At the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, there exists a cell-block known as the “Dog House.” For historical purposes, the Dog House, or D Cell Block, is the only unit in Leavenworth that remains as the original architects designed; red-brick cells stacked five-tiers high with no modern-day interior makeovers, such as central heating and air conditioning. Moreover, broken windows sometimes go unfixed for months or even years at a time, creating temperature in that are brutally hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.
In the mid-90’s, the Dog House was turned into a segregation unit, a lock-down unit predominately used to house protective custody inmates such as known sex offenders, informants, and assault victims. However, when the Special Housing Unit (SHU) or “hole” was overcrowded, it wasn’t uncommon for convicts who got locked up for violating institutional rules to be temporarily placed in the Dog House pending bed-space.
On Friday, September 19, 2000, after an officer found 20 gallons of wine in my cell, I was taken to the Dog House. But that was only the beginning of my problems. For more than three months, I had been shooting dope everyday and I was about to start going through some serious withdrawals.
Inside the Dog House…
In the corner of the cell, about 18-inches away from where the left side of my face was planted, a little gray mouse circled around the backside of the toilet, stopped, the zeroed on a chunk of my vomit. As he began to creep forward, neck stretched out, his beady-little eyes starred right into mine. Through mental telepathy, I promised to kill him if he didn’t get the fuck out of my face.
I closed my eyes and wished him away.
It was only eight o’clock in the morning and already the temperature in D Cell Block was well over a hundred degrees. As if being in the beginning stages of heroin withdrawals wasn’t bad enough, I had to do it in a lockdown unit that lacked any form of air conditioning. Worse, I was in the cell from Hell. The handle on the porcelain commode was stuck on flush; water gurgled and roared as it frothed over the edge of the toilet 24/7. The sink, porcelain as well, has no buttons or nobs. If water somehow did come out of the thing, I couldn’t figure it out. The metal-frame bunk-bed was just that – metal. There was no mattress or pillow in the cell to be found, nor was there any light. At the center of the ceiling were an electric receptacle was previously mounted, loose wire hung freely. Length wise, the cell was eight-feet wide with open-face iron bars in the front; two red-brick walls six-feet wide was the width. And then there were the bugs- roaches, ants, and spiders all living together in harmony inside and outside of the corroding walls. All night long if the spiders weren’t dropping down on me, the ants were crawling on me or the roaches were flying at me – yes, flying at me! In the Dog House the roaches have wings.
In spite of the extreme heat, I was laying on the floor, body shaking, drenched in cold sweat. The water that was foaming over the sides of the toilet was warm and actually felt very good. I wanted to lay right there until death took me.
Teeth chattering, I felt another wave of nausea approaching. Bile was the only thing left in my stomach, yet it kept coming out. Praying that when I opened my eyes the little mouse would be long gone, I took a peak – only to find him less than a cigarette length away from my nose.
I screamed like a bitch, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!”
Startled, the little guy ran towards my balls; instinctively, my hands darted down to protect my private parts and I accidentally touched the little bastard. “Ah!” screamed again. “Shit!”
He squealed and ran away.
Grossed out from touching the nasty little rodent, and needing to vomit at the same time, I hurried onto my knees, stuck my face in the toilet and puked.
“Shower call on three,” I heard a lady’s voice call out. “If you’re taking a shower, be ready when I get to your cell.”
Because I was in the first cell on the third tier, even side, I knew she would be stopping by my cell first. I had no towel, no soap, no deodorant. Just an orange jumpsuit balled up on my bunk, two pairs of wet white boxer shorts that I had on, and a pair of tennis shoes under the bed. That’s it.
I can’t take a shower, I thought. I’d never be able to make it there and back without getting sick.
“Hey -” metal keys tapped on the bars. Standing in front of the cell was the female C/O. “You okay in there?”
Oh, yeah, I wanted to say. I’m doing just fine. I’m just down here on my knees with my ass in the air because I’m sucking the toilet’s dick; dumb bitch. I spit, then looked over my shoulder with a snarl on my face.
