Guest Blog by Douglas Richard Colthurst
This is my first guest blog piece. I got to know Douglas’s work through Fan Story. I will be posting from time to time other guest posts from my Fan Story, Writing Com, and other writing groups. I hope you enjoy his work as much as I have.
Douglas Richard Colthurst was born in 1955 on a farm in Cabery, a tiny town in central Illinois. Received a Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign and a Doctorate in Dentistry from the University of Illinois at Chicago (I think?). published dentist with prison dentistry experience published poet and amateur painter novice wine sommelier comic book collector bilingual in English and German amazing father – bowler, golfer, chef motorcycle license, and Harley owner
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And see his portfolio at https://fanstory.com/myportfolio.jsp?userid=360707
Victor Touche ? A 59-plus eight-year imposition on this planet. Who…. always wanted to slow down, explore the other side of his brain, and amount to something other than a paycheck. Of course, the other side of me would argue paycheck first you dolt, there’s time for the other later. Ah well, as Jackson Browne once said, something like I wake up every day to the great compromise. I have a lovely daughter of 21. (senior college, (oh me, oh my). Which fulfilled and completed my life to a degree I shall be ever grateful for. As all of you parents know. Love to cook. Wine. Wine Cellar at last. Harley Davidson. Rebel. Always did resent authority.
Setting the scene.
hate standing in lines. But there I was, happy as a clam, standing in line; for a fake diploma. (The real one came later by mail.) But it did represent the culmination of four years of pure hell, dental school. Some people didn’t seem to mind it. But for most of us, it was a long grind. One must study continuously. This is interrupted only by eating, sleeping, and lab work. Seriously. I am not inviting sympathy. One’s time is simply occupied until graduation. I finally learned of shortcuts that many students knew, but it was too late to use them. And I don’t think I would have anyway, but that is for another story; my dental school experiences.
Since there was no time to assess my coming work situation, I graduated needing a job, housing, and money. My parents still lived in a rural town in central Illinois. They had seen an advertisement in the local paper for a dentist at Pontiac Maximum Security Prison. What? As in, what was I thinking? I know. I thought the same thing. I mean the same thing. But I could earn a little money, live with my parents, and buy a car. You know, start living.
I interviewed and unfortunately got the job. Now, this was done by an “administrative company,” responsible for hiring all the healthcare professionals for Illinois’ prisons. This is pertinent because before, each dentist contracted with the state. This may not seem significant. It didn’t happen to me either. But, oh boy, was it ever. The only thing that matters in prison is power. Yeah, to be sure, the prisoners are in a stark Darwinian experiment. Yes, but all that matters to the guards is power. And to the multiple wardens. Think I exaggerate? Read on, gentle reader. So the dentist before me was there for some thirty years. And he had his self to answer to. I didn’t realize how irritated the wardens were with this setup. Petty? Absolutely. But we’re just getting started. Turns out there was a lot of built-up, pent-up resentment over the dental area not being under the direct control of the prison officer hierarchical system. Guess what? I wasn’t informed of all the myriad political land mines I was soon to step on. I firmly believe if I had listened only to the advice from my administrators, I wouldn’t be alive today.
So I pull into the prototypical gravel parking lot at 7:30 AM. Pontiac was one of my old stomping grounds from high school. Quik’s was still there. Used to polish up the car or pick-up truck and drive around Quik’s. Over and over until we almost lost our minds. Cruisin’. Yep, we used to cruise Quik’s for hours. Good burgers. Probably not, but hey, we were teenagers. Big parking lot. Multiple lots for several businesses. All shut down after five or on weekends. Cruise, check out chicks. Repeat, ad infinitum. Once every hour or so, a new set of mounds bounced around. Gas was thirty cents a gallon. Gear heads. Pot heads. A little head now and then just to get by. Never got in trouble. Don’t know how.
Oh yes, the Pontiac Prison gravel parking lot. Cool morning. The crunch of old familiar sounds as I stepped out onto the gravel. Almost brought a subconscious recognition of fear. The only time we heard those sounds, (of crunching gravel beneath our feet), was getting out of a car for a fight or a friend. I looked towards the prison.
Simple barbed wire outer fence, with a small guard house. Grass lay after this for twenty feet or so, and then the administrative complex which housed everything, basically, except the prisoners. Long and rectangular, looked like a school. Ran the entire north side of the prison complex. Enter through glass doors and then proceed ten feet to the oldest, biggest, most intimidating steel gate that I had ever seen. Auguste Rodin’s “Gate of Hell,” without the ornament. Just swung grudgingly open momentarily, before slamming shut momentously on those huge groaning hinges. Shut. Silence, every time. For a moment, just made one reflect on the “end.” Period. Never have had quite the same feeling about gates since. Shudder, groan, goodbye is all they ever said.
