AY9581 Life In and Out
This is my autobiography. It is a story of injustice and how I was put in state prison for 5 years for what I did not do. This type of thing happens more and more. I was on trial for murder, aggravated assault burglary and theft. I had done none of them. I was the state of PA’s scapegoat. The story was titled AY9581 Life In and Out because AY9581 was my prison number for 5 years. It tells of my life before, during, and the after effects of that type of life. Reviews I have gotten for it say it should be high school and college curriculum.
The sound of the crashing steel brought pain to my heart and echoed heavy in my ears. That
noise would be stuck in my head forever. The hall I was walking down looked never-ending,
something like a nightmare that had no conclusion. In the nightmare two middle-aged guards
held my arms.
The guard on the right was slender and tall. He looked a bit hypnotized as he walked down the
never-ending hall with me. He wore a beige uniform that looked as if he had just bought it. He
had patches on the front of it and on the arm that held mine. The impressive uniform reeked of a
familiar clothes detergent, something like the Tide that my mother always used when I was a
child. The uniform had no wrinkles whatsoever. The hat he wore was placed on his head
perfectly, just like an army general’s hat. He must have had an army cut, because I saw no hair.
As we walked down the never-ending hall, he said nothing, not a peep. I saw no emotion at all.
The guard on the left was the exact opposite, chubby and short. It looked as if he had bought a
uniform a size too small and a tie a size too big. He had not done a great job of shaving before
coming to work, because you could see the nicks he had made and the stubble he had missed.
There were wrinkles all over his uniform. It smelled musty and old. It had not been washed in a
few days. Most likely he had no wife and spent his time at home with a Budweiser and his trusty
hound dog. I was sure if he was the only one holding me, I could have broken away and run far
down the hall with no way for him to catch me, but I had no place to go. It was as if I was being
held by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The chubby guard needed only a derby.
As we walked on, the chubby guard looked at the slender guard and spoke in a rough mumble.
“Did you see the Steelers game Sunday? It looked like Mark Malone had no clue what he was
doing. The Rams killed them thirty-two to three. Bad night.” The slender guard said nothing and
showed no emotion, ignoring the chubby guards statement. One could tell that the slender guard
worked out because of his stature and his grip on me. His partner held onto me as if he was being
pulled with me by the slender guard. The chubby guard tried to start a conversation again by
complaining about his wife’s cooking. “I’ll tell you one thing Jack, my wife is a terrible cook.
She screwed up the pot roast last night. We ended up having frozen pizza. Women, right?” I was
wrong: the chubby guard was married. Jack must have had a bad start of his day. He did not
respond again, and walked on. I peeked over and saw a very small grin begin at the side of his
face, but it quickly disappeared.
Both men came to a halt, startling me. The slender guard unhooked from his belt a chain that
held so many keys that it was too hard to count. He fumbled through them and picked out a big
heavy-looking silver key. He held me with one hand, while with the other, he fiddled with the
lock and opened up the steel door. It had to be at least three maybe even four inches thick. It was
the start of a new hall which was not very long. At the end of the hall was a very high steel gate.
He fumbled with more keys and pulled one out which had a big red “A” on it. I looked above the
gate and saw “A” embossed on the wall in black. It seemed as if Laurel and Hardy were opening
the gates of hell. I glanced back at the other steel door. The chubby guard slammed it shut,
locking it again. All of the steel slamming sounds were getting louder as I got closer to each
door. The slender guard opened the gate to a view I had no business seeing.
All types of men moved around, going about their day. Some sat at small round tables playing
cards, smoking and laughing. Others sat together staring at the television that hung from a shelf,
playing a talk show. It looked like the Phil Donahue Show, due to the white-haired man running
up and down stairs, talking to his audience. The two guards brought me up two flights of stairs.
The chubby guard shouted down to the floor at some men who were yelling at each other. It
would turn into a brawl if it was not stopped. “Stop now or you will both be in deep shit.” The
two men were pulled apart by the other men.
The guard named Jack pushed me into a small room, a very small room. Finally he spoke.
