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My sister got me out of jail in Tennessee

April 14, 2017

My big sister

I found out later that my older sister Carol had had me sprung from the Navy brig where I had been confined for about five months after I punched Major Waddell. She had once babysat for a Navy JAG lawyer who pulled strings to have me released.

On the day I got out, one of the chasers spoke on the intercom, located in the center of the second floor of the creaky WWII era wooden barracks. “Struckman, report to the quarterdeck with your sea bag.” The quarterdeck was a sort of anteroom at the entrance of the brig. Everyone had to enter and depart through the quarterdeck.

In the main part of the brig, upstairs, each of us marines and sailors had a small, unlocked, wall locker along the sidewall of the great room that was our collective home. The room was about forty feet by 150 feet long, with many windows covered with steel mesh. Half of the room had our bunks. During the summer, when our prisoner count was low, the bunks were simply lined up side by side with no spaces between. You got in bed by climbing over the foot or the head of the bed. They were standard steel gray Navy beds with sheets but no blankets. Millington, Tennessee, was damned hot in the summer. They had a fan, but it was in the cage with the chaser. Guards were called chasers.

The cage. Near the end of the room along one wall was the cage with a locked door. The cage surrounded the one stairway.

The cage also was near the showers and toilets. No privacy in the big room. Toilets were in a row in the center of the room near some picnic tables. The showers were on the wall and had no enclosures. Just a large concrete area on the floor caught the shower water and allowed it to drain.

The stairway in the cage was the one exit, leading to the brig offices for the warden and had the dining room. The minimum security prisoners, about a dozen in all, lived and worked the laundry in one end of the building downstairs. The chow for our meals came in carts three times a day and the dirty trays and empty food containers were taken out on the same carts. The dining area had a television up near the ceiling in one corner. Each evening those of us with recreation privileges got to play cards in the dining area after supper.

I nearly forgot to mention four maximum security “hard cells” were also on the first floor.

When I was called to the quarter deck I emptied my locker. All I had was a pack of cigarettes, shaving stuff, soap, a couple pairs of pants and shirts, socks and underwear. No matches. When we were allowed to smoke, one of the chasers flipped open his lighter for one prisoner. Then the prisoners lit each others’ smokes. Our names and prisoner numbers were listed on a big whiteboard with markers. My number was 54. Prisoner #1 was the warden, a Navy tradition.

The Navy supplied us with towels and took away our dirty laundry every day. We marked our own clothes with permanent markers and when they came back from the laundry on the first floor everything was jumbled together in one big cloth basket. We picked our own things out. For a while there were some disputes and the chasers handed out the laundry the way they handed out the mail, one piece at a time when they called our names.

Our mail was censored. I used the word “fuck” in a letter to one of my friends and I got it back unsent. I was allowed to write to my mother and one girlfriend only. I actually wrote to more than one girlfriend, but the jailers didn’t seem to notice. We got notepaper and pencils for writing letters and we were allowed to write a letter each day. They opened and inspected our incoming mail before we got it.

My introduction to the brig some five months earlier had been being escorted to the “hard cell.” That was the place where prisoners torment each other by taunting and hollering. Prisoners who are discipline problems in the hard cell can be put on diminished rations: no dairy, no meat. Just water, starches, and vegetables. Oh yes, I almost forgot. No smoking if you are on diminished rations.

I was on diminished rations for mother’s day and the chaser brought me a giant serving of turkey dressing. Best meal I ever ate.

The medium security area was the great room upstairs with about 50 prisoners, plus or minus 20 or so, depending upon the season. Turns out the population swells during the winter months, presumably because of colder weather.

At first I didn’t know what to do with myself in medium security. Seemed like the prisoners had already formed themselves into groups with no room for me. I solved that problem and got to know the other prisoners by meeting and greeting the new ones, the vulnerable newbies. I was always welcome to speak with them, and I learned how to help them get adjusted to the brig. Often they were scared. I made it a point to find out about them without asking them why they were in the brig in the first place. I didn’t tell them that I was in for assaulting my commanding officer. Most of the inmates were prisoners because they had left the service to avoid going to Vietnam. In fact, almost all of them were in for that reason. After several months I had learned just about everyone’s names and their stories.

Getting to know the black inmates was more difficult, but again, some were open to a white guy like me getting to know them. I didn’t press too hard on anyone. I liked to sort of skip around from person to another. After awhile we were singing songs and playing games. By the time my sister had me sprung from the Brig I was actually enjoying myself. I had lots of pretty good friends.

I was so successful at being in medium security that I was promoted to minimum, but I didn’t stay long because I didn’t like being away from my friends upstairs. Also the guys in minimum worked at the base commissary in the butcher shop. All that meat made me feel a bit ill, and I liked being around my friends.

When my sister sprung me from jail I was surprised that a Marine captain escorted me to squadron headquarters, the same place where I had struck my commanding officer just five months earlier. I was even more surprised that the commanding officer had been replaced and the men who worked at the administration office gave me a round of applause when they saw me.



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One Comment
  1. David Lenhart permalink

    Awesome, Dan! Just awesome. Salute

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