- The Animals
Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
No. It's Iowa.
God Bless Rosie O'Donnell, huh? Having the guts to question the official government story of 9-11 on national television. What if Matt Lauer had guts or Katie Couric or Jay Leno?
It really wouldn't take that much to really, really change this country.
You know, there are so many people working hard - hard - every day to make something good happen.
And then somebody like these pretty boys and girls with so much power, if they would just decide one day to make something of themselves - they could do in one day, one hour, what a million of us out here will not be able to do in our lifetimes.
How you doing? It's been rainy and cool here in northwestern Iowa. I have been working again at the group home, got my old job back after the book tour.
A few minutes ago I heard the voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal for the first time, on YouTube.
Now I am interested in him.
You know why?
Because he sounds like a white guy. Or at least an educated black guy.
Prior to a few minutes ago I didn't think much of him. He was just a black man who probably did the murder he is accused of.
That's pretty bad.
On at least a couple of levels.
What do you want me to say? That I have always understood?
sh*t. There is so much I don't know. I have a list that runs from here to Hy-Vee.
And the fact that what he sounds like makes any difference ... I'm not sayin' it's right ... I'm just sayin'.
I got out of jail for - so far - the last time in 1989. I remember being quite surprised and suspicious at some point afterward to find that not all black men were violent and dangerous and vulgar and stupid. I grew up in a town where there were no blacks, went to an almost all-white college, seminary, then to jail and prison.
In the mid-1980s I was in prison in Chicago - Metropolitan Correctional Center, the downtown, high-rise federal prison.
I was put into a unit that housed mostly Hispanics: Cubans, Mexicans, probably every Latino group in the book.
And then me.
A bit after I got there a group of Brits arrived. They had been picked up in Chicago in some big-news immigration, green card something or other.
I envied them so much. They had a group. They were together. They talked together, had meals together, played cards. I was alone, the homeless person on the unit, pariah.
I remember huddling over my meal tray one night, unable to eat.
You ever get so depressed you really can't stand the sight of food? I have not been that way for 18 years now, but I recall that it's bad. And you get a feeling in your chest like someone is sitting on you, and a rash on your hands, and your lips get numb, you can't smile, can barely talk, you turn corners at a right angle.
Well, a fellow prisoner bent down that evening and whispered softly in my ear, "Die."
It is kind of complicated, but see the unit used to be for law enforcement officers going through the federal system, so that they could be safe.
During my intake interview they asked me if I had ever been a cop. I said yes.
I had been a correctional officer for two months in 1978 at a work release center on the old state hospital grounds outside of Norfolk, Nebraska.
I quit there to be a county welfare worker and then got disgusted with that because I still did not feel I was doing enough.
So I took a trip in my dad's '59 Chevy with my dog to Oregon. Then I joined the seminary, etc., etc., etc.
Anyway. The black woman correctional officer asked. I told the truth. I was not smart enough to lie.
The unit was an open dorm, no bars, no cells, no protection.
There was still a contingency of cops on the floor, but they sat together during the day on this kind of raised cement platform, reading the paper, smoking, like a patio in hell. And they were locked in these glass cells at night.
They called me a cop but left me in the open dorm. It could have been a "conspiracy" against me, but I don't know. I had just come off of a hunger strike in the Douglas County Correctional Center in Omaha, seventeen days of only eating a dab of toothpaste after each cigarette.
I was doing it to try to get Omaha Archbishop Daniel Sheehan to say that the targeting of nuclear weapons at Offutt was immoral. He would not.
Well, it got a lot, some, press in Omaha, and they could have been trying to retaliate.
But, really, I think I just kind of got myself into this mess on Floor 21.
I was serving six months for protesting at Offutt AFB against the United States military. Trespass. Federal misdemeanor.
Part of the reason I did it was to protest the injustice of so much money going to Offutt and letting the poor people in North Omaha, the blacks, wallow in poverty. Nobody seemed to care about that.
I remember the first night, in Chicago, MCC, one Hispanic guy asked me about my situation. Everyone else there was unsentenced, going through the court system. But I was sentenced. What was I doing on Floor 21 if I was sentenced?
Well, they sent me here because I was once a cop.
He asked me. I told the truth. I guess that's stupid, huh? It is for a prisoner. There is more peer pressure in prison to do what everyone else does than in a Catholic school eighth grade restroom.
You lie, you fight, you hate, you scowl. You don't smile and say, yep, I was a cop, nice to meet you. You from Chicago? I've never been here before.
Oh, wait, it was only two months. That's not who I am. Wait a minute, let me explain.
I smoked constantly, for something to do. Ashes ran down my dark blue jump suit. Me unable to care enough to brush them off.
You had to hand it to those guys. They hated and they knew how to punish. They knew that I understood just a little spanish, so they would all get together in a group and mumble and say "cinco." They made sure I heard "cinco."
And so I knew the attack would come at five in the morning. I buttoned my jump suit to my Adam's Apple and stared at the ceiling from my top bunk all night long, watching the shadows, getting ready to fight for my life in prison, wondering how in hell I had come to this.
And so I stayed up all night. No attack came. And so for three days this continued and I never slept.
Yes. It's funny now. But that was twenty years ago. It took me awhile to get the joke.
I eventually got into a fight with two young Hispanic guys who were sitting next to me playing dominoes. They kept saying "chinga" and I thought it was about me. I kicked their dominoes, challenged them, fought, etc.