“Take off what you are wearing and put the orange pants and shirt on.” The two men turned
away as I quickly did as I was told. I placed all of the clothes I had been wearing in the bag that
was given to me and handed it to the chubby guard. He said in a stern voice: “Make your bed the
way the one on the bottom is. It is 2:30 now, and at 5:00 someone will be bringing you food to
eat. You can come out of here tomorrow for two hours when this door is opened for you. If I was
you, I would mind my own business and just sit here and stay quiet.” With that the two guards
walked out of the small room. The chubby guard popped his face from behind the gate. “Like I
said, mind your own business and keep quiet.”
The instructions were easy to follow, but before I followed them, I needed to try and see if the
nightmare came to an end. But I was not sleeping, and my situation was not a nightmare. This
was the real deal. I sat down on the lower bed, slowly taking everything in. I could tell that it was
an older room within an older prison, and that someone would be living in the room with me.
Flip-flops were placed neatly under the bed I sat on. The thin metal shelf held a few pictures of
family and young children and a few books. There would not be room for anything I would
collect. Maybe an upside-down box could fix that. I noticed that the sink was more like a sink in
an airplane bathroom. Over it was a cracked plastic mirror that did not look very clean. The steel
toilet was connected to the concrete floor by big thick bolts. I wondered who the hell would try to
pick the toilet up anyway. A troubling thought came to my mind. Whoever lives here will be
watching me go to the bathroom if we both happened to be in the room. I stood up and went
through the stuff on the upper bunk. That bunk almost hit the ceiling. One look told me the bed
would be too short, at least two inches too short. The sheets were folded nicely. They were a
white grayish color. They had seen better days. The blanket was made of thick green-and-brown
wool, just like an army blanket. This would make for a definitely uncomfortable first night’s
sleep. On top of everything were brown flip-flops, a small cup with a toothbrush, a tiny comb,
and a nameless tube of toothpaste.
I made my bed as well as I could, trying to make it look like the one I had been sitting on. I
made sure to remember to fix the bottom bed, whoever it might belong to. My bed was nearly as
neat, but not as perfect as the bottom bed. My roommate must have been a soldier at some point
in life. Once I was done, I wondered what I would do until 5:00. The books on the shelf were off
limits; taking one of those is the kind of thing might get me in big trouble. I walked up to look at
the books, hoping to figure out what type of person I would be sharing a room with. Five books
sat on top of each other, placed by size; all were soft-cover. On the top sat the novel Misery
written by Stephen King. The next was a novel by Tom Clancy called Patriot Games. Oddly
enough, the third book was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Under all of them sat a huge book called Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson, a Christian
book writer, and of course The Holy Bible: Old and New Testament. I had heard many times how
a person finds God while locked up, but I had no need for that. The person living in the room had
an odd taste in books.
I walked closer to the cracked mirror and noticed something. My orange shirt was on inside
out. I pulled it off and turned it the way it belonged. I grabbed my comb and looked back into the
mirror to straighten my hair. Then I realized again this was not a nightmare. On my shirt I saw
some writing on the left side. It had two letters and four numbers. The shirt read A Y 9 5 8 1,
which would now be my new name for the next five maybe ten years.
In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word freedom is defined as “quality or state being
free.” That definition had nothing to do with me any more. My freedom was taken in 1987, and it
would be gone for a long time. Never did I think I would sit in front of a judge who would be
deciding my fate. Never did I think I would be part of one of the biggest murder trials in Mount
Pocono Pennsylvania history. Never did I think how my situation would affect so many people
in my circle of life. Never did I think that the choices I had made would end up as they did.
Never did I think my life would take as many turns as it has. But most of all, never did I think I
would completely turn my back on our justice system, our law enforcement, and last but not
least on God.
———- CHAPTER 2
At 10 years old I began having epileptic seizures. When I was young the seizures came on
quite often. In the early 70’s not too many people knew much about epilepsy, even doctors. It
was scary to people. My seizures were a bit violent, and I was hurt many times. During those
years, I was on several medications, as the doctors tried to find the one or ones that would help
with the seizures. My behavior was all over the place. My parents never knew what situation they
would find themselves in, each time my medications were changed. Going to public school was
not working out, due to my seizures and my learning disability. At that time special education in
my regular elementary school was not available. The school recommended to my parents that I
go to a different school for special education, a school that worked with the disabled. I was sent
to a private school for disabled and slower children, which did not work out well. I left that
school after only a few months.
My health and my learning problems in that school made it harder for me than for other kids.
Most disabilities are visible, and a person can tell if a kid has a health or a mental problem.
