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Speeding - part 3: Hard Labor Camp by thadeusz
I remained two days in that cell. While I was there, 2 other guys were brought in by the police officers. Regularly guards came in and put some bread and water on the floor, near the place where my chain was fixed to the wall. They rarely accepted to help me going to the toilet and there was no possibility to get clean. I did as the guard had told me on the first day, since I could barely move with all my chains. So I let it go in my jumpsuit. I had no opportunity to get clean and felt very bad. But after a time, I thought:
"I have been sentenced to two years, but after that life will go on and I still can go and study something where being an ex-con will not hinder a career."
I was filthy, probably stinking, but I raised my head and decided that I ought to remain a man.
After two days, I was extracted from my cell: a police officer detached the chain linking my shackles to the wall and told me to go out, still with my FS. There I met the other guys, sentenced before or after me to a similar punishment. The other guys were just as filthy and stinking as I was, none of them tried to speak.
We were told to form a line and officers fixed a chain so that we were now chained one to the other, the hands of one new convict to the back of another. We were waiting to board a bus. Purposely I kept my head erect, trying to show them that I was still a man with a free mind, even if I was a convict. I wanted to show that I was not a submissive prisoner, like the other guys who kept their head down. Junior was not far and he ran towards me, hit me hard on the head saying:
"Boy, you are now a convict, keep your head down."
I immediately put my head down to avoid another blow, but Junior went on despite my now submissive attitude. He gave me two more hard blows shouting:
"That’s to punish you, bad boy. You are a convict, so behave like one. Understood boy ?"
I was weak and replied: "Yes Officer"
"You admit being a bad boy ?"
"Yes officer, I won’t do it again, Officer."
Luckily the Sheriff arrived and Junior stopped. We all boarded the bus and each of us, on top of his other chains, was chained by one wrist to his seat. The last trip before entering the Hard Labour Camp started and it lasted several hours, at least I guessed that much since my watch had been confiscated. We were seated in such a way that we could not look outside and see where we were going, this was very uncomfortable. Finally, we arrived to the Camp and I am not going to describe the high walls, the doors with a security zone and then another door. Nor am I going to describe the barbed wire placed everywhere. It was frightening, especially since I knew I had to stay there during at least one year.
As soon as the bus had passed the second set of gates, a bunch of prison wardens in a sort of military uniform stormed the bus, unlocked our seat chain and pushed us energetically outside. They then detached the chain linking each of us to the next one. Another warden, also in uniform, but with many stripes on his sleeves, told us to stand straight and still. He then delivered a little speech:
"You have been punished for your crimes and your punishment will be to work very hard for the county. We do not want to hurt you, but if you don’t work you will be hit to teach you to become better men. You are going to stay in chains, called Full Shackle, during at least three months. If you behave, you will get rid of your chains, otherwise you will keep them. As long as you are in chains, you are not allowed to utter a word except to answer a question from one of the wardens. You will call each warden ‘Chief’ whenever you address him, except for my assistant who is ‘Lieutenant’ and for me, the commander of this camp, who you will address if needed as ‘Captain’. UNDERSTOOD ?"
We all shouted but not yet in one voice: "YES, CAPTAIN"
"That’s good, you already realized that you must always add the rank of the warden to which you speak after each of your sentence. But from now on, you are also going to add it at the beginning", and he shouted "UNDERSTOOD ?".
And now we all answered simultaneously: "CAPTAIN, YES CAPTAIN".
"Good. You are now going to get your Camp uniform and since we want you in good health in order to work efficiently, we are going to give you an opportunity to get clean since you are all filthy. One at a time, you will be provisionally taken out of your chains to get clean. Remember, you are here to work hard and to do it in silence. GO NOW."
Life seemed better now. I would have to work hard, I would not be free but at least the guards would respect me and treat me as a human being, not like Junior. I thus raised my head. The prison guards moved towards us. One of them got hold of me and started to take off all my chains. That was a wonderful, although temporary, feeling of relief. The guard, who had a big truncheon like that of Junior, shouted to me:
I started to take off my prison jumpsuit but he interrupted me:
"First the clogs, throw them in the big box in the center."
I took off my plastic clogs, then my orange jumpsuit and stood straight in front of my guard. Apparently he was not pleased and hit me in the stomach:
"I told you undress, take everything off."
So I did what he ordered me to do and remained naked, like my companions. Then came another blow with the words:
"Keep your head down, you are a convict, not a free man.’
