Synopsis of Hero Apomixis by C.A. Seller
Hero Apomixis is a work of stream of consciousness written over 22 months while the author was incarcerated in Attica Correctional Facility in 2000/01. A story of tortuous experience at the hands of a broken social services system, bad parenting, and the Prison Industrial Complex, Hero begins to lose his mind as evidenced by fantacide and dreamories only interrupted by prison feedings. Hero is either a victim or a sociopath. The book challenges us to ask, “What would you do?”
“If you like Dante, if you like Bosch, if you like Burroughs, you’ll dig the brutally dark brilliance of C.A. Seller’s HERO APOMIXIS. A rare stroke of ever darkening courage. Welcome to hell.” Ron Whitehead
It was, “Yawn,” time to go sleepy-bye. Another day without
any major upset or incident was a good day gone in Attica,
or anywhere else, so far as Hero was concerned. Time to go
sleepy-bye. Deep.. sleeping .. dark ….
“YAH, MON! DUB, MON! DUB!! BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!! BOOMBOOM-
BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!! BOOM-BOOM- JAH RASTAFARI!! SELASIE I,
HA, HA, HA, HA, HA!!”
General’s tape player woke him up choking sleep from Hero
with the fool hypocrite’s choice of musical message sent
out at what must have been closer to 4:00 a.m. than 3.
He gave up and chose earplugs over General’s blood and when
earplugs were scarce he used damp toilet paper. Once in
he went right back to sleep.
“Fucking faka-Jamaican, pussy-clot, to Ras, Bumbaclod,”
Treasure. The aching bones of Hero’s hands as he washed
his dishes in stinging cold water. When he was a boy he
would tell his mother that he was sick. Looking back he’d
learned that it was only the loneliness of being a member
of his family that had made him think he was ill. Leftovers
of that behavior showed in his subliminal desire to be
ill – long believing that he could garner some sympathy
because he sure as hell wasn’t going to get any affection.
It was a cyclical pattern that he went through with much
mental hand wringing until the recuperative powers of his
spirit would rescue him, usually with full force. Now he
was afraid. Over the years Hero had begun to see NYSDOCS
a lot like he’d seen his parents; she’d never believed him –
sick or not – and when ill, treated his complaints as an
added annoyance to his very existence. Mentally, had she
been as erudite as she thought she was, Hero’s mother might
have realized that her feelings towards her son were exactly
the same as those she had for a peculiar old table radio
her mother had owned for decades. That radio, although
it appeared to be in working order, was full of nothing but
static and at best it received a couple of AM stations that
were in a foreign language. The box was beautiful, a very
polished red wood of some kind but the guts were old, ravaged
by time and cockroaches.
Hero Sr. terrorized him more than he beat him. His mother had an internal battle quietly going on way down inside her stale,
bitter, almond seed smelling bowels. Hero was her son. That
spark of recognition from this human Frigidaire tortured
him much more effectively than she could have ever known,
clarifying all her efforts as they had lasted long after
her icy blue heart had stopped beating. Hero had felt tolerated
although at the time he wasn’t aware of it. And, just
like his mother, NYSDOCS had never said, “I love you,” either.
(Even after Hero had said it first.) Not as a boy and not
as a man. Never.
“Just as well,” Hero intuited because he knew that she
wouldn’t have meant it anyway. She was ulcerous turmoil
drenched in Witch Hazel; a crushed, smoldering cigarette –
half as long – in a nearby ashtray. Grammatically correct
to a fault, an expert on what she called “sloppy grammer”
which, like herself, was vague and often indefinable – never
being able to be nailed down on any answer of consequential
import; the flipside of which was to lie shamelessly. She
was a fleshly wraith of bending spine and poor muscle tone,
a small woman of no more than 5’6” – that is when she wasn’t
slouching, which was always – who folk danced some evenings
at the local “Y” but to Hero she never appeared as if she
enjoyed it. Only the revisited memories of her youth spent
picking potatoes in Ohio as a teenager during The Depression.
(Memories are always better.) His father never missed an
opportunity to remind his son that she’d been put in a boarding
school at the age of six and never
been the same since which was a bit of a stretch because
he didn’t meet her until they were both in their twenties.
Hero determined that his father’s observations were somewhat
obtuse – even stupid or useless. The old man was a
poor minister of his own propaganda and a consummate, shameless liar, too. He would run Hero in anxious circles so full of desperation that by the time he was in his mid 20’s he’d
begun to ignore most everything the man said. (A slow learner.)
By that time, Hero had summed him up in one complete and
simple catch-phrase: “He’s a flip artist.” And it didn’t
get anymore accurate than that.
All these weren’t the most positive thoughts Hero could
entertain in preparation for his visit to sick call but
he believed that it was better to be prepared as one never
knew just exactly what, or more precisely, who one might
be forced to have to deal with trying to get what one needed.
The company returned from breakfast making too much noise
as usual. Waffles, considered a good breakfast, could do
that – make guys happy, although the syrup was definitely
suspect. (Everyone said it was watered down; Hero said,
“Yeah, dishwatered down.”)
So, yeah, happy – as men could be in situations like these –
most of them responded to the pressure by behaving like big
juvenile delinquents: singing rude rap lyrics as they made
their ways back to their cells – shouting to one another
– whooping and barking .
“Yo! Yo! Yo, Demo! Yo, son, sen’ me a rolly, son!”
The speaker’s tone told Hero exactly what the relationship
was between Demo and the supplicant: familiar and confident
that his request would be granted, yet acquiescent of his
more than probable inferiority to Demo’s knuckle game which
the voice hadn’t attempted to test and didn’t sound as if
he would. Demo didn’t bother to answer. Hero assumed he sent
his homey a roIly anyway.
