CHAPTER 2: DÉJÀ VU DRILL
August 8th 1994.
Rousing herself softly moments before the clacking bells of her alarm clock could kick in, Carla Limoncello stirred herself out of yet another restless night. A clawing at the door begged for her to come. It was three-thirty on a Monday morning and her first day back. For so long she had wallowed mournfully in her mother’s old grand four-poster recuperating in a familiar colonial style sanctuary.
But now she needed to escape the memory of that awful year. First there had been the pinch of that near-death wreck with Ed and now this; yet more months plaster wrapped and bed-bound. They were calling her ‘Calamitous Carla.’ How many more disasters could she befall? Ah, well, screw ‘em.
Here she felt safe and warm, cocooned in a room of heavy timber architraves and sturdy window frames with the photo of her daughter, Lita, on the bedside dresser. As she savored the last lingering moments nestled in a swathe of velvet green, too long secreted in her mountain ranch home she steeled herself before throwing off the blanketed bliss of a patch-quilted bedspread.
Carla sat up and wiped her eyes, tossed back her luxurious long, dark mane of hair and itched the limbs twice broken and twice healed.
“Wait, Blackie, I’m coming!”
She moved unsteadily to her feet and promised herself it must never get any worse. “Hey, Blackie! You know don’t you? You know what today is!”
The capering canine ran in and lapped and skirted around her ankles.
“We’re no quitters, are we, fella?”
Thank the Blessed Lord she was now free from her fastidious older sister’s squawking. Yet Constance Limoncello’s mark had permeated everywhere and would haunt Carla as surely as the ghost of their departed, but not forgotten mother. Building a shrine borne of remorse, Cantankerous Connie imposed that same twee servile domesticity onto Carla’s décor as assiduously as she did upon the mind of her niece, Lita.
Ever since mom passed away in ninety-one, Constance has been the self-crowned family matriarch and whether by a process of metempsychosis, astrological amplification or plain nagging, Connie was gonna make sure no one forgot what mom had sacrificed for them. The sparring siblings, although both the spit of mom to look at, were as far apart in taste as apples and oranges. Constance was fastidious and prim, while Carla was uncouth and frivolous. Connie had the perfect small town upstate New York ‘nose’ for what was right, tasteful and proper while Carla just wished big sis would keep her schnozzle out.
But Carla succumbed, albeit grudgingly and allowed a hotchpotch of home feminization in a façade of rich floral wallpapers in deep plum and aqua green, accessorized by a myriad frilly cushions and daft ornamental nick-nacks. It was all a legacy of the home country, of Italian memorabilia, of great-grandpapa’s flight from riotous Rome after the assassination of Umberto I and the fall of the house of Savoy.
But beyond the past, there was a new generation to think of. Pain or no pain, Lita still needed her. A daughter must have at least one parent willing to soldier on, be her example, a provider and protector. Lita must never endure what she did as a child. Not for her an over-bearing, sanctimonious bitch of a mother. All those years of taunts and dictates culminating in the cruelest blow of all, barring her attendance at Mohawk Valley Community College-where Carla sought her one true ambition: to become a probation officer – and what was so wrong with that?
But Constance carried on mom’s ‘good work’ and sought to make calamitous Carla serve perpetual penitence for that greatest of sins: getting herself pregnant and taking off with that ne’er do well slacker, Ed Richards. For her calamities there would be no college degrees or family largesse.
A job in corrections was yet another botched act of contrition for her to placate her overbearing, self-righteous, Roman-American clan. Ten years on and still nothing has changed. With a growing child to support and mortgage to pay and with no husband on the horizon, married Constance was holding all the moral cards.
“We just keep plugging away, don’t we old friend?”
Purposefully making her way across the large bedroom Carla tossed her white cotton nightshirt to the floor. Her large breasts swayed as she opened the doors of a large dark oak wardrobe to plunder a perfect line of shirts and pants.
“I’m ready for them, Blackie.”
