Saturday, November 7, 2015

Anger, Channeled through Texas

Let me tell you the official story: Montalvo committed a crime, and under law, he must either be punished or corrected, since the call that I received came not from a prison but rather a “correction facility.”

But there was something odd about it, and for that oddity I had been prepared by Lady, since it was first she who had received the call.

“It was from some ‘713’ area code, so I looked that up, and it turned out it was Texas somewhere. So I must have gotten like 40 calls from them, and I kept ignoring them. But finally I got tired of it, and I picked up. That’s when I was told that the call was from Montalvo, and from the Bayamón Regional Facility. So I sighed and entered my credit card information, and that’s when I finally got connected to Montalvo.”

So I was prepared, a day or two later, when I got the call from the 713 area code. What wasn’t I prepared to do? Pick it up, since I had no idea what to say to this kid. Anyway, I was doing other things—such as walking to the grocery store—and they seemed of far more urgency than talking to a son in prison.

Sorry, correctional facility.

This morning, in the café, I was ready, but though I picked up, I kept falling out of the branches of the telephone tree.

“You will be charged $2.98 for a fifteen minute call, plus a $5.95 processing fee. For example, a ten-minute call will cost 8 dollars. Press pound if you accept the charges.”

Well, that presented certain problems, since I can never remember what the pound key is. So I have to go through a thought process as contorted as the inner ear—or maybe the maze at Hampton Court—which goes something like this: “well, it’s obviously the button that is not the star key, which anyway is not the star key but an asterisk, but that’s what they call it, but then who decided that the number symbol should be called the pound key?”

So I pressed the pound key—wondering as I did whether I shouldn’t pound it—only to be informed that I had been timed out.

So that left me to my imagination, since the phone did not ring in another forty minutes. So that meant that clearly there was a whole group of prisoners—hey, let’s call them “correctees”—who were talking to their loved ones. In the meantime, I received a separate call from the business that was the intermediary—telephonically speaking—between my son and me. Did I want to establish an account, of which the best option was ninety dollars for 200 hours of time? If so, please have my credit card ready….

Well, that seemed like a good idea, since twenty minutes after the “establish an account” call—any guesses what I chose to do?—I got another call from Montalvo.
Right, so I had my credit card ready, though I did have to wonder—what about people who have no credit cards? Let’s be blunt: The criminals of the financial and ruling classes—and you know who you are, and shame on you!—have plenty of lovely credit cards. Presumably, their only difficulty is choosing with what precious metal to pay: Gold? Platinum? Uranium? Following this analogy, I might well have reached for my Tin Visa to connect with my son.

So everything was going swimmingly, until I got to entering the four-digital expiration date, and pressed 0 instead of 1. Right, so shouldn’t there be a back key on my telephone pad? I look all over for it, but it isn’t there, so I hit a button that has no function, so maybe it’s a wise and omniscient button, which will know exactly what to do. Guess what?

I got disconnected.

So then I had plenty of time to wait for all of the other correctees to finish their calls with their technically savvier relatives—and don’t I have a Master’s degree from a major land grant Midwestern University? Oh wait, that’s Raf—but very occasionally I can trip him up on a date or fact or two, and so I can’t be entirely stupid. Or am I being classist? Sorry—being a prisoner’s relative is a road I haven’t gone down before.

Now what was I saying?

Oh yes, I had time to bump into Lady, who was explaining the history and philosophy of the Poet’s Passage to two new employees, since the gift shop operates as a kind of front for the vice and or crime of poetry. But Lady takes the time to tell me that she had gone to see Montalvo yesterday, and she had told him that that would be the last time she would do so.

Well, I knew what she had gone through, since a fellow worker at the café had told me. How did he know? His son had been in the prison, and so had he, since the cops had picked him up for buying a nickel bag of marijuana.

“It’s not easy: they gotta a dress code for visitors, and sometimes they give people a break, but sometimes they got the big shots from home office, so they gotta do everything by the book. So no sandals, no jeans, they frisk you, they run their fingers through your hair and then they got this dog….”

