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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 22
A Meeting of Minds

I know you are innocent.


The words of his one and only visitor, Vera O'Toole, kept turning over in Billy's head
during the interminable nights and days he was in Seg. With each passing day, her words
had become sweeter and fuller with possibility. After six days of isolation, he emerged
with a spellbinding clarity of purpose.
Time to shake out the truth. Time to get out of here.
When Director Carson opened the heavy steel door to Seg, he was conciliatory. Billy
pounced on it.
“I have something to tell you. I'm getting out of here.”
“So you want to go back into Seg?”
“Wouldn't that just be a bigger problem -- for both of us?”
With Carson leading the way, two guards escorted Billy to the Director's office, one at
each elbow. Once inside, Carson commanded Billy to sit.
“We will have no further trouble from you.”
“I am innocent. I do not belong here.”
“The evidence says otherwise.”
“It's phony. I can prove it. And that's what I intend to do.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I want ... I need your help. I need unmonitored visits, phone calls and letters. In
return, I promise that there will be no further disruptions.”
The director smiled. “You know, kiddo, you just don't get it. Think of it this way. I sit
here. You sit there. I'm the law. You obey the law. I'm sorry, but you need to learn that.”
“I'm sorry, too,” Billy said as the guards got a lock on him. “I'm sorry that the truth
doesn't matter, only the law, only the rules. How about fair?”
***
The next morning in the dining hall, Billy huddled with Kali, Jesus, Durk and others.
After breakfast, Billy sat down on the floor, folded his arms, and refused to move. Guards
picked him up bodily and hustled him off to his cell. But when they returned to the dining
room, the entire inmate population was sitting cross-legged on the floor with arms folded
and not budging.
“How about the hoses?” Hawkeye asked. “We'll float them right out of there.”
“No,” Director Carson said. “Ignore them. Let them sit. They'll get tired and hungry and
that will be that.”
An hour passed. The only movement was inmates going to and from the lavatory. Lunch
time came and went. It was dinner time. The smell of baked chicken wafted through a
hall of yearning stomachs. When the door to the chow line was flung open, several
inmates got up to go eat -- but were grabbed by others and pulled back to the floor.
Night fell. Lights went on in the dining hall. Guards came in, picked up inmates one by
one, lugged off their limp bodies and locked them up. It took nearly an hour for huffing
and puffing guards to deposit their awkward burdens in cells. Johnson Johnson, who
weighed some 250 pounds, required four guards. “C'mon, boys,” he said as they
struggled with his mass of dead weight, having to rest every ten feet or so. “You can do it.
You can do it.”
Billy Ruggeri, who understood none of what was going on, let himself be carried out and
thought it was great fun. Durk, Kali, Angel and other inmate notables told guards the
stand-off could end any time Director Carson “stopped messin' with us.” They didn't get
into the details of the dispute for the very good reason that they couldn't figure out why
unmonitored phone calls and visits were so important to Billy Stone; mainly, they saw the
sit-down as a chance to stick a finger in Carson's eye.
So they sat, did not eat, and did not move under their own steam. It went on that way the
next day, and the next, and the next. On the fourth day, after a good whiff of the pungent
odor of unwashed bodies, Director Carson sent for Billy. Like all the inmates, he was
gaunt from not eating and filthy from four days without a shower. He refused to walk and
had to be carried.
As guards hauled him past cells, the inmates flashed victory signs.
“Show Granite Face who runs the place.”
“We're with ya, man.”
“I'm hungry,” Billy Ruggieri sobbed. “I'm hungry.” But when offered food, he turned it
down.
Smiling weakly, Billy gave thumbs-up to all. “Phew, put the hose on these guys,” he said
to the guards. “The smell is going to seep into the building and you'll never get it out.” In
Carson's office, the guards propped Billy up on a metal folding chair in front of Director
Carson's desk. The director leaned back in his high-backed executive chair, cradling the
back of his head.
Wrists manacled in front and wearing leg restraints, Billy sat with his head thrown back
and eyes to the ceiling. Carson signaled for the guards to leave.
“Time for this to end,” Director Carson said.
“I agree.”
“Why, suddenly, are unmonitored phone calls and letters so important?”
“Innocent people have to be protected.”
“Why?”
“That's all I can say.”
“Sorry, I need a better reason than that.”
“I'm sorry, too. Put me in Seg. I'll die there.
“You go too far, young man.”
Billy lowered his head and looked at the Director for the first time. “I haven't even
started. How long can you keep this quiet? What happens when the first inmate gets sick
or dies? Take the slave labor heat and multiply it by a hundred. Good luck explaining it.
And, by the way, I'm not the only innocent guy in this place. You should talk to some of
these guys once in a while. Give me a chance or let me die.”
Carson got up and walked slowly around the office, glancing at Billy every few steps.
After a couple of silent trips around, he stopped at the big bay window behind his desk
and looked out with his back to Billy. “Going to be a hard winter,” he said. “I feel it. But
we'll get through, and then it will be spring. There will be new life, new energy, and life
will march on.” He turned toward Billy. “The question is, young man, will you make it
through winter?”
“If the truth comes out, yes.”
“If not?”
“Then I don't care what happens to me. But if it's the end of me, questions will be asked.
People, society, your law -- all will want answers. And even if it's too late for me, maybe
it won't be for some of the others. I'll give you their names any time you want and the
names of the people -- including cops in this city -- who set them up. That is, if you're
interested.”
“You play a high-stakes game, young man.”
“Do I have a choice?”

The Director turned around and resumed gazing out the window. Outside it was a bright
and snappy New England morning. The bare branches of the big maple reached upward
to the cloudless sky with long, gnarled stick fingers. The grass was a mottled red and gold
carpet of fallen leaves. Billy's eye was also drawn to the autumnal scene, as if it were the
single painting in an art gallery, which, in a way, it was. There was no art in the spacious
office.
Finally, Billy said, “Look, all I ask is that you give me a chance. As you said, it's time for
this to end.” Billy got up and walked over to the Director. He did so with with some
difficulty; the leg chains were shorter than usual. “I don't want to go back into Seg. I don't
want to die in a dark little closet. I'm tired. I'm filthy. I've got livestock crawling all over
me. I haven't eaten for four days.”
The director rubbed the back of his neck. He studied the stark maple outside. He sighed.
Then, he nodded.
“I will keep my end,” Billy said. “You have my word.”
“We will see, We will see.”
The Director called for guards and they came in and removed Billy's restraints. Billy and
Director Carson left the office together and walked side-by-side through cellblock
corridors, with two guards in the rear.
“It's over,” Billy said to inmates, calling them by name and touching hands outstretched
toward him through the bars. “It's over.”
Billy whispered to Director Carson, “They're starving. They need food.”
The Director said to a guard,“Go tell the kitchen to prepare a meal.”
“The kitchen is closed. Breakfast is over.”
“Tell them to open it. Now go!”
The guard hustled off in the direction of the kitchen.
Soon inmates were in the dining hall diving into scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, orange
juice and milk -- with seconds allowed, a first under Director Carson. The Director stood
by as inmates shoved the food in, some with both fists. Billy thought, Not a pretty sight.
Because he believed that appearances counted -- if you eat like an animal, they'll think
you are an animal -- developing a rudimentary table etiquette went on Billy's list of
things to do.
Also, he was troubled by the way they hunched over their food. Before all the trouble
began, Billy had been on a campaign for better posture. “Want to be a big man?” he had
been saying. “Stand up straight! Sit like you have a backbone!” There was much more to
be done on the posture front.
Carrying his tray past Director Carson after eating, Billy said, “It's over -- as promised.”
“I can see.”