The Office of Compliance was a sparsely-decorated office with a large metal desk and a few chairs. Behind the desk was a familiar man. I immediately recognized him as General Jeffrey Spitz, the camp commandant, the man who issued most of the instructions to the Limbaugh prisoners.
“Michael Oliver Tenney, you have been a naughty boy,” the General declared sullenly. “According to our reports you have acted surly and defiant when attending our little excursions. In your barracks you’ve been adamant in your refusal to abandon liberalism. You have scorned your fellow liberals who have converted, and you’ve generally obstructed our goal of reconciling them to Republican principles. This does not sit well with me,” he said in a voice rising with anger.
“I believe you know me as the officer in charge of Camp Limbaugh. But, what you probably don't know is that I am also the political psychiatrist in charge of reeducating the recalcitrant. That means I don’t like you or people like you, and it’s my duty to break your stubbornness or crush you for good. The choice is yours. Catch my drift, Mr. Tenney?” the General asked bluntly.
I sat silently, manacled and intimidated by the ominous tone in the General’s voice.
“You see, Tenney, we’ve been planning these Orthodoxy camps for a long time. Our goal is to root out the last vestiges of you antiquated political types. But we’ve only been up and running since the Patriotic Orthodoxy Act became the law about a week ago,” Spitz explained. “We figured—and I think we reckoned correctly—that liberals would give up their values and quickly join us. Some persuasive information, some kind words, a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants…you understand me. Show them that conservatives know how to have a good time, and slam-bang they’ll be clamoring to accept our politics. It’s worked in elections for a long time. It’s how we get middle class people to vote against their own interests. And it’s working here and in reeducation camps throughout the nation.”
‘I’m sorry, General Spitz, but I can’t sell out my principles for a museum tour and a concert,” I interjected. “My politics are good politics, good for me, for you, good for the United States. I believe in tolerance, democracy, and equality of opportunity. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—at least until you ideologues began to tinker with those documents. My sympathies are also with the less fortunate, those fallen behind by reasons of race, gender, health, education, economic status, and the like.”
I continued my little speech, “You, no doubt support capitalism, and, it may surprise you, so do I. But my capitalism seeks not to exploit, monopolize, or amass individual fortunes at the cost of civic deprivation. Political democracy must have an economic component or everything eventually will be run by the wealthy and powerful. You know, in 2011 one percent of the American population owned forty percent of the nation’s wealth. That’s immoral.
“You would turn America’s economy over to managers interested only in themselves or their corporations. I would have it run by managers who care for their corporations, employees, investors, and for their customers. My capitalism would make laws to enforce this model; your capitalism remains unfettered by government and uninhibited by community ethics. In the end Commandant, your politics are a variation on 19th-century notions of survival of the fittest: just throw everyone together and let people struggle against one another—let the chips fall where they may! But my politics appreciate the survival of everyone, and toward that end government should guarantee as much comfort as possible. And that’s the truth."
“You can’t handle the truth, Mr. Tenney,” Spitz snidely replied. “We have the people and the power. You are with the losers because you are a loser. Game, set, match, Mr. Tenney.”
“You have the people because you shamelessly appealed their primal emotions, not to their intelligence,” I fired back. “For decades you have kept Americans fearful about the enemy: Communists, terrorists, Al-Qaida, Muslims, Evil-Doers in general. Then it was the Iraqis, the Iranians, and the North Koreans, even the Venezuelans. Now, it’s liberals and Democrats. It just shows the manipulative power of fear in a democracy. Because they’ve been afraid for so long, American citizens have let you destroy their economy, their laws, and now their Republic.”
“Look, Mr. Tenney, let's end this discussion immediately,” General Spitz commanded. “We don’t have time to mollycoddle nattering nabobs of negativism like you. According to one of our field informants, Peter Scott, you are not adapting to our Level One approach to conversion, so you are herby reassigned to Level Two reeducation. Tomorrow morning you will be shipped to Camp Bobby Jindal deep in the bayous of southern Louisiana. Maybe the alligators and water moccasins can help you learn our good Republican ways.
“And, do keep in mind, Mr. Tenney, that we have only three levels of camps. If Level Two doesn’t bring you around, winter will be arriving a little early for you, and it’ll stay a very long time. It’s a simple choice: shape up or you’ll be sent to Sarah Palin for indefinite incarceration.
"Sadly for me, unrepentant liberalism isn’t a capital crime," he continued, "so you can’t be executed just for remaining a fool. But Camp Palin is in the Aleutians. Ever hear of Amchitka, Mr. Tenney? It’s at the end of world. If you get sent there, you’ll wish you were dead.”
