PrisonTell Your True Tale

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By Richard Gatica

________

I wake.

I’m serving life in prison, but today I will be as free as any man can be. I climb out of bed and check my window for fog. There is none. If there was, for security purposes, there’d be no yard.

I turn on both light and radio. Linkin Park sings of personal change. I’m a morning person, so I rock it, loud and proud. I wash my face and brush my grill. My head is shaved so no further grooming is necessary. I make a cup of coffee using warm tap water. I fold my covers and clean my floor.

All is lovely.

Meals are served inside our cell and at 6:28 my breakfast is delivered by porters. They’re nosey so I wait for them to push down the tier before I get down to business.

I separate the items necessary for my freedom. Today I use pancakes, six slices of wheat bread, Rice Krispies, sunflower seeds and chocolate chip cookies. I crumble it up on a small space of floor. The crumbs must be small. It’s tedious work and takes me thirty minutes but it brings me peace.

I spread the crumbs at the base of my door. The airflow passes over the pancake portion of the crumbs, reducing its moisture content. I scoop up all the crumbs, place them in an old tortilla bag and hide the bag in the folds of my prison-issued jacket – smuggling it to the yard the way many have done with shanks.

I pace back and forth, beaming on coffee, listening to the radio and loving life. Every 20 laps or so I’m sure to sneak some mirror time.

At 8:27 I get dressed for work. At 8:40 my door opens. I work the yard crew. I go outside and collect food and trash carts from the housing units. I’m paid four dollars a month, but the job allows me to go outside while other prisoners remain in their cell.

It’s bitterly cold this morning. I’m nervous about being stopped, searched and the crumbs discovered. But I’ve been doing this for nine months. The key to invisibility is to speak only when spoken to. The guards pay me little attention.

The yard is huge and empty. The guards in towers occasionally look down at me as I work. I wear sunglasses to mask the direction in which I cast my eyes.

As I push a cart across the yard, I see my beautiful sparrows. At first, I had only one. Now I have forty-six. They are perched in a cluster inside loops concertina wire atop a 16-foot wall in a corner of the yard. The loops protect them from larger birds.

As soon as the sparrows see me, they start chirping and flapping their wings. I wish they’d quiet down; they’re attracting the guards’ attention.

I pass and wonder if this confuses or depresses them. But feeding them is forbidden and if I’m caught I will lose my job and won’t be able to feed them any more.

I sweep and pick up trash. I set out basketballs, footballs, soccer balls and Frisbees for the prisoners.

The sparrows’ song travels across the field. They’re anxious for me to finish. I tell the guard I’m ready for yard release. He looks around briefly, inspecting my work.

“Yard release – five minutes,” he says into his radio.

I start walking around the track. Behind my sunglasses my eyes shift from sparrows to guards to the housing units.

I’ve trained the sparrows to perch in the same spot at the far end, the least used part, of the yard. I walk the track toward them. As I near, my hand slips inside my jacket and I remove the tortilla bag. My timing must be perfect. I need to be directly under the sparrows when the unit doors open. At that moment, the guards will have their backs to me as they focus on the prisoners.

I’m slightly off pace. I slow. The gates open.

The sparrows go wild. In this commotion I make my move. I open the bag and scatter the crumbs beneath the sparrows. Their beautiful song is the only sound I hear. It is lovely.

I walk twenty yards farther along the oval track, then turn to face them. There is now so much movement on the yard that I go unnoticed.

I stand and watch the sparrows. Lil Sergio is the boldest of all. He has two dark patches on an otherwise light-grey chest. He looks down at the crumbs then looks at me. He tilts his head sideways as if asking me if it’s time.

I smile.

Then he dives. My heart pounds in my chest. It’s a 16-foot vertical drop. Four feet before he hits the ground, he pulls his chest muscles back, extends his wings, pivots his tail and lands gracefully atop the field of crumbs. I laugh and clap.

Lil Sergio looks at me again, then pecks the crumbs. The sparrows above him sing. Then they dive. First two. Then five. Then twenty. Then all.

