Another Jail Story


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Trad climber
moab UT
Topic Author's Original Post - May 9, 2018 - 03:17pm PT
"Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."

Basil King


What you are about to read actually happened. It all went down in those strange, surreal years between the 1970s and 80s. The hope and optimism of the 60s was still in the air. Viet Nam was over, the draft was gone, as was the monster Nixon. Women's rights were on the upswing and it was pre-AIDS. Sex was safe and abundant. Climbing was dangerous and climbers few. Disco and drum machines were only a blip on the horizon and easily ignored. All those run out cocaine fueled slab routs on The Apron were yet to be hatched.

I was a young man then, late teens, living in a middle sized city in the outer orbit of the rust belt. Times were hard then, jobs scarce. But weed was cheap and love still free. All in all we were pretty happy.

The sand in the ointment came in the form of a phone call from a former member of the Weather Underground and my then dealer, Brian, "Dude, Nazis are rallying in Bronson Park, there's a huge counter demonstration! Get down here!"

It didn't take long, I lived only ten blocks from the park.

There were, it turned out, about two dozen Nazis decked out in shiny boots, leather jackets, swastika arm bands and motorcycle helmets strutting about on the low stage. Their issue, it turned out, was the availability of books by gay and lesbian authors in our public library. This was decades before the present air of tolerance, or rather acceptance we now enjoy. Gay was still considered perverse and somehow synonymous with the lesser.

I'd never knowingly checked out any books by gay or lesbian authors. David Sedaris and Augustin Burrows were yet to be discovered. Oscar Wilde was still in my future. Still, I take it as a small point of personal pride that, even then, I just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. I just figured that whoever was sticking whatever where fell into that broad category of none-of-my-business. Provided both (all?) parties were consenting and adult. Obviously.

On a less altruistic note, the few gay guys I knew were all better dressed, better groomed and thus better looking than me. Long story short, I figured, for every guy banging some other guy it wasn't one guy but two guys who were just out-of-my-way.

I'm drifting here. Sorry. Back to the point. Point being, I don't like people telling me what I can and can't read. And even more to the point, I don't like Nazis. Even were we able to remove the indelible stain left on the soul of the human race by the tragedy of the holocaust from the equation I find all that strutting and shouting just, creepy.

There were hundreds of us in the park. Old and young, gay and straight. Longhaired hippies shoulder to shoulder with straight-laced business types. Black, brown, white... and we were all united in our outrage. Rarely in my life have I felt so empowered.

The Nazis went on strutting and vomiting their bile all over my park as the crowd pressed the stage. I found myself about ten feet back when someone slipped a D-cell battery into my hand.

I have always acted impulsively and decisively. I have always had a good arm. My aim was true. As if by Devine guidance, the small missile left my hand on a trajectory that brought in into intimate contact with the mouth of the head Nazi. He fell to his knees, spitting blood and teeth. The crowd roared its approval. And out of no ware I was grabbed by five burley police officers. I fought wildly, writhing, kicking, arms flailing. In the end my scrawny 130lb frame was no match.


"Am I making you crazy?" my cellmate asked. He'd been whistling for ten minutes, a soulful blues improve thing. It was quite good. He was about fifteen years older than me. Very large, maybe 6'5". Dark skinned. He was built like a linebacker. And as it turned out, very gay, not, like, prison gay, thankfully, just normal gay.

"No, you're keeping me sane. Don't stop."

He stopped, held out his hand, "I'm Maynard" he said.

"Maynard, how did you learn all that stuff?" I asked. We'd been talking for hours. Or rather he had talked. I'd listened, sponge like, soaking it in. Occasionally asking questions. It was very much like what I imagine a really good post-grad history class to be like.

"I got lucky," he said. "Went to Michigan State on a football scholarship. Blew my knee out in the Orange Bowl though. Junior year. So much for luck."

"What position?"

"Linebacker, weak side."

Ha! I knew it!

It has been said that the American prison system is a place for criminals to get advanced degrees in crime. Having never been in prison I can't comment on the accuracy of that. I can say, however, that never in a 24 hour span have I been so educated and enlightened as I was in that cell with Maynard. Our conversation ran from Gandhi to Marcus Garvey. How theology and faith had been twisted by the state into tools for controlling the masses through fear and guilt. We touched on the IWW and Joe Hill and Marx and Trotsky and Adam Smith. He introduced me to Nome Chomsky and Howard Zinn and the darker, untaught history of the United Stated.

The most important thing Maynard taught me, and indeed my education was to continue far beyond the confines of this story, was the art of critical thinking. Above anything, climbing, writing, relationships, work, whatever, it is an art I have spent my life trying to master. One which I occasionally get right. That day, in that cell I began a journey physically, intellectually and spiritually which carried me beyond anything I could have then imagined. My gratitude goes beyond my ability to express.


The young prosecutor was clearly excited. There were about twenty of us in all. We were pretty representative of the crowd the previous day. Mr. junior assistant DA read off the litany of charges: inciting a riot, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, failure to disburse, assault with a deadly weapon... He told us we were looking at a minimum of two years. Then, as if to rub salt in the wound, he pulled the morning paper from his briefcase and there I was! Full color, page one, above the fold, throwing the battery. Below the fold was a smaller one of my target spitting blood and teeth. I really liked that one much better. Regardless, things looked grim.

