In The Sanctuary Of Outcasts_ A Memoir Part 18
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As the gray winter months lingered, the leprosy patients became more and more anxious about their future. Word spread about an inmate who had filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons for exposing him to leprosy patients. A preliminary trial date had already been set in Baton Rouge, and the doc.u.ments filed by the inmate's attorney included inflammatory language about unsuitable, dangerous conditions of a minimum-security facility where federal convicts and leprosy patients were free to mingle.
We all knew this would bring the battle for control of Carville to a head. The Bureau of Prisons, intent on taking over the entire colony, had offered to help pay to relocate the patients. The patients weren't sure if they would be offered some form of compensation, or if they would be provided a new building somewhere else on the three-hundred-acre colony, or if they would be transferred to a nursing home. Their fate was uncertain, and the Bureau was not sharing the details. Or asking their opinions.
The patients were suspicious from experience. In the early days, they were kept in the dark about decisions on furloughs, new treatments, and patients' rights. Privileges promised by one director would later be revoked by his successor. And recently, the patients had been misled by the Bureau of Prisons. They were told that only geriatric, invalid prisoners would be housed at Carville. They had no inkling that more than 250 healthy, possibly dangerous prisoners would be a part of the arrangement.
But the real problem was money. The $17 million budget to maintain 130 patients at Carville was scheduled to be cut.
Money-and currency-had always been a problem for leprosy patients. Most colonies around the world minted their own coins and currency to prevent leprosy patients from ama.s.sing money to fund escapes, as well as to avoid infecting the general population. The coins usually honored Lazarus or the current leader of the country. But Carville was never required to produce its own currency. In the early days, cash was fumigated with disinfectants. Later, checks and cash mailed by patients were baked before circulating among the general public. Within the colony, though, money caused problems. A staff person who performed tasks like radio repairs for a patient might be wary of taking contaminated currency. On more than one occasion, patients who paid for repairs would later discover that the bills had been run through a commercial was.h.i.+ng machine and hung out to dry on a clothesline. Even the people who worked at Carville were afraid. And the ones who weren't wanted to keep up pretenses.
The staff at Carville was paid a 25 to 50 percent premium for working at the colony. It was called hazard pay-a premium for risking their well-being to work at the hospital. Stanley Stein and the staff at The Star The Star had fought to eliminate hazard pay. This battle pitted the Carville crusader against the very people who cared for him. Stein became quite unpopular among some of the staff. In the end, a nomenclature compromise was reached. Pay would not be cut, but it would be renamed something more innocuous. had fought to eliminate hazard pay. This battle pitted the Carville crusader against the very people who cared for him. Stein became quite unpopular among some of the staff. In the end, a nomenclature compromise was reached. Pay would not be cut, but it would be renamed something more innocuous.
On a Sunday morning after a rare winter frost, Sarah and Stan talked to Father Reynolds about their growing anxiety. Sarah was worried about being placed in a strange nursing home.
"Can you imagine their reaction?" she said. For blind patients, any relocation would mean learning to navigate new paths.
Ella was worried, too. After church on a Sunday afternoon, she was waiting for me at the entrance separating the prison side from the leprosy side. I made sure no guards were around and stepped into the screened corridor. It was the first chance we'd had to talk since I had been transferred to the education department. Everyone else was inside watching football playoffs.
"Hey, Ella," I said, "what are you doing here?"
"Settin' in the breeze," she said.
And she was. There was no wind, but she was sitting in the spot the patients called the breezeway. This was where we would talk. Ella asked about my new job, and I asked her about the new menu board guy. Then Harry rode up on his bike. He stopped and shook his head. He couldn't believe he was going to be relocated. Harry had lived at the colony since 1954. Other than a furlough each year to see his mother in the Caribbean, Harry had spent forty years at Carville.
I wished I could help put a stop to the plans. I tried to be encouraging, pointing out the most obvious benefit, the proposed $33,000 annual stipend.
