|A Novel By Max Rabinowitz|
|I returned to the hospital on Monday morning filled with glee at the thought of having fooled the authorities and also with thoughts of the past month and JoAnne.
First, as always, there was the strip-search, then a medical examination, then the medication, the smells, the crazy people running around, the same routine, but I had been so well acclimated that it was almost like coming home. I waved at a few guys I knew and fell right back in step, as if I had never been gone.
A month after I returned there was a really bad incident in which I was partially involved. One of the attendants, Pfeister by name, was stomped to death by the entire ward. Ward Ten was a dangerous ward to begin with, and Pfeister was a complete fool.
A couple of the men on the ward decided they wanted out for awhile and they simply went to Pfeister and told him that they wanted the keys to the outer door. The attendant, if he was smart, usually gave his keys to the men. They would then lock him into an empty room. He could claim later that he had been overpowered by the nuts. When two or three men escaped in this manner they were very careful to lock the doors after them so that no other patients could escape and draw heat on them. Escapes from the hospital were frequent, but no one worried about them because the patients usually returned on their own after a day or two. It was only occasionally that a nut would escape and then rape or rob somebody. It was a very rare patient who was fully capable of functioning on his own for more than two or three days. Either they were arrested by the cops or else they simply walked back to the hospital and surrendered themselves.
These two men wanted a few days respite from the hospital. Pfeister, being a new attendant and somewhat of a fool, told them to get lost. Then he made a fatal mistake - he turned his back on them.
In a flash, both men threw him to the floor and started stomping him. One of them tried to grab Pfeister's keys, but even then the idiot wouldn't let go. The excitement stirred up the rest of the ward and damn near everybody jumped on Pfeister's ass. As soon as I saw what was going on, that an attendant was in big trouble. I went into the bathroom and stayed there until the noise ceased.
When I emerged from the bathroom, Pfeister was lying in a pool of blood, while the patients just sat around talking quietly. They paid absolutely no attention to the mess that had once been Pfeister. The two who started the whole thing were gone. In a week one of them was captured in Canada. The other was located on an Alabama chain-gang three weeks after that. How they managed to get that far remained a mystery to me and almost everyone else. Upon capture they were both taken directly upstate and were never seen again.
When I saw Pfesiter I picked up the office telephone and called the Supervisory Nurse downstairs. Fifteen attendants charged into the ward almost before I could hang up the phone.
In a few moments we were all stripped naked and lined up against the wall. Not one of us was beaten and I wasn't surprised because they didn't want any marks on us. The outside authorities had to be brought in to investigate the matter and the staff didn't want anyone in a position to say that Pfeister had beaten on them.
The Assistant District Attorney was a short, ugly man. He questioned us one by one and everyone, including myself, claimed ignorance. It wasn't true, but to me at least, it was the safest route. The Assistant District Attorney would leave eventually, but one had to live with everyone else there and a dumb slip could've gotten me stomped too!
It was finally decided to take us all into court and let the judge figure out what should be done. The court was a small room located just west of the Community Store and was there mostly for the purpose of committing people to the hospital. The courtroom was a sight! In every seat of the first six rows there was a man strapped into a canvas straight jacket! There were forty-two of us and it looked like something out of a comic strip. Some guys mumbled to themselves, others giggled and laughed at nothing. The court reporter looked as if he wanted to have himself committed, and even the judge seemed nervous about the whole thing.
We were all sworn in at one time and when the court reporter asked if we would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God, a guy named Looney jumped up and hollered, "Don't take my name in vain!" The judge looked at him like he was crazy and he was. He really thought he was God!
Everyone repeated the same bullshit they had told the A.D.A. and it was as confusing as ever. After a time the judge threw up his hands in disgust and ordered us all back to our building. He decided finally that the persons responsible for Pfeister's death were the two guys who had escaped and let it got at that.
I felt bad about Pfeister getting it that way, but if he would have given up the keys when those guys had first approached him he would have still been alive. Hell, even if he didn't turn his back on them he would've still been alive. Pfeister was a fool and fools didn't last very long there in that place!
Things weren't always bad or violent during this period. I was now a lot older and more capable of taking care of myself. When I was younger almost everything that happened was a major catastrophe, but as I grew I learned that some things were really bad and others just seemed that way. At ten or eleven years old a beating by one of the attendants or another patient seemed to be the end of the world. Yet after I had gone through numerous beatings I learned that they could be absorbed with a minimum of fuss and would eventually fade in significance. The first time I was cut by someone I thought I would bleed to death, but afterwards I realized the difference between a superficial cut and one that was serious.
The same principle applied to seeing someone get killed. As long as it didn't involve me, what difference did it make in the scheme of things?