At the commandant’s angry order, “Get him out of here!” two guards grabbed me and pushed me out of the room. They escorted me toward a nearby elevator and took me to the fourth floor. Here I was pushed toward a back room and angrily shoved into a jail cell.
When I rose from the floor of this cage, I saw that I had company. In a corner of the jail sat a bruised and bloodied woman, her face toward the wall. There was also an African-American man in his thirties who looked as if he, too, had been badly manhandled.
I introduced myself. “Welcome to Hell,” the man said. “What you see in me is yourself in a few hours or so.” The greeting sent a chill through my body. “I’m on my way to Camp Goldwater at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” the battered man continued. “I shed a lot of blood to get that ticket.”
As the beaten prisoner continued to bemoan his fate, a Peacemaker entered the cell and took him away. “Don’t pay any attention to him,” said the guard as he closed the jail door. “He’s delirious. He hit his head on a low ceiling and doesn’t know what he talking about.”
I stared at the brutalized man as the sound of his footsteps receded down the hallway.
“Don’t I know, you,” a female voice spoke to me from behind. “Aren’t you Mike Tenney from Los Angeles?”
I wheeled around. It was the female prisoner who had been sitting with her face to the wall. “Yah, that’s me,” I answered. “Who are you?”
“Did they beat me so badly that you can’t recognize me? We sat next to each other on the bus ride from L.A.,” she said.
When I moved the woman’s blood-matted hair from her face, I was astounded to see Jane Mandel. “Shh,” she whispered, "they may come for me any time. They beat me and used electrical prods to get me to change my views. I think they’re afraid to use drugs on me. They think I’m too weak, or something. So, they’re shipping me to somewhere in Alaska for further reeducation,” she explained with difficulty.
I wanted to embrace my wounded friend, to wipe the tears and caked blood from her face, but my handcuffs made that impossible. Instead, I could only touch her shoulder as she struggled to be understood.
“Just listen,” she implored. “Get out of here before it’s too late. Get out of here any way you can. And don’t let them chip you, don’t let them put that microchip in your shoulder. With that chip you become their property. It has GPS capabilities and that means they can find you anywhere anytime.” As Jane warned me, she lowered her blouse to reveal a small welt on her left shoulder where a microchip had been imbedded. “Once you’re chipped, you’ll never be free.”
I started to ask her about the procedure when the same Peacemaker returned to the cell. He grabbed the diminutive woman by the hair, but she offered no resistance. As he pulled her toward the cell door, Jane muttered wryly, “Goodbye, Mike. I’ll send you a postcard with a picture of a walrus on it.” I smiled sadly. At least the electro-shock treatment hadn’t fried her sense of irony.
I was shaken by the experiences of the last hour. But I now understood their methodology. First Level indoctrination was the protocol of soft propaganda and persuasion I and the other prisoners had experience in our first days at Limbaugh. But, to judge by the people I had just met in this jail cell, Second Level treatment was radically different. Camp Limbaugh may have been a Level One facility, but the guards in the Office of Compliance were clearly practicing Level Two therapy. And let me tell you, it was brutal, tortuous, and potentially deadly. I realized that if I continued to proclaim my liberal political values, I would soon know great pain and possibly welcome death, even a living death in the Aleutians.
In an instant, I decided that I had only one choice. I would have to escape, even if I were killed trying. From this point forward I was totally at the mercy of angry camp officials. Whatever physical or psychological plans they had for me, I could only imagine the pain and the end results. I knew I would never be this strong and agile again.
Furthermore, I calculated that since Limbaugh had opened only recently, the administration and guards had little or no experience with attempted escapes. Once the first inmate tried to break out, however, the Peacemakers would be better prepared for any future attempt. I had no idea of how I was going to do it, I just knew this was the time to act or perish.
About an hour after Jane was escorted from the room, another guard entered carrying a food tray. He brought me a jam sandwich and a glass of water. That was the meal. To allow me to eat, the guard removed my handcuffs, then left the cell, locking it on his way out. I vigorously rubbed my wrists to reintroduce blood circulation, then grabbed the sandwich. As I ate, I contemplated my escape. I decided to wait for my chance, then bolt and hope for the best.
My planning was interrupted by the cell door being opened again. It was a Peacemaker, accompanied this time by a physician. In his hand the doctor held an air gun, the kind a doctor might use to drive a microchip under your skin. Time had run out. I had to move now.
As the guard grabbed me to reapply the handcuffs, I reacted violently, knocking him to the floor. Before he could rise, I kicked him powerfully on the side of the head. The Peacemaker moaned and collapsed on the floor. At the least he was knocked out, at the most I had killed him. In the same motion, I lunged for the doctor. A few solid punches to the stomach and face incapacitated him.