Before I was taken to the hole, administrative segregation, for some reason they took me to another floor and put me in an empty room. The door was locked behind me and all the Hispanics on that floor crowded into the little window, pounded on the door and hollered at me.
Die. Die. Die.
I lay on the bed and turned my back to the door.
So, then, this is the big city, I thought.
And it went on from there. I got transferred to a federal prison in west Texas where practically everyone was Hispanic.
And as the prison grapevine goes, by the time I got to La Tuna, everyone knew about what had happened to me in Chicago, as well as what I had for lunch at Sacred Heart Elementary on the day JFK was shot.
But I got through it. I think they wanted to see if I would go to protective custody when I arrived at La Tuna. During that intake interview the correctional officer asked if there was any reason I could not be in the general population. I said, no.
And that night I walked the yard, by myself, in the dark, up to and past every little Hispanic group out there. I was so sick of hearing all this talk. I just wanted whatever needed to happen to happen. Nothing happened. I finished my sentence and actually had quite a few friends to shake hands with on my release day. Some of them Hispanic.
And so now when I see a group of Hispanics at Casey's and they are talking loud and not in English I get a flash of hate and fear and distrust, and paranoia.
I also notice when they come outside and smile and pick up their kids and walk with them towards home, holding the children's hands.
Maybe it's a cliche. It is.
But we hate what we fear and we fear what we don't understand.
At the Oasis Bar in Norfolk way back during the time of the Iranian hostage thing there was a sign over the bar that said: Kill An Iranian, Get A Check.
I think it was a play on a car commercial popular at that time.
And another sign: The Ayatollah Ass-a-hole-a.
It's easy to get by with that kind of thing in a town where you know you won't be challenged. Nobody would be brave enough to put up a sign over a bar that made fun of farmers or ranchers. And besides, everyone knows some farmers, and they aren't all evil f*ck slow drivers, only some.
This passage is from my novel "The Last Liberal Outlaw."
Outlaw is published by New Leaf Press, of Chicago. The editor is Teresa Basille. I met her for the first time a few weeks ago at my reading at Barbara's Books in Chicago.
I signed a whole bunch of books at Barbara's - they won't be able to return those to the publishers - so that is one place you can find a copy of at least a couple of my books.
TLLO is about a young man in Iowa working as an editor for a small daily newspaper. Tom Blue fights against the construction of a federal prison near Liberal, Iowa, and ends up going to federal prison himself, for sedition.
There should be more reporters in jail charged with sedition.
There should be one.
From "The Last Liberal Outlaw."
"On six round tables half of the inmates ate, while above them the rest looked down from a rail encircling the amphitheater. Tom felt warm, safe, flush - confident this was not happening.
"The floor had once been reserved or FBI, DEA, CIA and Chicago city cops waiting for trial or serving a sentence. Those cops were now overrun by Cubans, Guatemalans, Chicanos, Mexicans, Salvadorans, in some phase of the BOP system.
"The homosexuals of the floor occupied a far corner. Tom recalled Midnight Express. Thin, white men with sparse beards smoked and played dominoes on beds with sheets hung around the frame. Their world had narrowed by steps from bedroom to school yard to one hundred feet in the sky.
"Tom lived in the open dorm. He wrote to Cheryl, clutching the borrowed pen with his fist like a toddler with a crayon. All he could say was "Daddy loves you" in the scrawl of a lunatic second grader.
"Those three days he spent walking around, talking to himself. Once he called home on the pay phone in the middle of the upstairs tier, but couldn't talk and hung up. The three nights he spent awaiting attack.
"They gathered in a circle, grinning, everyone saying, "Cinco." Knowing the attack would come at five in the morning, Tom buttoned his jump suit to the throat and lay awake on his top bunk, counting off the hours as the guard made his hourly flashlight checks.
"Esta loco. El grande montana. Muerte pinche gringo puta. Azul y rojo y verde des colores son bonito. The beauty of spanish, that much more cruel when meant to injure.
"And in the morning there had been no attack, while Tom had been up all night. The Hispanics awakened, smiling, refreshed, loving every minute of it.
"Out of control, like a toddler driving a garbage truck on ice with marble tires toward a cliff, the pain in his head, his heart, his whole being banged so hard Tom burned from within. His temperature rose to 103, he was sure. He smelled his fear, like iron simmering in the ashes of yesterday's fire.
"He chain-smoked for something to do. The ashes covered the front of his clothes, he unable to care enough to brush them off.
"At lunch one day - though Tom could not eat he was required to sit at a table - a prisoner bent down and whispered softly in his ear: "Muerte."
"And die he was sure he would, one way or another."
This is Iowa.
Where all the birds are colorful, all the grass is green, and all the thermostats are at 70.
See ya next week when our guest will be Rudy Guiliani.
We'll ask him why he didn't stay in his office in WTC 7, why he had all the metal from the towers removed before the investigators had a chance to do their work, and what did he get out of agreeing to be a party to murdering 3,000 people?
KGB [Killing George Bush], The Truth, Joe Coffee's Revolution, Terror Nation, The Last Liberal Outlaw, Looking For Bigfoot, Twins, The American Dream .
Mike Palecek website: http://www.iowapeace.com
Contact Mike: firstname.lastname@example.org
Palecek books are available through local bookstores, Amazon, or by going to cwgpress.com, howlingdogpress.com, badgerbooks.com, newleafbooks.net, essentialbooks.com, mainstaypress.com.