Prisoners of Delusion
The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
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A place for intelligent readers
 by Frank Shortt
      Thirty-five inmates had disappeared from an isolated prison in northwestern Arizona. Report was that they had escaped into the desert and starved or died of thirst. This was the 'official' report given by Brute Benson, the warden of the prison.
      Stockwell Federal Prison lies fifty miles east of the little town of Acrid, Arizona, named for the high alkali content of the few watering holes in the surrounding desert. Many prospectors had died in the past trying to survive on the alkali water. Acrid's water supply was piped in from the northern mountains where a small natural lake was discovered by the first inhabitants of the town.
      Two men sat in a humble motel room in Phoenix. One had been called by the other on short notice to take care of some business for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. By their jargon one could tell that they were both agents of the Federal Government.
      "John, I have a special assignment that requires a man who is both discreet and requires a degree of bravado. I have chosen you because you have shown yourself to have both of these attributes."
      "Sounds a little mysterious to me, chief, what do I have to do, find out who's been stealing all the peanuts at the Planter's factory in Virginia? John smilingly replied! I don't lay any claims as to my ability, but I'm paid to do a decent job in all my assignments."
      John Paulson was both a brave and discreet man. He was fortyish, all of six feet tall with deep blue eyes that reflected his Swedish heritage. His lion-like features were equal to his sameness of mind. Most cases he undertook resulted in arrests. He had an uncanny ability to notice small things that most men would have discounted as unimportant. Secretly, he loved being chosen for dangerous assignments! Besides all that, he was a bachelor!
      "Little more dangerous than that," Chief Dan West replied. Seems we have a Federal case on our hands. Inmates have been disappearing from prison and there are no reasonable causes. Some criminals are very inventive. Who knows, they may have a secret tunnel devised that is only known to the escapees themselves."
      Dan West was a man no more than fifty years old. His wife of twenty years would have told anyone that he was a man of integrity. His medium build belied a constitution of iron. He had worked his way up in the FBP by doing what he was told, also doing it to the best of his ability. When anyone met him he gave no appearance of being a Federal agent. He always wore his Dan Post boots, working cowboy shirts, and jeans.
      "You are to go in as a prisoner who has been shipped around to several locations for various reasons. All the necessary papers have been arranged and sent to the warden at Stockwell, by the way, that is the prison you will be going to."
      "Northwestern Arizona? That's the most God forsaken place I've ever heard of. The reason they built it in the first place was because of the proximity to a desert region, rift with deep canyon mazes, alkali water, scorpions and rattlesnakes. I'd almost rather be at Sing Sing."
      "Sorry, John, I had no choice in where this particular problem originated or the nature of the problem. I will plant some men in the prison as guards who will monitor your activities and report to me as often as possible. Not even the warden is to be privy to our investigation. Is that clear? Guards are transferred from one prison to another randomly. The warden will not become too suspicious of the new guards. I hear he's too busy with other matters to worry who is guarding his prisoners."
      "I suppose so. But I'd rather go into a den of serpents than that particular prison. Oh well, might as well chalk it up to an adventure."
      "That's the spirit, John. Can you start in the morning?"
      "Whatever you say, Chief, How will I go?"
      "We'll be flying you by helicopter to Acrid, about fifty miles from the prison. A Federal weapons carrier will transport you the remainder of the way on a very winding road. I'm glad you have grown a beard since I last saw you. This will help in some kind of disguise. You will go in as a very dangerous criminal, the reason for the tight security measures. You'll be going in chains, both handcuffs and shackles."
      All John could say was, "Okay, Chief"!
      John noticed the arid conditions of the town of Acrid as he was airlifted over the town. He also tried to familiarize himself with the surrounding area just in case he had to suddenly escape the prison. He had been unshackled until the last possible moment of landing, but nevertheless, the ride was not a very promising enterprise. The shackles and handcuffs were placed on him just as the helicopter made the final landing.
      The two men who flew John to Acrid were not privy to the scheme. The man transporting him knew enough to know that John was not a real criminal. He was as gentle with the chains as possible.
      "Looks as though we'll have a pretty hot and dusty ride today, the Marshall conjectured. Hope we don't break down in the middle of that maze out there."
