I know that the Universe is affected pretty profoundly by what one puts out. When I do an issue of the city poetry zine, a lot of poetic energy returns to me as payment. When I spend time learning stuff for work on my own time, more paid work comes back to us as payment. When I volunteer for an activist cause, frequently the next day there will be some court ruling in favor of my perspective. This is indeed a Reality of Mind, and the microcosm of one’s local environment affects the macrocosm profoundly.
As a person concerned with the material I put out and help with for the Universe, I’ve had a bit of a time understanding how to rationalize my role as co-writer of our new book, Stations of the Lost and Found.
I pick up the book, and sirens charge down the street. The air gets excited and the birds stir. The sun goes behind a cloud. I open it and read its words of crimes past, and I make disclaimers to the Universe. I wrangle.
But intuitively, there’s this ball of volition in me, a ball of understanding, and it feels that the book is a good thing. Not that I want people to do the actions in the book, but that Smith’s life is a life I might have wanted to have lived just to have seen it.
Hard life, for sure. Taking pictures of his penis for art. Armed robbery. Shooting himself up with cocaine. Seemingly countless injuries as he tore against the very edges of the fabric of reality. Talking matter-of-factly about masturbation. Showing his wounds from women and daring to write about crying. Oozing art and poetic dividends from the scars in his skin, the falls, the hemorrhaging, the cancer.
Strangely enough, even as his wife I am sympathetic to his character in the book as he moves through his twenties trying to figure out how to find love. Strangely enough, I want the character to find true satisfaction in his relationships with either Red or Maudlin. More sympathy for Red as she was his wife.
I want him to straighten out through that ordeal. I want for him to have not put himself in jail, but I love the stories of his experiences in jail. Love his story about his fear of Ringo but I wouldn’t want anyone to experience the situation:
For the first six months I was in the tiers. A tier is seven two man cells and a shower, all enclosed in bars. Each night we were locked into our cells, and each morning let out to wander the six by fifty foot communal area. Our tier had Ringo. He was big, black, brutal, and did not like me, not because I was white, but because I wouldn’t get out of his way when he walked. And he walked all day in a continuous oval with a short detour each loop around me. He was working towards hurting me, and said so. Ringo scared the shit out of me. But I scared me more because I wouldn’t give in. When I’m that afraid, I seem to go out of my way to piss off what I’m afraid of. And what I was afraid of was bigger, stronger, faster, meaner, and an admitted fatal fighter. I felt ill.
Then the odd backhand of salvation. I had smuggled one too many letters out of prison. This letter described a psycho guard and his abuse of prisoners and their families. The warden called me to his office, showed me the illegal letter and quietly said, “Smuggling is eighteen months. I wonder if you have anything to say about your charges against the guard?”
“What I’ve written is not only true,” I said, “but I haven’t even scratched the surface of Sarge’s verbal and physical abuse of visiting wives.”
Warden told Sarge to return me to my cell, and for me to think about the eighteen months and we’d finish tomorrow.
I went to my cage and I worried. I worried about tomorrow. I worried about Sarge’s retaliation. I worried about the eighteen months. I worried about my wife who was sleeping with an excon who was not me. And I really worried about Ringo.
Next day the warden called me into his office and casually told me, “You’re moving downstairs to the dorm. I’m making you head cook.” No mention of the letter, Sarge, or the eighteen months.
One thing every prisoner wanted was a job that got you out of the cells and into the dorm with its one locked gate, radio and TV. And of all the jobs, cook was cockerel’s walk.
Switching so quickly from such certain sorrow to overwhelming wealth fucks your mind, sends too many threads simultaneously in too many different directions. Yet I instantly flashed: I’m free from Ringo.
If you’re going to be in prison, the kitchen’s the place to be. The best thing about working in the kitchen was I could eat what I wanted when I wanted. And I could wander about and find places of privacy. The menu was pretty basic because a chunk of money allotted for prison food went to the warden’s house budget instead. Even though I had never cooked anything before, I’d cook things like fifty gallons of chicken soup. Once I was awakened in the middle of the night by the highway patrol who’d brought in a deer that’d been hit by a car. I’d never done it before, but I skinned and gutted that deer; did it two more times before I left. Whenever I felt like it, I’d fry myself a venison steak. Even when I fall into shit, I find roses around me.
There might have been ten of us in the dormitory, and over a hundred fifty in the prison. To be in the prison dorm, you had to have a prison job. There were dishwashers, food servers, people who fixed things inside prison, somebody who did lawn work and outside tasks and someone else who ran errands. There was no compensation to having a prison job other than getting to live in the dorm, having a little more freedom, and being treated a whole lot nicer. The dorm had a TV and radio and books to read. I always thought it weird to see prisoners sitting around the dorm watching cop shows on TV and rooting for the cops.
After I was down in the dorm a while, one of the trustees ratted out Ringo, who in punishment was supposed to be in a locked cell in a locked tier three floors up. We were all sitting around watching TV, and in walked Ringo, taller, stronger and larger than any of us. Rat was Woody Allen’s size.
Ringo said to Rat, “You ratted me out.”
Rat said no.
Ringo repeated, “You ratted me out.”
Rat really did rat out Ringo, and we all knew it. He had also ratted my letter. Rat started denying again but Ringo hit him hard in the face, knocked him to the concrete floor, and STOMPED five times on his head with his hard work boot. With each stomp, Rat’s head banged against the concrete and bounced up to meet the down-coming boot which smacked his head even harder into the concrete as Ringo said one word per stomp: “You. . shouldn’t. . have. . done. . that.”
None of us moved or spoke, not once. Ringo turned and looked at us to see if he had a problem, decided he didn’t, and left. Rat got up, stemmed the blood, and his head swelled to twice its size.
That’s when I knew I was not the me I thought was me, but the me I needed to be. It’s not my only lesson, but it is one that worked. Had I said or done something, one of two things would have occurred. I’d be dead, or the others would have rallied and we would have stopped Ringo. But had that second happy Hollywood scene occurred, at some time, at some place, Ringo would have found me and hurt me. I know now I did the right thing for me, but it did cost me my mirror mirror on the wall who’s the hero here of all view of myself.
I think the Universe has kept Smith alive because he has written his stories down and because he has pushed the boundaries as a kind of explorer. I’m hoping the Universe agrees and finds the story thrilling and interesting, but doesn’t let it cause harm.
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The memoir Stations of the Lost & Found by Smith & Lady is available for $20 at https://www.createspace.com/3903652. We’ll have 20 physical copies in soon for first come first serve.