When Gordie told me he was “gonna beat Kent’s ass,” I took it to be little more than bravado and blowing off steam. I empathized—understood completely his ire and outrage—so I let him vent. Never did I think that the meek and mild kid who had been my cellie over a year before would resort to the type of epic violence he was describing. A year in prison can change a man immensely.
After Gordie went to Seg for horseplay and I lost him as my cellie, I kept track of him as best I could. He fell in with an older crowd, guys who had been in prison longer than Gordie had been on the planet, and they schooled him in the nuances of doing time and practicing what they felt was appropriate racial enmity towards those with skin color of a decidedly darker shade. Since I only saw Gordie in passing every once in a great while and could only occasionally send a message through a third party, I no longer had much sway or influence over him. When he was moved back to my cell house and wing, I was happy to see him, but taken somewhat aback by his revamped persona.
His once open and easy-to-smile face held a perpetual scowl, and a cloud that hung over him kept most people at bay. He seemed interminably angry. I’d known him to be upset, to throw an occasional tantrum or have a bitch fit to complain about whatever was bothering him. This new element of his personality was entirely removed from that type of fleeting emotion; this was closer to a deeply felt and abiding rage.
Gordie had once confided in me that, due to his largely rural and sheltered upbringing, he had never actually seen a black person in real life, only on TV. As he was processed through the intake joint, he had been surrounded by hundreds of men of color, mostly from the inner city, spouting slang and profanity in their own patois. This was quite a culture shock for young Gordie. The vehement and vitriolic racist rhetoric Gordie had picked up in the year since he’d been my cellie was a shock for me. Hate speech peppered with racial slurs twisted his lips in a sneer of scorn; I had trouble believing that Gordie’s words reflected his true feelings. The racism was a perfect conduit for his newly cultivated rage, but as I saw it, the root of Gordie’s problem was his temper.
When Kent got caught getting tattooed in his cell, he was sent to Seg. He blamed Gordie for it, claiming that Gordie snitched on him. The “logic” employed in Kent’s argument for Gordie’s guilt was that Gordie, being a porter, had a freedom of movement on the deck that others didn’t, so Gordie was one of the only people who knew what was going on in Kent’s cell. While the notion of Gordie snitching is certainly a possibility, Kent was also a complete jackstick who went around showing off his fresh tats to EVERYONE. It’s more likely that someone else dimed on Kent and his cellie, but Kent believed it was Gordie. It wasn’t long before word got around that Kent was shooting his mouth off in Seg, telling everyone that Gordie was a snitching little bitch and that when he got out of Seg he was going to beat the breaks off Gordie. When Gordie heard about all the character defamation that Kent was aiming in his direction, he was livid.
Gordie went absolutely berserk; he ranted and raved about how badly he would assault and injure Kent if he ever got his hands on him. I fully understood his indignation and desire to seek retribution upon the person who was so grievously lying about him. Furthermore, prison “logic” dictated that if Gordie were to just let it slide and allow Kent to get away with his supposedly false claims, it would mean that Kent had more than likely been telling the truth. During his lengthy rant, Gordie drew upon his recently adopted ideals of white racial superiority and purity, impugning Kent’s character and worth because—even though he was a white guy—his mannerisms, behavior, speech patterns, and use of slang, as well as his musical preferences, all closely resembled those of the average black inmate. Gordie proclaimed that it would be his duty and honor to hurt Kent, who he deemed to be a disgrace to his race. The entire discourse was so far removed from the Gordie that I had first met, the Gordie I thought I knew seemed to be long gone.
When Kent got out of Seg, he came right back to the same cell house. (Although, to be accurate, he never quite made it to the house.) Since he had gone to Seg for tattooing, there was no official reason on record for Gordie and Kent to be kept separated. Through a window at the back of the deck, Gordie spied Kent coming. Gordie had been loitering on the deck, having completed his few assigned tasks as a porter, and was waiting for the bubble officer to announce that the chow line was on the walk. This announcement was expected at any moment. Gordie hurried to the front of the deck, to the door that opened to an entryway, which in turn led to the walk right outside the building. When Gordie neared the door, the announcement echoed through the gallery as if it had been timed to the nanosecond. “Chow line walking!” Just like the parting of the Red Sea for the children of Israel, Gordie’s path was made clear as both doors were electronically buzzed open, and he was allowed passage without an instant of scrutiny. After all, to all appearances he was just a hungry inmate heading to lunch.
Gordie was a slim, thin-limbed guy who stood about five-foot-nine and probably weighed between a hundred and fifty and a hundred and sixty-five pounds. Not exactly intimidating. Kent, on the other hand, had a physique that had clearly been shaped by weights and an advantage over Gordie of a couple inches and thirty pounds. It looked like it would be a lopsided bout, and not in Gordie’s favor.
Gordie walked straight up to Kent and punched him square in the nose with more force than I would’ve thought him capable. They were outside, in a corridor of sorts that was twenty feet long and five feet wide and bordered by fences on either side. This configuration was designed to corral inmates, but as Kent slammed into the fence, it also left him with no avenue of escape. Gordie didn’t say a single word as he hit him twice more in the face. Kent’s knees buckled and he slumped forward—flopping to the ground like he’d become unarticulated and was little more than a slack sack of flesh and bone.
Gordie appeared to have come unhinged as he descended upon Kent without pause, arms like pistons and fists like ball-peen hammers finding all of Kent’s soft spots. It was such a sudden and overwhelming beatdown as to be practically incomprehensible—the senses rejected it as impossible. Kent didn’t put up a fight. He didn’t even raise his hands as a defense. While Kent lay there, Gordie kept hitting him. He was a man possessed—nothing like the Gordie I’d once known.
Officers finally converged to pull Gordie off of his victim, and he was escorted to Seg immediately. Kent needed a stretcher to be escorted anywhere. Gordie was shipped out to another joint without delay, and I have no idea where he ended up. I also don’t know what kind of disciplinary actions were taken against him for his violent assault. What I do know is that I wish I didn’t retain the image of Gordie so thoroughly dismantling a man. I prefer to remember him as he was when we first met and were cellies for six months. I’m not sure that particular version of Gordie exists anymore, and I fear that it probably never will again.