"If the stipend comes through," I said, trying to be upbeat, "you could move into a house. In a neighborhood."
"This here is your prison," Ella said, "but it's our home."
Harry shook his head again, and for the first time since I had known him, he frowned. He stared at his shoes. "People back away," he said. He grabbed the brim of his hat with his two good fingers and placed his mitten hand against the back. He pulled it down over his brow and muttered, "Never get used to it."
"People don't want folks like us stayin' on they street," Ella said.
"That's not true," I told them. "People would understand, once they got to know you." I pointed out that we were neighbors, right now. "I'm honored to live next to you. And I would have been on the outside."
Ella looked at me, skeptical. "Mmm uhh!"
Then I remembered Lionel Day. In 1973, Lionel moved down the street from my house. He was the first African American kid to live in our neighborhood. His father owned gas stations. They bought a two-story house in all-white Bayou View, two doors down from where my grandparents once lived. I overheard adults talk about plummeting property values. I heard one mother say, "The nerve of those people."
A week after his family moved in, Lionel left for school and saw a for sale sign in his yard. I don't know if kids did it as a prank or if adults did it for more ominous reasons. But the message was clear.
I listened as some of the older boys in Bayou View plotted more pranks-deflating the tires of their car, lining their driveway with watermelons, spray-painting their lawn with the word n.i.g.g.e.r n.i.g.g.e.r in green, glow-in-the-dark paint so it would show up only at night. And when they laughed at their own cleverness, I pretended to laugh right along with them. in green, glow-in-the-dark paint so it would show up only at night. And when they laughed at their own cleverness, I pretended to laugh right along with them.
Lionel was my friend. We were both on the student council. I wanted to make him feel welcome in our neighborhood. I wanted to knock on his front door and invite him to my house. I wanted to apologize for the actions of my fellow whites. But I didn't do any of those things.
I was afraid of the older kids. Afraid of the names I'd be called. Afraid to be on the outside.
"I'm not leaving," Harry said, serious and a.s.sertive. Sweet Harry, with the great straw hat, all of a sudden seemed st.u.r.dy, forceful.
Ella nodded. "I ain't leavin' neither."
I tried to imagine Ella and Harry living on the outside and how the neighbors might react to their missing legs and absorbed fingers. But they would carry much more into the neighborhood than their disfigurement. Ella and Harry would be found out. People would discover a "leper" had moved into the neighborhood. A for sale sign in the yard might be just the beginning.
I had done nothing for Lionel Day. I might have been honored to be his friend, but not enough to stand by him publicly.
I understood perfectly why Ella and Harry refused to leave Carville. The world, out there, was full of people like me.
As the Bureau of Prisons continued preparations to take over the colony and evict the patients, dozens of new, sick inmates were transferred to Carville, men with amputations, spinal injuries, and failing organs. Among them were a young boy, not much past eighteen, who weighed over five hundred pounds, and a man with an enormous right leg that was nearly three times the size of his left. It extended straight out in front of his wheelchair.
I stood in the hallway with Doc and Steve Read. We watched as he was pushed down the hallway by an orderly.
"Looks like elephantiasis," Doc whispered.
"That's a form of leprosy, isn't it?" I said.
"Hey," Steve said, "he's got dual citizens.h.i.+p."
The prison population swelled, and rumors about the fate of the leprosy patients continued to swirl. The lives of my Carville friends, on both sides, seemed to be unraveling, just as I was beginning to feel hopeful about my own.
Fights were rampant on the inmate side. Sergio, the Cuban who had baked sweets for Neil and Maggie, was. .h.i.t in the face more than a dozen times because he switched channels in one of the TV rooms. His lacerations required forty st.i.tches, and he was thrown in the hole for fighting.
A skinny black kid named Calvin, who had been a Golden Gloves boxer as a teenager, pummeled one of the obese inmates to the point of tears. The big guy had snitched on Calvin for selling stolen batteries.
