Chapter 5: A Glimmer of Light

“People with schizophrenia may be predisposed through high levels of the chemical dopamine to seek out and explore more possible connections than other individuals. Many times, these individuals may actually make a novel and practical connection.” (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., “Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius?” Psychology Today)

Hey bro! So I just got here to Oakdale. And I’m going to need a few bucks for commissary.
I’m sending you a few forms. Send me $150 to the address highlighted in PINK! This is essential bro! I need coffee and I need it bad.
This is real prison here, no doubt. Small cell with two bunks. But it’s not that bad. I’ll be getting some outside time soon.
There’s a form for prepaid telephone services, put 50 bucks or so on that if you can. Just send me what you can and try to balance it out. You’re good at that.
I’m glad to be out of county jail. The food here is a little better. And I don’t have to listen to a huge door opening and SLAMMING 100 times a day.
Unfortunately I can’t receive visits here. Not until I’m in General Population. Sucks. But please, please my brother fill out the form, put some money on my books and toward the prepaid phone, and then I will call you so we can talk again. I miss you bro. I’m looking forward to hearing about Ragbrai.
They have more forms here and I can send them out to everyone. If you made copies, that would save me $1.50, not much, but it makes a difference here. But dammit it’s not that important to me now.
Eventually I can get a job that pays 50 cents an hour. That’s $5 a day or $150 a month. Plenty enough for coffee!
So bro, I believe that in the long run things will settle down and I will have a good life even though I’m in prison. I’m keeping the faith. I’m also living for the day when I can see you and give you a hug. I love you my brother.
And once I get some instant coffee my handwriting will be better I promise.
Tell Atticus and Brittany “Hi” and that I love them too.
I love you bro,

Hey Aaron,
Glad to hear you’re finally out of county and down here in our neck of the woods. I’m going to send this letter to you via the Internet messaging service so that it reaches you quicker, or so I hope.
I sent the $150 to the commissary address – too bad it’s in Fort Dodge but I’m assuming it’s all electronic once it gets there. So hopefully you’ll have coffee within a few days. I hope the slightly better food and less door-slamming is enough to help you survive until then.  I’m sure it all sucks just the same, but at least things are changing and you’re moving toward something instead of sitting stagnant inside that stank county space.
So a small room with two bunks; do you have a bunkmate then or do you have the whole cell to yourself? I hear that with decent behavior, you should be able to have some freedom of movement around Oakdale, which I’m sure includes the outdoor option you mentioned. Just be as cool as possible and reap whatever tiny rewards you can at this point, right? Hell, I have no idea …
I’ll put some money on the phone service by the end of the week, then we should be able to talk again soon. Sorry I missed your last calls; I was somewhat sad to miss a chance to chat with you before the transfer.
Ragbrai was a blast but a total challenge, mentally and physically, as usual. I rode my bike every day and got in about 460 miles for the week. And probably only about one beer for every four miles … kidding!
Cool to hear that you’re already thinking about a job … that will help to pass the time, plus you’ll build up your own commissary dough, which will be necessary sooner or later anyway. I can see you stocking up on massive amounts of coffee just in case … coffee bags as pillows, punching bags and whatever else you could fill with coffee.
I’m especially glad to hear that you’re “keeping the faith.” That you’re keeping your eye on the silver lining in all of this, that you’re looking ahead to the times when you can relax in your own space, and also to the times when we can see each other physically and shoot the shit face-to-face.
Hopefully this isn’t too long for the typical Internet message, I guess we’ll see. I’ll write you a physical letter again soon so I can include whatever updates I’ve done on the book, which is only a couple pages as of now.
I love you brother, and don’t worry, your handwriting wasn’t all that bad – even with the caffeine-withdrawal 😀
Take it easy,
P.S. Sorry – looks like I need to mail this since the damned Internet message crap doesn’t take American Express or debit cards.  Pffffttt!!!!

Hey bro! 460 miles, good job.
Hope you find work soon. I’ll be praying for you.
Imagine how happy Mom would be if you stood beside her and sat with her at the Kingdom Hall. Please come back into the Truth. Okay, sorry to bring it up but I love you and Mom and wish only that you and her would be happy.
So I’m back into the full swing of things. Back on the regular B-max unit with all the other guys. I get along with most everybody.
It’s great to have my coffee again and to use my phone. it was nice talking to you again too.
Thanks for handling my financial matters so well. Sure makes it easier for me knowing that I’ve got you on my side. Helps me feel better about everything in general.
Hope you get to writing a few more pages. Sometimes an artist needs to take a break, though. Then when your heart is back in the mix you can express yourself again.
I really love you bro, thank you for being there for me. You’re a noble man. If I was the Queen of England, I’d go ahead and “knight” you. Sounds sort of funny but sometimes that’s how it goes.
Love, your bro,

