I. Hear No Evil
There are two types of circular wall clocks: The kind where you get the tick-tock of the second hand and the kind where the second hand moves around continuously. I think the Institutional Investigator chose the latter to screw with the guys waiting outside his office. The hum of that motor was the loudest I had ever heard coming from a little clock. That constant buzz was clearly designed to unnerve the waiting. My attention keeps being pulled back to the clock because it is now 12:07 pm and Chuck has been in there for over twenty five minutes. I think to myself, “It’s been too long. That dude’s telling.”
Chuck and I had both been called to speak to the investigator when the institutional count cleared. I met up with Chuck in the hallway. When we arrived outside his office Ezra was walking out. If he was called up to the office after count like us, he could have only been in there for a couple minutes.
Which makes sense, he was a first aid responder. He has helped stem the bleeding of many guys until a nurse could get there. He would just say he saw a bloody dude and helped out, then walk out of the office.
It was no mystery why all three of us were there. Earlier that morning all three of us were in the area that two other guys got into a fight. That day at our job we were part of a skeleton crew doing inventory. We worked for the Penal Industries Shop fabricating metal furniture.
All but one of the staff members was stuck in some training so most of the inmate workers got the day off. A lucky few got to count sheets of metal, nuts and bolts all day. In the back of the warehouse the sheets of cardboard used for shipping the final products are stored with the bolts of fabric and pleather used for the chairs. Chuck and I were stuck inventorying all that.
This was my first time working with Chuck. He was a new hire and just getting broken in. He seemed to have all his fingers and toes so counting to twenty shouldn’t be a problem for him. I hoped I didn’t have to go behind his counts to recheck them.
After about an hour, James showed up. James was hired when I was, about a year earlier. But he didn’t advance past his entry level clean-up position. One could make the argument that his vision – one plastic eye and bad vision in the other – hampered his career trajectory, until that person talked to James. He was just a miserable prick that no one wanted to work around, let alone with.
So instead of having James help with the inventory, our boss had him pick up the count forms from all the guys actually doing the counts and bring them back to the office workers to input in the computer system.
This was a mistake. After Chuck and I told James we were nearly finished with one section and he could get our sheets in a few minutes, he decided to just wait.
That’s when Ronald showed up. Ronald was the lead painter. No matter how much protective clothing he wore, the poor guy was always covered with whatever color he was spraying, especially his coke bottle, birth control glasses. The yelling began right away.
Apparently Ronald did not appreciate the way James spoke to him about collecting his forms. Neither person was a friend of mine so I immediately categorized the argument as “None of My Business” and continued my counts. I continued actively not listening, even when Ronald and James started using words you simply do not use in prison. If their friends had been around, it’s possible the two combatants would have been separated and each allowed a little face saving chest thumping. Some time would pass and apologies exchanged.
When the argument stopped, I knew it was very important for me to pay all my attention to the fabric in front of me. The argument didn’t sound finished, so quiet was bad. Quiet is always bad.
When the clock outside the investigator’s office struck 12:14, Chuck walked out. His head was down and he didn’t even cut his eyes my way. Spineless. My feelings of disgust with Chuck were only interrupted by the Investigator calling me into his office. This is not good. He definitely told. That would make my interview a little dicey.
Lt. Ortiz was acting Investigator, and he was one of the people that responded to the call for help after James was found. He saw me standing right next to him. And now, Chuck had no doubt told this guy everything. Lt. Ortiz had a tough Hispanic accent and hunched over shoulders, sort of like the weight of the world was on him. He had a reputation for tossing reluctant witnesses into solitary for a week to help jog their memories.
I was not interested in a vacation so I had to walk a tight rope. I had to appear to be cooperating, to avoid solitary, but I’ve been in prison a while… I’m old school. There is a very simple rule: Don’t talk. Ever.
I wish I had been a fly on the wall during Chuck’s interview. If I knew what he said I could weave a story to get me out of that office without any problems.
II. See No Evil
As I step into the Investigator’s office, to the right of me I see piles of paperwork stacked up all over his desk. There are clearly a bunch of things going on he is looking into; a plus for me. He won’t want to spend too much time on an open-and-shut case. On the top of his pile is a note pad of paper.
I can’t read upside down but I can still make out some words like: Supv. said assailant confessed, conscious when sent to hospital, and no cameras in warehouse. Sitting in an evidence bag propped up next to his desk was the dark brown handle used in the assault. All good news for me. Lt. Ortiz wouldn’t lean on me too hard.
The shelves holding the bolts of fabric were nearly full, so not much was visible looking through them. But the human eye is drawn to movement. A moment after the argument got quiet, I thought I might have seen a dark brown blur flash through the area where James was standing. This was followed by a wet thunk and a guttural “Ungghhhhhh.” There were a couple more brown blurs and thunks. All of that was followed by the unmistakable sound of a 2X4 being tossed to the ground and rattling around a bit. Allegedly.
I might have possibly heard Ronald say something like “That’s what you get motherfucker” as he walked away. And I might have peeked around the corner to see James lying on the ground with blood flowing freely from him. Head wounds always bleed pretty good. The part I hope my memory invented was his plastic eye getting knocked out. It was still spinning on the ground next to him. Allegedly.
