Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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Tall Man Considers Cellmate, Dr. Finch
The tall man was talking about an ex-cellmate of his. They were together in County Jail for a month and a half.
The ex-cellmate's name was Finch. Dr. R. Bernard Finch.
"When you move into a new tank," he was telling me, "you sort of cool it for a while. You observe. You listen. You figure out where you fit in."
The tall man's voice was soft, deep. It had an educated quality which wasn't misleading. In his 30-odd years, he had matriculated in some of the nation's foremost colleges and prisons.
"But that's not the way it was with Finch," he continued. "When he came into our cell, his attitude was, 'I'm here, boys. Things are going to revolve around me.' "
They were together in Cell 8, Tank 12D-1.
"There were five of us in the cell," he explained. "And two bunks. You get a bunk by seniority. The rest sleep on the floor, on pads.
"I'd been there a while. I was next in line for a bunk. But Finch had only been there a few hours when he bought the bunk that I was going to get from a guy who was just about ready to be released.
"For $2, he bought it."
The tall man dragged on his cigarette.
"Finch had an amazing lack of tolerance," he went on. "The first day, he complained about the ashtrays, other people's conversations, lots of little things.
"He'd say, 'Can't we get rid of those smelly ashtrays?' or he'd interrupt somebody else's conversation with, 'Do we have to listen to that malarkey all day long?'
"I know he was under a strain," he added, "but in prison, who isn't?"
As we talked, it became apparent that Dr. Finch had annoyed the tall man more than he had annoyed his other cellmates.
I suggested to my visitor that maybe he was oversensitive about the doctor -- a little bit jealous.
He surprised me by agreeing. "Quite possibly, that's true," he said, "I was the only one who had any flare-ups with him. Some of the others remarked behind his back. 'Who does he think he is?' But he didn't really seem to bother them.
"A lot of men in the tank would go to him with their ailments. He seemed to take a real interest in each case. He was almost over-willing to be of some benefit to them. He'd diagnose them -- even tell them what kind of medicine to take.
"Later on," the man added, "I worked in the jail clinic. There, some of the doctors and nurses indicated that they were getting a little tired of having prisoners from Finch's tank demanding a specific medication which Finch had recommended."
The doctor, my visitor said, wasted no time in displaying a photo of Carole.
"It was a newspaper photo. He had it in a frame made out of tinfoil from cigarette packages and he hung it from the springs of the bunk above him. At night, he'd look at it, study it before he went to sleep.
"I asked him about it and he said, "It's not too good of a picture of her, but it's the best I've seen in the newspapers.' "
"Actually," the tall man went on, lighting another cigarette, "Finch's attitude changed a lot while he was in there. For example, one day he took it upon himself to throw away one of the two ashtrays we had hanging from the bars. It was just a milk carton that had been trimmed down. I had an argument with him about that.
"A couple of days later, he made an ashtray for me. He lined it with foil."
My visitor went on: "Another time, I took him aside and talked to him about what I called a lack of tolerance on his part.
He Turned On the Charm
"In jail, you should try to get along with everybody. I told him that in prison, you're just another number. What you were on the outside doesn't matter. It's how you get along on the inside.
"He listened. He seemed to appreciate my criticism. I noticed that he observed me after that -- the way I mixed with the other men. How I got along. He watched me for almost half a day.
"Then, he tried it himself. He turned on the charm.
"There's one thing about this guy Finch," the tall man concluded. "When he wants to turn it on, he sure knows how."
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