I was locked up in Menard prison, at the medium security joint on the hill; serving time for stabbing a guy in a bar fight, when I got a letter from my cousin in Chicago.
The letter read:
“Hey cuz, How are you? Things are going good up here. Just working and staying busy. I’d still like for you to do some work down there when you get out. It’ll be good money. I went ahead and put $500.00 on your books, I’ll put more on later. I’m pretty sure you’ll want the work. By the way, I’m sorry about your accident. You should go to medical and get that checked out. Dutch.”
I had no clue what accident he was talking about, but considering the fact that he worked for the Syndicate, it made me a little watchful. He might be warning me of something coming my way.
The next morning a guard came to my door, and yelled through the screen in the door.
“MacDougal, get ready you’re going to healthcare.”
Well now, Surprise, surprise, so I put my book down, and jumped out of bed. I laced up my black boots, and threw on my blue button up shirt over my white t-shirt. I was very curious to see what all this was about. So, I stood by the door, with my coat and pushed the call button. The guard in the pod popped my door so I could get out.
I stepped out of my second floor cell and shut the door back behind me with a click. The cell block was 2 stories high, battleship grey and full of solid metal doors, running the length of both walls. The doors were cut with a screen window and a chuckhole for delivering items through the door. The second floor of the cell block had a large concrete deck, with about six metal picnic tables. There was a big TV in the wall at the end, with metal benches for viewing. The deck where the tables were, filled in half the space; while the rest of the second floor was two long catwalks going down both sides toward the steps and the main door in front. Grey iron rails ran along the edge of the catwalks and deck to prevent anyone from falling down to the concrete floor below. White numbers were painted on every door, and as I walked down the deck, headed toward the main door and the pod. Ricky yelled out of his cell at me.
“Hey Mac! Where you goin?”
“Healthcare!” I answered.
“Going to see the gynecologist?” He asked.
Several people laughed behind cell doors at his ribbing me.
“Nah, your old lady just had my baby and they want some DNA!” I replied.
That brought more laughter.
“That’s ok,” Rick said. “She needs another man to sponge off of.”
That brought laughter from every dad on the deck.
I went down the steps, to the main door of the cell block, which was built into a two story solid wall of reinforced glass. A guard opened the door and led me through the pod area, which was a control tower set in the middle of what looked like a wagon wheel with each cell block radiating out from the pod, which was the center. The pod could see anything going on down each cell block, and controlled everything. It was a basic X-House construction.
The guard, dressed in black, led me outside and across the well maintained grounds, to the gymnasium building and out the back door to the gatehouse. I was to be searched with the other inmates heading down to the max joint for healthcare.
“Get naked!” the guard in the room yelled.
The five of us removed our clothes, while one of the guards went around feeling and shaking the articles of clothing, to see if anything fell out.
“Turn around and spread them!” The command came. At which point we turned around with our backs to the guard, then bent over and spread our butt cheeks to search for contraband.
“Alright, get dressed, get shackled and get on the van!” The guard ordered.
We shuffled out in a line, to the transport van, with our feet shackled and hands cuffed; once there, an officer asked our names and numbers, and then compared our faces to a picture in a notebook, before each of us boarded the van.
It was a quick trip down to the maximum-security prison at Menard, affectionately called “The Pit”. Here we off loaded the van and was led into a block building called the sally port, where the shackles and cuffs were removed. Then, we were led to a small fenced cage just outside the door of the sally port.
We waited in the freezing cold cage until a lieutenant came to clear us for entry into the Max. Joint. Despite the cold, the morning sun shined beautifully off the tan stone buildings that made up the prison and its walls. Some inmates went about their business alone, while guards’ escorted lines of other inmates to various locations. All the inmates were dressed in blues. This consisted of dark blue coat and sock hat, light blue button up shirt, dark blue pants, white t-shirt, black boots or white tennis shoes. Some inmates liked wearing the white tennis shoes, because they were comfortable. I personally liked the black boots in case I needed to stomp someone’s head in.
As the lieutenant approached, a guard leaned out of a tower with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle and cracked a joke at him. They both laughed, and the lieutenant was still chuckling when he reached the cage we were freezing in.
