I was laying on my bunk, eyes closed, lost in an opiate stupor.
“Rob!” Someone snatched the door open and ran into my cell. “Rob! Get your ass out of bed, man. We need you out there now!”
I could hear him alright, but I was still off in poppyland; a drug-induced vision of my daughter playing softball had me in a wonderful place.
“Rob!” The guy yelled again, shaking me awake as he did. “Rags just got stabbed.”
My eyes flew open. Standing over me was Jeff Rock, a wino from Boston in his early fifties.
“Say that again?” I said.
“I said Rags got stabbed.”
I threw off my covers and jumped out of bed. “What the fuck are you talking about? Who stabbed Rags?”
“What? That doesn’t even make any sense,” I said. “Rags was just in here a little while ago shooting dope with me. He never mentioned anything about having problems with Dixon, or anyone else for that matter.”
“Look, all I know is that I was in my cell reading when I heard Rags hollering out your name. When I stuck my head out the door to see what was going on, I saw Rags over in Gnneck’s cell and he told me that Dixon had just stabbed him. That’s when he asked me to run down here and get you.”
Fat Dixon was black, Rags white. This was not good. “What white dudes are in the block right now?” I asked, as I hurried into a pair of prison issued khaki pants.
“You, me, Rags, Gnneck, and I think Bogy is asleep. Oh, and I guess Max and Happy Jack are around here somewhere.”
“Are you fucking serious?” I threw on a pair of boots and glanced at my wristwatch- 8:45. “Where the fuck is everyone?”
“Not everyone lays around in their cell all morning smacked out like you do, Rob. Some people actually work, and believe it or not, others do go to the yard before noon.”
“Fuck,” I said, trying to collect my thoughts. “Okay, do you know where Big Jerry is?”
“He went outside with a couple of your brothers right after breakfast.”
“Fuck,” I said again. Scrambling, I opened my locker and reached inside a box of Lipton Tea. “Here.” I handed him just under two grams of black-tar heroin and an outfit (syringe). “I don’t have time to keester this shit. But if I get locked up today for any reason, make sure you find somebody to bring that stuff to the hole for me. I’11 make it worth their while.”
Rock looked down at the contraband. “Hey, you mind if I do me a little squirt?”
“I don’t care.” I closed my locker and secured it with a combination lock. “Tell me about how many toads would you say are in the block right now?”
“I don’t no, bro, but there must be a white woman working the block. Because it seems like every nigger in here stayed in today.”
“Shit,” I said. “I don’t even have a fucking knife. Please tell me that you have one.”
He shook his head.
“Have access to one?”
His answer was no.
“You mean to tell me that their ain’t a cracker in here right now who has a knife?”
“None that I know of.”
“Fucking great, man. Just fucking great.” What the hell am I gonna do now, I thought. “Alright, look. One last thing. I need you to run downstairs and see if the front door is locked. If it’s not, sneak upstairs and tell my brothers what’s going on and tell them I said to get their asses down here now. And tell them that I said to bring knives – lots of knives.”
Shirtless and only wearing pants and boots, I took off out the door and headed straight down to cell 248. When I reached it, I grabbed the handle on the door and yanked – only to discover that the door was locked. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said, peering through the slot on the door. “You two motherfuckers locked yourselves in?”
“Fuck no, Rosso!” Rags spat. “That bitch-ass nigger Dixon stabbed me then ran out of here before I could beat his head in.”
“Dixon locked us in here, Rob,” Mike Gnneck explained. “Rags was bent down in front of the wine -”
” – and that stinkin, fat-ass nigger ran up in here and tried to kill me!” Rags claimed. “Look what he done to me.” He pulled up his shirt and revealed his wound; a four inch mark on his right side that amounted to nothing more than a deep scratch.
“You fucking pussy,” I said to Rags. “You’re not even bleeding. All you have is a little bit of plasma leaking out of you.”
“I don’t give a fuck – I’m killin’ the bitch!” Rags swore, his light-blue eyes bulging out of their sockets. He was a rather funny looking little guy, with the carrot-top mullet and the word “SUFFER” tattooed across the front of his neck.