Puffing her chest out with a deep inhalation she grew tall and proud as she donned her uniform once more, steeling herself with single-minded purpose, to hone another batch of prison inmates in true military order, in far better fashion than the lockstep of yesteryear. She felt the buzz was really back as she laced up her thick new, drill boots.
“Jeez, they’re stiff, old fella!”
She tugged open the heavy curtains but the windows offered up no light as night still held sway over the mountains. Blackie still ran circles about her while she stood in the kitchen over a quick coffee and makeshift peanut and jelly sandwich. Outside the chill morning air was still and soft while the rustle of the trees made the ink sky less foreboding.
Thankfully, there was no Lita to worry about this morning – childless Aunt Constance’s place had been crash pad last night. Crass, conniving Connie always jumped at the chance to steal away her prized niece whenever she could.
A startled short-eared owl flapped from its canopy perch as the sound of a snarling engine woke the quiet mountainside. The sad faced pooch watched as Carla took off down the winding dirt track onto Route 10 muttering expletives over Constance and how she could stick that dime-a-dozen job working at brother Jules’s auto repair shop.
With every mile she drove, Carla relished her day of return. She was itching to get back in there and grab another slice of New York’s Correctional Service’s pie. It was a Big Apple ‘New Idea’ baked up in the Eighties after the crack down on city crime by mayors Dinkins and Guiliani. Law enforcement had long been in the Limoncello blood and she often chewed it all over with her oldest brother, Frank, a cop of twenty years over beers at O’Malley’s Pub. Selected offenders were now getting hauled up from the metropolis to purpose built upstate jails with one explicit aim: to whip sense into them using the toughest military techniques.
‘Was the new system any better?’
‘Was it any cheaper than regular jail?’
But there was one thing Corrections Officer Limoncello never discussed with brother, Frank. Since she had transferred to Summit Shock from Elmira maximum security, she had been one of only four female turnkeys working in a facility of over fifty male CO’s and there are always those ‘incidents,’ incidents too sensitive for a sister to share with a straight-laced older brother. Anyway, those events were in the past and changes had been made. Norbert was gone, even if he had left her with one last parting shot: a Notice of Discipline and one last final warning on threat of termination.
Carla drove steadily up on NY-10, off NY-33S trying hard not to think of Captain Norbert. But as she pulled up to the facility off Wharton Hollow Road the butterflies in her belly eased when she spotted one or two familiar vehicles bathed in sickly-yellow artificial light. Among a small cluster of uniformed men stood out smoking, she was reassured to see Lieutenant Jerry Polanski, a passable look-alike of a young Billy Crystal and a half in the closet gay.
Jerry was a decent officer with a quality that Carla relished greatly: he was so easy to talk to and like her, he preferred honest to BS. Licking her dry lips she pondered how the men would react to seeing her back. Butterflies flickered in the pit of her stomach as she slammed shut the car door and strode up the hill towards the large double doors. Summit was nothing like any regular jail. There were no fences, no checkpoints, no towers, no ID badges and no stiff security. These doors were always unlocked and in you walked.
She told herself the inmates would be just the same, eager as always to toe the line and prove they could turn around and ‘graduate’ from boot camp. They had the carrot of a much-reduced sentence. The bosses at the hub were happy, too. They were keeping the politicians sweet because Summit Shock, like all the other correctional boot camps, was saving ten thousand tax dollars a year per inmate- that’s a vote winning bottom line. No, it wouldn’t be the inmates she’d have to worry about, it was the regular CO’s.
As a trickle of uniformed bodies shuffled into the building and punched in their cards Carla gave the obligatory nod and tip of her faultless Stetson to every face that she knew. Across the compound a tinted red dawn slowly rose across the valley in the east, and the female guard could feel eyeballs fall on her as two lines of inmates shuffled out and formed into platoons across the yard. It was 5:09am and she was in good time for roll call at half past.
