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The Convict’s Tale: A Sydney Chronicle Exclusive

On June 5, 2011, reporters from the Sydney Chronicle gained access to a written statement by David Heath, a felon incarcerated the previous summer. His narrative has made its way to the halls of parliament in Canberra, and is already the subject of heated debate. The future of penology may be at issue for months or years to come. Some readers may question our decision not to edit the story, but we believe firmly in full disclosure. So here, without emendation, is Heath’s narrative.

The prison sits in a landscape of lime phosphate on an island of eight square miles. Over the years, coral thrusting up from the base of the island has blended into the phosphate, the waste of thousands of migrating birds. When I arrived here with twelve other prisoners, the staff showed us a film giving an overview of the history of this dump in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was part ecology lesson, part colonial history, and part primer on the role of prisons today. We needed to see the jail’s place in the Big Picture.

If an inmate could view the ocean from his cell, it would reinforce his sense of the futility of questioning any word from above. The immensity of the seas is awesome, overwhelming. To a would-be escapee, the visual aspects of this place say: Don’t be silly.

Erving Goffman, the sociologist, published books setting forth his ideas on what he called the total institution: the place where a staff controls every facet of inmates’ lives and tries to carry out its duties to the prisoners while keeping a distance from them. What would Erving Goffman make of this place? I wondered sometimes as I lay on the bunk of my cell. Here was one answer to the paradox on which he mused. The staff of the prison rarely saw us face to face, but they saw us in quite a few other ways.

At the time the dramatic events began, the eye had not pursued me in the halls or chambers since six months after my arrival almost a year ago. I was a C-4, a low-level miscreant subject to only some of the scrutiny and treatment that had grown so fast in sophistication. But in the words of Frederick Douglass, I will remember my encounter as long as I remember anything. I had been out in the yard playing Australian rules football and having a decent time. After the game, I made my way to the showers and thought of the hours I would spend with my books of poems and my memories of the life I hoped to reclaim as soon as I got out. I showered, toweled off, and made my way down a long hall with the beige towel hanging from my waist. Suddenly, I felt as if a cat’s tail were brushing my ankle, then the coil grew tighter and tighter, holding me in place as my head spun in bewilderment and my ears caught a whirring from down the hall. Then it loomed before me in its awful majesty, an oval sensor in a five-foot diameter steel frame, probing and scanning on the infrared and ultraviolet spectra and gauging my body heat, studying how often I blinked and drew breath, peering down my throat, checking my eyes for any dilation or contraction or redness, processing and filing away data that would be key to decisions about my status as a prisoner. The eye looked into me, looked through me, turned me inside out while I stood and trembled and my towel fell to my feet. I shut my eyes, knowing that everyone relying on the surveyor for data would see me in the nude. Then a coil with a shiny cylinder at its head shot out from the surveyor’s frame, roving over my chest and gut and resting on my balls, while the coil around my ankle reasserted its strength again and again, as if to say, Just you try something, perp. I struggled not to faint as I felt yet another coil enter me from behind. The surveyor gauged my pulse as I mumbled replies to the questions flashing on its screen: Do you regret what you did? Would you do it again?

When the eye had finished with me and had floated back into the shaft adjoining the hallway and thence to another level of the prison, I picked my towel off the floor and made my way back to my cell. I dropped onto my bunk and thought of the yard where I had lain on a hammock on weekends, sipping wine from the finest vineyard in Coonewarra. Lying there, on those Saturdays, I could see my wife through the kitchen window as she cooked steak and talked on the phone and gazed out at me with the warmest of smiles. I had told myself, You are thirty-seven, and you are not a best-selling author or the vice president of something or other. You are a schoolteacher. But there just might be worse things in the world than this. Jane had once said, “You’d be amazed at how many people our age are living in one-bedroom apartments and eating out of cans and wishing they had a life remotely like ours.” I didn’t know how right she was. And now, sitting in a cell barren of everything save for a toilet, a sink, a bunk, and a dresser with books by Bentham and Foucault and others resting on it, I would have given anything to have one of those moments back, would have hacked off my right foot if they agreed to drop me in the hammock on a tranquil weekend. You might ask why I would do something so dramatic when all I had to do was serve out my time, but you see, I would be older in 2014, and it would not feel quite the same. But they were not offering me any deal, so I kept waiting and hoping.

