Michael Maki—Snapshots Without A Camera

Mike Maki reading

Mike Maki, 2012, at home before imprisonment

Another dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon:

Oh, how often I say, man, I wish I could get a picture of this scene! This is like some sordid live-in sitcom, and central casting has done an absolutely champion job of digging up these character actors. I had breakfast this morning with a young guy named Nutt (his real name), a fellow who it’s hard to tell if he’s got a screw loose or is some kind of idiot savant. He’s currently walking around with his arm in a cast, broken by another inmate who attacked him on the ball field, they say in order to get sent to the SHU (aka the hole) just before he was scheduled to get shipped to SeaTac FDC (Federal Detention Center) for relentless knuckleheaded misbehavior, and to avoid his own likely bruising for not paying off his gambling debts before he split the camp. More on this now-departed fellow in a moment. Young Mr. Nutt, with a wild look in his eye, is always whispering, although sometimes bursting out in a shout: “Lies! It’s all lies!” He claims to be a computer hacker, but who knows, really; no one’s had his case Googled or anything.

Joining us at the breakfast table is Mr. Kim, a Korean who seems somehow familiar. A lean, serious-looking guy, Mr. Kim is also known for off-the-wall outbursts. In conversation, I learn that indeed we’ve met before. He owned three convenience stores in Grays Harbor County, which I have shopped in many times, noting the same fellow over the years behind the counter in different stores. Turns out, he would buy one (usually from a white owner), turn it over for a nice profit to another Korean, and then do it again and again around Western Washington. He can often be seen practicing on one of the beat-up guitars from the music room, playing- and singing- off-key.

Sitting next to me right now in the computer room is a young man in my horticulture class, Curtis, who lost an arm in a snowmobile accident and then turned to pot growing, which somehow resulted in him being here. He has a good attitude, and has turned his one good arm into a powerful extension of his will. He’s an artful softball pitcher, and a helluva batter to boot, respected by all for his willingness to get right in and do his best in any circumstance.

Two days ago I got a new bunkie. Even though I had applied for a friend to transfer into the upper bunk, our passive aggressive “counselor” assigned me a new guy, just in from four years across the street in the medium. A big, really big guy, Mr. Singh, a Sikh, was no doubt a gangster of sorts in his street life, but is a decent fellow withal. We just have a big cultural gap between us. He’s getting used to our easy-going camp lifestyle, and another guy who came over with him from the medium now also hangs out in my cube, which is feeling just a mite claustrophobic. We’ll work it out, one way or another. Singh was struck by my announcing that we are a profanity-free cube: “I been down a while now, and I never heard that one before!” he observed in his kind of hybrid gangster street accent. “But I think I can work with that.”

The last two Sikhs here, Chadha and Singh (as most folks know, there are a whole lot of Singhs within the Sikh Indian religious culture) were my friends, one an international MDMA smuggler, the other a all-around wheeler-dealer, both stereotypical Sikh hustlers, always working some angle. But I used to join them during their reserved chapel time (at their invitation) to watch Sikh music videos, which consist mostly of three or four musicians, a harmonium player, tablist, and sarodist or other Indian musical ensemble playing sacred music, which in turn consists of sung excerpts from their holy book, cut with scenes from temples and crowds of worshippers. Very pleasant listening, though, and easy-going hang time that won me their friendship. Seems that Sacramento and south, and up into the Sierra foothills is American Sikh country these days, and I have an open invitation to visit and stay with Chadha’s folks anytime, but especially around December 17, which is their holy day.

Did I mention that this is a multicultural sitcom? It’s now nearly time for the Saturday night count, and I need to give this machine over to some more of the guys before bedtime. Ciao for now, MM

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