Vacation from Prison

Just before I was to escape from prison, they gave me a vacation from prison. It all began when my best friend, Gary, roped me into Jaycees. He was the vice president of our prison chapter, Galaxy Jaycees. I used every excuse to get out of it. Membership cost $35.

“We’ll waive the fee for you!” he told me.

“I’m not really a guy who enjoys small talk and begging the kops to let us do something,” I replied. “I’ve never been good at selling stuff to anyone, much less to people who hate us for being branded as criminals. I’m better at just getting work done, like pulling wagons and digging ditches.”

Gary didn’t see me as I saw myself because he had gotten me an extra job with him after my primary prison job. A crew of eight of us unloaded semis of animal feed to into our storage warehouse, then we distributed feed to the chicken ranch, cattle ranch, hog ranch and dairy barn. Stacking, loading, unloading and transporting hundred pound sacks of animal chow was good, hard exercise. Then I walked a quarter mile to the school trailer and taught general education classes. Gary got me this job because people who could instruct on science, math and English are rare in a small trustee camp like ours. There were only about 600 of us altogether. Gary would not accept my assessment of myself.

“Now, I KNOW that’s bullshit,” he laughed. This was a common expression he used when dealing with me. It turned out that I may have been a little bit full of bullshit. “You can do anything that you decide to do,” he continued, “but you don’t have to sell anything to the guards. I’ll do that. All I need you to do is the same thing you’re already doing: teach programs. And vote with me. You and I will take over the whole organization.”

“Two votes aren’t enough…”

“You let me take care of this. Right now, I need you to be Internal Vice President. Only me and Starr will be higher than you, and we’ll be going places and doing things that you would never have imagined…”

Gary was a salesman. He went on to tell me how he planned to get outside sponsorship for charity marathons, which required us to get together a running team. I describe one of the events that he put together on page nine of by book Jailbreak! on It was a wet, rainy slog around a two-mile course in which I finished fourth, just out of the money, with thirteen miles before the race was called. This in-prison event, called our “Run for Crippled Children” was so successful that a lady from school got businesses in McAlester to sponsor us by providing running shoes. Gary also had plans for us to recycle aluminium cans, sell tee shirts that advertised our upcoming marathons and programs, and attend the Lake Texoma Jaycee jamboree! I really didn’t expect that he would be able to get any of us off prison grounds for any reason, but I certainly didn’t have anything more promising to do. Besides, in the old days, trustees like us managed to get out to play football (“Cops vs. Cons”) or play chess. Those days were not completely over. Anything was possible…

Gary gave me our program pamphlets to read and put me to work immediately. They were so abstract and nebulous that they were almost useless to my practical mind. At the first meeting that I attended, I saw the guy whom I was intended to replace. He gasped and wheezed at the lecturn while reading his notes from a yellow legal pad to an attentive audience of about seventy people. The guy was plainly terrified at public speaking. When it came my turn, I couldn’t catch my breath either, but I managed to conceal my terror a bit better than he did. Teaching public speaking to others is not easy while learning it yourself, but I managed it the following week. I was giving a lecture on stock investing when we ran out of time. Before my audience would let the president get in the last word, they made him promise to let me finish my presentation the following week as the first speaker. It was gratifying to have generated such interest.

While we were building and servicing our organization, I noticed a curious thing. At the meetings, sitting in the front row, I discovered that I could, at semi-appropriate moments, induce the audience to applaud the speaker at the end of each sentence that implied good news merely by clapping any hands. This small spark would ignite everyone behind me to start clapping. I couldn’t believe that a crowd was so easily manipulated and, in testing this phenomenon, abused my power so much that the speaker, Gary, commented on it, saying, “If I can be allowed to finish…” We always had more business to conduct than time in which to accomplish it. I was embarrassed to have wasted our time studying such a trivial phenomenon and was glad to think he had not managed to track down the source of interruption to me.

