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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 34
Storming the Bastille

“What a mess,” House said, opening the cell door and walking in.
“Man, oh, man,” said Hawkeye, following him into the cell.
The cell looked like a killer twister had descended upon it, sucking up everything -- bunk,
shelves, clothes, two human beings -- then dumping it all in a pile, though miraculously
leaving the little radio untouched and undeterred, still emitting Mozart.
A human hand and foot poked up grotesquely from the rubble. The two guards pulled at
debris to retrieve the bodies. They uncovered the still form of Billy Stone first. He was
laying face down crossways on top of an inert Roger Stansky. House yanked, managing
to roll Billy's body off Stansky.
“Man, nothin's worse than a dead weight,” House said.
“You know,” said Hawkeye, taking his cap off and scratching his head, “where's the
blood?”
“Hey, you're right. Something's not ...”
***
Billy Stone and Roger Stansky sprang to life. Stansky went for House, Billy for
Hawkeye. Stansky gave House a ferocious head-butt and blood bubbled out of the huge
guard's nose. Both hands flew to his bloody face and he roared in pain. Swinging House's
own truncheon like an ax, Stansky delivered a mighty blow to the guard's legs, felling
him like a tree.
“You broke my legs! You broke my legs!”
“Shut up, pig, before I break your head,” Stansky snarled, driving his knee into House's
back as he cuffed the guard's hands behind him. He relieved him of his keys.
Hawkeye dropped to his knees, begging with clasped hands. “Don't hurt me, don't hurt
me. I had nothing to do with it.”
Billy took his keys and cuffed his hands behind him. “Don't worry, nobody is going to
hurt you,” Billy said. But Stansky came over and axed Hawkeye's legs.
“My legs! My legs! Help me, help me! I need a doctor! I need a doctor!”
“Shut your mouth,” Stansky said.
Billy and Stansky chained the two guards to each other and to a cell bar.
“No more of that,” Billy said. “That was the deal.”
“I didn't kill'em. That's all I promised.”
Billy unlocked cells. Enraged by Carson's crackdown, inmates stormed out and, in a blind
stampede, literally overran the few night-shift guards. Within minutes, all inmates were
freed except for those in the maximum-security “shoe,” despite their yelling and banging
to be let out. Even inmates believed that these lowest of the low were best kept caged.
All the pent-up fury at the crushing punishments had spontaneously exploded into a
general inmate uprising. Coming in a flash, without plan or warning, it blew through the
prison like a hurricane -- and achieved total surprise. Nobody was more surprised than
the inmates. Most had burst out of their cells craving a smoke and bent on demanding
reinstatement of weight-lifting, basketball and TV.
Instead, they found themselves in control of the prison.
***
The first thing they did was grab cigarettes from guards, light up and take long, exquisite
drags. The second thing they did was to start fighting amongst themselves. Inmate
violence is almost always directed at other inmates. In the absence of any other logic, this
behavior is most likely a sad extension of self-loathing. With inmates going about settling
scores, and with pushing, shoving and name-calling giving way to fist-fights, and with
some brandishing newly-seized guns, Billy moved swiftly.
Amidst all the noise and confusion, Billy and his cohorts went around admiring the guns
and asking to hold them. As soon as a proud inmate handed his new weapon over to be
oohed and aahed over, it was gone -- with the Billy Stone operative getting an urgent
summons and running off absent-mindedly with the weapon.
Some less gullible gun-toting inmates had to be relieved of their weapons forcibly. They
were then given a choice: a cell or the door. All chose the door. As far as Billy was
concerned, each one was a problem walking out the door. By one means or another, while
inmates were too busy fighting each other to realize what was happening, Billy soon
controlled every gun in the place.
What weapons Billy and his cohorts didn't keep, they locked up in the storage room. Billy
personally confiscated all the keys to the storage room. The last thing he needed was guns
in the wrong hands, meaning, in the hands of anybody he did not want them to be in.
