Thomas Silverstein – Official Website

Solitary Survivor

9.3.18 Message from Webmaster

6 Comments

I have just posted several files under Recent Activity & Appeals (starting with 7.31.17 and going in reverse chronological order). There may be some repetition from earlier postings on our site, for which I apologise; I simply did not have sufficient time to compare all the pages already on the site with those in the mail packet. The new postings are headed with brief banners in Tom’s own handwriting explaining the significance of the documents; a few postings are single pages and self-explanatory.

I have also added two more certificates for courses Tom has completed (under his message from 7.14.18) and some new links to items about Tom or solitary confinement.

If you discover repetition or any errors, please leave a note on the site and I will attempt to rectify the problems as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, as you read these words, you might consider writing to Tom directly or to someone in authority on his behalf…

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6 thoughts on “9.3.18 Message from Webmaster

  1. I care for unwanted captive Macaws that are born in a cage and die in a cage. Often they are caged alone in a back room, garage, detached structure, their life span is longer then ours.
    When I get them they are free.
    Anyways I like your artwork it depicts the isolation and loneliness. Could you draw The subject as a macaw and a human in Prison? Maybe parrot head on human body with wings. I’m not sure.
    So it convenes they suffering is the same

  2. Kindred Spirits are two people that have made a connection through shared life experience or from two separate experiences similar in nature.
    I am about to share with you my CYA experience in Preston and hopefully I will one day read your upcoming book and learn how your own experience in Chino compares.
    I put the following quote, next to a photo of myself with Preston Castle in the background on the cover because my youthful self could have used its message back then. My hope is that another youth reads it in his time of need.
    “Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them – but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.” Thomas Wolf -You Can’t Go Home Again
    The Revocation of My Parole

    “Alan I don’t know if we failed you or if you failed us. But I feel that I have no other choice than to revoke your parole and return you to the custody of the California Youth Authority.”

    Mid-morning on October 1, 1968, a tumultuous year in America’s history as well as my own, I was laying fully clothed atop the grey wool blanket of my bunk in San Fernando Valley Juvenile Hall’s Solitary Confinement Unit staring up at the ceiling’s 12 inch square recessed light fixture contemplating my fate. Occasionally I would glance around my cell pausing here and there to focus on the gang graffiti found on the walls which had been left behind by some of the cells previous occupants. I too had left some of my own tags over the years although I had never belonged to any gang. Why? I guess I just sought acknowledgement of my very existence because once incarcerated you soon realize that for the most part out of sight means out of mind. Restless I got up from by steel framed bed which was bolted to the concrete floor, and walked over to the stainless steel toilet/sink combo near the cell door to gaze at my reflection in the 8 x 10 inch mirror of polished stainless steel securely fastened to the cinderblock wall above the sink. Noticing that my hair was now standing up on the back of my head I took out my comb and smoothed it down. With this accomplished I walked to the far side of the room to gaze out the cell’s sole window at the fifteen foot beige, textured concrete wall just outside and then up at the dry barren foothills directly behind it. The facility which is nestled up against these foothills just NE of I-5 had first opened its doors in February 1966 in the suburban Los Angeles County neighborhood of Sylmar, CA. Thus then, as now, it is most commonly referred to as Sylmar Juvenile Hall. The institution is entirely surrounded by this wall and just inside the walls perimeter lays a series of single story cinderblock dormitories, school rooms, a courthouse and an administration building none of which I could see from my cell, but which all encircled an open courtyard located at the facilities center. Only the walls very liberal use of razor wire gives away the institutions mission as it runs along a ridge of this suburban neighborhood. I am not sure if I had realized it at the time but I was one of the first inmates housed there in 1966. This was in fact my third stint at Sylmar J.H.; on my first I recall having found the institution’s environment to be clean and neat, but also very stark and sterile. I thought to myself at the time, “Well at least it is not as intimidating, nor as depressing, as Central J.H. was.” I could compare the two since I had also previously spent two stints at Central J.H. located in nearby Los Angeles which had first opened its doors in 1912. But on each trip to Sylmar the racial tension had increased until it was now more like that of Central’s. This tension of course was just a reflection of the social strife throughout urban America in the late 1960’s.

    I had been notified earlier in the day that I was to be escorted to one of the institutions courtrooms located near the entry of the administration building. So I restlessly began to pace back and forth between the cell door and the window as I listened attentively for any sound of my escort approaching. Hearing someone approaching was no easy task because the unit was such a noisy place with frequent pounding on cell doors accompanied by howls of protests and pleading screams for relief resonating throughout the unit. You’d think from the sound of the word “Solitary” that it would be a quiet place, a place where one could quietly assess their life and prepare to reenter society armed with the knowledge that they’d gained through self-reflection thereby hopefully improving one’s chances of a successful reintegration into society thereafter. But you’d be wrong! Although this is exactly what the Quakers envisioned it to be when they first introduced solitary to the U.S., in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The ill effects of solitary confinement became well known after their failed experiment in Walnut-Street Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, in 1787. Even so the state went on to design Eastern State Penitentiary specifically for Solitary Confinement which opened in 1829 in Philadelphia, PA. It was later noted by the U. S. Supreme Court on March 3, 1890 that under such extreme conditions as found at E.S.P., “a considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi- fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community. “