“Name and Number, then come through the gate and line up here” He said. Pointing to where we were to line up.
I followed a couple of guys and got to the gate.
“MacDougal B83451” I yelled.
Then I jogged out of the gate and got in line behind the others. The lieutenant said “Come on” and waved us to follow him as he marched us over in a line, to the healthcare building, and inside.
The lieutenant pointed.
“You guys go sit in that cage till they call your name.”
We walked by a long counter behind which nurses and administration staff sat typing on computers, and looking in file cabinets. Then, into a large black cage with finger thick metal bars, built into a corner of the room. There was a bench built into the wall all the way around, where about 20 guys, including us sat waiting.
Outside the cage, I noticed an inmate porter with black hair, wearing a white smock. He was doing his job going around helping with things. I also noticed that he kept looking at me; almost staring. In prison, you really don’t look at people. It’s disrespectful. So, I knew something was up, or else I was going to call him on it.
However, he came into the cage and sat down next to me.
“Are you Mac?” He asked.
“Yes” I said.
“Listen” He said; speaking to me, in that low protected way of communicating that prison inmates have perfected.
“I changed the name on the sheet, to get you down here today. Your cousin says there’s a
black guy on your wing called “50”. He’s a snitch and he’s talking to the feds.” He said.
“Your cousin and a lot of others could be facing some time over this guy. They want him gone. They couldn’t put all the money on your books at one time, it would look bad, but you’ll get more as time goes on. They’ll take care of you, and this will lead to a lot more when you get out.” He continued.
“Ok.” I said.
There was not much else to say. A fat old guard yelled from outside the cage at the guy.
“Hey Frances! What are you doing in there?” The guard said.
The guy who had given me instructions answered.
“This is my cuz!” Frances answered.
“I don’t care if it’s your shower buddy, get back to work.” The guard yelled.
“Shower buddy! That’s funny boss.” Frances said.
He got up from the bench beside me and turned his back to the guard. Out of the corner of
his mouth he said.
“I’ll have to shank him for that. You have a good one, Mac. I‘m out a here.”
We bumped fists and he started to walk away.
“Hey man! What kind of exam am I getting?” I asked.
“Hernia!,” He laughed. “Don’t worry man; the nurse is real purdy, all 500 pounds of her.”
I watched “50” for about two weeks to get a feel for his habits. He was like most inmates; he had a routine built up that made the time go faster. I needed to figure out how to get him. I could shank him easily enough, just walk past and hit him a few times with the shank, then move on, leaving him to bleed. However, that wasn’t a guarantee.
Ol, “50” needed to die. When you shank someone, there is no guarantee they will die. A person who gets shanked could end up in healthcare, and then transferred to another joint under protective custody. That makes it very hard to get a second chance at them. I could poison him. There are many chemicals I could make or steal that would do the job. But, there’s the problem of getting the poison into him, and again, what if he doesn’t die. Blunt force trauma could work. Just drop a heavy solid object into a sock or pillowcase, then follow him into the shower or cell and bash his brains in. However, that leaves too many loose ends and the possibility of evidence. You know, blood splatters on the killer’s clothes and all that. I doubt they would do a fully fledged investigation over the death of an inmate, but why make it easy for them? Besides, the laundry guy might wonder where the blood on my clothes came from.
I wasn’t sure how to proceed. But, one day while sitting at a table in the dayroom area, playing spades and watching “50’s” cell, it came to me. Every Thursday when “50” went to the gym to play basketball, his cellie went to art class. This realization brought a plan to my mind fully formed, and a smile to my face.
I stood up from the game and started to walk away.
“Hey! Where you going?” Joey, my spades partner asked. “We’re winning here!”
“I gotta take care of something.” I said, walking away.
A skin-headed guy quickly jumped into my seat, at the metal table.
“I got this!” he said.
“Man, you couldn’t play spades, if we were betting on dates with your ol’ lady.” Joey said.
He shuffled the cards laughing to himself.
“What? I’m a spadesologist, and watch that ol’ lady talk! She’s a good girl.” The guy said.
“Yeah, real good; just like the rest of them.” Joey said. He laughed, scratched his scruffy
face and started dealing out the cards.