I had seen such physical theatrics lots of times in action movies, but I was now living my own prison-escape film. This time, however, it wasn't for entertainment; it was the real thing and it was, literally, a matter of my life and death.
I began to swap clothes with the unconscious guard. My only chance was to impersonate a Peacemaker and walk calmly out of the building. But I had to move swiftly before losing the element of surprise. I didn’t know how long it would take before either of my victims would regain consciousness.
Dressed as a Peacemaker, I eased out of the room. I was surprised to find no one else on the fourth floor. I took the elevator to the ground level, turned left and walked down a long corridor toward the front entrance. “Keep cool,” I said to myself repeatedly. “Walk slowly. Here comes a guard. Just glance at him. Nod, but don’t stop. Walk slowly, slowly, slowly. Act like you’re supposed to be here. Now, open the front door. Don't slam the door, ease it back, gently. Now, get the hell away from here.”
Although I was now outside, I was still unsure about what to do next. My mind raced. Then I remembered the large parking lot near the reception area. Buses from all over the West were parked there while their drivers rested before returning home for more prisoners. In the shadows of the late afternoon, I hurried toward the empty vehicles.
There were about thirty vehicles in the parking lot. A few with idling engines appeared ready to leave. Inside a bus, I reasoned, I would be too at risk, easily trapped and rearrested if the driver or a returning Peacemaker spotted me. I looked up. Physically, I calculated, it was very dangerous to ride on the roof the bus, but I had no choice.
Fortunately for me, one of the idling buses, a massive Greyhound Strato-Cruiser, was parked next to a tall tree. As I moved from limb to limb, I realized that I hadn’t climbed a tree since I was a kid. You never know what skills you’ll need in your life, I thought to myself.
From one large limb I was able to swing silently to the top of the bus. I lay prone, pressing my body into the steel roof. Since there were no tall buildings or guard towers near the parking lot, I knew that I couldn’t be seen from a higher vantage point. But, when would the driver return and begin to roll? It was hot on the roof, and I was terrified of being there with no control over my fate.
After broiling for about fifteen minutes, I heard the driver and a Peacemaker returning to the Greyhound. Soon the bus was in gear and slowing rolling toward the exit gate. The top of a large passenger bus is no place to ride. As the vehicle swerved along the roadway, I had to counter the centrifugal force that threatened to fling me off. To gain maximum traction, I spread apart my arms and legs as much as possible. I was glad I hadn’t had a large lunch; a flat, empty stomach afforded me more grip.
Twisting along the exit road for about a mile or two, the bus pulled to a stop at the Yellowstone gate. I could hear two guards approaching the driver's window. Suddenly, I heard a loud alarm clanging back at the camp. I figured that either the doctor or the Peacemaker had regained consciousness and reported my escape.
The noise startled the guards at the gate. I think it was the first time they had ever heard those frightening sirens. Quickly, they waved the Greyhound through the checkpoint. I saw them jump in a Jeep and speed toward the commotion back at the camp.
As the bus headed away from Limbaugh, I could hear helicopters in the distance. I looked back and saw bright searchlights coming from three or four choppers. They were scanning the campground and the patches of nearby forest. They must have been looking for me. It wouldn’t be long before one of the pilots would fly beyond the facility and, most likely, see me on top of the bus.
I had to make a move now. Cautiously, I slid toward the rear of the roof. I was still in danger of being thrown to the ground because of the twisting road, but I made it to the rear and felt for anything I could grip and use to let myself down carefully.
As my feet and right hand groped nervously for an advantage, I heard a helicopter coming closer. It seemed to be on a direct course for the Greyhound. With that calculus in mind, I had to jump immediately. Tensing my body I glanced at what appeared to be a soft shoulder on the roadway. I slid from the bus and let my body sail through space and toward the ground.
I hit the shoulder with considerable force. But I was correct, the roadside was soft, and it cushioned the shock of my plunge from such a height. I rolled several times on the ground before I came to a complete stop.
With no time to brush away the dirt and leaves I had accumulated, I rose quickly and practically threw myself into a dense stand of pine trees. The helicopter was almost overhead, and with heat-seeking and infra-red technology at his command, I figured the chopper pilot would soon find me. I needed more substantial cover.
As I ran deeper into the woods, I spotted a small cave in a hillside. I hoped that it would conceal my body heat. Without thinking much about the likelihood of encountering dangerous wildlife, I darted inside. I could only hope there were no unfriendly beasts in there—but I knew for sure that there were unfriendly beasts in the sky out there.
