After seven years, the writing, re-writing, design and re-design of this book/labor of obsession and love is almost complete. When it’s printed and bound between two covers (and is manifested in its various e-platforms), Warren will be presenting the book as a multi-media performance/reading much like he has been doing as a work-in-progress (upon request) over the past few years at conferences, clubs, theatres and universities. There will also be a Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley traveling exhibition of all 101 book covers with catalogue descriptions, that will be easy to ship and install, and perfect for art and literary centers, university galleries and museums. If you’re interested in the exhibition and/or in having Warren come to your organization, college, bookstore, please let us know.
Here is an excerpt from Bleu Mobley’s introductory narrative:
My glow-in-the-dark watch tells me it’s 12:04 a.m. Lights have been out since 9 p.m. All around me I hear the dreams of my neighbors. I hear faint cries and murmurs. I hear penance and denial and all variety of whispers, groans, snores, prayers, belches, farts and toilet flushings. Basking in the odors of 450 grown men, most prominently my own, I close my eyes and imagine a laser beam drilling through cinder block, past razor wire and time. All these nights—waiting. Waiting for the throbbing disc pain (L5S1) to synchronize itself to the beat of my heart, then fade to a dull ache and disappear. Waiting for careening thoughts—of books yet to be written and choices made and remade with the benefit of hindsight—to tire themselves out. Waiting for dreams to come and have their way with me. Waiting for windowless morning; for the guard’s footsteps at the end of the tier, the turn of his key in the master lock box, the lock mechanisms flipping over in sequence—
chckachckachckachckachcka—the cell doors opening from one end of the block to the other, the mad cavalry of feet running onto grated metal floors. Waiting for the second buzzer of the morning, peeling the blanket from my eyes, facing the unforgiving fluorescents. All these nights waiting for a merciful guard with the key of keys to come tell me it’s all been a terrible mistake and I can go home now.
The federal prosecutor thought for sure I’d crack after one week. “All we need is the name of your source.” The grand jury looked on. Just give it to him, they pleaded with sympathetic eyes. I refused. “Not even on the day I die,” I pledged, arms folded across my chest. So the judge—bless his wholly owned, technocratic soul—sanctioned me to this federal detention center. (He thought my silence showed contempt of court. Imagine what he’d think if I spoke!) Two escorts paraded me down the courthouse steps in handcuffs past a gauntlet of barking reporters. One of the marshals placed his hand on my head and pressed, as if I didn’t know how to angle myself into a car. For the sake of my daughters I smiled at the cameras like I wasn’t petrified.
Convinced that words—my only means of defending myself—would be of no use to me in a place like this, I prepared for the worst. From the minute I arrived, my pathetic physical condition made me feel like a walking target. Only a handful of inmates seemed to recognize me. To most, I was just the lanky new guy with the limp and thick glasses, all jittery as a boiling teakettle. I might as well have been wearing a sign that said:
By my eighth day here, the person I thought myself to be, no longer existed: I couldn’t work; I was separated from my family; my lawyer was on vacation in Belize; my cause was uncertain (to say the least, though I dared not mention my doubts to anyone). I had backed myself into a corner, very publicly. Between one soul-piercing buzzer and the next, without any plan or forethought, I stripped my cot of its single sheet and tried tying it into a noose. Having never been a boy scout, I found myself ill-equipped to pull off the deed. My new roommate, Chester, a solidly built kid with spiky blonde hair and rattlesnake tattoos spiraling down both arms, walked into our cell in the midst of my fumbling. He gently took the sheet out of my sweaty hands and very patiently showed me the proper technique. Instead of rolling the sheet like a joint, he twisted it. He showed me how to make a knotted loop and how to run the “tail” of the twisted sheet through the loop. And voila! The noose he sculpted in less than three minutes looked like the real McCoy, only made from bedsheet instead of rope. It was truly a thing of beauty. Chester was pleased that I was pleased. We both looked up at the seamless gray cement ceiling and windowless cinderblock walls. As he pulled out the tool kit he kept stashed inside the secret compartment of a Bible, he assured me with a wink that every problem had its solution. He did all of this without a shred of judgment, and I realized that in Chester I had met a true friend. Curious about what made this young cellie of mine tick, I decided to put off killing myself.