“Oh,” she said, realizing something wasn’t about me. “Do you need me to call a P.A. for you?”
No, what I need is a fix, I thought. At the very least a drink. Better yet, what I really need is to get the hell out of Dog House and over to the SHU where I belong – over to SHU where there’s plenty of booze and drugs. Determined to do just that, I stood up.
“Go get the lieutenant,” I demanded, walking towards the bars. “I need to talk to him.”
“It’s Saturday,” the female officer said. “No lieutenant is going to come up here today. What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that I’m over here in this hell-hole!” I snapped. “I don’t belong in this unit with all of these pieces of shit!” As I said before, most of the inmates in the Dog House are snitches, sex offenders, and other less desirables. A guy like me didn’t belong in a unit with such scum.
She put her hands on her hips. “Calm down. You’re soak and wet and pale as a ghost. Didn’t Officer Churchill inform you last night that the SHU is overcrowded? That’s the only reason you’re in here.”
I knew all about the overcrowding problem in the SHU, but I wasn’t trying to hear it. As far as I was concerned they could make room for me.
“Look,” I said with a death-grip on the bars. “It’s hot in here, okay? And can’t you see that I’m shaking? I think I’ve got alcohol poisoning.” Yeah, yeah, so I lied. Alcohol poisoning, heroin withdrawals. What’s the difference?
She started to say something but I cut her off.
“And look at this fucking cell,” I complained.” The toilet won’t stop flushing – it’s driving me fucking mad! And bugs – there’s flying bugs in here swarming down on me!”
This time she threw her hands up. “What do you want me to do? I didn’t put you in here and I didn’t pour alcohol down your throat. The only thing I can do is call medical for you, because I’m not moving you. So face it, you’re stuck in here until Monday.”
Fucking bitch, I thought. This isn’t working. I need to come up with a new plan. “Fine,” I said. “Okay…take me to the shower, then. But I need everything; I don’t have a towel, soap, shower shoes or anything.”
“No problem,” she said ready to accommodate. “And while I’m at it I’ll get you a couple of new pairs of boxers.” She pointed down at my penis. “The ones you have on have pee stains on them.”
I looked down and sure enough there were yellow stains on my shorts. I had no idea it was from the floor, if I pissed myself or what. And had I not felt like death, I probably would have been embarrassed.
She winked at me and smiled. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Things happen when you have too much to drink. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Nasty bitch, I thought. You look like the kind of girl who runs around with pee-stained panties. You don’t want to help me get out of here? Fine. I’ve got something for your ass.
A plan, I had.
Hands cuffed behind my back, naked except for the wet boxers shorts I had on, and sporting a pair of shower shoes on my feet, I walked a long the steel balcony towards the shower area. As I passed in front of each cell I looked inside, wishfully thinking that maybe a familiar face might see me and toss me a paper of heroin. No such luck.
“Make a right turn here,” my female escort said, her right hand holding my left wrist. Together, we made the turn and entered a breezeway.
“Where’s the showers at?” I asked.
“Up on the right,” she said. “D Block is set up just like B Block except its five tiers high. In fact, B Block used to look exactly like this before they remodeled it.”
She could have spared me the history lesson; I knew all about it. Again we turned right.
“Okay,” she said, stopping in front of a metal shower-cage. “In you go.”
Hands still cuffed behind my back, just as I lifted my foot to step over a small concrete patrician I felt my bowels slightly let loose; the sensation of warm liquid running down my leg is what I felt next. As best as I could, I squeezed my butt-cheeks together then hurried into the shower and turned so that I was facing her.
She slammed the gate shut, locked me in, then opened up the slot. “Well?” she said looking at me.
What I was supposed to do next was turn around and have her uncuff me. The problem was I stuck and didn’t know what to do; I was certain that I had diarrhea running down my leg.
“Well?” She said again. “Come on, dude, I don’t have all day.”
