The Ride . .
No one can prepare themselves for incarceration, ( although I surely tried! ). The one thing I learned before going in was, “Keep your mouth shut, don’t ‘see anything,’ do your own time, and your ride won’t be too bad” These were words that were given to me by a ex-con whom I met at some seedy bar prior to going to prison. The “Ride,” he was talking about was the sentence that The Judge was shortly to impose.
Doing time, being imprisoned was somewhat like a surreal carnival complete with rides, unusual food, and a group of individuals who could easily staff any Ol’ Time Carnival Sideshow. . or Pirate Ship.
Nearly 3 years had gone by since I first “went down,” that is to say, I had been in prison almost 3 years. I was a porter inside my cell block swinging a mop back and forth up and down the cell block with the other porter, ‘Joe Taco.’
“Dirty dogs, the dirty dogs,” exclaimed Joe, “can you believe it? They gave me Cancer. The bastards.”
‘Joe Taco’ got his name from his business. Joe owned hundreds of Taco Trucks and Taco Stands from New York to Los Angeles.
Every year since he’d been in prison either the I.R.S. or The Immigration Dept. , or both, would come to visit Joe and try to get him implicated in new charges. To everyone, especially Joe, this was absurd since Joe was doing ‘all day’ meaning he had a life sentence without the possibility of parole. But still the Government Agents would come and threaten him. Mostly trying to implicate his family in wrong doing since his was a family owned and operated business with Joe making all the big decisions from inside.
He’d been in prison for 19 years, had 3 Heart Attacks, one minor Stroke, and now Cancer. Joe attributed all of this to the stress caused by the continued ongoing investigations he went through for 19 years.
“Can you believe it? And honest Jeff, I’m tellin’ the truth. . ” said Joe, ” They’re killing me with all this stress. And me Jeff, you’re lookin’ at a man who is doin’ time for somethin’ he didn’t do.”
I met lots of guys who said similar things to me about they’re incarcerated for something they didn’t do but, when Joe said this to me I could tell he was being truthful.
Over 25 years before Joe owned several Taco Trucks in New York some local toughs were forcing most of the vendors to pay for protection. Joe refused and according to him one of his trucks got torched. So a few short days afterwards 4 or 5 of the ‘tough guys’ were found shot to death. The best suspect for the murders was Joe.
Not that Joe talked much about what he was in for, he didn’t. Mostly he’d just say something like, “Look how they treat me, and I’m a guy who’s in for somethin’ he didn’t do.”
The I.R.S. would come after him because his business dealt mostly in cash. Immigration came after him because he employed a lot of people who might not be in the Country Legally.
“I’m tellin’ you what Jeff. I ain’t gonna do it no more. Gonna go for early retirement and cheat these pricks outta a few years. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
What Joe was saying was he refused all treatment for his Cancer and was going to die, Intentionally. Thereby cheating The Government from taking the rest of his life a day at a time. “Early Retirement”
Weeks went by and Joe’s health failed rapidly. I’m not sure if his Cancer was super aggressive or if Joe just willed himself to die.
The last time I saw Joe he was being wheeled out of the cell block on a gurney. I was sweeping the bottom tier and as they pushed Joe past me he grabbed hold of my arm and motioned me to bend close so I could hear him.
“Tell everyone Jeff, tell everyone I’m in for something I didn’t do.” His voice barely a whisper.
“I will Joe, I will.”
“Tell ’em I didn’t wipe the prints off the gun I used to kill those pricks with Jeff. That’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t wipe the prints off the gun.” His smile wide and peaceful as they pushed him away.
So for the years I spent in prison, I met at least one man who truly was in prison for something he didn’t do.