Billy Stone was AWOL no more.
***
Inmates converged on the dining hall as a raging mob. They screamed, threw punches,
wrestled on the floor and threw chairs and slashed at each other with knives and other
hand-made weapons. Violence is contagious; once it starts, it feeds on itself and spreads.
The dining hall turned into a gladiatorial arena.
“Get the hoses,” Billy said. Underlings ran off and come back with the hoses. “Full
blast.” Powerful jets of water sent inmates sprawling, cursing, coughing out water.
Billy jumped up on a table. He screamed, “YOU IDIOTS! STOP! STOP!” Inmates who
had other inmates pinned to the floor or by the neck looked up. Some paused in mid-
punch. “Dammit! Stop being stupid! We don't have time for this. Now everybody shut up
and listen.”
The fighting petered out. The noise subsided. In a booming voice, Billy said, “The first
question we all have to ask is, Do I go out that door or do I stay? Now, some guys have
already left. That's fine. We wish them luck because they will need it.”
Among those who had left was Roger Stansky who had immediately bolted for the
outside. That was Billy's offer to Stansky -- immediate freedom instead of a murder rap.
For even the dim-bulbed Stansky, the offer had been too good to pass up. As for Billy, he
had made the deal of a lifetime, excusing himself just as a putrid hand reached for him.
Orating like a young Mussolini, Billy said, “Anybody who wants to take his chances on
his own, there's the door. No one will stop you and no one will blame you. But before you
walk out that door, think hard. You will be alone. You will be an escapee after taking part
in a prison take-over. When they catch you -- and they will -- you get a belly full of
bullets or you rot in prison. Either way, you're a stupid loser.”
Shouts around the hall:
“They'll storm the place!”
“And then what? They shoot us down like dogs!”
“Stay here? We're dead here!”
Very slowly, Billy said, “NOT ... if we ... use ...our heads.” He tapped his forehead with
an index finger. “NOT if we use our numbers. NOT if we play our strengths to their
weakness. NOT if we give them only choices they can't take. NOT if we stay together.
NOT if we throw stuff at them that they've never seen. NOT if we do what has never been
done.”
“Like what?” someone shouted.
“Like we don't sit here waiting for them do their usual charge, break-heads, shoot-the-
animals thing. Instead, we attack. We hit them with things they'll never expect.” He
tapped his forehead again. “Such as this.”
He paused, looking around the hall, daring anyone to stand up to him. There were no
takers.
“Okay, all stupid losers get out of here. You're in our way.”
Billy waited. Inmates looked around. No one made a move for the door.
“Okay,” Billy said. “no settling scores, stealing, messing with guards, or destroying
property. Anybody who does, gets kicked out the door. No colors or signs. We're not
Knights or Kings or Aryans -- we are one, united, powerful force. Kali?”
Kali jumped up on the table with Billy.
“Durk?”
Durk joined Kali and Billy.
“Angel?”
Angel got up on the table.
Flanked by Kali, Durk and Angel, Billy said, “Anybody not a hundred percent with us,
get out of here now. We don't want you. If you stay, you're in and you're in to the end.”
Billy paused. Giving it plenty of time, he looked from face to face around the hall, which
had become almost quiet. Again, no one made a move for the door.
“Smart.”
***
In the outside world, say on the football field at Fairview University on a Saturday
afternoon, that would have been the cue for rah-rah whooping and whistles. But in this
jungle, the beasts, having been beaten back by a dominating creature, hung back with
twisted faces and making low, sub-literate sounds.
It was good enough for Billy. Though a resolution without resolution, he would take it.
Having seized power, he jumped off the table
It had been classic demagoguism: bold, simplistic, pandering, histrionic, manipulative,
single-minded, steamrolling of opposition -- and it worked just as it has worked for
tyrants and dictators since history began. Billy huddled conspicuously with his
lieutenants. The rank and file milled around the center of power.