After my rape in the hallway, the routines of prison life went on. I ate with the same group most of the time. Nevins had been in the place for two years, yet no one knew much about his background or why he was here. Burke was a forty-year-old pederast, Daniels, a thirty-year-old busted for reckless driving, and Walters, a twenty-one-year-old surfer type who had tried to pick an old man’s pocket. In the ensuing scuffle, the victim fell down and hit his head, and he never woke up. Walters talked about beaches and girls and wolfed down his food, the grease doing little to cover the burnt tissue on his palms and fingers. Then there was Clodumar, one of the few inmates who hailed from the island and not from the country that oversaw its defense and poured money into its infrastructure. A man who could crush your neck in his fist, Clodumar had won fame as a weightlifter, taking part in contests at venues throughout the Pacific and traveling to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996, for the Olympic Games. His story was particularly sordid. While staying at a hotel in Brisbane last year, he had sought out some local talent. A couple of hours later, he and the woman left the hotel together and went to find a cash machine. Then they got into a fight over how much her services had been worth. You can have fun reconstructing that in your mind. The fight escalated, and who knows what she said to him, it was purportedly a racial slur, but two days later, someone found her in a dumpster in an alley with her neck snapped.

Having said all of this, Clodumar was usually one of the more genial guys in the joint. He was a garrulous man who loved to hear and tell stories, and his own favorites had to do with the history of this island. Today, one could hardly believe that there was a time when green covered all the island save for the beaches ringing it and for spots where coral thrust toward the sky. Waxing nostalgic, Clodumar spoke of chasing and hiding from his friends and kissing girls in the depths of the jungle, the domain of noddy birds and a species of warbler not known to exist anywhere beyond this spec in the Central Pacific. That was the age before the foreign phosphate company expanded its operations and began to bring in miners from Australia as well as China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Fiji, and other islands.

Then, with no heed for the future, they began to clear away trees and dig through the stone and soil into lime phosphate, an ingredient of fertilizers in demand in every agricultural country. The rock came up on pulleys and went by train to a ship bound for Sydney. Much of the time, the workers acted as if the natives did not exist, going about their work and then gathering in the evening to buy booze from stores run by their countrymen. These shops required the natives to make purchases through a “dog box” in the back, where you did not see the clerk. Islanders found bottles and cigarette butts and wrappers in crevices and inlets and other once-pristine spots whose historical or symbolic import was unknown to the visitors. The natives got paid a fraction of what the rock would have netted at market rates. By the time the island won its “independence,” with the hemisphere’s superpower still calling the shots, there was only a four years’ supply of the rock left, given the rate of export.

Say what you like about their pasts, but these inmates were not bad company. Nevins had a cynical sense of humor and had taken to calling me “schoolteacher,” but he seemed to respect some quality he saw. It may have been intelligence, or internal wiring that would prevent me from turning into an animal. Once, over lunch, I asked him what he had done to end up here, but he just turned to Walters and asked if the boy knew about the negative correlation between time spent on the beach and one’s IQ. Burke laughed. Without looking up from his fried chicken, Walters made a gesture at Nevins. We played cards often in the mess hall, watched films in the evening, and spent one hour a day in a courtyard under a strip of sky as empty as that which greeted the killers in Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Yet our nearness to the equator was never more apparent than when we stood and sweated and played in the yard, a stretch of blazing tarmac bordered by high white concrete walls and barbed wire. At times, the sun made me want to stop and gasp at the sorry state of life on this rock and huddle under the shade cast by the shingles hanging from the roof of the mess hall. One day, I was loitering in the yard, glad that my encounter with the eye was far behind me and that it no longer hurt to go to the john. Burke came over to me. Nobody knew what to make of Burke, a heinous man who showed acuity and sensitivity at times.

“You see that guy, Matson, playing ball next to Nevins?” he said, with a gesture toward the volleyball court.

“Yes, I played cards with him once,” I replied. “What about him?”

“He’s not well,” said Burke.

My eyes followed the frantic motions in the court.

“I don’t think he’s ever really adjusted to this,” Burke went on. “I have a feeling the guy’s a time bomb.”

Sweating all over his gray tank top, Matson waited for the ball to come back over the net. The pores on that bald head had never been busier.

“What about you?” I asked. “How are you holding up?”

