Courtesy, Paul Gardner

Here I was, months into a jail sentence that was going to be the beginning of my prison sentence. I had no idea how many years I was going to get in the slammer this time. The fact that I was still in jail after so many months is testimony to the fact that I was trying to mitigate my charges for the best plea. And that final court date was right around the corner – 10 days away.

If you actually knew me then you’d be able to tell that I was nervous. But to all of the other inmates waiting for sentencing, I’m sure I seemed the regular happy-go-lucky Paul. It was a front in order to keep my sanity. I thought I had myself under complete control too, until he showed up.

When he walked into our pod carrying his sleeping mat and bedroll (pink towel, pink sheets, pink socks and thin blanket), my first thought was, “This guy is giving me a run for my money in the height department.” He walked directly over to his assigned cell, threw his mattress and bedroll on the top bunk and passed out immediately.

That’s not uncommon. Many of us are just coming off wild drug binges we were on before being arrested and need to catch up on a little sleep. Usually a person will sleep for 2 to 3 days and then venture out of the cell a little bit to socialize or exercise. This guy didn’t. He slept for five days – only waking to eat chow.

Usually, someone will be sent over immediately to collect the newbies “door-card” (paper work with their charges written on it). Here we were, five days past his arrival, and the slob still hadn’t tied his sheet under his mattress – and nobody had checked his charges yet.

Derek, the head “wood” (white person) of our pod, sent someone over to wake his ass up and get his door-card at about 8 AM. That was the moment that the incident began.

It turned out that this guy had been on the run for seven years. The charges on his door-card were kidnapping and sexual assault. In jail or prison, the absolute worst thing that you can be is a child molester, with being a snitch coming in a close second. Either one of those accusations will follow you – not only through prison, but for the rest of your life. The fact that this guy had the words “kid” and “sex” actually typed on his door-card was not going to work to his benefit.

I got called into the Derek’s cell. He filled me in on the guy’s charges I was told something was going to have to be done about this. I told Derek that I don’t get involved in jailhouse politics, and if he wanted this handled he could find someone else.

Derek made it clear that this wasn’t about politics. It was about a child molester that liked violating little children. I asked Derrick if anyone had asked the guy about the details of these charges, and I was told that they didn’t want to tip him off. I explained to Derek that if I took his grandfather somewhere against his will then my charges would reflect kidnapping. I just didn’t think it was fair jumping to conclusions based on a portion of a word without some more information. Derek’s response was apathetic and without any emotion, “Well either way it sucks to be him, Gardner. And it’s time that you earned your White Flower.”

I realized what he was doing. He was playing word games with my last name and trying to make it seem like what I was expected to do was for the betterment of our white race. He was trying to make it sound like I would be earning some honorable badge by doing this dirty work. He was trying to manipulate me. I didn’t like it. I told him I’d have to think about it a bit. I left his cell and proceeded to walk laps around the dayroom with a heavy burden of trouble on my mind.

As I walked my laps, I could see that other woods were being called into cell. Good, maybe they would find someone else to be the torpedo that would explode on him. I had court for sentencing in five days. The last thing that I wanted was to be looking at some additional assault charges and go in front of a judge with visible signs of violence marked on me like a beacon of trouble.

I was called back into Derek’s cell. I told him how I felt about the situation, with my upcoming court date and all.

“Gardner, half of the woods in this pod are over 60 years old. The other half has already put their work in within the last few months. You haven’t done anything but sit and read your books. You don’t even come out to exercise with the white boys when it’s the woods’ mandatory workout time. We overlooked this because you’re an okay guy and mind your own business. But you’re going to earn your “White Flower” whether you like it or not. Look Dave and Austin are going to handle the smashing. All you’re going to have to do is come into the cell behind him while we are reading him the rules – pretend like you’re getting a drink of water from my St. – and bear hug him and hold him while the other two rush to seal the deal.”

“And if I choose not to participate?”

