Chapter 8: New Environments

“Scientists have long known that schizophrenia runs in families. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent, brother, or sister.”
– National Institute of Mental Health

Hey Bro. I was just outside and the weather was beautiful. The sky was blue, the sun was shining. It was a little cold but there wasn’t any wind. My friend and I just walked around the courtyard soaking up the sunshine. After a while, you couldn’t even feel the cold. We’ll be getting outside more and more now. Helps improve the mood if you know what I mean.
So yes, the part of that you sent me recently is some of your best writing yet. Even though it’s the darkest part of the story, you really do a great job of transporting the reader into Randy’s mind. Even as disturbing as it is. I thought it was cool toward the end when Randy hears Black Sabbath. I like how you quote Ozzy’s lyrics as you describe the thoughts and feelings that Randy is having after it all, and when he’s alone. You did an awesome job writing your way through that part. Excellent.
Speaking of writing, here’s a poem I wrote:

You’re the one I wanted but now you’re gone,
and among other things dreams
were ruined and forgotten.
And now I’m alone and the moon is dead,
be thankful for the shadows
where it’s dark and broken.
(Another memory has infected me,
I want nothing to remember,
Kill the lights, let me be.)
In this world I’ll never find you again,
like a diamond sinking
to the bottom of the ocean.
And now I’m alone and the sky is black,
be thankful for the stars
and their sacred positions.
(Another memory has infected me,
I want nothing to remember,
Kill the lights, let me be.)

Well, there ya go, my first bonafide Prison Poem. Maybe more like a song because I have guitar music that I play for it. Go ahead and type it up!
Yeeeee-Haaaaa! Don’t forget to take out yer dentures, baby. The false teeth – just a bunch of lies. I knew a guy w/false teeth who told a lot of lies.
Anyway Bro, I’m just kind of doodling here. So maybe I should get this in the mail. Kind of got a little silly back there. It’s alright though. We’re brothers. And being brothers we can joke around and have a good time.
Well, the day is over with and I’m back in my cell writing this at my desk. Actually I’m sitting on my bunk. They dim the lights at night and everything seems more relaxed now. I look forward to this time of night. It’s almost as if my cell becomes a sanctuary.
I miss you bro and I’m looking forward to when you and Atty visit again. Tell him and Brittany “hi” for me. Have a good night and we’ll see you soon.
Your Bro, Aaron Harris


Atty and I had a great time seeing you as always! It’s funny – my new glasses set off the metal detector so I need to take them off to get in; my old titanium frames never set it off – go figure.
Good to hear you’re getting outside regularly again – always feels nice to soak up some Vitamin D after a long winter. I’ve got out biking some despite Old Man Winter’s dying last gasp, and this weekend’s looking stellar weather-wise. Last Saturday I rode with some friends to Hills and back, like 20 miles in 30-degree weather. Going out was a breeze, but riding back into those 15-mph northwest winds was a bitch! Also, I bought Atticus a new, bigger hybrid bike, and he went on a 5-mile ride with me last Friday when the weather was a bit more decent.
Thanks for your input on the writing. Some of it was a bit tough for sure; I think I ended up listening to that Sabbath song about 10 times to try to figure out what Dad’s thought process must’ve been like at that point in time. It’s intriguing to revisit his entire story on a much closer and deeper level though.
I love your “first bonafide prison poem” – ha! – “Kill the Lights.” It’s a very poetic song; I love music in which the lyrics play a central role. “… like a diamond sinking to the bottom of the ocean” strikes a magnificent chord of despondent beauty. We gotta figure out some way for you to record a song … or maybe you can recite it while strumming air guitar on my next visit? OK, now I’m getting goofy.
Speaking of visits, I’m planning to come see you again within the next week or so, and Drea told me she was on your list now and plans to visit during her Davenport vacation, so woo-hoo! I always look forward to seeing you, man.