Two inmates in their seventies attacked each other with five-pound dumbbells. On the same day, a small disabled inmate used a walking cane to open a huge gash in the back of his roommate's head.
The hole, the real jail inside Carville, was full. Anyone who ran into serious trouble now would be sent, temporarily, to the Iberville Parish Jail.
CeeCee was caught having s.e.x with her new boyfriend in one of the janitorial closets. She was s.h.i.+pped off to the parish jail, along with her new friend.
Link, who had already been in the hole for biting, continued his quest to avoid work. If guards dragged him to the landscape department, he found a comfortable spot at the base of a tree and took a nap. If the guards looked away, he slipped back to his room and climbed under his blanket to sleep. Finally, the guards s.h.i.+pped him off to serve two weeks in solitary confinement at the parish jail.
Dan Duchaine was caught recording bodybuilding audiotapes over the pay telephones. His telephone privileges were taken away. If a guard caught him using the phone again, he, too, would be s.h.i.+pped off to join CeeCee and Link.
Doc was also having trouble. He lost his visiting privileges. His girlfriend had tried to smuggle Super Glue into the visiting room so Doc could perform some dental repair work. The guards told him his visitation rights might never be reinstated.
Even Steve Read was having difficulties. He started finding small piles of his hair on his pillow. He blamed the water. Carville was in the heart of Cancer Alley, a thirty-mile section of the Mississippi River where petrochemical plants dumped their toxins in the ground. "It's cancer," he said, "I just know it." He also had a strange rash on his torso; he was sure he had leprosy.
In addition to the fights and loss of privileges and confinement in the hole, tragedy struck both sides of the colony. On the inmate side, Jose, a jovial Puerto Rican who had been imprisoned on corruption charges, died in his sleep. A bank president from Florida died of a ma.s.sive brain aneurysm. And an inmate from Texas, after hearing of his wife's affair, tried to commit suicide by drinking battery acid. A helicopter from a Baton Rouge hospital transported him out late at night.
Things weren't much better on the leprosy side. A friendly, often drunk, leprosy patient disappeared from the hallways. When we asked a staff member about her whereabouts, he said, "She pa.s.sed." One morning on the way to the cafeteria, I noticed that another leprosy patient had recently lost a leg.
About the only break from the tension was the Carville Book Club. The prison librarian had helped two graduate students from the English Department at Louisiana State University finagle permission to lead the discussions. The first book we read was J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye Catcher in the Rye. I arrived at the cla.s.sroom early. The two grad students were sitting at the front of the room. The woman, Nancy, had rather large b.r.e.a.s.t.s and wore a s.h.i.+rt two sizes too small. The man, slender and effeminate, introduced himself as "Tater." While the three of us waited for the other inmates to arrive, they asked me a few questions about my life before Carville, but they didn't mention books or literature. I wondered whether they had come to talk books or to meet men.
The first discussion didn't go so well. Dan Duchaine was in a foul mood. He kept referring to Salinger as a "latent f.a.g." I felt bad for Tater and tried to steer the discussion in another direction, but Duchaine was relentless. After about twenty-five minutes, when the discussion waned, Nancy polled the group. More than half the men admitted they hadn't bothered to read the book.
"You'd think we have plenty of time on our hands," I said, trying to smooth things over. Nancy and Tater smiled. I was beginning to feel like the teachers' pet.
We met for four weeks in a row. We read a collection of short stories, a southern novel, and A Lesson Before Dying, A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines, a Louisiana native. The book revolved around the execution of an innocent but illiterate black man in Louisiana. Capital punishment seemed to resonate with the group. Then, at the end of a robust discussion, Nancy and Tater said they wanted to try something new. They asked us to answer, aloud, three questions: by Ernest Gaines, a Louisiana native. The book revolved around the execution of an innocent but illiterate black man in Louisiana. Capital punishment seemed to resonate with the group. Then, at the end of a robust discussion, Nancy and Tater said they wanted to try something new. They asked us to answer, aloud, three questions: What was your crime? What is your favorite book? What is your s.e.xual fantasy? What was your crime? What is your favorite book? What is your s.e.xual fantasy?