“Yeah, okay killer,” I said to him. “But first you need to pipe down and quit making all that noise. People out here will here you.”
“I don’t give a shit who hears me!” Rags shot back. “Now go tell the police to open up this goddamn door so I can handle my business.”
I stuck my face in the window and spoke just above a whisper. “Listen, asshole. On the way over here I saw at least twenty toads posted up downstairs. In the breezeways upstairs, there’s probably another ten to fifteen just hanging out. And right this second, I’m counting six in the Spanish TV room that are watching me. So quit making so much noise.”
Gnneck, a thick six-footer who was about my age, 31, had a steel towel-rack in his hands. “Fuck those niggers, Rob. I’m ready.”
“You moron,” I said to Gnneck. “Didn’t you hear me? We’re outnumbered – like, heavily – and I don’t even have a fucking knife.”
Rags came at me with, “What kind of Dirty White Boy ain’t got no knife?”
“One that’s gonna slap the cum out of your mouth when this is all over and done with,” I promised him.
Right about then, a pack of black guys came walking up the stairs. Among them, “Fast Black,” a guy who not only earned his nickname in the boxing ring, but was notorious for making knives. Trying my best not to look terrified, I turned and approached them.
“Let me holler at you for a second,” I said to Fast Black, intentionally trying to draw him away from the crowd.
“Bet,” he replied.
When we were away from the others, I said, “So what’s this shit all about? Dude runs into my friend’s cell, pokes him, then bails? What kind of punk-ass move is that?”
Fast Black flipped open a pack of Marlboro Reds then offered me one, which I gladly took. “Nah, Rob. It didn’t go down like dat.”
“Okay,” I said. “Then how did it go down?”
He struck a match, fired up his smoke, then lit mine. “Your boy disrespected mines and mines handled his business, you know?”
“Handled his business?” I nearly laughed in his face. “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but Rags ain’t even bleeding. Dixon ran in that cell, barely nicked him, then took of running for his life. He was so scared he even locked the door behind him so Rags couldn’t chase after him.”
Fast Black looked disgusted. “Is you serious? Dat nigga said he put In some work.”
This time I did belt out a laugh. “Ha! Well, he lied to you then,” I assured him. “Because Rags only has a scratch on his side.”
“Moth’a fuckin’ bitch-ass nigga,” Fast Black mumbled. “I knew that ho’ wasn’t cut like dat.”
It occurred to me that I still didn’t know what exactly started the whole thing. “When you said that Rags disrespected Dixon, what did you mean?”
“He called my boy a nigga to his face.”
“Jesus Christ, I thought. How did I miss that? “Oh, uh, I didn’t know that,” I said, stumbling on my words. “But still, I mean, even if that was the case, Dixon still pulled a bullshit move. He should’ve either smashed Rags the second he said it or brought it to us first.” In the world of prison politics, someone representing the blacks should have approached someone representing the whites and explained what had happened. That would have given us a chance to deal with Rags ourselves, rather than risk a racial problem. But it was too late to talk about what should have happened.
And Fast Black reiterated that fact. “I mean, it is what it is, you know? We done moved passed dat. So I’m sayin”, where we at?”
Where “we” were at was yet to be determined. I, on the other hand, was in a real bad situation; I was the lone cracker on the range full of blacks, I didn’t have on a shirt, and my boots were untied. My point: It was obvious that I didn’t have a weapon on me. So I said: “First, I want you to know that Rags isn’t a Dirty White Boy. I say that because I don’t want you or anyone else thinking that this is – or has to be – gang related. He’s a friend of mine, yeah, but he’s not patched up.”
“We straight,” Fast Black said.
I continued. “I’ve also known Dixon for a long time and me and him are cool. So why don’t we do this…you go get Dixon, I’ll have the cop open the door and let Rags out, then we’ll get them together and let them figure out where they wanna go from here. But whatever they decide, let’s agree to keep it between them. Alright?”
We bumped fists and went our separate ways.