And hey, I adored the self-portrait you drew in your letter – beautiful! It’s fantastic to see your creative side rearing its lovely head again. Keep it up! A little creative outlet can go a long way, eh?
So I’ve finally kicked out a few more pages, and here they are …

The only motive Randy could fathom for Jones’ actions was the simple fact that he had laughed while standing in front of everyone with his camouflage-painted face. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone by laughing at the situation; hell, a lot of other recruits had laughed, too. But somehow it had upset Jones bad enough that he had sought revenge.
The rest of Randy’s watch went by quickly. All he could think about was getting some sleep, and that his exodus from basic training wasn’t too far off. He felt completely mentally drained, and once he was finally relieved of his duty, he stumbled straight to his bed, more than ready for the escape from reality that sleep would provide.
Everything seemed close to normal the next morning. The sun was shining outside and everyone seemed upbeat; it was almost as if nothing terrible had happened the night before.
He had K.P. duty that day, and working amid the hustle and bustle of the kitchen kept his body and mind busy. Music drifted in from the mess hall …
“Don’t you know that it’s true,
“That for me and for you,
“The world is a ghetto.”
The song’s theme rang true to him at that moment, reflecting what life had been showing him. Some of his black coworkers usually gave him a hard time, just joking around in the kitchen, but today they all seemed to be working together in harmony.

He was lucky enough to not run across Jones again for the next few days, and he only saw John Brown once and from a distance. Going through his regular daily routines helped him keep all the bad shit out of his head, and everything felt better the more he kept the memories of that fucked-up night shoved into a back corner closet of his mind.
On their final day of basic training, the recruits found out what their future held for them.
They stood in small units of formation in front of a stage flanked by flags, and their sergeant told them one-by-one what they had accomplished and where they were headed.
As the sergeant officially promoted Randy from Private E-1 to Private E-2 status, he felt damn proud of himself.
“You also made Marksman on the rifle range: Congratulations Private Harris,” the sergeant said, looking straight at him. “Good luck.”
A huge sense of relief passed over him; he had done it! Basic and all of its crappy inherent drama was done with … he was ready to move ahead, straight forward into whatever direction life was about to lead him.
While wandering through the crowd, he crossed paths with one of his closer friends from his company, Thornton. A soulful young man from the deep South, Thornton had carried some sort of Bible around at all times – he owned a variety of sizes – and was always preaching to everyone in his path. He and Randy had bonded quite a bit, engaging in the occasional intense disussion about religion, Jesus and life in general.
“Hey man, how are ya?” Randy asked, eyes gleaming.
“Oh, I could be better,” said Thornton, clutching a hand-sized Bible low on his left side.
They stopped, stepping aside from the stream of cadets headed back to their barracks.
“What’s the matter, didn’t you get promoted?”
Thornton shrugged. “I only made it to E-1, man … I didn’t pass. I guess I didn’t shoot my M-16 straight enough.”
Randy wasn’t sure how to respond … he felt so elated by his own advancement, he hadn’t even realized some guys would be experiencing an opposite end to their basic training.
“Oh. Sorry to hear that, man.” Randy truly felt bad for him, imagining for a moment what it would have been like if he had received the same news.
Thornton raised his eyes and slowly extended his free hand. “I guess it’s a chance for me to beat my sword into a plowshare.”
Randy laughed. “Well, thanks for all the conversations, it was always a pleasure talkin’ with you.”
Thornton managed a slight grin as he said “It was real nice to get to know you, good luck.”
“And good luck to you,” Randy said. “You’ll be just fine, I know.”

What he wanted now more than anything was to Rose again, and as he relaxed in his barracks bed for a final night, he felt ecstatic at the thought of seeing her again soon.
The sergeant had issued Randy his orders, and he was going to be shipped to Fort Rucker, Ala., for two months to be trained as a helicopter mechanic. After that he would be sent to his permanent duty station in Germany. He was all packed up and ready to go.
He figured that as long as he could himself set up with a decent place to live in Fort Rucker, Rose would be able to move in with him.

