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The Caveman

by Aram "Rocky" Alkazoff

     This was a sad situation, and looking around all I could count on was that I was healthy.  That was the blessing, but everything else was as pathetic as a human situation could be.  I was in Wayne County Jail in Detroit, as filthy, overcrowded, noisy, and as unfeeling a place as is in this United States, the home of the free and the brave.  Not only was I here, live and in living color, but I was in the worst spot in this place, a "holding cell", waiting to be moved.

     I had already done five years of a life sentence, with the Federal Government in their prison system in places like Levenworth Kansas, Oxford, Wisconsin, and M.C.C. Chicago.  I was back here for a Evidentiary Hearing in front of the hardest, coldest, oldest Judge on the Federal bench, Horace Gilmore.  He was the one who gave me the life sentence in the first place, and now I was back in front of him on appeal to overturn this harsh blow.  I had witnesses flown in to testify to things that would lead to my proving I had not gotten a fair trial, but the not so honorable Horace slammed the door in my face, and would
not let them testify.  He said go back and do the life "bit", and shut the door on me.  So I was feeling a little down, to say the least.

     When you go to federal court in Detroit, and you are incarcerated, you are "housed" or should I say "warehoused" in Wayne County Jail. Believe me prison is a country club compared to Wayne County Jail.  The happiest holding cell in Wayne County Jail is the one that prisoners are packed out, and waiting to be transferred to prisons and penitentiaries.  They are joking and upbeat, and happy to be leaving this hellhole.  Imagine being so happy to go to a prison, because the place you are leaving was so horrible.  That's how bad this place was.

     First of all you wear a pajama type outfit of green that is full of
old sweat and smell, and broken up slippers.  Then the food is not fit for a human being, and there is so little, that people fight for it. You get no fresh air ever.  The place is either too cold or too hot, and always noisy.  There is nothing to read, the phones rarely work, and maybe if your lucky you might get a shower.  The mail hardly works, the sheriffs hardly do anything for you no matter how polite you ask, and you could go weeks without seeing a pencil or soap.  You might get to watch a old television, which hardly comes in cause they don't allow antennas, and you might get a torn up scrap of an old newspaper to read if you're lucky.

     To even be in your cell here is to be lucky, because if you going to a cell, or leaving one, it means that you go from holding cell to holding cell, sitting and waiting hours to go about a hundred feet, cause no cop feels like taking you.  You sit on a steel block, or bench, and just stare forward like a fool for hours at a time.  In a holding cell is no water, no food, and if you want to go to the bathroom, you have to do it in front of everybody.  Never in your life will you feel like less a human being than in one of these.

     There is a saying that in prison you "hurry up, and then wait."
That is true, and the experience of the holding cell bears this out.
They rush you out of your cell to move you somewhere, acting like it's a life and death situation, making you gather yourself in seconds, like the Jews forced to move in "Schindler's List".  Then they take you to a big cell with steel benches and one toilet and make you sit for hours.

     Being that I had already been in prison for five years, I had been eating fairly decent, exercising and training like a boxer.  I was in real good shape coming into Wayne County, and the week I had been there was horrible, but I had retained a healthy look.  I had come in at 185 hard pounds and probably had only lost five or six pounds.  But everyone in the holding cell had been in Wayne County for quite a while, fighting their cases, or awaiting being sent to a prison, after being found guilty.  They were a mess.

     Like I said, the holding cell was a rectangular room with bars, one toilet and steel benches going around it.  It had room for maybe thirty guys on the benches, but there were at least twice that many men, so most were seated on the dirty floor or lying on their blankets. Everyone was hungry and thirsty, and tired.  The smells were horrible, and the conversation was both filthy and boring at the same time.

     The inmates with me were all black men of the ages of eighteen to over seventy.  I was the only non black, which meant nothing here as we were all alike to the cops.  The men were all skinny, underfed, and most of them looked like they stepped right out of crack cocaine habits. I could tell most of them had never been to a real penitentiary, as a few of them actually asked the police for a glass of water.  A seasoned con would never do that, as he would know it was no use, and never give a goofy county jail cop the pleasure of giving him a excuse, turning him down, or lying  about helping him.  Most of these guys were "green", and had a long way to go.  Even the older quieter guys looked terrible.  It was obvious they were out there smoking crack too and not eating.  It was sad to me, that prisoners in prison looked healthier than guys off the streets, as some of these guys had only been in here a few days.  I thought to myself that some of these guys might need a rest.  A lot of them had sores, scars, and open abscesses from shooting bad drugs that smelled.

