists about the plan. I gave them exactly what they wanted, the prison farm. I knew it would be their idea of a power play. My second in-command Laughin’ thought I was crazy for giving them the farm. The whites are only twenty-four percent of the population. They’re the security of the riot, they will capture guards and staff.
The last five years have been nothing but practice. Logging every time a door opens, who's on what shift, who is where, who is sick, who is on vacation, who is in the S.H.U., who’s in the red hat cell block, who is in solitary. We’re going to take them during a shakedown. One of the guards will be attacked by a member of the whites. Which will force a shakedown from the correction officers, they will take the guards in the first fifteen minutes of the shakedown.
At the fifteen minute mark a fake suicide will take place in the adjacent block with an inmate. That inmate will take a hostage and will force open the cells in his block. Our counter-attack will take place with the whites, the guards will gas them first. We have tied sheets together to catch the CS gas canisters and have made cushion armor from our beds, pillows, and extra clothes.
We will take the prison block by block until we get the warden, Mr. Casimer Bopp. With him we’ll get to have enough time to have some fun around here, call our families, send e-mails, read just one more book, make another friend. Sefafino keeps telling me he’s made his best wine yet, and Felisbelo smuggled some steaks and a pig in. We’re going to have a real dinner tonight.
We’re in the thirty minute mark of the plan. I’m waiting in my cell to hear the news, no alarm is good news, but I would like to hear something. A blue, (Minimum violent offender.) comes to Laughin’ and hands him a small paper square. Laughin’ sends him on his way. He reads the mircowriting on the square and is heading toward me.
“The white boys did it.” Laughin’ says. “They’re going to flip the switch right?”
“Sure.” I say.
The motorized burp rings throughout the S.H.U. all the doors slide open. We all run to the security door into the main hall. Once I get into the guard house the East yard is ours. I’m to wait by the radio in the guardhouse. In West Yard the same thing should be happening, we make radio contact.
“You there Shitskin?”
“I’m here Verle.”
“You jig boys crafted one mighty plan here. When we getting to the out camps.”
“When we know they won’t shoot us on sight.” I say.
“That’s when you get the warden right?”
“It should be happening now.” I say.
“Zulmira? Are you there?” Yosiko asks?”
“Speak Yosiko, I’m here.”
“We have the warden, but we ran into a little trouble. We had to kill some of Verle’s crew.”
“You expected me to trust you nigger? You must have forgotten who I am. How am I to know that a nigger has his word when he can’t even use them correctly.”
“Don’t worry Verle, there won’t be any retaliation, you’ll get the farm. You were just trying to protect your own, that’s what I’m trying to do here. Good luck Verle .”
Verle Rightsell is serving two life sentences for killing four black teenagers. He tried to make it looked like they were robbing him. He rocketed in the ranks of the Aryan brotherhood, he turned every white boy in this place into a rabid dog. Verle wanted the farm and complete segregation, he didn’t want to take part in this riot. “Our problem is with niggers, wetbacks, wops and fags. This don’t fix that problem.” He said.
“We’re bringing the warden to the east yard.” Yosiko says.
“We’ll leave the front door open.” I say.
The population of the east yard is now blacks, Hispanics, and the eleven whites who stayed. We all reunite with old friend separated due to fraternizing, people’s skill sets are what keep them apart. You don’t want your weapon makers next to your gang leaders. You don’t want your pedophiles near anybody, you don’t want your chemist next to the smugglers. Now we’re just meeting to catch up. Who’s a grandpa, whose son or daughter got married, if they graduated their online classes, how’s the book going, those shelves you’re making, their garden, friends catching up on borrowed time.
When the door into the block opens it brings cool air and silence. Yosiko brings in the warden, he looks no worse for wear. He is escorted to me.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” The warden asks.
I hope I do. Get him to the radio station. Rotate the guards on him and we’ll have to get ready for the news and the guards retaliating.
It’s nine p.m. and we’re watching ourselves on the news. Local and national, the internet got it first, but it took a while for it to pick up. The warden was telling everyone over the radio but no one must have believed him, they must though it was a prank. The news does a bang up job of giving you all the info you need. Verle had his skinheads block off the road to the prison with the transport busses. Since we have the warden hostage it made no sense to keep guards and staff. We let them walk back to the B-line, their homes aren’t that far away. I can see Laughin’ reading a small square, he comes over to me.
“There is a phone ringing in the hall, we think it might be police.” He says.