    At Sylmar there were no blinding hoods over the heads of inmates when being transported, nor the strict enforcement of silence that were found at E.S.P., but studies have shown that juveniles, with their still developing brains, tend to fair far worse than adults held in solitary. I however, never lost my composure while being held in the hole which shortened my stay but others less capable of handling it would begin a vicious cycle of acting out, which lead the jailers to tack on more time to their stay, which made the inmate act out even more, and receive even more time. In fact some inmates seemed to hardly ever leave solitary and when they did they usually returned within days because their social skills had been decimated by solitary confinement.
    When I had arrived here for the third time I had been processed and escorted to the exact same unit in the general population that I had just been released from a month earlier. When we entered the front doors of the unit I was immediately confronted by a hardnosed counselor who upon recognizing me flew into a rage. The counselor began ranting about a butter-knife that had been discovered in the cinderblocks of my old cell. The knife had been discovered by the next inmate assigned to the cell. Fearing possible repercussions if it was discovered by the staff the inmate had shown them where it was hidden. I of course denied any knowledge of its origin. It didn’t matter what I said because I had already been found guilty in this man’s eyes and rightly so. Never mind my reasons for attempting to arm myself none of that would influence anyone in the system.
    My punishment was swift as I was taken directly to solitary confinement where I had remained until my court date weeks later. The incident was written up in my file and was one more factor that the court would consider when deciding my fate and I had a lot of time alone in the hole to consider just what that decision would be. My conclusion was that my parole would most likely be revoked so I could only hope that I would be able to navigate the system without becoming further entangled in it. I was all too aware of the dynamics of the institutional life that I would again be facing. I knew that I would be exposed to many situations that could draw me ever deeper into it as was proven by this knife incident.
    When my escort finally opened my cell door I was taken directly from my Solitary Confinement cell to the courtroom near the entrance of Sylmar Juvenile Hall. Resigned to my fate I entered the courtroom with my head down low wholly self-conscious of the hematoma of blood still clearly visible in my right eye and encircled by a large ring of black and purplish tissue. I had obtained this eye injury that fateful night from a single blow by my accuser.
    The courtroom was long and narrow with the publics’ sitting area behind the banister to my right which ran the entire length of the courtroom. As I entered the room an attractive Latina judge in her mid-thirties sat elevated to my left behind her desk. I stood in front of the judge’s desk looking up at her with the banister at my back, as she read the technical disturbing the peace charges against me adding. “Alan I don’t know if we failed you or if you failed us. But I feel that I have no other choice than to revoke your parole and return you to the custody of the California Youth Authority. (I later learned that my parole had been suspended under section 602W&I of the penal code, which defined a “Delinquent Child” as “An individual of not more than 18 years of age who has violated criminal laws or engaged in disobedient, indecent or immoral conduct, and is in need of treatment, rehabilitation, or supervision.”)
    Will the plaintiff rise? Sir looking at the two of you side by side I find it hard to believe that Alan just attacked you without any provocation as the indictment states. However I hope that you’re satisfied with my verdict?” Only then did I notice the accuser standing to my right side behind the banister.
    In the brightly lit courtroom the so called victim appeared even larger than I had remembered. This adult man stood a good half a foot taller than myself and probably weighed twice as much. As a professional weightlifter he was a lean mass of solid muscle. Clearly at a hundred and fifty-five pounds I was no physical match for him alone. But when you throw in a bar full of his buddies armed with pool sticks then it became impossible for any rational person to believe Mike and I had attacked the group of adult men armed only with a pin-knife.
    I was not surprised, angry or deeply moved in anyway by the sentence. I took it in my stride while doing my best to reflect a confident persona. I wanted to deprive the “victim” of any satisfaction that he might derive from an emotional response on my part. I stood there and glared confidently at my accuser until he nervously looked away. This proved to me that he had the same demeanor as a large, but timid Great Dame dog.  
    My Return Trip to S.C.R.C.

    “I didn’t enjoy institutional life but I didn’t cry for my mommy either.”

    I arrived at the California Youth Authority’s Southern California Reception Center, S.C.R.C. on October 10th 1968 less than a week after my 17th birthday and just nine days after the revocation of my parole. The procedures and daily routine remained the same as my previous 1964 visit. I was used to the center’s regimental structure and did not have a problem adjusting to its familiar surroundings. The fact that I was able to take it all in stride bothered me. Was I becoming resigned to this institutionalized way of life? I didn’t enjoy institutional life but I didn’t cry for my mommy either. Two months later I was unceremoniously transferred to Preston School of Industry.

    On the trip up state I had time to reflect on the role two knifes had on the court’s decision, I wondered if the judge would have revoked my parole if she had taken the time to ask me to explain myself? Would she have thought I should have reacted with indifference to a black artist showing off his outrageously racist drawing to a group of his homeboys’?

    I recalled as we had exited our classroom the artist had said, “Hey check this out.” I could see the caricature that he had drawn very clearly. He had drawn himself with a huge Afro with his right fist above his head in a black power salute while standing over two white boys. One white boy was drawn with his face down naked and bleeding from his rectum. The other white boy was knelt down before him with his hair being pulled up on in order to force the boy to perform fellatio on his exaggeratedly large penis. He had a caption on the caricature that read, “That’s right, suck it bitch your next.” The group all chuckled loudly holding on to their privates with one hand, and giving each other high-fives with the other.

    My response to the caricature was on the same level as an African American viewing the depiction of the lynching of blacks (a comparison that has been used by several researchers on prison rape), I was incensed. The group’s blusterous, and audacious reaction to the caricature only incited me further to find a way to effectively protest it. I got my chance when the artist tossed his vile drawing to the ground. When I passed the drawing I dug my heel into it, and twisted my foot ripping a huge hole in the caricature’s black face. The artist had not seen what I had done, but his friends had, and one of them yelled,” Hey this fucking pig stomped on your artwork homes!” The artist stopped, turned, and pushed me saying, “Say what? Is that right honky? I am going fuck your punk ass up.” I didn’t just want to get down (fight) with this prick, no I wanted to humiliate him in front of all his homeboys. I wanted each one of his friends to feel the same outrage that I had felt looking at the drawing, so without forethought, I removed my belt, and regrettably said, “I am going to beat your black ass as if I owned you boy!” Seeing my belt he quickly backed away, forcing me to chase him through the crowd, as I whipped him across his back. With each blow he howled like a little bitch. And by the time the counselors grabbed me, I felt I had accomplished my goal of humiliation. Of course this didn’t help ease racial tensions, and I am sure some weaker white inmate paid the price for my actions at some point down the road, for this is how the cycle always went down. Blacks sought retribution for the past and present injustices suffered by their race, by committing injustices of their own on whites. This in turn created even more hatred of blacks, where there had not necessarily been any before. No group won more than a temporary victory over the other, and all suffered under longer, more restrictive sentences, in an atmosphere of wanton violence.

