As I’ve expressed, bullpens are typically barren of most human comforts. Northampton County Prison’s bullpen offers nothing, and I mean nothing, to stimulate mind or body and it’s relatively small. Inmates have the options of sitting on a concrete slab, pacing a concrete floor, looking through bars at passing guards or using the absolutely vile metal commode/sink unit in full view of a literally captive audience.
Anybody can wind up in a bullpen for any reason. An addict can find himself sitting next to a drug counselor or a burglar next to a cop. Out of sheer boredom, some people strike up conversations. Once guys get to talking, there is no telling where the conversations might go. On July 22, 2016, I spent about 6 hours chatting with as eclectic a cross-section of people as can be found in New York City’s Washington Square Park on any sun-drenched Saturday afternoon.
Speaking of New York City, I acted as if I were there during my first couple of hours in stir. Like any old school knickerbocker in unfamiliar surroundings, I kept my mind blank and my mouth shut while my eyes surveyed all behind a vacant stare. In a detention facility setting, it’s wise to get a read on the surrounding company before trying to get chummy with anyone. Fortunately for our group, one of the cell’s early inhabitants proved a real wit.
It might have been sweltering in the jail’s main corridor, but it was downright frigid in the bullpen. I was too busy suppressing a torrent of thought to notice the chill, but as more guys joined the party, many shrouded themselves under the wool blankets provided as part of our facility-issued personal kits. Those dudes had to be cold, I thought; the blankets offered all the comfort of a roll of fiberglass insulation. I guess the jail’s laundry had run out of fabric softener.
Under one of these shrouds, our jailhouse Katt Williams slept fitfully on the concrete slab, periodically sitting up to demand coffee from passing, notably disinterested C.O.s. It bears mentioning that C.O.s hear and see it all behind the gates. They are likely instructed from the day they are hired to ignore 99.99% of what they hear from inmates and maybe even more of what they see. They were as likely to bring this man coffee as toss him a spare key to the cell. Even now, I chuckle at the thought of this guy shouting and gesturing at the passing C.O.s who gave him as much consideration as a moisture stain on the concrete floor. Eventually, my audacious celly began to remind me of an X-rated jack-in-the-box. In the absence of even a sales circular to peruse just for laughs, I found his outbursts increasingly amusing.
The Coffee Man definitely broke the ice. His clowning led to each of us discussing why he was there. Some pretty good stories worked their way up from the depths of secrecy. Were they all true? Who knows? Who cares? Swapping tales helped us forget that we were stuck in a cell for what seemed like forever…and gave us insight into those with whom we would be sharing close quarters indefinitely.