Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Writer

C.O. Lottie, a Correction Officer who is the regular A officer on Dorm 3 called me. She said that an resident had given her book a he wrote and there was a suicide note enclosed. C.O. Lottie is a very sharp woman who has been on this post for several years. Although she may look like a fashion model, actually she is a professional ballet dancer on the weekends. She has walked this street for long enough to know all the cracks. She is not easily alarmed and never without a very good reason. "Please see him as soon as possible. He has me worried." Preventing suicides is my primary duty. No one wants any hang ups on their tour and the Department of Corrections doesn't want them at any time. When I first asked Charles to talk with me it was too near the count to bring him into my office. We met in the intake officer's office. It is hostile territory and neither of us liked to be there. Charles was about 32 years old with dark hair, dark eyes, and a new scar ran from his eye to his mouth. "I finished my book and now I want to die. I am tired of fighting. They killed two of my brothers and they are threatening the rest of my family. I've been cut 7 times. This one on my face is just the last one. They say that I told on them but I didn't. There is a contract on my life for $50,000. If I go upstate again, I am dead. They don't say bad things about the dead. They only say good things. When I die, they will only remember the good things that I did."

I don't know why residents always threaten suicide on Friday afternoon. I had to decide if I thought he would stay alive over the weekend or if was safer to sent him to the hospital. The hospital prison psychiatric ward would probably send him back and I didn't think that bus therapy was going to work with Charles. I asked him if I could meet with him again on Monday before he made up his mind to kill himself immediately. I told him that I would like to discuss the book more and see if there was anyway he could think of that would allow him to live. Charles promised to think about it and meet me on Monday. Meanwhile I put him om suicide watch which means that the officers have to check him on him every 15 minutes around the clock.

Monday Charles was not a lot better but we had the privacy of my office which was more neutral territory. Charles said that he had been upstate for dealing drugs. "I got six to life which means that I am on parole for the rest of my like. No matter what I get picked up for, I'm in trouble, I got busted for a robbery I didn't do. I do not do robbery. I do drugs. Anyway, I wrote this book because if I'm going to be called a snitch, I might as well tell what I know. They are going to kill me anyway." Charles was very depressed. I asked him to go into the mental observation unit. He said that he didn't want to go because he had a few people he trusted in this dorm. He knew that they wouldn't let anyone get him while he was asleep. I respected his request not to go to the mental health unit because if he didn't want to go, he would deny that he has any intention of hurting himself and they would send him back to general population.

Charles and I began to meet every day. About a week later, he offered to let me read his book. The book was amazing. It was so real. Every time I read a book of fiction and the author tries of sound like he is an inmate, I cringe at the bogus language. Charles' book was real. The next time we met I told him that I was impressed I asked him if he ever thought of having his book published. It seemed like a good therapeutic intervention. If Charles would think longer term. perhaps the suicidal ideation would become more remote. Charles said that he hadn't though about it but he had something to say the young people who thoughts that the streets were so cool. I told him that a national magazine had run article about the streets and young people and maybe they would like to follow it up with some of the things that he had to say. I showed him a recent copy of the magazine and showed him the address of and name of the editor. "You know, three years ago I couldn't read or write. When I was upstate, an old man would sit in the yard with me and everyday, he would give me ten words. When I got back to my cell, I would write the words and study what they meant. That's how I learned to read and write. I passed my GED the first time and got a good score on the SATs." Two days later, C.O. Lottie called me late in the afternoon. "You've got to come quick! Charles has something to show you." When I went to the dorm, Charles brought me a letter. "I didn't write to the editor of the magazine. I just called her and to her about my book. She said that she would get back to me." The letter was from the editor of the magazine. She gave Charles the name of a book agent and told the agent to call Charles. Residents can not receive phone calls. Charles call the agent and the agent wasn't in. I gave Charles my beeper number to give to the agent. Charles left my beeper number. The agent beeped me later that afternoon. I spoke to the agent because I didn't recognize the number on my beeper. The only people who have my beeper number are people I work with in jail and residents' attorneys that I am trying to reach. Anyway, the agent said that the editor had given him Charles' name. He told me about the book that Charles presented and the editor and the agent were impressed. I told Charles to call the agent now. They spoke and Charles arranged to have his sister pick up the book from Rikers and take it to the agent. A few days later, the man who wrote the article for the magazine beeped me. He said that the editor of the magazine and the agent called him. He said that the agent gave him my beeper number. He said that he was was very interested in talking to Charles. When I left on Friday, Charles was having a phone interview with the writer.

Charles told me that he wants to write more books. He said that he has a lot of information about the street and about drug dealing and about life. He said that instead of killing himself, he would like to get into the witness protection program because that way, he will be safe and he will still be able to write. I asked him if he wanted to get off the suicide watch, he said, "no it's just someone esle to watch my back"

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