It was just a warning A prisoner's journal

July 23, 1991

Following are excerpts from the journal of H.B. Johnson, a prisoner at the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore.

JULY 16, 10 p.m.

I am at the typewriter, hammering out a play, when the door suddenly opens. My cellmate, "Ugg," steps in, and a guard slams the door behind him. Ugg gets right to the point:

"They lockin' everybody down, Mr. Skinny."

"Do you know why?" I ask.

"No, sir," he replies. "They didn't say anything. They just ordered everybody to lock in."

"They never say anything," I say. "Somebody probably got in a fight with the guards or, better yet, somebody made it out of here." I go back to my typing.

11 p.m.

Our explanation of the lock-down comes from Channel 2's 11 o'clock news. There is a hostage situation in the "C" dormitory. That's located on the other side of the compound from where I am. The newscaster says two prisoners have two prison guards under their control. Wish I were there.

July 17, 7:30 a.m.

Watching the Channel 2 morning news. The story is beginning to clear up now. The men in "C" dormitory have taken over the spot. They are holding two prison guards at gunpoint. All the men are out of their cells.

I am torn. On one hand, I find this news encouraging. With so many men out, it is a situation more practical and dignified than just two wild-eyed prisoners holding two prison guards hostage. On the other hand, I smell death. I hear the beatings and screams yet to reach us from the far end of the tunnel. I see mental and physical torture in the near future.

"C" dormitory is a death trap. There is only one way in and one way out. The air is always beige from the dust that floats through the windows. Dried slime and moist grime coat everything. The place is boiling hot in summer and miserably cold in winter. When it rains heavily and steadily, the floor is under 6 to 12 inches of muddy water.

The "C" dormitory experience eventually will make any human being crack.

July 20, 7:30 a.m.

Things are quiet again, but this is a warning. It is an alert to the fluttering eyes of a sleeping giant. Men today are fed up with being sent to the grave for offenses that carried a fine or much less time in jail 25 years ago than they do today. These men are tired of being so dehumanized that they can find but one expression for their outrage -- more violence. These men are tired of being told they must be silent about their freedom.

It is time for human decency to speed its touch to our hearts and minds before there are no hearts and minds left.

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