Epilepsy is a disease a person cannot see unless the person actually has a seizure. Adding a
learning disability to it doesn’t help. In public school, most boys were good at some type of sport
like baseball, basketball, etc. Not me, I had no sport-type skills; I was the last kid picked. I did
excel in music, though. I love music. My father is a guitar player and singer, and my sister does
the same, and so does my younger brother. So at least I was good at that. I was also good at
writing stories. Being bullied and pushed around became a norm for me, something I had to deal
with, like it or not. My outlet was music and writing.
My parents have always been saints when it comes to dealing with my life growing up. My
father is not my biological father; he is my stepfather. He adopted me when I was four years old.
All my life I have always thought of him as my father. I never spoke to my biological father until
I was forty years old. I will never speak to him again. My stepfather has done all he could to help
me with everything I have been through, from the day he came into my life up to this day. He has
taught me all he could about many things in life. He made me become the man I am, and stuck
by my side through the good things and bad things that have gone on in my life. My mother has
never turned her back on me. She has never judged me for things I have done. She did her best to
teach me right from wrong. I have always been comfortable with talking to my mother, because I
knew she would tell me the truth. I have been called a momma’s boy throughout the years, and I
guess I am. Even though my mother taught me right from wrong, I did not always listen. I was a
hard-headed kid, which has not changed too much. My hard-hardheadedness is one of the
behaviors that led me to the problems I ended up with. She helped to get me through all my
health problems when I was young and all that has gone on. I will always love my parents for
everything they have done.
All that information of my life went through my thoughts as I lay staring at the concrete wall
above my top bunk. I could tell that others had been on this bed, as people came and went
through this cell. There were many markings and dates on the ceiling, some expressing love for
girlfriends and family, some asking for God’s help. The earliest date I could make out was 1932,
with some unreadable scribbling under it. The latest was from 1987. That inmate probably was
the last one who resided in this room. Someone in the 1960’s must have been some kind of white
supremacist: the message written next to a red-colored swastika said “live the white race.” Right
behind my bunk next to me was a very small window. You could not see anything but wire
fences and gravel. It did not look like too much of the sun would get through the window. The
view did nothing but depress me more. I must have dozed off at some point because another
crash of steel awakened me. I had to rub my eyes to get a better view of what I saw.
The man before me looked to be in his seventies, maybe older. He was not wearing the orange
clothes I was wearing. He had somewhat regular clothes on. He wore light-brown denim-looking
pants and a yellow shirt with numbers and letters: ATN581. He looked quite surprised to see me.
Maybe I was too young, or he was enjoying having a cell all to himself, and I screwed that all up.
He reached out his hand out to shake mine and spoke with a voice much younger than he looked.
“Maxwell Walters. How do you do?” What type of response did he expect to hear? I was in a
prison, but I had to make the best of it. “Mark Faler. I am fine thank you.”
I had heard many bad stories about how some men live in prison. If a man did not stick up for
himself, he had a good chance of being someone’s wife in this place, if you know what I mean.
This guy looked nothing like someone one would expect to do anything like that. Then again,
who knows what guys like that look like? I guess Maxwell wanted to clear that up quick. One of
the first things he told me was he was not one of the “queers,” so I did not need to worry about
that, but there were plenty of them walking around the prison, even trans genders. Knowing I did
not get stuck with a gay man was a very big relief. At that time, although I was already twenty-three,
I was not too big, and did not have a long list of people I had fought through the years.
Unfortunately, Maxwell explained to me that I might have to stick up for myself sooner or later.
He explained the only way you won’t be bothered is if you show you will fight back if you have
to, and that winning or losing was not the point, it was the principle of the thing. The basic point
was to show you are not scared. NOT SCARED. I was scared when they walked me into this part
of the building, once I saw all these men who looked much bigger and meaner than me. Maxwell
was right. It only makes sense to stick up for yourself if need be. We all have the fight-or-flight
reaction, and we use it automatically.
Maxwell reached under his bed and pulled out something that looked like some kind of
cooking contraption he had made. Under his bed was another box full of food, real food that you
buy in a store. Whatever he was cooking smelled much better than the other stuff. I was served.
He gave me a plastic mug of soup, a few crackers with Cheese Wiz, and a Devil Dog for dessert.