Obediently, I bent my head. I was starting, willing or not, to enter the mold.
The guards took us then to a shower room. We were first sprayed with a disinfectant powder and received the order to rub it on us, on all our body and especially on our private parts. Then each was placed under a shower head with a bit of soap, and cold water started to run on us. It was cold, but it was water and I had a bit of soap. The chief guard, the Lieutenant, shouted:
And each of us rushed to get clean and fresh. In any case, our guards were there, ready to give a solid truncheon blow on the guy who wanted to remain filthy.
As soon as that was done, and without getting a towel to dry, each received his new uniform and with it his convict number.
My number was 9038971. It was printed in black numerals on a piece of white cloth stuck to my vest and on my pants. On my back were the letters HLC in huge characters on a similar white cloth, with the words ‘county prisoner’ underneath it. I was thus clearly labelled as if I were a county possession. The uniform was in cotton and made of two pieces, pants holding thanks to an elastic and a sort of sweatshirt without zipper. The whole thing was striped in black and white, horizontally for the upper part and vertically for the pants. I also received a set of white undies also provided with my number, and of course clogs but white clogs this time. I put all this on, realising that the fact that it was in two pieces would make it more easy to wear with the chains.
As soon as I was done, my guard put all my chains back on me and I was again in FS, as ordered by the Judge. Nevertheless, the fact that I had now a completely clean and new uniform, plus the shower, made me feel very well. It may sound stupid to say so, but despite my chains, I felt a free and happy man again.
I don’t know how my cell mates fell since we remained completely silent, except for one guy who started to say one word and was severely hit for that by his guard. That served us all of lesson.
The guards hit the convicts who did not get ready as rapidly as they wanted and as soon as we were all ready, in line and completely silent, the Captain started again to speak:
"You have your number now. memorize it rapidly. To help you, your guard is going to attach a bracelet with that number on your left wrist. You are going to keep it until the end of your sentence because you are not allowed to use another name here than ‘Convict’ followed by your number. Forget your name. You are not allowed to mention it, not even to another prisoner. The person you were does not exist until you have completely served your sentence and redeemed your soul. UNDERSTOOD ?"
And without any joy we answered: "CAPTAIN, YES CAPTAIN." Anyway, there was nothing else to say while the guards attached the bracelet. I was thus now "Convict 9038971" and no longer "Peter Rohmert"
Finally, the Captain told us:
"You are clean now, except for your hair. We want clean prisoners because dirty ones don’t work well. You are going to receive your prison haircut. The guards are going to help you move to the barber. GO NOW AND ON THE DOUBLE."
The last part of this order was not expected, but we learned, thanks to the guards’ truncheons and their blows, that it is painful, but possible, to walk rapidly with shackles. We reached the barber and my guard pushed me harshly on a chair. Another guard, serving as barber, took hold of me. He did not cape me but looked at the haircut Junior imposed on me and said:
"Convict 9038971, do you always have such a haircut ?"
"No, chief", was my answer. Immediately my guard hit me reminding me that my answer was not well formulated. So I corrected it rapidly:
"Chief, No Chief"
"Where did you get it, Convict 9038971 ?"
"Chief, a Police Officer imposed it upon me after I was sentenced, … Chief." In fact I did not know if was allowed to use the "I" word and so the last "Chief" arrived a little bit late, but nothing happened.
"I am going to correct that, Convict 9038971," said the barber, "you must be clean Convict."
He started to shave my head with his clippers with no guard. I could feel the metal of the clippers on my skin. He started by pushing my head completely back and shaved a big path starting from my forehead to the back of my neck. In the course of doing so, he pushed my head forward, with my chin on my chest to be able to do an easy job. He then pushed my head back again and started another path next to the first one, and he kept going on like that until he had to push my head towards my right shoulder to clean my left side, and then he pushed it towards the other side to clean, as he said, my other side. He kept passing with his clippers on my head and pushing or turning my head in all possible directions. He was not brutal like Junior and he seemed to know his job, but I really did not like it because I was guessing what was happening. Finally he stopped and said:
"That’s OK for the head. Convict 9038971, it took a certain time, but your head is now clean of any hair and even of any stubble." I was starting to raise, painfully because of my FS but the barber continued:
"Don’t move now. You have been good until this moment by not moving, so wait until the end. I am now going to take care of your face. Do you like your mustache and your beard, Convict ?"