Fortunately, the helicopter did not remain long in the area. Apparently, the pilot had not detected me. When the sound of the chopper faded, I was able to slip out of the cave and brushed myself off. The cave had saved my life.
Soon I returned to the roadway. Still wearing the clothing of a Peacemaker, I hoped I could hitchhike out the woods and plot my next move under less pressure.
As I walked along the silent roadway, my future was becoming increasingly uncertain. What was happening in these United States? I hadn’t seen a TV news report or read a newspaper in days. But, I decided that if right-wing extremists were politically cleansing Los Angeles and the rest of the West, then my experiences—the camp, the violence, the tumult—must be occurring everywhere. But I was in no condition to do anything about it? At this point my problem was personal survival, nothing else.
My Peacemaker uniform was my only advantage. Wearing it, I didn’t look like a prisoner. At least that’s what I told myself as prepared to stick out my arm and thumb my way out of the wilderness.
There were few cars to solicit, but, like a seasoned hitchhiker I tried to assess my chances with each car that approached. When I saw the old Chevy truck coming toward me, I figured this would be my ride. I guessed correctly. When it stopped, I jumped in. Only then did I notice that the driver was also wearing the uniform of a Peacemaker.
“Hi, I’m tryin’ to get to town. You going that far?” I asked the driver with while trying to control my fear.
“Sure am,” came the answer. “What are you doing out here at night in the middle of nowhere? Shouldn’t you be back at Limbaugh helping to find our escaped prisoner?”
I’d been concocting a reply to this question since I came out of that cave. “What are you talking about? What escaped prisoner? I left work a couple hours ago, but my car broke down. Tried to fix it, but I had to give up. I just started walking. Need to get a repair truck out here.”
“Man, you missed all the action,” the driver said. “One of the Democrats flew the coop. Nearly killed a Peacemaker and a medic in the process. No one can find him, but we will. We reckon he’s hiding somewhere inside Yellowstone waiting for the manhunt to end. Then he’ll make his move. But, we'll catch him before he can get out.”
We drove through the early night with little further conversation. After a quarter-hour of narrow, unlighted road, the driver turned to me. “You’re that escaped Democrat, aren’t you? You’re Mike Tenney, the liberal everyone is lookin' for.”
His comment jolted me. I knew the consequences of my breakout. Rather than confess, I tried to bluff my way out of the situation. “What are you talkin' about? What makes you think that?” I responded. “My name is Chandler, Gerald Chandler, and I’m a guard at Camp Limbaugh. I’m not escaping nothin’. All I’m doin’ is trying to get my car fixed so I can go home for the night.”
“Don’t play games with me, Tenney. I recognize you,” the driver answered. “No uniform is going to change your looks. I recognize you not only because your picture was distributed to all the Peacemakers. But I also remember you from that first bus ride. I was a guard at the back of the bus on the trip from Los Angeles. I helped bring you in then, and I can do it now.”
I was petrified and beginning to perspire, but I sensed an opening. “I’m not from L.A., buddy. I’m a guard like you. But what do you mean you 'CAN do it now'? If I were really that escaped prisoner, aren’t you obliged to take me back? Or, is there an alternative I don’t know about?”
The driver continued to steer his truck carefully along the winding road. He said nothing for a minute or so. When he finally spoke, I was surprised at his comment. “I’m going to take one hell of a chance with you, Mr. Tenney,” he said.” And if I’m wrong about you, I’ll deny I ever said it. My name is Swoboda. I’m a Peacemaker employed to stamp out liberalism. But I’m also working with a small resistance organization. We’re a covert group of men and women trying to save America from a conservative dictatorship. We’re national, we’re organized, and we’re very very underground. We don’t even have a name, but we’re active.
“Today is your lucky day, Mr. Tenney,” he continued, “because I just might be able to save you from a firing squad.”
I was facing a dilemma. If I continued my bluff, I risked alienating a valuable contact. If I confessed the truth, I might find myself back at Limbaugh facing execution. I hesitated, then threw myself on Swoboda’s mercy. “Alright, so I am Mike Tenney. What are you going to do about it?”
“Shut up, Tenney. Just listen to me,” he said. “You have to get out of here as soon as possible. If they catch you, you're dead meat. But you can be extremely important to our movement. The fact that you escaped an Orthodoxy prison gives you street-cred in the battle against the reactionaries. Because you are a wanted man you will have no problem gaining public attention. In other words, you are in a powerful position from which to tell the world about what’s actually happening here.
“If someone like me told the story, no one would believe it. They’d just call me a disgruntled employee. But you’ve been inside the gates of Hell as a prisoner, Mr. Tenney. You know what’s going on. People will believe you. You have to tell them, tell them everything—if it’s not already too late.”
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.