We ate Oodles of Noodles and had a nice conversation about this and that. He complained about
President Reagan, policies of the prison, and prices of the snacks he buys. Another thing he told
me was that in a week or less I would be given a job. From what he said, I would be an inmate
who mopped or would be giving out mops in the showers. I certainly did not look forward to
Maxwell eased my mind with his stories and made the time go faster. The most important
thing to remember, he said, was not to argue with the guards: the nicer the better. The place they
send disobedient prisoners was called “the hole.” Apparently they can keep you there as long as
they pleased. My plan was to be nice to the guards and to do as they said. At least that was the
plan. The five books I saw when I went into the cell were not his only ones. He pulled out
another box bigger then the one with food in it. This box was filled to the top with all kinds of
reading material. I wondered how long Max had been in this horrific place. I saw books about
Shakespeare, Chinese art, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
He started taking them out, showing me some and putting others to the side. The ones he was
putting to the side looked like law books and files. He handed me a book by Sidney Sheldon
named Master of the Game. According to Maxwell, new inmates have to spend most of the first
week working and staying in their cells. Reading books helps to get out of the prison life and that
was fine with me. He explained to me that sooner or later there would be another war. Oddly
enough, I watched Desert Storm start and end while sitting in prison. Maxwell and I learned
more about each other, but did not talk about the crimes that landed us there. Maxwell was a
good guy, so without going into specifics, I asked how long he had been in prison. He told me he
had spent the last fifteen years in Graterford. He was in San Quentin during the fifties, and
another three years in the sixties. I was taken aback a little: he just did not look like a bad guy.
He reminded me more of a librarian, or a bank teller in an episode of Twilight Zone, not a person
who spent time in San Quentin. We lead our own lives. I have always believed that people are
born with a clean slate. After that you answer for yourself. Maxwell Walters did his share of bad
things and is paying for it. As for me, I hadn’t done anything to be sitting in a state prison cell,
having dinner with a real criminal. Although I had turned my back on God when all this
nonsense started, God had never turned His back on me. I just did not know it yet.
I fell asleep until another metal crash rang in my head. Until then my dreams had taken me
away from where I had found myself. A new guard stuck his head into the room and yelled
“Count!” Max was already dressed, bunk made, drinking coffee from his plastic mug. As I
looked down at him, he probably saw me, and thought that my first full day in prison was about
to start. He said that “Count” means be in front of your cell door when it opens so they can make
sure we are still here. Frantically I threw on all my orange clothes and tried to make my bunk as
nice as I could before the next guard got to our cell. Max helped me by explaining that from now
on he would wake me up earlier, so I would be ready for morning count. I heard letters and
numbers being shouted out as the guards on each side of the tier I was on walked by each cell.
Max told me to walk out and stand by the cell door. The guard saw us just fine but said our
numbers anyway. “AY9581” the guard yelled to me. I said “here” out of instinct. The guard
knew I was a new guy, and told me to say “Officer” whenever I spoke to one of them. Oddly
enough, he just gave Max a nice recognition like they had been friends. Fifteen years was a long
time, so I figured they might be more like friends rather than inmate and guard. The guard looked
older, like someone who had been there a good amount of time. About fifteen minutes later, the
same guard came back and said my last name, telling me it was time to go to meet the boss. I
looked back at Max; he was grinning at the guard. The guard probably knew I had absolutely no
idea what he was talking about. It was Orientation Time, and all the other men in orange would
be joining me to find out the yeses and noes.
I walked out onto the tier, looking down at how high I actually was from the floor. Max had
told me a story about some seventeen-year-old boy who had raped a ten-year-old mentally
disabled girl. He had been sent to an adult prison rather than a juvenile detention center. The boy
had been thrown from the second tier we were on. He died, of course, and they never found out
who did it. Truthfully, nobody really cared, not even the guards. Max further explained that the
men who have a good chance of getting hurt or killed were molesters.
The guard brought me out of my daze when he was half way down the tier, yelling at me and
the new guys behind me to get moving. We all looked like very confused people looking for their
car in a huge mall parking lot. I ended up behind a prisoner who must have made the trip before;
he already knew where we were going. The guy behind me said in a very low voice that the nut
in front of me had been in the prison two times before this. Everyone else was silent, so I did not
respond to the informative man behind me. The guard showed us where everything was, who all
the guards were in our part of the prison, where we would eat, and at what time. He showed us
where open-area bathrooms and showers were, where the commissary was, where we were able
to watch television and play cards, and at what part of the day and night. He showed us the
library; and visiting area to use it we had to gain that privilege. We got to a certain room that
looked to be a classroom. I took a seat in the front to make sure I heard everything.