The good news arrived rather quickly because I wasn’t really believing that it could occur: Gary got us approval to attend the jamboree despite our sour old Captain’s objection. If anyone went, I’d expect it would be Starr and Gary, but they let me tag along too. Our kop was an amiable old guy named Pit-L„ We loaded the trunk of his kopcar with our tee shirts and he drove us to the lake. Soon as we pulled into the resort, we could hear the boats roaring. There were going to be races and a beauty contest. Everywhere was bright sunshine. The sidewalk and pavilions were full of friendly people making connections or renewing old friendships. Pitt wanted us all to stay together, but there was too much to do, too many opportunities to pursue. He was kind of old and fat, too; he didn’t get along too well with walking everywhere we needed to go. He smoked and looked diabetic. Gary and Starr quickly found a solution for us all: Pitt would give us the key to the trunk and he would stay in the air conditioned bar to eat, drink and watch sports on our dime.

Starr ran off to the boat races. It turned out that he knew some other wild-ass Indians who had a boat and a party to attend. Gary sprinted away too; he had friends and contacts to make, and there were semi-private gatherings in the rooms of the hotel. Probably forty percent of attendees were women, which was a big novelty to us, since, at this time, no women were permitted to work inside Oklahoma prisons.

We were as big a novelty to them as women and smiling faces were to us, being dressed alike and having prison numbers on our shirts. None of the people we met were prejudiced against us upon finding that we were captives; they were only surprized that we were running free and had our own chapter. Gary left me with a box of tee shirts and took an assortment of sizes for himself. I spent most of the day wandering around, taking in the sights, accosting likely prospects, telling them of our chapter and our good works, contributions and programs. Then I’d try to sell them tee shirts advertising our upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day five kilometre run. Very often, they would make a purchase. If I had managed to capture the attention of a group, they would sometimes buy two or even three. People saw who we were and wanted to help us out. By noon, I had over a hundred dollars in my pocket and only about half of my shirts left. It was exhilarating to have money again. Not even change is permitted in prison. By this time, it had begun to set hot. Hunger and thirst began to demand my attention, but instead of stopping for a real lunch, I returned to a place I’d found that held a restroom. It was a nook with a fountain, ice machine, vending machines and video games. Any scheming inmate in my place would have found a way to get alcohol or a beer, maybe even some dope, though the Jaycee crowd seemed too happy and healthy for this. I didn’t drink, but I did want to waste at least one quarter on the video games, which were completely new to me, having come out during the thirteen years that they had me rotting in prison for another person’s crime. The game was called “Pole Position”, and Indy 500 simulation that I sucked at, badly. I got into some spectacular wrecks, then thought I was getting the, hang of it until a couple of very young girls came in to play. Their heads barely cleared the dash, but they ripped around the track on one quarter longer than all five of mine. They were still at it when I bought a snickers and left to gawk and sell more tees.

The more money I made, the shorter and more efficient my sales pitch became and I began to wander closer to the lakefront. The warmups were over and everyone began gravitating toward the shore closer to the heats, which had begun taking place. Boats not much bigger than skate-boards were throwing up tremendous rooster tails as they charged toward the bouys and skidded around for another lap. The cheers from the spectators were nearly as loud as the unmuffled engines. Pit had brought the kopcar around and was watching from the closest road. I bumped into Gary at the stage that they were constructing for the beauty pageant. We talked to some of the women, businessmen, sponsors and workmen. They gave us free soft drinks and listened to our stories. Gary pointed out Starr. We went over to meet his buddies and see their boat. It was a long monster with a huge car engine exposed, all shiny with chrome and with a dazzling white, blue and metal flake paint job. I really didn’t pay too much attention to it, except to be polite and make appropriate remarks, but it was plain that they were still building it and had not yet constructed a cowling to cover the engine. Starr introduced his pals to Pitt and got his permission to go for a ride in it. They roared out of the dock at the top of the speed limit (5 mph), yipping like a war party of Apaches. Before they were far enough away, I saw them pull out a cooler and pass bright metallic cans to each of their party: Silver Bullets. Gary and I gravitated back to the beauty pageant crowd. They were about to get started. The public address system was working. The man with the microphone began drawing his own crowd and introducing the contestants. All of them wore swimsuit fashion and were very beautiful. One of the judges, I am told, was a young businesswoman named Mary Fallin, who would, 24 years later, be elected as the first female governor of Oklahoma. Gary said that we spoke with her, among others, in that crowd, for half an hour or so while they were setting up, but we met so many people that day… I can’t remember. Gary took more shirts from me.

