Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dog Visit

Today the prison had its first of a new program with Therapy Dogs and I was fortunate enough to participate in the inmate group. This was held in the visiting room, there were sixteen inmates and nine dogs and their owners. The dogs are trained to be comfortable around a large group of strangers and with other dogs. We were all seated when the dogs came in and I fully expected the dogs to be apprehensive as they entered a new environment with strangers, but this was not the case. The well trained dogs entered the room with tails wagging and bodies contorting in anticipation.
We were seated in a circle with an empty chair between each of us. The dog handlers spread out among us and sat between us, so that each inmate was near one of the nine dogs. I hadn't seen a dog up close for fifteen years, so just seeing them in the same room was a thrill. If there hadn't been fifteen other inmates in the room I would have cried.  As it was I was barely able to hold back my tears. I had no idea I would be affected so much by the mere presence of the dogs.
One of the ladies sat next to me and introduced herself and her dog. The dog put her head on my knee so I rubbed her ears and was instantly smitten. Each handler spent ample time sitting next to the same inmate, then they shifted so we all got a new dog and person. In this manner we spent two hours visiting with all nine handlers and the nine wonderful dogs. I loved every minute of it. When I wasn't petting one of the dogs I was watching the other dogs. Every bark was a thrill, and each belly rub pure joy. It was relaxing, but also draining because it was such an exciting experience. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.
The people were volunteers who spent many hours training their dogs as certified therapy dogs. They also have regular group training sessions with all the dogs together. They invest a lot of themselves into this. And I can't imagine it would be easy to walk into the middle of a group of maximum security inmates but they were completely relaxed when they entered and sat down with us. The dogs were awesome, but the people were pretty incredible too.  It takes a special kind of person to do what they do.
Before they left we were able to select a dog to have a photo taken with. I picked a four year old Chocolate Labrador named "Brewster." I'll share the photo with you when I get it. I am very grateful to the Warden for allowing this and to the staff who pushed for it and put it together. But most of all I appreciate the volunteers who shared the love of their dog with us. Because of all of them, today was the best day I have ever had in prison.

Friday, October 7, 2016

"A Life Wasted"

Clayton Waagner's autobiography is finally complete and available on Amazon:

With national focus on Islamic terrorism, few noticed when "Domestic Terrorist" Clayton Waagner was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List on September 21, 2001. How did a software developer become the 467th person added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List? Why did the FBI make Waagner a priority ten days after the worst terrorist attack in American history? How did he become the only person ever listed on the nation's top three Most Wanted List: FBI, U.S. Marshals, and ATF?
Clay Waagner led an interesting life. He pranked a Soviet ship and caused a Cold War incident inside the Arctic Circle. He is a licensed pilot, an artist, a husband of 40 years and the father of nine. He worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network and skippered a commercial fishing boat out of Kodiak, Alaska. He has escaped from custody five times. Criminal Science major's and convicts know his name, but few in the public do.
This is his story. 

"Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying."
George Orwell

By Orwell's standard this is an honest memoir.
Clay Waagner 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Crazy People

It should come as no surprise that some inmates are a little crazy.  Many of the more interesting moments in prison involve these less than sane fellows.  Most crazy guys have a trademark thing they do.  A common trait among the crazies is to tell outrageous lies.  Like a fifty year old guy who claims to have served in Viet Nam (we left Viet Nam in 1975, so he'd have been 9 years old then.)  Or one who claimed he was a hit man for mob boss John Gotty and a member of Al Qaida. I've met several "pilots" who couldn't answer my basic questions about an airplane cockpit. I've met six guys who lied about being on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List.  This group I enjoy because I have a book that list all the FBI Ten Most Wanted so I pull it out and say, "I'm number 467, what number are you?"  We have our share of crazy liars.
One particularly annoying fellow, whom we called the "Ground Hog Whisper" because he talked to ground hogs, and amazingly the ground hogs would stand up near him and respond.  Go figure. That guy would stand up in the chow hall then spin completely around and sit back down.  He would do this repeatedly for no reason that anyone else could see.  I figure it was a call for attention.  It could be that he was scared.  A lot of scared guys act crazy as a defense mechanism.  Those you eventually figure out because no one can maintain a lie for years on end.
One guy who wasn't faking was called "Tommy Dog."  Tommy thought he was a dog.  When some one would greet him he would respond with a bark.  When every one else would stand, Dog would sit on his haunches.  One time I was walking behind Dog going down to the gym.  There was no one else around and Dog didn't known I was behind him, yet as he walked he barked. One time I asked him, "How old were you when you knew you'd grown up to be a dog?"  He answered, "I've know since I was still a puppy."