This first day was not going to be a breeze. At the short briefing the main topic was the new batch of young offenders starting the program. It was the beginning of another ‘Zero Week’ and Officer Limoncello was assigned to break them in until their regular officer got back from leave. Every hack knew the drill. Zero Weeks were when most problems occur. Dropouts were high and Limoncello knew the math. Last year 1,188 convicted felons were on New York’s program. Their average age was just over 25 and most had done no more than 10.4 years in school while the typical number of prior felony arrests for each was 1.4. Most will have eligibility for parole in 18.5 months. Something like 66 percent of these jacks will have been convicted for drug offences and more than half will have come from New York City. But the toughest statistic was that the majority would be right back in general population before graduation in 180 days time.
All the men grew jittery – both screws and inmates – as everyone took their places on the parade ground. Fastidious officers were already heckling the new intake.
“Get in line, shape up, eyes front!”
Aside the assembled masses, Limoncello stood at ease blissfully unaware of one fatal flaw in this scene, something she never figured till years later: a dark secret involving her.
“Attention! Eyes front – dammit!”
Suddenly, Lieutenant Hunter stomped onto the square with a swaggering air of authority. He looked a menacing figure as he blasted the new jacks with his well-rehearsed speech.
“Welcome to Summit Shock – gladiator school. The days of the country club life are over. You now have the privilege of our expert instruction. Be assured, that what you will go through here will stay with you for the rest of your lives.”
Lt. Hunter was mean, inhuman and ominous with cold black dashes for eyes. He paced slowly up and down the massed ranks with his heavy nailed boots grinding purposefully into the parade ground black top. He nodded his approval at the crew cuts and neat green fatigues – looking far better than last evening when 45 orange-suited grunts in tatty white Converse sneakers were bussed in.
Hunter told them to get used to the green uniforms. They were going to be wearing them for every activity except for their schooling and counseling when they would wear a white shirts and ties.
“These officers are your drill instructors and will control your movements to the finest detail. They will get in your face about making your bed right; keeping your locker spotless and making sure you’re always well groomed. No inmate, not ever, will speak to staff without asking permission with a ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ Sloppiness is dealt with on the spot. My officers will holler in your faces, make you move rocks, do push ups or lug a log around all day. So get used to it or you’ll be shipped out damn quick!”
As he finished, Hunter about turned and marched away in clip military step. She had heard that guff many times before. As the lieutenant strode by Officer Limoncello dutifully saluted her superior. With a faint but perceptible shake of his head the leering Hunter shot her a brisk salute.
“So you’re back, Limoncello? You better shape up this time!”
That Notice of Discipline, she thought, its her once Achilles’ heel and Hunter was right: she better be on her toes at all times. But in this regime, in this testosterone charged air, the funk, the brutality and the lack of compromise meant this was a narrow tightrope to walk. All thanks to that creep Captain Norbert. What had Norris L. Norbert taught her? Only that the lure of a shapely woman was the most powerful intoxicant not legally proscribed in this drug addict’s prison.
What Limoncello ought to have learned was that she never looked at herself as others did. In this man’s jail her smoldering hourglass curves, even in khaki and drills, had the men’s minds wandering to thinking dirty, rather than clean cut, whichever side of the fence they belonged.
Of course, in her own interests, she wore almost no makeup and kept those womanly features well girded up. Femininity was never her forte anyway – her sister was born with her share. And whether on or off duty she never looked cheap, never flaunted herself and she wasn’t out to lure anyone’s eyes to fall on her curvaceous womanliness. But fall they all did and some beneath a turgid, obsessive depravity that whirled around beneath the waves of discontent like predatory shark feeders looking for a feast of the flesh from the juiciest morsel they could catch. And the bait was to tempt the jail’s greatest prowler.
At once a cacophony of boots clattered heavily as the new captain advanced toward the assembled troop. He was a very tall older man, willowy in stature, immaculately dressed in dark blue uniform and matching Stetson with a polished badge on his chest that shone out as brightly as the bars on each of his shirt collars. With a withering glare across the entire assembly he slowly assayed the new intake. Mentally, he noted two thirds were black and young as no shock camp admitted any men over the age of thirty.
