When the cell doors slammed shut behind me, I found myself inside the first tier of the security housing unit. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew only that I had been relocated to what was considered the “crazy tier” by some, and the worst place in San Quentin by everyone. I was among the worst of the worst.
Hazel Mitchell died last summer while I was out of town. She had a massive heart attack as she sat in her recliner watching an afternoon Braves game on TV. The last words she heard, after eighty years of life, were probably “High and inside to left-handed batter Fred McGriff. Need a cool, refreshing break? Tap the Rockies: Coors Light.”
Two summers ago, a relieved airline stewardess handed over a wheelchair containing my mother-in-law. Her nightgown peeped from under her skirt. Her wig sat too far back on her bald head. Below her bare knees, two identical onion-shaped knots kept her mended nylon stockings from sliding down her useless legs. Her eyes lit up when she saw me.
At the door, Laura turned and smiled. “I’ll be right back,” she said. Dash was out the door already, pulling the leash taut. David had a last-minute impulse to get up and take the dog himself, but he didn’t. And so it was Laura at the edge of the road when the car shot out of the cool night, drawn like a missile to her heat.
My mother wasn’t from the cooks. Her measuring cups were chipped, her pots dented, her pans blackened and bruised. She used the bottom of her shirt as a potholder. When she burned or cut herself, she’d give a yelp, but never put on a band-aid. She was always in a hurry.
Three years after the end of World War II, thousands of people remained stranded in European displaced-persons camps. Some sought and gained asylum in the United States, where they hoped to start a new life. Having recently taken a beginners’ class in photography, Clemens Kalischer was drawn to the New York City waterfront to record the arrival of the displaced persons.