After managing a few hours sleep that night, I woke up feeling a tiny bit grateful for being alive. I remember thinking, If I had committed suicide, I would have deprived myself of the ability to regret it. All I had to do was hold out ten more days until my lawyer came back, and she’d surely get me out of this cage.
Several weeks later our appeals were “hung-up” somewhere. I imagined a cobwebby office where lunch hours lasted weeks and stamp pads had all dried up or gone missing. Since I wasn’t about to cooperate with the grand jury, I had little choice but to begin my acculturation to the alien universe I’d gotten myself into.
Perhaps the hardest adjustment to prison life was accepting the help of others. As someone who grew up with no father and a mother who needed her one and only child to take care of her, I’d grown accustomed to relying on myself. But when I lost my freedom at fifty-four, I became a child again, a wobbly-kneed kid in a strange and frightening new world. Only, much to my amazement, some very capable people have been willing, even happy, to offer me their guidance and wisdom.
An unlikely mentor, Chester is in for shooting up his TV with a semi-automatic in his dorm room at college. Unrepentant, he insists the TV was private property: his step-dad paid for it with his own hard-earned money. “Whatever happened to property rights in this country anyway?” Chester often asks in his Texas twang. He says he shot the TV because it was spewing out nothing but violent trash. “It was an impulse thing at the time,” but then he saw it as an act of cultural production. “I was taking this media studies class and I decided to hand in the shot-up TV as my final paper.” Instead of getting an A in the class, Chester got kicked out of school and sent back to prison—facing five to ten for violating parole from a prior armed robbery conviction.
For someone still in his twenties, Chester offers lots of advice:
“Some guy ever tries to mess with you, make sure to let him bruise you a little first. That way if you have to kill him, you can prove it was self-defense.
“Be straight with people in here. Nothing impresses a con man more than someone who is totally honest with them.
“Only way to survive in the joint besides cultivating an aura of complete and total fear around you is to have a craft. Tattooing. Computer hacking. Meth chem. Shank design. Bible or Koran study. Whatever it is, if you do it better than anyone else, it could be your ticket to getting out of here in one piece.”
Chester’s craft is leatherworking. You should see his wallet. The cobra head, the Aztec patterns, the hand-sewn trimwork, the secret compartment with the head of a vampire flap, the picture holders, and the large gothic letter C that stands for Chester. It’s the most amazing wallet I’ve ever seen. He took a leather workshop the first time he was locked up. Now he boasts of being the “best leather-crafter in the whole goddamn correctional system.”
I told Chester straight off, “I don’t think I can survive in here. I couldn’t lift a ten pound dumbbell without triggering six months worth of back spasms. I don’t have a craft. I’m a book guy. All I know how to do is write.” Chester looked at me for about a half-second before breaking out in that enormous gold-toothed smile of his.
I let it be known that my writing services were available, free of charge. For two months I became the prison scribe, helping guys write letters to their kids, their lawyers, and all their exes. I wrote scores of letters to ex-wives, ex-lovers, ex-gang members. But the ghostwriting service got way too dicey (after a few things I penned triggered unintended consequences), so I shut it down and started running a writing group. It’s the best writing group I’ve ever been in. Actually, it’s the only writing group I’ve ever been in; the very idea of writing groups used to turn my stomach.
Chester was the first to join my prison writing group. He compared it to playing three-card-monte. “To get a crowd, you gotta start with a bluffer who makes the game look easy. In no time, suckers are drawn in like flies to flypaper.” We’re sitting around a table in the rec room, just Chester and I. He takes out his wallet and shows me pictures of his two fathers and asks me to guess which one’s the real one. I guess the wrong one, then he tells me his fathers are brothers. His uncle is his step-dad. I throw a pad and pen on the table and ask him to write about it. He says, “Nobody wants to read about this. Most people can’t handle it.”
