Chapter 2: Frankenstein and the Chow Line

I hate being watched.

He watched me as I first came in. Studied me as I talked to Sweet. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him standing by the television benches. When I made eye contact, he looked away. I went to the other side of the dorm, he moved to another vantage point.  He was huge, one of those corn- fed types you typically see in a football helmet. He was about six foot six and mostly muscle.

I mentally nicknamed him “Frankenstein.”

He made sure to get behind me in the lunch line. In the hallway, during the group strip search, I felt his eyes on me. Needless to say, this left me nervous.

On the way to the chow hall I heard his raspy, open mouthed breath behind me. When we stopped, I felt it hot and moist on the top of my head. My ears prickled. All through the slow progression down the chow line I was aware of this giant looming over me, just waiting for the hammer to drop. I saw the large metal rack of food trays dead ahead. “At last, a weapon!” I thought.

As I reached out for a tray, I sensed movement. I froze. Two giant fingers tapping my shoulder. I turn, face to chest with the monster, expecting the worst.

In a high feminine lisp, Frankenstein said “Say Wood!, make sure you get a clean tray.”

I looked down at my tray, sure enough, it looked filthy. I thanked him, then swapped it out for a less dubious one.

“Why does everyone keep calling me “Wood?” I asked.

Frankie grinned and lisped, “You are part of the wood pile, silly.”

Through the rest of the line and the meal he told me how things ran. The food wasn’t worth writing about, so I won’t.
We all had our little groups. At the top was the Mexican mafia, or EME. They were in charge of the whole place, several of the guards were members. Under them were the other families – Texas Syndicate, Pistoleros, Raza, and Tangos. There were Hispanic inmates who decided to stay away from the gang organizations, but who stuck together when there was trouble – the Solanos. Since the unit was in san Antonio, there was a high Hispanic population. They considered Dominguez “their house.”

Next to the top were the black inmates. They did not have many gangs, so they went just as one group and counted as their own family. If there was an issue, they all stepped in. The whites were at the bottom of the totem pole. The Aryan Broterhood were at the top, followed by the weaker white power gangs. There was constant fighting between them for power. The white people who had no desire to become part of the “Master Race” formed what was known as the “Wood Pile.” it was a loose confederation of unaffiliated inmates who watched out for each other. Since it was not considered a family, there were no privileges.

With all of the various groups, trouble was bound to happen. As a result, each group in a dorm elected an official “Spokesman.” It was the spokesman who informed each new inmate of the rules of the house. If a member of one group had issue with an inmate of another group, it was brought to the spokesman, who then dealt with the other group’s spokesman. If someone had to be disciplined, it was his spokesman that handed it down.

This was done to prevent excessive violence, and in most cases it worked.

On the way back to the dorms we walked in silence.

The Bowling Alley went through the middle of the unit, the dorm buildings along each side. It had darkish stains on its dull grey surface. The buildings were blue, the open spaces filled with razor wire. At twenty foot intervals guards were posted. They were spot checking us to make sure nobody was smuggling items from the chow hall. On the ground around each of them was a small pile of contraband. If you made eye contact, they would pull you out. If you did not make eye contact they would be suspicious and would pull you out.

One of the tangos was being searched. He stood there with his arms outstretched as the guard patted him down. From the other side of the bowling alley, two other Tangos rushed over and started beating the hell out of him. No warnings, no words, just steel toes on ribs. The guards stepped away and just yelled “stop!” over and over.

The sound of a boot connecting to a person’s face makes a distinct sound.

It just kept going on and on.

Meat sounds. Crunching bone. Blood.

The grunting sounds of exertion and pain.

After an eternity (minutes, days, years) the assailants simply stopped beating the man and stepped back with their hands out.

The downed Tango just lay there making mewling sounds.

More guards came. They handcuffed the two assailants and assisted the beaten man into a wheelchair. There was blood everywhere. As they were wheeling the wounded tango away he fainted. A large triangle shaped piece of torn scalp flopped over and I could see his skull.

The guards just tossed a towel over his head and wheeled on.

We were stopped at this point. Guards were swarming everywhere. They were going down the lines asking if anyone witnessed anything. Even though it was broad daylight, and there were fifty people in each line, nothing was seen.

I whispered to Frankie. “What the hell just happened?”

“The Tangos had to discipline someone. They like to do it where we all can see,” he whispered back.

In the dorm, I went back to my bunk and laid down. I noticed a quarter sized spot of blood on my left sleeve. There were others, one on the cuff of my pants the size of a dime, and one slightly smaller on the web of my left hand between my thumb and forefinger. I felt dull little spots on my face. I imagined the boots slamming into the man’s face again in slow motion, spraying the people nearby with blood.

For no understandable reason, I put my hand to my mouth and tasted the blood.

The blood tasted like copper.

I closed my eyes and let the reality of where I actually was wash over me. I heard the constant droning of the fans, the blare of two televisions at full volume, playing two different shows.  Four people playing dominoes, repeatedly slamming them down onto the bare metal table. Loud yelling.

Behind my eyelids, the light was intense. It reminded me of the instant flash of the transformers as they exploded, but more permanent.


No time for sightseeing.

I was sitting in the open window of the car. She was driving. As we went down the road, I was using the roof of the car as a bench rest. When we passed a power transformer I would fire. To keep me from falling out, she had a death grip on my left foot.

