Ray was in the cell next to me in the hole. It was some time in the mid-seventies . . .

There have been many people in cells on either side of me over the years. Some never stopped talking, because they hated being alone with themselves and could escape from that by yelling through their cell bars. Mostly they talked about absolutely nothing. I timed a guy once who did not shut up nor seem to take a deep breath for 19 hours. To this day, it is difficult to accept the assault of certain voices. There was one who constantly talked about getting out of prison to become the first serial cop killer in the country, because according to him, he had been beaten and abused by cops all his life. Another wanted to rob grocery stores, while still another wanted to be a drug kingpin. The list of avocations I heard over all these years is bizarre.

Personally, I learned somewhere along the line to simply treasure each moment, no matter where I happened to be. Perhaps because I felt happy to even be alive, anywhere, after what I had endured in Vietnam as a squad leader of Marines. As far as I was concerned, the future would take care of itself, without my worry to impede it.

There was no time for mundane or idle conversation. It held absolutely no interest to me. I spent my days reading and writing. I went through all the classics and philosophers. Occasionally in between I'd read what I have termed to be "mind candy" — Michener, Ludlum, King, Conroy, McCarthy, and many many others of that genre. There were not enough books in the prison library, so I spent a large portion of my military pension on books ordered through catalogs. I wrote short stories and volumes of poetry. I penned scholarly and legal letters to judges. 24 hours in any one day just wasn't enough.

Ray was into the law. He was good at it. Some of us knew, and he and I agreed, violence never solved anything. If positive and meaningful change were to happen, it would only be made through the courts. This was, after all, where the real power of our county lived.

There was rarely any animosity toward the guards on our tier. In fact, to this very day, I still see a few left over from back then. Most all have retired. Those that still remain go out of their way to say hello to Ray and me. They will say: "Remember when . . . ." They call it the "good old days."

In five months, I will have been in prison for 34 full years. Never once in all that time have I ever assaulted anyone, guard nor prisoner. Yet, for a period of 12 years, the prison administration put me in leg irons any time I left my cell for any reason. This included the five hours a week I was allowed out of my cell for "exercise."

Ray filed a civil suit on my behalf against the abuse and torture of these leg irons. After a couple years of their application, they wore large holes in my achilles tendons that have never healed completely. There is still a lot of weak and sensitive scar tissue there. It took 12 years (after the violation of three court orders, all violated by the prison administrators) before I got the case before a judge and jury. Three Temporary Restraining Orders violated, in complete disregard to what judges had decreed was cruel and unusual punishment. After a week of trial and a dozen direct witnesses for my behalf, coupled with mounds of doctors' reports substantiating my claim of injury, the judge gave the Department Of Correction a directed verdict. He said I had not proven my allegations of torture and abuse conclusively. I was taken back to the prison in waist chains, plus leg irons over a pair of bloody socks. Ray, along with several other legal minds, was incredulous. Ray had worked so hard through the system to find justice for a friend, only to find justice denied.

At one point, I had been in the hole for over five straight years. Again, bear in mind that I never assaulted anyone. In that five year period, I did not get a serious disciplinary report. Every time I saw a classification review board, which was mandated by the Department of Corrections regulations, they recommended I be returned to general population due to positive adjustment. Each time their recommendations were shot down by the Commissioner Of Corrections, Michael Maloney. No reasons were given. Just the one word: Denied. Maloney told me once, passing by my cell, that he considered me to be a radical militant and a negative inmate leader. That was the very phrase he used when he had me exiled into the federal prison system for 13 months, only to be returned to his custody for more abuse.

Contrary to their regulations, I was maintained in segregation. Warehoused and cured like a side of beef. Once again, Ray picked up a pen and filed a civil suit on my behalf. After years of legal wrangling, I won $37,500. I repaid a friend $12,500 that was given to me for legal fees in pursuit of an appeal on my criminal case. The other $25,000 went to my wife, Lynnette.

Lynnette had colon cancer. All she wanted, while going through the suffering and rounds of chemotherapy, was to die at home with her cat Sam in her arms. Had it not been for the money Ray won for me, she would have had to live out the remainder of her life in a state-funded facility, away from her cat and all else familiar — a charity case and a burden on the tax payers. She would have lost the very thing she wanted the most during this time: her privacy. It is a long and sad story in and by itself, so I will not open that door here. Lynnette died within a year after being diagnosed with cancer. She died at home with her cat laying on her chest, purring. There was $200 left in her account.

Ray is in the cell next to me today. We have both been in general population for several years, doing well. Neither of us has had so much as a single serious disciplinary report in all that time. Ray continues to work within the legal system, and I continue to read, write, and meditate.

Because Ray is also well read, and because he too has a daughter and grandchildren, we have lots of great discussion and debate about the world, both here and on the other side of the razor wire. We have been through a lot together, and we have survived with our senses of humor intact. Mankind has placated our cynicism by doing such incredibly wonderful things, and yet, distracts us with war and ignorance.

Like I said, Ray and I have lots to talk about, and a life sentence each of time for debate.

Joe Labriola
December 15, 2006

  Return to top of page