“They want me to see the need for decency, cohesion, integrity,” Burke said, gesturing at the interior of the prison, in whose depths men sat over consoles and entered codes and reviewed data. “Personal integrity, interpersonal integrity, social integrity. I had some confused ideas about the relations among adults and boys and girls and schools and many other things. I have spent many hours in my cell watching a screen, where a woman’s face slid off because they didn’t do the transfer right, a Neoclassical building collapsed onto swarms of people, a truck hit a pregnant woman because the driver had ten shots of whiskey. I have faced questions about my grasp of what it means to be an adult and to live in a hierarchy where every moment depends on the one before. I’m going to talk to Daniels now,” Burke finished, starting off. I had just gone off toward another corner when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned and gazed into the face of one of the bigger inmates, someone I did not know by name. He had short black hair and olive skin, and the scars on his stubbly face were like tiny streams wending through black pebbles. Facing the man who resembled a special effects artist’s dummy, a mock-up of a thug made for all kinds of mutilation, I felt as if I had walked into a story by the author Ramsey Campbell, an auteur whose mannequins take on a likeness to the living. Having avoided most of the rougher inmates most of the time, I was unsure sure how to react. I am not a weak man, but these fellows are inured to a different physical reality, they can move with a speed beyond my perception. I turned and continued to walk away. He shoved me. I spun around.

“What…” came out before his fist connected with my jaw. Random bits of visual data spun around me, the sky and a stray bird and the big men lifting weights ahead, way over across the tarmac onto which my face crashed. My lips soaked with blood, I started to get up, he kicked me in the ribs, I gave a half scream and half moan, and I sank down again. The second kick landed on my left buttock and the third on my head. I spat about a quart of blood into the dust, heard bits of the talk from across the yard, and lay still, resigned to what he would do, amazed that I was conscious. More kicks rained down, and he was about to stomp on my head when a shape to his left grew entangled with him and flipped him into the dust. The swift vertical movement I caught with my left eye suggested that someone was hitting my attacker with awful force.

I rolled onto my back and reached up to an outstretched hand.

It was Clodumar.

He helped me up, and Daniels came over, gave me water from a flask, poured water over the gashes, and tied a sock around my head. I still could not see for the blood.

“I saw what went down,” said the weightlifter, “and those guys grabbed me and tried to hold me in place.”

He gestured over at two inmates who were crouching and spitting into the dust. The attacker crawled toward a crowd that had gathered in the other half of the yard.

For the next couple of weeks, I spent the better part of the day lying on my bunk, nursing my wounds, and telling myself that I had come up against something that most men avoid for their entire lives. There was consolation in this, even if what had happened in the yard was hardly a fight. In the mess hall, my friends joked about how ugly and stupid the other guy was, they praised me, and their warmth provided me with something like a mood stabilizer.

The next night, having won three out of five games of craps, I came back from the mess hall and lay down on my bunk. I watched the screen, and the image made me feel at home, quite literally. It was the familiar scene. An orange dome sank over the hills at the edge of the town, while the branches of the gum trees ringing my yard resonated with twitters and the occasional flutter of wings. On the porch stood my wife, an apron covering most of her navy blue blouse and some of her tan trousers. My eyes roamed over the gardening tools, the hammock, and the trees. I had reclined in that hammock while she cooked steaks and smiled through the window, and I had lain in it with her and stroked her rich hair. Here was the scene of kisses and whispers. I have watched you in dreams, your beauty transcends dimensions and galaxies. I have met you on planets not yet named. Barely expressible thoughts and sentiments flitted through the darkening space like birds. It was hard not to feel at peace with everyone and everything.

Now, as I watched from my bunk, the shadows grew longer, the branches stirred amid the sighs, and the lushness of the yard and its environs pulled hard at my eyes. Jane walked inside, the screen door closed with a snap, and she stood at the window and fussed over the counter. The shadows grew further still, the languid cadence of the twitters and sighing breezes lulled me more and more. I could almost smell the scent of the acacia leaves as it drifted on the wind, and how I longed to return to the scene. I lost myself in the dense darkening green tinted with orange from the sinking dome, I lazily scanned the waving branches, and then I stopped cold—Whose face was peering from between two trees by the house? It was a long, narrow, greyish-brown face, staring straight at me with a queer grin. My wife went about her tasks, as cheery as ever. A shape emerged from the trees, a tall naked man who stooped and moved jauntily like a kangaroo, with his narrow face and thin legs and wide grin and huge erection. He moved to the foot of the porch, prancing and jumping and drooling and hissing, and climbed the steps toward my wife, framed in the bright window. I wanted to scream, I wanted to rip the sink from the wall and hurl it at the intruder, but I grabbed my cheeks and tore my own flesh instead. “No!” I gasped. “Get off our property!” The intruder licked his lips and stroked his penis and grinned at me once more, baring his fangs, and then he tore open the screen door and stepped inside. Jane’s smile stayed in place until the hand closed over it and she vanished from the window. Now something was nudging the screen door open again. I turned away and slammed my head against the edge of my bunk until I blacked out.