At 8:20 A.M. someone’s television was blaring the theme
song from CHIPS, that show about two motorcycle cops in L.A.
The city where six policemen dragged a black guy out of his
car and then proceeded to beat fire out of him with their
nightsticks during a “routine” traffic stop. The officers
initial explanation, which was later denied, was:
“Do you have any idea just how hard it is to swing a nightstick
inside a car?”
At the first trial, the jury was either clinically brain
dead or fixed and as a result almost half of South Central
was looted and burned. According to the news – things
were better now – only the week before, one member of the
LAPD admitted that he and his partner had shot a handcuffed
Latino and then planted an assault weapon on him. The kid
wasn’t even a suspect. He got 23 years and doesn’t do the
Macarena too good no more. The only reason the cop fessed-up
was because he’d been caught trying to steal a half-a-kilo
of coke from the police evidence lock-up.
“Pulp Fiction” or “Chinatown” (you know what? fuck you).
Then, faster than you can say “Reservoir Dogs” he ratted out
everyone but his own mother. About a dozen cops went down for the same shenanigans: grabbing suspected drug dealers,
shaking them down, beating and shooting them cuffed, and
then making up outrageous charges that got them put away
for the rest of their lives.
One of the two cases that Hero was doing time for had been
a bad arrest. He’d delivered dope via bicycle using a beeper,
a cell phone, and sometimes he carried a programmable police scanner with an ear hook-up just like the Secret Service guys used. One day he was introduced to a guy in the street who said
he knew another customer of Hero’s, Brian the Booster, only
they should have called him Brian the Boob because he was
such an asshole. Hero didn’t like him. He always had small
chavol and made big complicated arrangements whenever he
wanted to cop – like he had pressing business or something
boosting Harlequin Romance paperbacks or whatever
the fuck it was that loser was doing for money at the time.
(Quiet as it’s kept, rumor had it that Brian was also known
as Brian the Mouth for his considerable skill at sucking
tokens out of turnstiles.)
Hero used to boost books, although he’d been strictly into
art, photography, and architecture; the other junkies started
calling him “King of the Boosters” because he’d perfected
a system that enabled him to take down a better than $200 a
day habit. He was really smug, it was nauseating.
“You’re a real fucking asshole, “ Hero had told him on more
than one occasion and, “you are a real fucking jerk-off,
Brian, did you know that? A fucking jerk-off.”
After a while, abusing customers like Brian became the
only reason to serve them at all. As an experienced user
and dealer of heroin, Hero learned that most junkies
were overcome by their own worst personality traits
as they slid into blind resignation of the fact that they
could not maintain their habits in this society without lots
of money. It made them pathetically insufferable at best.
“Now you know why they call it dope,” Hero would tell them.
The guy that Brian sent was waiting on the corner of
Lafayette and Great Jones with another of Hero’s customers,
a kid named Jake, who approached him when he arrived pointing
to a heavy set white dude with fried, shoulder length blond hair and a matching beard and mustache. Hero thought he was one of these New Jersey guys he’d been meeting. He thought wrong.
He let Jake call him over and then the three of them walked
north on Lafayette while Hero’s new “customer” told him that
he’d gotten his number from Brain who had just,”gone around
the corner to make a phone call – probably to call you.”
“So, what do you want?”
Hero opened a bag with a small flip knife, cut a straw
in half and stuck it in …. . closed the knife and returned
it to the waistband of his bike shorts As he reached to hand
dude the bag, he said, “Here, this one’s on me … ,” and suddenly,
dude grabbed the dope and spun behind Hero, who felt a thick
hairy forearm wrap around his neck, and a leg in front of
one of his just before he went sailing face down into the
pavement where the UC’s free hand bounced his head off of
the concrete opening a gash over his right eyebrow that
took five stitches to close.
When they got Hero to the hospital, the other UCs tried
to get him to flip: who did he work for? Where did he get
his shit? etc., etc. They always tried their hardest when
a suspect was considered most vulnerable – very much in keeping within the bounds of The Constitution, Hero was sure.
Politely, he told them nothing and they got the picture pretty
fast seeing as how he wasn’t too shaken up by his arrest or
the gash in his head. That, and they’d ran his name on their
little dashboard computer. Hero had been on the job longer
than most of them; his first adult arrest having been in 1986.
With bail stashed the only thing he was sweating was
when he would get to see a judge.
The kops asked him how he felt about what had happened
with the UC, the one who had slammed Hero’s face into
the sidewalk entirely unprovoked. This was a set-up: almost
anything close to the truth could be used against him to
support their certain charge of resisting arrest.
He really ran off at the mouth they might even add a charge:
“Making Threats to a Police Officer.”
Hero often wondered what it was that kept the police from
making up whatever stories they wanted, forgetting for the
moment that he’d been lucky in that department – so far.
The bump on his head was slowing his thoughts, muddling them, which wasn’t such a bad thing considering the last question
these self-righteous Nazi motherfuckers had asked him.
“He was just doin’ his job – no hard feelings.”
A couple of the younger kops got tight; a short, goatee’d
Puerto Rican kop in particular. He was crying to the ranking
detective about how, “He thinks he’s fuckin’ slick! Blah,
blah, blah, he thinks he’s funny, blah, blah, blah, fuckin’
drug dealing scum, blah, blah, revolving door justice, blah
Hero felt good knowing he’d caught that asshole’s vein.
Before it was over, J. Edgar Hoover here managed to aggravate
the shit out of all of them – for which Hero silently gave
himself a hearty pat on the back for a job well done. And
the best part was that he didn’t even catch a beating doing
- The Manhattan South Narcotics Task Force (MSNTF), widely
recognized by the neighborhood junkies as all sharing the
exact same personality disorder, everyone of them thought
that he was Popeye Doyle.
