Sometimes, you have to choose sides.
Republican or Democrat? For something, or against it? Grateful for what you have or irritated by what you don’t? And you want fries with that?
Sometimes you choose your sides, and sometimes they’re chosen for you. And in the new book “Corruption Officer” by Gary L. Heyward (c.2015, Atria, $16, 276 pages), the preferred option is outside.
“Big Hey” had “the shakes.”
Evenings, he spent almost all his paycheck shaking dice, winning some nights and some nights, not. He still lived with his Moms because of that, which was shameful – he was 29 years old, a Gulf War veteran – but, though a good friend urged him to job-search, Heyward figured that better employment was out of reach.
When he learned that his application to Corrections Academy was accepted, he grabbed his mother and danced in their kitchen. “Hello, pension,” he says.
Hello, Rikers Island .
In the first days of Academy, Heyward had plenty to learn: inmates knew how to intimidate, which Corrections Officers were taught to ignore. Counting “mates” was essential, avoiding “undue familiarity” was important, the hours were lousy, but the money was good. Heyward was flush with cash for the first time in a long time. He bought a car.
Then his Baby Mama took him to court for child support.
Weeks later, shortly after his paycheck amounted to $68 post-deductions, after the “hood booga” said she was pregnant and his car was repo’ed, Heyward started hearing temptation. Inmates had been bugging him to smuggle in cash, drugs, and smokes. He’d done it once; the money was there and he knew it was easy. Other COs got away with bending the rules, and just about every male guard was doing whatever he could to pay child support. If they did it, why couldn’t Heyward do it, too?
“I begin to panic,” Heyward says. “I got to get this money up.” And so, he went in search of someone to introduce him to an inside partner, a move that would prove dangerously, devastatingly risky…
At first, I was quite unimpressed with “Corruption Officer.” There’s a lot of profanity in here, and what’s left after that is mostly sophomoric. I kept waiting for this book to grow up.
And then it hit me: it didn’t need to. This memoir of jail from both sides of the bars is really better suited for a young audience anyhow, since it’s ultimately more cautionary tale than not. In the end of his story, author Gary L. Heyward even writes, “Prison should be feared at all times. [It] should be thought about every time a person thinks about doing something wrong.”
Doesn’t that put a different spin on what, in its first many pages, felt like a jokey book? That sure seemed the case to me, as I read “Corruption Officer” in one sitting, alternately horrified and fascinated.
Grandma isn’t the targeted audience for this book. Young people are; they’ll like reading it and it may scare some straight. They’ll find that “Corruption Officer” has very powerful words inside.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.