Other prisoners see what I do. Most mock me. It’s silly, even crazy, they say, for me to waste such time and effort feeding dumb birds. But their eyes are not mine.

I walk to the opposite end of the yard. I find a spot on the wall and lean against it. Across the yards, the sparrows are pecking away. They fly back to the wire each time someone passes and dive again once it’s clear.

As their stomachs fill, some fly off for the morning. I select one and close my eyes. No one can tell that my eyes are closed. I lean my head against the wall and I imagine myself to be that sparrow. I rise and I fly and I am free. I fly six miles north. I come to a house and land on the open kitchen windowsill. Inside an old woman sits at a table drinking coffee. I chirp. She sees me and beams. Her pale-blue eyes fill with compassion. The valley of wrinkles that covers her face is a sign of hard work and wisdom.

“There you are! Eat your breakfast.”
At my feet are bagel crumbs. I peck until it’s gone. She smiles at me. I realize she needs me as much as I need her. I turn my head sideways and chirp. She smiles.

“See you tomorrow, sweetie.”

I fly away.

I open my eyes. I am back on the prison yard against that wall. Guys are playing basketball and handball. Some are jogging. Others do pull-ups. Most walk in small groups gossiping like schoolgirls.

None of this interests me.

I look across the yard and select another sparrow. I close my eyes and with his image in my mind I lean against the wall behind my sunglasses.

I fly eight miles west to a schoolyard and see children at play. I land on a low branch of a tree near a chubby boy. He sits alone – rejected by the other children.

I chirp.

He looks up and sees me. I rise and I fly and I spin. I zip past him and return to the branch. I look at him sideways.

He smiles and claps.

“How beautiful you are.”

I chip and hop.

Deep in his eyes is the pain of loneliness. Tomorrow I will visit the same spot. He is new to me, but I can see his heart is warm and in no time he will dig into his lunch sack and offer me a Frito. I will sing for him and he will smile and I will fly and someday he will, too.

My radar beeps. I sense movement to my right. I open my eyes. Sergio has joined me on the wall – the guy I named the sparrow for. His nickname is Bird. I guess someone thought he looked like one, but his real name is Sergio and, like I was saying, he’s the one I named the little sparrow after.

Sergio is going home in six months. He’s in for drugs or guns or something. I forgot. He’s tall, handsome, slim and athletic, charismatic and funny. He’s kept his heart warm in a cold prison. Tattoos cover his body. He also has a sexy girlfriend. I’ve seen her pictures and I’m looking for an excuse to see them again, but I think he’s on to me. She’s lovely.

I flip up my sunglasses so he can see the direction of my eyes.

“Do you wish you could dive like that?”

Sergio watches the sparrows dive and climb, like fighter jets.

“Fuck, yeah.”

His voice is barely audible, but I detect passion. We watch the sparrows in silence. Sergio knows when words are unnecessary. He’s the only person on the yard I’m comfortable with.

I’m a loner, an outcast, an oddball. I can’t connect with most people. I find them dull and without depth. Sergio is the opposite and I wonder why we even connect. He’s extroverted, a socializer and popular among the other inmates. Sergio ponders the words of Plato and can digest Socratic dialogues. But he is surrounded by tiny men with limited thought processes. They are twice his age and struggle to obtain their GEDs. I met him in the prison library one afternoon. He reached across a book cart and handed me The Alchemist. It opened my mind to a realm that I did not know existed.

Sergio’s mind is mature enough to understand that I’m not crazy. Everyone deals with a lifetime of incarceration in their own way and Sergio sees that peace I find through sparrows is my way of grasping life.

Sergio suggests we walk and we do. The sky is partially cloudy. I look up and see the outline of the full moon ahead.

“How many people on this yard do you think even realize the moon is there?”

“Probably none,” he says.

We soon find ourselves near a patch of sun. The patch is next to the bed of crumbs. As we talk I notice that the sparrows are watching him from atop the sixteen-foot wall. They’re reading his body language. I’ve provided food for many months. When few people are on the yard, some will come so close that I could touch them. But Sergio is a stranger, so they watch him.