“That’s great, honey!” Rose said on the phone the next day when he told her the news. “We’re all proud of you here, and I can’t wait to see you again.”
“Me too … I’m really dying to be with you again.”
“Oh, you’re so sweet, Randy.”
He told her about his plans to find them a place in Fort Rucker, and how he wanted her to move to Germany with him after that.
“Yes! That sounds fantastic! We’ll make a great home together – I can’t wait to have our own place.”
“I know,” he said. “It’ll be like we’re finally grownups.”
She laughed. “I’m so ready to get out of Iowa for a change. Alabama’s probably warmer, and Germany … I don’t know what that’s like but I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
“So how does it feel to have a baby growing inside of you?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s so weird, but it feels really good. My stomach’s bulging out now, and I can feel the baby kick just a little bit once in a while.”
“So it’s an active little guy already, huh?” Randy said, grinning.
“Oh yeah, sometimes I can feel it moving around when I’m lying in bed at night. Kind of like what a big piece of bread sloshing around in a bunch of soup might feel like.”
The chatted until Randy noticed it was time for the recruits to load up on the buses. After hanging up, he walked away from the barracks for the last time. As he was loading his bags into the side of the bus, he noticed Jones and a couple of his buddies standing outside of the mess hall about 50 yards away, watching him. When Jones saw him glance their way, he put his right index finger up to this lips, and Randy could almost hear him whisper “Sssshhhh.” He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and couldn’t tell if it was just because he was scared or because he felt pissed as hell and wanted to kill that son-of-a-bitch. He looked away and kept Jones out of his range of vision.
A massive sense of relief washed over him once he sat back in his seat on the bus, leaning heavily into the plush, dark green vinyl cushions. Seeing Jones standing there had rattled him deep inside, but he realized at that moment he would never have to see him again, and now all of this was becoming a part of his past.

After the bus ride and a short taxi trip, Randy was quickly directed to his Army-paid flight out of the Seattle airport. He found his seat, arranged himself and all his stuff, and sat back and relaxed.
When the stewardess came by, he ordered a beer.
“OK, here you go,” she said a few minutes later as she handed it to him. “You look a little younger than most of the Army guys.”
“Yeah … well thanks, that’s nice of you to say.”
He was wearing his Army uniform with its Marksman pin and E-2 stripe, and his official assignment orders were in his front shirt pocket, so he didn’t give a damn about anything. He could drink as much fucking beer as he wanted no matter how old he was.
So he sat back and slowly ordered and drank three or four more, daydreaming about how Rose would be coming to live with him at Fort Rucker, and how they would be starting to build their future together. He drifted on and off after a while, reveling quietly in a beer-buzzed, hazy nap, the lights and colors surrounding him dimming out then back in and out again.

So there we go man. Over and out … I’ll be seeing you within the next week.
Love ya,


Dear Adam,
Hey bro, it was great to see you again. Thanks for offering to put some cash on my phone account, the balance is about $12 so whatever you can do soon would be much appreciated.
Also, I was wondering if you could find the book “Out of the Furnace.” I’ve seen the movie previews and they looked good, so I thought it’d be cool to read the book if it exists.
Well Dad just went through the toughest moment in the Army. But now his descent into madness has begun. It’s time for the voices, the paranoia, and the twisted thoughts to take hold of our poor father. (Might sound a little extreme here, I know.) I’m really looking forward to seeing how you develop the mental illness aspect of the following memoirs of our dear father.
I’ve written a couple of new songs. They are more or less hard rock/pop/punk. Here’s the lyrics to “Monstrosity.” Actually, I’m going to write them on a separate page, that way they’ll fit on one side of a sheet.
Hopefully you’ll visit again soon. It’s always good to see you and Atty. Just try being a little more patient with the little guy. I’ve noticed you sort of snap at him when he’s not quite getting something right. That could come back to haunt you, bro. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Nobody’s perfect. But I love you and Atty and just want the best Father and Son relationship for you guys. That’s all. You’re a really good father, you work hard to provide for your family, and taking Atty camping is super cool of you.
Well, I hope you like the song.
Aaron Harris

By Aaron Harris
(Verse 1)
I can’t take it, I don’t want it
I’m not that good, and I don’t wanna be
I’ll just break it, freak out and break it
the gift to destroy was given to me.
You had the sanctuary
the bones, the brains, the bright ideas
then you had him touch the lightning
that brought about the blood and tears.
A monstrosity, a monstrosity, a monstrosity …
(Verse 2)
Now who’s the fool, I’m wearing the scars
I had some fun, but I got myself burned
I took too many chances, I took them too far
It really didn’t matter, which way I turned.
You had the sanctuary
the bones, the brains, the bright ideas
then you had him touch the lightning
that brought about the blood and tears.
A monstrosity, a monstrosity, a monstrosity …