Hey there cowboy!
Good to hear you wrangled yourself up some coffee – I’m sure that’ll go good with beans and rabbit stew around the campfire before it’s time to lasso some more cattle once the morning sun hits again…
It was nice to hear from you the other day, and to get an overall update on everything. I’ll be looking forward to our next opportunity for a chat.
The drawing you sent is exquisite. I love every aspect of it: The shading of the hills and trees, the angular birds, the crazed sun, the ripple-tastic and wavy foreground, the bubbling clouds, cumulonimbus perchance? I truly love every drawing you send me – not only do I think they are fascinating works of art, but I appreciate how they give me somewhat of an insight into your creative (and twisted but beautiful) mind.
Yeah, the whole mom thing. I do appreciate your sentiments brother, but I’m about as agnostic as a person can get. To each their own, I believe, especially spiritually-wise. If I worship anything, it’s Mother Earth, and of course family.
Mom called me a week or so ago and we had a nice chat. She brought up a band called Imagine Dragons, whose big song is called Radioactive. I always enjoy talking about music with her, when she’s willing to speak to me of course. Usually she is, though I really think she’s more worried about what Don thinks these days than what she herself might truly feel inside. But now I’m rambling about it all …
So yes, good to hear that you’re in the “swing of things” and adapting to change. What does “B-max unit” stand for exactly? It’s good to know that you’re getting some outdoor time and a bit of sunshine – that’s an essential part of a decent existence for everyone.
Thanks for “knighting” me, my brother, I consider it quite the honor. You just mentioning England’s queen brings the old Sex Pistols song to mind. Too bad Sid Vicious couldn’t have stayed alive for another album, at least Johnny Rotten’s still kicking it. Bloody hell.
Which reminds me, I have often told Atticus that it’s always better to be safe than to be sorry. Then when we were camping this summer, he made up a little one-line punk ditty, which he sings in a pseudo-British accent: “You bett-ah be safe than sorry.” He makes me laugh sometimes.
I’m glad to be there for you as much as I can and I always wish I could do more.
So I realized I’ve actually written a few more pages of the book than I thought, and here they are. I can always send them to you again later once you’re transferred if necessary:
The sergeant woke them up before sunrise, clapping loudly and barking out “Get up out of your beds and go take a shit, shower and shave! Make your goddamn beds and line up – you got 30 minutes!” His eyes gleamed as he glowered over their panicked, clumsy movements.
As they stood in line in formation, trying their best to look sharp and alert, a pair of nurses walked down the line, checking their names and shooting them in the arms with airguns filled with various vaccines. “This stuff will keep you alive out there,” they said before each soldier’s shot.
The drill sergeant looked them over, running his eyes sternly up and down and all around until they all stared down at the ground, ashamed at their pathetic existences.
“When I call your name, respond ‘Here, Drill Sergeant!'” he commanded.
When he called “Randy Harris!”, Randy straightened his shoulders, stuck out his chin and said “Here, Drill Sergeant!” The sergeant glared into his eyes briefly before moving on down the line. Finally, he let them head to the mess hall for breakfast.
The line at the mess hall always seemed to stretch out for a mile, with aromas of their awaiting breakfasts growing more tantalizing with each passing minute. By the time they shoved the food into their mouths, it tasted almost as delicious as home-cooking.
After eating, they were lined up and loaded like so many cattle into Army trucks and hauled to a lengthy, metallic warehouse, where they lined up inside and were issued three pairs of fatiques and khakis, along with two belts, six pairs of black socks and one pair of steel-toed boots.
“How old are you?” asked one of the orderlies at the table as he told them his clothing sizes.
“Seventeen,” he said, smiling a little.
All three orderlies sighed in near unison.
“Oh boy,” the first orderly said, looking into Randy’s eyes. “Here you go … welcome aboard. Enjoy this first day son, because the pain will start tomorrow.”
When they had downtime back in the barracks that afternoon, Randy took a few snapshots of himself dressed in fatigues, planning to send them to Rose along with a letter since it would be a while before he could call her. Not even two days had passed, and he was missing her like crazy already. Damn, how long was it going to be before he could see her again, before they could be together in love (and naked some of those times) again? It was going to be fucking forever, he thought.
Randy introduced himself to his bunkmate Ron, a black guy from Illinois. They chatted briefly but didn’t have that much in common, and went about organizing their meager belongings, wandering around smoking cigarettes, and napping between lunch and dinner.
When Randy came back from dinner, Ron was sitting on the edge of his bunk with his head in his hands.
“You okay, man?”
Ron looked up and asked, “You didn’t mess with my shoes at all, did you?”
“Hell no,” Randy said, surprised by the random question. “I haven’t touched any of your stuff.”
“Well look at that,” Ron said, pointing.
His dress shoes rested on their designated line in front of his bed, but it looked like marshmallows were spilling out from their insides.
Just about everyone was back from their staggered dinner times, tooling around the bunkbeds like so many bees in a hive.
Ron stood up and walked to the middle of the room, obviously agitated, holding his shaving-cream-filled shoes straight out from his sides like an angry scarecrow.
With most of the eyes in the room staring at him, he yelled: “Who the hell put this shit in my goddamn shoes?!?”
A moment of silence hung in the air before someone yelled back “Sam” from one of the corners of the room.