"Chief, YES Chief"
"Well, I am going to teach you a lesson in humility, Convict."
The barber started then to shave my beard and my mustache. He used the same clippers and pushed again my head in all possible directions. I kept my hands on my knees and held them firmly to avoid thinking at the awful thing that was happening on my face right now. Finally the barber seemed not to like his own work and took a big old fashion mechanical razor, put cold water, but no cream nor foam, on my whole face and shaved it slowly but completely. At a moment he said:
"Convict, don’t move or you will lose an eye" and he started to shave completely my eyebrows. He then decided to give his work a finishing touch by putting water on the top of my head and by shaving it also with the old fashion razor.
The hair shaving process with clippers had not been painful, only unpleasant, but the shaving process with cold water was really painful. I had the feeling that some of my hair had been simply and brutally pulled off, but I did not utter a word.
The barber then told my guard:
"Paul, this convict is now ready. But he has very dark hair, instead of being shaved every two weeks, he will need a complete shave every week. Bring him here every Sunday, and bring him always to me." He then turned to me and gave me a little round hat, also striped black and white, and told me:
"Convict 9038971, put this on your head whenever you are out if you don’t want to die of a bad sunburn. Keep it also on your head to train while you are in full shackle. You behave well during this shaving humility lesson. Next week you will be back here. Keep behaving like that. You are now ready to work and pay your debt to the society. Go now."
Stupidly, I replied to these compliments and simply said:
"Chief, thank you, Chief"
I wanted to be polite, but this was not a place to be polite. My guard hit me seriously with his truncheon and asked:
"Did the barber ask you a question ?"
"Chief, NO, Chief."
"So you were not allowed to speak. And certainly not to thank him. KEEP SILENT Convict."
The guard took me to my room. In fact, since we were in a desert, the room had no walls, only railings forming a big cage. The roof was also made of the same big bars and was covered by a sort of tarpaulin. In it, I found several bunks. The guard reminded me that I was not allowed to speak, and certainly not to give my name, only my number. He then showed me the small lavatory and wash tab and he explained that now, with my new uniform, I could easily remain clean "if I wanted to". He then abandoned me in my new universe: a cage. Since I was morally, mentally more than physically exhausted I fell on one of the bunks.
When my cage mates came back from work, none of them was in Full Shackle. One of them, 9028745, told me that they all knew about the in-processing of new prisoners. He also explained me what I was supposed to do, how things would happen and most important, what I should absolutely avoid doing. I listened carefully but another one, 9017564, complained that I was on his bunk and that it had always been his bunk since he was in Hard Labor Camp. So I moved to a bunk shown by 9028745. In my mind, I had decided that even in prison, I would remain a man. I had a BSc and I thought about my projects and about scientific problems: this was my idea of trying to remain human during my prison time.
I rapidly realized that I had entered a silent world. I used to listen to music while studying, or to sing with friends. Here, nobody was singing and there was no music except at 4am. At that moment a police or firefighters siren could be heard. It was wake up time. We all rose and used the only facilities we had. Two prisoners arrived with hot food and bad coffee. each of us had a mess kit and the most ancient prisoner, 9001432, started to deal the food. I must admit that he did it honestly. Then came "shackling time". Guards came and told us to leave our cage "on the double", which was not easy for me but well for the others. Luckily 9028745, a nice guy, helped me (he later told me secretly that his name was Kim). We went to a big space inside the prison walls and all the prisoners were shackled. As soon as a prisoner was shackled, he had to remain silent, so there were always guys who shouted a loud and last scream for the day. The prisoners who were not sentenced to FS were shackled but not handcuffed: handcuffed people like me were not as useful for work. We then received bread and water for the day.
As soon as all prisoners were shackled, we were sent by groups to the hiring place where contractors decided to hire one or several of us. We worked during long hours. It varied, but it was usually 10 hours of work with one or two breaks.
In the beginning, I was hired constantly by the same road builder and I had to carry rocks. I tried to keep thinking about science but after a few days, I was so exhausted that I stopped thinking about science, and even that I stopped thinking: I simply fell on my bunk in the evening. I got my evening meal and fell asleep. I was rapidly entering the mold and the hard work I had to do helped me to become a real prisoner, even in my mind.
