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Notes from Sisika Penn No. 1

Editors Note: The following journal entries from a prisoner in Sisika Penitentiary are the first in an on-going series.

I’ll be writing a few things down from time to just hope that after I am gone someone will read this and know that I am an educated man, a quiet man, and someone who doesn’t go about ending people’s lives.

21 March 1898. 

I write this from cell #44 of the Sisika Penitentiary. My name is Gill and I was born in 1865 in the north east. I traveled to Valentine 5 days ago in search of work only to find money in my pocket and a thirst that could only be quenched by cheap whiskey. Four days ago, I woke up behind Keane’s maybe it was midday to about a dozen members of the law and tossed into jail. I had no idea what was going on. I asked Sheriff Malloy and he said I’d be hung for what I did. I asked him what I do? He told me I kilt a guy… Phil, and I told him I did not kill nobody. Sheriff Malloy asked if I’d been to Blackwater and I did. Did a job for some folks when I first got to town then left for Valentine. I didn’t kill nobody and was transported by wagon to this terrible place. They work us from dawn till the sun go down barley feed us, we don’t wash, this place is a stink hole… the guards could care less about how we treated and to top it all off Warden Jameson says that he will personally see me at the end of a rope for what I did. I can make friends anyplace I go apparently. I’m headed to trial soon. This smells like a set up to me. I’ll be writing a few things down from time to just hope that after I am gone someone will read this and know that I am an educated man, a quiet man, and someone who doesn’t go about ending people’s lives. I have been in this prison for four days now and I do not know what happens tomorrow. I just came to this area for work. I have met some people in this place Emery who is in the cell next to mine he’s a good fella, we talk, Bronson is in the other and he and I talk from time to time cause when the guards come in the morning we can’t. No talking during chow, none on the outside neither. They have us breaking up rocks, rocks! This one guy spoke one word and we was beaten and placed in the hole. He still there right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, I hope this story has a good ending…but I don’t think it will.

The other men in this camp keep to themselves mostly, one came up the other day and attempted to take a biscuit off my tray, I looked at him and said if he tried he would walk away with a nub… he told me to watch my back. Makin’ friends everywhere I go.

24 March 1898. 

Its Thursday didn’t have much time to get to writing anything down. They are having us work nonstop, yesterday someone attempted to run and was gunned down within seconds. Poor bastard wasn’t even dead they just made him lie there suffering, he eventually expired, and they kept him there, the birds started in and we kept on working. We didn’t want to be next. I just think of how life used to be and wonder what the hell went so wrong. Why did anyone want me to be the pasty of this crime? I lived on the streets, taught myself how to read, write, listen and not say much. Maybe its cause nobody did know me and I ain’t got a family. I am so tired; sleep doesn’t happen often and when it does it’s for a moment. The other men in this camp keep to themselves mostly, one came up the other day and attempted to take a biscuit off my tray, I looked at him and said if he tried he would walk away with a nub… he told me to watch my back. Makin’ friends everywhere I go. That’s what life is like in this damned hoosegow, but I got to do something. I can’t just give up in this place so every day I do the grind hoping for some… miracle. I guess this is enough for tonight. I hope I can sleep, I hope I can go home, I hope that I don’t die in this hell. We shall see what happens.

I don’t understand the reason here. We wake up, they feed us scraps, we work until we drop, we go back into our cell block and eat supper. What the hell is his issue with me?

5 April 1898. 

Its Tuesday night and I got my self in a bit of trouble. I told them guards, I told everybody I am not here to make any friends and I will defend myself if need be. I’ve noticed how things work around here. We got groups of people that really run this place and I’ve for a reason kept my circle small, maybe that was a mistake. That bastard who attempted to steal food from me tried again, his name is Billy and apparently, he runs the yard around here when were not smashin’ rocks. Well, he tried, and I got up and slugged him good. Guards rushed over separated us and threw me into the hole. Two weeks in the hole is something I don’t think anyone wants to experience. Nothin’ happened to him but he got some of his buddies to get me alone and god knows what they wanted to do. I don’t want no enemies; I don’t want to fight but those boys got their asses whupped. I don’t understand the reason here. We wake up, they feed us scraps, we work until we drop, we go back into our cell block and eat supper. What the hell is his issue with me? This all happened today. After we got back from the yard, this is my life now? Dealing with this bull shit? I spent two weeks pissin’ and shittin’ in a bucket, eating moldy bread and drinkin’ dirty water maybe every other day, get released, nothin’ to clean myself with, work the yard and back into our bunks and they wanna mess with me more? He knows I hurt his boys, he keeps glaring at me… little does he know if he wants to push me… he will regret it.

I got a few people in my corner and we share a common goal, to end Bill’s power over this prison and take care of all the people who back ‘em.