    As punishment for my actions I was taken to solitary for a couple of weeks. When I had returned to the unit I could feel the racial tension in the air. Outnumbered, with not even one other white inmate with enough backbone to back me up, I armed myself with the butter-knife stolen from the chow hall. Back in my cell I set out to sharpen a cutting edge on the knife by scrapping it across the concrete floor of my cell. During this long process I found it necessary to conceal my weapon in the mortar between two cinderblocks of my cell wall. The charge of possession of marijuana (just left over stems and seeds found in our house) against me was dropped after the arresting officer died in a car wreck. I was released when I appeared in court before any further hostilities between me and the blacks could take place.

    As for the current charge of disturbing the peace it had all begun with an innocent outing that Mike and I had taken with our two girls. The four of us headed down the street to a nightclub less than two blocks away from our motel room. Although we were all under aged we hoped to just sit down and listen to some music. We entered the darken club and sat down quietly at a corner table near the front door in hopes that nobody had noticed us entering. We were almost immediately confronted by a very large man, who we were to learn later was a professional weight lifter. The man was in his late 20’s and weighed upward of 275lbs and stood well over six feet tall and was with a group of his friends in this same mould. My brother weighed less then 130lbs and I was all of 155lbs. We were 19 and 16 years old respectfully. This huge man came over and put both hands on top of the table getting up close and personal then he angrily told us “You punks get the fuck out of here right now!”

    We knew that we shouldn’t have been there and we would have most likely have left without complaint if we had been asked in a civil manner. But this blunt statement was demeaning to say the least especially in front of our dates. So as if on cue my brother told him to fuck off and that we would be outside if he didn’t like it.

    However we never expected that the whole night club would empty and not only were these guys huge but some of them brought their pool sticks with them. In fear for my life I punched and kicked at this mountain of a man that charged toward me with very little effect. It was as if I was using a hand gun against a tank I just didn’t have enough fire power. I soon tripped on a curb while fighting backing away. I laid there for less than a second when I was struck with a pool stick across my back.

    Mike seeing me in a vulnerable position came to my rescue welding a pin knife. Mike stabbed at the guy’s massive arm holding the pool stick but the cheap knife closed on his hand cutting his hand worse than my attacker.

    I was surprised and scared when this huge man began to scream like a pig being slaughtered. Anyone who heard his squeal must have thought he was dealt a death blow. So the rest of his group turned their attention to him and Mike so I used the moment to escape.

    I ran down the street to a gas station with several men behind me in hot pursuit only to find myself trapped behind the gas station next to a fence. The only avenue of escape was over the fence. So I quickly peered over the fence and seeing only darkness behind it I jumped over. As I fell it soon became obvious that this side of the fence was a lot higher off the ground. I just kept falling and falling then suddenly I made contact with the ground and tumbled another fifteen odd feet down a steep embankment.

    The fence had apparently been constructed to stop people from falling off the edge of a deep precipice approximately 45 feet to the bottom. I had fell for what seemed like forever then rolled down the slopping last 15 feet which broke my fall and allowed me to survive the fall without serious injury.

    I could see my pursuers peering over the ledge above me but seeing only darkness they didn’t dare follow. I had escaped their grasp for the moment. I got up with some difficulty and found my way back to our motel room where Mike awaited my return.
    Not knowing the fate of our dates we armed ourselves with sticks and drove back over to the club half expecting to find our dates being beaten by the angry mob. We didn’t see our dates but the angry mob saw us approaching and pointed us out to several police officers. The police jumped in their squad cars and the chase was on.

    With my brother behind the wheel we rounded corner after corner but it seemed the number of cars pursuing us only increasing with each corner. Seeing that we couldn’t out run the police my brother yelled at me to jump.

    Not realizing the speed in which we were traveling I jumped then tumbled and then rolled to avoid being run over by the black & white which seemed to be trying to end the chase by running me down.

    I feared what the police had in store for me if I was captured with their adrenalin running so high and my own adrenalin enabled me to effortlessly leap onto the six foot fence in front of me. My body’s momentum had resulted in me briefly doing a handstand on top of the fence and then I fell head over heels onto the yard on the other side of the fence like a gymnast dismounting the sawhorse.

    The police began swarming the front of the house in which the fence encircled so unable to exit I hid under a car in the garage just behind the house. My heart raced as officers approached my position with their flash lights probing the darkness of the night. Their lights scanned the exterior of the garage then into the garage’s window in search of their prey. I lay motionless beneath the car trying to control my heavy breathing as I listened to their footsteps only a few feet away from me by now. Then one called out in a frustrated voice “Nothing here. How about you, got anything?” “No.” the other replied as the voice of their dispatcher crackled over their radios calling out instructions in code to guide their search. I laid there as the sounds of the police’s search grew fainter and fainter. I waited still longer for the neighbor’s voices that had inquisitively gathered on the street to dissipate as well. Then taking a 10 speed bike from the garage I peddled at a feverish pace the entire ten miles back to my mother’s new apartment house.

    As luck would have it I was met by the police who were puzzled as to how I had traveled so far in such a short time. I didn’t mention the bike of course and they scratched their heads as I was handcuffed and placed in the back of their squad car.