As I said, just stepped out onto the dewy morning gravel. A new day. A new life. Whoa there, cowboy, probably not what was said on the “inside,” eh? I have tried to tell people about this…” feeling” one notices emanating from Pontiac Prison. No one pays much mind until you’ll be going in. Ancient. Evil. Stark. Mania. Insanity. Loneliness. Despair. Hopelessness. A forever feel to these piled up, reeked up, soiled up rock confines. One feels the cement used is from Roman times. Filth, eking out of this place and contaminating you as you watched, mesmerized. Yes, I know. My assistant used to laugh at my exaggeration of these elements in the story of Pontiac. Till I took her there one day. Parked in the old gravel parking lot. Saw her laughs turn to that first recognition of fear.
“Maybe we should go,” she said.
“Why? We just got here. Come on, get out and take a look. Wanna go in?”
She just shuddered and got back in the car. We talked about it later. She wasn’t laughing. She also felt that creeping nausea, that evil reach out to…
Yep, that’s Pontiac alright…the parking lot.
So, here I was on my first day. Boots on the gravel. Built like the proverbial “Brick …. House.” No, I’m not kidding. Thought I should mention this. It’s from dental school and the sick environments created there. But applies here too. Helps almost anytime, anyplace, as far as I can figure. Now, I wasn’t going in here to prove my manhood or fight or anything like that. Just the same, Darwinian is Darwinian. Went to the little gatehouse.
“Hi,” the guard said. The guards get, and security in general gets, progressively surlier as one goes inside and/or their rank goes up. Not that the guards treated me badly, they didn’t.
“Hi, uh, I’m new…”
” Dentist, aren’t you? Yes, I can see that.”
He may not have even asked me for ID, after all, what were the chances some young punk would come here on the day the new dentist was, and falsely announce himself? Also, I don’t believe they ever searched for me. It was a courtesy. They may have once for a lockdown.
“Just check in at administration. They’ll take it from there.”
Walked up about twenty feet, went through the administrative-looking doors, and voila, instant prison life. Like switching on a light. Someone young, or white, stands out. Period. You better hope you’re standing out because you are NOT in prison blues. Just stopped to catch my breath.
“Who you think you lookin’ at? Huh? You better get your pearly white back up the hall where it belongs. Fish.”
“Yea, YOU. Who the hell you think I talkin’ to?”
A guard appears, “Alright Marcus, ain’t you s’posed to be somewhere? Best be gettin’ there.”
Guard: “Can I help you, sir?”
“Uh, yes, looking for administration?”
“Healthcare or Prison?”
“Right around that corner. You the new dentist?”
“Yes, yes, that’s right.”
As I rounded the corner I couldn’t help peeking into the room where the inmates made their phone calls or met with people and visitors. Just pure chaos. Boyfriend arguin’ with a girlfriend.
“You know I didn’t. You tell Jackie his ass be mine.”
And so on. And then I ran into that big fake smiling face I had seen so many times in the salesmen who frequented my father’s hardware store. The typical, seedy, untrustworthy, lyin’ when I can, and then some, the face of my immediate superior in the health administration. A job with little beginning and similar education, and soon representing nothing to me but a pain in the ass. I just wish I wasn’t always right on these matters.
“Hello, you must be Victor.”
“Uh, yes, you just interviewed me, remember?”
“Oh, yes, of course, I do. We’re just excited to have you join us and start your career, aren’t you?”
“Yes, about that. I don’t have my license back from the state yet. It’s just procedural, but don’t you think I should have it?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. You’re under our malpractice umbrella.”
Now, at this time, I was so naive, I thought if he says so, it must be alright. Fortunately, my license arrived that week and all was well.
“I think all your paperwork has been signed. Now, do you remember where the dental clinic is?”
“Sure.” I kind of half thought to myself.
“Ok, already? Here we go.”
He walks me back down the hallway, where this other prisoner is now back again looking at me with defiance. Then turns right to the “gate.” Tells the guard to open it, this is the new Doc. As I’m still travailing the length of the door upwards with my eyes, I vaguely recognize…
“Do you need anything else?”
I felt like I was just ready to go under anesthesia. Dreamlike. Then the guard slammed the ton gate closed and my world reverberated. Boom. Unimaginable stopping-retaining power. I shuddered for a moment. Was just going to say something to the guard when I noticed he was on the other side of the gate. I stumbled a little on the interior cement steps then caught my balance. Turned around into the sun. 8:15 AM. The yard. Full of prisoners mowing, clipping, hoeing, scything, (I kid you not) the grass. Maybe two or three hundred of them.
ALL came to a dead stillness. Not a sound. Not a twitch of a muscle. Uh-huh? Well, this was a bad decision and I turned back for the gate. The guard just smiled. Ok, ahem…ahem, ahem. Wasn’t ready for this today. Just a simple little two-block walk to the dental clinic, through these boys. Now, you may think what you like, but every man knows intrinsically what’s going down here. I had NO doubts. Ladies, you’ll just have to believe me, there are certain moments in a man’s life that cannot be misinterpreted.
