Gregory Calvin Smith
          Writings From California's Death Row
    
                              The Challenge

    Cognizant.  Suddenly aware of himself, Gero systematically ran diagnostic checks throughout his entire body:  "Working".  Stretching, he listened for recognizable sounds and smelt familiar odours before opening his eyes.  "Fucking prison," he muttered to himself as he emerged from the deep haze.

    There was no rush.  Lying calmly, not bothering to get up, Gero heard voices conversing.  Men spoke across to one another, up and down, and from floor to floor, making arrangements for the days activities.

    "Hey, Lefthand, do me a favor.  Hollar up at He-man on the fifth tier and tell him to bring out some coffee and smokes today," shouted Begging Benny, "I'm a little short."

    "Every morning you got me asking SOMEBODY for SOMETHING,"  replied Lefthand.  "Man, you always short!  You couldn't blow a midget without a stepladder!"

    Muffled bursts of laughter revealed all who were awake, and even Gero managed a prolonged grin.  "Ooohs" and "Ahhhs" started up instantly.  Someone said, "Vertically challenged man.  Midget's not PC."  Still more laughter.

    Never a break, never a break, thought Gero.

    Gero hated the first person who spoke each morning.  He preferred the solitude of the quiet early dawn:  birds singing, taunting, boasting, bragging of their liberty, showing off their youth as they flew by the aging convicts in their cages.  He hated the clincking of padlocks against metal trayslots, the jingling of officers' keys as they woke you accidentally at three o'clock in the morning during their count.  He hated the announcements over the PA system.  He even hated the sun that illuminated his world afresh.  Mostly, though, he hated himself.

    "Hey, Lefthand," continued Begging Benny.

    "What, man? What you want now?"

    "Holler at He-man for me."

    "Yeah, right, just cool out."

    The plexiglass window was reinforced by several bars of alkaline steel, and daylight shining through it warmed Gero's cell.  Translucent particles iridescently reflecting in dance promised another glorious summer day.  He slept with a wool blanket each night regardless of the weather and now, folding its last corner military style and tucking it under, he finished making his bed.  Despite a conscious effort to avoid hurting himself in the narrow walkway, maneuvering between the concrete wall and the metal bedframe, he nicked his shin on the sharp corner.  He breathed out a string of profanities.

    "Are you going out today?" asked a guard as he approached Gero's cell.

    "Yeah,"

    The guard hung a pair of handcuffs on the barred door and proceeded down the tier inquiring as to who was going to the exercise yard today.  Everyone loathed getting stripped and searched whenever they left their cell,  but it was procedure on Death Row.  Going outside was privilege, the price was condemned degradation.

    As he washed, Gero listened quietly to the many conversations that went on each day, a prudent habit he'd developed during his early years in prison.  When detecting any hint of hostility in the words or tone spoken by one inmate to another, he wisely removed himself from its proximity.  He didn't associate with the troublesome type, wasn't affiliated with the rowdies.  Nevertheless, something was grating on his mind; he couldn't quite pinpoint what it was, his spiceless food tasted even more bland than usual.  Was his subconscious telling him to watch his back?  Had he unintentionally said something stupid yesterday, and now would regret offending the wrong nutcase?  What was it?

    Basketball !  It was basketball, now he remembered.  He had a one on one game today against Cutthroat, that was it, just a silly game.  Relief poured through his body like water, quenching the tension in his muscles, and he breathed a deep sigh.  He'd forgotten the match was today.  Gero wasn't a fearful man but when confronted with conflict he would have small anxiety attacks, a sense of paranoia that secretly shamed him.

    Cutthroat had been within earshot of Gero's group on the exercise yard when he stoutly proclaimed that he could beat anybody under 6'1" in a game of basketball.

    "You can't beat Gero," was Raul's quick and confident reply; for years he had watched Gero play.  It had snowballed from there, the usual exacerbation of testosterone ensued, and before Gero realized he was the subject of many bets.

    He was put under the microscope, his past performances scrutinized, his skill questioned.

    "...yeah, but he's 35 years old. Okay, okay, I'll give him that he's pretty agile and can run games all day, but still, Cutthroat's younger and quicker, and he's got a few inches on Gero.   No way Gero's going to stop him from making lay up shots."

    "Man that's crap and you know it.  He's twice as strong as Cutthroat down under and I'll bet money on it.  See, one thing you're forgetting about is Gero's devastating outside shot, and his..."

    Raul and the others argued back and forth.