Judge H was new to the bench. He was an older guy, maybe a little older than I am now. He'd been appointed by the Governor a month before. He bore a striking resemblance to Kirt Vonnegut.

He ran his eyes over us as Mr. young assistant junior DA read off our names and listed our miss-deeds. I felt as if I were being scrutinized. I thought of two years in a cage.For a time my courage deserted me.

An odd thing happened though as that gun-ho attorney spoke. Judge H_ listened quietly, all the while caressing his arm beneath the sleeve of his robe. It seemed almost an unconscious gesture.

Judge H sighed heavily as The State finished its complaints. "I'm not sure," he began, "that it would serve the interest of the State or society at large were we to run hog-wild with this case." And as he spoke, with a subtle elegance, he lowered his arm, letting his sleeve ride up. Turning his palm and inner arm to the court. Old, faded but still clear, we all saw the tattooed numbers across his wrist. "If the State and defendants would agree to a charge of disorderly conduct, a class C-misdemeanor, which carries a $50 fine, we can dispense with these matters now and move on to more pressing business."

Needless to say, Mr. junior assistant DAs enthusiasm evaporated. My fellow conspirators and I recognized a good deal when we saw one. I only had $18 when arrested but Maynard covered the difference, provided I worked for him the following day as a stagehand at a beautiful old vaudeville house he managed.

It was to be the beginning of a career that lasted twenty years and a friendship that lasted much longer.

And that's pretty much the end of the story except for one small detail. That December both Maynard and I received a card from Judge H_ tucked inside each card was a handwritten note and a crisp $50 bill. Forty years have passed since then and I still have that note tucked away in a cubby hole, safe from the chaos that is my van.

It reads:

Dear Mr. Seats,

Please accept this small token of esteem with my warmest regards. All my life I have used what small gifts God gave me to contest the darker elements of human nature. Within the confines of an often flawed system.

Too frequently that system proves wholly inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for people of conscience to rise above those confines, putting life and liberty on the preverbal chopping block. You have my eternal gratitude.

Fraternally, Aaron H___,

Fellow Provocateur.

Thank You
Steve Seats

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
May 9, 2018 - 03:40pm PT
Knocked it out of the park again homie!

This is a really powerful story and perspective about a societal dilemma: finding a path between appeasement and losing ground to bullies that will destroy society, vs. the temptation of vigilantism and one-sided justice that can easily lead to societal chaos.

A place with cats...lots and lots of cats
May 9, 2018 - 03:51pm PT
Well that just brought the shine to my eyes.

Thanks for sharing this gem, Roadie. It's nice to know that Karma doesn't necessarily wait for another lifetime to balance the scales.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 9, 2018 - 04:55pm PT
Damn, love me some succinctness with a side o’ soul! Really well said.
You can’t make that stuff up.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 9, 2018 - 05:34pm PT
Dingus beat me to it!

Mountain climber
Timbers of Fennario
May 9, 2018 - 05:35pm PT
Great stuff. Really just great.

Good one with battery too. Had to have felt good.

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
May 9, 2018 - 05:45pm PT
All my life I have used what small gifts God gave me to contest the darker elements of human nature. Within the confines of an often flawed system.

That brings tears to my eyes. Thanks to Aaron and Steve.

May 9, 2018 - 05:53pm PT
fUck dude...

you’re killin’ it...

and i now have a new favourite roadie story.

that was beautiful.


Big Wall climber
Bitter end of a bad anchor
May 9, 2018 - 05:56pm PT
Another great story, Steve - thanks.

You took me there, that is good story-telling.

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
May 9, 2018 - 06:09pm PT
That was terrific. That's the stuff that restores my faith in humanity. Today Americans get in trouble when they punch a Nazi in the face. Sad!

Pardon me while I fetch a hankie.

A place with cats...lots and lots of cats
May 9, 2018 - 06:35pm PT
^^^^^No, but a judge who sold batteries for a living should.

Trad climber
Bend, OR
May 10, 2018 - 03:18am PT
This right here is why Supertaco is so awesome, it helps me think. Society is complex, and goodness comes in many forms. TFPU.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
May 10, 2018 - 03:55am PT
Larry Nelson

Social climber
May 10, 2018 - 04:19am PT
That is some good writing and story telling

May 10, 2018 - 04:47am PT
Hi Roadie,

Great experience and story, thanks for sharing. A neighbor of mine just passed away and who had to go into hiding during the second world war. He was probably the same age as the judge - I've met and known many as well who bore the same tattoo.

As always, well written and captivating.

Don't know you personally, but for what it's worth, good to see you back and read your prose here on Supertopo.

Don Paul

Gym climber
Denver CO
May 10, 2018 - 05:33am PT
I've never heard of a judge sending money to one of the parties in a case.

Social climber
May 10, 2018 - 06:40am PT
Roadie-that was Aces!!

Jim Henson's Basement
May 10, 2018 - 07:16am PT
Wow- incredible tale. Just made my day. Thanks so much for sharing.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
May 10, 2018 - 07:39am PT
Great read!


May 10, 2018 - 07:50am PT
Messages 1 - 20 of total 36 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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