Sunday, September 1, 2013
DEER LODGE MONTANA
In the spring of 1994 Ms. Carolina learning to love Montana. She pinned the accelerator of the premiere-class rented Chevy to the floor. We got places fast and left faster. After leaving Garrison Junction she drove down I-90. A roadside billboard announced the State Prison was open for visits. "What you think?" She was already slowing down for the exit. "I'm an innocent man." "Ha." Ms. Carolina knew me better than that and slung off the Interstate at a less than safe speed. She liked the sound of screeching tires. The parking lot of the prison had a few cars. All the license plates were from Montana. Ms. Carolina parked the rented car close to them. "Are you nervous?" She was a good person. Her crimes were strictly vehicular. "Those are thick walls." The granite blocks rose about twenty feet behind which a brick castle rose. This prison was built to keep prisoners just that. I had been arrested in Boston, New York, and Paris. My offenses had been minor. The cops had never caught me for a felony. "What's the worse thing you ever did?" Ms. Carolina had been educated in a nunnery. She was an outstanding member of her community in the South. I was her Jean Genet, except my stories had never been published in the mainstream. "The worse thing?" Most of my transgressions had been legal in the 19th Century. After paying the entry fee we crossed the dead man zone between the outer wall and the administration office. Before its closing the guards in the towers had been dead shot marksman. "You think anyone ever escaped from here?" Ms. Carolina had been free her whole life. Her husband liked her taking these trips with me. He preferred to play golf with his doctor cronies. "Not this way." Any convict on the grass was dead meat. The cellblocks were no joke. Two cots were bolted to the wall. The iron bars on the windows were strong. Those facing the corridor were thicker. "No one got out of here, unless they were paroled or dead." "Could you survive here?" Ms. Carolina thought I was tougher than I was. She liked my writing. "Maybe." Thieves, cons, dirty police, and whores existed in another world, but prison only had convicts serving time and all of it was hard time. "But I'd try and escape." "How?" "I don't know." Breaking out seemed impossible even without guards. We stood in the execution hall. A thick noose hung from the gallows. the length of the rope was set for a long drop. "So what's the worst thing you ever did?" Ms. Carolina wasn't giving up on an answer. She wanted to know my soul. "Nothing to deserve a hanging." I had sold weed, whites, and cocaine, bribed police, beaten a few people who deserved worse, and stolen $20 from my mother's pocketbook. I had yet to give it back. "What about you?" "Meeting you." She said those words too fast for comfort and put her arm around my waist. "That's only a sin." "It's still a capital offense in many places in the world." "Don't remind me." Dixie was one of them, but we were far from the South. "Let's get out of here." Chico Hot Springs was an hour away and the bar had good drinks for sinners and saints alike. "To freedom." Ms. Carolina crossed herself. She believed in God and forgiveness. Any good person does, whereas anyone atop the gallows knows the truth, that you're free only until your last breath and then you're gone like the wind in Montana.