Scotty’s a thirty-six-year-old street fighter. Has a broad face like a pit bull, tuft of blond hair under his lower lip, a weight lifter’s upper body. He’s had cuts over his pale green eyes, his pug nose broken, his left cheek crushed. He’s been shot, stabbed, sliced, beat up and knocked out at least twenty times. His last fight was about three months ago but it wasn’t much. Some black kid down at the South Redding Park. Lots of fights there, in the bleachers across from the library. Some of them nothing. People just go at it. “I’ve been praying about it, but a fight gets me going. I get energized.”
“I was adopted by my grandparents when I was three, lived up by Lake Almanor. When I was a sophomore, I thought I knew what was best. Went to San Jose to be with my mom. It wasn’t a good thing. I beat up my stepdad. Was in several foster homes. Never finished high school. Got into drugs. Got married. Had a son. I was in and out of detention for fourteen years.” The last jail time he did was in Alameda. That was a bad place. It was ten to one, he says, referring to the racial mix. “I stayed in my bunk, read my bible, tried to keep out of it. But I had to fight. It’s the only way I got any respect.”
“I did time in Soledad, been in three lockdowns, a riot with 300 guys, shot by a prison guard when I was surrounded by Mexicans with knives. I was locked in a cell with another guy, seventy-five in other cells, in an area the size of this house. You can’t imagine what it was like.” He shakes his head. “But when I got out, it was really strange. I had a Mexican girl behind me in a line going into a Burger King. I’m really nervous about having anyone behind me, particularly if they are Mexican or Black. Almost turned around, unloaded on her. You’re too close! Get back!”
Scotty’s taking apart the cigarette stubs in the big square ashtray in the garage, rescuing the unburned tobacco for a cigarette he’s rolling in his hand. All the money he gets from the state goes to room and board and he’s still $250 in the hole every month. “I do work around the house. I’ve worked as a roofer. Loaded dead appliances on a bobtail truck for a guy. He was a rotten boss. Gave me shit all the time. I used to come home and hit the bag until I felt better.”
He has a new girlfriend he met on a religious website a couple of weeks ago. She has two kids, dyes her hair black, owns a tattoo shop in Atascadero, does really nice work, shows her tattoos. “She’s my best friend. I tell her everything.”
“This morning my parole agent drove up and said they are thinking about cutting me loose. I’m going to take off with the wind beneath my feet. Being free is like being hit in the face. Hit me again. I like it. It excites me.”
He’s gone through hearings before. They know everything. They even know about the time when the principal found the loaded 22 pistol in his locker at the high school in Chester. Everyone got “exercised” about it. He didn’t have it to hurt anyone. He didn’t point it at anybody. He carried it in the pocket of his jacket when he was riding his motorcycle back and forth on the logging trails and back roads he traveled to school. He shot at squirrels with it. That was all.
He’s just gonna go in and be straight with them. He wants his freedom. He wants to be away from the system. But he has to control his anger. He used to go black, not even remember what happened when he got mad. Sometimes he feels it coming, gathers the guys around him, asks them to lay their hands on him, say prayers for him. His eyes tear up. “Sometimes I just get tired of people. I go outside, smoke a cigarette. I just want to be of service. When I lay down at night I want to feel good about the day. I had a girlfriend a few months ago. It didn’t go well. Things weren’t right. I wish I’d worked it out. I wish I’d stayed at Lake Almanor. I’d still been there.”
Scotty’s in the bedroom he shares with five other guys, packing his clothes, colored pencils and a model car into a nylon bag that would fit into an overhead bin. His mind is a blender full of emotions on high. “I’ll be back,” he says. “No I won’t. I’m going to miss the guys; no I’m not. I’m going to her house right now, be there by midnight. I’m going to get a tattoo tomorrow. It will go from my chin, down to my shoulders in a triangle.” What’s it going to say? “God’s Boy,” he laughs. “Or maybe not. I don’t know. I might have a job, detailing cars, I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter. I’ll do anything. I can do what I want. I’m free. I don’t have to ask anymore. I don’t have to ask.”
Bill Siemer grew up on a farm in Lassen County, played basketball at Shasta JC, went to Vietnam, became a newspaper reporter and then a lawyer and now considers himself a champion of the story that needs to be told. He lives on the bank of the river and takes pictures.