Here on the far side of the Appalachian Trail, massive brown, beige and white stone structures squat in the rural grassland.
To the local folks -- Forsythes, Holders and Spicklers -- the Maryland Correctional Institution is a shrine equal in structure to the nearby Fairchild and Mack Truck plants where most of the men work. "Stone City, we call it, and we're proud of it," says Maj. Arley Crist, a prison guard. "Made from quarries along Antietam Creek."
But inside, in the tiers where disco and the blues vibrate, the penned-in street cats of Baltimore and Washington toss around a different nickname. "Hillbilly Heaven," snorts inmate Harry Johnson. "This place is Crackerville."
And therein lies the trouble with the correctional institution, the fourth stop on this tour of the Maryland prison system. As James P. Tinney, the warden, readily concedes: "Race relations is by far our biggest problem here."
The problem existed even before the dramatic arrival of Terrence Johnson, the 16-year-old Prince George's County black youth convicted in the fatal shootings of two county policemen. Nearly 80 percent of the 950 men serving time here are black. All but one of the guards are white.
While the inmates range in age from 14 to 71, an inordinate number of them, more than 70 percent, are younger than 25, and they hail from the grimiest urban slums of the state. The older inmates call their young jail mates "gum-cracking jitterbugs." But guard Edward Monroe describes them differently. He calls them "snotty-nosed little bastards."
Last February, a blue-ribbon panel on corrections appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes recommended that the state abandon its plans to build a new prison, at least until several fundamental issues were addressed. One of the most serious questions, the panel said, was the institutional racism it found in the state criminal justice and penal system.
The commissioners found that whites account for 56 percent of Maryland's arrests every year, but only 23 percent of its prison population is white. Blacks, on the other hand, make up 44 percent of Maryland's arrests and account for 77 percent of the state's inmate ranks.
"It is our opinion," the commission reported, "that these statistics have to be much better understood before [the state] commits itself to any plan."
Nowhere in the state prison system are the human problems engendered by such statistics more acute than at the Maryland Correctional Institution, where two vastly different cultures clash constantly.
At MCI there are no downcast inmate eyes or sighs of grizzled resignation, as was evident at other stops on this tour. The noise level of whoops and roaring profanity is high.
Here in Hillbilly Heaven the street dudes hold on tight to their tags of identity, their bold swagger and ready braggadocio. Nicknames are badges of black pride -- "Hot," "Black Jack," "Bad Man," and "Too Cool."
And they are determined to save face.
"These guys," says guard Crist, "do not take orders lightly. Sometimes I think they grew up watching Cagney movies."
"On the outside you can get into an argument and walk away," an inmate says. "In here sometimes, somewhere, you know you're gonna fight."
MCI leads the state in inmate assaults on staff -- nearly 130 last year. On any given day as many as 15 percent of the inmates can be found in punitive segregation wings. In a shakedown recently guards found 24 makeshift knives.
To this backwater outpost came Terrence Johnson, as bold and outspoken as the best of them -- the quintessential cool dude behind MCI bars.
With one exception. For with Johnson came celebrity; a veritable superstar had joined the inmate ranks. Protesters appeared outside the doorway of Hillbilly Heaven clamoring for "justice" and freedom for Terrence Johnson.
Arguments and violent confrontations between inmates and guards escalated. For years inmates had complained of brutality by a guard force that counted only one black out of 163 men. Now, with Johnson's arrival, their cause was focused.
Since he got here in May, Johnson has been confined for over five months in MCI's punitive segregation wing.Guards say Johnson riled the other inmates, refused to participate in prison programs, and assaulted a guard.
But Johnson, who has filed a complaint against MCI, says he has been subjected to physical and verbal abuse on nine different occasions. Guards have pushed and shoved him, he says, and called him "a dirty cop killer."
The incident that first brought Johnson to segregation involved a typewriter, which he was using to write letters to his lawyer.
"A guy in the cell next to mine wanted to borrow it," Johnson says, clasping nail-bitten hands. "When I went to give it to him this guard got in the way. He said I pushed him."
The correctional officers, of course, view Johnson's stay at MCI -- and the increasing tension -- quite differently.
"To the best of my knowledge," says Edward Monroe, the prison's only black guard, "no one -- I repeat, no one -- has touched Terrence Johnson."
Monroe undergoes more verbal abuse from inmates than any other MCI guard. A day does not pass without someone attacking him as an Uncle Tom.
"Johnson is like all the rest. When he comes down the hall it's like, 'Look out, here I come,'" Monroe says. "He's a snotty little punk. If he were my kid I'd have both feet up his rear."
Crist feels Johnson is no different from mainstream Hillbilly Heaven inmates. "A lot of our guys come from the streets of the ghetto and what-have-you," he says, "and they just want to have everything their way."
Another officer declares: "What really ticks me off about Johnson is that his lawyers come visit him more than his own family. The kid's brainwashed into thinking he's some kind of prophet."
Johnson smiles when the guards' comments are repeated to him.
"I don't need to project any kind of image here," he says. "The image is already out there . . . I think the main reason they put me in segregation is that my image was getting out of hand. The guards are always trying to show how tough they are."
In segregation Johnson lives alone in a nine-by-seven-foot windowless cell. Twice a week he is allowed to shower. Three times a week he can enter the corridor to exercise. He has set a rigid schedule for himself: three hours of daily study of high school courses, and three hours of daily letter writing. The remainder of the time he reads, he says, biographies of black leaders -- Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and George Jackson.
