2012 was the year of the diet. A year of poker and chess proved not to be very healthy. I stopped walking, stopped playing basketball, and suddenly was weighing in at…………
277 pounds. Dios Mio! So I began writing down, in a journal, everything I ate. Each day, I tracked every calorie. My target was 1750. I began losing about a pound per week, and by the end of 2012, I was down to 210.
Luna also had lost close to 100 pounds at this point — and he was only 5’4″ (though he will claim 5’5″, don’t believe it!). He ate lots of tunafish and mackerel, with no sweets. He also diligently followed a grueling workout regimen which hurts just to think about: Pullups, pushups, situps…not 10 or 20 or even 50 per day, but close to 1,000. It worked great and he was healthier than ever…until he wasn’t.
One night, I heard him screaming from his cell. “Just kill me. Kill me,” he begged the nurses. What started as a particularly stubborn kidney stone, which he needed surgery for, soon turned into stage 3 kidney cancer. He was taken away to the hospital and I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. I missed his friendship, and the authentic Mexican food he would cook for me on special occasions, using secret family recipes from the Mexican restaurant his family owned in Oregon. For my food journal, we called these “Data Not Available” days, as I gorged on tostadas, tamales, posole, burritos, and green chili cream cheese chicken enchiladas. His specialty, though not Mexican, was bacon-wrapped devilled eggs. A culinary masterpiece.
It’s wise never to get too attached to anyone. Once they’re gone, it’s not like you can text them and ask how they’re doing. Luna left unexpectedly. I had to deal with it and move on.
Then, at the end of 2012, something unexpected happened to me. A group of officers, dressed in black, came barging into our unit and headed straight for my cell. My cellmates at the time were shitsticks. They were known drug users. In fact, I often had a drug dog walking on my clean sheets and pillows, sniffing around. So when I saw the raid I assumed it was for my cellmates…again. When the guards asked, “Which locker is Newman’s,” I was visibly shaken.
They proceeded to spend the next four hours going through my paperwork with a fine-toothed comb. Reading every letter, every slip of paper, looking at every photo. But why? Nobody would tell me. I called to tell my parents what was going on, which in retrospect was a bad idea, as my mom worries even more than I do.
Weeks later, I got handcuffed and taken to the hole (solitary confinement), after my case magager spent close to an hour interrogating me, trying to get me to confess to what I did. He told me he could tell I was lying to him. My face was red, my mouth was dry, he said. “If you did nothing wrong, you have no reason to be so nervous,” he scolded.
My first trip to the hole. It was like I was a “real inmate” now. The scariest part was that for the 17 days, and even months after, I had no idea why I was there. I was worried perhaps my cellmates had planted something in my locker or my ex-wife’s boyfriend had called in a false report. I knew I’d done nothing wrong but that made little difference.
The hole was a surreal and lonely experience. I remember waking up after my first night there. A guard was at my door, delivering breakfast through the slot in the door, which we call the bean slot. “Good morning, sir! Would you care for coffee this morning?” He was more cheerful than some servers at TGI Friday’s. I looked out, wondering if he was joking, but he was actually giving out coffee with breakfast. Problem was, it was bad coffee. Really bad. However, I desperately needed caffeine, as I was feeling severe withdrawl symptoms. I waited for it to cool down, then shot it down like bad tequila, and chased it with an aspartame-based powdered drink mix. I just poured the dry powder into my mouth to get rid of the rancid coffee taste.
I was allowed to shower twice a week, but had to be handcuffed, then escorted to a locked cage, where the handcuffs were removed and the water was scalding.
I spent Thanksgiving in the hole, and was given a Hershey bar. I was told I couldn’t be held for more than 12 more days. The Hershey bar had 12 squares. So each night, I ate just one square of chocolate. (Willpower, right?) I pretended I was at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago with an Andes mint under my pillow each night.
After 17 days, the guard surpised me. “Newman, you are out of here,” he said. I didn’t even get to finish the Dick Francis novel I was in the middle of, but it didn’t matter. (I was sure the horses would be ok in the end.) I was out, and was being moved back to the same unit, the same cell I was in 17 days prior. Still, nobody would tell me why this all happened. The staff told me they were sworn to secrecy.
When I got back to the unit my chess partner was gone, but I was able to celebrate Christmas with my friends. (I am still irked that I missed UClA in the Pac-12 championship game, though, thanks to my little vacation). And I was able to call Marah. I hadn’t spoken to her in three weeks, as I wasn’t allowed phone calls. She was excited to hear my voice, as I was to hear hers. I was amped on adrenaline, talking a mile a minute, elated to finally be “free”. Funny, right?
Categories: Stephen Newman