A Whole New World Part 11 Read Count : 21

Category : Blogs

Sub Category : Motivation
Time flies when you're having fun; that's what people say. Truth is, time flies regardless how you're feeling because time doesn't stop for anything or anyone.  

It had been two years since Lil' Milton's passing and Carl had been feeling lost ever since. When Lil' Milton was around, he felt he had a purpose in life as he had made it his personal mission to look out for Lil' Milton, and that was to do his best to distract him from the 'demons' in his head. And while he was doing that he was also distracted from thinking about his own problems as he had another person to think and be concerned about. But now Lil' Milton was gone. Lil' Milton was finally free and and at peace while he was still stuck there in the sick and twisted insanity hell hole. He was no longer working as an orderly. His heart just wasn't in it anymore. Learning about the misery of others and watching firsthand the hidden suffering the inmates were really going through was too much for him to handle. It was just too hard. 

Carl became withdrawn after Lil' Milton's passing and he was slowly but surely going on a downward spiral. It wasn't long before depression became his new best friend. He would spend his days in his cell writing dark poetry about self pity; celebrating and embracing his pity party. Playing the "I am a victim" card was sure as hell not pretty, but in that dark place of insecurity, Carl believed that to be his reality. 

Recently he had another round of his psyche evaluation. It didn't go too well like before. He was silent and withdrawn, angry and bitter. The prolonged solitude was slowly getting to him yet he wasn't ready to leave. He was like a caged animal, fearful of his own shadow. He knew he needed help to get him through his internal battle. The question was, from where? From whom? 

Dant Westberry was as country as they come, right down to his southern drawl that was so thick that people could hardly understand him at times. He was put in the cell next to Carl's after the previous occupant was transferred back into general population. He was a man of quick wits. In an environment where bantering back and forth, cutting each other down by making up shit for laughs was the prime entertainment in protective custody, Dant was the king. He had a real gift for telling stories and he could go on and on. His voice, with his thick southern drawl that had its own unique melody could put all the other inmates in their place especially when he talked about his home and family. He would talk about the trips he had taken through the countryside with his son, about working on his farm, and his favourite topic was about going home to his believed wife, Betty Ann. He was really good at talking and he was very entertaining. He was good enough to get all the guys in the wing to shut up and listen when he told his stories. 

However, Dant had one vice - he loved to get high. He would spend his last five bucks on a "nickel sack" (a rolled up, ready to smoke joint that costs five dollars), if there was one available. One time, he had saved his fruit and sugar from breakfast, paid the orderly to get more from the other guys in the wing who weren't using them and when he got them, he squeezed the juice from the fruits into a tumbler cup, added some sugar and threw in some rice and bread into the mix then hid it in his footlocker for a few days to let the concoction ferment. When he felt it was ready, he took it out of his footlocker and drank his glass of "wine". On another occasion, he managed to get the orderly to smuggle in some mushrooms from the guys on the "gun squads" (inmates who do clean up jobs outside the prison fences who are escorted and supervised by armed guards) and made a batch of his "wine" using those mushrooms which got him singing all night long. That was the kind of guy Dant was, always creative in finding ways to get high. 

In the midst of Carl's dark funk, at a time where he felt hope was just a made up word, this new neighbor of his managed to penetrate not only the thick concrete prison walls but also the thick walls he had built around himself. In just a couple of months of moving into the cell next to him, Dant had managed to break him out of his dark funk. As much as he was a good talker, he was also a good listener. He and Carl would spend hours talking to each other through the crack of the door between their cells. Carl felt comfortable enough to open up and share everything with him and he listened. 

Dant was deeply in love with Betty Ann and he would talk about her constantly. Rather than be annoyed by his continuous dialogue, Carl found himself drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The more Dant talked about her, Carl began to picture her in his head. In his mind, Betty Ann was a vision of pure beauty with eyes like flames of fire, a mixture of fiery and feisty. 

"She could piss me off like no one I have ever met," Dant said one night as he was again reminiscing about the times he and Betty Ann had another one of their fights. 

"Did you ever hit her?" Carl asked in a small voice, hoping hard the reply he got wouldn't be one he would be disappointed to hear. 

Dant went silent for a moment, probably taken aback by the unexpected question. Carl held his breath as he waited for Dant's answer. He believed that if Dant had answered in any other way than what he had hoped to hear, his whole perception of Dant would have changed. But Dant poured out his soul about how much he loved and cherished everything about her. 

"Even when she had me chewing holes in my cheeks," he said, "I would never hurt her. She is the love of my life." 

They were in the privacy of their own one man cell so Dant could not see Carl anymore than Carl could see him. When Dant poured out his soul about how much in love he was with his wife, it moved Carl to his core. His tears fell and he found no reason to keep them in check. 

Dant did his crime in 1975. He and Betty Ann had hijacked an 18-wheeler truck, shot the driver and left him for dead on the side of the road. They were both arrested not long after and while Dant was serving time at The Rock, Betty Ann was also doing time at Lowell Correctional Institution (the first women's prison in Florida) in Marion County, north of Ocala. With both he and his wife serving time in prison, their two daughters were living with his mother while their son was old enough to be on his own. It was a sad situation, Carl thought to himself; a family torn apart over one foolish but conscious decision made in a split second. 

"Hey Shuck," he said one night, "would you help me write letters to Betty Ann? I want to say so many things to her, I need to apologize and ask for her forgiveness for a lot of things but I'm not very good with words." 

Carl was stunned by the unexpected request. After spending so much time talking to the man and learning about him and his life before prison, he was under the impression that Dant was the kind of guy who could do it all. To hear him confess about his one weakness was a complete shocker to Carl. At the same time, he felt honored that Dant had chosen him to be the one to bridge the distance between he and his beloved wife just so they could keep their love alive. 

