Herbert's cell had been empty for three days when he finally returned. 'Man, how did it go?' I asked, hearing his cell door slam shut behind him.
'Hey, Bro,' said Herbert. 'It was cool. Man! It couldn't have been better. But some crazy shit happen though, on that first night.'
I was eager to hear about my neighbor's three-day conjugal visit. He had been corresponding with Joyce for eight years and had wed her in prison just one year ago. She was the first woman Herbert had been with in more than 13 years.
'So you liked it?' I smiled to myself. 'Was you nervous? Man, I just know you had to be nervous.'
'Nervous!' said Herb. 'I was freaked. Man, I was so damn nervous walking over to the trailer that I was just hoping somebody would tell me my visit was canceled. That's how nervous I was, man!'
I laughed, and my excitement moved me to the front of my cell. 'What happened when you got there? Was Joyce already there?'
'Man! It was a total trip. I walk inside and there's Joyce. She said, `Hi Sugar, are you glad to see me, Daddy?''
'And what did you say?' I laughed.
'I just smiled and told her I was. Then the guard who escorted me left us by ourselves, and we hugged each other.'
'Is that right?.?.?. is that right? Then what happen, Herb?'
'Well, Joyce had this pamphlet in her hand. She said the guards wanted us to read it. It was just rules, though, you know, all the do's and don'ts. I just tells Joyce, `Say, Baby, let's sit down and read these rules--so we'll know what's happening.' You know, as a way of trying to get this woman to chill out. Because right away she was just a-nibbling all over a guy's neck and wanting to make love. She wasn't wasting no time, man. No time!'
'Is that right?' I said, still smiling at the front of my cell bars. 'So you wasn't ready for anything?'
'Let me tell you something.' Herbert got excited, moving to the front of his cell. 'Just being alone like that with a woman and no guards around was scary enough.'
'Ah, man!' I joked. 'I thought you was going to make some serious love for three days and three nights--isn't that what you was telling me before you left? I just knew your ol' ass was going to freeze up. So what happen next?'
'Well,' said Herbert, 'after about a hour or so of reading those damn rules?.?.?.'
'Hold on,' I said. 'You mean to tell me you spent a whole hour reading those goddamn rules, Herb? Man, what's wrong with you? You haven't read no rules since you been in San Quentin--and here you go on your honeymoon, of all places--reading rules. Man, are you crazy?'
Herbert laughed. 'Jay,' he said. 'You just don't know how it is being in that big-ass trailer. That trailer had to be five times the size of my cell. What would you do in a room that big after 13 years?
Hey, man, Herbert went on, 'I really did think I was going to go in there and make passionate love to Joyce just like I was telling y'all--but man, man! That first day was totally strange. When Joyce got to nibbling all over on a guy's neck and sweet talking me, and wanting to live it up--the fear I had of being with a woman, after all these years of just beating off, well,' Herbert laughed. 'The honest-to-God truth is my swipe wouldn't even get hard. Can you believe that? And man, I damn sure wasn't going to take off my clothes, no way! And let Joyce get a bird's-eye view of my twitty bird.'
'Is that right?' I fell to my knees laughing, and I could hear the laughter of all the other prisoners down the tier who had been listening in.
'No way!' said Herbert. 'And here I been bragging to Joyce for years on how big a stud I am, about how I was going to rock her world, make some serious love to her if we ever got our chance. After all that I couldn't let her see me take off my clothes, not having it up--man, don't you realize how damn embarrassing that would've been?'
'I hear you, Herb.' I was trying not to laugh. 'So what happen next?'
'OK, after baby and me puts away all the food and stuff that she brings for the three-day stay, we just talk and cuddle up to each other for about a hour or two, you know. I'm starting to get pretty loose, and we ends up kissing and rolling around on this huge-ass bed. Man, nothing like these prison bunks.'
'So now you're ready, huh, big Herb?'
'Oh, yeah, I was.' Herbert's voice became boastful. 'Man, my swipe got harder than this here penitentiary steel. Just like these cell bars, by the time I gets on top of Joyce. And man, just as I closed my eyes, getting a nice stroke going--man, something inside that woman grabbed my swipe and squeezed it like it had teeth--scaring the holy living shit out of me. It scared me half to death. I screamed and jumped clean off this woman, trying to get my rabbit-ass out of that damn bed. And them beds is wide, too! It seemed like I had to swim a mile to get off that bed. I just went into straight panic, holding onto my swipe, trying to get my damn feet on that floor.'
'You bullshitting me, Herb?' I said, laughing till I cried.
'I bullshit you not!' said Herbert. 'This is the god's truth! And then Joyce looks at me, laying over there on the other side of the bed. She says, `Daddy, what's wrong?' in that sweet voice of hers.
'`What's wrong!' I said, standing at the bedroom door, butt naked. `Girl, what in the world do you have up inside you?'
'She says, trying not to giggle, `I guess you mean my muscles. Daddy--you just a-raining in the face. Are you all right?'
'`Oh, no,' I said. `Those ain't no muscles, Baby. That was something else. I know muscles. That had to be something else. Because, Baby, I ain't never in my life felt no muscles like them.'
'Joyce says, `That's because you ain't never in your life had a woman like me.'
'You wanna know something?' Herbert goes on, waiting for all the laughter to die down. 'It was totally embarrassing for me to have lost the real feeling of what a woman's love was like. That's what this prison can do to you. I'm just glad as hell that Joyce took it all in stride, and found it even more funnier than all of you.'
Herbert wrapped up his story. 'The next morning when Joyce and me gets up and makes us some breakfast, she gets to eyeballing me from across the table. She's trying to drink her cup of coffee, but every time, every time this woman brings the cup to her lips, she looks at me and gets to giggling. For two whole days,' said Herb, 'that's all that woman did was giggle. She laughed so hard by the end of the visit she'd just look at me and break into tears.'
Jarvis Masters lives on death row in San Quentin Prison, where he writes and practices Tibetan Buddhism. You can contact him at C-35169, Tamal, CA 94974.
From Turning Wheel (Spring 1996). Subscriptions: $35/yr (4 issues) from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Box 4650, Berkeley, CA 94704-0650.