 

Finally, they dive and land nearby and eat from the field of crumbs. They consume crumbs in comfort. Then they rise and sing songs of gratitude and soon yard is recalled.

That night, I turn off my radio and climb into bed, time to be alone with myself. I had a wonderful day and can’t wait for tomorrow.

They serve Fruit Loops tomorrow and my sparrows love those.

________

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By Olivia Segura

[dropcap1]T[/dropcap1]wo twenty-foot black barred gates stood corner-to- corner separating Miguel from the catcalls on his right where tattered men clawed at him.

To his left was a clean, orderly ward.

Miguel stood, distracted by the gates when suddenly he felt a yank on his blue silk tie.

“Give me your tie,” said an inmate on his right.

He pulled away quickly and the yelling escalated.attachment(1)

The guard looked him up and down. Miguel’s tie matched his eyes; he wore a tailored navy blue suit and stood six feet tall.

“Would you like a luxury cell or do you want to join them?” he said, pointing to the right.

“I’ll take the luxury cell.”

The guard smirked.

The left gate opened and with that the shouting from the right faded. The guard escorted him down the corridor. Miguel heard the far off strumming of a guitar from the galleys above. He was placed in a single cell on the ground floor. Meals would be served in the dining room. The cost for “luxury”: five hundred pesos a day. The guard gave him a voucher to sign.

It was 1953 and Miguel was 29 years old. He had been to Mexico City eleven years earlier, fleeing his village in Michoacán. When he was three, his father accidentally killed his mother while cleaning his shotgun. His father repented throughout his life praying endless hours on his knees while wearing a crown of thorns. However, he became distant and allowed his second wife to mistreat Miguel.

Miguel loved school. But at age seven, at the suggestion of his stepmother, he was made to work in the fields and support the new children that came. His father owned land, animals and bore the last name of the founders of the village. But Miguel lived like an indentured servant. His labor began before sunrise and ended after sunset. His clothes and shoes were worn and he was never given a peso or a sign of affection. At dinner he was not welcomed to the table, and he ate alone.

The years of neglect and frustration drove him to Mexico City in 1942. He heard that the United States needed workers, Braceros, to help the war effort. He arrived by train in white manta clothing, worn huaraches and held his sombrero in place with one hand on either side as he looked up at the skyscrapers. Miguel wanted to stay and explore the city but his only contact was Major Rubalcava, a man who had married a woman from his village. The Major managed the Rancho La Herradura, which belonged to Miguel Aleman, Mexico’s President.

The Major and his wife gave him a place to stay and a job on the ranch. But Miguel had left his village to become a Bracero and he kept this in mind as he tended the cows, irrigated the vast fields of alfalfa and exchanged glances with a shepherd’s daughter. He also thought about his mother. He would quietly hum a lullaby, his only memory of her. He would close his eyes as he sung but still he could not see her face.

A year later he left the ranch and set out for the Estadio Azteca where thousands of men were spread across acres of parkway waiting to be contracted as Braceros up north. Soldiers patrolled the area in jeeps as men gathered with their home statepaisanos. It was difficult to find a clean spot to rest. The unexpected number of people in the parkway destroyed the grass and trees and the smell of excrement permeated the air.

He camped out for nearly three weeks surviving on the small amount of money he had earned and the generosity of others. Finally, one day in early April, he made it to the front of the line.

“You’re young,” said the administrator.

Miguel was under the required age of 18.

“I’m 22,” he said.

He was first sent to Oregon and then to farms in California. His last assignment placed him in Fillmore, an hour from Los Angeles. He began taking the bus into the city on the weekends. He found a job at the Brown Derby, then at the Biltmore Hotel. He felt alive in Los Angeles and enjoyed the nightlife. He worked to dress sharp and dance to the big bands.

On July 4, 1948 he was deported to Cuidad Juarez. He spoke English now and landed a job as a floor manager at one of the best nightclubs in Juarez.

An acquaintance asked him to travel to Mexico City to help him register and sell the songs his brother had composed. Miguel resisted. But the man promised to pay the expenses. In Mexico City, Miguel took the man to “La W Radio” and several other places to pitch the songs. One day, while searching out leads, Miguel spotted several men with typewriters and makeshift desks near the Zocalo.