"I would be honored to do that for you and your wife." 

And so, Carl began to write letters to Betty Ann. Dant would talk to Carl through the crack in the door and tell him what he wanted to say to her and Carl would put it into words, doing his best to make them sound as heartfelt and loving as what Dant intended. 

Carl's life began to change after meeting Dant. He suddenly found a new purpose in his life. At the same time, he also found something else - love. As he wrote letter after letter to Betty Ann for Dant, he found himself loving her through him. As he wrote the words of love, he fantasized that it was him writing the words to his lover. It was weird but he didn't see it that way. He was starving for love, and to be loved, so he used that opportunity to give his longing full expression and let it carry him into a place he had only dreamed of. At 21 years old, Carl had never experienced love in his life. Not the kind of love between a woman and a man. The love that Dant was feeling for Betty Ann, he was feeling it too. He became consumed in his passion for them both, for the love he was experiencing through them. And when she wrote back in reply to the letters Carl had composed, Dant would read them to him through the crack in the door and his heart would soar. It was completely amazing how transforming it was for both of them because regardless of where they were, there was something in them that denied the stereotype of their environment that made them both look forward to another day each day, for even in the worst of places, the power of the heart was able to change the walls into windows of the soul. 

Over time, Dant and Carl grew close in their friendship. They would sing old country songs and play chess together every night after dinner. It wasn't all that hard to play chess in their confined and separated space when there was a system which they used to navigate the pieces around the board. Each piece had their own identifier, and each square a specific location in a labeled grid. They would each call out their play when they move their piece, while they both keep a mental picture in their head of an actual chess board with the pieces being moved around. It was a unique way of playing a game that demands a lot of focus and concentration, yet, they somehow made it work and would spend hours playing the game with each other. 

"Chess is like life," Dant often said. His logic was that every move should be carefully planned and thought out, foreseeing several moves ahead in order to make the best choice available to them. "Even though sometimes you can't predict the moves of others, you have to be flexible enough to adjust your moves to the movement of the boards." 

That was among some of the valuable lessons he had learned from Dant. 

Dant had been diagnosed with stomach ulcers and had been prescribed Pepto Bismol and some other medication for his ulcers but the medications had not helped him. He was suffering in agony and Carl could sometimes hear him moaning and groaning in pain at night. One night, Carl heard a different kind of sound coming from Dant's cell. It wasn't his regular moaning but more like raw agony. He also heard Dant crying out to him in pain. He panicked. He grabbed his white towel, stuck his arm out through the bean flap as far as his hand could stretch, and waved his towel frantically to try to get the attention of the officers. He knew they were constantly being watched through the CCTV so he kept waving his towel. But no officer came by to check on the problem. Dant was groaning even louder and Carl was getting desperate. He pulled back his hand, turned his back against the door and gave it a hard back kick. BOOM! He then turned around, stuck his hand out the bean flap again and waved his towel. Still nothing. He kicked the door again. Harder. He peeped through the been flap and saw a bean flap open from across his cell. He waved his towel again. Next thing, he heard a loud kick on the door from the cell across from him. That kick was followed by another and another. Pretty soon, there was a loud boom, boom, boom sound going around. Even though all the guys in the wing were in there for various reasons, but in a dire situation like that, they were all united. When they see someone waving their towel through the bean flap and none of the officers were responding, the guys would kick their own cell door to create enough racket to draw attention. Two officers finally came to investigate shortly after, and the kicking stopped. The officers heard Dant's groans and immediately opened his cell door. He was put on a board on a trolley and was wheeled out of his cell. 

Dant was gone for five weeks. Carl had no idea what happened to him or where they had taken him. They even moved someone else into his cell which got Carl worried. When Dant finally returned to the wing, all the guys were eager to know what happened to him. He told them that he was taken to a hospital in Shans because the medical department in prison did not provide preventive care. All existing problems were treated as reactive care. For two years Dant had been treated for ulcers when in actual fact, a tumor had been growing in his intestine. When they cut him up at the hospital and found the tumor, they had to close him back up as the mass was as big as two grown men's fists put together. Not only that, they also discovered the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. The cancer was too big and too much for them to remove. There was nothing they could do for him but to send him back to prison. A couple of weeks later, his colon burst and he died just days after. With his wife locked up in another prison and they weren't able to locate his son, they did not continue the search for other family members. With no one to claim his remains, Dant was buried in an unmarked grave at Boot Hill; a cemetery on the prison compound. 

Dant was the second person who had died on Carl in prison. He thought he could never be hurt as much as he had already been hurt, but Dant's death hurt him pretty damn bad. To Carl, Dant represented (through the communication with his wife via letters they both had put together) a source of connection of love that his heart had longed for. Though the love he had developed wasn't his and not in any way real except in his own imagination, it was what his heart longed for. With Dant gone, the imaginary love that he felt was gone too. And as crazy as it may sound, he felt the loss of that love deeply.

During his teens Carl didn't spend much time at home. He would rather spend his time outside with the older kids, doing foolish things to try to impress them. He watched them (mostly school dropouts) go about their lives making their own rules and he thought it was cool. He wanted that same kind of freedom and so he distanced himself from his family and socialized with the kids more. Because of the choice he made, his once close relationship with his family began to drift apart. The love that his family had for him, he wasn't feeling it simply because he did not appreciate it at that time. He took that love for granted and began looking for love in other places. However, the love between a boy and a girl that he's been hoping for did not materialize for him. When he met Dant, he began to look deep within himself. He realized how immature he had been in his ways. The longing for love grew bigger when he heard Dant talk about the deep love connection between he and his wife. Carl wanted that connection. He was starving for it. But how is he going to feed that hunger?

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