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Back to Fontevrault: A System Aesthetic


"Of all the state prisons of France, Fontevrault is the most disquieting."
Miracle of the Rose
Jean Genet

The 30th Street Intake Center for Homeless Men in Manhattan is in the old Psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital. When I finally find the entrance on 29th Street the words "Warhol" and "Edie" and "Live Fast Die Young" float through my head and they haven't done much to spruce the place up since that time. They do give me a baloney sandwich and put me in a room with a friendly man who tells me his name is Power and offers me his milk. Power seems to think he's going upstate to see his wife and kid as soon as they get through all the paperwork. Me, I have no idea where I'm going but follow the arrows to intake room and submit to questions and am eventually put on a bus that makes its way though Brooklyn ending up on Wards Island somewhere in the middle of the East River.

I'm searched, given my bedding and find my bed. It's somewhere around 2:00 am in the morning and I collapse to sleep with my clothes on.

Wakeup is at 6:00 am when all the lights go on and everyone lines up for breakfast. I eat cold waffles with a plastic fork and go back to bed. At 9:00 someone shakes my foot and yells at me that I have to get up and out of the dorm until Lunch and so I take a tour of Wards Island, which is mostly park but also a huge psychiatric center surrounded by chain link fences topped with coils of barbed wire.

I make it back for lunch then cross the walkway over the river to 102nd street to wander around the Upper East Side and Central Park until Dinner. After that I fall asleep early.

We are clients in this system overseen by DHS (Department of Homeless Services) rent-a-cops who search us each time we come in the building. I learn the routine fast because it's the same position as the famous Abu Grahib photo -- arms outstretched but without the hood and electroshock and they don't make me stand on a box. For some reason I find this sexy and am frankly quite happy they don't let others bring knives and guns into the dorm. While waiting in the dinner line several old-timers talked about how it was just a few years ago before the DHS police arrived with fights and knivings and crack smoking. Now there's just the occasional clash of personalities and I make a number of new friends that all seem to be named Bubba.

Oscar, my case worker, fills out all the forms, sets up appointments for me to get welfare and see a shrink later in the week and I spend the following day at the Riverview Center getting my Benefit card for food stamps. That takes all day and when I return to Wards Island I find I'm being shipped off to Camp LaGuardia about fifty miles north of the city. On the way they give me another baloney sandwich.

I arrive at the prison with my hands and feet chained.

...a vehicle of exile...

"Regards to your fanny from my dick!"

"I said Genet."
"What if I feel like saying Plantagenet? Do you mind?"
"Christian name?"
"No occupation."

And to analyze it, that is, to pursue it in time with the sight and the imagination, is to view it in its decline, for after the thrilling moment in which it reveals itself it diminishes in intensity."

There were thus nine different shades of brown.

I lived for a week in the bewilderment of arrival, familiarizing myself with the prison discipline and regimen."

But the fervour of our admiration and the burden of saintliness which weighed on the chain that gripped his wrists ... caused the chain to be transormed before our unastonished eyes into a garland of white flowers."

...the huge wings of a blue eagle.

The cigarette is the prisoner's gentle companion."

It was boorish of me not to offer Bulkaen one of my white maidens."

Ugliness is beauty at rest."

The war has locked up so many innocent people that the prisons are merely places of lamentation.

Destiny has made an error.

...jimmy and wedges.

I was the young sovereign who takes possession of a new realm where all is new to him but where there surely lurks the danger of attacks and conspiracies...

...the fear that honest people may be thieves who have chosen a cleverer and safer way of stealing.

As for things, I began to know them by their practical qualities.

My activity is limited by its framework.

At the centre of the circle is the can into which the men shit, a recipient three feet high in the form of a truncated cone.

The pace of the marching will remain a hundred twenty steps a minute.

"Mort aux vaches" (death to the cops), "Bonjour aux amix du malheur" (greetings to friends in need)...

...he was as dull in free life as he was dazzling in prison...

"Oh my solid, oh my fierce, oh my burning one! Oh my Bees, watch over us!"

I stole in order to be kind.

At Fontevrault, the amorous nuns and sisters of God came to life again in the form of pimps and crashers.

Sharp edges can kill.

Your song has no object.


"la Caille"

Thus, Mettray blossomed curiously in the heavy shadow of Fontevrault.

The murderer creates the Criminal Court and its machinery.

I also dreamed of committing a murder with Divers and laying the blame on some big shot of matchless moral rigour and physical beauty who would be sentenced instead of us.

CAMP LaGUARDIA (aka Camp Foucault)

No Internet or phone and a two hour trip into the office if they let me go. I did find out the reason I was sent here is my age. At Wards Island they called me "the old man" and "Pops" but there anyone over 35 is an old man. At Camp LaGuardia everyone is decending.

To be continued...

re: Btw

Robin des Bois haunts the stairwells of Fontevraud searching for his novitiate.

The whole point of the book is that he made it up out of newspaper articles and gossip.