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A RIOT HAS NO CONSCIENCE



"You've got to be out of your cotton pick'n mind," I told Wendall as I pushed him up against the library wall.

Wendall LeRoy Archer and I had become very good friends after I arrived at the Federal Penitentiary in Lompoc. Actually, I was a state prisoner, but had been sent to serve my time in a federal facility in California. The State of Alaska did not have a state prison.

Being sentenced to one year for buying a six-pack of beer seemed like a long time to serve, so I had escaped (twice) from the jail in Fairbanks. The Superior Court then deemed it necessary to add an additional two years onto my sentence. While being apprehended, I accidentally kicked an officer in the leg. This happened when he slammed my face into the wall, while handcuffing me. An additional charge of assault and battery was tacked onto my sentence. I guess being sentenced to three and one-half years had somewhat brought me to my senses. All I knew is that one minute, I was having fun and the next minute, I was serving time in a federal penitentiary.

"When is all this crap supposed to take place?" I asked Wendall.

"The riot will start over in ‘I’ Block and then spread out to the yard at about three o’clock."

"What are they going to do in ‘I’ Block?" I asked.

"They’re going to set all the mattresses on fire and then take over ‘I’ unit," he explained.

"Why?" I question. "That's totally stupid and that accomplishes absolutely nothing."

"Well, there's more to it,” said Wendall.

"What's the rest of it?" I asked.

"There's going to be some killing.”

"Do you know who's gonna get it?" I asked.

"Couple of the hacks (guards) down in ‘I’ Block," stated LeRoy.

"OH JESUS! What time is it now?"

"A little after one."

"Come on," I said and started running down the long corridor to our unit.

I had done a few bad things during my life, but allowing other human beings to be killed was not going to be added to the list. However, if there was one thing that would get you killed in prison, it was opening your mouth to ‘rat’ on someone. No matter how bad the act was going to be, you had best keep your mouth shut or you were as good as dead.

When we arrived at the cellblock, I told LeRoy to gather up the three cases of matches lined along the wall next to the bathroom. We sat down on my bunk; I took out a package of Prince Albert Tobacco and emptied the contents onto my bed.

"Take this spoon, scrape the sulfur off the match heads and put it in the tobacco pouch!" I said.

For more than 30 minutes, we scraped the sulfur off the matches. When the red pouch was almost full, I took a straw and filled it with the fine sulfur powder. I pushed the straw down into the pouch and closed it up with a rubber band. I then began to tape over the outside of the pouch with Scotch tape. Bigger and bigger, the ball became. When I ran out of tape, I began using masking tape. Then I used electrical tape. By the time we were done, we had a large ball - about twice the size of a softball.

"What time is it now?" I asked LeRoy.

"Almost 2:30."

"Come on. Let's go," I said as I headed out the door of the cellblock.

"What is that thing?" asked LeRoy.

"I don't even know if it's gonna work. Just follow me."

I walked as fast as I could toward the long hallway leading down to the laundry area. When we entered the 80-yard hallway, I stopped about halfway down, turned and looked directly at Wendall.

"Are you absolutely sure they are going to kill those guards?" I asked.

"That's what I heard."

"What time is it now?" I asked again.

"Should almost be almost three o'clock," he answered.

I took the large ball from under my coat and sat it up on the windowsill.

"Give me a match," I said.

"I ain't got any matches."

He was feeling around in his pockets.

"Jesus Christ!" I said. "Run down to the laundry room and see if anyone has a match. And tell them not to let anyone come down this hallway for at least 10 minutes!"

Several minutes later, he came back with a book of matches in his hand. I took a match and struck it. Carefully, I held it up to the straw and the sulfur began to burn like a firecracker fuse.

"Let's get the hell out of here!" I yelled at LeRoy.

We ran like crazy to the laundry room and waited around the corner. More than five minutes passed without anything happening.

"I guess it didn't work," I said. "I thought it would make one hell of a noise, but I guess not. I've never made nothing like that before."

We slowly made our way back down the hallway to where the large ball was still sitting on the windowsill. I reached out and pushed it with my finger. When I did, the ball fell out the window and onto the ground outside.

"Well, that's that!" I said as we started toward the main corridor leading back to our cellblock.

Just as we turned the corner, there was the largest explosion I had ever heard in my life. Glass flew in every direction. The steel walls leading down the quarter-mile corridor seemed to echo forever. Within seconds, sirens went off and the entire prison went into immediate ‘lock-down.’ For two days, everyone was locked in his cell. The riot was squashed and it never took place, even after the lock-down was lifted.

This was probably something I should not have done, but one has to understand, when one is forced to live by a code in a closed society, sometimes extreme measures must be used. Even at the cost of a life, there was no way any of us were going to ‘rat’ on anyone. That is just the way it had to be.

Did I save two lives that day? I guess I will never know. Did I stop a riot? I guess I will never know that either. All I know is that I had to do what I thought was right under the circumstances. That is the way my brain always seems to work. Maybe that is why I was always getting into trouble in the orphanage.

I have seen two riots in my lifetime and believe me - death and destruction run amuck. There are hundreds of crazed people running in every direction. Prisoners are fighting each other and trying to kill each other over the smallest of infractions.

All I knew for sure was that a riot has no conscience and I wanted no part of that.



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