    They then drove me to the station where I soon collapsed from my fatigue on the floor of my cell. A passing officer seeing me laying there laughed and said “Who is this bum?”
    The following day I was transferred to Sylmar Juvenile Hall and admitted using an all too familiar process.

    My Arrival at Preston

    That toil of growing up;
    The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
    Of Boyhood changing into man;
    The unfinished man and his pain.

    The Dialogue of Self and Soul, William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

    Our bus arrived at the now defunct Preston School of Industry in Ione, California, on November 12, 1968. (Preston’s name was later changed to Preston Youth Correctional Facility, a more fitting name in 1999. And Preston officially closed on June 2, 2011.) We were first taken to the main mess hall where I alone was separated from the rest of the arrivals. Nearly a half century later I can still remember my escort taking me down the hill to my new residence in Sequoia Lodge which was located a good distance away from all the other lodges in the far left hand corner of the institution from the main gate.

    Preston’s topography of gently rolling hills had two noteworthy landmarks, the first was an extremely high watchtower, and the other was Preston Castle with its ominous facade. The Romanesque Revival architecture of Preston Castle, which was completed on July1, 1894, is both eerie and spectacular. Inmates were housed in this intimidating decaying structure until 1960 when the new facilities were completed.

    I learned in late 2012 that in order to get ideas for Preston’s design, Robert T.Devlin, the President of the California State Board of Prison Directors, had visited Minnesota and 22 other institutions in the Eastern United States. Devlin was particularly impressed with the architectural plans for the Minnesota State Training School (M.S.T.S.) being built in Red Wing, designed by architect Warren B. Dunnell. Devlin returned with tracings of M.S.T.S. architectural plans, submitting them to Preston’s architect, Henry A. Schulze, for the administration building and annex. So Preston literally shares the very blue print of its design and modus operandi with the M.S.T.S. in Red Wing, MN.
    Conceived during the Great Depression, later renamed the Long Depression, which lasted from 1873 to 1896 the jobs Preston would bring was the prime motivation for the town of Ione.
    Specifications for Preston’s construction stipulated that the steps, landing, and buttresses of the front porch were to be of Folsom granite delivered by the Prison Directors and September 20, 1890, marked the beginning of active operations.

    Since the bricks would be made at San Quentin and Folsom prisons, it was estimated that the state would save $15,000 to $20,000.

    The contract also stipulated that no Chinese (“Mongolian” was their term) labor, or materials manufactured by Chinese labor were to be used.

    Conveniently, Ione served as terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Amador branch, and a shipping point for the surrounding area, including Jackson and Sutter Creek. The bricks used may not have been made of gold but they definitely translated into big bucks just the same.
    Carloads of bricks, 6,000 to a railcar, arrived from Pleasanton via the railroad and these shipments explain why Ione Coal and Iron Co., a subsidiary of Southern Pacific, was motivated to donate the land for Preston School.

    The institutions new grounds were dotted with clusters of nondescript one story, concrete and cinderblock buildings, interconnected by narrow asphalt roads. These roads were used to march us in formation to various locations. Numerous concrete walkways intersected these roads leading to our lodges, schoolrooms, chow halls, work areas, recreational facilities, auditorium, clinic and other administration buildings. The recreational facilities such as the football field, gymnasium, and pool were only window dressing designed to appease visiting social activists for we only rarely had access to any of them. For example during my stay I would go on to use the gym just twice and the pool only once where we lined up single file then individually dove in, swam to the other side, exited, then waited for the rest to finish, then we all marched off military style and I would never set foot on the football field.

    When you entered Sequoia Lodge you entered into the dayroom. To the left of the entry was a raised twelve foot long counter. The counselors sat behind this counter looking straight towards the dayroom. Starting from the far left hand corner of the dayroom, and on the right side of the counter, sat a group of bulky, vinyl upholstered chairs which faced the TV that was mounted high on the corner of the wall. A little to the right of the TV viewing area and against the far wall was a raised area for lifting weights, and in the middle of the room sat a pool table. A few card tables and chairs filled in the remaining space of the room.

    Behind the counselors counter was a glass partition leading into the common bathroom showers, sinks and toilets. On both sides of the counselor’s counter were hallways leading to our individual cells. There were twelve on either side of the two hallways or twenty four per hallway and therefore forty-eight in total. My cell was located halfway down the hallway to the right of the counter on the left hand side of the hall. When you entered my 6’ X 9’cell the door opened towards the steel bed frame that was bolted to the ground against and parallel to the left wall. The head of my bed was against the rear wall. The toilet sink combo was mounted against the right wall near the door, and a desk sat in the far right hand side next to the only window. This was the same familiar design of S.C.R.C. or for that matter most of the cells that I have ever been in.

    My cell faced inward towards an open grassy area which was free of obstructions that might conceal an inmate’s attempt to escape. In the distance I could see only the fifteen foot security fence which encircled the entire perimeter of Preston. The fence had the standard razor wire on top with fine wire mesh covering its chain links which reduced the visibility of objects on the other side. A perimeter road on the other side of the fence allowed for easy access by maintenance and security vehicles. Regular patrols monitored the condition of the fence to prevent escapes.
    Several days after my arrival I learned that Sequoia Lodge housed the most violent wards in the CYA system. Other lodges at Preston specialized in housing gang members, property, or drug offenders etc but Sequoia Lodge housed the murderers, rapists, and child molesters.