In walked a man who could have been a stand-in for Eddie Albert, who played a jerk type of
warden in the movie The Longest Yard. The man was dressed very nicely, like he was making a
quick stop before church. I can still remember the first words of his introduction: “Look at all the
bums I have to add to our collection.” I knew right then this warden was a jerk. His one line
already told me I did not like this guy. I planned to stay far away from his office. As his speech
went on, he did not look frightened at all about putting us down. But then again he did have a
few strong guards surrounding him.. He went on to tell us that if we made ourselves a problem, it
would be noted in a behavior file. He would make sure the judges that put us here found out
about our progress. At the end of his speech he took five questions. I was too nervous to ask
anything, and kept my mouth closed. I figured any questions that came along could be answered
by Max or a guard. The warden left the room, and another guard came in with chains.
This guard took his chains and began to hook us up to each other. You could tell he was a pro
and had done this before, because it did not take him long. We proceeded towards a big garage looking
door. Once he opened it, I saw the daylight. Just my luck, the sun was nowhere to be
seen, and drizzle was falling. The outside had five fields with tables scattered about, a small
basketball court, a handball court, and a place to lift weights. The guard pointed to the outside
wall that went around the whole area. On top of the high wall was double-edged barbed wire. It
was then that I knew there was no getting out of here, besides the front door I came in. The guard
went on to explain how through the years a few men had tried to escape, but they were not
successful. Just to make sure we understood, he told of a man who had tried in 1944 and was
shot. In 1964 another got stuck in the wire and was given another ten years, added to his fiveyear
sentence. My mind was made up: I would be fine not trying to make it out any way besides
the doors I came through. He showed us a few more places, and then read a list of where each of
us would be working. Just as Max had said, my job would be handing out mops in the showers.
In our orientation group there were seven or so guys. In our orange clothes, we stood out like
oranges in a bowl of apples at lunch time. Most men besides the seven of us were joking around
and talking to each other. The man who I had been told had already been in the prison three times
jumped in front of the chow line. I still remember seeing him flying back past all of us on the just
waxed shiny floor. He had jumped in front of the wrong guy. The guy who tossed him back
looked like five of me. He was huge and had a tattoo that ran all the way around his neck. He
turned around and looked right at the guy he just threw. The big man harshly and loudly
informed him how he would take him apart and rip open this guy’s throat if he did anything like
that again. Like a dog that was reprimanded, the smaller man walked right to the back of the line,
which now had several more men waiting. I wiped my hand over my lips in order not to show my
In the chow line, not many things looked edible. A person did not get a big choice; you just
ate what was on the line, appetizing or not. I saw Max in the corner chatting with two other men,
both around his age. Max motioned to me to come and have lunch with them. Big Macs and KFC
lunches were a thing of the past. The best lunch I saw was a tuna fish sandwich with a few chips
and an old dented apple. At the end of the line I had a choice of milk, apple juice, or flat soda. I
chose the flat soda. I walked to where Max was sitting and could feel many scouring eyes on me.
I did my best to look tough, and tried to walk like I was not a person to mess with. As I sat down
across from Max, I felt the eyes turn away from me.
The two men with Max looked up at me. At first the look was not a welcoming look. Once
again a man reached out his hand to me: “Thomas.” I shook his hand but forgot to introduce
myself. The other guy looked at me and said his name: “Sal.” I introduced myself. I began
looking over my sandwich, making sure there was nothing in it that should not be there. Thomas
looked annoyed at me as I moved my food around, checking everything. He let me know another
rule: prisoners had twenty minutes to eat and get out. Knowing that I had a time limit, I sped up
my eating process. I kept quiet out of respect as Max and Sal talked about football games and
what they had read in the newspaper. Just by the talking, you could tell that Sal had also been a
resident of Graterford for quite a few years. Thomas looked over at my plate and saw I was not
going to eat my apple. He kindly asked if he could have it. I told him sure, and like a tiger
moving on its prey, he snatched the apple and popped it into his pants pocket.