    He really didn't feel up to these machismo bouts nowadays.  Ten years ago he'd have run Cutthroat's ass into the ground , but this morning his body wasn't warming to the idea of pushing and pulling, running and jumping, and battling youngsters for big orange balls.  Why hadn't he outwitted these insatiable idiots, he thought.  He could have dodged the match without losing face.  A few choice remarks, a bit of reverse psychology, hell, even a lame excuse would have worked.  Perhaps he exulted in his resilience, his seemly infinite youth.  He knew deep down inside he could beat Cutthroat; he was winning 7 to 4 in a game of first to 11, but his body was tiring and he wished it was over already.

    Fridays were generally tense.  Inmates returning from the adjustment centre-the Hole-were reintroduced into regular population, often only to be thrown back in the Hole for fighting, not quite content with the outcome of the previous fight.  There was to be no such distraction today, and the match had gone on as planned.  Everyone stood around observing the game, criticizing, laughing, clapping, encouraging the players.  Most of the older fellows were for Gero, obviously pulling for him, as if his victory would reaffirm their usefulness, credit their very lives.  Cutthroat also had his believers - they pointed out Gero's weaknesses at every turn.  Lefthand, He-man, and Begging Benny drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while watching the two players struggling for the ball, with loud voices and exaggerated joy they laughed at every missed shot.  This aggravated Gero and he mentally castigated himself for falling into the trap, and being made the day's entertainment for fools.

    Physical defeat on any level in prison could and would be construed as weakness, encouraging the bullies and vultures to circle.  Perhaps a young man might recover but for an old man, he's normally put out to pasture, his opinions no longer important, his respect optional.  To Gero this was more than just a game: everyone was watching, everyone judging.  Cutthroat managed to close the gap within one point: the score was now 10 to 9 and Cutthroat had possession of the ball.  If he scored, then the winner would be forced to win by two points, a deuce game.  This would prolong the match.  Gero was barely able to produce enough energy to finish a regulation game, he'd surely lose an extended one.

    Gero began a campaign of aggressive fouling, roughly attacking the ball each time Cutthroat came in for a close shot.  This way, although Cutthroat maintained possession of the ball due to excessive fouling, Gero kept him from scoring.  This frustrated Cutthroat, but tickled the many spectators.

    "That's cheating, Gero,"  he complained.  "You're just afraid that if you play fair I'll win.  Every time I come close you foul me!  Man, if this was the NBA you would've already fouled out by now and I would win by default.  So what's up, you gonna play fair or what?

    Gero didn't even respond, he just stood, ready to defend the basket.  Cutthroat came down, again he was fouled hard.  "Foul !" he cried.

    "Just shoot outside," advised one of his newly acquired fans.  But Cutthroat had little confidence in his outside shot.  A few people ridiculed Gero's unsportsmanlike behavior, but most commended him for his tenacity.  After all this was prison, and you got an unlimited number of fouls to give.

    After being fouled a couple more times, Cutthroat reluctantly shot outside and missed.  Gero quickly retrieved the ball, shot, and scored the game-winning basket.  His strategy had paid off, congratulations all round.

    He had won, and it didn't matter how.

                                                                   copyright 1998   Gregory Smith

    

           GREGORY'S PENPAL REQUEST:

SBM, Seeking a kind hearted, compassionate female. Who is willing to correspond on a long term basis, who is patient and hopefully well read.  I find intelligence attractive, and I'm eager to learn from her.  My education has been limited, but I'm open to learning about new things and new places.   I'm divorced with one daughter, 39 years old, 185 lbs, with caramel colored skin, deep dimples,  a warm inviting smile, and a sweet disposition.  I like exotic women of all races.   Romance may be, but friendship a must.  I like pop music (soft rock) sports, books, comedians and soppy movies. I have a sweet tooth for chocolate, but I dislike oatmeal (porridge).

 I've been incarcerated for 10 years, but I'm not hardened, In fact I'm quite mellow.
All my family but my mother has abandoned me, but still I'm optimistic.  I believe in fate, love, God and friendship.   I believe that people can change. I'm intensely loyal - I never turn on my friends.  My weakness is green or blue eyes, freckles, long noses, slimness, and sweet personalities.  I'm an Ex-airborne specialist who had the privilege of jumping only 5 times.
I've had many jobs but I enjoy working with people the most.

If you are willing to share any of your precious time on me, I promise to reply speedily.

Sincerely,

Gregory Smith.
                                                  
                                  Please write directly to:
                      Gregory Calvin Smith
                   3 EB 84   PO BOX H 46900
                    San Quentin State Prison
                      San Quentin, California
                               94974 USA
 


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This page was last updated January 21, 2002          Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
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