A few years earlier an Assistant District Attorney (ADA)
in Criminal Supreme Court had said, “Judge, this man is a
career criminal!” He said it as he waived a boney finger in the air.
He desperately tried to keep his composure in
the presence of such an evil degenerate turn style jumper.
“Does that come with a pension or do I need to look into
starting a 401k?” Asked Hero whereupon the entire courtroom
cracked up. The legal aid tried to hide his smile and just
kept shaking his head with his hand over his mouth and even
the judge had himself a good chortle as he had Mr. Hero led
out and back to the bullpens.
“What did I say?” He hammed all the way to the door followed
by two snickering court officers.
Privately? Privately? Privately, Hero hoped that the UC
who broke his head open would be pushed under the wheels
of a garbage truck by some mentally disturbed homeless crack head, or better yet, hit by a Department of Corrections bus
coming straight from Rikers Island to the courthouse. Either
would do nicely. No drawn out painful illness like bone cancer
or ALS, the motherfucker might recover. Better to just take
him out quick and clean; no muss, no fuss.
At Hero’s arraignment, even the judge didn’t believe the
UC’s arrest report. Why any heroin dealer
would ever have to threaten a potential customer – on Lafayette Street and in broad daylight no less – was beyond speculation.
It wasn’t enough to beat the case though, and eventually
he took a plea bargain for a sentence of 2 ½ to 5 years.
They could have just as easily handed him a 4 to 9 and
that’s why he bought his own lawyer.
“Crime pays,” he told his lawyer, “just not as good as
it used to.”
“This seems a little trumped up to me,” the woman conducting
his presentencing interview had said after reading the arrest
He made the $7,500 bail in four days. When parole brought it up, he planned to ask them if they honesty believed that he needed to threaten anyone with a knife to buy $40 worth of heroin from him?
But Hero knew exactly what their response would be. Sidelong
stares and daggers shot out over thick lensed half-glasses,
CRIMINAL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
COUNTY OF NEW YORK
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
- HERO (M 33)
STATE OF NEW YORK)
COUNTY OF NEW YORK)
PART F / 50/30
DET Matty Talcumpowder, shield #9073 of the MSNTF, being duly
sworn, deposes and says as follows:
On July 31, 1997, at about 20:05 hours at F/O 404 Lafayette ST.
in the County and State of New York, the defendant committed the
- PL 220.16(1) Criminal Possession Controlled Substance 3rd
in that the defendant knowingly and unlawfully possessed a narcotic
drug with intent to sell it.
The offense was committed under the following circumstances:
Deponent states that he is informed by Undercover 6355, of
MSNT-F,–tha–>_6335 approached defendant, told defendant he was a friend of Brian, and that he needed some dope. defendant asked
how much 6355 wanted and 6355 responded four, (“i) defendant-t1ran–[
sic] told 6355 that he did not know 6355 and 6355 would have to
do a bag, (iv) defendant took out a glassine of heroin, pulled out
a knife, and ordered 6355 to do the bag, (v) undercover 6355 than [sic] tackled defendant, Deponent further states that he recovered 36 additional glassines of heroin and $583.00 from the defendant’s person.
Deponent further states that the above described substances
are in fact what they are alleged to be based upon information
and belief, the source of which is as follows: his professional
training as a police officer in the identification of drugs, his
prior experience as a police officer in drug arrests and observation of the packaging which is characteristic of this type of drug. False statements made herein are punishable as a class A misdemeanor pursuant to section 210.45.Of the penal law.
Indicating their express displeasure at having been asked
to so singularly confront the truth as supported by the weight
of the evidence. That, or they just wouldn’t believe him
Jughead was locked out to go to church, the weekly politicking
session for the Irish guys from the different cell blocks.
There was a sizable Italian tip over in D-block but they
wouldn’t be joining the fracas; lately it was rumored that
the two camps were gearing up for a beef though Hero didn’t
have a clue as to why.
The Italian Brotherhood (IBH) were most of them obsessed
with a fossilized Mafioso stereotype based on their grandfathers.
(Most of their fathers hadn’t been worth shit.)
Hero saw them like anyone who still idolized Elvis, long,
tasteless, stale, and lame. These were the new breed. The Five Families of the infamous Commission were a dead
dismembered dinosaur that these young men were always waving the dry rotten limbs of, shouting, “We ain’t dead! See? Look, look, we ain’t dead, I tell’ya!”
Hero thought they were hokey twisted imitations of men
who’d been dead for well over 50 years. Albeit, recently
they’d earned an “E” for Effort after five of them were
arrested for smuggling cocaine and hand-held video games
in through the package room.
They were all pretty retarded and Hero did his best to
stay out of their arguments which wasn’t always so easy
as one might think when everyone involved was either paranoid,
stupid or paranoid and stupid.
“You’re either wit’ us – or against us, there ain’t no
They were worse than the Christians. Hero maintained that
being Jewish around these guys was worse than being black –
it was fronting like you were white. As usual, a lot of guys
didn’t get it but it was worth it for those who did. And
if he laughed at his own jokes? “So what,” he figured, more
as an invitation than any question. Hero never wanted to
lose his sense of humor, he believed laughter was when we
recognized a paradox, and, where the two points of it met,
that’s where humor usually began. Not a Catch-22. The real
Catch-22, not that horribly overused and watered down version
of Catch-22 damned if you do – damned if you don’t, that was something entirely
different. In the book, Catch-22, Yosarian goes to the apartment
where Nately’s whore’s sister lived along with the
rest of the girls only to discover that the M.P.s have run
them all into the street without even their coats. He’s blown
away that the old woman left behind knows Catch-22. It is
here that the paradoxical synonym for abject horror in events
which cannot – and will not – ever make “sense” are defined.
