The Painting House (a prison memory)

by TerryWalstrom 6 Replies latest jw friends

  • TerryWalstrom

    THE PAINTING HOUSE (A prison memory)

    "Your bedroom ain't the same if a snake crawls in. One minute safe; next minute not."

    The old inmate leaned forward on his bunk and scared the living shit out of me.
    He swung his huge face toward me like a weapon, with a half-lid eye and let his lower jaw jut forward.
    But-It was his voice--cracked and booming--like a bell down in hell that startled me.
    I was a fool for asking. You never ever ask. But I didn't know. I was about to find out why. You never ask a man in prison why he's in there. For god's sake; he just might answer you.

    "When Grampa Carl come in. We kids froze. Little rabbits we was. Who was he gonna pick? We shiver and don't never look up. Cuz, one thing for damn sure, one of us he gonna take to the Painting House."

    "What's a Painting House?"
    The inmate sniffed the air like a bloodhound onto the scent.
    I could see awful memories flood in--it was on his face. Nothing was as ugly as that thing crawling into his head.

    "When Grampa Carl take you into the Painting House--when you come out--you be painted red with blood and you be painted blue with welts and bruises. And you never gonna be right no more."

    The story this man told me I've never spoken aloud . I wouldn't be telling it now except--I just woke up a little before 2 a.m. with it staring me in the face with a half-lid eye. A bad dream? Sure. Why now? Don't know.

    If I tell--it might go away.

    His name was Hoetzler ("hurt slur") I've forgotten his first name.
    I wish I could forget what he told me--I thought I did forget.
    I guess not.

    Hoetzler felt "odd" as a kid. Something was different inside him from other kids--he was sure. He had five brothers, reared on a farm, worked like a mule as most kids were back then. The older he got the meaner he grew, and soon he was stealing apples, setting fires, and getting into fights.
    By age 11, he ended up in Juvenile Court on a drunk and disorderly charge. His parents refused to vouch for him before the judge.
    He was sent to Minnesota State Training School where he met "Grampa Carl" and found out about the Painting House.
    While he was there, he was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and raped by a frightening son-of-a-bitch named "Grampa Carl" a demonic fella in charge of the youngest kids in reform school. Grampa had been a coach before State Training School. He found a better opportunity working with troubled kids, to teach them the lesson of life he lived by: "Trouble brings trouble."

    Hoetzler hated that shed where the sporting equipment was kept, the Painting House, so much he told me he had set fire to it and got away with it. The other kids knew he'd done it--but they'd never tell.
    When his stint in the Minnesota State Training School ended he was sent back home to the farm where he stole money from his mother and was beaten by his dad. He ran away and hopped freight trains to escape and ended up in one hobo camp after another when he was abused.

    When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Army. He lied about who he was and where he was from and a kindly recruiting sergeant filled out the necessary papers for him.
    It didn't take long before he ended up in Fort Leavenworth's Disciplinary Barracks. With a dishonorable discharge he set off on a career stealing bicycles, cars and even yachts. From bad to worse, leaving a trail of misery and wreckage in his wake, Hoetzler never seemed to find a way to stay out of trouble.
    The man rattled off a list of prisons he'd been in I couldn't possibly remember now. I was impressed.
    After his last crime spree, he found himself holed up in a mission on the border of Texas where a priest taught him how to paint.

    "Father Antonio calmed my anger. It was the afternoons--in the rectory with two easels and a palette of colored paints. He's the only man who ever cared about me."

    Inmate Hoetzler had left the mission and Father Antonio behind and set off to find his way back home after all those years on the road. But stealing a car and driving across state lines with an underage girl was not the best way to stage a homecoming.
    Instead, he was seated on a bunk next to me spilling his guts.
    He did so, I believe, because he heard I was convicted of the crime of religious conscience and somehow--I suppose--he associated that with Father Antonio.
    We talked about art and about god and some pretty horrifying crimes he'd committed.
    Like I said before, his weird eyes and deep voice were so unsettling...
    Anyway, we were interrupted by something or other and I never spoke to him again.
    Every day I'd walk by his cell and see him painting. The weirdest memory is that he'd only do clown paintings--really disturbing ones. He had no discernible talent--but he sure had the imagination of a devil.

    That's not much of an ending--more of a memory torn loose from it's nest way deep inside my subconscious. I've tried to get rid of Hoetzler's place in my life but it never goes away.
    I've written horror stories with him as the main character as a kind of exorcism. It doesn't work.
    I guess he's hitched a ride in my mind. I can't chase him away.
    This morning he returned.

    I'm sorry but this is my way of trying again to rid myself of him.
    I've given him to you.

  • stillin

    Sad stuff. I wonder what ever became of him. When somebody like that tells me their story, I wonder if they are attempting to make a friend or if they are advising me to keep my distance. A warning.

    It's amazing how messed up some people's lives are, yet the Witnesses think that the "right-hearted" ones will "hear" their message, when in fact they are planning on how to get over on you. You get a tiny glimpse of a tiny sliver of their inner self and, in your naivete' you think you are reaching them with the potential of a healthy life.

    Thanks for sharing. Glad you kept the story in storage.

  • Still Totally ADD
    Still Totally ADD

    Sad but a great story. Still Totally ADD

  • Bangalore
    You are an excellent writer,Terry.Thanks for sharing your stories.
  • TerryWalstrom

    I didn't mention what Hoetzler looked like.
    He looked totally the opposite of intimidating.
    He wore thick glasses--almost so thick you'd think he was joking.
    He was bald on top but his hair was a bit wild on the sides and kept too long.
    He had a kind of caterpillar of hair across the top of his lip and it had never seen trimming.
    I could see how he'd have been picked on as a child. He looked like a natural born victim.
    But if he ever looked at you--straight on--into your eyes--that was more than creepy!
    It was like standing outside staring into the sun; you had to look away. Only--it was darkness blinding you.

    Funny how some people you meet just fall into a special category: unforgettable.
    I've done some internet searches for my old prison buddies and when I do occasionally
    find one, I've never had Hoetzler come to mind so's I'd talk about him.
    I'm sure they'd remember--but only the silliness of his appearance. That's what throws you.
    It looks like if you ever spoke with him it would be a laugh. Ha! not this guy.
    Not this guy.

  • zeb

    Thanks for that terry.

    To all, until you have been 'inside' you would never know what that life is like.

  • TerryWalstrom

    I kept asking myself why a government would want to punish people with a conscience.
    Ah, but I was asking the wrong question. The law of the land was to allow Conscientious Objectors to perform Alternate Service (usually in a hospital). In fact, I had successfully argued my case before my local Draft Board and was assigned hospital duty in Terrell hospital which was for mental patients.
    My question should have been, "Why is my conscience being hijacked by my religion and my legal alternative being subverted?"

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