     All the conversation was "fuck this and fuck that", and "pussy this and pussy that", and arguments over "who makes more money Mike Jordan or Oprah Winfrey?" and ignorant stuff like that.  I wanted to put in ear plugs, and just get to where I was going.  But before putting my head down, I did notice one convict who was looking at me in a curious way.

     Now usually in a prison situation when a convict is staring at another convict, it can lead to violence.  In Detroit it is called "Marquetteing" someone.  Marquette is the name of the highest security prison in the Michigan system.  Staring at someone with a attitude means you want to do him harm of some sort.  But this was different.  You could tell this guy meant no harm.  The vibrations were different.

     Taking a good look at him, I noticed his skin was very jet black, and smooth.  His hair was long and "nappy", but his eyes were bright and alert, and his teeth very large and bright.  I also noticed that his forearms hanging out of his jail blouse were muscular, bottomed off by well formed knuckles and hands.  He was about thirty five or so and healthier than the others.

     "Hey man is your name Rocky?" he asked in a low voice.  "Didn't you box at Kronk back in the seventies or early eighties?"

     "Yeah I used to work out there and spar with guys", I answered, getting up and moving next to him.  "I just like boxing, keeping in shape."

     "How come you didn't go pro?" he asked.  "You were alright.  Hit hard with that right hand too."

     "Too old," I laughed.  "I was older than I looked.  Man I started boxing in Chicago in the sixties, but I didn't go anywhere with it.  You know, I wanted to be a casanova."

     We both started laughing and slapped hands.

     "Yeah I was a young fool," I went on.  "Didn't take advantage of what I might have had.  But later on when I moved to Detroit, and I was involved in the street life, still I liked to go to the gym and spar."

     "Well you held your own," the dark skinned man said.  "You look like you're still ready."

     "I been down five years," I said, still not knowing who the man was.  "I been working out.  Back on appeal, which they denied.  But I'll be back again.  Say I'm not good with names man.  I forgot yours."

     "William Lee," he said, smiling those big white teeth.  "The
"Caveman".  I read about your case Rocky.  I knew you had life.  I was pretty young in them days at Kronk, Rock."

     "Caveman Lee!" I thought.  "This kid fought Hagler for the title! What the hell was he doing here?"

     "Caveman, God damm," I said, and we hugged each other.  "What the hell are you doing here man?  I heard you was locked up years ago for some armed robbery or something."

     "I did five years," he answered.

     "What are you doing here?" I asked.  "Parole violation."

     He shook his head and looked down sadly.  Our whole mood changed.

     "I'm in the same boat as you Rock," he said sadly.  "New bit.
Armed robbery again.  I got fifteen to life."

     "What the hell happened?" I asked further.

     "I got caught up again," he said with a smile grin.  "I messed up. Started getting high.  I messed up bad. You know.  Didn't know what to do with myself.  Ran out of money.  I messed up bad."

     I saw he was down in the dumps, and so was I for that matter.  I thought to change the subject.

     "What the hell happened against Hagler?" I asked.  "I figured you were going to go to war with the guy.  You got the break when Goodwin pulled out, and I figured you would fight him like a animal."

     "I wanted to," he said, perking up at the mention of boxing.  "I
planned to.  When Mickey pulled out and I got my chance, I was in good shape.  But the fight with the Puerto Rican took too much out of me Rock."

     "LoCicero?" I asked.  "Man what a fight!  They used to show the highlights on ESPN all the time.  I was locked up when I finally saw it.  LoCicero was a tough monkey huh?"

     "Real tough," he said, thinking back.  "I thought one of us was
gonna die.  Johnny LoCicero was a tough dude.  He could hit, but I wanted that fight so bad.  I would'a died rather than lose.  But against Hagler it was different Rock."