For truly, when Hero reflected on the great distinction and
honor that had been bestowed on the author: to be recognized
for contributing a universally used catch-phrase to the English
language that practically everyone was using incorrectly
was not only so atypical of what consumers we all were, it
was a genuine Catch-22!
Hero believed that these were the integral parts of the
way in which men were changed – for better or worse – by the episodes of adversity in their lives such as war, prison, illness, love, and the absence of love to name just a few. Prisons changed men but wars were much faster and more finite as the opportunities for loss of life and limb were so much greater.
Hero had met a man in his late 70’s who’d been a crewman on a
F1ying Fortress, a bomber, during the Second World War.
He said that he didn’t know what scared was until he’d
experienced getting shot at 20,000 feet in the air and
seeing one of the other boys get hit and die. Hero imagined bullets piercing the thin metal skin of the huge airplane. Shouts
and screams cut short in the high altitude winds as they
were carried away into the cold – and then someone’s chest
heaving up and down as he gasped for air before dying. Some
young man bleeding to death 20,000 feet up in the sky. So
cold, so very, very cold.
So war changed men – and women – and children, too. (For
every one military casualty there were always at least four
civilian.) Certain life situations provided no area for an
individual’s personal safety, or anyone else’s most of the
time; the consumer often needed to be reminded of that. This
way he could be manipulated, told what to hate, who to fight
and most importantly, on the most subtle levels: what to
buy. What to know.
In prisons men turned into something else as
a method of survival. There wasn’t anything romantic about
- Hero hadn’t experienced it and it was ugly and
yet another part of his warrior’s spirit observed the transitions
with focused indifference, drinking in every minute
detail of intrigue, subterfuge and battles that raged
behind and before men’s eyes. Some changed in that they
found their limitations but if their image was ever compromised it was one of the greatest consumer mistakes they
could ever make.
When we are born, or any animal for that matter, as soon
as we are capable our parents want us to stand, to walk,
now, now the ground is our enemy – and although we may spend
a great portion of our lives doing many different things,
all along there is one thing that we are always doing and
aware that we are doing even when we think we are not: we
are trying to keep from falling back down to the ground.
After this primary fact all else is frivolous. All else
self-indulgent, selfish, and wanton.
One of the best pieces of advice that Hero ever received
in prison was,
“If it ain’t worth dyin’ for – don’t beef about it .. “
He always kept his fence up and electrified at all times.
Wild Bill had taught him that one. It was exhausting – he
had to be on point to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime; there
was no such thing as backing down in response to acts of
violence, disrespect or intimidation. Oh, and threats –
threats were a big no-no also and not to be tolerated. The self
promotion of greedy selfish causes by scumbags cast a
shadow wherever one looked. It made Hero feel as if his spirit
was being drawn fiber thin down a long and winding slop sink
drain full of dirty brown mop water that was connected to
the drinking fountain out in the A block exercise yard. Respect
was, to a large degree, determined by the amount of heart
a guy displayed in a fight. That was the beauty of building
a reputation: once you’d established that you weren’t putting
up with any bullshit, three quarters of the assholes didn’t even
look in your direction. Of course, there was a price to be paid
and then a few years in the Box.
To punk-out was the ultimate disgrace. That individual
was shunned by everyone and abused by those who didn’t shun
him: the bottom feeders, the rapos, the booty-bandits.
The violence was addictive and exhilarating requiring
very little in the way of intellectual thought. As for fighting,
Hero had learned to strike early and with absolutely
no mercy. Hurt the scumbag as bad as you can and try not
to kill him doing it. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded, killing
someone was way easier than trying to hurt him badly without
killing him; you could stab a guy and he might die later
in his cell from internal bleeding – it was a pretty common
occurrence because no one wanted to go to the clinic and then
get locked-up as well.
”CLUNK-CLUNK,” and the easy slide of Hero’s gate meant sick
call. He stepped out closing it behind him and headed up
front and then downstairs to 7 company where he waited with
a handful of other inmates just outside the nurses’ station.
When it was his turn, Hero explained what had been going
on with his strange body sensations for the past week. The
overweight and hardly attractive Nurse Boweler checked his
blood pressure, took his temperature, and even looked in
his ears. He noticed that she had sexy pudgy fingers and
sculpted nails just long enough to suggest and allure. They
weren’t pointed suck-me-bitchy and she was
a member of the Facility Health Services staff so all
bets were off: the bitch was either a freak or frigid. You’ve
heard of “fight or flight” haven’t you? Well, this isn’t
too far away from that.
She wore a matching gold wedding band and engagement ring set on the traditional finger. Nurse Boweler, a big phony
prone to writing entirely too much in an inmate’s Ambulatory
Health Record, took her time and Hero was grateful for it
as he sat before her fantasizing about all her tight fat
flesh and what sucking her pussy would be like and – after
all that – he still managed to affect an expression of perplexed helplessness – not too helpless – and worry over his
as yet undiagnosed condition.
Nurse Boweler asked Hero a few questions and he saw that
she’d blushed when he looked into her brown eyes. She was
attracted to him and had he known just what a basket case
she was he would have never got started. Nurse Boweler, in
her travels (Attica High School, Class of ’96), had contracted
one of the most virulent strains of herpes known to man or
beast and had vowed to spread it as far and wide as her
big fat hynie would let her. When she got wet, she became
as uncomfortable as she was aroused. A naturally very horny
girl she was aroused quite often there in her examination
room. Unable to satisfy herself, she took to writing vicious
and absurd suggestions in the inmates’ AHRs. No one ever
read the damn things anyway.