A loud buzzer sounded. If you could not hear it, you would have to be deaf. Lunch was over.
Most men stayed quiet as we lined back up at each side of the mess hall. The guards moved us to
the doors and sent everyone back to their cells as the next group of men headed in. Once the
prisoners were in their cells, all the doors closed at once. Max went back to his food box and
pulled out two already wrapped Italian hoagie sandwiches. He threw one to me and told me he
had not eaten the prison lunches in a very long time. He bought his own food at the commissary.
He grabbed a World War II book and lay on his bed. I climbed up on my bed clumsily and
picked up my Master of the Game book, looking forward to leaving prison and going into book
Before I had a chance to read the prologue and take the first bite of my hoagie, another buzzer
went off. It was time to work. My job was to give out mops and clean all twenty-five of them
with bleach when I got them back. I returned to the cell with the smell of bleach on me. Handing
out mops over and over again is more tiring than it sounds, especially when the mops come back
wet. Once I handed them out to inmates on our A block, I ended up doing both the B and C.
blocks. That meant I had to bleach seventy-five mops during my day at work. I did make 50 cents
an hour. Working from 12:00 until 3:00 PM, I made $1.50. That money went into my
commissary account, so I could buy things. I soon learned that there were not too many things I
could buy for a dollar. It would take a whole hell of a lot of mop cleaning to buy some of the
things Max had. I washed up the best I could, but I could not get rid of the smell until I took a
proper shower. Since I got there the day before, I had not been allowed to shower.
Once shower time came the next morning, you had fifteen minutes to get in, wash, and get
out. The guards went by cell rows, about fifteen or so men taking showers all at once. Max had
some kind of pull with the guards, maybe because of his age; he was allowed to take showers any
time during the two-hour shower time. It was not as bad in the shower as I thought it would be. I
made sure not to drop the soap, and kept my eyes straight ahead. The bar of soap I was given did
not have much of a smell to it. It was a little bar like they give out at hotels. This one had no
name, but it served its purpose. I was informed by the guard before I got into the shower room
that the bar had to last for three showers a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Remembering
that, I wrapped up the soap in my wash cloth. I wrapped the towel around me tightly, and walked
out. Max told me to make sure I wore my flip-flops in the shower so I did not catch anything.
Dressing in front of another guy was a little awkward, but Max just continued reading and
snacking on his Frito’s. Dinner would be about 5:00, but I was too late to go to eat. I decided to
eat the hoagie Max had given me for dinner.
We both read for a little bit. Once 8:00 PM hit, Max reached under his bed and pulled out a
five-and-a-half-inch black-and-white Sony television radio. I was in shock. I did not even know
you could have a radio let alone a television. Max closed up his box of books to make the box
into a small table. Soon I heard the famous opening theme to Dallas. He told me that he watched
Dallas every Friday night at 9:00 PM. He went on to explain how he grew up in Dallas, and that
the Ewing family reminded him of his neighbors when he was a child. A block away is where the
rich kids lived. I had never watched that show before, but after a few Friday episodes, I was
hooked. That was the Friday night plan. We would eat the snacks we had and watch Dallas.
Sunday nights would be Sixty Minutes; Wednesday nights, The Equalizer. He did lot like sitcoms
at all, because of laugh tracks.
Before I knew it, a month had gone by: some good times and some not so good. All in all, my
first month was not too bad. Max and I became like father and son: he looked out for me and I
for him. Because of Max, many of my friends were older men or at least men who could talk
about important things, not just things nobody would care about. I had gotten to Graterford in
October of 1987. My first prison Thanksgiving was tough on me. Thanksgiving was my favorite
holiday. One of the things I missed the most was my father’s pumpkin pie. That was what the
Faler family looked forward to during Thanksgiving time, and still do today.
Another holiday came up too fast; I was not finished being upset that I was not home for
Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve was spent with me and Max watching an old Christmas classic, It’s
a Wonderful Life. Besides A Christmas Story, that is my favorite holiday-time movie. It always
felt more like Christmas time when George Bailey is learning the true meaning of Christmas with
help from his angel, Clarence. Unbelievably, that Christmas Eve it snowed. Even though the
window was small, I could still see the snow coming down. The snow covered the gravel and the
fields. If I did not know I was looking from a prison window, it would have looked the same as
any other snowy night on Christmas Eve. I lay on my bed wondering about what my family
might be doing, and what Christmas looked like in the Pocono Mountains. Max told me a story
about how he used to go through town giving homeless families bags of food. In the South
during the Depression, there were many homeless families. He said it made him feel good to help
others, even though he and his family did not have much either. Once he moved to California, he
turned to a life of crime, and ended up in San Quentin Prison for five Christmas holidays.