The Ak-47 rounds penetrated the transformer and a nanosecond later it exploded with a blinding white flash, followed by a beautiful blue starburst. I blinked my eyes and the spots were still there. As we sped away I saw the smoldering telephone pole ignite a nearby tree.

The explosions were the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.

Ten foot ball of blue fire.


I saw eight of them that night.

As I slid back into the car, and tossed the smoking AK into the back of the car, a state trooper vehicle screamed past us with its lights flashing.

“Something must have happened!” she said in a mock worried voice.

We joked about it. We pulled over for the other emergency vehicles to pass. We acted normal. We all had been acting normal for months. It started innocently enough. My best friend James and I were into the military. I wanted to go to the Marine Corps since I was six, and James had recently returned from a Marine Corps academy. The academy was closed down to excessive abuse and hazing. He showed me a video of his school band at a football game. Apparently the opposing team did something they did not like, so the band rushed the field from the stands. They attacked the team with their instruments.

And this was just the band.

He was a rich kid, I was a poor kid. His family had a large ranch and a huge house. I lived in a trailer. He was popular, I was not. I would go to his house and we would take his guns out and shoot until the sun went down. His grandfather and father were collectors, so there was plenty of new hardware to try out. We would leave the ranch in the middle of the night, dressed in camouflage. We would hike to a predetermined point, steal a road sign and sneak back undetected. This was our favorite game. After a while it progressed to shooting the road sign after we hiked to it.
Not long after that, we were setting things on fire and blowing up mailboxes. We had a lot of fun with this. We had a couple other friends who would join, but it was always us two planning and executing things.

On James’ ranch, there is this boxcar on a hill overlooking a stock tank. It had a bar and electricity. We would spend days out there, shooting guns, making bombs and testing improvised weapons. At great length, we discussed small unit tactics and poured over special forces manuals. I would design things and he would build them in the boxcar, then we would test them out on the ranch.

Once I made the windows rattle two miles away.

All that was said to us by his parents was “You two shouldn’t be testing things so late.”

One day he came to me with the idea to take out the local power plant using incendiary devices disguised to look like coal. he wanted us to toss them over a bridge and into the open coal cars heading into the plant. I told him that the plant workers have bomb detectors in the processing station. I had to tell him this quite a few times, then I suggested we start smaller.

During a county wide burn ban, you only need a small amount of gasoline to start a wild fire. We hiked out to an open spot on a hill that was covered with dead brush and dry shrubs. It had been weeks without rain. The device was crude but effective. A soda bottle filled with gasoline with a homemade detonator inside it. This was rigged to a oven timer that also worked as the switch. We placed it, assembled it, set the timer and engaged the battery.

In the still night, the ticking of the timer was the loudest thing for miles.

We had thirty minutes, we quickly walked away along the road, but just inside the brush line. We made our way carefully to where the ranch truck was stashed.

“What now?” I asked.

“We wait.”

I leaned back in the truck seat, staring up at the stars. I saw Orion perfectly framed in the window.

“I could do this forever.” he said.

I agreed that it was fun. He kept repeating himself. It was almost a mantra. I became aware of a drifting feeling. His voice was the last sound I heard before falling asleep.

“Forever. I could do this shit forever, man. Forever. ”


Loud vibrations. Resonance. Random voices. Intense light. I blearily opened my eyes and stared at the white bottom of my bunk. I took a sharpie and dotted in the constellation Orion. I stared up at it with my hands locked behind my head.

James was somewhere on this unit. He had been sent up a few months before me. While I was in county jail, he came back on a bench warrant. They placed him my cell.

I asked him what it was like in the Unit, but he was quiet. Any time I mentioned it, he would shut down and get defensive. It took days to drag what had happened out of him.

He told me the story sobbing.

James is a handsome guy. He is six foot one with blonde hair. He looked more accustomed to a surfboard than a ranch. He was smaller in build than me but he was made of chiseled wood. In some circles he would have been referred to as a “Twink.”

When he went to the Unit, he was placed in a diagnostic dorm with the rest of the new inmates. He had become friends with one of the black inmates and began sharing his commissary with him. What James did not know was that he was paying for protection. James decided to stop sharing. This was taken as disrespect by the blacks, so seven of them gang raped him in the shower.

I looked over to the shower area, naked men were in there. I quickly looked away with a cold chill running up my spine. I could see them holding him down in my imagination, hear his screams.

Thankfully, Sweet snapped me out of it with an offer to play a game of chess.

We sat across the table and commenced to battle. I have always been a strong chess player, but I was totally out of my element with Sweet. Game after game he utterly trounced me. Frankie came to the table and I fared better. Soon the other woods came up and introduced themselves.

  1. […] HomeThe StoryPart II: The BeginningII: PrologueIII: As It HappensIV: There’s a First Time for EverythingV: “A Year Goes By…And I Can’t Talk About It.”VI: We Were the Lucky OnesVII: To Know a RegretVIII: TomorrowsIX: When The Sky RainsX: Minor CatastrophiesPart III: Breaking ObedienceThe ProjectAbout ElleContactYour StorySecretsKay FullerGrowing UpChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3UntitledChapter 1: BeginningJacky’s StoryChapter 1: The Beginning of It AllChapter 2: Time for ChangeChapter 3: Summer NightmareChapter 4: Why?Chapter 5: Marriage, Graduation & PregnantMichael PrincipChapter 1Chapter 2: Frankenstein and the Chow Line […]

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