Meanwhile, Hero was thinking of all of those stories he’d
heard about inmates having affairs with counselors, nurses,
teachers, C.O.s, you name it. He’d never had one and suspected
that most of what he’d heard was bullshit anyway,
figuring if he was getting some like that – why would he
ever need to tell anyone!
Right then though he wanted to suck Boweler’s toes and
then open his hot mouth wet and wide over the backs of her
ankles, her knees, and later he’d give her a hickey inside
her thighs before French kissing her nipples, neck, ears
and lips. Hero guessed that she gave great head and, later
on in his cell, naively thought that she was a good girl
who partied but not a slut, just fun, horny, and sensible. The kind of girl who always made sure there was a designated driver.
“Now how the fuck would you know all that?” he asked himself
with a mock air of incredulity. “Huh?” Fantasies ended
when he admitted that he would have fucked her – but only
because he was so horny – and that she wasn’t at all his
type – and further more – that if they ever were a couple
(and she did lose all that weight), she’d probably dump him
for some cop or a lumberjack. Everyone sold themselves in
one way or another. It wasn’t always true but it sure
looked that way most of the time.
Back upstairs, General’s radio sang out, “ … step
all-night-long … ,” it was that pundit of hind-quarter prophecy,
Mary J. Blige. Hero thought she was gorgeous, even if she
said some stupid things now and then. Hero said stupid things
all the time; just who the fuck did he think he was with
his King Shitlovers delusions anyway? The next song had a
sample by Joni Mitchell in it that just didn’t fit. In fact
it sucked. It was by some unknown like a lot of the rap
General played; rudimentary – unpolished in its intellect.
Most of it was very Black but Hero’s particular prejudice
was against the crab-assed small mindedness of the messages
he heard – not the people who delivered them although a
lot of them were pretty obnoxious. Public Enemy and KRS1,
those were the artists he applauded. Maybe Snoop was technically “Da’ Man.” He was also too fucking raunchy and forever waving a blood soaked flag. He talked too much shit, too.
NWA were an angry bygone phenomenon. Now there was Ice-T,
Ice-Cube and probably an Ice-Skates running around out there
somewhere just waiting to be discovered. The corny quality
of rapper’s nicknames grew worse and worse: Old Dirty Bastard,
McGoo, Mystikal (his latest effort was called “Ghetto
Fabulous” ), “Treach” Salt ‘N’ Peppa’“ Gangsta’ ‘Boo, “Noriega”
“Capone” Timbaland (yeah, like the boots), Busta Rhymes (another of Hero’s faves), Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Italy, Lil’ Keke, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ 0′, Lil Ric, Lil’ Soldiers, Lil’ Suzy, Lil’ Troy,
Lil’ Wayne; sheeit, they had everyone but Lil’ Abner! There
were the late Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur who’s
beats were smokin’ .. They were on some “other” shit, some
“Thug Life” type shit, na’ mean?
And with that, one couldn’t help but come to all the prison
tags Hero’d heard over the years. See, this rap thing ran
the gamut from Back To Africa all the way to the ghetto
street corners. Having been demonized over 400 years ago,
it was only natural that they would eventually give up trying
to assimilate and adopt the role that had been forced upon
Hero had met men with names like: Trigger (like the horse),
Twin, C-Murder, T-45 (for the number of years he had to do),
King Blood (and a slew of other Kings), Papo Trece, Raquon,
Shahkwon, Shahmeek, Tyreese, Zyrone, Lamel, Black, Red, Uptown, BK, Mussolini, Rambo (thousands of them and ner’y a Moet, Smooth, Silk, Hennessy, DieHard (yup, just like the battery), Bananas, Everlasting, Knowledge, Understanding, Peace God Allah, OG, Outlaw, Boogie, Bing, Mexico, Colombia, Dominica, Ecua, Russo, Russia, White Boy, Yellow Boy, Mighty Whitey, Deadeye, Fingers (don’t ask), Gangsta’, Thai Stick, Gotti, Monteca, Rude Boy, Kebir, Mustafah, Abdul, Triple Seven, Animal, Tyson (after the boxer), and on and on it went. Several of these names were criminal legends in the New York State prison system.
The rest? Poor imitators at best. Then there were the real
days at having to address some 18 year old clown as “Rampage.”
When he tried, the brat either didn’t hear him or wasn’t
paying attention so he called him by his first name instead
which was Contessa,or some such entonces que put’hermano
“Yo, yo, man, don’t be callin’ me by my gov’ment, yo!”
“Your ‘government’ name? Oh! you mean the one your mother
gave you? That one’s no good? Right?” Hero shot back at the
crown clown loser, Rampage, or whatever the fuck this moron
was calling himself that week.
When Hero was a boy hanging out in the school yard back
in Flushing one of the first things he ever learned was
that anyone running around with two different names was
probably not worth knowing. Of course back then doing dirt
was not an accepted form of survival like dealing herb or
Hero knew he was right and wrong but he didn’t care, he
didn’t like the phony little motherfucker anyway.
“Rampage,” he snorted to his man, Sean, as they were walking
away. “what’s he got, a brother named ‘Temper Tantrum,’
Fucking ‘Rampage,’“ and he spat with emphasis on the F, R, and P.
Next door, Jughead was watching Jerry Springer and howling
about some big ugly woman. “I wouldn’t want to have to fight
Hero was sickened by lunch. In his feed up tray had been
rice diablo, another limp soggy salad and a small portion of
peaches. The smell turned his stomach on its side so that
he breathed through his mouth when he removed the peaches
into a plastic peanut butter jar to eat with the mi1k he’d
saved from breakfast. He still had some jelly left in another
container and used that to make himself a thin sandwich
on two slices of state-bread. That, plus the peaches and
milk for dessert, followed by a rolly, had been lunch. He
put on his headphones and listened to some Jazz .. thinking
about its development from African, Latin American, and
The Blues. Hero suspected that somewhere in there one might
search – and find – a greater degree of American Indian
influences far beyond those already adopted presently in Latin
and African beat and song most predominantly. In the Blues,
all three were connected by the phrasing of the crying call
and answer lamentations; the ancestor of Jazz.