    When I first learned of Sequoia’s purpose I was surprised because I had never considered myself to be a violent person. Although I had more than my fair share of unprovoked violent encounters in my life I had done my best to avoid them all. Nor had I ever used excessive violence towards any of my opponents. I surmised that my history of fighting was the biggest factor in my placement. Never mind the unwritten rule of incarceration that one has but three choices you can “fornicate, fight or flee”. I found the first choice repulsive, and the last one futile so I chose to fight but I was also conscious of the consequences of doing so. This is precisely why I had let so many lesser provocations slide over the years. I just didn’t want to be labeled a violent ward. So much for that logic I was now in the foremost location within the CYA system for violent wards. The only time I would observe wards other than Sequoia’s was during trips up the hill to, the gym, auditorium, or clinic but no interaction of any kind took place between us. All Sequoia’s residents were isolated from the rest of the wards even in this society within a society. I preferred having my own private cell as its privacy allowed for a better night’s sleep. I’m therefore glad that I was sent to Sequoia rather than to one of the other lodges that featured dorm style sleeping quarters. In retrospect I guess this was worth the price of being labeled one of the “most violent prone offenders.”

    I would encounter more than a few murderers, rapists, and child molesters during my stay at Sequoia. A cop killer would become my arch foe and a cold blooded murder my best friend.

    Each morning we were made to stand out front of our cell while the counselors counted us. During this process a counselor would peer into our rooms to make sure we had made our beds and had tidied up our living quarters before releasing us for breakfast. As I waited outside my cell to be counted that first day at Preston I stoically scanned the wards housed near me. This appraisal of everyone in close proximity to my cell room was necessary to identify any possible threats. I was making mental notes of each wards probable status in the institutional pecking order when my eyes fell on Bill. From his demeanor I felt confident that Bill was what we called “Good People” or a 1%er. By this I mean a white person that, one got high, two was not a snitch, and three would get down (fight) if the need arose. I raised my chin towards him in a sort of salute and recognition of my appraisal of him. This was a subtle gesture but it was instantly recognized and returned without a word being spoken between us. I was relieved to find at least one possible ally and no one that appeared to be an immediate threat to me housed nearby.

    When the count was over and we were released to walk over to the chow hall I waited until Bill caught up to me. When Bill reached my position I introduced myself. Bill reciprocated then he guided me out the front doors, turned left down the walkway, then around the building housing the school rooms to the chow hall. We sat at a table against the far wall where we would share this breakfast meal and almost every other meal together over the next eight months. From our tables position we could see everyone coming and going while keeping a watchful eye on our rivals. The location of our chosen table was no coincidence but a calculated method of survival.

    My New Best Friend

    “This cycle of “an eye for an eye” left everyone blind with no one able to see the fallacy of it all.”

    Bill had lived in Sylmar, CA during the same period of time that I had attended Sylmar High School. Coincidentally he was also a close friend of the victim of a stabbing at Sylmar High that I had witnessed and had intervened on the victim’s behalf. After the attack it was widely known that someone had aided the victim but no one knew who that someone was.

    As Bill and I sat together one day not long after my arrival I recounted the story of the attack.

    (I gave details that I fear wouldn’t pass the senors here,)

    As I told my story Bill suddenly realized who it was I was talking about and said “Oh you’re the guy that helped Jim”.

    Up until this time I had never known the reason for the attack or what had happened after the police and ambulances arrived. I had just faded away into the crowd not wanting to stick around and risk a parole violation. So Bill filled me in on what he knew about the incident. The fight was due to a date that Jim had with the cousin of the first assailant. The guy just didn’t like a white guy dating his cousin and so he confronted Jim about it demanding that he not see her again. Jim in turn told him it was none of his business and then the girl’s cousin punched him.

    Later during the fight when Jim was about to lose conscious I and another youth intervened on his behalf. Jim hadn’t been sure if we were real or if he had dreamt it all. As I turned away Jim collapsed from the knife wounds that had punctured his lung and almost killed him.

    It felt good to learn that Jim had survived the attack and that I had made the perpetrator pay a price for his cowardly act. I also learned that some of Jim’s friends attacked a couple of Mexicans later on in retaliation. The Mexicans then counter attacked in front of San Fernando’s downtown movie theater by stabbing two gringos multiple times.

    This cycle of “an eye for an eye” left everyone blind with no one able to see the fallacy of it all. For all I know the cycle continues today.

    With our race, hometown and the common need for reliable backup binding us together Bill became my best and only friend while I was at Preston.

    I learned that Bill’s father was a preacher and Bill claimed in a matter-of-fact tone, without seemingly attempting to brag, that his older brother was the president of the second most powerful motorcycle club in Southern California at the time. (They later merged.)

    In the beginning, before I had gained Bill’s confidence, when I asked about his beef (crime) Bill would only say that he had shot someone. Then one day while Bill and I sat playing a game of Spades in his room Bill told me the details of his crime. Bill spoke in a soft voice while stoically explaining to me how he had come to kill a drug dealer. “I arrived to this dealer’s house and knocked on his front door to collect the money or the drugs that he owed me. The guy’s mother answered the door. I asked to see her son then she told me to wait at the door while she went to get her son. The dude’s mother returned with her son and I guess his mom sensed trouble or that the punk had made some hostile comment on the way to the door because his mother waited just inside the foyer.

    When the dealer saw that it was me at the door he immediately went off and told me to “Get the fuck away from this house punk.” I never answered the punk but instead I calmly pulled out my 45 caliber pistol and blew his brains out at point blank range. The guy’s brains ended up all over the foyer and also on the punk’s mother. Then I turned and calmly walked away as his mother screamed hysterically over her dead son.

    I had thought this all out before hand and had a getaway plan. I walked over to a storm drainage canal and entered the underground sewer system. I had already mapped my way back to my pad ahead of time which looking back on it now was just plain stupid.

    I went straight to my pad after ditching my piece along the way but I had totally forgotten that his mother knew where I lived and of course she told the police where I lived. The man was all over me when I arrived home. Hell it shouldn’t have been any big surprise but being totally wasted I just wasn’t thinking right.”

