I’ve been told it’s a good time to be leaving Mississippi. “This place is going to shit,” one man said. “Take me with you,” said another. It’s the same with every new warden. They come in, hitch up their drawers, and declare, starting now, things are gonna be a lil different ’round here. Yes, sir. And then they set about painting the shutters red while overlooking the cracks in the foundation.
The newest warden, the third in my three and a half years here, has stirred a considerable ruckus. Her most rousing changes have been to the hourly movements and traffic flow, minor inconveniences really, but to inmates, for whom routine is everything, the changes are perceived as a threat to what little liberty and control they have. There have been murmurs of protest, of “laying down”–refusing food, refusing to work–but no car has claimed leadership.
Yes, they say it’s a good time to get out, but I have many reservations about Wednesday’s transfer. I too am frightened of change. The move feels more lateral than vertical; I’ve heard things about West Texas–race riots, inmate politics, despite the facility being a step lower in security.
And then there’s the transfer process itself–a thirteen-hour bus ride, shackled at the hands, feet, and waist; a two- to four-week layover at a transfer facility in Oklahoma; and then another arduous bus journey out West, with a possible one-night stay in a Lubbock county jail.
And there’s the people I’ll be leaving behind, the Christian brothers, who’ve shown me more kindness and camaraderie than any white man sharing the same last three digits as me. Last night at church service, Brother Jones invited me up to the pulpit where he laid a hand on my shoulder and prayed over me, that I should follow wherever the Lord leads me, that I should be protected by the hands of angels on my journey.
And then there’s Cisco.
“I never thought,” he told me one night after walking the track, “that I’d ever meet a friend like you so late in my life.”
This afternoon I packed out. Cisco helped me carry my belongings to Receiving and Discharge. Watching the CO tally my books and clothes reminded me of the day I packed my apartment before surrendering, and I was surprised again by how few possessions I owned, my whole life packed into a single cardboard box–two t-shirts, two thermals, sweatpants, MP3 player, shower shoes. . . .
Another man was packing out to go to Fort Worth for a court appearance. He patted my shoulder and wished me luck. It’s funny how kind people are when they hear you’re leaving. It’s the one thing we all share in common, regardless of our race or where we’re from: we all want to get closer to home.