When I woke up the next day, and washed the dried blood off, I had an epiphany of sorts. On at least a couple of occasions, the managers of the prison had borrowed a page from Dante’s Inferno and had made the punishment fit the crime. I may as well tell you that after Jane’s mother died, she went to live with her father in Canberra for a few weeks. Such were my longing and loneliness that I began seeing a neighbor, Amanda Richmond, in secret, until the day her husband walked in on us. Fearing for my life, I put an ice pick in his belly and put him in the hospital for a month. Please know that when he walked in, I lost control of my bowels. I had never thought myself capable of hurting someone else, and I believe that I preempted a fatal beating by the bigger man.

In the courtyard, Burke agreed with my analogy, but he said that what I had seen may not have really happened. I wasn’t so sure.

Did he do it to her doggie-style?

An hour later, we were in the showers, rinsing off and pulling towels around our waists. My head still rang from my earlier wounds, and it also hurt from what I had done. While the others were immersed in small talk, I presently heard a low whirring sound, and then there was the eye, looming in its awful immensity. It lingered at the edge of the showers, but clearly the object of its attention was Clodumar, who was to receive poetic justice for being libidinous in the past.

No! Get the fuck away from me!” Clodumar screamed as the eye floated toward him. With a motion so fast that none of us saw it, he seized Walters and hoisted the boy between him and the surveyor. If the surveyor was discouraged at the native’s desperate act, no one could tell, for it did not back an inch from the flailing legs of the boy, whose urine hit the floor with a plosh! Finally, we saw the limits of the eye’s patience. Two tendrils shot out from the base of its cold frame and wrapped around the boy’s ankles. Then, in the midst of an intensified whirring, the tendrils began to pull Walters in two directions. We thought that the eye was just going to yank him off Clodumar, but the coils kept pulling and pulling and the boy’s screams rose and then I could not see for the gobs of flesh and organs and limbs ripping through the room and slapping into flesh. I started to back away, slipped and fell down, and tried to wipe the blood from my eyes, but I smeared them even worse. I grabbed the towel that had slipped off. Everyone but Clodumar bolted, tripping and knocking over each other and clambering out of the room, pursued by Clodumar’s screams.

It was two days before Clodumar reappeared at his table in the mess hall with a blank look. He talked of football, golf, this and that. No one wanted to broach the topic on all our minds. But later, while I refilled my coffee mug at the rear of the hall, I spotted two other inmates sitting by Clodumar and whispering to him and listening to him in turn. They were hunched down. It was easy to frustrate the stationary cameras in this place. Another pair of inmates at the table gestured and bantered so loudly that no one could overhear the exchange. At lunch the next day, Matson came over and sat next to me, so close that I could see the pores on his long bony face and feel his foul breath on the base of my neck. In a firm, hushed voice, he spelled out the plan for me. I asked him what would happen if I was not in. He said, without any change in his tone, “I’ll cut your face off and flush it down the toilet.”

They had put their heads together and realized that Daniels had not yet had a run-in with the surveyor. Based on his rank, a C-4 like myself, and the time he had arrived, they came up with a range during which an encounter was likely. On each of the evenings in question, we lingered in the showers until, for the sake of appearances, some men trickled back to their cells, but not all. Finally, the evening came. Right after Daniels left the showers and set off back to his cell, we caught the whirring, then we heard Daniels murmur and wail as if he had no more expected this than an abduction by aliens. But this time, the man did not flee to his cell. He stood there while the eye left, then Burke ran to the spot in the hall right under the portal through which the eye left, Matson climbed onto his shoulders, and Nevins surmounted the two of them and thrust a bar of soap between the closing door and its frame.