“Forty- five all present and correct, sir!” bawled Hunter.
As the captain and lieutenant whispered something to each other the taller man turned three-quarter profile to Limoncello and she saw him leak a half smile. As the new captain walked away Hunter gave a nod and a fidgety drill sergeant tore into them like a rabid rotweiler.
“What a pack of street rats we have here. Well, you boys are going to be whipped into shape and fast!”
Drill sergeants were usually called just ‘D.I.’ and they are the scariest of all yard dogs.
“Ok, Limoncello. You’re covering for O’Toole while he’s on leave. Take over this detail – hit ‘em hard with all the basics till he’s back. Organise some physical training, do some drill and teach some military ceremony.”
This was the authentic army regime that the Department of Corrections wanted in zero weeks. Zero because every dog here starts as a zero – a worthless nothing.
“Right. We’ll take them to the medical block and have them checked out.”
As the new D.I. already had the parade eating out of his hand, Limoncello let him lead the men in good order, double file towards the medical block. This first morning was now all assessments, paper work and interviews as the inmates, or ‘candidates,’’ as they were now being referred to, had their legal eligibility verified. Any candidate must be serving only their first state prison term and eligible for parole within three years. None must have ever been convicted of any violent felony offenses, sex offenses, or ever escaped or absconded from custody.
“Right, you men, line up down the corridor and stand easy for medical examination!”
While her inmates trooped in for their medicals, Limoncello and the new officer sat in front of a plain wooden desk loaded with manila files and papers. Assiduously, they went through the men’s files and double-checked the records.
“You new here, too?”
“Me? No, I broke a few bones some time back – trip and fall on the job – klutz, that’s me. How about you? Not seen your face around.”
“That’s right – my first posting. I’m Jim Newby – ex army.”
With a tight army grip he shakes her limp, spastic hand. He’s lean, medium height and build, well tanned with the expressionless face of the coolest Los Vegas poker player. Carla winced as a shooting pain taunted her from the ill fused bones of her wrist. The doctor was right, a permanent deformity she must accommodate; carpal damage, less flexion and extension with a grotesquely deformed jutting bone she hid valiantly with a thick, manly leather watchstrap.
“Hi, Jim – I’m Limoncello – most just call me Limo. I’ve been working jails for years. Got into Summit soon after the boot camp system was set up.”
As the men came out of their examinations they took seats in front of the desk and Limoncello ran the platoon through the daily schedule for the next two weeks.
5:30 Wake up and standing count
5:45–6:30 Calisthenics and drill
7:00–8:00 Mandatory breakfast/cleanup
8:15 Standing count and company formation
8:30–11:55 Work/school schedules
12:00–12:30 Mandatory lunch and standing count
12:30–3:30 Afternoon work/school schedule
4:00–4:45 Network community meeting
4:45–5:45 Mandatory dinner, prepare for evening
6:00–9:00 School, group counseling, drug counseling, pre-release
counseling, decision making classes
8:00 Count while in programs
9:15–9:30 Squad bay, prepare for bed
9:30 Standing count, lights out
“As you can see, your time will be highly structured with lots of activities. So get used to being busy the whole time. Every day you will have physical training and real work. You will receive drug and alcohol treatment, proper education, some recreation, and you will be taught how to drill properly. While you remain here there will be few if any free time periods, no packages from home, no commissary, no radios, no magazines, no newspapers, and above all no television. You’re gonna be too exhausted to care at nights anyway!”
The neat, lined ranks remained deathly hushed as she warned of the need to quickly orientate into military courtesy and ceremony, or face summary punishment. They all had to participate in community meetings and confrontation groups and learn about AA, NA, ASAT and whatever other bits of the alphabet they get told. They will be given a ‘word of the day’ each and every day and they will have no time to themselves until after platoon line up and formal dismissal every evening. After which, most will be too exhausted and will want to sleep.