That was what appalled Lady, since apparently the dog sniffed regions of the body that no Victorian ever dreamt existed. Her word for the experience? Violated.

So at last the call came through again, and at this time I had memorized my credit card number, and had sat studiously practicing telephony 101. “Pound,” I told myself, and hovered my finger over the number signal. “Asterisk,” I told myself, and realized that I was committing the first sin of pedagogy: confusing the student.

So I had prepared: I was well up for the challenge of accepting a call from a company in Texas! I entered all the numbers correctly; I pounded and starred with aplomb, and then I got to the final challenge—my zip code.

Should be easy, right? But somehow, though the bill is sent to my mailbox—whose zip code is 00902—the account is registered in my physical zip code. And that’s 00901.

Or was it the other way around?

There were several anxious moments. Then, the machine announced: the transaction had been successfully completed.

Oh yeah? Because I was far from sure whether this transaction—these weekly dinners, these going to the operas, these coachings on poetic meter and rhyme schemes and enjambment had been successfully completed.

“How are you, Papa Dukes?”

“Very, very angry.”

And I know how to use long silences too. You count silently at approximately 60 MM (Maezel’s Metronome—and see the value of a musical training?) and then when you get to 30 you say the next thing. OK, I chose 30 over 60—which I would greatly have preferred—but remember the $2.98 charge and the $5.95 processing fee, plus all of the other applicable state, local, and federal taxes and surcharges that might apply? Silence was certainly golden—but for the company, not for me!

Next statement.

“And I am deeply, deeply disappointed….”

Then it occurred to me, how anemic our society has become! Because my father would have said much more, and he would have struggled to keep what once had been his heart but was now only a plastic-wrapped piece of ground meat—ground prisoner’s father’s heart, 99 cents per pound, expiration…--in his chest. And not out there on the table between us.

There would have been an explosion of moral rectitude, and the words “disgrace” and “shame” and “how-the-hell-could-you-do-this-to-me-and-your-mother?” But to tell Montalvo that, or that my stomach has been bad for a week now, and I vomited a couple of days ago, and Raf is insisting I go to the doctor? To tell Montalvo all that? That would be unthinkable or unproductive, and Montalvo was left to say the only thing left to say. So I hear it: “I’m sorry, Dad, I completely fucked up.”

And I am left to say the only thing I can say, which is, “OK, so going forward?”

Dwelling in the past, as Montalvo told me—and as I very much suspect his therapist taught him—was futile.


My father wouldn’t have thought so. Or my mother, when she sent me to my room for hitting a completely defenseless though absolutely annoying kid who was younger and smaller than I. What did she say?

“You just go to your room, and you think about what you did, and don’t you dare come out until your good and sorry!”

Somehow, I knew that if one sliver of contrition was lacking, my mother would sniff it out—read “blood-hound it out”—instantly.

So we talked, which we had to do, and now a company in Texas is smacking its lips in preparation of charging me half a month’s wages for a five-minute call. And you know, I haven’t had long distance service for years, since I have a cell phone so that means that having to pay, let’s see, what was it? Three cents a minute? Or in the end, did it get down to one cent a minute? So that call to my errant son would have cost me maybe 30 cents—in those quaint days when people used to have land lines. But now, we have figured out a way of capitalizing on criminality, and on the loved ones of criminality, and the politicians have privatized our prison system, and you know what?

I may have reined in my father’s anger at Montalvo, but for the people who have viciously and very avariciously overturned a fundamental structure of our society? I can accept casting away the notion of “correction” and agreeing to a nice, vindictive punishment. But this is criminalizing the poor, corrupting the judicial system, rigging the rules, and figuring out how to squeeze the last dime out of the poorest of the poor. Oh, and charging the taxpayers outrageous sums to do it.

Let me put it more succinctly. I can forgive a kid who smokes dope and steals a parrot and is stupid enough to smoke more dope when he has to piss in bottles. But to the politicians and the capitalists who cooked up these crimes?

Throw away the keys!