     "What happened William?"

     "Man it was a different atmosphere Rock," he said, shaking his head.  "It was too clean.  Too controlled.  Hagler was so smooth, so confident.  He came right out and nailed me.  It wasn't as hard as LoCicero hurt me, but it was from him.  From Hagler.  He was too good. I stayed down.  To be honest with you Rock, I think the LoCicero fight took it out of me. I wasn't the same.  Then I got a few bucks and everything got crazy."

     He looked at me and snuck in another smile, and I started smiling back.  We both understood.

     "Yeah I know that feeling too William," I remarked.

     "Oh well," he said resigning himself to his fate.  "Now I start
this shit again. I don't know how, but here I am."

     Just then the guards came back and started reading off names.  We were gonna be moved.  Caveman looked at me sadly, almost holding back a tear.

     "We're never going to see each other again Rock," he said.  "I feel real close to you.  I wish we was going to the same prison."

     I had been in his position five years ago, and a old fighter had
picked me up with his encouraging words.  I knew he was down and depressed, and it was sad we were parting, but I wanted to say something to him to pick up his spirits and make his tough journey easier.

     "Caveman do me a favor," I asked.

     "What Rock?" he said.

     "I know this is gonna be tough, but I want you to remember
something," I said.  "You were no champ in real life, but you fought a hall of famer for the middleweight title.  The real title, not some alphabet title.  You got knocked out, but plenty of guys have got knocked out.  Point is you were in there with Hagler.  How many guys can say that?"

     Caveman put his head down sadly into his two strong hands, then picked it up looking at me.

     "Man you fought Johnny LoCicero in the fight of the year," I went on.  "That puts you in the class with Basilio and Sugar Ray, and Ali and Joe Frazier, with Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis man.  You fought for the middleweight title man.  The real title held by a hall of famer like Marvin Hagler. Man that's the title that Monzon had, and Tony Zale."

     "Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano," he murmured to himself.  "They said LoCicero and me was like Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano."

     "That's what I'm saying Caveman," I went on.  "Forget this
bullshit.  If you didn't become a champ out in the streets, still in the "joint" you can be a champ again.  You can get back in perfect condition and walk around like the champ.  You can be in shape like a champ.  You done things no one in there has done, nor hardly no one in the streets. You need to be proud of all that and keep your pride.  Don't let these bastards steal it from you."

     "They'll try to," he said nodding.  "I know that."

     "Well then," I said.  "Its another fight and you gotta fight back.
Once you're back in shape, start trying your best to get out.  Even if you pled out, you can still get a parole.  If you gotta do the time, do it like a champ.  Don't mess around with bullshit in there.  Stay away from booze and drugs and the sissies.  You fought for the title.  The real title.  Now walk around like a champ. Inspire people who admire you, man."

     "I see how you are Rock," he said, shaking my hand. "I can do it."

     "A old fighter named Curtis "the Hatchetman" Sheppard, who was doing a life bit too, gave me that advice," I said, getting up, hearing my name called by the guard.  "He saw I had life, and had heard I wanted to be a fighter when I was young.  He inspired me to stand up and fight this sentence, and walk around like the champ I never became.  You too Caveman.  I did it and you can do it too.  Remember.  You fought for the middleweight title man.  Tony Zale's title, Sugar Ray Robinson's title..."

     I got up, and we hugged again.  He kissed me on the cheek like a brother.  I hated to leave him too.  We were both alone.  As I walked away I turned around and gave him a fisted power sign.

     "Remember man, strong," I said.

     He gave it back nodding with a serious look.

     That was the last I ever saw of William Caveman Lee who had fought for the real Middleweight title, and had fought in the fight of the year.  I went to Oxford Federal Prison and he went to Jackson State Penitentiary, both of us into the pit of hell that is prison.  But we were different, and there was a spark of something noble and proud in both of us.  I continued to fight and finally won my release, walking out in shape and healthy, ready for a new start.  I hope Caveman is doing well wherever he is.  I liked him and he liked me.  He was better than most, and I hope he continued to walk tall and improve in the hell where he was sent.  He made mistakes but he had alot to be proud of. I hope his pride carried him through that miserable place.

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