Blast of the Divine | Sojourners

Blast of the Divine

The crazy thing is, I thought I saw it coming. Of course I could not hear it; the shotgun blast had left me momentarily deaf. But I was looking straight at the man who caught the full force of the shot, watched him go down, and then saw a cloud of ricocheting projectiles expand outward. I swear I could pick out the dark little ball that was heading my way.

Department of Corrections shotguns are loaded with a handful of pea-sized black rubber pellets that bounce easily off hard surfaces like prison walls and prison floors. So even with the best of intentions—and, believe me, there aren't that many good intentions in a "supermax" penitentiary—almost inevitably some bystanders will be hit when this weapon is used indoors.

I had already, as the prison rule required, assumed a completely prone position immediately upon hearing the blank warning shot. In fact, I had not broken a single regulation in my 14 years of incarceration. So why was I now taking fire? Unfair, I wanted to shout, unfair!

Those of us who knew the drill had hit the floor with alacrity, but the new man seemed so shocked by the echoing first shotgun blast that he only crouched and looked around—perhaps wondering why everyone else was flat on his stomach. Then the officer fired the second round, the one with the black rubber ball that had my name on it.

The projectile hit me in the left biceps, only 6 or 8 inches from my face since I was in the spread-eagled position. The impact didn't hurt me physically, though in the coming days and weeks I experienced sleeplessness, extreme sensitivity to loud noises, a few panic attacks, and much free-floating anger. Immediately after the pellet's sting, however, I mostly felt something close to relief: Hey, that wasn't so bad.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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