“Letters Written,” their sign read.

He had not seen his father for eleven years. He had a writer compose a letter to his father, telling him that he was in Mexico City at the Hotel Juarez.

Two weeks passed and none of the radio leads worked out. One afternoon two policemen appeared at his hotel door. The man who convinced him to go to Mexico City was now falsely accusing Miguel of fraud. The police put him in a detention cell.

Later, an attorney named Tostado appeared. He loaded men with minor charges into a van. They were being sent to prison, he said, but he would be able to save them for a fee of 800 pesos.

One by one, the men were driven to their homes where loved ones paid the fee. Miguel was the last man in the van. Miguel tried to convince him to let him go; he would pay him later, he lied, stating his father was wealthy Hacendado. Tostado let him make a phone call. He pretended to make the call and reported that as it was Sunday his father was at the track racing his prized horses and could not be reached. Tostado told the driver to head to the Palacio de Lecumberri.

Built in 1900, Palacio de Lecumberri was the “Black Palace,” a prison in the form of a castle, where corruption, murder and beatings were common. Tostado left Miguel with the guards.

Which is how he found himself that morning standing before two cellblocks, with a choice of which way to go – with the rabble in general population or with the upper classes.

For the next several days Miguel dined on steak and listened to the stories of imprisoned generals and bureaucrats who claimed they had been betrayed. Every day he saw bodies dragged from the general population ward. And every day he signed the 500 peso vouchers with no way to pay, fearing he would soon join them. At night alone in his cell he would recall his mother’s lullaby and fall asleep imagining how different his life would have been if she were still alive.

On his fifth day at Lecumberri, two prisoners came to his cell and took him to a room. They demanded payment for the days he’d been there. Miguel told them his father would come soon; everything would be taken care of. Had his father received the letter he sent? Even if he had, how would his father know that he was in Lecumberri? But he stuck to his story. The men yelled louder and grabbed him to throw him in the general population ward. There, he knew, he’d likely be killed as someone from the luxury ward who thought of himself as upper class.

At that moment, two soldiers with bayonets stormed in.

“Let him go!”

Miguel heard the prisoners pleading for his tie and jacket as the soldiers took him to the vast main hall. There stood his father with Major Rubalcava. Miguel was stunned. He reached out to shake hands with his father and the Major.

He began to tell the Major that he had been signing daily vouchers of $500 pesos.

“Don’t even think of paying those crooks.”

As they drove away from the Black Palace, Miguel asked his father how he found him. His father had received his letter and sought him out at the Hotel Juarez, where he learned of his arrest.

They returned to Michoacán. The only open seats on the bus where separated and they were not able to sit together. But, anyway, Miguel’s father was stoic and not inclined to conversation.

They arrived at the village; the smell of guavas filled the air. The same cobblestone streets passed the same multi-colored homes, with the same people sitting at their front doors.

His younger brothers and sisters were welcoming, but he felt the cold stare of his stepmother.

That night, Miguel awoke to his father praying over him. He lay there, pretending to sleep, as, for the first and last time, he saw his father’s tears.

He worked daily from sunrise to sunset. He socialized with the townspeople but he no longer spoke or thought like them. He’d been gone too long.

One day Miguel attempted to load a bushel of hay on the horse and missed. His father yelled at him, “You’re of no use! The calluses on your hands have disappeared. You’re no longer good for this work.”

Miguel kept silent and felt the distance between them.

Weeks passed and Miguel could not find himself in the village.

After a month, without saying a word, he left.

____

Olivia Segura was born in San Jose, California to immigrant parents from Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and lived, studied and worked in Mexico City for several years. She took the TYTT workshop to begin documenting her father’s life. This is her second TYTT workshop and story.
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By Richard Gatica

One day I went to my vent and called my buddy, Manny, who lived on the tier above me.

“Hey Manny! Are you hungry?”

“What you got?” he yelled back.