She wasn’t pretty. About five-feet nine inches tall, she had shoulder length blond hair, sky blue eyes that drifted so much I could get dizzy looking at them, nice tits, and an ass that needed some work. I mean, if I was drunk I would let her do me, as long as she understood it was a one time deal and she couldn’t tell anybody afterwards. However, she was still a female and I didn’t want her to know that I had just shit my pants.
“Uh,” I said, trying to think of something. “Can you get me a razor?”
“Fine; yeah,” she said. “Let me uncuff you and I’ll go get it. Come on.”
There was really no way around it. The best I could hope for was that she wouldn’t cause a big scene once she noticed. Taking a deep breath, I stepped forward then turn around and put hands in the slot so that she could take off the cuffs.
“Oh, my God!” She said. “What’s that smell?”
I wanted to die.
She unlocked one handcuff, then another. Ready to turn around and confess that I was dope-sick and couldn’t control my bodily functions, I spun around. “I – ”
“I know what it is,” she said, before I could get a word out. “It’s those nasty fucking Cubans again. Every time they see me or hear my voice they start jerking off.” She was visibly disgusted. “That smell is shit. A couple of them actually shit in their hands and masturbate in their own feces.”
I couldn’t believe it; she didn’t even notice. Thank God for sick, perverted Cubans.
“That’s disgusting,” I said. “When are they gonna send these fuckers back home?”
“I have no idea,” She said. “But I hate Fidel Castro with a passion for sending them over here. If you ask me, I say we put them on a boat and sink it about thirty miles off the Coast of Florida.” She put her handcuffs on her belt then turned around. “I’ll go get your stuff.”
As soon as she turned the corner I ran over to the drain, dropped my underwear, and squatted over a drain. And as I let lose, I felt like a third-world myself.
The female officer came around the corner and noticed that I wasn’t dressed yet. This wasn’t a shy girl by no means; she had no problem starring directly at my cock.
“Come on, Rosso, hurry up and get dressed. I’m not trying to stay in here all day and shower you guys.”
Ready to break the news, I wrapped a towel around my waist and walked over to the gate. “Listen…I’m not cuffing up.”
“What?” She said, seemingly confused. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m not cuffing up until you get a lieutenant up here. It’s that simple.” By refusing to cuff-up, she couldn’t shower any of the other inmates, which would cause her a lot of problems. You see, in the Dog House guys only get to shower three days a week. Once they realized that their shower time was being interfered with, they would all start to go off on her, which is exactly what I wanted. That way she would be forced to go get a lieutenant.
Or so I thought.
She smirked. “Okay, I’m going to do this all official like since your being an asshole.” She cleared her throat. “Inmate Rosso, I’m giving you a direct order to step up to the gate, turn around, and cuff-up, or else I will be forced to write you an Incident Report.”
I laughed. “Get to writing then, bitch. Because I’m not cuffing up until a lieutenant comes up here and talks to me.”
She crossed her arms. “Do you really think this is going to work? I’m not calling the lieutenant – you’re not going to the SHU today, dude. So get over it. And if you don’t cuff-up and stop playing games, I’m gonna leave your ass right here in the shower – you won’t get feed, you won’t get nothing to drink, and I’m going to cut off the water. That way you’ll just be stuck here in this dirty, nasty, moldy shower. Furthermore, the rest of the officers will back my play and you’ll stay in here all weekend. And if you don’t believe me, try me.”
Go get the lieutenant was my response.
She ignored me. “Last chance, Rosso. Cuff up or I’m walking.”
The girl was lying; we prisoners have all kinds of Constitutional Rights. And they have to feed us three meals a day, provide us with a bed, medical care – you name it. There was no way she could keep me locked in the shower.
“Fuck you, bitch,” I said, calling her bluff. “Then kick rocks.”
“No – fuck you,” she said, as she flipped me off. “Have a nice stay in the shower, shithead.”
“A cunt you can’t have,” she retorted.
I scoffed. “That’s because you probably have a dick.”
“Yeah, and I guess you would know,” she shot back. “I hear you suck plenty of dicks around here.”