Ron dropped his shoes and charged in that direction, cornering Sam, a skinny white Missourian who was unlucky enough to be the only one bearing his name in the room.
Sam was crouched down against the wall begging for mercy before Ron even reached him; Ron hovered over him, taut with the threat of potential retaliation.
“You ever pull this type of shit again,” Ron uttered, “and I’ll fucking kill you.”
The recruits laughed quietly as Ron stalked back, grabbed his shoes, and headed to the bathroom.
Sam never got closer than 20 feet to Ron or his belongings ever again.
5:30 a.m.: “UP AND AT THEM YOU SONS OF BITCHES!!” barked the drill sergeant, his face red and swollen like an angry bulldog.
They exercised at his mercy for a half-hour – pushups, situps, jumping jacks until they were gagging for breath, and then he marched them in sequence, shouting at them to keep in line, directing them to the supply station. It took at least 25 tries until every exhausted recruit got their march down right, and they finally began to progress down the road.
Once they arrived at the supply station though, the fun started.
“Line up!” the drill sergeant yelled, and they did. As they were issued their M-16s, each soldier held it as gently as if it were their first lover, stroking their barrels softly up and down.
Their first major lesson was how to take their guns apart, clean them, and put them back together. If you couldn’t figure that much out, the sergeant roughly explained, you would flunk the fuck right out of basic.
Picking up their M-16s became a morning ritual, the first part of their day, after they exercised and marched their bodies into a full awakening on the way to the supply station.
It seemed to rain constantly at Fort Lewis, but that never put a damper on their training. Not only did the men learn their exercises, they learned how to do them in the mud during a downpour.
Marching with their M-16s was kind of a highlight of any given day. Following the sergeant’s commands to order, present arms, salute officers, be and stand at attention were easy enough to do and made them feel like they were learning something. The best orders to hear, of course, were “parade rest” and “be at ease.”
KP duty, on the other hand, rapidly became a regular part of their existence that no one looked forward to. Everyone had to take their turn, and the few who volunteered when the sergeant asked every afternoon stopped doing so after realizing it wasn’t going to score them any brownie points with anyone.
One morning, Randy was among the three random victims picked for that day’s kitchen patrol.
“Follow Private James and get to work,” the sergeant commanded and pointed them out of the room.
They followed the tall, slim black man out the door and trudged through the usual dirt toward the mess hall. He guided them in as they walked through the stained back door of the mess hall. Randy looked around, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the warehouse-sized backend of a U.S. Army kitchen.
“Private Harris – get over here!” The sharp order snapped Randy back into attention.
“Yes sir, private,” he said, stepping up more quickly.
“What did you call me?” Private James demanded.
Randy immediately knew he had done something wrong. Private James’ hand reached out like the head of a striking rattlesnake and pinched Randy’s bicep in a vice-like grip.
“Come with me!” Private James hissed through clenched teeth.
He pulled Randy briskly through the back of the mess hall and stood him in front of an “Insignia” – a poster that listed ranks, their order, and their meanings.
Private James pointed to the Insignia, looked Randy in the eyes, and demanded, “Now, Private Harris, what am I?”
“Private, First Class, sir.”
“That’s better.” He relaxed his grip on Randy’s now-bruised upper arm and led him back to the mess hall.
Randy spent the entire day peeling potatoes and scrubbing grease-stained grills, endlessly sweeping and mopping a floor that would never be completely clean, and stealing the occasional cigarette when he got the chance to haul garbage out behind the mess hall.
The private managing the kitchen finally allowed him to leave around sunset, and he puffed on his final smoke for the day as he stumbled back to the barracks, utterly exhausted. Luckily for him, and everyone else really, KP duty was something they were only forced to do about a half-dozen times or so during their stint in basic training.
On the day the recruits received their first paychecks, it took Randy no more than a few minutes to make his way down to the cafeteria next to the Post Exchange, or PX, where there were a bunch of extra supplies and goodies on sale for anyone to buy.
Randy’s buddy Ray had told him they sold beer in the cafeteria, and Randy insisted on buying the first pitcher for the two of them.
“I still can’t believe how fucking young you look,” Ray said, taking a healthy chug out of his glass. “Goddamn, this beer is cold and dee-fucking-licious!”
“Well, I am young,” Randy said as he polished off his glass, smiling. He poured himself a fresh one. “But all I gotta do is show any clerk on base my military ID and I can buy as much beer as I can fucking carry.”
They both laughed.
After working his ass off all week, it felt spectacular to get a little beer buzz going … to let my brain relax a little, Randy thought. It felt damn good.
“So how’s your first week been, man?” Ray asked, lighting another smoke.
“Great, except for that goddamned KP duty.”
“That’s a bitch, ain’t it? Some nervous Nelly puked his fries all over a table and I got stuck cleaning that shit up.” Ray scowled as he exhaled smoke through his nose. “Fucking lightweights.”
“I think I’m in love with my M-16, though,” Randy said.
“Oh, hell yeah! Cheers to that!”
After they were half-drunk, they did a little shopping. Randy stocked up on cigarettes, some Brasso to shine up his brass, shoe polish for his combat boots, and bloomers for his pants. All the new trainees put bloomers on their pant cuffs to keep them snug above their boots.