Friday, August 26, 2016

August 25th 60th Birthday

Today is my 60th birthday.  That's supposed to be a significant birthday, but it doesn't feel special to me.  I don't feel any different.  I guess I'm surprised I made it this far, but that's only because I lived such a dangerous life.  They say "The good die young" so by inference the bad live forever. So I'm 60 years old today and going strong.  Doubt I'll live forever, but do feel like I've got more left in me.
The heart attack and quadruple bypass heart surgery six years ago was a scare, but I've been feeling good since.  Since today is Thursday I'll play soccer with the youngsters.  One of them just slapped me on the back and reminded me about the game tonight.  Said something about me being too old to remember, but wanted me out there to play.  He doesn't know today is my birthday because I keep that a secret.  No reason for it, but I don't want any one here to know.
Think I'll call Mary tonight so she can rub it in that I'm 60.  Got to let her have some fun too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"True Detective" Book Review

Just finished reading "True Detective" by Max Allan Collins.  Though it is not listed as such, I'd go so far to call "True Detective" a story of Historical Fiction.   It's a detective story set in 1932 Chicago that accurately portrays the depth of the city government's corruption and ties to Al Capone's mob, which was being run by Frank Nitty at the time.  I'm not particularly interested in this period of time, but this book was so well written that it drew me in.  It was full of period facts, like that you could have a good meal in a decent restaurant for .15 cents, or that you could buy a four year old Ford for $40.  The author would use a period term that I didn't know without explaining it, which was a writing style I liked.
This was a rare book that I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Drunk Pigeons

This story goes back about twelve years ago, to the days when hooch, or prison wine was common. You never see it here any more, but back then hooch was a way of life.  It was a constant struggle with the inmates who made it to hide it from the correctional officers, who were always trying to find it. Often when they found it the officers would dump it down the nearest toilet, but on this occasion the hooch was inside a large plastic milk bag, so too much for the toilet.  This bag they took outside the block and dumped it in the grass.
The hooch was made out of assorted fruit with a considerable amount of bread to work as yeast. So when it was poured out into the grass the liquid leached into the ground, but the fermented fruit and bread rested on top of the grass.  It didn't take long for the ever present pigeons to spot the smorgasbord and land to dine.  Most of the pigeons gave up after the first bite, but a few stayed and ate more.  I was one of a group of guys who stood at the windows watching this, wondering if a pigeon could get drunk.  Turns out they can.
Of those that stayed to eat the fermented meal all but one left in less than five minutes.  I watched those that flew off carefully.  I'd once made the mistake of flying my airplane after drinking a single beer.  You can drink a beer and drive a car just fine, but as I learned then, an airplane is an entirely different matter.  Knowing I'd made a mistake I landed at the first airport I reached and stayed on the ground for eight hours, just as FAA rules dictate.  "Eight hours from bottle to throttle."  I found it interesting that all the pigeons that flew off landed immediately on the adjoining building.  As best I could tell they all stayed put.  Smart birds.
But this one pigeon liked those fermented bits.  Shortly after all the other birds had left him alone this pigeon started to walk funny.  A couple of minutes later when she leaned over to peck at a piece of fermented bread she tilted forward until her belly was on the ground but her feet were not. Even though it was funny no one laughed because we all thought the bird had died.  This was an issue because we often fed the birds, so sort of liked them.  But in less than a minute the pigeon righted itself, took a few wobbly steps and ate some more, then fell over again.  Now we were all laughing because this was hysterical.  The bird kept eating and passing out.  Each time it fell forward until only its belly was holding it up.  It never fell all the way over, which was odd, but entertaining to watch.   In response to our loud laughter it attempted to fly, which might have been the saddest thing I have ever seen a bird do.  On it's first attempt it only flapped one wing, on the next all it did was beat the ground with both wings.  After a few failed attempts to fly it gave up and ate more fermented bread.
If we'd have had this on video it would be a You Tube sensation.
We'd noticed that it was staying passed out longer each time, so we figured it wouldn't be long before it passed out long enough to sober up.  About this time someone remembered the cats. Every night about time for the 4:00 count several cats would show up under these windows because we fed them there too.  As that time drew near I went to the cop and asked if he could do something to help the pigeon.  I couldn't get out there so I had hopped the officer would help. He seemed sympathetic but couldn't leave his post do save a drunk bird.
When we were locked down for count the last I saw the pigeon she was stumbling around and looking a little better.   When I was able to return to the window after count twenty minutes later a big feral cat sat in the midst of pigeon feathers licking it's paws clean.

