Big Buck

The Law Librarian at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility called me. (Once a felon, always find-able). But it was good news. She read my book, Falling, and wanted to do a book group for the women in the Medium/Max side who have borne the brunt of COVID with very few outside services. Big Buck

I told her that writing the book about broke me. “I had to open a very black door of my past. Originally, I was terrified of the women. But many were kind to me and I learned to love the unloveable, including myself. I promised the women inmates I would write about their tragic histories, I would humanize them. I need to ask you, did I humanize the staff of DOC as well?” 

big buck Karen Campbell writesLong story short, the law librarian put it in the hands of Colette Peters, the Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. After reading Falling, she told the law librarian that she wanted the book in every library in the Oregon Prison system. 

My partner, Tom, (yes, another Tom, which makes it easier for my Senior moments), packed up 70 books and we went North to Coffee Creek. I was thrilled and nervous. As we approached the Grahams Ferry Road exit, I might have requested four pit stops. Alas, the mind paroles on but the crushing misery of prison lingers in the body. 

We pulled into a space near the front of the visiting center. The door opened, and out came the Law Librarian with an assistant and a cart. She was smiling. It was happening. The book would be on the library shelf. 

I wrote the book for the staff of DOC as well: Chappie, the prison chaplain, Tammy, Instructor of the Hair Design Program and Good Cop who was kind to my children. But there was one person who I wished to read the book, more than any other. It was Big Buck. If I could somehow get it into his hands he would learn what a difference he made!

Big Buck was my Maintenance Supervisor. During the winter months, the crew cleaned tools and propagated seeds around the table. Big Buck peered over his glasses listening to our chatter, and once in a while, he tossed out a question for the table:  “Who has a bank account? Who has been saving money?” There was dead silence around the table. “Who has a place to live? “Who has a substance abuse problem? 

He simply asked a question and let us work things out. The questions lingered in our heads and we began to talk about it among ourselves, eventually with our family and friends. NO ONE else from the Department of Corrections had done that. 

It falls on each parolee to educate herself and prepare to follow through with the simple skills of living in the community. But let’s face it, the women I was incarcerated with lacked the upbringing that included those skills. On parole day, we were given our medical records, a box for any prison possessions worth keeping, and three condoms. If you did not have friends or family waiting for you, you were issued a gray sweat suit and a bus pass so you would be driven off of the property. At least those of us who worked with Big Buck had done some thinking that could lead to some solid planning. Could I ask the law librarian to give him a copy? 

big buck Karen Campbell writesI looked around the parking lot, the set of Minimum Custody buildings, and the seven lines of barbwire fencing surrounding the Medium/Maximum cell block that housed Sinful and Angel. Wait a minute. Who is that by the flagpole? It couldn’t be! Is it Big Buck? I turned to Tom, my eyes swimming with tears. 

“I think that’s him! It can’t be, could it?” Tom’s green eyes were shiny. “I have to go see!” The tall man fixing the flagpole kept working but swiveled his head and peered over his glasses. I wept and stumbled over. 

“It’s really you.” I blubbered.

“I read your book, he said, still twisting the rope on the flagpole. Then he turned to me, “I read your book twice.”

“Then you know,” I managed. He was nodding, misty. 

“For all of us, Kalik, Tizzy, Blondie, Hippie Chick. What would we have done without you?” The big man shook his head. 

“Do you know now, what a difference you made for all of us? Your work mattered to all of us. You changed our lives.” I was a puddle.

“I do,” He nodded, lost in his own emotions. Perhaps he lived through years of doubt and futility, but now he knew. And he believed it. 

“Thank you,” I said. He nodded and went back to his work, doing the right thing. The book was in the right hands. I could take a day off.