    The thought of having to live with the consequences of such a crime disturbed me far more than Bill’s stoic expression portrayed that it had affected him. The concept of how a preacher of all people could have raised such children was beyond me.

    The story’s end was similar to my own arrest. I however, had no reason to believe that my brother’s girlfriend Johanna would have ever told the police where I lived. However Bill should have known that the guy’s mother would direct the police to the killer of her son.

    After my sentence in Sylmar I was allowed back into the general population and one sunny afternoon our unit was marched in columns to the female section for a dance. This is something that I had occasionally done in Central but this was the only dance that I ever recall attending at the Sylmar facility.

    After arriving outside a female unit we were ordered to enter the dayroom one column at a time single file where all the females were crowded around on the far side of the room to greet us. As I entered the room I heard a familiar voice yell out from the back of room. “Hey Alan it’s me Johanna.” As my eyes adjusted to the light I searched the crowd of faces until I came upon Johanna’s then I said “Johanna what are you here for?” But she was busy explaining who I was to some of her peers. I approached her and we sat down together to catch up with each other’s lives.

    I told her about my arrest and sentence and then she told me that Mike had beaten her after becoming convinced that she had snitched on us. After the beating she had turned herself in as a runaway. I was embarrassed that Mike had beaten her once again even if she had told the police about us.

    Later on, as our unit was lining up to leave, Johanna and I said our goodbyes. Then I said “You know I love you girl so take care of yourself.”

    With that said I got in our formation outside the unit, turned and waved once more. Johanna waved back smiling wildly. I have never seen her smiling face again but her image in that plain jail house dress is etched permanently into my mind.

    School at Preston

    “The choice of the film seemed to me to be either an effort to incite a riot or just plain ignorance on the teacher’s part. “

    As had always been the case in these institutions the school at Preston never held formal classes. There were never any lectures or structured classes per-say and with much of the inmate population functionally illiterate paradoxically all the materials at school were self study. We were each given our assignments based on our school records and the materials to complete each assignment came with little or no explanation. So we were forced to rely on the meager assistance from the assigned teachers, or more accurately the custodians of educational materials, so few inmates ever advanced their educational standing. Most inmates in fact fell further and further behind their peers on the outside which diminished their chances of a successful reintegration to their community schools upon their release. Even my best friend Bill couldn’t read or write past the grammar school level, this was as much a shock to me as his crime of murder.

    To be fair to the system the different levels of competency of the wards would have made it very difficult to hold classroom lectures that would benefit everyone unless the wards could be assigned to classes according to their needs. This of course would be a logistical nightmare involving the shuffling of the entire inmate population and expose many nonviolent or younger inmates to older more violent wards.

    I was used to this system by now having completed most of my junior high and high school in this manner. During each incarceration I had caught up to my proper grade level or higher.

    The choice of the only educational film shown to us while at Preston surprised me since the racial tension was so high there. The film was a WWII documentary film showing the Nazi occupation of North Africa. First the film depicted how Hitler sought to build an invincible army by emphasizing the stature and discipline of his soldiers. Then the film showed these soldiers marching in unison during mass rallies and finally it showed how native African warriors attempted to repeal the invading German tanks with wooden spears. This method of counter attack resulted in the natives being unexpectedly burned alive by the tanks flame throwers. As I watched the somewhat comical scene of African tribesmen jumping up and down, wearing wide eyed frightful expressions, as they witnessed their fellow tribesmen set ablaze, I regrettably chuckled. Needless to say my reaction to the scene annoyed any African American that had heard it and word spread rapidly. I also noticed that the blacks watching the film with me were becoming increasingly more uncomfortable and embarrassed by the content of the film.

    The choice of the film seemed to me to be either an effort to incite a riot or just plain ignorance on the teacher’s part. The content of this film depicted just the opposite of what was happening around me.

    After school I worked in the institutions large laundry facility while Bill went to the upholstery shop. My job at the laundry was to feed the clean sheets into a large machine that automatically folded them using static electricity. I was very lucky in landing this clean job and not the unloading and loading of dirty laundry into the washing machines or the steamy job of ironing select garments. My more visible job out in the open was fine with me. Other inmates however actually sought out the privacy found between the high stacks of laundry in the carts. This hot, pungent, poorly lit area allowed sexual predators enough cover to forcibly sodomize the weaker inmates working with them without being easily discovered. Everyone knew this was happening but all the supervision was on the finishing line where I worked.

    Over the course of my stay at Preston the African American population grew exponentially to the point that they held an overwhelming advantage in any conflict between the races. Sexual attacks on whites were increasing in direct relationship to this shift in population. So at some point along the way, I suggested that the victims should walk and work together in groups of at least two in order to ward off these attacks. This was purely a defensive act but one that the African Americans found threatening to their dominance at the time.

    Christmas in Preston

    “The social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that…he never conceives himself otherwise than a member of a body.”
    John Stuart Mill 1806-1873

    Not all conflicts were interracial however. One of my chief antagonists although white, was my polar opposite. Rich was an ornery country boy with grotesque burn scares on both his forearms from an unusual practice of placing red hot cigarette tips on them for extended periods of time to prove that he was impervious to the pain. He also had a large number of horizontal scars from cuts made to both his wrists where he had apparently tried to commit suicide in the past. Therefore he gave me the impression that he was totally unstable.

    Months into my stay Rich started probing me for some unknown reason trying to see just how far he could push me before I would react to his provocations. This may have been related to his discovery that I was Mike’s brother. He had said “You remind me of this guy named Mike. Do you know a Mike?” I replied “Yeah my brother’s name is Mike.” It turned out he had been in a unit with Mike at some point in time.

