Attica Dialogue

Dialogue between Me, Gerard A. Whitfield, and Block Sergeant

Me: What is like? Being in Prison I mean?

Whitfield: I just don’t fit their schemas of what a convict should be.

Me: Is it possible to have a sense of not belonging?

Sergeant: Did you forget where the fuck you are?

Me: Sorry.

Whitfield: Prison has its own language.

Me: I bet. So, what is it that you do?

Whitfield: The yard porter. I am responsible for the maintenance of the honor block recreation yard and the vocational building's evacuation yard directly opposite it.

Me: Do you get paid?

Whitfield: For three dollars a week I am expected to keep both yards free of trash, their walks and steps free of snow.

Me: I bet it’s tiring.

Whitfield: I have underestimated the tenacity of the snow.

Me: Why? Never lived in New York before?

Whitfield: Born and raised in Virginia Beach, I've seldom experienced any snowfall, and certainly none remotely comparable to western New York's.

Me: Oh, I see.

Whitfield: There are times when I… recall that wintry day… years ago when I first was sent out here to shovel snow.

Me: Did you ever think you would do this?

Whitfield: On the street, as we say of the time before incarceration, I was an outlaw biker, an enforcer, a tattooist, a drug dealer, a criminal—but never a gardener. As a matter of fact, I hated gardening as a boy.

Me: I can only imagine.

Whitfield: .The garden is not a place where I delve into the mysteries of why I committed the crimes that led me here, or how I allowed myself to stray so far from the moral pathway that only my parents placed me on.

Me: Then why the garden? Why is it so important?

Whitfield: The whole yard has a soul, and a portion of it is my soul. I think that only those who have experienced it can understand. Much like prison.

Me: And what has the garden taught you throughout your time there?

Whitfield: During the time I've been in Attica I've earned two college degrees and completed many therapeutic programs, but my greatest learning experiences have come in this yard. I've learned things out here that can't be taught by books or in classrooms.

Me: And what about now? Who tends the garden?

Whitfield:  I have not been back to the garden. I miss my time there.' It was my refuge. But it's still there. It survived after all. It’s being cared for by other men provides me with a great deal, of satisfaction and some consolation.

Me: How do you feel now? Do you still remember the garden?

Whitfield: Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of the flowers or a whiff of their spicy fragrance. I don't despair. I take the scent along with me.

Me: Thank You for your time Mr. Whitfield.

Sergeant: Now get the fuck out.

Me: Yes sir. And thank you for letting speak with Mr. Whitfield.

He returns to the papers on his desk.

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