For some, imprisonment alone may not be enough

March 15, 2001|By Ricky R. Williams

JESSUP -- Larry murdered his wife every night.

You could hear him yelling obscenities as he repeatedly stabbed her. Fortunately, Larry was in prison and on lockup in a cell by himself. The lockup, also called a hammer or a shelf, is a segregated housing unit where rule violators stay in a cell 23 hours a day. His aimless stabbing and cursing targeted an imaginary person. His only victim was a poor mattress.

This was how Larry did his time. He spent several weeks, at the most, in the general population and manv months on the shelf. He was unkempt during his brief stays with the population. He frequently paced in the area leading to the dining room, mumbling unintelligibly. Sometimes he growled. Everyone thought Larry was crazy, so no one responded violently to his antics.

He went back on the hammer. A new mattress bore the brunt of the thoughts tormenting him. He came off the shelf. He paced. He babbled. No one understood or tried to understand. He went back on; he came back off. Back on. Back off. On. Off. Then one day Larry went home.

Kevin? He liked standing in corners, even in the chow hall, where some talked about their glory days in the streets.

Kevin was in the corner talking to himself in the yard, where the bleachers were filled with guys jeering and cheering at the softball game and runners kept a steady pace around the track.

Kevin found his corner every time he abruptly bolted out of his elementary teacher's class. I was his teacher's aide. Then one day Kevin went home.

Maybe Kevin and Larry were playing crazy. Prison is a jungle in which the vines of madness run thick. Predators remain in the swing of things. A predator would not receive recognition for preying on a man whose spirit had been already broken. Kevin and Larry may have played crazy to negotiate the vines.

What a performance, if that is what they did. They followed the script with impeccable details: ungroomed hair, rare showers, the same grimy clothing day after day and consistent missing-screws conduct.

If they were not acting, then the only treatment they received while in prison contributed to their further mental deterioration. Imagine being locked in a cell 23 hours a day for months. No television. No radio. No clue as to why your thoughts ignite fury and keep you pacing and mumbling and killing your wife (mattress).

Imagine being taunted and ridiculed by inmates who could not understand why you liked talking to prison walls. Imagine the effects of this after release from prison with just $40 and a list of homeless shelters.

Were they crazy? Were they acting? I want to say yes to crazy, but am not qualified. If they were acting, I hope the roles they assumed don't get the best of them one day, causing them to unleash an evil related to the misunderstanding and mistreatment they endured while in prison.

Beyond that, I only wish before their release they had encountered someone qualified to make a diagnosis and recommendation that they may have flipped their scripts. I would feel so much better about their prospects as truly free men.

Ricky Ricardo Williams, 32, born in Trinidad, raised in New York City and a Long Island suburb, is serving a 30-year sentence in the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup for a drug conviction in 1990. He is up for parole March 30.

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