I Am Ahab

Writing from Prison

by Todd Newmiller


Originally published in Newspeak, August 2007

"No one wants to hire me here. I think it’s because of my write-ups."


[X] was at my door, as I sat waiting for a visit one Friday morning. His hair was maybe week’s growth from shaved, the longest, he would say, that it’s been in years. He’s got a distinctively wide-eyed, slow delivery, a slight slur, purportedly the lingering result of the single-handed consumption of a bottle of Everclear one night, followed by a trip to the hospital, to be brought back from the Great Beyond.


"I haven’t gotten any write-ups since 2005, but I did get eleven of them in eleven days." "One a day, huh?" I said, "That’s pretty impressive." "Oh, I actually got seventeen of them in eleven days, but some of them got dismissed."


"But what set me off was that I was in the hole for something I didn’t do. And then, when I got to the hole, they gave me mattress with all kinds of holes in it, and when I told them I needed a new mattress, they didn’t give me one and threatened to charge me for the damage to the one I had. So, for three straight days, I told them, ‘Hey, I need a new mattress,’ and they still didn’t replace it. On the third day, I said, ‘You need to give me a new mattress, or I’m gonna flush the one I have.’ And they were like, ‘Get out of here. Quit playing games.’ So I went up and asked the guy in the cell next to me to keep tech for me. I took apart a razor and started cutting that mattress, and started flushing it down the toilet."


"I had just gotten the last of it flushed when the toilet backed up, and I flooded the whole pod. But I reached my whole arm down the toilet and cleared the plug, then I swept all the water out under the door and put a sheet on the floor inside the door, so it looked like I was just trying to keep the water out of my cell. When they came by, that’s what I told them, so they left me alone."


"Later on, I went down to the office and I was like, ‘Hey, I need a new mattress,’ and they were like, ‘We know, you need you mattress replaced. We’ll get to it later,’ and I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. I don’t have a mattress.’ So now they’re looking at me, saying, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘I told you I needed a new mattress. I flushed that motherfucker.’"


"The hearings officer was cool about it, though. When I went for the hearing, he looked at the write-up and said, ‘Well, I’m going to dismiss this one, because it’s impossible.’ And I was like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’"


"At the end of the hearing , though, he was like, ‘I have to ask, did you actually flush the mattress down the toilet?’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’"


Monday, July 30, 2007


Shark week on the Discovery Channel. Ingmar Bergman died today. Those two things are not related, but good luck convincing a prosecutor. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.


"How one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives that he who lets go of what is done for that which one ought to do sooner learns ruin than his own preservation."


-Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince


Machiavelli wrote The Prince in the early 16th century, a treatise on manipulation and coercion directed to the self-interest of tyrants. And yet, late in the 18th century the founders of this nation optimistically envisioned a system built on reason, on transparency and accountability in government, on what Abraham Lincoln would later call, "the better angels of our good nature."


How can one reconcile the divergence of these two very different views of the world with the way our government seems to function in these very Machiavellian times? The founders were no fools, nor were they unreasonably optimistic about the human nature. (They may have been excessively optimistic about the ultimate triumph of reason, living amidst the Enlightenment as they did.) They had themselves emerged from an imperial system under a powerful executive control. As such, they designed our government with features like the aforementioned transparency and accountability. More importantly, they divested power of the executive branch, trusting this separation of power to constrain executive abuses.


But at the local level, is there any meaningful oversight of executive function, or is there simply a shared interest in hiding abuses of government and maintaining the status quo? Who polices the police? Who prosecutes the prosecutors? No one.

The power of the local government is being abused. If, like myself, you can’t remember any member of our local government, from mayor down to the lowliest cop, ever being prosecuted for such abuses, the question is why. And, of course, how pervasive such abuse is. After all, if the problem has been completely ignored, how can we know the extent and the seriousness of the disease?


There’s reason for optimism though, even in my current situation. There’s reason to be skeptical, even cynical, too. Can my government be as good as its promise? I hope it’s still too early to say.