Good seeing you last time as always – that Jenga balancing act was about as close as you can get to hanging wooden pieces on air, and the resulting was crash was super satisfying. I should be visiting here again in about a week and a half, I’m thinking Saturday the 14th.
“Out of the Furnace” was written as a screenplay, so no novel option is available. However, thank you much for the recommendation, with such a stellar cast and dark plot, that’s going straight to my movies-to-watch list. If you’re not able to watch it in the near future, I could try to find a copy of the screenplay sometime, or maybe they’ll release it in post-film book form, which seems to be a semi-regular option these days.
Well, I’m sorry to report that I’m still slacking on the follow-up writing. My job has been leaving me physically exhausted, which is both good and bad, and life has been too damn busy in general. Excuses, excuses, right? I’ll be trying to crack the whip on myself here in the next few weeks though and at least kick out half of another chapter or so. We’ll see.
I’m very pleased to hear that you’re writing some music and have the option of burning your creative candle in the art room at Oakdale. “Monstrosity” is certainly dark, but contains some great song lyrics, and I’d love a chance to hear the music that goes with it. Just remember: Even if you’re a bit monstrous, you’ve always been very charming as well; I remember people (Uncle Rick perhaps?) comparing you to Eddie Munster from the Adams Family years ago … hilarious, huh?

Aaron self-portrait
Speaking of your beautiful side, Al sent me a copy of that recent drawing you did, of you (or your alter ego?) playing guitar as a beautiful woman drinks a glass of wine, watching across the cool tiled floor of a strange room. Superb my brother, superb indeed! Like I said, some of art is going on my left calf as a tattoo after my back piece is done. Great to see you making some beautiful art like you always do!
OK, it’s about my bedtime – I’ll send this off tomorrow. Love you bro, take it easy and I’ll see you again soon…


Hey bro. Twenty days later I’m writing you back. Time really flies in here.
Thanks for putting some extra cash on my books. I was happy to see that it was there. One of the few joys I have in here is having some money to order coffee and other stuff. You really helped me out.
I’m in the Pickleball League now, where we get paired up with partners. My partner is an Asian guy, and he’s short and quick and has a great serve. Should be fun.
It was great seeing you last time you visited. Albert couldn’t make it that day because he had to work mandatory overtime, so I was especially glad you were there so I could see some family that day.
Hopefully I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks and maybe get a few pages of writing from you soon, too. I’m going to chill out and play some guitar for a while now.
Love you bro,


Hey brother,
It was a pleasure seeing you again … I hope the upcoming pickle-ball tournament proves to be as entertaining of a spectacle as you’re hoping. Oh the drama, it’s like Oakdale’s miniature, one-day World Cup! It’s cool that you guys have such a funky sport to use as an outlet there, and even though I think you should throw yourself into the big annual faceoff, I’m sure you’ll enjoy sitting back and watching the others battle it out.
It’s great to hear you’re continuing to write songs, and it was sweet hearing you recite/sing a couple of your recent works right there in the visitation room. I enjoyed hearing your story about the song-writing group experience – damn those choir types! I’d be interested to know if your song makes that prison museum cut in the end … it certainly should.
We went on that 60-mile ride in Bettendorf last Saturday with Al and a good group of our bicycling friends. It was a good time, even though I was utterly exhausted from work, plus the fact that I only got about 3 ½ hours of sleep before we drove to the ride that day. We rode out of town into the beautiful green countryside, and stopped at bars in the two small towns on the route. The rolling hills were fun but challenging, and made me realize how I may not be in perfect shape for Ragbrai this year. Good enough shape, for sure, just not great shape … I was worn out, sore and a bit grumpy by the end, but the complimentary food and bevvies provided a soothing wrap up to the day.
All this rain turned our backyard into a small jungle; I tried to mow Sunday, fighting to restart the mower as still-wet grass and clovers bogged it down, only to be forced to retreat as an afternoon thunderstorm let loose. Finally got it mowed today, our first day (other than Saturday) without rain in the last week or so. I took advantage of the sunshine today and had Atty bike 7-8 miles with me out to Terry Trueblood lake and back – he likes to explore the sandy, hilly peninsula there, skipping rocks and such. It was a beautiful, temporary getaway from town and everyday reality.
I sent a check to add some cash to your commissary today; I’ll be adding some to your phone account in a while too, our printer isn’t working now and I need to go print a form off to make that happen, which I’ll do when I go to print this letter. So hopefully that helps, and you’ll be sitting okay.
Well, I’ve eked out a couple more pages finally that I’ll attach here; hopefully I’ll write more soon, though I don’t envision summer being as writing-productive as winter is for me. But we’ll see. Nothing too exciting so far, but feel free to offer any input or ideas …