I chuckled over the exchange, as I entered my cell and shut the door. I quickly squatted down and grabbed a pair of gloves out of my property box under the bottom bunk. I put them on and slid over to my cellie’s box, which was next to mine on the floor. I looked at the blackish grey hard plastic box to see exactly how it was set, before touching it.
Inmates tend to put things a particular way, and know exactly when it’s been moved. Getting into another man’s box was a big no no in the joint. I slid the plastic lid back enough to see inside, and get my hand in there. I didn’t want to disturb anything. In the corner of the box were his toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. I slid my hand in through the opening in the lid and grabbed the floss without touching anything else.
A dental floss container holds several yards of very strong cordage. It has many uses besides cleaning teeth. I quickly yanked out about a yard of floss, then cut it, and pulled out another yard cutting it, then again, a third time. I carefully put the floss back and set everything exactly how it was. Then I climbed back up into my bunk with the three lengths of cord and I began to braid it, making a very strong length of line, about one yard long.
I heard the door unlocking so I stuck the cord into my pillowcase; and into the cell bounded my cellie, slamming the door behind him.
“Man, I’m gonna slap your boy, Joey.” He said; while pushing blonde hair out of his eyes.
“Joey, will hurt you,” I said. “What happened?”
“Nothing” He said.
He was scanning his shelves, searching for something.
“How much did he win?” I asked.
“Ten bucks, but I’ll get it back tonight.” He said.
He squatted down and opened his box, looking inside for items he could pay Joey off with. He grabbed a few items and placed them on the floor, and then he grabbed a few more including the floss. He popped the cap and looked inside.
“This floss is empty.” he said
“Man, you don’t even brush your teeth,” I said. “You can use mine.”
“No,” He said. “I was going to give it to Joey to pay the debt”
“Joey doesn’t want your floss. Give him a picture of your mom instead.” I said.
He closed the floss lid and looked at me.
“You guys are sick. I was going to give him this soap, half a bag of coffee, a few noodles, a candy bar, some smokes and this floss. Maybe he won’t notice it’s empty. Don’t say anything.” He said.
“That’s your business, not mine. But, you need to quit gambling.” I said.
“No, I’ll have this back by next week, you watch!” He said.
Then, he ran out the door with his bundle of goods.
I continued to watch “50” and his cellie till the next Thursday. Then, when the time came, I got my coat, gloves, towel, and hat ready, like I was going to the gym. I had the braided cord in my underwear ready to go.
When the guards yelled “Gym!” over the loud speaker and popped the doors, I quickly moved out of my cell and across the bay, to the other wall and line of cells. The doors were popping and opening around me, with inmates leaving their cells. Most headed to the gym, or to other activities. I approached “50’s” cell.
The door popped and out stepped “50’s” cellie. He was a tall skinny dude, with big bushy hair and long fingernails holding his art book. I crept closer. His cellie started shuffling in his flip-flops, down to get in line for art class, which left at the same time as the gym line. Then out came “50” at a dead sprint, as usual. I crept closer. He swung the door closed behind him without looking back. As the door swung closed, I slipped inside, just as it slammed shut with a bang.
I squatted down behind the door out of sight, till everyone moved on down to the line. Then, I put my gloves on and explored the cell a little bit. It was a typical cell. Metal frame bunk bed along the right wall, a stainless steel toilet sink combination to my left, and wood shelving with a desk, along the left wall. A little window let light in through the far wall, at the end of the cell in front of me.
On the shelf were a couple of hot pots, television, some shaving crème and razors, along with a large pencil holder full of colored pencils. Beside the pencil holder was a folder, which I figured was art done by “50’s” cellie.
I carefully picked it up and opened it. Inside were a couple of portraits the guy was drawing for other inmates. Pictures of girlfriends, moms, and wives, he drew for money. There were also a few landscape scenes, a picture of the prison fence with a bird on top, a fruit bowl and several explicit drawings of naked children.
I put the folder down, and took six colored pencils from the holder. Then I took the pencils and tied them to each end of the braided cord. Three pencils per end, making strong handles for the garrote.