As soon as the surveyor had gone off to another level, Nevins entered the crawlspace, then Clodumar climbed over Burke and Matson, then Daniels did it, then myself, at which point we pulled the two men below us into the space using a rope made out of towels. The six of us, all naked, pursued the shaft thirty yards to its end, finding another portal at our feet. Someone pressed a button to its left, it slid open, and we leapt into the space below. Then the six of us were charging through a dark corridor over which some mechanical entity droned. I can’t possibly be of use to anyone! I thought. Why did they want me? Up ahead, four bright flashes accompanied deafening reports from a carbine, one of our number fell, and someone else, I thought it was Burke, cried out. When we got closer, the shape came into relief, a white man in a beige outfit and black cap holding the carbine at a crazy angle as Clodumar tried to wrest it away. The man fired again, and the shot ricocheted through the nether parts of the chamber. Then the weapon was out of his hands, and the butt of it flew into his gut, then into his head, then he was on his knees with both hands on his head, shrieking, Clodumar hitting him again and again in fury. Then the weightlifter took a shiny rectangle from the corpse’s breast pocket, grabbed his sidearm, and handed it to Nevins, who put on the guard’s uniform.

Matson and I ventured back down the hall to where Daniels sprawled with a bullet in his head and Burke lay moaning. A round had grazed his right arm, leaving a red channel with banks of torn flesh. We helped Burke along the hall to the others, and then Clodumar slid the gleaming rectangle into the slot, and the door opened on a storage area full of disused crates and lifts. We raced to the next portal and stood breathlessly while Clodumar paused, as if at the threshold of a million nightmares compressed into one space.

He slid the rectangle into the slot, and then we were on the other side. Before the room came into focus, flashes came from two directions at once, and Matson bellowed mightily. Walkways at each end of the area towered over a well full of desks and computers, a place such as you would find in any corporate park. At the far end of the upper level stood a glass partition behind which two men in business suits stared out in horror. The fire came from opposite ends of the far walkway. Clodumar and Nevins opened up with their weapons and sent round blazing over the heads of the terrified workers in the well. Both guards toppled into the well with blood spurting from their heads and necks. Nevins kept firing and put two rounds through the partition. We moved to the other side of the room, scanning the well, where workers cowered under tables and behind desks. Right after we entered the office behind the partition, we saw it: Matson’s right ear and half his jaw were gone, his torso stained crimson and his tongue lolling out of his mouth like a dog’s whose owner has left it in a car on a blazing hot day. Ignoring Clodumar’s orders, he vaulted the desk onto the manager behind it and bit him about the face and neck as Clodumar grabbed the other manager and herded everyone else back to the walkway.

“Thanks for having us, but it’s that time,” he said to the official.

“It’s not just one button,” the man said, pointing to a console below. “There’s a whole sequence that you have to enter to open four separate doors ten seconds apart from each other.”

That meant that one of us would have to stay behind.

“I’ll do it,” Burke said, taking Nevins’s pistol and a fresh clip.

We descended into the well, where the workers had been too terrified to grab a weapon from one of the fallen guards. We felt so guilty.

They were natives.

We took clothes and guns and made our way through the series of doors leading away from the well, and then we were outside under the same sun that shone on Sydney and Djakarta and Hong Kong and a million other places. Clodumar leapt atop a white rock thrusting crazily at the air and took off, and Nevins and I followed. Having covered a hundred yards, we came to the mouth of a mine. We climbed down fifty feet and stood at the apex of four tunnels leading to quarries mined over decades by workers from several nations. They had hacked away at the essence of a nation and sent it up on pulleys and thence to ships bound for docks on whose flanks sharply dressed men and women sipped ports and clarets. Despite the idiocy of the politically correct version of history, with its morality play of whites and “people of color,” I felt pity for this nation in the nether reaches of the ocean.

“All right, listen,” said Clodumar. “We’re o.k. for now. There are fifty mines around here, and I chose this one at random. But if Burke’s still alive back there, he won’t be for long. I would give us six hours before they’ve got a security force here from the big country, and eight before they surround and scour the island from end to end. Sunset’s in two hours. We go out then, go to the coast and get some food and cash, and make a raft. If we get a head start, four helicopters will have a hell of a time finding a raft between here and Indonesia.”

After two hours, we climbed up out the mine into the immensity of the night, the sky an endless scintillating sheet mocking this spec of an island, and then we started off toward the coast.