He went on to tell me how bad the prison was, and how he met country singer Merle Haggard
there in 1957, before Haggard was famous. Most of my life I was surrounded by country music,
so I knew exactly who Haggard was, and knew many of his songs, especially sad prison songs.
Back in 1968 Max was in San Quentin again for a three-year sentence. Seeing Johnny Cash live
in 1969 was the best time of his life, behind steel bars or not. Max explained to me that
someplace on that album you could hear Max whistle with the other prisoners. That was
awesome to me. Johnny Cash was one of my favorites. Max and his stories helped me get
through the two big holidays and kept my mind off where I was spending them.
January 1st hit, and Max and I brought in 1988 with a mug full of some type of nasty prison
wine. It was not that good, but it was all we had. By then most people in there knew me, and I
was never bothered. If it was not for Maxwell Walters and his stature in the prison, that might not
have turned out that way. I cannot remember one argument Max and I had. It was not a smart
thing to do, when you have to be in the same place all the time. By the time mid-January came
about, the fact that I was in prison had become less and less of a shock to me. In fact for now it
was home. Graterford was a bad place to be, but at that time it was what it was, and I just had to
deal with it.
One February morning, I sat in my small place of work, handing out my mops. In walked the
chubby and slender guards I had first met when I came to Graterford. By this time we were all
okay with each other. Officer Jack Lipton and Officer Oscar King. I came to like both of them. A
new guy in orange took over for me and began passing out the mops. I was brought to the office
where the prison counselor was. He was a nice-enough guy, but I did not know his actual name. I
knew him as “Sir.” He informed me that my four-month stay at Graterford was now over. I was
only being evaluated, to see what state prison I would best fit in to do my remaining four-years and-
five-months sentence. Of course if I screwed up in the next prison, I would be staying at the
new place longer, and do the full sentence of 10 years. The counselor told me to be ready and
packed up the next afternoon. With my parents’ help, money had been sent to me in order for me
to get things from the commissary. So I had some money to take with me. Max had given me a
few more older Sidney Sheldon books, which I took. He also offered me a Bible, which I did not
take. In fact, my mother had sent me a Bible when I first arrived at Graterford; but at that time I
was not over blaming God for my predicament. I was upset with God, so the Bible stayed in the
delivery box it came in, from the time I received it all the way up to when I went to a new prison.
The only reason I took it with me was because it was from my mother and she had signed it..
That Bible sat in a beat-up box for most of my prison stay.
I remember the last night I was there. We watched a repeat of The Honeymooners, where
Norton tries to give Ralph golf lessons. Even though Max hated sitcoms, he loved the older ones,
especially The Honeymooners. It was a time the shows were on stage live.
That day I woke up early, probably from the anxiety of going to a new place. The guys I sat
with and had meals with for four months gave me some good information about making my fourplus
years go by faster. Although I listened, I knew the time would go by like a drip in a sink. I
said my goodbyes to Thomas, Sal, and Joe. Joe had come around during my second month. He
was doing a two-year stretch for some kind of bank fraud. I made my way back up to my cell to
finish packing. I knew I would miss Max, because through the time there we had become very
close, almost like family, so it hurt a little bit. Max came back to the cell and went back into his
box. He gave me a bunch of soups and Devil Dogs and Hershey milk-chocolate candy bars. He
gave me words of hope and encouragement. The two officers came to the cell, and had me carry
my box of stuff down the tier. They held both my arms again, with no handcuffs or ankle
shackles. Prisoners I had met during my stay yelled goodbyes and wished me luck. Max stuck his
head out of his cell one more time and yelled “Goodbye son; take care.” Once in the discharge
office, I changed out of my prison clothes back into my street clothes, if only to enjoy wearing
street clothes for a few hours. Leaving Graterford State Correctional Institution eased my mind; it
felt good knowing I had spent some time making an old man’s time go faster. I never saw Max
again but often wonder about him.