I wrapped the white towel around my face, head and back of my neck, stuffing it down into the coat I was wearing, which I zipped up and raised the collar. Then I secured the towel on top of my head with my dark blue stocking cap. None of this was done to hide my identity. It was for protection. When a person is being strangled to death, they tend to fight back, and scratch. Those scratches leave all kinds of evidence, on the killer, and under the nails of the victim. It is a good thing prisons are somewhat cold in winter, or I would be sweating like a pig. I shoved their property boxes, which were under the bed, back to the wall, and crawled under the bunk on the concrete floor to wait for “50” to return.
I must have fallen asleep waiting, because I awoke to the sound of yelling with the doors popping and slamming, as the inmates came back from the gym. “50” would be coming to grab his stuff, so he could go shower.
The door popped and in came “50”, slamming the door shut behind him. He grabbed his soap, towel, and shower shoes off the bottom bunk, and then turned to hurry up and go get in line for the shower. Smooth as silk I rolled out from under the bed, stood and threw the cord over his head from behind him. Then, I pulled it tight with all my might cutting off his air supply. I yanked him close to me, and stayed low so he could not reach me, while holding the pencil handles tight. He fought and tried to twist, making some kind of weird gurgling sound, but I pulled tighter and used my body to stop him, knocking his legs out from under him. He made a few grabs at my arms but the coat protected me. Then, old “50” started kicking and freaking out. But, everything he kicked was solid metal or block wall.
Then, he was gone. I kept strangling him for a while just to make sure he was dead. Yep, he was dead. I took the garrote from around his neck and stuffed it under his cellie’s mattress. Then I picked up “50” and rolled him onto his bunk. I’m just glad he had a bottom bunk. Then I grabbed his cellie’s razor from the shelf and smeared the blade over “50’s” finger tips, hoping it would put down some DNA. I grabbed his blanket and covered him up to make it look like he was sleeping. Then, I opened his cellies box, and grabbed his dental floss. I yanked out about three yards and stuck it in my pocket, then returned his floss and box to its original position. Just before exiting his cell, I removed the towel from my head, popped the door, and walked back to my cell letting the door shut behind me.
The deck was crawling with other inmates heading to showers, playing cards, paying debts, talking and standing around. Nobody really notices anything, and most wouldn’t snitch anyway. I got back to my cell and relaxed. I climbed up on my bunk and started reading a book, waiting for my cellie to come back from the shower.
He popped the door and came in.
“You didn’t go to gym?” He asked.
“Nah, I didn’t feel well.” I said.
He sat down on his bunk, turned on his T.V. and began watching a movie.
A couple of hours later they called us for chow. The doors popped and I went down to get into line. As I walked past “50’s” cell on the opposite side of the deck, I could see his cellie in there yelling at“50’s” covered corpse.
“Hey cellie, it’s chow time; you goin?” He said.
I went down and got in line. They led us out the main door and over to the chow hall where we had a yummy meal of corned beef, cabbage and beets. Not too bad. Menard prison loves to serve cooked cabbage.
After chow, we got in line and came back to the wing where our cells were. As I entered the main door, I looked up at “50’s” cell. It was surrounded by guards looking into the cell, and several guards were inside of it. “50’s” cellie was in handcuffs outside the cell. As I walked past I looked inside and saw “50” lying on his bunk dead, with his purple tongue hanging out and eyes bulging. His cellie pleaded with the guards.
“I didn’t do it! Why would I stuff it under my mattress?” He said.
“Because you’re stupid like the rest of the convicts.” A guard answered him.
One of the guards opened up his art folder and thumbed through it.
“Why you drawing pictures of naked kids?” He asked.
“50’s” cellie just shook his head and cried.
I went on back to my cell and locked up. They put the whole prison on lock down for about three weeks to make sure there was no gang retaliation, and prevent possible evidence from being moved, or destroyed. While being locked down, I remember some guy down the hall yelling out of his cell.
“Guard, I need to get to the doctor! I got a hernia or something and I’m all busted up down there. When am I going to the doctor?” He said.
“Put in a request!” the guard yelled back.
“I did!” The inmate yelled.
(Bio: Chris Bunton is a writer, poet and blogger from Southern Illinois. He has been published in Written Tales and The Yard: Crime Blog)