"Segregation," he says, "is the definition of loneliness. I think a lot about my past . . . No, I don't have any regrets . . . My history isn't half as bad as the Prince George's County police.
"At night I think about the stuff I'd be doing on the outside. I miss my youth . . . I grew up to fast."
Johnson's less famous peers continue their own daily routines, with gripes and horror stories of their own.
First two, then five, then ten inmates crowd around a visitor in a corridor outside the mess hall. In less than two minutes the crowd grows to more than 40. Men shout over each other for attention.
"I got jumped, man, the guard jumped me 'cause I wouldn't move over," shouts Harry Johnson.
"Tell him about Calvin," yells another. "Got a year 'cause he cussed at a guard."
"Last week," says Ricardo Cayabyab, "they put 30 of us in eight cells because we had dishes on the tier."
"And Floyd, how about Floyd!" screams still another prisoner. "They beat his ass yesterday."
A guard worms his way through the crowd and takes the visitor away.
"See, SEE!" an inmate bellows. "They don't like to hear the truth."
Farther down the corridor Crist stops and says: "Look, abuse is provoked on both sides. But there's only so much you can take.
"I'm in the hall, right, and I tell a guy to move on. I tell him once, twice, three times and he doesn't move. So I grab him by the arm and take him down the hall and all the way he's screaming brutality and saying he's gonna sue.
"That," says Crist, "is what we have to deal with."
Caught in the squeeze between the white guards and black inmates are the white prisoners like 21-year-old Leonard Simpson, who is one of 50 inmates in solitary confinement protective custody cells this day.
The wing rocks with inmate shouts and curses. "Tired of this s---! Do something about this mutha--- JAIL! Small town Rednecks, kiss my black [behind]!"
Simpson peers between bars in his cell and smiles.
"Race problems?" he asks. "Hell yeah, there's race problems."
"Why are you in protective custody?"
"Gambling debts," he answers. "I owed 30 bucks to this one dude. Next day in the courtyard these 15 blacks guys surround me. Two of 'em had knives.
"I didn't have the money," he says, "So I got the hell in here."
Farther down the dark hallway is 14-year-old John Marquet.The south Baltimore teen-ager is serving a 20-year sentence for rape and kidnaping. He grasps a wooden crucifix dangling before his chest. His pale blue eyes scan the darkness outside the cell.
"I was raped once at the city jail . . . twice at the penitentiary," he whispers. "I don't want to be in general population . . . People admire little guys . . . They lust after me.
"Here," he says, "I'm safe."
At the end of the hallway, across from streaks of penciled graffiti reading "There's no finer joy than a fat butt motha's boy," Washington armed-robber Eugene Hampton wipes sleep from his eyes and kicks the bottom of his cell door.
"You could say I got problems adjusting to this institution," he says.
"Why are you in protective custody?"
"You could say I'm temperamental."
"If I don't like somebody I hit him," he says. "If you wanna know the truth I lost a lotta money playing poker and hit the wrong dude."
As in the penitentiary, the House of Correction and every other state prison, inmates harm themselves at Hillbilly Heaven in order to gain access to the prison hospital.
"What'd you do now?" a guard asks a prisoner in the mental observation wing of the hospital.
"I was cuttin' up," the inmate says, displaying cuts on his forearms.
"God, that guy's messed up," the guard says, walking away. "He calls the black guys niggers and gets beat up. If a man says to him, 'go hit that nigger over the head,' he'll do it.
"You don't survive in a place like this doing that," he says.
Out at the guard post, while Dolly Parton chirps from a transistor radio, Crist thinks back on the 34-year history of MCI.
At one time there were as many as 1,600 inmates at MCI, which was founded in 1945. Back then it was known as the Maryland Institution for Males.
Since the early 1960s MCI has had a larger proportion of younger inmates than other Maryland prisons.One reason is its modern wing of protective custody cells.
"We got two full tiers here, more than any other prison," Crist says. "The younger fellas, they're scared of sexual advances so they come here. We also got a separate wing for the homosexuals and preverts (sic)."
The primary reason, however, is MCI's close proximity to the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, which started up in 1966.Inmates who have had little or no vocational or education training go there for rehabilitation.
Most MCI inmates progress to the training center, then to state work-release and pre-release programs. "The younger a guy is and the less work experience he's had, we try to send him to MCI," explains classification supervisor Marvin Davidson.
But that progression is the subject of angry debate between many black inmates at Hillbilly Heaven and their counselors.
"I got nine years in on 20. White boy got four in on 20," snorts convicted Baltimore murderer Claude Hill. "He go to MCTC and my ass stays here."
MCI classification supervisor Ken Ecksteine shrugs when Hill's comments are repeated to him. "That's absurd," he says. "Eighty percent of the men here are black. If we were racist there'd be nobody at MCTC."
"We always had a lot of younger men here. Always a lot of energy," Crist says. "But the black guys today . . . They seem to hate us. Not just because we're white, but because we live out here in the country.
"It's weird. Stone City's like two different worlds now," he says.
Warden Tinney, a professional, reflective man, says he hopes to bring those worlds a little closer together.
"I'm going to set up an inmate council and do some other things to make the communication a little better," he says. "We've got to establish a little better understanding of each other. I'd like to have more black guards, but hell -- if the inmates don't like being up here in this area, how am I gonna get a black guy to work up here?
"It's going to take a lot of doing," he says, "but I want people to feel a little better about this place."