One of the basic aspects of everyday life behind bars is the dreaded “Count Time” I have learned that on different units, there are different count times. For the most part and as best that I can remember count time was every 4 hours except during rack time at night. Counting was usually done at 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm, then rack time would be 10:30pm on week nights, 12 midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. After 10pm they would count at 12am, and 2pm. All this does not factor in any “special” counts.
Count time usually cleared within 60 minutes and the horn would blow signaling that we worker ants can commence returning to “Normal” life. Sounds pretty simple and forward doesn't it? At each count we were counted twice but 2 different cops/screws/guards. If things didn't add up we were counted again. No movement was done during count time. If you were racked (in your cell) you stayed there until count was cleared.
If you were in medical/work/library/church/commissary, etc. you stayed there until count cleared. The dilemma was as follows. In medical let’s say you were finished but still in the cage awaiting the guards to say “back to the house”. I guess I should clarify that just because you were finish with your medical appointment didn't mean you just walked out the door and returned home. Some guards may allow you to do that and some waiting to release 5-10 at a time. This by the way had nothing to do with count time, but I suspect to many inmates in the bowling alley at the same time.
For those not familiar with the term bowling alley that is the walk way en-caged all through the unit. Good inmates that we were, we were told to shut up and follow the yellow line while standing inside said yellow line. On the Hughes Unit from medical to my pod was about a half mile walk through no less than 6 doors, and that was just outside. Now if count was not clear you waiting in a 15x15 cage in sub arctic temperatures until the horn blew and the cop opened the cage for the mass exodus back to another cage within a cage to get a shot of gunpowder (coffee) to thaw out.
Commissary could pose another problem entirely and let me explain. Thing you are at the window getting your store and you hear the “its count time horn” your heart just sank because you are buying drinks and or ice cream for some buddies. Some of you may see the problem already. 3 things will happen and one is real rare. The rare one of course is a cop/guard/screw may if the actual count has not begun allow you to hurry on back to the house, or escort you back. The next 2 more likely scenarios are bad news for those awaiting a cold drink or ice cream.
Of course ice cream will melt and cold drink will get hot. They either leave you lined up on the bowling alley until count has cleared or bring you to the multi-purpose room awaiting the all clear horn. Either way your buddies are left out. So you eat the ice cream or share with anyone else waiting for the all clear horn. Sure your buds will get the soda drink but it will be warm, but for some they don’t care at all. There were many a time I eat a few pints and nutzo’s awaiting that dreaded horn.
The after hour counts could be the worse. Being waken and asked name and number is harder than you think. Some cellies do not wake easy and it make take some banging on the door by the cop or an inmate to wake him. For the most part we were allowed to pin our ID card to the screen on the cell door. While I was in Kansas City awaiting extradition to Texas they had a unique way of counting by scanning the bar code on the inmate bracelet on his wrist. Kind of like the ones you get at a hospital.
I think of the thousands of times I was counted in my 10 year sentence. The sounds of metal on metal, of keys being jingled, of the static of radios. The screams and shouts from the other cells, and the tension and feeling in my gut. The staring at the ceiling of my semi dark cell, the snore of my cellie. The night shift workers returning from their duty and the shouts from the guard announcing “You got 5 minutes to shower”.
I thought of love lost and lost love. I rolled left and then right hoping to silence my demons if just for an hour so I could return to that wonderful dream I was having of time gone by. I pictured children who were no longer children, but young adults. I thought of what tomorrow would bring. Would it be a good day or bad, would it be so hot, so unbearable that I prayed for nighttime already. Would it be so cold that I would have to wear my jacket to bed tonight? Being stripped down coming back from work in very cold temperatures is not something one looks forward to.
Would I be able to go to store tomorrow or would it be an all-day affair where only stress and frustrating win. Would I get a case for something stupid that will affect my upcoming parole hearing? And do I even care anymore. Is lock down close and do I have enough in my locker to get by comfortably and have enough to read? I feel sick, but know it takes days to be seen by the medical staff so do I tough it out, and what if I get the lay-in on store day?
Will I be asked to mule something back from the kitchen or commissary? Will we be able to go to library tonight? Please someone up there let me get a letter tonight and let me not read anything into it that really isn't there. I’m good, I can make it today, just take it slow even hour by hour if need be and don’t get caught up in any game. Don’t stare at him or walk to close to that one. Be respectful even when those around you are not. Be strong and help as much as you can without appearing weak.
Maybe watch a little TV or read my book, well an in and out coming up meaning a shot of coffee. Anyone want one? The smiles on their faces are worth it. I was very fortunate to have loved ones who supported me for those 10 years and I felt it my duty to help others if possible. If that made me weak or different who cares. To make someone laugh or forget about his life sentence, to get him a nutzo or shot of coffee, to loan a soup knowing you will never see that soup again, selfishly made me feel good.
I miss it at times and others hated it so much. I felt guilty leaving my brother behind, especially those that will never feel what I feel right now. I left a big part back in the units and cells, and there is a big part of that metal on metal and shouts here with me now. There are nights I wake up hoping to hear “Name and number 12 top” It will never go completely away and it shouldn't. I need no prayers or hugs. My mind is strong and clear and I know my course. Thank you all for visiting me today…damn it’s count time “Smith 109....”