“If you can live it,” I tell him, “the least anyone else can do is read about it.” Soon as I hear those words coming out of my mouth, I correct myself. “Forget anybody else. Just put down—My uncle’s my step-dad, and keep writing. Whatever comes to you. Don’t stop.” In one sitting Chester wrote about both his dads and a good deal about his mom, who he calls Mama Aunty. (She divorced his father then married his father’s brother, “which was great for her because she didn’t have to change her last name.”) He only scratched the surface of what he could remember before running out of paper, and sure enough there was a crowd around wanting to know what he was writing, “your life story or something?”
That was on a Tuesday. By Friday there were four guys sitting with me at the table writing without worrying about making a masterpiece or a best-fucking-seller. Within a month there were sixteen guys in the writing group, and then the warden caught wind of it and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—a room with a table, an ergonomic chair, a computer, all the ice packs, paper and pens I needed, twenty-seven desk-chairs, and unrestricted access to the library.
I’ve since edited a book of writings by my fellow inmates that’s due out in the Spring. All proceeds will go to fund the writing group. The first thing they’ll need to do with the money is hire somebody to run the group after I’m gone. I’ll still come and visit—volunteer once or twice a month from the outside. But to come from the outside, I have to have left here, and it’s clear to me now there’s only one way to get outside.
My lawyer admitted to me yesterday that she’s hit a brick wall with our appeals. They’ve all bounced back DENIED. I thought I’d be here one night, a week at the most. This is my 297th day and none of the judges have blinked. What do they care if I die of cell-rot without even a trial? They’re not beholden to justice; they’re political appointees who know exactly where their bread is caviared.
All this time I’ve kept mum, defending the principle of confidentiality. I don’t want to let anyone down, but I’m dying to see my wife for more than five hours a month, out from under the watchful eye of the Unit Officer. I long to be with my daughters even on odd number days—when I’m free, I’ll treat every odd number day like it’s a holiday. I’m ready to give back my orange jumpsuits and my sanctioned footwear and triplicate request forms. I’m ready to eat food that doesn’t taste like the cardboard box it comes in. I’m ready to breathe outside air for more than the allotted fifty-nine minutes a day. I’m ready to take long walks, listen to the sounds of the ocean, get stuck in traffic, wait on line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, get telemarketing calls!
“As long as you answer all their questions truthfully, they have to release you.” That’s what my lawyer says. The only problem is. . . the principal of confidentiality is just an excuse. The real story, the truth, will disgrace me. They’ll leak what I say. They’re not supposed to, but they will. It’s a hard bargain to make:
Freedom for Disgrace.
My shame will be raw meat tossed to the chattering boob-tube bloodsuckers and the finger-licking blogiacs. They can go fuck themselves! And the prosecutor and his judge, too. I’ll tell them only what they need to know.
But I owe my readers a lot more than rumors of a reluctant confession, especially those of you who took the time to write to me after I got locked up, and all the authors and journalists around the world who looked to me as some kind of stalwart soldier, and my editors and assistants who (for the most part) kept my confidences, and my beloved wife Aconsha who for some god-forsaken reason hasn’t given up on me yet, and my daughter Frida who says she’s so proud of me, and my younger daughter Ella who rightfully feels abandoned by her Dad. I owe each and every one of you an explanation. I am not the hero some have made me out to be, or I made myself out to be. I violated a sacred trust. If only I understood better myself how I let this happen, and when exactly I started losing my way. I’m still trying to puzzle it out—how a life writes itself. How one thing leads to another without a plan or a map.
I never wanted to write a memoir. Certainly not a fallen celebrity memoir whispered into a micro-cassette recorder in the middle of the night from the wrong side of freedom. All these years, I preferred to write about other people, real and imagined. Looking past my twice-broken nose out into the world has been far more rewarding to me than gazing endlessly into a mirror of negligible returns. But my current circumstances and too many sleepless nights leave me no choice but to reflect on my own life. If I begin at the end, you’d probably close the book on me forever. You’d shake your head, thinking, What an idiot! Why should I believe another word he has to say? That’s why I need to begin at the beginning. And maybe, by coming to grips with my story, and putting it in a book, I can set myself free of it. For mine has been a life in books, (101 of them, I’m told). Books have been my oxygen, my fix, my wings, my armor and fortress, my bread and butter, and now the cause of my demise. And if the story of my life in books can be my last book, I might (finally) be able to start a new chapter.