    Rich’s most egregious provocation followed shortly thereafter. By chance Fritz, a scrawny looking homosexual, was showering facing me as I was standing with my back towards the glass partition of the shower room while Rich stood just outside next to the counselor’s desk gawking at my backside. The top half of the partition was glass and the bottom half was not, the partition would therefore have covered me from the waist down normally unless someone stood close enough to look down at an angle and this was exactly what Rich was doing.

    Fritz seeing what Rich was doing then tells me “Hey Rich is checking out your ass Al.” So I turn to look behind me just in time to catch Rich in the act. Rich busted out laughing and then threw me a kiss. These were grounds for a fight but with the counselors watching the whole thing I decide that it was best for me to wait for a better time and place.

    I didn’t go after Rich immediately thereafter either but rather I waited to see what he would do next. I wanted a clear cut excuse to whip his ass, one that would give me enough justification to satisfy the counselors.

    Some days later he again disrespected me in the cell of an acquaintance while we were playing cards together. Sitting there with one elbow on the bunk I was in an awkward position to respond for if I was to attempt to stand Riche would have had a chance to strike me first. So this time I called his bluff telling him “If you want to try something then let’s get it on motherfucker!” I was now breaking one of those cardinal rules of street fighting “never talk shit sitting down with your opponent standing above you.”

    This was how confident I was at being able to handle this punk. Why I felt this way would not be apparent to anyone just looking at the two of us. He was at least my size if not larger and tough looking in a country bumpkin sort of way. No my confidence came from years of dealing with his kind. I have found that the dog that barks the loudest is not as dangerous as the quiet one with that certain intense look in his eyes. This is a look that you need to be able to recognize in a person in order to survive prison. These people usually attack without warning and when they do they hold nothing back.

    Rich flinched like he was going to jump on me but I didn’t blink and then he suddenly turned and left the room.

    Some days later I had just begun a game of pool with another ward when Rich approached the table. At the time our activities were being closely monitored by the counselors perched behind the elevated counter directly in front of us.

    As I maneuvered around the table Rich started to critique my game disrespecting me once again. Angered by his insulting appraisal of my game I clinched my jaw and told him that he had best back away or I would fuck him up this time. He seemed to believe that I was just a paper tiger so he continued talking shit.

    Finally having had enough of his jerking me around, I calmly put my pool stick down and backhanded him across his face. I chose this method of attack to show my lack of intimidation and to minimize the repercussions that would follow. If I had split his head open with the pool stick for instance I would have been sent up to Tracy. He rushed me with his head down and grabbed me around my waist making it difficult for me to hit him a good solid blow. So I pounded on his ribs a few times as he tried to muscle me to the ground then the counselors were on us.

    After our confrontation we were both taken separately to solitary confinement in Tamarack Lodge (formerly “G” Company) where we spent both Christmas and New Years Eve holidays of 1968.

    I can still clearly recall the solemn escorted walk over to the solitary confinement unit in mid-afternoon. It was cool but clear outside and the pathway which followed just inside the perimeter fence gave us an up close and personal look at the rear of Preston Castle. This close the decay of all but the red brick structure was obvious. The interior of the structure was especially ravaged by time and thus the entire building took on an even more haunting appearance in my mind.

    We entered the solitary confinement building through a heavy metal door and after processing me I was escorted up a staircase to the top floor. The center of the rectangle building was open allowing a view from the top floor to the first. The individual cells lined the perimeter of the building. Each cell door opened to the tier’s hallway which was lined with an ornate wrought iron railing around the center opening.

    The heavy bars covering the exterior of the windows and the cells heavy duty interior screen weren’t designed to allow easy access to clean the cell’s window so they were all yellow with years of built up grim. Thus the light coming through was heavily filtered which made the cell quite dim and the view outside dreary and blurry. The screen smelt of mucus like that of a sneeze in a closed automobile.

    My bunk was left hand side of the window which was also on the far wall. The toilet and sink were on the right side near the door and designed to be clearly visible by the guards though the door’s bared 12” X 12” window which was located just above the locked food slot. No expectation of privacy here.

    This was my entire world for the holidays. No books or any other distraction other than the wails of the other inmates and the ghostly shadow of Preston Castle. When I read about the long term isolation that inmates endure today my experience seems to pale in comparison but this particular stay was memorable for a couple of reasons.

    The first reason was that on Christmas Day 1968, we ate dinner together in small groups. This was something that I had never heard of happening in solitary before or since. The dining hall on the first floor of Preston’s solitary confinement unit was a smaller version of the institution’s other dining halls. The dining room consisted of a half dozen, four person, square, stainless steel tables in two rows of three. It was primarily used by the guards except on this very special occasion. The smaller number of inmates eating allowed the guards to keep a closer eye on this potentially troublesome bunch that the system found necessary to confine inside this jail within a jail for disciplinary reasons.

    I sat down with three other inmates on one of the four backless metal stools bolted to the concrete floor and painted over with grey epoxy paint. My eyes scanned the face of each inmate appraising their probable social status in the pecking order of institutional life. The inmate directly across from me was a slightly built dirty blonde around sixteen years old with even younger boyish features. His face however seemed tired as though he had been under extreme stress for way too long. I knew the look well; it is the same expression one sees on fallen prey in a National Geographic Magazine when the animal realizes there is no way to escape their fate. I didn’t know this particular inmate but I knew others like him so I felt a profound sadness for him. I imagine that this feeling is similar to how a soldier on a battlefield might feel as he passes fallen combatants. The inmate to my left was of a different lot I imagined him to be still holding his own but only by the narrowest of margins. Now the guy on my right had the look of a career criminal a true survivor of the system that would be willing to use any means necessary to survive even if it meant stepping on top of the first’s inmates head to keep his own above water. Even with this unflattering appraisal of my dinning partners after days of isolation I was eager to swap stories with each of them. The conversation followed the normal pattern of conversations between inmates “Where are you from? What are you in for? What unit are you in? How long do you have to go? Why were you sent to hole (solitary)?” I found the story of the inmate across from me to be incoherent as his eyes darted around the room wildly. He kept saying that he was going to be released and was flying back home. I took this with a grain of salt as the wishful thinking of a desperate boy for how could he ever hope to be released so soon after being placed in the hole. I swapped stories with the others as well then it was back to my isolation upstairs.