Chow Hall (noon meal)
I walked over to our tables and found most of my brothers already there – TC, Rob Hustle, and Youngster were sitting at one table, No Nose, Danny, Green Horn, and Billy were at the next. I took a seat and told everyone that I needed their attention. “We’ve got big problems,” I announced.
“What’s up, brother?” TC said.
“Your homeboy Rags is about to get us all in a wreck,” I told him. TC and Rags were both from Indiana.
“Rags? What did he do?” Tc asked.
I started at the beginning and told them the story. “Come to find out, they got into an argument over a mop,” I explained. “Dixon swears that Rags called him a nigger, so he said he went and stabbed him. Rags says that Dixon is lying and told him so to his face. He even called Dixon out and told him that he wanted to go heads up with him in the TV room.”
“So, what happened?” Rob said.
“Dixon said that he would only fight him with a knife.”
“And let me guess, Rags bitched up?” Billy said.
“Fuck no,” I replied. “Trust me; Rags wanted nothing more than to take him up on his offer. The problem was nobody white in our block had a knife. I even tried to send Rock upstairs to get one from one of you guys, but the front door was locked. So Rags had no choice but to squash it.”
No Nose spoke up. “Well, what’s the problem? It sounds to me like it’s over.”
“No, it’s not,” I assured him. I went on to explain that after Rags and Dixon parted ways, Fast Black asked me to give him my word that Rags wouldn’t do anything stupid, such as creep Dixon. “And I did,” I admitted. “But just as soon as I went down to Rags cell, he said that there was no way in hell that he could let it go. And honestly, I don’t blame him.”
No Nose slammed his fist on the table. “Goddammit! You had no business getting involved in this shit.”
“Rags is white,” I reminded him. “I had every reason to get involved in this shit.”
“He’s a fucking lame!” No Nose shouted, loud enough to draw attention to us. “You should have stayed the fuck out of it.” The tantrum he was throwing had nothing to do with Rags. The truth is we really didn’t get along.
“Look Rick,” I began, calling No Nose by his first name. “You can pout all you want. But the deal is Rags is my friend, someone black tried to stab him, and I am involved.” Yeah, I was wrong for assuring Fast Black that it was over, but I didn’t bring that part up.
“So why are you coming to us with this shit?” Rob Hustle asked. “B Lower is your block – handle it yourself.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These guys were members of a white prison gang, my so-called “brothers.” Yet they were saying this kind of shit? I can’t even begin to explain how I truly felt. “Are you dudes serious? A white guy got stabbed, period. He’s gonna retaliate in a few hours and there is gonna be a lot of drama behind it, period. If Gator Boy, Swivel, and Wilbur were out here, we wouldn’t even be having this type of conversation. They’d be behind me 100 percent.”
“Yeah, well, sorry about your luck,” No Nose remarked. “Because those dudes won’t be out of the hole for a while.” He grabbed his tray, stood up, and stared me dead in the eyes. “And what you’re getting ready to do is solve this problem yourself. You’re gonna follow TC upstairs, grab a knife, and you’re gonna go back down to your unit and stab the shit out of Rags. I refuse to get into a beef with a bunch of toads over your lame-ass friend.”
“I agree with No Nose,” Rob Hustle said. “You wanna do the right thing, brother? Then be a soldier and get Rags off this fucking yard before he gets us all in a wreck.” Rob then got up and trailed behind Rick.
TC, who was sitting directly in front of me, said, “Well, brother? What
are you gonna do?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna do,” I said. “Touch Rags. Fuck Rick- I don’t care if he’s calling the shots or not. I’ll deal with this myself.”
“Hold up, brother,” TC said. “Let’s get something straight. What ever you decide, I’m riding with you.”
“Me too,” said Youngster.
Danny also let it be known that he was behind me.
After leaving the chow hall, I followed TC up to his unit, grabbed two knifes, then ran back down to B Lower and found Fast Black. Basically, I just told him the truth, that Rags couldn’t let this go. “Shit, Rob,” he replied. “I knew dat. But I had faith you wouldn’t let him do nuttin’ stupid.” Together, we decided that there was only one solution- Rags and Dixon had to fight.