My best day was Sunday: there was no work. I got a cold shower and disinfectant (but no soap anymore), a fresh set of clothes except for the clogs. I also got a trip to the barber who now only used the painful old fashion razor to stop my stubbles from growing. We all more or less looked alike with our hairless heads and face, including the eyebrows. The main difference was our number. Besides that there was the service for the religious prisoners: many non religious guys chose to attend the service because it was a rest after which they were allowed to sleep on their bunks. Since I was not religious, I had refused to attend the service and in exchange I had to do tiring chores during service time, without possibility to go after and lay on my bunk. I could have changed that, but I kept this attitude, with a few others, it was our way to keep showing that we were human individuals first of all and prisoners after.
Day after day, I did my share of work and suffered because of the sun. The guards were not hitting us, except when we did not respect the rules and spoke or refused to work. The hard work and the sun were enough to destroy the humans we were and to reduce us in obeying machines. Suddenly one day, I was told to go, "On the double" to the Captain’s office. There I tried by politeness to take off my round and ridiculous hat, by respect for his function, but my handcuffs attached to my waist made such a gesture complicated. The Captain stopped me and told me:
"Convict 9038971, you are here since three months and one week. Do you know what that means ?"
"Captain, NO, Captain"
"It means that I can now decide to take off your Full Shackle provided you behaved well. Did you behave according to the rules, Convict ?"
He was playing with me and I did not like that, but I obediently replied, keeping my head down, "Captain, I did my best, Captain. But it is not to me but to the guards to say if I behaved well enough, Captain."
That answer seemed to please him. I kept my shaved head down and I listened to what the Captain said:
"According to your guards, you behaved satisfactorily. Guards, take his FS off and bring him back to his cage."
That is how I got rid of my FS and how I learned that I had already spent lots of time in that hell of a Hard Labor Camp. This evening I could finally speak with my cage mates. A new guy had arrived and was still in FS: he tried to speak also and was severely hit by two guards who heard him and briskly entered our cage.
Besides that, my life remained what it was: waking up very early, eating for a day’s work, being shackled and thus silenced before starting to work during about 10 hours. Now at least I could do more interesting things than simply carry rocks and I could be hired for a higher price, in favor of the County of course.
Times went on and one day I was again brought to the Captain’s office. Two other men were sitting next to him, one being the Sheriff who had led to my sentencing while the other was an older man. The Captain first announced that this was a session of the parole board and that I now appeared in front of them to evaluate if I could go "on parole" during my last year of sentence. He then started reading a report about my behavior, report made by the guard in charge of my cage. This report was favorable. He then asked me several questions:
"Convict 9038971, you pleaded ‘not guilty’. After this year of reflection, would you do the same ?"
I realized that he expected me to be humble. After all I knew that I was only a convict, so I replied humbly, keeping my head down:
"Captain, NO, Captain"
"Do you admit that you were guilty of all charges ?"
"Captain, YES, Captain"
"Do you think you now deserve to go on parole ?"
"Captain, it is not to this convict to decide, but I would really like to, Captain"
"Captain, because I could then work without chains and prove that I can be a honest man, even if I am alone without guard, Captain."
After a short discussion, the commission decided that I could go on parole provided that I could get a job. Suddenly, after one year and two weeks of hell, I was suddenly "on parole" for another year (a little bit more than what the Judge had decided in his sentence, but I did not feel that I was in a position enabling me to discuss that point). The main condition was that I should get a decent job, but I was sure that with my BSc, I would easily find something.
I was told to go to the place where I had arrived by bus, a little bit more than one year ago. Other prisoners were there, all of them were now ‘on parole’. The Lieutenant told us that we would be chained a last time for our trip back to the main Police Station, "since we don’t want a fight here. Remember your parole can be revoked at any moment, so behave as obedient prisoners and keep quiet."
The guards placed each of us again in Full Shackle and we became silent as statues. The guards also gave each of us a pair of blue jeans, a white t-shirt, white socks and black shoes "to be worn later". The Lieutenant added: "You must keep your bracelet, it will remind you that you are on probation. Your probation officer will take it off when time comes. Don’t try to take it off earlier, you would be back here in a second."
We boarded the bus in which we came and were chained to our seat, despite the fact that we were now on parole. After a long drive, we arrived in the Police Station where Junior’s father was Sheriff. There we were unchained, and an officer told us to take our prison uniform off and to place them in a bag he would keep: "You might have to put it on very rapidly, and your chains also." We then put on our new civilian clothes and we all looked like free men, except for the bracelet and the haircut. Finally the Sheriff gave each of us a little bit of money and told us to go and find a job.