    The second reason was both ghastly and morose. Later that evening after I had taken my nightly shower I heard the blond teenager shout “I can fly, I can fly, and you can’t keep me here no more”. Then a guard said in a panic “Grab him he’s going to jump”. I heard the young man repeat “I can fly, I can fly” then a loud sickening thud like a melon hitting the floor. He had jumped over the railing. I had heard the jail house rumors of inmates that had died after being thrown over such rails so I surmised that the jumper was probably dead or at least seriously injured.

    After the commotion downstairs subsided, a short interval of relative quiet followed. As I sat alone pondering the youth’s words over dinner a guard opened the slot in my cell door and tossed in a wad of hard candy wrapped in tissue paper. The candy landed unceremoniously onto my now dimly lit cell’s floor and slid to a stop somewhere in the middle. This candy was probably meant to bring us a little Christmas cheer by who ever had the idea in the first place but its delivery was carried out with such callous disregard for our feelings that it had done little to raise our spirits. I immediately jumped up and asked the guard “What happened to the guy that jumped? I had dinner with him you know. Is he OK? The guard scuffed “Don’t speak unless spoken to!” So reluctantly I sat back down on my bed and opened the twisted piece of paper holding the candy together then tried to break a piece free. The pieces had become stuck together and were now just one large piece covered with bits of the wrapping tissue. I turned to look out my window and wondered what the scene had been like on the first floor. The smell of spit and mucus emanated from the protective screen which was meant as an additional barrier to the bars on the window and I asked myself how I could eat candy under such circumstances. I hesitated but tried a piece anyway. The candy had a familiar taste but one in which under normal circumstances I would not have eaten. I needed some distraction however and so I continued breaking off pieces until it was all gone.

    Once I had finished eating I laid back and watched the eerie shadow of Preston Castle on my room’s walls which has always reminded me of a haunted castle from a horror movie. (In fact it has since been used as a haunting back drop in movies.) As we had passed the building the guard had pointed out a wood platform that he said was part of the old gallows from which they hung inmates in its heyday. I wondered how many young men had lost their lives over the years from acts of desperation, murder or execution. I wondered how the jumper became so disturbed and what had been his fate. How his parents would react to learning of his action and on Christmas Day no less. I wondered if the guard had been truthful about the purpose of the platform (he had not). I wondered if the jumper had been trying to tell me of his plans at dinner. Did I miss an opportunity to warn the guards? I tried to put these thoughts out of my head for there was nothing I could do now. So I tried to sleep to avoid having to think about him but his face at dinner would greet me whenever I closed my eyes. It was early morning before I fell to sleep.

    During the remainder of my time in solitary I did thousands of sit ups and pushups to exhaust myself in order to sleep. Sleep I found was the most effective means of escaping the reality of my confinement. But my sleep was often interrupted by the desperate screams of those even less able to endure their isolation. The “Catch 22” here is these unruly inmates were then viewed by the staff as not having learned their lesson so they were forced to endure even longer terms of isolation in a vicious circular cycle.

    I was returned to my lodge about a week later and a few days after that while I was lifting weights in the day room a counselor called out my name. I used the weight training as a way to relieve stress and as a useful deterrent against the predators. I liken it to the Blow Fish’s defense mechanism of inflating itself with water to ward off predators. I put down the barbell I was holding and turned my attention to the counselor sitting behind the elevated counter. When we made eye contact he bellowed “You have a court appearance in L.A. your brother Mike has been apprehended and you need to be ready to testify. They will pick you up in the morning.” The trip of 350 plus miles back down to L.A. would prove to be an educational experience. I couldn’t have imagined the events that lay ahead of me but, I looked forward to seeing my brother, the outside world, and breaking the boring yet stressful daily routine at Preston.

    Tom let’s see if for one the webmaster is willing to mail this portion to you and two if it passes the censors. If so I will probably need to edit parts of my road trip as I mention a few famous prisoners held in some of our stops at that time. My book has a lot of photos but I can’t paste them on your website to be mailed to you.

    I’ll pick it up where I left off after the holidays if I hear back that you got it and want to read more. The road trip to court and back was an eye opening experience.

  3. Thanks. Give Tom my condolences for the passing of his cousin/crime partner.

    Due to my own work I replied to Tom’s questions in parts during slow periods. I hope it is possible to connect them before you forward them to him.

    Thank you for your efforts

  4. After figuring out where these were it turns out they are scanned in upside down.

    It would be easier if you had used a link rather than referring it to the list in your heading.

    Also when responding to a answer from Tom under our comments there is no “reply” to link our replies to the reply.

    I hope you can address these issues and the time it took to post the reply from Tom as you said it was on your desk far too long.

    Why was that? Time or content issue?

    • Alan, I’ve corrected the upside-down scans, for which I apologise. I rushed and made errors. I will double-check all in future. As for the replies in WordPress–I don’t think there is much more I can do for the service we purchase. I send posts to Tom by mail and by the time it comes back to me probably 3 weeks have lapsed. I try to keep the threads of discussions going, but what shows up on WordPress’s editing board is not always clear. The delay was my fault entirely (I live on a farm and have quite a few daily chores), but I do want to make one thing clear: Tom insists that we post whatever people bother to type on the site and I don’t edit his replies for content. He wants 100% honesty. I hope that explains some things about the site. Richard

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