Besides, I still had Ronnie R., in the tower to protect me. Yes, sir, he would shoot down any gang member trying to do me bad. If he got permission to load his gun. If he wasn’t looking the other way on purpose. Ronnie would level that gun and shoot a gang member to save me. Hahaha. Yes, it was a pretty good joke, on me. Ronnie would no more do this than…I don’t know what. He works there. Hello. Even if he quit that day, there would be a contract out on the street for him to be dead. And the best part about it was I knew Ronnie, from high school. Yep, he was our local drug dealer and all-around Charlie Manson look-alike. (And if you need a psychiatrist to tell you Charlie Manson’s crazy, you might as well ask your priest if it’s time for an affair.) Yes, sir, I was…screwed and tattooed.
So I took a deep breath, let it out, took my Goddamned testosterone Superman pill, and started to walk a walk, I would remember for a very long time. See, this was about not showing fear. Believe me, ladies, I know what I say. These men could easily kill me, beat me, etc. But that wasn’t it now. Now was to see if the boy could walk the walk. Remember, I told you I was built like a brick shit house. And thank God for me, psychologically at least. These guys hadn’t moved a muscle since I came in. Some on the sidewalks. Some are on the grass. Leaning on hoes. Foot in my way. Chest in my way. You get it. Oh, by the way, the game is played like this: Must stay on the sidewalk. That’s where one would normally walk. Walking around or in the grass is a big mistake. Of course, walking into someone is a big mistake also. Therein lies the crux.
I walk down the few remaining steps to the yard. No movement but the eyes. They follow me. Test me. Judge me. Dare me. I come up to the first man who is in my way, partly, on the sidewalk. I’m getting pissed off. This helps me. I know where I am, but this intimidating, bully-stuff never set well with me. So, I mumble an excuse me, and do a combo go around (a little), push him away,(a little), and stare at him, (a little.) He says nothing, but there is no retaliation. This goes on in several similar confrontations, but mostly “eye fu..ing” as they say. Although one guy just had to not move and I was forced to push a little more than I wanted. You don’t push as much as take your shoulder and bump him out of the way. I thought things had been going well. One block-two hours. It seemed. Then this guy, and I thought there would be a little trouble. (uh, yeah…I accidentally knocked him over), (oh, BTW, that’s a no-no).
But who should come to my rescue at that opportune moment? Ronnie R? No, even better. The cell blocks were just huge. All cement. Facing the yard, all one could see was oblong filth. The one I currently was in front of was like that. Complete silence still. Then a BOOMING BIG BLACK VOICE rang out from the empty cement cell block…
“Hey, hey…I know what you need boy. (Just reverberating and booming in the silence.) You need someone that’s been locked up for a LONG time. Hey, hey.”
Oh yeah, that just made my cracker-ass day. Then all hell broke loose. Everybody cat-callin’. Whistlin’ what a nice ass I had. You get it. To the clinic. Everybody was laughin’ now.
Uh-huh? First-day jitters? Tell me about it.
And you flick another ash-
her stockings pass.
Stockings so seemed
hands in your hair,
not really there.
just for you…
hands in your hair,
you flick another ash.
Played professional football,
the forties, our beloved Bears.
Big bear, big hands.
Sweet, broke man.
oh, the stories he could tell.
Best “hrmmph” I ever heard.
Charm-when he wanted to-
I’ve never seen better.
big, life-filled laugh.
Truly, a man’s man.
oh, to access them.
He drifted in and out
of memories, reality,
at the end.
Random brain perfusion?
Dilaudid induced delusion?
We all have perfect memory.
Of this, I’m sure-
just can’t access it.
But we will,
someday we will.
the dear medical establishment,
induces random, multiple
memory trails-not delusions.
The patient actually gets
a whiff of…
He reached out for me,
tubes an’ all-
my little hand
and his big paw.
Let me part
with a little something
we men, can’t admit.
I loved this man.
Try holding the hand
of someone passing.
It doesn’t get
any more real,
lifted from your shoulders,
is almost worth…
What you miss
Whenever you said something to him, or reprimanded him,
(ha ha), all he ever said was-” Ok, Coach.”
placed in storage
Before the full length mirror
stands the reflection of
presses her dresses,
lays them in boxes
alongside her letters.
Pretty, pretty closets
stacked full of dreams,
and the empathy she lacks.
Sees her future
presses her dresses,
leaving her messes
From yesterday and before,
it’s been forever for
an arm to reach
and not the glass.
of narcissistic visions
Still, she presses on.
Innocence must pass
An Easel and A Quay
My measured stroke seems smaller,
but quicker by same measure.
An innocence long squandered,
as innocence must be.
Unrolled another canvas
and sat a new study.
I thought perhaps she liked me,
her legs she moved with ease.
but quickly saddened.
Still, I painted
the picture bound to be.
An innocence so brilliant,
colours that touched her,
my hand just seemed to know.
I paid her rather quickly,
she asked if she could see.
I smiled but said, “Come later,
much later in the day.”
Brushes against the easel…
the paint had its way.
Her innocence, those colours,
splattered across the canvas,
and tracked the quay.
I walk a path familiar
as I see her up the way.,
This piece is fictional.
Figurative, and fumbling. LOL