First a call, a statement of the condition and the circumstances
that had caused them. Then a second call to hear
that statement again like a tribute to a memory, except this
time – ended with a wailing cry and always the lamentation
as if to say, “I cried out to you, but you did not hear me.
I cried out to you yet again, and still, you did not heed my call.”
A walking blues bass line and solo’s that cried. In Jazz,
Hero believed the content was a busy extended cousin of the
former, but without all that fucking crying over and over
and over again all the time; an existential blues and then
some. Jazz celebrated differently, too, with a great range
of intricate colors and textures, all of them very much its
own creation. A sort of flow that didn’t sound like it took
itself too seriously yet was firmly tuned and timed
disciplined and hammered by technical precision. Taking
turns, each instrument soloed to bass and drum rhythms, rata-
tat-tat-tat- heavy brushes swished over cymbal and
snare while stand-up bass strings buzzed fuzzy like the
crutches in a Salvador Dali painting, the one full of
all those melting clocks.
Hero had always appreciated Jazz, or, more accurately,
he recognized its technical and spiritual prowess. It was
only recently that he’d begun to listen to Jazz and to actively
seek it out. In the early 80’s he’d heard Don Cherry play
solo with his famous pocket horn at Life Cafe. Almost ten
years later, Hero would run into Don while the two of them
were waiting to cop dope on east 7th street. He introduced
himself, dropping a few names he knew in the local jazz scene
like Butch Morris, Jamee1 Moondoc and Dennis Charles. Hero
mentioned that he’d read the then recent article about Don
and his family in the magazine section of The Sunday New
York Times. Don told him that he regretted having done it,
feeling the article had focused too much on his long running
battle with heroin instead of his music. They’d also publicized
the fact that he was on methadone. Don said he was embarrassed
for himself and his family and wished he had never let them
do it. A year later Don died but Hero couldn’t remember
from what. He was survived by at least two children one
of whom is the beautiful and spiritual funk diva Nene Cherry
who Hero always thought was way ahead of her time, too. He
guessed that it ran in the family.
All that had been back when Hero was still boosting books,
right after he’d left the carnival. Boosting books was a
good hustle because even if you were caught a lot of stores
- never called the cops and, B. never showed up in court
and, C. even if you did get time – it was usually no more
than a month or two (depending on how many times you’d been
busted for it).
Hero was good at it, too; making and saving money and supporting an $80 a day habit. And it all came crashing down around his head when one miserable psychopath lied.
Since 1983, he had been the obsession of a frustrated,
middle-aged lunatic by the name of David Cohen. The consistent
crossing of their paths led Hero to strongly believe that
Cohen was practicing witch craft.
They first met when Hero was the super of David’s
building on east 9th street. Several apartments had been
burglarized before Hero took over yet David felt compelled
to complain to the landlord and although there was not a
shred of evidence to link him to the crimes he was fired.
He lost a free apartment and his salaried position performing
maintenance in several other buildings. He was 19 and his
world was turned upside down by someone almost 20 years his
senior whose idea of a good time was celebrating your bad
luck. Your failures were David Cohen’s triumphs for no other
reason than it made him feel good. Pure frustrated evil. Later,
Hero supposed that David was in lust with him, there
could be no other reason for the events that were to follow
over an almost 15 year period of time.
The next time they met it was 1989 and Hero was dealing
coke out of a bar on east 9th street known as The Aztec,
which, by fate or fortune, also happened to be right next
door to the building David Cohen lived in. At closing time,
David would scream obscenities at all of the bar’s patrons
while throwing boiling water, flower pots,
garbage, bottles, and small buckets of bleach at their heads.
In 1993 the apartment Hero had crashed in without sleep
for 6 days was also in the same building. The deal had been
that Hero could stay in exchange for scraping and painting
the place. A misunderstanding between his friend, the current
super, and the landlord, led to Hero being told to vacate the premises under threat of arrest without any notice whatsoever even though legally the place was his: he had over 30 days living there. They locked him out. He was homeless and out of doors in December, only days out of Bellvue and still loopy from all the legal drugs the Poohbaski-ites had poisoned him with. That
same night, Hero tried to gain access via the fire escape
when low and behold, there was David Cohen, screaming at
the top of his lungs, “BURGLAR! BURGLAR! CALL 911!! etc.,etc,” and waving a big black nightstick through the air with which he would eventually put a hole in Hero’s head before the evening was over.
When he was arrested, Hero didn’t run because he hadn’t
done anything wrong. He told the police that he’d been illegally
locked out and that he wanted to press charges against Cohen
“We didn’t see it,” the cop said.
“You didn’t see me on that fire escape either, it didn’t
stop you from putting me in cuffs,”
And that, Hero knew, was the only answer he would get and
with no more to comfort him than his own personal knowledge
that he was right he promptly shut-the-fuck-up as he’d been
instructed to lest his head develop another mysterious bloody
hole in itself.
Later on at the precinct, and trying to get home early,
the same cop wouldn’t take Hero to the hospital saying,
“Ah! It’s nothing – what’d you get? A little bump when
you fell down? You’ll be alright, right, Ronnie? (referring
to his partner who looked like he was on thorazine) Tell’em,
tell’em about the guy we had in here last week: he had a
a fuckin’ stab wound – and if he could go without going
to the hospital, so can you.”