I knew then Nancy and Tater weren't here for altruistic motives, and I was pretty sure it would be their last week leading our book club. I noticed Mr. Povenmire, the guard who was in charge of the education department. He stood just outside the door listening to the discussion.
When my turn came around, I hesitated. Then Duchaine jumped in: "As English majors, you're gonna love this guy's crime."
"What'd he do?" Nancy asked.
"He's a creative check writer!"
Back from two weeks in parish jail, Link had found a new object of his affection, a young, quite beautiful leprosy patient from Brazil who had just arrived to seek treatment at Carville. She was tall and blond and curvy. Her clothes were tight. When she walked down the corridor between the inmate side and the leprosy side, she got lots of attention.
Link yelled, "Will you marry me!?"
The woman smiled and waved at Link. She rounded the corridors several times a day.
"I'm in love!" he screamed.
After the woman was out of sight, Link walked over to the bench where Frank Ragano and I were reviewing a dummy cover for his forthcoming book, Mob Lawyer Mob Lawyer.
"That b.i.t.c.h fine," Link said.
"Good G.o.d, man!" Frank said. "She's got leprosy!"
"I'd f.u.c.k her," Link said. "She only got half a foot, but I'd still f.u.c.k her!"
Link ran off to wait for her next pa.s.s.
Frank handed me a letter he had received from his publisher, Scribner. "What do you make of this?" he asked. Frank had written a book about representing notorious criminals, but the publisher wasn't completely happy with the ma.n.u.script. Frank knew I had been a magazine publisher and, occasionally, he would ask my opinion.
The letter explained that the editors had decided to alter the format of his book, to publish two parallel narratives. One written by Frank; the other written by Selwyn Raab, a reporter of such distinction that his writings had inspired the television series Kojak Kojak. Scribner intended to list Frank Ragano and and Selwyn Raab as authors. Frank had confided to me how much he relished seeing his photograph in the newspaper or on the evening news. He didn't want to share credit for his book. Selwyn Raab as authors. Frank had confided to me how much he relished seeing his photograph in the newspaper or on the evening news. He didn't want to share credit for his book.
"They think enough of your writing skills to keep the ma.n.u.script intact," I said. I explained that, albeit unusual, it was better than having a book written with with another writer. What I didn't mention was that Raab's alternate voice was certainly the publisher's way of saying another writer. What I didn't mention was that Raab's alternate voice was certainly the publisher's way of saying we question your credibility we question your credibility.
Frank had also received a proof of the book's cover art. The cover was black with white typography. The t.i.tle, Mob Lawyer Mob Lawyer, was in bold white script with red ink seeping into the letters, like blood might soak into a white s.h.i.+rt. The subt.i.tle of the book read Including the Inside Account of Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa and JFK Including the Inside Account of Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa and JFK.
"A good color combination," I a.s.sured Frank.
Frank was waiting for his wife and son, who were coming to visit. While he waited for them to arrive, I asked him about the JFK a.s.sa.s.sination.
"It started with a message," he said. Frank believed he unwittingly delivered the message from Jimmy Hoffa to Carlos Marcello to kill Kennedy. Later, his belief was confirmed by a deathbed confession of a Tampa Mafia boss.
"I wish I had never met those people," he said. Born to a struggling merchant in the poor section of Tampa, Frank could never get enough. And that led to terrible regret. Regret that he had helped his clients continue to do horrific acts. Regret that he had become known as the "mob lawyer." Regret that he had become a target of prosecutors and was spending one of his last years in a place like Carville.
Frank and I sat quietly for a moment; then he told me another story.