“I guess I should go and answer it.”
We can hear the phone through the thick walls and metal doors, each layer we pass increases it resonance. The phone in the middle is ringing out of all twenty-three phones. I pick up the receiver.
“This is assistant warden Burl Carolina, who am I speaking with?”
“Hey Burl, it’s Zummy.”
“Zummy? What in God’s britches is you doing in there?”
“The boys and I wanted a moment of quiet time so we thought we’d give you kids some cash so you could go to the movies. “
“Don’t play with me inmate. We know you ain’t hurt the warden, so what is it you want? You know you ain’t getting out of there.”
“You’re right Burl, we know we ain’t getting out, so we thought it would be best if you all just left us alone. Next time you call bring a reporter, that Anderson O'Reilly.”
I hang up the phone.
“Zulmira, is there something you aren’t telling us?” Laughin’. says.
“Nothing comes to mind my friend.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get ready for dinner.”
Felisbelo smuggled in the fattest pig I’ve ever seen. Along with real potatoes, our choice of mashed or baked, some asparagus, different types of cheeses, fruit of all kinds, juices, cookies, cakes, a few homemade desserts, cold beer, soda. All served on real plates with real silverware. We picked where we wanted to sit, there’s enough food to go around.
The dining room is hog wild, I’ve never heard so much laughter in one place. A red, (Protected Custody.) points at the television.
“Look. They’re talking about us.” He says.
Laughin’ turns up the sound and we listen to our so called tragic stories about how we came to be in prison.
“What we have learned from the assistant warden is that Zulmira Arrico is the leader of the riot. He is the gang leader for the Guerillas, an all-black gang in the walls of Louisiana state prison. Zulmira was sentenced to life in prison for killing his brother with a baseball bat.”
“You told me you stabbed him.” An inmate shouts.
“You told me you skull-fucked him.” Another shouts.
“Shut up. I’m watching this.”
“Zulmira’s actions come as a surprise to the staff. . He taught the majority of other black inmates golf course maintenance and pitched the idea to the warden. While in prison Zulmira has been charged with theft, assault, sexual assault, and murder. As the warden said from the radio station they’re keeping him in. “Zulmira is the dam holding back troubled waters.”
Laughin’s mugshot pops onto the screen.
“He sure is good lookin’.” Laughlin’ says.
“Martin Laughlin also known by his street moniker Laughin’ was the leader of the biggest violent gang in Baton Rouge’s recent history. His gang, The Clowns, is responsible for thousands of robberies at gunpoint and the murder of Anna Coleridge. When he and his gang hopped onto a party-bus dressed in their usual regalia of Mardi Gras clowns outfits. They robbed the sorority which rented the bus, after they had robbed them and killed the bus driver, sexual assaults began to take place. Anna Coleridge screamed for help out of the bus window. Laughlin pushed her out of that window. They stopped the bus and fled the scene. Anna landed on her head, suffering major brain damage. She died in a coma two months later and at the same time Laughlin was already arrested for a drug charge. While processing into prison for housing placement Laughlin admitted to pushing Anna out of the window. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.”
“We now have the warden Casimer Bopp with us, he’s speaking to us from at the radio station inside the prison. Warden Bopp, are you with us?”
“That I am. What can I do you for?”
“How are they treating you?”
“Not much different that I treat them. I figure it’s a thing of mutual respect.”
“What do you think could be the reason for this riot? Aren’t conditions in the prison fair?”
“As a warden I would never say that conditions in a prison are fair or manageable. We try to give them the purpose they never got in the world. Now speaking on the reason for this riot, I don’t know, we in the real world tell ourselves not to sweat the small stuff. In prison there isn’t anything to sweat at all, this could just be boredom. I’ll be the most surprised if we find any philosophy at the end of this riot.”
“Now warden, are you telling stories?”
“Warden Bopp, who is that?”
“Zulmira here, thank you for that fine piece of journalism about my crime. Who am I speaking to?”
“This is CNC correspondent Anderson O'Reilly, are you Zulmira Arrico leader of this riot?”
“That I am. What’s it to you?”
“What do you hope to gain from all this?”
“Men in our situation are so deep in the negative there ain’t nothing to gain. This and other prisons aren’t meant for rehabilitation…we actually don’t know what they’re for. There’re too many systems at work in here. Prisoners have to live on so many levels in order to protect ourselves from the guards and other inmates. I got to thinking what if we reset it all or even better took it all away. Please, leave us alone. If you leave us alone until Monday, we’ll let Warden Bopp go. We’re just asking for the weekend off, no big deal, right?”
