I Am Ahab

Writing from Prison

by Todd Newmiller


Originally published in Newspeak, January 2007

July 24, 2006


"I myself am a savage, owing no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him."

– Melville, Moby-Dick


Last night at sunset, looking out to the west I fancied I saw a cloud in the shape of "The Creation," from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, backlit in a brilliant orange as the sun went down behind a thin veil of cloud cover. It was pretty cool.

As things stand on this side of the universe, it seems likely there is some kind of emergency in the facility. They’ve been keeping everyone locked down, the ventilation has been shut off, and it’s very quiet in the pod. After I was pointing out the coincidence of the ventilation system shutting off with the start of this thing, my new celly started speculating about a cell extraction somewhere, where they might use tear gas. As I wrote that, the ventilation came back on. I have no idea the significance of that, if any. But aside from the hurricane gale of the ventilation system, all remains very quiet. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not they take laundry tonight, as scheduled.


My old celly [x] is an interesting dude. He’s a pretty skilled writer and storyteller, he worked in the oil industry (in drilling operations). I think he might also have generally sociopathic tendencies. He’s certainly high strung. But he can turn a nice phrase now and again, often speaking with more profundity than I think he realizes, though maybe that’s not giving him enough credit. He’s a pretty bright guy. Once, when we were talking about the general destruction wrought by those passing through DRDC, in the form of the last pages of books torn out and mirrors defaced to the point of becoming virtually unusable, he said the following: "We’re miserable people, and you can see it reflected in the books we read and the mirrors we look into." Talking one night about being essentially unrepentant about his use of drugs (he prefers to ingest methamphetamine), he said of prison time: "this is just my life on the installment plan." He also reminisced about reading the writing on the wall in Ft. Leavenworth (where he served some time) saying: "You can chain my body to your throne, but what then when I am but bone." Then there are other goofy things that he swore me to secrecy on. It’s amazing the kinds of things that people will develop paranoia about.


It’s interesting to witness the range of quality of prison tattoo work. You see tats that are really pretty good; unique and spectacular in execution (in the monochromatic way that prison tats invariably are), and you see some of the most horrifically juvenile conceptions carried out in crude forms with an unsteady hand.

I’m looking forward to taking a shower in the morning. They did laundry today, and since I sent in my towel with my whites, that left me with no towel to dry off with (they only give you one, here); therefore, I passed on my one opportunity at a shower today.


The food here has been uniformly decent. We even had French fries the other day, complete with two packets of ketchup. Coca-cola and French fries and ketchup are good.


I’ve been laying here for a few minutes now, mostly daydreaming about escaping this place. That’s probably a pretty good indicator that I should close things up and go to sleep. Or, at least, try to go to sleep. It’s still damn warm in here.


July 31, 2006


It smells like rain in the cell block this evening, which hopefully bodes for cooler temperatures and more comfortable sleeping conditions. Heat is much to be avoided when you sleep on a mat covered in plastic. But everything is relative and cell L310 gradually becomes home until such time as they transfer me next. Likewise, the regularity of the schedule provides what little contour there is to my life. I’m fortunate to still have exposure to good reading materials, to have contact with the larger world through letters and telephone conversations. But my overwhelming sense is that I don’t belong here; that, moreover, I don’t want to come to understand the culture of this place, that I don’t want to pretend to be comfortable with either the system’s culture of oppression nor the inmate culture of selfish manipulation or bullying brutality. I guess I’ll learn what I can.


Part of a conversation I overheard standing in line for the phones: "Is he your homey from the streets?" "No. Actually he’s my enemy on the streets. But it’s all different in here. You know how it is." I found that very interesting.


August 1, 2006


Another day. After not getting a shower yesterday, and sweating through the heat all night long, it was very nice to get a shower this morning. Breakfast wasn’t memorable, lunch was fish. They alternate which days each tier goes out first for meals and for yard time. Today is not third tiers day to go first. The guys I usually eat with are also on the third tier, so we end up getting split and I end up eating with unfamiliar people on these days. Hopefully it won’t prevent me from getting on the phone this evening.


We got canteen today. Canteen at Territorial is about as limited as it is at DRDC, so it’s not too exciting. The main thing is I got more phone credits ($60 worth). I also got more stamps, more soap, and another writing pad (also important), and I finally got some shower shoes. The damn things are exactly the same as the sandals they give you in county, and, while I ordered an XL that was listed as a size 12, they gave me some that are clearly marked 11. So my feet overhang the end a bit. At least I’ve got something, I suppose.


That’s just about all that’s going on currently. According to the menu, we’re supposed to get fried chicken tonight for dinner. That could be nice. I miss making my own fried chicken.


This place, this system, is a showcase of the tragic and the ridiculous. Last evening, someone was saying that one of my fellow inmates had not taken his medication, and as he sat out in the yard looking up at the mountains, started becoming noticeably anxious, then started talking about the aliens he could see on the ridge.


"Never get off the boat."

Apocalypse Now


I feel like I’m losing my perspective, and I’m not exactly sure how to regain it. No doubt, a lot of that feeling stems from my sense of isolation, now. After going for so long detached from the happenings in the real world, it’s hard not to be swallowed up by the boredom and banality of everyday existence here. Anxiety becomes depression becomes boredom becomes coping. At least I’ve made it as far as boredom.