“I can make some bean and cheese burritos with Tapatio sauce and side of hot-cheese crunchies.”

“Shoot it,” he replied.

We stepped away from the air vent.

My defense team put money on my trust account every week. I would buy food from the commissary. I was able to feed the homies who came through. Sometimes it was simply snacks. Other times, we made entire meals. But in some prisons it’s not easy to pass an item from one cell to the next. If our cell door is too low to pass anything, or the cell we want to pass to is above or below use – in those cases, we fish – which is what I was about to do with Manny.

A fishing line is made out of strips of sheet or by using nylon that is taken from waistbands of underwear. Hooks are made from a small piece of plastic comb. We drop the hook into our toilet and flush. The hook will travel into the main drain and be tossed around by the flow and pressure created by several flushings. We do this at the same time with the person we want to fish with. We coordinate our efforts by yelling to each other through the air vents that connect our cells. When the water settles, I pull in my line hoping to find his line attached. Sometimes it takes two or three attempts.

Once the lines connect, they are pulled tight. I soak up all the water in the toilet bowl with a towel. The towel is stuffed deep into the drain to absorb every last drop. Then it is rung out in the sink.

The absence of water creates a powerful vacuum. Air from the cell is sucked into the drain. We do not have to communicate through the vent any more. We can hear each other through the drain, although there is a slight echo. Prisoners also remove the toilet water to smoke weed or cigarettes. We blow the smoke directly into the drain. The powerful vacuum sucks the smoke and odor out and prevents the guards from smelling it. In some places, our ability to communicate through the air vent is poor due to a particular design. In those units, by habit, some people will keep their toilet devoid of water while not in use. This allows them to hear if someone calls them. This is why we call toilets and vents our “telephone.”

I reached into my canteen bag and pulled out the ingredients.

“Hey, Manny,” I yelled, “you want a slice of hot pickle with that?”

“Hell, yeah!”

“All right.”

I ran the hot water in my sink. I needed it to get as hot as possible to soften up the dehydrated refried beans. I dumped the beans into a large plastic cup, added hot water, stirred and popped a lid on.

I sliced the pickle with a small razor blade. I made four burritos. I wrapped two of them individually in multiple layers of plastic. Each layer was secured with string taken from my sock, one layer on top of the other.

Burritos are naturally shaped to travel through the drain. I was careful not to make them too fat.

I smashed up his portion of the crunches in the same bag in which they were sold. I pressed the air out and tied off the top. I shaped the bag into a form similar to the burritos. I then wrapped it up in several layers of plastic, each layer tied with string.

“Hey Manny! You ready to eat?” I shouted into the now-open toilet drain.

“Man, what took you so long? You got me up here starving.”

“Any more complaining and I’ll take a bite out of one of the your burritos.”

Manny laughed but complained no further.

I tied the burritos and crunchies to the line. I was careful to make sure both ends of each item were secured. I fed them into the drain as Manny pulled. Slowly they traveled from my cell into his.

Manny took in the burrito and disconnected my line. I pulled it back.

Although there was no visual contamination, the first thing Manny did was rinse off each package in his sink. He patted it dry with toilet paper. He then removed the first layer of plastic and rinsed the package again. He repeated the process down to the final layer of protection. He then washed his hands.

Manny opened the finally layer of each package. He removed the burritos, sliced pickle, packs of Tapatio and hot cheese crunchies and sat them on his desk.

He licked his chops and called me to the vent. We no longer needed the toilet so we flushed them and they filled back up with water.

“Richard, they look delicious. Thanks!”

“No problem. Are you ready to eat?” I asked.

“Yes. You ready?”

“I’m ready,” I replied.

“Go!” he said.

“Go!”

Although we were in separate cells and on separate tiers, we ate together. We sat at our tables, closed our eyes and imagined ourselves in a Mexican restaurant.

___

*Richard Gatica is serving three life sentences for murder in the California prison system. He has also just completed a memoir of his life in prisons, jails and the streets of California, from which this story was taken. His first story for TYTT was Killing Donald Evans, about the night he killed his crack dealer. Contact him at
Richard Gatica – #D48999
Kern Valley State Prison
P.O. Box 5101
Delano, CA 93216

 

 

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By Jeffrey Scott Hunter

I’d been robbing banks for close to a year when I came to the realization that it wasn’t about the money any more.