“Take this, Heath,” said Nevins, pressing a Sig Sauer pistol into my hand. At length, the terrain segued from blasted rocks into a zone where scrub and trees rose between markedly smaller stones. We stole across the small jagged rocks until we were in position outside a house. We heard Clodumar force in the front door. Seconds later, the light came on. Through the windows, we saw Clodumar wrestling a kid of eleven or twelve to the floor. I heard a sound at the back of the house and realized what was happening. At the back, another kid’s head and chest protruded from the window. “Get back in!” I hissed. He kept trying to clamber out, and I told him again, to no effect. I hit him in the face with the butt of the Sig Sauer, making him gasp and sink back inside. After slamming the window, I ran around to the front and went inside. The house did not invite comparison to the seediest dive in Brisbane. The plot was a dirt floor with columns at either end rising to a row of branches lashed together with grimy bands. No warping marred that roof, which might not have met the rain’s impact in years. Opposite the table at the right wall stood a mantel on which someone had propped a photo of tribesmen from another age. There were three empty beds. This is a place that is lived in. Clodumar cupped his palm over the mouth of the first boy and flicked the light off. The second boy did not resist as Nevins turned him around, tied his belt tightly around the boy’s wrists, and pushed him to the floor. Nevins and I hunched down as Clodumar peered through the window. Moments later, he spoke of a shape that had flitted through the space between two houses further up the hill, and we heard him panting as he cupped his hand ever tighter over the mouth of his captive. Then it was as if someone were shining a floodlight outside, or maybe a fleet had arrived from Australia and was training its guns on the house in the light of millions of watts. At length, the light faded away, but Clodumar did not relax his grip. Two hours later, he moved the boy to one of the beds and pressed his face into the pillow.

“All right,” he began. “Nevins and I are going to take this roof apart. We can use it for our raft. We have to do it quietly, so it might take a little while. Heath, take that Sig Sauer and go up the slope and find us some food and clean water. If you don’t rejoin us in a half hour, you won’t rejoin us.”

I started up the slope of the hill in the brightening air, ran through an empty golf course, and stopped at the side of a house with a crucifix thrusting from the top of its façade. Inside was a scene like the one in the first hut, but the only occupant was a wizened old woman who sat passively in her chair while I gathered up cans of imported olives. A gray flask full of water stood on the desk, and I snatched it. I pulled six flowers from a jug on the table beside the old woman, and threw them on the floor. Then I was outside again with the cans and flask and jug.

I started back down the slope at whose opposite end stood the glade, a set-piece conveying nature’s eternal retreat. One of the cans, then several others, slipped out from my arms, and I chased them down to the empty beach, where they came to rest on the random rises and depressions. I turned and grabbed at the cans, and then the jug slipped from my arms, and I turned again, slipped, and lay on the beach with my hands digging at the ground like a malfunctioning crane. It was so sad here.

So sad.

Imagine that you came to the island as a tourist, taking advantage of a package tour sold by some agent in Brisbane or Perth. You might have only a day to spend before jetting off to Saipan or Fiji or Guam, and you might well take a few snapshots just to have souvenirs of this fly-over nation with an airfield dating to Tojo’s day. And so you would capture it: Here is the beach where the island’s children come to play and swim, not venturing out too far for the sharp coral and the sharks that circle beyond. Here is the glade where you just might catch sight of a noddy bird, if you went there every day for a month. Here is the empty golf course. Closer to topside, the site of the depleted mines, are the houses. Here’s the home of a family that had once had the potential to be wealthy, but today the father sits and flips through a yellowing fishing magazine from 1989, while the mother sits and cleans her baby, and the ten-year-old, already fat, scarfs junk from grey cans.

What had I done?

What had Nevins done? And Matson, and a thousand other inmates sunk in the anonymity of blue shirts and crew cuts? I wondered if there was a man among them who did not deserve to be in the prison, and if there was a native not entitled to a high-paying job there. The prison was order, symmetry.

I turned away from the ocean, toward the hinterland, and started back.

This is the most comprehensive account we have of the escape of Vincent Clodumar, Gerald Nevins, and David Heath from the Menen Correctional Facility. After his return to the prison, Heath was gracious enough to meet with journalists. The facility’s administrators were aghast when he presented them with this narrative, but by law they could not intervene. As for the other two inmates, Clodumar died in a shootout with security forces, and Nevins, who apparently escaped by raft, is presumed dead, although evidence has not yet emerged.

Sadly, the author of these pages committed suicide in his cell not long after the meeting, so evidently his acceptance of current methods of punishment and reform was not as wholehearted as the final passages make it appear. Then again, he may have overreacted to new practices introduced just after his return. His death opens up his cell to a member of the newest group of prisoners, a large contingent of refugees from Afghanistan.


Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2007

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