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Essay: "Fresh Air"

by Jesse Govea
Five AM. The guard on the block can be heard this early autumn morning calling out: "Rec. Check!" asking all the prisoners if they are going outside. It's Saturday morning, September first, 2007, and inside this Wynne Unit, the temperatures can reach over 100 degrees and the humidity does not help either. The old red, brick this building is made offholds the heat like an oven all night, at 5am the building is just cooling off and preparing for another scorching day...the cycle continues. With that in mind it is time to get up and answer the man, "Yes sir bossman," and get ready to be escorted, hands cuffed behind our back, and walk outside into the yard to get some fresh air.

But first things first, I need a quick bird-bath to wash off the overnight stickiness from the humidity and sweat. Cold water feels good in the morning to freshen up, before rec. time at 6 am. At last, with the bird-bath over, I give my teeth a scrubbing of the teeth with good old Colgate, it really freshens the mouth.

Standing at my cell door, I am ready to go rec. outside. This is a small price to pay early in the morning. A piece of mint stick will help keep my mouth feeling fresh, at least until it dissolves. But at least if a female guard escorts me, I will have the confidence to say "Good morning" without fear of scorching her face with a dragon blast...as some guys like to do, just to see the facial reaction of the boss ladies...of course, some guards do not have a lick-o-sense-o-humor!!! They act robotic, a badass touch, wanna-be cops, totally forgetting they are security guards, not DPS Police! Anyway, the walk down the four flights of stairs to the ground level gets the old heart pumping...and by the time I reach an open yard/cage where we in the prison administrative segregation go to recreate for 2 hours, five days a weekÂ--I am breathing in deeply, gulping in the fresh morning air outside. I back up to the yard/cage door and my handcuffs are removed by my escort. I am alone. I look at the flat, smashed-up basketball in the corner of the yard, it has white splashes. I know it's some pigeon droppings...those pigeons have good aim...smile...believe me, I know. So, I look up, make sure I know where those pigeons are parked, so that I do not walk under them and get bombed.

I take deep breaths of that fresh air, feels good. And I walk all around the 10 by 20 foot yard/cage enclosed in cyclone fencing, with concertina wire all around the top.

I take a look at the pull-ups bar, it looks like it has frosting on top, or pigeon paint...I will not be working out today, I will just walk around the yard, or look out towards the distant woods. The morning feels cool, and the air is blowing gently from an easterly direction. I face the wind...enjoying the fresh, crisp morning air. The breeze feels great! This morning reminds me of a morning in Saginaw, Michigan. The fresh air transports me to my childhood, when I would walk into the woods, and I would stand facing the wind, and it reminded me of when the northern winds from Canada signaled the approaching winter. The fleeting memory is disrupted by the yard boss..."PUT Your T-Shirt on, Inmate!" ...And so, I do. But the spell is broken. The sun looks like an angry red ball of fire as it starts to peek over the distant woods on the horizon. I stand there and watch it move slowly up above the tree line, as it continues to rise. Clouds seem to recognize its anger and move out of its way. Those strong rays of the sun start to streak and impale everything in their path...and the cool morning starts to heat up.

All the other yard/cages are full of prisoners. Each inmate in their own separate one. All seem to be enjoying the morning fresh air, the cool breeze. The start of a new day for all of us locked up...for me today marks the 10,525th day like this. There is no comparison to a deep breath of fresh air in the early AM hours of the morning here in the Texas prison system. Can't get it at any other time during the day at this time of year!

This early in the morning makes me think of the pagans and the wiccans...how close to nature they must feel. Being out here looking at the sun come up, the cool light breeze made me think how close to nature I once was, and how far removed I am from everything...yet my eyes and my mind's eye transported me with a breath of fresh air. Way out there, and way back into the past, and in that instant I could see into the future, and look forward to some day enjoying some fresh air outside the yard/cage...then, I will think of this place and all those left behind.

As I contemplated all this, the escort boss was back; "Time to go Grandpa, back to your cage"...I removed my t-shirt, handed all my clothing to the guard for search and inspection, then once I had my shoes back on, I backed up to the yard door and got cuffed behind my back once again. And up the four flights of stairs I went.

By the time I reached the fourth floor...I was already huffing and puffing, but happily, I walked back to my cell where I will remain for the next 22 hours.

That breath of fresh air was worth all that trouble. I heard the news; "A cold front is moving down south from Canada..." I think I felt that fresh air out there in the rec yard this morning, and it felt very good.

Once a week we have an outside rec day...so I will look forward to our next outside rec day, next Saturday.