      He too had noticed the awful conditions existing between the town and the prison.
      If a man got lost in that confusion he'd never come out to brag about it. No wonder so many men have come up missing in this hell, John thought.
      The chief had made known to John the whole layout of the problem at Stockwell. He had explained that he suspected much brutality inside the walls. He cautioned John to take every precaution to prevent suspicion as to his mission. He further explained that some guards had also come up missing in the past.
      Explanations had been sent out that the men had become delusional and wandered out into the maze leading to Acrid.
      There were many gullies and precipices to claim a man's life on the road to Acrid!
John's arrival to Stockwell was without fanfare. As he entered the prison he noticed the squalid conditions as well as the depressed attitude of the prisoners.
      What am I in for?
      Wilmar 'Brute' Benson lived up to his name, John noticed, as he was led into his office by the Federal Marshall. He was a man of about sixty years of age. His squat, stern features manifested meanness from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He had a permanent frown. Even when he smiled he looked like a snarling coyote.

      "Well, who have we here? Benson screeched as he shuffled the papers describing John's record. Looks like a hard case to me. Well, we have a way of taming lobos out here. You play ball with me and I'll play ball with you. Deal?"
      John did not answer.
      John could not help but notice a cruelty he had never seen in even hardened criminals.
      "I'll have my hands full here," he surmised.

      John was placed in a semi-solitary confinement due to his hardened criminal background. He was left there for three days with only scant water and food. He could hear rats scurrying at night, or he hoped they were rats and not rattlers. The warden explained later that all prisoners must undergo this rigorous treatment in order to be categorized.
      The one queer thing that John noticed was the faint whirring of helicopter propellers late in the night!
      John was placed next cell over from a man, who he later learned, was in for armed robbery. Not just once, but several times. It was questionable whether he had killed anyone in the process. After a few days John was convinced that the man's crimes were mostly trumped up because the man was a Mexican migrant and had overstayed his welcome in Arizona. John seemed to remember that most of the men who had disappeared were of Hispanic descent and mostly stalwart individuals who seemingly had strong constitutions.
      "Fernando, John whispered. I need to talk to you. This is a matter of life and death, so don't fear to talk."
      All prisoners had been warned not to talk to anyone about anything important. Cellmates, especially, could be spies for Brute Benson. John had learned Fernando's name from one of the guards. Nevertheless, Fernando replied hesitantly.
      "Si Senor, What can I do for you?
      John listened cautiously before talking again. Snores from the other prisoners reached his ears assuring him that they must be sleeping.
      "Do you know anything concerning the missing prisoners here at Stockwell? I need to know just in case something weird is happening and I don't want to end up missing too. Have you heard of any secret passages where a prisoner might escape?"
      John had built Fernando's confidence in himself by sharing food, helping him with menial tasks and just being an overall friend to him. He hoped that Fernando would be a source of information that would somehow lead to solving the mystery at Stockwell.
      "I am not too much help, Fernando replied, but if I hear anything I will let you know, senor."
      "Thanks, Fernando, it just might save your life as well as mine."
      A few nights later, John heard a scuffle a couple of cells away. It almost sounded as though someone had been hit over the head and wrapped up to be carried out of the cell.
      Awhile later, the sound of a helicopter resounded outside the prison walls. John thought this strange.
      "Why would a helicopter come to this particular prison so often and for what purpose?"
      Just as John lay back down on his hard bunk, a guard walk by banging the bars of John's cell and saying for the benefit of all concerned;
      "There is to be no talking after lights out, orders of the warden".
      John knew the guard had been listening in the dark. How much he had heard of the conversation would have to be left to conjecture. Also, John did not know which guards were the ones planted by Dan West.
      Next morning, John was called to the warden's office.
      "Well, did you enjoy your little conversation last night?"
      "Which conversation, sir?"
      "The one you had with Fernando," the warden caustically replied.
      "You must have mistaken me for someone else," John evaded.
      Just then the warden commanded the guard to strike John full in the face with his fist. The guard wore black gloves and John noticed that as he swung, he pulled back somewhat to avoid too much damage. He also noticed a knowing look on the face of the guard. John reacted as though a full-force blow had been inflicted!