“OK, then check this out,” Hero shot back, “one way or
another – I’m goin’ to the hospital before you take me downtown
into those filthy fuckn’ bullpens with this bloody hole
in my head,” whereupon the arresting officer thought better
of Hero’s original request (it had to be the mention of “blood”).
After too many arrests, Hero had seen guys in the bullpens
with tubes still sticking out of their bodies, catheters, casts, dressings, steel rods with all sorts of shit attached to them, all sorts of insane shit; with open and infected wounds, in withdrawal from heroin, methadone, crack or booze.
When they finally did get arraigned – after 2 or 3 days down
there in the overcrowding, filth, piss and shit – the judge
would order “Immediate Medical Attention” which always sounded to Hero, way too much like “Assault On Staff.” IMA meant that you would see a doctor sometime after you processed
on Rikers Island, which was nothing special because everyone
saw the doctor. So, if it was 9:00 A.M. when you saw the judge,
that usually meant you’d get your Immediate Medical Attention
sometime around 5:00 P.M. the next evening.
With his head all stitched up nice and tight, Hero made
his way through the Manhattan Criminal Court bullpens for
2 days. When he got to court, the D. A. produced a “Corroborating Affidavit” in which David Cohen alleged that Hero had assaulted him with a pipe, “causing severe swelling and lacerations to the left hand.” There was no hospital report
attached because there was none. When Hero’s legal aid attorney
read him the new charges, he asked – in all seriousness:
The Grand Jury failed to indict on the following charges:
1.) Attempted Burglary 3
2.) Possession of Burglars Tools 3
3.) Felony Assault w/ a Deadly Weapon 2
4.) Criminal Trespass 5
It was the Criminal Trespass. The judge, a not very friendly
Jewish woman in her early forties, gave Hero 8 months to
run concurrent with whatever parole gave him – hence – the
8 month parole violation.
In 1995, Hero stopped to buy a YooHoo in the Korean Deli
on 1st Avenue and east 9th street. Almost an entire block
away from David Cohen’s apartment and years away from what
had transpired between them – it just didn’t
seem important – old news. As Hero made to pay and leave
the store in walked you know who and immediately Cohen
launched into a ranting, raving, practically frothing diatribe
in which he told the Korean behind the counter that Hero
was responsible for every burglary that ever happened everywhere.
Hero slipped past him and forgot all about it.
A week later, standing just off the corner of St. Mark’s
Place and 2nd Avenue (yes, that’s right around the corner
from the bank, thank you), Hero saw a police van heading
downtown with someone sitting in the back pointing in his
direction. Having no known warrants (not that that had ever
stopped them before) he stayed put. In less than a minute and
a half, he was surrounded by uniformed police officers,
guns drawn and one of them was shouting at him:
“Hero! Get down on the ground, Hero! Do it now!”
“For what?!” Hero asked the booming, disembodied voice
“Just do it, Hero!”
Hero thought about it, afraid to move a hair – they would
put too many holes in him for the doctors to close up. There
were at least three police cars and the van, no, this was
not good, not good at all.
The cop with the voice took a chance, and creeping slowly
he advanced in Hero’s blind spot as he spoke, firmly but
gently coaxing him down to the pavement. He obeyed and they
cuffed him, frisk searched him and lifted him up so that
he might stand up straight. Hero looked up as he rose and saw
David Cohen standing right in front him, smiling like the
cat that just ate the canary.
“Oh, so what does he say I did THIS time?!” said Hero,
to which the cop, sensing something was wrong with Cohen
from the start, put a mental note that was included in Hero’s
David, with nothing less than true fairy tale inspiration,
told the police that Hero had followed him into the Korean
Deli and threatened him with a gun the previous evening. Armed with a three year Order Of Protection and knowledge of Hero’s rap sheet he had created a situation that would have Hero
back behind bars – if not shot. As a convicted violent felon the
police were very careful about how they approached him.
Plus, Cohen said he had a gun.
Strictly by coincidence, Hero landed in front of the
same judge who’d written the Order Of Protection that Cohen
was probably masturbating with at the very same moment
Hero was being arraigned. This time he was charged with:
Criminal Contempt/Disobeying Court Order 2
Harassment w/ Physical Contact 2
The judge, a short, blond haired helmet – the Jewish female –
who reminded Hero of a constipated duck, was so happy to
see him again that she offered him a year. Threatening him
in what could only be described as a nasal fury she said,
“Mr. Hero, can you tell me whose signature that is on the
bottom of this Order Of Protection?”
“Yours, your Honor.”
“That’s right, Mr. Hero, mine. Now would you kindly explain
why you have chosen to disobey the court’s orders that you
should stay away from Mr. Cohen?”
Where to begin? Hero desperately tried to think faster
than this liar but no dice, it just wasn’t going to happen;
so he went with the truth. Big mistake.
“Mr. Hero, iregardless of the circumstances, I hardly
think that Mr. Cohen would take so much time to persecute
you – as you say he is – and I will repeat my offer one
more time, do you hear me, Mr. Hero? I said I’m not going
to offer you the year again, do we understand one another?!”
Sheeit, Hero knew he wasn’t going to see her again either.
Once he motioned for trial that was it, he moved onto
another court: trial part. That, and just who the fuck did
this bluffing blond helmet think she was talking to? Even
if he blew trial – which was impossible because most of
these things never happened in the first place, there was
just no proof – the most he could get would be a year!
“Yeah, whatever .. “
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hero, what was that?”
“I said: WHATEVER!”
Back in the bullpens he spat, “Lying fuckin’ bitch!”