So there we go, the latest excerpt. Stay strong my brother, as you always have. Before too long here we’ll get a chance to hang out in person – I can’t wait to give you a big ‘ol hug.
Take it easy man, and call me again soon.
Love ya,
P.S. Oh yeah – job-wise, I’ve got an interview tomorrow for a “safety clerk” position at Heartland Express, a big trucking company in North Liberty. So hopefully that goes well. Wish me luck!
P.S.S. That interview went okay, I’ve got a better one lined up Friday at Integrated DNA Technologies out in Coralville – about a mile from Oakdale. They create DNA strands for scientists and pharmaceutical companies to work with – wish me double-luck.

Hey bro! Just talked to you last night. Another 65-mile bike ride huh? That’s really cool that you can take off and ride 65 miles like it’s just another day at the gym. You really must put your heart into it. I was that way with skating.
We just came back in from our one hour of yard time that we get every other day. I ran about a half-mile and did a few lunges. Then I talked with a couple fellas for awhile. Little bit of exercise and socialization. That sun’s got me energized again. Feels good. They say when I get to prison I’ll get to lift weights and have a job.
Hopefully I’ll get your letter today. I’m excited to read what you’ve written for “the book.” Right now I’m drinking instant coffee and eating a big, tasty cinnamon roll that they served us for breakfast. Thanks again for getting that money into my account.
Last week I ordered a book of Sudoku puzzles with my commissary. There are 1-star, 2-star, 3-star and 4-star puzzles, 1-star being the easiest and 4-star being the most difficult. I do the 4-star puzzles, the other ones are too easy. I should start doing more crossword puzzles. Those would help improve my somewhat limited vocabulary. Plus Sudoku gets old after awhile. You like doing crossword puzzles, right?
I looked up “light” in a 1992 World Book Encyclopedia here. Then I traced the picture that shows the graph of the electromagnetic nature of light. It’s really cool. The picture’s caption says that “Light is a kind of electromagnetic wave. Such a wave consists of an electric field and a magnetic field. These fields are at right angles to each other and to the direction of the waves’ travel. The wave’s Amplitude is its greatest distance from the ray.” Anyway, I thought it was cool, so I thought you would too. Check out the drawing man – ha-ha!
I look forward to visiting with you once I’m transferred from here. Tell Atticus and Brittany Hi! and that I love them. Talk to you soon.
I love you bro,
P.S. I just got your letter with your latest from the book. Awesome!
Hey bro. It was really nice having you visit. Finally we were able to sit down and talk to each other person to person, no wires. You were looking pretty good bro. All that biking has got your countenance trim and fit.
I’m praying for you to find a good job soon. Keep your head up. You’ve got a good track record and that goes a long ways.
One part of the book that I like is after they were issued their M-16s. It goes “If you couldn’t figure that much out, the sergeant roughly explained, you would flunk the fuck right out of basic.” Flunk the fuck right out of basic, that’s funny bro.
Another part I thought was cool is when Dad’s bunkmate Ron is holding out his shaving-cream filled shoes “from his sides like an angry scarecrow.” I thought that was pretty good imagery.
Well we’re getting close to the part in the book where Dad experiences a horrible, traumatizing, shizophrenic-inducing tragedy. I’m braced for it though. It needs to be written. This part of the story will connect back to the beginning when you wrote about schizophrenia. Some more info on schizophrenia at this point right before he is assaulted might be good. Maybe about how schizophrenia develops in a person. It’s not always just genetic.
Okay my man, I look forward to hearing from you again and anything that you’ve written in the book. Tell Atticus “hi” for me. Take care bro.
I love you my brother,
Aaron Harris


About niceguyadamo

There's a lot to tell. View all posts by niceguyadamo

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