I was hooked on the adrenaline rush, the preparation, the recon that went into laying out the perfect score.

When we’d steal the car (the hot box) we’d use, we went as far as getting a set of 150 master keys with which to steal them, so we wouldn’t damage the steering column or the ignition. Sometimes we’d have to leave the hot box in an apartment complex for a few days, and the last thing we needed was to show up armed to the teeth, truculent with adrenaline dripping from our ears, ready to go to war, and the hot box is gone because some do-gooder damaged the steering column and called the cops.

Sometimes I’d be in a car for 10 to 15 minutes trying every key. But in the long run, it was worth it. My partner always had my back. We’d be walkie-talkied up, and he’d be listening to the police scanner. So I was pretty safe.

It was all a big power trip and my ego loved it.

I remember this one time, I’m sitting inside a mall, packing my 9 mm, with lots of cash on me, eating a bag of popcorn and feeling proud of myself. As I watched people move around me, I started to notice that they all looked like drones moving with no real purpose, shuffling along. I began to glance around, taking a harder look. Cashiers mindlessly checking people out. None of these people were living, not like me. I was on a higher plane, experiencing life to its fullest, sticking it to The Man. I was a rebel, unplugged from what society dictated was normal behavior. I was an outlaw.

There were times when we really needed to know certain things about a bank. And there are only two ways to do it. One is to walk inside and have a look, which is out of the question. No way was I getting caught on tape. The second and my personal favorite was to do recon.

(Order Jeffrey Scott Hunter’s crime novel, Paragon, available on Kindle at Amazon.com.)

My partner would drop me off on the side of the road well before dawn. I’d be dressed in camouflage from head to toe. Most banks we did were in rural areas so there was always some vegetation around to lay in. I’d bring my trusty high-powered binoculars, a gallon of water, and some food. Sometimes I’d see how close I could get to the bank, but that really wasn’t necessary. As long as I could see in through a window, I was fine. Most times I’d be fifty to a hundred yards away, watching everyone arrive.

One morning, while laying on this one bank, I watched the manager show up first and go inside. Five minutes lat4er, she removed a plant from the front window. At the time I thought nothing of it. The next day she did the same thing, only this time I was in a different spot getting a better view and saw a cop car sitting across the street in a gas station. After she removed the plant, the cop drove off.

I went back every day the following week, and each morning within a couple minutes of the manager arriving, she’d remove the plant. Sometimes the cop would do a slow drive-by, and it was always at the same time.

That was the whole point of watching the bank in the first place; I needed to know everything. You can’t control everything, but if on Friday at 10:30 a.m. there are no cops around two weeks in a row, chances are good there won’t be any on that third week.

I’d usually watch a place from Wednesday to Friday because that’s when the big money was dropped off. The recon would last maybe three weeks. I’d be hiding for up to 16 hours a day, loving every minute of it.

Another ritual was on the eve of a score, my partner and I would go out to dinner – a nice steak and lobster joint, have a good meal and a few drinks while going over the last details of our plan.

After that he’d drop me off at my girl’s place for some lovin’ and on those nights it was always the best.

My girl wasn’t stupid. She knew I was an adrenaline junkie who liked to carry guns, sometimes disappearing for a month to do a score out of town. She never questioned me. Once I had thirteen grand stuffed in my jacket and when she went to hang it up, she saw it. She only looked at me, not saying a word. And she knew when my partner and I would go out for dinner that the next day something was going to happen. I think that was one of the things the kept our relationship so passionate – a little danger in the uncertainty of not knowing if we’d see each other again. We lived our lives in the moment a lot more than other couples.

After dinner, we’d head over to my partner’s place and get ready to do the score. This was another rush in itself. I’d always have my Walkman, listen to Judas Priest’s Painkiller or an AC DC song called Shoot to Thrill over and over. The combination of cranking those tunes while loading clips to my AK-47 and 9mm, strapping on body armor, making sure the scanner was properly programmed – now that’s exhilarating.