James was lying in the only aisle out of the back of the warehouse.
There was no way I could leave without stepping over him. Leaving was my safest bet. Someone with training credentials like Ezra might be able to provide first aid without any issues, but I have seen plenty of guys be good Samaritans and be accused of being the attacker and tossed in solitary. I just wanted to leave.
As I was formulating a path out, where I could avoid stepping in blood, Ezra came over and started applying pressure to James’s wounds. He asked if I could get him some paper towels from his desk, there was too much blood for the couple he had in his pocket. That I could do.
It took me a second to find them, for some reason his bottom left drawer was his storage place for paper towels, but I returned and handed over half what I brought.
I turned to take my leave when Mr. Schilling turned the corner into the warehouse saying “What’s going on over here…?” when he stopped and stared at the scene. He added “Oh my god” and hit his panic button. Shit, my escape plan was foiled.
Within seconds there was a stream of staff pouring into the area. An emergency call in the metal fabricating shop brought a lot of responders. The whole place was basically a shank factory, so they came in force. A nurse was quickly called and me, Chuck and Ezra were told to go wait in the office. We learned from the clerks that Ronald walked into the office and told the boss “I just killed somebody in the warehouse, you need to put cuffs on me.”
That’s what brought Mr. Schilling to the warehouse. It was nearly count time, when everybody needed to be sitting on their beds for the institutional head count, so one of the officers sent us all back to our locks.
III. Speak No Evil
Right when my butt hit the chair in the Investigator’s office, Lt. Ortiz started in on me. Before the question was out I thought of a line I read in some law book: If your case was weak in the facts, argue the law. If your case was weak in the law, argue the facts. If your case was weak in both, bluff.
I was in a tough spot. He knew I was there at the scene and he already had Chuck’s statement. I would have to bluff.
In addition to the desk, the whole office looked like it was straight out of the old TV drama NYPD Blue. I hoped the Lt. wasn’t one of the security staff who dreamed of becoming a police officer. They tended to be a bit gung-ho. I hoped he wasn’t going to play the part of Andy Sipowitz threatening me with a phone book. Didn’t matter though: I didn’t see nothing.
The Lt. opens up with “That’s pretty messed up what happened today.” I just look at him, projecting a slightly bored attitude. He made a rookie mistake; I don’t answer statements. He followed that up with “What’s you see today?” Another mistake; I don’t answer ridiculously vague questions.
But, not wanting things to turn antagonistic, I replied “Lots of stuff. Just ask me what you want to know.”
He said “What started the fight?”
I said “What fight?”
He instantly turned into Bad Cop. I may have already overplayed my hand. When he said “That’s how you want to play things?” I decided to get out ahead of the conversation.
“Look, I didn’t see anything. I can assume there was a fight, but I don’t know there was a fight. If you want me to talk about things I think might have happened we could be here a while. I have some convincing sasquatch literature in my cell right now.”
Visibly taken aback, he starts over. “Did you see the fight?”
“Did you know the two guys who fought?” Trick question.
This back and forth went on for several more questions. Then he just came out and asked me “How is it you didn’t see anything? You were right there.”
I replied, “I was just doing my job.”
At this point he pulls out a pad of paper and sketches out the warehouse.
He puts an X down for where Chuck and I were working, then a circle where Ezra was working on Ronald. Then he put the pad in front of me and told me to point to where James got hurt. Luckily for me the light was coming in the window just right and I could make out the pen imprint from the piece of paper that must have been just torn off the pad when Chuck was in here. I could see all of Chuck’s little notations on the page. Time to bluff.
I asked clarifying questions. What wall is this? How is this window orientated? Is that the fork truck? Then I picked up a pen. I marked spots where I had been that day, and lines connecting them. While I did it, I kept up a commentary of what I did there: Turned on a fan, tossed a candy wrapper in the trash, etc. When I was done it looked like a handful of black spaghetti had been dropped on the paper. Sensing I might be overplaying my hand again, I decided to tone it down and go back to playing the part of dumb inmate.
He finally asked me straight, “When I walked in the warehouse, you were here,” tapping the circle on the page. “Where were you working before that?”
I told him I got paper towels for Ezra. The truth.
“And before that?”
I told him “I was working here” and tapped the spot where Chuck had X’d us.
“How could you be only feet away from someone getting hit over the head with a 2X4 and not see anything?” I picked up the pen again and started circling the wall of the cage where the fabric was stored. I told him that line is a wall and the fabric blocks the view of the entire warehouse. I reiterated “I didn’t see anything. I was focused on all the long strings of numbers in front of me.”
Then he added “You didn’t hear anything either? It was only a couple of feet away.”
I had a ready answer. “Did you see the sign when you entered the shop? Hearing protection is required. I keep earplugs in. I didn’t hear anything.”
“So you didn’t see anything and you didn’t hear anything?”
Then he asked me to write out a statement saying just that. I had a ready answer for that too. “What? You don’t trust me? You want me to write out… nothing? I don’t think so.”
“You can go.”
With that I headed back to work. We still had to finish the inventory. That year there was one odd remark in the inventory comments section: One Cart, missing handle.
Wayne Snitzky #312456
PO Box 57
Marion, OH 43301