Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Three Stages of Bureaucracy

The prison was an ancient lady. Her joints creaked, she had hardening of the arteries and sometimes things just broke. On this particular day she was dealing with broken pipes. Outside the writer's cell, on the walkway overlooking the common area, a wastebasket collected a growing pool of dingy tepid water. The leak dripped slowly and continuously, making a soft plishing sound when the basket was full and a loud dull thunking noise whenever the maintenance crew thought to empty it, which was quite rarely. The ceiling over the wastebasket was torn open like a bad Ceasarian section. The exposed pipes were wrapped in water-soaked insulation, some of which hung down over the walkway. There was a faint swampy smell in the air.

The writer maintained a careful neutral oblivion. He stood in his cell with his feet splayed wide apart, leaning forward on his right foot with both arms outstretched. One arm pointed toward the ceiling and the other was directed down toward his forward foot. He inhaled gently and carefully, timing the breath to the sounds of the water---five drops per breath in, a pause, five drops per breath out. He concentrated on the faint sound of the water and held his mind clear. He held the Triangle pose for the space of ten breath cycles, then moved both arms forward to hold a Warrior pose. Five drops in, five drops out. He was zen. The noise of the tier flowed around him, enveloped but did not touch him:

"If you a real man, you be in general pop an' shit. That dude that killed the little kid---the little girl's grandfather works in pretrial, and here he is spending the rest of his life in PC an' shit. And isn't that some kind of fukkin' shit way to spend the rest of your life?" The officer walking toward his cell was a short fine-boned nineteen year old girl in a black officer uniform that was too big for her. She chattered on to the maintenance man on her left. They stopped beneath the leak.

"Yup. Ain't slowing down any," the maintenance man said. He pulled a flashlight from his utility belt and sent a beam of light up through the ceiling to spotlight cobwebs and rodent parts and the accumulated detritus of one hundred fifty years of incarceration. The writer eased out of Warrior to a Mountain pose. The maintenance man reached up and pulled a new small section of fiberboard tile from the ceiling, releasing a cloud of grey dust that settled over his blue uniform. "Thing is, it's high up. You can't just replace a section or a joint. You'd have to shut down the whole facility. I think we can jury-rig something but I gotta order a part from state supply." He looked down into the wastebasket. "Not full yet. Gotta bit of room left," he said. The maintenance man and the officer left the tier.

This was a cycle that had been repeated several times since the pipe first broke, the officer and the maintenance man and the ceiling. It was a cycle of institutional life.

The writer laid back on his bunk with both arms stretched at forty-five degree angles from his body, hands palm-up. His legs were parallel, flat, relaxed. He kept his breath controlled and timed to the water, but allowed his mind to float to thoughts of mortality, death, endings, renewals. He held himself still in his final pose: The Corpse.

The dripping stopped. The writer opened one eye. He saw his friend Dana Janssen leaning against the bars with one hand cupped beneath the pipe.

"You're breaking my feng shui," said the writer.

"You're full of it," said Dana. "Feng shui isn't Buddhist."

Dana wore a white knit kufi and had a long, full yellow-blond beard. He had the build of a mountain man, someone who looked like he'd be more comfortable on snowshoes than in sneakers. He had blues eyes and talked with the full rounded O's of a native Minnesotan. He reminded the writer of some giant out of an Icelandic saga. "Assalamu alaikum," he said.

"What do you know from Buddhism? You're Lutheran."

"Formerly Lutheran, now Muslim. And in Surah an-Nur it says, 'When a greeting is offered you, answer it with an even better greeting, or at least with its like. God keeps count of all things'. You're supposed to say something back," Dana reminded him, not for the first time. He had transferred to CCCF on interstate compact. Unlike many inmates at CCCF, Dana was literate. He could read and write and spell and at one time had even worked in accounting. He had rich relatives who paid his transfer fee to send him out of state to a better facility. Apparently the rich relatives had never seen Charm City.

"Can it," said the writer. "I don't need the Qu'ran. I've got my own philosophy of this place. It's the Three Stages of Bureaucracy." He moved his legs to one side to let Dana sit on the end of the bunk which didn't leave much room. "Just watch the new intakes. They all think the same way and do the same things. First they come in fighting and bitching. They get thrown in seg or get the crap beat out of them until they learn that you can't fight the bureacracy and the bureacracy doesn't work. Next they start to bargain. They get a job or go to school or just start behaving and think that once they hold up their end of the deal the bureacracy will work."

"OK, so the first stage is anger and the second stage is bargaining. What's the third stage?"

Just then the 2C gate ground open and the tier came to life. Lieutenant Terry had arrived.

"Punishment," said the writer.

1 comment:

Emy L. Nosti said...

What's PC?

And by "Can it," you meant shove it, right? Took me a minute.