“Well, then you can earn your White Flower while you try to fight off the next torpedoes that are sent in to handle you. It’s your choice. Either you earn your White Flower without any first-hand violence on your part, or you earn it with first-hand violence on your parts.

I had to give it to Derek: he was witty. He was also playing on my fear of going to court looking busted up like I was a troublemaker. But I’ve been in the jail scene long enough to know that he wasn’t bluffing. There was always someone willing to step in to earn themselves the name.

“Alright,” I said, defeated. “I’ll hold him. But I’m done after that. I didn’t come to jail to go to prison and earn myself a name. I came to do my time and leave a better person.”

“That’s fine, Gardner. After you get your White Flower, we will leave you to your garden. It’s going down after the first officer walks the pod after chow tonight. Be ready.”

Chow came but I couldn’t eat it. The slop they serve in Maricopa County Jail is legendary for its lack of identification and taste, but that wasn’t the reason it wasn’t going down well. I had a heavy knot in my stomach. The fact that I was being strong-armed and blackmailed into doing something that was completely against my moral code was like a caustic acid burning away my integrity.

The tables were cleaned off after chow and the officer did his first walk-through since chow. They walk through every 20 minutes to make sure everything is copacetic in the pod.

And lo and behold, the future victim had finally decided it was time to tie his sheet on the mattress. He threw the sheet down on the table and tossed his mattress on top of it. I had the luck to be walking the knot out of my stomach before the “event” when he asked if I could help him tie it on.

“Sure thing,” I said.

After I was done helping him tie the sheet onto the mattress, the guy put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in my eyes and said, “Thanks man. Sometimes it’s hard to find good people to help you when you’re in places like this. I can tell you’re a good guy.”

“No problem,” was my response as I walked away.

I felt like God was trying to send me a message. Well, message received – but ignored. I couldn’t take the risk that I would be the next victim. As it was, the time had come, and the guy was walking into Derek’s cell to be “read the rules.”

I walked in behind him pretending to get a drink of water. Like the jaws of a bear trap, I wrapped my arms around him. For a split second, the guy didn’t know what was going on. Then Dave ran in the cell, disguised as a ninja – with pink towels around his face and arms hiding his identity and his tattoos from the cameras outside the day room. Austin was right behind him with a wickedly evil smile on his face like this was what he lived for.

First punch from Dave was to the stomach and knocked the wind out of him. The guy tried to run out of the cell, but I was so pumped up with adrenaline that all I had to do was sit down backwards and keep him in my vice-like hold while the other two pummeled and pounded him. Derek walked over to the entrance of the cell and leaned against the door frame.

He said to the guy, “Gonna keep your hands to yourself from now on, aren’t you? Done fucking with little kids, you piece of shit?”

The guy’s muffled voice was probably heard throughout the whole pod as he was protecting his face but still trying to scramble out of my grasp. “I didn’t do anything!” he cried. “I don’t know what you think I did but I didn’t do anything!”

Austin caught him with a left hook to the back of his head at a downward angle. Blood started seeping from the wound. I couldn’t take it anymore. I let the guy wiggle out of my embrace, but managed to make it look like I was trying my hardest to hold him. Austin went to wash the blood off his hands. Derek brought the guy a bunch of toilet paper for the blood, and informed him that if he said a single thing about the incident, it would be 10 times worse.

The guy didn’t snitch off, but that evening during bed count, an officer noticed a large gash on the back of his head that was still seeping blood, and rolled him out of our pod.

I was congratulated on earning my White Flower but I didn’t want it. It wasn’t a flower to me. It was a pale weed that invaded the sanctuary of my mind’s garden.

I’ve had to forgive myself for that episode. Though I was strong-armed into doing it, I’m sure there could’ve been another way for me to avoid it. Since then, I try to live my life with complete integrity, honesty and the purest love. I will let that be my White Flower.

Hopefully that will proliferate to suffocate all of the pale weeds from my past. Like a good gardener, I’ll keep tending my garden.

BY PAUL GARDNER, Contributing Writer

Paul Gardner has served his time and is now a free man, working and living in Arizona.  

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