I drifted away. The box I carried was getting towards empty. A little more effort and I could discard it, my work done. Neither Gary nor Starr asked for the money I’d collected. All this freedom was making me want to escape sooner rather than later. The money would be nice, and this trip had brought me 100 miles closer to where I was headed: Dallas, Texas. That was a cool 100 miles that I wouldn’t have to hike through the bush and the mosquitoes, except Gary had asked me not to. I’d told no one of my escape plans, yet everyone seemed to assume that I would. It was certain that I would not provide the kops with a reason to shut down our organization. It actually angered me that Gary would think so, but I never let on: he had to look out for us too. The way the kops worked, one guy could be their excuse to screw everyone out of everything we had worked for. He took my word that I wouldn’t, and that was the end of it.

As it turned out, it probably would not have been much worse if I had gone ahead and escaped from the lake. They sent a guy out looking for me. He told me that there was an emergency. I was to run back to the kopcar immediately. I was right in the middle of a sale when he found me. He wanted me to leave before my new friend could get the money out of her purse, so I knew it was seriously bad. Halfway there, I saw the ambulance guys pull up. Two paramedics jumped out and rushed to attend a figure lying on the grass near the shore. Further back, the white, blue and metal flake monster boat burbled quietly in the water, its crew at its gunnels, staring with concern at the figure on the grass.

It was Starr, lying on his stomach, groaning softly. His back was bare. There wasn’t much blood, but what could be seen was worse. A two-inch thick flap of back muscle had been ripped loose just to the left of his spine. Gary had found a towel to use for compression on it while the medics went through their routines. Ten minutes later, they were loading him up for transport to the hospital. It was going to take about thirty stitches to sew up those tears, at least.

“How the Hell did that happen?”

“They hit the gas; he got thrown into the fan blades.”

“Shi-i-it!” I understood that drinking had to have been involved for anyone to sit in the middle of the back seat, where all that machinery whirled around so furiously. Of course, the boat had been crowded…

Soon as the ambulance left, we packed up. Pitt had been drinking too, and elected Gary to drive the kopcar while he slept in back, where it was caged and the doors had no handles. It was nice, sitting up front, riding like a human being, with dignity. I’d have to duck down whenever we saw a cop, and they would call us on the radio when they came at us, but Gary was wearing Pitts kophat and would wave. That was enough, apparently. None of them doubled back to see why Gary wouldn’t do any radio chatting with them.

We didn’t hurry. Gary pulled into a Sonic for our last meal. Mine was just a fat, juicy cheeseburger, fries, onion rings and a malt, but it was the best food I’d had in 13 years!

We stopped again just outside of McAlester and woke Pitt. He drove us the rest of the way back to prison. The next day, we faced the interrogators, one by one. The main one was security major Tyler. When he couldn’t shake out the truth, his boss, Lovelace, came to screw with us. He couldn’t break us either, nor could his stealthy, curious minions with their sly, innocuous questions. None of them could get to the truth because our story was so simple. No matter what information they pretended to know; no matter what threat they pulled out, no matter what lie they told us about what they heard anyone say, our story was the same: we were all four in that boat when Starr got injured.

Pitt didn’t get fired, and we didn’t get immediately prohibited from having a Jaycee chapter. We got to fight the pigs over it for many more months before they finally managed to take it away from us. I wasn’t there for its final demise. The following spring, I escaped. I uncovered the killer for the dirty shits who had lied me into prison, and exposed their corruption, and returned to clear my name. Pitt was just retiring when I got back.