The CIA had partnered with one of his Mafia clients. In an attempt to bring Castro's reign to an end, the CIA looked to Mafia bosses who stood to lose money if Castro were to stay in power. According to Frank, the CIA gave Santo Trafficante hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with poison pills, to kill Castro. Santo took the money and flushed the poison pills down the toilet. He used the payoff for his business interests in Cuba and told the CIA the a.s.sa.s.sination attempt had failed.
Then Frank mentioned that the Public Broadcasting System had just released a one-hour doc.u.mentary about his life as lawyer to the Mafia.
A week later, Frank and the prison librarian received permission from the warden to show the doc.u.mentary to the inmates. Filmed by PBS's Frontline, Frontline, the doc.u.mentary was ent.i.tled "JFK, Hoffa and the Mob." We made arrangements with the guards to show the one-hour film in the large cla.s.sroom as a part of the current events cla.s.s. I made flyers to promote the occasion and persuaded the new menu board guy to plug the event in the cafeteria. the doc.u.mentary was ent.i.tled "JFK, Hoffa and the Mob." We made arrangements with the guards to show the one-hour film in the large cla.s.sroom as a part of the current events cla.s.s. I made flyers to promote the occasion and persuaded the new menu board guy to plug the event in the cafeteria.
About thirty inmates attended, including Steve Read, Doc, Art Levin, Dan Duchaine, and Frank's best inmate friend, Danny Coates. A couple of dozen counterfeiters, tax evaders, swindlers, and drug traffickers also attended, as did a new arrival at Carville-a computer whiz named Gary, who, at age twenty-four, had tapped into the Federal Reserve system and wired himself $125,000. As I looked around the room, I thought there probably should have been a law against this industrious group's convening, but no guards were in sight.
Art Levin, the man who had watched over Carlos Marcello and helped me beat Steve Read in Monopoly, sat in the back of the room as Frank introduced the video.
The film featured Frank Ragano as the intimate friend and lawyer to Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa, as well as attorney to Santo Trafficante, one of the most feared Mafia bosses. The doc.u.mentary a.s.serted that Ragano was the first mob lawyer to go public with what he knew. During the interviews, Ragano recounted mob involvement in CIA plots to kill Castro. He alleged that the Mafia had orchestrated the murder of Jimmy Hoffa and the a.s.sa.s.sination of John Kennedy, and he admitted, on videotape, to "toasting" the death of JFK. In the end, Frank told the interviewer he had unwittingly delivered the message from Hoffa via Trafficante to Marcello to have JFK killed.
It was a sobering moment. There was silence in the room as the credits ran.
I turned on the lights. Frank asked if there were any questions.
Doc raised his hand. "How much did you charge these guys?"
Frank said he charged Jimmy Hoffa about $40,000. "I never charged Trafficante anything." Doc looked suspicious, as if he couldn't imagine performing a professional service gratis.
Steve Read blurted out, "I have a two-part question, Frank: one, was JFK the first president you knocked off? And, two, do you have your sights on Clinton?"
One of Frank's friends yelled back, "What about you, Read!? What country music star are you gonna kill next, Dolly Parton?"
The Q & A session broke into a series of sarcastic exchanges that led to a yelling match. I rea.s.sessed whether these guys were such a formidable bunch after all.
Then I noticed Mr. Levin. In the midst of the arguing and insults, he sat still. Mr. Levin was counsel to Carlos Marcello. Marcello allegedly handled the details of the a.s.sa.s.sination. Mr. Levin helped Marcello navigate the Louisiana legal system and operate within the bounds of the law. As one of Carlos Marcello's closest confidants, he was privy to the details of Marcello's business.
As the other inmates argued, I thought about all Mr. Levin must have known. Frank Ragano might have been the first mob lawyer in the country to go public, but the one who probably knew the most sat quietly in the back of the room.
In The Sanctuary Of Outcasts_ A Memoir Part 18
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In The Sanctuary Of Outcasts_ A Memoir Part 18 summary
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