I slam the microphone on the ground causing the high pitched static wail. Bopp is sitting on the wheeled chair.
“That went well.” Bopp says.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask. “Did you ever get to meet Jeremiah Cudney?”
“Yeah, I worked with him on Laundry detail before he was put in solitary confinement.”
“Before I was warden I was a guard at the Green Oaks detention center where I met Jeremiah, he was sixteen. We both were transferred to Angola, he was tried as an adult. When we put him to death for his crime, he was forty-two years old. I’d known that man for twenty-six years and in all that time the state I worked for did nothing to help him or prevent his crimes to happen on another. Something has to change and I’m doing my part.”
“I’ve posted two outside the door, it locks from the inside, you should be safe.”
“Why did you do this?” Bopp asks.
“I’m giving what I’m getting. I’ve never known friendship until I got in here. I thought there was nothing to laugh about, love was just a distraction, and nobody cared. If I can take a life I can give mine just as easy. Good night warden.”
Sunday was a family day of sorts. We took time calling family, friends, and the people on the other side of our crimes. We apologized for what we could, told them that practiced speech we’ve rehearsed to ourselves for years. We just wanted to make the amends we could with the time we had left.
We ate leftovers without a complaint, it was actually the most normal thing any of us ever did.
Early Monday morning I went to the radio station to speak with the warden. He sat on his cot with his shirt unbutton and he used his tie as a wipe for his forehead and face.
“Has the air conditioner in here always been broken?” Bopp asks.
“Yeah, don’t you read the complaints?”
“Thank you for this Zulmira. I wish you could see the world again.”
“I am in no way rehabilitated. I just wanted to thank you for trusting me, it’s not every day that the warden trusts an inmate with the keys to the front door.”
“You all have control of this place, we just control the gates.”
Bopp stands up and extends his hand to me, I put mine out, we shake.
“They will enter through the roof, it’s the one part I couldn’t give you access to.”
“We will be waiting.”
We’re all sitting in a circle together, no one has said a word. The power has been cut. The door inside the bay has been open. The fourteen lights on top of fourteen heads bounce around like thoughts. A harsh voice yells at us.
“Stay on the ground. Don’t move.”
We all stand up.
“Stand down, if you continue to move we will open fire on you.”
We continue to walk toward them.
I only hear a few shots but I’m hit by more. One hits me in the throat, my left hand, five in my chest, and one in my thigh. Some are hit in the head, some duck for cover behind the dead.
“Thank you for tuning in tonight. We have the warden of the Louisiana state prison Casimer Bopp. Thank you for your time.”
“I’m happy to be here Anderson.”
“Where there any signs that day?”
“No, we were having a routine shakedown after the attack of a guard. We needed to remove any other weapons that could have hidden by inmates. Standard procedure.”
“The inmates knew that?”
“Well yes, that’s how the hierarchy of a prison works. Everyone has a job in prison, may it be issued by the prison or the gangs in it. Some get paid to watch a door open every day, some get paid to track guards. Prisoners have found amazing ways to occupy their time.”
“Is this something that all prison should be planning for? What kind of reforms will be taking place since this event?”
“I don’t think there is anything we could do to prevent these kinds of actions. Think of it as if they’re George Washington, Nat Turner, or Napoleon Bonaparte.”
“You mean to compare murders, rapist, and thugs to revolutionaries?”
“It’s all about oppression. They were oppressed in the real world, and oppressed extremely in prison. When did the rehabilitation ever take place? Everything these incarcerated people do is a call for help.”
“Are you admitting to failures in your own prison?”
“I’m admitting failure for all prison systems. I wish we could say that we don’t do enough, but all we do is tire them out and force them to overthink about why they got there, and never how to live when they get out. That is to say if they ever get out.”
“Is this due to mandatory sentencing?”
“Many factors contribute to keeping prisoners in the system. The CADDO and the LSP have their own interest in mind. The cost of a prison is enormous, but the return is colossal.”
“No, business as usual. I was handed the platter and told to keep it stable. I got into corrections because I wanted to help.”
“Do you feel that you’ve helped?”
“….five hundred inmat…people dead, thousands injured, we have to do blood work on surviving prisoners to ensure that haven’t been infected with HIV and other blood diseases.”
“I was speaking about your thirty-five years in corrections.”
“Until we realize that with prisons around, no one is free.”