Some inmates came to say that they were leaving; there were handshakes and fives all
around. Surprisingly, desertions were a tiny percentage of the inmates. To each one
leaving, Billy said, “Go and good luck. We'll be thinking of you. You can change your
mind any time. Keep your mouth shut. If you don't, you'll wish you had.”
He said the last with a nod toward the massive presence of Johnson Johnson.
***
The council broke up and Kali, Durk and Angel went to organize their people. Soon they
were shouting orders that Billy had just whispered. Volume works when dealing with
masses from a tabletop. But now Billy was laying down strategic directives, and that
called for a more modulated tone. However, the directives were issued just as fiercely.
The first job was to clean up the mess -- and, like a herd of charging wildebeest abruptly
changing direction, inmates turned from mayhem to sullen janitorial tasks. Of course, the
inmate herd could swerve another way in a split second. Still, the inmates had
demonstrated to Billy's satisfaction that they would respond to firm leadership-- and
could execute a plan.
Already, thinking furiously, he had conceived the outlines of a plan for transforming an
unschooled, in-fighting rabble into an intelligent force acting in concert for a common
purpose. Could it be done? The question hung in the air but Billy didn't even
acknowledge it. He was just going to do it. And, as soon as he jumped off that table, he
began to transform an unschooled mob into a disciplined Granite City Militia.
He headed for Carson's office, passing the cell where House and Hawkeye were blaming
each other for the state to which they had fallen, trussed up in a cell like a couple of
turkeys. They begged for a doctor: The pain is unbearable. Infection and gangrene are
going to set in. We are going to be cripples for life.
“I'll get a doctor,” Billy said, “In the meantime, stop whining.”
***
Using House's master key, Billy let himself into Carson's office. He looked at the photos
of the Director's wife and two young daughters. He went over to the big bay window and
gazed out at the great maple, which was bursting with new leaves.
The last time he looked out that window, it had been fall and the great tree was shedding
leaves. Could Christmas, a dismal repeat of Thanksgiving, have come and gone? Could
spring be here so soon?
Was this spontaneous inmate seizing of Granite City a spring madness, doomed to die as
quickly as it had sprung to life? After Elba, Napoleon had lasted a hundred days before it
all came to an end at Waterloo. How long would Billy's petty little peasant uprising last?
And how would it end? Like Waterloo, with a field of unspeakable carnage?
He asked himself these questions, not out of regret or fear, for surely the uprising had not
been his or anybody's conscious doing; it had been a spontaneous combustion rising out
of an innocent prisoner's hot blood and lust to live.
No, whatever the outcome, Billy was at peace with the forcing of it. The time for the
decisive battle had come and he was glad. He had nothing to lose but the life of a dumb
brute tethered in a dark weatherless pen. With the final battle now joined, he would not
settle for a smoke or TV or basketball. Let them keep their crumbs.
He would go for it all.
Vive les miserables! Oppressors beware of a little people with nothing to lose! Better to
die on your feet than live on your knees!
Yes, the time had come to settle things, one way or the other: die -- or begin a new life as
a free man. Did not Jean Valjean risk as much and then live to save sweet innocent
Cosette, and to raise her lovingly as his own daughter, gloriously triumphant in the end
over Javert, the Thenardiers, and every manner of objectification and adversity and dying
old and free?
Why not a similar happy ending for this prisoner? Summer was just a few months away
and then July and another birthday, his 16th. His 15th birthday, spent with Mr. Caulfield,
had been his happiest. Perhaps his 16th birthday would be better yet, out there free like
everybody else and swimming in Caulfield Lake with Vera.
Vera. She was in his thoughts in a fairytale future. What would she think of that? Did she
ever invite him into her dreams? Even if she did and were to speak his name to her father,
Captain O'Toole, how would he react? Probably not with an invitation to the O'Toole
residence for Sunday dinner. More likely, it would be: stay away from my daughter -- or
else.
With the captain, you knew where you stood.
In a way, that made what he had to do now a lot easier.