And nine days later he copped out in pretrial hearings
and got 9 months (out of which he’d only have to do 6),
for trying to buy a Goddamned YooHoo. Still and all, Hero
figured he was slightly ahead (sort of), at least this time
he didn’t get his head split open.
Back in the bullpens. A regular Zone away from Zone –
The Twilight Zone, that is. Time for reflection about where
a man’s life was heading: Rikers Island.
Back in the bullpens. It gave Hero a chill that ran right
through him whenever he thought of them. They were large,
20 to 40 man holding cells with a wooden bench that ran along
all three walls – the “fourth” was covered with bars. This
was where detainees were delivered by the police and packed
in underneath the Manhattan Criminal Courts
building at 60 Centre Street. They were moved from pen to
pen for up to 3 days (just don’t piss the cops off down
there or you might stay a week!) until they saw a judge
for arraignment and either went home or off to the Island
which was the more common destination.
Filthy, crowded, dangerous, unsanitary, and more often
than not without working toilets or running water. It was
called “Bullpen Therapy” and if you had to go back and forth
between Rikers Island and court you were automatically
going to get a good dose of it. The trip began with being
woken up at 4:00 A.M., fed, lined up and led to a large staging
area big enough to hold at least 300 people like the old
mess hall in C-95which was closed almost a decade ago due to fights, slashings, and riots. There, a C.O. would call out the names of detainees collated by borough. One at a time, each man
was then pedigreed by photo, date of birth and home address
before being pat-frisked, sent through a metal detector
and then directed to one of the various bullpens in the
Receiving Room to wait to be called for a corrections bus
with mesh covered windows that would take him, and 29 other
swinging dicks, to court just prior to leaving the Receiving
Room. Everyone was handcuffed two men at a time one man
to another. Hero had seen a few fights that turned into bloody
brawls because of this.
The bus ride was usually about 35 minutes from Rikers
to the Manhattan courts and most of the drivers were road
menacing speed demons because after two trips they could
go fuck-off for the rest of the day. Altogether from breakfast
to the courthouse took 3 to 4 hours and then you
waited to be called for court which began at 9:30 but
didn’t start until shortly after ten when the judge took
the bench. That didn’t mean you were first though. No. Cases
from The Island could be heard anytime – it’s not like you
were going anywhere – so cases from the street were heard
first. A detainee could reasonably expect to see the judge
sometime either just before, which was with great luck,
or, just after his or her Honor’s one and three quarter
hour lunch break. You ate your “bullpen sandwiches” of baloney
on damp, compressed state bread in the bullpens and an apple
or two soggy cookies with a quarter drink for dessert.
When they finally did call you it was either to
be arraigned in any one of the criminal justice system’s
courts, depending on the severity of the offense you were
accused of, or maybe for a pretrial motion or a guilty plea.
But if you weren’t there for a pretrial hearing or actually
on trial, which most detainees weren’t because they copped
out in plea bargains, usually one could expect to spend
– quite literally – all of about 3 minutes in front of
the judge and then it was right back into the bullpens to
wait for a bus back to Rikers Island, ETA (in your rack)
8:00, 11:00 or 1:30A.M. Once you made it back you
waited in the Receiving Room bullpens for up to 3 hours
and sometimes more (and you definitely didn’t want to piss
these C.O.s off either) waiting to be strip-searched, fed,
counted and, after a bit more of the bullpens, taken back
to your dorm or cell after shift change.
This final part about count and shift change constituted
the NYC Department of Corrections finest example of the
same NYSDOCS competition to see who could do the absolutely
least amount of work in the greatest amount of time. The
reason the city C.O.s were so much better at it was because
they retired after 20 years whereas the state guys only
after twenty-five. Hero had once watched two Receiving Room
officers, from overlapping shifts, fist fighting because
those going off-duty hadn’t searched and fed the returning
Bullpen Therapy. Hero shivered and scratched himself thinking
about the difference in even the dirt: it was distinctively
darker and finer – like moist dirt. Humid inside its
very molecules. He didn’t believe any amount of washing
could ever get that dirt out of your clothes. A lot of guys
threw their arrest clothes out and some burned them – but
that was all just superstition. As for the bullpens themselves
no amount of scrubbing would ever make them clean – not
even close. Then there were the people who went through
them. Hero’s first trip through the bullpens had been 15
years ago and right away he’d noticed just how God awful
ugly everyone else was. The combination of arrests, beatings,
generally poor health, and genetically induced bad looks
under the lousy lighting did not help. It never got better
either. There was a lesson to be learned there on one of
the harshest realities of life and its concomitant results
for folks who weren’t so easy to look at and who didn’t
have any brains to fall back on. By the time Hero was 35 he’d
been arrested over 20 times. A legal aid attorney once
told him, “Mr. Hero, you have a lot of arrests. Do you know
how many arrests you have?”
Hero was dying to say something like, “No, I gave up counting
after 13, figured my luck was bad enough already, know
what I mean?” But instead he said, “Oh, yeah, uh, I didn’t
think it was that many, I mean, I never counted them up
or anything. Look,” he continued in a much sharper tone of
voice, “just get me a bail under 12G’s, ok?”
“You can get $12,000?”
“I have some friends who’ll help me out,” Hero responded
as clear eyed as he could, dope sick like a motherfucker
and pissed that they’d locked him up at all. They were all
hypocrites; suckers in a dull, crass, Punch & Judy puppet
show in which he was forever getting hit with the stick.
He thought about his friends. His very best friends: Mr.
Franklin, Mr. Grant, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Hamilton and all
of their friends, counted, stacked, folded and rubber banded
nice and neat inside a dirty sock on the floor of his storage
room over on Hudson Street.
The bail was $5,000 for the dope and $250 for a stabbing
– that was at least 6 months old -over 23 bundles of heroin
someone had stolen from him.