Now here’s where it all started to unravel. It’s a winter day, so it gets dark maybe by 5 p.m. My partner and I were out cruising when I spot a pretty good-sized bank sitting about 30 feet off the road. It’s all lit up with what looks like a few people inside.

“Is that place open?”

My partner glances as we pass. “No, must be cleaning people.” (Back then all the banks closed at 5 p.m.)

“I need confirmation,” I say. “Pull over at that gas station.” I get out and go to a pay phone, call information, then call the bank.

“Hello, Independent Bank. How can I help you?” a girl cheerfully answers.

“Are you still open?” I ask.

“We’re open til six.”

“The drive through?”

“No, you can walk in.”

“Thanks, I’ll be right there,” I say.

I tell my partner the good news, only he’s not as excited as I am at my plan to rob it before it closes. He likes the rush, but he’s more about the money, and we’re out of town. We don’t know the area, have no body armor, no heavy fire power, no scanner, no hot box. Nothing. But I reassure him that this bank will be a walk in the park. I have a 9 mm, a ski mask, gloves. All I need is a pillow case to carry all the cash. Best part is, it’s dark out. He reluctantly goes along.

We drive around. We find a couple of outs for me to run in case the cops chase me, find a place for him to park, and buy a set of sheets to the pillow case, of course. Then I walk up to the bank, take a quick look around, pull down my ski mask and blast off through the door like a Tasmanian Devil. I vault the chest-high counter like an Olympic high jumper.

Two tellers are in shock. They can’t believe what’s happening.

“What are you doing?” one of them manages to say.

“What do you think I’m doing? Open the drawers.”

I clean them out in record time. But before I do, I look at the drive-up teller window and decide to get a little extra cash. So I blast over to her drawer and clean it out, too. This takes maybe 20 seconds, then I fly out of the place and down an alley to the pick-up spot.

Within 30 minutes of coming off my best high ever, I knew that if I didn’t start to control myself I wouldn’t last much longer. I needed to get back to acting like a professional. I had to put my ego in check. But, when you’re getting off like that, it’s hard to control.

It’s like diving into frigid ocean water in the dead of winter. Your heart is pounding harder than you could imagine possible, your vision is clear, hearing impeccable. The raw adrenaline takes control. Suddenly, you’re released from everything, leaving you with a God-like feeling of pure power.

That’s how I felt every time I went charging into a bank.

The feeling should be illegal and in my case it was.

About six months later, the FBI caught up to me and I’ve been locked up every since.

_____

*Jeffrey Scott Hunter is serving a 29-year federal prison sentence for bank robbery. (BOP# 11557-014) This is his second story for Tell Your True Tale.  His initial piece was titled My First Bank Robbery. He is the author of the crime novel, Paragon, available on Kindle at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at Oakdale FCI federal prison.

More fab TYTT stories:

Me and Stan Getz by Jonathan Bellman

Planting Flowers by Betsy Klee

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By Richard Gatica

The day before I killed Donald Evans I did not even know he existed. The day he died I was smoking crack cocaine and when I smoke crack, nothing else matters. Not family, not friends – not even God.

Each time that I smoked crack, I could hear little demons and their excited little whispers. I knew what I was doing was wrong. That pleased them even more.

At the time, I was out of money and robbing drug dealers on the streets of Los Angeles. Crack was everywhere then. Black dealers would stand in the dark shadows near street corners and sell to people as they drove up in cars. Sometimes several dealers would share the same spot and race to the customer as soon as he pulled up. A half-dozen hands would thrust through the car window, each with a display of rocks. The customer would make his selection according to size, color, and weight, as if he were buying precious jewels. He would then speed off and the dealers would run back into the shadows.

I was driving around at five in the morning looking for a dealer to rob. It was still dark. I was planning on simply snatching the rocks out of the dealer’s hand and speeding away. I found no one at my regular spots, which was odd even at that hour. It seemed as if the cops had just done a sweep.