      "Now will you talk?" Brute insisted.
      "I have nothing to say," grunted John.
      After what appeared to be a severe pummeling by the guard, the warden relented and allowed John to go back to his cell. The only bleeding was from his nose, creating quite a mess in the warden's office. John had to be content with causing the Warden some discomfort.
      "Let this be a warning to you and everyone else that there is to be no whispering after lights out."
      Next day as John was in the exercise yard, he was approached by the same guard that had struck him the day before.
      "Sorry, I had to make it look convincing, the guard offered without explanation. Do you know Dan West?"
With this, John knew that the guard, who he learned later, was George Long from Virginia, was one of the trusted plants.
      As another guard approached, George suddenly punched John with his baton, feigning severity. John let out a grunt, much more magnified than the situation afforded.
      "Try to bribe me, George implied. That'll get you solitary if it ever happens again. The warden is just looking for a reason to bust you!"
      George was letting John know that the warden was singling him out because of the conversation of the night before. As the other guard moved on, George resumed his conversation:
      "There're rumors that what is happening in this place is more than meets the eye. Did you hear the helicopter night before last?"
      "Yeah, I thought that pretty strange. What do you make of it?"
      "I can't say yet, but I have some suspicions. I'll keep you posted, ok?"
      Next day as John was picking up paper in the yard, another prisoner approached him. His speech was not the common jargon spoken in prisons and neither was there a sign of an accent that usually would be presented by an immigrant.
      "Did you talk to George Long yesterday?" The man inquired.
       By this John knew he could trust the man.
      "Yeah, what is your role in all this?"
      "I am Alex Alarcon, I was sent here by a Citizens Group representing immigrants who work with the Federal Government. They would like to see what could have become of at least twenty immigrants who have mysteriously disappeared here. What have you learned so far?"
      John hesitated, "I know that men are disappearing."
      Then he told Alex about the scuffle he had heard a few nights ago and about the helicopter heard later.
      "The cell, which once held a man of Hispanic descent, is now empty."
      George Long approached them saying, "Better watch what you say, Benson's watch dogs are out." I just overheard Benson telling another guard that there was to be another delivery tonight. I suspect that strong Hispanic men are being transported to another location by helicopter and used for clandestine purposes. I'll have more on this later."
With that George Long moved to another section of the yard to break up a scuffle among a group of prisoners, something to do with who the stoolie was.
      To the left of John's cell was another Hispanic man who always seemed to skulk closely to John whenever the prisoners were on exercise break or pickup detail. His name was Jose Salazar.
      That night, John engaged the man in whispered conversation after checking to see if any guards loitered nearby. He was hoping that George Long would be tonight's guard. This became a reality later to John's surprise.
      "Jose, are you awake, John whispered. I need to talk to you."
      "Si senor, I am awake. What is it you want? I know about the helicopter and the scuffle the other night if this is what you wish to talk about."
      John's suspicions were affirmed. He now knew who the stoolie was and what to use him for. He had already felt that the purpose of Jose skulking around him was because he was planted and paid off by Benson.
      "Have you heard that there are many Federal agents in this prison? Do you know that there is to be a riot soon?"
John knew that this would travel like wildfire. So he laid it on thick.
      Just as he finished his conversation with Jose, George Long appeared banging the bars and demanding silence. John knew that George had heard the conversation as they had arranged for George to bang the bars three times if he had heard.
      Next morning, John was marched to the warden's office again. Thankfully, George was the guard there. John could see that the warden was worried.
      "So, there is to be a riot soon? The warden fairly hissed.
      "What are you talking about?" John asked.
      "Don't you know that the walls have ears here? The sneaky warden inquired. We know when you pee and when you wash your face, everything you do. You will now tell me the whole plan of the riot."
      John's suspicions were completely confirmed. He not only knew the stoolie but he also knew that the warden was mixed up in a very funny business that he alone must unravel.
      The day before, John had overheard a guard telling another guard that he was beginning to doubt the warden's honorable intentions. He had not been given any of the money that the warden was receiving from the disappearing prisoners.