10 April 1898.

Thank goodness it’s Sunday. This is the only time we have when we are not in the yard. This day is to pray, and get caught up with whatever God you choose to believe in. A few things have happened since my last entry. I got a few people in my corner and we share a common goal, to end Bill’s power over this prison and take care of all the people who back ‘em. Emery and I have become close due to the close proximity of our cell’s and Bronson who is a legit physio… he just come off almost 3 weeks in the hole for spatting in a turn key’s face… they whupped his ass and he kept laughin’ at ‘em askin’ for more. Bill’s got a big crew though, so it’ll be interesting how this goes down because I ain’t backing down to this son of a bitch, the second that happens my time here goes from worse to even worse in a matter of seconds. Bronson keeps talking about trying to escape but I don’t see that as a viable option, few weeks ago someone tried, and they shot him dead and left him to the birds. My trial comes up soon… my attorney came in and told me to start praying cause I’m a legit dead man… my trial is in two weeks… this friggin’ lawyer Frank told me they have several eye witnesses, and spent shell casings at the scene of the murder. I told him I didn’t even own a gun! I never needed one, I can hold my own without using a gun. I never should have come to this area, should have stayed in the North East. I don’t wanna hang for something I didn’t do… however if Bill gets his way ill be long gone before that happens.

Every day is something different here, every day brings a set of new challenges, every day you wonder if that is the day you leave this place cold and stiff.

14 April 1898.

I don’t even know what day it is… the guards are having us work basically with little to no food or water. A few of the older guys dropped where they stood today. Guy, Emmitt went to check and got the butt of a rifle in his belly and im sure he’s in the hole now. It’s getting worse here. I feel myself changing too. I don’t like who I am becoming, I’m angry, scared, and paranoid all the time there’s no relief to it… its constant its overwhelming. Bill and his crew tried to jump Bronson day before last and they got a quick surprise… me and some of the others. I was like a conductor, telling people what to do and what kind of pain to inflict… it was like one of them shows and I was directin them what to do. A few of them were sent to the infirmary, Bill ran like the yellow belly coward he is. I know the second he gets an opportunity to take me out he will not hesitate and god dammit neither will I. I have a few guard’s helpin me out, but it comes at a cost. It’s nothing major. It’s basically protection from getting cornered alone. Every day is something different here, every day brings a set of new challenges, every day you wonder if that is the day you leave this place cold and stiff. Sometimes I think that would be a reprieve from the constant worry, the constant work, and the constant having to fight for survival. I was never made for this type of environment. This type of place changes you. You look into the mirror and wonder who the man is lookin back at you… I fear im turning into a monster. I don’t even recognize myself. And… that’s what scares me the most.

First, whoever reads this damn thing… I’ve changed. I didn’t think it would happen like this… this quick. I am not the same person that came into this hell 42 days ago.

2 May 1898.
Monday… I can barley write this. My hands don’t move… I got lots to say. I’ve been locked in the hole almost three weeks. I knew it would happen. I haven’t eaten nothin’ in days, I haven’t cleaned myself. The only reason they let me out was because today. My trial began. First, whoever reads this damn thing… I’ve changed. I didn’t think it would happen like this… this quick. I am not the same person that came into this hell 42 days ago. I’ve been in the hole Christ… five weeks of that 42 days. Barely surviving here. I knew this place would get to me; I knew I wasn’t cut out for this shit. I told them, I told everyone you back me in a corner I will defend myself. Bill and his crew… backed me in a corner and we fought. My crew tried to help but… the guards are in his pocket. I hurt two of them real bad… they didn’t expect that. When the guards knew I was winnin’… that’s when they stepped in and took me down broke my hand, ribs… button my eye. Tossed me in the hole. I would vow revenge on all of them but… soon ill be on the wrong end of a rope. My trial started today Spicer is the name of the judge. He seems like a good man, but I see the way he looks at me. He even told me my appearance was a slap in his face and I disrespected the court… like I had a choice. He said even looking at me chilled his blood. I am a goner. The guys tryin’ to lock me up have something like 6 witnesses I don’t got any… my lawyer some educated man from the south says I am in a big mess. We heard the first two today; a man, and a woman said they saw me walk into town and shoot that man. The prosecutor asked both of them to point and sure as shit they pointed right at me. I’ve never seen them in my life. That took a good long while then court went away, and we need to go back tomorrow. I told my lawyer I wanna go up there and talk and he told me no, I said I will go up there and I will speak when its our turn. Once the two were done I left in chains and I thought back to the hole I go but they brought me back here. I seen Bill and his guys; one I believe is still in the infirmary. Once I get my hands on him, I will break him in half. Few weeks in the hole… its incredible what the body and mind can endure. It’s incredible… maybe I am stronger than I thought. Be a hell of a place to find confidence but… Bronson and Emery both greeted me back with some shine and smokes. I washed up and don’t feel too bad… right now. Maybe I could have a sit down with Billy and his guys. I don’t know how much time I have left here on this earth. Ill be damned if I spend it lookin’ over my shoulder.