I drove further into the slums and finally seen a woman standing on a corner. I asked if she knew where I could get some crack. She said yes. I told her to get in. She had me drive a few blocks. I could tell she was a smoker herself. Probably a prostitute. They were called “strawberries” – women who sold their bodies for crack. I once saw a strawberry actually perform fellatio on a dog for a hit of crack.

So as this strawberry directed me to a dealer, I knew she would be willing to rob him. After driving a few blocks, she had me pull over in front of a house. Donald came out from the shadows. He was dirty and I saw that if he was a dealer, he was his own best customer. Donald walked up to her window and showed her some rocks. I asked him to pass them to me so I could see them more closely. He was hesitant at first. I told him to hurry before the cops came. He passed the rocks to me. As I pretended to inspect them I put the truck in gear and stepped on the gas. The truck shot backwards. I had put the truck in reverse by mistake. Donald the crack monster held on to the passenger side door unwilling to surrender his product. I put the truck in drive and it shot forward in a cloud of smoke.

People came out of the shadows and started throwing objects at the truck. Through all of this Donald held on tight. The strawberry started screaming like there was no tomorrow. For Donald, there wasn’t. I gathered speed and started zigzagging down the street in an attempt to shake Donald off, but he held tight.

Somehow he got the door open and was swaying back and forth on it. I seen this as an opportunity to smack him up against a light pole or parked car but every time I would get close the door swung inward.

Donald’s last words were, “I’m going to kick your fuckin’ ass.”

For suddenly he was gone. He had fallen off the truck and was sucked up under it. We were doing about sixty miles per hour. His body slammed against the undercarriage. The rear tires lifted off the ground. Donald never had a chance. He bounded and rolled and slid down the street and came to rest under a parked car.

I drove a few more blocks, made a series of turns, pulled over and told the strawberry to get out. She turned to me and asked, “Aren’t we gonna smoke some rock?”

I yelled at her to get the fuck out before I killed her. I would have hit her face against the dashboard until she was dead because she was delaying me from smoking my rock. She tried to get out but the door handle was gone. Donald must have taken it with him. Maybe he was holding onto it and it broke off, causing him to fall. Finally, the strawberry climbed out of the window and as she did, she told me to never ask her for a favor again. Later, I learned she was killed by one of her tricks soon after that.

I went back home and found that my beautiful wife had left me – I wonder why. I thought we were doing pretty good. At least I had my rock. I smoked it in the living room alone. As soon as the rush came I went to the window and peeked through the curtains watching for any suspicious activity. I stood there motionless for over an hour trying to detect any danger. I seen an old lady walk by with a cart and could see that she was covertly talking into a police radio as she glanced my way. They thought I was so stupid!

I finally laid down on the couch and started to formulate a new plan for my next rock. I had just killed a man for a fifteen-minute high and an hour of paranoia.

I went to sleep and woke up to the sound of the police banging on my front door. I tried to run out through the back door but found more police waiting for me back there.

I was arrested but not for killing Donald. I was arrested for stealing the truck that I used to kill him. The police did not connect me to killing Donald for another sixteen years.

Donald was a black man. He was forty-four years old. I was twenty. He had a long rap sheet but nothing very serious. He was addicted to crack just like me.

He died from what is called “eggshell” cracking of the skull. Imagine taking a hard-boiled egg and dropping it, then rolling it around a little. His left ear and most of the left side of his face and neck were torn off as well.

I often look at the autopsy report and photographs as a reminder of what drugs can do. When I was a little boy at school playing on the monkey bars, I never imagined that I would one day be addicted to drugs or that I would kill another man to support my habit or that I would spend the rest of my life in prison.

As I said, prior to killing Donald I did not know he existed. Yet because of our mutual addictions, our fates will forever be entwined. His body is rotting in a dark cold grave and mine in a dark cold prison. The distance between us is very narrow and if there is a God may He have mercy on our souls.

_______

RICHARD GATICA 1Richard Gatica of a former prison gang member and crack addict who is serving three life sentences for murder in the California prison system. He has completed a memoir of his life, from which this story was taken.

 

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