Randy was still feeling pretty damn good when they landed in Dothens, Ala. A blast of hot, humid, muggy air greeted him as he stepped off the plane into the American south for the first time in his life.
As he made his way through the airport trying to find his baggage, he couldn’t help but notice that most of the employees were black, and no matter how he tried to ignore it, his mind kept bringing the ragged memory of Jones to the forefront of his perspective. Every time Jones popped into his head he would immediately focus on something else, a child’s antics or another traveler’s style of luggage, anything to distract himself.
After retrieving his bags, Randy bought a cheap cup of coffee and sat outside smoking cigarettes, chatting casually with a few other graduates. Finally, an Army bus picked them up, and as they rode he peered out the bus windows at countryside covered with huge, looming trees and lush vegetation. He imagined that each window image was a screenshot in a movie, and watched the leaves and bushes ebb and flow until the bus rolled to a slow stop in Fort Rucker.

When it was turn to check in at the Army post’s front office, he asked the officer sitting behind a tall desk how he could arrange to rent a decent, affordable place off-post.
The officer peered over the top of his thin metal spectacles, one hand moving slowly over the dark, smoothed-out chips that bespeckled the wooden counter.
“You’re going to want to take a taxi to Montgomery, a couple miles down the road from here.” He scratched off a few marks on the papers in front of him. “But wherever you end up living, you’re going to need to check back in here every day.” He paused and glanced up, flashing a brief smile twisted by spite.
“Of course,” Randy said. “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”
“Good,” the officer said curtly, “because before you can do anything, you’ve gonna need to go do some K.P duty.” He grinned broadly.
After following the officer’s directions to the main kitchen and signing in, Randy dove headfirst into a few hours of cleanup work, mostly dishwashing, then signed back out, and within a few minutes flagged down a cab outside the front entrance and caught a fast ride to Montgomery.
Montgomery and the Army post were barely separated by a quarter-mile of open field, and after Randy wandered around the town’s outskirts for a half-hour, he figured out that soldiers made up a good bulk of the population on the neighborhood closest to the base.
He walked into a trailer court skirting that edge of town, knocked on the office’s open door, and peeked into the murkish interior of the manager’s trailer.
“Anyone home?” he asked.
“Yeah, come on in,” a slow deep voice answered. The manager lounged in a giant LazyBoy, relaxing in front of his TV in jogging pants and a filthy, once-white T-shirt. “How can I help ya?”
Randy straightened himself up, cleared his throat and said “Do you have any trailers for rent here? I’m new to the base and I’m looking for a place.”
“Sure enough,” said the manager. He rubbed his protruding belly while gulping a slug of Schlitz, then stood up and pointed out the screen door. “Number seven, over there. Go ahead and take a look, it’s unlocked.”
Randy jogged over to the place and looked it up and down quick. It had all the basics and was a shit-ton bigger than his bunk at training, so he trotted back to the office and eagerly paid the manager his first month’s rent.
The manager set down his burning cigarette long enough to squint at the check, then told him he could move in right away and handed him receipt. “You sure do look pretty young to in the Army and married and all,” he said.
Randy glanced back over his shoulder as he walked through the doorway.
“Yeah, that’s what they tell me.”

“Sounds like a great place!” Rose said the next morning on the phone. “When do you get to move in?”
“Today!” he said, “right away!”
“All right!” Rose said, “but I don’t think anyone can drive me all the way down there.”
“I know, we’ll just need to get you a plane or bus ticket soon.”
“Well even with the money you can send, that’s not enough for a plane,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a bus ride will work out the easiest.”
“As long as you feel good enough for that,” he said. “With your belly six months pregnant, I’m just worried you might get uncomfortable or not feel good on the bus or something.”
“Oh hell Randy, I’ll be fine,” she said. “You know me; I can take anything dammit!” They both laughed like school-kids for a second. “I just want to get down there.”


So there we are for now, bro. I’ll kick some more out sooner or later. I should be visiting you here again in a couple weeks, I’m hoping. I work this weekend, plus we’re having a garage sale, so I’ve been cleaning out the garage and basement for the past week or so – yee-ha!
Take it easy man, I love ya.


About niceguyadamo

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

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