      After the customary beating administered by George, John was allowed to go back to his cell. John was beginning to feel like he owed George a pummeling after all this was settled. It was all he could do to prevent his Swedish nature to come to the forefront and hit back a few times.
      Little did John know that it was time for his removal from the prison. He suspicioned that whatever was happening would eventually involve him but he did not know when. After all, he was a very strong specimen of humanity.
      That night, George Long came by warning John to be on the lookout as he was to be taken from the prison that very night. Jose had mysteriously disappeared from the adjoining cell that evening. John figured that he had served his purpose and was either being executed or shipped to another location.
      Alex Alarcon seemed unusually anxious as he paced his cell. John heard whispers coming from a few cells away. He braced for what he knew was coming having been warned by George. He feigned sleep. His fraught nerves were wound tight like violin strings. Just as the two guards opened the cell, he sprang!
      "So you thought to overpower me and subdue me, did you? Well, it'll take more than you two to take me."
      John was not quick enough in his actions. The guard, having been trained for such as this, conked John on the temple with his baton rendering him unconscious. John's last conscious glimpse was seeing George Long.
John awoke sitting strapped in the back seat of a helicopter. Beside him was Alex Alarcon.
      "What happened?" John whispered.
      "We are being shanghaied." Alex replied
      With that the helicopter became air bound. The two prisoners lay back awaiting their fate.
Dan West paced back and forth like an expectant father. Having been apprised by George Long of the destination of the helicopter containing John and Alex, Dan had concealed agents around the perimeter of the small landing pad just outside Phoenix. His wait was not long. Just as the helicopter landed, a
Limousine pulled to the edge of the pad. As the men began to get out of the helicopter, Dan and his men surrounded the helicopter as well as the limousine.
     "Throw up your hands! We're Federal agents and we mean business." Dan cried out.
     The men from the limousine went for weapons and were quickly dispatched into eternity. John and Alex lay stunned at the turn of events until Dan's face appeared in the doorway of the copter.
     "Boy, am I glad to see you, John started. I thought we were goners." Dan, meet Alex Alarcon. He has been working with me on this assignment."
     "We've met before. Hello Alex. I hope the ride wasn't too bumpy."
     Meanwhile, at the prison all hell broke loose. Benson and his trusted guards walled themselves up in the warden's office attempting to stave off George Long and the other plants. Shots were fired and it looked as though Benson and his cronies would succeed in escaping until two helicopters of reinforcements arrived from Phoenix. Dan had dispatched them just in case George ran into trouble.
     Benson and company, seeing the impossible odds, gave up without anyone receiving serious injury. They were rounded up and placed into the same cells that had housed so many men, guilty and non-guilty alike.
     "So what was really going on?" Dan wanted to know.
     "It has been proven that the warden had an agreement with a parts donor here in Phoenix and was supplying bodies to him, dead or alive. It was easy for the warden to say that the men had escaped out into the brush and had perished. No one would have been the wiser had you not placed me and the other men inside the prison. The man receiving the bodies was a local undertaker. He knew all the underground places that were looking for body parts. He would only take bodies of perfect physical structure. Illegal immigrants as well as legal immigrants were a ready-made source for these bodies as the warden figured they had no representation. He would persuade the prisoners, by hook or by crook, to donate their bodies to science and this was his legal way out in case he was caught. The warden even made it easy for some men to escape so he would have reason to shoot them down, no questions asked. Alex and I miraculously escaped this scenario."
     "A Job well accomplished, John, and you too, Alex. Your committee will be especially proud of your work in solving this prison mystery. I'm sure there is a special award awaiting you two in the near future. There are many thanks owed to George Long also."
     "Our reward is that we came out of that hell hole alive," John opined with deepest conviction.
John, Alex and Dan removed themselves from the scene as soon as possible so as not to stir up too much suspicion as to their involvement in the matter. Their fraught nerves could finally relax, until the next assignment……
     As a result of the findings at Stockwell it was decided by the Bureau of Prisons that anyone being transferred or removed from any Federal prison would have to gain approval from the Bureau. It was also decided that wardens must make a full report by phone about any unusual prisoner activity.