Ouch, that was a good one. “Bitch,” was the last word to come out of my mouth before she disappeared around the corner.
In my lifetime, I have never experienced anything worse than being stuck in that shower going through heroin withdrawals. One minute I was burning hot, the next freezing cold. Sweat continuously ran out my pours. I would shake, my teeth would chatter, then it would stop for a minute or two only to start all over again. My legs were cramping. If I wanted to I couldn’t have held anything in my stomach, water included. And not long after she left me in that shower, I lost control of my bowels completely.
True to her word, the female officer cut off the water, leaving me unable to rinse the diarrhea down the drain. The stench was horrific. The rest of the officers, all aware what was going on, stayed completely away from the area; not a soul did I see.
When four o’clock came around, I was certain that the new shift officer would turn on the water, let me get cleaned up, then bring me back to my cell. Never happened. Not only did they go out of their way to avoid me during feeding time, but they never even counted me.
The cement floor became my bed; a small towel offered the only padding to rest my head. But it’s not like I could sleep; I tossed and turned all night, bruising my body, and even drawing blood on my shoulders. I even soiled my boxers. During the few precious moments was I was able to drift into a dream-state, nightmares caused me to open my eyes. In one dream a young Asian boy, maybe about 10-years old, walked into a convenient store and killed everyone in the place with a machete; I could see blood squirting out of the headless corpses. In another dream, a teenage girl jumped off of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro and splattered all over the deck of a cruises ship; I even saw the passengers scream. In yet another, I was at Sunday Mass when a priest walked up to and alter boy, deuced him with a liquid then lit him on fire. “In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit!” he shouted. “I send you straight to Hell.” And then there was the visions of my ex-wife Kathleen, fucking hundreds of men like the cheating whore that she was, laughing at me as she did…I was going out of my mind.
The next day came and things remained the same, with the exception that nothing no longer came out of my body. Sweat, vomit, feces, nothing – I was empty. The female officer who kept me locked in the shower did come by and turned the water on because the smell was so bad, but she never poked her head around the corner or asked me if I was ready to cuff-up and return to my cell. I’ll give it to her; she knew how to play hardball.
Still terribly ill, I spent the day on the floor drifting in and out of consciousness. Violent nightmares no longer plagued me; however, every time I woke I did recall seeing my ex-wife in my dreams. Only this time she was fornicating with endless amounts of men, and the visions I had of were actual events that took place in our lives. In everyone, we were young and happy and seemed very much in love.
I just wanted the no good bitch out of my head – period.
Things changed for me on Monday morning. About 6 a.m. a guard came to the shower and banged on the cage. With him was a Physician Assistant (P.A.) who took one look at me and quickly announced that I was dehydrated and needed to drink water.
“No shit, you idiot,” I told the P.A. “Get the fuck out of my face.”
An hour later I finally got my wish: A lieutenant came to see me. He informed me that he was aware of my weekend and asked me if I was okay.
“Hell no, I’m not okay,” I complained. “I’ve been in this fucking shower for the last 48 hours.”
“Look, Rosso,” the lieutenant said. “You brought it upon yourself. But I’ll tell you what. If we put this behind us I’ll go ahead and take you to the SHU right now. But if you plan on filing a grievance, well then, I’m keeping you in the Dog House.”
Because of what they did to me, that is, kept me in a shower all weekend with no food or water, I actually had a pretty good lawsuit. I mean, I am certain that the cameras would have revealed that I left the cell for the shower on Saturday morning and never returned. However, all I wanted – ALL I EVER WANTED – was to go to the SHU were I knew I could get drugs. And as far as I was concerned, nothing had changed.
“Let’s ride,” I said to the lieutenant.” I won’t file anything. Just take me to the SHU now.”
Less than an hour later, I was sitting in the Special Housing Unit with a needle in my arm and a quart of wine within reach. Life was good again.
Authors note: This was taken from my memoir, “This Thing Called Life.” It will be published eventually.