B Lower (Spanish TV Room)
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said. There were four of us in the room- me, Fast Black, Rags, and Dixon. And it was show time. “You two agreed not to use any weapons. But just in case one of you is trying to pull something slick, Rags, Black is gonna pat you down, and Dixon, I’m gonna pat you down.”
Once we finished checking them for shanks and razors, Fast Black said, “Yo, if we missed somethin’ and one of you pulls somethin’ out, it’s on, you heard?”
They both nodded their heads.
“Alright then,” I said. “We’ll both be standing in front of the door so nobody can rush in. So, whenever you guys are ready, do what you gotta do.”
I have to admit it was an intense moment. There were more than 300 black and whites guys posted up around the back of the unit, prepared to do what they had to should this thing escalate into a full blown race riot. I started to wonder what would actually happen if Rags- a scrawny-ass white boy who weighed a buck-fifty soaking wet and stood no taller than 5’6- were to actually win this thing. I mean, Dixon was a fat-ass who weighed well over 300 pounds and had at least six inches on Rags. But more to the point, he was black. And it really kills black men to see a white guy beat up someone black.
The fight officially began.
Because a large window ran the entire length of the Spanish TV room, at least
fifty guys or better could clearly see the fight. And from the moment that
the fight began, what they saw shocked the shit out of everyone.
I couldn’t contain myself. “Go Rags you silly motherfucker” I yelled, laughing as I did. “Go!”
“You bitch-ass nigga!” Fast Black shouted at Dixon. “You bes’ get the fuck up and fight.”
Charles Robison, aka “Ragtop,” aka “Rags,” dropped Dixon on the first punch and never let up. The scene was surreal, actually, with punches packed full of both anger and fear seemingly being thrown at the speed of light. It reminded me of a scene straight out of “Edward Scissorhands” and it was fucking hilarious.
Well, maybe not for everyone.
“Fuck dis shit,” someone behind me said. “We can’t let him do a brother like dat.”
I felt the crowd behind me push forward. “Back it up!” I yelled, extending my arms so I could completely block the door way as I did.
The black guys were really starting to get upset and Rags wasn’t letting up one bit.
“Nigga, you bes’ get up and handle yours,” Fast Black told Dixon. “Or else you gonna deal with me.”
“Someone need to stop dat fool,” a voice in the crowd demanded. “Brotherman done had enough.”
In fact, Dixon had had enough. Without ever throwing a single punch, battered and bloodied the big man on the floor waved his hands in defeat, begging Rags to stop.
But Rags wasn’t listening. “Stop, Rags!” I said, as I ran over and pushed him off. “It’s over, bro.”
“Fuck dat punk-ass white boy!” Someone hollered out.
To which someone else replied, “Quit sniveling because a white man beat his ass.”
I could feel the racial tension starting to blow.
“Fuck all these cracka’s” a guy standing near the door way said.
“No. Fuck you nigger,” a white guy who turned and got into the black’s face said.
It was at that moment when everyone started to pull out knives, myself included.
Fast Black rushed in between the two who were about to throw down. “Moth’a fucka’s, dis shit’s over,” he said. “Now go on back to your cells.”
Big Jerry, who was standing near the door next to TC, Youngster and Danny, grabbed the white who said the N-word by the back of the shirt and said, “What’s wrong with you, stupid? I outta beat your ass.”
At that moment, a voice in the distance called out “man walking,” meaning that there was a prison guard coming towards us.
The crowd began to scatter.
I walked over to Dixon, reached out my hand and helped him up. “Go hide in your cell and don’t let the cops see your face,” I said to him. “You’re lumped up pretty bad.”
Dixon shook his head shame. “My face ain’t the problem, Rob,” He said. “These dudes are gonna kill me…”
Shortly after the 4 pm stand-up count, an unknown assailant ran into Dixon’s cell and repeatedly stabbed him. It was the price he had to pay for losing a white boy.
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