Uncle Lloyd retired from the Army and moved to Central California. He had spent over 20 years as an MP officer, and got through WW II and Korea with honors and decorations. He wrapped up his 20+ years as Military Liaison to the Pakistani Army, stationed at the US embassy in Karachi...at about the time the whole thing went nuts and they had to be evacuated. He was always proud of me...being in the Army and all...especially since his oldest son had joined the Navy.
I got out of the Army in July of 1967, just for a few months, and shortly afterward got an invitation from Uncle Lloyd to come up to his place in Sonora. I packed my little sister and my mom in the green GTO and we made a mini-vacation out of it.
Lloyd had gone to work for California Corrections and was a guard at the medium-security prison near Sonora. A day or two after we got to Sonora, he suggested I go with him and see where he worked. I wasn't overly fond of the idea, but I was very fond of Uncle Lloyd, so I went with him to check things out.
The parking lot outside the prison was not remarkable; the walkways were being swept and the grounds being tended to by several inmates. Uncle Lloyd explained the trustee program and the different levels an inmate could qualify for. We watched the men work for a few minutes, then he nudged my arm and pointed up to the corner guard tower where the distinctive long barrel of a high-power, scoped rifle was visible on the railing. Lloyd said that the grounds were cleared around the wall to a distance of 200 yards. The guards with the long guns were good out to 400 yards. And they were always watching whenever the trustees were outside the wall.
We entered through the Sally Port; I had visited the stockade in Mannheim and the one in Long Binh so I understood how things worked. We went inside the inner gate and it shut with a solid, heavy, klunk. That was an eerie sound. And it was accompanied by an immediate feeling of discomfort. Nothing you could put your hand on...but uncomfortable. For the next hour or so, we strolled through the common areas where the inmates lounged and exercised. We toured the minimum security area where the inmates lived in a barracks-like open bay. We went through the mess area, not much different from Army messhalls. We went through the medium security cell blocks.
It was apparent from the very moment we were inside the wall that Uncle Lloyd was a recognized authority figure. Any inmate who spoke to us did so with respect. Some of them asked him if this was the nephew he had told them about and some of them were curious about Vietnam and what I had done there. Most of them didn't speak, but only a very few were hostile- appearing. I commented on the upper body development of many of the inmates, and asked Lloyd if it concerned him to wander around loose amid so many younger, stronger, and sometimes hostile guys. He stopped in the middle of the yard and looked around. We could see maybe 70-80 inmates around us. He said, "First, I am older, but I spent my whole career as an Army cop or worse. I know a thing or two they haven't learned yet. Second, I have counseled many of these young men and they know I am trying to help them adjust their thinking and they appreciate that. And third..." he nudged my arm again and pointed to the towers; in every one you could see one of those gun barrels traversing the yard.
Lloyd was an Army cop, and his specialty was interrogating people. He was an expert at getting inside your head and twisting you up. He read people well and could make them feel like they WANTED to talk to him, NEEDED to unburden themselves. I know he was good. He got into my head that day...big time. I left the prison absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about-it determined that I would NEVER be a resident in a place like that. And that was his intent. He never warned me, never lectured me on what happens if you get in trouble and wind up here, never said a word at all about living right or avoiding lawlessness. But the lesson was cemented more firmly than if he had. He let reality do the talking. I wasn't planning any robberies or assaults at the time, but that is a passive attitude...he caused my attitude to shift into an active mode...seriously planning on NOT screwing up and joining the crew inside. I was smart enough, and knew Lloyd well enough, to understand what he had done and outside the wall as we walked to the parking lot, I glanced over my shoulder at the long guns in the towers and said, "Thanks, Uncle Lloyd". He just put his big old karate-man, judo-man, sniper-man, crook-catchin' arm across my shoulder and smiled at me.
The memories of that tour are vivid today, forty-one years later. It wasn't a "scared straight" kind of a deal. It was just a loving uncle giving a nephew who had the potential for some irresponsible behavior some life-guidance. Just a walk behind the wall.