Big House Pranks

Any time you put a thousand men of different backgrounds together into a small area for an extended period of time you end up with a lot of funny stories.  I can't use guys real names so I'll make up names to make the story flow better and I won't bother with trying to assign a time frame to it as that won't matter to the story itself.  What will matter is that these stories will give you a little insight into what prison life is like.

Ken was large black guy with limited cranial ability.  Meaning he was fat and not too bright.  But he was a nice guy and everyone liked him.  I liked him.  A good example of Ken's personality is that one day I saw him staring at this new guy, but not saying anything.  The new guy was a young white fellow who wore his paints low on his hips, braided his hair and talked like an inner city black guy. The new guy didn't know Ken so when he realized Ken was staring at him he became offended and in a confrontational way said, "What!"  Not realizing the new guy was irritated, Ken said exactly what was on his mind.  Ken couldn't figure the new guy out so he said, "What is you?"  Everyone laughed and the situation was defused.
At the time I made fudge which I sold for an income.  I didn't make much, but my fudge was so good it was in high demand.  I also experimented with making candy and other sweets, so Ken was used to seeing me with something good to eat and he wasn't shy about asking for some. One day in the art room a guy found an old case of Crayola crayons.  There were thousands of them, but as no one used crayons I accepted a 24 pack to use as a joke.  I used a razor to cut the tips off which gave me 24 multi-colored bits that looked like candy.  I went around the room offering this "candy" to guys but they weren't going for it.
I was about to give up on my prank when Ken came into the room.  I acted like I was eating something, which pulled him in.  "What you eatn," he asked.  I had my hand open so he could see the multi-colored "candy" which is what his eyes were focused on.  "Candy," I said.  "Want some?"  He held out his big hand so I dumped them all into his hand.  Ken immediately popped half the crayons into his mouth.  I'm not very good at keeping a straight face so I just walked off, laughing as I went.  I left the art room and went back to the block, soon forgetting about the event.
I saw Ken later that day and he said, "Very funny.  You got me."  So we shared a good laugh and the rest of the night guys were laughing about it.  All in good humor.
The next day Ken walked up to me with a pair of scissors and a sheet and said, "You ready?"  I said, "Sure." then sat down and let him cut my hair. Ken was my barber, not the best we had but he was cheap and I wasn't that particular about my hair.  Nor did I pay attention to when my hair got long, so Ken would let me know when I needed a cut, which I always appreciated.  So this was a normal event for us that I didn't give a second thought.  As was my habit I kept telling him to hurry up as he cut my hair and as was his habit he ignored me and took his time.  When he was done I thanked him, complained about how slow he was and paid him.  The first guy I passed after the hair cut looked at me funny.  The next guy laughed.  This caused me to find a mirror. Ken had given me a creatively horrible hair cut.  He'd gotten even with me and somehow done it with a straight face.  Every time guys told that story, which they did often, I was the dummy.
Such is life in the Big House.